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Joined: April 10, 2003  (email not validated)
Comments posted: 13
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Guess I'm out of date. My last post stated the "typographers' rules" as I recalled them from the typography book _Words Into Type_. Examination of the web pages of the _New York Times_ and _The Washington Post_ show both using an ultra-long em-dash with what appears to be an en-space at either end. Other newspapers' web pages are using <space>en-dash<space>, with the spaces appearing to be full spaces.

erle April 11, 2003, 6:30pm

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If you see "cold wind and an intermittent drizzle" together as representing the weather, a singular verb is called for.

The team were unable to reach agreement on where to go for lunch. (The members of the team as individuals could not agree.)

The team was victorious in the championship game. (The team played as a single entity.)

erle April 11, 2003, 10:46am

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Use single or double quotation marks consistent with whatever style guide you are following. Owl's second paragraph is not sound advice, nor is her ending punctuation correct, regardless of the style guide being followed. ".'." with two periods separated only by quotation marks can never be correct. (American typography style, bizarre though it may appear.)

erle April 10, 2003, 11:05pm

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Typographers in the US use no spaces. Hard and fast rules. An en-dash is half an em-dash, and is used as a hyphen.


They are clearly different. What you will see occasionally is <space>-<space> used in place of an em-dash.

erle April 10, 2003, 10:54pm

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From Looks as if Purple Dragon might have been on track with the train reference.

"Rocker: If someone is off his rocker, then he is thought to be a little mad or deluded. I can find no documentary evidence for the origin of this saying, and none is forthcoming from the SHU Phrase Discussion site. However, it has been suggested that it came from early days of steam engine particular beam engines....the beam engine rocks back and forth and if it comes off the pivot (rocker) it goes mad, flailing about and smashing up everything about it.
Another possibility - not very convincing to my mind - is that it describes the antics of some having just fallen off a rocking chair!"

erle April 10, 2003, 10:33pm

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Michael Quinion's site is a good one for finding origins of words and phrases. Another good one is Evan Morris's

erle April 10, 2003, 10:22pm

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I tried to find a bit more about the origin of "went to extremes" by googling. When I linked to a page and found the following use of the phrase, I decided it was time to move on to something else.
My Dear Spiritual Advisor,
As you instructed, I turned into an ice maiden every time my dear husband attempted to entice me into sinful relations involving non-Christian penetration. I was sure that my marriage was going to be saved and we would spend eternity blissfully singing together in Jehovah's choir, but I was seriously mistaken. My husband passed away in a freak accident involving a canister style vacuum cleaner and watermelons. Thank Jesus the church authorities have decided, since I am a pillar of the congregation, to keep the scandalous details of my late husband's satanic demise from the general public.

Now that I am back on the market I intend to screen my suitors very carefully and with your loving guidance. As a white woman, would it be wrong for me to date an African American? Roy is very attentive and caring, but I do not know if God approves of racially mixed marriages. We seem to be a perfect couple, but if Jesus disapproves, I will end this romance immediately.

Overcome with Jungle Fever,
The Widow Jackie

Dear Jackie,

The stories about black mens' endowments are all true. (However, Sister Rossetta hopes you have not learned this first hand.) Jesus knows that informed white women would never voluntarily marry white men over black men. For this reason, Jesus has commanded us to separate the races in marriage. If not for his proscription, the entire Caucasian race would eventually dwindle and die.

Earlier generations went to extremes with separate drinking fountains and buses to keep white women blissfully ignorant of the black stallion's lure. In today's racially mixed society, individuals must be stronger. However, the Bible Clearly States that God will not allow any temptation beyond your ability to resist.

Keep the faith, and keep a Bible between you and Roy at all times. 'cause "Once you go Black, you never go Back"

Sister Rossetta

erle April 10, 2003, 10:09pm

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It's an expensive book ($35 to $40 US), but _The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms_ would be a very useful book for those learning English as a second language. Other less expensive books are available, too.

I've been supportive of what Teresa Nielsen Hayde writes, but her example this time wasn't that helpful to me. For the distinction to be made by example, I need to substitute "in and of" for "in" and then be able to see that one version is clearer than the other. I can't do that with her example. If I change it to "The fish the dog brought in and of itself wasn't the problem," I'm pretty much stuck with my original problem with understanding the sentence.

That problem is caused, at least partially, by having "in itself" or "in and of itself" so far removed from "fish." "In and of itself, the fish the dog brought in wasn't the problem." "In itself, the fish the dog brought in wasn't the problem." The sentence just doesn't work the other way. "The fish the dog brought in wasn't the problem" also works, but has a slightly different meaning.

Some difficulty may also stem from being able to say either "dog brought" or "dog brought in." I'd opt for "dog brought in"--not dissimilar to the saying, "Look what the cat dragged in." If I refer to the "fish the dog brought," it almost sounds to me as if the dog bought and then brought a gift to a party's hostess. If I refer to the "fish the dog brought in," there's more a sense of finding the fish and bringing it in, something much more likely for a dog to do.

What WAS the problem? It was either the smell or the fish guts falling on the floor. (Alternatively: It was either the smell or the fish's guts falling on the floor.)

erle April 10, 2003, 9:47pm

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American Heritage, Microsoft Encarta, Chambers--all of these dictionaries (most recent additions) define "perturb" and "disturb" similarly. Two define "perturb" as "to disturb greatly." All have as a second definition the sense of agitation or annoyance.

I'm not sure when I would use one and when I would use the other. Maybe I could start with the nouns "perturbation" and "disturbance" to see what verb choice worked better? "The two soccer fans caused a disturbance; their actions disturbed me; I was disturbed by their actions; I was perturbed by their actions." (It's obvious to me after that exercise that I'm only going to use "perturbation" in the sense of a "perturbation to a system.")

After my playing around, I'd tend to use "disturb" to deal with the act and "perturb" to deal with the result of the act. The disturbance resulted in my perturbance--if you will.

erle April 10, 2003, 9:13pm

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Tom (the no email Tom) and PeriodButtons, please note. _The Chicago Manual of Style_, perhaps the most highly respected style guide in the US, uses 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s. Other respected style guides use 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's. Just be consistent. If you use 60s, for example, use Ps and Qs.

Oughts, aughts, noughts, naughts--one or all of these may be selected eventually, but I'll probably be dead by then. As usual, Teresa Nielsen Hayde hits the bullseye. kaibutsu--none of these is a distortion; all are sound and have a common meaning: zero.

erle April 10, 2003, 8:48pm

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Sorry, kortazone, "I'm taking sides with Kelly" is what most Americans would say--it's OK. However, "I'm siding with Kelly" eliminates the problem.

"I'm not ready to take sides on this." Also common, also correct.

The wages of sin is death.

erle April 10, 2003, 8:22pm

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Much of what's posted here has to do with idiom, not necessarily with what is colloquial as opposed to formal.

American idiom, New Zealand idiom, Australian idiom, Canadian idiom.... All are different and make learning English especially difficult for those for whom English is not their native tonge. (Not to mention regional idiom within a country or that English usage may change faster than we can keep up with.)

Consider, too, that English is no respecter of logic. Listen to a child learning the language. A child will learn the "rules" for regular verbs long before she learns how to use even a few of the irregular verbs. My grandson Alec is five years old and consistently uses constructions such as "I hitted the ball" rather than "I hit the ball." He'll eventually learn what's "right" but it will take quite a while.

Nima Arian is not exactly wrong, but is a bit inflexible. Teresa Nielsen Hayde is right. killy is partially right, and posts instructively; however, killy slips up and misuses "it's" for "its." That may well be the most common mistake made in English. Another poster joins me in nitpicking by pointing out killy's mistaking a clause for a phrase.

"It's" is a contraction for "It is." "Its" is the possessive of "it." There's no such construction as "its,'" but I've seen it in print more than once. (Note that I use the American typographers' convention of putting quotes after periods and commas. Not because it makes sense or is logical, but because typographers think their convention looks "prettier." Beauty must be more important to American typographers than making sense.)

To be a real nitpicker, even the estimable TNH is not exactly right. "Continual" would probably be a better word to use than "continuous." Best of all might be to say "a continuing state." No doubt what I've written could be nitpicked, too. Please don't bother.

erle April 10, 2003, 8:09pm

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Context is absent, but I'd say, "It has value" means "It is valuable." Meaning: substantial value.

"It has a value" means "It is not worthless." Meaning: minimal value.

erle April 10, 2003, 7:18pm

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