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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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I was taught by my English Lit professor, whilst studying Chaucer and Shakespeare that the old definition of the word “punk” was “Prostitute”. Is this true? The only references I can find will only give me stuff related to The Sex Pistols & co. Any help? Thanks!

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Anyone know the origin of the term ‘dew claw’ in referring to the extra claw on a dog’s leg?

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I have always thought that “2 write” like this did not exist “B4″ the Internet and online chatting. But strange enough I saw in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations that he has used this kind of spelling to picture his illiterate character that is Pip when he is still living with his sister and Joe: “MI DEER JO I OPE U R KRWITE WELL I OP I SHAL SON B HABELL 4 2 TEEDGE U JO AN THEN WE SHORL B SO GLODD AN WEN I M PRENGTD 2 U JO WOT LARX AN BLEVE ME INF AN PIP.” Does anyone know of any earlier instance of such thing?

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HELP! I understand that coke, kleenex and xerox are examples of synecdoches, but I believe that there is a word for the specific kind of synecdoche where a brand name has come to mean the generic name for a product. This search has been driving me moderately insane. Any help you can give will be truly appreciated by myself, my family, and my pharmacist.

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Why do English speakers use the Japanese word “Tsunami”, when there is a perfectly usable word “tidal wave”? Not just English speakers, even Germans, Italians, and French use “Tsunami”. Does Tsunami happen most commonly in Japan? Personally, I don’t remember any Tsunami incidents when I was living in Japan.

Also, why do some people pronounce it “Sunami” when it starts with a “T”?

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What is the little machine called that one slides one’s credit card through it when one wants to pay. And which verb do you use when you do this act? Is it called a “printer” the part that prints out the receipt? Or has it a specific name in this case. What is it called when one hands ones credit card to the shop keeper for instance and then have to sign the receipt and what is it called when one just uses the machine and enter one’s PIN code? What is the old machine called that used to be used (it rarely still is) that makes a carbon copy of the credit card surface by placing it inside and sliding a part over it. I would appreciate if you could provide a wider glossary of credit card usage please.

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all

Dictionaries say that the word, all -among other functions- is an adjective. I seem not to understand this. I was taught that to make sure whether a word is adjective one can make a sentence with [the specific] noun + to be + [the specific] adjective. i.e. “blue sky”, “sky is blue.” This formula seems to function in all the adjectives except “all.” Can anyone explain why the English dictionaries call “all” an adjective? I have looked up many examples, but it didn’t help.

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What does the title, Clockwork Orange mean? I have found this. Is it correct? Does anyone from London know this slang? I also wonder what exactly th etitle, Family Plot means if you have seen the film, I mean Hitchcock’s.

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I’m wondering what the meaning of “Conceptual Art” is. Could anyone help me? Thanks a lot.

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BCC

I was curious what the BCC feature of e-mail stands for and just found out that it stands for “Blind Carbon Copy.” Now I have a new problem: does this term - blind carbon copy - exist in terms of paper letter? If yes, what is it?

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Latest Comments

eat vs. have breakfast

  • Rukfas
  • October 17, 2017, 5:16pm

I have another question, but related to this: is the word breakfast a verb? That is, can we say 'I breakfasted eggs this morning.'? Or for that matter, can we say '- What are you doing? -I'm breakfasting,' instead of 'I'm having a breakfast.'? Thanks

Complete Sentence

Is asking "John Smith?" a full sentence?

agree the terms

Finebetty's research seems to settle the question. But as an American user of the language I will not be saying "agree the terms" anytime soon.

The reason the verb "to be" is an exception is that its meaning makes it equivalent to an equal sign. "It is I." means: It = I.

Both "It" and "I" are co-equal subjects of the sentence. There is no object. The subject of a sentence, in this case both subjects, require the nominative case.

Contrast this with the sentence : "It hit me." The subject "it" acts upon the object "me," so the objective case is required.

Another example of the exception with the verb "to be", which may be surprising, is: "It was we." This is the correct usage for the same reason, however in common usage, most people say, "It was us," which is technically incorrect.

agree the terms

'Agree' can be used intransitively and transitively. According to Merriam Webster, your example is "chiefly British" - which I guess means it does come up but is rare in the US whereas it is standard in British English (and not "bad form" at all, please note that 'agree to the terms' changes the meaning, 'agree on or upon' is the only option here).
Oxford dict:
2.1 with object Reach agreement about (something) after negotiation.
‘if they had agreed a price the deal would have gone through’
no object ‘the commission agreed on a proposal to limit imports’
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/agree

MW:
transitive verb
2. chiefly British: to settle on by common consent
e.g. … I agreed rental terms with him … —Eric Bennett
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/agree

(the 'before' in your example does not belong to 'agreed' of course - i.e., it means 'must be agreed upon before...')

Worst Case or Worse Case

  • Eric F
  • October 11, 2017, 2:39pm

"worse-case" is a comparison between TWO degrees of tribulation. Which one of the TWO options is worse than the other?
"worst-case" implies that there are many degrees of tribulation, and it is the worst of many options.

For LaurenBC: I find it's useful to read previous comments before posting. For example, Warsaw Will on June 6, 2014, contributed a lengthy discussion of the idiom's history and defense which included the fact that it's been seen in British written texts as early as 1859.

So the phrase is not of recent origin and is now widely accepted. I think fewer folks are bothered by it than by, say, the use of multiple question marks (or exclamation points in declarative sentences) in online posts.

“went missing/gone missing”?

This expression (and its variations) drives me crazy. It’s right up there with “the reason being” instead of “the reason is” or, more simply, “because “!

The English language is getting slaughtered ????

Lego (the bricks) should be lego in both singular and plural, like fish or sheep.

Word in question: Conversate

douglas.bryant

In your rush to discredit 'conversate' you're grossly misusing 'dialectical':

dialectical | ˌdīəˈlektək(ə)l |
adjective
1 relating to the logical discussion of ideas and opinions: dialectical ingenuity.
2 concerned with or acting through opposing forces: a dialectical opposition between social convention and individual libertarianism.