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Discussion Forum

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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Isn’t “agree the terms” simply bad form? The following is taken from today’s online Guardian in a quote from Theresa May: . . . the prime minister said she believed it was “necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union”. Then as the article continues, the same usage appears in the Guardian’s own words: “The EU institutions and 27 remaining member states, however, have long said they were determined the divorce settlement, such as the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons on the continent and the size of Britain’s exit bill, must first be agreed before substantive talks on a future relationship could begin.”

Agree to the terms, yes; but agree the terms?

Be agreed upon, yes; but settlement be agreed before?

I have not run across this usage in US English, so is it something happening in British writing/speech?

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Consider the following sentence: “Last year, the rent was $500, but now it’s risen to $1,000. The rent is two times higher than it used to be.”

To me, this sentence is misleading, since “two times higher” would mean starting with a value of $500 and duplicating it, twice (in other words, $500 + $500 x 2 = $1,500). It seems the correct sentence should read:

“The rent is two times as high as used to be.”

Are both forms acceptable? Unfortunately, it seems that the more confusing form (”two times higher”) has become more common.

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Whilst I appreciate that it is increasingly less common to write or receive a letter these days - and that traditional usage has been Dear Sir/Madam->Yours truly/faithfully or Dear Mr Smith ->Yours sincerely - the few letters rarely follow these “rules”.

I have had (1) Dear Mr Smith without any closure from the UK Pensions Service, (2) Dear Mr Smith->Yours sincerely from the local power board, and (3) Hi Mr Smith->Until next time from my bank. Personally I have never used ‘Yours faithfully’ (which smacks of subservience) since the turn of the century, even when applying for a job. I do still use “Sincerely” in a few emails (particularly when making a complaint). 

For the life of me, I cannot see why bygone formalities are still required for examinations such as the International English Language Test. 

As to emails, it seems more difficult to be formal. Mostly I use “Hi + first name” and end with “Cheers”. 

My question is what are  other people in English-speaking countries experiencing? Is stuff like “Yours faithfully” “Yours truly” now passé? If so is there any reason to teach them?

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This sentence:

“By securing a permanent US commitment to the defence of all its members from 1949 onwards, Nato changed the calculus confronting potential aggressors.”

appeared in this Daily Telegraph article.

I think I grasp what the author is getting at, but it does seem a most unusual and perhaps incorrect use of “calculus.”

Or am I behind the times once again?

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The definitions of “go figure” that I found in various dictionaries do not match what I thought it meant. Is it just me?

Here are what I found:

“said to express the speaker’s belief that something is amazing or incredible.”

“used when you ​tell someone a ​fact and you then ​want to say that the ​fact is ​surprising, ​strange or ​stupid”

“Expresses perplexity, puzzlement, or surprise (as if telling somebody to try to make sense of the situation).”

I thought “go figure” meant the same as “duh!” or “just my luck”. That is, it’s obvious after the fact. It implies “I should have known.”

Let’s take some of the examples that appear in these dictionaries:

“The car wouldn’t start yesterday no matter what I did, but today it works just fine. Go figure.”

My interpretation of this is that, given how unlucky he is in general, in retrospect, it’s obvious that this happened to him again. It’s just part of being unlucky in general.

“She says she wants to have a conversation, but when I try, she does all the talking. Go figure.”

My interpretation for this is that she is already known to the speaker as a talkative person, but since she claims to want a conversation, the speaker gave her another chance, but again, all she does is talk not listen. Duh! The speaker should have known. It should not be a surprise to the speaker.

“The paint was really good, so they stopped making it - go figure, right?”

Again, what is implied here is not something surprising or unexpected; it’s the exact opposite. The speaker is being sarcastic. Because consumers have no appreciation for good products, they all fail, and bad products like Microsoft Windows thrive. “Duh! I should have known that they would stop making it.”

When people are genuinely surprised and puzzled about something, and they want someone to go figure it out. I generally hear people say, “figure that one out.” I find this very different from “go figure”. The latter has a sense of irony or sarcasm that the former does not have. It almost means the opposite. That is, “forget it, don’t even bother trying to figure it out because it’s just my luck,” or “don’t bother figuring it out because people are just stupid.”

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Is it really correct to say such  a thing as, “We are waiting on your mother,” when referring to the anticipation of the arrival of someone’s mother?  It would seem to me that it would be more appropriate, if not more comfortable (at least for the lady), to “wait for your mother.”

One can wait on the corner, and one can wait on a table (if that is his profession), but does one really want to wait on his dinner? 

It seems to me that the preposition “from”  has been replaced by “on” when used in conjunction with the word “wait.”

It makes me cringe! Lately, I’ve heard it so often, I must look like a victim of St. Vitus Dance!

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Does this
“The flu is going around. In order to keep from catching it, you should gargle and wash your hands regularly”
Make sense? I’ve never heard. “In order to keep from catching it.” used in a sentence before.

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One hears this phrase more and more from sports commentators. A typical example would be a commentator at a sports event referring to an injured player or perhaps some celebrity as “watching on from the grandstand”.

Makes one wonder if, and why, “looking on” has suddenly become passé; or is it just an affectation started by someone trying to be different for the sake of being different and which has then been adopted by those who are inclined to participate in fads? Shall on-lookers now be known as on-watchers? Somehow it just doesn’t sound right.

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I have recently received a number of emails where the phrase “Thank you for reaching out to ___” is used instead of what I would expect to be the normal expression “Thank you for contacting ___”.

These emails are from companies in the USA.

Is “reaching out” now the in vogue expression for the simple act of contacting someone?

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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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Latest Comments

percentages

  • jack1
  • September 22, 2017, 1:11am

For the most part, it is accurate that spelling out numbers is wrong. However, in legal writing (I'm a legal proofreader), often it is required that everything be spelled out exactly, with the express purpose of making sure there is no wiggle room for interpretation. Shakespeare had some thoughts about lawyers in Henry VI...

Sweet and Savory

  • Devlyn
  • September 19, 2017, 11:59pm

Unsavoury sums it all up. When something is unsavoury, it means that it is just vile. Got nothing to do with salty and sweet

I don’t think...

I don't think implies or directly translates to "I do not think" when actually I do think, but "I think you did not" a more positive direct statement or translation. Or "I don't think" so is "I think not" because you do THINK "no".

“Liquid water”?

  • quincy
  • September 17, 2017, 9:58am

In my geography homework they ask if snow and ice are examples of liquid water but i can't find it in the book and i can't find a good awnser online can you help me?

What about the following situation? Would it be the same "equivalence"?
"Was Helen the murderer?"
"It was she?" or "It was her"?

“This is she” vs. “This is her”

  • Tdream
  • September 13, 2017, 9:50pm

I was taught in school, "This is she." One way to completely dodge the issue would be the following scenario:
Hello, may I speak to Jane Doe?
Yes, This is Mrs. Doe (or Jane).

“This is she” vs. “This is her”

  • Tdream
  • September 13, 2017, 9:50pm

I was taught in school, "This is she." One way to completely dodge the issue would be the following scenario:
Hello, may I speak to Jane Doe?
Yes, This is Mrs. Doe (or Jane).

Exact same

LIfe keeps changing all the time so why wouldn't language and the way it's used and accepted?

Resume, resumé, or résumé?

For those who prefer a little ostentatiousness, an easy way to type "résumé" (with the accents) is to misspell it as "resum." When you right click on the misspelled version, one of the replacement options is "résumé." As to whether you SHOULD use the accents, I'll leave that to my fiancée.

Sleep / Asleep

  • justin1
  • September 12, 2017, 7:36am

I live in the midwest (NE) and I hear it all the time, mostly from ignorant or lesser educated people, usually by choice. I had a roommate who use to get called late at night and he'd answer like "What do you want?, I'm sleep". I thought I misheard him the first time or 2 but every time the word came up it was used in that manner... as if he was assuming the process himself, no longer being the person he was and transcending as the very form of inactive consciousness.

I mean, the first time I heard it, I had to put the fork down because I was eat, my thoughts were run so fast. It literally made my stomach turn that I ran to the bathroom, and there I was sh*t so bad, prob due to the verbal diarrhea I was hear.