The Vocabula Review welcomes letters to the editor. Please include your name, email address, and professional affiliation. Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org. We reserve the right to edit letters for length and clarity.
Praise and Criticism
Skip Eisiminiger's wonderful essay is on a terribly important subject. My hat is off to him for bravery, logic, clear perspective, and much more good humor than I could have brought to this issue. The behavior of humans in these situations reminds me of chickens in a flock, who are given to suddenly turning on one of their number and pecking it to death. But the chickens are at least honestly brutal, whereas the attackers in situations like this keep up a solemn pretense of being the standard-bearers of a Higher Humanity. It just makes me want to choke. Universities are supposed to stand for free speech. Given the kind of thing Skip documents so well, we are on our way to becoming so many Ministries of Truth instead.
Professor of English
Eastern Illinois University
Gee, golly, and thanks! I feel so much wiser and more fulfilled, having read Mr. Casselman's quaint little essay on the word "c--t."
I have been happily married to the same lady for over 40 years, and have shared in raising two daughters. The little obscenity Mr. Casselman delights in writing about is one I refrain from using. I will also refrain from further supporting your publication. When I don't renew, you can thank Mr. Casselman.
The author no doubt wants us to admire him for being suave and debonair, oh-so-liberal, and oh-so-liberated from the outmoded taboos of yesteryear. I for one am not impressed. He is just indulging a childish desire to shock people and trying to disguise his penchant for vulgarity under a pseudo-intellectualism.
His essay and your publishing it are both pathetic.
James F. Csank
I love TVR. I was given a subscription as a Christmas gift and knew immediately that I would have to ration the time I spent with it if I were to leave any time for my own writing.
Although I am pleased that you include fiction, I have been disappointed in your fiction selections. I suffered through the pulp fiction novel, saying to myself that it was about pulp fiction, so perhaps represented pulp fiction style.
But the short story this month contains dialogue as unbelievable as that of the novel and writing that any one of your essayists would deplore. I bring only the first example of the latter to your attention, but there are many more.
"The hard angles of her body. ... like a scarecrow ...." The author evidently intends to compare her body to a scarecrow, but the subject of the sentence is "angles."
Further Questions and Irritations
The September issue of TVR contained an interesting rant letter to the editor. John Gibson nit-picked a few grammatical errors that pop up frequently in U.S. movies (pardon me, cinema) and television, i.e., "Do you have ...?" instead of "Have you ...?" plus a few others. He continued his critique by writing "This might explain why everyone in the US, according to their TV and cinema ...."
Last time I heard, "everyone" was a singular pronoun and "their" a plural pronoun. But perhaps mixing pronouns is ok in Old Blighty.
Sputnik's 50th Anniversary
On the morning of Oct. 4, 1957, I was doing my usual morning chores as a young Editorial Assistant on Newsweek's Science Desk. One of my jobs was to distribute stories for the various desks as the news came tock-tock-tocking off the bell-ringing "A-wire."
When I saw the story's headline with its Moscow dateline, "Russians Put a 'Moon' into Orbit," I immediately alerted all the relevant desks to this amazing event.
Managing Editor Gordon Manning turned to me (I am fluent in Russian and had a Ph.D. in Soviet studies) and asked me what "ISZ" meant. These were the Russian initials for the artificial satellite as given by Tass in the AP story. I answered that "Iskusstvenniy Sputnik Zemlyi" could be translated as "Artificial Satellite of the Earth."
"We can't go with 'ISZ'! Isn't there some shorter form?" Manning asked. I answered: "Why don't we use simply 'sputnik'? I mean, as a common noun, lowercase 's'?"
Gordon, pronouncing the word sputt-nik, replied, "But what does that mean?"
I explained that it meant simply "satellite." So Newsweek came out that next Monday in its cover story on the big event by coining the common noun sputnik. This coinage later wound up in Webster's Third as Newsweek's (first) and The New York Times (second) usage.
But what followed later that night was more memorable. I had the time and coordinates for the passage overhead of the "little beeper." So I notified everyone on the "book" (magazine) that I would be up on the roof of the Newsweek Building (at that time located at W. 42nd St. and Seventh Ave.) to view the appearance of Sputnik over New York City's skyscrapers that was expected to occur around 6:30 p.m.
Just about all the staffers joined me on the tarred, sooty roof in the clear, dim twilight. As we looked toward the northwest, all of a sudden there appeared this spooky "moving star." It moved higher and higher in the sky, going ominously not too slow, not too fast, toward the southeast. These days such a sight would not be very exciting to anyone as satellites can regularly be seen coursing overhead in early or mid-evening as such objects are caught in sunlight at high altitudes. But Sputnik was something different as an exotic, yellowish, twinkling "eye" looking down on us as though it were spying on us.
President Eisenhower saw fit to broadcast a message on the air that was intended to calm down everyone's nerves by assuring the nation that this Soviet feat had been expected. As it turned out, the Soviet breakthrough in space was not all that easy for the U.S. to emulate. But we finally did. And the space race was on to be followed by the orbiting of sophisticated weapons known as MRVs and MIRVs. Still later came cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's first-man-in-space achievement and then America's landing of an astronaut on the our natural satellite, the Moon.
October 4, 1957, thus went down in history not only as "Sputnik Day." It became Chapter One in an arms race in space and the consequent danger to the security of world civilization that weapons in space entail.
Albert L. Weeks
Votaries of Vocabula
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Barbara Paul-Emile, Ph.D.
Professor of English