Sometimes it's hard

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I've promoted this from its origin as an update to Sunday's post "Spelling is hard". KF wrote:

My dear husband always corrects my grammar…. Spelling is difficult; walls are hard.
Many people fail to use the word hard correctly….

But KF's husband can be added to the list of those who are ignorant about hard. The OED's entry has:

5. a. Difficult to do or accomplish; not easy; full of obstacles; laborious, fatiguing, troublesome.

a1340 HAMPOLE Psalter vi. 4 Ful hard it is to be turnyd enterly til þe bryghthed and þe pees of godis lyght. c1440 Promp. Parv. 227/1 Harde yn knowynge, or warkynge, difficilis. 1559 W. CUNINGHAM Cosmogr. Glasse 97 It is as harde, and laborus, to get the Longitude. 1611 BIBLE Transl. Pref. 2 So hard a thing it is to please all. 1653 WALTON Angler ii. 60, I see now it is a harder matter to catch a Trout then a Chub. 1711 STEELE Spect. No. 36 {page}8 How hard a thing it is for those to keep Silence who have the Use of Speech. 1876 MOZLEY Univ. Serm. iv. 90 Often..what we must do as simply right..is just the hardest thing to do.

Mr. KF's little crotchet seems to be yet another example of prescriptivist invention without any foundation at all in actual usage. The general idea seems to be that if there are two words with overlapping meanings, they should be redefined so as to eliminate the overlap. I haven't encountered this particular (hard != not easy) peeve before, and it's not common enough to have been noted in the MWDEU entry for hard, which is mostly about the history and usage of hardly. But I imagine that Mr. KF is not the only person who believes it.

KF, coming out from behind her husband, responded:

I totally disagree. Hard (to do) is different than hard by itself. And the biblical translation is just that…not a preferred one.

(The OED's "1611 BIBLE Transl. Pref." reference is to the "translators' preface" to the 1611 King James Version of the bible — it's not a part of a translation at all, and the only preference involved is the translators' implicit views about English usage, which clearly include the idea that hard can mean "difficult".)

KF is shifting the goal posts here, since her (husband's?) original complaint was that only (things like) walls are hard, so that the word should only be used for a physical object or substance "That does not yield to blows or pressure; not easily penetrated or separated into particles; firm and resisting to the touch; solid, compact in substance and texture", as the OED puts it.

This would disallow common and standard collocations like "hard work", "hard problems", "a hard job", and so on, and well as the many commonplace instances of "hard to VERB" meaning "difficult to VERB". So KF shifts her ground: the key thing now is for hard to be by itself in predicate position without a complement, and to serve as the opposite of "easy" rather than the opposite of "soft".

I tried to sway her with some other quotations from esteemed writers:

Benjamin Disraeli: "Manners are easy," said Coningsby, "and life is hard."

Bret Harte: After Mother Nell left her husband — for which step she gave no reason except that her life was hard and dull—she formed other associations and thought no more of either husband or child.

Herman Melville: The task was hard, but how glorious the reward!

Wilkie Collins: Law may be hard, but it can't be harder than music.

But KF is a hard woman to persuade: "I hear what you are saying.. but just because something is hard, doesn't mean it's difficult."

In fact, in her case, I'd say that it's effectively impossible.

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64 Comments »

  1. KevinM said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 2:42 pm

    Or (one of my favorites), the reported deathbed utterance of Sir Donald Wolfit: "Dying is easy; comedy is hard."

  2. KDeRosa said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    Or Ringo's famous Ringoism "It's been a hard day's night"

  3. Sili said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 3:03 pm

    So you tried long and hard to persuade her?

  4. Jack Lynch said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 3:08 pm

    I've heard the complaint before. American Heritage has a brief note on the subject; though it's not very helpful, it does suggest some people have difficulty with hard = difficult: "Hard and difficult, the most general terms [in their cluster of near-synonyms], are interchangeable in many examples, but difficult is often the more appropriate where a challenge requiring special skills or ingenuity is
    involved."

    I suspect this belief has something to do with the Germanic vs. Romance roots of the two words; 'difficult', from Latin (though with a bizarre English ending), sounds more formal, and for many people that amounts to more correct.

    It's worth noting that 'hardly' in the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries often meant not "barely" or "scarcely" but "with difficulty."

    (I do like looking up words like difficult in OED, and getting a choice of difficult a. — obvious; difficult n. — a little weird, but I can imagine how to make difficult a noun; and difficult v. — difficult a verb? It always produces a "This-I-gotta-see" reaction in me.)

  5. Faldone said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 3:21 pm

    When your peeves lie to you you must put them down. No exceptions. It might be hard to do but you must do it.

  6. Matt said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 3:23 pm

    "I haven't encountered this particular (hard != not easy) peeve before"

    Not really a comment on the tenacity of prescriptivists, but I like this beautiful example of the robustness of negative strengthening. The literalist in me protests that "not easy" doesn't really imply "hard" (could mean neither easy nor hard), so why is it such a transparent paraphrase? Is there a way of actually capturing "hard" with "easy"? Not so easy to come up with one….

  7. Kelly said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 3:28 pm

    Prescriptivists are hilarious!

    I find that now I usually say "difficult" instead of "hard" but that's because my husband has a tendency to make double entendre jokes (that's what she said, etc) so I try not to give him too much opportunity.

    [(myl) When KF wrote to me that "just because something is hard, doesn't mean it's difficult", I was of course tempted to respond with TWSS.]

  8. Brian said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 3:43 pm

    That's actually a fair argument for this particular prescrpitivism given here so far.

  9. Daniel von Brighoff said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

    My father was raised with a parallel peeve–I don't remember if it was bequeathed him by a teacher or a parent. When we would describe ourselves as "done" with some activity, he would retort, "You're only 'done' if you've been cooking in the oven!" "Finished" was the word he had been taught to use in such contexts.

    To his credit, sometime in my college years, he confessed to me that he'd checked several grammar guides and never found one that listed this particular distinction. So he concluded it was bogus. (Insofar as this is an instance of "following the evidence", it might be relevant that his background is in the hard sciences rather than the humanities.)

  10. Sean Edison-Albright said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 3:54 pm

    @Kelly: "I try not to give him too much opportunity." That's what she said.

  11. MJ said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 3:56 pm

    I wonder what the prescriptivist would say about such locutions as 'hard drugs' or 'hard liquor'. Neither like a wall nor a task. But how do you say it otherwise?

  12. Karen said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

    I sense a paradoxical preference for Latinate words… How did English get by before the Normans?

  13. Dan T. said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 4:39 pm

    "Hard" as in "hard liquor" seems to be as opposed to "soft" (rather than "easy"), given the existence of "soft drinks".

    However, a song in the play "Hair" is "Easy to be Hard".

  14. Nathan Myers said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 4:50 pm

    Karen: Badly. After, too, though.

  15. Rubrick said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 4:51 pm

    I believe the correct response to someone who objects to "hard" meaning "difficult" is "Tough."

  16. Joe B. said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

    I drink hard liquor only if the bartender knows how to make a stiff drink.

  17. John Lawler said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

    @MJ, Dan – Hard Soft is a metaphor theme that usually maps onto Up Down. It gets applied in many ordered semantic fields when one can attach a particular property (or type of property) to one end (two is better, but not necessary).
    Examporum gratia:

    hard/soft-ass(ed) 'perceived strength of [enforcement/management]'
      (hard-ass means high strength)

    hard/soft-core 'perceived degree of [pornography]'
      (hard-core means high degree)

    hard/soft(-)face(d) 'perceived degree of [social accomodation]'
      (hard(-)face(d) means low in friendliness)
    etc.

  18. John McIntyre said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 5:14 pm

    Thirty years in the business, and nearly every day I come across some idiotic distinction or harebrained "rule" of usage that I had not previously encountered.

  19. fred lapides said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 5:21 pm

    …and the there is that song by Woody Guthre:

    It's hard and it's hard ain't it hard
    To love one that never did love you
    Hard and it's hard ain't it hard great God
    To love one that never will be true

  20. Stuart said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 6:08 pm

    That was an amusing read, thank you! Also, I have heard this particular piece of prescriptivist poppycock previously. Not often, and not for years, but I remember hearing it as a child here in NZ.

  21. Aaron Toivo said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 6:19 pm

    Though this isn't particularly one of them, a number of similar situations are permanent peeves for me, despite having long been awaked to the light of descriptive linguistics. I know well enough not to pester people about their usage! But though objectively silly, they remain subjectively powerful. I cannot seem to help but be irked at a number of overlapping-definition situations. "Aggravate" means to make worse, not to annoy. Really. ::sadface::

    Okay I'll go back to my forlorn little corner and hide now.

  22. Ray Girvan said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 7:29 pm

    myl: I was of course tempted to respond with TWSS

    Bah, neologisms. What was wrong with ATASTTB?

  23. Ben said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 7:43 pm

    Just because something is hard, doesn't mean it's difficult…. ladies.

  24. Stuart said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 7:49 pm

    "What was wrong with ATASTTB?" That was my thought exactly!

  25. Nanani said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 8:27 pm

    Japanese has a similar polysemy, but we distinguish it with Kanji ;)

    Take the following katai words
    硬いー>the opposite of soft
    堅い->the opposite of fragile (synonym of sturdy or solid)
    固いー>the opposite of loose (synonym of stiff, as in a knot)
    難い->the opposite of easy (difficult to do)

    That last is often appended to a verb, in which case the initial consonant is voiced and becomes -gatai.
    For example 読み難い
    yomigatai means "hard to read".

    Incidentally, this is the way to analyse "arigatou" 有難う; the first kanji read ari means simply "to be".

    Nanani @ loves cross-linguisic polysemy because it seems so surprising to her.

  26. Henning Makholm said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

    Certainly "difficult" and "hard" (in the relevant sense) overlap more than they differ, and I wouldn't attempt to extract much meaning from the difference, much less criticize other people's choice here.

    However, intuitively I understand "hard" to mean that the task requires strength, effort and perhaps luck, while "difficult" means that it requires skill. If you fail at a hard task, you need to try again, just with more power and persistence; if you fail at a difficult one, you need to learn how to do it right and then practice, practice, practice. Thus I think I agree with the point that spelling is more precisely described as "difficult" than "hard'. Of course, learning any difficult skill can be hard, so in practice the nuance I think I perceive is seldom crucial.

    I prefer to think that this impression is a valid generalization from the contexts that I've heard the words used in, but it is hard to know that it is not just random. Clearly it is not universal. People must be subconsciously inventing random nuances between synonyms all the time. If enough people just happen to invent the same nuance at roughly the same time, and follow it in their own usage, it can become self-perpetuating and end up as a real difference. Is there a nice learned term for this?

  27. Tim said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 9:35 pm

    "When we would describe ourselves as 'done' with some activity, he would retort, 'You're only "done" if you've been cooking in the oven!' 'Finished' was the word he had been taught to use in such contexts."

    The version I heard in my youth (ca. two decades ago) was usually "turkeys are done ; people are finished". It only recently occurred to me that, if one wishes to be pedantic about that usage, shouldn't it be "…people have finished"? It's really the task that is finished. If I say "I am finished", who or what has finished me?

    Unfortunately, I never thought of it at the time. It would have made a useful retort.

  28. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 10:01 pm

    @Henning Makholm: Your comment reminds me of a column by Erin McKean at . It doesn't answer your question, but it might interest you anyway, if you haven't already seen it.

  29. Taylor Selseth said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 10:14 pm

    IMO good way to tell if someone is either 1. not a native English speaker or 2. a prescriptivist fool is if in an informal situation they use a Latinate word when a perfectly good Germanic word (or a phrasal verb with a Germanic root) will do.

    No, i didn't "receive" a gift, I GOT a gift, or WAS GIVEN a gift.

  30. un malpaso said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 10:37 pm

    Hmmmm…
    Some people (non-linguists, or non-lay-linguists) have a nagging feeling that every word in their language should have a precise meaning.

    It consequently disturbs them whenever they become conscious of naturally occurring ambiguities in their speech. They think language, or their native one at least, should be a "precise instrument".

    Of course, they don't realize that these rules are inconsistent… and they are the ones who most easily fall prey to prescriptivists. Actually, if they have enough energy, they become them.

    This may seem like an obvious statement, but I am just trying to straddle the worlds of layman, professional linguist, and armchair linguist. As a non-linguist (professionally) with intensive interest and somewhat of a background in linguistics, my sympathies are with the linguists, but I often wish there were a way to calm the waters :) I hate to see people get tensed up over distinctions like "hard/difficult," a dichotomy which has never even plagued my conscience!

  31. Miguel said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 10:42 pm

    Exactly the same happens in Spanish, where you can say for example "trabajo duro" ("hard work"), where "duro" can be applied either to an physical object or in the same sense as "difficult". But as far as I know nobody ever tried to apply a rule to the use of this word.

  32. Timothy Martin said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 11:22 pm

    This post reminded me of how I would often lament, during my time as an assistant english teacher in Japan, that students were taught only the word "difficult" as a translation for 難しい (muzukashii), and so they would never use the word "hard" even though most of the time it was a much more natural translation. It was a completely obvious judgement for me that the word "hard" sounded more natural much of the time – it's amazing how much of a tin ear for the language some people can have, such that they would take their completely accurate intuitions as native speakers and override them with ridiculous "rules."

  33. Jessica said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 11:24 pm

    Nanani – thanks for the notes on かたい. I have an easy time keeping the meaning of 難い separate from the other four but find 堅い、固い、and 硬い harder to distinguish between. I feel like I understand them better now. Thanks for the sneak Japanese lesson ;)

  34. Nick said,

    June 15, 2010 @ 11:32 pm

    Guys, Die Difficult is on TBS right now.

  35. stevesp101 said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 12:02 am

    @Matt — defining hard in terms of easy could be: the opposite of easy.

  36. stevesp101 said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 12:09 am

    @Daniel von Brighoff — No, that's absolutely not relevant.

  37. Nijma said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 1:14 am

    to do do down dooby doo down down,
    comma comma down dooby doo down down,
    comma comma down dooby doo down down
    breaking up is hard to do…

    They say that breaking up is hard to do
    Now I know I know that it's true
    Don't say that this is the end
    Instead of breaking up I wish that we were making up again

    -Neil Sedaka, 1961

  38. D.O. said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 1:21 am

    KF should be commended for standing up for her husband!

  39. Anthea Fleming said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 3:10 am

    Done versus finished – what about the expression 'done and dusted' for completed carpentry, painting or other building trade jobs?
    Or is that an Australianism?

  40. pj said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 3:27 am

    @Anthea – 'done and dusted' is common in British English, certainly, but I think you'd hear '[it's] done and dusted' rather than '[I'm] done and dusted', and I take it it's only people being 'done' that causes the 'problem'.

  41. Sid Smith said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 3:49 am

    "done and dusted"

    Not forgetting "home and hosed".

  42. Army1987 said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 4:25 am

    I once thought that the use of Italian duro to mean 'difficult' might be a calque of English hard, but soon after I remembered that Dante used it with that meaning in the fourth line of the Inferno.

  43. Faldone said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 7:09 am

    @Henning Makholm; I think you'll find that in many cases people will have firm beliefs about the subtle differences between synonyms but that if you compare the differences on any individual pair there will be little correspondence between one person's understanding and another's.

  44. Bill Walderman said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 7:21 am

    "good way to tell if someone is either 1. not a native English speaker or 2. a prescriptivist fool is if in an informal situation they use a Latinate word when a perfectly good Germanic word (or a phrasal verb with a Germanic root) will do."

    Gosh, does that mean I have to make sure I know my etymologies to avoid sounding like a prescriptivist fool?

    Or is this the Strunk & White prescription to "avoid Latinate words"?

  45. Gary said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 7:32 am

    This hard!=difficult flap leaves me cold, but the jocular invention of a Latin word (examporum as genitive plural, implying a vox nihili exampum) sends me to the etymological dictionaries.

  46. Kylopod said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 7:48 am

    I had an English comp. professor who insisted on us using (or is that "our using"?) difficult instead of hard, but I doubt he was ignorant of the fact that dictionaries accept this definition; he just thought it was too informal.

  47. Ray Girvan said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 8:09 am

    un malpaso: Some people (non-linguists, or non-lay-linguists) have a nagging feeling that every word in their language should have a precise meaning. It consequently disturbs them whenever they become conscious of naturally occurring ambiguities in their speech.

    Yep: or to be formal, they're bothered by the perfectly normal existence of polysemy. The key phrase is "when they become conscious" because it's selective (call it cognitive, to be charitable). The people who moan about "singular they" doubling up with plural "they" never object to "you" doing exactly the same.

  48. Kylopod said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 9:38 am

    @Faldone

    I think you'll find that in many cases people will have firm beliefs about the subtle differences between synonyms but that if you compare the differences on any individual pair there will be little correspondence between one person's understanding and another's.

    True, and it seems to be a popular sport to identify a subtle distinction between two words that are generally used interchangeably. Like moral and ethical. (Or the John Hughes remark, "A geek is a guy who has everything going for him, but he's just too young. By contrast, a nerd will be a nerd all his life.") Most of these distinctions are pretty fanciful and have little to do with the way people actually use the words in practice. And yet–even for word pairs like these, there often are subtle ways in which the words tend to be used differently in different contexts. Sometimes it's a matter of which idiom you choose: e.g., a stupid person is said to have no brain, but a crazy person is said to have lost his mind. That idiomatic distinction won't shed much light on the philosophical differences between brain and mind, but it is a difference that shows up in the language. Identifying distinctions like these is a matter of trying to observe the language with (pardon the expression) an open mind, and to do that you have to avoid imposing on the language how you think the words ought to be used. And that's harder and more difficult to do than one might suppose.

    One way to tell that two words are virtually identical in meaning, of course, is to try to pair them together in a single sentence with the word "and" separating the two, like I did above. If the resulting sentence sounds weird, then there is probably very little if any difference between the two words. My grandfather, who didn't learn to speak English until he was in his late 30s, once remarked that he was "neither afraid nor scared" of something. That was a phrasing you wouldn't be likely to hear from a native English speaker, because it assumed there is a subtle difference between being afraid and being scared.

  49. cameron said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 10:21 am

    I remember a schoolteacher once telling my class (circa 6th grade) that "dull" was incorrect as an antonym of "sharp" that the only correct antonym of "sharp" is "blunt".

    I've never heard this peeve expressed since. Was this an idiosyncrasy of that teacher (who was from Northern Ireland, incidentally) – or is the dull/blunt peeve more widespread than that?

    [(myl) If your teacher is reading this, he might want to explain Shakespeare's "No doubt the murd'rous knife was dull and blunt, Till it was whetted on thy stone-hard heart." More seriously, I haven't heard of the dull/blunt peeve, any more than I'd heard of the hard/difficult peeve -- but apparently there are many of these, involving the same aversion to salient polysemy.]

  50. Charles said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 10:43 am

    "But KF is a hard woman to persuade: "I hear what you are saying.. but just because something is hard, doesn't mean it's difficult."

    In fact, in her case, I'd say that it's effectively impossible."

    Yes, we should certainly make our best efforts to convince her and her husband that they must begin using "hard" to mean "difficult." How dare she refuse to accept the linguistic orthodoxy, as set forth by the experts. This would make you different than the prescriptivists/peevers how?

    [(myl) The discussion has nothing to do with her choices, or her husband's choices either. The question is whether people (like me and Herman Melville) who use hard in the sense of "Difficult to do or accomplish" are making a mistake. Clear now?]

  51. language hat said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 11:00 am

    Amazing how invested some people are in believing that descriptivists are just like prescriptivists and can therefore be comfortably ignored. These people never demonstrate a grasp of what descriptivists are actually saying; they just want to hang on to their prejudices. (See also: "If you really believe anything goes, how come you write standard grammatical English?")

  52. Robert Coren said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 11:07 am

    Well, I would be sorry to lose the comic/sexual inversion of "A good man is hard to find".

  53. Henning Makholm said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 12:41 pm

    Ran Ari-Gur:

    @Henning Makholm: Your comment reminds me of a column by Erin McKean at .

    Where?

    Kylopod:

    True, and it seems to be a popular sport to identify a subtle distinction between two words that are generally used interchangeably.

    You say that as if it is bad thing.

    It's just thinking about the language you're using, which is fun, educational and a Good Thing in general. If only becomes a fallacy when you demand of somebody else that how they write or speak conform to your personal conclusions.

    The thing is that sometimes the distinctions are real, sometimes they are not. If you identify a real difference, it will make you more effective at communicating your thoughts. If you identify an illusory difference, you will be led to choose one interchangeable synonym over another, which is harmless. It's a win-neutral situation.

    After I wrote my previous comments, I looked up the words in Wiktionary which cites Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913 ed.) for the usage note: "Difficult implies the notion that considerable mental effort or skill is required, or that obstacles are to be overcome which call for sagacity and skill in the agent; as, a difficult task; hard work is not always difficult work". This seems to confirm that if my impression is illusory, it is at least not an illusion unique with me.

    One way to tell that two words are virtually identical in meaning, of course, is to try to pair them together in a single sentence with the word "and" separating the two, like I did above. If the resulting sentence sounds weird, then there is probably very little if any difference between the two words.

    That begs the question. It will sound weird to you if and only if you don't perceive a relevant difference. So it can be used only to verify that the difference you think you perceive is one that you actually perceive. It tells you nothing either way about whether or not others perceive the same difference.

    Also, "A and B" can sound weird even if A and B are not interchangeable, such as if one is narrower than the other. I would balk at "hard and difficult", but Webster's "hard work is not always difficult work" does not sound weird to me.

  54. chris said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 3:47 pm

    But KF is a hard woman to persuade

    Well, that's your hard luck, isn't it?

  55. Peter E Dant said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 6:44 pm

    "Granite is a hard rock to carve." I like the double, and dual, interpretation that can be made in this statement. Thus you have a small example of the beauty of the English language. Away with all prescriptivists.

  56. Stephen Jones said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 8:37 pm

    HenningMakholm
    I think you'll find that whereas 'hard' has many other meanings than 'difficult', 'difficult' can always be replaced by 'hard'.

    [(myl) This seems to me to be almost but not quite true: a "difficult person" is not the same thing as a "hard person", nor is a "difficult child" a "hard child", or "difficult temperament" a "hard temperament"; "difficult moments" are not idiomatically described as "hard moments"; and so on.]

  57. Timothy Martin said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 8:51 pm

    "How dare she refuse to accept the linguistic orthodoxy, as set forth by the experts. This would make you different than the prescriptivists/peevers how?"

    Easy. Prescriptivist rules have little basis in reality – most of them are just made up. But rules that are based on actual usage are useful. In fact, we're following a great many of them as we have this conversation. That's the difference.

  58. Dan M. said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 10:37 pm

    cameron, re dull/blunt:

    Certainly I'd use those terms differently. To me, a knife can be sharp or dull, but a cudgel is blunt. I have called knives blunt, but only as a form of hyperbolic insult. Not that I would consider it an error to not make this distinction, and I'm not particularly sure that the distinction holds when not talking about actual physical pointiness.

    Tim, re have/are finished/done:

    I'm actually intrigued by this. Note that to say "I am done." and "I have finished." are much the same, and so is perhaps "I am finished.", but "I have done." doesn't seem at all similar. To my layman sensibilities, that suggest that the operation of making a past participle with "have" is a different operation than making a description.

  59. blake said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 10:48 pm

    Karen said,
    June 15, 2010 @ 4:20 pm

    I sense a paradoxical preference for Latinate words… How did English get by before the Normans?
    ———————-
    Hardly.

  60. MJ (a different one) said,

    June 16, 2010 @ 11:41 pm

    @Charles

    I don’t care if KF and her husband want to use “difficult” instead of “hard.” But I do care that they are making a claim that is seemingly grounded in a fundamentally flawed understanding of language and how it works.

  61. stevesp101 said,

    June 17, 2010 @ 6:25 am

    @Timothy Martin, and @ Charles –

    The difference is also that no one in this post is proposing a rule that must be followed. The post was just saying that what KF thought was a rule is not actually a rule. How that amounts to prescriptivism is beyond me.

  62. Timothy Martin said,

    June 17, 2010 @ 8:27 am

    @stevesp101:

    That's true. Although, personally, I would say that KF and her husband are breaking a sort of "rule" by constantly using a less-natural word in a given context when they have no valid reason for doing so. Of course, this isn't a rule that "must" be followed, since really no linguistic rule is. I'm free to say "I saw yesterday him" whenever I want. But I am still "breaking a rule," for lack of a more precise term.

  63. Stephen Jones said,

    June 17, 2010 @ 10:59 am

    This seems to me to be almost but not quite true:

    Thanks; I knew there were exceptions but couldn't think of any at the time.

    And of course there are the exceptions to the exceptions. A 'hard person to deal with' is the same as 'a difficult person to deal with, and whilst we don't say 'hard moments' we do say somebody is going through 'a hard time'.

  64. Kate Y. said,

    June 22, 2010 @ 10:59 am

    For me, the original comment sparks an entirely different question than that discussed so far; namely, is this actually a question of "grammar"?

    Sneaked/snuck, "Joan and myself went to the store"—those are grammar issues. But a disputed definition—?

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