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

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68
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13answers
44k 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 ...
45
votes
8answers
3k 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 ...
28
votes
8answers
5k 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 ...
25
votes
8answers
6k 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 ...
23
votes
6answers
4k 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. ...
22
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6answers
3k 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 ...
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 ...
16
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5answers
2k 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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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 ...
15
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7answers
4k 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 ...
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 ...
13
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5answers
1k 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
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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
votes
7answers
452 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
votes
5answers
928 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 ...
12
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2answers
981 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
364 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 ...
11
votes
2answers
346 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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5answers
4k 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 ...
11
votes
1answer
4k 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 ...
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
votes
1answer
454 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 ...
10
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3answers
1k 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 ...
10
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5answers
1k 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 ...
10
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2answers
83 views

Is there a word for the second part of a story title after a main character?

I commonly see the format: Main Character(s) and some other important idea Story titles: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day The ...
9
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3answers
1k 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 ...
9
votes
2answers
372 views

Correct usage of the verb “to hock”

Sometimes I read/hear the verb "to hock" used as a synonym of "peddle/hawk", as in "The street vendor hocked his wares." Is that correct? I always thought that "to hock" meant "to pawn". Perhaps it's ...
8
votes
6answers
817 views

Which is correct or more common when talking about medicine: “buy drugs” or “buy medicine”?

I mean it in the sense of buying medicine, for example for common cold or other diseases. When talking about buying medicine, which of these sentences is more correct or more commonly used: "go to ...
8
votes
1answer
357 views

What does“low wattage” mean in “A politician not being mocked for low wattage”?

Time magazine (October 25) carries the article titled “The Populist Egghead” with a caption: “Sen. Cruz isn't being mocked for low wattage the way Palin and Reagan had been. He's being singled ...
8
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4answers
1k 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 ...
7
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4answers
558 views

Usage of diffuse vs. defuse

I often hear phrases such as "infantry were sent in to diffuse/defuse the situation," and I am never quite sure which people are saying, and which is correct. Both seem to make sense. To me (a ...
7
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4answers
3k views

Is “on one hand, on the other hand” a cliche? [closed]

We should find a Way of long peace instead of living just for today. On one hand, we have to prevent the community from coming apart and suffering the disasters caused by it, on the other hand, to ...
7
votes
3answers
530 views

“Have” vs. “Is” + Verb

The phrases have expired and is expired are in practice more or less identical. Formally, of course, they are different in that the former uses expired as a verb with have as its auxiliary, whereas ...
7
votes
1answer
399 views

Why is something fried on a griddle called grilled?

To my understanding, to grill is cooking with a heat source located beneath an open slatted grate (or ribbed closed pan). (For example, using a barbecue grill on one's patio.) The word grill is ...
7
votes
3answers
452 views

Usage of “stood up” to mean “set up”

I was reading this question on meta.ELU and was struck by what, to me, was a strange use of the phrasal verb to stand up: The site for English Language Learners was stood up in large part so that ...
7
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3answers
2k views

English usage: Every vs all?

Today I was writing a simple message to be shown to the user whenever at least one field was not supplied. Every/All fields must be supplied. I'm in doubt about the usage of Every vs All, which ...
7
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3answers
363 views

Gendered terms — particularly female — becoming neutral?

I have been hearing that many gendered terms are simply being absorbed into the masculine equivalent, while many other words are retaining their usage. A few examples are the terms "actress" becoming ...
7
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3answers
1k views

Does the phrase “don't even pass the laugh test” pass as an idiomatic expression, or only a set of words?

I was intrigued to the phrase, ‘the argument doesn’t pass even the laugh test’ in the following statement of Bruce Schneier, a security technologist on the debate about whether Edward J. Snowden who ...
7
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2answers
245 views

Can anything be “bated” but one's breath?

We are all no doubt familiar with the phrase "with bated breath," but is it ever used in other contexts?
7
votes
3answers
166 views

How did 'wieldy', the positive form of 'unwieldy', come to be a non-existent word?

I.e., is there a known reason behind why the negative form of the word 'wieldy', 'unwieldy', is so vastly used, whereas the positive form is essentially a non-existent word — MacMillan ...
7
votes
1answer
130 views

Are “was/were able to” and “could” interchangeable?

In a grammar book, the claim was made that in the following sentences one cannot substitute "was/were able to" with "could." The fire spread through the building very quickly, but everyone was ...
6
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6answers
905 views

The usage of “the same…as…”

Which one of the following two sentences is more correct? We use the same space as is specified in Chapter 1. We use the same space as specified in Chapter 1.
6
votes
7answers
2k views

Is the use of future tense (especially “will” and “shall”) going out of grammar?

My English teacher taught us that there is no such thing called "future tense" in existence. Instead we were asked to use present indefinite tense. He said that we should use "I am to go to London" ...
6
votes
3answers
589 views

“A new pair of ” or “A pair of new”

a new pair of shoes / pants / scissors a pair of new shoes / pants / scissors I can’t find which one of those two it should be, and I’ve seen some debate about it. “A new pair of shoes”: Could it ...
6
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3answers
1k views

Do you know the meaning of the American idiom “pot calling the kettle black”?

I just want to conduct a research about this American idiom and how native American people use it. Can you guys answer my questions in the following orders? If you have better questions, I will be ...
6
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2answers
310 views

What does “as” represent for in “Cantor quits as Majority leader” and “Cantor to resign as Majority leader”?

Today’s New York Times reported Eric Canter’s defeat in Primary election in Virginia under the headline: “Eric Cantor to step down as House Majority leader” followed by the text copy: “Representative ...
6
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4answers
204 views

How do teachers ask to calculate expressions?

How do American/British primary school teachers ask their pupils to calculate an expression? E.g. What is 2+3 equal to? What is the value of 2+3? ... In particular, I'm interested whether the ...
6
votes
4answers
4k 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 ...
6
votes
4answers
13k views

Origin of current slang usage of the word 'sick' to mean 'great'? [duplicate]

Possible Duplicate: How and why have some words changed to a complete opposite? How did 'sick' come to mean 'awesome' or 'really good / cool' in modern U.S. slang? I'm interested in origins ...
6
votes
1answer
103 views

Etymology of “rabona”

In association football, rabona is used to describe a specific technique: a method of kicking the football whereby the kicking leg is wrapped around the back of the standing leg—effectively with ...