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

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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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2answers
130 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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5answers
6k views

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 ...
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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 ...
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4answers
634 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 ...
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10answers
847 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 ...
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2answers
267 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? ...
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7answers
329 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
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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 tfd....
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3answers
9k 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 ...
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2answers
514 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 ...
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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 ...
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2answers
491 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
219 views

Is having sex a hobby? [on hold]

Wiktionary defines a hobby as An activity that one enjoys doing in one's spare time. Other dictionaries tend to have similar definitions. Viewpoint 1 Some people believe that the word hobby ...
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2answers
783 views

Is “We embraced.” a complete sentence?

Can someone write "we embraced" to mean "we embraced each other?"
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2answers
1k 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 arise?...
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6answers
828 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
40k 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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3answers
60 views

Word usage technically correct, but misleading

An article title states a Black Lives Matter activist is charged with 'lynching'. When I read the article, what the activist actually did is unlawfully remove a suspect from police custody, in order ...
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2answers
598 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
109 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
101 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 ...
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3answers
1k 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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2answers
174 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
132 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?" ...
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6answers
239 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
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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
248 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 ...
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1answer
81 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 ...
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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
19k 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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4answers
227 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 ...
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1answer
85 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 is ...
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2answers
605 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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8answers
36k 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 ...
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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?
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8answers
439 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
429 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
3k 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
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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3answers
3k 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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2answers
770 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
2k 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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2answers
7k views

Close to home = quite accurate?

Citing Wikipedia: Many actuaries were unhappy with the stereotypical portrayals of these actuaries as unhappy, math-obsessed and socially inept people; others have claimed that the portrayals ...
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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 = appear) ...
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2answers
717 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
269 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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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 ...