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Losing Touch with a "Friend" by Keith Gogan
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Silence, Language, & Society
A guide to style and meaning, grace and compassion
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Three Books by
Robert Hartwell Fiske
Editor and Publisher of
The Vocabula Review
The Dictionary of Disagreeable English
In the February 2009 Vocabula
by Eric Torgersen
On New Year's Day, 2001, arguably the actual first day of the new millennium, Andersen Consulting, since 1989 one of the two separate units of Andersen Worldwide (itself the successor of Arthur Andersen, Inc.) became independent under the name Accenture. The firm had hired consultants to come up with a new name, but they chose one thought up by an employee in the Oslo office. It was said to mean Accent on the Future, but I suspect some genetic relationship to "licensure," or even "adventure." In any case, it sounds like a word, doesn't it? Only after I checked the OED did I feel confident in asserting that it's not, quite. Some claimed that its invention was an attempt to shake Andersen's connection with the Enron scandal, but the company says it was already in the works revealing only admirable foresight before that scandal broke. More ...
by Richard Lederer
Who was the only American president born in Illinois?
Some would say Abraham Lincoln, but the answer is Ronald Reagan, who was born in Tampico, Illinois, and who went to high school in nearby Dixon.
Abraham Lincoln began life in Hodgensville, Kentucky, the first president to enter the earthly stage outside the original thirteen colonies. The day was February 12, 1809, so let us celebrate the bicentennial of the man many consider to be our greatest president. And let us honor him by celebrating his humor. More ...
Book ExcerptThe Artful Nuance
by Rod L. Evans, Ph.D.
A naked person is totally bare, wearing nothing; a nude person has become nude by removing clothes: "A newborn baby is naked at its birth, but a woman who disrobes and is a model for an artist is nude."
Aggression can be naked but never nude. In many other contexts, though, the terms are interchangeable. More ...
Culture and SocietyC'est Le Vol
by John Kilgore
It may or may not be true that language determines thought in subtle ways that Chinese favors mathematical thinking, for instance, or German top-down organizational schemes, or Inuit a connoisseur's appreciation of snow but anyone who dabbles in a second language soon comes to feel that it does. Take the ordinary American and British expression to make money a case much in point, in these dog days of the imploding economy, and long (I confess) a pet peeve of mine. Stay within English all of your life, and the phrase seems perfectly literal and transparent. Making money is simply what you do when you serve fries, or work on the line as a unionized laborer, or go to the office each day to run a large corporation or a drug cartel. What else would you call it? More ...
Vocabula RevisitedFor the Benefit & Helpe of Ladies and Gentlewomen: A Historical Review of Dictionaries and Their Eccentricities
by Verónica Albin
"When I use a word," said Humpty Dumpty, "it means just what I choose it to mean neither more nor less."
Although the major European countries have been prolific in bringing dictionaries to press since the early seventeenth century, dictionary production in the twentieth century has grown exponentially in all the major European languages. It is worth mentioning that although in the last two decades there have been revolutionary electronic innovations in format, searchability, presentation, and design, in many fundamental respects monolingual general dictionaries produced today, whether in the United States or in Europe, are very similar to those of earlier centuries. More ...
by Francis Blessington
Let's delve into the graffiti of cave stone:
Bethumped with WordsPeanut: Arachis Hypogaea Origin of the Names
by Bill Casselman
The peanut is not a nut.
It is the bean of a legume enclosed in a fibrous pod.
A filbert is a nut.
A pecan is a nut.
Dick Cheney is a nut.
So, is peanut an apt common name for the plant? No way.
Ground nut is not much better.
Yes, the peanut is by a bit of a stretch a pea.
But, to repeat, it is not a nut. A peanut is the oval seed enclosed in the fibrous pod of a plant that is a member of the large bean family, whose botanical family name is Fabaceae. More ...
Harrison's CornerThe Truffles of Absurdity
by Carey Harrison
I promised, dear faithful reader (or dear new reader, or errant but returning reader we cherish the lost lamb) to report on the classroom antics of my undergraduate and graduate college English classes at the City University of New York, that hive of intellectual ferment. That said, a fermented hive suggests mead, a delicious drink. I'm not sure that’s what we produce, in my classroom. I teach an undergraduate class on Virginia Woolf this semester, which is going very nicely albeit slowly, as intended. We manage about five pages of To The Lighthouse per class, parsing this poetic text line by line in a fashion that drives some students understandably crazy with tedium (yesterday two fell asleep in the couch in my office, which holds thirty-five for reasons I shall explain in due course, and therefore serves as a classroom), but fills others with inexpressible delight. Or so I like to think. More ...
The Common ReaderChristina Rossetti: Poet, Muse, Lover
by Kevin Mims
For more than three decades I have been involved in a love affair with an older woman 128 years older, to be precise. The object of my affection is Christina Rossetti. I think she would have approved of this bit of necrophilia on my part. Much of her work is haunted by dead lovers. As Jan Marsh, one of her biographers, puts it: "Throughout Christina's verse, ghostly lovers return in the dark, frighteningly intent on reclaiming their loved ones." Christina herself is the ghostly lover who over and over again returns to me in the dark. More ...
Letter of the LawWhen Corporations Fall in Love
by Adam Freedman
As far as the law is concerned, every corporation is a "person." And why not? Just like the two-legged variety, a corporate person can own property, earn income, and pay taxes. But with Valentine's Day upon us, the question is can a corporation fall in love?
Judging from the language used by their executives and lawyers, the answer is yes. More ...
Vocabula button free for the asking.
I trust I'm not the only one who ever wondered how the order of names of businesses, partnerships, and the like is decided? Is the first name the dominant business partner? Is it done alphabetically? Or did they just flip a coin? Nevertheless, once the order has been decided upon and the combination becomes successful and popular, it becomes irreversibly fixed in our everyday lexicon. The sound of it not only rolls off the tongue fluently, but it feels and sounds awkward to voice it any other way. This is particularly true of entertainers. Case in point: Abbott and Costello. No one ever referred to them as Costello and Abbott. That sounds like a law partnership. Abbott and Costello, on the other hand, sounds like a six-syllable synonym for a comedy team. The same goes for Penn and Teller. Other twosomes that have become unidirectionally recognized are Laurel and Hardy, Rowan and Martin, Laverne and Shirley, Sigfried and Roy, Simon and Garfunkle, Martin and Lewis, Beevis and Butt-Heat. Change the order, and you come up with a strange sounding tandem like Chong and Cheech. 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 ...
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 ...
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 ...
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