Category: Usage


In defence of the cliche

Idioms offer a way of expressing an idea that can be at once more interesting, colourful and concise than a more literal (compositional) expression of the same idea. We all use idioms, and language would be bleaker without them.

Cliches gain a foothold in language for precisely the same reasons as idioms: they present a way of expressing an idea that seems like an attractive alternative to other ways of expressing the same idea. The other ways may be a literal expression, or another phrase that, when it first appeared in the language, seemed to be a clever alternative to that literal expression but is now, alas, a cliche.

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Source: Guardian




Bored by, of, or with?

Which of these expressions should you use: is one of them less acceptable than the others?

1) Do you ever get bored with eating out all the time?

2) Delegates were bored by the lectures.

3) He grew bored of his day job.

The first two constructions are the standard ones. The third one is more recent than the other two and it’s become extremely common. In fact, the Oxford English Corpus contains almost twice as many instances of bored of than bored by. It represents a perfectly logical development of the language, and was probably formed on the pattern of expressions such as tired of or weary of. Nevertheless, some people dislike it and it’s not fully accepted in standard English. It’s best to avoid using it in formal writing.

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more than vs. over

The old rule

“More than” was used to refer to countable items. For example, it would have been grammatically accurate to tell your friends that you ate more than 10 bananas in one day but grammatically inaccurate to say that you ate over 10 bananas in one day.

The new rule

The new rule makes it acceptable to use “more than” and “over” interchangeably when referring to numerical quantities, such as dollars or years. For example, “my pet turtle is more than 80 years old” is now synonymous with “my pet turtle is over 80 years old,” and “I earned less than a million dollars this year” is now synonymous with “I earned under a million dollars last year.”

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Can I use “fishes”?

Of course you can, if you refer to:

  1. A scientist, who studies fish (ichthyologists), for example, often refer to different species as fishes.
  2. To the Bible, as Jesus fed thousands of people with loaves and fishes.
  3. The movie The Godfather popularized the saying that someone sleeps with the fishes to indicate that he or she has been killed by the mob and dumped in the water.
  4. A few different sayings that begin with If wishes were fishes.



8 synonyms for “clever”


Found in Middle English and meaning ‘expert, skilful, clever’, hend comes from the word for ‘hand’, and originally meant ‘near at hand’. In a similar line are the words well-handed and habile.Read more…