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January 2004, Vol. 6, No. 1 There are now  9110  people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the February issue of The Vocabula Review:
"Grammar, Art, and the F-Word" by Eric Scheske
The February issue of The Vocabula Review is due online February 15.
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Back  Quote-idian Joseph Epstein

I was signing a few books the other day after a talk I gave at a woman's club in Chicago, when someone remarked on the weather, and a very nice woman cited Mark Twain as saying, "Heaven for climate, hell for society." I hesitated, then remarked, "Forgive me, but Mark Twain didn't actually say that. J. M. Barrie did." One-upmanship isn't really my style, and neither is correcting someone my notion of a good time. More ... 

Back  Death Sentence Julian Burnside

In 1755, Samuel Johnson published his dictionary. In the preface, he laments the chaotic state of the language:

When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules; wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled and confusion to be regulated ....
More ... 
Back  The Metaphor Game Phil Eubanks

There are lots of ways to make a point, but one of the best is to play the metaphor game. People play the metaphor game all the time without any coaching at all. But I think we can all play the game better, or at least enjoy it more, if we learn the rules. More ... 

Back  Our Star-Struck Language Richard Lederer

Have you ever been curious about why the words lunatic and lunar begin with the same four letters? Etymology supplies the answer. Lunatic derives from luna, Latin for "moon," which when it is full, is said to render us daft — moonstruck or loony. More ... 

Back  The Fiske Ranking of College Dictionaries Robert Hartwell Fiske

The Fiske Ranking of College Dictionaries (FRCD) ranks the following six college dictionaries, based on their handling of twenty-five words and phrases:

American Heritage College Dictionary (4th edition, 2002) (AH)
Webster's New World College Dictionary (4th edition, 2002) (NW)
Microsoft Encarta College Dictionary (1st edition, 2001) (ME)
Random House Webster's College Dictionary (2nd edition, 2001) (RH)
The Oxford American College Dictionary (1st edition, 2002) (OA)
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th edition, 2003) (MW) More ... 

Back  Sound Off  
The Good Word
Rebecca Sheir

Everything was going remarkably well. The minestrone was hot, the Chianti was cold, and the conversation thus far had been effortlessly delicious. Slick-coiffed waiters balancing trays of arancini and osso buco zipped in and out of the kitchen, and a squash of Rosé-quaffing Upper West Siders bustled about the bar area. But from our cozy banquette in the corner, my companion and I barely even noticed. As I gazed into his unbelievably cerulean eyes and chortled at yet another of his impossibly coruscating rejoinders, I wondered why I had always been so resistant to blind dates; this wonderfully winsome friend-of-a-friend was turning out to be a real gem. More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
A Queen, Not a Goddess
Clark Elder Morrow

I remember someone who should have known better asking the lunkheaded question, Do we need nature? The question is akin to asking whether we need our bodies. Nature is as close to us as our physical hearts, and just as vital. The blunt and brutal truth, of course, is that Man is inseparable from Nature, and that we cannot conceive him apart from it. If it is true — as C. S. Lewis maintains — that our bodies are the "donkeys" we must ride throughout our lives, then it seems equally true that the world is the savage animal we have by the tail and cannot let go of. With this perplexing complication: the ferocious beast is also the meat and milk producer we cannot live without. More ... 

Back  Shibboleths  
Fooling the Gender Genie
John Kilgore

The Gender Genie has your number.

The Genie is a modest webpage that makes a cheeky claim. Type in a sample of prose — 500 words is the recommended minimum — and without other information the program "predicts" whether the author is male or female. The work of gifted hobbyists in a cyberclub calling itself "BookBlog," the Genie is something of a spoof, but one based on serious science, in the form of an ingenious recent study by a team headed by Moshe Koppel and Shlomo Argamon of Bar-Ilan University, Israel. The investigators fed a computer some twenty-five million words of published, mainly British English, then set about using observed patterns in this huge data set to predict gender for new samples. Eventually they were able to do this with about 80 percent accuracy, according to the write-up now available. 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.

consequate Idiotic for discipline (or similar words). • When our students say or do something profoundly antisocial, we must not only consequate the behavior and insist on alternatives, but address the values and norms that make such behavior possible. USE punish. • The school personnel should discuss the nature of their existing systems to consequate undesired behavior. USE discipline. • You also should not wait until you get home to consequate the behavior, as this diminishes the effectiveness of the intervention. USE censure.

Like the equally counterfeit to consequence, to consequate means (1) to discipline, penalize, or punish; to reprimand or scold; (2) its user is a social scientist or a professor of education — a fraud or a fool. 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.

For the first time in my life, I have found myself thinking seriously of suicide. Recently, in the afternoon, a very hot afternoon in the company office, I pulled out of my hip-pocket, disentangling it from my pull-through and a packet of cheap envelopes, a small steel shaving-mirror. I stared at my face in it, a broad, mottled, meaningless face, set in an expression of hopeless stupidity: I grinned, and observed my teeth yellow and discoloured, with fragments of food clinging to them; there was a thick layer of dirt over one ear. My eyes stared blearily and hopelessly from behind my greasy glasses. They were strangely vacuous and inhuman. I opened them wider and saw the little brown irises surrounded by a glistening ball of white: my fat, clamped lips sprang quiveringly apart, in hysterical terror. I realized then that the fantasies possessing me were not merely fantasies; they were beginning to speak, quite openly, to anyone with half an eye, in this slouched, slack, hopeless body, this face which a few months ... it was only December when I joined up ... seemed to have drained of most of its human characteristics. It was not a face, any more, really, not human; rather a piece of anonymous, grubby, mildly uncomfortable flesh. 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.

on the same page On the same page is spoken or written by pawns and puppets who cannot think for themselves, who rely on others for how they should speak and what they should think; who prize the ease of agreement more than they do the entanglement of dissent; who turn few pages and read fewer books. 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.

separate and distinct distinct; separate. • Each of us has four separate and distinct vocabularies: a written, a spoken, a heard, and a visual vocabulary. Each of us has four distinct vocabularies: a written, a spoken, a heard, and a visual vocabulary. • The creature, though separate and distinct, and having its own jurisdiction, cannot arise and consume its creator. The creature, though separate, and having its own jurisdiction, cannot arise and consume its creator. 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.

cerulean (sah-ROO-lee-en) adj. azure; sky blue. 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:

In writing especially, do not use so as an intensifier without a phrase starting with that following it. 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.

Nigel Forbes Dennis: Cards of Identity More ... 


Quote-idian — Joseph Epstein

Death Sentence — Julian Burnside

The Metaphor Game — Phil Eubanks

Our Star-Struck Language — Richard Lederer

The Fiske Ranking of College Dictionaries — Robert Hartwell Fiske

Sound Off: The Good Word — Rebecca Sheir


Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — A Queen, Not a Goddess

John Kilgore: Shibboleths — Fooling the Gender Genie


Grumbling About Grammar

Elegant English

On Dimwitticisms

Clues to Concise Writing

Scarcely Used Words

Oddments and Miscellanea

On the Bookshelf

 TVR Revisited

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

Kvetching About Literary Criticism — David Isaacson

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Cliches. Once they were so original, so fresh. Now, everybody uses them, and if your work depends on lively prose, they're a problem. This book is the solution. Fiske takes you on a tour of the world of "dimwitticisms"; moribund metaphors, torpid terms and wretched redundancies that have all the impact of foam-rubber cannonballs. Fiske's comprehensive thesaurus lists hundreds of problem phrases along with witty commentary and useful synonyms.

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