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From NPR

It's the very first words of the article.

Finally, this hour, a Chinese company has signed onto carve a canal across Nicaragua creating an alternative to the Panama Canal.

  1. I think "sign" here means to make an agreement with another, right? But I feel somewhat odd about the word "onto". I don't encounter the word too much comparing to "to". So there any difference if I change "onto" to "to" here?

  2. Is "carve a canal" a habitual expression? From the dictionary, I know that carve means to make an object or pattern by cutting a piece of wood or stone, using it in a canal makes me feel strange, how about dig a canal?

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This could be a typo of "has signed on to carve a canal". en.wiktionary.org/wiki/sign_on – CowperKettle Feb 24 '14 at 3:22
"To carve a canal" could be an example of journalistic flourish: when two or more words in a row begin with the same letter, it is considered nice. 'To carve' is not that far from 'to dig' and is somewhat more imaginative. It fits the context of a media article. – CowperKettle Feb 24 '14 at 3:35
@CopperKettle To carve is also to leave a mark, like carving your name into a tree trunk, and so the usage invokes the connotation. – Kaz Feb 24 '14 at 5:24
up vote 3 down vote accepted

1) It should say "a Chinese company has signed on to carve a canal". "Sign on" is a phrasal verb that means to agree to something or to enter into a contract.

Sometimes if the words "in" and "to" are next to each other, it gets written as "into". To me, this seems like a mistake, but I have seen it happen fairly often.

2) According to Google, "carve" can mean "to produce (something) by cutting into hard material". For example, "I carved letters into wood". In this case, a canal is carved into the earth.

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