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This is a forum to discuss the gray areas of the English language for which you would not find answers easily in dictionaries or other reference books. You can browse through the latest questions and comments below. If you have a question of your own, please submit it here.

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Googling for “use my brain” (singular) returns 16 million results whereas “use my brains” (plural) returns 11 million. “Rack my brain” returns 792,000 results, and “rack my brains”, 312,000.

Why do we even consider using “brains” (plural)? What are we trying to say by adding the “s”? Is there any difference in connotations?

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a) “Could I borrow your pen please?”  “Of course.”

b) Teacher: “Did you do your homework?”  Student: “Of course.” 

c)  Interviewee: “May I sit down?”   Interviewer (thinking: what a twit!): “Of course.”

d) Police: “Do you have ID, and license?” Driver: “Of course, officer. Good of you to ask”. 

e) Called from the shower: “Is it raining out?” Spouse: “Of course.” 

f) In hallway to home-comer: “Is it raining out?” Dripping home-comer: “Of course.”

g) At party: “Could I borrow your wife for a quickie?” “Of course.”

h) After party: “Are you coming?” Only sober car-owner/driver: “Of course.” 

i) Boss: “Can you have that report on my desk by 2300?” “Of course.”

Of course it may depend on how it is said, but where would it be dangerously ambiguous?

What alternatives are there which are safer?

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“William and Kate had earlier attended a civic reception hosted by Perth and Kinross provost Liz Grant, where they were gifted an ancient map of Strathearn.” 

So we are told by the internet news service in Britain today. What is wrong with ‘they were given as a gift’ ... or ‘they were presented with the gift of ...’? “They were gifted [something]...” sounds to me about as attractive an expression as the noise of fingernails scraped down an old-fashioned blackboard. Am I too sensitive? Should I wear earmuffs and eye pads?

Then we are told that ‘they also visited Glasgow’s Emirates Arena, a key venue in this summer’s Commonwealth Games.’ 

Now, can someone tell me what the difference is between a venue and a key venue? How on earth did this bizarre word ‘key’ come to be bandied about, a meaningless cliche word everywhere? Who thought it up? What is the history of its etymology? What does its inclusion into a sentence add to its meaning? I had a boss once who talked at meetings of his ‘staff’ for weeks in advance about he would give a ‘key speech’ somewhere, and his audience would fall into a state of despond and despair upon hearing of this, for we thought we might have to listen to this ‘key’ speech, or pretend to, when the time came, and we never could understand what was to be ‘key’ about it; neither before nor after its rather hysterical delivery. Can anyone tell me, what does ‘key’ in this context mean? To me it just sounded like a puffed up, self-important and pompous description by a poop of his imaginary high status in the order of things, and I cannot reconcile this notion of what ‘key’ means with its use as a description of a venue in the forthcoming games. Does it mean ‘important’ or ‘main’, for if so, why not say so in the first place?

The English language as it is being published in the press is crumbling around us, and this short glance at the news tonight, one item only, is enough to prompt this contribution to your pages.

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My wife (from northern Virginia) uses “up top” where I would use “up on top”. For example, where I (from Wyoming) would say that “the box is up on top of the refrigerator”, my wife leaves out the word “on”, and she would say that it is “up top of the refrigerator”. She (and her family) are the only people I know who do this, and this leads me to believe that it is a regionalism. Is it?

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Why do some people, especially pseudo eloquent corporate types, insist on substituting “I” for “me” under the misplaced guise of speaking formal English: “Between you and I, the meeting was substandard”, “Thanks for taking Julie and I for dinner”. I know there’s not much to discuss here. It’s simply wrong but it represents a deeper misunderstanding of the use of nouns/pronouns. Personally I tolerate the incorrect use of “me” as the subject to a much greater extent (“me and Geoff went to the beach”) because although grammatically incorrect, it is acceptable to many in colloquial English. The use of “I” as the object is neither grammatically correct nor colloquial or formal. It is in a sense a clumsy grammatical over compensation. Besides people who make this error usually (but not always) over rate their own eloquence.

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Many years ago using the prefix co- and co meant two different things. Now they are used interchangeably, but is this correct? I was taught if you used co- you were a subordinate and if you used co you were equals. An example. A co-pilot is subordinate to a pilot, however coauthors means both writers were equal in the endeavor. Once upon a time, a co-chairwas subordinate to the chair. Now co-chair and cochair are used flagrantly to mean the same thing, they are equally sharing the duties of chairperson. What are your thoughts on this?

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All of a sudden spectators are not “looking on” but “watching on”. Does that make them onwatchers?

They no longer say “welcome to” but “welcome along to”.

“Early on” has become “early doors”.

Players now “contest for” the ball.

They now “update you” with the latest scores.

To me all of that is rather more idiotic than idiomatic.       :-))

I’m sure there are many more examples that I have (thankfully) missed.

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The media in English speaking countries seems to be developing a tendency toward using a country’s name as an adjective.

eg:-

Syria crisis instead of Syrian crisis

France fullback instead of French fullback

Another is the anglicising of some country names and nationalities:-

Argentina becomes Argentine and Argentinians becomes Argentines.

Thoughts?

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In Britain the the winners of the Bad Grammar Awards have just been announced, and the prize has gone to Tesco, partly for a label on its toilet paper which said ‘More luxury, less lorries’, so I thought this might be a good time to reflect on the ‘fewer / less’ question.

According to the OED, people have been using less for countable nouns since the dawn of English, and it only seems to have become a golden rule after certain grammarians latched onto the observation of one Robert Baker, who in 1770 remarked that ‘No fewer than a hundred seems to me not only more elegant than No less than a hundred, but more strictly proper.’, while admitting that less ‘is most commonly used when speaking of a number’.

And it was used like this in at least two influential nineteenth century grammars - ‘less hopes’, ‘less parts or portions’ -  Lindley Murray’s English Grammar, Adapted to the Different Classes of Learners, and ‘No less than five verbs’ - William Cobbett’s A Grammar of the English Language.

It obviously annoys a lot of people. One woman wrote on Tesco’s Facebook page that she ‘was unable to purchase’.

But I can’t help wondering why. There is absolutely no danger of ambiguity, and many of us use ‘less’ with countables informally. (And for many of us ‘Ten items or less’ sounds much more idiomatic than ‘Ten items or fewer’). Does this rule really have any functional basis, (we don’t need any distinctions for ‘more’ - more luxury, more lorries) or is it simply a rule for the sake of having a rule and just another excuse for finding fault with others?

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More and more lately I’ve been hearing and seeing a change in the prepositions used in common phrases.

I’ve already commented on PITE about the use of “deal to” instead of “deal with” in NZ, and of course we have the age old debate about “different from/to”.

Recently I noticed some others creeping in:-

“what do you make to....” instead of “what do you make make of .....”

“I have no intention on.......” instead of “I have no intention of......”.

I’m sure there are others.

While there may be nothing grammatically wrong in this, it does sound a little strange and raises the question of why and how such usage arises.

Does it stem from a desire to be different just for the sake of being different?

Is it down to some kind of narcissism?  

. when saying “what reading

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Latest Comments

I disagree with Dyske's answer.
In the first example, you are saying something that you know is not true.
In the second example, that is a subjective opinion. They can truly believe they have the best pizza, just like you hear people say they have the greatest wife or kids. It's a subjective opinion that they may truly believe in.
In the third example, that would be a lie because once again you are saying something that is not true even though it's hyperbole.
The way I under the definition of "lie" is that it wouldn't be a lie if I say something I BELIEVE to be true, but is factually wrong. If the police ask me to describe a suspect from memory I could truly believe I'm giving the correct description from memory and be factually wrong, but wasn't my INTENT to deceive the police.

Salutations in letters

In email to someone familiar, I open with "Hi" and sign off with "Cheers" or "Slàinte mhath". Otherwise I use "Good day" and "Regards".
In letters it's normally "Dear ......" and "Yours sincerely".
I agree that "Yours truly" and "Yours faithfully" now seem to be considered passé.

How about, "The rent has doubled.", or "The rent is now twice what it was."
Both "two times higher" and "two times as high" sound like phrases used by primary school kids.

Trust me, when you get to my age, mid 60s, you will start complaining when you hear words spoken which you have grown up with all your life, being given totally different meanings and you are supposed to calmly accept these new meanings without having a clue why they have been changed. If someone comes up to me and says hey as a greeting, then for me I am waiting for them to finish. Even when I just hear it in plays or films, it makes me feel very uncomfortable. I'm not writing here to say it's right or wrong just to make folk understand that it can be very unsettling for some of us.

The team has access to multiple sources

On Tomorrow

  • JBS
  • January 16, 2017, 2:22pm

This is an old world English term sometimes trapped in areas of Appalachia, like many other old German, Scottish, Irish and English phrases (or variations thereof). It's commonly used among religious African American folks in Georgia and Alabama from my experience. The reason so many comments have referenced NE Georgia, Kentucky, and North Carolina etc.. is the Appalachian connection.

An extension of solecism?

Actress instead of Actor

I have long found referring to both male and female thespians as "actors" extremely distasteful, as in PC gone amok. When I waited tables, I had no problem with the term "waitress." Then again, I have no problem with the term "comedienne" for a female comedian. The stewardess/steward thing which is now deemed offensive seems patently absurd to me, but well, "flight attendant" it is! However, reading all the comments with historic connotations does help me make a bit more sense of it all. Personally, I have no problem with the masculine and feminine forms of words/professions, and in fact I do buck against changing all of that, but appreciate the perspectives offered. I totally get that a female MD is not called a doctoress in English, but she would be called "la doctora" in Spanish, and a male "el doctor."

Usually a brand name or a play on words, used in advertising. Like the old pop brand, "Hi Klas" rather than "Hi Class" I want to say what that is called. Would an advertising agency know, I wonder? Or a college course in advertising maybe?

Pronunciation: aunt

I'm Mexican native American from Los Angeles California and I use Ant not aunt but I have heard my cousins say aunt before. Personally I prefer ant.