You Know. Doppelganger. Trademarks. Funnily.

It's "listener question extravaganza" time, so I have some quick hits on discourse markers such as "you know," where we get the word "doppelganger," how to punctuate around trademarks, and the difference between "funny" and "funnily." 

Mignon Fogarty
8-minute read
Episode #871

It’s time for our quarterly listener question extravaganza podcast! 

Discourse Markers

"Hello, Mignon. My name is Hal in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I'm calling to suggest a segment on the expression ‘you know.’ Seems like everybody I talk to uses ‘you know’ in every sentence, so it must be serving a grammatical function, but it's not a grammatical function I can figure out. Thank you for listening, and I hope you can discuss this issue."

Oh, Hal, you have hit upon one of my own verbal tics. When I am unscripted, like when I do radio interviews, I say “you know” a lot if I’m not actively reminding myself to slow down and not to say it.

What I love about the way you asked the questions is that you didn’t rant about how much it bothers you or how annoying it is. Instead, you’re curious! And you realize that if lots of people are saying something, there must be a reason. I mean, it must serve some purpose or people wouldn’t do it, right?

That’s the kind of thing linguists study, and they call phrases like “you know” and “I mean” “discourse markers.” 

Cambridge Dictionary says we use discourse markers “to connect, organize, and manage what we say or write or to express attitude.” For example, they say people sometimes use “you know” to mark that what follows is “old, shared or expected knowledge.” So if I’m answering a question on the fly about the difference between initialisms and acronyms, which we covered a few weeks ago, I might say something like “So, you know, some abbreviations are pronounced as words, like ‘NASA,’ and for others, we say all the letters, like ‘FBI.’” In that case, I’m using “you know” because I’m starting with a fact that I expect most people to recognize.

But the phrase “you know” doesn’t always serve such a direct purpose. Discourse markers often don’t add literal meaning to a sentence. They’re more for guiding the flow of a conversation. “You know” can also highlight part of the conversation or just show a general acknowledgement of the other person. For example, I might respond to the question by saying, “You know, I wondered about that too!” That’s not something the caller could have known. I’m just subconsciously doing something there … I’m not even sure what. Maybe trying to connect with the caller or highlight that I think it’s an interesting question too.

A 2014 study in the “Journal of Language and Social Psychology” said that people use the phrase “you know” to ask a listener to make inferences about the conversation and to confirm that a listener understands. They also found that people who scored higher on measures of conscientiousness were more likely to use discourse markers. They hypothesized that “conscientious people are generally more thoughtful and aware of themselves and their surroundings. When having conversations with listeners, conscientious people use discourse markers, such as 'I mean' and 'you know,' to imply their desire to share or rephrase opinions to recipients.”

Thanks for the question, Hal. Other discourse markers include “you see,” “right,” “OK,” “like,” “well,” and “so,” and if you’re still curious, you can hear more about “like” in episode 792 and “so” in episode 456.


"Hi. Love your podcast. I discovered it about five months ago, and I'm just loving it. Listen to it every night. You probably covered it already, but ‘doppelganger’? Where did that ever come from? Or what’s the derivation of ‘doppelganger’ when we have a lookalike? That term or that name … I wonder why that is called ‘doppelganger.’ Thank you."

That’s a fun question, and I haven’t answered it before. It’s kind of interesting because it came directly from the German word “doppelganger,” but it went through a little English phase first, which is something I don’t remember ever seeing before. (I’m sure it’s happened; I just haven’t seen it.)

“Doppelganger” means literally “double goer” in German, and it was a ghostly thing, an apparition of a living person.

The first example in the Oxford English Dictionary uses a half-English form, “double ganger,” and it’s from “Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft” by Walter Scott in 1830. It reads, “He...may probably find it to be his own fetch or wraith or double-ganger.” But then by 1851, it shows up in English in the German form again, “doppelganger,” which is all I’ve ever heard and is the far more common form in books published in English today. “Doubleganger shows up occasionally,” but “doppelganger” is at least 10 times more common.

Merriam-Webster says that in German folklore, we all have “a spirit double who is invisible but identical” to us and that exists when we’re alive, which makes it different from a ghost, which appears after we’re dead.

Of course, today, you can use “doppelganger” to describe one of these specters, but I think people are much more likely to use it to describe someone who just looks very much like someone else. If you saw someone who looks just like me in a restaurant, you might tell me you saw my doppelganger, and there wouldn’t be anything ghostly about it. 

Thanks for the question!


"Hey, Mignon, this is DJ calling from Atlanta. I have a question about what you do with a registered trademark sign at the end of the word, specifically when you make the word possessive and then plural and then plural possessive. For example, the word ‘Realtor,’ the final R is followed by the registered trademark sign. When you make a possessive,  you stick an apostrophe S in there, but where does the registered trademark land? Does it stick with the final R, or does it go after the S at the end? And then the same question for the plural version of the word, ‘Realtors’: Does the registered trademark stick with R, or does it follow the S at the end? And then when you make the plural, ‘Realtors,’ possessive by sticking an apostrophe after the S, same question: Does the registered trademark stick with the R or go after the S apostrophe. Thought you might know the answer to this or could dig up the answer and let us all know. Thanks again. Love your show."

Thanks, DJ! That’s a tricky one that thankfully doesn’t come up very often, but I was curious too after I heard your question.

Not every publication uses the trademark or registered trademark symbol at all. The Associated Press, for example, doesn’t include them when they use trademarks in stories, and the Chicago Manual of Style notes that “there is no legal requirement to use these symbols” and recommends omitting them whenever possible. 

More importantly, trademark lawyers tell trademark holders not to make their trademarked words plural or possessive because it weakens the trademark to use it that way. It’s why you sometimes get sticklers reminding you that the toys are “Lego bricks” and not just “Legos,” and why Nabisco always refers to “Oreo cookies” and not just “Oreos.”

As an aside, making trademarks verbs is bad too, trademark-wise. You may remember that from the episode about using the name “Google” as a verb. The company doesn’t want you to do it for trademark reasons, even though everyone does.

I think the question of how to make a trademark possessive or plural is really a question about how to rephrase your sentence so that you can avoid making a trademark possessive or plural. Let’s use your example, “Realtor,” which isn’t just any real estate agent. It’s the trademarked name for an agent who is a member of the National Association of Realtors.

First, fortunately, the National Association of Realtors has trademarked both the singular and the plural versions, so you can use the plural normally with the symbol right after the final S if you want to use the symbol.

But second, even though I can definitely see why you’d want to talk about a Realtor’s open house (making “Realtor’s” possessive), I think the easiest and best way to do it is to just refer to them as “agents” or “real estate agents” instead because that’s a broader, but also accurate, term that doesn’t break the rules about not making trademarks possessive or plural. Otherwise, to stay within the trademark rules, you’d have to write something like “My clients attended the open house of Realtor Smith,” and that’s just clunky. 

But again, you can also just use the word “Realtor” like any other word because there’s no legal requirement to use the trademark symbol in general writing.

Thanks for the question!

‘Funny’ or ‘Funnily’?

"Hi, Mignon. I have a question, actually really more of a query. I was just wondering when is it appropriate to use the word ‘funnily’ instead of the word ‘funny.’ I know we hear it with like ‘funnily enough, this happened,’ but I’ve seen it used in sentences. A friend of mine said one the other day, and it just sounded wrong. Any clarification would be much appreciated. Thanks! Love the show."

“Funnily” is an adverb, which means you use it to modify many parts of speech such as verbs, as in “Squiggly is sitting funnily. Does he have chocolate stuffed in his pockets or something?” or you can use it to modify another adverb, as in the phrase “funnily enough.” But you don’t use adverbs to modify nouns. That’s what you use adjectives for, and “funny” is an adjective. So you might say, “Squiggly has a funny spot on his face; I think it might be chocolate,” with “funny” the adjective modifying “spot” the noun.

It’s a little more complicated, though, because “funny” can also be an adverb. It’s what’s called a flat adverb, not having the “-ly” part on the end. So whereas we said, “Squiggly is sitting funnily,” you might also hear “Squiggly is sitting funny.” The Oxford English Dictionary calls that kind of use of “funny” “regional and colloquial.” The Merriam-Webster online dictionary includes it, but Dictionary.com actually doesn’t, which really surprised me. To me, the adverb “funny” often sounds more natural than “funnily.” For example, to me, “You're walking funny, did you hurt your foot?” sounds more natural than “You’re walking funnily, did you hurt your foot?” Maybe I’m from one of those regions where it’s more common. 

I was feeling so unsettled by the OED labeling the adverbial “funny” as colloquial and Dictionary.com not having it, that I did a  Twitter poll, and at the time I’m recording this, 88% of the 800 respondents said they’d be more likely to say, “Your walking funny” than “You’re walking funnily.” 

But I also did the poll during the day in U.S. time, and one respondent who described himself as “a Northern Irish Londoner” said “walking funny” sounded unorthodox and American to him, which fits with the Oxford English Dictionary, which is a British dictionary, saying it’s regional and colloquial. So if you’re in Britain, you might want to stick with “funnily” for the adverb, but I think if you are in the U.S., it’s fine to use “funny.” And for the caller, it’s certainly not wrong to use “funnily” as an adverb, but it may sometimes sound weird (funny!) to our American ears.

Thanks for the question.


About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.