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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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One of our regular contributors, porsche, informed me that submitting a comment redirects you to Microsoft’s website. Sorry about that. I keep track of the IP addresses of Spammers, and I send all the spammers to Microsoft’s website. I recently moved the site to a different server, and the new server was returning the same IP address for everyone, and I ended up listing that IP address as a Spammer’s. And, so the site considered everyone who commented as a Spammer. That’s what happened.

But that’s a long, boring, technical story, and what matters is that it’s working fine now.

Thank you, porsche, for informing me of this problem. If anyone ever experience any problems like this on this site, please let me know.

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I’m editing a technical manual. The engineers I’m working with have regularly typed amounts which are under one as “.05 inches” or “.67 inches.”

I’ve been of the opinion that this is to be typed “.05 inch” and “.67 inch,” as the amounts are less than one, but I can’t find anything to support either opinion.

Please advise.

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I suppose these questions are frequently preceded by an argument between one regarded as a pedant and another who is one secretly. I’m the pedant. Are these words pronounced so similarly as to be only identifiable by their context? For instance ‘a dentist works orally’ or ‘I am to give an oral presentation.’ This can lead to ambiguity (if they are pronounced the same): ‘I can only learn a language aurally/orally.’

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The closest word I can think of is “semi-daily,” but that is too specific. I’d prefer to describe, using a single word, the frequency of a particular event that happens more than once per day, although the number times is not significant and is not always the same.

If this is a rare opportunity for someone to make up a word, I welcome a suitable word from someone who is more qualified than I to create such a word.

Any ideas?

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... to describe a phrase where all words begin with the same letter?

Sally sells seashells at the sea shore..

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Does anybody know if there’s a term for inserting a word in to another word, particularly swear words? For example: Fam-damn-ily, or Ri-goddamn-diculous?

My roommate and I have scoured all of our grammar books and literary dictionaries, but to no avail. Any thoughts?

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There are many words in the English language which allegedly have no rhyme. I was wondering if there is a term to denote rhyme-less words (i.e. orange, silver...)?

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Is there a word or phrase that describes a vital process that is necessary to maintain a system or operation but is seldom thought about or considered.

For instance, the heart pumps blood but a healthy person doesn’t necessarily think about it as he/she goes about doing things.

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I have run into a slight dispute at work regarding the following statement and the context is travel insurance.

“The company will not reimburse for any additional cover beyond that already extended”

There then follows a short list of 3 or 4 items such as health insurance, life cover, baggage.

1. I interpreted the statement as follows: The company would not reimburse for cover that was additional in the specific categories already noted. For example increasing the amount of life cover would be such a case where no reimbursement would be paid. However I interpreted the statement as meaning that if the requested reimbursement was for insurance that was not in one of these noted areas i.e. had not already been ‘extended’ then a claim would be valid. In hindsight I feel that I have used the ability to possibly twist the interpretation into a situation where a modest claim for personal liability insurance cover of £70 (which was not a listed item) will be rejected.

2. 2 colleagues thought that the meaning was simple - no reimbursement for ANY additional cover. I can see this point but if that was what was intended why did the statement not just read ‘ The company will not reimburse any additional cover’?

Any ideas or somewhere where I can gather some opinions? BTW I am more interested in the principal and ensuring the correct wording for others in future than the actual claim.

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Responding to an old post (see below) I was under the impression that there were several kinds of Persian: Farsi, Dari, etc. If we use the word Persian, how does someone know to which one we are referrring? I have seen it written as Persian (Farsi) to make that clear. Is there a cultural reason why Persian is preferable?

Khodadad Rezakhani Mar-19-03 3:28AM Something I want to ask you to bring into attention. English has its own names for other languages: Eliniki is called Greek, Deutsch is German, and so on. About the name of the language of Iran: the English name is Persian, a correct name based on the rules of English. However, there has been a wide use of the word Farsi in main stream media (and even the computer world). Farsi is the local name for the language, and as we don’t say “I speak Espanol” when conversing in English, we shan’t say Farsi either. Please point out this matter in your weblog.

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Latest Comments

eat vs. have breakfast

  • Rukfas
  • October 17, 2017, 5:16pm

I have another question, but related to this: is the word breakfast a verb? That is, can we say 'I breakfasted eggs this morning.'? Or for that matter, can we say '- What are you doing? -I'm breakfasting,' instead of 'I'm having a breakfast.'? Thanks

Complete Sentence

Is asking "John Smith?" a full sentence?

agree the terms

Finebetty's research seems to settle the question. But as an American user of the language I will not be saying "agree the terms" anytime soon.

The reason the verb "to be" is an exception is that its meaning makes it equivalent to an equal sign. "It is I." means: It = I.

Both "It" and "I" are co-equal subjects of the sentence. There is no object. The subject of a sentence, in this case both subjects, require the nominative case.

Contrast this with the sentence : "It hit me." The subject "it" acts upon the object "me," so the objective case is required.

Another example of the exception with the verb "to be", which may be surprising, is: "It was we." This is the correct usage for the same reason, however in common usage, most people say, "It was us," which is technically incorrect.

agree the terms

'Agree' can be used intransitively and transitively. According to Merriam Webster, your example is "chiefly British" - which I guess means it does come up but is rare in the US whereas it is standard in British English (and not "bad form" at all, please note that 'agree to the terms' changes the meaning, 'agree on or upon' is the only option here).
Oxford dict:
2.1 with object Reach agreement about (something) after negotiation.
‘if they had agreed a price the deal would have gone through’
no object ‘the commission agreed on a proposal to limit imports’
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/agree

MW:
transitive verb
2. chiefly British: to settle on by common consent
e.g. … I agreed rental terms with him … —Eric Bennett
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agree

(the 'before' in your example does not belong to 'agreed' of course - i.e., it means 'must be agreed upon before...')

Worst Case or Worse Case

  • Eric F
  • October 11, 2017, 2:39pm

"worse-case" is a comparison between TWO degrees of tribulation. Which one of the TWO options is worse than the other?
"worst-case" implies that there are many degrees of tribulation, and it is the worst of many options.

For LaurenBC: I find it's useful to read previous comments before posting. For example, Warsaw Will on June 6, 2014, contributed a lengthy discussion of the idiom's history and defense which included the fact that it's been seen in British written texts as early as 1859.

So the phrase is not of recent origin and is now widely accepted. I think fewer folks are bothered by it than by, say, the use of multiple question marks (or exclamation points in declarative sentences) in online posts.

“went missing/gone missing”?

This expression (and its variations) drives me crazy. It’s right up there with “the reason being” instead of “the reason is” or, more simply, “because “!

The English language is getting slaughtered ????

Lego (the bricks) should be lego in both singular and plural, like fish or sheep.

Word in question: Conversate

douglas.bryant

In your rush to discredit 'conversate' you're grossly misusing 'dialectical':

dialectical | ˌdīəˈlektək(ə)l |
adjective
1 relating to the logical discussion of ideas and opinions: dialectical ingenuity.
2 concerned with or acting through opposing forces: a dialectical opposition between social convention and individual libertarianism.