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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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Has anybody come across the idiom “Fit as a butcher’s dog”, and if so, is it mainly confined to the North of England? Eric Partridge suggests it originates from Lancashire, but it seems to be used in Yorkshire as well. Also, is it usually used only with the meaning of physically fit, or is its use extending to the other (British) meaning of fit - sexually attractive?

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How do you handle a quote within a quote within a quote in an MLA citation?

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How can backwards be a word if backward is as well? Forwards and forward? Beside and besides?

I can’t turn a light switch ons, can I? Go outs the door?

Nouns can be plural, and verbs have tense, but prepositions? 

When did we start pluralizing those?

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“She said she...” or “She said that she...”

All my life I have received great feedback about my grammar, but these past few years I find myself over thinking it—all the time. It actually causes me to create mistakes where there previously weren’t any. Bizarre? 

One such thing that I have thought too much about is the necessity of “that” in phrases like the above. When would you say it’s necessary? Always? Never? Sometimes? Explain! Thanks!

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Discussion on appropriate use of these two phrases came up on another forum. I believe it depends on context. Would be interested in hearing other views.

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Are adverbs something to be avoided like the plague or an inevitable mutation of the English language that we just have to deal with? I’ve heard it said that they’re the mark of a writer who lacks the vocabulary to use powerful words (for example, “He walked slowly” does not carry the weight of “He plodded” or “He trudged”) and the skill to vary their sentence structure. I’ve seen them used in published in professional work, from George R. R. Martin to J.K. Rowling, so it’s not something authors shy away from and, for the most part, the public accepts it without question.

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Do excuse the purposeful misspelling in my name. It comes from a time where I thought doing such was what the “cool” kids did.

Anyways, I have a question, which just so happens to concern the word I used to start this sentence. I find myself using “anyways” instead of “anyway”, despite it not being “correct”. It’s more a matter of it feeling like it rolls off of the tongue better than any hard reason. If someone can offer their thoughts on its use (or misuse) I would be most appreciative.

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Is there a difference between “further” and “farther”? David Attenborough (age 86, I think) says “farther”. I have never, ever, used that word. What’s the difference, if there is one? My dictionary does not say they are synonyms, but their definitions are identical. “Nothing could be farther from my mind” sounds to me a bit over the top, like saying ‘looking glass’ when you mean ‘mirror’. Views?

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I love to read Victorian era mysteries and novels. Can you tell me the meaning of “ton” as used in that era? By context it appears to refer to members of high society. Is this accurate? What is the origin of the term? Thanks for your help.

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Is there any difference between “bad” and “poor.” I always thought that bad implied a moral tone whereas poor simply implied low quality. Has this ever been true? I now look both words up in the dictionary (AHD and Merriam-Webster) and they are synonyms of one another and carry very similar meanings. Have these two words always been essentially the same in their meaning? Or has popular usage of “bad” made them converge toward one another?

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Latest Comments

On Tomorrow

  • jayles
  • January 18, 2018, 4:10am

KING HENRY
We are in God’s hand, brother, not in theirs.
March to the bridge. It now draws toward night.
Beyond the river we’ll encamp ourselves,
And on tomorrow bid them march away.
Henry V Act 3, Scene 6, Page 7

So Shakespeare used "poor grammar and .... stupid."

http://nfs.sparknotes.com/henryv/page_132.html

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

It is perfectly normal to say "until tomorrow", "for tomorrow", "by tomorrow", "after tomorrow", so "on tomorrow" is not that much of a stretch.

http://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=on...*%2C*+tomorrow%2C+and+on+tomorrow&year_start=1960&year_end=2008&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Con%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ctomorrow_NOUN%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ctomorrow_ADV%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Ctomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2C_START_%20Tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B.t2%3B%2CTomorrow_NOUN%20%2A%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20%27s%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20I%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20we%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20is%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20morning%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20you%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20night%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20the%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20he%3B%2Cc0%3B%3BTomorrow_NOUN%20will%3B%2Cc0%3B.t2%3B%2C%2A%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%2Cs0%3B%3Bof%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bfor%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Band%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Byou%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bafter%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Buntil%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bthat%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bby%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bback%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B%3Bit%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cand%20on%20tomorrow%3B%2Cc0

On Tomorrow

  • kadrn
  • January 17, 2018, 12:11pm

It is not correct to say on tomorrow, on yesterday, or on today. These words are adverbs and do not require the preposition "on". Prepositions require an object. Since days of the week are nouns, they are objects for prepositions. It is incorrect to assume it is OK to use 'on' with all expressions of time. The redundancy is not that the word 'to' is in tomorrow. The redundancy is that tomorrow, is an adverb that already designates a place in time, and does not require a preposition.

Although it has become common usage in some parts of the county to say 'on tomorrow (yesterday, today), it is poor grammar and makes even the most educated person sound stupid.

eg, e.g., or eg.

  • jayles
  • January 13, 2018, 12:48pm

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=e...

E.g. or e.g. is at least twelve times more common in the book corpus used by Google.
"Eg" or "EG" is sometimes an abbreviation for "electrogram", or "elliptical galaxy". For some reason, a few German texts are included in the Google books results, and these use "EG" to mean "Eingriff" and so forth. I have only sighted one valid example of "eg" being used to mean "for example" in this corpus.
From all this I would conclude that "e.g." is the norm.

eg, e.g., or eg.

I have used eg and ie for a long time. Why waste space or time?
We don't write p.c. for a personal computer, l.e.d. of light emitting diode, etc. (yes, not e.t.c.). I also a agree with Peter X, we say e g, not e dot g dot. I am involved in writing Australian technical Standard, and always drive for efficiency and simplicity.

On Tomorrow

  • scylla
  • January 9, 2018, 4:43pm

Thank you for this reference. As others have said, I have mostly heard this as Black usage in the South and find it a charming idiom, but I needed a discussion to reference about why I would leave "on" out when transcribing for reports.

It is a shame. There's an endless supply of self-satisfied fools in charge of education, and in charge of testing that education. The goal appears to be to ask the question is the minimum number of words, as though "question space" on the printed page is something of supreme importance.

Another illustration of the confusion is with bathroom sinks. Some online vendor of sinks will call the front-to-back distance the width; others, the left-to-right distance.

First of all, you can't say "the U.S. total"; the proper phrase is "the entire U.S." The two numbered sentences should read:

1. The graphs above show the rates of electricity generation of Kansas and of the entire U.S. in 2010.
2. In 2010, the rate of electricity generation by nuclear power plants in Kansas was about the same as the rate for the entire U.S. [outside Kansas.]

In sentence 2, I've moved the date to the front of the sentence because otherwise it's too far from what it modifies.

That second sentence does not seem plausible, with or without the bracketed phrase. Do you mean "about the same as the rate for all other sources of energy in the entire U.S."?

In any case, I'm not tempted to use "that of" or "of that" in these sentences

“It is what it is”

I teach a high-school equivalency test prep class for adults who didn't finish high school. Recently, I was reading over a student's essay in which she used "it is what it is". I'm so sick of hearing this empty, vague bit of bullshit that I circled the phrase and replied:
WHAT is what WHAT is?.

I know that my response was just as vague and unhelpful as this bit of trite street wisdom has become. I just wish that someone, anyone, would have the courage to step out from behind these empty words and state clearly what the "it" is that he or she is talking about.

Otherwise, they can shove "it" up their ass(es).

Pronunciation: aunt

There’s only one way to say it. PERIOD.
The sister of your mother is pronounced exactly the same as if she was a tiny creature living with a million others in a dirt hill