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A society is generally as lax as its language.

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The August issue is 14,277 words long.
August 2004, Vol. 6, No. 8 There are now  125  people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

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Back  Know Acceptions: Internet English Is Still English Kelly Cannon

An academic email list I subscribe to has one venerable member who never bothers with capital letters, nor with most punctuation. Some time ago, a new list member had the temerity to ask whether anyone else found all those unformatted posts difficult to read. Several members weighed in to chastise the upstart, the consensus among them being that such a vital contributor should not be held to the same writing standards as the rest of us. More ... 

Back  Five Signposts on the Road to Better Usage Bruce O. Boston

How do we navigate the highway to better usage? How do we find our way between the social drive for maximum ease of expression and the relentless need of writers for distinctiveness of expression? Among many possible answers, five stand out. More ... 

Back  We Are All Language Inventors Richard Lederer

For most of us, language is like the air we breathe. Like air, language is invisible and all around us. We need it to live, yet we take it for granted. If, however, we pause and examine our language thoughtfully, we discover that the ordinary language user is astonishingly creative. Without realizing it, we all spend most of our waking hours inventing language. More ... 

Back  Can a Warlord Be a Dingbat? Mark Peters

We all want to make a name for ourselves, but when the name we earn is 24-carat moron or the poodle from hell, we're rarely grateful.

Those names may not be household insults, but other labels — like snot-nosed punk and fearless leader — have found a place in the language. These kinds of names, labels, insults, and compliments have caught my attention. More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
Quick! Name That Threat!
Clark Elder Morrow

Forgive me, but I am going to offer you a somewhat lengthy quotation right at the start. Why I do so will become evident in a moment. The quote is from the finest brief introduction to the history of English I am aware of, Bernard Groom's A Short History of English Words (1934): More ... 

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

So far we have been talking about editing as a business carried on in your study alone or, at most, with one's cat as company. But much editing is actually carried out in busy offices, with phones ringing incessantly, conflicting demands on your time and your standards, and people dropping into your cubicle and breaking into your train of thought all the time. In this unit, I'll offer you the fruits of some years of experience of working in such conditions. First, of course, is the range of people who you'll have to work with in the business world. More ... 


Back  The Last Word  
Fatal Language Errors
Christopher Orlet

There have been, and are, times, places, when to speak a certain language could be dangerous, even fatal. — James Baldwin

Just how important is using the right word? Mark Twain said it's the difference between lightning and lightning bug. Or, presumably, fire and firefly. Wart and warthog. Droll, perhaps, but using the correct word is no laughing matter. Indeed, sometimes using the right word can spell the difference between life and death. As when your wife asks you whether her new stretch pants make her butt look big (correct answer: none). And the more critical the situation, the more important it is to find le mot juste, as the Canadians say. Those in Montreal, anyway. More ... 

Back  Love Your English  
Ablaut Shmablaut
Valerie Collins

"Flymo: it squishes and squashes your grass," warbled the voiceover for the lawnmower ad on British TV. Or so I heard. What excitement. I'd been noticing and wondering about words like criss-cross, wishy-washy, riff-raff, sing-song, teeter-totter, zig-zag, flip-flop, flim flam, tittle-tattle, pitter-patter for quite a while. Admittedly, "squishes and squashes" was a pair of verbs, but wasn't it a living, twenty-first-century trace of what I desperately wanted to believe was a primitive, archetypal sound pattern echoing down the millennia through the collective unconscious, imprinted in our DNA, the morphic field, the Akashic records. ... (Okay, I am probably crazy.) 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.

discrimitory Solecistic for discriminatory. • It is illegal in the U.S. to make any discrimitory remarks, and post pictures of people without written and direct permission. USE discriminatory. • No hate related, pornographic or discrimitory sites will be allowed. USE discriminatory. • He grew up in a tough neighborhood, and succeeded in becoming a doctor despite discrimitory circumstances. USE discriminatory.

The fast-paced occasionally mispronounce discriminatory, and the slow-minded often misspell it. 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.

In this age the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigor, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time. 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.

it is important to note (that) Attachments like it is important to note (that) and it is interesting to note (that) suggest that whatever follows them is probably not so important or interesting. Only people who mistrust the import or interest of their own statements use phrases like these — clear signals that their meaning is likely without merit, their message likely without allure. • It is important to note that you can change these settings for any document. DELETE It is important to note that. 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.

polite euphemism euphemism. • Even its fans call it "difficult" and "uningratiating," polite euphemisms for off the wall, a very appropriate pun to describe this museum-proof collection of dirt piles, rusted girders and "conceptual" creations. Even its fans call it "difficult" and "uningratiating," euphemisms for off the wall, a very appropriate pun to describe this museum-proof collection of dirt piles, rusted girders and "conceptual" creations. • The word was initially coined as a polite euphemism for "obsolete." The word was initially coined as a euphemism for "obsolete." 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.

auteur (o-TUR) n. a filmmaker, usually a director, who exercises creative control and has a strong personal style. 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.

Ford Madox Ford: Parade's End More ... 

Back  The Vocabula Quiz

Each ten-question quiz briefly discusses a specific topic, such as history, science, literature, or philosophy. Of course, you are quizzed not on content but on grammar or usage, vocabulary or spelling, punctuation or style.

Vocabula Quiz 5  Topic: Science  Level of difficulty: Moderate More ... 

Back  Letters to the Editor

The Vocabula Review welcomes letters to the editor. Please include your name, email address, and professional affiliation. Send your letters to editor@vocabula.com. If you'd rather, you may post, at any time, a message in TVR Forum.

I am much annoyed by lazy or incompetent public pronouncements that take a particular, and, as far as I can tell, hitherto unused much, locution. That locution is a kind of question with an implied and forceful answer, not unlike a rhetorical question on speed. The answer is not merely anticipated; it is demanded and helpfully supplied, always.

Donald Rumsfeld was the first, as far as I can tell, to use this dodge over and over, and he has been imitated to a fare-thee-well. More ... 

 Features

Know Acceptions: Internet English Is Still English — Kelly Cannon

Five Signposts on the Road to Better Usage — Bruce O. Boston

We Are All Language Inventors — Richard Lederer

Can a Warlord Be a Dingbat? — Mark Peters

 Columnists

Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Quick! Name That Threat!

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

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — Fatal Language Errors

Valerie Collins: Love Your English — Ablaut Shmablaut

 Departments

Grumbling About Grammar

Elegant English

On Dimwitticisms

Clues to Concise Writing

Scarcely Used Words

On the Bookshelf

The Vocabula Quiz

Letters to the Editor

 TVR Revisited

The Melancholy of Anatomy — Richard Burnett Carter

Who Owns English — Orin Hargraves

Making Peace in the Language Wars — Bryan A. Garner

The Like Virus — David Grambs

The Absence Note — jjoan altieri

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The point of learning new words is not to impress your friends or to seem more intelligent than they. The point is to see more, to understand more. An ever-increasing vocabulary uncovers connections, introduces spheres, and — in reminding us that there are words for all thoughts, all feelings, all behaviors, all things — upholds all humankind.


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