WELCOME TO alt.usage.english!
alt.usage.english is a newsgroup where we discuss the English language
(and also occasionally other languages).
We discuss how particular words, phrases, and syntactic forms are used;
how they originated; and where in the English-speaking world they're
prevalent. (All this is called "description".)
We also discuss how we think they *should* be used ("prescription").
alt.usage.english is for everyone, *not* only for linguists, native
speakers, or descriptivists.
Please read or at least browse through our AUE FAQ, which is available
at several addresses including
There is more information about obtaining our FAQ in the regular post
"Intro G: Where is the FAQ?"
Guidelines for posting
Things you may want to consider avoiding when posting here:
(1) re-opening topics (such as "singular they" and "hopefully") that
experience shows lead to circular debate. (One function of the FAQ
file is to point out topics that have already been discussed ad
(2) questions that can be answered by simple reference to a dictionary
or a thesaurus.
(3) generalities. If you make a statement like: "Here in the U.S. we
NEVER say 'different to'", "Retroflex 'r' is ONLY used in North
America", or "'Eh' ALWAYS rhymes with 'pay'", chances are that someone
will pounce on you with a counterexample.
(4) assertions that one variety of English is "true English".
(5) sloppy writing (as distinct from simple typing errors, or errors
from someone whose native language is not English). The regulars are
probably less willing than the general population to suffer sloppy
writers gladly. Each article is written by one person, but read perhaps
by thousands, so the convenience of the readers really ought to have
priority over the convenience of the writer. Again, this is *not* to
discourage non-native speakers from posting; readers will be able to
detect that you're writing in a language that is foreign to you, and
will make allowances for that.
(6) expressions of exasperation. In the course of debate, you may
encounter positions based on premises radically different from yours and
perhaps surprisingly novel to you. Saying things like "Oh, please",
"That's absurd", "Give me a break", or "Go teach your grandmother to
suck eggs, my man" is unlikely to win your opponent over.
You really *are* welcome to post here! Don't let the impatient tone of
this FAQ frighten you off.
Newcomers to the Net
If you are a newcomer not just to a.u.e but to Usenet newsgroups in
general, you will find it helpful to read the messages posted regularly
to news.announce.newusers. These contain invaluable
advice on "netiquette", the rules of behaviour expected of those who
post to any newsgroup. These articles are found at:
Asking Questions; Dictionary Definitions
Please do not post questions to a.u.e. that ask "what is the meaning
of...", or "what is the origin of..." Looking in a dictionary is a
quicker and more reliable way of getting an answer. Some people may
respond to such questions with deliberately false information, and it
may not always be obvious that it is comically intended. In the unlikely
event that you don't have a dictionary at hand, try the on-line
Merriam-Webster dictionary at
If you can't find the answer in a dictionary, it is a good idea to
say so in your posting, to reassure people that you have at least
looked. If you are still puzzled after you do your own research, then
you are welcome to post the results of your findings.
Please explain the context of the usage; that will allow people to give
you a sensible answer.
We hope that newcomers who ask a question will stay around long enough
to read a variety of answers, because later responses may correct or
clarify the earlier ones. This process may take two or three days.
The posters in a.u.e tend to avoid initialisms, but you can expect to
find the names of dictionaries and reference works abbreviated for
convenience. Here are a few of the most common initialisms, which are
usually followed by a number to refer to the edition: for example,
AHD3 = American Heritage Dictionary, 3rd ed.
AHD American Heritage Dictionary
CIDE Cambridge International Dictionary of English
COD Concise Oxford Dictionary
MEU Modern English Usage (Fowler, Gowers or Burchfield)
MWCD Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary
NODE New Oxford Dictionary of English
NSOED New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
OED Oxford English Dictionary
RHDEL Random House Dictionary of the English Language
RHHDAS Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang
RHWCD Random House Webster's College Dictionary
RHWUD Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary
SOED Shorter Oxford English Dictionary
W3NID Webster's Third New International Dictionary
For many more abbreviations found in a.u.e, go to
When responding to other people, please quote *just enough* of the
previous posting to set the context for readers. You rarely need to
quote the whole thing. Delete the signature if your software does not
Please place your remarks and signature *below* the material you are
quoting. That is the tradition in this and many newsgroups. It minimizes
confusion by keeping the contributions in chronological order,
especially when several postings are quoted in one response, as is
fairly common. Some popular newsreaders, such as Outlook Express,
automatically put the cursor above the quoted material; you can take
advantage of this by scrolling down through the prior posting, deleting
anything superfluous, until you reach the point where you want to start
When participating in cross-posted threads, you will often do everyone a
service if you use the "Followup-To" line to direct followups only to
a.u.e; you should mention in the message body that you have changed
For more on this topic, please read "Quoting Usenet Articles in
Dealing with unwanted postings
Please don't respond to spam, or off-topic postings, or questions that
can easily be answered in a dictionary. If you feel strongly about such
matters, send a polite e-mail note to the offender. Responding to the
group uses up bandwidth, wastes even more of everyone's time, and has no
effect on spammers, who never read the groups they spam to.
alt.usage.english and alt.english.usage
We are sometimes asked why there are two newsgroups with similar
names. We don't know; it may have been an error. We are also asked what
the difference is between the two groups. We are not aware of any
official policy differences; participants of both groups report that
alt.usage.english has significantly more traffic. Beyond that, you
can make your own judgements about atmosphere, attitudes,
personalities of current contributors, etc.
A historical note: one of the messages from 1991 about the formation of
a.u.e can be found at: