Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2008 April 30

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April 30[edit]

how do i say yes or no to another person's sentence[edit]

--Animeskeleton (talk) 13:34, 1 May 2008 (UTC)

How do i say yes to another sentence.Like what if a person says,"Do you like this soup,no.Or,Do you not like this tv channel.How do i say no to another sentence.What if a person says ,"Doesn't this dress look beautiful on me?or something like that.Can someone just give me advice or a website on how I can make my answer agree or disagree with their sentence?I just want to understand language a little better.I became more confused with this once I watch Jimmy Neutron when Jimmy asked the teacher,"May I go to the bath room.Then the teacher replied,then Jimmy asked,"May I not go to the bath room."And that's when the teacher looked confused and I became confused with those question type sentences,too.Animeskeleton (talk) 05:06, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

I'm not a native English speaker, but AFAIK it's usual to answer in a whole sentence, excluding any ambigousities:
"Doesn't this dress look beautiful on me?" - "Yes, it does!" resp. "No, it doesn't!"
--KnightMove (talk) 05:08, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
PS: In German, the word Doch! is used to negate a negative question. In this case it would mean that the dress does indeed look beautiful on the person. Are words like that also used in other languages? --KnightMove (talk) 05:14, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
Yes, in many. In French, to agree with a negative sentence (as in "yes, that dress looks beautiful"), the word "Si" is used, in place of "Oui". Other languages have a completely different set of yes and no words for negative sentences. Steewi (talk) 05:52, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
The main rule, in English as I know it, is that you answer yes if you like it and no if you don't like it, whether the verb like was negated in the question or not. So treat the first question as if it was "Do you like this soup?" and the second like "Do you like this tv channel?" However, where I come from, it is not usual to answer with a single "yes" or "no" even if that answer is completely unambiguous. You say: "Oh yes, I like it. Very refreshing." and "No, I don't like that channel at all. They are a bunch of ultraconservative morons."  --Lambiam 07:18, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
As probably one of the ultraconservative morons (we used to be called unconventional rebels back when I was younger :-) I'd have to say that in areas with high immigrant proportion you run into a serious misunderstanding once or twice and then make VERY SURE to answer in a long sentence next time. If you had grown up with my aunt, a simple yes or no meant your question had overstepped the boundaries and one more irritation would have consequences. With other people it can mean "I don't want to talk." There were/are people who'd answer something like "It doesn't not either." or "It's fine." Which to me always seemed a bit like multiple choice answers. Lisa4edit (talk) 07:42, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
If somebody is asking you that kind of question in conversation, you don't need to worry about giving a simple yes or no answer. For example, appropriate answers might be: "Do you like this soup?" "It's delicious" or "It's a bit salty for me". Or,"Do you not like this tv channel?" "I prefer the other" or "I enjoy it mostly"."Doesn't this dress look beautiful on me?" "You look wonderful" or "It doesn't make the best of you". SaundersW (talk) 09:06, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
In the interests of promoting harmony among couples, it is worth noting that it is never correct to answer the question "Doesn't this dress look beautiful on me?" in the negative. The only acceptable answers are "Yes it does" or possibly something along the lines of "Everything looks beautiful on you, dear". This applies whether the lady in question is wearing Givenchy or a burlap sack. Malcolm XIV (talk) 19:16, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
In the interest of staying together for an extended period: If it really looks horrible say: I prefer the other one but why not wear this when we visit XYZ. Sooner or later she's going to overhear a comment from someone or notice a raised eyebrow and will (usually secretly) blame you for not being honest. Lisa4edit (talk) 09:57, 1 May 2008 (UTC)

Try and do something[edit]

in my language the words for "to" ("å") and for "and" ("og") are often pronounced in similar ways and therefore confused. It is therefore natural to see (erroneous) constructions like "try and do something" instead of "try to do something". However, I seem to have seen similar things (using "and" instead of "to") in English, which I do not get. Any grammatical quirks or nuances in meaning I'm not getting here? Or have I only seen this error once and concluded that this is a mistake that is sometimes made? Thanks! Jørgen (talk) 12:26, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

In the UK at least "to try and" do something is acceptable English. I agree it does not make logical sense, but a google search shows almost as many hits for "to try and" as "to try to". Looking at a couple of sites [1], and [2], I would say that "try and" can be used where you want to avoid interpretation as an imperative. For example a wrestling coach might instruct a student "try to pin me down", whereas if a bully tells someone to leave a seat they might say "just try and make me", i.e. don't try to make me because I am capable of defending my position. -- Q Chris (talk) 12:53, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
English "try to do" and "try and do" mean somewhat different things. The former means to attempt an action with success uncertain. The latter means to do something with the outcome or resulting situation uncertain. Here's someone's blog post on the subject. "Try and" is really only a mistake if "try to" is meant. Paul Davidson (talk) 14:50, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
While that may be correct, popular usage has pretty much made try to do and try and do synonymous. DJ Clayworth (talk) 16:59, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
I dont think the semantic analysis above or in the blog are right. People who have written on try to X and try and X find them to be semantically equivalent. The difference is in formality. Quirk et al.'s grammar calls these type of things "pseudo-coordination".
There're differences between try and X and go and X. try and X has the meaning of try, but go and X doesnt have any meaning of go when used in this idiomatic way. For example, my cell phone battery has gone and died on me does not refer to any movement of the battery, pace that blog (cf. how going in my battery is going to die soon also has nothing to do with movement). This go and X has the addition of emotive meaning (exasperation, disapproval, etc.) to the verb in the X position. So, has done that = has gone and done that + emotive meaning. The blogger's example I’ll go and see what episode is on is ambiguous: it could have either the idiomatic interpretation or a nonidiomatic coordinated interpretation. Also, note that some people can say been and gone and X.
A further difference is in the grammar. You can only have try in the general (nonpast) form, that is you cant inflect it as tries, tried, trying. It can only be try, else it loses its idiomatic meaning (but there might be some dialectal variation here...). So, if you want express this idea in the past, your only option is tried to X. For example, we should try to come tomorrow = we should try and come tomorrow = , but we tried to come yesterday cannot rephrased as *we tried and came yesterday. In contrast, go and X can be inflected in the past, etc.
Here are some things from LinguistList: [3], [4], [5], [6] (<= this one has info from other langs), [7], [8] (this ones a query on tries and VERB-s, youll have to search LingList for his summary). – ishwar  (speak) 19:16, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
see also G. Pullum's paper here: osu_wpl_39.pdf starts on p. 228, watch out: it's a big file), and ms_goav.pdf. Also, in one of the LingList postings, there is Dawn Nordquist's paper "Try and: A discourse analysis" which finds that there is a difference in meaning between try and X and try to X (try and X may indicate that the attempt will be more likely to be unsuccessful). An earlier corpus analysis by Age Lind does not find a difference, so you should read both of their reports. It's not that clear to me that there is this difference but I havent seen Nordquist's examples.
Finally, sometimes these are called hendiadys. – ishwar  (speak) 19:57, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
Wow. Thanks all! One recent blog post and a paper. I'll look into it, and perhaps launch my own theory that it is all influence from Norwegian... :-) (feel free to post more comments, very interesting reads!) Jørgen (talk) 20:20, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
The dictionaries are all over the place on this, but they all call it a conjunction. I'm not so sure. I think there are words that fall into the cracks between the parts of speech, and this "and" is one of them. American Heritage goes so far as to define it, as "in order to": "Try and do it" means "Try in order to do it" to them. That makes some sense, but I think something is lost in the translation; natural English speech, I guess. A case could be made for this "and" as a variant infinitival particle, which would explain the apparent equivalence of "and" and "to" in the construction. But English gets slipperier the harder you try and grip it. "Try and" is the loose way, the colloquial way, the natural way, and so is frowned upon by Miss Girdlebottom and her besnooded cohorts. "Try to" is comforting to the insecure, sexually repressed schoolteachers of this world because they can point with their rubber-tipped rods and bleat "infinitive" and have an end to it. The bold ones among us dare to use our tongue the way it was meant to be used—casually, easily, blithely. But I digress. Nobody objects to "and" in "come and get it", or the sentiment. --Milkbreath (talk) 20:51, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
In response to ishwar above: You can't say "We tried and came." But you can say: "He tried and put on his pants" and "She always tries and answers the questions." "He's trying and doing the experiment over." I would not use any of these as synonyms for "try to do something" but rather to mean "try doing something" which I would use in more formal use He tried putting on his pants. She always tries answering the questions. He's trying doing the experiment over. This may not be what the linguists come up with, but that's how it's used in this neck of the woods. --Lisa4edit (talk) 10:33, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
There's also the common combination "try and see", which most certainly does not mean "try to see". Paul Davidson (talk) 10:48, 1 May 2008 (UTC)

Translation from German to English[edit]

I would be most grateful if a user could please translate the following passage from German to English. "Kollinsky: zu jener Zeit haben es die Matrikelbeamten mit der Namensschreibweise nicht so genau genommen, oftmals finden sich fur Vorund Zunamen vom selben Beamten im eigentlichen Eintrag und im dazugehorenden Register verschiedene Schreibweisen. Wir haben sogar schon Falle gehabt, dass Leute damals im Laufe ihres Lebens ihre Unterschrift ohne jede amtliche Legalisierung orthographisch verandert haben. Man muss sich de wohl fur eine Prioritat der Belege entscheiden. Verwandtschaft Reichenfeld/Naschauer ist deshalb schwierig zu eruieren, weil Reichenfeld nicht in Wien geboren wurde. In der Todesanzeige Jacob Naschauers in der "Neuen Freien Presse" wird Moriz R. jedenfalls als "Neffe" angefuhrt. Wieso er im Grab von Ella Naschauer begraben wurde, weiss ich nicht." Thank you. Simonschaim (talk) 12:42, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

"Kollinsky: at that time, the registry officials were not so strict with the spellings of names, so often different spellings can be found for first names and last names written by the same official in the actual entry and the corresponding register. We have even had cases where people back then changed the spelling of their signature over the course of their lives, without any official legalization. A decision will probably have to be made on a priority for the documents. A kinship of the Reichenfelds and Naschauers is therefore difficult to determine because Reichenfeld was not born in Vienna. In Jacob Naschauer's death announcement in the Neue Freie Presse, Moriz R. is described as "nephew" at any rate. Why he was buried in Ella Naschauer's grave, I do not know." You're welcome. —Angr 17:46, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

Thank you. Simonschaim (talk) 07:18, 1 May 2008 (UTC)

Spanish: tener la cabeza como un marmolillo[edit]

I looked it up in the dictionary and it said: 'stubborn'. My question is if it is only informal, offensive in Spanish or slightly offensive. (talk) 14:18, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

Stubborn is testarudo/a. What you are saying is roughly that "(you) have a head like a small marble" which means it relies on your delivery for its offensiveness. Leftus (talk) 13:26, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
I nominate that for the understatement of the day...
-- Danh (talk) 21:28, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
To Leftus: I hadn't known that -illo was a diminutive, and that would be the only way I would see marmolillo meaning small marble. I did find this definition, all in Spanish that gives two meanings for marmolillo. One is a slow or not very smart person. The other is for a stone post used to guard against vehicles passing. So the phrase would be to have a head like a stone post. Your phrase seems to make literal use of the second meaning to imply the first. So it's certainly offensive, but I agree with Leftus, how offensive it is depends on your delivery, as do most insults. It could be very offensive in some contexts, but it's certainly not as strong as some other insults. - Taxman Talk 12:55, 2 May 2008 (UTC)
For some reason I read it as -ito and went back to the marble root (which would make some sense if the second definition listed was the first in use and the first definition gained popularity from those devices). I'd wager the etymology is rooted in a similar source. My error not withstanding, it's still a put-down but now requires even better delivery to make it fashionable. Leftus (talk) 20:26, 3 May 2008 (UTC)

Not a problem[edit]

I was at the supermarket this morning. I chose the stuff I wanted to buy, put it through the checkout, and handed over the money. All was well, until the operator and I came to conclude our short-term relationship. I said "Thanks very much", and she said "Not a problem". Something snapped inside of me. I've heard this a zillion times before, but this time it seemed to make an impact. I didn't actually say anything, but I felt like saying "Who ever suggested there was a problem? Why are you wasting your breath denying the existence of something that I'm sure we would both agree is nonexistent?". What would a grammarian make of this completely useless expression - "Not a problem"? -- JackofOz (talk) 17:14, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

That it's pointless to try to analyze the meaning of formulaic expressions. When someone says to you, "How do you do?", would you answer, "How do I do what?"? —Angr 17:33, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
I use "Not a problem" fairly regularly. To me, "You're welcome", which I suppose is what you were expecting, strikes me as formal, almost stuffy. Matt Deres (talk) 20:47, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
I don't agree that it's pointless to analyse such phrases, quite to the contrary: they can offer insights into the mindsets of entire cultures. But it's not a grammarian's job to analyse it on the level on which it hit you, that's more in the vicinity of semiotics or speech act theory. Dorftrottel (troll) 20:57, April 30, 2008
Possibly some sort of strange coupling with "Sorry to trouble you" in place of "Thank you"? Dismas|(talk) 23:23, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

Thanks very much[edit]

I was working at the supermarket this morning. I was operating the checkout when a fellow came in, chose the stuff he wanted to buy, and brought it to the register; I rang it up and he handed over the money. All was well, until the customer and I came to conclude our short-term relationship. He said "Thanks very much", and I said "Not a problem". Something snapped inside of me. I've heard this a zillion times before, but this time it seemed to make an impact. I didn't actually say anything, but I felt like saying "Are you really so thankful? That I simply fulfilled my role of taking your money in this business transaction, for which I am in fact compensated by my employer? Why are you wasting your breath asserting the existence of some great favor I've done you that I'm sure we would both agree is nonexistent?". What would a grammarian make of this completely useless expression - "thanks very much" - in such an inappropriate context? -- GrocerOfOz 18:47, 30 April 2008 (UTC) —Preceding unsigned comment added by TotoBaggins (talkcontribs) 18:46, 30 April 2008 [9]

I would say "lighten up" - this is simple social interaction. Would you have rather had him silent? It's called "small talk" and it's part of everyday life. Sandman30s (talk) 21:00, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
  • "Thanks very much" or "You're welcome" are much more plausible than "Not a problem". Dorftrottel (warn) 21:09, April 30, 2008
Polite, casual remark=pleasantry. Using a model to analyse it, Transactional Analysis regards it as a one-stroke ritual of social exchange[10] appropriate for a light degree of intimacy, a stereotyped example of social programming. If you take it as anything more than it is – feel put out, persecuted, or anything more personal, and decide to take it out on the other (innocent) person, you're likely "kicking the cat" – Eric Berne might say your "stroke" bank is running low. As per Sandman30s, small talk is a kind of social grease, a custom, and is only meant to be light (even unthinking). Fwiw, Julia Rossi (talk) 23:19, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
The situations where these formulae occur are culturally specific, of course. A visiting French woman (to Australia) commented that she thought it was very amusing that we thanked the bus driver as we got off. She said "Why do you thank him? You've paid for the service, he's getting paid, so he hasn't done anything special." The small talk differences aren't something you notice until you go somewhere else and find that they don't do it quite the same. Steewi (talk) 23:57, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
According to GILLE BERNARD: THE PERFECT GUEST, COMMENT VIVRE CHEZ LES ANGLAIS De Gigord. 1972. the English thank a lot more frequently than the French. SaundersW (talk) 08:03, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
When I was in Germany the cash register operators would grump at you and berate you for things like not moving fast enough, not putting items on the conveyor belt the right way or keeping them from closing up. I was very happy to come back to How are you today? You're welcome. and Have a nice day. Even if the person means nothing of the sort it is nicer. --Lisa4edit (talk) 09:38, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
German supermarket register queues are purposely designed to exude the cosy atmosphere of an antechamber to hell. If I remember correctly, in the early days operators were equipped with three-pronged pitchforks to ensure that articles were ordered alphabetically, by size and thence by colour on the conveyor belt.
The survival of fire breathing dragons in remote areas of Germany is solely due to supermarkets having created a suitable biotope for the previously endangered species.
On the other hand, quoting Goethe´s Götz von Berlichingen to the customers to ensure a prostrate position of subservience has become somewhat less frequent as literacy amongst cash register operators has declined. --Cookatoo.ergo.ZooM (talk) 11:43, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
I am German, and although I agree that the atmosphere in German shops and supermarkets is usually one of having to be glad to be allowed to shop there, there are other nuances as well. E.g. in my native Bavaria, it is (or at least, was) per silent agreement considered impolite to use those dividers between your wares and the other customer's, which I think is quite nice. Germany may be the most diverse place as far as politeness goes. Dorftrottel (harass) 15:05, May 1, 2008
Here in Berlin, using the dividers is very common and not rude at all. On the other hand, when I first arrived in Berlin, I soon came to believe that German for "May I help you?" was "Willste wat?" —Angr 15:15, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
See Soup Nazi/Soup Kitchen International for an American version of the above. Corvus cornixtalk 21:29, 1 May 2008 (UTC)

You're welcome[edit]

I was in the checkout line at the supermarket today. I was just standing there idly contemplating whether to toss a few chocolate bars in with my purchases, when the strangest thing happened. The cashier gave the guy ahead of me his change, the guy said "Thanks very much" and the cashier replied with "Not a problem". Nothing out of the ordinary, right? Well, the guy has some kind of mini-stroke or something; he started twitching and fuming in the oddest way. I helped him to the floor and when the seizure had passed, he said "Thanks very much" to me, but it was very sarcastic sounding. Why would he say something like "thanks very much" in a sarcastic way? What would a grammarian make of this completely useless expression - "thanks very much" - in such an inappropriate context? Matt Deres (talk) 23:46, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

Moral: never shop for groceries in Oz. Clarityfiend (talk) 07:05, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
Just imagine what would have happened if the cashier had replied "it's nothing". -- Q Chris (talk) 07:32, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
Or, "wha'eva". Aussies... whew. Julia Rossi (talk) 09:13, 1 May 2008 (UTC)

I've been away for a few days. However, thank you for the above answers. They were ....... interesting. -- JackofOz (talk) 10:08, 6 May 2008 (UTC)


Recently I asked a question here and got this response:

Generally, a plural subject requires a plural verb, even if the verb is followed by a singular complement.

What about the sentence: "4 is/are an estimate" compared to "4 and 6 are estimates"? "Are" just sounds wrong in the first one. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 17:40, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

'Is' is correct. '4' is a singular subject. Algebraist 18:19, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
Ahh I see. Thanks. Zain Ebrahim (talk) 18:26, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
When I responded to your earlier query, I was just trying to give the simplest answer to your question. Actually, a subject that is plural in form can take a singular verb if it is thought of as a single concept--as in "Peanut butter and jelly makes for a good sandwich." This is called "notional agreement." Algebraist's answer to this question is, however, entirely correct, since in this case "4" is being used as a (singular) numeral rather than a (plural) adjective denoting a denumerable quantity. Deor (talk) 02:52, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
Isn't there a dialectal difference across the Atlantic? — Ƶ§œš¹ [aɪm ˈfɻɛ̃ⁿdˡi] 03:29, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
Yes, but let's not go there unless we have to. Algebraist 13:24, 1 May 2008 (UTC)


Can you tell me what "Ciao Bella" means in English? I believe it is Italian? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:33, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

Take a look at Bella ciao. --Eriastrum (talk) 18:48, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
That's confusing the issue a little, I fear. I usually understand the intended meaning of "Ciao, bella" to be a little closer to the lyrics of this song. Malcolm XIV (talk) 19:09, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
Going by how our Italian colleagues use it. It can mean: "Hi there." "Bye." "That's that one down the drain." (e.g. failed experiment) or "Wow!" depending on context. --Lisa4edit (talk) 00:44, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
It means 'hello (or goodbye), beautiful' (spoken to a female).--ChokinBako (talk) 17:08, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
That's the literal translation, but usage is another cup of tea. Of course now that an English example of non-literal use of a word would come in handy, non comes to mind. But if someone says "Ciao Bella" while dumping the remainder of a failed experiment into the trashcan or down the drain, the literal translation just doesn't quite cover it. Similarly when someone includes it in the middle of a rapid-fire string of Italian describing an impressive event, accompanied by descriptive hand gestures, "wow" probably would do it a lot more justice than "hello, beautiful." Got an example: Imagine you used the phrase "Don't go overboard on spending." Now imagine the literal maritime image and what idea a literal translation would present. As a greeting for females "Hello beautiful" has a lot deeper meaning in English than a casual "Ciao Bella." --Lisa4edit (talk) 22:37, 1 May 2008 (UTC)


could you please tell me what the following mean: gwir garantez ne c'hall kemma. and: arc' hant a zeu, arc' hant a ya —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:09, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

I had the same words on an old brooch and the french translation was : "l'argent vient, l'argent s'en va, l'amour vrai ne change pas", in english it is something like "Money comes, money goes, true love never change"


Another user and me wonder what, in the context of having teenaged children, the abbreviation "DD" (plural apparently "DDs") could stand for? Our entry at DD doesn't reveal anything likely, and neither did a Google search combining terms like "parents" and "DD". The source is a long-gone user's post here. Dorftrottel (vandalise) 20:45, April 30, 2008

Some context would help, but I've seen it used to mean "Darling (or Dear) Daughter". Analogously, DH = husband, DS = son, etc. --LarryMac | Talk 20:54, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
Yep, that's just what I was going to say. —Angr 20:57, 30 April 2008 (UTC)
Do consider, though, that in these sorts of abbreviated commuications it can also mean Darn[ed] or Damn[ed] (with or without a jocular wink either noted or intended). Context helps. -- Deborahjay (talk) 17:57, 1 May 2008 (UTC)

Japanese word[edit]

What does "まきばで" mean? Interactive Fiction Expert/Talk to me 23:51, 30 April 2008 (UTC)

Do you have some context? A link to where it's used? ···日本穣? · Talk to Nihonjoe 02:22, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
It's used in a Japanese book I have. Please tell me what it means. Interactive Fiction Expert/Talk to me 06:38, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
Probably it is "牧場で", "at a/the ranch". --Kusunose 10:13, 1 May 2008 (UTC)
That's what I was thinking, too, but there were a couple other possibilities (as well as the possibility of something completely out of left field). That is the most likely one, though. ···日本穣? · Talk to Nihonjoe 01:33, 2 May 2008 (UTC)

English can't be easily learned.You could quit trying to find an easy way out of this and pick up a language book and read it to the kid.The child can learn a little bit at a time,just like you did.Just try to follow the rules for language ,and you'll do okay.There are multiple rules for different subjects and predicates.Ex:You can't say I is healthy.You can say,I am healthy.You can't say,"You is looking good.You can say,"You are looking good."The point is that there are different rules and there is no easy way out. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Animeskeleton (talkcontribs) 13:17, 1 May 2008 (UTC) - EDIT - COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT.--ChokinBako (talk) 16:47, 1 May 2008 (UTC)