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A society is generally as lax as its language.

The December issue is 17,613 words long.
December 2004, Vol. 6, No. 12 There are now  68  people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

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A Definition a Day
hymnody (HIM-nah-dee) n. 1. the singing of hymns. 2. the composing or writing of hymns. 3. the hymns of a particular period or church.

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Back  Word Wizards of Oz Keith Hall

Having an Australian accent is a mixed blessing. It sounds reassuringly normal in Australia, but can be a liability in the rest of the world. Some people love it, most people hate it, but few are unmoved by it. It always seems that no one knows what to do with Australian English. Australians often appear to be embarrassed by it; the English think it sounds like South African; South Africans think it sounds like New Zealandish; New Zealanders hate it; Americans are baffled by it; and Asians refuse to believe that it is English at all. More ... 

Back  Two Incendiary Authors Steven G. Kellman

Each great writer holds deed to a signature space. Emily Dickinson reigns forever in an Amherst attic, Ernest Hemingway in a Paris café, William Faulkner a seedy Southern manse. Eugene O'Neill pours the sauce in an urban saloon. But two eminent authors reside in a very different neighborhood; Henry David Thoreau haunts the forest, Mark Twain the river. "You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft," proclaimed Twain's Huck Finn, and no one since Thales has been as lyrical in his affection for fresh, flowing water. Samuel Clemens even chose his nom de plume from the term that boatmen used to plumb a river's depths. More ... 

Back  Euphemisms: World as Text and Text as World Abbas Zaidi

The other day I discovered an old file in which I had put some newspaper clippings. I think I filed those clippings without ever reading them because I could not recall any familiarity with their contents. Among them was a short news item from Singapore's daily The Straits Times.

The news item is about a list of euphemisms provided by the government of Singapore. The purpose of the "new" English expressions "is to give respectable names to some professions and people with disabilities." I have not been to Singapore since it stopped issuing visas to Pakistanis after 9/11, but I am sure these expressions are now a part of Singlish, the English spoken in Singapore. Let me mention a few of these officially sanctioned euphemisms. More ... 

Back  Inaugural Addresses: Omens of Things to Come Richard Lederer

The story behind the word inaugurate is an intriguing one. It literally means "to take omens from the flight of birds." In ancient Rome, augurs would predict the outcome of an enterprise by the way the birds were flying. These soothsayer-magicians would tell a general whether or not to march or to do battle by the formations of the birds on the wing. They might even catch one and cut it open to observe its entrails for omens. More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
Concerning Taste There Can Be Dispute
Clark Elder Morrow

It is one of the oldest commonplaces in the world of criticism: de gustibus non disputandum est — concerning taste there can be no dispute. But what does that catch-phrase mean?

For the most part it refers to the irrefutable fact that you cannot argue me into enjoying the flavor of shrimp. I simply do not like shrimp, and no amount of persuasion or logic will ever convince me that I am wrong. Concerning my taste for shellfish, there can be no dispute: my palate is adamant on the point and (how's this for a mixed metaphor?) deaf to all debate on the subject. When I die, I will die detesting the flavor of lobster (it always tastes to me like what I imagine an alien from space would taste like if I caught and steamed one quickly). More ... 

Back  The Critical Reader  
Key Words of Our Time: Order of Magnitude
Mark Halpern

The phrase order of magnitude (OOM) exists to connect the realms of the quantitative and the qualitative. It is simultaneously a measure of numerical magnitude and of importance, of degree and of kind. Because it bridges a gap between two disparate mental realms, its definition seems to flicker and shift; it has one foot in the world of mathematics and physics and the other in the philosophical and moral world, and refuses to be either one exclusively. But it is by no means ambiguous: the discomfort it sometimes causes is not due to its having an uncertain meaning, but to its forcing us to transcend the usual categories, in which a phenomenon is either a fact or a value. As a bridge between two realms, it exhibits and causes tension; since it is a bridge, tension is natural and necessary. More ... 

Back  The Last Word  
World's Most Irritating Phrases
Christopher Orlet

Earlier this year, the enterprising but naive folks behind something called the Plain English Campaign released the results of a survey that asked 5,000 people in 70 countries to name the world's most irritating phrase. At the end of the day, the phrase that annoyed people most was ... well ... "at the end of the day." More ... 

Back  Love Your English  
Valerie Collins

For months I have managed to ignore the hook carefully placed on the Merriam-Webster Online home page:

"Pleather" — The New Word in Fashion

The latest version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate® Dictionary, Eleventh Edition has hit the runway in style! Ogle a sampling of our 2004 Collection of new words and senses (including "pleather") here!

Today, propelled by some mysterious linguistic force, I decided to investigate. More ... 

Back  Ask Fiske  
Fifteen Questions
Robert Hartwell Fiske

1. I thought scurrilous meant using foul language, but the only sense I hear the word used these days is exemplified in sentences like these:

• Of course, the Bush campaign's scurrilous lies about Kerry's record as a war hero must be challenged forcefully.

• But given the scurrilous campaign of radical feminists to undermine the constitutionally protected right of due process, perhaps it is they who owe a letter of apology to Mr. Bryant.

— S. B. Roth 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.

pedalogical (pedilogical) Idiotic for pedagogical. • The beauty of a Jewish school is that it wraps up all the values both pedalogical and religious which parents want for their children into one neat convenient package. USE pedagogical. • What is there can radically change the pedalogical approaches used by teachers to reach their learners. USE pedagogical. • I was not looking for psychological, pedilogical nor philosophical discussions. USE pedagogical. • They do this by setting up institutes for professional training that teach both at the pedilogical level and at the content level for teachers. USE pedagogical.

Dictionaries have yet to list pedalogical (or pedilogical) as a "variant spelling" of pedagogical, but sham scientists (lexicographers, descriptive linguists, and others equally misguided) will likely soon begin excusing, justifying, and promoting these sham spellings. 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.

That enough is as good as a feast: Not a man, woman, or child in ten miles round Guildhall, who really believes this saying. The inventor of it did not believe it himself. It was made in revenge by somebody, who was disappointed of a regale. It is a vile cold-scrag-of-mutton sophism; a lie palmed upon the palate, which knows better things. If nothing else could be said for a feast, this is sufficient, that from the superflux there is usually something left for the next day. Morally interpreted, it belongs to a class of proverbs, which have a tendency to make us undervalue money. Of this cast are those notable observations, that money is not health; riches cannot purchase every thing: the metaphor which makes gold to be mere muck, with the morality which traces fine clothing to the sheep's back, and denounces pearl as the unhandsome excretion of an oyster. Hence, too, the phrase which imputes dirt to acres — a sophistry so barefaced, that even the literal sense of it is true only in a wet season. This, and abundance of similar sage saws assuming to inculcate content, we verily believe to have been the invention of some cunning borrower, who had designs upon the purse of his wealthier neighbour, which he could only hope to carry by force of these verbal jugglings. Translate any one of these sayings out of the artful metonyme which envelops it, and the trick is apparent. Goodly legs and shoulders of mutton, exhilarating cordials, books, pictures, the opportunities of seeing foreign countries, independence, heart's ease, a man's own time to himself, are not much — however we may be pleased to scandalise with that appellation the faithful metal that provides them for us. — Charles Lamb, Popular Fallacies 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's a long story It's a long story — cipher for "I don't want to tell you" — is a mannerly expression that we use to thwart the interest of a person in whom we are not much interested. 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.

make conversation chat; communicate; converse; speak; talk. • It was easy to make conversation with him. It was easy to talk with him. • He was always fair to the kids and would make conversation with them. He was always fair to the kids and would chat with them. • He never understood the reason people complained about his poor hygiene skills and his inability to make conversation. He never understood the reason people complained about his poor hygiene skills and his inability to converse. 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.

calefacient (cal-ah-FAY-shunt) adj. producing warmth; heating. 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.

John Webster: The Duchess of Malfi 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 9  Topic: Technology  Level of difficulty: Easy More ... 


Word Wizards of Oz — Keith Hall

Two Incendiary Authors — Steven G. Kellman

Euphemisms: World as Text and Text as World — Abbas Zaidi

Inaugural Addresses: Omens of Things to Come — Richard Lederer


Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Concerning Taste There Can Be Dispute

Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — Key Words of Our Time: Order of Magnitude

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — World's Most Irritating Phrases

Valerie Collins: Love Your English — Abomistrosities

Robert Hartwell Fiske: Ask Fiske — Fifteen Questions


Grumbling About Grammar

Elegant English

On Dimwitticisms

Clues to Concise Writing

Scarcely Used Words

On the Bookshelf

The Vocabula Quiz

 TVR Revisited

Quote-idian — Joseph Epstein

DisenYOUGUYSing American English — jjoan ttaber altieri

Yes, We Have No Bananas — Valerie Collins

Bumper Bites — Tina Bennett-Kastor

The Melancholy of Anatomy — Richard Burnett Carter

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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.

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