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February 2004, Vol. 6, No. 2 There are now  98  people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

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Back  Grammar, Art, and the F-Word Eric Scheske

Is there any word as versatile as fuck? Most commonly used as a transitive verb, it can also be used as a reflexive verb (Go fuck yourself) and a noun (That fuck stole my money). It can even be used as a gerund, as in Man, he gave us a good fucking, a statement uttered by one of my classmates in college after a particularly arduous exam. More ... 

Back  Twenty-Seven Feet of Measured Confusion Michael J. Sheehan

The human mind is constructed in such a way that it leaps into action when it encounters something incomplete. It pulses and throbs and weaves until it has constructed a scenario from a whisper, a shadow, a blip of light, a hint of movement. It connects dots that are pure figments of the imagination. Stark reality insists that some things will never be known or understood, but our inventive lobes quiver in electrochemical indignation at the very idea. More ... 

Back  Bad Grammar Isn't Always What You Think Edwin Battistella

Toni Morrison is (a) a mediocre contemporary writer, (b) a genius, (c) a noun, or (d) an adjective. That was not a question on the 2002 PSAT. But that test sparked a lively discussion of grammar and literature when the Educational Testing Service adjusted the scores of 450,000 students who took the October 2002 PSAT. The students had been asked to identify the grammatical error in the sentence: Toni Morrison's genius enables her to create novels that arise from and express the injustices African Americans have endured. The correct answer was intended to be "no error." More ... 

Back  Since 2001, Nothing About "Us" Has Changed Mark Zimmermann

While police helicopter crews monitored angry crowds below, riot squads were busy arresting election fraud protesters on the day of George W. Bush's inauguration in Washington, D.C. Bush's inaugural address began: "The peaceful transfer of authority is rare in history, yet common in our country." More ... 

Back  Doctors Cut with Medical Jargon Judy Foreman

Words are scalpels, every bit as sharp as a surgeon's tools, and sometimes almost as dangerous. More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
The Forgotten Prophet
Clark Elder Morrow

Allow me to quote a brace of familiar lines from T. S. Eliot's "Choruses from 'The Rock'":

In the land of lobelias and flannels
The rabbit shall burrow and the thorn revisit,
The nettle shall flourish on the gravel court,
And the wind shall say: "Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls."

Now, what if I were to tell you that — some ninety years prior to Eliot penning those lines — a poet in Britain by the name of Arthur Clough was writing these: More ... 

Back  The Critical Reader  
A Sipid List That Will Live in Famy: Unrecorded Positives Formed from Unbalanced Negatives
Mark Halpern

Readers with long memories may recall that in September 2000, The Vocabula Review published an essay of mine titled Why Linguists Are Not to Be Trusted on Language Usage, and that in it I argued with Geoffrey Nunberg about the status of such forms as *ept, *kempt, and *gruntled. These forms — the prefixed asterisks mark them as "unattested," meaning that they are not in general use, nor to be found in standard dictionaries — are derived, of course, from such reputable words as inept, unkempt, and disgruntled. Nunberg called these progenitors "asymmetric negatives," but I prefer to call them "unbalanced negatives," for a reason I hope will become clear in the next section. More ... 


Back  The Last Word  
When Euphemisms Die
Christopher Orlet

I've never been a big lover of words. Sure, I enjoy the occasional hard-consonant compound: Blunderbuss. Booboisie. Cuspidor. But in general words don't do much for me. I'm more partial to figurative language and figures of speech, really oddball metaphors and similes, and a healthy dose of irony. There is, however, one figure of speech that leaves me particularly cold: the euphemism. Every other part of the English language seems to serve, if not a moral purpose, at least a useful one, all save the euphemism. Even slang and obscenities are sometimes useful: the former when your car breaks down in the 'hood, the latter after flattening your thumb with a nine-pound hammer. More ... 

Back  Shibboleths  
Love and Biology: A Valentine's Essay
John Kilgore

Subscribe to Discover magazine for a while, read a few books like The Naked Ape and The Selfish Gene, and you quit believing in the whole thing. Love, it seems, reduces to sex, and sex in its turn reduces to chemistry — the literal kind. All the supposedly higher emotions unfold like algebra from the givens of our DNA; romance turns out to be nothing special, just one more corollary of molecular mechanics. 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.

inclimate Idiotic for inclement. • O'Dell pointed out that the large room can also be used as a gym for PE classes forced inside by inclimate weather. USE inclement. • The 2003-04 Missouri Volleyball Season Celebration has been postponed due to Sunday's inclimate weather conditions. USE inclement. • Indeed, the facility bustles, especially during the winter months, when inclimate weather forces many climbers and athletes away from outdoor sports. USE inclement. • I will have an inclimate weather message on the voice mail letting you know if the dojo will be closed. USE inclement.

If laxicographers continue to compile dictionaries, inclimate will soon be listed as a variant spelling of inclement. 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.

And then also the conviction that Hitler would attempt to wipe out London and the big cities in the first fortnight was proved groundless, so that now it is difficult to realize how firmly we expected slaughter when the sirens went all over England that first Sunday morning. ... The stalls in the Market were all being packed up, and this and our purchase of the jug marked, we felt, the end of such pleasures, and the separation we had now to face. It was not only a separation from normal life, from possessions, from talk except with a few people, from awareness of the world in general except as it is represented by propaganda; a separation of husband from wife, friend from friend; it is also a separation of past from future. Usually, the past runs into the future so that you do not, except for the purposes of philosophy, know where one ends and the other begins: but war isolates the present, static and a waste all round one; presses the past into one concept, the time before the war began, and puts the future, the time when it will be ended, far off. Then also, though suffering unites, propaganda divides: one may be convinced of the necessity of fighting the war, and yet feel lonely in the general clamour of jargon and encouragement, and the satisfaction which even kindly people find in thinking of retaliation. — Anne Ridler, The Lustre Jug 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.

great stuff Nothing great can be called stuff, and no stuff can be called great. Juxtapose the eminence of great with the paltriness of stuff, and you have a formula for foolishness, which is precisely what dimwitted users of the language are inclined to speak. Far from clever wording, great stuff, along with good stuff and good read, is often used to convey appreciation for clever — artistic or, even, intellectual — performance. • I don't think there's any way they can learn what great stuff is because they never get the chance to see it. • He told them he plays only music he likes, and has a classical repertoire brimming with great stuff. • Just to be associated with him, I was excited because he's done a lot of great stuff for the world. 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.

invidious discrimination discrimination; invidiousness. • Few would deny that ferreting out this kind of invidious discrimination is a great if not compelling governmental interest. Few would deny that ferreting out this kind of invidiousness is a great if not compelling governmental interest. • A lawyer shall not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, or national origin. A lawyer shall not hold membership in any organization that practices discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion, or national origin. 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.

bastinado (bas-ti-NA-doe) n. 1. a beating with a stick or cudgel, esp. on the soles of the feet. 2. a stick or cudgel. 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:

Amongst, like amidst and whilst, is an archaic, pretentious term, at least in American English. USE among, amid, while. 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.

Herman Melville: Moby Dick More ... 

 Features

Grammar, Art, and the F-Word — Eric Scheske

Twenty-Seven Feet of Measured Confusion — Michael J. Sheehan

Bad Grammar Isn't Always What You Think — Edwin Battistella

Since 2001, Nothing About "Us" Has Changed — Mark Zimmermann

Doctors Cut with Medical Jargon — Judy Foreman

 Columnists

Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — The Forgotten Prophet

Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — A Sipid List That Will Live in Famy: Unrecorded Positives Formed from Unbalanced Negatives

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — When Euphemisms Die

John Kilgore: Shibboleths — Love and Biology: A Valentine's Essay

 Departments

Grumbling About Grammar

Elegant English

On Dimwitticisms

Clues to Concise Writing

Scarcely Used Words

Oddments and Miscellanea

On the Bookshelf

 TVR Revisited

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

Bumper Bites — Tina Bennett-Kastor

The End of Linguistics — Mark Halpern

Rhetorical Abusage: Oxymorons and Pleonasms — Bruce O. Boston

"Different From" Not "Different Than" — Peter Corey

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