Thursday, July 14, 2016

You can call me what you like, but don't call me late for supper...or is that dinner?

I grew up calling my midday meal "lunch" and my evening meal "supper." I knew that some people called their midday meal "dinner", and I recently realised that there is a good number of people that also call their evening meal "dinner." So where does that leave me? I have no idea what to say now!

Malaysia 2011
I've often observed that people can be quite emotionally involved in their use of language, and I have indeed met with people that are adamant that their terminology is correct. So I decided to check it out, and here is what I have consistently found: dinner is interchangeable. This is because the word doesn't refer to the time of day but the size of the meal you are eating. Whatever is your largest meal of the day, you would refer to that as dinner. If your largest meal is midday, then your evening meal would be supper because that is the name for a light evening meal. If your largest meal is in the evening, then your midday meal would be called lunch because that is the name for a light midday meal.

If this is the common convention on how these words are used, then apparently I grew up starving because I always had lunch and supper in my world, and apparently I never had a large meal! hehe :)The few sites I checked out also said that these tend to be regionally associated as well. For example, farming communities might have larger meals at the end of the day after all the work was done, and workers would be extra hungry. So it seems like there is no real need to say it one way or the other because whatever you use where you live is just fine.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Rolling up or back or down...preposition troubles again!

If you're not familiar with Canadian culture, you may not have heard of a chain restaurant called Tim Hortons, though some of them have started opening up in the US and the Middle East. However, I'm unsure if they offer the same contest that Tim's runs early every year called "Roll up the Rim" to win all kinds of prizes, most of which include a free coffee or doughnut. Somehow it struck me today that the name of the contest makes no sense. Take a look at the photo below:

You can see that the cups are designed with rolled edges (which most cups of this type are). In order to get the cups' edges to roll like this, we are rolling them up. The contest's name, therefore, doesn't make sense because the cups are already rolled, meaning we have to unroll the rim or roll it back to reveal what we hope is winning information under the rolled up rim. The correct name of the contest should be "Unroll the Rim" or "Roll Back the Rim" if they want to be grammatically correct.

Prepositions are difficult at the best of times, and it's no wonder English language learners can easily get confused when we use multiple terms for the same thing. I'm pretty sure Tim's doesn't really care about my critique and will not be changing the name of their contest any time soon, but I'd like to acknowledge those of you are doing your best to learn English because you are to be commended!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Toward or towards? Anyway, the correct word is...

Both. This one has bugged me for a long time, and when it came to writing a blog entry about it, I would forget it over and over and kick myself for not writing the topic down somewhere so I wouldn't forget it. I've checked a few different sources, and it seems that the consensus is that these words are interchangeable, only that towards is used more in Britain and toward is more common in the US. What does that mean for Canadians? Sadly, it means the same old confused method of expressing ourselves with a combination of US and British English. Since both are correct, my rule of thumb is that you should just pick your preferred version of the word, and stick with it. I just finished proofreading a document that combined the use of both, sometimes even within the same paragraph, and that looked really odd.

Anyway, I though the answer would be more like anyway where the use of anyways is actually not correct; only anyway is the correct term, but apparently toward and towards are not analogous.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Talking about eye conditions...

I went for an eye exam (regular check up) on Friday and started pondering the word "astigmatism"--not that I have it--but I always hear people saying "I have astigmatism." I always think they don't know it's one word and not "a stigmatism", but then I thought how people say "I have glaucoma" or "I have cataracts." Maybe it's more grammatically correct to describe the condition rather than saying "I have an astigmatism," but unfortunately I can't get inside people's heads to figure out what they know or don't know about the terminology. Ahh...the ponderings of grammer geek-hood!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Lay down Sally! (The difference between laying and lying)

Another word I've heard used incorrectly quite a bit is the word "lay down" or "laying down". People generally mean "lie down" or "lying down", but they evidently don't realise that.

To lie down is a verb that means a person or animal is somehow resting horizontally on a surface, be it a mattress, a sofa, or a bed of straw, or other type of surface.  To lay or to lay down are simply not verbs at all, at least not on their own.

I frequently hear people say things like "I was laying on the sofa for a while", or a really popular one is to tell your dog "Go lay down!" Neither of these are correct.  They should say "I was lying on the sofa for a while" and "Go lie down!"

The reason for this is that lying does not require a direct object, whereas laying does. For example:

I'm going to lie down for a nap.

You should lay the book down on the table first.

In the first sentence, you are describing, using verbs, what you will do.  In the second sentence, "the book" is the direct object--you are actually doing something with an object.

Where it becomes complicated is when you switch to past tense.  The verb "to lie" is an irregular verb and takes on the form "lay" in the past tense.  So you wouldn't say "I lied down for a nap" but "I lay down for a nap".

The past tense of "lay" is "laid". So "I laid the book down on the table before going out".

To add to all the fun, the past participle of "lie" is "lain", so "I had lain down for a nap, but the doorbell broke my slumber".

The past participle of "lay" is the same the past tense, "laid", so "I had laid the book down on the table before I went out, and now I can't find it!"

In my examples, I've used both verbs with the preposition "down", but that is not always required.  Consider,

It was lying around here somewhere (not, it was laying around here somewhere)


Lay the rocks over the dirt (not, lie the rocks over the dirt)

These are fun verbs to ponder if you're a grammar geek like me.  I researched this information some time ago because I was curious to know if lain and laid were British and American grammar differences in past participles and past tense, and I learned that I didn't actually realise there was much of a difference between lay and lie, so I was happy I had looked into it.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Are you begging the question correctly?

I was guilty of not using this phrase correctly either. Someone corrected me several years ago, and now it has become one of my biggest pet peeves even though I can't claim I always knew how to use it properly. I get that not everyone is going to understand how to use "beg the question" in the right situation, but I do find it frustrating when I watch shows like The Big Bang Theory, where the genius Sheldon often corrects people's grammar, and yet the show has actually had characters using that phrase incorrectly (as well as "the reason is because", but that's for another entry!).

The question here affects not so much grammar as semantics. The verb "to beg the question" is actually a term from philosophy, more specifically the study of logic. "Begging the question" is a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any evidence to demonstrate why the statement is true in the first place.

An example of this would be something like the following:

"Bob is trustworthy because I can trust him."

As you can see, this really isn't quality evidence or proof of Bob's trustworthiness. Moreover, you can also see that in begging the question, there is actually no question involved from a grammatical point of view. There is an implied question about the logic used in this statement, but no one is actually asking a question.

What happens in most cases is that people say "begs the question" when they mean "raises the question".

For example:


"The lack of snow removal on city streets begs the question, where are our property taxes going?" 


"The lack of snow removal on city streets raises the question, where are our property taxes going?"

The former statement is the one you would most typically hear, but it is definitely incorrect.

There's rarely a time when most of us would use "begging the question" in everyday conversation, so just remember, you're more than likely trying to say "raises the question".

Monday, July 22, 2013

What's the difference between...

There are a lot of homophones that I've wondered about because I've seen the spellings used interchangeably--or at least that's how it seemed.  I often chalk things up to British-American spelling differences, but I learned of a couple recently while proofreading a book that reminded me to actually look up these things rather than forgetting to do so.

The first word is "blonde" and "blond".  I did actually think that blonde is the correct spelling for no real reason, but it turns out there is difference when you use one as an adjective and one as a noun.  I'd use the e when it's a noun, as in That guy I met the other night was a blonde.  However, when I want to describe the hair colour, I'd have to spell it without the e, as in Her hair was short and blond.  My first mystery is solved!

The second word is "discrete" and "discreet".  The first spelling is the less common one and refers to separating or detaching from others and is the antonym to "continuous".  When I thought about it after seeing this definition, I realised I had most likely seen this word used a lot in the academic journal articles and textbooks I read in university because they would often refer to discrete units of things.  The latter spelling is the more common one we would use all the time when we're trying to be secretive or just covert about something.  One definition I read even stated that it means to judicious, cautious, discerning, and prudent.  Now I know the difference, and my second mystery is solved! It's actually a relief to me! ;o)