Does “plain Jane” really mean ugly Jane? If so, why?

When it comes to esthetics, “plain” usually means bland or unexciting. A “plain sofa” means a sofa that no one will get really excited about, neither positively nor negatively. Ditto a dress. “Plain vanilla” doesn’t mean it’s bad ice cream either, just one without extra features. However, when it comes to people, even more so … Read more

“The cat that got the cream” – is there any innuendo?

I think this is a British idiom. The American version would be, “The cat that killed the canary.” I was about to say this to a female friend, intended as a “well done” sort of compliment, specifically on something to do with her relationship, when my internal filter suddenly held back. Given there exist innuendo … Read more

Do native speakers of major English varieties actually say “a software” or “softwares”?

So I’ve looked up the word “software” around, and I’ve learned that -ware words are uncountable, and there’s even a claim at the Wiktionary entry for this word that “a software” or “softwares” are a non-native thing. Which makes sense, other languages have countable words that would translate better to “program” or “app,” but also … Read more

“How long do you have” — what does it mean?

“How long do you have?” — What does that mean? The conversation regards my potential trip to another country to visit someone. It means how long I want to stay there? Or How many time I (will) have to stay there? Answer This asks how much time you have available. It’s usually asked in the … Read more

What is the local pronunciation of ‘Chicago’?

What is the local pronunciation of Chicago? (specifically the ‘a’) The standard American English pronunciation is /ʃɪˈkɑ.ɡoʊ/, /ʃɪˈkɔ.ɡoʊ/ or (what I think) is the PALM or LOT lexical sets in AmE. [Here are some examples of many different people (AmE and others) saying ‘Chicago]( The very first example, “Pronunciation by themediacollective (Male from United … Read more

The curious case of “UChi” and its pronunciation

The Free Dictionary tells me that UCHI is the acronym for The University of Chicago. But if that were the case, shouldn’t it be TUOC? I visited the official university website and it says said Our official full name: The University of Chicago Wherever possible we prefer to use the full name of the University: … Read more

When is it OK to start a sentence with “But”?

Is starting a sentence with a “But” still bad? I know some Harvard graduates who are native English speakers and do this when they write. Is it acceptable now? What are some of the examples where “But” is and is not acceptable? Is there ever a situation when replacing a “But” with “However” makes the … Read more

Use of the article “the” when referring to an organization or entity

Is there a preferred use of “the” in American English when referring to an organization or entity? For example, on an episode of the “1A” on NPR, guests of the show referred to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration as both “The FDA” and “FDA”. For example, “The FDA regulates supplements” vs. “FDA regulates supplements.” … Read more

Why is “medicine” pronounced differently?

British English drops the unstressed second syllable to make it sound like med-sin /ˈmɛd.sɪn/. American English keeps it as a 3-syllable word meh-dee-sin /ˈmɛ.dɪ.sɪn/ In Australia I’ve only ever heard meh-dee-sin /ˈmɛ.dɪ.sɪn/ except by British ex-pats. But I think globally every English speaker pronounces all the syllables in “medicinal”. Well maybe not the Welsh (I … Read more

The “old switcheroo”: Where did the “-eroo” suffix come from?

The -eroo suffix works as an intensifier of sorts, though it also seems to have other, less well-defined properties. The online OED has only this to say about it: -eroo, suffix   factitious slang suffix as in boozeroo n., brusheroo (brush n.2 8b), flopperoo n. U.S. formations   in -eroo, -aroo (e.g. buckaroo n.) are discussed in … Read more