|Thursday, June 20, 2013||Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher|
|June 2013, Vol. 15, No. 6||There are now 270 people reading TVR.||ISSN 1542-7080|
Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English
A Compendium of Mistakes in Grammar, Usage, and Spelling with Commentary on Lexicographers and Linguists
Today's popular dictionaries often fail to define words correctly or to distinguish between them; some dictionaries even maintain that one word means the same as another simply because people who do not know the correct meanings of the words confuse them. Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English a supplement to whatever dictionary you own or use is an attempt to combat this nonsense, to return meaning and distinction to the words we use.
by Mark Halpern
This contribution to Vocabula is a mixture of small observations and arguments falling into two groups that are related to each other only in being concerned with language. The first group is a series of questions addressed to academic linguists, lexicographers, and descriptivists of any kind, in an attempt to start a dialogue about our differences. Long experience tells me that nothing short of having a judge order them to answer on pain of being charged with contempt of court would get them to do so, but it may nevertheless serve some purpose to put on record questions that they regularly decline to answer, or even to acknowledge as having been asked: observing their refusal may suggest some inferences. (I have usually abbreviated the words prescriptivist and prescriptivism as P, and descriptivist and descriptivism as D.)
If, as I have often been told, writing well does not make one an authority on usage, why are we also being told that some controversial locution must be accepted because Shakespeare (for example) used it?
To claim that a controversial usage must be accepted because it was once considered correct (for example, disinterested to mean uninterested), or because one thinks that it will one day become correct (for example, R. W. Burchfield's feeling that reticent will come to mean reluctant), is like running a red light with the excuse that not long ago it was green, and may well become green again in the future. As a writer for The New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" (February 8, 1964) column said, "we believe that lexicographers can recognize the obvious truth that correct usage changes in time, without proclaiming that there is no correct usage at a given time." Was The New Yorker too sanguine, Mr. D? More ...
by Joseph Epstein
I was not long ago introduced before giving a talk by a woman who, to authenticate my importance, said that she had Googled my name and found more than 12 million results. She didn't, thank goodness, go on to say what some of these results were. If she had, she might have mentioned that a few years ago I was, in the blog of a minor academic, "Blowhard of the Month." More recently I have been a "wuss," an "old pouf," and a "homophobe." (An old pouf and a homophobe? On the Internet, the law of contradictions, like many other laws, has long ago been abrogated.) Had she checked more closely under Amazon.com she would have discovered that some of the books I've written have been deemed "mediocre," "deeply biased," and (a favorite) "a waste of paper."
"To write a book," said Stendhal, "is to risk being shot at in public." I used to compare having a book out in the world to walking down a deserted street, when suddenly a window opens and from behind a curtain someone yells, "Fool." Twenty or so steps farther a second window opens and out of it another person shouts, "Fraud." Not too much farther on, yet another window opens, and someone screams, "Hey, Emperor. Forget your trousers?" More ...
by Clark Elder Morrow
When he was a small child, William Claude Dukenfield would play in the street in front of his Philadelphia tenement. His mother would stand on the stoop, watching the world go by, and greeting her neighbors and passers-by with pleasant, conventional words. As soon as the pedestrians were out of earshot, however, Mrs. Dukenfield would mutter caustic remarks about them sotto voce. Young William rejoiced in these rude and penetrating comments, and many years later, when making movies under the nom de théâtre W. C. Fields, he would incorporate the technique into his dialogue (often unscripted). Of course the nature of these nearly whispered remarks would vary according to the character Fields was playing at the time. A rapscallion (such as Fields played in My Little Chickadee, Poppy, and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break) would make derogatory comments; a character who was supposed to garner sympathetic feelings (as in The Bank Dick and It's a Gift) would murmur something observant but innocuous. But in all instances the technique was a vivid and delightful implementation of James Joyce's famous "stream-of-consciousness" writing technique, as applied to the spoken word. What Joyce was doing in Ulysses, W. C. Fields was doing (on a much smaller scale, of course) in movies like You Can't Cheat an Honest Man. More ...
by Jon N. Hall
Recently, I wrote that many Americans, even highly educated ones, regularly misuse the word "or." I called this the "not-or problem," and located its source in a rule propounded by none other than Bryan A. Garner, usage expert par excellence. I proposed my own rule to replace Garner's, and hoped that my article in the March Vocabula would smoke out Mr. Garner, and that he would engage me on the battlefield of ideas. But my hopes have been dashed, I'm being ignored, and I sit here in my jammies in my parents' basement despised, rejected, and sore afraid. So I'll wade into these muddy waters one more time.
One of the reasons folks misuse English nowadays is that we're writing with computers, using word processing programs. We rely on software to alert us of our mistakes. But, as we all know, sometimes word processing programs flag things as errors that aren't errors, and sometimes they don't flag actual errors. Consider this: More ...
by Richard Lederer
A proverb is a well-known, venerable saying rooted in philosophical or religious wisdom. Just about everybody knows some proverbs, and we often base decisions on these instructive maxims. But when you line up proverbs that spout conflicting advice, you have to wonder if these beloved aphorisms aren't simply personal observations masquerading as universal truths.
How can it be true that you should look before you leap but make hay while the sun shines? It's better to be safe than sorry, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Haste makes waste, but he who hesitates is lost. Patience is a virtue, but opportunity knocks but once. Slow and steady wins the race, but gather ye rosebuds while ye may. A stitch in time saves nine, but better late than never. Don't count your chickens before they're hatched, but forewarned is forearmed. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today, but don't cross that bridge until you come to it. There's no time like the present, but well begun is half done. All things come to him who waits, but strike while the iron is hot. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, but faint heart never won fair maiden. More ...
by Bill Casselman
Ductile, hammerable copper, bringer of bronze weapons overthrowing the Stone Age, quack's cure for arthritic stricture, valid trace element in human nutriment, or malleable as a maidenly bracelet, the metal's distinct tincture compounded of red and brown chromas, of golden undertone, of russet luminance and cupric hue and auburn glint, all these properties of copper have been millennial pleasures to the eye and hand of humankind.
Our English word copper stems from an early Germanic borrowing of the Latin cuprum, "copper." Where did the word begin? On the stark and lovely Mediterranean isle of Cyprus, we think, where, at least one thousand years before Christ, copper mines abounded. In a syllabic script called Mycenaean Greek Linear B, there appears a demonym, the name for an island dweller, recorded as ku-pi-ri-jo, "person of Cyprus, a Cypriot." More ...
by Sean A. Guynes
In October 2011, I published an essay in Vocabula called The Wonder of Eastern European Loanwords, which not surprisingly discussed the many words in English that have their roots in the languages of the former Soviet and Ottoman nations. This month, however, I want to discuss something a little closer to home, both literally (well, geographically) and in terms of my interests as a linguist and anthropologist. All across the United States are places like Puyallup, Sequim, Natchitoches, Ponchatoula, Canandaigua, Wapakoneta, Punxsutawney, and Quinnipiac whose names hail from the now dying tongues of Native Americans. In fact, twenty-six of our fifty states have names of indigenous heritage. As do more of our words than we might think. More ...
Vocabula RevisitedDropping Names
by Skip Eisiminger
Set me down in front of a typewriter or a word processor, and I'll type my name; hand me a new pen, and I'll sign my John Henry grand as John Hancock. Some would judge this behavior as evidence of egocentrism; others would see it as a failure of the imagination. I know it to be, however, both as well as a recognition that names are debts, and I'm in arrears. "Sterling (Skip) Kenwood Eisiminger, Junior" is a heavy debt, indeed, and its sissy-snobbish connotations like those of "Sir Percival Llewellyn St. Cloud" mired me in more playground rows than I care to recall. But with middle age, I know the truth of Thoreau's observation: "With knowledge of the name comes a distincter knowledge and recognition of the thing." More ...
"Oddments and Miscellanea" is a collection of musings about language, quotations from the enemies of English, archival material, and more. More ...
Free in VocabulaGotcha Grammar
Here are quotations from well-known people, all of whom have used words ungrammatically or unstylistically. These are unnotable quotes, a collection of solecisms, by well-known people who speak as though they should be unknown. More ...
Free in VocabulaBest Words
Love a word? Tell us what it is and perhaps we'll add it to our list of Best Words. There need not be any well-reasoned analysis of your high regard for a word; emotional reactions to the sound or meaning of words are welcome. If a word you love is already listed, you are welcome to tell us why you, too, love the word. The Best Words have an aura of fun or majesty. More ...
Free in VocabulaWorst Words
Hate a word? Tell us what it is and perhaps we'll add it to our list of Worst Words. There need not be any well-reasoned analysis of your distaste for a word; visceral reactions to the sound or meaning of words are welcome. If a word you hate is already listed, you are welcome to tell us why you, too, hate the word. The Worst Words have an aura of foolishness or odium. More ...
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