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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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Just how screwed has our language become?

Why do we hear phrases like:

“If he gets in contact with you”

when there are simpler and more meaningful phrases like:

“If he gets in touch with you”

or

“If he contacts you”.

Why do people have this predilection with “get” or “got”?

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Not content with using “roading” as a noun meaning “the provision and building of roads” the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) has now introduced another example of why suits should not be allowed to write signs.

A stretch of motorway on the north side of Auckland is being widened and there is a forest of signs proclaiming “3 laning project in progress”!

GRRRR GNASH GNASH!!                              :)

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I came upon this on their website: “The Senior Management Team at Fettes College have day to day responsibilities for the running of The College. They meet regularly throughout the year and feedback to staff and Governors as appropriate.”

Leaving aside the rather Germanic employment of capital letters on some, but strangely then not all, of the nouns in this statement, and the wholly gratuitous ‘as appropriate’ tacked on to fill up some space, I find most irksome the use here of ‘feedback’ as a verb. I would use two words: ‘feed back’ (a compound verb), or I would insert a verb and say ‘provide feedback’ (noun + verb). In fact I would much prefer to avoid this ugly expression altogether and use a term such as ‘report back to’ or ‘report to’. Am I alone in finding this whole thing rather disappointing for a major British school?

It’s like the sign at Gatwick airport which directs passengers to do something along the lines of ‘check-in here’ where what is meant is ‘check in here’ because ‘check in’, being what you do, is a compound verb, and ‘check-in’, being the name of the place where you do it, is a noun. 

It is very elementary grammar, as taught to me at about the age of eight, noun! verb! and I find it almost incredible that a renowned Scottish public school can be so sloppy, and that a major airport in England, an English-speaking country, does not proof-read what is to be painted in huge letters on its walls. 

On the other hand, one’s reaction to seeing in Phnom Penh, in Cambodia, the “PRINCESSS HOTEL” in huge pink neon lights ranged in a column above the door, has to be mirth, and wondering what the extra S cost the management. It is not as though they could not afford an apostrophe, as in the foyer are life-size photographs of a number of these estimable ladies, so the ‘princesss’ are plural. So it was an ‘e’ which proved beyond budget, then, or a proof-reader. But that of course is forgivable, as it is not in an anglophone country.

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I’m not usually a peever, but I do make an exception for business buzzwords. A recent survey in Britain found that many office workers felt ‘management-speak’  to be ‘a pointless irritation’. Up to now my least favourite has been ‘going forward’, an expression Lucy Kellaway at the Financial Times campaigned against when it first appeared, but to no avail: everyone uses it now, from Obama to Beckham. But the one that I’m increasingly noticing is ‘reach out’. 

Apart from its physical meanings, my dictionary gives this meaning for ‘reach out’:

reach out to somebody - to show somebody that you are interested in them and/or want to help them - “The church needs to find new ways of reaching out to young people.”

Which is fine. But increasingly it seems to be being used simply to mean ‘contact’, especially on tech sites, for no good reason that I can see other than trendiness. Some examples:

‘If you would like any other suggestions or need help with transitioning your current Google Reader RSS feeds, please reach out to a Library’

‘Wired has also reached out to Google for additional comment.’

‘If you want to follow up, feel free to reach out to me by phone.’

I know I’m just an old fuddy-duddy, and these expressions are harmless, but they do niggle a bit. Any comments? Or anyone for Buzzword Bingo?

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It’s one I had not encountered before moving to NZ. Now I hear it and read it almost daily. Yet a Google seach shows 843,000 hits for NZ out of a total of 267,000,000 so it is obviously not restricted to the antipodes.

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My beef is with titled vs entitled. It seems that it is now acceptable to use entitled in the place of titled. For example: Jane won the contest so she was entitled to the winnings. This is correct. Jane wrote a book and it was entitled ‘How to win at the lottery’ In my opinion, the book was not entitled to anything. The misuse of the word is very widespread and supposedly the meaning has now been officially changed.

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Biggest pet peeve: anything that “changed history.” You cannot change what has already happened. It is over and done with. Even if you go back in time and make changes, you have not changed history, because now it never happened the original way. The original events never happened, became “the past,” and were therefore never history! The only history at that point is the one that did take place as a result of changes being made. There is only one history, regardless of sci-fi movies’ time travel themes, etc., and that is why every form of the phrase “to change history” drives me crazy!

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Pet peeve 3

Saying “get in contact’ or “keep in contact”

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As a follow up to Hairy Scot’s pet peeves. One of mine is the American pronunciation of Gala - gey-luh instead of the traditional English gal-uh.

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The blame here is on an American TV network that presented an interview with a British Fire Chief saying something about an outbreak of criminals with “petrol bombs” -- and then with no explantation whatever. In America, we do not have “petrol” and nobody knows what a “petrol bomb” is.

Then after several minutes of thought, it dawned on me that the Fire Chief meant Molotov Cocktails. Yes, the crooks were committing arson with Molotov Cocktails. Those are bottles of gasoline with wicks attached to the tops, and then set on fire. Molotov Cocktails are well-known here from their history as weapons of the Soviet Army in fighting against Nazi German tanks.

Vyacheslav Molotov was the Soviet Foregn Minister from 1939 through 1949, and he was well-known to Americans especially since he visited the United States in 1942 (to see President Roosevelt and to ask for wartime aid) and in 1945 (to sign the Treaty of San Francisco that established the United Nations). Molotov also held other high posts in the Soviet heirarchy. Hence, the name “Molotov Cocktail” came from all of this.

People who appear on American TV need to use the American names for things, or at least the TV networks should explain what foreign phrases mean.

We understand what a TOKAMAC is because it has been explained to us as a Russian acronym. We can look up the details in www.Wikipedia.org if we want to. Slang phrases like “petrol bomb” at not there.

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Latest Comments

Capitalizing Directions

  • rm
  • November 18, 2017, 2:58pm

Which is correct:

"Under the stairs by south hall. South hall was make-out central."
OR
"Under the stairs by South Hall. South Hall was make-out central."

South hall being a specific hall on a school campus. There is no reference in the text regarding signage or official title.

On Tomorrow

I'm a school teacher in Macon, Ga. I had never heard the usage of the preposition "on" in this context until I started teaching at an inner-city school. My principal, vice-principal, academic coach, and the superintendent of school all use this vernacular. It is very common in the educated African American community of middle Georgia. It drives me nuts. It changes an adverb into the noun of a prepositional phrase modifying a verb. If I had hair, I'd pull it out.

Street Address vs. Mailing Address

  • tonya
  • November 17, 2017, 11:46am

I work pre filling forms for different types of insurance. We have had this same debate. Does “street” mean the street you live on and therefore your home? I say no and here is why:

A company always wants an address they can mail your mail to, unless they ask for a "home", "residence" or “legal”. That being said, every address no matter PO or not has a: street, city, state, and zip. Most people will go on to say a PO box is not a street but I will always add, NOT EVERY town or person has a PO box at a Post Office. For example, I use to use a PO box at "Mail Boxs Etc." a small po box location and store with Kinkos type services. Very large cities have more than one main post office. Therefore, those people still have a "Street" address. "Street address" simple means the number and street name, it is the first part of every address “street, city, state, and zip”. For example my address at the Mail Box Etc. was: 6565 La Sierra Ave. PO BOX 144, Riverside CA, 92505. "6565 La Sierra PO BOX 144" is my "street". If I did not have to list a number and street name because my PO box is the main post office or my post office has shown me my address is only listed as PO BOX 144 then my "PO BOX 144" would be my "street address".

So if you see just “street address” They are simple asking for your “address” and your address should ALWAYS be your mailing address unless otherwise asked. They only want your home, resistance, or legal address for legal matters (all 3 of those are the same address asked in different ways) and ALWAYS want to mail you something. If they need your home they will ask, otherwise mailing address is the default. So imagine it says “address. “street”_________. They placed the word “address” behind street instead of placing in separated as “Address: “street, city, state, zip”. Get it?

Do you agree? Or should I still be debating this with co workers? lol

Ass

If you could point to a measurable benefit that has arisen by allowing children to act like unruly adults, what would it be?

On Tomorrow

  • jayles
  • November 9, 2017, 2:25pm

@ Chrissy

Since you are college educated at least get the facts straight:

http://random-idea-english.blogspot.co.nz/2014/...

On Tomorrow

I am 29 from North Jersey and college educated. I too cringe when I hear "on tomorrow". There was a time when I only heard it while visiting the South but it is spreading. I just heard a NY politician use it twice on television.

To anyone who has a problem with their principal: It is NOT your place to ever correct the grammar of your superior at work. "On tomorrow" is not something learned in school, obviously it is picked at home. Most people I confront really do not notice their error and are terribly embarrassed.

To say that this is exclusive to Black people might sound a little racist but it is unfortunately true. I feel embarrassed when other Black people jack up English in front of White people. After reading all of your comments my worst fears have been confirmed. You guys hear a black person speak a little differently and automatically assume we've had a subpar education. Smh! Even if the person is your boss, you still question their intellect! Sad.

Teachers! : While it is highly inappropriate to correct a colleague it is Your job to properly educate your students. Teach them! This is exactly why HBCUs are so important. White "teachers" giving up on their Black students grammar??? Allow me to insert another Black colloquialism here, "where they do that at?" Shame! You may not have to take an oath like a doctor but you too have a duty, to educate!

I will no longer roll my eyes when I hear Black people say "on tomorrow" or "axe". I will correct them at the appropriate time. Now, which of you is going to teach my landscaper to stop saying "yous"? ! That's an uneducated white Jersey thing, right? ?

gifting vs. giving a gift

"we can sleep six at a pinch but we can only eat twelve." James Thurber commenting on adverts for houses that "sleep six".
I'm sure he would agree that you give a gift and not the other way round.

On Tomorrow

You are absolutely correct. I believe it is something that was in the southern region and has found itself in the northeastern region. It is somewhat redundant to have a preposition indicating when and then use a word indicating when.

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=ad...*_NOUN%2Cadvocate+for+the+*&year_start=1960&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2Cadvocate%20%2A_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Badvocate%20violence_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20policies_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20role_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20change_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20groups_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20general_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20Ralph_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20changes_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20peace_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20use_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B.t2%3B%2Cadvocate%20for%20the%20%2A%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20child%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20rights%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20client%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20patient%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20poor%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20defence%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20needs%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20use%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20interests%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20elderly%3B%2Cc0

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=a...*_NOUN%2Cadvocate+for+the+*&year_start=1960&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2Cadvocate%20%2A_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Badvocate%20violence_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20policies_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20role_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20change_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20groups_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20general_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20Ralph_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20changes_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20peace_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20use_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B.t2%3B%2Cadvocate%20for%20the%20%2A%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20child%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20rights%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20client%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20patient%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20poor%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20defence%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20needs%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20use%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20interests%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20elderly%3B%2Cc0