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This is the 86th issue of TVR, which has been published each month since September 1999 by Vocabula Communications Company.

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October 2006, Vol. 8, No. 10
There are now   99   people reading TVR.
ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the November issue of The Vocabula Review:
"The University as a House of Argument" by Paul M. Levitt
The November issue is due online November 19.

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allocution (al-ah-KYOO-shen) n. a formal, authoritative speech; an address.

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The Dictionary of Disagreeable English
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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 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.

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101 Foolish Phrases encourages you to speak and write more carefully and thoughtfully.

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101 Elegant Paragraphs encourages you to speak and write with deliberation, style, even beauty.

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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.

Because "Dr. Eisiminger" is a six-syllable mouthful, I have long encouraged students to call me "Dr. E" to lessen the anxiety attached to speaking in class. It seems I am not alone: in 2000, according to the files of the Social Security Administration, there were 221 Americans with single-letter surnames and at least one for each letter of the alphabet. "A" is the most popular with twenty-four of us carrying that surname at the top of phone book listings and class rolls. "N," "Q," and "X," are the least popular, there being only two people for each of these. However, in Myanmar, hundreds of families are named "U"; while in Korea, there are thousands who answer to "O" once the transliterations are completed.

A German proverb states, "In brevity is the spice," yet Germans have no apparent hesitation compounding words like Oberdonaudampfschifffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän for a river-boat captain employed by the Upper-Danube Steam Boat Company — nine English morsels crammed into one fat Wurst. In fact, a syllable count of the Gospel of Mark made by Walter Kirkconnell reveals that German uses 32,650 syllables to express what English conveys in a mere 29,000. (Incidentally, according to Robert MacNeil, English has a vocabulary of about half a million words while German limps along on 185,000.) French needs 36,000 syllables to express Mark's Greek, Russian 36,500, Italian 40,500, and Bengali 43,100. Of all the great modern languages, English with arguably the largest vocabulary is surely the most economical though comparisons with ideographic languages like Chinese are admittedly difficult. But the economy of English may be part of what makes its speakers impatient with our more prolix neighbors. It may also account for the way we rush through lunch and sex. Could the American "working vacation" be a reflection of our no-nonsense language? Just a thought. More ... 

by Donna Gorrell

I'm not sure how Carline found me or how she decided that I should be the person to answer her questions about grammar, usage, and style, but somehow this copy editor in New Jersey approached me one day by email with a question about a comma:

Can you help me with a comma? Where would you put the commas in this sentence?

We make your life easier by providing our products by mail order, online, and telephone, where thanks to the expertise of our beauty advisers, we can help you make a well-informed selection.

Like a typical writing teacher, I took the bait. Of course, the quick and easy answer to her question would have been for the writer to insert a comma after where, thus enclosing the phrase that begins thanks. Or, the comma-frugal writer could just delete the comma after advisers. However, after giving her the quick and easy, I went on: More ... 

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For those who think that our civilization is obsessed with time, the Concise Oxford English Dictionary recently added support to the theory by announcing that the word time is the most often used noun in the English language. The dictionary relied on the Oxford English Corpus — a research project into English in the twenty-first century — to come up with the lists.

The Oxford English Corpus gives us the fullest, most accurate picture of the language today. It represents all types of English, from literary novels and specialist journals to everyday newspapers and magazines to the language of chatrooms, emails, and weblogs. And, since English is a global language, used by an estimated one third of the world's population, the Oxford Corpus contains language from all parts of the world — not only from the United Kingdom and the United States, but also from Australia, the Caribbean, Canada, India, Singapore, and South Africa. It is the largest English corpus of its type — the most representative slice of the English language available. More ... 

TVR Revisited
Back  Holy Wars
by Julian Burnside

President George W. Bush has never displayed much sensitivity for the nuances of language. Even its basic rules elude him. Consider a few of his famous blunders while speaking on public occasions, and try to imagine the qualities of his less-considered private discourse:

"More and more of our imports come from overseas."

"What I'm against is quotas. I'm against hard quotas, quotas that basically delineate based upon whatever. However they delineate, quotas, I think, vulcanize society."

"If you're sick and tired of the politics of cynicism and polls and principles, come and join this campaign."

"You teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."

He speaks in semantic near-misses, and his grammar lurches from one rough approximation to the next. More ... 

We English-speakers are heirs to a rich treasure, a language that has so freely borrowed from other languages as to contain more than one million words. This dictionary contains two interesting subgroups of those words: (i) esoteric (little-known) terms for which there are common single-word synonyms (such as "pugilist," meaning "boxer"), and (ii) esoteric terms for which there are no single-word synonyms but rather synonymous phrases (such as "emacity," meaning "an uncontrollable desire to buy things"). All entries, which appear in at least one unabridged dictionary, describe common phenomena using gilded, highfalutin language.

abdominous (ab-DAHM-i-nus): adj. from Latin abdomen (belly, paunch): big-bellied.

"The abdominous man was not used to exercise."

brummagem (BRUHM-uh-juhm): adj. from Brummagem, alteration of Birmingham, England, from the fact that in the seventeenth century notorious counterfeit coins were produced in Birmingham, and that in the nineteenth century various cheap and flimsy articles were manufactured there: cheap and showy; phony, sham.

"The pimp loved his brummagem jewelry." More ... 

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

by Fred R. Shapiro

Revolution ... ran its course from city to city, and the places which it arrived at last, from having heard what had been done before carried to a still greater excess the refinement of their invention, as manifested to the cunning of their enterprises and the atrocity of their reprisals. Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them.
— Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War bk. 3, ch. 10

Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
— Matthew 24:35

[Hamlet speaking, after being asked by Polonius, "What do you read, my lord?":] Words, words, words.
— William Shakespeare, Hamlet act 2, sc. 2, l. 191 (1601) More ... 

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

The Last Word
Back  Serendipity on the Internet
by Christopher Orlet

The other day I happened to be wasting a few hours browsing old books (as if browsing old books could be a waste of time) when I came across a quaint volume of essays by Christopher Morley called The Three-Hour Lunch Club. As with most browsing adventures, the Morley book wasn't the kind of thing I would have set out deliberately to find, although I am a great admirer of the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century essayists, the Orwells, Beerbohms, Twains, Connollys, and Lieblings. Often what these authors had to say was not only amusing and profound, but timeless, their prose full of gentle admonishings of the excesses of the day — while remaining firmly tongue in cheek, as one critic put it.

Today's essayists do not stack up well, I am sorry to say. With a few notable exceptions, today's authors seem so self-obsessed they make Narcissus look modest and self-effacing. Most seem to be afflicted with that wretched disease that makes them unable to write anything other than the so-called malady essays. A woman's struggle with disease or her victimization by her cracker father-in-law is as serious as the death sentence in Texas, but after the umpteenth time, not a particularly edifying reading experience. Unhappily these are the only essays deemed serious enough to get published these days. Thus I go in for the old-timers or the few anachronistic essayists like Joseph Epstein who write in the old style. More ... 

Bethumped with Words
Back  Gougou: Canadian Monster Deluxe
by Bill Casselman

This Halloween let's celebrate a 100 percent Canadian monster! Her name is Gougou.

Transylvania gets too much publicity. Canada has its creepy share of ghoulies and ghosties. Thing is, they are just not as famous as Dracula. They're new fiends, but they're hard workers. Consider Gougou.

Sasquatch and Ogopogo (British Columbia monsters)? Bunch of wimps, dude! This Halloween, let's go searching for Gougou, she who dwells on a very mysterious island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Gougou is a colossal woman, roughly 40 feet tall, whose chief pastime is wading through the waters off Canada's east coast, specifically the New Brunswick shoreline, where she catches unwary mariners, plucking them from their boats and canoes, stuffing them into a big leather pemmican pouch, and then later when she's peckish, yanking them out and gnawing on them as children might a Christmas candy cane. Gougou prefers to crunch a plump leg first. Pretty scary, eh, boys? More ... 

The Common Reader
Back  Chapter Eight: On Zoos and Refuges
by Kevin Mims

In an essay titled "Quotatious," author Joseph Epstein defined a quotation as "anything well or interestingly put that bears repeating. Any statement, comment, or remark that is apt, elegantly formulated, comical, or outrageous qualifies." Like Epstein, I "go in for quotation in a big way." The true quotation collector prefers to find them on his own, scattered among pages and pages of less epigrammatic lines. There are few thrills associated with reading more pleasurable than stumbling upon a wonderfully formulated remark that seems to have eluded the compilers of every quotation book in print. Being the first person to detect the quotability of a particular line is almost as rewarding as being the originator of that line.

We quotation collectors all have our means of cataloging our trophies. In "Quotatious," Epstein notes that he has filled twenty-one notebooks with quotable remarks encountered in his readings of others. His essay was written nearly twenty years ago so, by now, Epstein's collection must fill thirty notebooks or more. I am not quite as systematic as Epstein. My approach to quotation collecting has more in common with the catch-and-release style of fishing practiced by environmentally sensitive outdoorsmen (my wife, an animal lover, insists that this style of fishing should more accurately be described as "terrorize-release-and-repeat" or "rip-a-bloody-gash-into-and-release"). I don't like to interrupt my reading by writing down a memorable quotation. And I am loath to make permanent marks in a book. I never mark an interesting sentence in a book by underlining it, highlighting it, or scribbling "True!" next to it. Instead I usually keep a supply of Post-It index tabs lying nearby whenever I read (I work part time as a notary public and, thus, my home and briefcase and car are aswarm with little sticky arrows with the words sign here imprinted on them). Whenever I encounter a memorable line, I simply peel off a small pastel arrow and place it alongside the quotation to mark its place. Epstein's notebooks are like quotation zoos. My library of strategically tabbed books is more like a wildlife refuge, where the animals are tagged and identified but free to roam about at will. My method is less intrusive to reading than Epstein's but a lot less efficient. If, when writing a letter to a friend, say, I wish to quote some line of Graham Greene's that I only vaguely recall, I must go to my library and start flipping through the pages of Greene's works, stopping whenever I spot a notary tab and then checking to see if it marks the quote in question. Though inefficient, this practice is often quite pleasurable because it puts me in touch with lots of other wonderful quotes that I had forgotten about. More ... 

The Persistent Prescriptivist
Back  It's PRE-posterous
by John Worsley Simpson

One might say the ultimate prefix must be "pre," its being part of the name of the verbal element to which it belongs. I think it's a prefix that is also subject to some truly silly applications — particularly by broadcasters and advertisers.

In this regard, the use I find perhaps the most grating is "pre-recorded." That construction appears frequently when a program that elicits phone calls from listeners or viewers is not being broadcast "live" as it usually is, and an announcement advises members of the audience not to call in since "This program was pre-recorded." 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. More ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back  The 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. More ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back  Top Twenty Dimwitticisms

Analysis conducted by Factiva showed that of two hundred dimwitticisms used by the Canadian press during September 2006, the most common was "ongoing." More ... 

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Back  Letters to the Editor

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



Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — Serendipity on the Internet

Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — Gougou: Canadian Monster Deluxe

Kevin Mims: The Common Reader — Chapter Eight: On Zoos and Refuges

John Worsley Simpson: The Persistent Prescriptivist — It's PRE-posterous


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Today's popular dictionaries often fail to define words correctly or to distinguish between them; some dictionaries even maintain that one word means the same as another simply because people who do not know the correct meanings of the words confuse them. Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English — a supplement to whatever dictionary you own or use — is an attempt to combat this nonsense, to return meaning and distinction to the words we use.

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