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This is the 79th issue of TVR, which has been published each month since September 1999 by Vocabula Communications Company.

The March issue is 32,543 words long. Vacation at Vocabula in Rockport, Massachusetts Recent issues:  Feb.  Jan.  Dec.  Nov.  Oct. 
March 2006, Vol. 8, No. 3
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ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the April issue of The Vocabula Review:
"The Perils of Prolificacy" by Joseph Epstein
The April issue is due online April 16.

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101 Wordy Phrases encourages you to speak and write more concisely and clearly.

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A Definition a Day

personalia (per-sah-NA-lee-ah) n. 1. personal allusions or references. 2. personal belongings or affairs.

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

And coming in May,
The Dictionary of Disagreeable English
Deluxe Edition

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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 more—and more disagreeable—language 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.

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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.

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

Numerous undeniable facts about languages and the way they behave cause society great consternation, among which are that languages change, they change constantly, and they can change rather quickly.

Certain things cloud the reality of language and tend to diminish the grandeur of its infinitely varied and intertwined forms. Not the least of which are commonly held though wrong-headed views on the relationship between language use and intelligence and misguided attitudes toward language variation and educational standards. In this article, using examples from a selection of contemporary languages, for the most part English, I make the claim that many instances of nonstandard language use have little to do with a lack of one's intelligence or one's educational background. Instead, the forms in question are examples of natural language evolution, which far from deserving societal ridicule should be accepted as forerunners of a future grammar, which in their turn some day will frame the standard. More ... 

1. comparable KAHM-pur-uh-buul. Do not say kum-PAIR-uh-buul. In M-W 10 (1998), the variant kum-PAIR-uh-buul, with second-syllable stress, is preceded by an obelus [๗], which means it is "considered by some to be unacceptable." M-W 11 (2003) dispenses with this warning label and joins three other major current American dictionaries — WNW 4 (1999), Encarta (2001), and RHWC (2001) — in listing the beastly mispronunciation. More ... 

Authors, editors, publicists are welcome to submit excerpts of books about words and language for possible publication in Vocabula's "Book Excerpt."

Vocabula button free for the asking. Click here.
by Richard Lederer

It's a little sad how dogs, those most loyal and companionable of creatures, are treated so shabbily in our English language. It's easy to think of common words and expressions that involve dogs in negative ways — underdog, dog tired, a dog's life, you dirty dog, sick as a dog, in the doghouse, you're dogging it — on and on it goes. How many positive words and phrases leap to mind? Not many.

Nonetheless, dogs have inspired some of the most clever and luminous quotations in the Bartlett's collections. Here are a dozen of our favorites, which I dedicate to Bart and Mike, the sprightly and companionable Lab mixes with whom I have the honor of sharing my life: More ... 

by Judy Roland

Snow, 1954

I awoke one morning
in the cold heart
of a Maine winter,
seeing nothing
from my window
except unearthly light,
blue as the bowl of heaven
in a Byzantine apse. More ... 

The Elder Statesman
Back  Yestercentury
by Clark Elder Morrow

In 1722, Daniel Defoe published A Journal of the Plague Year, which purported to be an eyewitness account of events that took place in 1665. The interesting thing is that Defoe was only about five years old in 1665, and so could not have been the "real" author of that putative chronicle (whose "author" goes only by the initials H. F.). The work is an imaginative recreation of the past, palmed off as a genuine piece of reporting from an adult contemporary. It is, in other words, a fake — a hoax, a literary game, a novel masquerading as nonfiction, a put-on that makes the reader something of a dupe. It is also utterly convincing: even if you are conscious of the deception, you feel sure that any real account of the London plague of 1665 would read very much like this fictional one. More ... 

Bethumped with Words
Back  The Names of the Great Lakes
by Bill Casselman

Ontario is one of the ten provinces and three territories that make up Canada. The Hurons or Wyandot or Wendat, as they called themselves, named Lake Ontario first. Later the province took its name from the lake. In the Wendat tongue, Ontario means "large lake," but other Iroquoian languages like Mohawk have possible root words also, like onitariio, "beautiful lake," and kanadario, "shining water." The name was first applied to the lake in 1641. Later European settlers gave the name to the land along the lakeshore and then to an ever-extending area. "Old Ontario" was a term sometimes loosely applied to the southern portion of the province. More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  The Pigeons on the Grass, Alas
by Carey Harrison

A quiet month, dear friends and readers. So quiet that I missed the deadline for my February column, being caught up both in birthday and wedding anniversary celebrations. Perhaps mesmerized by the accumulating numbers in both these accounts, I seem to have tuned out the English language for a while.

In any case, I'm a little more deaf with each passing year, and this does bring unexpected delights. I remember noticing the pleasure of mishearing things, one day a good few years ago, in my native Britain, when a BBC radio announcer warned me that persistent roadworks on the motorways entering London "make whores delay." It was a less colorful world when I realized that "may cause delay" was what he'd said. I was enjoying trying to picture vexed prostitutes stranded in the suburbs. More ... 

Word Nerd
Back  Spell Well
by Barbara Ann Kipfer

Spelling is one of those skills that people are expected to pick up as they go along in school. But sometimes it is not that simple, and there are many adults now who are poor spellers because they did not acquire the skill of learning to spell. Part of the reason people are poor spellers is they meet failure early on in the process. Or sometimes a person just does not have the ability or mechanisms to become a good speller; a correlation would be the difference between great athletes and average athletes. Some people are naturally good spellers while others are not. If you are not a naturally good speller, spelling correctly can be very difficult and frustrating — just like a poor athlete trying to hit a baseball or a golf ball. But most people can become adequate spellers with effort and practice. So how can we spell correctly more often? More ... 

I have trouble with trilogies. And the mere thought of a tetralogy, pentalogy, or sextology makes me start to feel a bit logy. My personal library is littered with the spines of multivolume fictions I gave up on after only one book, or sometimes even sooner. Gormenghast, Tinieblas, U.S.A., Narnia, Cormac McCarthy's Border Trilogy, Updike's Rabbit Angstrom books, Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials, Olivia Manning's Balkan and Levant trilogies, Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, Studs Lonigan, the Lanny Budd books of Upton Sinclair — I've abandoned them all.

Duologies (sometimes called "dilogies") I can handle. The Manor and The Estate, a two-novel saga of Polish Jews by Isaac Bashevis Singer — no problem. Edith Wharton's Hudson River Bracketed and its sequel The Gods Arrive constitute one of my favorite Wharton fictions, though most experts consider these two books among her weakest. Kidnapped and its lesser known sequel Catriona (pronounced "Katreena") together constitute one of Robert Louis Stevenson's best romances. 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.  

actionize Idiotic for effect (or similar words). • This course will provide insight and training which can be used to actionize communities to organize for change in public policies that will improve community conditions for all. USE motivate. • As Muslims have contempt for all other faiths, to answer them, all the rest of us need to band together to exercise and actionize our contempt for Islam. USE show. • Through such dialogue we see that some senior education leaders are grappling with how to actionize their innovation visions. USE effect. • The greatest statement you can make about yourself is to actionize your thoughts about yourself. USE realize.

Actionize, a word that motivational speakers and other swindlers might use, apparently means many things — though the intended meaning in these sentences (and others) is anyone's guess. Actionize is a word for people who do not want to be altogether understood. 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.  

That there is no profusion of the ethereal spirit to be observed among us, and that we do not abound with men of superior genius, I am ready to confess; but I think there is no ground for the complaints I have heard made, as if nature had not done her part in our age, as well as in former ages, by producing men capable of serving the commonwealth. The manners of our fore-fathers were, I believe, in many respects better: they had more probity perhaps, they had certainly more show of honour, and greater industry. But still nature sows alike, though we do not reap alike. There are, and as there always have been, there always will be such creatures in government as I have described above. Fortune maintains a kind of rivalship with wisdom, and piques herself often in favour of fools as well as knaves. More ... 

Have an example of elegant English that you would like others to read? Email it to us.

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.  

it's not over till (until) it's over People say it's not over till (until) it's over in earnest, as if it were a weighty remark, a solemn truth when, of course, it's nothing but dimwitted. We might have an occasional insight, even a revelation, if we didn't persistently speak, and think in terms of, this kind of rubbish. • But it isn't over till it's over, and right now we have a statement from Dubai Ports World and little else. • Even though we may think that we've already seen the Oscar results played out on other televised awards shows and that we've already seen the Oscar winners walking down other red carpets, what Crash's best picture win really tells us is that at the Oscars it's not over till it's over. 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.  

to a (the) ... degree (extent) -(al)ly; delete. • We have reduced our nuclear weaponry to a significant degree. We have significantly reduced our nuclear weaponry. • To a surprising degree, we find the outlook hopeful. We find the outlook surprisingly hopeful. • It's a change that's already been worked out to a considerable extent at the local level. It's a change that's already been considerably worked out at the local level. • To a sad extent, this development has hastened the dismantling of important Wright interiors. Sadly, this development has hastened the dismantling of important Wright interiors. 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.  

discussant (di-SKUS-ent) n. a participant in a formal discussion. 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.  

Elizabeth Bowen: The Death of the Heart 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 24
Topic: In the news
Level of difficulty: Moderate More ... 

The Vocabula Review welcomes letters to the editor. Please include your name, email address, and professional affiliation. Email your letters to  


• How Grammaticality Eludes: The Relationship Between Nonstandard and Evolving Language — Donald L. Dyer

• Book Excerpt: The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations: The Complete Opinionated Guide for the Careful Speaker — Charles Harrington Elster

• Find the Hidden Dogs — Richard Lederer

• Two Poems — Judy Roland


• Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Yestercentury

• Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — The Names of the Great Lakes

• Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — The Pigeons on the Grass, Alas

• Barbara Ann Kipfer: Word Nerd — Spell Well

• Kevin Mims: The Common Reader — Chapter Three: The Trouble with Trilogies, and Other Musings


• 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

• Gay Terms Added to Dictionary in Canada — Adrian Brune

• Who Owns English — Orin Hargraves

• Quote-idian — Joseph Epstein

• Lexical Borrowing in Arabic and English — Jamil Daher

• Black Holes — Julian Burnside

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People long to write a clear, a readable, even, at times, an elegant sentence. Toward the Making of a Sentence will show them how to go about it. Toward the Making of a Sentence is a collection of rules or guidelines, followed by sentence examples. You may buy the manuscript as it now reads (Version 1.0 has some 70 pages). Later versions of this book will become available over time. Also included: "Silence, Language, and Society."

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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

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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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