Must sell

I am a member of Facebook buy/sell/swap/free group in my local area. One member is selling an item of furniture with the explanation:

Must sell father in nursing home

Just … no.


Running nose v runny nose

An alternative health practitioner in the suburb where I work treats, among other things, “running nose”. I would unhesitatingly say runny nose, but is running nose ‘wrong’?

No. Running nose was the preferred form until about 1970, when runny nose took off, and is still used today. It was more common and for slightly longer in British English  than in American English, but not significantly.

If there is a difference, runny is a ‘real’ adjective, while running is a gerund-participle used, in this case, as an adjective. ‘Real’ adjectives can take very and be used in comparative and superlative forms, and gerund participles can’t:

My nose is very runny. My nose is runnier/?more runny than yours. This is the runniest/?most runny nose I’ve ever had.

*My nose is very running. *My nose is more running than yours. *This is the most running nose I’ve ever had.

Rocks the size of analogies

A newspaper website headline in Australia says that the volcano in Hawaii is spewing rocks the size of microwaves. How big (or small) is that? 1 metre to 1 millimetre. A one-millimetre rock is not a rock. The first paragraph of the story then says ‘boulders the size of small cars’, which are presumably the size of radio waves.

That said, I wouldn’t want to be landed on by a one-metre rock spewed from a volcano.

[update 27 May: I saw a headline from a US paper which referred to ‘fridge-sized boulders’, so maybe the Australian headline referred to microwave ovens, not microwave radiation. There’s a difference in size between a microwave oven, a fridge and a small car.]

Write on queue

A few days ago I had to ring a government department. I hate ringing government departments, but I couldn’t find anything on their website about this particular issue. The call took an hour and 44 minutes in total, being about one minute talking to the first person, about one minute talking to the second person who the first person put me through to, about three minutes talking to the third person who the second person put me through to, and about an hour and 39 minutes listening to ‘on hold’ music, announcements about the information I could find on the website, and automated recordings telling me that I was now the [number]th caller in the queue, starting from 59th between the first person and the second person, and 68th between the second and the third  and gradually counting down.

I mentioned this on Facebook, and one online friend who lives in another English-speaking country commented, using the spelling que three times in an otherwise perfectly written comment. I sent her a private message asking whether that was her usual spelling, or was widely used in her English-speaking country. Continue reading

as free as a bag

A sign at a supermarket says Single-use plastic bag free from [date]. I know what they mean — [Single-use plastic bag]-free — but it’s awkward. When the unwanted item is one word, it’s easy to write, say gluten-free (uncountable) or car-free (uncountable note that this is ‘free of cars’, not ‘free of car’), but when it is a multi-word phrase, itself with a hyphen, we can’t write Single-use-plastic-bag-free. The best I can suggest is to rephrase the whole thing as No single-use plastic bags from [date].

At least they didn’t write Single-use plastic bags free from [date]. Single-use plastic bags have always been free, which is part of the whole problem.

(Note that there’s “free as in speech” free software, which is “distributed under terms that allow users to run the software for any purpose as well as to study, change, and distribute it and any adapted versions” and “free as in beer” freeware, which “may be used without payment, but is most often proprietary software and usually modification, re-distribution or reverse-engineering without the author’s permission is prohibited”: see here. I have no idea what “free as in gluten” software might be.)


Yesterday I emailed someone whose company’s domain name contains the letters q and g consecutively. It arose because the company’s name is a respelling of an ordinary English word ending with c, for example spelling Topic as Topiq. This is followed by the word ‘Global’, so (for example)

No ordinary English word has q without u following. Websites (for example, Wikipedia) list words, but it is questionable how many of these are “English”. Most are borrowings from French or Middle Eastern, Chinese or North America languages.  Continue reading

a done deal

For some  time, the New South Wales state government and the Australian government have been discussing building a second international airport in western Sydney, which was finally announced earlier this year. The proposal has attracted some opposition in the area, for various reasons. Today I went driving and not much bushwalking in the lower Blue Mountains. Several protest posters along the road read (something like) ‘IT’S NOT A DONE DEAL YET. DON’T GIVE UP THE FIGHT.’ Someone, obviously a supporter of the proposal, has crossed out the NOT and DON’T, so the signs now read ‘IT’S A DONE DEAL YET. GIVE UP THE FIGHT.’

The first sentence has been rendered problematic because YET is a negative polarity item – it is only (or usually) used in negative statements and questions. The closest positive polarity item is ALREADY, but ‘IT’S A DONE DEAL ALREADY’ is less standard than‘IT’S ALREADY A DONE DEAL’. These items can often be omitted: the simplest positive statement is ‘IT’S A DONE DEAL’ and the simplest negative statement is ‘IT’S NOT A DONE DEAL’.

Google Ngrams shows that the usage of ‘a done deal’ (an arrangement which is finalised or is seen to be inevitable) has skyrocketed since 1980. I can’t think why. I suspect that it was used in informal spoken English for some time before it was widely written.