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Warsaw Will

Joined: December 3, 2010
Comments posted: 1371
Votes received: 797

I'm a TEFL teacher working in Poland. I have a blog - Random Idea English - where I do some grammar stuff for advanced students and have the occasional rant against pedantry.

Questions Submitted

fewer / less

May 3, 2014

Natural as an adverb

April 13, 2014

tonne vs ton

January 25, 2014

Tell About

October 18, 2013

“reach out”

May 25, 2013

Recent Comments

Would you also object to "key witness" and "key evidence"? - this article is related but not exactly about the same thing -

Warsaw Will June 3, 2014, 3:43pm

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OK - the rise in its use as an adjective is pretty recent in both American English and British English, but its occurrence seems to be more common in BrE.

Warsaw Will June 3, 2014, 3:32pm

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@Skeeter Lewis - I don't really see why there should be any connection between the two - I doubt that many Brits even knew of the American idiom. Far more likely is that they've decided to avoid "less than half-price", just in case.

In fact, it's not as exclusively British as I had thought, as a quick visit to Google Books shows. This is from 1999 - "Alan and Patricia Wolff of Honolulu took advantage of these peculiar economics and snared a better-than-half-price deal on a ski-season time share in Park City, Utah"

Warsaw Will June 3, 2014, 3:20pm

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1. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that gift as a verb is not uncommon in Scottish English. It is relatively formal, and is especially when something is given officially. This use in Scotland goes back to at least 1602. What is strange is that several publications carry exactly the same sentence, so its provenance is quite difficult to work out, but given the context I imagine it started off in a Scottish publication.

2. Key venue - I really don't see the problem here - a key venue is a very important venue . There will be at least fifteen venues at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and presumably the writer considers this to be one of the more important ones. Oxford Online defines key as 'Of crucial importance' - 'she became a key figure in the suffragette movement', so it's a bit stronger than simply saying important. Other dictionaries also define it as very important, vital, crucial etc

I don't know its etymology, but keynote was being used to mean 'leading idea' as early as 1783. But it seems to me that several languages use key to mean important or essential, at least in certain expressions. In French, for example there's the expression 'position-clé':

Position-clef. "Le problème des transports (...) occupe une position-clé dans l'économie d'un pays" - L'Attif

In Spanish there's palabra clave = "palabra reservada cuyo uso es esencial para el significado y la estructura de una sentencia" - Diccionario R.A.E

"Key decision" seems to be literally translated in several languages (the noun for key is in brackets)

French - (cléf) - "La décision rendue par la Cour d'appel fédérale est une décision clé sur l'interaction entre les marques de commerce et les brevets au Canada"

Spanish - (clave) - "Una decisión clave: el futuro del Metro para Quito"

Italian - (chiave) - "Processo ai marò, rinviata a domani la decisione chiave"

Polish - (klucz) - "była to decyzja kluczowa" - it was a key decision

Czech - (klíč) - "Klíčové rozhodnutí pro digitální rozhlas" A key decision for digital radio

Maybe not key venue but something like it - key place:

"Pourquoi les bibliothèques sont un lieu clé pour une société numérique"

"El corcho y el alcornoque ocupan un lugar clave en la evolución del bosque mediterráneo"

"Warszawa jest dla has kluczowym miejscem w UE"

Key to mean important or essential seems to me make perfect sense and totally unexceptionable. In the British National Corpus, this in fact seems to be the most common use of the word key, after its meaning of 'solution, answer'. It collocates particularly with:

issue, role, element, factor, area, point, feature

This use in English appears to go back at least to the 1920s.

"The English language as it is being published in the press is crumbling around us" - Oh, I love that! Nonsense, of course, but great fun.

Warsaw Will June 3, 2014, 2:30pm

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@Jasper - We're talking of a sort of indirect speech here, so need to think what he originally said to himself - If it was "If I move my arm it will break" (real conditional), then - He was convinced that if he moved his arm, it would break.

But if he was thinking "If I were to move my arm, it would break" (unreal conditional), then your sentence would be the way to go.

By using the "were to"construction instead of a simple past, you've already decided that this is a hypothetical condition and to use an unreal past, and therefore subjunctive "were" would indeed be appropriate. Whether you use "was" or "were", on the other hand, depends on how formal you want to be, and how attached you are to the subjunctive. Many people, especially Americans I think, would consider "was" wrong here, and as it's obviously from a piece of written work, "were" would be safer.

Whether to choose a real or unreal conditional here is another matter. Personally, I feel a real one would be stronger.

Warsaw Will June 3, 2014, 2:36am

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I've written a blog post on this and similar expressions for foreign learners:

Warsaw Will June 1, 2014, 12:24pm

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@Rory - On your second point, "all" is certainly synonymous with "everything" but it's anything but (except) synonymous with "anything"! Would you rather give somebody anything of yours they wanted, or everything of yours they wanted?

There is also the expression "anything but" which is very different in meaning from "all but", meaning "just the opposite". This example is from Cambridge Dictionaries -

"She's meant to be really nice but she was anything but nice when I met her."
= she wasn't at all nice, in fact just the opposite

We could compare that with:

"She's meant to be really nice but she all but ignored me at the party."
= she almost completely ignored me, i.e. she did everything except completely ignore me.

You finish off by saying that you can't think of a single context to makes either word a synonym for "almost", and that's correct, they only mean almost when taken together, where "but" has its original meaning of 'except'. (Its more familiar use as a conjunction came into English later). And there are plenty of examples of "but" meaning except, including "There but for the grace of God, go I", which I've already quoted.

As camryn has explained, "all but" really means "almost completely", rather than simply "almost". And it doesn't really mean the opposite of what it suggests at all.

Martin quotes - “Such actions were all but unheard of then”, using camryn's explanation we could read this as "Such actions were everything except (completely) unheard of then" - i.e. mostly unheard of.

But in the end, I don't think analysing it too much is really going to help. Just accept it as an idiom. Nobody has to use it of course, and for many of us (older ones, perhaps) understanding it simply comes naturally. And it's useful to know when you're doing some reading :

"why he should change his mind when it was all but done, she could not perceive" - Jane Austen

"But as for Girton, the matter was talked over calmly, without either tears or kisses, and it was all but settled that Janet should go there in the autumn" - Charles Dickens

"She was all but worshipped by the peasantry around her" - Anthony Trollope

"that she's all but ready to fall to pieces in this same time" - Captain Marryat

"true, she all but consented, and did consent in a sort" - William Hazlitt

Admittedly, it's not that common, though. But then there's also the sub-idiom "in all but name" as in "They're married in all but name". -

Warsaw Will June 1, 2014, 12:05pm

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It's not really about 'between you and I', but there's an interesting Intelligence Squared debate on YouTube with the title of 'Between You and I the English Language is Going to the Dogs' between John Humphrys (BBC) and Simon Heffer (ex of The Telegraph, now at The Daily Mail) putting forward the motion, and Oliver Kamm (The Times) and Mary Beard (Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge) opposing it - something there for all of us, perhaps.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 4:13pm

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But there are also admittedly examples where the co-chairs obviously assisted the chair, or, as in one 1959 example from the Music Operators of America (in Billboard), the Co-chairmen assisted the Chairman. And there's this example from the 2006 United States Code:

"The President shall designate a Chair from among the members. A Co-Chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology who is not serving in the Federal Government and the Chair and Vice Chair of the President's Export Council shall serve as ex-officio members."

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 11:45am

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Whenever I (a Brit) see the word coworker (we prefer to use colleague or workmate) I think it's something to do with cows. Joking apart, I've never heard of this supposed difference, and that Oxford usage note AnWulf quotes makes no mention of it. At Merriam-Webster, for the prefix co- the definitions they give are:

'1: with : together : joint : jointly <coexist> <coheir>

2: in or to the same degree <coextensive>

3a : one that is associated in an action with another : fellow : partner <coauthor> <coworker>

3b : having a usually lesser share in duty or responsibility : alternate : deputy <copilot>

4: of, relating to, or constituting the complement of an angle <cosine> '

They make no mention of the use or not of the hyphen. I can find only a couple of references to this on the Internet, one being your own Linkedin page. One university site says - 'Do not hyphenate prefix except when forming nouns, adjectives and verbs that indicate occupation or status.e.g. co-author, codependent', but nothing about a semantic difference.

As far as usage guides are concerned, Merriam-Webster makes no mention of it that I can see. Fowler's 3rd edition (1996 British) gives simply lists specific words where the hyphen is used entirely for practical reasons, nothing about semantics, for example:

co-respondent (for the reason AnWulf mentioned)
co-pilot, co-signatory, co-worker ('hyphen used to avoid momentary perplexity of the reader')
co-op, co-opt (clashing vowels might lead to pronunciation as 'oo'
New words which could be confusing.

In Britain I think we tend to hyphenate most where co- is followed by a vowel, unless words have become very well established. Oxford gives both possibilities for cooperate, although it's so well known that there is no real need now for the hyphen.

And as for 'cochair', I have to confess that it looks like Gaelic to me (in British books, co-chair is far more common). I don't know where you have got the idea from that a co-chair was subordinate to the chair - that would be a vice-chair, wouldn't it? I've just checked with three American dictionaries and haven't found that definition in any of them. The Free Dictionary doesn't list co-chair, takes you to cochair. This is from Webster's New World College Dictionary (at Your Dictionary):

a person who chairs a committee, meeting, etc. jointly with another or others

transitive verb
to preside at or over as a co-chair"

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 11:26am

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@AnWulf - fair comment when it comes to vernacular dialogue. Shakespeare only used 'between you and' once, at least in the First Folio, and this was from Antonio, the educated 'hero' of the Merchant of Venice, and in a letter, what's more. There are also examples of this usage was in Restoration drama, but it seems to have largely died out since then, at least till modern times, although apparently Mark Twain used quite regularly until corrected.

As much as Shakespeare might have been writing for entertainment, the fact remains that he is often seen as the greatest writer in the English language and a paradigm of good English. Good as some of them may, I can't see film scripts being made a compulsory part of the English syllabus in every British school quite yet.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 10:33am

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Oops, something not quite parallel there - 'who haven't the slightest interest in complaining, or desire to complain, about ...'.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 10:11am

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@jayles - you could add 'neither of / either of' and 'none of' to your list. Both formally take a singular verb, but are often used informally with a plural verb:

'Neither of them are coming'
'None of my friends have even heard of them'

"Neither of and either of are followed by a plural noun or pronoun and a singular or plural verb. A plural verb is more informal:Neither of my parents speaks/speak a foreign language." Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

"When you use none of with a plural noun or pronoun, or a singular noun referring to a group of people or things, you can use either a singular or a plural verb. The singular form is used in a formal style in British English:None of the trains is/are going to London" Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 6:35am

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How times change! - I've just come across this, from a grammar book for British schools, 'English Observed - Common Errors in Written English', by Lancelot Oliphant, published in 1955.

" 'They didn’t use to do it.'
This is old-fashioned, but not incorrect in conver­sation. In written work it is better avoided. Write, ‘They usedn’t to do it’, or, ‘They used not to do it’. Note, however, that ‘didn’t used’ is wrong.' "

I accept that in more formal written work, 'used not to do it' is probably more common than contracted 'didn't use to do it' (they're about neck-and-neck in Ngram). But nowadays, I would say that it is 'usedn't to do it' that is seen as old-fashioned.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 6:23am

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@Brus - for various reasons, it's possible that some native speakers don't get that much teaching in verb tenses and their construction - this comes so naturally in spoken language that it might have been thought unnecessary to concentrate on (I'm only surmising, not defending). Which has led some native speakers to write modal perfect constructions exactly as they hear them.

But I have never seen a foreign learner make this mistake, because they have to learn the way these verb forms are constructed to be able to use them. It's the same with the confusion in the spelling of 'your' and 'you're' and 'their', 'they're' and 'there' - these kinds of mistakes are almost exclusively made by native speakers. I'd suggest that most foreign learners who are following coursed of Upper-intermediate level and above, know rather more about the theory of English grammar than native speakers. And for many native speakers of English, their own understanding of grammar structures comes when learning a foreign language.

I hope that last 'spot the error' bit was just your little joke, as of course the 've in I've (/v/) is pronounced completely differently from the 've in would've, could've etc (/əv/), the latter being pronounced exactly the same way as unstressed 'of', hence the confusion.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 5:47am

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As I remember, the Colemanballs column, in Private Eye magazine, wasn't reserved specifically for Coleman's own slip-ups, but for any funny gaffes made by sports commentators, and rather, was named in his honour. The column's scope has now been widened, and its name changed accordingly, to 'Mediaballs'. But elsewhere, the word Colemanballs is certainly used for his particular gaffes.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 5:10am

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@Brus - 'Why do people who do not care about the language, and think terms like "between you and I" are just fine ... why on earth do they engage with this Pain the English forum'.

Personally, I say 'between you and me', and would always advise my students to do the same. But 'between you and I' is really a very small error and leaves no room for misunderstanding or ambiguity. Personal pronouns are the last area where English retains cases, and many of the most argued about questions revolve round them. If we can accept objective pronouns in situations where formal grammar demands subjective ones, is it really so awful to do it the other way round? It sounds no worse or pompous to me than people who use grammatically 'correct' but hopelessly formal language in informal situations. I certainly don't think it justifies making disparaging remarks about the people who say it or about their English.

And I'm afraid your analogy, oft-used on traditional grammar sites, of taking away the second person doesn't always work. Canadaneil has said that he can 'tolerate' subjective 'me' in ”me and Geoff went to the beach", and a lot of us use this construction informally, but of course we'd never say "me went to the beach". Linguists well understand that different things can happen when joint subjects or objects are involved than when only one person is involved.

I am also slightly horrified by reading some of the stuff above - you may love the bit about 'faux-pomposity' and the stuff about 'people over-rating their own eloquence'. But I just see someone imputing things to other people he has no way of knowing about, in a rather intellectually-snobbish way. This only confirms my feeling that a lot of language peeving is as much about putting other people down as with any real interest in grammar..

As I was the one who used the word smug; yes, I'm afraid that is the impression I do get from many language peevers, as exemplified by the article I quoted above, and especially from websites like 'Apostrophe Abuse' - a sense of 'We know better than them'. And often without cause, as all they are interested in is their 'rule', not the history behind it, or any debate surrounding it.

There's a lot more to caring about, or even loving, the language than criticising other people for their errors; and it's perhaps telling that people who devote their lives to the study of English hardly ever do this.

What I find really horrifying is that you seem to think that those of us whose interest in English is one of observing a fascinating organically-developing system rather than peeving about the English of others have no reason to engage with PITE. Should PITE be reserved, then, for those who, in your own words, get grumpy about what you perceive as deteriorating standards? Does it mean that there is no place here for someone whose interest in English is more informed by modern linguistics than by traditional prescriptivism? People who try to take care with their own language, people like me who teach English, write about English, but who haven't the slightest interest in, or desire to, complain about the language of others. There are few enough of us as it is, but it seems you would have PITE reserved for the faithful.

Warsaw Will May 30, 2014, 4:36am

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@Brus - Yes, Jeremy Hunt is often the butt of this kind of joke. Was your vicar a country vicar, by any chance? Rhetorical question.

Warsaw Will May 29, 2014, 2:08am

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@Canadaneil - in the context of the history of English, I'd suggest that the 19th century is in fact relatively recent.

Warsaw Will May 28, 2014, 5:48pm

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@Brus - but was the pronunciation of aunt an essential part of the story (in which case I think I've missed something), or did you add that on yourself? Talking of your story, one thing I have noticed is how often allusions are made nowadays on Radio Four to the other possible answer to the Vicar's question, in relatively sedate programmes such as 'Just a minute'. How the barriers have fallen!

Warsaw Will May 28, 2014, 1:48pm

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