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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

These are NCTM standards https://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=1845

I understand your concept, but to help your daughter succeed in the subject, just explain to her that the width of the bookcase is a practical reference for carpentry. For the geometry of it, the bookcase can be turned on its side to plan a technical measurement.

Plural of Yes

It's definitely NOT yes's. After all, we're not saying that the plural of yes belongs to yes! Actually, in my opinion, that form looks wrong even when pluralizing numbers. So, for instance, I usually write "the 1970s" and not "the 1970's". But I know the accepted form with numbers includes the apostrophe. It just seems unnecessary, unless where a 5 could be mistaken for an s in a particular typeface.

Anyway, "yeses" is apparently correct. However, someone mentioned "ayes" which is an interesting alternative.

Use of multiple periods

  • MoJoe
  • June 23, 2017, 3:37pm

I have been using "…" Between thoughts when emailing or texting since the Internet began.....I write the way I Think… In blips and stumbles. I find I can better get across what I want to say… If I'm not worrying about proper sentence structure and punctuation!

Mileage for kilometers

  • david4
  • June 22, 2017, 1:42pm

mileage, has at least 5 different definitions that I know of, however for the translation of the definition provided above, use, 'klicks' or 'kilometrage'. The later you can find in a french dictionary but not an english one, and is not widely used, likely because it is too had to say. The word, mileage, is still used in metric countries to denote distance and often people will respond 300k and make the assumption that you understood 300,000 km. The definition (variant) of the word very clearly means distance in miles and so the meaning has developed ambiguity in metric countries (because many metric countries converted from imperial to metric in the 70s), and an older person or a "smart ass" might assume miles. Thus to remove ambiguity, klick (or less favourably klik) should be used. You can find this word in both oxford and webster.

I speculate that the reason why there is no english word is because oxford (British) and webster (American) are the 2 prevailing authorities for the english language and neither of these countries use kilometres as their base unit of measurements. In Canada, the Quebec province explicitly has a linguistic department to create french words (in particular english equivalents), however there is not an linguistic department for english.

issue as problem

Sadly it is true that we no longer have problems - everything is now an issue. No more health problems, financial problems or problems with our computers or TV cable - we have issues. An issue used to be something with more than one point of view, such as gun control or abortion, and a problem was something everyone agreed needed to be solved. But now issue is regularly used as a synonym for problem, which it isn't - you cannot universally substitute problem for issue. One would never talk about the women's equality problem or the gay-rights problem, because a problem always has a negative connotation. If my cable goes out, my computer freezes, or a hotel loses my reservation, those, my friends, are problems, not issues.

In re: Roger Burnell's entry, quote: "Sorry to correct Jun-Dai, however 'anyways' is not an English word!" - end quote; I fully agree that the aforecited word isn't an English-word. However, 'tis a popularly-accepted American-English slang that – in my opinion – signifies the speaker's unique 'Americanness' and personal comfy in being such one. . .irregardless of anybody's discomforts or critique.

The verb 'resume' [meaning: "to continue working on a unfinished job"] is to be ideally-avoided when one includes the word "resumé" [pronounced "reh zhoo may"] or "résumé" [pronounced "reh zhoo reh] in the contents of your resumé [or résumé] to be 'snail-mail' sent to your prospective employer... such as: "Please evaluate the contents of my resume for their affinity to your published-requirements of the job-position opening that I am interested to do." Contextually, that sentence can't pass muster to a spelling-corrector-nutso; but the following, could: "Please evaluate the contents of my resumé for their affinity to your published-requirements of the job-position opening that I am interested to do." AND: "Please evaluate the contents of my résumé for their affinity to your published-requirements of the job-position opening that I am interested to do."

There are strict correct-spelling-nutsos in HR Departments; and your incorrectly-spelled word resumé [or résumé - or correctly-American-English-spelled "resume"] can very-likely get your application-letter fast-forwarded on-the-fly to the receiver's trash-can!

This particular French-word's total-absorption into the English tongue [and especially into the American-English lingo] isn't an excuse to do away with the accented "é" or "és" because:
(a) at best, the writer is presumed a lackluster and a liberal-minded idiot with 'loose' manners as regards laws'/rules' abidance who shouldn't be entrusted with mathematical calculations, scientific experientations, engineering specifications, financial matters [accounting, auditing], medical prescriptions, written legal argumentation, military secrets, pædagogical teaching and poetic/oratorical writings!

and,

[b] at worst, the writer would be perceived as an English-speaking anti-French / anti-France racist extraordinaire who'd anglicized everything-French not out of routine convenience but for outright hatred against everything France-related. . .excepting french fries, perhaps - but definitely not any comely mademoiselle (if one is an English-speaking gent with raging-testosterone) or a Monsieur Adonis (if one is an estrogen-driven English-speaking lady)! That is, in addition to those irresistible bottles French champagne and cognac—which respective international trademarks can get the foolish English-speaking idiot legally-prosecuted if such stupid-fool insists to anglicize any of 'em!!! Moreover, any idiotic English-speaking moron could likely physically-and-insultingly thrown-out by enraged mobs of Québécois and/or Québécoise off the Canadian Province of Québéc with the proscriptive words "Persona non grata" explicitly tattooed in his/her passport to signify his/her lifelong-ban from re-entry into the extremely-discriminating world of those proud-of-their distinctive French-culture and everything-français, les Canadiennes et les Canadiens!

My boss's last name is Fox. When I refer to him in an email, for example: "As requested, Mr. Fox' (or should it be Fox's) expense report is attached." I get confused on what way is correct. Thank you!

"May I have" or "I would like" would be preferable to any of the "get" options when speaking to a waiter or shop assistant.
When speaking to a customer the use of "do you want......" should be dropped in favour of "would you like".

"Listen up" and "do the math" should be consigned to the bin for all time.

Another Americanism that is creeping into our vocabulary is "listen up". Also, why are so many British women and men obsessed with driving 4 x 4's (another American influence). America has the infrastructure to deal with them - our little island doesn't! Glad I got that off my chest!