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Saturday, July 04, 2015
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This is the 77th issue of TVR, which has been published each month since September 1999 by Vocabula Communications Company.

The January issue is 27,540 words long. Recent issues:  Dec.  Nov.  Oct.  Sept.  Aug. 
January 2006, Vol. 8, No. 1
There are now   84   people reading TVR.
ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the February issue of The Vocabula Review:
"A Dog's Breakfast of Canine Colloquialisms" by Mark Peters
The February issue is due online February 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.

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.

Well Spoken Is Half Sung

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A Definition a Day

reticule (RET-ah-kyool) n. a woman's small handbag, originally made of netting and having a drawstring. 2. reticle.

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The Dictionary of Disagreeable English
A Curmudgeon's Compendium of
Excruciatingly Correct Grammar

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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Pen & Sword
A Journalist's Guide to Covering the Military

by Skip Eisiminger

It all began quite innocently. One day Gudrun Greef, her friends called her Goody Goody Greef, found herself browsing for lingerie at Bare Assets; a few weeks after this she was studying the maternity clothes in Mother Frocker, and nine months later the clerk in Little Hang-Ups melted Goody's Visa card. One thing seemed to lead to another; Goody felt simultaneously possessed and blessed. More ... 

Some time ago, I found on the Internet a devilishly delightful way of coming up with far-out ideas. It was a little electronic machine called the gobbledygook generator. Its makers said it was capable of producing around 40,000 elegant and grammar-perfect insights in English on how to run companies and organizations. Wonderful, I told myself! That should make every expensive academic genius or management guru think twice about his fancy pricing. There was just one hitch about the machine's astounding productivity, though. Every bit of the wisdom it would spew out was utter nonsense. More ... 

by Pamela Hewitt

Academic English is in a class of its own: last refuge of the intact infinitive, nursing home for Latin plurals. Where else do you find foci and fora gallivanting about in documents? Aside from wayward newscasters, do people anywhere else follow the mid-eighteenth-century habit of using the indefinite article an before the word historical? Ah, the groves of academe. More ... 

by Gary Margolis

Valentine for/from Mars

Maybe on Mars no one
needs to say anything.
When you first arrive
you listen to the dust
for a thousand years,
get your bearings
in the universe
before a beep
and then a word
comes to mind,
if that's what being
aware and alive
is called. More ... 

The Elder Statesman
Back  To "Era" Is Human
by Clark Elder Morrow

In the unlikely event that I was to become a French existentialist philosopher, I would forge the theory of the "Epoch." I would pronounce ex cathedra (and from beneath a rakish black beret) that the mystical-sounding Epoch was the true fabricator of significance in the life of the individual. I would publish the proposition that life derives all (or the lion's share) of its meaning and importance from our participation in a clearly marked-off and highly colored Epoch. I would intone wisely: "Far from being what you eat, you are instead your circle of friends and colleagues in the time-nook you occupy." More ... 

by John Kilgore

About a decade ago, I attended an afternoon conclave of college English instructors, gathered for the purpose of discussing grading practices, with an eye to improving consistency in the marks given to freshmen — a perennially worthy aim, but one that always recedes into the mists, given staunch bureaucratic and popular resistance to anything like real accuracy in grading. On this occasion, a number of corrected papers had been duplicated, with the names of student authors and the correcting instructors blanked out; the rest of us sat around a big conference table reviewing the facsimiles, commenting on what we might have done differently or likewise. At length we came to a paper that had received a lengthy comment on a sentence something like the following:

Anyone who values their democratic freedoms should vote for the candidate of their choice.

The instructor, if memory serves, had commented on the unpromisingly trite content, but left the sentence otherwise unscathed. This was disconcerting. The sentence sat there on the page, staring back at us, with an expression that seemed to grow accusing. Finally someone — perhaps not accidentally a new member of the Department — took the plunge: "Well, isn't there an agreement error here that should be circled? I mean, 'Anyone-their' — that's still considered incorrect, right?" This said with much more diffidence than one might expect from an English teacher pronouncing on a matter of usage. More ... 

Postcards from Babel
Back  Language: Going to the Dogs?
by Amalia Gnanadesikan
My dog didn't get his usual w-a-l-k this morning because it was pouring rain. I have to spell the word out, because if he hears me say it he will get his hopes up, and a barking, bouncing canine can be hard to calm down. So if the walk is not imminent, it is best to spell it. We also have to be careful with "g-o" around here, because that word often precedes an r-i-d-e in the c-a-r, a w-a-l-k, or some other outdoor activity. Such words provoke the same enthusiastic response as getting out my socks and sneakers, another good predictor of an upcoming adventure. More ... 

Bethumped with Words
Back  Prairie: A Word Born in a Roman Meadow
by Bill Casselman

To a visiting botanist, prairie is a vastness of grasses, and of xerophytes, plants adapted to intermittent drought. To a homesteading Canadian newcomer in 1876, prairie might have meant "the first land anyone in my family ever owned." Later such a drylander might decide to sow a domesticated grass called wheat. More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  Pass/Fail Days
by Carey Harrison

Would somebody please tell the military that, like "distribute," "deploy" is a transitive verb? You can deploy troops to Iraq, you can be deployed to Iraq, but you cannot deploy to Iraq, as a soldier cited in today's New York Times appears to believe he can. (I know — some of us have more urgent things to tell the military. But soldiers and sailors, and airmen too for all I know, have been doing their best to mangle the language for centuries, and it's not a good sign.)

While we're in today's New York Times, how can I teach my undergraduates to write correctly when a contributor to their op-ed page, apparently a novelist (ouch), writes of "celebrities, nearly all of who can afford to buy the items"? More ... 

by Barbara Ann Kipfer

I recently read that researching word histories is similar in some respects to archaeology. That may be the reason I am so drawn to etymologies, as I am also a trained archaeologist. In etymologies and archaeology, the evidence is often partial or not there at all, and etymologists and archaeologists must make informed decisions using the evidence available, however inadequate it may be. From time to time, new evidence becomes available, and the known history of a word may need to be reconsidered — the same way a new artifact or improved dating technology may set an archaeological site's date anew. More ... 

by Kevin Mims

Helen Graham, the heroine of Anne Bront๋'s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, is a gifted landscape painter. But her suitor, Mr. Huntingdon, finds the backs of her paintings more interesting than the paintings themselves, for it is there that she sketches little pencil drawings of things near to her heart, drawings meant for no one's eyes but her own. As Huntingdon puts it, "I perceive, the backs of young ladies' drawings, like the postscripts of their letters, are the most important and interesting part of the concern." Likewise, I have sometimes found the most interesting words in a book to be not those printed in its text, but those that are inscribed on a flyleaf or the title page or sometimes even on the back of the book's front cover. 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.  

disabilitate Solecistic for debilitate. • Sleep disorders like apnea, narcolepsy and insomnia can be dangerous and disabilitating. USE debilitating. • Many who suffer from a disabilitating illnesses swear that this wonderful machine has changed their life. USE debilitating. • Also, note that microwave and lower frequency EMF weapons are in wide use today as so called non-lethal weapons to disorient and disabilitate people. USE debilitate. • Back pain can cause severe suffering and disabilitate anybody. USE debilitate.

Disabilitate, an apparent muddle (or blend as a linguist might say) of disability and debilitate, is incorrect for debilitate, which means to enfeeble or enervate. 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.  

Since incubators have been so much used for hatching chickens, small birds suitable for broiling may be always found in market. Chickens which appear in market during January weighing about one and one-half pounds are called spring chickens. 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.  

as the saying goes (is) This phrase reminds us of our ordinariness. As the saying goes (is) announces our having spoken, and thought, words that countless others have spoken and thought. What thoughts are we missing, what images are unavailable to us because we use the same damn words and phrases again and again? Let us strive for better than banality. 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.  

toggle back and forth between toggle between. • If you choose to have the puzzle solved for you, this will lock the puzzle and then allow you to toggle back and forth between your answers and the provided answers by pressing letter edit keys. If you choose to have the puzzle solved for you, this will lock the puzzle and then allow you to toggle between your answers and the provided answers by pressing letter edit keys. • You can use the F11 key to toggle back and forth between normal and full screen view. You can use the F11 key to toggle between normal and full screen view. • Moreover, it has special value to NBC because it allows its news division to toggle back and forth between its network and cable news outlets. Moreover, it has special value to NBC because it allows its news division to toggle between its network and cable news outlets. 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.  

coprophilia (kop-rah-FIL-ee-ah) n. an abnormal, often obsessive interest in excrement, especially the use of feces for sexual excitement. 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 Beckett: How It Is 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 22
Topic: Health
Level of difficulty: Moderate More ... 


• Tales from the Cup and Chaucer — Skip Eisiminger

• The Great Gobbledygook-Generating Machine — Jose Carillo

• The Perils of Publish or Perish — Pamela Hewitt

• Two Poems — Gary Margolis


• Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — To "Era" Is Human

• John Kilgore: Shibboleths — Dispatches from Pronoun Hell

• Amalia Gnanadesikan: Postcards from Babel — Language: Going to the Dogs?

• Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — Prairie: A Word Born in a Roman Meadow

• Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — Pass/Fail Days

• Barbara Ann Kipfer: Word Nerd — The Archaeology of English

• Kevin Mims: The Common Reader — Chapter One: Notes on the Inscription Affliction


• 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

• Lawyers vs. Language — Kelly Cannon

• Black Holes — Julian Burnside

• Does Saying Make It So? — Tina Bennett-Kastor

• Negative Thoughts — Brenda Townsend Hall

• The Like Virus — David Grambs

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Click the image to orderThe Dictionary of Concise Writing — First Edition by Robert Hartwell Fiske

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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 Dictionary of Concise Writing, Fiske shows how to identify and correct wordiness.

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As the Canoe Tips

"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
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.

Language & Human Nature

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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