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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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Latest Posts

Is there not a redundancy in the use of “got” with “have”? Why say “I have got” or “I’ve got” when “I have” conveys the exact meaning? The same would be true of its use in the second or third person.

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Can the term ‘self-confessed’ be correct? I read it last week and it’s been bugging me ever since. Surely the only way to confess is to do it personally? Can someone else confess to my crime or secret? The ‘self’ part is redundent.

Then I thought it might come from a police background. If someone is about to be questioned and they confess without any probing I can see how ‘self-confessed’ could make sense, as they were not forced to confess by interrogation. But it still feels like saying ‘cold ice’ to me!

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I’m looking for a phrase or idiom that conveys the same sense of wild goose chase or false lead as a red herring, but that is not placed intentionally. A red herring is necessarily an attempt to mislead. I’m looking for a phrase that can apply if the distraction is unintentional.

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The first time I heard the phrase “went missing” was a few years while watching a national news broadcast. The new reporter interviewed a midwestern sheriff about the case of a missing girl. He said she “went missing eight days ago”. I assumed it was a colloquialism (and very poor grammar). Now I hear it and read it quite frequently. Where did this strange expression come from? How can someone “go” missing? Shouldn’t it be “disappeared”? Or perhaps, “has been missing”?

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It sounds to me as if this term is descended from “What it is”, a Black-American expression that goes back to the 1960s. Then it meant, “It’s part of The System”, or “It’s just part of how African-Americans have to live in the USA”, implying restriction, being the object of racism and prejudice, and adopting a philosophical and pragmatic way of living under pressure. “What it is” seemed to come from late 1960s black culture, including the Black Panthers, so-called “soul music” and more. It might come from a song. I only heard black people say it, never anyone else, and it was an expression of positive resignation, as if it also meant, “We can’t change that but we will move forward anyway.” Now, 45 years later, “It is what it is”, sounds like a more vague descendent. I think it’s weaker and less compelling because it sounds artificial, as if a movie screenwriter created it. Again, I dislike the vagueness of it, especially because wen people say it, they seem to imply it explains something, which it does not. It seems to be a weak vulgar shrug uttered by those who don’t know what else to say, and are baffled or confused themselves. I’d accept it from African-Americans, who might catch a subtlety or a meaning I don’t. But now I’ve heard it from 2 highly educated white friends, and it sounds phony coming from them. WHAT DOES IT MEAN AND IS IT EVER VALID OR WORTHWHILE?

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Are you writers aware of time? More and more often I read about a character staring at another character for several moments. If you mean several brief time periods, try using seconds. It’s much more powerful and precise. For example, “the angry client stared at the well-dressed bank manager for several seconds”. That’s believable and many of us have experience glaring at someone for several seconds. But if you use several “moments” in that phrase it just sounds endless and wrong and inaccurate. Who holds eye contact for several “moments”? Unless it’s a prelude to a kiss, someone is sure to walk away before several moments are up.

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I’m curious as to the origin of the phrase “...not that there’s anything wrong with that.”

I have a vague recollection of hearing it for the first time -- possibly in a comedian’s act? -- many years ago, clearly in the context that it now seems to ubiquitously have: a reference to homosexuality. For the life of me, I cannot recall who it was I first heard say this. I do seem to recall that it was long before Seinfeld made it popular.

Does anyone else have a similar memory?

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Normally, I would say “Williams had 4 singles for the day,” but many sportscasters use “ON the day” instead. Does anyone know the origin of this use? The editor of an online baseball encyclopedia had no idea, so I’m not sure where to go for an answer.

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I’m a new editor and am confused about the use of “condition”. If it is used to describe a strict experimental condition, is only “on condition that” can be used, but not “under the conditions of”? A senior editor tells me that the latter can not be used to describe experimental conditions, and if one really wants to use it, he/she should change the prep. into “on”. However, there is no such saying as “on the conditions that” in a dictionary(Longman). Looking forward to correct explanation.

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This Japanese program claims that Peter Pan regularly killed children when they grew too old. Here is the paragraph from the original book by James Matthew Barrie:

All wanted blood except the boys, who liked it as a rule, but to-night were out to greet their captain. The boys on the island vary, of course, in numbers, according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out; but at this time there were six of them, counting the twins as two.

The controversial phrase here is “thins them out”. How would you interpret it?

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Latest Comments

eg, e.g., or eg.

  • jayles
  • January 13, 2018, 12:48pm

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=e...

E.g. or e.g. is at least twelve times more common in the book corpus used by Google.
"Eg" or "EG" is sometimes an abbreviation for "electrogram", or "elliptical galaxy". For some reason, a few German texts are included in the Google books results, and these use "EG" to mean "Eingriff" and so forth. I have only sighted one valid example of "eg" being used to mean "for example" in this corpus.
From all this I would conclude that "e.g." is the norm.

eg, e.g., or eg.

I have used eg and ie for a long time. Why waste space or time?
We don't write p.c. for a personal computer, l.e.d. of light emitting diode, etc. (yes, not e.t.c.). I also a agree with Peter X, we say e g, not e dot g dot. I am involved in writing Australian technical Standard, and always drive for efficiency and simplicity.

On Tomorrow

  • scylla
  • January 9, 2018, 4:43pm

Thank you for this reference. As others have said, I have mostly heard this as Black usage in the South and find it a charming idiom, but I needed a discussion to reference about why I would leave "on" out when transcribing for reports.

It is a shame. There's an endless supply of self-satisfied fools in charge of education, and in charge of testing that education. The goal appears to be to ask the question is the minimum number of words, as though "question space" on the printed page is something of supreme importance.

Another illustration of the confusion is with bathroom sinks. Some online vendor of sinks will call the front-to-back distance the width; others, the left-to-right distance.

First of all, you can't say "the U.S. total"; the proper phrase is "the entire U.S." The two numbered sentences should read:

1. The graphs above show the rates of electricity generation of Kansas and of the entire U.S. in 2010.
2. In 2010, the rate of electricity generation by nuclear power plants in Kansas was about the same as the rate for the entire U.S. [outside Kansas.]

In sentence 2, I've moved the date to the front of the sentence because otherwise it's too far from what it modifies.

That second sentence does not seem plausible, with or without the bracketed phrase. Do you mean "about the same as the rate for all other sources of energy in the entire U.S."?

In any case, I'm not tempted to use "that of" or "of that" in these sentences

“It is what it is”

I teach a high-school equivalency test prep class for adults who didn't finish high school. Recently, I was reading over a student's essay in which she used "it is what it is". I'm so sick of hearing this empty, vague bit of bullshit that I circled the phrase and replied:
WHAT is what WHAT is?.

I know that my response was just as vague and unhelpful as this bit of trite street wisdom has become. I just wish that someone, anyone, would have the courage to step out from behind these empty words and state clearly what the "it" is that he or she is talking about.

Otherwise, they can shove "it" up their ass(es).

Pronunciation: aunt

There’s only one way to say it. PERIOD.
The sister of your mother is pronounced exactly the same as if she was a tiny creature living with a million others in a dirt hill

Having read most comments,I agree that all three prepositions would work in the second sentence,though of sounds more modern so to speak.on another nore there are puzzling errors in both the questions and the comments offered.

Pronunciation: aunt

Aunt should rhyme with "haunt" and "taunt." Raised in Southern California, but my family hails from Arkansas.