The Vocabula Review

May 2007, Vol. 9, No. 5 Saturday, April 30, 2016

Letters to the Editor
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The Best and Worst Words

"Morish" — Yummy; one wants more of it.

I hate this "word"; it is in the category of non-words that creep into the common vernacular, and as most people are dumb, most people begin to use them as real words ... and then because they are part of common usage, they are added to the dictionary! For many years, I assumed something that was "morish" was a product of "Moreland" or some such place. I realize that this does make me somewhat ignorant on the geography side of things, but I guess I was just giving people too much credit.

Alison Seager

Was browsing your rather amusing list. I came across the entry for "cousin brother/sister." The explanation you provided as the same as "brother/sister." But that's not entirely correct!

In Indian English, you make the distinction between a female cousin or a male cousin. Hence, cousin-brother or cousin-sister. But it's not the same as one's biological sibling(s).

Vivin Suresh Paliath

I can't stand "be upstanding" when someone means "stand." As in "please be upstanding for the national anthem." Or even worse, I've heard "upstand" instead of "stand up!" What's wrong with "please stand"?

You can be an upstanding member of the community, if you're an honorable person. Fine. But "upstand"?

The first offense may attract a warning, but repeated use surely warrants the death penalty. Or at least a flogging? Can we flog them?


Here's one of my best words: "Yesternight" because it follows seamlessly from yesterday. I first heard the word from my daughter Kathy when when she was about 4 years old. In her mind the transition was a natural flow from "Yesterday."

Joe Figliuzzi

RHF replies: Hidden within the bowels of TVR is a list of The Worst Words and a list of The Best Words.

Plane Talk

I've always wondered why electronics must be "in the off position" and not simply "turned off." The comment about the shuttle bus going "forth and back" reminded me of "head over heels." Isn't that normal? Isn't the unusual "heels over head"?

Good article.

Harry Lembeck

Further Questions and Irritations

I'm confounded by usage of the word, "whack," as in "the grill's out of whack." When is anything "in whack"? What exactly is the condition of "whack"? Friends have tried to comfort me by patiently explaining that it simply means that something is broken. I perfectly understand that. It is the condition of "unwhackness" that concerns me. What is its derivation? What does it mean?

Jean McWhorter

One of my great, great, great, great grandmothers was named "Maryamne." How do you think it was pronounced in the late eighteenth century? Was it "Mary Am Knee"? "Mary Anne"? "Mary Yammie" (God forbid.)? My Webster (3d Int'l) is no help. I am too cheap to subscribe online to the OED for a month. I have Googled fruitlessly. I did find a Hebrew name — "Mariamne" — which is probably the same as my ancestor's. Her parents may not have been good spellers.

Nathan S. Lord

I found this sentence in Pamela Saur's otherwise excellent essay on compound nouns: "Imagine my professor's discomfort if he faced the fact that not only do nouns function as modifiers, but prepositional phrases, as in 'on-the-job' training or 'off-the-cuff' remarks." As someone with low tolerance for the misplaced "only" or "not only," I cannot keep myself from pointing out that the "not only" in this sentence should have been placed after "function," and (to preserve the parallel structure) the word "as" should have been inserted after "but." My own preference, to enhance clarity, would have been to say "but also as" rather than simply "but as," but I view that as an issue of style rather than grammar.

Mark Evans

My current rather long-term irritation is with the press in all its forms using "troops." For example, "six U.S. troops were killed today." Would it not be correct to use "troopers" rather than the plural for the group? The example seems to say that 6 groups of soldiers were killed. When did the plural become singular? Perhaps I am incorrect, but this has been aggravating me for some time. Troopers is the plural form for a group of individuals, but to call them a troop would only be proper if they were all in the same unit and engagement.

It seems more proper to not use trooper or troops but rather soldiers. Troopers are in the Cavalry or Airborne in the U.S. military by custom although the plural usage of troop or troops is also appropriate to the Marines and other army units, but usually not the Navy.

I just find it irritating.

Carl Youngstrom, M.D.

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