Topics having to do with multiple meanings of a word or phrase.

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Difficulty in interpreting a statute

In my home state, there is a statute regarding child seats. § 20-137.1. Child restraint systems required. (a) Every driver who is transporting one or more passengers of less than 16 ...
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3answers
437 views

Meaning of “Discretion”

I saw this dictionary entry, and it says "discretion" could mean approximately either 1) the right to choose what to do or 2) the quality of being careful what you do. The dictionary has these two ...
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3answers
932 views

“to not get” vs “not to get”

I came across this sentence in an article, "As she speaks of her family, friends and life, it's difficult to not get that 'feel good' mood." I'm wondering if the following sentence could also mean ...
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2answers
22k views

Are the expressions: “You needn't” and “You don't need to” different in meaning? [duplicate]

While doing some research on a comment I had read on ELL I read the following excerpt from a website called e.grammar You needn't listen to him. (You don't have to listen to him.) x You don't ...
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3answers
135 views

How to use the phrase “come doing” properly?

How do you use the phrase 'come doing' properly? On the one hand, 'come doing' means that someone comes for doing something. For example, "Why not come dancing tonight?". This sentence never means ...
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2answers
533 views

Why does the word “tortilla” refer to three distinct types of edibles?

The crisps[BrEn]/chips[AmEn] that are made of corn (and probably not deep-fried) are called tortilla: The wraps with that special taste, are called tortila: And then, the omelet-like meal is ...
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1answer
2k views

Fall Hard For Something

I am trying to find the right definition of "hard" in this piece of writing: newspaper Looking for a tranquil hideaway after years as a paparazzi magnet, Mr. Frazier bought the single-level ...
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1answer
3k views

What is the meaning of “sanity” in “sanity check”?

The phrase "sanity check" comes up often in programming, e.g. It's a good sanity check before attempting to decrypt the key. Usually, its context is one in which a commonly assumed state (e.g. ...
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4answers
14k views

Meaning of “I feel so helpless”

What is the phrase "I feel so helpless" supposed to mean? Is it "I feel as though I am unable to offer help" or "I feel as though no one could help me?" I saw it in a movie, and always thought it ...
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2answers
102 views

I'd know my life before I had even lived it

Girl: "I've made my decision, Father". Her Father: "You've ruined so many prospects, Lucy". Girl: "Hmm.Nothing but boys, following in their father's footsteps. I'd know my life before I ...
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2answers
591 views

Should I follow English conventions, or write what sounds better?

How a sentence sounds when read aloud or in your head can often "sound" different for each individual doing so; however, I was reading details regarding the usage of "data" and "datum" and was ...
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2answers
4k views

The meaning of: “Why don't you just beat it?”

I would like to know what does this phrase means: "Why don't you just beat it?" My dictionary says only that: beat it: get lost Can you beat it? : Do you get it?
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7answers
291 views

How do I make “X is the thing I wanted to win” unambiguous?

When I say, StackExchange is the website I wanted to win (in an implied context of best website award), it sounds like I wanted to win (own) StackExchange, whereas I'm trying to imply that I wanted ...
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8answers
420 views

Nested parentheticals — restructuring for clarity

It's widely known that the name "JavaScript" is trademarked by Oracle (formerly a trademark of Sun, formerly a trademark of Netscape). What was formerly a trademark of Netscape? Sun? Oracle? ...
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2answers
297 views

Is “to fight with” ambiguous?

I've read about a Dutch volunteer, who died in Syria "fighting with the rebels". Obviously from the context you could understand, that he was fighting for the rebels, against the government troops. ...
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2answers
983 views

“Heard of anything” or “heard anything”

I always think when you use hear, of should follow it like heard of anything. But I saw I haven't heard anything from him. Is that correct, or should it be I haven't heard of anything from ...
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2answers
6k views

The etymology of “religion” comes from “legere” meaning to read + “re” meaning again. Or does it? (more inside) [closed]

The etymology of religion as mentioned in the title comes from Etymonline. And that's very interesting. It makes sense too. My question is, how do the phrases, "to read", "to choose", "to gather", ...
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3answers
1k views

Difference between “ad hoc” and “impromptu” [closed]

Is there any difference between "ad hoc" and "impromptu"? Can you find sentences where only one of the words is acceptable and the other is not? And where they are interchangeable? What about the ...
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2answers
604 views

“Even that she left lying”

In a story titled "Prelude" written by "Katherine Mansfield" I came across the following sentence in this paragraph: The fireplace was choked up with rubbish. She poked among it but found ...
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3answers
1k views

Ambiguous use of infinitive after “It's needed”

After writing this sentence, I found myself thinking that its meaning may be a little confusing to other people: It’s needed to make clear some issues regarding absences. I used the phrase to ...
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3answers
2k views

Should “that” or “it” be used in this sentence?

People say things like ‘all publicity is good publicity’ but that isn't always true. Should that in the sentence above be replaced with it? It's sort of ambiguous as to what that is referring to, ...
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3answers
326 views

Does “someone appeared to help me” have two meanings?

Someone appeared to help me. If I get it right, this sentence can either mean: "It seems like someone was helping me." (seems like = appear to) "Someone showed up to help me." (show up = ...
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2answers
539 views

SAT Writing ambiguous pronoun error?

Can anyone please explain why this sentence is incorrect? When Russell Wallace and Darwin independently proposed similar theories, Darwin had already accumulated extensive evidence with which ...
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1answer
180 views

It was established on a rocky foundation [closed]

It was established on a rocky foundation. Does it mean steady or shaky?
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5answers
726 views

Does this type of grammatical construction give an ambiguous meaning?

A girl was found in a house belonging to one of two criminals; is it correct to express this in the following way: The girl was found in one of the criminals' houses. Does the plural use of 'house' ...
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4answers
198 views

Parse tree of “the ports of Santo Domingo and Cartagena in present-day Colombia”

There is a Wikipedia article with the following line: Drake sailed to the New World and sacked the ports of Santo Domingo and Cartagena in present-day Colombia. Never mind the facts as we might ...
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4answers
292 views

Meaning of “The Lord is on our side”

Written in 1836 in Texas P.S. The Lord is on our side—When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn—We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got ...
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2answers
481 views

Where to put an adjective to avoid ambiguity?

The essence of this question is not about style. It is foremost about avoiding ambiguity. The sentence is "She called me." If I want to use the word "sniffling" to describe the caller, where should I ...
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7answers
651 views

A person who goes to gymnastics school — a 'student' or a 'pupil?'

I am trying to find an exact answer of this question: Is a person who goes to gymnastics school a 'student' or a 'pupil?'
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2answers
496 views

Is “I don't work here” literal or does it mean “I am not an employee of this establishment”? [closed]

Part of my work involves visiting retail establishments during business hours. Often, when mistaken for an employee of the store, I am asked a question about where to find something in the store, to ...
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2answers
424 views

Non-idiomatic “would be a rare X that Y”: “…would be a rare hurricane that…”

In following, a writer quotes and summarizes Bill Read's remarks regarding Hurricane Irene: “This is not just a coastal event,” said Bill Read, director of the National Hurricane Center. He said ...
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3answers
912 views

Is the verb “hustle” used mostly positively or negatively these days?

I am confused about the uses of the word hustle. According to the dictionary, to hustle means a lot of negative things, like: force (someone) to move hurriedly or unceremoniously in a specified ...
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3answers
172 views

Counting stops without ambiguity

A typical conversation on a bus: Alice: Have we reached our stop yet, Bob? Bob: No, Alice. Two more stops to go. Alice: Do you mean "two more stops, then ours" or "one more stop, then ...
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1answer
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Interpreting the meaning of 'but' as an implication for exclusion/inclusion

I often find it difficult to interpret the meaning of but in some of the sentences where it is used to imply exclusion/inclusion. For example: Drink everything you want but alcohol. Also, sometimes ...
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2answers
251 views

<Grammar/Style> Ambiguous “it”

I recently stumbled upon this joke employing some grammar: Q: How can you drop an egg on a concrete floor without cracking it? A: Any way you want, concrete floors are very hard to crack. ...
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2answers
170 views

Antecedent Precedence?

Background: I was working on a project and was having a colleague of mine proof-read a piece of documentation. He said that one sentence was ambiguous because he couldn't determine what the antecedent ...
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2answers
227 views

Is ”If I leave, it’s because Bob has arrived” ambiguous?

If I leave, it’s because Bob has arrived. Does this mean: Bob has not arrived yet. When Bob does arrive (shortly), I may leave. Bob is here now and requesting my attention. Therefore, I may ...
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1answer
434 views

Interpretation of the adjective “outstanding”

In my holidays I met a woman who is originally from Australia. She told me she lived in many places due to her husband's work and also traveled much around the world. Although she's already seen many ...
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4answers
1k views

Semantic or pragmatic ambiguity?

When one says "Do you want a cup of coffee?" he can mean: either an informative question — "Do you feel a desire to a cup of coffee?", or a polite offer — "I can make you a cup of coffee if you ...
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1answer
659 views

Using the word “difference” in the meaning “result of subtraction” taking into account the negative values

The result of subtraction is called "difference". At first glance it might seem that it shouldn't cause an ambiguity over the value denoted by this word; until we stumble upon subtractions that ...
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2answers
756 views

What does “feeling a little precious” mean? [duplicate]

I ran across this phrase in a video made by an Australian walking the Camino de Santiago. He describes a horrible sleep-deprived night and suffering from food poisoning, and states that he's feeling a ...
3
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1answer
269 views

“Tabled”, US vs UK [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: What is the meaning of the expression “We can table this”? Here's an example snippet for some context. Ann had an idea. We tabled her idea. In the UK this means ...
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2answers
385 views

One sentence with two meanings! “The door was locked”

I'm learning English. I think the sentence "The door was locked" has two meanings!. I'm very confused. First of all, let's look at this example: I broke the glass (Active) The glass was broken ...
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1answer
396 views

Adjective for “can't think of it now, but I'll know it when I see it”?

This happens when someone asks you about a fairly new song. You can't remember the lyrics or the music, but when it comes on the radio, you'll know that's the one. What adjective would describe that ...
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2answers
863 views

If/when in this example?

I am struggling with understanding when I can use if/when interchangeably. The situation is like this, I meet my friend outside who is heading to the dentist. I say (in that situation, knowing he is ...
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1answer
256 views

Scan Method vs Scanning Method

The question here is what is the meaning of the two: Scan Method Scanning Method My assumption is that the interpretations are, respectively: A method which describes how the scanning procedure ...
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1answer
134 views

Does 'extraordinary', 'exceptional', 'outstanding' always carry positive connotations nowadays?

When I take the word 'extraordinary', 'exceptional' and 'outstanding' literally, it simply means something 'out of the ordinary', 'rare and/or unusual', or something which 'stands out from the rest', ...
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1answer
150 views

This long sentence is ambiguous, and difficult for me to understand [closed]

I got this sentence Property value litigation is no different than any other type of litigation where experts are used in that expert opinions are fair game for attack by the opposing side in ...
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1answer
134 views

What do you call the linguistic ambiguity in an assertion "Blah is the Best X?

I don't know the correct name of the following characteristic or phenomena to search for it on Google for further study and exploration: Someone says they live in the "Best Democracy" and they ...
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4answers
106 views

Regions and reasons for the usage of “sleep” as “go to sleep”

This question is very closely linked to this english.SE question, which discusses the usage of "sleep" as a verb meaning "go to sleep" and inspired by this ell.SE question, in which the accepted ...