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The Free Dictionary Language Forums
Thursday, March 26, 2009
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Last 10 Posts
Friday, July 17, 2009 11:15:44 PM
Well, Noah Webster is generally credited with a lot of the differences between American and British English. Apparently, he was pretty intent on creating an American language that would be distinct from the language of our former British overlords and have (at least theoretically) a more rational spelling system. Webster was a he, though, as were George and Charles Merriam, who bought the publishing rights after Webster's death.
Someone is a -it- , a -he- or a -she-
Thursday, July 9, 2009 2:28:07 PM
As far as mixing plural and singular goes, I wonder if anyone has any qualms with the word "you." I use the same word (and grammar) to refer to a single "you" as I would to a whole group of "you." It wasn't always this way. English once had a perfectly good word used to refer to a single "you." That word was "thou." Apparently, English picked up on the curious French tradition of replacing the singular "tu" with the plural "vous" as a sign of respect when talking to a single person (which, if you ask me, is a bit of a bizarre convention, but then, I'm not French). Of course, everyone likes to be respected, and when in doubt it was probably safer to use the respectful version. So, over time, the plural "you" overtook the singular "thou" to the point where "thou" is now considered to be archaic and obsolete. Also, stuffy.
I put it to everyone that the word "you" is plural. We use it to refer to a single person. We still conjugate the verbs associated with "you" as if it were referring to multiple people, even when it isn't. We accept this as correct. Now, is this correct because of the rules of grammar, or do we simply take it as correct because it's been so widely used this way for so many years?
Obviously, the grammar world has not yet met the singular "they" with the same degree of acceptance as the singular "you," but it seems reasonable to expect that it will happen eventually. In the meantime, one uses the singular they at his or her own risk, but the convention is widely used in places where many feel the modern language lacks a fully-acceptable alternative. One might even argue that the popular world has already embraced this usage and the world of Official 100% Totally Correct Grammar simply hasn't caught up, yet.
"One" may sound stuffy, "he or she" may seem awkward to some, but to my ear, "they" doesn't sound so much informal as ignorant. I use "he or she." It takes no effort to do so, although it may take some effort to get over your self-consciousness in using it. Try it a few times and it will become natural, even in informal speech.
While it may sound stilted and stuffy to say
, it is technically correct. One should never use
as a singular pronoun.
I don't want to suggest that everyone should ignore respected grammar sources on this by running around using singular they all willy-nilly, but I will defend it to a certain extent. You're both technically correct, of course (as a bureaucrat on Futurama once said, "the best kind of correct"), but there's more to writing than following rules. We're not dealing with algebra, here. As I said earlier, I like to use "one" on occasion, but I also enjoy writing quirky-sounding, weird sentences. That isn't necessarily for everyone in every situation, and we probably shouldn't discount that fact. We're talking about a medium where the writer carefully chooses his or her words for a certain purpose. Specific phrasings are used to create style and tone. If part of that intended style is to create non-stuffy, non-archaic, contemporary-sounding sentences, then the modern English language rather leaves us in the lurch, here.
If there were an acceptable substitute that didn't leave one sounding as if one had the proverbial stick up one's proverbial bodily orifice, I'd probably be more inclined to criticize this particular convention. In a formal setting, certainly I'd advise everyone to avoid it like the plague. Even outside of a formal setting, one should probably proceed with caution. If a sentence can be reworded in a non-awkward fashion to avoid the issue entirely, then by all means reword that sentence. If that isn't possible, and you let a few theys slip here and there in an entirely informal context, then I say this is forgivable. It's probably not a mortal sin.
But that's just me speaking. Obviously, I don't necessarily reflect the common attitudes of the grammatical world at large.
Thursday, July 9, 2009 2:14:31 PM
When I learned in the 90s, typewriters were already well on their way to becoming obsolete, but my school still taught the class with typewriters. Everyone had to bring their own typewriter, and my parents supplied me with an ancient hunk of junk they'd bought on the cheap at a yard sale. So, while everyone else had modern typewriters with font balls and correction ribbons, I, alas, did not. I remember that the return key on that typewriter would send the carriage back to the beginning of the next line with such force that the whole machine would slide a little bit each time (which is saying something, because it was a pretty heavy machine). Every so often, I would have to stop to reposition the typewriter on the desk.
Speaking of which, hitting return at the end of each line is definitely something I do not miss. I never had a very good feel for how much space was left once I head the "ding" as the text approached the right margin. I couldn't get the knack for knowing whether I had room left to finish the next word or whether I should go ahead and start a new line.
Now here's something interesting: early_apex says he uses two spaces after a period, and, when I quoted him I could see those spaces in his text, but, when I look at my post, those spaces have been collapsed. So the TFD editing window, which does seem to be HTML-based even though the tags are [ ] rather than < >, does the HTML behavior of collapsing multiple spaces into one. See below, which, if you quote it, you can see in the editing window to have multiple spaces, but in the post they're condensed. I wonder if we can use a non-breaking space character here?
Nope. At least not that way ...
I do remember the first time I read in my college grammar book that there should only be one space after a period. I don't normally consider myself a very malicious person, but for a moment there, I absolutely
the woman who had taught me to type two spaces. I will say that I managed to break the habit faster than I thought I would be able to, but I didn't enjoy it one bit.
As if it was/were ? If I was/were to ?
Thursday, July 9, 2009 10:45:52 AM
1) If I were to quit smoking, would you marry me?
2) If I was to quit smoking, would you marry me?
Someone told me that 1) is used in American English while 2) is used in British English. Is this true? Can someone provide me with an answer substantiated with grammatical evidence?
A) He gave up on the task, as if it were impossible.
B) He gave up on the task, as if it was impossible.
For this one I think B) is correct? Because "the task" and "it" are a singular nouns and "was" is a past tense for singular nouns?
You've got the basic idea right. "Was" is singular. "Were" is plural ... But, "were" is also appropriate when you're stating something that's contrary to fact or isn't certain to occur. "If I were smoking," for example, insinuates that I haven't quit smoking, so in this case, "I were" is correct. This is referred to as the subjunctive mood.
So, in the second example, I'd say A is probably correct, since the implication seems to be that the task is not impossible. He simply gives up as if it were.
However, some sources I looked at do say that this is more common in American English than British English, so there may indeed be a difference in usage. Hopefully, someone who's better versed in British English than me will be able to clarify.
Someone is a -it- , a -he- or a -she-
Tuesday, July 7, 2009 2:03:21 PM
To be perfectly honest, I've never
understood why "it" isn't considered appropriate for this situation. It's singular, it doesn't imply gender ... We're more than happy to use it in reference to other gendered creatures like dogs and cats. The idea that "it" is an acceptable word for everything in the world except people seems like an arbitrary distinction. But, no one ever accused the English language of being consistent and logical.
As it stands, there isn't really a very good answer to the question. I've been known to use "one" in such situations, but the general consensus seems to be that, while that works, it's a bit stuffy.
had this to say on the subject:
Taryn from Evansville, David from New Jersey, and a listener named Gina also asked about this problem, and I think Betty summed it up best by saying, “He or she seems too awkward, he seems sexist, and one seems archaic.” I would add that exclusively using she also seems sexist, the hybrid s/he seems silly and awkward, and switching between he and she is downright confusing to readers. A listener named Bryan called switching between he and she “whiplash grammar,” which I loved. Then there's the solution that everyone loves to hate—using the personal pronoun they, which breaks the rule that you don't use a plural pronoun with a singular antecedent.
If I'm writing a formal document, I'll use he or she. For example, he or she accidentally knocked over a water bottle. Admittedly, it's a little awkward, but if you're already using formal language, I don't think it's too distracting. (This is also the solution recommended by The American Heritage College Dictionary.)
I will state for the record that I am a firm believer that someday they will be the acceptable choice for this situation. English currently lacks a word that fits the bill, and many people are already either mistakenly or purposefully using they as a singular generic personal pronoun; so it seems logical that rules will eventually move in that direction.
Nevertheless, it takes a bold, confident, and possibly reckless person to use they with a singular antecedent today. I could almost feel people's blood pressure rising as I started to imply that it is OK to use they.
The thing is, if you are a respected editor in charge of writing a style guide for your entire organization, you can get away with making it acceptable to use they with a singular antecedent. I would even encourage you to do so, and there are a variety of credible references that will back you up including the Random House Dictionary and Fowler's Modern English Usage. You would be in the company of revered authors such as Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll, and Shakespeare. But, if you are responsible to superiors, there's a good chance that at least one of them will think you are careless or ignorant if you use they with a singular antecedent. When I'm writing for a client who doesn't have a style guide, I always, always use he or she.
So here's the bottom line: Rewrite your sentences to avoid the problem. If that's not possible, check to see if the people you are writing for have a style guide. If not, use he or she if you want to play it safe, or use they if you feel bold and are prepared to defend yourself.
In an informal context, I'd say "they" is probably safe. Most non-grammar-hounds won't care, and the
grammar hounds are likely to forgive you. Of course, if the context is formal, it's probably safer just to go ahead and sound stiff and, well, formal.
'dj' as a verb in past tense.
Monday, June 29, 2009 7:54:57 PM
I guess maybe it's a little clearer if you capitalize DJ, as in "DJed," but I'm still not crazy about that version.
TFD lists the verb forms DJ'ed, DJ'ing, and DJ's. This looks a bit like apostrophe abuse, but it may be justifiable in this case on the grounds that it's much clearer than the apostrophe-less version.
Sunday, June 28, 2009 5:03:59 PM
Well, hello Joey. Even though I lost the bet nice to meet you. (I saw "arthbard" so I thought that your first name that would be "Arthur". Now I owe..... me (!) a beer
Yes, my Internet name bears no relation to my real one. At least you got some booze out of the deal, though. ;)
I have a question. This "extremely literally" is a general idea or belongs only to one kind of dogma, for example Catholicism? Either way this thinking is wrong since Jesus said to "study the scriptures", "realize what the doctrine says, don't just read it". This "extremely literally" is wrong.
There are a lot of Baptists here who think this way, but really I've seen this mindset in people from a variety of denominations.
But i dislike it with all kind of people, not only religious ones.
I agree. I just happen to see it a lot in religious people. It may be exacerbated by the nature of religion--i.e. the idea that this is ultimate truth and that those who question it risk eternal punishment. Unthinking blind faith does exist outside of the realm of religion, though, and it's frustrating no matter what form it takes.
Everything I buy from cake mix to a new dryer has instructions in Spanish
Sunday, June 28, 2009 4:01:11 PM
ok. vs. okay.
Sunday, June 21, 2009 9:40:28 PM
This question may be more complicated than you think (the Wikipedia page on "okay" is huge). And, it may be that the two-letter version, "OK," actually preceded the spelling "okay."
Apparently, no one knows exactly where "OK" started, and there are a lot of questionable stories surrounding it, but most of the sources I've read seem to agree this one is the most likely:
Sometime in the 1800s, there was something of a fad of using exaggerated misspellings for comedic effect. One particular one that caught on was "oll korrect" (a misspelling of "all correct"), which became abbreviated as OK. Martin Van Buren may or may not have been responsible for further popularizing this abbreviated version when he ran for presidential office. Van Buren--who was born in Kinderhook, NY--had the nickname "Old Kinderhook," giving rise to his campaign slogan "Vote for OK."
Assuming this is true, "okay" probably arose as a phonetic spelling of "OK."
As for which is more appropriate, I couldn't really say. I tend to prefer "okay," because like you, I always assumed this was the "real" spelling and "OK" was just a shortened version of it. Also, "okay" does look more like an actual word, so I've always felt it looked better in writing. As far as I can tell, though, both version are generally accepted.
PETA calling fish "Sea Kittens"
Sunday, June 21, 2009 6:55:59 PM
I just went back to the site and read the
. Utterly astonishing. Who in the f*** is the audience for these things? They are like a self-parody of a children's book written by a
scary and warped mind.
like them! But surely I am not their target audience. Please tell me I'm not!!!
This is a bit off the subject of "sea kittens," but if you liked that, you should check out
PETA's version of the "Cooking Mama" video game
Like I said, anything to make a buck..it's America...but you eat them...
while I eat fresh fish, meat and raw oysters with a very clear conscience.
I always wonder what their position is on animals eating other animals. Don't fish eat ... Other fish? Think of all the minnows I could save by frying up a sea kitten!
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