Tag Archives: word useage

Persons of interest

One of my readers (Hi Chris) sent me an email regarding the use of’people as opposed to persons. I have been doing some research and my first skim tells me that it is mainly a personal choice, however on some further deeper reading it appears that opinion is divided on what is the proper usage.

Some deride persons as being outdated and old fashioned, others say that it is the logical plural use of the word person.

Often people is used as the logical plural of person and this is wrong, as the two words derive from different latin roots and do not mean the same thing; the former from populum, referring to the people in the sense of the populace, the latter from persona, “an actor’s mask; a character in a play” and which in the English form person, came to refer to an individual human being.

The proper plural of person is persons, however it appears that writers from the time of Chaucer onwards have been using people as a plural for person, not only to mean in the general sense of a mass of uncountable individuals, but also in a specific sense where numbers were countable.

This persisted until around Victorian times, when for some reason the Victorians rebelled agaisnt this and decided that the plural of person is persons when a specific, countable number of individuals is meant, but that people should be used when the number is large or indefinite.

However modern style guides, those pesky creatures, disagree; as they can point to any number of examples where they can use people as the plural of person in both situations.

Persons seems to survive mainly in a legal context, you often hear the Police wanting to talk to “persons of interest” or “so and and so was killed by person or persons unknown“. Persons seems to be a very formal and somewhat clunky word in this modern time. So this is why it seems to have fallen out of favour, with people replacing it.

The popularity of people is increasing as persons falls into disuse, though from the outset even though people is the singular collective term, it seems to have always been used to describe plural as well. It’s a very versatile word and depending on the context can mean one group, or it can mean a whole collective of groups.

This particular usage of people has become second nature to most and so the singular form of people as in “this people is lonely” seems just as clunky and outdated as persons.

The use of peoples as the plural of people has in the past been derided as an uncouth word, but it has gained popularity of late and is now considered a legitimate use of the word e.g:  “the peoples of this land are many and diverse“.

I hope that helps Chris in some small way, thanks for the interesting idea, much appreciated.


You and I aint no Movie stars, what we are is what we are…

(With apologies to Alice Cooper there)

I borrowed from Alice because it was cogent to what an avid reader (yes one of the three of you) asked me, it seems that all through school they often had trouble with deciding if You and I was right or if it was You and Me.

I was always taught that there was an easy way to decide which one to use, think of this sentence.

You and I need to have a talk.

Am I correct in saying You and I, or should it be You and me?

This appears to confuse a lot of people, not just my loyal reader *grin*

The easy way I was taught was that you drop the word you, then you try the sentence using I and me one at a time, for example:

  • I need to have a talk
  • Me need to have a talk

It’s obvious from that that the proper one to use in this case is I, so I was correct with you and I

You can use this method all the time, take this example:

She’s not going to be happy with you and I.

Drop the word you then try the sentence with I and me again:

  • She’s not going to be happy with I.
  • She’s not going to be happy with me.

From this you can see that the second one makes much more sense and is actually good grammar.

So my original sentence should have been

She’s not going to be happy with you and me.

I hope that makes it easier for people to remember.

As a matter of politeness it has always been considered far more courteous when using phrases such as you and me, you and I or even them and us, to put the reference to yourself last.

Which is why it is Miss Manners approved to go:

  • She’ll talk to you and me later.

instead of:

  • She’ll talk to me and you later.

Informally I don’t think that will bring the wrath of the grammar nazis down on your shoulders, but when you’re using it in a formal setting, it would be nice to make Miss Manners proud.

I hope your point ISN’T mute.

I’ve come across this particular error a lot lately, especially and unfortunately in a quite a few of my text/work books for University, which just goes to show that relying solely on a spellchecker is NOT a good idea.

The correct phrase is ‘it’s a MOOT point’  which means that though the point may be up for discussion, circumstances render it not worth while discussing or cogent to the matter at hand.

“Moot” is a very old word related to “meeting,” specifically a meeting where serious matters are discussed. Oddly enough, a moot point can be a point worth discussing at a meeting (or in court)-an unresolved question-or it can be the opposite: a point already settled and not worth discussing further. At any rate, “mute point” is simply wrong, as is the less common “mood point.” (taken from http://www.wusu.edu)

I can’t say that I have come across anyone using the term “mood point” which is probably a good thing as the mere mention sets my teeth on edge.

Let us hope that the trend towards using “mute point” even in jest does not continue, “moot” is a lovely old word, full of a rich history and meaning.

And today I find that something I always thought was correct was in fact wrong, for years I was under the impression that a group of Owls was called a Moot, today I am sadly disambiguated, a group of Owls is called a Parliament. I am sadly disappointed, a Moot sounds much more distinguished than that rabble we call Parliament.

Supplies, babies and puppies

No, that’s not the contents of a weird shopping list, it’s one of those lovely often confusing things about English, how do we indicate plurals of words ending in -y and what rules apply to that.

There are actually just a few easy to remember rules;

For words ending in -y preceded by a consonant (all other letters that are not vowels) before the final -y, the plural is made using -ies and in some cases –ied, to indicate the past tense of the word.

puppy – puppies
army – armies
supply – supplies – supplied
sky – skies
party – parties
library – libraries
rely – relies – relied
marry – marries
theory – theories
study – studies – studied
apply – applies – applied
bully – bullies – bullied

If the word has a vowel (a,e,i,o,u) before the final -y then you just add an –s or -ed to indicate past tense.

boy – boys
toy – toys – toyed
employ – employs – employed
valley – valleys
delay – delays – delayed
convey – conveys – conveyed
pray – prays – prayed
stay – stays – stayed

Of course there are exceptions to this rule, this is English after all.

say – said
pay – paid
lay – laid

And for words that end in -ie we change it to -y before –ing it

die – dying
lie – lying

For words ending in -y that are verbs (doing words) we do not drop the -y before the ing

study – studying
hurry – hurrying
relay – relaying
pray – praying
portray – portraying
apply – applying

And the reason for this post, trying to explain to someone the difference between and WHY it was harry, harried, harrying and harriers.

The dogs will harry the rabbits

The dogs harried the rabbits

The dogs were harrying the rabbits.

This makes the dogs harriers

I’m not sure if I managed it without making their head explode, but it did lead me to do some research and clear a few things up in my own mind.

And a day in which you learn something new or reinforce something only previously half known is a good thing.

10 strange common sayings (and getting them right and wrong)

OOOPS!!  Apparently this list has previously been published on Listverse recently, but thats not where I found it, I found it hanging off another page that was apparantly taken from the Listverse post, I just liked it, I made no claim to having wrote it originally, I did however rewrite a lot of it my way.

One of the things that almost always confuse people who are learning English as a second or third language are some of the sayings that we all use, without really knowing what they truly mean, or in some cases totally mangling the real meaning.

Here are ten common strange sayings that most people have used at some time or another, it’s very interesting to trace these sayings back to the original and see how the meaning has changed over time.

1. Scot Free

This saying in fact is not a reference to the old myth about Scottish people being tight with their money, meaning that they’ll get something for free if they can. The word “scot” come from old Norse, and it means “payment”, usually a payment to a landlord or official. So “scot free” simply means to get away without having to pay. It’s most often used today in conjunction with discussions about penalties for committing a crime, if someone gets off with a light sentence or no sentence you’ll often hear someone say that he/she got off “scot free.”

2. Fit as a Fiddle

This one often confuses people, because the word “fit” has a different meaning now than when this saying originated, “fit” as in the meaning of being healthy is a 19th century word. The original meaning is “suitable”, which is still used in the phrase “fit for a king”. Originally “fit as a fiddle” just meant “as right or appropriate as it can be”.

3. Another Thing Coming

This one annoys me somewhat, because if you actually think about the saying
that most people use “If you think that, you have another thing coming” you’ll realise that it doesn’t make any sense at all, whereas the proper saying “If you think that, you have another THINK coming” means exactly what it says. That what you think is so wrong, you’ll have to think again, that makes perfect sense.

4. Eat Humble Pie

This one means exactly what it says, apologising for something in a humble manner, the origins of this come from the middle ages when the poorer people ate the cuts of meat and portions of the animals that the rich people wouldn’t touch, the offal and various other bits, they called this “umble”.  So eating humble pie signifies that you are lowering yourself by apologising for a mistake.

5. Rule of Thumb

This one is a great one, there has sprung up around this one a lovely and sadly highly untrue reference to a law that stated that a man could beat his wife if he used a rod no thicker than his thumb. The reality is much more commonplace, it just means that you’re doing something by estimating, rather than using an exact measure.

6. On Tender Hooks

This is another phrase that is also misspelled, like thing for think, the actual phrase is “on tenterhooks”. A tenter is a medieval tool used to make cloth, tenterhooks were small hooks over which the fabric would be stretched, hence it came to mean to be left hanging, or in a state of suspense.

7. Take a Raincheck

Another common phrase that has now come to have three different meanings, the original meaning originated from the practice of offering a replacement ticket to a baseball game that had been rained out, for a game at a later date, hence a “raincheck”. This morphed into retail jargon to mean an offer to sell an out of stock goods AT the currently advertised price when it arrived back in stock. Now it has also morphed into a general response, as in ‘I’ll take a raincheck on that”. However it seems to have an acquired a negative connotation as in most “rainchecks” are never picked up on, like dates, or drinks.

8. Free Reign

Also another spelling error, though in essence the phrase still retains the original meaning, the etymology is vastly different. Most people seem to think that a person given “free reign” has the “royal” power to do what they want, when in fact the correct phrase is “free rein” and comes from the time when Horses were the only means of mass transport, when navigating a rough track or winding mountain path the horses were given “free rein” on the understanding that the horse was better equipped to find a safe path through than the rider.

9. Wreck Havoc

Another spelling error, which has more to do with how people pronounce the word than not knowing how to spell it properly, the proper word is “Wreak” which is properly pronounced “reek” however a lot of people pronounce it  “rek” hence the obvious error. “Wreck” means to destroy something, whereas “wreak” means to “cause something to happen” so you “wreak havoc”.

10. Beg the Question

Something that most people think they know the correct meaning of, but in reality 99% of you would be wrong. “To beg the question” does not mean “to raise the question”. Originally the phrase was “to begge the question” and first appeared in the late 1500’s in English and is a reference to a question (or phrase) which implies the truth of the thing it is trying to prove.

And now I bet you are VERY confused, so lets have an example; “Why does England have fewer trees per acre than any other country in Europe?” This is a “begged question” – the person asking is implying that England has fewer trees – when in fact, it may not. If you feel you must use this saying, then perhaps using an alternative would be better “prompt the question” means the same thing and is not open to confusion.