Category Archives: Odd Language

Some uses of language can be very peculiar-sounding or can be ambiguous in unexpected ways.

Odd Language #204: Using That Money

A recent USENET post contains the sentence: “It’s now giving me enough money that I am contracting for more advertising-usable illustrations using that money.”

The issue: This caused a subthread about confusion over exactly what was meant. “using that money” could be spending the money on illustrations (the intended meaning) or the illustrations are using the money. (If it were a person or group of people, the agency would be more obvious.)

Maybe, the illustrations are made out of money? It has been done: http://pennyportrait.com/.

Odd Language #203: More More

I recently posted to USENET a post containing: “I have rarely found coupons worthwhile. So often, it is for something that costs way more more than the amount you save.”

The issue: Two “more” in a row is rather unusual, but it is arguably correct. “way more” means “a lot” so the overall meaning is that the item costs a lot more than what is saved.

Odd Language #201: No Passing

A British Columbia road sign I have seen many times: “DO NOT PASS SNOWPLOWS ON RIGHT”

The issue: Due to elision of words to fit, it is ambiguous. Does it mean to not pass snowplows that are on one’s right or to not pass snowplows on their right? Actually, neither is a particularly good idea, but it is the latter. Where do you think they throw their snow?

Odd Language #200: Initial Reading Declined

“There would be no more overpopulation; the hordes in East Asia would decline to adjust themselves to the food supply.” — Misbegotten Missionary by Robert A. Heinlein

The issue: When I first read this sentence, it seemed to mean the opposite of what it should. Then I caught that there were two meanings of “decline” to consider. It was meant in the sense of “to go down in number”; I had initially read it as in the sense of “deciding against something”.

Odd Language #199: Look Over This!

RISKS 30.22 has an interesting April Fools item (which came from EFFector Vol. 30, No. 7 of April 1, 2017).

Apparently, politicians have not been keeping tabs on the intelligence community in the last several years because of a confusion over the words “oversight” and “overlook”.

The issue: The intended meaning of “oversight” in this context is monitoring; “overlook” means failing to see or notice. Since an oversight can also be a case of overlooking, there is a definite possibility for confusion of the two words. Not that the politicos should be able to use this in real life.

Odd Language #198: Just Great

An old chestnut: Someone learning English asks for help from his teacher. “I understand this: ‘Mary is great with child.’, but what does ‘Mr. Smith is great with children.’ mean?”

The issue: Languages have many exceptions which they use to ambush you.

Odd Language #196: Three Is First

I recently bought a trilogy from my local used bookstore. It is Legends of the Duskwalker by Jay Posey. Book 1 is entitled Three.

The issue: The dissonance between it being book one and the title being Three. (Three is the name of a main character.)

(I have not read enough of it to have an opinion yet.)