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The favourite conversational gambit of Marshall McLuhan, Communications theorist (1911-1980)

You are welcome to ask a question about any aspect of the English language. I’ll reply as soon as I can.

Previous questions and answers can be found below and in the archive.

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Written by Wordwatch

11/04/2010 at 10:19 am

154 Responses

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  1. Hi, love the blog! I have a quick question for you – what’s your view on ‘actress’ as opposed to ‘actor’ for female actor?

    Thanks
    Milly

    Milly

    13/04/2010 at 1:11 pm

    • Hi, Milly — that’s such an interesting question and one I’ve thought about a lot. The ‘ess’ ending added to words such as ‘poet’ or ‘author’, for example, when referring to a female poet or writer always sounds very patronising to my ears and also old-fashioned (and seems to imply that a woman cannot be a ‘real’ poet or author, or as good as a male one). However, I’m more ambivalent about ‘actress’ (although I believe it is the housestyle of some newspapers to use ‘actor’ for both men and women). For me personally, the word ‘actress’ has a certain glamour and cachet attached to it. I always think that, for example, ‘The actress Bette Davis’ sounds so much more fitting for an impossibly glamorous Hollywood star than ‘The actor Bette Davis’.

      Having said that, if I were writing about a particular actress I would always take the trouble to find out if she would prefer to be called an actor or an actress.

      Thanks, Milly — interesting!

      Deborah

      13/04/2010 at 1:28 pm

  2. Hi Deborah

    I think I would agree with all your points there! The -ess suffix particularly grates for me on the odd occasion I hear it for ‘manageress’ or ‘authoress’ – it’s as bad as ‘lady doctor’. So unnecessary.

    Many thanks
    Milly

    Milly

    14/04/2010 at 8:19 am

    • Hi, Milly — yes, I would definitely ditch the suffix from ‘manageress’; that’s a really good example. Thanks.

      Deborah

      14/04/2010 at 8:23 am

  3. Usage depends, as Deborah suggested, on time, place, and intent. I wouldn’t speak of the “heir Paris Hilton,” but I might call her an “heir” if I were writing her parents’ will.

    If I were trying to get the attention of my server across the restaurant floor, I’d call out, “Excuse me, waitress?” But if I were telling someone about the resto, I’d say, “Oh, the service is great” or “The waiters are great” or something. (I don’t think I’d use “wait-staff,” since I find it jarring; but I might.)

    If I were describing a pride of lions, I’d say “the lioness and her cubs”; otherwise, just “lion.”

    I’m too chicken to tackle “mistress.” It’s not the time or place.

    Michael Farrell

    14/04/2010 at 2:34 pm

    • Is ‘wait-staff’ really used in America? I’ve not heard that here. And it’s true that children may be watching at this hour, but I think it’s safe to say that ‘Mistr’ is more gender-neutral than mistress.

      Deborah

      14/04/2010 at 2:38 pm

    • RadarOnline seems to be confused about a couple of things in this report on what caused the Paris Hilton/Doug Reinhardt breakup: “Sources close to the former couple tell RadarOnline.com that Reinhardt couldn’t handle the hotel heiresses’ meddling ways.”

      Michael Farrell

      23/04/2010 at 6:13 am

      • Perhaps RadarOnline are so confused about what is going on that their grammerr and punktuashion have taken a back seat.

        Deborah

        23/04/2010 at 6:33 am

      • A day later, RadarOnline over-corrects: “Reinhardt, a former professional baseball player, had a lot to live up to in terms of keeping up with the heiress’ jet-setting lifestyle. During the course of their relationship they had been to Fiji, Hawaii, Aspen and Anguilla among other places.”

        Anonymous

        24/04/2010 at 6:12 am

  4. I dunno: Elvira, Mistr of the Dark loses something.

    Michael Farrell

    14/04/2010 at 3:00 pm

  5. I’m having trouble remembering the spelling of Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull glacier. Any tips?

    Michael Farrell

    16/04/2010 at 2:07 pm

    • Just say ‘that glacier in Iceland what’s causing all the trouble’. Everyone will know what you mean.

      Deborah

      16/04/2010 at 2:10 pm

      • ..but don’t forget the umlaut over the ‘o’ or people will definitely get confused. (Eyjafjallajökull)

        Deborah

        16/04/2010 at 2:16 pm

      • hahahaha. The LA Times has this useless pronunciation guide: ay-yah-FYAH’-plah-yer-kuh-duhl. But the Wiki entry has someone audibly pronouncing it; it sounds like a Scandinavian tongue (which I suppose it is).

        Michael Farrell

        16/04/2010 at 2:16 pm

        • It’s funny listening to the usually ever so precise Radio 4 newsreaders struggling with it.

          Deborah

          16/04/2010 at 2:27 pm

          • Far more than anyone would ever want to know about pronouncing the glacier’s name, including comical and accurate (native) audible pronunciations. To tease the link a bit, it’s apparently redundant to say the “Eyjafjallajökull glacier,” since “jökull” means glacier (in Old Norse, natch).

            http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2257

            Michael Farrell

            18/04/2010 at 12:37 am

        • hahaha again. Oh, you meant THAT exploding Icelandic glacier! *slapping forehead*

          To begin my day like I ended the last one — with annoying pedantry — my native Swedish friend says that’s not a diacritical; it’s a letter from the alphabet.

          Michael Farrell

          16/04/2010 at 2:22 pm

          • Yeah — I knew that. Didn’t want to frighten you.

            Deborah

            16/04/2010 at 2:26 pm

  6. Hi Deborah,

    I raised this once before but I’m wondering if you could answer a very broad question about capitalization. Apart from the obvious use of capitalization for proper nouns, beginning a sentence, names of people or places, acronyms etc., when else is it appropriate? Here’s a kind of silly example: In Canada, autumn is called ‘fall’. When I write “The fall leaves are beautiful,” I feel compelled to capitalize ‘fall’ because it looks somehow wrong to me. Likewise, I’ve noticed that some lawyers capitalize the common noun ‘court,’ when speaking directly to the court via letter or affidavit. I guess it’s a show of respect but that doesn’t look right to me, either. But if I don’t capitalize, will the court think I’m not sufficiently awed by them? (You don’t have to answer that question)

    Oh brother! I’m in a muddle. Sorry this is so long and such a general inquiry. Thanks for any advice that you can offer.

    Jo-Anne Moore

    18/04/2010 at 9:12 pm

    • Hi, Jo-Anne — capitalisation can be a tricky area and is often used inappropriately. Your summary (for proper nouns, to start a sentence etc) is a pretty good place to start! If I am unsure I will check in a dictionary. Many people think that the seasons should be capitalised, but any dictionary will confirm that they are not. Similarly, points of the compass are often capitalised, but again a dictionary will confirm they aren’t unless referring to a particular place, for example, South West Africa.

      In the UK, it would be correct to write, for example, ‘Bristol Crown Court’, but ‘He will be tried in a crown court’, as the latter does not refer to a particular crown court.

      Having said that, your question regarding capitalising the common noun ‘court’ when actually addressing the particular court in question is an interesting one. I’m going to check that one out and come back to you.

      Deborah

      19/04/2010 at 6:55 am

      • Hi, Jo-Anne

        I’ve now had the chance to check with a couple of legal types here in the UK about capitalising ‘court’. They both said that when addressing a particular court an upper case ‘c’ would be appropriate to show respect (as you suggest). However, if reference is made to another court, that would not be capitalised, unless, as already stated above, it was a specific court, eg. ‘Bristol Crown Court’.

        Hope all this has been of some help!

        Deborah

        19/04/2010 at 3:18 pm

        • Thanks for taking the time to check that, I really do appreciate it. I’ve been inconsistent in my correspondence and court documents in general, and would like to have one rule to apply and stick to it. Thanks again 🙂

          Anonymous

          20/04/2010 at 2:21 pm

          • You’re very welcome.

            Deborah

            20/04/2010 at 2:23 pm

  7. “Please email us if you have any other questions.”

    Is this correct? Or should it be ‘question’? I think both are right.

    PS: I saw your latest feature- archive on the question page. You could have also chosen to display only 30 or 50 comments on the pages from the discussion settings to reduce the page load time.

    • Hi, Vikas – this is a really interesting point. When I first read that sentence, my immediate reaction was that ‘questions’ plural would be correct there. But in fact, I think that strictly speaking you are right in saying that both singular and plural could be correct. (It’s just that ‘questions’ plural sounds much better there for some reason.) The Oxford Dictionary of English says that ‘any’ can be used to refer to ‘one or some of a thing or number of things, no matter how much or how many’.

      I’m going to check this out a bit more to make sure I am not misleading you in any way — so watch this space!

      Thanks very much for your excellent advice re. display options and loading times; that hadn’t occurred to me. I will try it when there are more comments here.

      Deborah

      20/04/2010 at 7:21 am

      • Thanks for the elaborate reply and the research. My first reaction was also along the same lines!

        • Hi, Vikas — I have looked into this a bit more and have not found any reason (or reasons!) why both ‘question’ and ‘questions’ cannot be used there. As I said before, ‘questions’ just seems to sound better. Thanks for raising that interesting point.

          Deborah

          20/04/2010 at 2:55 pm

          • Thanks for the confirmation. 🙂

          • I think, Deborah, that it would tend to be “another” for the singular, and “any more” for the the plural in conventional usage. “any other” seems a bit clunky (not wrong, just clunky).

            Ron

            11/08/2010 at 1:56 pm

            • Yes — that would be clearer. Thanks, Ron.

              Deborah

              11/08/2010 at 2:30 pm

      • I agree with all of the foregoing, but I think it’s the word “other” and the context that pull you toward plural “questions.” You’d only use “question” if it were a constrained, either/or choice, such as: “If you have any question about which house it is, feel free to ask.” Or “Just so there’s no further question about the rule….” In a customer-service setting, which I think Vikas’s example involves, you’d want to be open-ended and inviting — thus plural “questions.”

        It’s also just a question (tee hee) of common practice: while singular is grammatically correct, it’s used less often.

        Michael Farrell

        20/04/2010 at 5:32 pm

  8. I found this is a legal document today and I’m not really sure what it means. Can you help?

    “The singular of any word is intended to include the plural, and vice versa, and the conjunctive ‘and’ to refer to and include the disjunctive ‘or’, and vice versa, unless the context clearly indicates otherwise.”

    Michael Farrell

    08/05/2010 at 3:32 am

  9. Any word can be plural or singular.

    Unless they aren’t.

    ‘And’ can mean ‘or’ and ‘or’ can mean ‘and’.

    Unless they don’t.

    I suggest you consult a lawyer.

    Deborah

    08/05/2010 at 6:52 am

    • It’s an illustration of the unwelcome results when lawyers strain to cover all bets and nail down any eventuality. In doing so, they often make the document more porous; they certainly make the document less clear.

      In this instance, imagine the document says it can only be amended by “two signatures and a notarized codicil.” Will one signature suffice? Will just the codicil suffice? Or does the “context clearly indicate otherwise”?

      The saddest part — aside from the fact that lawyers will be handsomely paid both to draft then argue over the language — is that the language no doubt has been copied and pasted many times over the years by many scriveners without any of them thinking what the language really means and does.

      Michael Farrell

      08/05/2010 at 2:39 pm

      • Legal writing is one of those rare creatures , like the rat and the cockroach, that would attract little sympathy even as an endangered species.

        Richard Hyland (A Defence of Legal Writing, 1986).

        Deborah

        08/05/2010 at 5:52 pm

        • Strictly for parallelism, maybe substitute “The lawyer” for “Legal writing.”

          Michael Farrell

          08/05/2010 at 5:55 pm

          • Yes — that works well.

            Deborah

            08/05/2010 at 6:55 pm

  10. My friend Danielle says ‘make your point’ to suggest she has understood what I wanted to say. I correct her and she says it is correct use and that she has seen it in blogs, movies etc.

    I tell her that ‘make your point’ is correct if we are presenting our case and putting forward our points.

    So explain.

  11. I mean she says, ‘ I make your point’ when she has understood what I said!

  12. And I tell her that ‘I get your point’ is correct use.

    • Hi, Vikas – hope you’re well.

      You’re right. To show that you have understood what someone has said you can say ‘I get your point’, or more probably, your friend is thinking of ‘I take your point’ (a slightly more formal way of saying the same thing).

      Deborah

      10/05/2010 at 4:13 pm

  13. Thanks Deborah. She is using the expression ‘make your point’ incorrectly and even sent me an ehow link and annoying orange video about it.

    I told her that ‘make a point’ commonly used but you cannot say ‘I make your point’; you ‘get my point’ and not ‘make my point’.

    She is a Brazilian ESL student (more into American English).

    PS: I am fine. 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Vikas. Glad you’re OK!

      Deborah

      11/05/2010 at 3:24 am

  14. I recently saw where someone had corrected a person on Facebook, via a comment, because they wrote me and Todd under a picture and the person stated it should be Todd and I in their comment. I think that was rude to do and I am compelled to ask does it matter which way it is written for a picture? If so, which is correct?

    Thank you in advance for your help.

    Carolyn

    15/05/2010 at 8:05 pm

    • Hi, Carolyn – many thanks for your interesting question. First of all, I agree – how rude to make such a comment. The petty grammar tyrant strikes again. And the petty grammar tyrant is so often wrong or at the very least on dodgy ground.

      Correct use of the personal pronoun is a much discussed issue among grammarians and many disagree (with very strict grammarians basing their arguments on Latin usage).

      First of all, the Facebook site you refer to is not, I presume, setting itself up as some kind of exemplar for correct English usage. So even if ‘Me and Todd’ were ‘wrong’, it would still be absolutely fine as casual usage. However – big however – what if the picture were just of the person concerned? The caption would not be ‘I’. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with ‘Me and Todd’: it’s just a simple description.

      When it comes to using a construction such as ‘me and Todd’ in a proper sentence, some grammatical rules do come into play when writing formally, as explained by AskOxford.

      I’ve also previously posted on this.

      Here’s AskOxford on use of the personal pronoun.

      Deborah

      16/05/2010 at 9:23 am

      • Thank you for clearing that up. It is definitely not a website for correct English usage, just my daughter-in-law posting a picture on her page. Now my quandary, do I take the high road and not embarrass him by bringing this to light or do I defend my daughter-in-law??? h-m-m-m-m

        Thanks again.

        Carolyn

        16/05/2010 at 5:11 pm

        • Yes, it’s tricky. Maybe the comment could be ‘accidentally’ deleted? If I did bother to respond to such a silly comment, I’d do so lightheartedly.

          Deborah

          16/05/2010 at 5:15 pm

      • Agree: nothing wrong with “me” in casual usage. Another interesting point is that “Todd and I” is idiomatically correct (i.e., when using the first-person subjective case, most speakers naturally put themselves second, even when no rule compels it).

        But that doesn’t hold when it’s “me”: in the objective case, many speakers, for some reason, would say “Me and Todd” (again, no rule compels which order to use). It might reflect the speaker’s desired emphasis: whether to stress her role in the pic or her union with Todd.

        What you must not do, under any circumstances, is name your band “She & Him,” as Zooey Deschanel has done.

        Michael Farrell

        16/05/2010 at 5:40 pm

        • Thanks, Michael.

          At least ‘She & Him’ is better than ‘Him & She’.

          Deborah

          16/05/2010 at 6:23 pm

  15. Re “fewer” and “less,” you give the examples “Less than a third of the cake has been eaten” and “Less than half of the town’s pensioners live alone.” Why the singular verb in the first example and the plural verb in the second? I.e., why wouldn’t it be “Less than half of the town pensioners lives alone”? I agree it sounds funny, but if the subject in both cases is “less than half,” doesn’t grammar require singular verbs in both cases?

    Gary Miranda

    17/05/2010 at 8:00 pm

    • Hi, Gary – welcome to Wordwatch Towers. Thanks for your interesting question. See Michael’s (many thanks, Michael) explanation above – a far clearer reply than I could have given.

      Deborah

      18/05/2010 at 6:57 am

    • The reason it sounds funny is “synesis”: the idea that sense controls over the strict rules of grammar. The perceived subject in the second example is “pensioners,” which trumps “half.”

      Michael Farrell

      18/05/2010 at 6:44 am

      • I thought of a good example of synesis yesterday: Should it be “The bulk of us is/are going”? “The bulk” is clearly the subject, yet no one but an arch pedant would make the verb singular. The plural sense trumps the formal grammar rule.

        Michael Farrell

        04/07/2010 at 6:59 pm

        • Thanks, Michael — that is a very good example. I’m glad you previously explained ‘synesis’ — not a word I had come across before.

          Deborah

          04/07/2010 at 8:22 pm

  16. Here in the colonies, we don’t say “more’s the pity” very often. I know it means something like “unfortunately” or “much the poorer for it.” But I wonder about the odd construction: you could just say “pity” and get the same effect.

    Michael Farrell

    04/07/2010 at 7:04 pm

    • ‘More’s the pity’ is a very common expression here. I’ve never consciously thought about it before. I just looked it up and the definition is, ‘used to express regret about a fact that has just been stated’. It gives the example:

      You’re not the one who has to pay the bills, more’s the pity.

      I don’t think just saying ‘pity’ there would work as well? Or perhaps that’s just my English ears being so used to the longer expression.

      Deborah

      04/07/2010 at 8:26 pm

      • I mean the construction: more is the pity. (I’m overthinking this, aren’t I?) It’s not just pity, regret, or ill fortune–it’s more than that. You see?

        *off to watch things explode*

        Michael Farrell

        04/07/2010 at 9:37 pm

        • Yes, I see what you’re saying. I am now going to look for my thinking hat and will return anon.

          Deborah

          05/07/2010 at 8:54 am

          • I found this on The Phrase Finder:

            The straight version was employed in 1797 by R. M. Roche in Children of the Abbey:
            “Poor thing, she is going fast indeed, and the more’s the pity, for she is a sweet creature.”
            From The Dictionary of Cliches (1985) by James Rogers

            He’s got a bad reputation, and it’s true, more’s the pity. (Woman)

            I get from these examples that it is not just pity that is being expressed but pity-and-some because of the circumstances. In the first example, if the dying woman was not so sweet, maybe it would be just a pity that she’s about to croak. However, she’s a ‘sweet creature’ so extra pity is appropriate.

            Similarly, in the second example, it would be a pity to have a bad reputation, but more so if the reputation reflects reality.

            What d’you reckon?

            Deborah

            05/07/2010 at 2:16 pm

            • Yes, it’s pity-plus. This horse is well flogged and, more’s the pity, it’s dead.

              Michael Farrell

              05/07/2010 at 5:10 pm

              • Horse sayings corner:

                I’ve never got that saying, ‘ Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’. Even if it’s a gift, who wants a horse with rotten teeth?

                Deborah

                05/07/2010 at 5:45 pm

                • For beggars to ride?

                  Michael Farrell

                  05/07/2010 at 7:57 pm

                  • I s’pose — but then it would only be apposite as something to say to a beggar.

                    Deborah

                    05/07/2010 at 8:01 pm

  17. I apologize for piggy-backing on these comments, but I’m looking for Deborah’s direct e-mail address.
    Thank you.
    Regards
    Jonathan

    Jonathan GOLDBERG

    20/07/2010 at 6:32 pm

    • Hi – just reply to this. The blog is moderated and I won’t publish your comment if you don’t wish me to.

      Deborah

      20/07/2010 at 6:35 pm

  18. Please ignore the sports bits and focus on the notion being expressed: “On the eve of the non-waiver trade deadline, the Dodgers remained in conversations with the Chicago Cubs about a potential deal for left-hander Ted Lilly, according to multiple baseball sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were unauthorized to discuss the matter.”

    Where to begin? Multiple sources, not authorized to discuss the matter, nonetheless authoritatively discussed the matter — as long as they weren’t named? So the sources are all fired now? No? Then they were authorized to discuss it, albeit anonymously.

    (I think the idiom should be “on condition of anonymity….”)

    Michael Farrell

    31/07/2010 at 7:10 pm

    • Thanks, Michael. That’s horrible. From 45 words to 26:

      On the eve of the non-waiver trade deadline, baseball sources said the Dodgers and Chicago Cubs remained in talks about a deal for left-hander Ted Lilly.

      It’s obvious that ‘sources’ are anonymous, and it’s obvious they’re not authorised to spill the beans, at least not openly. It’s also obvious that the deal is ‘potential’, otherwise they wouldn’t be discussing it. ‘Multiple’ is redundant — conveying as much or as little meaning as making ‘source’ plural. I don’t mind ‘on the condition of anonymity’ as a phrase, but as mentioned, redundant in this case.

      Deborah

      31/07/2010 at 8:07 pm

      • Lovely. And your Cubs hat is quite jaunty.

        Michael Farrell

        31/07/2010 at 9:41 pm

    • Here’s another awkward expression of anonymity, from an LA Times story on the abrupt resignation of HP’s CEO after he falsified expense reports to cover up a relationship with an outside contractor:

      “This person requested anonymity because of not being authorized to speak publicly about the issue.”

      Maybe the Times has some house style that requires reporters to say it in such a wooden fashion?

      Michael Farrell

      08/08/2010 at 6:55 pm

      • Thanks, Michael. I don’t understand how such poor writing makes it into a newspaper. It’s worse than wooden.

        Deborah

        08/08/2010 at 7:42 pm

  19. Here’s an issue of synesis (and weak punnage): As busy US airports eradicate geese around their runways, “a growing legion of fans is crying foul.” (LA Times)

    “Legion” properly takes a singular verb (“is”) but “fans” (plural) is the real thrust of the clause. I’d choose “are” there, especially since “legion” implies a multitude.

    Michael Farrell

    02/08/2010 at 3:49 am

    • Hi, Michael – I think I’ll do a post on synesis as this isn’t the first time it’s been mentioned (see Gary Miranda’s question above which you answered). It can be a tricky topic (to me, anyway).

      I’d have to think about the example you give, but would probably also go for ‘are’ there. Thanks, Michael.

      Deborah

      02/08/2010 at 9:29 am

  20. My friend Danielle used ‘momently’ and I corrected her saying it’s ‘momentarily’. I never found the word in OALD (see link http://www.oxfordadvancedlearnersdictionary.com/spellcheck/?q=momently. She sent me link and the word exists and is very much in use (for example, see link http://www.thefreedictionary.com/momently)

    Those following British English mostly (or always?) use momentarily, right? I mean, I never heard the word used like that until Danielle did it yesterday.

    I guess you may want to shed some light on it. Thanks.

    • Hi, Vikas — how lovely to hear from you. Hope you’re well. Thanks very much for this interesting question. I have never come across ‘momently’ before, but this is the description given in the link you provide:

      mo·ment·ly (mmnt-l)
      adv.
      1. From moment to moment.
      2. At any moment.
      3. For a moment.

      And the word is also listed in my Oxford Dictionary of English (ODE) with an almost identical definition. However, the dictionary notes that it is an archaic or literary word. Certainly, I’ve never heard it used.

      ‘Momentarily’ is also very interesting. In the UK, we would say, for example, We stopped momentarily. This would mean we stopped for a short time. However, my understanding (confirmed by the ODE) is that Americans use the word differently to mean ‘at any moment’ or ‘very soon’. For example, I’m going out momentarily. This sounds quite strange to my English ears, and I always have to think for a moment about what is meant.

      It seems that the archaic/literary term ‘momently’ can also be used in either way.

      Thanks very much, Vikas. Hope that helps!

      Deborah

      07/08/2010 at 7:35 am

      • Never heard it before.

        I’ve heard anecdotally that Commonwealth passengers freeze up when the US pilot announces, “We’ll be landing at LAX momentarily.”

        Michael Farrell

        07/08/2010 at 8:31 pm

        • ‘Momently’ is a strange one. I’m sure there’s probably a number of literary/poetic examples of its use. Yes, I expect a few passengers think they’re not going to be allowed to get off the plane when they hear that. It might even be frightening in the current climate. One word, so much confusion. Thanks, Michael.

          Deborah

          07/08/2010 at 9:02 pm

          • Thanks for the elaborate reply, as always. BTW, Danielle is from Brazil but more inclined to the US English as she wants to visit the place soon.

            PS: I am fine.

            • …and she used it not as the US momentarily (she said her mother was only momently angry with me).

              • Well, that’s an intriguing snippet, Vikas! I won’t ask.

                Deborah

                07/08/2010 at 9:24 pm

                • LOL yeah, it surely is. There is a long story behind it. To cut a long story short she is my best friend (online) and recently we had a tiff (utensils when together – clatter!).

                  • Hi, Vikas – I like your utensils analogy. I hope the tiff only lasted momently.

                    Deborah

                    08/08/2010 at 9:02 am

            • You’re welcome, as ever, Vikas. Glad you’re well.

              Deborah

              07/08/2010 at 9:22 pm

              • Hi Deborah,

                Reading Vikas’ comment reminded me of a word I heard recently that I thought was an error, but maybe not. A client used the word “supposably”..and of course I stopped him mid-sentence so that I could write it down. (I’m industrious like that). Anyway, as you may know (but I didn’t) the word “supposable” exists, meaning “able to be supposed or conjectured”; I even found a few online references to the word “supposably” being apparently used in the U.S. – although the sources were dodgy. The Oxford dictionary doesn’t seem to recognize it…so over to you. Your thoughts?

                Jo-Anne

                07/08/2010 at 9:58 pm

                • Hi, Jo-Anne — I very often hear people say ‘supposably’ for ‘supposedly’, and quite like the expression. It’s not, as far as I know, a word in the sense that it would be included in a dictionary as a ‘proper’ word. It’s just the way some people speak, I think. It may be related to the ‘correct’ word ‘supposable’, but not necessarily. I don’t think it matters unless speaking very formally — although some people with too much time on their hands allow it to adversely affect their blood pressure.

                  Deborah

                  08/08/2010 at 9:27 am

  21. Agree! We should save our blood pressure attacks for something far more worthy. 🙂

    Jo-Anne

    08/08/2010 at 4:14 pm

  22. Never heard of ‘supposably’!

    • Hi, Vikas — if you’re ever in the UK you’ll probably hear it quite a lot.

      Deborah

      08/08/2010 at 6:30 pm

      • It’s second cousin to “undoubtably”.

        Ron

        09/08/2010 at 12:30 pm

        • Hi, Ron — yes, the slightly eccentric second cousin who’s always seen at family weddings wearing an endearingly ill-fitting suit and brave choice of tie.

          Deborah

          09/08/2010 at 1:13 pm

          • By the way, WP support have shut up shop for 10 days, so fingers crossed we don’t have another outage!

            Ron

            09/08/2010 at 2:42 pm

            • Thanks, Ron. That’s a long time to go AWOL. I may ask for a refund.

              Deborah

              09/08/2010 at 3:16 pm

              • They’re about to be sued and hit with a US FOIA demand, for shutting down a blog without warning and then not responding to the blogger’s requests for an explanation. About time too!

                And the “Happiness Engineers” – now there’s a misnomer – have started censoring Forum comments they don’t approve of. Or, bearing in mind where I am, of which they don’t approve. 😉

                Ron

                09/08/2010 at 4:05 pm

                • Strange times at WP, then.

                  Deborah

                  09/08/2010 at 6:50 pm

  23. Hi Deborah,

    Just a thought, but have you considered (at the risk of sounding like Jake from Two and a half Men), a Search widget?

    In its absence, though, have you done anything with “kudos”? I mean the way MySpace and Facebook cretins think the word is singular, and award each other lots of “kudoes”!

    Ron

    29/09/2010 at 11:56 am

    • Hi, Ron – I’ve never thought about ‘kudos’ before and looked it up in the Oxford Dictionary of English. It comes from the Greek and means ‘praise’. (I’ve always thought of it more as meaning ‘respect’, which shows how much I know). The ODE also explains that ‘kudos’ is a mass noun and not a plural form and says:

      This means there is no singular form ‘kudo’ and that the use of ‘kudos’ as a plural, as in the following sentence, is incorrect:
      “He received many kudos for his work.”
      Correct use is: “He received much kudos for his work.”

      The ODE does not highlight that ‘kudoes’ is erroneous, so its use can’t be that widespread, I guess (except on MySpace and Facebook, maybe?). I haven’t seen the error myself.

      I ditched the search widget a while back having found it about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

      Thanks, Ron.

      Deborah

      29/09/2010 at 1:55 pm

      • Really? I’m amazed you’ve not seen it, it’s all over the place though, apart from (or as well as), MySpace and Facebook, Americans seem to be the worst offenders, though it is taking root here. It pops up on a regular basis in CiF, for example, as well as verbally, on TV and radio.

        Google kudoes – it’s quite depressing . . .

        Ron

        29/09/2010 at 7:37 pm

        • I did — I see what you mean!

          Deborah

          29/09/2010 at 7:40 pm

  24. I saw someone once try “kudi” as the plural.

    Michael Farrell

    29/09/2010 at 5:32 pm

  25. I think MySpace might actually be the origin of this (though I’ve seen it elsewhere), as on MySpace you can award “Kudos” to other MySpacers (yes, sadly, I do have an account, though in my defence, like my Facebook account, I don’t use it).

    So, one Kudos is fine, but when you get into multiples of Kudos, the hard of thinking naturally, and falsely, create a non-existent plural form “Kudoes”. Or, god help us, “Kudi”!

    Ron

    30/09/2010 at 8:42 am

    • Hi, Ron – it’s strange how certain words proliferate online, isn’t it? Either wrong spellings, such as ‘kudoes’, or neologisms such as ‘donds‘.

      Deborah

      30/09/2010 at 8:56 am

      • Words – polite ones anyway – fail me!

        Remember the halcyon days on CiF, when the discussions were intelligent, trolls and the sub-literate were few, and the standard of writing in the posts often better than in the original article?

        Now they can’t even spell, and punctuation appears to be totally random.

        Er . . . Have we had the conversation before?

        Ron

        30/09/2010 at 10:18 am

  26. Deborah I have a question that I hope you can answer..I did look through the archive and I don’t think this specific thing has been addressed. (If it has, sorry! Just direct me to the answer)

    When people make mistakes such as “smashed potatoes” instead of “mashed potatoes” or “pink polka blots” instead of “polka dots”, the result is an accidental pun on words that still provides an accurate description of the thing being discussed. Is there a grammatical term for that? Or is it simply an accidental pun on words? This is making me inane…I mean insane..(hahaha)

    Jo

    03/10/2010 at 3:54 pm

    • Hi, Jo – this is an interesting question. My first thought was ‘malapropism’, but it’s not really that, as a malapropism is the mistaken use of one word for another with an amusing effect, for example, ‘dance the flamingo’ instead of ‘dance the flamenco’ (ODE examples). This does not cover your definition of ‘still providing an accurate description’. Maybe the closest is an ‘eggcorn’? Wikipedia has an entry on this.

      The examples provided by Wikipedia include:

      ‘Old-timers’ disease’ instead of ‘Alzheimer’s disease’
      ‘Mating name’ instead of ‘maiden name’
      ‘On the spurt of the moment’ instead of ‘on the spur of the moment’

      And here’s Ben Zimmer on eggcorns. (He makes the crucial point that eggcorns have to make sense.)

      Deborah

      03/10/2010 at 4:18 pm

    • Hi Jo,

      You get similar mistakes with drinks, when people say, quite mistakenly, “Your round, Ron!”

      Smashed potatoes do exist, btw, but you’d be hard pressed to tell some recipes from plain, old, mash. Done properly, they’re spuds roughly mashed in their skins.

      Ron.

      Ron

      04/10/2010 at 5:44 pm

  27. Thank you for that, Deborah. I went and read what Ben Zimmer had to say. I agree that my examples seem to be eggcorns. Now that that is settled, I can concentrate on the rest of my day 😉

    Jo

    03/10/2010 at 4:39 pm

    • You’re welcome. Have a good one!

      Deborah

      03/10/2010 at 4:41 pm

  28. I know your (far too tolerant) position on use of “their” as the third-person singular possessive, but even you might agree that the plural “beloveds” would improve this report on a survey of the pain-killing effects of early romantic love?

    “We wanted subjects who were feeling euphoric, energetic, obsessively thinking about their beloved, craving their presence,” Dr. Young said.

    Since “beloved” is a rather abstract noun (as well as adj.), you could get more concrete with “lovers,” “mates,” “partners,” “loved ones,” etc.

    Michael Farrell

    15/10/2010 at 5:38 am

    • Hi, Michael — that’s an interesting example, thanks very much.

      I think my (grammatically correct) position on the use of ‘their’ might be a bit of a red herring in this case? Doesn’t the sentence as it stands suggest that the ‘subjects’ only had one ‘beloved’ between them? Therefore, ‘beloveds’ would be factually, as well as gramatically, correct?

      Interestingly, Bryan Garner in Garner’s Modern American Usage says that speakers of American English resist the move away from the masculine singular personal pronoun as a generic term more than speakers of British English. I wonder why? Garner says ‘he’ will ‘probably be ultimately displaced’ by ‘they’. He also says:

      That it sets many literate Americans’ teeth on edge is an unfortunate obstacle to what promises to be the ultimate solution to the problem.

      Here’s my post on ‘they’ and ‘their’.

      Deborah

      15/10/2010 at 6:11 am

  29. As soon as I find a literate American with teeth, I’ll ask them.

    Michael Farrell

    15/10/2010 at 6:18 am

  30. P.S. Your position is *not* grammatically correct; at best, it’s historically defensible.

    Michael Farrell

    15/10/2010 at 6:21 am

  31. I heard a sports journo say to his on-air partner: “We’ll find out whether you or I is right.” First, my ear says “are” sounds better but formal grammar says “am” is right, since, in a disjunctive (“or”) clause, the verb should agree with the subject (the pronoun “I”) closest to the verb. You’d always say “whether I am right.” Right?

    Choosing “is” is clearly wrong in the sports example, since it’s the third-person singular form of the verb “be.” “You” is second person and “I” is first person. In the sports example, “you” is singular (one of two competing people). But it might be plural in a different instance: “whether he or you [plural] are right.”

    I can guess why the journo messed up: he had in mind a construction like “find out who is right.” This got me playing with similar constructions, such as “whether we or he is right” (to me, easier than “I” for some reason – maybe the plural “we” stands out better?) or “whether I or they are right” (sounds good – another clear plural).

    Michael Farrell

    25/10/2010 at 8:47 pm

    • Goodness, that looks like a three-pipe problem, as Sherlock might say. Not to mention four cups of tea. None of the constructions sound right to me — whether or not they are grammatically correct. I think it would always be better to recast the sentence. As you say, for example, …find out who is right.

      Even making the sentence longer sounds better (although not as elegant as ‘who is right’): …whether I am right or you are right/…whether we are right or he is right.

      I was also thinking about …find out which of us is right.???

      I was also irresistibly reminded of that old song, which is now swirling round in my brain:

      Is you is, or is you ain’t, my baby?

      Thank you, Michael — an interesting conundrum!

      Deborah

      26/10/2010 at 7:07 am

  32. Morning Deborah,

    This is – erm – intriguing, an annual event that happens 6 times a year. Good trick.

    Dear Mr Graves

    Sunday 31st October 2010 is one of our annual service days, which means we won’t be operating a delivery service on that day.

    What’s a service day?
    It’s one of six scheduled days each year when we carry out essential maintenance in our warehouse, extend our product range and generally make sure that everything is working as it should be.

    Annual service days in 2010

    Sunday 31st October
    Sunday 28th November

    What does this mean?
    We get booked up very quickly on the days either side of an annual service day. So if you want to book a delivery for Saturday, please don’t leave it much longer, as delivery slots are already selling fast.

    Ron

    26/10/2010 at 10:22 am

    • ‘What does this mean?’ indeed. I can safely say I’ve never seen ‘annual’ used in quite such an — er — idiosyncratic — way. The punctuation is quite good, though, to be fair. Have you ordered a ‘delivery slot’? I might get one myself, once I’ve found out what they actually are and how much they cost.

      Thanks for that, Ron. Classic.

      Deborah

      26/10/2010 at 10:40 am

  33. When it comes to creative use – aka mangling – of the English language, the Guardian Bookshop takes some beating.

    It looks as if they copy and paste bits from reviews, but just can’t be bothered to write them into a coherent whole. If they didn’t do that, they’re clearly in the wrong job.

    Ron

    26/10/2010 at 11:04 am

    • I think they’re in the wrong job even if it’s the former. La-zee.

      Deborah

      26/10/2010 at 1:46 pm

      • Deborah, as you know, I don’t get notified of anything from your blog except new posts – but what about mine?

        I know you get the new posts, but do you get notification of my replies to your comments?

        Ron

        26/10/2010 at 2:45 pm

        • Hi, Ron – yes, if I tick the box I get your replies (and always new posts, as you say). Not sure why you’re not notified of my replies. Strange.

          Deborah

          26/10/2010 at 2:51 pm

          • Wonderful thing, technology!

            As someone said on the forum a few weeks ago, WP are so obsessed with adding bells and whistles, that no-one asked for and probably only the kids want, that they’re neglecting the basics (Panos, I think it was).

            There does seem to be a feeling at WP that most bloggers are 14!

            Ron

            26/10/2010 at 2:58 pm

  34. At a Washington DC rally Saturday, satirist Jon Stewart “decried the ‘extensive effort it takes to hate’ and declared ‘we can have animus and not be enemies.’ ” (Yahoo News, etc.)

    I doubt that’s true: unless the recipient is Buddha-like, animus reflects and usually results in hostility. (“Animus” also has a neutral sense akin to “motivation”; Stewart was using the sense meaning “ill will.”)

    Michael Farrell

    30/10/2010 at 10:36 pm

    • Hi, Michael — yes, wrong choice of word, I think. ‘Disagreement’ or even ‘fundamental disagreement’ might have been a better choice, perhaps? Animus is an interesting word – as you say, also meaning the ‘motivation to do something’. ODE example: The reformist animus came from within the party.

      Also interesting from a psychological/philosopical/feminist point of view as ‘animus’ is also a Jungian term used to refer to the ‘masculine’ part of a woman’s personality. (‘Cost it’s not ‘feminine’ to feel hostile. Obviously.)

      The derivation of the word is from Latin meaning ‘spirit’ or ‘mind’. The ODE tells me that it is often contrasted with ‘anima’, which Jung uses to refer to the ‘feminine’ part of a man’s personality. (The bit that likes flower arranging and finds it difficult to catch a ball.)

      A further meaning of ‘anima’ is ‘the part of the psyche which is directed inwards and in touch with the subconscious’.

      Deborah

      31/10/2010 at 11:03 am

  35. It is now widely accepted that the em dash can have space on either side (not closed) though the Oxford Manual of style and strict grammarians suggest closed em dashes. I follow both styles depending on my mood and newspapers here rarely used closed em dashes. Do write if you have any comment on this.

    PS: You may install a ‘search box’ in the sidebar (widgets) as I wanted to search ’em dash’ on your blog. I still searched the site using Google site search (http://www.google.co.uk/#sclient=psy&hl=en&site=&source=hp&q=em+dash+site:http%3A%2F%2Fdbennison.wordpress.com%2F&aq=&aqi=&aql=&oq=&pbx=1&fp=96e11322d6deed39) and read your reply to Don dated 22 February 2010. Thanks.

    • Hi, Vikas — many thanks for raising this interesting point. I have always placed a space either side of an em dash. Closing up the spaces looks very strange to me. Having said that, I know that many American writers always close the spaces and find that spaces look wrong and disconcerting. I guess it’s a question of personal preference, and, of course, following any house style that may apply to a piece of writing you are doing.

      I also have to ‘fess up to using a hyphen instead of an em dash when writing very informally. Something many people find irritating. Depending on the computer program I am using, this is sometimes automatically corrected. I also find that despite my best efforts, em dashes here on the blog insist on appearing as hyphens.

      I did have a Wordwatch Towers search widget, but it was absolutely useless. Complaints were filed by punters. Thanks for that tip on an alternative method of searching. The other good way to search is to go to the archive and use ‘control f’ then put in your search term.

      Thanks again, Vikas. Very interesting!

      Deborah

      08/04/2011 at 10:02 am

      • You are right. The online editors and word processors have a bias against em dashes and prefer hyphens. Ctrl F option is there yes but will search only the titles of posts in archives. I would prefer the Google site search. Thanks.

        • Hi, Vikas — yes, the Google search would undoubtedly be more sophisticated. It’s nice to see you around these here parts again!

          Deborah

          08/04/2011 at 10:28 am

  36. Hi Deborah, its me again! (Originally put it’s before remembering your words of wisdom!).

    Having browsed this blog and continued intentions by myself to improve my spelling, grammar, punctuation and understanding of words (I know have a dictionairy in hand whenever reading!) and I was wondering if you might be able to recommend a book that encompasses all of the above issues? I guess for the understanding of words, I could run through reading a dictionairy!

    Thank you.

    Aky

    07/05/2011 at 9:07 pm

  37. Hi, Aky

    It is really difficult to recommend a grammar book to other people as what suits one person will be totally unsuitable for another. Most grammar books make my heart sink — that’s one of the reasons why I started this blog! I think that it would be best if you browsed through a few in a bookshop to find one you like. There’s quite a bit of stuff on this blog about basic grammar and punctuation — if you can’t find what you’re looking for I can probably point you in the right direction.

    Btw — I seem to have confused you with my “its” and “it’s” explanations. Your original version (“it’s me” was correct, “it’s” being short for “it is”. It’s easy to spot if you just read “it’s” aloud as “it is”.

    Deborah

    08/05/2011 at 9:35 am

  38. Hi Deborah,

    I was sending a complimentary tweet to a freelance journalist when I read it back and felt a little uneasy about what I’d wrote. Just paraphrasing the tweet that I wrote.

    “Hi, read your stuff and really enjoyed it.”

    Now, reading it back, putting it “read your stuff” sounds weird as it seems like I’m telling him to read his own work. Whilst what I’m saying is read but in a past sense. I hope you understand what I’m saying.

    Is there a better way to phrase that tweet as I don’t want him thinking “what the hell” when he reads the tweet.

    Thank you

    Aky

    17/05/2011 at 10:15 pm

    • Hi, Aky — what an interesting question! I know exactly what you are saying — your tweet could possibly be read as telling someone to ‘read their stuff’, maybe as if to say ‘read it and realise how rubbish it is’ or similar. However, because you also go on to say ‘and really enjoyed it’ I don’t think your particular message could be misunderstood.

      The simplest fix to make your message absolutely clear is, I think, to just add ‘I’: ‘Hi, I read your stuff and really enjoyed it’.

      Deborah

      18/05/2011 at 7:52 am

  39. Do you find any grammatical error(s) in the following notice:

    Construction/renovation of road in front of the hostel will begin at 8 am tomorrow (18 May 2011). Accordingly, please remove your vehicles parked in front of or near the hostel and park it in the field or areas nearby. Please treat the matter as urgent. Please inform your friend(s) who you think may miss this notice.

    • It’s always a bity tricky criticising notices because they are usually, for space reasons etc, written in a sort of shorthand. If I were to write the notice, I would probably say something like:

      Urgent notice

      Work will be carried out on the road in front of the hostel starting at 8am tomorrow (18 May 2011). Please move your vehicle away from the road. You can park it in the field, or other nearby area. Please tell anyone who may not see this notice.

      Deborah

      18/05/2011 at 12:25 pm

      • Your version is leaner, simpler and easier to understand. Looks like I deliberately complicate things.

        • Oh, it’s always easier to edit someone else’s work than it is to actually write something yourself. I got the easy job!

          Deborah

          18/05/2011 at 12:33 pm

  40. When reading a book, I came across the word “resent”. Now, in this sentence, the author meant resent as in feeling angry but if you read quickly, it could also come as saying re-sending something. As in, “He resent it to me yesterday” but I guess you’d put it as “re-sent” to differentiate from resent.

    Aky

    20/05/2011 at 8:06 pm

    • Hi, Aky

      This is an interesting conundrum and not one I’ve thought about before. I’m not currently in residence at Wordwatch Towers and so don’t have access to the various big books that I usually consult to solve knotty problems. I’ll look into this more in a couple of days’ time and come back to you.

      In the meantime, I’ve noted that the Oxford Dictionaries online search engine does not recognise ‘resend’, ‘re-send’, or ‘re-sent’. And its definition of ‘resent’ does not include something that has been sent again. A Chambers dictionary I just found being used as a plinth for a cat’s food bowl (I kid you not: I’ll post photographic evidence shortly) does not list ‘resend’ and does not give the alternative meaning of ‘sent again’ for ‘resent’.

      Merriam-Webster, however, does include ‘resend’ to mean ‘send again’, but does not include ‘re-sent’ or ‘resent’ in this context.

      My instinct would be to use ‘re-sent’ (to mean ‘sent again’), to be absolutely clear. Having said that, I don’t think a hyphen would be required in ‘resend’. Watch this space. (Not in a literal, obsessive kind of a way, obviously. Just in an occasionally checking back kind of a way.)

      Latest on this via Twitter (advice from the Guardian style bods):

      Resend, resent – you only need a hyphen when it would be ambiguous without (eg re-cover v recover, re-form v reform) – resend is therefore fine, but re-sent needs hyphen to differentiate from resent. A rule that is actually useful.

      So, for example, ‘I resent your email’ is ambiguous if what you mean is ‘I re-sent your email’.

      Deborah

      20/05/2011 at 11:28 pm

  41. Hi Deborah, hope you’re well. Another quick question.

    I’m getting confused on where best to place a full stop if there is a bracket being used to describe or add extra information.

    E.g. He will go that school (which is near his house).

    Am I right in the full stop going after the second bracket? Because at times I’ve seen the full stop placed before the second bracket. Can you give me a general overview of this question (or forward me to any links where you’ve covered the subject) because I need clarification.

    Thank you!

    Aky

    08/06/2011 at 7:38 pm

    • Hi, Aky

      I’m very well, thanks.

      I’m very sorry for the delay in replying to you. I’m currently away from Wordwatch Towers and only check in occasionally. (I actually thought I’d temporarily closed all the comments threads, so your question came as a pleasant surprise!)

      I’m very glad your interesting query got under the wire as it’s not something that I’ve previously covered and it can cause confusion.

      Your example is correct, with the full stop outside the second bracket:

      He will go to that school (which is near his house).

      If the parenthetical information appears in the middle of the sentence, it remains unpunctuated:

      He will go to that school (which is near his house) for the next three years.

      The area that perhaps causes most confusion is where a complete sentence is placed in brackets (‘which is near his house’ is obviously not a complete sentence). For example:

      He will go to that school (this was decided last week) for the next three years.

      Or:

      He will go to that school for the next three years (this was decided last week).

      In both these examples, you’ll note that the start of the parenthetical sentence ‘this’ is not capitalised, and there is no full stop inside the bracket after the final word of the sentence ‘week’.

      However, note that an alternative is to write two separate sentences, one of which is placed in brackets. In such cases, both sentences are punctuated; the bracketed sentence begins with a capital letter and ends with a full stop inside the second bracket:

      He will go that school for the next three years. (This was decided last week.)

      One final observation: it’s permissible to use an exclamation mark or question mark inside the second bracket at the end of parenthetical additions. For example:

      He’s not going today (thank goodness!) but will be there next week.

      I’ve been told that he’s not going today (is that correct?) but will be there next week.

      Another final observation: note that where a sentence includes information in brackets, the sentence should still make sense if the parenthetical information were to be removed.

      Thanks very much for raising this interesting topic, Aky.

      I’ve definitely closed this comments thread now! 🙂 However, you’re very welcome to use the contact form on the ‘About’ page if you have any further queries – it’s currently the most reliable way to make contact (direct to my email account) and I’ll reply to you as soon as I can.

      N.B.

      Terminology:

      I’m not sure, but I think Americans may use the term ‘brackets’ to mean ‘square brackets’, and would use the term ‘parentheses’ for the type of brackets I’m talking about here. I’m open to correction on this point.

      Deborah

      09/06/2011 at 8:20 pm

  42. My friend from Finland says ‘good working’ or ‘good writing’ obviously modelled on ‘Good Morning’. Is the use correct?

    • Hi, Vikas

      I hope you’re well and happy.

      This is an interesting one, and not something I’ve come across before. It reminds me of Frasier Crane’s catchphrase in the US sitcom, Frasier: “Goodnight Seattle – and good mental health.”

      ‘Good working’ or ‘good writing’ could not, in a strict formal sense, be used in the same way as ‘good morning’, but perhaps your friend is just playing with words, as in the Frasier Crane example? A shortened way of saying, ‘I hope your writing goes well’, or, ‘I hope your work goes well’? Just as Frasier’s ‘good mental health’ phrase means something along the lines of, ‘I’m wishing you good mental health’.

      It’s hard to be sure without knowing the context and tone etc, but I hope that helps.

      Good to hear from you, Vikas.

      Deborah

      31/01/2012 at 11:18 am

      • You are right Deborah. She wishes me like that after I tell her that I have to write chapters or work for the next two hours. A la Crane! So judging from the context and tone, this could pass as okay.

        Thanks for the quick reply Deborah. I am fine.

        • Oh, good! Glad it makes sense now.

          Deborah

          31/01/2012 at 11:32 am

          • This is what Laura has to say to about it (after she read our discussion):

            Now that I think of it, “good working” and “good writing” come from French. That’s the expression they use to wish someone to work well and enjoy it, for example parents say that to kids when the school day starts. My French is better than my English, and when I don’t know some word in English I say it in French, sometimes even not noticing it myself.

  43. Hi. I have a Linguistics exam in 2 days and i am looking for answers of some questions and i couldn’t find any site or anyone to ask. I am asking you i dont know if you know the answers.

    The functions of ” s ” in ” sweep / weeps ” and ” stop / stops ”
    The role of ” z ” in the pairs ” zero / heroes and ” runs / guns ”

    Functions of linguistic units
    Reasons making combinatory rules dependent or independent of relations among language units

    Eren Haruka

    04/06/2014 at 6:08 pm

    • Hi, I’m really sorry but I’m not a linguistics expert and wouldn’t want to risk giving you the wrong advice for your exam. There are so many different aspects to the subject and I’m not even sure of the context of your questions from a linguistics point of view; it’s a complex and diverse topic. Hopefully a linguistics buff might read your question and help you out. Good luck!

      Wordwatch

      04/06/2014 at 8:02 pm

  44. Thank you im still looking we have a handout but there is nothing similar to this soo but yeah thank you for the reply 🙂

    Eren Haruka

    05/06/2014 at 12:57 pm

  45. Hello Deborah,

    I would be grateful if you would soon do an article/entry on capitalisation that I could refer to in future. But in the immediate, what is the (UK) rule of capitalising sub headings/ sub titles within a document (as opposed to a book/article title)? I once worked for a council where the Chief Executive insisted that (with the normal exceptions of the first word and proper nouns etc) titles of committee reports should not be capitalised. Everyone relaxed and didn’t pay attention to this after he left, but was he right? Different websites seem to give conflicting advice, and I want to be sure before I draft the style guide for where I work now.

    Brilliant website, by the way.

    Many thanks,

    Ola.

    Ola

    06/02/2017 at 10:08 am

    • Hello 🙂

      I’m glad you like the blog. Thank you.

      Whether or not headings and subheads should be capitalised is not subject to strict ‘rules’ as such (except the golden rule to always be consistent). So, your chief exec was neither right nor wrong; he simply selected the style he liked, which is fair enough. I like his style too 🙂 … so I don’t capitalise each word of a main heading or a subhead, only the initial word (with the usual exceptions, as you mention). You can see examples in various posts on this blog.

      I think too many capitals are distracting and too obtrusive, but it really is a matter of taste. However, it’s also, in my opinion, easier to go with initial capital only. This is because if you decide to capitalise all the words in a heading or subhead, you then have to follow the rules about which of the shorter words (such as ‘to’, ‘of’, ‘as’, ‘the’, ‘that’ etc) should not be capitalised, which can get a bit tricky.

      Hope that helps.

      Wordwatch

      06/02/2017 at 7:40 pm


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