How and why certain words are used in varying ways within various contexts.

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94
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13answers
149k views

When should “no problem” replace “you're welcome” as a response to “thank you”?

I have observed a growing trend in which people substitute "no problem" for "you're welcome" as a response to "thank you". In particular, it seems to be an increasingly common response from servers ...
68
votes
9answers
13k views

Why is the word “Holy” used before swear words?

People usually use the word "Holy" before "Shit", "Crap" or any other bad words to express their feelings, like surprise, anger, etc. Is there any reason why the word "Holy" is used with these bad ...
57
votes
8answers
9k views

“My personal opinion is…” Is it always pointless to use the words “personal” and “personally”?

Is this kind of redundancy acceptable in both speech and writing, formal and informal ? Would the following sentences have their meaning changed if we omitted "personal" or "personally" ? Would they ...
50
votes
5answers
4k views

Are there rules to determine whether a musician's title will end with “-er” or “-ist”?

There are drummers, buglers, fifers, whistlers, and fiddlers. Folks who play all the other instruments use the -ist suffix -- pianist, violinist, cellist, tympanist, guitarist, flautist, etc, etc, ad ...
32
votes
9answers
4k views

Is “best” still a superlative in “best friend”, as in can you have more than one “best friend”?

I was speaking to a 15-year-old native English speaker (in Australia), who referred to someone as her "best friend". Later, she revealed that this wasn't her only best friend. She had four best ...
32
votes
7answers
2k views

Can a statement be “hissed” without any sibilants?

Is using hissed as a replacement for said technically acceptable in dialogue without the presence of any sibilants? "You fool!" she hissed. I understand that hissed could be used to indicate a ...
30
votes
8answers
6k views

Why do Americans add “The” in front of a team name, but the British do not?

I'm not certain that there is an answer to this one: Americans refer to our teams as The Example: The New York Yankees The British in my experience do not. Example: Manchester United I ...
30
votes
13answers
3k views

What is the “fundamental” difference between ‘search’ and ‘seek’?

So why do human beings spend so much time playing? One reason is that we have time for leisure; animals have very little time to play as most of their life is spent sleeping and (2)________ food. ...
30
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6answers
6k views

What is the difference between Ukraine and the Ukraine?

Time magazine (March 5th) carries the article titled, “Ukraine, not the Ukraine: The significance of three little letters,” in which the following comment of William Taylor, who served as the U.S. ...
26
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8answers
9k views

“When I was in college…” Do you really mean college? Or university?

When someone in the US says "When I was in college..." he can mean "college" but he can also mean "university", so I've been told. If that's true, how can we know which one he is talking about? If I ...
25
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10answers
7k views

What does ‘If she’s a feminist, then I’m a T. Rex’ mean? [duplicate]

There was the following passage in New York Times’ (October 6) article commenting on GOP Presidential candidate, Carly Fiorina under the headline, ‘If she’s a feminist, then I’m a T. Rex’: “Her ...
22
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6answers
5k views

Are “Fish in a barrel” and “Sitting ducks” similar?

Do the phrases "Fish in a barrel" and "Sitting ducks" convey the same thing? In my opinion, they have the same tone and express something to be an easy target. Eg: Out there, they are just fish in ...
21
votes
5answers
2k views

What does “bupke” mean?

There was the following passage in the New Yorker's (August 27) article titled, “A scandal at the C.I.A. May be.” : In January I (David Shafer, novelist) filed a Freedom of Information Act request ...
20
votes
4answers
4k views

Is “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet” a common or respectable English expression?

Today’s edition of the New York Times (December 16, 2014) carries an article written by Mark Bittman under the headline “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” It begins with the following passage: “What’s ...
19
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3answers
2k views

Is it “chalk it up to” or “chock it up to”?

Grammarist & Our beloved StackExchange both say that the phrase "Chalk it up to" dates back to, among other things, debts being tallied on a chalkboard. However, when I hear the phrase "chock it ...
18
votes
5answers
4k views

The use of @ in a a business email?

My business emails of late have all contained '@Carol' when I am referred to in a string of emails/topic. What does this mean and how am I to refer to this in future? Carol
18
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6answers
2k views

Are there any names of food that are associated with political correctness other than Fried chicken?

The word Spanish golfer, Sergio Garcia used in answering a reporter’s question about the status of his current relationship with his rival, Tiger Woods on May 21st – “We’ll have him ‘round every ...
18
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5answers
2k views

Why is the action of removing a digital file named “Delete”?

After reading these questions: Difference between "delete" and "remove" How much use did the word 'delete' get before the technological boom? Delete or Remove (ell.SE) ...
18
votes
4answers
820 views

How did the adjective “just” come to take on so many adverbial meanings?

Just is a pretty useful adverb. It can carry several different meanings: very recently: I just finished the novel. exactly: That’s just what he meant. by a narrow margin: He just missed me ...
17
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9answers
5k views

Is “layman” an offensive term?

Is it offensive to use the term layman nowadays? Does it insinuate that the people to whom you are referring are uneducated? I am wanting to say This is just one of the ways that CERN's research ...
16
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5answers
4k views

Is a snake's venom poisonous?

This is a question more concerning the word 'poisonous' and 'venomous' than poison vs. venom. I'm wondering about the following, specifically the last sentence: Don't eat the plant, it is ...
16
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7answers
7k views

Another meaning of the vulgar word “slut”

I guess people who speak American and Philippine English will unanimously agree that the word "slut" is a very offensive term referring to a promiscuous woman. However, Merriam-Webster and Oxford ...
16
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2answers
2k views

What does “Clearasil-scented grammatical sloth” in casual American speech mean?

John McWhorter, associate professor of English and comparative literature at Columbia University comments on the growing sophistication (or devolution) of English language among Americans in the ...
16
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8answers
14k views

When did the term “flip flop” displace the term “thong” in North America for a type of sandal?

To Australians like me "thong" means a kind of sandal such as recently repopularized by the Havaianas brand but we know it means a kind of G-string in other English-speaking parts of the world. To ...
16
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5answers
17k views

the USA vs the US

I am writing an essay where I need to make a reference to the United States of America. Often I hear this shortened to the US, but sometimes people also say the USA. Are there any difference between ...
14
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5answers
2k views

Why do we say “Present Arms” instead of “Present Your Arms”?

There is a military command to Present Arms. And, depending upon the military and the situation, the typical response is to either salute or hold one's weapon in front of them in the prescribed ...
14
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4answers
2k views

When is it appropriate to use “scare quotes”?

For example, is putting scare quotes around "scare quotes" appropriate? Wikipedia says the term means usage of quote marks "to indicate that [a word or phrase] does not signify its literal or ...
14
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8answers
1k views

Why doesn't English have a separate word for “head hair”? (head hair vs. body hair)

The answer can be "Because it doesn't!" or "It wasn't needed!" in short but there might be a historical or linguistic explanation behind this. (Of course, every language might be lacking a word that ...
13
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5answers
2k views

“Hello” as a verb

A dictionary says that Hello could be a verb, noun and interjection. I'm not sure I saw it to be a verb though. Q: Could someone provide an example of 'hello' where it's used as verb. In the meaning ...
13
votes
7answers
2k views

Kids addressing older people

I'm translating a text I wrote in Portuguese (I'm Brazilian) and I'd like some help. In my story, a boy around 13 years old is at the school and encounters a janitress, a woman in her late forties. ...
13
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3answers
1k views

What is the grammatical function of “a Catholic” in “She was raised a Catholic”?

I was drawn to the following line in New York Times (Feb.25) article: “De Blasio, who has said his mother was raised a Catholic but did not bring him up in the church.” ...
13
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7answers
3k views

History and usage of “dooryard”

I have been interested in the expression "dooryard stop" recently. This is an expression that is used to describe a short visit in someone's dooryard (driveway) that often means not staying long ...
13
votes
1answer
688 views

How is “erogenous” incorrectly formed?

When I check the etymology of erogenous in OED, it is mentioned that it is incorrectly formed (along with erogenic). Etymology of erogenous from OED: formed as erogenic adj. + -ous suffix. ...
13
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3answers
82k views

“The other way around” or “the other way round”

I see both phrases the other way around and the other way round very often. Which is correct? Please provide usage examples.
13
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2answers
233 views

Indian English: What usage is allowed for “doubt” (meaning “question”)?

I have a doubt about having a doubt. I learned from this question that in Indian English the word doubt is used to mean question, that is, as a countable noun. If my understanding is correct, the ...
12
votes
12answers
2k views

Neutral alternative to “deny” to mean “assert the untruth [of a claim]”

The term "deny" means to reject the truth of some claim. However, it often seems to imply the claim is in fact true, denial notwithstanding. Smith continued to deny that he had shot Jones. I ...
12
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6answers
3k views

Is there a word for “an only child”?

Some languages (Aramaic and Arabic for instance) have a word for someone who's an only child. Does English have a word for it? Perhaps it's obscure or "extinct"? "Sole child" and "sibling-less" are ...
12
votes
2answers
3k views

What is the exact meaning of “blood-dimmed (tragedy),” and how does it pass current among Anglophones?

I was drawn to the word, “blood-dimmed tragedy” in the following statement of Maureen Dowd’s article titled, “Peeping Barry” in June 8 New York Times: You could see the fear in his eyes, the fear ...
12
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1answer
715 views

Data is/are in a global context

I have been commissioned to script a series of brief videos on the importance of data accuracy and consistency. The videos are directed to employees of a company with offices around the ...
12
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5answers
3k views

In English you have 'above', 'on', 'over' and 'on top of' but in Italian one word, 'sopra', covers all four meanings

In Italian if I were to say, "sopra l'albero" (albero = tree) you might rightly ask: "Yes but where, exactly?" But "sopra" is a great word to learn in Italian, not only is it a very flexible ...
12
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1answer
659 views

Is “tidbits” Bowdlerized or original?

Our American English local paper insisted on changing a title from titbits to tidbits for a column on minor local events and stories. I, a British English speaker, have always pronounced and spelled ...
12
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1answer
9k views

“I can't help it.” Why help?

Why do we use the verb help in sentences such as the following to mean something like refrain from? I try not to eat junk, but I can't help it. I couldn't help laughing. I can't help but admire her ...
12
votes
2answers
211 views

Much and many: the opposite of less - fewer debate?

This morning, I corrected my little son on his use of much. I don't have much Star Wars guys. He seems to use this word quite frequently in place of many, although he doesn't often use many in ...
11
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2answers
2k views

Why is it “A first,” not “The first” for U.S Ice Dancing team taking the top spot in Sochi”?

I heard that the announcer, Tim McGuire reported that; “A first for U.S. Ice Dancing team, Gold. Meryl Davis, Charlie White taking the top spot in Sochi.” in February 17 AP Radio News. I also ...
11
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4answers
6k views

Do 'learn by heart' & 'learn by rote' mean the same?

Here in India, both the phrases learning by heart and learning by rote are taken to have the same meaning, i.e., blind memorisation without true understanding. However, some sources say that to ...
11
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5answers
14k views

Install on, install in, install to

When I say "programs to install on a new PC" it sounds alright to me, but I'm not sure if it's the correct usage. Which one of the following should I use? Programs to install on a new PC Programs to ...
11
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1answer
735 views

What does “Empedocles’ sandal” mean in terms of English usage?

I first heard the expression “Empedocles’ sandal” a long time ago without knowing what it referred to. It seems to derive from the legend of the ancient Greek philosopher Empedocles (who was ...
10
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3answers
2k views

Can “the rubber meets the road” be used as a stand-alone phrase to mean “stop disaster in its tracks or keep it at bay”?

I didn't know the idiom, "the rubber meets (hits) the road." So I was drawn to the passage, “When it comes to Ebola, the rubber met the road at the Firestone rubber plantation” appearing in NPR’s ...
10
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3answers
2k views

What does “have a pastrami on wry” mean?

I was drawn to the expression, “I wish I could have pastrami on wry“in the beginning sentence of Maureen Dowd’s article, titled “Still mad as hell” in New York Times (February 8): "I often wonder ...
10
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4answers
2k views

What is meant by a “two-lane” road?

When people say that a road has "two lanes"? Two lanes total, one travelling in one direction, and one travelling in the opposite direction? Two lanes travelling in one direction, and two more ...