This tag is for questions about the meaning of a longer passage of English.

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29
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4answers
161k views

Is it “peek”, “peak” or “pique”?

I have always thought the phrase was "pique my interest" as in: "Her mysterious background piqued my interest". However, of late, on blogs and social networks, I have seen people using "peek my ...
16
votes
4answers
13k views

What does “pneumatic” mean when applied to a person?

For example, in this review of the movie Unknown, Mark Kermode refers to Liam Neeson's character's wife as being played by "X-Men's pneumatic January Jones". I'm never quite sure whether this refers ...
15
votes
7answers
1k views

Does “woman driver” have a special meaning other than female driver?

Rush Limbaugh’s “wrong choice of word” is causing a big fuss. And I was puzzled to find the following statement of Limbaugh from www.rushlimbaugh.com that was made 4 days ago: The reaction that ...
10
votes
6answers
3k views

What did Steve Jobs mean by “Technology married with Liberal Arts” in his last speech?

The Asahi, Japan’s leading newspaper quoted the following famous closing words of Steve Jobs’ in his last speech at the iPad 2 event in March 2011 in its popular editorial column, “Vox populi, vox ...
6
votes
2answers
294 views

Meaning of Jo's dialog in Chapter 16 of Bleak House

A portion of chapter 16 of Dickens' Bleak House is shown below. Jo attends closely while the words are being spoken; [...] and nods his ragged head. "I'm fly," says Jo. "But fen larks, you ...
2
votes
5answers
1k views

How does “among” vs “between” affect the meaning of this sentence from the Times?

I realize that this has been discussed elsewhere on the site, but I was interested in the use of the preposition "among" in a sentence from a story in yesterday's New York Times: Research done by ...
1
vote
2answers
311 views

What does one's status being “less a blank check than an equation with multiple variables” mean?

There is the following line in a December 8 New York Times article titled “Clinton’s countless choices hinge on one: 2016”: “But being Hillary Clinton is never a simple matter, and her next few ...
31
votes
3answers
6k views

What does President Obama’s phrase “We don’t need to spike the football” mean?

President Obama made the following statement regarding his decision not to show dead body of Osama bin Laden to the public: "I think that Americans and people around the world are glad that he is ...
30
votes
4answers
6k views

What does “There she blows’” mean?

This question regards the sentence in the New Yorker’s (June 14) article “Lunch at Gitlitze” I quoted in my previous question, "Is “battled-hardened” correct, or just a typo?” “When we walked ...
22
votes
7answers
60k views

What is the meaning of “don't mention it” (in response to “thank you”)?

I read at several places that "don't mention it" is equal to "you're welcome". But for me, the word means something like "don't go around talking about this to anyone". So what is the real meaning of ...
15
votes
4answers
6k views

What does “don’t pave the cow path” mean in this context?

I came across a new phrase while reading description section of a webinar topic on Operational Best Practices in the Cloud here. Excerpt: Don’t pave the cow path. Cloud infrastructure is very ...
14
votes
3answers
4k views

What is a “Hobbesian trap”?

A recent Economist article (see The drug war hits Central America) uses something called a Hobbesian trap like this: Central America has fallen into a Hobbesian trap: the better-off make ...
10
votes
3answers
892 views

What does “Sleep through the Second Coming” mean?

There is the following statement in Jeffery Archer’s fiction “Kane & Abel,” in which William Kane, one of the two heroes looks at his wife sleeping soundly on bed unaware of his big problem: ...
7
votes
2answers
4k views

What does “gig” stand for in “It's your gig”?

I have heard people say, "It's your gig" when they intend to say, "It's your choice after all." For example: I have said all I wanted to say. Now it's your gig. The intention is that the ...
7
votes
7answers
888 views

Meaning of “No, yes …”

I'm not sure if this is something only Americans say, but it has confused me for a long time. If someone is asked a question why do some people respond with something like, "No, yes it was"? What does ...
6
votes
4answers
4k views

Difference between “purpose” and “goal”

What does this sentence from Star Trek: The Alternative Factor mean? Jim, madness has no purpose ... or reason ... but it may have a goal. As far as I know purpose and goal are synonyms. How ...
6
votes
4answers
4k views

Difference between “voters”, “electorates” and “constituents”

I'm reading an English text about politics, and in one paragraph I found "voters," "electorates" and "constituents." Now I would like to know if they are absolutely the same, or if they have slightly ...
6
votes
2answers
660 views

What's the connection between “Holy Grail” and “Killer Rabbit”? [closed]

This article says: If there's a Holy Grail, there's a Killer Rabbit. I can understand that to be "even if there's a good solution, there's a catch to it", but what does Killer Rabbit have to ...
6
votes
2answers
3k views

What does it mean to call something Leviathan in comparison to others?

Wordweb describes Leviathan as: The largest or most massive thing of its kind Monstrous sea creature symbolizing evil in the Old Testament A recent Economist article (see The drug war ...
5
votes
4answers
232 views

“Scores” = high amount? [closed]

Read a news on BBC, I have some questions regarding a word scores in this context: "A BBC team inside Syria filming for Panorama has witnessed the aftermath of a fresh horrific incident - an ...
5
votes
4answers
3k views

Which is more affirmative: “I think” or “I guess”?

In South Asia, we tend to use "I think" when we are almost sure about something; or sometimes use it ironically like in example "I think you should have done this yesterday". "I guess", on the other ...
4
votes
2answers
7k views

When is between inclusive and when exclusive?

It seems that the exact meaning of between is very tied to its specific usage. What should I assume in a general situation about the inclusivity of between. Consider: "Pick a number between 1 and ...
4
votes
1answer
523 views

What’s the usage of apostrophes in “ ‘Bye, ‘bye ”?

I’d like to know what effect an apostrophe has which is before a word and doesn’t work as an omitter. (Not like C’mon or ‘Course, but like ‘bye, ‘bye.) I have three questions as follows, but any ...
3
votes
2answers
686 views

Is “put together” an adjectival phrase?

When someone says "He is smarter than I and she put together," what is the function of the phrase "put together"? Is it considered an adjective?
2
votes
1answer
469 views

Is absence of the person needed in “On someone's behalf”?

In the middle of a conversation he had with my father, [Mr. X] asked him: “What does your son want to do in future?”. “He wants to do religious studies,” my father replied. He talked on my behalf ...
2
votes
3answers
8k views

A word to describe a situation where something said has multiple meanings? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: A word with a wide range of meanings Is there a word that describes a situation where someone says something that has multiple meanings? or can be taken multiple ways. ...
2
votes
2answers
315 views

How should I understand this “that” clause?

The following sentence is from an article of Harry Frankfurt who is a professor from Princeton University: It must be part of the point of saying that humbug is "short of lying," that while it has ...
2
votes
3answers
4k views

tailored to someone needs VS tailor-made

I wrote a text about our company's services and added that we also can offer products tailored to the needs of our clients. One of my colleagues insisted that the expression was wrong and I should say ...
14
votes
9answers
48k views

What does “double-down” mean when used in a context other than Blackjack?

I saw the phrase “double-down” in the following sentence of the Washington Post article (June 28, 2011) titled “Why Michele Bachmann is no Sarah Palin.” “Palin is notorious for doubling-down on ...
13
votes
4answers
69k views

What does “10-4 ” mean?

I could have asked this question personally to my respected colleague who gave me a valuable answer to the question, “Is the ‘tame the infinite becoming an idiom or a popular phrase,” which I posted ...
12
votes
7answers
2k views

What does “and counting” in “Bits of plastic in oceans: 5.25 trillion and counting” mean?

Today’s (December 11) online New York Times carries an article dealing with the quantum increase of plastic material in the ocean under the headline, “Bits of plastic in oceans: 5.25 trillion and ...
12
votes
5answers
3k views

Difference between “commit suicide” and “suicide”

One of the examples in my English composition book (for learning to write my language's sentences in English) was "Why he committed suicide under such a good circumstance is an unsolved question.", ...
9
votes
1answer
900 views

“You were already having been going to do that!”

From one of the Futurama episodes: Farnsworth A: You people and your slight differences disgust me. I'm going home. Where's that blue box with our universe in it? Farnsworth 1: Oh, ...
8
votes
2answers
2k views

Meaning of “duck”

This is an extract from the subtitles of a television series (Bones) in which Brennan have a talk with Booth: Booth: The director will create a special unit. If I line my ducks up, I can head it ...
8
votes
5answers
6k views

Meaning of “to get stuffed”

What does the phrase to get stuffed mean in the following passage taken from my IELTS reading exercise? One of London Zoo’s recent advertisements caused me some irritation, so patently did it ...
7
votes
5answers
477 views

A single added word that changes the meaning of a question [closed]

At work today, I took an FSA test that asked the question: "You can only give advice to a customer if they ask for it" True OR False? Now, considering our organisation cannot offer advice under ANY ...
7
votes
1answer
8k views

Origin of the term 'bastard sword'

In many computer games (usually role playing games), there is an item called a bastard sword. Why is this name used, and does it bear any relation to the usual meaning of the term bastard?
7
votes
6answers
8k views

“When Adam delved and Eve span, who was then the gentleman?”

What do delve and span mean in this quotation from John Ball's sermon addressing the rebels of the Peasant's Revolt? When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? It doesn't seem ...
5
votes
5answers
1k views

She was carrying twins and a bulky bag in her hands [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: Using verbs with multiple meanings I am not sure if this is Indian English but the verb carry is often used in India to speak of a pregnant woman and often without an ...
5
votes
4answers
10k views

What does ‘play a blinder’ mean? Is it a popular phrase?

I came across the phrase ‘played a blinder’ in the following paragraph of the New York Times’ December 12 article, titled “British Euro Farce,” dealing with British Prime Minister David Cameron’s veto ...
5
votes
5answers
762 views

“One of those is flags”

Jeff Atwood ♦ has just posted something that I'm confused about Stack Overflow, due to its size, has some unique problems. One of those is flags I'd say that those and flags are both in ...
5
votes
2answers
3k views

What does the phrase that 'I've all but..' mean in this sentence?

I found the sentence below in a book I'm reading: I've all but given up dating because I'm so tired of the pain and humiliation. What does I've all but mean in this context?
5
votes
3answers
683 views

What is the meaning and usage of the word “very” in the following sentence?

XSLT (Extensible Stylesheet Language: Transformations) is a language that, according to the very first sentence in the specification (found at http://www.w3.org/TR/xslt20/), is primarily designed ...
4
votes
2answers
188 views

What does “sheafs” mean in “The rays cut straight sheafs”?

This sentence is from Atlas Shrugged, depicting rays of light running through coils of steam enveloping a building: The rays of a few strong lights cut straight sheafs through the coils. Could ...
4
votes
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 ...
4
votes
1answer
1k views

How does “off” fit in this sentence?

I was just studying the various meanings of 'off' on http://english.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/off and I stuck up at just the second example sentence: She dashed off to her room. The ...
4
votes
3answers
480 views

What does “wicking” mean in “aircraft quality wicking”?

I read the following from an aircraft magazine where it describes a product: XXX Product is Aircraft Quality Wicking!! The product is a polishing product that one can use to polish something ...
4
votes
2answers
4k views

What does “sunset” mean in this text?

In the definition of USA PATRIOT, I read the following text: Many of the act's provisions were to sunset beginning December 31, 2005, approximately 4 years after its passage. In the months ...
3
votes
3answers
597 views

“The Moving Finger writes even in Heaven.”

Following is an extract from a Rabindranath Tagore story called, "A Wrong Man in Workers' Paradise". I need help in understanding the contextual meaning of a line in it. The story is about a man who ...
3
votes
3answers
850 views

What does “vampiric” mean in this context? [closed]

In Sam Harris's blog he writes Most of us have been around this block often enough to know that many “former atheists”—like Francis Collins—spent so long on the brink of faith, and yearned for ...