1. Education
Richard Nordquist

Dummy "It," Existential "There," and a Slip of the Ear: There's a Name for It (#22)

By November 5, 2012

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In our extensive Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms, you'll find a name for . . .

  • the use of it as a subject in sentences about time and weather (for example, "It's raining") and in certain idioms ("It's OK"): dummy it

  • the argumentative strategy of calling attention to a point by seeming to disregard it ("I won't even mention her habit of plagiarizing my articles"): praeteritio*

  • the conversational strategy of forestalling further discussion by repeating the same expression over and over: the broken-record response

  • the use of the expletive there in front of a verb to assert that someone or something exists ("There is a zebra in my garden"): existential there

  • mistaking a word for a similar-sounding word: a slip of the ear

  • a word (such as "seldom") or an expression (such as "hardly ever") that is almost (but not wholly) negative in meaning: a semi-negative

  • a verb aspect that refers to repeated events in the past ("I used to dream about unicorns"): habitual past

  • a noun borrowed from another language (such as "nucleus") that has kept its original plural form ("nuclei") rather than adapt the usual English plural ending of -s: foreign plural

* Also see apophasis, paralepsis, and occultatio.

More Words About Words:

Blackboard: examples of slips of the ear, cited by Norbert Schmitt in Vocabulary in Language Teaching (Cambridge University Press, 2000)

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