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November 8, 2009

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In sentence 1, "that" refers to "rates of electricity generation," not simply "electricity generation." I agree with the commenter that said "those" would work; it is a plural we are talking about ("rates"). But I think "that" is fairly conventional, as used here.

For sentence 2, I am afraid we as a nation are susceptible to the same problem people experience everywhere--we think we are the center of everything and beyond us there is nothing. This is why we say "in KS," meaning that Kansas is a part of this great and total universe called the U.S., while we say "of" with respect to the U.S. total. There is no sense in our minds of the U.S. being part of anything else (such as the rest of the world). We are used to comparing parts of the U.S. to the whole. It comes with having a huge country and being a superpower. Once we compare KS to the whole country, we are done.

What exactly is “width” in geometry?

  • January 30, 2018, 8:31am

If you are talking about a rectangle, which is usually represented in a sort of landscape orientation, and describing the dimensions as width and length, it is only natural to use "length" to reference the longer side. It would be odd to have the shorter side described as length. This seems to me to be simply a convention in geometry. It doesn't have to make sense with English, Merriam-Webster or any other source. It just needs to be internally consistent within Geometry and to make sense with the terms that are chosen for the shapes. True, you can make a case that "width" doesn't appear to be used well here, but if it is paired with "length," I don't see a way around this outcome. Be comforted by the fact that this is walled off from the rest of the language and should cause no one any serious difficulty.

You might make a similar a similar complaint in graphing with the term "rise over run." Run is a bit ambiguous, as is width. But there is no mistaking what rise is on a graph.

Perhaps the confusion here CAN bleed into the "real" world. There are times I have been confused about a product description, for example, when two dimensions are simply described as a number by another number, such as 100 mm x 100 mm. Obviously a square, but if the numbers aren't equal, you might have to surmise what side the longer number refers to. I am sure there have been other instances. What I find is that the confusion is only me. The people in that business use these numbers all the time and there is no question about them. It helps me to get someone on the phone and discuss the product so I can become familiar with their jargon.

Why do we have “formal” English?

  • September 24, 2015, 2:17pm

Emailing, texting, tweeting--these are already affecting our writing. Remember when you wrote an email like a letter? Now, there is a subtle coercion when someone emails me and hits the carriage return. They are being formal. If they just say hi john and use a hyphen or comma and then start in with whatever they are saying, they are mimicking spoken language, perhaps what you'd expect to hear in a voicemail.

I think we will continue to have formal writing as long as there are business and government transactions. It's authoritarian, I know, but still seems appropriate to me. We are still in the early days of the internet. Wait 20 years, maybe 50. We might see a lot, ahem, much less formal usage.

waiting on

  • September 24, 2015, 2:07pm

In the US saying waiting on sort of pegs you as a southerner, almost as strongly as y'all. Ahm waitin on ya means hurry the heck up.

"How about never? Does never work for you?" Quote, possibly inexact, from a cartoon in, I think, The New Yorker.

I agree about the structure you laid out Howard, on a mathematical calendrical level. However, we have to allow for fuzzy logic. I think many people have an understood "of next week" in the phrase "next Wednesday," especially if it's Monday or Tuesday.

Thanks for not being a pain in the Yiddish.

I agree with others here. If you want to be clear that there was a prison break, say from prison. It brings to the mind of the reader that there was a building or structure involved. Without the preposition "from," it's ambiguous and could mean someone avoided prison.

How does one debate a person?

  • September 24, 2015, 1:48pm

When you debate with someone, you are most likely in public and people are wondering what all the fuss is about.

When you debate someone, you are on a stage in a formal setting.

I am not inclined to investigate whether LEGO should be in caps or not, but I don't see a problem with referring to them in the plural by adding an "s." I agree with the intellectual property argument. Brand names are often the victims of their own success, right? If a brand name is very successful, it becomes necessary for the competition to adopt that brand name to describe their own product, or no one will know what they are selling, or at the very least why they'd refer to it with some lame-sounding alternative. So even with a paper trail, I think it's up in the air what a court would decide. In the course of emails, I like the question, but I think the train has left the station. We could have referred to email messages, email letters, electronic letters, etc. from the beginning. But we didn't and now we are stuck with emails for now. We see the official term electronic correspondence used in a legal or regulatory/bureaucratic context, but it always begs the question in my mind, wasn't it just an email, or was it really some esoteric computer system to which only Big Brother has access?

Oblige to mean “force”

  • September 7, 2011, 1:29pm

Sounds marginally ok to me, altho it also sounds a little confusing, as a spoken sentence, so I probably would not use that wording. First tho, I am not convinced it means "force" in that sentence. Even if you used the more appropriate "obligate" in that sentence, it still is not the same as forcing. Forcing is such a strong term. It really can go beyond the constraints of a "social contract" situation, where I agree to take on an obligation so that I can maintain a certain status quo, and enters into an area where physical violence is a potential. If "force" is the intended meaning, I think it's a bad choice to say "oblige." I don't think oblige should be used that way. It's a matter of perspective. A person is forced from without. An obligation is something a person takes on themselves. The sentence, "No one can (force, require, issue a mandate for) you to stay in a job you hate," works, in my view. But if the meaning we are to get from the sentence is that no one can force you to take on an obligation, well, this is sort of a platitude that plays on the concepts of the two perspectives I described. It would be the same as saying that no one can force you to take on a voluntary obligation. Of course not. However, it's as complex as any human interaction. The military has a term I like, "voluntold," as in, "I was voluntold to perform this function." By which it's clear that the person didn't really feel they had a choice in the matter, but the task was offered AS IF it was a voluntary matter. I have to ask, can I olbige myself to stay in a job I hate? Seems like a ridiculous question. I can decide to stay, but why would I use a term like oblige to descirbe my decision? Unless perhaps I was signing up for a period of service of some duration. Normally I can quit a job anytime. But if I was signing up for a military tour of duty, by signing up I would be obliging myself for that term.

“It is what it is”

  • January 8, 2010, 1:58pm

It also occurs to me that "it is what it is" is probably related to the phrase "what is done is done." Again, nothing to do with Black Standard English. Just an old, presumably white European, English expression. Even biblical, perhaps. Or Roman? Can I get a "facet facevis" or some (real) Latin expression, anyone?


“This Wednesday” vs. “Next Wednesday” September 7, 2011