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Sunday, July 05, 2015
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Published each month since September 1999 by Vocabula Communications Company

The August issue is 15,500 words long. Recent issues:  July  June  May  Apr.  Mar. 
August 2005, Vol. 7, No. 8
There are now   75   people reading TVR.
ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the September issue of The Vocabula Review:
"Dropping Names" by Skip Eisminger
The September issue is due online September 25.

A Definition a Day

maenad (MEE-nad) n. 1. a woman member of the orgiastic cult of Dionysus; bacchante. 2. a frenzied or raging woman.

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The Dictionary of Disagreeable English
A Curmudgeon's Compendium of
Excruciatingly Correct Grammar

Robert Hartwell Fiske's The Dictionary of Disagreeable English.

You can order The Dictionary of Disagreeable English from Vocabula or the publisher or Amazon.

Vocabula Bound
Outbursts, Insights, Explanations, and Oddities

Vocabula Bound, twenty-five of the best essays and twenty-six of the best poems published in The Vocabula Review over the last few years.

You can order Vocabula Bound from Vocabula or the publisher or Amazon.

Two by Fiske

Book reviews
Vocabula order form

Vocabula Bound Quarterly

A quarterly journal about words and language. It's scholarly, irreverent, witty, and vibrant.

Though an online publication since September 1999, The Vocabula Review is now also a print publication. Each issue of Vocabula Bound Quarterly includes three months' worth of the online Vocabula's content.

You can order VBQ (print version or PDF version) from Marion Street Press or Vocabula.

by Anna Jean Mallinson

When I taught writing skills and composition at a community college in the 1980s and early 1990s, many of my students, from different parts of the globe, had completed ESL classes and were more or less ready to move on to Writing Skills. I am forever indebted to the puzzlements of these students, which gave me insights into English I could not have gained on my own, living as I did inside the language. More ... 

by Judge Mark P. Painter

A recent case in our court pointed out the danger of the lawyers' habit of using two words for one. The dispute was whether the seller had to indemnify the buyer for an undisclosed easement on a piece of real estate.

The seller contended "Although a 'clear title' is one that is not subject to any restrictions, the case at bar involved a 'free and clear' title, which is the same as a marketable title." The attorney went on to explain that a marketable title could have easements. So, according to the seller, a free and clear title was worse than a clear title. Say what?

Would that Harold had not lost the Battle of Hastings. More ... 

Once upon a time, the New Hampshire Lawn Tennis Association sponsored a slogan contest. From its beginnings, the organization's letterhead symbol had been two crossed tennis racquets, and the group's president offered a prize, a can of tennis balls, to the member who could serve up the spinniest slogan to go with the logo.

Since I have been an incorrigible (and encourageable) punster all of my life, the challenge stirred my blood. As I bounced around a few ideas, I realized what a matchless setup this contest was. With low overhead I could drive home my point for a net gain. More ... 

by Kevin Mims

How, exactly, does one go about "begging the question"? According to Christine Ammer, author of the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, one begs the question merely by taking an unproven assumption for granted. As an example she cites the sentence, "Shopping now for a dress to wear to the ceremony is really begging the question — she hasn't been invited yet." But Ammer's book is a frequently disappointing source of information. Consider, for instance, her entry for "straw man": "a front or cover for the real boss and of only nominal importance." She treats the phrase only as an alternative to the phrase "straw boss," but most people these days define a "straw man" as a phony argument or opponent put up only in order to be easily shot down. See, for instance, the many reader comments at in which Stephen Pinker, in his book The Blank Slate, is accused of setting up and knocking down numerous easily defeated straw-man arguments. Ammer makes no mention of this widespread use of the term, even though it appears in the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th edition), a sister publication. So should we trust her definition of the term begging the question? More ... 

by Judy Roland

A bloodless coup

Lightning does such damage,
leaves such a haunting breath,
makes the mind,
the tongue play tricks;
over-arcs what's safe
by many miles,
fries possibilities like bacon. More ... 

The Elder Statesman
Back  Are Writers Overrated?
by Clark Elder Morrow
It's all straw. — St Thomas Aquinas on his life's work, 1274

After all, a professional author is someone we engage to talk to us until we tell him or her to shut up. On that level, at least, a writer ranks with other providers of minor services — like dog-walkers. More ... 

Bethumped with Words
Back  Wog! Origin of a Racist Insult
by Bill Casselman

Wog is a vile, vulgar, racist slur popularized and first used in England. The little, frizzy-haired, orange dude in the picture is an actual illustration from one of the Golliwogg books. He is, so-to-speak, the first wog. But more of that later. The best known sentence employing this put-down brims with political irony: "The wogs begin at Calais." George Wigg, a Labour party MP, said it in 1945 to characterize and satirize the attitude of British Tories to foreigners. Calais was and sometimes still is the first port of France that a vacationing Brit encounters when venturing into continental Europe. The sentiment made the British laugh and fitted their racism perfectly, with its implication that all non-British persons in the world constituted "a bunch of bloody wogs." More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  Away-Days
by Carey Harrison

The dog-days are back, and I must be leaving. This is the time of year when I head for the land of my fathers (Britain) in hope of cooler weather and a welcome in the West Country valleys. My brother has recently returned to England to live, after almost forty years' residence in America, most recently in California for a decade or two, and he complains that it's bitterly cold in Devon. I can't wait. He says the English complain that it's too hot if the sun comes out.

I hope to report, for Vocabula readers, on the state of British English. First, however, I shall be going back to Ireland, where I lived with my wife until we moved to America ten years ago. I'm looking forward to embracing once again both my in-laws and the delicious mysteries of Irish English. My wife and I will be rushing from Billy to Jack (pillar to post), and provided we don't make a hames (a mess) of our social arrangements, we'll be away in a hack (be all right). If not we'll be banjaxed (done for). We'll visit the aul' one (the mother-in-law), and your woman (the mother-in-law) will cook us a fine meal, with a big feed of spuds, to be sure. (Spot the deliberate mistake — like "top o' the morning," "to be sure" is an expression the Irish use only in foreign-made films.) The Irish English expressions I love best are those that, like "your woman," or "the day that's in it" (that is, today), are clearly derived by direct translation from Gaelic, and often achieve a bizarre charm as a result. "Come here till I tell you," my wife will say, in a locution that must make sense in Gaelic, but little in English. It's delightful all the same, as is "You're after eating all the potatoes, you young gurrier (whippersnapper)." My grandmother, who came to Britain from Berlin, sounded a little like this — that's to say, she didn't sound the least bit Irish, but she never quite mastered English prepositions or word order. But "What have you with the potatoes done?" isn't a patch on "You're after eating all the potatoes," an intriguing consequence of the absence of the past perfect in Gaelic. More ... 

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.  

amendable Idiotic for amenable. • Defensor was amendable to Lacson's suggestion and added he was willing to shoulder the cost in the spirit of cooperation. USE amenable. • Change is never easy and the membership must be amendable to change. USE amenable. • Organizations that are more idea-driven than dollars-and-cents driven can be more amendable to compromise. USE amenable.

Amendable has a meaning different from that of amenable. Amendable means able to be changed or improved for the better; correctable; alterable. Amenable means responsive to suggestion, advice, or authority; willing. Those unaware of the distinction deserve the D. More ... 

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.  

There is always a certain meanness in the argument of conservatism, joined with a certain superiority in its fact. It affirms because it holds. Its fingers clutch the fact, and it will not open its eyes to see a better fact. The castle, which conservatism is set to defend, is the actual state of things, good and bad. The project of innovation is the best possible state of things. Of course, conservatism always has the worst of the argument, is always apologizing, pleading a necessity, pleading that to change would be to deteriorate; it must saddle itself with the mountainous load of the violence and vice of society, must deny the possibility of good, deny ideas, and suspect and stone the prophet; whilst innovation is always in the right, triumphant, attacking, and sure of final success. More ... 

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.  

as per (your request) Quintessentially dimwitted, as per (your request) is used by brainless people who cannot manage to sustain an original thought. These are the people who rely on ready-made phrases and formulas; the people who unquestioningly do as they're told; the people who join mass movements because they themselves cannot bear the burden of making decisions; the people who hate on instruction and fear forever. More ... 

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.  

have ... in (my) possession have; possess. • We now have in our possession a class of machines that are right around energy breakeven. We now possess a class of machines that are right around energy breakeven. • Many of the tombstone pictures I now have in my possession represent a unique record because the original tombstones have been replaced with newer ones. Many of the tombstone pictures I now have represent a unique record because the original tombstones have been replaced with newer ones. More ... 

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.  

anfractuosity (an-frak-choo-OS-i-tee) n. 1. the condition or quality of having many twists or turns. 2. a winding channel, passage, or crevice. 3. a complicated or involved process. More ... 

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.  

Edna O'Brien: Night More ... 

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 17
Topic: Health
Level of difficulty: Moderate More ... 

This is TVR Radio 2: poetry and postscripts, despair and disparagement, sentiments and celebrations.  

Sitwell, Swinburne, Hazlitt
More ... 


• An The A — Anna Jean Mallinson

• Fallout from the Battle of Hastings — Judge Mark P. Painter

• Serving up a Tennis Slogan: Jest for the Pun of It — Richard Lederer

• Brother, Can You Spare a Question? — Kevin Mims

• Two Poems — Judy Roland


• Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Are Writers Overrated?

• Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — Wog! Origin of a Racist Insult

• Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — Away-Days


• Grumbling About Grammar

• Elegant English

• On Dimwitticisms

• Clues to Concise Writing

• Scarcely Used Words

• On the Bookshelf

• The Vocabula Quiz

• TVR Radio 2

TVR Revisited

• "The Relationship" Equals "You"; The Passive-Aggressive "Oh, Well" — Maggie Balistreri

• Playing the Synonym Game — Ken Bresler

• Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog — Kitty Burns Florey

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

• Grammar and Disputation — Peter Corey

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Click the image to orderThe Dimwit's Dictionary — First Edition by Robert Hartwell Fiske

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(click the image to order)

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 Dimwit's Dictionary is a compendium of clich้s and other overused words and phrases, and sharp alternatives to them. Price: $18.95

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