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Good Words Vocabula Press Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher

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

Silence, Language, & Society

"a remarkable little volume" — Midwest Book Review

"Silence Language & Society ... is an elegant little book, and I am very pleased to own it." — Joseph Epstein

"Robert Hartwell Fiske is one of the most quotable writers alive, and Silence, Language & Society positively oozes epigrammatic sentences from every page. If you like great writing, and if you enjoy reading pithy observations about language, literature, and life, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of this book." — Slade Allenbury

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

Vocabula Bound 1 and Vocabula Bound 2

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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.

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

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Poem, Revised
54 Poems, Revisions, Discussions

Poem, Revised

You can order Poem, Revised from Amazon or Vocabula.

 In the March 2009 Vocabula

by Keith Gogan

I stood in my kitchen, puzzling over what I had just heard on National Public Radio: "What if your boss is also your friend?" My first thought was, "My boss is my friend — what's the problem?" As I listened to the rest of the promo for an upcoming radio program, I realized that "friend" meant "electronic friend," such as the kind that populate Facebook, the outrageously popular Internet social website. I then began to realize the ramifications of the question I had heard. It struck me, more powerfully than ever, that the word friend is broadening semantically, signaling what could be a reduction of the classical implications of the word. More ... 

The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest

by Donna Gorrell

Many people write about voice, but none agree on exactly what it is. When do we refer to voice instead of style, for example, or to voice instead of tone or persona or role? Unfortunately, I have the same problem: I can tell you how I think of voice, but my explanation will probably be no more complete than someone else's. What I'll do is show you some examples of writing where I see a clear voice and let you make your own assumptions. But I'll make a few too.

To start, let's look at these two sentences by Rachel Carson: More ... 

Abraham Lincoln, born 200 years ago, was our first presidential humorist.

A contemporary wrote of him: "When Lincoln tells a joke in a fireside group, his face loses its melancholy mask, his eyes sparkle and his whole countenance lights up." He was indeed a great common man who often told jokes to show how he felt about a subject. When he was running for the Illinois state legislature, an opponent of considerable standing dwelt on the fact that his father had been a senator, his grandfather a general, and his uncle a congressman. Abe then rose to give his family background: "Ladies and gentlemen, I come from a long line of married folks." And he added, "I don't know who my grandfather was. I am much more concerned to know what his grandson will be." More ... 

1. Using like when as is required.

Like I said, if the right situation comes along, it might be interesting. USE As.

• I live in New York, and I prefer living where the weather changes, like it does here. USE as. — Andy Rooney, on 60 Minutes

• She voted based on the information given to her at the time — just like President Bush did, just like Senator Edwards did, just like all senators did at that time. USE as.

Like would be correct in this sentence if it were written thus: More ... 

Book Excerpt
Back  Sixty Sonnets
by Ernest Hilbert

Calculated to reflect the sixty minutes in an hour of heightened imaginative contemplation, the poems in Ernest Hilbert's first book, Sixty Sonnets, contain memories of violence, historical episodes, humorous reflections, quiet despair, violent discord, public outrage, and private nightmares. A cast of fugitive characters share their desperate lives — failed novelists, forgotten literary critics, cruel husbands, puzzled historians, armed robbers, jobless alcoholics, exasperated girlfriends, high school dropouts, drowned children, and defeated boxers. More ... 

Vocabula Revisited
Back  The Ultimate Legal Thriller
by Kevin Mims

While picking through a box full of books at a yard sale many years ago, I came across a 1951 edition of Black's Law Dictionary with a price I couldn't resist: free. Although I'm not a lawyer, my battered old Black's, with the green imitation-leather binding, has been one of my favorite reference books almost since the moment I first opened it all those years ago.

One of the joys of browsing through an old dictionary is the encounter with strange-sounding words and oddball definitions. Black's 1951 edition has plenty of both. But it has much more to offer than your ordinary half-century-old reference book. Black's contains a wealth of epigrams, historical facts, cultural revelations, word histories, sound advice, mystical observations, and more. It contains horrifying descriptions of torture devices that will give you more chills than all the legal thrillers ever penned by Grisham or Turow. With its myriad terms dedicated to defining the legal status of women through the centuries, the book provides an inadvertent history of sexism in Western Civilization. It also contains thousands of antique Latin expressions, many of which have applications that go well beyond their strict legal interpretations. Some of these expressions contain words of wisdom that wouldn't be out of place in the Book of Proverbs or a collection of pithy aphorisms. I've sometimes thought of compiling a book called Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Black's Law Dictionary. Here are just a few examples of the kind of advice for living to be found in Black's 1951 edition. More ... 

A Poem
Back  Life in 4
by Marion DS Dreyfus

Talk   walk    food   mood   lack     jack     give      take More ... 

A Poem
Back  Handwork
by Kathleen M. Goldbach

Log Cabin, Shoo Fly, Golliwog's Cake Walk
       we picked our patterns from the scrapbag, my mother and I,
       we drafted our winter's work. More ... 

by Bill Casselman

Two sample sentences from New York City:

"To listen to Sarah Palin trying to complete any complex English sentence? A chaloshes."

"That off-Broadway musical comedy based on Sillman's Anatomy for Coroners? A chaloshes!"

Hallucious is an adjective first used chiefly by New York City Jews. An Anglo-Yiddish put-down adjective, immediately derived from the Polish Yiddish noun chaloshes (pronounced kha-LOO-shess). (Litvak Yiddish: khol-LAW-shess), its basic meaning: any thing vomit-making, utterly disgusting, loathsome. The original Yiddish expression is "a chaloshes." More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back  She Seek Connie Dad
by Carey Harrison

It's happening again. I'm sitting in my English Department office, staring at an undergraduate composition class paper — a summary of the short story the class has been reading — and I read: She seek Connie Dad, he was the man who kill her boyfriend. This is not a freshman paper; not a paper by a recent immigrant but one American born and educated, if that’s word I want; the student in question is about to graduate in a few months' time as a political science major. I can feel my head throbbing with rage. But who is there to kill, or even to berate? Not the student, who tells me in dignified but tearful outrage, when I point out her errors (all of the same sort as the sentence quoted), that none of her other professors have complained about her written English. More ... 

Letter of the Law
Back  Patently Obvious
by Adam Freedman

Necessity is the mother of invention. And invention, it turns out, is the mother of litigation.

Court dockets are clogged with lawsuits filed by "Patent Trolls" — persons who obtain patents solely for the purpose of launching infringement suits. This term — reportedly coined in 1991 by Peter Detkin, former general counsel of Intel — is, of course, highly informal. In technical legalese, trolls are known as "Non-Practicing Entities." More ... 

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

There once was a lovely lady logophile named Margana who was rumored to possess an uncanny knack of instantly rearranging letters of words and phrases to form new words — words that were not merely ALTERED but RELATED to the original words. Reports of her rewording facility reached a lexicographer who came to interview her and to evaluate the extent of this unusual talent. After the introductions and some small talk, he asked if that was her Camry in the driveway. When she answered, "Yes, it used to belong to my daughter MARCY, but now the CAMRY is MY CAR," he knew she had a unique verbal skill. To begin his assessment, he tested her with several short words. There was no hesitation as she rearranged DETOUR to ROUTED, RESCUE to SECURE, ANGERED to ENRAGED. He said BASTARD, she said SAD BRAT. His SEANCE was A SCENE to her; his SHAPE, her PHASE; BREASTS are BRA SETS; and a GOURMET begot MORE GUT. 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 ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back  Gotcha Grammar

Here are quotations from well-known, and less well-known, people, all of whom have used words ungrammatically. These are unnotable quotes, a collection of solecisms. More ... 


Losing Touch with a "Friend" — Keith Gogan

Make Your Voice Heard — Donna Gorrell

The Humor of Abraham Lincoln — Part 2 — Richard Lederer

Ten of the Worst, Most Annoying Grammatical Mistakes That People Make — Robert Hartwell Fiske

Book Excerpt: Sixty Sonnets — Ernest Hilbert

Vocabula Revisited: The Ultimate Legal Thriller — Kevin Mims

A Poem — Marion DS Dreyfus

A Poem — Kathleen M. Goldbach


Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — A Goy Gives the Origin of Four Yiddish Words? A Chaloshes!

Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — She Seek Connie Dad

Adam Freedman: Letter of the Law — Patently Obvious


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