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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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My wife (from northern Virginia) uses “up top” where I would use “up on top”. For example, where I (from Wyoming) would say that “the box is up on top of the refrigerator”, my wife leaves out the word “on”, and she would say that it is “up top of the refrigerator”. She (and her family) are the only people I know who do this, and this leads me to believe that it is a regionalism. Is it?

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When I was brought up in England we used to say things like “it’s the put-er-on-er-er” for the brush used to put the polish on, and the “taker-off-er-er”. Or later, the “mover-out-er-er” for the spouse who must move out. 

Is this “real” English? Why don’t we use it in writing? Why are there two “er” at the end? Is there any description of this in any grammar? How widespread is this construction?

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I have noticed recently that the phrase “admits to” keeps popping up in contexts where the “to” is obviously redundant.

“He admits to the offence” 

“He admitted to the charge”

Is this a new fad or has it been going on for some time?

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When you Google “What does curb your dog mean?”, you find three different answers.

  1. Control your dog.
  2. Pick up dog poop.
  3. Take the dog to the curb to pee or poo.

I always understood it to mean #2, so even when I saw a sign that said “Curb your dog,” I would let my dog poo there but I picked it up afterward. I figured the person who put the sign there would be satisfied with that. But if #3 is what is meant by the sign, s/he would not be happy.

What is confusing is the word “curb” itself. It can mean “control” or “edge of street” which are two completely different definitions, and I would assume that they came from completely unrelated etymological roots. The expression is so vague and confusing that it is ineffective.

The only one that actually makes sense is #1 as “curb” means to control.

#2 doesn’t really make sense. The word “curb” has no definition that means to pick up after something, although it can indirectly imply cleaning up after the misbehavior of your own dog. (i.e., Since dogs cannot control themselves, you need to control the aftermath for them.) It’s too vague. You should just say, “Pick up after your dog.”

#3 is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, “curb” in this context should be used as a noun. I seriously doubt that “take your dog to the curb” was what was meant when the signs first started appearing in public. If you are the first person ever to create this sign, and if you meant to say, “take your dog to the curb”, then you would not write “Curb your dog.” You could not expect other people to understand what you meant by that, as there was no such use of the word “curb” in a verb form. You would have written: “Take your dog to the curb.” My second problem with #3 is that it implies it’s fine to leave the poo as long as you take the dog to the curb.

My theory is that “Curb your dog” originally had only one definition: “Control your dog.” And, the sign originally was introduced because many dogs were not kept on leash, and would cause trouble, like attacking kids, starting a fight with other dogs, barking uncontrollably, and running into the traffic. Ideally, they wanted to say, “Keep your dog on leash”, but at the time, this probably felt too extreme, so they just wanted to ask dog owners to responsibly control their dogs’ behavior. Then, in big cities like New York, some people started interpreting the word “curb” to mean the edge of the street/sidewalk, although it’s a bit of a stretch, given that “curb” in this case should not be used as a verb.

This is my theory of how the expression was originally introduced and evolved to include all three definitions. What do you think?

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Why, for a task, can we take it on, or put it off But for clothing we take it off and put it on?

(background: I am an American living in Hungary, so teaching/correcting English comes up a lot, and many here learn British English, so even I learn new words. People here often mix up the words for “put on” your clothes or “take off” clothes. They’ll say put off your jacket, or take on your shoes, etc. This became an embarrassingly awkward situation yesterday when I had to get an x-ray and ultrasound, and the tech didn’t speak very good English. She told me to undress everything, but then said I could take on my trousers, or put off something, and I really had no idea how “undressed” I had to get. I was thinking of how to explain it, that putting should be away from you, and taking should be towards you... but when it comes to clothing, we use the opposite - put ON and take OFF. Unless we’re taking it OUT of a closet and putting it AWAY. aaahh!!!)

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Just what does “You have two choices” actually mean? Since “You have a choice” indicates that more than one option exists, what is “You have two choices” meant to convey?

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Why do we nowadays have to pre-book or pre-order items? Surely we always used to book or order them, and they would be delivered when ready.

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I’ve been seeing and hearing people use “based out of” more and more, when they mean simply “based in.” The phrases at first glance would seem to mean opposite things, as if being “based out of New York” would imply one is not actually in New York. But it’s clear people use them with the same intention. 

Case in point: At the U. S. Small Business Administration website a paragraph about Home-Based Businesses includes this: “In fact, more than half of all U.S. businesses are based out of an owner’s home.”

I see this phenomenon as yet another example of what is to me a peculiar affection for a term or phrase longer than one with the same meaning that’s been considered standard for a long time. Folks no longer plan, they pre-plan. We take preventative steps, not preventive. But “based out of” seems worse, because to me it’s just bad usage.

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I’m not sure when it started, but at some point, servers in restaurants, when coming around to your table to check on you, started asking “how’s everything tasting?”, rather than the formerly prevalent “how is everything?”. It seems as if a universal email went out to all wait staff everywhere, with the decree that this is now the proper way to phrase the question. But while it’s no longer a new practice, it still grates on my ears whenever it’s asked of me. I mean, this is FOOD: When asking about someone’s satisfaction regarding food, isn’t the sense of taste implied? Are they otherwise expecting someone to reply, “Well, it TASTES great, but it looks disgusting and smells terrible”? To me, asking “how’s everything” instead would imply not only the food, but also the congeniality and promptness of service, the atmosphere... ie, the overall experience. By narrowing the inquiry down to taste only, it seems to make the statement that the establishment doesn’t much care about the patron’s OVERALL satisfaction! I think this is the aspect of it that disturbs me: I can prepare all sorts of wonderful food in my kitchen, and for a fraction of the price of eating out. What I feel I’m paying for when dining out is the experience as much as the food, and it is my satisfaction with that experience that this new question (besides its annoying redundancy) seems to deliberately avoid.

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I’ve always believed that, especially with clothing, that there are stripes (vertical) and bands or hoops (horizontal) but I hear more and more people describing bands or hoops as stripes, and even as horizontal stripes. Another evolution?

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Latest Comments

couple vs couple of

“A couple of things” is incorrect.

Besides it being incorrect,
the word "of" adds nothing to the meaning of the phrase,
"a couple things."

As a full stack developer who speaks/writes several coding languages with direct consequences for syntactical errors, I will say that I appreciate the more liberal view of how to apply rules to human language. Also, somehow, I got here after being curious about hypercorrective phonetic overcompensation vs overregularization. (What a mouth full.)

If we approach this philosophically, the rules of language are helpful for standardizing communication in order to create clarity and reduce mistakes. When they are overly formal or held too tightly, they seem to do the opposite. While I will certainly concede that, "this is she," is correct based on the consensus of today's experts I would simply like to point back to the valid arguments of context describing English as a largely Germanic language greatly impacted by the French and Victorian English and thus take a slightly more fatalistic perspective. If the exact evil powers of colonial imperialism which conquered the west didn't envelop and permeate so much of modern academia, the technically right mode could very easily be, "this is her." The language is a mishmash, mutt of a thing anyway.

Please ask yourself why the rules "need" to be upheld. Are they moving us towards a beautifully absolute linguistic truth? I think not. They have been forged and derived, refined and convoluted by a lot of people with a lot of opinions and experiences over a lot of time. When viewed with actual humility and a little bit of perspective, these debates are interesting, but their importance is a bit over-inflated. It really is lovely how language evolves with us as a dynamic aspect of animal interaction.

Besides considering all the chance that went into the correct rules, might you also ask yourself how so much pedantry drives socioeconomic polarization and then reassess how the rules are impacting clear, error free communication as well as the oppression of entire communities of human beings. If the dominant results are derision and confusion instead of clarity, maybe further revision is in order. Are your lingual loyalties based in the fear of societal decline or simple change. Are you afraid of not being able to distinguish yourself socially or economically by the content of your character and quality of your thoughts? Essentially you're ferociously defending a system that was created by other imperfect humans. Have some flexibility and please refrain from the slippery slope arguments about complete deconstruction. That is the most absurd bit I I read in this long list of comments. I dislike the word "conversate" as much as the next girl, but the fundamentals of language suggest that if enough people use a word or phrase, it will become part of vernacular and then proper diction. It will creep up on some scholar and start popping into peer reviewed articles and everyone will stop caring and it will be normalized...

By the way, for bruschetta, how many of you say brew-shedda and how many of you say brew-skate-ah? The second one is correct...at least according to formal Italian. I can't tell you how many intelligent people I meet who just don't know what they don't know.

In the end, if you're too attached to your high horse, do some reading about the theory of multiple intelligences and expand your understanding of the human experience in order to breed empathy and better guide your heart in these situations. Being ruled by your ego, insecurity, fear, and even sense of tradition makes you sound far more infantile than any simple colloquial telephonic reception.

Be well,
Eliza

As a full stack developer who speaks/writes several coding languages with direct consequences for syntactical errors, I will say that I appreciate the more liberal view of how to apply rules to human language. Also, somehow, I got here after being curious about hypercorrective phonetic overcompensation vs overregularization. (What a mouth full.)

If we approach this philosophically, the rules of language are helpful for standardizing communication in order to create clarity and reduce mistakes. When they are overly formal or held too tightly, they seem to do the opposite. While I will certainly concede that, "this is she," is correct based on the consensus of today's experts I would simply like to point back to the valid arguments of context describing English as a largely Germanic language greatly impacted by the French and Victorian English and thus take a slightly more fatalistic perspective. If the exact evil powers of colonial imperialism which conquered the west didn't envelop and permeate so much of modern academia, the technically right mode could very easily be, "this is her." The language is a mishmash, mutt of a thing anyway.

Please ask yourself why the rules "need" to be upheld. Are they moving us towards a beautifully absolute linguistic truth? I think not. They have been forged and derived, refined and convoluted by a lot of people with a lot of opinions and experiences over a lot of time. When viewed with actual humility and a little bit of perspective, these debates are interesting, but their importance is a bit over-inflated. It really is lovely how language evolves with us as a dynamic aspect of animal interaction.

Besides considering all the chance that went into the correct rules, might you also ask yourself how so much pedantry drives socioeconomic polarization and then reassess how the rules are impacting clear, error free communication as well as the oppression of entire communities of human beings. If the dominant results are derision and confusion instead of clarity, maybe further revision is in order. Are your lingual loyalties based in the fear of societal decline or simple change. Are you afraid of not being able to distinguish yourself socially or economically by the content of your character and quality of your thoughts? Essentially you're ferociously defending a system that was created by other imperfect humans. Have some flexibility and please refrain from the slippery slope arguments about complete deconstruction. That is the most absurd bit I I read in this long list of comments. I dislike the word "conversate" as much as the next girl, but the fundamentals of language suggest that if enough people use a word or phrase, it will become part of vernacular and then proper diction. It will creep up on some scholar and start popping into peer reviewed articles and everyone will stop caring and it will be normalized...

By the way, for bruschetta, how many of you say brew-shedda and how many of you say brew-skate-ah? The second one is correct...at least according to formal Italian. I can't tell you how many intelligent people I meet who just don't know what they don't know.

In the end, if you're too attached to your high horse, do some reading about the theory of multiple intelligences and expand your understanding of the human experience in order to breed empathy and better guide your heart in these situations. Being ruled by your ego, insecurity, fear, and even sense of tradition makes you sound far more infantile than any simple colloquial telephonic reception.

Be well,
Eliza

We use the plural of the animal from which they were named. Mice is no less awkward than calling it a mouse in the first place.

equivalency

  • jayles
  • July 21, 2017, 1:27pm

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=eq...

Even in American books, equivalence is far more common.

equivalency

I think 'equivalency' is mostly used in America. Even the ngram view of 'equivalence' and 'equivalency' makes it clear that the use of the former is widely prevalent. There is no specific reason to add 'equivalency' to the existing 'equivalence'.

February 10-16, 2014

or . . .

. . . from the 10th to the 16th of February, 2014.

We may SAY ordinals, but we do not WRITE them.

Past tense of “text”

Just say 'texd' sounds like text but when written denotes past tense.

Past tense of “text”

Past tense should remain the same as present tense. "Text" is much more smooth since the "t" sound at the end can have a "d" sound...almost redundant to add another.

I text you today. I text you yesterday.

Past tense of “text”

Text past tense stays the same. He text mr today. He text me yesterday.