One of my sisters texted that her husband had been offered a new job in his preferred area of sales. A few days later, she texted that “another rep had been hired”. I had to check “as well as, or instead of”. Fortunately, it was “as well as”. 

There are two sets of ambiguity about another. One is “as well as” v “instead of” and the other is “of the same kind” v “of a different kind”. These sometimes overlap. If you’re halfway through eating your pizza when I arrive, and offer me the other half, I might say “No thanks, I want another pizza”, I probably mean “of a different kind”/“instead of” (and might also mean a whole nother pizza*). Indeed I might say “I want a different pizza”. But if I’ve already eaten one pizza and say “I want another pizza”, I could mean “of the same kind” or “of a different kind”, but it has to be “as well”, because I’ve already eaten the first one. Note that if my brother-in-law had already started his new job, the ambiguity in my sister’s text would have disappeared; hiring another rep can only mean “as well”. My brother-in-law was caught in ambiguity time.

I have a random memory from many years ago, involving the same sister. One summer holiday we were staying at the house of a family we knew, as they were at their holiday house. On the Sunday morning we were sitting in the car waiting to go to church when that sister suddenly got out and said “I’m going to put another dress on”. Our father said “Won’t you be too hot wearing two dresses?”, which is such a dad thing to say.

* This is not my natural usage, but I couldn’t resist. And it’s older than you probably think.


erase a razor

My wife suddenly asked

Do we have a razor?

With no context I couldn’t out why she wanted a razor or why she couldn’t buy one herself, so I asked her and she said 

I want to practice my art and need eraser for rubbing out pencil drawing.




a razor.

We did have an eraser, but it wasn’t in any of the obvious places, and I found an old school-type eraser after she’d bought a new art-quality one.

The first linguistic issue is that many speakers of English as a second language fail to use a and an (and the) consistently or at all, especially if their language has no equivalent. The second is that unstressed first syllables can often drop off completely or be analysed as something else, in this case a. I automatically heard the grammatical but not immediately meaningful a razor rather than the immediately meaningful but ungrammatical eraser. The third is that while razor definitely has /z/, eraser can have /s/ or /z/. Most dictionaries give either /s/ or /z/, but Wiktionary gives /s/ as the US pronunciation and /z/ as the British. This is possible, but I would like a more authoritative source before I could be sure about that. I don’t think I say it enough, and have never paid enough attention to my own pronunciation to be sure how I pronounce it.

Underlying all of this is that Korean doesn’t have a /z/ sound. Did she say razor or more like rajor (using Korean ㅈ)? I don’t know, but I heard it as razor. Maybe if she had definitely said raser, I would have understood her as meaning eraser. Note that as soon as she gave me the full context, I understood her perfectly.

"Why did you go to bed last night?"

This year I have been teaching English on Saturdays as well as doing a weekday job not related to English teaching. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the college managers decided that teaching will be done online, but gave us very little time to prepare. I downloaded a conferencing tool and got as far as setting up sessions and inviting students. Today six students joined, four of them for most of the time. Among other things, I reviewed questions with who, what, where, when, how and why (and later whose, which, how much, how many, how many times, how often and how long). One student wrote:

Why did you go to bed last night?

She very quickly changed it to:

Why did you go to bed late last night?

As with many things in English, the ‘wrong’ question is actually more interesting than the ‘right’ one. “Why did you go to bed last night?” is perfectly grammatical and makes sense, but no-one ever asks it because there are basically only two overlapping reasons why any human goes to bed: they are tired (or sick) and/or they have to get up earlier rather than later the next morning. (We might also add boredom, habit or social convention.) 

On the other hand, “Why did you go to bed late last night?” needs a context where the asker knows that the askee did, in fact, go to bed late: either the askee says “I went to bed at (some late time)” or the asker first asks “What time did you go to bed last night?” and got “(Some late time)” as an answer. Asking “Why did you go to bed late last night?” out of such a context is likely to just confuse the askee.