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February 2006, Vol. 8, No. 2
There are now 335 people reading TVR.
Coming in the March issue of The Vocabula Review:
"How Grammaticality Eludes: The Relationship Between Nonstandard and Evolving Language" by Donald L. Dyer
The March issue is due online March 19.
New from Vocabula Books
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.
101 Foolish Phrases encourages you to speak and write more carefully and thoughtfully.
101 Elegant Paragraphs encourages you to speak and write with deliberation, style, even beauty.
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Definition a Day Quiz
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A Definition a Day
polyglot (POL-ee-glot) n. 1. a person having a knowledge of several languages. 2. a book, esp. a Bible, containing several versions of the same text in different languages. 3. a mixture or confusion of languages.
Type word here:
More than one million English, Spanish, and Latin entries.
Type word here:
More than one million English, Spanish, and Latin entries.
Clark Elder Morrow
Robert Hartwell Fiske
Barbara Ann Kipfer
Humor in Language
Politics and Society
Post Your Poetry
The Best Words
The Worst Words
The Dictionary of Disagreeable English
A Curmudgeon's Compendium of
Excruciatingly Correct Grammar
And coming in May,
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
Pen & Sword
A Journalist's Guide to Covering the Military
You can order Pen & Sword from the publisher or Amazon.
It's not easy being a dog-lover and a word-lover.
Though dogs have contributed almost as much to human language as they have to human society, many dog-related words and expressions are just not very fair to Fido. There seems to be a metric buttload of "dog-faced liars" in the world, though I've never heard of a dishonest dog, and though some country is always unleashing "the dog of war," I've yet to see any pooch drop a missile or sever diplomatic relations. More ...
We are living in 4704, the Chinese Year of the Dog, a good time to explore the presence of dogs in our language and our lives.
The word dog trots, prances, and scampers through our marvelous English language. We call a tenacious person a bulldog, a showoff a hot dog, a fortunate person a lucky dog, a man with an active social life a gay dog who puts on the dog ("makes a flashy display"), and a rapscallion or cur a dirty dog. A dominant person is a top dog who can run with the big dogs, while his counterpart is an underdog. More ...
Book ExcerptThe Question of Change in Language
We know, of course, that it is not the English language which does something when it changes. We know that this has something to do with the people who use it. But what? Rudi Keller
The educated speaker of English today, especially one "fascinated by words," is almost certain to hold the view that language is and must always be changing, and that change of any kind is a Good Thing. There may be particular changes he is not happy about, but he is not likely to try to oppose them; he is persuaded that resistance to lexical changes is both futile and something close to politically reactionary. And he will have gotten that idea, directly or indirectly, from the professional academic students of language called linguists. There are many schools of linguists, and they can be quite sharp in criticizing each other, but they are as one in holding and propagating a view of language change of which the layman's version is a somewhat degraded copy. (By "language change" and similar expressions I will mean, unless otherwise stated, changes in the English vocabulary: newly coined or imported words, or old words in new senses.) Linguists indiscriminately accept the idea of change, seeing it as springing from "the genius of the language" expressing itself through the speech of the common people. They see resistance to any particular change as springing from ignorance and old-fogeyism, if not elitism and racism, and as in any case futile, since change will always prevail. But even while enthusiastically embracing change in their role as linguists, they are not always so welcoming of it in their private capacities; they often refuse to adopt in their own writings changes they have defended in that of others more on this later. The standard response that one hears when any such change is questioned is some variant of Language is a living, growing thing, and all living things change. Don't interfere with life! More ...
Authors, editors, publicists are welcome to submit excerpts of books about words and language for possible publication in Vocabula's "Book Excerpt."
Meet and Greet
For some, ardent reading forms its own end,
The Elder StatesmanSomeone You Should Know
When you learn that Charles VI's Pragmatic Sanction of 1713 had the effect of making Maria Theresa his successor on the Austrian throne, you feel that your store of knowledge has been increased. On the other hand, when you learn the difference between the words insidious and invidious (the former means "lying in wait to ensnare," the latter means "placing one in a position that tempts to envy"), you feel instead that you have gained a certain measure of wisdom. (The reason for the sensation is this: after learning the distinction, you feel a little better equipped to soldier on in your daily moral skirmishes.) My question is: what if there was a book that explained all the important distinctions between almost all the most important words in English a book that was not a dictionary, but was written by a moral taxonomist of the very first order? How much would you spend on such a liber? But wait! There's more. More ...
The Last WordWit's End
Where there is much laughter, there is little wit. Portuguese proverb
I'm not a huge fan of jokes. Every time some cut-up at the office or the corner saloon shifts into why-do-blondes-wear-panties mode, I begin to cringe. Or perhaps that's a grimace. If the joker is a friend, I'll simply reply, "Yeah, I don't care." If he's not a friend, or if he's my boss (same thing), I'll grin and bear it and pray it doesn't start a chain reaction. The worst part of a joke is right after the punchline when the recipient of this priceless gift of humor is expected to show his appreciation with a hearty, phony guffaw. Haw, haw! There is a reason we remove the joker from the deck. More ...
"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "It means just what I choose it to mean neither more nor less." Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
I knew my surefire, revolutionary cure for grade inflation was in for some tough sledding when I first began to run it past my colleagues here at Soybean State University. Somehow they just couldn't seem to focus. "Grade inflation," I would begin confidently, "as is well known, has reached crisis proportions everywhere." Encouraged by an eager light in my colleague's eyes, I would take a big breath, and that would be my undoing. "Oh, grades," my colleague would say, rushing into the breach, "Well, what I do, is " More ...
Wagner called him "the greatest musical genius who ever lived."
Not too shabby kudos-wise.
Many music lovers agree with Wagner's possibly intemperate encomium. In general when doling out praise, the common superlative ought to be viewed as a fool's label, but in the case of Mozart, I am one among millions of music listeners who concurs.
In his thirty-five years on earth, Mozart composed more than 600 works, including 21 stage and opera works, 15 Masses, 41 symphonies, 25 piano concertos, 12 violin concertos, 27 concert arias, 17 piano sonatas, and 26 string quartets. Many are masterpieces never surpassed. One of the compendia of his scores runs to 23,000 pages of notated music.
Again, not too shabby oeuvre-wise.
This year we celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth. Already hundreds of Internet pages sing of Wolfgang Amadeus, Salzburg's most famous resident. Some of these fond scribblings compose the most flocculent passages of musicological piffle ever tapped into a word processor. Other sites are eager to explain his given names. But not one website has tackled the complex origin of Mozart's last name. So, with all due lack of humility, let Uncle Billy be the first on the web. But before I analyze the surname Mozart, I'll look briefly at his given names. More ...
Just as dictionaries for young native speakers can also be used by young learners of English, the reverse may be something to consider: using learner's dictionaries for young native speakers. Definitions in learner's dictionaries normally use words that students know or should know, whereas standard dictionaries use higher level vocabulary in defining simple words. Definitions in learner's dictionaries usually include examples and several related words for further reference. And learner's dictionaries have additional syntactic and usage information that is not found in standard dictionaries for young students of English and this may be the real benefit of integrating the use of learner's dictionaries in the education of young native English speakers. It is not right to broadly state that native speakers of a language instinctively know if they are using the right word. Learner's dictionaries may be very helpful to them. Learner's dictionaries can be used by educators to help in this manner and online dictionary providers have a unique opportunity to present both types of dictionary together for young native speakers.
Few things, if any, can be all things to all men or women and this is particularly true of dictionaries. It is impossible for any one dictionary to satisfy the needs of everyone especially the wide-ranging and diverse needs of young native speakers. Those of us who work in the field are in no doubt about the differences between one dictionary and another. There are different genres of dictionaries, and we should make it part of our jobs to make people more aware of that, especially young native speakers, ages 7 to 14, reading age to the end of middle school or junior high school. These students use a dictionary to find meaning, to find spelling, to help in pronunciation, to check the history of a word, and, most important, to find out how to use a word or ascertain if they are using the "right" word. More ...
The Common ReaderChapter Two: A Call for a Punctuation Reformation
Marie Rycker, a character in Graham Greene's novel A Burnt-Out Case, believes that an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence indicates that the sentence should not be taken too seriously. A convent-school graduate, Marie tells Greene's antihero, Querry, that the nuns who taught her English were apt to overlook an impertinent statement such as "Mother Superior in a tearing rage" provided it was followed by an exclamation mark. "They always called it the 'exaggeration mark,'" Marie tells Querry. 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.
escortment escort; escorting. Police officers should have not only been there for escortment, but actually for the forensic interviewing of the child. USE escorting. An escortment of ten guards circled around them in an intricate pattern. USE escort. Examples are the deployment of troops for protection from attacks or military escortment of food and medicine transports. USE escorts. They can also probably argue it was safer for him to be stuck in the port-a-potty until the workers had halted what work they needed to to ensure his proper escortment from the premises. USE escort.
Though the OED gives a 1775 example of escortment ("One of the warriors was sent to accompany me, by way of escortment"), the word has fallen into desuetude. Escort or escorting effectively says what the less pronounceable, the more alveolar escortment only used to. 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.
Frustrated as his own hopes had been, Nelson had yet the high satisfaction of knowing that his judgment had never been more conspicuously approved, and that he had rendered essential service to his country, by driving the enemy from those Islands where they expected there could be no force capable of opposing them. The West India merchants in London, as men whose interests were more immediately benefited, appointed a deputation to express their thanks for his great and judicious exertions. It was now his intention to rest awhile from his labours, and recruit himself, after all his fatigues and cares, in the society of those whom he loved. All his stores were brought up from the VICTORY; and he found in his house at Merton the enjoyment which he had anticipated. Many days had not elapsed before Captain Blackwood, on his way to London with despatches, called on him at five in the morning. Nelson, who was already dressed, exclaimed, the moment he saw him: "I am sure you bring me news of the French and Spanish fleets! I think I shall yet have to beat them!" They had refitted at Vigo, after the indecisive action with Sir Robert Calder; then proceeded to Ferrol, brought out the squadron from thence, and with it entered Cadiz in safety. "Depend on it, Blackwood:" he repeatedly said, "I shall yet give M. Villeneuve a drubbing." But when Blackwood had left him, he wanted resolution to declare his wishes to Lady Hamilton and his sisters, and endeavoured to drive away the thought. He had done enough, he said: "Let the man trudge it who has lost his budget!" His countenance belied his lips; and as he was pacing one of the walks in the garden, which he used to call the quarter-deck, Lady Hamilton came up to him, and told him she saw he was uneasy. He smiled, and said: "No, he was as happy as possible; he was surrounded by his family, his health was better since he had been an shore, and he would not give sixpence to call the king his uncle." She replied, that she did not believe him, that she knew that he was longing to get at the combined fleets, that he considered them as his own property, that he would be miserable if any man but himself did the business; and that he ought to have them, as the price and reward of his two years' long watching, and his hard chase. "Nelson," said she, "however we may lament your absence, offer your services; they will be accepted, and you will gain a quiet heart by it: you will have a glorious victory, and then you may return here, and be happy." He looked at her with tears in his eyes: "Brave Emma! Good Emma! If there were more Emmas there would be more Nelsons." Robert Southey, The Life of Horatio Lord Nelson 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.
let me tell you (something) Of course the people who use this phrase seldom enunciate let me; they mutter lemme, an inauspicious sign, we might reasonably believe, of what is to come. Let me tell you (something) is a vulgarity, very nearly an insult. It unveils a person, only crudely consciousness of what he utters, who has as much respect for the language as he does for his listeners.
This is really class, let me tell you. DELETE let me tell you. It's been one of those days, let me tell you. DELETE let me tell you. Let me tell you, there is nothing scarier than being in hurricane force winds and hearing huge clangs and thumps and shattering of glass or metal. DELETE Let me tell you. 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.
in the fullness of time at length; before long; eventually; in time; later; one day; over time; presently; quickly; shortly; someday; sometime; soon; ultimately; with time; yet; delete. These slip-ups on the part of most of the teams ahead of Arsenal in the table could in the fullness of time come to be crucial. These slip-ups on the part of most of the teams ahead of Arsenal in the table could in time come to be crucial. It has the potential to evolve in the fullness of time into a Family Code for Muslim Indians. It has the potential to evolve into a Family Code for Muslim Indians. It is at once a celebratory, elegiac, profoundly inspired, and at the very end troublingly flawed triptych which in the fullness of time will be compared fairly and favorably to Carl Sandburg's meditations on Abraham Lincoln. It is at once a celebratory, elegiac, profoundly inspired, and at the very end troublingly flawed triptych which one day will be compared fairly and favorably to Carl Sandburg's meditations on Abraham Lincoln. 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.
collop (KOL-op) n. 1. a slice of meat. 2. a piece of flesh. 3. a small piece or slice; a cantle. 4. a thick fold of flesh on the body as evidence of a well-fed condition. 5. a clot of mucous from the nose or throat. 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.
Penelope Fitzgerald: Human Voices 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 23
A Dog's Breakfast of Canine Colloquialisms Mark Peters
Putting on the Dog Richard Lederer
Book Excerpt: The Question of Change in Language Mark Halpern
Two Poems Ernest Hilbert
Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman Someone You Should Know
Christopher Orlet: The Last Word Wit's End
John Kilgore: Shibboleths Humpty-Dumpty in Lake Woebegon: On Grades and Grade Inflation
Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words The Surprising Meaning of his Surname And Oops! Mozart's Given Name Amadeus Is Ungrammatical Latin
Barbara Ann Kipfer: Word Nerd Using Learner's Dictionaries for Young Native Speakers
Kevin Mims: The Common Reader Chapter Two: A Call for a Punctuation Reformation
Grumbling About Grammar
Clues to Concise Writing
Scarcely Used Words
On the Bookshelf
The Vocabula Quiz
TVR Radio 2
Quote-idian Joseph Epstein
Lawyers vs. Language Kelly Cannon
Black Holes Julian Burnside
Does Saying Make It So? Tina Bennett-Kastor
Negative Thoughts Brenda Townsend Hall
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The Dictionary of Concise Writing
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101 Wordy Phrases
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As the Canoe Tips: Comic Scenes from Canadian Life
by Bill Casselman
"Casselman's Monty Python Universe of Erudite Silliness." Kitchener-Waterloo Record
"Canada's funniest collector of salty sayings ... Funny Pieces ... demented ... glee." Hamilton Spectator
You can order As the Canoe Tips from Amazon.
Language & Human Nature
by Mark Halpern
Mark Halpern has written a book that extends and builds on the many columns he's written for The Vocabula Review on language usage and linguistics. To learn more about it, to see what Jacques Barzun and William Safire think of it, or to order the book at the special price available only to TVR subscribers, click here.
The Life of Language : The fascinating ways words are born, live & die by Barbara Ann Kipfer
If time travelers from the nineteenth century dropped in on us, our strange vocabulary would shock them just as much as our TVs, cars, and computers. Society changes, and so does its word stock. The Life of Language reveals how pop culture, business, technology, and other forces of globalization expand and enrich the English language, forming thousands of new words every year.
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