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

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59
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5answers
3k 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 ...
53
votes
10answers
4k 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?
47
votes
7answers
9k 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 ...
44
votes
1answer
143k 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 ...
37
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 ...
35
votes
7answers
114k 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 ...
30
votes
6answers
2k 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 ...
29
votes
2answers
5k 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 ...
29
votes
4answers
20k 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?
25
votes
3answers
2k 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.
23
votes
7answers
2k 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 ...
21
votes
2answers
695 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 ...
20
votes
4answers
91k 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 ...
19
votes
7answers
36k 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 ...
19
votes
8answers
10k 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.
19
votes
10answers
5k 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
9answers
2k 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 ...
18
votes
1answer
2k 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?
18
votes
2answers
1k 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 ...
17
votes
10answers
3k 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 ...
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
3answers
2k 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
6answers
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 ...
15
votes
4answers
9k 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
3answers
726 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"
15
votes
2answers
12k 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 ...
15
votes
6answers
65k 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?
15
votes
3answers
2k 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. ...
14
votes
6answers
2k 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?
14
votes
7answers
4k views

In what occasion could the word “precious” be taken disapprovingly, or sarcastically?

I understand that the word “precious” in the following quote of Maureen Dowd’s article “Heart of Darkness” (NYT, March 20) literally means “2. valuable or important and not to be wasted” as defined in ...
14
votes
5answers
550 views

The married man with an affinity

I was reading a book about events in the 1920's US south; and came across the phrase in a quote from a KKK spokes person. I can't figure out what the phrase means, and haven't been able to find any ...
14
votes
4answers
4k 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
3k 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 ...
14
votes
2answers
375 views

Meaning of “cry creek” and “cock of the game”

I'm reading an excerpt from John Lyly (1554–1606), and there are some phrases that I can't find anything about on the net or elsewhere. Here is the context: Though Cutio be as hot as a toast, yet ...
14
votes
2answers
1k 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’ ...
13
votes
4answers
1k views

What pair of words can be combined with “worth every penny” as an idiom?

When I was listening to AP Radio News of Eagle 810 (Far East Network), the only English language public radio broadcasting service available in Japan, together with members of a local English Speaking ...
13
votes
7answers
1k views

What is meant by the (slang) word “tool,” when used to refer to a person?

Etymonline.com gives a lot of definitions regarding an implement or instrument, specifically inanimate objects. But the word has crept into English slang in reference to people, as in "he is a total ...
13
votes
4answers
2k views

What does “spam in a can” mean?

From Planet 51: I never had the right stuff. I'm a button pusher, Spam in a can. I don't even fly the ship. It's all automatic. I only got this far on charm and my rugged good looks. Is ...
13
votes
7answers
2k views

Difference between 'kindness' and 'politeness'

Can one use kindness as a synonym for politeness? What's the difference? Where do you draw the line between them?
13
votes
9answers
41k 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
2answers
2k views

What does “proverbial man with a hammer” mean in this context?

From Programmer Q&A website, I came across the following line, which was a reply/answer to the question Design Patterns: Should I learn them?: It depends on how disciplined you are as to ...
13
votes
3answers
5k views

Origin and exact meaning of “taken to the cleaners”

I know the meaning of this phrase by context, but the German analogs are no literal translations of this phrase and very dissimilar metaphors, meaning roughly: being tricked into something being ...
13
votes
2answers
599 views

What does “Kalipedia” mean?

Kalipedia, he prophesied, would soon be generally adopted.. - James Joyce, Ulysses I cannot find any information about this word! It doesn't help that there appears to be a Spanish online ...
13
votes
2answers
2k 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?
12
votes
5answers
749 views

What are the open rooms called in business environment?

We work in an office which does not have rooms but instead has compartments which are split by dividing walls and have open tops. The walls are at shoulder height. What are these compartments called ...
12
votes
4answers
181 views

“Her mind was less difficult to develop” — Jane Austen

A line from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice confuses me: Mr. Bennet was so odd a mixture of quick parts, sarcastic humour, reserve, and caprice, that the experience of three and twenty years had ...
12
votes
5answers
2k views

Never fail to disappoint

When you say "he doesn't fail to disappoint", to me it has a negative meaning as in he always disappoints. But I've heard some people using it as a compliment and in a positive way. So, am I wrong ...
12
votes
2answers
561 views

What does “no break-in required” mean exactly?

A comment to this answer on Firearms SE goes like this: Police quality handguns usually are sold as "no break in required" by the manufacturer. I tried to Google the "no break-in required" ...
12
votes
5answers
2k 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.", ...
12
votes
5answers
7k 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. ...