The Vocabula Review

December 2007, Vol. 9, No. 12 Monday, May 2, 2016

Letters to the Editor
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Praise and Criticism

It is seldom I read something so challenging it takes my breath away, and then, as I sit breathless, it restores me to breathing by my delight in it. Well, Ellen Graf's essay ... did both.

How fine TVR is! You've done well indeed.

Take care and keep up the truly good work.

Richard Carter

This is an excellent, informative, and linguistically impeccable piece. My only quibble is with the author's lead-in "Here's a brief note on the etymology of the Russian word sputnik, a note you will not find in the Oxford English Dictionary or anywhere else."

The OED does in fact provide the etymology, tersely but quite adequately. So too does my lowly American Heritage Dictionary (4/e), and at somewhat greater length. Bill Casselman provides interesting related information and more detail, but he's not filling a lexicographical vacuum here.

David A. Appling

Bill Casselman replies: David Appling's letter is not correct.

The Oxford English Dictionary states plainly, by the format of its etymology, that the word sputnik is a new formation.

Sputnik is not a new formation and it was not new in 1957, as the OED's blithe skimpiness of entry suggests.

It has not one hint that suggests the antiquity of the word in Old Church Slavonic.

While I appreciate the writer's praise, he is, quite simply, mistaken.

I alone give the original root in Old Church Slavonic and the American Heritage Dictionary (4th edition) does not.

Neither of the lexicographers who wrote those dictionary entries has the slightest notion that the word existed 300 or 400 years ago as supotiniku.

Etymology must reach back into the linguistic past as far as it is possible to go.

I have retrieved the first use of this term, and the two dictionaries have not.

I invite sputnik-doubters to "look it up."

Regarding Mr. Wunsch's response to my article "All Holocausted Out," I would like to say that I understand the sensitivity of some Jews about non-Jewish Poles appropriating the term Holocaust. My article is not about Poles wanting to appropriate this term. As I say in my article, what Jews suffered during the History is different from what Poles suffered. I stand by this.

Having said this, let me address the two points that Mr. Wunsch offers in his letter. He remarks that 90 percent of Polish non-Jews survived the war. Historians (See Norman Davies and Richard Lukacs) estimate that one-sixth of the 36 million Poles perished during World War II. Of these, 3 million were Polish Jews and 3 million were Polish Christians. Six million Polish Jews and Christians? The only allied country that lost more civilians was the Soviet Union (10 million). Mr. Wunsch also remarks that "Gentile Poles staged pogroms of their own against the few Jews who remained in their country." From the reading that I've done, I find it indisputable that there was hard violence against Jews in Poland after World War II. I have seen estimates that the number of murdered Jewish survivors was as high as 2,000. The Yad Vashem Resource Center puts the number at about 1,000 but states that these statistics are not exhaustive. To think that surviving Jews would have been murdered on their return to Poland is, as Mr. Wunsch suggests, terrible.

History — as I write elsewhere ( — is full of numbers and they are usually big. What we need to struggle with is the necessary realization that these numbers always represent true human misery and terror.

Dr. John Z. Guzlowski
Professor Emeritus
Eastern Illinois University

Mock Merriam

This sort of blowing off steam about the destructive effects of many dictionaries is read largely by like-minded readers, and has very limited effect on a wider readership. Unless there is a growing body of letters-to-the-editor from concerned readers and a large number of published articles on this issue, matters will only deteriorate further. A good illustration is the widespread use of America in place of the U.S., which should not be a matter solely of usage, but pride and accuracy about how one refers to this country.

Where does one start?


It is hard to say what is more amusing. The appearance that you don't seem to understand that standardized spellings in English is a relatively modern invention or that you are completely misusing the word "illiterate."

Actually I think it is the fact that, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "al'right" dates back to 1175.

Jonathan Allen

RHF replies: Do you use the spelling "alright"? And if so, are you employed?

More amusing still, J. A., is your apparently not knowing much about subject/verb agreement:

"standardized spellings in English is"

or that a sentence requires both a subject and a verb.

But I suppose you flout those silly rules and outdated concerns as well.

Just a comment on "womanfully." That term is awkward, contrived, and artificial — who on earth would use such a word, I am surprised it is not in Merriam. "Feminine" would do if for the same definition, if not mutilated by the "manly-woman" P.C. crowd. "Womanly" is more direct, actually exists, and corresponds with "manly." Heaven forbid simplicity.

H. Monroe

100 Issues of Vocabula

Many congratulations on the 100th issue. You are, and it is, a delight, a source of comfort and inspiration, an island in the dreadful sea of dumbing down. Thank goodness for you. (And I'm exceptionally proud to be a part of Vocabula.)

Carey Harrison

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