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July 2008, Vol. 10, No. 7 There are now   95   people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

Vocabula On Call
Coming in the August 2008 issue of The Vocabula Review:
"Bless Your Heart, Evangelina: An Academic Ghost Story" by Sherri Mahoney Jacobs
The August issue is due online August 17.

Good Words Vocabula Press Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher

Available Now From Vocabula Books

Silence, Language, & Society
A guide to style and meaning, grace and compassion

Silence, Language, & Society
Silence, Language, & Society: A guide to style and meaning, grace and compassion — an episodic, aphoristic collection of Robert Hartwell Fiske's writing — is a formulary for reclaiming our sense of self through the careful use of the English language. This is a book about words and language and thoughts, how they intermingle, and their relationship with silence and society.

You can order Silence, Language, & Society from Vocabula Books or Amazon.


Vocabula Bound 1 and Vocabula Bound 2

Vocabula Bound 1 and Vocabula Bound 2

Vocabula Bound 1 and Vocabula Bound 2

Want to read The Vocabula Review in print, on paper, in a book?

Vocabula Bound 1: Outbursts, Insights, Explanations, and Oddities — twenty-five of the best essays and twenty-six of the best poems published in The Vocabula Review.

Vocabula Bound 2: Our Wresting, Writhing Tongue — twenty-eight of the best essays and ten of the best poems published in The Vocabula Review.

Certainly, two of the best collections of essays about the English language


You can order Vocabula Bound 1 and Vocabula Bound 2 from Vocabula Books.

Poem, Revised
54 Poems, Revisions, Discussions

Poem, Revised

You can order Poem, Revised from Amazon or Vocabula.




 In the July 2008 Vocabula

In general, medical practitioners are very good about following standard rules of pronouncing the myriad words from Latin and Greek that make up their professional vocabulary. The vocabulary was formulated by persons who knew not only both of the classical languages but also the protocols to be followed: namely, that Greek was not transliterated directly but rather recast in Latin spelling, and the resulting word, whether still completely in its Latin form (like "phalanx," plural "phalanges") or given an English form (like "phalangic"), are pronounced according to English conventions, not according to ancient sounds.

When the term gynaecology was first formulated, back in the middle of the nineteenth century, it fully conformed to the norms: it was pronounced with a soft G (i.e., a J sound), like all the other "gynaeco-" and "gyn-" words. More ... 

The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest

by Frank E. Keyes, Jr.

Sin 1. Editing and re-editing and re-editing and re-editing.

One assignment I had many years ago when I was a technical writer for the government was to write a short message to the Army Material Command. I couldn't use an eraser or correction fluid to correct mistakes: The message had to be perfectly typed.

The writing assignment took me less than an hour, and I put it in the editor's in-box, expecting it to pass inspection with no red ink. When it came back to me, it had several red marks. Yes, I was disappointed, but I rewrote the message, returned it the editor's in-box within ninety minutes, attended a two-hour meeting, and then went home. More ... 

by Richard Lederer

In our crazy English language, how can it be easier to assent than to dissent but harder to ascend than to descend? Why is it that a man with hair on his head has more hair than a man with hairs on his head; that if you decide to be bad forever, you choose to be bad for good; and that if you choose to wear only your left shoe, then your left one is right and your right one is left? Right?

Why can you call a woman a mouse but not a rat — a kitten but not a cat? Why is it that a woman can be a vision, but not a sight — unless your eyes hurt? Then she can be "a sight for sore eyes."

A writer is someone who writes, and a stinger is something that stings. But fingers don't fing, grocers don't groce, hammers don't ham, humdingers don't humding, ushers don't ush, and haberdashers do not haberdash. More ... 

by Herb Swett

Medical terminology has its place among writers' and editors' concerns. As a medical transcriptionist as well as a journalist, I have observed problems with many terms.

Doctors and others in health-related fields, even though they have to learn those terms themselves, are not necessarily experts on the English language. Many who have dictated the reports I have transcribed have made errors in some of in the terms that follow. Other terms, not likely to be dictated incorrectly by health professionals, are often used incorrectly by people outside health fields.

Achilles tendon: Health professionals are almost certain to get this one right, but some people, because "Achilles heel" is a common expression, use it in reference to the tendon just above the heel. More ... 

Book Excerpt
Back  Politics as Usual
by Rosemarie Ostler

Election banners reading "Vote early and vote often" flew openly in New York City streets during the nineteenth century. This slogan neatly represents traditional American political jargon, which tends to reflect a freewheeling approach to the democratic process. Among the colorful terms inspired by nineteenth-century politics are spoils system, lobby, filibuster, gerrymander, pork barrel, and bunkum, not to mention snollygoster, now sadly obsolete. The Columbus Dispatch for October 28, 1895, offers this lively definition of the word: "A snollygoster is a fellow who wants office, regardless of party, platform or principles, and who, whenever he wins, gets there by the sheer force of monumental talknophical asumnancy."

The expressions listed in this section show an energetic approach to politicking. Eager candidates mend fences, roll campaign balls through the streets, and leap onto tree stumps to make speeches. Such expressions as twist in the wind and eat crow hint at the down side of politics. More ... 

Authors, editors, publicists are welcome to submit excerpts of books about words and language for possible publication in Vocabula's "Book Excerpt."

by Michael Larsen

You're in your favorite independent bookstore just after your book is published. You start walking the aisles delighted to find your book face up on the new nonfiction table in the front of the store. You pause to look at it and take in the books around it. How long do you spend looking at the covers of other books? Two seconds each, if you are the average book buyer. And guess what? That's how long everyone who walks by the table will spend looking at your cover. Two seconds is less time than it took you to read the previous sentence.

Two seconds for the design, artwork, and the title. A large proportion of books have tombstone covers. Nobody could think of an image, symbol, or metaphor that could capture the essence of the book in a way that would help sell it, so words are all that browsers have to go on. Finding the perfect title for your book will be an "Aha!" experience. You will know it the moment you think of it or hear it. It will be love at first sound. More ... 

A Poem
Back  Aeneas Senex
by Jeff Minick

When once the chill of autumn bit your bones,
O Teucrian king, and red dawns woke you stiff
As bloodied oxen hide, untanned, half-dried;
When once Ascanius, beloved son
Redeemed by you that night from burning Troy,
Cast hungry eyes upon your burnished throne,
When once the thick array of Darden spears
Grew thin as Lombard's winter grass, when men
Once strong now doddered through your halls—what then? More ... 

Vocabula button free for the asking. Click here.
Vocabula button free for the asking.

by Mark Halpern

As everyone knows, President Summers of Harvard lost his job in 2005 when he made some remarks that offended feminists. The remarks themselves, the degree to which they may be valid, and the general reaction to them from various quarters, are not my concern here; the aspect of the event that I want to discuss is the remarkable way in which some of those who were offended by them chose to express themselves. The principal offendee, and the person who brought the remarks to national attention, was Professor Nancy Hopkins, a biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She walked out on Summers' talk, saying later that if she hadn't left, ''I would've either blacked out or thrown up." In an interview with the New York Times, she said, "When he started talking about innate differences in aptitude between men and women, I just couldn't breathe because this kind of bias makes me physically ill," and added, "I felt I was going to be sick. My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow, I was extremely upset." More ... 

The Last Word
Back  The Look-At-Me Generation
by Christopher Orlet

I was born on the cusp of two generations: the Baby Boomers and the Generation Xers. I seem to relate more to the Gen Xers, being somewhat of a slacker and despising most everything '70s, except one or two Dylan albums and a few classic films.* Generation Xers may be slackers, but at least we are not stuck-up about it, not like the Millennial Generation, raised on an overdose of self-esteem and self-promoting technology (MySpace, Facebook) combined to create a perfect storm of narcissism.

Not long ago I came across a study led by San Diego State University psychologists that found that about two-thirds of college students have "above average scores in self-adulation." That's up 30 percent since I was in college in 1982. These Millennials make Narcissus look like a self-hating Greek. More ... 

Bethumped with Words
Back  Juniper & Gin: From Landscape to Larynx
by Bill Casselman

Today, with spry and questing fingers, we part the boughs of the juniper tree and discover within — glistening berries of juniper word lore.

Genus: Juniperus < iuniperus, Latin, a juniper tree; the source of the compound Latin word is unknown. But the late, great etymologist Eric Partridge offers a learned suggestion: Old Latin *ieniperus (?) thus akin to Latin iuncus, "reed, rush," perhaps related to earlier Mediterranean forms like the Egyptian ganu, "reed, cane, shrub, bush." More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  Letting Bygones Be Bygones
by Carey Harrison

Dear patient reader: another round of classes has just begun here, in our CUNY summer school, second session, and with it some of the usual nightmares. A tender gathering of twenty-five undergraduates appeared before me (in reality) to study Contemporary American Fiction. Like a fool, I began by asking them to list any works they had read that might fall under this rubric. Salinger? Bellow? Updike? Mailer? Roth? Malamud? Irving? Answer came there none. (One had read Catcher in The Rye in high school — but only one, so even this old standby is growing rare.) My English majors had heard of none of these worthies. Most of them could hardly name an author they recalled having read, other than "Harry Potter," whose author, I struggled to make them believe, is something other than American. One simply wrote, I do not know the time period of any book I have read.

This, of course, is the problem. Some of my students may even have read a book by the eminent authors I cited. (In all likelihood they haven't, since they don't read for pleasure, and since few courses seeking a purchase in post-modernist or post-colonialist or feminist studies are likely to include any of them. Has a generation of acclaimed commentators on contemporary reality ever passed so quickly into oblivion?) But even if they discovered that they had read a book by one of the authors in question, they have nowhere to put the memory of having read it. Properly speaking, it belongs in advance to oblivion, which is to say it is material gathered in order to acquire three credits from a college class, and then erased as useless as soon as the credits are achieved. What use, indeed, would the memory of reading such books serve? Their commentaries address a bygone age. Why would any of my students ever choose to propose a bygone novel as a subject for conversation, or for silent contemplation? More ... 

On the night of June 25, I received an email from an old high-school buddy who lives near Portland, Oregon, informing me that a former English teacher of ours, a Catholic nun named Sister Frances Jacobs, had died six days earlier, at the age of ninety-five. This was a shock because, whenever I had thought about her during the previous quarter century, I had assumed that she was long dead. She seemed ancient to me when I was her student in the mid-1970s, and so I found it difficult to imagine her having survived the 1980s, much less eight years into the twenty-first century.

I am fifty years old and can barely remember high school any more. I know I took several English classes from Sister Frances while matriculating at Portland's Central Catholic High School, but I can't remember the names of all the courses, or in which of my four years they happened to fall. I remember specifically only a single course I took from her. It was a poetry class in which we read and analyzed the usual poetic suspects: Frost, Sandburg, Whitman, Dickinson, Longfellow, Tennyson, Keats, and so forth. I remember only snippets of the lessons she taught us. I recall, for instance, Sister Frances citing the opening lines of Tennyson's "The Eagle" as an example of alliteration: "He clasps the crag with crooked hands / Close to the sun in lonely lands…." I also remember (or think I remember, which is nearly the same thing) that our textbook had a final section called "We Are But A Moment's Sunlight…," which took its title from a line in the pop song Get Together, which was a top-ten hit for The Youngbloods, back in 1969. More ... 

Vogue Words and Buzz Phrases
Back  Let's Not Go There
by David Isaacson

I think most of the people who say "let's not go there" haven't actually been there. "There" in this overused phrase is deliberately vague. This virtually placeless adverb usually refers to a subject the speaker seems to regard as too embarrassing to describe in detail. "There" seems to be euphemistic way of referring to a subject the speaker claims is too delicate to discuss openly. But this phrase is usually said with such a coy tone that honest vulgarity would be preferable. More ... 

Letter of the Law
Back  Meet the Flintlocks
by Adam Freedman

On June 26, the Supreme Court fired off its decision in DC v. Heller, holding that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to possess firearms, unconnected to military service.

The Heller case — long anticipated as the Court's first-ever comprehensive interpretation of the right "to keep and bear arms" — generated an astounding sixty-seven amicus curiae ("friend of the court") briefs. But of those sixty-seven briefs, the only one cited by both the majority and dissenting opinions was one submitted by a group of professors of linguistics and English, the so-called Linguists' Brief. More ... 

Wor(l)ds
Back  One, Two, Three
by Verónica Albin

I consider myself fortunate in that I married into a highly literate family whose members do not resort to euphemisms. Not a one goes number one or number two; they all pee and poop. When they get technical, they use fancy verbs like micturate, urinate, and defecate, but never, ever, do they resort to numbers. It is such a relief! Such a breath of fresh air! Because I don't do numbers at all.

In fact, I'm not quite sure how I managed to graduate from high school with my dismal performances in math, physics, and all other disciplines that required computation. I'm one of those completely lopsided individuals who could be really smug about their verbal SAT scores but wanted to hide under the table when asked about the other half of the test. I can't count worth beans. More ... 

Summer Edition

In June, July, and August, The Vocabula Review will be published as summer editions; that is, we will publish Features essays and Columnists' essays but few, if any, of the Departments (Disagreeable English, Clues to Concise Writing, etc.).

More Good Summer Reading


The last decade has seen the keyboard springboard into prominence as the universal user interface, replacing paper and pen as the most popular means of communication. As long as the majority of us are morphing into keyboard communicants and talking with our hands, we should familiarize ourselves with the special character keys on our QWERTY keyboard. In this module, we take a closer look at the shifted number keys — the ones we seldom use, except to create passwords and occasionally to let off some keyed up #!$%@&! steam instead of giving in to worn-out four-letter words. More ... 

 Features

 Columnists


Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — You Make Me Sick: Symptoms as Arguments

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — The Look-At-Me Generation

Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — Juniper & Gin: From Landscape to Larynx

Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — Letting Bygones Be Bygones

Kevin Mims: The Common Reader — We Are but a Moment's Sunlight: Reflections on George Carlin and Sister Frances Jacobs

David Isaacson: Vogue Words and Buzz Phrases — Let's Not Go There

Adam Freedman: Letter of the Law — Meet the Flintlocks

Verónica Albin: Wor(l)ds — One, Two, Three

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