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Recent Comments

There is a "long-standing custom" to use "they" as a common-gender, common-number pronoun. It's been used for 700 years with antecedents like "everybody", "who", and nouns that can apply to either gender, for instance:

There's not a man I meet but doth salute me
As if I were their well-acquainted friend
- Shakespeare, Comedy of Errors

I would have everybody marry if they can do it properly - Austen, Mansfield Park, 1814

...every fool can do as they're bid - Jonathan Swift, Polite Conversations

A person can't help their birth - Thackeray, Vanity Fair

However, a usage where the antecedent's identity has been established, like "The father told his son to take their football into the garden", seems to be newer and is not yet standard.

goooofy July 24, 2012, 8:27am

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AnWulf: according to the OED, clýsan is a borrowing from Late Latin clūsa.

goooofy July 23, 2012, 8:24am

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I think they mean the same thing. The OED says of "repetitive": "Characterized by, or of the nature of, repetition; tedious, repetitious."

goooofy July 21, 2012, 9:07am

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People in Yorkshire pronounce the vowel of "luck" with /ʊ/, so it sounds like "look". That's not similar to French "u".

goooofy July 19, 2012, 6:23am

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I can't let the claim that language is not always changing pass. English has changed in dramatic ways since Chaucer’s time. For one thing, there’s the great vowel shift, where all the long vowels changed in quality and two new diphthongs were created - in words like "mouse" and "mice", which in 1300 would have been pronounced with the vowels in "moose" and "fleece". 

In terms of grammar there were significant changes, like the contraction in the use of the subjunctive, the loss of "be" in the perfect tense of intransitive verbs, and the use of "which" to refer to people. Here is a good overview of the changes in grammar since Shakespeare’s time:

goooofy July 14, 2012, 10:33am

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Math and physics are irrelevant *to grammar.* Language is not math.

goooofy July 13, 2012, 2:14pm

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I'm not in high school. I'd like to see a usage book aimed at adult English writers that proscribes things like "very competent" or "more ideal". But I am skeptical that there are grammar books aimed at high school students that do this. Again, math and physics are irrelevant. I thought we were talking about grammar.

goooofy July 13, 2012, 1:00pm

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I'm not familiar with any English usage books that prescribe the uses of perfect, competent, ready, ideal, etc. in the way that D.A.Wood describes.

goooofy July 13, 2012, 8:38am

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I don't think one can argue that a word should be pronounced a certain way on the basis of how similarly spelled words are pronounced. What about "dive" and "give", "food" and "good", "bead" and "head", etc.

goooofy July 13, 2012, 7:44am

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Scottish English has a central vowel /ʉ/ for the GOOSE and FOOT vowels, so for instance "food" and "good". This is close to the French front vowel /y/. This is the closest I'm aware of.

goooofy July 10, 2012, 12:17pm

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Logic is really irrelevant, since language does not behave logically. "More free from" is certainly part of how English used to work. The OED is full of citations to this effect, for example:

1805 W. Saunders Mineral Waters 3 River in general much softer and more free from earthy salts.

1805 Med. Jrnl. 14 341 The district has been... more free... from typhous fever, than the more distant parts of the metropolis.

As You Like It II i Are not these woods More free from peril than the envious court?

The usage seems to have died off recently:

goooofy July 10, 2012, 12:06pm

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I don't see the problem with this quote, since it is not talking about a single situation, but a trend. If one group has a lower incidence of mishaps than another group, then I don't see why you can't say that they are much more free of mishaps.

goooofy July 10, 2012, 5:43am

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Accidence: chance, unforeseen or unexpected eventuality, mishap (OED)

I provided this quote to show that the usage is not new.

goooofy July 9, 2012, 5:21pm

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1910 Times 13 Apr. 14/3 While they did not find that teetotalers were much more free from accidence than other persons, total abstainers recovered more rapidly from the effects of injuries.

goooofy July 9, 2012, 12:24pm

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D.A. Wood, I agree with you, but it's not really relevant to what I was talking about. Back when Brus and Hairy Scot started complaining about the name Webster, I assumed, perhaps wrongly, that they were referring to Webster's Third International. Webster's Third International and Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage are both published by the same company, which is named Merriam-Webster (although they weren't called Merriam-Webster when they published Webster's Third).

goooofy July 9, 2012, 12:17pm

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That's why you can't judge one Webster's publication on the basis of another Webster's publication, which was my point.

I mentioned Webster's Third because that's the dictionary that got a lot of people very angry and seems to be where a lot of the animosity towards the name "Webster" comes from.

goooofy July 8, 2012, 11:50am

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D.A. Wood: Merriam-Webster is a company, and they publish Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, and Webster's Third New International dictionary.

goooofy July 8, 2012, 11:00am

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Does the etymology really matter?? Tsk tsk...

goooofy June 28, 2012, 4:30pm

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OK, I see. But "tip" isn't the backronym, "to insure promptness" is the backronym.

goooofy June 28, 2012, 4:50am

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My point is don't blame every variant spelling or Americanism on Webster, and don't lump books together just because they're published by the same company.

goooofy June 27, 2012, 8:50pm

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