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July 2006, Vol. 8, No. 7
There are now 94 people reading TVR.
Coming in the August issue of The Vocabula Review:
"What the Cat Drug In" by Tina Bennett-Kastor
The August issue is due online August 20.
A Definition a Day
ventripotent (ven-TRI-pah-tent) adj. having a large belly.
Type word here:
More than one million English, Spanish, and Latin entries.
Type word here:
More than one million English, Spanish, and Latin entries.
The Dictionary of Disagreeable English
The Grumbling Grammarian is back with a revised and expanded edition of The Dictionary of Disagreeable English. In this second edition, Robert Hartwell Fiske has added moreand more disagreeablelanguage blunders, additional witty commentary, and a new feature that includes frequently asked language questions, and their answers.
Fiske rails against "laxicographers and ding-a-linguists" who, with their misguided thinking, actually promote the dissolution of the English language. He also illustrates why dictionaries don't always provide the correct meaning or usage of a word. With concise instruction and numerous examples of misused words, Fiske makes it easier than ever to learn from others' mistakes.
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
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.
Conversations with my son's kindergarten teacher have a special grace and clarity. Since I see her in school usually with children about, I call her "Mrs. Dwyer." And to return the favor, she says "Mr. Ringwald." This decorum persists after an eight-year acquaintance; she also taught my daughter, and I've been a regular guest reader for her classes.
Such etiquette makes life easier. It also dignifies us and our dealings with each other. We acknowledge the worth of others when we don't immediately presume to call them "Herb" or "Judy." Don't you feel better when a stranger offers the same courtesy? The use of surnames in professional and public settings spares us from the demands of intimacy. We can't be pals with everyone. Courtesy titles acknowledge this fact, which is ignored by the fierce informality of recent decades. More ...
PETA activists are cracking the whip on Springfield-based Merriam-Webster, demanding that the definition of "circus" be rewritten to label the big top as cruel to "captive" animal performers.
The dictionary currently defines a circus as "an arena often covered by a tent and used for variety shows, usually including feats of physical skill, wild animal acts, and performances by clowns." More ...
Book ExcerptSquinting, Straddling, and Dangling
One devilish feature of our language is straying modifiers. There are many adjectives and adverbs that click neatly and logically into place, but the ones that slip and slide can lead to confusing or unintentionally funny messages.
The squinting modifier is a case at hand. It is a modifier that is placed in a pivotal position; it might describe or limit the word to its left or the word to its right.
Employees who come to work late frequently get fired. More ...
Authors, editors, publicists are welcome to submit excerpts of books about words and language for possible publication in Vocabula's "Book Excerpt."
Two men were discussing songs by The Beatles. "I've never understood," one man wondered, "why they say, 'the girl with colitis goes by.'" After a puzzled pause, his friend lit up. "Ah," he said, "it's 'the girl with kaleidoscope eyes.' That's a line from Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds."
That's also a classic mondegreen a mishearing of oft-used words, resulting in a misinterpretation of the lyrics of popular songs and hymns and the contents of patriotic affirmations, prayers, familiar adages and epigrams, advertising slogans, and the like.
Pop songs yield a bumper crop of mondegreens. "The girl from Emphysema goes walking" is a mondegreen for "the girl from Ipanima goes walking." "The ants are my friends" is a mondegreen for "the answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind." More ...
Vocabula button free for the asking.
You're in your favorite independent bookstore just after your book is published. You start walking the aisles delighted to find your book face up on the new nonfiction table in the front of the store. You pause to look at it and take in the books around it. How long do you spend looking at the covers of other books? Two seconds each, if you are the average book buyer. And guess what? That's how long everyone who walks by the table will spend looking at your cover. Two seconds is less time than it took you to read the previous sentence.
Two seconds for the design, artwork, and the title. A large proportion of books have tombstone covers. Nobody could think of an image, symbol, or metaphor that could capture the essence of the book in a way that would help sell it, so words are all that browsers have to go on. Finding the perfect title for your book will be an "Aha!" experience. You will know it the moment you think of it or hear it. It will be love at first sound. More ...
I Listened to Mozart
I listened to Mozart's
The Critical ReaderA Descriptivist Manifesto: Geoffrey Pullum Sets Us All Straight
In December 2004 Geoffrey Pullum, professor of linguistics at the University of California at Santa Cruz, addressed a meeting of the Modern Language Association on the topic of "Ideology, Power, and Linguistic Theory," and has made available a revised version of the text of that address. I wish I had known of it when writing my Language and Human Nature, where I found it necessary to synthesize in my own words the descriptivist side of the controversy between the prescriptivist and descriptivist parties, as well as that of the prescriptivist side. If I'd been able to use Pullum's essay, I could have made my own job easier, and been able to assure my readers that the descriptivist side was represented by a real descriptivist.
My reading of Pullum's piece makes me eager for my own book to go into a second edition, in which I could dissect it in full detail, thereby bolstering my own position. But until then I will content myself with dealing with just its most egregious faults and follies, which are enough to be getting on with. I urge you to read Pullum's paper carefully before reading my reply; if possible, print it out so that you can check each passage of his immediately before reading my comment on it. More ...
The Last WordGuerilla Grammarians
In David Foster Wallace's infinite novel Infinite Jest, there appears a gang of anal retentive activists who go by the name of the Militant Grammarians of Massachusetts. The MGM is notorious for inciting the infamous MIT Language Riots of 1997 (brilliantly captured in the documentary "Union of Theoretical Grammarians in Cambridge," and firebombing grocery stores that feature "10 items or less" signs. Between belligerent acts, the MGM holds marathon multi-readings of Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" and other works of prescriptive preservation. More ...
Bethumped with WordsAngelica: The Angels' Herb and Diaghilev's Surname
Today's romp through the bloom-strewn meadows of etymology encounters the connection between an ancient herb and a Russian impresario's family name.
Genus: Angelica < herba angelica, Medieval Latin, "angel's plant."
Widespread across Europe and Asia, angelica was an important cure-all of the herbalist, hence its angelic name. A triennial, angelica blooms in its third year, then sets seed and expires, joining the Choir Botanical. More ...
Harrison's CornerTongues on the Bench
A brief report this month, dear readers, a newsflash from the phonetic trenches. The glottal stop, as readers will surely know, is the sound (or absence of it) created when the vocal cords are pressed together to stop the flow of air and then released. In English, Cockney is the glottal stop's locus classicus. Thus water, in Cockney, is wa'ah. (Making Cockney the ventriloquist's friend.) In American English, the interjection uh-oh is the commonly quoted example. Step back, "uh-oh." I have a new one. Substituting as our local high school Latin teacher, for the fun of it (and it was, despite a twenty-five-year gap since I last spoke the word gerund), I discovered that my students pronounce Latin "La'in," with a glottal stop as intense as any Cockney's, or as any Arabic hamza. La'in? My students are mostly the children of what I would call bourgeois liberal families, which is better than calling them well-to-do former hippie quasi-bohemians (I live in Woodstock, New York). Does this explain it? More ...
Free in VocabulaThe Vocabula Quiz
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 28
The Vocabula Review welcomes letters to the editor. Please include your name, email address, and professional affiliation. Email your letters to email@example.com
I would like to know how to access the Vocabula Review's Definition a Day Archive. I could not find them on your website. I used to print it out and study it for free. Is it gone?
I am an inspiring wordsmith. More ...
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