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April 2004, Vol. 6, No. 4 There are now  5377  people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

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Vocabula Columnists

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Love Your English
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Outbursts, Insights, Explanations, and Oddities

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Back  English Is Everywhere Richard Lederer

It has recently come to light that mothers in South Korea have been going to great lengths to give their children not just a leg up, but a tongue up on speaking English. Not only do these ambitious parents play their children English nursery rhymes in the womb, hire pricey tutors for their toddlers, and send their preschoolers to America to pick up the accent, now, in an effort to give their children an advantage in a highly competitive global society, the parents are turning to surgery to sort out misplaced l and r sounds. The procedure, which takes twenty to thirty minutes under local anesthetic, involves snipping the thin tissue under the tongue to make it longer and supposedly nimbler. More ... 

Back  An Etymology of the Word Farce Bill Casselman
farc-, farct-, fars-, to stuff

The compound Indo-European root *bhareku is made from two simpler roots: *bheu, swell + *reg, stretch, bind = *bhareku. This double meaning of "swelling and binding or stretching out" suggests that even in Proto-Indo-European, the verb concerned stuffing fowl and other meats, and making sausages.

When IE roots begin in bh-, they often enter Latin as f. Thus bhareku appears in Latin as the reflex stem farc- in the verb farcire, "to stuff." More ... 

Back  Nonce Words, Vogue Words, and Whatchamacallits Bruce O. Boston

Nonce Words. Most dictionaries define a nonce word as one coined "for the nonce," that is, for a particular occasion, presumably never to be used again. There is, of course, a paradox hidden in the definition, which if taken strictly, would mean that the very discussion of a nonce word would remove it from its own category. That logical dead end aside, my American Heritage cites as an example of a nonce word mileconsuming, as in the following fragment from Faulkner: "the wagon began to fall into its slow and mileconsuming clatter." William and Mary Morris's Harper Dictionary of Contemporary Usage offers the charming example of a nonce word arising from the centennial celebration of Lincoln, Illinois. There the townspeople minted a commemorative coin valued at 7.5¢. Since it was worth less than a dime and more than a nickel, they called it a dickel. The word had not been used before nor has it since (except by the Morrises and, now, me). More ... 

Back  In Search of Your Book's Most Powerful Sales Tool: Your Title Michael Larsen

You're in your favorite independent bookstore just after your book is published. You start walking the aisles delighted to find your book face up on the new nonfiction table in the front of the store. You pause to look at it and take in the books around it. How long do you spend looking at the covers of other books? Two seconds each, if you are the average book buyer. And guess what? That's how long everyone who walks by the table will spend looking at your cover. Two seconds is less time than it took you to read the previous sentence.

Two seconds for the design, artwork, and the title. A large proportion of books have tombstone covers. Nobody could think of an image, symbol, or metaphor that could capture the essence of the book in a way that would help sell it, so words are all that browsers have to go on. Finding the perfect title for your book will be an "Aha!" experience. You will know it the moment you think of it or hear it. It will be love at first sound. More ... 

Back  Two Poems Susan Snively

Hurt Writing

1.    How bad to be without bones,
flesh spread around
unable to move,
breathing sticky dreams,
dance-steps like flocks flown away.

2.    I am a thick muffin.
Bring me raisins and walnuts,
re-butter my insides,
yearning for the sweets of substance.

3.    An iron fence
guarded by a mean nun
with a shaved head under her tight wimple.
Latin is her only love.
She cultivates thorns on cactus,
replicating fricatives and rubrics.
More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
Professor Sobersides on "Funny Words"
Clark Elder Morrow

Ladies and gentlemen, before I begin my lecture, I would like to advise you that it is not my purpose to resort to flashy or trendy tricks or jokes in order to entertain you at the expense of your education. I broach the subject of humorous words only because the topic follows logically in the course of our linguistic studies, and because it is — in spite of its appalling frivolity — a legitimate area of scholarly research. I would further appreciate it if our talk did not degenerate into a loud display of rowdiness and hilarity. I thank you in advance for being considerate.

That having been said, let me ask the class why booty is such a funny word. More ... 

Back  The Critical Reader  
Editing as You Would Be Edited: Part I
Mark Halpern

This is the first in a series of essays on editing — that is, on the job of helping writers to present their work in the most effective possible way. It is based on a lifetime's experience of editing and being edited, and only very little, if at all, on what others have written about either experience. I know that in ignoring almost everything already written on editing I may be depriving myself of many useful insights, and repeating what others have already said, and said well. But I am trying to serve myself as well as you here; I wanted to discover what I had learned from my own experience, whether or not it duplicated what others learned from theirs. So you may find some of what follows too familiar or too elementary to be useful; if so, just skip it. I will be dealing exclusively with the editing of nonfiction — expository writing of various flavors — since the editing of fiction is a rather different craft. I'll welcome, of course, any comments that you may have, and if you send useful suggestions in time, I will try to weave my response into future installments. More ... 

Back  The Last Word  
The Complete Idiot's Guide to Quantum Physics
Christopher Orlet

I am one who should not read the newspapers. It seems every time I do I run across another culture story that depresses me more than a dozen drive-by shootings. This time, the story that caught my eye and doused my spirit was hatched in the capital of the glorious New South. There, progressive Atlanta educators are experimenting with a novel way of teaching Shakespeare — by not teaching Shakespeare. More ... 

Back  Ask Fiske  
Thirty Questions
Robert Hartwell Fiske

1. Which is preferred? "Slouching in a chair several hours a day resulted in" (a) "my experiencing back spasms" or (b) "me experiencing back spasms." — Mike Mahoney

(a) "my experiencing back spasms." Before a gerund (a verbal form ending in -ing that is used as a noun), use the possessive pronoun (here, my). The only exception to this rule is when you mean to emphasize the person rather than the occurrence or action. That is, let's say you are talking with several other people who also experience back pain; in that circumstance, you might want to emphasize that you, too, feel pain. If so, you could use me.

Knowing to use the possessive case before a gerund is one of the hallmarks of good English usage. People who use the objective case instead of the possessive are ill spoken, coarse sounding. More ... 

Back  Grumbling About Grammar

Although few people can complain of another's grammatical mistakes with impunity, that is, without revealing their own, we are hopeful that "Grumbling About Grammar" will encourage us all to pay more heed to how the language is used — by ourselves as well as by others — while bettering our ability to speak and write it.

obfusticate Idiotic for obfuscate. • It isn't true encryption, but a fast and easy online tool to obfusticate the source code of your own webpages, to prevent thieves from jacking your html. USE obfuscate. • Words like "nazi" and "monster" appeal to emotions and obfusticate the facts. USE obfuscate. • These terms obfusticate what is really happening, but it does not matter, they are both useful metaphors, and both valid but only to a point. USE obfuscate.

Some people would have you believe that obfusticate (a word doubtlessly begotten of mispronunciation) means to darken, becloud, make obscure, confuse, or make unintelligible. Other people know this is the definition of obfuscate, truly a word. Proclaiming the validity and usefulness of obfusticate is behavior worthy of a half-wit — or a laxicographer. More ... 

Back  Elegant English

We all know far too well how to write everyday English, but few of us know how to write elegant English — English that is expressed with music as well as meaning, style as well as substance. The point of this feature is not to suggest that people should try to emulate these examples of elegant English but to show that the language can be written with grace and polish — qualities that much contemporary writing is bereft of and could benefit from.

Since this little book appeared in print, it has had no less than three answers, and fresh attacks are daily expected from the powers of Grub-street; but should threescore antagonists more arise, unless they say more to the purpose than the forementioned, they shall not tempt me to reply.

Nor shall I engage in a paper war, but leave my book to answer for itself, having advanced nothing therein but evident truths, and incontestable matters of fact.

The general objection is against my style; I do not set up for an author, but write only to be understood, no matter how plain.

As my intentions are good, so have they had the good fortune to meet with approbation from the sober and substantial part of mankind; as for the vicious and vagabond, their ill-will is my ambition. — Daniel Defoe, Preface to Everybody's Business Is Nobody's Business More ... 

Back  On Dimwitticisms

Whereas a witticism is a clever remark or phrase — indeed, the height of expression — a "dimwitticism" is the converse; it is a commonplace remark or phrase. Dimwitticisms are worn-out words and phrases; they are expressions that dull our reason and dim our insight, formulas that we rely on when we are too lazy to express what we think or even to discover how we feel. The more we use them, the more we conform — in thought and feeling — to everyone else who uses them.

a (welcome) breath of fresh air Of what it purports to describe, a (welcome) breath of fresh air offers the opposite. If intelligent or heartfelt sentences are invigorating, this dimwitticism should make us gasp as though we've been throttled by foul-smelling thoughtlessness. • A toy industry analyst called the news a breath of fresh air. REPLACE WITH exciting. • Ordinarily, I find Friedman a welcome breath of fresh air — he has little patience for fools and plagiarists, an obvious depth of knowledge on all genres of the entertainment industry, reliable inside sources and candor to spare. REPLACE WITH refreshing. More ... 

Back  Clues to Concise Writing

Words often ill serve their purpose. When they do their work badly, words militate against us. Poor grammar, sloppy syntax, misused words, misspelled words, and other infelicities of style impede communication and advance only misunderstanding. But there is another, perhaps less well-known, obstacle to effective communication: too many words.

continue on continue. • If he doesn't raise enough money, he won't be able to continue on. If he doesn't raise enough money, he won't be able to continue. • Her business is going to continue on. Her business is going to continue. • The series is set to begin at 7 pm Friday, March 26, and continue on Saturday, March 27, at 7 pm. The series is set to begin at 7 pm Friday, March 26, and continue Saturday, March 27, at 7 pm. • I hope that commitment will continue on indefinitely. I hope that commitment will continue indefinitely. More ... 

Back  Scarcely Used Words

Inadequate though they may be, words distinguish us from all other living things. Indeed, our worth is partly in our words. Effective use of language — clear writing and speaking — is a measure of our humanness. What's more, the more words we know and can correctly use, the broader will be our understanding of self, the keener our acquaintance with humankind.

apostrophe (ah-POS-trah-fee) n. a rhetorical device in which a speaker or writer addresses an absent person, an abstraction, or an inanimate object. More ... 

Back  Oddments and Miscellanea

Each month, "Oddments and Miscellanea" will focus on a particular matter of faulty grammar, slipshod syntax, or improper punctuation. This month's admonition:

Do not use seldomly. The adverb is seldom. More ... 

Back  On the Bookshelf

Among the best written, if least read, books are those that we will be featuring each month in "On the Bookshelf." No book club selections, no best-selling authors are likely to be spoken of here. Best-selling authors, of course, are often responsible for the worst written books.

Theodore Dreiser: An American Tragedy More ... 


English Is Everywhere — Richard Lederer

An Etymology of the Word Farce — Bill Casselman

Nonce Words, Vogue Words, and Whatchamacallits — Bruce O. Boston

In Search of Your Book's Most Powerful Sales Tool: Your Title — Michael Larsen

Two Poems — Susan Snively


Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Professor Sobersides on "Funny Words"

Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — Editing as You Would Be Edited: Part I

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — The Complete Idiot's Guide to Quantum Physics

Robert Hartwell Fiske: Ask Fiske — Thirty Questions


Grumbling About Grammar

Elegant English

On Dimwitticisms

Clues to Concise Writing

Scarcely Used Words

Oddments and Miscellanea

On the Bookshelf

Letters to the Editor

 TVR Revisited

The Absence Note — jjoan altieri

Black Holes — Julian Burnside

To Hell with Language: The Language of Comedy — Francis Blessington

Bumper Bites — Tina Bennett-Kastor

The End of Linguistics — Mark Halpern

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People long to write a clear, a readable, even, at times, an elegant sentence. Toward the Making of a Sentence will show them how to go about it. Toward the Making of a Sentence is a collection of rules or guidelines, followed by sentence examples. You may buy the manuscript as it now reads (Version 1.0 has some 70 pages). Later versions of this book will become available over time. Also included: "Silence, Language, and Society."

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