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Published each month since September 1999

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May 2005, Vol. 7, No. 5
There are now   115   people reading TVR.
ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the June issue of The Vocabula Review:
"A Battle of Words" by Tina Bennett-Kastor
The June issue is due online June 19.

A Definition a Day

cimmerian (si-MIR-ee-en) adj. very dark or gloomy.

Word Unscrambler

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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

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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 Richard Lederer

Slang is uber, wooka, hecka, hella, slammin', filthy, tight, hype, dope, krunk, coo, phatty, mad, bad, sick, ill, word, and dank.

That's our teenagers' way of saying that slang is super cool, fantastic, awesome. One of the purposes of student slang, like the thieves' cant to which it is close kin, is to bond members of the group together and to ensure that their parlance will not be understood by the uninitiated. Among the uninitiated may be you, gentle reader. More ... 

by Marylaine Block

We Americans have never much liked limits, on our behavior or on our art. We may well lead the world in our contempt for the picky little rules of manners, grammar, spelling, and poetic and musical form.

I am here to defend those picky little rules because without them, I believe, neither society nor art can exist. More ... 

by Dawnelle A. Jager

Papers, projects, pressure, problems.

Tracing, tracking, tapping, time.

Papers and essay exams ignite your brain. You can't wait to start researching, studying, writing, and shaping your ideas. You plan to get started at least three weeks before the paper is due. You'll spend some time generating ideas, reviewing class notes, searching the Internet for information, brainstorming, talking with others, revising, proofreading, and visiting the Writing Center. The end product will be a replica of your profound thinking; a paper you have enjoyed writing and work you can proudly showcase. More ... 

by John Mason Mings

What do the English words liaise, burgle, and enthuse, to name but three, have in common?

"Such words do not exist," my beloved English teacher, Miss Aycock, who died recently at the age of 99, would say, and to use them in her presence would invite opprobrium. "They are illegitimate words, back-formations from other word forms. For instance, there is no verb form for the common word (an adjective, by the way), enthusiastic. More ... 

There is a brief anecdote — a miniature story-within-a-story — in the depths of one of Dashiell Hammett's books that I would like to share with you. It goes like this: one day an average man is walking home from work. He passes the construction site of a new skyscraper. As he does so, a massive hammer drops to the sidewalk beside him, creating a spectacular crash and a neat little crater. It misses the man by a hair's-breadth. Extremely startled, he looks about him and, after the shock wears off a bit, continues on his way home. More ... 

by Mark Halpern

Since the late nineteenth century, any American aspiring to an academic career in the humanities must begin by acquiring the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. To get that degree, a certain amount of coursework is generally required, as well as the demonstration of a certain degree of facility with some foreign languages, but the main task set for those aspiring to a doctorate is the production of a dissertation: a work that is supposed to be more than a demonstration that the student has mastered the tools of his trade, and is now no longer an apprentice but a journeyman; it is to be an original contribution to knowledge. More ... 

Postcards from Babel
Back  Travels of an Eggplant
by Amalia Gnanadesikan

I've never liked eggplant much, except in Indian food. Baingan, as it's called in Hindi, appears regularly on Indian menus, where it is put to excellent use. It's probably a case of practice making perfect. South and Southeast Asians have been growing and cooking eggplant since time immemorial. In Thailand, there is a white variety that prompted the American name for the vegetable; in India, purple is the standard color, as the Hindi word for "purple," baingani, attests. More ... 

Bethumped with Words
Back  Latin Clavis Is the Keyword
by Bill Casselman
Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum. Habemus Papam!

I announce to you a great joy. We have a pope!

Colorful Latin rang round the Piazza di San Pietro in Rome last month — enough Latin to make a visitor think a centurion had spotted a Carthaginian on the Appian Way. So let's look at words sprung from ancient Rome, from one Latin word in particular, clavis, "key." More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  Maydays
by Carey Harrison

Dear friends,

I feel I can address you in this fashion without embarrassment after the wonderfully copious mailbag of responses I received from Vocabula readers, following my initial salvo last month, News from the Trenches: An English Professor Speaks. I think my email-bag exceeded in quantity (and certainly in quality) the entire accumulated written feedback I've received over nearly forty years of publishing fiction. (I'm not sure what this proves, and I probably don't want to figure it out.) With the editor's kind encouragement, I hope to use this "Corner" to add a few, briefer, monthly comments on the state and progress of both British and American English, along the several lines indicated in April's piece. 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.  

litany Misused for list. • Iverson listed a whole litany of reasons for a debacle that left the crowd booing the 76ers throughout the second half. USE list. • Zauzmer pointed to a mortgage of $227,000 that Commerce approved for Kemp despite a very low credit score and a litany of creditors seeking almost $40,000 from him. USE list. • In his annual State of the City address, Reed recited a litany of accomplishments that he said have taken place during those years. USE list.

A litany is a prayer consisting of a series of petitions recited by a leader alternating with fixed responses; a tedious recital or repetitive series. A list is a number of items, typically printed one below another. 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.  

My sympathies are limited. I can only be myself, and partly by nature, partly by the circumstances of my life, it is a partial self. I am not a social person. I cannot get drunk and feel a great love for my fellow-men. Convivial amusement has always somewhat bored me. When people sit in an ale-house or drifting down the river in a boat start singing I am silent. I have never even sung a hymn.

I do not much like being touched, and I have always to make a slight effort over myself not to draw away when someone links his arm in mine. I can never forget myself. The hysteria of the world repels me, and I never feel more aloof than when I am in the midst of a throng surrendered to a violent feeling of mirth or sorrow. 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.  

an accident waiting to happen • Any network that does not have a standardized backup procedure in place is an accident waiting to happen. • The fire at the InterRoyal mill was a tragic accident waiting to happen. An accident waiting to happen twists seriousness into silliness. The significance of what we say, the danger, perhaps, in what we do, we seldom see when we think with such frivolous phrases. Our understanding may be distorted, our responses dulled. 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.  

has a (the) preference for favors; prefers. • By now, you will have gathered that I have a strong preference for organization along functional lines. By now, you will have gathered that I strongly prefer organization along functional lines. • He plays piano and has a preference for Mozart and Beethoven. He plays piano and prefers Mozart and Beethoven. • Segregated or pooled accounts will be considered but the client has a preference for segregated accounts. Segregated or pooled accounts will be considered but the client favors segregated accounts. 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.  

adiaphorus (ad-ee-AF-ah-res) adj. 1. morally neutral or indifferent. 2. neither harmful nor helpful. 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 Butler: The Way of All Flesh 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 14
Topic: Personalities
Level of difficulty: Moderate More ... 


• A Guide to Teenspeak — Richard Lederer

• Limited Success — Marylaine Block

• How to Rite for Righting Teachers — Dawnelle A. Jager

• Mome Raths Outgrabe — John Mason Mings


• Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Isocrates v. Joshua: Divergent Ideals of Education in Ancient Greece and Israel

• Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — Three Reflections on American Humanistic Scholarship

• Amalia Gnanadesikan: Postcards from Babel — Travels of an Eggplant

• Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — Latin Clavis Is the Keyword

• Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — Maydays


• Grumbling About Grammar

• Elegant English

• On Dimwitticisms

• Clues to Concise Writing

• Scarcely Used Words

• On the Bookshelf

• The Vocabula Quiz

TVR Revisited

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

• 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."

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