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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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Latest Posts

While/among/amid vs whilst/amongst/amidst 

Which of the foregoing variants is older?

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I have seen to-day and to-night used in literature up to the 1920′s. When and why did this become obsolete?

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How popular is the word stymie? Is it possible that it derives from the word stifle?

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Has anyone come across “Anglish”? Anglish or Saxon is described as “...a form of English linguistic purism, which favours words of native (Germanic) origin over those of foreign (mainly Romance and Greek) origin.”

Does anybody have an opinion or thoughts on “Anglish”...

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I’ve noticed the phrase “oh wait” being used insincerely/sarcastically, to make a point. For example: “DOW 10,000!!!! Oh Wait, Make That 7,537.” What is the origin of this sort of usage of “oh wait”?

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I hear people make the word “mine” plural as in, “The book is mines.” This drives me crazy! Has anyone else had this experience and where did this word come from? I have been teaching for over 20 years and it seems to have surfaced in the last 6-8 years or so. Is it just people being lazy?

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My 4-year old daughter haven’t learned about irregular verbs and nouns yet, so she often uses the regular versions like “hided”, “breaked”, “mouses”, “fishes”, etc.. Obviously kids learn the rules and try to consistently apply them instead of learning the usage of every word case by case. So, they face the same exact frustration that ESL students do, which was a bit of a surprise to me. I thought kids learn in a more empirical, case-by-case manner, rather than relying on logical patterns.

This lead me to look up the history of irregular verbs and nouns. If native speakers of English have a hard time learning it at first, how did irregular verbs and nouns come into existence in the first place? It’s as if some sadistic English teacher invented them so that he would have more things to test his students on.

I found this entry on Wikipedia about Indo-European ablaut which explains the history of it. Not being a linguist, I didn’t quite get some of the things explained there, but I understood that the irregular verbs and nouns came from different linguistic systems within which they were perfectly regular. In other words, the English language has incorporated different systems of inflection, and now we are stuck with them.

But I feel that this is something that we could all agree to change, just as the whole world (except for the Americans) decided at one point to adopt the metric system. We just have to deal with the grammar Nazis cringe and squirm uncontrollably for several years until they get over it. We would have one less thing we have to study at school, and the same time and effort can be used to learn something more meaningful and useful.

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I have now found the phrase “pi the type” in two different books and have an idea of the meaning from the context. I would hope to learn more about the meaning and how it might have originated.

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Can anyone explain why the short forms or the nicknames for Robert and Richard are Bob and Dick?

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Ass

Why is the word “ass” considered a curse word inappropriate for children? “Fuck” for instance is understandable because it refers to an act inappropriate for children to engage in. (I personally don’t care, but I understand why other parents would care.) For similar reasons, I understand why any words that refer to our sexual organs would be considered inappropriate for children. “Bitch” is also understandable because it degrades women by associating them to dogs.

When I look up the etymology of the word “ass”, all I see are references to buttocks and rear end. So, who decides or decided that “ass” should not be used by children?

It appears to me that some people at some point in history started using “ass” to mean a sexual object, and the usage gained in popularity. Suppose some famous comedian or writer starts using the word “buttocks” to mean the same, and it gains in popularity. Are we then to classify it as a curse word and prevent children from using it? Does it make sense to give into that kind of arbitrary forces?

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Latest Comments

Capitalizing Directions

  • rm
  • November 18, 2017, 2:58pm

Which is correct:

"Under the stairs by south hall. South hall was make-out central."
OR
"Under the stairs by South Hall. South Hall was make-out central."

South hall being a specific hall on a school campus. There is no reference in the text regarding signage or official title.

On Tomorrow

I'm a school teacher in Macon, Ga. I had never heard the usage of the preposition "on" in this context until I started teaching at an inner-city school. My principal, vice-principal, academic coach, and the superintendent of school all use this vernacular. It is very common in the educated African American community of middle Georgia. It drives me nuts. It changes an adverb into the noun of a prepositional phrase modifying a verb. If I had hair, I'd pull it out.

Street Address vs. Mailing Address

  • tonya
  • November 17, 2017, 11:46am

I work pre filling forms for different types of insurance. We have had this same debate. Does “street” mean the street you live on and therefore your home? I say no and here is why:

A company always wants an address they can mail your mail to, unless they ask for a "home", "residence" or “legal”. That being said, every address no matter PO or not has a: street, city, state, and zip. Most people will go on to say a PO box is not a street but I will always add, NOT EVERY town or person has a PO box at a Post Office. For example, I use to use a PO box at "Mail Boxs Etc." a small po box location and store with Kinkos type services. Very large cities have more than one main post office. Therefore, those people still have a "Street" address. "Street address" simple means the number and street name, it is the first part of every address “street, city, state, and zip”. For example my address at the Mail Box Etc. was: 6565 La Sierra Ave. PO BOX 144, Riverside CA, 92505. "6565 La Sierra PO BOX 144" is my "street". If I did not have to list a number and street name because my PO box is the main post office or my post office has shown me my address is only listed as PO BOX 144 then my "PO BOX 144" would be my "street address".

So if you see just “street address” They are simple asking for your “address” and your address should ALWAYS be your mailing address unless otherwise asked. They only want your home, resistance, or legal address for legal matters (all 3 of those are the same address asked in different ways) and ALWAYS want to mail you something. If they need your home they will ask, otherwise mailing address is the default. So imagine it says “address. “street”_________. They placed the word “address” behind street instead of placing in separated as “Address: “street, city, state, zip”. Get it?

Do you agree? Or should I still be debating this with co workers? lol

Ass

If you could point to a measurable benefit that has arisen by allowing children to act like unruly adults, what would it be?

On Tomorrow

  • jayles
  • November 9, 2017, 2:25pm

@ Chrissy

Since you are college educated at least get the facts straight:

http://random-idea-english.blogspot.co.nz/2014/...

On Tomorrow

I am 29 from North Jersey and college educated. I too cringe when I hear "on tomorrow". There was a time when I only heard it while visiting the South but it is spreading. I just heard a NY politician use it twice on television.

To anyone who has a problem with their principal: It is NOT your place to ever correct the grammar of your superior at work. "On tomorrow" is not something learned in school, obviously it is picked at home. Most people I confront really do not notice their error and are terribly embarrassed.

To say that this is exclusive to Black people might sound a little racist but it is unfortunately true. I feel embarrassed when other Black people jack up English in front of White people. After reading all of your comments my worst fears have been confirmed. You guys hear a black person speak a little differently and automatically assume we've had a subpar education. Smh! Even if the person is your boss, you still question their intellect! Sad.

Teachers! : While it is highly inappropriate to correct a colleague it is Your job to properly educate your students. Teach them! This is exactly why HBCUs are so important. White "teachers" giving up on their Black students grammar??? Allow me to insert another Black colloquialism here, "where they do that at?" Shame! You may not have to take an oath like a doctor but you too have a duty, to educate!

I will no longer roll my eyes when I hear Black people say "on tomorrow" or "axe". I will correct them at the appropriate time. Now, which of you is going to teach my landscaper to stop saying "yous"? ! That's an uneducated white Jersey thing, right? ?

gifting vs. giving a gift

"we can sleep six at a pinch but we can only eat twelve." James Thurber commenting on adverts for houses that "sleep six".
I'm sure he would agree that you give a gift and not the other way round.

On Tomorrow

You are absolutely correct. I believe it is something that was in the southern region and has found itself in the northeastern region. It is somewhat redundant to have a preposition indicating when and then use a word indicating when.

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=ad...*_NOUN%2Cadvocate+for+the+*&year_start=1960&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2Cadvocate%20%2A_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Badvocate%20violence_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20policies_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20role_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20change_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20groups_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20general_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20Ralph_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20changes_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20peace_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20use_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B.t2%3B%2Cadvocate%20for%20the%20%2A%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20child%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20rights%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20client%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20patient%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20poor%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20defence%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20needs%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20use%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20interests%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20elderly%3B%2Cc0

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=a...*_NOUN%2Cadvocate+for+the+*&year_start=1960&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t2%3B%2Cadvocate%20%2A_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Badvocate%20violence_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20policies_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20role_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20change_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20groups_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20general_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20Ralph_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20changes_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20peace_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20use_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B.t2%3B%2Cadvocate%20for%20the%20%2A%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20child%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20rights%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20client%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20patient%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20poor%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20defence%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20needs%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20use%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20interests%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Badvocate%20for%20the%20elderly%3B%2Cc0