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.
Do You Have a Question?
I have recently been seeing rejections of many phrases with ‘of’ in them because they are “less concise.” An example of this would be changing “All six of the men were considered dangerous” to “All six men were considered dangerous.” Recently, someone corrected a sentence I wrote and it just doesn’t sound right even though it may be concise. They changed “There are six species of snakes and four species of butterfly on the list” to “There are six snake species and four lizard species on the list.”
Bonus question: Is it “species of butterfly” or “species of butterflies”?
In the following sentence, are both parts of the clause correct for a present unreal sentence?
“She would have wanted you to become a doctor if she were alive today”
In this sentence, shouldn’t it be this?
“She would want you to become a doctor if she...”
Some authorities (such as IBM and Wikipedia) say that “big data” should not be capitalised, while others say it should be capitalised as “Big Data”.
Logically, it would be capitalised only if it were a proper noun, that is, if it identified a unique individual. For example, “the Internet” refers to the global internet, of which there is only one, so it is capitalised. Big data does not really seem to be like that. In any technical usage, it refers to the use of very large databases, and should therefore be a common noun.
In the popular imagination, however, all instances of big data coalesce into a monstrous global conspiratorial network of databases, called Big Data. It is akin to Deep State.
So, it seems to me that “big data” should be used in any sober context, and “Big Data” reserved for conspiracy theories untethered from objective reality.
But ... in a proofreading context I would have to correct “a Big Data-driven project” to “a big data-driven project”, which is ambiguous as it could mean either “a big project that is driven by data” or “a project that is driven by big data”.
I moved to the US from Japan when I was 16, and in the 30 years I’ve lived here, I’ve noticed the ease with which Europeans communicate with native English speakers even when they have heavy accents. In contrast, Asian immigrants seem to have a harder time being understood by the native speakers. Asians typically blame the problem on their accents and their pronunciation but Americans, particularly urban Americans, are used to hearing a variety of accents. It seems to me that there is something else at work causing the difference between Asian and European ESL speakers.
Compared to the Japanese language, some of the phonemes in English are very subtle (like the th sound). So, over the phone, when we are spelling a name, we provide contextual information, like, “M as in Mary. S as in Sam,” and so on. The subtleties are lost over the phone, and we cannot differentiate between N vs. M, S vs. F, and so on. The Japanese language does not have this problem. I believe English is a more context-dependent language because there is a constant need to fill in the information lost in the subtleties.
Even when two native speakers are talking to each other, often they can’t hear each other well (e.g., noisy bar, subway platform, poor quality phone connection, etc..) but they THINK they hear everything. They are actually filling in the missing information from the context.
The reason Europeans have an easier time even with heavy accents is that their cultures are still very similar. They are able to provide better contextual information as they speak. Because Asian cultures are so different, Asian speakers are not able to provide enough contextual information in their sentences and their body language. Even if they can speak with no accent, their sentences can come out sounding foreign, like the automatic translation provided by Google—grammatically correct but incomprehensible. This makes it hard for Americans to understand especially if the speaker has a heavy accent.
A friend of mine is a pilot for Japan Airlines. As long as he is communicating within the context of air travel (like speaking to the passengers on the plane about the delays and weather forecast), nobody has trouble understanding him. This is because the cultural context in this instance is very narrow and well-defined which allows everyone to fill in the gap easily. But he has trouble understanding and being understood outside of this context because of the wide range of contextual possibilities.
If a French person were talking to an American about how he was treated at a particular restaurant, neither would have any problem understanding the cultural context since the restaurants in France function very much like the restaurants here in the US. But the restaurants in Japan work very differently. In fact, their customs in restaurants are so different that some Japanese people take an etiquette class to be able to eat at Western restaurants. (You can see an example of this in the movie, Tampopo). When you are deficient in the cultural knowledge to this degree, accent becomes a secondary issue. Even with flawless pronunciation, you could still have trouble being understood because the listeners have no idea what you are referring to.
Many native speakers find Indian English speakers hard to understand, even those who have been speaking English all their lives. We readily recognize Indian accent like we recognize Southern and British accents. So, the problem is not lack of familiarity. I think it’s the lack of contextual information because the Indian culture too is very different. We mistakenly believe that the problem is their accent.
What do you think?
Does “hate with passion” sound wrong to you? Should it be “hate with a passion” instead?
One of the visitors to Pain in the English emailed us and asked if “hate with passion” is grammatically correct or not.
Here are some other similar phrases we can consider:
Sing with passion
Sing with a passion
Sing with feeling
Sing with a feeling
Say it with feeling
Say it with a feeling
When we analyze these expressions, we begin to feel that the article “a” adds some sense of specificity, like:
Sing with a passion befitting Pagliaccio!
Sing with a feeling of remorse!
Say it with a feeling of malaise!
Without the article, the word “passion” and “feeling” both remain abstract concepts.
What do you think?
In some recent fiction books written by American authors, I have seen the word “acclimated” as in “...she took a day to become acclimated to her new area.”
Shouldn’t this word be “acclimatised” or is this a case of American’s using one word and New Zealanders using another, both for the same purpose?
I cringe when I read (a million times a week), “I am so sorry,” “I am so happy”...
It feels like there is part of the statement missing, like “I am so happy I could cry,” or “I am so sorry, I don’t know what to say.” Is “so anything” a legitimate phrase on its own? Or am I right in thinking it needs more?
If a city and state (and full date) start a sentence in possessive form, would you consider the punctuation correct in the following three examples?
- Frankfort, Kentucky’s crime rate has increased.
- Paris, France’s breathtaking sights left us in a state of raptures.
- September 11, 2001’s tragic events will forever be indelibly etched in the minds of everyone.
Please, no recasts.
I run. I ran. I had ran. I had run.
I went. I had went. I had gone.
There appear to be localized aberrations where people insist on saying “had ran” even though they know “had run” is proper. They seem to be victims of conforming to local language.
This group of people seems to me to come from a region. I grew up in California, and I never saw this. I started seeing it in Colorado. It was a little more common in Kansas. It was very common in GA. It always showed up in people who had moved west from eastern locations like MA, KY, DE, VA, WV, NC.
What is it that I am trying to say here? Peer pressure overrides language correctness? Is there a better way to refer to this?