Wednesday, August 20, 2014


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This is the 85th issue of TVR, which has been published each month since September 1999 by Vocabula Communications Company.

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September 2006, Vol. 8, No. 9
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"The Long and Short of Brevity: Fact and Speculation" by Skip Eisiminger
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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 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.

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If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, what is plagiarism? The least sincere form? A genuine crime? Or merely the work of someone with less than complete mastery of the use of quotation marks who is in too great a hurry to come up with words and ideas of his own?

Over many decades of scribbling, I have on a few occasions been told that some writer, even less original than I, had lifted a phrase or an idea of mine without attribution. I generally took this as a mild compliment. Now, though, at long last, someone has plagiarized me, straight-out and without doubt. The theft is from an article of mine about Max Beerbohm, the English comic writer, written in the pages of the Weekly Standard. More ... 

"I am not Aeneas; am not Paul ..." — Dante, Inferno 2:32

Near the very bottom of the vast hell laid out by Dante in his Inferno are those poor sinners who were guilty, during their lives, of various sorts of falsifying. Those who counterfeited metals or coins are represented, of course, as are those who impersonated others (toward sinister ends, at least; it's all in how, exactly, you used that Jessica Simpson mask three Halloweens ago). But so, too, interestingly, are those who bent words toward an improper or artificial end. Thus great Ulysses' damnation: guilty of using his oratorical skills to spur his men into a futile final journey, he is imagined by Dante as a flamelike tongue, an organ of speech with no weight. And thus, too, the other false counselors, and the liars: men and women who misused words, and did harm in the process. There are certainly worse sins, in Dante's mind, but there are not many of them, and it's clear that he was deeply troubled by what he saw as the unnatural employment of language. Words, for Dante, seem to be rather like coins in that they have an assigned value, or function — and altering or manipulating that function seems to have been a misdeed deserving, in the poet's mind, an extremely violent end. More ... 

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by Richard Lederer

Year after year, decade after decade, and century after century, new words spring from the human imagination and enter our collective consciousness.

Just as one never steps into the same river twice, one cannot step into the same language twice. Even as one enters, the words are swept downstream into the future, forever making a different river. Or, to switch the metaphor, language is like a tree that sheds its leaves and grows new ones so that it may live on. Changes in our vocabulary occur not from decay or degeneration. Rather, new words, like new leaves, are essential to a living, healthy organism. A language draws its nutrients from the environment in which its speakers live. More ... 

by Mark Morton

Sex is less about bodies than bodies in motion. It's not the static organs that make sex, but rather the things that are done with them (or to them). To put it another way, sex is more about verbs than nouns.

For most people, the main sex verb is fuck. In fact, in 1999, an entire book was published — The F-Word — which was devoted to that single term. However, there are plenty of actions that happen before copulation, and thus plenty of words before fuck, including those that refer to the autoerotic activities that commonly coincide with the discovery of one's sexuality. Masturbation is perhaps the most familiar of these words, but it's not the oldest: that honor goes to frig, which dates back to the late sixteenth century. In origin, frig probably derives from the earlier verb frike, which derives from the Old English frician, meaning to move briskly. Nowadays, frig is still used as a verb denoting masturbation, but it's probably more familiar as a mild equivalent for the catch-all adjective fucking, as in "That frigging guy hung up on me!" More ... 

Book Excerpt
Back  The Dimwit's Dictionary
by Robert Hartwell Fiske

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.

Here are a few sentence examples from some popular novels. These quotations, however well written they or their surrounding words may be, are marred, adulterated by dimwitticisms.

Each dimwitticism is a failure to write clearly and compellingly, an admission that the author could not manage an original thought or a better turn of phrase, or could not be bothered to think of one.

Dimwitticisms, as these examples make startlingly clear, yield only facile writing, only false sentiment. More ... 

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

by Larra Clark

Twenty-five years after the first observance of Banned Books Week, the event remains as relevant as ever. This year's celebration of our freedom to read comes in the wake of coast-to-coast attempts to remove books ranging from Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees in Florida to Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five in Illinois to the poetry anthology The Spoken Word Revolution in Washington State. Even Harry Potter was again in the news after a parent in the Gwinnett County (Ga.) Public Schools objected to the books' "evil themes, witchcraft, demonic activity, murder," and more.

The American Library Association (ALA) reports there were 405 known attempts to remove books in 2005 (and a great many before 2005: see Books Suppressed or Censored by Legal Authorities). Challenges are defined as formal, written complaints filed with a library or school requesting that materials be removed because of content or appropriateness. According to Judith F. Krug, director of the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, the number of challenges reflects only incidents reported, and for each reported incident, four or five remain unreported. More ... 

by Sally Molini

In the Mirror

Each cornea-coated minute
pocks its mark, the body
hung and hungry in a
frame of persistent appeal.
But the face is skittish
beneath psyche's visceral
eye, and the self, little
auto-hum of conclusions,
inner tourniquet stanching
the flow intangible,
doesn't see which tangy mood
seals and squares the reflection. More ... 

Bethumped with Words
Back  The Word Lore of Birch
by Bill Casselman

This month's column is, like, really birchen, dude. On this ramble through leafy wealds of birch, we'll discover how the word birch connects with fascism, canoes, Ukrainian surnames, moose calls, and even with lubricious and delicious fertility rites. We'll commence our tiptoe through the birchen boscage with a fillip of botany.

Genus: Betula > betula Latin, birch
Family: Betulaceae, the birch tree family
French: bouleau < *betullus Latin, probable spoken variant of betula More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  When the Past Was Strong
by Carey Harrison

My distinguished co-religionist, the Right Reverend Bishop of Annandale, is urging the preservation and indeed revival of the Strong Verb, as I suspect he has been doing for some years. It's time this campaign reached the public prints.

He himself said clomb, not climbed, in his youth, he reveals.

The -ed form is basely functional, we would argue, the work of some cloth-eared and lazy-minded bureaucrats of language. The very song of speech lies in its vowel sounds (try singing t rather than o), as those who raise their voices to the heavens or, less ambitiously, to a mortal audience, know. So when "I sing" becomes "I sang" and, further, "I have sung" (or, better, "I am sung"), the verb itself opens its throat to the variety of uttered emotion. S-i-ing is a very moment; sa-a-ng an eternity; su-u-ng an elegy. As surely befits verb transformations, time itself inhabits the ablaut, Jacob Grimm's term for the gradations of vowel sounds that accompany differing forms of Indo-European words. I sink, I sank, I have sunk (I am sunk). It's as if the slow drowning is expressed in almost plumb-line specificity by the ablaut. In sink there is still hope, in sank, despair, in sunk, the sound of doom. What price "I sinked"? More ... 

Word Nerd
Back  On Diminutives
by Barbara Ann Kipfer

Diminutives are not a topic covered in most usage books on English. Only dictionaries, which deal with the history of words, call attention to diminutives. When looking up a word in a dictionary, it is not unusual to come across the abbreviations dim. or dimin. or the written-out diminutive. These words denote "something little" (from Latin diminutivus, "making less") and are applied to words expressing something small. This information is often contained in etymologies and is not always evident to those using the words.

Diminutives formed with other suffixes include words ending in -let, as in booklet (book), piglet (pig), rivulet (river), and starlet (star); -et (te), as in kitchenette (kitchen) and cigarette (cigar); and -ie or -y, as in doggie, doggy (dog), kitty (cat), laddie (lad), and lassie (lass). But prefixes can also indicate a diminutive, as mini- in minivan, and micro- in microeconomics. Diminutive words can be literal or metaphorical, are often terms of endearment or affection, familiarity or intimacy, but sometimes also suggest condescension or dismissal. The diminutive suffix –ling is "neutral" in duckling (duck) but affectionate in darling (little dear) and dismissive in princeling (prince). More ... 

by John Worsley Simpson

I hate the word allegedly. I don't even recognize it as a word. I have no liking for most uses of the word alleged either. I know I'm in a tiny minority in this, vainly trying to hold back the tide, like a grammatical King Canute, but I will continue to rail against these horrible words to the end.

"Allegedly" is used as a sentence adverb. In its section on "The semantics and grammar of adverbials," A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language (Randolph Quirk et al.) includes "allegedly" in the category of "content disjuncts." These are words that A Comprehensive Grammar says "present a comment on the truth value of what is said." 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.  

forebear Misused for forbear. • Equity, however, enters injunctions or decrees directing someone either to act or to forebear from acting. USE forbear. • I'm going to forebear from writing a long, goofy column today and instead will just extend my thanks to Mark for his dedication. USE forbear. • Due to the weakness of their faith and their utter lack of wisdom, they were not able to forebear. USE forbear. • If they forebore from exercising that right and assumed the responsibilities of marriage in reliance on the defendant's promise, he may not now retract it. USE forbore.

The verb forbear means to refrain from or resist; to control oneself under provocation. The noun forebear is an ancestor, as is, according to most dictionaries, forbear. 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.  

One rapid but fairly sure guide to the social atmosphere of a country is the parade-step of its army. A military parade is really a kind of ritual dance, something like a ballet, expressing a certain philosophy of life. The goose-step, for instance, is one of the most horrible sights in the world, far more terrifying than a dive-bomber. It is simply an affirmation of naked power; contained in it, quite consciously and intentionally, is the vision of a boot crashing down on a face. Its ugliness is part of its essence, for what it is saying is, ‘Yes, I am ugly, and you daren’t laugh at me,’ like the bully who makes faces at his victim. Why is the goose-step not used in England? There are, heaven knows, plenty of army officers who would be only too glad to introduce some such thing. It is not used because the people in the street would laugh. Beyond a certain point, military display is only possible in countries where the common people dare not laugh at the army. The Italians adopted the goose-step at about the time when Italy passed definitely under German control, and, as one would expect, they do it less well than the Germans. The Vichy government, if it survives, is bound to introduce a stiffer parade-ground discipline into what is left of the French army. In the British army the drill is rigid and complicated, full of memories of the eighteenth century, but without definite swagger; the march is merely a formalized walk. It belongs to a society which is ruled by the sword, no doubt, but a sword which must never be taken out of the scabbard. — George Orwell, England, Your England 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.  

by (in) virtue of the fact that because; considering; for; given; in that; since. • People who can be helpful to you are attracted to you by virtue of the fact that you're a person who is doing interesting things and initiating activity yourself. People who can be helpful to you are attracted to you because you're a person who is doing interesting things and initiating activity yourself. • Enterprise programmers have the most control over their environment by virtue of the fact that they have personal access to every machine that will use the program they create. Enterprise programmers have the most control over their environment because they have personal access to every machine that will use the program they create. 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.  

rebarbative (ree-BAR-bah-tiv) adj. tending to irritate; repellent. 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.  

Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights 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.  

Vocabula Quiz 30
Topic: Popular culture
Level of difficulty: Moderate More ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back  Top Twenty Dimwitticisms

Analysis conducted by Factiva showed that of two hundred dimwitticisms used by the U.K. press during August 2006, the most common was "in terms of."  

More ... 

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

I LOVE the idea of a Vocabula community. Please keep me posted! More ... 

 Features

Plagiary, It's Crawling All Over Me — Joseph Epstein

The Shades of Dante: Thoughts on Unstable Eponyms — Kerr Houston

Brave New Words — Richard Lederer

Vocabula Revisited: Organ Solo: Masturbation Words — Mark Morton

Book Excerpt: The Dimwit's Dictionary — Robert Hartwell Fiske

Newsworthy: Banned Books Week: September 23–30 — Larra Clark

Two Poems — Sally Molini

 Columnists


Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — The Word Lore of Birch

Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — When the Past Was Strong

Barbara Ann Kipfer: Word Nerd — On Diminutives

John Worsley Simpson: The Persistent Prescriptivist — Clinging to Verbal Handholds, Grammatical Daredevil Ventures out on Allege

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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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