Questions relating to semantics, the study of meaning.

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31
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6answers
2k views

Does apologizing entail recognizing being at fault?

Consider this example: I'm sorry if you got the impression that I meant to insult you. That was not my intention. Would it be correct to say that the above person apologized? All the ...
18
votes
4answers
20k views

“Liberty” versus “freedom”

What is the difference, if any, between liberty and freedom? Does it convey the same meaning if "Status of liberty" is replaced with "status of freedom" ? or every occurrence of "liberty" in ...
18
votes
8answers
3k views

Does “criticism” imply positive as well as negative?

I thought I was always taught at school that criticism meant evaluation and opinion, either positive or negative. These days, it seems criticism, or to criticise, is almost exclusively used to mean ...
13
votes
5answers
629 views

Can one “marry one's wife”?

I was vacantly reading the paper the other day when I came across a strange formation in the obituary: "he married his wife in 19XX". I was rather taken aback by this; surely he can't marry his own ...
12
votes
3answers
995 views

How are pronouns resolved?

Are pronouns in English resolved syntactically or semantically? Do they always refer to the closest matching noun? A wikipedia article has these examples: We gave the bananas to the monkeys ...
11
votes
3answers
1k views

“Bring 6 eggs. If there are potatoes, bring 9.”

This is with reference to this comic, called A Programmer's Life (translated from Portuguese): Programmer: My wife asked me to go to the market and said: “Bring six eggs. If there are potatoes, ...
9
votes
5answers
7k views

“Satire” versus “sarcasm”

I looked up the two words on wikitionary & got this: satire: A literary technique of writing or art which principally ridicules its subject often as an intended means of provoking or ...
9
votes
3answers
958 views

Can we call a person who loses things a “loser”?

Think > Thinker Draw > Drawer Can we call a person who loses thing a loser? Of course, I do not mean that they are not successful or failed but what should I call them?
8
votes
2answers
163 views

A question of interpretation: single word parenthesis

To my mind this: Entity foo varies seemingly at random. is semantically equivalent to this: Entity foo varies, seemingly, at random. However, is this necessarily the case? What ...
8
votes
2answers
779 views

Is there a clear delineation between the usages of 'this' and 'that' in American English?

One of my linguistics professors speaks English as a second language, and remarked that she never knows which of the two is appropriate. Given a list of examples, all native speakers in the classroom ...
8
votes
4answers
23k views

Is a thumb also a finger?

The thumb has a different name compared to the other fingers (index, middle, ring, little) and it does not end with "finger". Also, when referring to the hand, I have seen literature where it is ...
8
votes
2answers
688 views

“for good” expression in an unfortunate event?

I just heard an expression while watching a TV series yesterday. Someone just died and they said: He is gone for good I googled it and found that "for good" means "forever" in this context. But ...
7
votes
5answers
27k views

Is “including but not limited to” a redundant phrase?

Doesn't "including" imply the "not limited to"?
7
votes
4answers
5k views

“Postfix” or “suffix”?

Wikipedia and The Free Dictionary were not much help — is there a practical difference in the semantics of suffix and postfix, except that the latter is more rare? File name extensions are well ...
7
votes
2answers
939 views

Is “want” a causative verb?

I've always held on to the definition that Causative Verbs express how the Noun before the Verb influences the execution of an action. Similarly, the Longman Student Grammar of Spoken and Written ...
7
votes
1answer
2k views

Difference between “subsequently” and “consequently”?

When studying and reading course material in "softer" sciences that are descriptive the word "subsequently" appears in a way like "and subsequently" ...what does it mean, disctinct from "consequently" ...
7
votes
5answers
1k views

What is the semantic difference between “encipher” and “encrypt”?

What is the semantic difference between encipher and encrypt?
7
votes
5answers
12k views

Is the phrase “it's just a matter of semantics” meaningless?

I hear this phrase from time to time, and I really don't know what it means. Two people are debating, and one says "the difference between your position and mine is just a matter of semantics." ...
7
votes
2answers
218 views

Is there any semantic difference between “absolutely no x, except y” and “except y, absolutely no x”?

Bit of a quibble on a discussion elsewhere. I made the following statement: They had absolutely no debt, except for their mortgage. Someone (with whom I disagree vehemently) has accused this of ...
6
votes
6answers
632 views

“Semantic”s relation to “Pedantic” [closed]

When pointing out to my friends one day that I should have used a different word in a previous conversation, I mentioned that I was being pedantic. They, ironically, corrected me saying I was being ...
6
votes
4answers
277 views

Does “If X discovers that Y is Z” imply that Y is Z?

Related Question: Entailment/Presupposition in if-clause. Consider the sentence "If John discovers that Mary is in New York, he will get angry." Does this imply that Mary is in New York now? Is ...
6
votes
4answers
1k views

“Doubt” vs. “suspect” [closed]

I have never used doubt or suspect properly before. Now I understand that they seem to bear quite the opposite meanings in a sentence. For example, Everybody believes him, but I suspect he is ...
6
votes
1answer
330 views

Why and how did “a sensible boy” become “intelligent and prudent”?

Italians often get confused by sensible and sensitive. If I tell them He's a sensible boy; he studies hard, saves his money, and plans ahead. They are quite bewildered. To them, sensible is ...
6
votes
5answers
2k views

What exactly is “verbal irony”

My daughter has been given the task - by me - of explaining irony. She identified and did a jolly good job of explaining 5 of the 6 apparent types of irony: dramatic, cosmic, socratic, situational, ...
5
votes
6answers
1k views

Do we compile the source or the binaries?

When programming, we usually write text files in some programming language. These source files are fed into a compiler that compiles them into binary files. My question is whether to say: we ...
5
votes
4answers
383 views

What's the proper interpretation of: “I was kissed by a girl twice”?

The other day I experienced two distinct but similar events. I wanted to convey this to a friend and this is what came to mind: "I was kissed by a girl twice." My question is, does this sentence say, ...
5
votes
5answers
3k views

Use of “Might” and “Might not”

I know "Might" and "Might not" means the lack of certainty, but is there an implied probability in the use of these terms? In other words, does "I might be coming" imply that "It is extremely likely ...
5
votes
2answers
487 views

Why are the notes or protocol of a meeting referred to as its 'minutes'?

A minute is 60 seconds. Something 'minute' is small, minor, perhaps short. Now, what about the minutes of a meeting or a session? As in, its written protocol? Are they called that because: The ...
5
votes
5answers
758 views

What word describes text having a different meaning backwards and forwards?

Jonathan Reed's poem 'Lost Generation' is a pessimistic view of the future if read forwards. However, if you read it backwards linewise (not wordwise), it is still semantically meaningful, but the ...
5
votes
2answers
123 views

How to analyze lightly varying senses of adjective *very*

Use of very as an adjective is (in my experience) most frequently attested in phrases like ...the very person I was looking for. To use adjective very with the indefinite article sounds quite ...
4
votes
3answers
212 views

“Life finishes” vs “life is finished”

To convey that someone arrives at the end of his life or simply dies, which sentence is more correct or more common? I prefer the first. His life finishes. His life is finished. If the ...
4
votes
1answer
5k views

Christmas: Christ + Mas? [closed]

What is the meaning of Christmas in the English language? Christ + mas = Christmas? Is it because Christ is associated with a cross that it sometimes reads X-mas? And where is the mas coming ...
4
votes
3answers
349 views

What's the semantic difference between “overrated” and “overvalued”?

I often see those two words used together like "overrated & overvalued". That implies that they have different connotations. I wonder if that's really the case or they are used together just for ...
4
votes
3answers
190 views

Does a nominative sentence suggest that a characteristic is more of a permanent feature?

Scenario: Someone steals a pen and is asked: 'Did you steal the pen?' They reply: 'No' It is said to them: 'You are a liar.' Does this nominative sentence not suggest that they are a liar as a ...
4
votes
1answer
272 views

Trouble with second conditionals (with **could**)

"I would do B if you could do A." This is a statement which has been bothering me for quite a while. I come across such statements often and, to me, they make no sense. Could is the subjunctive of ...
4
votes
3answers
296 views

Does the word “catching” apply to people?

If we can say "I am running to catch the train", is it also appropriate to say that "I am going to the office early to catch the boss"?
4
votes
2answers
252 views

“If the bowl had been stronger, my song had been longer.”

In the original version of the nursery rhyme, The Wise Men of Gotham, the word 'had' is used in the main clause of a sentence where it seems modern English would commonly use 'would have'. The full ...
4
votes
1answer
627 views

What does this mean: “Credit card balance within $2000 of card limit”?

I'm trying to create an alert on my credit card so that I get a text message when the total charges on my credit card go over $1000. Let's say my credit card limit is $3000. If I set the alert to ...
4
votes
7answers
2k views

What is the meaning of “run someone out of town”?

I know it's hard to understand a sentence without context, but what situation comes naturally to your mind when you hear the following sentence? She ran the mayor out of town.
4
votes
4answers
1k views

One who objectifies women

Is there a single word or short phrase to describe someone who treats women like objects? Is there a similar word/phrase for who objectifies other people in general?
4
votes
2answers
158 views

Does this phrase mean what I want it to mean?

I want to say that "the value decreases at a rate at least x" (i.e. faster than or equal to x). Does the phrase "the value decreases at minimum rate x" mean the same thing? If not, is there any other ...
4
votes
4answers
137 views

Idiom: in my neck of the woods, AmE

Idiom: in my neck of the woods, AmE The meaning of this expression is: in the region where I live. Once I tried to find out how a word meaning a part of the body can develop an expression where it ...
4
votes
2answers
1k views

Achievement Verbs with the Progressive Aspect

I was reading a grammar and saw this. Achievement verbs describe actions that occur instantaeously. He solved the problem. He spotted the airplane. These verbs fall into two classes - one is ...
3
votes
6answers
13k views

Syntactically correct, semantically incorrect sentence

How would I answer the following programming exercise? It's trying to emphasize the difference between semantics and syntax. Write an English sentence that has correct syntax but has semantic ...
3
votes
5answers
307 views

Is it safe to equate 'less evil' to 'more good'?

We had a bit of a debate with this one. He, a native speaker (unlike me) went for: "less evil" implies that you are comparing evil people and "more good" implies that you are comparing good people ...
3
votes
4answers
288 views

It is an existential question

A question on another site asks, I have a laptop ... Now I am trying to install Windows 7 and it shows a message saying "Driver not found". Whereupon a commenter asks, What is the "it" that shows ...
3
votes
3answers
244 views

Can you be sent on a quest or does it then become a mission?

A discussion on the Arqade sister site brought up an interesting question that I thought I'd share here. What is the difference between a quest and a mission? Given the roots of the words, quest ...
3
votes
3answers
2k views

How to Identify a Rhetorical Question?

I am familiar with the idea of a rhetorical question, but are there any criteria to mark or identify one? Can a rhetorical question be recognized alone or does it need surrounding context? It ...
3
votes
4answers
3k views

Difference between “fluency” and “fluidity”

Fluent seems to most commonly refer to language mastery, but in that context isn't it just saying that its delivery is fluid? If so, am I communicating something different when using one over another ...
3
votes
2answers
365 views

Is “I don't work here” literal or does it mean “I am not an employee of this establishment”? [closed]

Part of my work involves visiting retail establishments during business hours. Often, when mistaken for an employee of the store, I am asked a question about where to find something in the store, to ...