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Tuesday, June 30, 2015
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Published each month since September 1999

The June issue is 21,305 words long. Recent issues:  May  Apr.  Mar.  Feb.  Jan. 
June 2005, Vol. 7, No. 6
There are now   71   people reading TVR.
ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the July issue of The Vocabula Review:
"Phony Histories: A Vindication of False Etymologies" by Kerr Houston
The July issue is due online July 24.

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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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.

by Tina Bennett-Kastor

I write from Kansas, the land that evolution forgot — at least in recent years. Or perhaps we are not forgotten; perhaps because so many of our residents discount the theory of evolution, God has permitted us to de-evolve, intellectually speaking. We trust this is a temporary corrective; purgatory at least is preferable to eternal damnation. Of course, those who insist evolution is a threat to Christianity also tend not to believe in purgatory, and I confess to taking a certain delight in imagining the hell-fire-and-brimstone crowd rubbing shoulders with what one rabid citizen called "atheist lesbian science teachers," all being washed clean together in a purgatory that neither group believed existed. Here in Kansas, you know, if we don't believe something, then it's not true. More ... 

Few English teachers devote lesson plans to the most boisterous, involuntary, guttural, excitable words of them all: interjections. Also known as exclamations and ejaculations, these punchy, occasionally cavepersonesque words just don't get the same respect as language's heavy lifters (nouns and verbs), stylish beauty queens (adjectives and adverbs), and blue-collar workers (articles and prepositions). Despite the interjection's reputation for bad table manners and all-around uncouth behavior, no part of speech communicates so effectively. More ... 

My Dear Joseph,

When you ask an editor about dictionaries, you should expect a lengthy answer. When that editor is your father, you should also expect a moral point or two.

This letter is about courage and cowardice, honesty and dishonesty, and more. You're probably wondering what courage and cowardice have to do with dictionaries, but I refer to their makers. They can be just as intellectually courageous or cowardly as any other human beings, and they can be so in the same dictionary. More ... 

by Richard Lederer

Back in the olden days we had a lot of moxie. We'd put on our best bib and tucker and straighten up and fly right. Hubba-hubba! We'd cut a rug in some juke joint and then go necking and petting and smooching and spooning and billing and cooing in (depending on when we were making all that whoopee) flivvers, tin lizzies, roadsters, hot rods, and jalopies in some passion pit or lovers' lane. Heavens to Betsy! Gee whillikers! Jumpin' Jehoshaphat! Holy moley! We were in like Flynn and living the life of Reilly, and even a regular guy couldn't accuse us of being a knucklehead, a nincompoop, or a pill. Not for all the tea in China! More ... 

by Mariel Boyarsky

Why My Father Has an Axe

I saw the axe
resting against the side of the house.

Its blade was kissing the earth,
the sweet, cold metal and
red warmth of dirt:
one inside the other. More ... 

The Elder Statesman
Back  Being Pithy
by Clark Elder Morrow

Once upon a time, advertising in magazines was written in the language of Pretence and Bombast, and the instructions for household products were penned in Convolutese. Within the lifetime of men now living, a miracle of creeping compendiousness occurred in copywriting. In the 1920s, it was possible to open a magazine to a two-page cigarette ad and settle down to what amounted to a short short story. The one I'm looking at right now begins: "When it's a perfect winter day — and you've just returned from a tramp in the crisp country air — when you come in and find the crackling fire awaiting you — have a Camel!" The ad continues (with expansive illustrations) for at least another 300 words. You often hear how English Victorian novels were written customarily in three volumes because it was a more leisurely era; we see in the Camel ad how much the tempo of daily life has increased since the twenties. More ... 

by Mark Halpern

Some time during Clinton Duffy's tenure as warden of San Quentin Federal Penitentiary, an inmate riot took place there. Asked what he ascribed it to, Duffy explained that it was caused by "a hoodlum element in the prison population." In saying this, he provided the locus classicus for the progressive dogma that of any population whose reputation has suffered some damage, the vast majority are good folks, unfairly stigmatized because of the doings of a tiny, unrepresentative minority. (It is unfair to call this widely held dogma Duffy's Dopiness, but think of it as payback: here a minority of one is being stigmatized for the silliness of the majority.) More ... 

The Last Word
Back  The Language of God
by Christopher Orlet

Jesus of Nazareth spoke Aramaic, and perhaps a few words of Hebrew and Greek. Mohammed spoke Arabic. Paul of Tarsus spoke Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. The early church fathers spoke Latin. So what language do you suppose God speaks?

This isn't a riddle. The Bible and the Koran certainly don't address the topic. In fact, in the holy books language is not much commented on at all. Perhaps once in the Old Testament, and once or twice in the New. More ... 

Postcards from Babel
Back  The Way We Talk Anymore
by Amalia Gnanadesikan
We were driving through the scenic rural areas of Prince Edward Island on our summer vacation, enjoying the view, when my husband turned to me and announced, "I'm having fun yet." The wicked grin he gave me showed he knew exactly what he was doing: waving an ungrammatical sentence under the nose of a linguist. More ... 

Bethumped with Words
Back  Origin of the Racist Slur Wop
by Bill Casselman

Folk etymologies die hard, and none harder than the most common spurious origin of the racist term wop. North American Italians use the word wop among themselves as a playful putdown. However they are edgy about non-Italians employing the term since it is held to be a vile slur.

Like many racial insults, the origin of wop is disputed. Suggested derivations include a totally false folk etymology and two much more likely sources. More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  Dog-Days
by Carey Harrison

"Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burned," writes the Bard. We certainly burned any remaining April perfume in the hot spell that came upon us early in June, here in the Northeast. "The dog-star rages!" as Pope exclaims in his Epistle to Dr. Arbuthnot. But soft! Enough quotations. I have to stop myself before my family stops me; I'm becoming an old fogey. I remember how my parents' and grandparents' generation would recite verse at the drop of a hat, triggered by little more than a word. And I remember how comical and tedious they seemed. Memorizing — my topic today — is a greater joy for the memorizer than the listener, even when the memorizer declaims well. And this is how it should be. Aside from sheer oral transmission (and who bothers, today, to learn by listening, by aural transmission?), literature memorized is primarily a secret inner library and, as such, a joy forever. My mother was educated in pre–World War II Berlin at the Waldschule, a school she adored, unaware, for a brief precious space, of the stormclouds gathering over her Sephardic heritage; her surgeon father had won the Iron Cross at the Battle of the Somme, she herself was, she believed, a thoroughgoing German, and at her school she learnt great screeds of German verse; she had a gift for it, and memorizing was encouraged. During long car drives, much later in life, she would regale me with Schiller's "Die Kraniche des Ibykus," all 184 lines of it, and similar set pieces. The joy was entirely hers. But, looking back, I can understand now how deep the joy was. 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.  

affidavid Misspelling of affidavit. • You will be required to sign an affidavid stating you paid for lot but never received it and to file a police report alleging fraud against the seller. USE affidavit. • Cindy Shook's affidavid was discounted by the court as unbelievable. USE affidavit. • Martin Coonce died on March 1, 1909, and Sarah Coonce subsequently filed an affidavid for relief under the Widow's Pension Act of 1908. USE affidavit.

More than a misspelling, affidavid signals that ineptitude and ignorance overwhelm us; today, entertainment is all; learning how to spell correctly or write well interests us no more than does civility and justice, honesty and integrity, yet how we use language is inseparable from how we view the world. 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.  

Probably, we will never be able to determine the psychic havoc of the concentration camps and the atom bomb upon the unconscious mind of almost everyone alive in these years. For the first time in civilized history, perhaps for the first time in all of history, we have been forced to live with the suppressed knowledge that the smallest facets of our personality or the most minor projection of our ideas, or indeed the absence of ideas and the absence of personality could mean equally well that we might still be doomed to die as a cipher in some vast statistical operation in which our teeth would be counted, and our hair would be saved, but our death itself would be unknown, unhonoured, and unremarked, a death which could not follow with dignity as a possible consequence to serious actions we had chosen, but rather a death by deux ex machina in a gas chamber or a radioactive city; and so if in the midst of civilization — that civilization founded upon the Faustian urge to dominate nature by mastering time, mastering the links of social cause and effect — in the middle of an economic civilization founded upon the confidence that time could indeed be subjected to our will, our psyche was subjected itself to the intolerable anxiety that death being causeless as well, and time deprived of cause and effect had come to a stop. 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.  

(to) take this opportunity (to) On the podium and before others, people speak what they're expected to say. Alone and on their deathbeds, they moan that no one knew who they were. (To) take this opportunity (to) is one of the phrases that people learn to mimic before they know to moan. 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.  

an order of magnitude delete. • While the first CD-ROM copy costs an order of magnitude more than a WORM disk, subsequent copies cost much less, making CD-ROM practical for applications requiring many copies of document disks. While the first CD-ROM copy costs more than a WORM disk, subsequent copies cost much less, making CD-ROM practical for applications requiring many copies of document disks. • The MFC development cycle remains an order of magnitude faster and still represents the better development method to use for desktop application components. The MFC development cycle remains faster and still represents the better development method to use for desktop application components. 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.  

autochthonous (oh-TOK-thah-nes) adj. originating where found; indigenous. 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.  

Samuel Beckett: Waiting for Godot 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 15
Topic: In the news
Level of difficulty: Moderate More ... 


• A Battle of Words — Tina Bennett-Kastor

• The Ooohs and Ahs and Ooh-La-Las: A Look at Interjections — Mark Peters

• On Some Deficiencies in Our American Dictionaries — Frank Keyes

• The Way We Word — Richard Lederer

• Three Poems — Mariel Boyarsky


• Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Being Pithy

• Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — Just a Few Rotten Apples, or Duffy's Dopiness

• Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — The Language of God

• Amalia Gnanadesikan: Postcards from Babel — The Way We Talk Anymore

• Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — Origin of the Racist Slur Wop

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


• Grumbling About Grammar

• Elegant English

• On Dimwitticisms

• Clues to Concise Writing

• Scarcely Used Words

• On the Bookshelf

• The Vocabula Quiz

TVR Revisited

• Grammar and Disputation — Peter Corey

• Hyphenology, or the Missing Link — Darren Crovitz

• Like — Maggie Balistreri

• Holy Wars — Julian Burnside

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Click the image to orderToward the Making of a Sentence — Kindle Edition by Robert Hartwell Fiske

The Vocabula Bookstore Is Now Open.
(click the image to order)

People long to write a clear, a readable, even, at times, an elegant sentence. Toward the Making of a Sentence will show them how to go about it. Toward the Making of a Sentence is a collection of rules or guidelines, followed by sentence examples. You may buy the manuscript as it now reads (Version 1.0 has some 70 pages). Later versions of this book will become available over time. Also included: "Silence, Language, and Society."

Click to see another book.


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