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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. 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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Two scenarios:

  1. You are an antipodean cricket commentator and during a broadcast you realise that your Indian co-commentator is pronouncing some words/names differently from you.
  2. You are at a social gathering and notice that everyone else pronounces words/names differently from you.

The words/names in question could be for or example:

  • Tendulkar with a soft ‘oo’ sound as opposed to your hard ‘u’ (as in dull).
  • Nepal with “paul” as opposed to your ‘pal’.
  • Debut as ‘dehbyew’ as opposed to your ‘dayboo’.

In each situation how do you react?

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Recently seen on a standardized assessment for elementary students: “Which fraction of the fruit are apples?” Shouldn’t it read: “Which fraction of the fruit is apples?” Doesn’t the subject verb-agreement rule dictate “is” apples since fraction (singular) is the question’s subject?

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I have noticed recently that the phrase “admits to” keeps popping up in contexts where the “to” is obviously redundant.

“He admits to the offence” 

“He admitted to the charge”

Is this a new fad or has it been going on for some time?

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When you Google “What does curb your dog mean?”, you find three different answers.

  1. Control your dog.
  2. Pick up dog poop.
  3. Take the dog to the curb to pee or poo.

I always understood it to mean #2, so even when I saw a sign that said “Curb your dog,” I would let my dog poo there but I picked it up afterward. I figured the person who put the sign there would be satisfied with that. But if #3 is what is meant by the sign, s/he would not be happy.

What is confusing is the word “curb” itself. It can mean “control” or “edge of street” which are two completely different definitions, and I would assume that they came from completely unrelated etymological roots. The expression is so vague and confusing that it is ineffective.

The only one that actually makes sense is #1 as “curb” means to control.

#2 doesn’t really make sense. The word “curb” has no definition that means to pick up after something, although it can indirectly imply cleaning up after the misbehavior of your own dog. (i.e., Since dogs cannot control themselves, you need to control the aftermath for them.) It’s too vague. You should just say, “Pick up after your dog.”

#3 is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, “curb” in this context should be used as a noun. I seriously doubt that “take your dog to the curb” was what was meant when the signs first started appearing in public. If you are the first person ever to create this sign, and if you meant to say, “take your dog to the curb”, then you would not write “Curb your dog.” You could not expect other people to understand what you meant by that, as there was no such use of the word “curb” in a verb form. You would have written: “Take your dog to the curb.” My second problem with #3 is that it implies it’s fine to leave the poo as long as you take the dog to the curb.

My theory is that “Curb your dog” originally had only one definition: “Control your dog.” And, the sign originally was introduced because many dogs were not kept on leash, and would cause trouble, like attacking kids, starting a fight with other dogs, barking uncontrollably, and running into the traffic. Ideally, they wanted to say, “Keep your dog on leash”, but at the time, this probably felt too extreme, so they just wanted to ask dog owners to responsibly control their dogs’ behavior. Then, in big cities like New York, some people started interpreting the word “curb” to mean the edge of the street/sidewalk, although it’s a bit of a stretch, given that “curb” in this case should not be used as a verb.

This is my theory of how the expression was originally introduced and evolved to include all three definitions. What do you think?

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Can you please comment on a trend that I have noticed recently. More and more people seem to be pronouncing words that contain the letters “str” as if they were written “shtr”. Strong sounds like shtrong, strange sounds like shtrange, and so on. I have noticed even my favorite NPR journalists mispronouncing these words. I first noticed this pronunciation in one of Michelle Obama’s early speeches. I’d appreciate any insight that you might have.

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I suppose this more of speculation and bit of a question. I have noticed some quotations of ‘nor’ paired with ‘not’ (typically a comma follows not and whatever it is negating), for example:

“Battery D did not stop at the first, nor the second, but halt was made at what was ...”

“These bonds did not give their owners the privilege of using them as a basis for bank-note circulation, nor was there any other privilege...”

“... meaning of its message so clearly, so simply, and yet so earnestly, and with such a passionate longing that from York Hill there should indeed radiate “Peace and good will towards all men,” that not the stupidest nor the most frivolous girl but was touched to a sense of higher ideals and...”

All quotes are provided by dictionary.net in the quotations for ‘nor’.

Is it possible that this could become a correlative conjunction paired with ‘not’ or possibly a substitution for ‘neither’ in the “neither-nor” pair? Or maybe, has ‘not’ been a viable substitute for ‘neither’ for years without notice?

This idea tenuously excites me.

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I imagine everyone uses an apostrophe with expressions of distance or time when the number is one:

It’s only an hour’s drive from here.
They live a mile’s walk away.
A stone’s throw away.

It follows that an apostrophe should also be used in the plural version, as stipulated by, amongst others, The Guardian and Economist style guides:

It’s three hours’ drive from here.
They live two miles’ walk away.

I notice the apostrophe is often dropped here, so my question is this - do you think the apostrophe:

is always optional?
is only necessary in formal writing?
is always necessary?

or that there is some other grammatical explanation that makes the apostrophe unnecessary?

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Why, for a task, can we take it on, or put it off But for clothing we take it off and put it on?

(background: I am an American living in Hungary, so teaching/correcting English comes up a lot, and many here learn British English, so even I learn new words. People here often mix up the words for “put on” your clothes or “take off” clothes. They’ll say put off your jacket, or take on your shoes, etc. This became an embarrassingly awkward situation yesterday when I had to get an x-ray and ultrasound, and the tech didn’t speak very good English. She told me to undress everything, but then said I could take on my trousers, or put off something, and I really had no idea how “undressed” I had to get. I was thinking of how to explain it, that putting should be away from you, and taking should be towards you... but when it comes to clothing, we use the opposite - put ON and take OFF. Unless we’re taking it OUT of a closet and putting it AWAY. aaahh!!!)

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I’m all for the metric system, and I’m sure a lot of British schoolchildren would be well pissed off if UKIP’s idea of restoring the imperial system ever came to fruition. But I do find sentences like this, in a item on the BBC website, rather strange and unnatural:

Mr Teller says the first question is not “How can we make a tonne of money?”

I know that tonne is our unit of measurement now, but does it have to take over our idioms as well, especially as this is probably more of an American idiom anyway (I think we Brits would be more likely to say ‘ton(ne)s of money’)?

The following idioms are all listed in British dictionaries with ‘ton’ or ‘tons’:

They came down on him like a ton of bricks.

That bag of yours weighs a ton!

I’ve got tons of work to do.

We’ve got tons of food left over from the party.

I don’t know why the BBC insist on using tonne in idioms. Perhaps they think young people won’t know what a ton is. I say keep the idiomatic ton, and leave tonne for weights. After all people don’t say they’re off to spend a new penny, do they? (Actually I’m not sure anyone says that anymore anyway!)

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I have always believed, probably in common with most Scots, that the pronunciation of “gill” varies depending on whether one is referring to the organ of respiration in fishes and other water-breathing animals ( /ɡɪl/ ), or a measure of liquid (/dʒɪl/ ), or even one of the many other variations of the word. I was therefore somewhat surprised recently when watching an episode of QI to hear the erstwhile Stephen Fry and his guests use /ɡɪl/ for both the fishy organ and the liquid measure..

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Latest Comments

Plural of Yes

It's definitely NOT yes's. After all, we're not saying that the plural of yes belongs to yes! Actually, in my opinion, that form looks wrong even when pluralizing numbers. So, for instance, I usually write "the 1970s" and not "the 1970's". But I know the accepted form with numbers includes the apostrophe. It just seems unnecessary, unless where a 5 could be mistaken for an s in a particular typeface.

Anyway, "yeses" is apparently correct. However, someone mentioned "ayes" which is an interesting alternative.

Use of multiple periods

  • MoJoe
  • June 23, 2017, 3:37pm

I have been using "…" Between thoughts when emailing or texting since the Internet began.....I write the way I Think… In blips and stumbles. I find I can better get across what I want to say… If I'm not worrying about proper sentence structure and punctuation!

Mileage for kilometers

  • david4
  • June 22, 2017, 1:42pm

mileage, has at least 5 different definitions that I know of, however for the translation of the definition provided above, use, 'klicks' or 'kilometrage'. The later you can find in a french dictionary but not an english one, and is not widely used, likely because it is too had to say. The word, mileage, is still used in metric countries to denote distance and often people will respond 300k and make the assumption that you understood 300,000 km. The definition (variant) of the word very clearly means distance in miles and so the meaning has developed ambiguity in metric countries (because many metric countries converted from imperial to metric in the 70s), and an older person or a "smart ass" might assume miles. Thus to remove ambiguity, klick (or less favourably klik) should be used. You can find this word in both oxford and webster.

I speculate that the reason why there is no english word is because oxford (British) and webster (American) are the 2 prevailing authorities for the english language and neither of these countries use kilometres as their base unit of measurements. In Canada, the Quebec province explicitly has a linguistic department to create french words (in particular english equivalents), however there is not an linguistic department for english.

issue as problem

Sadly it is true that we no longer have problems - everything is now an issue. No more health problems, financial problems or problems with our computers or TV cable - we have issues. An issue used to be something with more than one point of view, such as gun control or abortion, and a problem was something everyone agreed needed to be solved. But now issue is regularly used as a synonym for problem, which it isn't - you cannot universally substitute problem for issue. One would never talk about the women's equality problem or the gay-rights problem, because a problem always has a negative connotation. If my cable goes out, my computer freezes, or a hotel loses my reservation, those, my friends, are problems, not issues.

In re: Roger Burnell's entry, quote: "Sorry to correct Jun-Dai, however 'anyways' is not an English word!" - end quote; I fully agree that the aforecited word isn't an English-word. However, 'tis a popularly-accepted American-English slang that – in my opinion – signifies the speaker's unique 'Americanness' and personal comfy in being such one. . .irregardless of anybody's discomforts or critique.

The verb 'resume' [meaning: "to continue working on a unfinished job"] is to be ideally-avoided when one includes the word "resumé" [pronounced "reh zhoo may"] or "résumé" [pronounced "reh zhoo reh] in the contents of your resumé [or résumé] to be 'snail-mail' sent to your prospective employer... such as: "Please evaluate the contents of my resume for their affinity to your published-requirements of the job-position opening that I am interested to do." Contextually, that sentence can't pass muster to a spelling-corrector-nutso; but the following, could: "Please evaluate the contents of my resumé for their affinity to your published-requirements of the job-position opening that I am interested to do." AND: "Please evaluate the contents of my résumé for their affinity to your published-requirements of the job-position opening that I am interested to do."

There are strict correct-spelling-nutsos in HR Departments; and your incorrectly-spelled word resumé [or résumé - or correctly-American-English-spelled "resume"] can very-likely get your application-letter fast-forwarded on-the-fly to the receiver's trash-can!

This particular French-word's total-absorption into the English tongue [and especially into the American-English lingo] isn't an excuse to do away with the accented "é" or "és" because:
(a) at best, the writer is presumed a lackluster and a liberal-minded idiot with 'loose' manners as regards laws'/rules' abidance who shouldn't be entrusted with mathematical calculations, scientific experientations, engineering specifications, financial matters [accounting, auditing], medical prescriptions, written legal argumentation, military secrets, pædagogical teaching and poetic/oratorical writings!

and,

[b] at worst, the writer would be perceived as an English-speaking anti-French / anti-France racist extraordinaire who'd anglicized everything-French not out of routine convenience but for outright hatred against everything France-related. . .excepting french fries, perhaps - but definitely not any comely mademoiselle (if one is an English-speaking gent with raging-testosterone) or a Monsieur Adonis (if one is an estrogen-driven English-speaking lady)! That is, in addition to those irresistible bottles French champagne and cognac—which respective international trademarks can get the foolish English-speaking idiot legally-prosecuted if such stupid-fool insists to anglicize any of 'em!!! Moreover, any idiotic English-speaking moron could likely physically-and-insultingly thrown-out by enraged mobs of Québécois and/or Québécoise off the Canadian Province of Québéc with the proscriptive words "Persona non grata" explicitly tattooed in his/her passport to signify his/her lifelong-ban from re-entry into the extremely-discriminating world of those proud-of-their distinctive French-culture and everything-français, les Canadiennes et les Canadiens!

My boss's last name is Fox. When I refer to him in an email, for example: "As requested, Mr. Fox' (or should it be Fox's) expense report is attached." I get confused on what way is correct. Thank you!

"May I have" or "I would like" would be preferable to any of the "get" options when speaking to a waiter or shop assistant.
When speaking to a customer the use of "do you want......" should be dropped in favour of "would you like".

"Listen up" and "do the math" should be consigned to the bin for all time.

Another Americanism that is creeping into our vocabulary is "listen up". Also, why are so many British women and men obsessed with driving 4 x 4's (another American influence). America has the infrastructure to deal with them - our little island doesn't! Glad I got that off my chest!

"Can I get?" instead of "Can I please have?" is yet ANOTHER Americanism. Why are people like sheep when it comes to anything American?