The Vocabula Review

January 2007, Vol. 9, No. 1 Friday, April 29, 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.

Heaven Help Us

Here's a howler from an article by Steve Friess in the New York Times of January 6, 2007: "Just three months old, the $1 million globe, made of 88 chunks of Brazilian quartzite and adorned with raised bronze signifying land masses, lies dissembled at the university, in Ga. ..."

Bud Arkules

Here is some verbal garbage for your collection:

Quoting W. Hodding Carter in Flushed a book about the importance of plumbing in civilization, "Shedding his clogs in abeyance to the growing New England custom of taking one's shoes off before walking through a house."

The writer obviously meant "obeisance," which in itself is doubtful, since "obedience" would be a little less pompously worshipful.

Norman Waksler

Several years ago, I saw a television advertisement for one of the Japanese automobiles in which a cute model intoned: "It's so fun to drive." My reaction was: "Huh? What does that mean? I can understand: "It's fun to drive" or "It's so much fun to drive."

John Noble Fiske

Is Email Countable?

While I prefer the use of "e-mail" to "email," I find your use of "emails" as the plural form disagreeable. I'm surprised that you consider e-mail countable. I know the matter is hotly debated. Do you consider common usage enough a reason to consider e-mail countable?

I asked my boss and my system administrator for their opinions.

Troy: "What is the plural of e-mail?"
Boss: "E-mail."

System administrator: "Is this a trick question?"
Troy: "No trick."
SA: "Spam."

Troy Farrell

Mr. Orwell, Mr. Schlesinger, and the Language

This was a joke, right? A send-up aimed at committing every error of good writing that Orwell's essay describes, with some new ones thrown in?

It has to be so. I cannot imagine any university professor emeritus writing so poorly.

He must be trolling for sycophants so he can flame them. Perfect.

Lyle Young

Debarked, Debarqued, Whichever

I read the "Grumbling About Grammar" item about "debark" to my son. He looked up "debark" in the Oxford American Dictionary and found the intransitive form, in the sense of disembark, as the first listed definition. The transitive form (i.e., with the tree) was listed second.

The OED online simply provides disembark's forbears, which appear to be some form of "debark" (although the forebears are from the French, of which I know next to nothing).

We also had the discussion about dictionaries' tasks being to provide current usage, not necessarily correct usage.

Jon's note is below.

David Gunderlach


Consider this entry debarked, debarqued, whichever...


RHF replies: The OED and OAD are hardly alone in maintaining that debark means disembark. Most contemporary dictionaries include debark in their increasingly useless books. Why use debark or disbark when we have disembark?

Fowler, in his Dictionary of Modern English Usage, second edition published in 1965, writes:

debark(ation) are natural shortenings of the better established disemb- (cf. debus, detrain) and may supersede them.
Debark's origin is very likely laziness: people who cannot manage that extra syllable. If we continue to practice this sort of slipshod speaking and writing, what, do you suppose, will we have — a populace that can utter only mono- and disyllabic words? Disembark is correct; debark, in the sense used here, the otiose person's alternative.

More About That WSJ Article

So glad to have rediscovered Vocabula! Years ago I was head of corporate communications for a, and the unrelenting geek-speak was rubbing off on my staff. I read about The Dimwit's Dictionary and purchased a copy for each staff member. Aside from the title, which took some explaining, the book made a noticeable difference in the quality of our writing. Today, I am hosting a holiday lunch for the public relations staff of Corinthian Colleges, and they will receive access to Vocabula as a gift, along with a copy of the recent WSJ article. What could be a better gift for a group of professional communicators? Thanks for fighting, as you so aptly put it, against the "devolution of language". It matters.

Anna Marie Dunlap

I read the Joseph Epstein article with great interest. Thanks for being out there in the woods fighting heroically against our sloppy, lazy culture.

Stan Cooper

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