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October 2005, Vol. 7, No. 10
There are now 226 people reading TVR.
Coming in the November issue of The Vocabula Review:
"Finding the Fictions" by Francis Blessington
The November issue is due online November 20.
Vocabula 101 Series Handbooks are slim volumes replete with sound advice on how to use the English language well.
101 Wordy Phrases encourages you to speak and write more concisely and clearly.
You can order 101 Wordy Phrases from Vocabula.
101 Foolish Phrases encourages you to speak and write more carefully and thoughtfully.
You can order 101 Foolish Phrases from Vocabula.
101 Elegant Paragraphs encourages you to speak and write with deliberation, style, even beauty.
You can order 101 Elegant Paragraphs from Vocabula.
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A Definition a Day
insouciance (in-SOO-see-ans) n. lack of concern; indifference.
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More than one million English, Spanish, and Latin entries.
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More than one million English, Spanish, and Latin entries.
Clark Elder Morrow
Robert Hartwell Fiske
Humor in Language
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Post Your Poetry
The Best Words
The Worst Words
The Dictionary of Disagreeable English
A Curmudgeon's Compendium of
Excruciatingly Correct Grammar
Robert Hartwell Fiske's The Dictionary of Disagreeable English.
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.
Two by Fiske
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.
My son, Owen, recently received a little battery-operated, remote-control car at his sixth birthday party. When we finally figured out how to open the package (no mean feat itself), we were faced with a perplexing complexity of toy. And if you think my "perplexing complexity of toy" is an infelicitous phrase, you should, in Matthew Arnold fashion, hold it up to the light of these classics, which we discovered in the "Usage Manual": More ...
As is its relentless wont, the New York Times has brought me bad news, but not just bad news about the world, its standard fare, but about my own life. In a recent "Sunday Styles" section, the newspaper announced that jokes, formal jokes, with a beginning-middle-and-end structure, are out. "It's a matter of faith among professional comics," the paper reports, "that jokes the kind that involve a narrative set-up, some ridiculous details and a punch line have been displaced by observational humor and one-liners." The older kinds of jokes now don't cut it, in other words, aren't even yesterday. More ...
First: I argued over we.
If you've been in a relationship, this exchange will not surprise you. You know that words matter. Love makes linguists of us all. As close as we feel to our loved ones, we're always trying to get one step closer, hoping ultimately to end up inside their heads and language is the best way to get there. We might grab on to a verb, lean on a noun, ponder a preposition (and later a proposition), wondering what was meant by each one. More ...
Three vampires went into a bar and sat down. A buxom barmaid came over to take their orders. The vampires tried to be neck romancers, so they batted their eyes and flirted with her by telling her how much they liked her blood type. But she rebuffed them with the reply "O negative" and asked, "And what would you, er, gentlemen like tonight?"
Vampires love to drink blood because they find it thicker than water. In fact, we know a vampire who was fired as night watchman at a blood bank. They caught him drinking on the job, thus making too many unauthorized withdrawals. And he took too many coffin breaks. More ...
At Dusk, the Catbird
Twitched in the forsythia,
The Elder StatesmanCharacters of Color
It's one of the hoariest of hoary chestnuts in the world of writing advice: make your fictional characters colorful. Okay, fine. But what do we mean by colorful?
Here's an example of what I think of when "colorful" comes up in connection with character. Once, back in the 1920s, John Barrymore strode onto a Broadway stage in a Shakespearian role (I forget which one). It was the dead of winter. Barrymore had been annoyed by excessive coughing from the spectators on previous evenings. Hitting his mark and reaching deep within the folds of his costume, he produced a gigantic flounder, flung it into the audience and cried (in his perfectly modulated tones) "Here! Feed on this, you damned hacking walruses!" More ...
The Last WordNew Clich้s
If there is one thing I can't stand it is the clich้. Come to think of it, "if there is one thing I can't stand" is a bit of a clich้, too, so let's just begin this essay over properly, shall we?
If there is one thing that burns my britches .... Right, another clich้. Same with "gets my goat" and "burns me up." "Burns my britches" and "gets my goat" may sound slightly quaint, bespeaking a time when America was a mostly rural backwater and folks stomped through goat-droppings in their britches on the way to the crib barn, but that doesn't excuse it. More ...
There is still another reason that the discourse of curmudgeonry (as it might be called in an MLA Paper) tends to huffiness. Whether we are talking about the inner curmudgeon in one's head or the outer one writing Sunday columns on usage, the job is the somewhat thankless one of defending things that ultimately rest not on intrinsic logic but on arbitrary convention. The resulting tactical recourse to bluff, bluster, and fiat can be disconcerting, but is usually less ill-humored than it seems. The grammarian or language maven (to use William Safire's term, adopted and popularized by Steven Pinker and others) is like someone of uncertain authority trying to organize a crowd at a picnic or buffet supper. It doesn't really matter whether people line up this way or that way, whether they get drinks first or salads or silverware; but until a system is established, they mill around aimlessly, bumping into each other. So to effect a consensus, you climb up on a chair and raise your voice. More ...
Postcards from BabelMouths of Babes
When my daughter was about eighteen months old, I realized she was speaking Japanese. Not literally, of course; but schematically it was a close fit. Japanese words obey rigid patterns in the way that their consonant and vowel sounds follow each other, and I noticed that the words Gita produced followed the same patterns. More ...
Bethumped with WordsSockeye Salmon: A British Columbia Word
Once upon a time, I was camping near Pacific Rim National Park on Vancouver Island. One morning as I hunched over a tidal rock pool to observe a starfish lazily lunching on a hapless mollusk, an elderly gentleman (of a type whom I seem to encounter in every natural setting) approached. Let's just call him the World's Foremost Living Expert on pretty well every topic known to human conversation. We exchanged a bit of amiable lip-flap, and in the course of his palaver, the grizzled old salt asked me if I knew that the sockeye salmon received its name when hearty fishermen of olden days waded into the water and captured the fish by socking it in the eye. More ...
Harrison's CornerGray Days
Glimpses of winter, a season I love, at last. This too, this pre-winter, is its own season, lacking autumnal flamboyance, the self-dramatizing of fall as the trees fling their last regrets to the winds. This, before and after the falling leaves, is the gray, premonitory dullness, lacking warmth but not yet cold, that speaks of a numb expectation. This is the anesthetic season. Compared to this, winter will be a sprightly dance.
As my patient readers know, I'm intrigued by the rapid dissemination of pronunciatory tics, some of which survive to become lasting expressions, rather like the face our grandmother warned us we shouldn't make in case the wind changed and the expression stuck. Is there, in written English, a new word, "warrantee"? I'm not sure why there should be, since a warranty is a kind of guarantee, but a guarantee is not a warranty, and the two words don't seem to gain anything much by a merger. In spoken English, "warrantee" is now everywhere, on every car salesman's lips. I remember Gore Vidal once writing about how stupidity incited him in a manner similar to lust; it made him salivate. I know just what he means. How does "warranty" become "warrantee"? It only takes one person with crossed synaptic wires and an unfamiliarity with the word warranty to say, "warrantee," in error. But why does it spread? Does it sound better than "warranty"? Certainly, by combining "warranty" and "guarantee," you get a kind of subliminally reinforced warranty, a warranty that is its own guarantee. It is so anyway, of course. But there's no harm in a double helping of customer reassurance. As a matter of fact, I've come to rather like the word warrantee; most of the words that end in an emphasized ee (other than, say, manatee or Pawnee) describe the beneficiary of an action, the payee, for instance, or employee, and I see no reason why the recipient of a warranty shouldn't be a warrantee. This is not, however, the sense of the word in its increasingly current pronunciation, which appears to be simply a new-fangled way of saying warranty (do people even notice the change?), and which, if it were to designate the warranty's purchaser, might summon a word, "warrantor," into existence, to fulfill it. "Guarantor," of course, exists. Yet, to make for a truly muddy playing field, "guarantee" doesn't mean the person endowed by the guarantor, as by rights it should. 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.
regimentate Solecistic for regiment. We must pre-arrange our material control and regimentate our production lines in such a manner that we may fulfill your requests as soon as possible. USE regiment. It is important to regimentate strong efforts in the region by promoting the cooperation among the public and private sectors. USE regiment. Policy and polity refer to attempts to regimentate or to regulate politics as an action and motion. USE regiment.
To regiment means to systematize; to subject to uniformity and order. Regimentate is misspelled, mispronounced, misused just the sort of word that laxicographers long for. 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.
Whatever opinion may be entertained of the miracles of the primitive church since the time of the apostles, this unresisting softness of temper, so conspicuous among the believers of the second and third centuries, proved of some accidental benefit to the cause of truth and religion. In modern times, a latent and even involuntary scepticism adheres to the most pious dispositions. Their admission of supernatural truths is much less an active consent than a cold and passive acquiescence. Accustomed long since to observe and to respect the variable order of Nature, our reason, or at least our imagination, is not sufficiently prepared to sustain the visible action of the Deity. 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.
24/7 Nothing recommends this silly phrase especially when so many other words, true words, mean as much. 24/7 is favored by people who find words unwieldy if not distasteful. 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.
accumulative cumulative. The proportions reflect accumulative information as one reads the table from left to right. The proportions reflect cumulative information as one reads the table from left to right. A study appearing in Psychological Science indicates that negative beliefs about an individual have an accumulative effect on the individual's performance. A study appearing in Psychological Science indicates that negative beliefs about an individual have a cumulative effect on the individual's performance. Oak Ridge was third in accumulative points followed by Ponderosa. Oak Ridge was third in cumulative points followed by Ponderosa. 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.
epuration (ep-yah-RAY-shen) n. purification, especially removal of officials or politicians believed to be disloyal; purge. 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.
Carl Van Vechten: Nigger Heaven 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 19
Kabbala of the Spin Top Vehicle Joe Kelly
No Joke Joseph Epstein
Perilous Pronouns Ada Brunstein
Halloween Word Prey in a Jugular Vein Richard Lederer
Two Poems George Witte
Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman Characters of Color
Christopher Orlet: The Last Word New Clich้s
John Kilgore: Shibboleths Crossing the Jordan: Four Meditations on Usage Part 3
Amalia Gnanadesikan: Postcards from Babel Mouths of Babes
Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words Sockeye Salmon: A British Columbia Word
Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner Gray Days
Grumbling About Grammar
Clues to Concise Writing
Scarcely Used Words
On the Bookshelf
The Vocabula Quiz
TVR Radio 2
Negative Thoughts Brenda Townsend Hall
The Like Virus David Grambs
"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
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