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Published each month since September 1999

The July issue is 21,854 words long. Recent issues:  June  May  Apr.  Mar.  Feb. 
July 2005, Vol. 7, No. 7
There are now   107   people reading TVR.
ISSN 1542-7080


Coming in the August issue of The Vocabula Review:
"An The A" by Anna Jean Mallinson
The August issue is due online August 21.




A Definition a Day

hypoplasia (hi-po-PLA-zhah) n. incomplete or arrested development of an organ or a part.


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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
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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.



A few months ago, while scrolling though several entries in Vocabula's forum of readers' favorite words, I decided — flippantly, offhandedly, in the way that so many rotten and irrevocable decisions are made — to add a favorite word of my own. Excruciate, I typed, and then added a few thoughts on what I assumed to be that word's origins: if the term had evolved, as I figured it had, from the Latin ex, out of, and cruciare, to crucify, then it might seem to refer — mightn't it? — to the seemingly paradoxical pain of being removed from the cross. How odd and how interesting that a word should refer to the pain of the presumably dead, I typed, and then shut down my computer, and headed home. More ... 

by Christopher D. Ringwald

In this age of fear and terrorism, we've scrutinized government memos in the intelligence and defense fields. Missives and reports were written, rewritten, deep-sixed, read, revised, acted upon, ignored, and dismissed. Often a chasm opened between the writer's intent and the reader's understanding. People died as a result. More ... 

Once a week or so, I hear the Pledge of Allegiance recited. Often this is at a function for a civic group like the Chamber of Commerce or the Elks, and the Pledge usually comes between the roast chicken and schmoozing and the chocolate cake and formal program. I listen for those who adhere to the pre-1954 version (without under God) and hope that I won't hear anyone say invisible rather than indivisible. Periodically, too, I promise myself to try to diagram the Pledge, just to make sure I can.

It's trickier, and more interesting, than I thought. More ... 

by Richard Lederer

Are you confounded by commas, addled by apostrophes, and queasy about quotation marks? Do you believe that a bracket is a just support for a wall shelf, a dash is something you make for the bathroom, and a colon and semicolon are large and small intestines? More ... 

by Ruth Maassen

The Alphabet

Now that fall has come
and evenings are long and lit,
the letters call — not the parade
of capitals with their aura
of Roman-incised stone,
but the humble serifs
and curves of the lower case:
j lounging below the line,
k eternally kicking,
the blink of the e,
the greedy embrace of c
and s's evasive wiggle; More ... 

The Elder Statesman
Back  The Secret Lives of Letters
by Clark Elder Morrow

People who really love words, I'm convinced, are people who love the sounds that letters make. We like certain vocal sounds simply because those sounds are pleasing in themselves: everyone, perhaps, delectates the sound of M — that mmmmmmm sound is almost an audible symbol for deliciousness and enjoyment. It's the sort of sound that arises spontaneously when you feel an impulse to express deep satisfaction. It appeals on such a primitive level that infantile associations cluster around the M sound, giving rise to grunt-words like mum and yum and chum and hum. When very young, my girls used to say their food was numm, emphasizing unconsciously the delicious M sound in their abbreviated version of nummy. It was a manifestation of the universal tendency to hum when happy. More ... 

Shibboleths
Back  The Uses of Euphony
by John Kilgore

We like to believe, we serious people, that we say what we mean. But the truth may be that we choose our phrases first for the sound, letting meaning drift in rather casually.

Infants understand this. During the first year, while nonverbal cries, gestures, smiles, and eye contact suffice for all substantive communications, their real language development begins as a love affair with pure sound. The spontaneous crib talk that so charms and tantalizes the grownups in all cultures has, of course, a vital purpose: it allows babies to explore their own sound-making and sound-detecting abilities while they absorb the phonological system of what will soon be their native language. Parents pace and fret, eager for the first dispatch from the great beyond that is baby's consciousness: "C'mon, Brittney, say 'Daddy'; say 'amortize'; say 'televangelist.'" But Brittney knows instinctively that meaning will wait. What really matters is phonology, the essential foundation on which everything else will be built, so she goes on patiently babbling, guided only by her instinctive pleasure in rehearsing the basic sounds and sound combinations of the language she hears around her. Such practice is one of the best educational investments she will ever make, helping her attain the perfect native pronunciation that forever eludes Yoda and Arnold Schwarzenegger. More ... 

Postcards from Babel
Back  Are We Related?
by Amalia Gnanadesikan

The clan has gathered for a family reunion. In-law members huddle together for reassurance, while the younger members survey the crowd in some perplexity. "Who are all these people?" they wonder. "I've never even met half of them! What's Great-Aunt Clara got to do with me?" Their parents, though more informed about genetics and their own family tree, may be asking themselves very similar questions. More ... 

by Bill Casselman
Sumer is icumen in,
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweth sed, and bloweth med,
And springth the wude nu.

The words of that familiar Middle English round sung at Reading Abbey gateway every year since 1250 are apt. Although summer has indeed come in, with a vengeance over much of our earth, July seems a goodly midsummer's time to review the origins of the names of our seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter, along with other associated words. More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  Hey-Days
by Carey Harrison

Readers kind enough to have acquainted themselves with my recurrent obsessions (already manifest, I'm afraid) will know that what I call the deregulation of American pronunciation is one of them.

Of course, American English pronunciation was never entirely regulated; nor is the pronunciation of any language at any time or in any place, except in a matter of degree, entirely regulated; nor would an inquisitorial regulation be anything but tyranny. Language, forever evolving, needs freedom on all fronts. But the extent of current deregulation in America, the free-for-all of pronunciation, produces some truly bizarre effects, of which the most heart-rendingly comic — of those known to me, anyhow (please let me know of any competitors) — belongs to the actor Ryan Philippe. Presumably nothing prevents us (unless it be politically motivated or other Gallophobia) from pronouncing the young man's name "Phi-LEEP" in the French manner, and in the tradition to which he presumably owes his name in the first place. But if you hear his name spoken by showbiz commentators (and he has played leading roles in movies, so you may indeed hear it spoken, in the right circles), it is spoken as follows: Phil-i-PEE, with the stress on the final syllable. Heaven alone knows what would induce someone to court laughter, on more than one ground, by adopting such a pronunciation; even more fascinating to me is the question of how others have been induced to follow this pronunciation. Is it possible that there is no induction involved here, at all? Are there a great many people in this nation, a clear majority perhaps, who, when they see the word Philippe, immediately think, "Phil-i-PEE"? I think there may be, thanks to the remarkable distance that America has floated away since World War II, in auditory and pronunciatory terms, from the old Europe that coined so many of its names. My wife's surname is Lambe, an older variant of Lamb, pronounced the same way and sanctioned by many centuries in this form (which owes the silence of its once-Germanic e-ending precisely to pronunciatory deregulation and the free evolution of a spoken tongue); wherever its owner goes in America, she is addressed as Ms. Lam-BEE. So although this is the country that has domesticated Capone (entre plusieurs) as Ca-POWN rather than Ca-PO-nee, let alone Ca-PO-nay, we may have here the simple etiology of the current pronunciation of Philippe, perhaps even regardless of its owner's desires and intentions. Certainly if my name were Philippe and everyone addressed me as Phil-i-PEE, I would either succumb or change my name. To try to make people call me "Phi-LEEP" would be tiresome for all concerned. How interesting, though (I'll ignore that yawn at the back) that in this country we seem to have moved from chopping off the e sound and pronouncing Capone as though it were an Irish name like Malone, to attaching a quite foreign-sounding ee sound to names that don't even necessarily want it. I'd love to know why. 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.  

lamblaste Misspelling of lambaste. • In just the past decade, America was lamblasted for not doing more to prevent atrocities in Somalia, the Balkans, Zaire, etc. USE lambasted. • Not only was he being lamblasted by the press, there were people at NBC who were questioning his ability to portray Charles Ingalls, happily married frontiersman and devoted father. USE lambasted. • Do I not lamblaste Brahmins for having become a degenerated class? USE lambaste.

To lambaste (lam-BAST) is to criticize someone severely, to scold or berate. Lamblaste means nothing other than that its user is an inattentive listener, an infrequent reader. 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.  

It is when he comes to sex that Mr. Galsworthy collapses finally. He becomes nastily sentimental. He wants to make sex important, and he only makes it repulsive. Sentimentalism is the working off on yourself of feelings you haven't really got. We all want to have certain feelings; feelings of love, of passionate sex, of kindliness, and so forth. Very few people really feel love, or sex passion, or kindliness, or anything else that goes all that deep. So the mass just fake these feelings inside themselves. Faked feelings! The world is all gummy with them. They are better than real feelings, because you can spit them out when you brush your teeth; and then tomorrow you can fake them afresh. — D. H. Lawrence, John Galsworthy 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.  

going forward Going forward is replacing auxiliary verbs like will and shall, which, to the politicians and businesspeople who today rely on going forward, do not convey futurity so effectively. Going forward, to these dimwitted thinkers, seems to reveal the future more forcefully; yet distinctions in tense, mood, and voice may be forfeited — along with a subtle, yet indispensable, sense of what it means to be human. 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.  

(a; the) absence of dis-; having no; il-; im-; in-; ir-; lacking; -less(ness); mis-; missing; no; non-; not; not any; not having; scant; un-; with no; without. • I wanted to communicate to young people the absence of purpose and how it felt so senseless and wasteful. I wanted to communicate to young people the purposelessness and how it felt so senseless and wasteful. • The absence of communications in today's business will quickly result in the absence of business. No communications in today's business will quickly result in no business. • In the absence of progressive and centrist politics, discontent among dominated classes towards the establishment found expression in the alternative Islamic ideology propagated by the religious parties. Without progressive and centrist politics, discontent among dominated classes towards the establishment found expression in the alternative Islamic ideology propagated by the religious parties. 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.  

agonal (AG-ah-nel) adj. associated with or relating to great pain, especially the agony of death. 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.  

Lawrence Durrell: The Black Book 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 16
Topic: Technology
Level of difficulty: Moderate More ... 

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

Sitwell, Swinburne, Hazlitt
More ... 

Features

• Phony Histories: A Vindication of False Etymologies — Kerr Houston

• Bad Writing Kills — Christopher D. Ringwald

• The Pledge of Allegiance: A Grammarian's View — Edwin Battistella

• A Little Bit of Comma Sense — Richard Lederer

• Three Poems — Ruth Maassen

Columnists

• Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — The Secret Lives of Letters

• John Kilgore: Shibboleths — The Uses of Euphony

• Amalia Gnanadesikan: Postcards from Babel — Are We Related?

• Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — Summer and the Words for Seasons of the Year

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

Departments

• 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

• Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog — Kitty Burns Florey

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

• Grammar and Disputation — Peter Corey

• Hyphenology, or the Missing Link — Darren Crovitz

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Click the image to orderVocabula Bound 1: Outbursts, Insights, Explanations, and Oddities by Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor

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Vocabula Bound 1 is a collection of twenty-five extraordinary essays about the English language, as well as twenty-six poems, that originally appeared in The Vocabula Review. The essays range in topic from the importance of teaching poetry to the “secret nature” of nicknames to how linguistics killed grammar.


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