The Vocabula Review

February 2007, Vol. 9, No. 2 Sunday, May 1, 2016

Letters to the Editor
Web version

The Vocabula Review welcomes letters to the editor. Please include your name, email address, and professional affiliation. Send your letters to We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity.

Harrison's Proust Project

Thanks for your ever stimulating review. I try to read all the articles and have a habit of scanning for grammatical goofs, cliches and plain ol' hyperbole. I was doubly rewarded in the latest article by Carey Harrison in his article Present-Tense Proust Project.

The article would, I assume, appeal to Proust fans regardless of the long-winded, untranslatable sentences (at least to me). I gave up and with smug satisfaction, declared it unreadable ignoring the fact that I was hopelessly floundering in intellectual water 'way over my head.

Then I was rescued. Returning to the beginning of the article for another attempt I noticed a battered cliche. "Needless to say, the effect would be a trifle startling:" As Andy Rooney would say, "D'ja ever notice when people say, 'needless to say', they tell you anyhow?" Thanks Carey. You saved my day.

Gordon France

Dog Names

I enjoyed [Bill Casselman's] piece on revolting dog names. Every week when I get my local paper the first thing I read are the "dogs for sale." I became fascinated with the cost of schnoodles etc. which, in my neighborhood cost more than their pure-bred cousins. I was going to make up weird dog combinations and place adds in the paper, selling the dogs for outrageous amounts. If anyone wanted to buy one, I was going to the local dog pound and adopt a mutt that could, with some imagination, be the breed I advertised. The Mrs. vetoed the idea saying that anyone that would buy a boutique mutt had to be more interested in having the mutt than caring for it.

Jim Outland


I'm writing to give you good news: my poem At Dusk, the Catbird has been chosen by Heather McHugh for the Best American Poetry anthology, to be published by Scribner this fall. Vocabula will be credited in the book, and I hope the publication will send more readers and subscribers to you.

[M]any thanks for publishing my work, and all good wishes.

George Witte

I subscribed to your website less than a month with hopes of improving my writing. And, within a month, I have improved a lot; I especially enjoy your emphasis on concision which — as a lover of aphorisms — is always my demand as a reader. I should tell you, too, that the essays published in Vocabula display a charm and polish that I have not encountered elsewhere; they are always learned, but never academic.

Your website is truly, Mr. Fiske, a beautiful gift for lovers of the English language.

Brandon V. Abdullah

Ask Fiske

I have always used "stanch" and "staunch" as [two different words] but the usually reliable Webster's New International Dictionary (second edition) says that "staunch" is a variant of "stanch," and even Fowler in Modern English Usage merely says that the adjective is usually spelled "staunch" and the verb, "stanch." Are these words really interchangeable? I hope not, but I'm no longer sure.

John Denson

RHF replies: Stanch, a verb, means to stop the flow of blood or other liquid. Staunch, an adjective, means firm, faithful, loyal, steadfast; strong or solidly made; substantial. Since so many people confuse one word, or spelling, with the other, dictionaries offer one word as the variant of the other.

Which is correct usage: semi-yearly or bi-yearly? Are they the same? Hyphen or no?

Nat Johnson

RHF replies: Semiyearly means twice a year. Biyearly means twice a year or every two years.

More About Email

E-mail, email, e-mails, and emails.

"Email" must be pronounced eh-MAIL That's ugly, and not at all what we say, at least so far. Even the most exciting and enthusiastic "ecstasy" begins with eh.

E-mail at least encourages the correct pronunciation, though it doesn't fit as nicely in an iambic line. And it retains the vestige of its root: "electronic mail"; that, by the way, suggests that it should have evolved as the contraction, "e'mail," but it's too late. We're stuck with a nonsensical hyphen, which should have been saved for the adjective form: "e-mail disaster."

The plural of e-mail must be e-mails, as in "I have three e-mails waiting for answers." I can't imagine anyone being able to say, "I have three e-mail waiting for answers." Surely, the tongue would rebel and do a back flip out of one's mouth. The issue, of course, is a countable item versus a non-countable item.

There is the issue of the adjective form: "I have a stack of e-mail waiting for answers" or "I have an e-mail stack that fills a whole screen." The second example is easy to accept; we'd also say, "I have a book stack that reaches the ceiling." However, the first creates some problems: "I have a stack of books that reaches the ceiling." We wouldn't survive the alternative: "I have a stack of book that reaches the ceiling."

Here is where the rule meets the ear, and I suspect the ear will win in this case: The e-mail "stack" is not physical, but virtual. I doubt we find ourselves counting the e-mails the way we count that stack of books that is threatening to collapse on our heads. To be correct, we'd say, "a stack of e-mails," but I suspect we're going to accept "a stack of e-mail" as an uncountable mass.

And we'll survive, nonetheless.

Jeff Burdick

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