Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

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Proofreading Service - Pain in the English
Proofreading Service - Pain in the English

Your Pain Is Our Pleasure

24-Hour Proofreading Service—We proofread your Google Docs or Microsoft Word files. We hate grammatical errors with passion. Learn More

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.

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Latest Posts : Etymology / History

I had never thought I would ever wonder what “width” is until my 12-year old daughter came home one day and told me that her math teachers (not just one but two) told her that “width” in geometry is the vertical side of a rectangle. That to me was like saying up is down and down is up. How could this be?

It turns out that her teachers are not alone. Take a look at this page I came across while Googling on the topic. It says:

In the case of a square or a rectangle, the expression length (1) is commonly used instead of base and width (w) instead of height. In the case of a circle the expression diametre (d) is used.

“Width instead of height” is very much like saying up is down. Where did this come from?

And, what is even more disconcerting is that the teachers are not aware of this ambiguous nature of “width.” Two other teachers told me that width is always the horizontal side, and another told me that she has heard others call the vertical side “width.” So, apparently, each is teaching their students in an authoritative manner their own definition of “width.” If a 12-year old is told by her math teacher that “width” in geometry refers to the vertical side, why should she doubt it? Unless, of course, she was also told that “width” can be vertical or horizontal (i.e. direction neutral, like “length”). But that is apparently not what is happening at school in New York City.

If we teach our kids that a triangle has three sides, we don’t want them thinking that the definition of “triangle” could be flexible as if it could have four or five sides. If the definition of “width” is not universal, they need to know that. Here is a case in point. The following question was in 2016 Common Core Math Test for Grade 6.

“A carpenter built three bookcases, A, B, and C, to stand next to each other along a wall. The total length of the wall is 456 centimeters. The carpenter will build two more bookcases, D and E, along the same wall. These two bookcases will have equal widths. The widths of bookcases A, B, and C are shown in the table blow.”

Now, if you were taught that in geometry, “width” means the vertical side and “length” means the horizontal side, you would have to be confused reading this question. The correct response would be, “But why should the ‘widths’ of the bookcases have anything to do with the ‘length’ of the wall in fitting the bookcases?”

My daughter tried to figure this out by drawing a bunch of bookshelves with different heights, and eventually gave up because the question made no sense to her.

In Merriam-Webster, the word “width” has no ambiguity: “the horizontal measurement taken at right angles to the length.” After all, the word “height” has no ambiguity, so why should we think “width” would?

But looking at the Oxford dictionary gives us a slightly different answer: “The measurement or extent of something from side to side; the lesser of two or the least of three dimensions of a body.”

In other words, in a rectangle, “the lesser of the two” sides would be called “width” regardless of the orientation. So, it appears that this is an American-versus-British issue, or is it? (Note the spelling of “diametre” on the page from quoted above.)

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I have searched the forum and not found any reference to this matter. More and more, I’m hearing this kind of construction: “The fact of the matter is is that we need to...” or “The biggest problem is is that we don’t have...” I’ve even heard President Obama use it. At first blush, it bothers me. There’s no need for the second “is,” and no grammatical precedent. That is to say, I don’t know what it might spill over from. Furthermore, it seems like a fairly recent arrival. What do you think? Is this something we should eschew or embrace? Has anyone else heard and taken note of this?

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What is the origin of the phrase “I’m just saying”?

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Can anyone tell me when and how the adding of “ish” to the end of words got started? Do we lack such confidence in ourselves that we need to add “ish” like a disclaimer to our own words? When has the word become not word enough?

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When did “issue” come to mean “problem” ?

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When an why did “exactly the same” become “the exact same” and more recently “the same exact”?

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There exists a claim that the word “man” originally only referred to people of unimplied sex. To restate, “man” always refereed to both male and female people.

The claims I found were made by sources known by some to be categorically highly unreliable, so I turn to you.

There are claims that “wer” or “were” was used at least for adult males.

The most reliable sources I’ve found to support that are

What evidence can you provide of the use of “were” or “wer” in english and the use of “man” and whether “man” changed over time with respect to gender or whether there was always ambiguity?

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I just have the impression that the old proverbs that I heard as a child aren’t heard as much today. People just don’t seem to use them much anymore. 

Of course this is hard to prove: maybe I am not mixing in the right circles; maybe there are newer proverbs that have replaced the older (proverbs change with each generation); maybe the media and/or gurus have picked up some and ignored others; maybe few make into print outside the tabloids and popular magazines. 

As far as the printed word goes, of those I have looked at some seem to peak around the 1930′s and then trail off, only to recover somewhat over the last decade or two. “Actions speak louder than words” was the commonest one I found, 3:1 against “Beggars can not be choosers”.

What is your impression? Is proverb use declining or just new ones becoming popular?

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More and more lately I’ve been hearing and seeing a change in the prepositions used in common phrases.

I’ve already commented on PITE about the use of “deal to” instead of “deal with” in NZ, and of course we have the age old debate about “different from/to”.

Recently I noticed some others creeping in:-

“what do you make to....” instead of “what do you make make of .....”

“I have no intention on.......” instead of “I have no intention of......”.

I’m sure there are others.

While there may be nothing grammatically wrong in this, it does sound a little strange and raises the question of why and how such usage arises.

Does it stem from a desire to be different just for the sake of being different?

Is it down to some kind of narcissism?  

. when saying “what reading

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Will words like fæces, archæologist, fœtus disappear from our language or should they be preserved?

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Latest Comments

Idea Vs. Ideal

  • Judy00
  • October 24, 2021, 10:45am

If you know what they mean, get over it. We’ve all butchered the English language before. I have a great idea, stop acting like you’re so perfect. I ain’t got time for this. Lol

Idea Vs. Ideal

  • Judy00
  • October 24, 2021, 10:42am

If you know what they mean, get over it. We’ve all butchered the English language before. I have a great idea, stop acting like you’re so perfect!

“ton” in the Victorian era

I'm discovering that this may be the origin of 'panettone', from the Milanese dialect term 'pan del ton', in which 'ton' would mean the same as described here. (Christmas was the only time of year when the poor were allowed to eat the same bread as the rich.)

Hello, Math tutor here. I grew up in the British system of education however I now live in the U.S. and tutor Math at an Elementary School. I was horrified when I saw a teacher labeling the shorter side of a rectangle as the length and the longer side as the width. I learned exactly what the Oxford Dictionary states: width is the lesser of 2 sides. When I pointed it out to the teacher he proceeded to argue with me and tell me I was wrong so I guess you’re right. It’s an American vs. British issue.

Reading through this conversation 9 years in the future is absolutely hilarious! Sadly, the English language cares little for the opinions of a handful of pedants and continues to evolve with utter disregard of those who try to stop it. 'Their', 'they' and 'them' are now in common usage when referring to a singular person of unknown gender, while the default 'his', 'he', 'him' has pretty much died a death. Poor D.A.W.

“Let his/him come in.”

In grammar, a sentence is the basic grammatical unit. It contains a group of words and expresses a complete thought. A sentence consists of a subject and a predicate. For example in the sentence "Bill writes good poems" Bill is the subject of the sentence and writes good poems is the predicate.

I hesitate to offer an opinion on this because I'm a white native English speaker, but my wife is from Japan and I've been studying Japanese for long time so I feel I have at least a little perspective outside the one I was born with.

First, if were true that Asian accents are definitively harder to understand than European accents all else being equal, I'd just have to put it down to racism, though not necessarily the malicious kind, more the ignorant kind.

But I'm not willing to accept that as true, at least not as a rule. For one thing, while Japanese and Korean have a lot of linguistic similarities, Mandarin Chinese is extremely different in syntax, phonemes, and pretty much everything else besides Chinese characters, which don't matter in speech. And then there are many other Asian languages which have their own unique points, so it's unfair to lump them all together as though Asian accents all sounded the same.

The one thing I would say is that in general, European school systems equip their youth to speak English at a much higher standard than do Japanese schools. The result is that many Europeans who travel to North America are better able to form grammatical sentences than Japanese people, even if their accents are far from native. Part of that may be due to the fact that Japanese and English are much farther apart than are, say, French and English. Scandinavians often sound nearly native in English, and it's no wonder because their languages are so closely related to English, as I learned from studying Norwegian. But part of it may be because the Japanese school system just isn't very good at teaching English. (I say this from observation. I have no opinion of the school systems in other Asian countries.)

Anyway, this is a very difficult problem to quantify, if it exists at all. The original poster, Dyske, didn't even say whether he himself had a hard time being understood or if he was just talking about other Asian people. Since there are many people of Asian descent where I live who were born here and sound like any other native English speakers, and have no difficulties being understood, I'm not sure if this is a real phenomenon (all else being equal) or not.

As to Indian subcontinent accents being hard to understand. I'm sure it's not contextual information. There are many accents within the English language that are hard for North Americans to understand without exposure, and the South Asian accent is just one of them. Others include Scottish, Caribbean, and New Zealand accents. Even British movies needed subtitles or dubbing in the early days of talkies because North American ears had not yet been familiarized with that way of speaking English.

Vaccine doses or dosages?

And that careless usage is why he had to resign. Among other things.

I will go home.

I can't answer this question, but it may be left over from old English. I note that in Norwegian (a cousin from the Old English side), there are two forms of "home": hjem and hjemme. The former is used when movement is involved: "Jeg drar hjem." [I'm going home.] The latter is used when someone is stationary: "Jeg er hjemme." [I'm (at) home.] Similar constructions are used for the Norwegian words for "up" and "down".

Perhaps "home" is so basic to us, that our language treats it as a direction (like "up" and "down") rather than as a place.

Sells or sold?

"Sold only if they used to sell them but they do not sell them anymore." Well, if you were telling about something that happened today, that's true.

But if you were telling a story from the past, you'd say, "I found a store that sold ferrets." And that doesn't mean that they no longer do so.