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May 2008, Vol. 10, No. 5 There are now   145   people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

Vocabula On Call
Coming in the June 2008 issue of The Vocabula Review:
"Our Crazy English Expressions" by Richard Lederer
The June issue is due online June 22.
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.



 In the May 2008 Vocabula

by Richard Burnett Carter

It is told in the book Gestes of Jesters that there was once a king whose coffers were being depleted at an alarming rate by his six daughters, all of whom insisted that their skirts be pleated with very small pleats. This involved a difficult, and time-consuming bit of sewing, and so the cost was great, even though the pleats were not. It was depleting the king's coffers.

(The Court Jester is recorded as remarking that it was odd that it was pleats that had depleted the treasury's coffers.) More ... 

The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest

Emphasis and rhythm are two sides of the same feature. The rhythm of a sentence consists of stressed and unstressed elements that together create alternating patterns of sound and thought. Although we often think of rhythm in connection with poetry or music, it is also an aspect of prose — a harmonic sequence that readers respond to with unconscious pleasure. Consider how rhythm and emphasis work together in these two sentences:

If the liberal arts were for the few, philosophy was for the fewer. — Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization (48)

Baiting has all the glamour of a factory shift and considerably more of the danger. — Sebastian Junger, The Perfect Storm (52)

More ... 

Early in the last century, the towering playwright George Bernard Shaw toiled ceaselessly on his universal alphabet to unite the world with a language all could master easily. We could then use it, he reasoned, to communicate harmoniously with all our global brethren. Esperanto is spoken by perhaps 2 million people, about the same number who speak Slovenian, but is far from universally known or accepted.

Esperanto ("He who hopes"), an artificial language of global communication, is known and spoken in some 115 countries, more than half the world's nations, concentrated in central and Eastern Europe, South America, China, and elsewhere in Asia. Worldwide, there may be people who use Esperanto as a second language, but it will never rival the popularity of Hannah Montana. More ... 

by Richard Lederer

English is the most widely spoken language in the history of our planet, used in some way by at least one out of every seven human beings around the globe. Half of the world's books are written in English, and the majority of international telephone calls are made in English. Sixty percent of the world's radio programs are beamed in English, and more than 70 percent of international mail is written and addressed in English. Eighty percent of all computer texts, including all websites, are stored in English.

English has acquired the largest vocabulary of all the world's languages, perhaps as many as two million words, and has generated one of the noblest bodies of literature in the annals of the human race. Nonetheless, it is now time to face the fact that English is a crazy language. More ... 

Vocabula Revisited
Back  A Little Poem
by Herbert Stern

Oy, God, send me a little poem,
you'll never miss it.
Sweet gottenyu!
You know how I could use it.
Not Paradise lost, noch, or the Book of Job
I'm asking, only something normal,
a little poem proper to me.
More ... 

by John Kilgore

How she met Jeff, her hubbie after all, father of her kids, eventually her collaborator in a successful, necessary career change — Karen, afterwards, was not good at explaining. But then, she was no great shakes at explaining anything: had a way of dropping her voice abruptly, or winging off on sudden tangents, or stopping dead in mid-sentence in fourth period Lit I to stare out the window, transfixed by the sight of a squirrel sauntering along the power line.

Oh, she rambled, she droned, she confused the kids. She put her beginnings last and her endings first and her middles nowhere. And she knew it. That was what brought her to the Powers Public Speaking Seminars in the first place. More ... 

Back  A Poem
by Ray Succre

Eaves Hounder

I know where you live, Cacophony,
rouster of phonemes;
I've gone through your houses. More ... 

Back  A Poem
by Desi Di Nardo

Your Old Bathwater

What brought me to the green lopsided fence
Shuffling in clear plastic sandals
The sand particles with tiny rocks
Wedged nicely in the creases of my toes
Was more than anticipation More ... 

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

The Elder Statesman
Back  Inamorata
by Clark Elder Morrow

Anyone who has fallen deeply in love will know the solace and comfort that reading Stendhal's De l'Amour will provide. This 1822 compilation of the Frenchman's observations and hastily written notes on the subject of erotic love constitute (for many people) the only reading that the lovesick and lovelorn have any patience for (as Stendhal would shrewdly observe, one can be lovesick without being lovelorn, the latter designating someone whose passion is unrequited, whereas the former is merely stricken ill with longing). After all, as we all know very well, once the arrowshaft is firmly implanted in the venus cava, and the visions of the beloved take complete control of your imagination, you are going to squirm spasmodically at the very thought of settling down to a Verdi opera, or to opening a novel of any length. No, only Stendhal On Love will do — only his highly analytical but deeply sympathetic jottings will command your attention and assuage your restlessness long enough for you to continue turning one page after another. More ... 

The Last Word
Back  This Stupid Word
by Christopher Orlet
Americans ... you have taught me this stupid word: cool. Cool, cool, cool! Coolness, coolness, you've got to be cool. Coolness! When I speak like I speak now, with passion, you smile and laugh at me! I've got passion. — Oriana Fallaci

When did the word cool stop being cool? Probably in the 1980s when it took on the new and rather prosaic slang sense of terrific or marvelous. Nearly all words evolve and change meaning, but few English words have had as many lives as cool. Originally a verb, it derives from the Old English cōl, "to freeze." In the twelfth century, it would appear as "kele," in the sense of "to stir or skim off the top." In Love's Labour's Lost, Shakespeare uses the spelling "keel," as in "while Greasy Joan doth keel the pot." Skip ahead a century and we find the phrase "a cool million." Another century goes by, and the word has taken on yet another meaning, "calmly audacious," as in "He's one cool customer." More ... 

Bethumped with Words
Back  English Words Borrowed from Chinese
by Bill Casselman

Among the English terms borrowed from the Chinese language are several containing dai and tai, dialect forms of ta, which means "great" or "big" in standard Chinese.

Tycoon, borrowed through its Japanese form, taikun, itself borrowed from Chinese = ta "great" + kian "prince," with the adoptive meaning of "great prince of commerce," that is, "wealthy merchant." More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  The South American Novel, Alas
by Carey Harrison

I'm looking for a word.

Here's why: I'm currently teaching a course on the South American novel; by teaching it, I hoped to overcome a longstanding resistance to its many celebrated examples. Surely I would at last be convinced by books that are so clamorously praised — you know the titles, reader — on every hand. My unease, my sense of being scammed, persists. What is the word for such stuff, material that glitters and that experts insist is gold when you know quite well it isn't? Fool's gold, perhaps? But that sounds as if any smart person could tell it from real gold, and this doesn't seem to fit the case here. More ... 

by Kevin Mims

It all seems so hazy now, perhaps it was just a dream. One Sunday night, about two years ago, I couldn't sleep. An essay I had written had been hanging fire at a magazine for several weeks and the editor had promised me a response sometime the following day. Anxious about my chances of being published, I wandered out to the living room at midnight and popped a copy of the movie Just Like Heaven into the DVD player. Starring Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo, Just Like Heaven is a dumb romantic comedy, but that didn't bother me. I am an unrepentant fan of chick flicks. My wife loves them because they are sweet and sentimental and always have happy endings. I like them because they always have hot babes in starring roles. Thus chick flicks satisfy the entertainment needs of us both. On weekday evenings, we often put a ROM–COM we've watched numerous times into the DVD player and let it run in the background while we play gin rummy. It's sort of like having friends over who are hanging out in the other room. We catch brief snatches of funny conversation and amusing storytelling and occasional glimpses of inappropriate smooching and necking. More ... 

Vogue Words and Buzz Phrases
Back  Electronic Language: Between Speech and Writing
by David Isaacson

People who are discriminating about abbreviations distinguish between initialisms and acronyms. Initialisms, like AAA, if they are spoken aloud, have to be sounded out letter by letter: if we want to say American Automobile Association we pronounce the letter A three times in a row or we say Triple A. On the other hand, an acronym, like SCUM, which stands for the now thankfully defunct organization called the "Society for Cutting Up Men," is pronounced as if it were a word. Acronyms like SCUM and SNAFU have more resonance than most initialisms because they are puns, like SCUM, or they are neologisms, like SNAFU ("situation normal, all fucked up", or, euphemized, "situation normal, all fouled up"). Some acronyms have an additional fillip of pleasure when, like SNAFU, they also seem to be onomatopoetic. More ... 

Letter of the Law
Back  Heir Today
by Adam Freedman

The meek shall inherit the earth, of course, but the brazen are sure to contest the will. Who knows? It might turn out that the meek have but a contingent remainder, which means they get the earth only if a prior condition is fulfilled.

The language of wills is the most conservative in the legal lexicon — a beacon for those who long to bequeath their chattels real to the aforesaid residuary legatees, but distinctly less illuminating for the rest of us. Lawyers say that such archaic terms are strictly necessary, but as we shall see, the lawyers are wrong. More ... 

When it comes to "nym" words (acronyms, pseudonyms, synonyms, homonyms, antonyms, and so on), it's safe to say that acronyms are the most frequently encountered. In fact, in some "alphabet agencies," it's hard to communicate without an LOA (List of Acronyms). But there are many other nym words that we use quite often that might be worth reviewing at this time. Here are some that you might recognize in everyday communication: More ... 

Although few people can complain of another's grammatical mistakes with impunity, that is, without revealing their own, we are hopeful that "Disagreeable English" will encourage us all to pay more heed to how the language is used — by ourselves as well as by others — while bettering our ability to speak and write it. More ... 

We all know far too well how to write everyday English, but few of us know how to write elegant English — English that is expressed with music as well as meaning, style as well as substance. The point of this feature is not to suggest that people should try to emulate these examples of elegant English but to show that the language can be written with grace and polish — qualities that much contemporary writing is bereft of and could benefit from. More ... 

Words often ill serve their purpose. When they do their work badly, words militate against us. Poor grammar, sloppy syntax, misused words, misspelled words, and other infelicities of style impede communication and advance only misunderstanding. But there is another, perhaps less well-known, obstacle to effective communication: too many words. More ... 

Inadequate though they may be, words distinguish us from all other living things. Indeed, our worth is partly in our words. Effective use of language — clear writing and speaking — is a measure of our humanness. What's more, the more words we know and can correctly use, the broader will be our understanding of self, the keener our acquaintance with humankind. More ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back  Mock Merriam

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 promote illiteracy. More ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back  Letters to the Editor

The Vocabula Review welcomes letters to the editor. Please include your name, email address, and professional affiliation. Email your letters to editor@vocabula.com. More ... 

 Features

The King's Coughers — Richard Burnett Carter

Make Your Point with Emphasis and Rhythm — Donna Gorrell

A Delicious Language to Bring Us All Together — Marion DS Dreyfus

English Is a Crazy Language — Richard Lederer

Vocabula Revisited: A Little Poem — Herbert Stern

Fiction: How to Approach a Man — John Kilgore

A Poem — Ray Succre

A Poem — Desi Di Nardo

 Columnists


Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Inamorata

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — This Stupid Word

Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — English Words Borrowed from Chinese

Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — The South American Novel, Alas

Kevin Mims: The Common Reader — Friends with OCD: More Adventures in Freelancing

David Isaacson: Vogue Words and Buzz Phrases — Electronic Language: Between Speech and Writing

Adam Freedman: Letter of the Law — Heir Today

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