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.
Once when Socrates finished a lesson, Plato and the other kids took out their cigarette lighters and waved them overhead in unison. What?! There were no lighters four hundred years before Jesus, you say. Well, perhaps not, nor were there any cigarettes. The fact is that good as Socrates was, he wasn't Mr. Chips or Yoda every day. Indeed there was the time when Plato himself complained, "Master, you're killing us." To which Socrates sharply replied, "Then you'll die educated, Grasshopper." And he did.
Guidewords are the two words that appear at the top of every dictionary page to indicate the first and the last entry to be found on that page.
Guidewords are sober, reliable, and unobtrusive to a fault. To the uninitiated, they are invisible. To the experienced dictionary user, they encourage speed reading to find the precise page on which a word resides.
I learned to compose corporatese by the backdoor route. This often strange and exasperating English of corporate financial headquarters and smoky boardrooms is not really something you learn in college or from a formal writing course. You learn it by hint and feel. You learn and execute it by cultivated intuition, something like getting to play the piano or guitar by oido. How I achieved a passable mastery of it is a long story, and I will spare you its seamier parts because they really do not concern the English language. It is enough to say that one day, invited by a senior friend, I had found myself in a nice little mahogany room in the Ayala District, saying yes to a cushy job of writing scripts for little slide shows about how good and how socially responsible my new employer was.
Prudishness enjoyed (if that's the word) its golden age in the straitlaced Victorian era. Take the widely read Lady Gough's Book of Etiquette. Among Lady Gough's social pronouncements was that under no circumstances should books written by male authors be placed on shelves next to books written by "authoresses." Married writers, however, such as Robert and Elizabeth-Barrett Browning, could be shelved together without impropriety.
There she is, "keeling the pot,"
stuck in the middle of the great winter poem.
Shakespeare calls her greasy,
as she labors over some big hot stew
surrounded by other laborers,
Tom and Dick, who mess about with wood
the way men do in the winter,
and Marion, nursing her overblown nose.
A famous critic once said, "Those who talk of reading the Bible 'as literature' sometimes mean, I think, reading it without attending to the main thing it is about; like reading Burke with no interest in politics, or reading the Aeneid with no interest in Rome. That seems to me to be nonsense."
We humans are lonely. The universe is frighteningly big, God is dead, and nobody loves us. So we're looking for pals everywhere: in outer space, in the animal world, and in the chip fabs of Silicon Valley.
Giving a language a written form has a very strange effect on it. A language is in essence an invisible body of knowledge that its speakers share; individual uses of language are ephemeral, the words gone the moment they are uttered. But a written language becomes suspended in time, preserved and even fossilized. Words, sentences, and even grammatical conventions become permanent.
Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Sometimes considered the motto of the United States Postal Service, even used to refer to Pony Express riders, this is in fact a translation of a line written in the fifth century BCE by Herodotus, the Greek writer known as "the father of history." His master work was On the Persian Wars, composed between 500 and 479 BCE. In this famous passage, Herodotus praises the stamina and persistence of horsed messengers in the service of Xerxes, king of Persia.
1. I should like to ask why anyone would use the word doubtlessly. The usage with which I am familiar is doubtless as both adverb and adjective. The -ly seems to me to be redundant. Juliet TelfordMore ...
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.
downtalk Idiotic for disparage (or similar words). A lot of people down talk our military; they don't realize that if we don't have this, they can't talk at all. USE vilify. Why down talk religion? Religion is a faith, a belief. USE denigrate. So many uninformed people down talk the tapes and equipment, and others call themselves "Eight Track Nuts" to describe their interest in the format. USE sneer at. Also, I've seen other car forums where people downtalk Japanese cars yet praise the Elise, and it just makes me wonder, since the B18C and 2ZZ are both Japanese engines. USE ridicule. The Fed as a whole does not like to downtalk the economy, but the data is not matching what their yak has been saying. USE criticize.
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.
In reading the newspapers here, I have reckoned up not less than twenty-five great men, seventeen very great men, and nine very extraordinary men in less than the compass of half a year. These, say the gazettes, are the men that posterity are to gaze at with admiration; these the names that fame will be employed in holding up for the astonishment of succeeding ages. Let me see forty-six great men in half a year, amounts to just ninety-two in a year. I wonder how posterity will be able to remember them all, or whether the people, in future times, will have any other business to mind, but that of getting the catalogue by heart.
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.
(a; the) green light Like red light, the expression green light appeals to people who grasp the meaning of colorful visuals and expressive pictures more easily than they do polysyllabic words and complicated thoughts. Some people upgrade simple or straightforward ideas to unintelligible ones; others degrade substantive or nuanced ideas to unsophisticated ones. Green light is an example of the latter, but both tactics suggest an insincere mind, an unknowable heart.
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.
acclimatizeacclimate. Perhaps your company has recently hired several Nigerian accountants, and you want to help them successfully acclimatize to your corporate culture. Perhaps your company has recently hired several Nigerian accountants, and you want to help them successfully acclimate to your corporate culture. It's hard to acclimatize myself to the literary world, and I don't want to be a part of it. It's hard to acclimate myself to the literary world, and I don't want to be a part of it.
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.
betise (bay-TEEZ) n. 1. stupidity, foolishness. 2. a foolish remark or action.
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.
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 12 Topic: In the news Level of difficulty: Moderate
Vocabula Bound 1: Outbursts, Insights, Explanations, and Oddities by Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor
The Vocabula Bookstore Is Now Open.
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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.