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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 think I first heard the slang “hairy” in Apocalypse Now. The American Heritage says: “Fraught with difficulties; hazardous: a hairy escape; hairy problems.” In the anoted Wordworth edition of Joyce’s Dubliners it says, “too hairy: experienced, canny.” Have you ever heard this slang to be used in this sense? Joyce’s sentence reads thus: “She doesn’t know my name. I was too hairy to tell her that.” Could it be that the editor(s) made a mistake and it was “it” instead of “I” which then would mean closer to the sense we know of the slang? or what?

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Mates, I’m in a big trouble. What does “bios” mean? It must be a Latin word, right? (And I tell you it has nothing to do with computer’s BIOS.) i.e. “...enablig the performer’s “presens” or scenic bios to attract the spectator’s attention...” [Eugenio Barba, The Paper Canoe: A Guide to Theatre Anthropology, p. 9. bios is Italic in the original text] you can check this as well.

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Go + noun? Is it an idiom or bad grammar?

There’s an old Finnish road movie parody about a Soviet accordion band (played by a Finnish group) that goes to the USA. The title of the movie is “Leningrad Cowboys Go America”.

In 1995, a yearly art happening was born in Helsinki, Finland, where small art exhibitions are put up in pubs and restaurants. The happening is called “Art Goes Kapakka” (‘kapakka’ = pub).

With Google you get about 8 000 results with search term “goes America”, and 25 000 with “go America”. In some of them America is the subject of the sentence, but in some of them it is used in the same way as in the Finnish slogans. What strikes me in the latter case is that so many of the net sites are Finnish or German.

Now is this structure just bad grammar from Finnish slogan-makers who didn’t do their homework at school, or is it an idiom used also in the Anglo-Saxon world? I know the expression ‘go crazy’. Can a noun be also used?

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I have this impression that American orthography started to differ slightly from the British spelling because the emigrants sort of started from a clean table in their writing, and spelling grew closer to pronunciation. Americans write ‘realize’, ‘organize’, ‘Elizabeth’, while Brits write ‘realise’, ‘organise’, ‘Elisabeth’: when said aloud, the words have a voiced sibilant, hence the ’z’ instead of ’s’.

Also vice versa. The clearly sounding ’r’ in American pronunciation in words like ’word’, ’bird’, ’are’, should, according to my knowledge, derive from the same liaison between speaking and writing: because it is written, it can also be heard. The audible ’r’ is a kind of relic that has worn off from the British pronunciation.

Is this so?

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Does anyone knows what “V-cards” mean? I was at a Hotel reception in Spain and there were a bunch of American teenagers around. One of them just said to the other “Go race some V-cards” by which he surely meant “shut up” and it was supposed to be offensive. I asked two of my American friends the next day and they said they had no idea what that could have been. I’m almost sure I heard it correctly because there was a Spanish girl among those teenagers who asked “what’s V-cards” and one of the American girls explained to her in a low voice that I could not hear. Though the word “race” might’ve been “raise” or something like that!

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Can’t help it but I really despise the expression “all but”. How did a phrase that suggests the opposite of what it says ever come into currency?

“Such actions were all but unheard of then” “Later, they were all but wiped out in a British attack” “They were all but exterminated by the Jedi”

PS: For some discoveries in word coignage read Neal Stephenson’s trilogy The Baroque Cycle. A mere 3000 pages.

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What does “fuff” mean Dave? Is a corruption of puff?

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I have recently heard the English expression “Big fish in a small pond”. Does anybody know what this means? Can anybody think of an example of one?

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I have heard highly educated people use this word. Where did it come from and why do people use it? It seems almost as if they are uncomfortable using just plain old regardless and feel that the word should sound more complex or something, and so they say irregardless. I have never been able to figure out how this word was created. Any ideas?

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ab

Hi all. I’m back after a long time. I just finish a short movie and you don’t know what a pain I had, writing the dialogues in English. Anyway, is there any other word than “abnormal” which is negated with prefix AB? Of course there are obscure words like “abnegate”, but I mean the words that one really uses.

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Latest Comments

your completely wrong

On Tomorrow

I live in the South and have heard this quite frequently. Funnily enough, the speakers who engage in this linguistic homicide are from the NORTH!

First annual vs. second annual

The eleventh year after the inaugural year..
is there a special adjective?

Word in question: Conversate

Once again, we have lowered our standard of grammar to accommodate those too lazy to learn usage!

agree the terms

Certainly does seem to appear only in British publications. American equivalent would be "agree on the terms" I think.

We have yet to agree the terms of your surrender.

Persian/Farsi

The reason we don't like the word "Farsi" I believe is: the actual word is Parsi and in Arabic language "p" doesn't exist so when Islamic Arabs attacked Iran and stayed for along time cuz they couldn't pronounce "P" they were saying Farsi instead of Parsi so after few hundred years of occupying Iran b4 they got kicked out, the word of Farsi stayed I hope the F word goes back to them to have fun with it

“Zen” as an Adjective

  • Dustin
  • April 23, 2017, 9:14pm

I also agree with Eliza. Pick a better adjective. Continuing to use "Zen" that way only commodifies and promotes misunderstanding about that religious tradition.

I live in a rural area, and do not get U.S. Postal delivery at my physical address. I have a P.O. Box at the local post office but when address verification is requested, like from UPS, the post office has no record of my physical address. This can be a huge problem. The solution is to install a mailbox on the main road a mile away. My husband has been reluctant to do this for safety reasons, even though I him that our mail will continue to go to the local post office. I actually purchased a mail box which my husband has been avoiding. I am over 70 so it's rather difficult for me, maybe I can get my neighbor to help.

As wet as ?

As wet as a well diggers ar**e!