This tag is for questions related to definitions and nuances of meaning of a word or phrase.

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11
votes
6answers
31k views

What does the phrase “Fee-fi-fo-fum” actually mean?

Fee-fi-fo-fum; I smell the blood of an Englishman. Be he alive or be he dead, I'll grind his bones to make my bread. Joseph Jacobs, Jack and the Beanstalk (1890) I've read ...
1
vote
1answer
245 views

What does ‘The show is all pump-up, no narrative” mean?

If you didn't know, Charlie Sheen recently kicked off his 20-date tour in Detroit on the evening of April 2nd “to a slew of walkouts and boo.” As the Guardian commented: “Charlie Sheen's remaining ...
13
votes
4answers
8k views

“pseudo-”, “quasi-” “semi-” and

I was wondering about the meaning of "pseudo-", "quasi-" "semi-" and possibly other related prefixes, in general cases. Particularly, in engineering and science, there are quite a few terms named ...
4
votes
6answers
6k views

Does sympathy necessarily mean pity?

This one has bugged me for a while. I've always been under the impression that sympathy doesn't have to mean pity. But everyone else tells me I'm dead wrong. So does sympathy always mean pity?
30
votes
3answers
14k views

Why do people say “over-” and “underwhelmed” but never just “whelmed”?

We've all been overwhelmed with work, or seen an underwhelming movie... but it occurred to me that I've never heard anyone use the root word, whelm. whelm (verb) 1. to submerge; engulf. 2. to ...
1
vote
0answers
180 views

What is the meaning behind: ''Mind your Ps and Q's" - how did it originate? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: What does it mean to mind your P's and Q's? I've heard mothers using this on the playground when talking to their children, but not sure what point they were ...
13
votes
4answers
2k views

Is “so” a pronoun?

Reminded by What is the grammatical function of so in this sentence, something that has always bothered me is that the word "so" can be used as a pronoun: It looks like rain Responding with: ...
13
votes
7answers
1k views

Are there commonly used words to denote different gradations of friendship in English?

In English there is only one word for grade of friendship: friends. All of you agree that friends are different: with some of them you just drank beer few times, other you know for many years and you ...
17
votes
3answers
5k views

Gay (homosexual) and gay (happy)

When did the main meaning of the word 'gay' shift from happy to homosexual? How did the meaning evolve, if there is a relation between the two?
9
votes
4answers
3k views

Meaning of “ ‘Western’ world” and alternative terms

The discussion on the meaning and connotations of the world 'Oriental' got me thinking along similar lines on the usage of 'Western' world or 'the West' to denote North America and Europe. I find it ...
9
votes
5answers
2k views

What words sound like opposites but are synonyms?

Somewhat related to this question, I am curious to know what words in English would seem to be opposites at first blush but are in fact synonyms? Immediately I can think of flammable and inflammable. ...
1
vote
1answer
199 views

Words that have opposing definitions? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: English words that are their own antonyms What words have opposite meanings in different regions? I was reading a book the other day when the author wrote: The ...
7
votes
3answers
5k views

What does ‘Camel gets his nose under the tent’ mean?

In the article of New York Times co-ed columnist, Maureen Dowd dealing with Republicans’ objection of the repeal of ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ under the title, “Mad Men and Mad Women”, I came across an ...
1
vote
3answers
1k views

What's the meaning of “in virtue of itself”?

Therefore, as Aristotle expressed it, things are what they are only relative to other things, and nothing is what it is simply in virtue of itself
4
votes
1answer
1k views

Meaning of “all left reserved” and “all right reserved”?

Could somebody please clarify the meaning of these two expressions and the differences between them: "All Right Reserved" and "All Left Reserved"?
1
vote
2answers
89 views

About the pronoun “one”

and the choice of what to include and what not to include was necessarily a personal one Could it be said: "...was necessarily personal"? Which is the "one" to substitute, "choice"?
4
votes
4answers
11k 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 ...
4
votes
2answers
963 views

Meaning of “it was gone 2pm”?

The chicken in the “chicken and egg” soba was so tough I swore that it had seen active service in the First World War. I was of course the only customer (well, it was gone 2pm). Please give the ...
4
votes
4answers
1k views

Why is it ‘a thousand and one’ when government employees ask questions on possible government shutdown?

In today’s Washington Post article titled “For federal workers, anxiety over a possible shutdown", I found a strange quote of number—‘a thousand and one questions.’ I understand it’s simply an ...
14
votes
9answers
4k views

Antonym of 'stigma'

I am looking for a word that has the opposite, positive connotation from 'stigma': For example, There is a stigma of laziness associated with poor people. What would be the replacement for ...
2
votes
1answer
1k views

“Scientific” versus “scientifical”

Is there any substantive difference in the meanings of these two words? Is the latter considered a proper word at all? If the answer to either of the above questions is yes, what are these words' ...
6
votes
3answers
3k views

What is a dry sense of humor?

What does a dry sense of humor mean? This article explains how to develop it, but not what it is. How to Develop a Dry Sense of Humor Developing a dry sense of humor can be challenging ...
3
votes
3answers
26k views

Meaning of “true north”

Roz, I'm just trying to find my true north
0
votes
2answers
2k views

What does “booty-trap” mean here?

Can someone explain to me what booty-trap means in this sentence? We moved back in there, setting up booty traps. Each man booty-trapped his own home.
1
vote
2answers
5k views

“shall” vs. “will” [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: 'shall' and 'will' Is there any difference at all between these two sentences? What will we talk about? What shall we talk about?
5
votes
2answers
761 views

Unfamiliar use of “cricket”

I came across a use of the word cricket today that was new to me. It was in an article written by an American author about his recent trip to Egypt and about the role of the U.S. in the current ...
10
votes
3answers
12k views

What is difference among “a tad,” “a bit,” “a little?” Why do you use “a tad?”

I came across the word “a tad” which is unfamiliar to me in today’s New York Times’ article, titled “Yankees Bracing for Cold in Opener and in April.” The article starts with the following line: ...
8
votes
6answers
3k views

Why did the descriptive “Orientals” shift into a pejorative?

It seems as if a shift occurred and the descriptive "Oriental" was replaced by "Asian" as the accepted term in polite society — what caused this shift?
1
vote
7answers
13k views

Meaning of “makes no sense”

Which of the following has the closest meaning to "This makes no sense"? "I do not understand this" "This has no meaning" Update I will try to explain: My friend has proposed a solution to some ...
2
votes
1answer
542 views

What do “[People] talk about the baggage,” and “[Candidates] have lots of baggage” mean?

I came across the expression, “People talk about the baggage,” and “[Presidential] candidates have lots of baggage” in Jay Bookman’s article titled “Gingrich, Palin have no shot at being GOP ...
9
votes
5answers
3k views

What is the “explicit”'s equivalent of “imply”?

Note: The original title of this question was "Why is 'exply' not a word? While considering the words implicit, implicate, and imply, it struck me that I can't think of an equivalent to imply for ...
9
votes
3answers
42k views

What is the meaning of the phrase ‘in timely fashion’?

It was very disturbing to learn that Google will not open source Android 3.0 in timely fashion. What is the meaning of in timely fashion?
2
votes
1answer
265 views

What is a single word describing this type of statement?

Scenario: A gang from the west of the USA wants to kill gang members from the east of the USA. The gang from the west meet a gang member from the east and ask: 'Where are you from?' The gang member ...
5
votes
2answers
20k views

What does “life's a beach” mean?

Somewhere on Yahoo News I read this text: Scarlett Johansson and Sean Penn turned heads when they showed up together at Reese Witherspoon's wedding. The 26-year-old actress took ...
16
votes
7answers
16k views

“Biweekly”, “bimonthly”, “biannual”, and “bicentennial”

What do lengths of time with the "bi" prefix mean"? I have understood bicentennial as once every two hundred years, but biannual as meaning twice a year. Do biweekly and bimonthly mean twice a week or ...
6
votes
3answers
4k views

What does “Clyst” mean?

I live in the south west of England and there are many villages and roads that feature the word "Clyst". For example, Broadclyst, Clyst St Mary, Clyst Honiton and so on. What does clyst mean, and ...
1
vote
4answers
3k views

Meaning of “miss”

I was wondering what each "miss" means in I always miss you, so I miss you, so I miss you, so I miss you so much now. The only two meanings I know for "miss" are: the one as in "miss a chance" ...
4
votes
2answers
5k views

What is meant by the phrase “which is to say”?

When someone says ... X which is to say Y ... is there an implication that X is mistaken or false? In this construction is Y generally the opposite of X? Some random examples from the NY ...
2
votes
2answers
389 views

What does “Man of the room” mean?

I am in the process of translating Sister Sledge's "B.Y.O.B" song into Russian. Could you please help me to grasp the meaning of the "Man of the room" idiom used in this song?
2
votes
4answers
3k views

“systematize” vs. “systemize”

Merriam-Webster defines "systemize" as an alternate spelling of "systematize." Is there any reason to choose one over the the other (besides "systematize" sounding a little weird to my ears)? I did ...
3
votes
4answers
295 views

What is the difference in meaning and usage between “excoriate” and “execrate”?

Both nearly mean to criticise. So, what is the difference in usage?
3
votes
2answers
440 views

A “human cue tip”?

I am watching the excellent documentary "Nobelity" by Turk Pipkin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nobelity http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turk_Pipkin 4 minutes into the movie, there is a bit that I ...
2
votes
2answers
25k views

“Tug at your heart” or “tug at your heart strings”?

Are they the same, meaning to make people feel emotional?
2
votes
1answer
1k views

How often do words change meaning then revert back to their original meaning?

Words can change meaning over time. A good example of this would be 'gay' which has changed from meaning 'merry' to 'homosexual'. Over the past decade, it has also taken on pejorative connotations. ...
4
votes
3answers
5k views

“The more often — the better.” Is it possible to say that?

The meaning I want to show with this phrase is that you do something more times and it produces better results. Is "the more often — the better" correct? Or maybe there are any set expressions instead ...
1
vote
2answers
9k views

How does the “partial” in “I'm partial to” relate to the “partial” in “partial fraction”?

The two senses of this word seem very different. One sense is just another way to say like, and the other is an adjective describing the state of being divided into different portions. I can't see ...
3
votes
3answers
322 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 = ...
4
votes
4answers
1k views

What is the meaning of the phrase: “N weeks ago tomorrow”?

Please explain to me the meaning of the phrase: Two weeks ago tomorrow. It seems to be in the past (ago) but with a link to the future (tomorrow).
2
votes
2answers
901 views

What's the meaning of “as it did” in this sentence?

Islamic law is the result of an examination, from a religious angle, of legal subject matter that was far from uniform, comprising as it did the various components of the laws of pre-Islamic Arabia ...
3
votes
2answers
86 views

“Guild” versus “association”

Is there any difference? Why would you say authors guild and not authors association?