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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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This misuse of “verbiage” bothered me a lot from when I first heard it. I worked for a computer company then in the mid-1980s and one day several engineers (programmers) at a meeting called various papers “verbiage”. The papers were marketing reports, technical proposals and the like, all prose. It had long been clear that these engineers disliked reading anything more than a short paragraph long, and now their contempt for written language was evident, too. They assumed “verbiage” meant “written language” and because they used it indiscriminately for long documents as well as short ones, it was also apparently they didn’t know “verbiage” only meant excessive or poorly written documents, or sometimes long, tedious documents without interest. “I looked at the verbiage”, they’d say, “and the verbiage from IBM is a little better.” Or, “I think our verbiage should reflect we avoid spaghetti programming.” Their tone, facial expressions and irritated manner left no question of their feelings. Soon it seemed thousands of people misused the word “verbiage” as they did, and later probably millions. I hear it less because I no longer work in a corporation.

Your opinions, please?

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I hear this word more and more, usually to describe music, singing and writing. From the 1950s to about 2000, “edgy” meant “compelling”, “provocative”, often “defiant” or “questioning”, “obviously important” and sometimes dangerous, or nearly so, as it is to walk on a ledge, or near the edge of a rooftop. For example, Bob Dylan’s songs have always been called “edgy”, same as Kurt Cobain’s or Lou Reed’s. Part of edginess is nonformist, and challenging the status quo. Jon Cage would be considered edgy, while Leonard Bernstein would not. “Edgy” usually seems to mean “original”, too. You could call Chris Rock cool and provocative, sometimes, but not usually edgy, as Dave Chappelle is edgy. ---- All right. Is that still what most of you mean by “edgy”? Lately there seems to be a growing connotation of “originality”, too. For example, it’s hard to be “edgy” with even slightly older styles, subjects or forms of singing, composing music or writing short stories or novels. What do you think?

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I am getting tired of hearing MASSIVE every five minutes of my life. Usually it is used to mean extra heavy, sometimes just big, e.g. a massive storm hit the Carolinas, or a massive thought. It is overdone.

In addition, I am used to it meaning really TINY. For example, the electron is a massive object; the photon is a massless object. This comes from the idea (that I was taught) that massive means having mass, which means >0 mass. So the proton and the electron are each massive, both having >0 mass. Yet each is smaller than a microscope can see.

Can anyone shed light on how this word—used so often—has come to mean really big?

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What is the correct usage of causative and causal? If, for example, you want to describe the etiological agent of a disease, would you call it a “causative agent” or a “causal agent”?

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I have noticed dozens of examples of people, mainly on the Internet, typing the word “loose” when what they really mean is “lose.” For instance, “I didn’t want to loose the car keys.” Do you know when or how this annoying mistake came to be? It seems like it has only been going on for the past year or so, but it could be longer.

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A friend has issue with the use of “fetch” used to mean “go get someone.” She referred to its association with having a dog “fetch” something as being offensive: “it is not okay to use a word commonly known for a dog retrieving a bone to refer to a human being - period.” And also hinted its use as being inappropriate in a professional/office setting.

The definition i have says: “go for and then bring back (someone or something)” and says nothing at all about it being a dog trick. Also interesting that someone is listed before something.

What do you say?

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I translated some legal agreement several day ago. It is about an accident in a hospital resulting in the death of AAA. In this agreement, it is provided that AAA’s parents would waive (the term I used) all claims they may have against the Hospital and something like that, but my boss told me yesterday that “release” should be used in this case. I referred to certain dictionaries, but found nothing that can explain their difference.

Can the term “waive” be used in this case? Is there any difference between a waiver and a release?

Many thanks

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I’ve seen both of these words used to describe a person’s stubbornness. Obstinacy seeming to come from obstinate, and obstinancy seeming to derive from obstinant. Which is the correct form of the word, and is there some sort of subtle difference between the two?

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Anyone notice the banishment of “pled” about 5 years or so ago? The newspapers used to say “The defendant pled not guilty.” Suddenly, everything became “pleaded.” I contend that this is an improper imposition of some kind of twisted “grammar correctness,” except it is incorrect. “Pled” is a less emotional word than “pleaded”. I plead when I am begging for something. Unless the defendant is on his knees weeping, he is not pleading, he is entering a plea. In the past tense, he pled, not pleaded. What do you think?

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I am wondering how to use the phrase ‘as of’ correctly. I learnt from my daily email communications with native English speakers that the phrase could mean “from”, “on/at” or “by the end of”. However, the last sense was not found in Oxford English Dictionary or Merriam Webster’s online edition.

That made me quite puzzled. Examples may speak louder than theories.

“As of yesterday, we had finished three tasks.”

Is this usage correct and does it mean the same thing as “by the end of yesterday, we had finished three tasks”?

Thanks.

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Latest Comments

your completely wrong

On Tomorrow

I live in the South and have heard this quite frequently. Funnily enough, the speakers who engage in this linguistic homicide are from the NORTH!

First annual vs. second annual

The eleventh year after the inaugural year..
is there a special adjective?

Word in question: Conversate

Once again, we have lowered our standard of grammar to accommodate those too lazy to learn usage!

agree the terms

Certainly does seem to appear only in British publications. American equivalent would be "agree on the terms" I think.

We have yet to agree the terms of your surrender.

Persian/Farsi

The reason we don't like the word "Farsi" I believe is: the actual word is Parsi and in Arabic language "p" doesn't exist so when Islamic Arabs attacked Iran and stayed for along time cuz they couldn't pronounce "P" they were saying Farsi instead of Parsi so after few hundred years of occupying Iran b4 they got kicked out, the word of Farsi stayed I hope the F word goes back to them to have fun with it

“Zen” as an Adjective

  • Dustin
  • April 23, 2017, 9:14pm

I also agree with Eliza. Pick a better adjective. Continuing to use "Zen" that way only commodifies and promotes misunderstanding about that religious tradition.

I live in a rural area, and do not get U.S. Postal delivery at my physical address. I have a P.O. Box at the local post office but when address verification is requested, like from UPS, the post office has no record of my physical address. This can be a huge problem. The solution is to install a mailbox on the main road a mile away. My husband has been reluctant to do this for safety reasons, even though I him that our mail will continue to go to the local post office. I actually purchased a mail box which my husband has been avoiding. I am over 70 so it's rather difficult for me, maybe I can get my neighbor to help.

As wet as ?

As wet as a well diggers ar**e!