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

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98
votes
1answer
344k views

What does a single letter “J” mean in emailing?

Today is Halloween. After a successful party, many conversations have been going on in my company's email box. The end of one email said "Till next time J". I had no idea what "J" meant in this ...
66
votes
5answers
6k views

When does thousand turn into thousands?

My boyfriend and I are arguing whether thousands of miles means 1000+ or 2000+ miles. The first argument is that 1000+ is over 1000 and therefore 'thousands of miles' by rounding up. The other ...
62
votes
10answers
7k views

What's the difference between the adjectives “strategic” and “tactical”?

I recently read this sentence: It was a strategic move rather than a tactical one. I have trouble interpreting it. Can someone help?
56
votes
5answers
11k views

What does “Your hair is so white now, it can talk back to police” mean?

Vanity Fair magazine (April 27) introduced a barrel of jokes about political figures Cecily Strong delivered at Best White House Correspondents’ Dinner held on April 25th in Washington under the ...
49
votes
7answers
23k views

What does “you will want to” mean?

I often find people (mostly American people) telling to me "you will want to do this" or "you will not want to do this". Does it mean they are telling me that I should do something (in the sense of ...
49
votes
7answers
266k views

“The Dude abides” — what does “abide” mean in that context?

I'm unfamilar with the word "abide" which is famously used the the movie quote "The Dude abides" (The Big Lebowski). Looking it up in a German/English dictionary makes me believe it's "The Dude lives ...
48
votes
1answer
2k views

What does “Barack Obama’s real crime is presiding while black” mean?

I thought it’s unusual for me to be able to come to the end of Maureen Dowd’s’ article without any second thoughts on her particular turn of phrases when I’ve read today’s NYT article titled “Reindeer ...
38
votes
4answers
225k 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 ...
35
votes
3answers
54k views

“All but” idiom has two meanings?

Here's two ways I've seen the "all, but" idiom used: "Close all tabs but this one" (Any modern application with a number of tabs might have this as an option.) It means "close all the tabs, but not ...
31
votes
4answers
11k 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 ...
31
votes
3answers
7k 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
8answers
21k views

What does “vanilla” mean in the context of gaming?

Consider this comment: I've been playing WoW(an online multiplayer game) since vanilla. I'm an older white male, my first toon was female, created with my wife coaching me. We did it just for fun. ...
30
votes
6answers
3k views

Who is “That Guy”?

I found the term “that guy”, used as “He embarked on a career as a 'that guy',” in the following sentence of the article of the New Yorker (Feb. 7, 2011) titled “the Most Interesting Man in the World”:...
30
votes
4answers
78k views

“Best Before” says “11 MA 23”; is it May or March?

I bought a bottle of juice today, and the "Best Before" date it's "11 MA 23". I always see "MA" as for March, but the store staff said that was May. What is your opinion?
28
votes
15answers
6k views

A strong antonym for “dictator”?

Is there a formal antonym for the word "dictator" other than " democratic" to describe a school principal?
27
votes
5answers
38k views

Difference between “I am really sorry” and “I really am sorry”

I know they are slightly different, but I can't tell how. I've read about the usage of the word "really" in a negative sentence. But it didn't tell me about how the position of the word "really" can ...
27
votes
7answers
115k 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 ...
26
votes
3answers
4k views

Why is there a “mean” in “Greenwich Mean Time” (GMT)?

What's the meaning of the word "mean" in "Greenwich Mean Time"? Shouldn't we simply say something like "Greenwich Time"? I don't understand what the word "mean" is doing there.
24
votes
4answers
6k views

What does President Obama's “pro-knowledge” remark mean?

Today’s (May 17) New Yorker carries an article written by Andy Borowitz under the title, “Obama alienates millions with incendiary pro-knowledge remarks," which begins with the following passage: “...
23
votes
7answers
4k views

Does “gay” still include the meaning “merry”?

Dictionary.com lists eight meanings of gay, with “merry, lively” as the first entry. Microsoft banned an Xbox user for listing Fort Gay (a real place) as his hometown: Xbox Live considered the term ...
22
votes
5answers
12k views

What does “better angel” mean in Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address?

I'm reading the book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. It mentioned that Lincoln replaced the phase "guardian angel" to "better angel". I don't understand what the phrase means. ...
22
votes
2answers
752 views

What are “city sevens”?

In the novel "The Clock That Went Backward", in chapter II, there is this sentence: Aunt Gertrude's will left me her bank and gas stocks, real estate, railroad bonds, and city sevens, and gave ...
22
votes
5answers
3k views

What does “It’s always a pig in a poke. So why not a pig who pokes?”mean?

In an article under the title, “Trump the disrupter,” (New York Times August 10 issue), Op-ed columnist, Maureen Dowd wrote: “It is really hard to know who you’re electing. That’s because you ...
22
votes
6answers
165k views

Meaning and usage of “bite me”

I often come across the phrase bite me in many TV shows. What does it mean and is there a specific context in which this phrase can be used?
21
votes
8answers
28k views

“We are all just prisoners here, of our own device”

It is from the song "Hotel California" by the Eagles. I have a hard time interpreting the meaning of device in this context.
21
votes
4answers
146k 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 ...
20
votes
2answers
58k views

“X times as many as” or “X times more than”

Suppose John has 5 sweets. Is there any difference between the following two sentences? Jack has 3 times as many sweets as John. Jack has 3 times more sweets than John. I prefer the first ...
20
votes
9answers
3k views

Referring to past times with “hence”

From Tor.com, an interesting use of the word hence: Minutes ago, J.K. Rowling finally announced her plans behind Pottermore, the mysterious website that appeared a week hence with only a “Coming ...
19
votes
1answer
5k views

Where is the wordplay of “A chicken crossing the road is poultry in motion”

I saw this sentence as an example of pun or wordplay. But I couldn't find out where the wordplay is. Any idea?
19
votes
2answers
3k views

What is the meaning of joke “may it plizzle the cozizzle” in Futurama?

In Futurama 5ACV16, character Leela, while in court, says "May it plizzle the cozizzle" instead of "may it please the court" to the judge (Snoop Dogg's head). I am not native English speaker, but I ...
19
votes
10answers
14k views

How should “deceptively” actually be used?

I'm not sure if this is a duplicate question, but I couldn't find anything on here on the topic. I can't seem to figure out what is actually meant when using the word "deceptive," or rather, what is ...
19
votes
4answers
38k views

What is the difference between “daemon” and “demon” in a religious context?

Is there a difference between demon and daemon in a religious context?
19
votes
3answers
5k views

“to be all but X”

What does "all but" mean in this expression? Today, under pressure from P2P distribution, optical disc piracy in wealthy countries is "all but eliminated" and profit margins elsewhere are slim. ...
18
votes
3answers
2k views

Where does “patching through” come from?

Where does "patching through" come from? And what did it originally mean? Usage: "I'm patching through a call from Mr. X"
18
votes
2answers
2k views

President Obama is called Sleeping Barry. Who in the world is this “Sleeping Barry”?

Today’s (September 10) New York Times carries Maureen Dawd’s article titled ‘Sleeping Barry Awakes.’ The headline is followed with the following beginning lines: WOW, what a relief. The ...
18
votes
3answers
4k views

Does the word, ‘peruse’ have a single meaning of ‘attentive reading,’ or double, contradicting meanings of ‘attentive’ and ‘cursory’ reading?

I’m confused to find opposite definitions in the same word, ‘peruse’ in Readers English Japanese Dictionary published by a leading foreign language dictionary publisher in Japan. It defines ‘peruse’ ...
17
votes
5answers
24k 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 ...
17
votes
10answers
7k views

“Do you want to live forever?”

There's a famous story about a Marine sergeant at the Battle of Belleau Wood shouting "Come on, you apes. Do you want to live forever?" It's been attributed to several people; a character in ...
17
votes
7answers
17k views

Why is an actor sometimes called 'ham'?

I came across the word 'ham' in an article which was used to refer to an actor. I referred the dictionary. But I was unclear of the fact that how can it be used to refer to an actor?
17
votes
6answers
10k 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 ...
17
votes
3answers
10k views

What is the meaning of “A.C. or D.C.?”

In Heinlein's A stranger in a strange land, there is a moment when nurse Jill kisses Martian man named Mike and another man, Jubal, puts a comment on it. It comes as follows: “Son,” he said, “you ...
16
votes
5answers
1k views

What does “tell us know what you think” mean?

Is it even grammatical? A little bit of Googling returns quite a number of searches which lead me to think it is a grammatical sentence.
16
votes
7answers
22k views

What does “canonical” mean?

Sometimes I read a sentence containing the word canonical, but I cannot find appropriate meaning of the word. For example, in this link: Returns a canonical representation for the string object. ...
16
votes
3answers
5k views

What does Homer mean when he says, “her words had wings”?

In both The Iliad and The Odyssey, Homer uses the phrase "words had wings" all over the place. Here's one quote of many: Then the shadow of the swift-footed son of Aeacus knew who I was, and with ...
15
votes
2answers
7k views

Meaning of “But I repeat myself” in Mark Twain's quote?

There is the following sentence in the conversation between Florentyna Rosnovski, the heroine of Jeffrey Archer’s novel, The Prodigal Daughter, who was first elected as the Congressman of Illinois and ...
15
votes
7answers
2k 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 ...
15
votes
6answers
4k views

What is implied in calling someone “Citizen”?

In many dystopian stories, people call each other citizen. In other contexts too, I'm thinking Citizen Kane for example. Why? What is implied here?
15
votes
7answers
10k 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.", ...
15
votes
2answers
4k views

Why does “sucker” mean “unexpected” in “Sucker Punch”?

Sucker punch seems to mean "an unexpected punch" in slang. What is the origin of this term and why does sucker mean unexpected in sucker punch?
14
votes
8answers
4k views

What's the pun in this “Julius Caesar” reference?

In a Blacklist episode, the following conversation takes place, the first and last speaker is the sophisticated Raymond Reddington: -'Ambition's debt must be paid'. -Julius Caesar? -One ...