Help with English

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Saint, Aug 24, 2011.

  1. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    No. The word "gunman" originated in the early 17th century, when accurate, portable, personal fierarms were still a relatively new technology. A "gun man" could mean anyone who was trained and proficient in the use of these weapons, but it soon came to be used most commonly for people who used them illegally.

    A gunman was a new kind of criminal. A small firearm that could be concealed gave a robber or murderer a tremendous advantage over his victim. We don't need a special word for a criminal who attacks with a sword, a knife, a cudgel, a garrotte, his fists, feet, teeth, etc. All of these require the attacker to come close, so the victim has at least some opportunity to defend himself. But a person can be shot to death without even knowing it's happening.

    A bullet travels faster than the speed of sound, so the victim is dead before he hears the shot.

    We do have the word swordsman because it takes considerable strength, training and practice to become proficient with that weapon. And of course an archer is a person who is skilled with a bow and arrow, although that weapon is not commonly used by criminals, especially in the 21st century.

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    I'm not sure spears and pikes are used at all anymore.
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  3. Saint Valued Senior Member

    If it is a woman, can it be gunwoman?
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  5. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    No. Airman, brakeman, cattleman, draftsman, gateman... almost all of the words ending in -man that describe an occupation or profession are not inflected for gender. Some are, like forewoman, horsewoman, swordswoman, but they're rare. (Even though swordswoman is in the dictionary, my spell-checker rejects it.)

    "Man" originally meant "person" in Proto-Germanic. The original Anglo-Saxon word for woman was wif, which has cognates in all the Germanic languages. Weib still means "woman" in German, although they're more likely to use the more polite word frau, which is more equivalent to our word "lady."

    At some point the word wif-man was coined, literally "female person." As the word became popular and was spoken quickly, the F disappeared, so now the singular is "woman" and the plural is "women," which is pronounced WIM-en, as though it were still spelled with the original I.

    The meaning of "wife" has narrowed to "a married woman." Its original meaning is retained in a few old words like housewife, fishwife, midwife, goodwife (which is pronounced "goody," just to confuse you

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    The ancient expression, "an old wives' tale," means a story that is told by old women. It is a relic of the Middle Ages. War was so common in those days that very few men lived long enough to be called old. So most of the old people who could remember things from past generations were women. They carried all the lore and knowledge, and were the healers who knew how to cure common illnesses.

    The (all-male) Christian priests did not like this, because people went to old women to solve their problems instead of the church. So they invented the image of the "witch," which was nothing more than a very old woman with wrinkled skin, teeth falling out and scraggly hair, riding a broom because every woman had a broom. Witches were said to cure illnesses by magic, instead of simple knowledge and wisdom, which made them evil.
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  7. Saint Valued Senior Member


    miscue = mistake? Blunder means big mistake? Misdemeanor = small mistake?

    blistering challenge = intense challenge?
    to change the trajectory of the race= swing the direction?

    cadre = group
    onslaught = 1. A violent attack. 2. An overwhelming outpouring:

    hyperbole = A figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect, as in I could sleep for a year or This book weighs a ton.

    underdog = 1. One that is expected to lose a contest or struggle, as in sports or politics.
    2. One that is at a disadvantage.
    Why is it not undercat?
  8. Saint Valued Senior Member

    fiat = 1.An arbitrary order or decree.
    2. Authorization or sanction:

    malaise = 1.A vague feeling of bodily discomfort, as at the beginning of an illness.
    2.A general sense of depression or unease:
  9. Saint Valued Senior Member

    "Whichever guy wins is going to have to do an enormous amount of stuff very immediately," he said. "It's very hard and, based on all the stuff we're looking at, very hard not to assume that we're on the cusp of going back into recession."

    on the cusp of = at the point of
  10. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    In music and theater, a cue is a direction a performer receives, telling him when it's time to make his next move. It could be a director in the wings giving him a signal, or it could be a figure played on one of the other instruments that is to be followed immediately by his own melody. The word has been generalized outside of the entertainment industry: "Take a cue from the airlines. They've raised their prices, which means they expect a lot of travelers over the Christmas season. You should hire more waiters because your restaurant will be busy."

    "Cue" is also a verb: "Cue the ballerina just as the monkey leaves the stage."

    A miscue is an incorrect response, or no response, to a cue. "The catcher gave the pitcher the hand signal to throw a curveball, but he threw a fastball instead and the batter hit a homerun. This miscue cost his team the game."

    No. It's a stupid or clumsy mistake.

    No. It's a type of crime. In the U.S. and other countries, there are two categories of crimes. A felony is a more serious crime for which the punishment is at least one year in prison. Less serious crimes are called misdemeanors.

    A blister is skin damage caused by intense heat or powerful rubbing. So a blistering challenge is one that involves a great deal of force or (metaphorically) heat.

    Yeah, I guess that's what he means. But a trajectory is a direction in three-dimensional space, or at least two-dimensional. The result of an election is one-dimensional, either you win or you lose. So "trajectory" is a very poor metaphor. This guy is not a good writer.

    Yes, but the original meaning is a military group. So if you call a group a "cadre," you're implying that it's well-organized, works toward a specific mission, and obeys a chain of command.

    It comes from the same root as "slaughter."

    The exaggeration is obvious and intentional. It's from Greek roots meaning "to throw too far." The geometrical figure of the hyperbola is from the same source.

    Therefore the adjective "hyperbolic" has two meanings: 1. Shaped like a hyperbola; 2. Ridiculously exaggerated. You have to choose the right meaning from context.

    This is an Americanism. If two dogs fight, the underdog is the one who ends up on the bottom, yielding to the "top dog," which is also an idiom.

    Dogs were once trained to fight in a ring and people bet money on the results. Cats fight but they have not been domesticated for as long as dogs so they can't be trained to fight for entertainment.
  11. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    That's what we mean when we use the word metaphorically. It also means a cheap Italian car.

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    This is what we mean when we use the word metaphorically.
  12. Saint Valued Senior Member

    death spiral = ?
    damning = worse? In your daily conversation, do you always use the word "damn"? This is what I heard in your movies.

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  13. Saint Valued Senior Member

    something was off = something missed out?
  14. Saint Valued Senior Member

    The banking problems in Spain have finally been flushed out, but Europe is still far from solving the problem. Weak stress tests only serve to make the markets more anxious and volatile. The stress tests conducted in the US at the height of the banking scandal were successful in calming the markets, as the scenarios, while not super harsh, reflected the reality of the situation. So until Spain and the EU can recognize how bad things are at the moment, they will never realize how bad things could get in the future.

    flushed out = exposed?
  15. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    The original death spiral is a maneuver in competitive figure skating. The man rotates while his partner revolves around him. He gradually straightens his arm so she is farther away from him and therefore moving more rapidly. At the same time she lowers her body so she is almost grazing the ice. This can be very dangerous, so it was nicknamed "the death spiral."

    The term has been extended to aviation, in which a death spiral is truly a spinning descent which cannot be corrected. If the pilot cannot cannot bail out, he will die in the crash.

    It is also used in entomology. If a group of army ants are separated from the main party, they may begin following each other in a circle, and they will eventually die from exhaustion.

    So before long it became a metaphor for any kind of activity with a more-or-less circular or spiraling path which will inevitably lead to some sort of ruin, such as financial or political, if not actual death. There is a type of insurance plan called the death spiral, in which the costs steadily rise due to bad planning.

    The article cited talks about "a capital-raising death spiral, which could slowly and painfully consume Spain's banks from the inside out." "Capital" is an economist's fancy word for "surplus wealth." There is obviously only a finite amount of surplus wealth in any economy, or in the entire world economy. To "raise capital" means to solicit the surplus wealth of people, corporations, or an entire economy, by promising them a handsome return on their investment. If you keep taking their surplus wealth, but in so doing you fail to heal your economy and therefore they never receive a return on their investment (which would restore and increase their surplus wealth), you'll go back to them and ask for more, and you'll fail again, and eventually there will be no more surplus wealth and your economy will collapse. This is a pretty reasonable use of the term "death spiral."

    No. "Damn" is a strong word that means merely "condemn." It has religious overtones but the more secular word "condemn" is commonly used to mean to express adverse judgment on someone, to pronounce someone guilty, or to sentence someone to punishment. So a "damning report" is a report which exposes flaws or crimes so severe that the subject of the report is, in effect, condemned--perhaps to ostracism, financial ruin, or actual punishment. In this case we're talking about Spain's banking system, so it has been condemned to failure.

    In the United States, in colloquial speech (rather than formal), the word "damn" is not considered to be profanity. Most of us use it with some regularity, although "always" is an exaggeration. We use it as an adjective, an abbreviation of "damned," which means "cursed" and originally implied "cursed by God." Its meaning has been watered down through overuse, so when I say, "That damn cop gave me a ticket for going only 11mph over the speed limit," I don't really mean that I expect God to send him to hell (especially since I'm an atheist). I just mean that I do not regard him as a nice person and I hope when he gets home his wife will be angry at him for something he doesn't even know he did.

    But religion is strong in America, much stronger than in England and Australia. There are people here who regard "damn" as profanity, or at the very least impolite, and they don't use it casually. If they "damn" somebody they really mean that they hope he will rot in Hell, although tomorrow they might apologize to God and insist that they didn't really mean it.

    Because of its common use, "damn" has lost its power, so people say "god-damn," usually spelled "goddamn," which is stronger. The religious people regard this as blasphemy and are highly offended when they hear it or read it. You will often find "damn" used in formal speech and writing, sometimes even by presidents, but not "goddamn."

    To "be off" has a hundred meanings, but they have a common thread. It means to be incorrect, to have veered off course, to be not quite sane, to be in need, to have lost value, etc. In general, to say that something is off means you think there's something wrong with it, but you haven't quite figured out exactly what it is.

    To flush something, such as a toilet, means to clear it out. To flush a bird means to startle it so it comes out of hiding. So I'm not sure which meaning they're using here when they say that Spain's banking problems have been flushed out. It could mean that they've been fixed, or it could mean (as you say) that they have been exposed. This is bad writing. The reader has to have a good understanding of the topic in order to interpret this sentence correctly.
  16. Saint Valued Senior Member


    touchy = sensitive

    Can I write it as promise of not reducing the share of taxes ?
  17. Saint Valued Senior Member

    veto means to say No? How about saying YES?

    draw new lines = normally means to separate from you ?
  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It was originally spelled and pronounced tetchy and it had the narrower meaning of "irritable." The origin of the verb "tetch" is unclear; it may simply be a phonetic variant of "touch" (it is still heard in Southern speech, at least for comic effect: "He's tetched in the haid"), but it could also have been an old French word meaning "to blemish."

    A touchy person is one who is sensitive or irritable, perhaps due to an illness or other personal problem. But a touchy subject or issue is one that requires cautious, tactful, expert handling in order to avoid offending people who disagree with you, and starting an argument that is more about feelings and personalities than about facts and opinions. We might call this a "sensitive issue" but we might also call it delicate, dangerous, explosive, etc.

    You would be understood and most people would not be able to explain what's wrong with that sentence, but it is just ever-so-slightly wrong. When a person promises something, it usually involves him taking some action in order for the promise to be fulfilled. So we use verbs. A candidate might promise to create more jobs, or promise not to reduce taxes for the wealthy, or promise never again to practice animal cruelty. (Romney once took his family on a long journey with their dog in a kennel on the roof of the car.)

    But when we're talking about a thing rather than a person, we don't usually attribute actions to it. So we're more likely to say, "The new school promises a better education for our children," or "This cool, dry summer promises a very small crop of fruits and vegetables," or "Next year holds the promise of lower unemployment."

    Nonetheless, we do sometimes say it the other way: The new school promises to educate our children better, the summer promises to reduce the harvest, next year promises to put the unemployed people back to work.

    But we don't usually say, "the candidate offers the promise of not reducing taxes." We put it into a more active syntax: "the candidate promises not to reduce taxes."
  19. Saint Valued Senior Member

    allay = eliminate? Is it only applied to something bad like fear?

    firepower = ammunition ?
    Can I say "My father does not have enough firepower to buy a new house"?
  20. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    "Allay" means to relieve, mitigate, alleviate. That's only partial elimination, not total.

    Yes. Fear, pain, anger, doubt, suspicion, etc.

    No. It's the total capability of a military force. The volume of gunfire, the number of missiles, etc., that can be delivered to a target.

    The word is now used metaphorically for the capability or potential of an organization, such as a corporation or a government agency, to achieve its desired results. It's not usually applied to individual people.

    Also, notice that the so-called "firepower" of the ESM is its total capability to use money in various ways to avert a crisis. Buying one house is a single transaction; it would be a little pretentious to compare that to saving the entire European economy over the course of a year or more.
  21. Saint Valued Senior Member

    showdown = An event, especially a confrontation, that forces an issue to a conclusion. Why not showup?

    count on = depend

    blunt the momentum = stop the progress of?
    blunt = To make less effective; weaken.

    buttoned-down= ?

    attack dog = ? Is it derogatory?

    more fireworks = more interesting?

    winking = short time?
    lampoon = To ridicule or satirize in or as if in a lampoon.
  22. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It comes from the game of poker. When the betting is complete, everyone lays down their hand, showing their cards to determine who had the winning hand.

    I can't find the origin of this use of the word "count," but my assumption is that when you're trying to determine who's on your side in a battle (literally or figuratively), you go around the table and count the ones you believe are allies. You've counted to six and you get to Gustavo. You're not sure of Gustavo, so you ask him, "Gustavo, can I count on you for support?"

    "Blunt" is the opposite of "sharp." If your spear tip is blunt, it won't be of much use in a battle. So to "blunt" something means to reduce its sharpness, making it weaker and less effective.

    To blunt the momentum of something is horrible writing; I would not have approved it. You slow momentum, or block it, or counter it. But momentum is not sharp so you can't blunt it.

    This refers to a style of men's clothing in the 1950s and early 60s. The tips of our shirt collars had little buttonholes that fit little matching buttons on the shirt front. When we finished tying our necktie, we would button down the collar for a very tight, conservative appearance. (Actually this type of shirt was invented in 1896.

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    ) As styles began to change in the mid-1960s, continuing to wear these (now) old-fashioned shirts was referred to as the "button-down" style. If you were a "buttoned-down" kind of guy, it meant that you were conservative, in contrast to the new, flashy styles worn by the hippies and "flower children."

    Vice President Joe Biden's boss is President Obama and Republican vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan's boss is Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Presidents are always rather conservative and lag behind popular styles. For example, even though moustaches and beards have been common fashions for American men since the 1970s, no President has worn them. So Obama and Romney are "buttoned-down" guys.

    An attack dog is a dog that has been trained to attack humans, usually on command but occasionally as an unsupervised sentry. Dogs are a subspecies of wolf and we've spent twelve thousand years modifying their genetics to make them friendly to humans. So to train a dog to attack people goes against their nature and is a difficult process. I'm not very familiar with Ryan but Biden is often featured in the news so we all know him. He is much more confrontational than Obama and could be called, metaphorically, an attack dog. I will assume that the same is true of Ryan in contrast to Romney.

    So to call someone an attack dog is not so much derogatory as simply a colorful description of their personality.

    Not just interesting. Specifically: louder, more colorful, and possibly more dangerous. I suppose, coming from a Chinese family, you're comfortable with fireworks. But in the USA it is illegal to possess them so most of us only see them at Independence Day (July 4) celebrations and at places like Disneyland that have special licenses and elaborate safety precautions. So to compare something to fireworks is to suggest that it is unusual, exciting and risky.

    There are no fireworks factories in the USA because the process is considered far too dangerous to permit. Therefore we buy all of our fireworks from Chinese factories. Like everything else made in China, their quality is abominable. At the last 4th of July celebration I attended in 2009, one case of fireworks was defective and they started going off horizontally instead of vertically. Several people were injured, but miraculously no one was killed.

    No, they actually mean winking. Palin is probably the most ridiculous person ever to run for a major public office and she actually made winking and grinning expressions during her debate with Biden. John McCain is a highly respected American and a war hero; it's widely asserted that if he had chosen a more respectable running mate instead of Palin, he could have won the election and he would now be President. In addition to her inappropriate and disrespectful behavior in front of the cameras, Palin proved to be remarkably uneducated and just plain stupid. McCain is pretty old (76) and might very well have died under the stress of the job of being President. That would have left Sarah Palin in charge of the country! We had just suffered through the administration of the stupidest person to ever hold the office (George W. Bush, who is diagnosed with pre-senile dementia and kept losing his own train of thought in his speeches), so we were not about to put ourselves in the position of letting another moron into the White House.

    To lampoon a person, institution, etc., is to ridicule them in a very severe, rude, impolite (and usually just plain nasty) manner. All of the TV comedy shows routinely lampooned Sarah Palin because she was already so ridiculous that it was easy to do. She invented words like "refudiate," said she could see Siberia from her porch, and thought that North Korea was our ally instead of South Korea. She could easily get a job as a comedienne on television.
  23. quadraphonics Bloodthirsty Barbarian Valued Senior Member

    Yes and no. Dogs are pack-social species who display no problems whatsoever attacking anything and everything they perceive as a threat to their pack (other dogs, humans, whatever). The domestication process partially involves making dogs more sociable towards humans generally, but mostly is about making them accept some particular humans as members of their pack. It does not take any particular effort whatsoever to train a domesticated dog to attack a human that they perceive to be harming or threatening their owners - you will typically have to restrain your dog from doing so on its own, in that situation. Breeding dogs that are generally hostile to humans takes some more doing, but not much - a handful of generations of selection for disposition will get you from a fuzzy housepet to a feral killer. Likewise it is not difficult to train even very sociable dogs to attack other humans on the command of their owner - dogs are plenty loyal and pack-social, so if the alpha tells them that something is a threat that they need to go after, they'll typically do so enthusiastically and to the point of being injured or killed.

    Nah, not in general. Those laws vary widely from state to state, and often within states as well (and Indian Reservations are frequently very permissive about them).

    That's not true, there are still many fireworks factories in the USA (apparently mainly in Texas). And the idea that a country with as highly developed an arms industry as the USA has would blanch at fireworks production is kinda silly. The predominance of Chinese fireworks is simply a cost issue.

    Yeah, just look at all of those shit-quality products that no-name companies like Apple produce there. I guess they must just not give a damn about their reputation for product quality.

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