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Tuesday, July 07, 2015
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Published each month since September 1999 by Vocabula Communications Company

The September issue is 36,275 words long. Recent issues:  Aug.  July  June  May  Apr. 
September 2005, Vol. 7, No. 9
There are now   239   people reading TVR.
ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the October issue of The Vocabula Review:
"Kabbala of the Spin Top Vehicle" by Joe Kelly
The October issue is due online October 23.

A Definition a Day

strepitant (STREP-i-tant) adj. noisy; boisterous.

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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 Skip Eisiminger

Set me down in front of a typewriter or a word processor, and I'll type my name; hand me a new pen, and I'll sign my John Henry grand as John Hancock. Some would judge this behavior as evidence of egocentrism; others would see it as a failure of the imagination. I know it to be, however, both as well as a recognition that names are debts, and I'm in arrears. "Sterling (Skip) Kenwood Eisiminger, Junior" is a heavy debt, indeed, and its sissy-snobbish connotations like those of "Sir Percival Llewellyn St. Cloud" mired me in more playground rows than I care to recall. But with middle age, I know the truth of Thoreau's observation: "With knowledge of the name comes a distincter knowledge and recognition of the thing." More ... 

by Richard Lederer

Have you heard the one about the man who went to trial for having pulled a woman down a street by the hair? When the judge asked the arresting officer, "Was she drugged?" the policeman answered, "Yes sir, a full block." Or the one about the woman who asked a Boston cab driver where she could get scrod. "I didn't know that the verb had that past tense," muttered the cabbie. More ... 

by David Isaacson

Whoever said "sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me" had a psyche built of steel. Some nicknames merely nick, but others wound deeply. Because I am the offspring of a Jewish father and a Christian mother, my features are not noticeably Jewish. But my last name is Isaacson. The first president to mean anything to me, having been born in 1943, was Eisenhower. It was only a matter of time before one of my nicknames, when I was a junior in high school, became "Ike." Though even then I was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat, I rather liked having my name rhyme with the president's nickname. Ike had a ring to it better than the less imaginative nickname, "Big I" (I was tall for my age). More ... 

by Mark Peters

It's hard to be a dude of action in a world where verbs are such slippery words — and sneaky bastards.

With so many double meanings in the dictionary, it's impossible to know if a verb (or it's bulky sibling, the verb phrase) should be trusted, feared, welcomed, or shunned. In the interests of science, I thought I'd make some helpful distinctions and observations, which are guaranteed to help you compose your next personal ad, state of the union address, or haiku about SPAM. More ... 

by Ver๓nica Albin

VA: In the past, you've defined the term word as "the fabric we use to dress our thoughts." What is a "book," then?

IS: I've seen analogies between books and bombs, tombs, pharmacies, wineries, and grocery stores. For me a book is a closet where all sorts of customs are stored. It is left to us to pick and choose. More ... 

by Pen Pearson


The folks across our cul-de-sac, whom
I've never shaken hands with nor waved
hello to, clean windows even Sundays.
They scoop their sidewalks twice every
snow, each winter scrape the concrete
to puddingstone, and in spring, plant
flowers that loom or tower by their bay
window — clematis, cosmos in militant
rows. Afternoons, and mornings after, More ... 

The Elder Statesman
Back  Let's Build a Poem
by Clark Elder Morrow

In the spirit of Benjamin Britten's Let's Make an Opera, I propose that — insofar as the genre of the monthly column allows — we make, or pretend to make, a poem together. For the next few minutes, I propose that I be Mickey Rooney, and you be Judy Garland, and together we'll enthusiastically and ebulliently (and with all the foolhardiness of callow youth) put on a show! More ... 

by Mark Halpern

One of the few sorts of literature that does not evade the uglier side of reality is the popular, "airport reading" kind, including crime thrillers, science fiction (particularly "military" science fiction), and the more naturalistic comic strips. Most of the specimens of this broad genre feature a hero who, while sufficiently tough, ruthless, and competent for all ordinary purposes, is also a man of honor and some cultivation, and hence cannot be involved in certain practices, no matter that they may be necessary to the plot and to reader satisfaction. The standard way of dealing with such ugly necessities in these stories is to provide the hero with a sidekick — in exceptional cases, more than one sidekick — who does all the nasty business. This permits the hero not only to retain his ethical virginity, but even on occasion to remonstrate mildly with the partner who handles such things, although without suggesting any practical alternatives to the mayhem done on his behalf. More ... 

by John Kilgore

In the fall of 1978, I landed my first full-time college teaching job, a nine-month replacement position at the University of Washington. A legitimate Assistant Professor had abruptly resigned from the English faculty, having acquired a hippie boyfriend, it seemed, and with him a craving to find herself in some way that did not entail discussing commas with freshmen. My thesis director had been on the spot and able to recommend me. So I hustled up from California with a pregnant wife, a toddler, a Datsun truck, and a small U-Haul trailer, to take temporary charge of a mixed bag of writing and literature courses. Seattle was beautiful, but the pay was low, the future completely uncertain, my PhD still unfinished, and my sense of vocation, that year, not exactly rock-firm. More ... 

Postcards from Babel
Back  Words Are Not Enough
by Amalia Gnanadesikan

My mother taught me never to sign anything I haven't read. This may account for why I felt compelled to at least pass an eye over the user's agreement on the software I was installing the other day. The prose, I discovered, was riveting. One clause stated that:

The first will be restricted from the day which purchased the product with which the second contains software or software on 90th, and when the serious physical defect which is the grade which cannot fully achieve the function exists in the disk with which software is recorded, disks are exchanged for nothing.
More ... 

by Bill Casselman

Norwegian painter and printmaker Edvard Munch in his famous The Scream (1893) may have depicted what psychiatrists would call "an indeterminate figure" in modern art's most wretched cry of obliterating angst. But ancient Greek physicians of the sixth and fifth centuries BCE — and more modern men, too — had the sexist notion that nervous afflictions were peculiar to women and were symptoms of various uterine maladies. Plato imagined that the uterus (Greek hustera or hystera) was a separate spirit and animal part of a woman that wanted only to become pregnant. If it did not, this imaginary uterus-spirit wandered in a fit of mopish pique through the female body causing trouble. When it arrived at the brain, this hystera (womb animal) went totally postal and, claimed Plato, induced feminine hysterics. More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  Oy-weh! Days
by Carey Harrison
Yes, it's back to school, and back to freshman composition students. Dear students! Endearing, wonderful boys and girls (many are seventeen going on twelve, so I'm afraid the terms boy and girl, currently regarded as demeaning, are the ones that come to mind nonetheless)! Horrible assignments, as ever! — horrible results, that is, of the first assignments I set them, revealing error upon dreadful error and the complete absence of any systematic training in writing correct English. 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.  

laconic Idiotic for emotionless (or similar words). • His tone of speech is laconic and pithy. USE dispassionate. • "Death Watch," a laconic litany of medical patients who were given faulty terminal diagnoses, delivers a shorthand version of hope and fatalism run awry because of human error. USE unemotional. • Glenn behaved in the familiar way of the sexist Australian pig and the fact he was a bushie (speaking with a dinky-di laconic Aussie voice, vowels as wide as the brown plains are endless) made it worse. USE emotionless. • She may not be pushing comedic boundaries, but her irreverence and laconic delivery make you feel you are in the company of the best kind of pub raconteur. USE deadpan.

When a word takes on a new meaning — often a wholly incorrect and inappropriate meaning — laxicographers and linguists, bungling, clumsy arbiters of the language, call it a "semantic shift" or "semantic drift." 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.  

What chiefly distinguishes the daily press of the United States from the press of all other countries pretending to culture is not its lack of truthfulness or even its lack of dignity and honor, but its incurable fear of ideas, its constant effort to evade the discussion of fundamentals by translating all issues into a few elemental fears, its incessant reduction of all reflection to mere emotion. It is, in the true sense, never well-informed. It is seldom intelligent, save in the arts of the mob-master. It is never courageously honest. Held harshly to a rigid correctness of opinion by the plutocracy that controls it with less and less attempt at disguise, and menaced on all sides by censorships that it dare not flout, it sinks rapidly into formalism and feebleness. Its yellow section is perhaps its most respectable section for there the only vestige of the old free journalist survives. In the more conservative papers one finds only a timid and petulant animosity to all questioning of the existing order, however urbane and sincere — a pervasive and ill-concealed dread that the mob now heated up against the orthodox hobgoblins may suddenly begin to unearth hobgoblins of its own, and so run amok. 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.  

or something Said as a person's thoughts end, but before his words do, or something, like its many relations (or something like that, or something or other, and so on), is a thoughtless phrase that reminds us only of our trembling humanity. • This is like something I'd wear in third grade, or something. DELETE or something. • It makes you mad when they make them sound like they're vicious people — that if you walk the street, they're going to grab you or something. DELETE or something. 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.  

cause ... (to) delete. • Protease inhibitors have the ability to cause damage to liver cells if they are used for long periods of time. Protease inhibitors have the ability to damage liver cells if they are used for long periods of time. • After controversies last October, I'm afraid that the document might cause embarrassment to us all. After controversies last October, I'm afraid that the document might embarrass us all. • We cannot possibly cause harm to God's most magnificent creation. We cannot possibly harm God's most magnificent creation. • The defendant angrily shouted that he was going to look for his wife and warned that he would cause harm to his wife or to any person who had helped his wife. The defendant angrily shouted that he was going to look for his wife and warned that he would harm his wife or any person who had helped his wife. 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.  

maritorius (mar-i-TOR-ee-es) adj. excessively devoted to one's husband. 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.  

Vladimir Nabokov: Ada, or Ardor: A Family Chronicle 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 18
Topic: Home and garden
Level of difficulty: Moderate More ... 

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

To My Father
More ... 


• Dropping Names — Skip Eisiminger

• A Tense Time with Verbs — Richard Lederer

• Getting Nicked by Nicknames — David Isaacson

• Kicked to the Verb — Mark Peters

• Interview: On Libraries: A Conversation with Ilan Stavans — Ver๓nica Albin

• Two Poems — Pen Pearson


• Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Let's Build a Poem

• Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — As for Killing, Our Servants Will Do That for Us

• John Kilgore: Shibboleths — Crossing the Jordan: Four Meditations on Usage

• Amalia Gnanadesikan: Postcards from Babel — Words Are Not Enough

• Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — Hysteria: The Just Death of a Medical Word

• Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — Oy-weh! Days


• 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

• 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

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

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Click the image to orderThe Dictionary of Disagreeable English, Deluxe Edition by Robert Hartwell Fiske

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

Authored by one of the country’s leading curmudgeons, The Dictionary of Disagreeable English Deluxe Edition offers 50 percent more content than the popular original. In this edition, Fiske has added more language blunders, additional witty commentary, and a new feature that includes frequently asked language questions, and their answers. Fiske also rails against "laxicographers and ding-a-linguists" who, with their misguided thinking, actually promote the dissolution of the English language.

Click to see another book.


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