The modal would has numerous applications. Here are a few. One function is to express the idea of habitual action that took place in the past. For example…
A reader writes: The other day I heard a radio commentator constantly using the phrase “in that calculus”, something I’d never heard before. [The] commentator was using it in a political context, pretty much as a fancy way of saying “in that situation”; I’d be grateful if you could look into it and cover it some time!
A reader asks for clarification regarding the word stalwart: I am confused about the meaning of “stalwart” in the following context: “One of the most influential companies in high technology right now may be a 135-year-old industrial stalwart.”
A reader writes: I propose that “an” was invented to prevent us from having to interrupt the flow of speech. And it still fills that purpose before unaccented first syllables starting with h.
The Google Ngram Viewer indicates that “labor the point,” (“to continue to repeat or explain something that has already been said and understood”) has been around for about 100 years longer than “belabor the point.” A Web search suggests that the two versions are now used interchangeably.
When it comes to nonstandard grammar in the mouths of television characters, I expect the professionals–like FBI agents, medical examiners, and college professors–to model standard English. When they don’t, I always wonder if the scriptwriter or the actor is at fault.
A reader wants to know more about the use of the word versus and its abbreviations.
The English infinitive is the basic form of the verb. It has two parts, the particle to and the present form of the verb. Here are some infinitives.
A reader wonders how knowing a word’s origin helps spelling bee contestants arrive at the correct spelling: Recently, I was watching [a spelling bee] competition and students were asking about the origin of a spelling like Latin, French, Greek, Dutch, Italian etc. and were guessing correct spellings. How is it possible to get correct spelling from the origin of a word?
A reader has called my attention to a surge in the use of the word feckless in the American press. A Web search garners 1,550,000 hits.
When I was a child, I learned that the name Philadelphia derives from the Greek words philos (loving) and adelphos (brother) and that William Penn chose the name because he wanted to establish “a city of brotherly love.”
The “carriage trade” is the industry engaged in transporting passengers and goods. Because of recent campaigns by animal activists to ban the use of horses in heavy city traffic, the term has come to apply specifically to the horse-drawn carriage trade.