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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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Just how screwed has our language become?

Why do we hear phrases like:

“If he gets in contact with you”

when there are simpler and more meaningful phrases like:

“If he gets in touch with you”

or

“If he contacts you”.

Why do people have this predilection with “get” or “got”?

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Which ending punctuation sequence is correct for a question dialogue sentence containing a quotation within it?

a. ”Does the menu say, ‘no substitutions?’” asked Jo.

or

b. ”Does the menu say, ‘no substitutions’?” asked Jo.

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Am I alone in despairing when I hear phrases like:

  • “We played brilliant.”
  • “He did it wrong.” (or more commonly “He done it wrong.”)
  • “He behaved stupid.”

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My friend is sending an invitation, and she is using the date of:

January, 16th 2016

Is this technically correct, or at a minimum not considered barbaric? Where should the comma be?

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In a sentence, there is the name of a company followed by an abbreviation, the initials of the company, in parentheses. The company name is a possessive in this sentence. Where does the apostrophe go? I want to know how this would work, as I am having trouble finding anything but advice to restructure the sentence, and I would like an answer that gives me what to do with the sentence as it stands.

Example: This policy sets a standard for determining access to Introspective Illusions (II) resources.

Would it be Introspective Illusions’ (II’s) or  Introspective Illusions’ (II) or some other construction?

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I’ve noticed that “haitch” is becoming more common than “aitch” when it comes to pronouncing “H”. Why is this, and what is the thinking on which pronunciation is preferable (or even correct)? My mind goes back to my 4th year high school Latin teacher who was very fond of rendering what he obviously considered witty quotes about “Arrius and his haspirates“.

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I have often noticed that in Scotland quite a few people tend to confuse words like:

  • amount / number: e.g. Amount of people
  • much / many: e.g. Too much eggs
  • less / fewer: e.g. Less eggs

There are possibly others in this category.

Has anyone noticed this in other areas?

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The definitions of “go figure” that I found in various dictionaries do not match what I thought it meant. Is it just me?

Here are what I found:

“said to express the speaker’s belief that something is amazing or incredible.”

“used when you ​tell someone a ​fact and you then ​want to say that the ​fact is ​surprising, ​strange or ​stupid”

“Expresses perplexity, puzzlement, or surprise (as if telling somebody to try to make sense of the situation).”

I thought “go figure” meant the same as “duh!” or “just my luck”. That is, it’s obvious after the fact. It implies “I should have known.”

Let’s take some of the examples that appear in these dictionaries:

“The car wouldn’t start yesterday no matter what I did, but today it works just fine. Go figure.”

My interpretation of this is that, given how unlucky he is in general, in retrospect, it’s obvious that this happened to him again. It’s just part of being unlucky in general.

“She says she wants to have a conversation, but when I try, she does all the talking. Go figure.”

My interpretation for this is that she is already known to the speaker as a talkative person, but since she claims to want a conversation, the speaker gave her another chance, but again, all she does is talk not listen. Duh! The speaker should have known. It should not be a surprise to the speaker.

“The paint was really good, so they stopped making it - go figure, right?”

Again, what is implied here is not something surprising or unexpected; it’s the exact opposite. The speaker is being sarcastic. Because consumers have no appreciation for good products, they all fail, and bad products like Microsoft Windows thrive. “Duh! I should have known that they would stop making it.”

When people are genuinely surprised and puzzled about something, and they want someone to go figure it out. I generally hear people say, “figure that one out.” I find this very different from “go figure”. The latter has a sense of irony or sarcasm that the former does not have. It almost means the opposite. That is, “forget it, don’t even bother trying to figure it out because it’s just my luck,” or “don’t bother figuring it out because people are just stupid.”

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Should a rhetorical question end with a question mark?

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I have a question about “;” and “—” as used in sentence structure. I prefer using — i.e. “He did not expect to meet anyone—the house had been empty for years—and was surprised to hear whistling from the upper floor.”

Now, as I wrote a line in my story, as sentence ran away from me and I ended up using a ; at the end, as well as the — and I got the feeling that maybe it had to be one or the other all the way through and not a mix. Anyway, the sentence (racial slur warning)

Rod had not let her buy the beer herself at first—not until father had gone down there and cleared up some misconceptions from that sneaky pool-digger—and hadn’t that been a fun day to be alive; now he just gave her sympathetic looks whenever she came to get beer for her father.

So, in such a sentence, is it right to use both the “—” and the “;”? I can always rebuild it, but it felt right to me somehow, even though I got uncertain about if it would sting in the eyes of others.

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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