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

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4
votes
2answers
211 views

Meaning of “plumb” as verb

I found in the free dictionary the various meanings of plumb as a verb and mainly it seems to have the meaning of explore/study/delve into. However, within the title of an article of the ...
1
vote
3answers
15k views

What is the difference between “getting mad” and “getting upset”? [closed]

Does getting mad mean the same thing as getting upset? Is there any difference at all?
8
votes
2answers
3k views

Plural of “abacus”

A colleague and I were having a discussion as to the proper plural form of abacus. I believe the plural would be abacuses and he feels that the proper form would be abaci. I believe that abacuses is ...
7
votes
4answers
1k views

Are the allies always good guys?

I spotted that when a war is described in English, the side described as "allies" is nearly always reserved to the side to which the speaker has sympathy. Although technically the word means somebody ...
2
votes
3answers
5k views

Can I change how to accomplish something once someone says “or something to that effect”?

I periodically get a broad description of how to perhaps solve a problem at work but then at the end of the email the phrase "or something to that effect" is included. Does that mean - 'just get me ...
3
votes
3answers
1k views

Plural Possessive of a Singular Noun

While browsing this SE site, I stopped to look at the "What kind of questions can I ask here?" section of the FAQ, where the following is written: Questions on the following topics are welcomed ...
8
votes
3answers
2k views

How do the terms “fanboy” and “fangirl” differ from the generic term “fan?”

Prompted by the question: " How did kool-aid come to be the drink of fanboys? " Wikipedia's explanation on "Fanboy (disambiguation)" provides: A fanboy is a person considered to belong to one or ...
-3
votes
4answers
1k views

“feel like” vs “be like”

Do these sentences convey the same meaning? If not, what's the difference? Pisces feel like fish in an infinite ocean of thought and feeling. Pisces are like fish in an infinite ocean of thought ...
5
votes
2answers
2k views

What does “get wound” mean?

In the sixth panel of this web comic the character says, "Get wound, Sturmvoraus*! I do not need your help." So, what does "get wound" mean in this context? I googled it, but only got "getting wound ...
0
votes
5answers
3k views

What does “since he was so high” mean?

I came across this sentence in a Wodehouse book (talking about spots on skin) ...he knows his spots from A to Z and has been treating them since he was so high. What does the phrase since __ was ...
2
votes
1answer
294 views

Executing a plan

To execute a plan is to carry it out. However, isn't this wording strange? Why doesn't executing a plan mean the same thing as shooting it down?
1
vote
3answers
3k views

What does “message to the main” mean?

I have been listening to the song Written in the Stars by Tinie Tempah and the lyrics go like this: Oh written in the stars A million miles away A message to the main Oh Seasons come and ...
7
votes
2answers
497 views

Is “for true” valid English?

I have an English-language version of my Finnish birth certificate. It is called an "extract from the population system". The last paragraph, showing the name of the issuing autority, the place, date ...
10
votes
4answers
682 views

Minimum and maximum age of “guy”

Guy has pretty much the same meaning as the German counterpart Kerl. There is the progression of age in the sequence child, teenager, adolescent, (young) fellow, guy, old man/guy (?), senior. But ...
1
vote
5answers
12k views

Meaning and correct use of “as to why”

I don't know why I love you, even when you are homeless. I don't know as to why I love you, even when you are homeless. I am crazy because I don't know what the difference between these two ...
4
votes
3answers
465 views

Is “you’re the door on the right.” grammatically correct?

The you is Harry Potter. I’m really curious about the grammatical construction and the reason why JKR chose it. ”Mrs. Weasley, why – ?” ”Ron and Hermione will explain everything, dear, I’ve ...
7
votes
4answers
3k views

What's a gay transsexual woman?

I know how it sounds but it's a serious question. I saw an article title about it on the Guardian today. If someone tells you that a person is a "gay transsexual woman", is it possible, logically, to ...
2
votes
2answers
665 views

What's the meaning of “delivering up” here?

Context (Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural Address), There is much controversy about the delivering up of fugitives from service or labor. The clause I now read is as plainly written in the Constitution ...
6
votes
3answers
5k views

Difference between “function” and “operation”

Which one of the following is correct? Instructions given by the Vice Principal on behalf of the Principal for smooth function of the school must be followed by all staff members. or ...
7
votes
3answers
735 views

Meaning of “reductio ad Hitlerum”

Can anyone explain what reductio ad Hitlerum means in simple English with examples? I tried reading the Wikipedia article but it didn't help.
3
votes
2answers
217 views

What does “famously absent” mean?

What does the term "famously absent" mean? I was reading the wiki article about Ward Lamon and saw it in there: Ward Hill Lamon (January 6, 1828 - May 7, 1893) was a personal friend and ...
3
votes
1answer
3k views

“What it did was” versus “what it did is” versus “what it does is”

I feel a bit uncertain about the use of tense in the above sentence structure. Which one is grammatically correct and sounds most natural between "what it did was," "what it did is," and "what it ...
2
votes
2answers
365 views

Is “of course” just a warning that something is NOT obvious?

I've come to feel that the phrase "of course" is just a warning that--perk up!--something is NOT "of course." Consider these examples: NY Times: "There is of course a difference between speculative ...
7
votes
1answer
425 views

Use of “sleek” as a noun

I encountered a polishing cloth that has a line which says (This cloth) generates sleeks and scratches on the glass surface. What is the definition of sleek in this context? I looked up in a ...
1
vote
3answers
1k views

What does 'wear-wite' mean?

I've got a spoon (probably a boulion spoon) with the following text in capitals: wear-wite rustless nickel silver Sheffield Made in England What does 'wear-wite' mean?
5
votes
2answers
320 views

What does “We don’t do anything that’s not completely up and up” mean?

I found an amusing story titled “Lobster salad, but a key ingredient was missing” in today’s (August 11)New York Times NY/Region section. The article reports that Zabar’s, the famous grocery in Upper ...
10
votes
7answers
17k views

What is the meaning of the term “herbert” in British slang?

In the song Get Out of My House by The Business, the chorus is: Out, out get out of my house, you'd better take your sheepskin too no son of mine's going round as a hippie or a scruffy little ...
3
votes
3answers
2k views

What date range is being referred to when someone says {date} is in the first week of {month}?

Conversely, what about: {date} is in the last week of {month}? Is the first week of April the first week that is entirely in April or is it the first week that contains the first of April? Of course ...
4
votes
1answer
145 views

Origin of alternate meanings

How do some words get alternate meanings that have nothing to do with their original definition? For example, the word cool means both moderately cold and permitting such a sensation. How are these ...
3
votes
2answers
2k views

“shameful” vs “shameless” [closed]

I have seen shameful and shameless being used interchangeably, but it is surprising that they would mean the same. Is there a difference?
7
votes
1answer
406 views

What is the meaning of the idiom “Like the Nation”?

In the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn there are several curious references to "the nation". For example, in chapter 22: And at last, sure enough, [...] the horse broke loose, and away he ...
1
vote
2answers
4k views

What is a “kinetic” military operation?

General John Allen reports US soldiers killed a group of Taliban: "We dealt with them in a kinetic strike." What's the meaning of "kinetic" here? Timothy Noah says the word is used to designate ...
2
votes
2answers
3k views

What does the phrase “putting them in time out” mean?

I have a sentence, but there is an expression I can't understand. Could someone explain it to me? Here it is: "You should treat your employees like adults instead of putting them in time out like ...
10
votes
3answers
35k views

Correct use of “circa”

I understand the use of circa / c. as it applies to approximating dates. However, I have a writer who (over)uses the word in other contexts. Examples: ... from circa early 1990's up until circa 8 ...
7
votes
5answers
646 views

What does “I believe in making America safe for old-fashioned light bulbs and not those weird curly ones,” mean?

I saw the line, “That’s all I believe in. That and making America safe for old-fashioned light bulbs and not those weird curly ones,” in the speech of Michele Bachmann quoted in Maureen Dowd column in ...
13
votes
2answers
1k views

Did “Mrs” originally imply possession?

Was Mrs ever intended to mean Mr's, as in mister's to indicate possession? I started thinking about this when someone brought a breakdown of the word history (his-story) to my attention. It ...
4
votes
3answers
2k views

What does “guinea” mean here?

The following lyrics I'm about to post from the song Virginia, rapped by Pusha-T from the now defunct duo, Clipse. For background in answering my question, in the rap, Pusha-T has begun bragging ...
13
votes
2answers
7k views

Why does “unisex” mean both sexes?

There are some places where men and women are segregated — for example public toilets and public swimming pool changing areas. By this I mean, for example, that there are "Men's toilets" and "Ladies' ...
1
vote
5answers
8k views

What is the meaning of “she can be obtuse”?

A friend of mine once described a mutual acquaintance in this way: She can be obtuse. The dictionary definition of "obtuse" seems to suggest a "lack of intellect or intelligence". However, this ...
1
vote
1answer
517 views

What's the meaning of 'haler'? [closed]

This doesn't seem to be general reference, because in the context I've seen it used tonight (the London riots), it certainly isn't referring to a coin, or 'a person who hails'. I've heard it used ...
6
votes
3answers
3k views

Meaning of “one order of magnitude improvement”

There is no single development, in either technology or management technique, which by itself promises even one order of magnitude improvement in productivity, in reliability, in ...
27
votes
7answers
6k views

What does “information porn” mean?

On several occasions while browsing Meta Stack Overflow, I have encountered the phrase information porn, typically used by Jeff Atwood. What does it mean?
5
votes
4answers
23k views

Meaning of “catch you on the flip side”

I received an email from a coworker, and we're not that friendly. Actually, we're not friends at all, just two good colleagues. In his email, he wrote as his last sentence Catch you on the flip ...
12
votes
6answers
43k views

Origin of the idiom “falling off the wagon”

I often hear the idiom "falling off the wagon", as in "Has Robert Downey Jr. fallen off the wagon?" (i.e. Is he drinking alcohol again?). Where did the phrase originate? What wagon? And why is being ...
5
votes
3answers
1k views

Reason for the strange meaning of “for any length of time”?

Consider the sentence [emphasis mine]: Foreign producers cannot sell all commodities at lower prices than domestic producers for any length of time because the depreciation (or pressures for ...
1
vote
3answers
2k views

“Scholar” vs. “scientist”

I mainly associate scholar with scholarship. But what's its etymological origin? On scientific websites both scholar and scientist seem to be used with the same meaning; A graduate working actively on ...
5
votes
2answers
3k views

Difference between “memoir” and “biography”

I am an avid reader, and noticed that books I checked out from the library lately seem to use "memoir" and "biography" interchangeably, although they are all shelved as "biographies". Is there an ...
-2
votes
2answers
249 views

Understanding “that” as in this statement

If I only say something as below without further more explanation, will a native speaker understand me? He may be sexually dysfunctional, lately he can't do that his best. That's why I am here to ...
36
votes
3answers
6k views

What is the meaning of the phrase 'Here be dragons'?

What does here be dragons mean in the example below? WARNING Here be dragons. Relative source binding can not only encourage bad application practices, such as binding to things defined in ...
-1
votes
1answer
111 views

“Know” and “know not”

I don't recognise the name Herb Sutter. I don't know him. I know him not. What's the difference?