Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Language/2014 February 9

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February 9[edit]

He bent over the desk sleeping.[edit]

How to describe precisely the idea of "He bent over the desk sleeping"? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:29, 9 February 2014 (UTC)

He slept with his head on the desk. He laid his head on the desk and slept. He bent over the desk, dreaming of other ways to say it. —Tamfang (talk) 04:18, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
I would go with "slumped over the desk" which gets plenty of Google results. Alansplodge (talk) 17:03, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
In how many cases is that not the end of a sentence that begins "The victim was found"? —Tamfang (talk) 08:24, 10 February 2014 (UTC)
  • "He bent over the desk sleeping" means he was asleep, then he bent over the desk. You may have meant to say "he was sleeping bent over the desk" which describes the position without commenting on how he got in that position. μηδείς (talk) 18:52, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
You could just say, "He was asleep at his desk." This usually means the person is sitting on a chair next to the desk with his head and arms on the desk. If you wish to refer to some other posture, then you would need to describe it more fully. — SMUconlaw (talk) 10:26, 10 February 2014 (UTC)

as thin as a rake, reduced to a shadow[edit]

To describe how thin a patient is, can "as thin as a rake" or "reduced to a shadow" be used? Thank you! — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:51, 9 February 2014 (UTC)

Are you asking whether a doctor would say it? No, they'd say "emaciated". (Are you writing a novel?) "Thin as a rake" is somewhat stale: you wouldn't say it if you intend any originality. "Reduced to a shadow" could describe weight loss but it could also describe a loss of energy resulting from mental trauma. —Tamfang (talk) 04:25, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
Thin as a rail is more likely. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 06:21, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
BB's "thin as a rail" is not common in the UK, where "thin as a rake" is still used. Dbfirs 09:53, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
'Just a bag of bones' is another phrase we would use. Bear in mind, as Tamfang correctly points out, 'emaciated' would be the word used by a doctor, and none of these idioms. KägeTorä - (影虎) (TALK) 10:24, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
Thin as a rake doesn't necessarily suggest the contrast that would probably be intended in reference to a patient losing weight due to an illness. In that context, reduced to a shadow of his former self or wasting away [to nothing] might be used colloquially (but would not be used by a doctor as clinical terms).--Jeffro77 (talk) 10:39, 9 February 2014 (UTC)


Does one's wife belong to one's relatives? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:21, 9 February 2014 (UTC)

It depends on what you mean. If you mean in the normal sense of English possessives (e.g. my sister-in-law), then yes. If you mean as an actual possession, then not in most modern societies.--Jeffro77 (talk) 10:28, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
(EC) She doesn't actually belong to them, in the sense that they would own her, but she becomes a relative to them. So, my wife is my brother's sister-in-law, my mother's daughter-in-law, and for my wife they are her 'brother-in-law' and 'mother-in-law' respectively. She is obviously not a biological relative (unless you are into that, and your jurisdiction permits it), but she would become a relative. KägeTorä - (影虎) (TALK) 10:29, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
The phrase belong to doesn't only mean "be the property of", it also means "be a member of the set of". I interpret the question to mean "Does one's wife count as being one's relative?" to which the answer is yes. Aɴɢʀ (talk) 20:40, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
  • This is a word that has more than one linguistic sense, either only biological relatives, or family in general. If you said "the relatives gathered to celebrate the wedding", it would be clear from context you were not only including biological relations. If you need to distinguish, the normal way is to contrast "blood relatives" to "relatives by marriage" or kin versus in-laws. μηδείς (talk) 18:46, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
My father's brother is my uncle, whose wife is my aunt (not "aunt-in-law") even though she's not a blood relatives. Anything beyond that, though, is pretty much unambiguously labeled an in-law. ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 19:17, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
Old English had four kin terms to describe to describe aunts and uncles, depending on whether the parent's brother or sister was the blood relation; eam, modrige, faedera, fathu. See this chart. People do say "my uncle and his wife" which implies to me a second or late marriage, after the niece or nephew is grown. μηδείς (talk) 20:19, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
Medeis -- that's an example of a "Sudanese" type of kinship terminology (at least in the first ascending generation), as pointed out on that link. It actually has more to do with distinguishing father's side vs. mother's side, rather than aunt and uncle by blood vs. aunt and uncle by marriage. Among modern European languages, Swedish has a similar system which distinguishes between farbror and morbror (father's brother vs. mother's brother)... AnonMoos (talk) 21:19, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
Yes, I have a habit of calling my nephew my sisterson after Tolkien, which he likes. μηδείς (talk) 01:01, 10 February 2014 (UTC)
Sure, people even say "my father and his wife" and "my father and his son" when they see their father's new family so rarely that they don't think of those people as their own stepmother and half-brother. Aɴɢʀ (talk) 20:40, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
My father's wife (they married when I was about 30) got a funny look when I once used the word stepmother. Perhaps you have to live under the same roof to be a step-parent. —Tamfang (talk) 08:32, 10 February 2014 (UTC)

He was lost to cancer.[edit]

Is "He was lost to cancer." acceptable as an alternative way of saying "He died of cancer."? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:25, 9 February 2014 (UTC)

It's an acceptable euphemism, a bit like saying he passed away instead of he died.--Jeffro77 (talk) 10:32, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
You frequently hear "lost the fight (or battle) against cancer". This article says that the phrase can suggest that the victim didn't fight hard enough and that "Many oncologists and cancer patients have been pushing in recent years for a change in the well-meant, but often misguided words and phrases that have become ingrained in the cancer lexicon". Alansplodge (talk) 16:59, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
Slightly related, we hear things like "We lost Dad 7 years ago". Which sort of summons up the spirit of Lady Bracknell ("To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness"). -- Jack of Oz [pleasantries] 21:04, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
I'm gonna write a will that cuts out anyone who reports that I died "after a courageous battle with" anything other than an armed gang. —Tamfang (talk) 08:34, 10 February 2014 (UTC)
Most people die during such battles, not after they have finished. The battles continue, even if your life doesn't. KägeTorä - (影虎) (TALK) 10:47, 10 February 2014 (UTC)
I could be mortally wounded during a courageous battle with barbarian invaders and die after the battle is over. —Tamfang (talk) 21:52, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

difference between a wheat field and wheat fields[edit]

"Field" often takes the plural form. Should I say "He has a large wheat field." or "He has large wheat fields."? Thank you. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 10:29, 9 February 2014 (UTC)

It depends. Does he own more than one field?--Jeffro77 (talk) 10:32, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
If you get a girlfriend and go out more often, you would be able to ask her. KägeTorä - (影虎) (TALK) 10:34, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
Oooh, snap. — SMUconlaw (talk) 10:25, 10 February 2014 (UTC)
"Cat" also often takes the plural form, as do "house", "violin" and "nematode". Jeffro77 has explained why. Tonywalton Talk 23:16, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
  • The OP's question is perfectly valid. One says, the woods surrounded the farm to the north and west, or the waters between Cuba and Florida are treacherous, without implying there is more than one wood or water. The fields stretch off into the distance is the same, an indefinite statement. The field stretches off into the distance makes the definite claim there is one single humongous field defined by some single fact. That's possible, but uncommon. μηδείς (talk) 19:51, 10 February 2014 (UTC)

Urban Dictionary[edit]

Hi. Is there an equivalent to the Urban Dictionary in Mandarin? Thanks Duomillia (talk) 18:10, 9 February 2014 (UTC)

This isn't quite what you asked for, but Chinasmack's glossary is an equivalent to the Urban Dictionary for Mandarin. Does that help? Matt's talk 21:03, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
Do you read Mandarin? If so, googling "中文urbandictionary" gives a lot of promising results. For example, this page points to 玩转新词 ( The author of the page says he also uses Baidu and Baidu Baike to find out about slang, which is what I typically do. --Bowlhover (talk) 02:41, 12 February 2014 (UTC)

What do you call the person who...[edit]

This question is a little vague, but any suggestions here might help the person who sends it to me: What do you call the person who commentates on public events, such as Independence Day, Republic Day or any ceremony? Thanks if you have a suggestion. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 18:55, 9 February 2014 (UTC)

Are you talking about the Master of ceremonies? ←Baseball Bugs What's up, Doc? carrots→ 19:12, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
  • Do you mean people (from the news/media) actually at the event, holding microphones and dressed for the weather, like they do for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in NY? "Commentator" would be fine. I don't know if there's a more specific or an industry word for them. μηδείς (talk) 19:15, 9 February 2014 (UTC)
Reporter would do, too. —Tamfang (talk) 08:36, 10 February 2014 (UTC)

I think "parade announcer" could mean either the local loudspeaker announcer or the TV commentator. Can't think of an unambiguous phrase. AnonMoos (talk) 01:44, 11 February 2014 (UTC)