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

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7
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3answers
42k views

“an hour and a half” or “one and a half hours”

Are both "an hour and a half" and "one and a half hours" correct? If so, is either more appropriate in different contexts? Example context: "The Superbowl starts in less than one and a half hours....
7
votes
4answers
621 views

What does “Barack Obama, circa 2008, may have just clinched the Republican nomination for President in 2012” mean?

I assume native speakers have no problem at all with the beginning lines of the following paragraph of the article titled “In Primary Victory Speech, Mitt Romney Echoes Barack Obama’s 2008 Message” in ...
7
votes
5answers
15k 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 ...
7
votes
2answers
28k 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 10."...
7
votes
1answer
762 views

What does “mushy” mean in this context?

This is the context from Joel Spolsky's blog: And now I'm going to get a little bit mushy, and argue that the most productive programming environments are the ones that let you work at ...
7
votes
6answers
10k views

Difference between “robot”, “machine”, and “automaton” [closed]

What is the difference in meaning between a robot, a machine, and an automaton? I was inspired to ask this because I really can’t understand the subtle (or not so subtle) difference in meaning here. ...
7
votes
3answers
4k views

What is a “clout”?

I came across this sentence in Froude's English Seamen in the Sixteenth Century discussing the actions of Queen Elizabeth... She preferred to let her subjects discover for themselves that the ...
7
votes
4answers
348 views

What does ‘Adjusts playbook with a pencil, not a sharpie’ mean?

I was puzzled to find the headline – ‘D’Antoni Adjusts Playbook with a Pencil, Not a Sharpie’ in the sport article in today’s New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/04/sport/basketball ). ...
7
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4answers
1k views

Meaning of “The most I ever did for you, was to outlive you, / But that is much”

What did the poet mean by the following lines? The most I ever did for you, was to outlive you, But that is much. — Edna St. Vincent Millay I am not able to understand the meaning completely,...
7
votes
1answer
523 views

What does “baking tradition” mean?

She agreed to marry him on one condition: that they have 12 children. True to the old baking tradition, they made 13. Source What does the old baking tradition mean? There's no mention of baking in ...
7
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4answers
111 views

Can “Claptrap” be used to mean low quality?

In this article in The Age, boats being used by asylum seekers are described as being "claptrap": The boat, like many of the claptrap vessels flooding Italy's shores each week with migrants ...
7
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4answers
364 views

What does “trollpoking” mean?

The edit summary here says: cleaned up a bit, removed the trollpoking. I'm certain removing trollpoking is referring to the removal of: This answer is going to be deleted as off-topic, isn't ...
7
votes
2answers
316 views

Percentages of meanings in an English dictionary

Often when you look for some new word in a dictionary, you will find many definitions or meanings of the one word. For example when you look for a word to in Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary you ...
7
votes
2answers
4k views

Meaning of “handbags” in the context of a fight

Apparently a tussle between two English footballers was described by an official spokesperson as 'I was there. There was no punches thrown. There was a lot of noise. Samir was talking in French, ...
7
votes
3answers
4k views

What's the origin of “lit”?

Since June 2015, use of the word lit has exploded on Twitter. Here's some recent examples. Nena Marie: My Year is starting off lit af👌🏼 ...but is gonna be TD by Monday morning Nick: Jason ...
7
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3answers
1k views

What does “place oneself under the doctor” mean?

I was reading an article about a struggling postman where it quotes his solicitor explaining some trouble the postman was having: Mr Arthur ... told the court: "He was assigned a number of ...
7
votes
1answer
873 views

Why are “dynamic” and “deontic” modalities so called?

It is said that there are three types of modality: deontic, epistemic and dynamic. Here are sample sentences for each type of modality: (1) You can stay as long as you want. [deontic] (2) ...
7
votes
2answers
149 views

Why does 'with' mean 'against' and not 'alongside' in phrases of opposition?

In phrases like fight with, argue with, combat with etc, why does with mean the subject is opposing the object (grammatical object, technically a human opponent)? Phrases like go with, study with, ...
7
votes
1answer
5k views

Never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense

I'm trying to translate this famous quote from Churchill Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and ...
7
votes
2answers
1k views

In what senses are 'at' and 'all' used in the phrase “at all”?

I understand that the phrase at all means in any way or in the slightest, e.g. What is the opposite of “to stink” (v)? Is there one at all?, or Not bad at all I don't understand how the individual ...
7
votes
1answer
487 views

In Grapes of Wrath, What does “I learned to write […] Birds an' stuff like that” mean?

In The Grapes of Wrath: I learned to write nice as hell. Birds an' stuff like that, too; not just word writin'. My ol' man'll be sore when he sees me whip out a bird in one stroke. (Tom Joad) ...
7
votes
4answers
10k views

Reason vs. purpose

Just now I wanted to explain why I was doing something, then I wrote "the purpose of doing something is blablabla". Immediately I wondered why I didn't write "the reason of doing something is ...
7
votes
5answers
77k views

Usage of 'Dear All' [duplicate]

Is it correct to use "Dear All" at the beginning of the e-mail, when you are writing to more than one person? It seems so informal to me. Is there any better way?
6
votes
8answers
1k views

Homograph challenge [closed]

My friend said the other day, "I hate when a sentence starts with the word polish, because you don't know whether they mean polish or Polish." polish (v) - to make smooth and glossy Polish (a) - ...
6
votes
6answers
3k views

“Seize the night” vs. “Enjoy the night”

I was listening to "We Own the Night", by "The Wanted" and I realized the phrase "we are only young if we seize the night". Seize, in this case, sounds like enjoy, right? But, what's the contextual ...
6
votes
3answers
775 views

What does 'Ibid' mean in this context?

Someone I know got a interview call letter part of which read as this: .. you are requested to appear for the ibid interview .. What does ibid mean in this context?
6
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4answers
1k views

Could “lolcat” be used to mean “something funny”?

The lolcat came from a problem with the Stack Overflow API. Is this usage of lolcat generally understood?
6
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2answers
1k views

What does Mitt Romney's “Telephone Tips: ‘Just Left,’ 25 cents; ‘On His Way,’ 50 cents; ‘Not here,’ $1; ‘Who?’ $5.” mean?

There was the following paragraph in Maureen Dowd’s article titled, "Mitt Romney is the president of white male America” in November 10 New York Times: Maybe the group can retreat to a man cave in ...
6
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3answers
1k views

What does “consound” mean?

Hello and happy holidays. While reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I came across the expression "consound it" in Huck's dialogue parts. "Consound it, Tom Sawyer, you're just old pie, 'longside ...
6
votes
1answer
1k views

Finished off the night “with a rubber”

Reading the diary of a doctor in Canada, 1845-46, often refers to "having a rubber" at the end of the day which seems like a nightcap. Does anyone know why the word rubber is used?
6
votes
5answers
2k views

What's the meaning of “bootstrap”?

Can anyone explain the meaning of "bootstrap" to a Spanish Speaker? Here is some context: One aspect of ... (something) ... is the need to bootstrap the configuration.
6
votes
2answers
408 views

What's the connection between the word 'roam' and the cell phone roaming? [closed]

"Roam" is defined as "move about aimlessly or without any destination, often in search of food or employment". What does it have to do with the cell phone roaming? Why is roaming called that? ...
6
votes
2answers
713 views

Is it a standard usage of ‘blue’ to be used as a verb to mean ‘being deflated / become pessimistic’?

I was interested in the usage of ‘blue’ as a verb in the headline of New Yorker’s article, “Bibi Netanyahu’s election blues,” followed by the following lead copy: “The center-left, which had ...
6
votes
2answers
815 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
4answers
748 views

How to interpret this text from year 1847?

If context is needed, I'm happy to supply it.. The sentence I want to rephrase: Some selection of this kind has for some time been imperatively called for, by the wants of the gardener, farmer, ...
6
votes
3answers
515 views

What does “quadrants” mean in an article stating that Obama's birth facts “do not seem to matter in many quadrants of Republican Party”?

I found the word quadrants in the opening of a New York Times Opinion column, titled This Just In… President Obama Is an American Citizen. Its opening paragraph: President Obama is not a ...
6
votes
2answers
1k views

What does “lift their skirts … and grab the eyeglasses right off someone's face” mean?

From Gavin De Becker, The Gift of Fear: Survival Signals that Protect Us from Violence (1998): "That's true," she said. "Every day I have to predict what the kids will do, and I succeed for ...
6
votes
5answers
799 views

“Came undone” in this context?

I was listening to a song of Frank Sinatra's called It Was a Very Good Year. A certain part got my attention because I did not quite understand what it meant: When I was twenty-one, it was a very ...
6
votes
4answers
446 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 ...
6
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4answers
440 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 ...
6
votes
1answer
501 views

What is “desysopped”?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Rollback_feature: Standard rollback may only be used in certain situations – editors who misuse standard rollback (for example, by using it to reverse ...
6
votes
3answers
6k views

What does “in the sere and yellow” mean?

I am currently reading "A Study in Scarlet" by Arthur Conan Doyle. On page 33 is a sentence I don't understand: Well, if a man can stride four and a-half feet without the smallest effort, he can't ...
6
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7answers
4k views

What is the meaning of “I read a book once”

I saw an image on Missed Connections few days ago, and the image text is: Friday, January 29, 2010 - m4w - 23 (L train) How did you get those bruises? I wouldn't let anything happen to you. ...
6
votes
4answers
395 views

What does the author actually means when he says “ underestimate the value of gold.”

Excerpt from Honor Among Thieves: "The reason for numbers being limited on this occasion will become all too obvious to you. The issue we are about to discuss is so sensitive that the fewer ...
6
votes
1answer
465 views

What does the phrase “Lady-Macbethed” mean? [closed]

Colonel Hampton snorted contemptuously. Senile dementia! Well, he must have been senile and demented, to bring this pair of snakes into his home, because he felt an obligation to his dead brother'...
6
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3answers
286 views

Is “latte” a countable noun?

I have learned that liquids are uncountable, except for measurements such as "three cups of water." So, does "three lattes" in this context refer to three cups of latte?
6
votes
2answers
574 views

What does “the rational you had probably taken a powder” mean?

I’m not very clear with the implication of the following sentence in the article titled “The Science of Romance: Why we love” that appeared in Time magazine (Jan.28, 2008): “But if it was that ...
6
votes
4answers
416 views

What does “Japan-lite problems” mean?

It’s pity to learn our own country is viewed as a bad example for other countries not to follow. I found the word “Japan-lite problems” in the article of Time magazine (August 25 issue) titled “Six ...
6
votes
4answers
82k views

What is the meaning of “I got you”?

What does I got you mean? Does it mean Ok, I understood what you said or Hey, I know that you did that? If they are both correct, when should we use which?
6
votes
2answers
353 views

What does “as” represent for in “Cantor quits as Majority leader” and “Cantor to resign as Majority leader”?

Today’s New York Times reported Eric Canter’s defeat in Primary election in Virginia under the headline: “Eric Cantor to step down as House Majority leader” followed by the text copy: “Representative ...