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

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3 meter square area vs 3 square meter area

A. 3 meter square area B. 3 square meter area I’m wondering what the easiest way is to clearly express the difference between A and B above. In A, one side is 3 (meters). In B, one side is ...
5
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1answer
1k views

How do you disambiguate phrases like “killing doctors” when you can't use an article? [closed]

In singular, indefinite articles help to disambiguate some phrases, like for example: a killing doctor Would be a doctor who kills people. versus killing a doctor Would be an act of ...
4
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4answers
628 views

An ambiguity problem with “the first thing you remember”

I'm having an ambiguity problem with the following sentence: What's the first thing you remember? If I'm right, it may mean either: 1) What is the first thing you can recall, the furthest in ...
4
votes
10answers
831 views

Phrase meaning “North, but not directly North, from here”

I have 40 characters to give hints to users about the location of a "prize" (Broken up into two lines of 20 characters.) There is some ambiguity when I send the following hint: The prize is somewhere ...
4
votes
2answers
266 views

Is “Betty learned that Albert telephoned after Isaiah visited” ambiguous?

Betty learned that Albert telephoned after Isaiah visited. Can anybody explain whether "after Isaiah visited" tell us: (1) when Betty learned something about Albert or (2) when Albert telephoned? ...
4
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7answers
328 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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6answers
6k views

What's the meaning of 'squared away' here?

We had a death in the family this weekend, so I haven't had the time to spend on this... We've the funeral next weekend, so hopefully we can get squared away before Friday... Looking it up at ...
4
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3answers
8k views

Why do they say “may not” for things which people shouldn't do

I have seen in so many place where they would have mentioned "You may not.." etc for the things people shouldn't do. For eg: in companies where USB is not allowed, they will mention like this "You may ...
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2answers
2k views

Double meaning?

Taken from "A Quiver Full of Arrows": "The flowers have lasted well," she teased, and left him to make the coffee. Does the sentence clearly imply that she left to make the coffee? Or could ...
4
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2answers
513 views

Books and other things with the same name

Is it proper to say "the book and movie Of Mice and Men" even though the two identical terms "Of Mice and Men" do not refer to the same entity? An alternative would be "the book Of Mice and Men and ...
4
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3answers
3k 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 ...
4
votes
2answers
471 views

Meaning and etymology of “down with”

I've searched a lot and found out that down with as a slang phrase means "being in an agreement with something". On the other hand, I know that it also means "death upon something". So in a sentence ...
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2answers
754 views

Is “We embraced.” a complete sentence?

Can someone write "we embraced" to mean "we embraced each other?"
4
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2answers
938 views

“Has reported” as present perfect vs. “has” as present + “reported” as a noun

In the following sentence below, I want to use the word reported as a noun, but it looks like I’m using the present perfect form has reported. How can one be clear when constructions like this ...
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votes
6answers
807 views

“Obstacles along the road to success” vs. “obstacles across the road to success”

My sister got this question for one of her tests. There are many obstacles __ the road to success. Her options were: across along I initially thought that across would make more ...
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4answers
38k views

“A good memory” vs. “good memories”

If I say, "I don't have a good memory of my childhood", would it imply that I cant recollect it or that I have bad memories (bad stories, unhappy) childhood? I think that "good memories" implies the ...
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2answers
1k views

Ambiguity when a sentence contains multiple possessive pronouns

I have a question related to another one that I have asked. In the following sentence, whose father is being referenced? Billy’s friend and his father were there. In the following re-structured ...
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2answers
568 views

Can I use the word “must” in subjunctive mood?

I'm a student in China. Our English exam has a grammar item. 54.My boss ordered that the legal documents __ to him before lunch. A.be sent B.were sent C.were to be sent D.must be ...
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3answers
101 views

What does 'measuring cast' mean? (1660, UK)

Source: 'Things Necessary to be Continually had in Remembrance', by Sir Matthew Hale (1609-1676) If in criminals it be a measuring cast, to incline to mercy and acquittal. How do you ...
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3answers
100 views

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 ...
4
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3answers
926 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 ...
4
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2answers
164 views

Disambiguation of “fluff” vs. chiefly AmEng “lint” vs. chiefly BrEng “bobbles” vs. “pills” for French “peluches”

Robert & Collins French and English Dictionary, Ed. 1985 gives: lint: (US: fluff) peluches nfpl peluche (=bouloche): bit of fluff; fluff Collins French-English Dictionary Now, these are ...
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1answer
115 views

How to parse “Do you have the time?” correctly

When someone asks "Do you have the time?", my first instinctive response is: "The time for what?" I have to think for a few more seconds to realize that the question was actually "What time is it?" ...
4
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6answers
226 views

In the phrase “No more than two cats or dogs”, how many total pets are possible?

It seems this phrase can be read in two ways: A) No more than 2 (cats or dogs) [2 total] B) No more than 2 cats or (2) dogs [4 total] Does this phrase have a singular meaning, or is it ambiguous?
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2answers
48k 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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2answers
240 views

What does a “visiting writer” mean?

From wiki page about Michael Crichton": In 1988, Crichton was a visiting writer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology What does exactly the term visiting writer mean? Does it mean he ...
4
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1answer
80 views

Moonlight raked the lawn

Years ago, I saw a discussion about a writer who had, allegedly without humorous intent, injected some surprising atmosphere into a story by saying that "moonlight raked the lawn". The contributors ...
4
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1answer
4k 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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4answers
18k 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 ...
4
votes
1answer
82 views

“This boys hat”: Ambiguity of demonstative with possessive

A. [This boy]’s hat is cute. B. This [boys’ hat] is cute. In sentence A, "this" modifies "boy," and in sentence B, "this" modifies "boy's hat," as the brackets show. Questions What ...
4
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1answer
159 views

Ambiguity of the word 'any'?

Given the following question, in the context of a poll or vote: Should any employee of Company X be allowed to assume absolute authority in any project with Company X's name associated? Under ...
3
votes
2answers
604 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 ...
3
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8answers
33k views

Does “until [date]” mean “before that date”?

What does until mean in the following? You need to deliver this product within 2 days (until August 18, 2011) to meet your deadline and get paid. Does this mean that I have to deliver the ...
3
votes
3answers
6k 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?
3
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8answers
437 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? ...
3
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2answers
417 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
2k 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 ...
3
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2answers
10k 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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2answers
755 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 ...
3
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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, ...
3
votes
3answers
344 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 = ...
3
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2answers
712 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 ...
3
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1answer
253 views

It was established on a rocky foundation [closed]

It was established on a rocky foundation. Does it mean steady or shaky?
3
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4answers
207 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 ...
3
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4answers
360 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
648 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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5answers
1k 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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7answers
1k 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?'
3
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2answers
725 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 ...