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June 2008, Vol. 10, No. 6 There are now   4067   people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

Vocabula On Call
Coming in the July 2008 issue of The Vocabula Review:
"Gin, Anyone? Or, How Did Gynecology Become a Guy Thing?" by Henry Ansgar Kelly
The July issue is due online July 20.
Meet Mike, our newest Vocabula Community member.

Good Words Vocabula Press Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher

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.

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.

Poem, Revised
54 Poems, Revisions, Discussions

Poem, Revised

You can order Poem, Revised from Amazon or Vocabula.

 In the June 2008 Vocabula

by Richard Lederer

We English users are constantly standing meaning on its head. Let's look at a number of familiar English words and phrases that turn out to mean the opposite or something very different from what we think they mean:

I really miss not seeing you. Whenever people say this to me, I feel like responding, "All right, I'll leave!" Here speakers throw in a gratuitous negative, not, even though I really miss seeing you is what they want to say.

The movie kept me literally glued to my seat. The chances of our buttocks being literally epoxied to a seat are about as small as the chances of our literally rolling in the aisles while watching a funny movie or literally drowning in tears while watching a sad one. We actually mean The movie kept me figuratively glued to my seat — but who needs figuratively, anyway? More ... 

The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest

by Bruce Bromley

As I came back from food shopping, smelling briny fish in the hallway, I saw two things: an orange sky, with the tops of clouds scraped green, and Dr. Wayne Barker's fingertips.

But the first image originated in him, too: it is (probably) 1980; Leslie (Wayne's daughter, my then lover), Wayne, and I have leapt into the Jeep and gone to Montauk's Napeague Beach — to the Walking Dunes — at dusk. Here, there are miles of salmon-colored sand heaped into hills. Wayne takes us to a beach blanketed in mussel shells, each shell plump with its booty, not yet pried open. The smell is redolent of Wayne: salt upon salt, so that you could not (cannot) tell where Wayne ends and the seashell-burdened beach begins. The fingertip image emerges at once from that punctiliously lush scene, doubly punctilious because the Napeague seascape, with its attention to details, is looped together by an ordering nature and because my youth, on this occasion, makes of me a sieve through which sensations rush, pushing through the minutiae yielded to me by eyes and nose, conjoined. Wayne's fingertips, so plumply there, thin fingers with rounded, fat tips, seem to say: We yield to what comes to us, and we try to mould what comes to us to our desire. More ... 

by Billy Thompson

These are not my words.

Well, I mean, they are, of course, since they have come out of my head. I've typed them. So these words are mine in the way these ideas are mine, but only to the extent ideas can be mine. That is, thoughts are words, yet words, language, is a structure I was born into, it was given to me. I was taught the word for each animate, inanimate, tangible, intangible, possible, impossible thing I came across. I was taught the word for words. And I've ever since used words, language, to define myself.

I recently read Them by Nathan McCall, a novel set in a downtown Atlanta neighborhood that has a predominantly African-American population and is home to one Barlowe Reed, a single, forty-something black man. Then Sean and Sandy Gilmore, a young white couple, move in next door. The story acknowledges an inherent language barrier between the incumbents and their new neighbors and confronts the issues and consequences of gentrification as it traces the arc of Barlowe's relationship with the Gilmores, and theirs with him, from distrust and suspicion to, well, what exactly? Acceptance? Understanding? What's the right word? More ... 

by Pamela Sewell Saur

Basic linguistic textbooks frequently emphasize the concept that language is a universal human attribute. Doing so helps students look beyond language as an academic subject and appreciate that even illiterate people or those who speak nonstandard dialects acquire language and use it successfully to communicate. However, language and being human are both complicated matters. More ... 

Vocabula Revisited
Back  Bad Writing Kills
by Christopher D. Ringwald

In this age of fear and terrorism, we've scrutinized government memos in the intelligence and defense fields. Missives and reports were written, rewritten, deep-sixed, read, revised, acted upon, ignored, and dismissed. Often a chasm opened between the writer's intent and the reader's understanding. People died as a result.

Shortly before the 9/11 attacks, FBI agent Colleen Rowley pleaded with superiors in Minneapolis to investigate Zacarias Moussaoui, an alleged plotter. By some accounts, authorities didn't understand her request, which had been revised by intermediaries. Of course. Rare is the direction or request or idea or finding that gets across clearly in a bureaucracy. Memos and reports never state a point; they express a political consensus where the original idea has been reworked into the ground and something else entirely — or, preferably, nothing at all — is reported. Call it group-write. The same happens in corporate, research, and academic circles.

Nothing new there. But as a journalist who works part time in government, research, and academic circles, I am surprised by the intransigent forces promoting the fog of words. More ... 

Back  Old Egg
by Mark Stevens

Although the rain fell in pitchers around him, Oleg draped his slicker over his head by the hood. His arms were outstretched into the wind and he leapt into the torrent, his feet leaving the earth for only a short second, but long enough to capture the sensation of flight. His arms had taken on a waxy white aspect, an otherworldly look that he imagined a hero might have, a sign that he had traveled from far across space to the city to aid the helpless or to fulfill some yet undetermined destiny. His conceptions about this aspect of his dream were all undetermined, mere evocations rather than solid thoughts. But they gave him more comfort than the slicker would have, had he worn it to protect him from the rain.

When he got home, he rubbed at his arms to put color back into them, but only managed to stroke red lines and blotches onto the skin, giving him a more sickly look than he had initially displayed. He slapped at his cheeks, trying to exhort a rosy flush. He could feel the flaccid skin warm, but only spottily. Still, he knew that he had to go in and face his mother. Being pale was much better than being late. More ... 

small like a doll
eyes china blue
59 years married

she sits reading
in her special chair

saucepan at the ready
eggs on the counter

he's still not down More ... 

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Bethumped with Words
Back  Twat: The Origin of a Rude Word
by Bill Casselman

Twat is a vulgar term for a woman's privates.

In the annals of obloquy, when ranking crudity and rudeness, twat is not quite as offensive as the word cunt.

Almost all legitimate dictionaries, including the Oxford English Dictionary and the Unabridged Merriam-Webster, mark the rude slang word as "of obscure origin" or "origin unknown." I don't think so. My personal etymological proposal is clear, cogent, and concise.

The word twat is related to the Old Norse word thveit, "a piece of land," but literally in Old Norse "a piece cut off" or more provocatively for our modern slang word, "a place cut up," "a place of cutting," "a place cut off." The Old Norse verb thvita, "to cut off," had a relative in Old English thwitan, "to cut off." More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  Me and Him Go to the Mall
by Carey Harrison

Among the words encountered by my wife's tenth-grade high school class this week, in a few pages of Joseph Conrad, are, as one might expect, a great many that not one of them understood. Here are some of these words (there were more than a hundred, in all): craven, insidious, despondent, affable, placate, countenance, spacious, palatial, ample, prone, supine, doleful, earnest, supercilious, meek, intricate, benevolent, debauched, superfluous, amenity, utterance, woebegone, guile, wily, inane, mirthless, acute, impudent, indignant, exalted, vigilant, ornate, settee, predecessor, obstinate, inhospitable, eyrie, eerie, ambience, eddy, animosity.

I gazed at this list of terms unknown to fifteen-year-olds from homes sufficiently well-to-do to send their children to a private school, and wanted to lay down my pen, metaphorically speaking, forever. Most of the words in question, you will note, are adjectives. Goodbye, adjectives. More ... 

The Common Reader
Back  Happy Camper?
by Kevin Mims

Some of my favorite reading material has never been published and consists of old postcards, autograph books, letters, and other nonprofessional writings that I have found at garage sales, yard sales, estate sales, and the like. On Sunday, April 13, while browsing through a Sacramento, California, flea market with my wife, I discovered a diary kept by Jack Masuo Hayakawa for the year 1944. Hayakawa spent that year in the Gila River Internment Camp, situated about fifty miles south of Phoenix, Arizona. On the pages of a leather-bound calendar (ironically, the Statue of Liberty is embossed in gold on the cover), he kept a detailed record of his activities on each of the year's 366 days. I found the diary in a box of old books, magazines, and other articles that appeared to have been gathering dust in an attic or storage closet for decades. I paid $20 for it. As I walked away from the booth, I trembled to think that I might just have stumbled upon an American equivalent of Anne Frank's diary. I was eager to get home and begin reading. More ... 

Vogue Words and Buzz Phrases
Back  24-7
by David Isaacson

Like most clichés, 24-7 was once new. It used to be fun to say 24-7 as a synonym for always, constantly, incessantly, never-endingly, endlessly, or all the time. Expressing this idea digitally seemed to add special force to it: the abbreviation made it sound as if you were so extraordinarily busy that you didn't even have time to say a word like "always," let alone a phrase like "all the time." 24-7 implied that you had given up telling time with an old-fashioned analog time piece: it was as if your whole life, not only your watch, had become digital. 24-7 sounds as if your time is not only occupied constantly but that you are preoccupied with it. A 24-7 person has no free time, no time for anything but serious business. 24-7 sounds like you prefer measuring time the way the military does: in strictly calibrated numerical units; time expressed numerically is not only time that is literally counted but time that must be accounted for. More ... 

Letter of the Law
Back  Habeas Corpus and All That
by Adam Freedman

As every schoolboy knows: "Latin is a language as dead as dead can be / First it killed the Romans, and now it's killing me."

But if Latin is so dead, how come lawyers use it every day? It can't be for the sake of enhanced communication, since very few clients these days are actually ancient Romans. No, lawyers continue to use "Law Latin" — a particular subspecies of the language — because of the power that comes from using obscure terms of art. They know what they mean when seek testimony by subpoena (under penalty), and declare that contracts are void ab initio (from the beginning), even if their clients don't.

It's hard to imagine any other profession getting away with this. A doctor, for example, wouldn't dare speaking to his patients in ancient Greek, even though it worked perfectly well for Hippocrates. And it would be the rare accountant who tried using Roman numerals, even when filling out a Form MXLIV (1044). More ... 

Ada's Ardor
Back  Solder
by Ada Brunstein

When I was little, my father had a workshop in the basement of our house in New Jersey. That's where he designed and built power supplies for trains, buses, and cars. The heart of the workshop lay behind two doors that swung open to a desk, cluttered with wires, circuit boards, and lots of cold inflexible material. The pastels that adorned my room, the soft fuzz that covered the animals on my bed were nowhere to be found in my father's workshop. This was a place where the sharp-edged gadgets of an engineer were transformed into useful, important things.

The soldering iron was one of the few colorful pieces of equipment on that cluttered desk. The circuit boards were bright green, but I had no interest in green, I went for the iron in the light blue stand. Swirling out of the blue base was a metal spiral inside of which the iron rested. The iron looked like a large screwdriver, with a blue handle and a metal rod jutting out. The rod, the part of the iron that heated up, fit into the protective spiral, which never got hot. If my twelve-year-old hand happened to brush against it when the iron was on, I wouldn't feel a thing. 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

In 1963, Victor Borge, the Danish-American humorist (1909–2000), introduced one of his two most famous language routines, inflationary language. (The other was phonetic punctuation.) At that time, he observed that anything that had to do with money was going up — except language. Because the English language has so many numbers hidden in words like wonderful, before, and create; he inflated all these numbers to meet the economy — "to rise to the occasion." And so, to be prepared for the rising inflation, he suggested that we add one to each of the embedded numbers so that before became "befive," wonderful was promoted to "twoderful," and create to "crenine." He renamed California "Califivenia."

Now, forty-five years later, the language still mirrors the devaluation of the dollar; still echoes the sad fact that we now get less for our money; still prepares us "to stoop to the occasion." In the following recessionary story, numbers and letters deflate instead of inflate, and any word that has a comparative element is changed to its lower or lesser counterpart. More ... 


Our Crazy English Expressions — Richard Lederer

The Teaching Ache — Bruce Bromley

Words, Don't Fail Me Now — Billy Thompson

Language and the Human Species — Pamela Sewell Saur

Vocabula Revisited: Bad Writing Kills — Christopher D. Ringwald

Fiction: Old Egg — Mark Stevens

A Poem — Ruth Maassen


Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — Twat: The Origin of a Rude Word

Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — Me and Him Go to the Mall

Kevin Mims: The Common Reader — Happy Camper?

David Isaacson: Vogue Words and Buzz Phrases — 24-7

Adam Freedman: Letter of the Law — Habeas Corpus and All That

Ada Brunstein: Ada's Ardor — Solder


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