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

gifting vs. giving a gift

  • el
  • January 21, 2019, 6:42pm

"mindful" ugh!

“she” vs “her”

I believe in this case both are correct

In my experience of tutoring Asian students on how to write the basic, four-page, college-level analysis paper (aka "bonehead English" as required for all graduating from the University of California, etc.), the biggest difference between Asian and English/European languages is SYNTAX.
As we use it in both English and European languages, syntax provides the purpose of constructing a sentence/phrase with a concept of order. Example: The brown dog jumped over the fence to chase a blue ball. Some European languages place adjectives after the noun, but the basic syntax is still noun/verb with modifiers such as adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, etc. So although the words are different in English and European tongues, the concept of a sentence is the same. Not so for the Asians. I am not fluent in any Asian language, but helped dozens of Asian-first/English-second speakers pass required college writing courses by focusing on sentence structure and emphasizing how they needed to use it to make points in essay-style writing. Perhaps someone else can better explain this from an Asian-speaker's point of view. I only can say what worked from my view as a college writing tutor while helping mostly math and engineering majors learn to construct proper sentences and graduate with Univ. of Calif. bachelors' degrees.

On Tomorrow

  • Rakeem
  • January 15, 2019, 3:44am

You folks obviously need a if anyone of you is the authority on language! It's amazing the types of difference people will use to ego trip. As if anyone's "English" here isn't a derivative of some other, older English...get a life! Do you have any idea how many standards of English exist on this Earth--primarily because of how language was exacted throughout history?! Skin color, eye color, hair color, skin texture, height, origin--folks find any reason to try and make themselves feel better than someone else. You folks are sick. When that ghastly-colored, wrong-eye-color-having, wrong-height, super-bonics-speaking scientist makes a life-saving drug that you need...I bet your snobbish asses will drink every last drop! It's better to unite than to divide.

gifting vs. giving a gift

Gifted is pretentious. People trying to sound posh use it. Almost like so called "experts" who say " what we call". What does everyone else call it then?

gifting vs. giving a gift

Gifted is pretentious. People trying to sound posh use it. Almost like so called "experts" who say " what we call". What does everyone else call it then?

Might could

  • Carma
  • January 12, 2019, 4:06am

A lot of my family says this and it has a very specific meaning. "I might" means "maybe I will." "I could" means either "yes I can" or "I could but maybe I won't" (depending on emphasis).

But "I might could" is different than both; it means the same as "I might be able to," which is different from both of the other phrases. It's a colloquialism, not bad grammar.

Plural s-ending Possessives

Last name is Woods. I want to have something personalized with “The Woods”, but the name already has an ‘s’ on the end. What would be the correct way to do this? I think Woodses would look funny. And Woods’ would be a possessive, right? I usually just skip personalizing things because of this... :(

According to me, "Big Data-driven project" is the correct form of a sentence. Also, share others opinion with me.

I think the correct way to say it is: "Your call will be answered according to its place in the order of calls we have received."

It won't be answered just "in the order it was received" but according to its PLACE (or position) in the order.

That's how I see it.

- haskellbob