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 a 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 fao.org 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

http://www.etymonline.com/...

http://www.collinsdictionary.com/...

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

Five by Five

It’s a military meaning. Communications rating from 1-5. 5 being great.

English being my fourth language, you are all confusing me. I spent my precious time reading all your comments, but all I got was nothing but confusion.

Is it sunday or sunduh?

My mother, who grew up in St. Louis as did my grandparents, used to say sunduh. I never really questioned her about it.

“she” vs “her”

  • whodat
  • January 21, 2023, 3:38pm

If "elizabethingram" is still in her probation period of employment, this company needs to FIRE her IMMEDIATELY!!!!!! ANYONE and I mean ANYONE who doesn't know correct English ONLY makes the company for which he/she works look beyond inferior!!! Does ANY company wish to be perceived as inferior??????????????

Old post, I know, but I just came across here somehow and wanted to share an old 1962 paper I came across recently about the origin of "O.K."

There was a Boston fad of, what Allen Read calls, "humourous misspellings" and abbreviations. O.K was likely formed from a humourous misspelling of "Oll Korrect"

"The author who popularized misspelling as a humorous device in America was George W. Arnold (I783-I838), who wrote letters under the pen name "Joe Strickland" from 1825 to 1830. The following passage is characteristic:

Konstanty Nople, Jennywerry, 1828

Deer & lovin unkle Ben,

I spoze you thort kaze I was so darn fur of that I wasnt goen tu rite yu agin. but iph you think I kan evver forgit yew, ur Ant Nabby yew are tarnally mistaken, kaze I should remember yew iph I waz tother side ov awl1e kreashun. not by a darn site-un iph I evver git Bak agin i'll be hang'd if yew evver ketch me in this kutthrote kuntry agin. taint half so good as oald Varmount-I kum plaigy neer starvin tu deth afore I got here, we hadn't northen under hevven tu ete haff the time only Dry Kod fish un taters-finally and tarnally arter an evverlastin long pasage we got heer. i'de bin see sik awl the time, un had pritty neer spewd my gizard up, til by the lord harry I wa'rnt much bigger round than Dekon Bigalows pichfork handel-when I got hear tha axt me if I was evver in Turky before, no ses I. but i've had a darn menny turkys in me-i'de aleys heerd a plaigy deel about, Turky in Urop, in the gogfry when I went tu skool tu Ikabud Krane, whare I larnt tu Spell-un by the jumpin jingo my mouth wartered az soon as I landed.""

The entire paper is definitely a fun read and I highly recommend checking it out!

Read, Allen W. (19 July 1941). "The Evidence on O.K.". Saturday Review of Literature.

The best solution may be to avoid the awkward use of my/mine:

"Greg and I so appreciate you taking our child to school today."

Mentee?

"Mentee" smacks more than a little of "the Kingfish" on radio's "Amos 'n' Andy." "Now, you see, Andy, I is the mentor and you is the mentee!" Maybe that's one reason I hate it!

Mentee?

"Mentee" smacks more than a little of "the Kingfish" from radio's "Amos 'n' Andy." "Now, you see, Andy, I is the mentor, and you is the mentee!" Maybe that's one reason I hate it.

Pronunciation: aunt

Grew saying “ont” (from Manhattan). It’s weird to say “ant” and I don’t know that I could ever bring myself to say it consistently even though I live in the mountain west region now. Sometimes I say “ant” so I don’t get funny or confused looks, but it feels odd whenever I say it.

“I says”

I've wondered about it too. I hear my mom & her mother say it often. Both born in city of Detroit, polish Irish English ancestry neither blue nor white collar folk.
I've pointed out to my mom and asked her why and she said she didn't even realize she did it. She is incredibly articulate, pretty well educated and an Avid Reader so it's really interesting that she does it