The Vocabula Review

May 2008, Vol. 10, No. 5 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.

Praise and Criticism

I loved this and cannot wait to show it to my 11-year old grandson, but I do not for a minute believe all the material was gathered from the writings and sayings of school children, as clever, amusing and as inventive as they are.

Dick Stivelman

Richard Lederer replies: Thank you for your inquiry about the authenticity of "The World According to Student Bloopers" and for sharing the piece with your precocious grandson. My fractured chronicle of the human race is the loving labor of years of collecting and receiving tens of thousands of fluffs and flubs and goofs and gaffes. A small number of the bloopers I've spotted myself, but, for the most part, I rely on the kindness of strangers, who submit the verbal gems to me at my public appearances or send them to me in the mail. Because these kind strangers seldom include the original essay containing the blooper, I must rely on the veracity of my contributors. I swear on a stack of dictionaries that I myself never make up any of the botches and bloopers that cavort in my books and articles.

The eleventh edition of "America's Best-Selling Dictionary," Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Frederick C. Mish, editor in chief), does as much as, if not more than, the famously derided Webster's Third International Dictionary to discourage people from taking lexicographers seriously. "Laxicographers" all, the Merriam-Webster staff reminds us that dictionaries merely record how people use the language, not how people ought to use the language. Some dictionaries, and certainly this edition of Merriam-Webster, actually promotes illiteracy.

Excellent! This must be hammered home constantly!

Yes: I am a "prescriptivist": I believe it is the duty, of those publishing what they purport to be a book of meanings (semantics) of the words of a language, to be sure that the provenance/etymology of the meaning(s) for that word is sound and justifiable.

I do not think it enough that (for example), an eye-catching metaphor or simile or plain error (briefly used, say, by the press) that then suddenly becomes popularly understood to mean what, in fact, it does not mean, must then have that eye-catching rhetorical and temporary semantic device/error accepted and approved everywhere (as a new or additional or alternative meaning) by the educated and those who would educate.

I have two letters from OED that oppose my opinion abovementioned.

This is not a merely purist point.

English Law (which is the law of the USA and the Commonwealth, too) is balanced on precedent decisions argued in English in careful detail and preserved for future guidance.

The whim of a current "popularizing" editor of the OED should not casually put in jeopardy the written meaning of a former bench of judges of appeal.

John Gibson

[Mark Halpern's] essay on hacking and (non)punishment for it and like computer crimes is a breath of fresh air to me. I have spent many moments mining Dante's Inferno for appropriate replacements for wrist-slapping, or even rewards, for individuals who are major felons causing incalculable damage to vast numbers of people.

Reflecting on this dismal state of affairs, it occurred to me that Hegel was the ultimate root of this (European Enlightenment) folly of non-punishment. For, wishing to replace all human error by rationally-designed (by "public intellectuals"/Intellectual Commissars) Bureaus, the concept of the public good has disappeared, and crime and punishment are now dealt with in "criminal justice systems." No justice; only process. What the processes of the Criminal Justice System spits out now defines Justice. (Dike is an immortal, and She will avenge our slighting of Her divinity.)

Hegel's bureaus, in short, comprise a sort of fire-wall separating victims from the perpetrators of serious felonies which spawn huge damages to vast numbers of individuals. (Read what the EU is going through; it was designed by one Alexandre Vladimirovich Kojčve — a Hegel scholar and proponent of Hegelian progress-through-bureaucracies — when everyone else was a Marxist; the French don't like the fact that their bread is more and more difficult to obtain.)

The upshot of all this is, of course, that the demos has lost faith in the judiciary, and this will almost certainly lead to demands for a strong man — a return to the Ward Bosses of yesteryear. (An Italian friend of mine tells me that her mother admired the local Mafia, because it was so willing to help fellow Italians in their day-to-day troubles. And, I have a friend whose condo is in Alexandria, just across from the Pentagon; her condo's parking-lot is patrolled by Mafia members; they keep the parking-lot safe 24/7!)

Richard Burnett Carter

I didn't read [Mark Halpern's] article word for word because I have to watch my blood pressure.

I think the death sentence is the only appropriate punishment for hackers of any kind, but [the author's] anti-glorification law sounds fairly reasonable.

My favorite computer protection situation is that when you have a problem with, say, Norton's software, as I do on a backup computer, you have to turn all your protection OFF in order to avail yourself of what Norton might be able to do (online) to fix the problem. Since I once had a computer that accidentally came back from the fix-it shop without the protection installed and it took less than 24 hours for it to be brought to a halt from viruses, I am loath to do this.

I'll have to someday, though, because so many software programs can only be started by going online to the mother company.

It's all so horrible. But I can't give up my PC. It's my world.

Bonnie Furlong

Other Observations

Here's a poem that Garrison Keillor included recently in his Writer's Almanac:

"Words That Make My Stomach Plummet"

by Mira McEwan

Committee Meeting. Burden of Proof.?
The Simple Truth. Trying To Be Nice.?
Honestly. I Could Have Died. I Almost Cried.?
It's Only a Cold Sore.?
It's My Night. Trust Me. Dead Serious.?
I Have Everything All Under Control.?
I'm Famous For My Honesty.?
I'm Simply Beside Myself. We're On The Same Page.?
Let's Not Reinvent The Wheel.?
For The Time Being. There Is That.
I'm Not Just Saying That.?
I Just Couldn't Help Myself. I Mean It.??

from Ecstatic. © Allbook Books, 2007

OK. I thought it would be fun to provide a sequel bearing the title:

"Having Read That"

by Anonymous

Let's Not Go There. Too Much Information.
Having Said That.
Neither Here Nor There. No Problem.

Please help "Anonymous" (that's me) finish this sequel. Don't be concerned with calling it a poem. What's needed are nine additional lines and they should have a structure roughly similar to the original. They needn't be expressions that turn your stomach. Stuff that's hackneyed, tired, otiose, vapid, insipid, or jejune will do just fine. Or whatever inspires you at the moment.

Laurent A. Beauregard

See anything wrong
on this page?

Want to read more?
See the Vocabula essay archive.

The Vocabula Review.

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.


Print this page

Previous page Previous page Next page Next page
The Vocabula Review
5A Holbrook Court
Rockport, Massachusetts 01966
United States
Made in the USA  
Editor: Robert Hartwell Fiske
Tel: (978) 309-8730
Copyright © 1999–2014 Vocabula Communications Company. All rights reserved.
The contents of this site are the copyright property of Vocabula Communications Company.
Republication or redistribution of The Vocabula Review's contents on another website, in another publication, or to nonsubscribers is expressly prohibited without the prior written permission of The Vocabula Review. Copy policy.
Vocabula is a registered service mark of Vocabula Communications Company.
The Vocabula Review is a registered service mark of Vocabula Communications Company.
Vocabula Books is a registered service mark of Vocabula Communications Company.
Vocabula logo is a registered trademark of Vocabula Communications Company.
"A society is generally as lax as its language" and "Well spoken is half sung" are registered service marks of Vocabula Communications Company.
All six marks are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
TVR signature tune copyright © 2001 Vocabula Communications Company. All rights reserved.
The views expressed on these pages do not necessarily reflect those of The Vocabula Review or its editor.
Donate to The Vocabula Review.