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It's time for the lightning round

We get tons of great questions about language from our listeners. The problem is we only get to answer one or two per week.

This week, we're doing things a little differently. We give you the That's What They Say lightning round. 

Question 1: What's the past tense of troubleshoot?

Troubleshot? Troubleshooted? Neither of those sound very good, though "troubleshot" tends to be the preference of usage guides. For many of us, it's probably easier just to find a way around this one -- e.g. "I did some troubleshooting yesterday."

Question 2: What's the difference between "farther" and "further"?

Some usage guides try to make the distinction that "farther" should be used for physical distances, while "further" should be used for figurative distance. But it's not always easy to determine whether something is figurative. For example, if something you're reading is very upsetting and you need to stop, do you say "I can't read any further" or "I can't read any farther"?

The truth is, many of us use "farther" and "further" interchangeably, and that's okay. Don't worry about this one.

Question 3: Why does "on accident" sound so wrong?

This is like asking someone if they prefer Facebook or Instagram. That is to say, your answer will probably give away your age. "On accident" tends to be the preference of the younger set, while the more, ahem, mature crowd leans toward "by accident." English Professor Anne Curzan says, "The younger people are going to win on this one."

Question 4: Is the use of "anymore" in the following sentence a legitimate use? "Anymore, the job opportunities in the auto-industry aren't there."

This is what linguists call positive "anymore," and it generally means "nowadays." Sometimes it's used to show a shift. For example, "Gas is expensive anymore." That is, gas is more expensive nowadays than it was in the past.

Some of us can only use "anymore" when it's paired with "not" -- "I'm not going to do that anymore." However, positive "anymore" is scattered throughout the U.S., including Michigan. That makes as legitimate as anything else, right?

Question 5: Where does the apostrophe go in "Mother's Day"?

Obviously, you can already see the answer. Between the "r" and the "s" is the most standard apostrophe placement for this holiday. The woman primarily responsible for creating it, Anna Jarvis, wanted it to be a celebration of each and every mother, thus the use of singular "Mother."

However, there are other spellings that put the apostrophe after the "s" and others that simply leave it out altogether. Personally, we feel that today is a day to celebrate all mothers regardless of apostrophe preference. So, happy Mother's/s'/s Day!

Thanks to our colleagues Crissy and Steve and listeners Dawn, Kathy, Ben and Valerie for contributing these questions.


Anne Curzan is the Geneva Smitherman Collegiate Professor of English and an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor at the University of Michigan. She also holds faculty appointments in the Department of Linguistics and the School of Education.
Rebecca Kruth is the host of All Things Considered at Michigan Public. She also co-hosts Michigan Public's weekly language podcast That’s What They Say with English professor Anne Curzan.
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