Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Disagreeable English

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Good Words   Calendar Vocabula for the First Time Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher

 1999   2000   2001   2002   2003   2004   2005   2006   2007   2008   2009   2010 

 In the June 2010 Vocabula

by Richard Lederer

Some people are bird watchers. I watch word-botchers. Over the years I've cobbled together five anthologies of fluffs and flubs, goofs and gaffes, blunders, boo-boos, botches, boners, and bloopers. They're the fuel that runs the motor of my career as a fly-by-the-roof-of-the-mouth, word-struck, word-besotted, word-bethumped language guy.

I adhere firmly to the Blooper Snooper's Code of Ethics — that the collector takes what he or she finds and contrives nothing. My specimens are all genuine, certified, and unretouched. No way could I concoct the vivid headline "Grandmother of eight makes hole in one." No way could I improve the receptionist's voice-mail advice "Please leave a message. The doctors are out of the office or else on the phone and me, too." No way could I manufacture the sign in an Acapulco restaurant: "The manager has personally passed all the water served here." No way could I come close to matching the students who wrote, "The equator is an imaginary lion that runs around the world forever" and "In 1957, Eugene O'Neill won a Pullet Surprise." These masterpieces of mangled messages are far funnier than anything I could fabricate from whole cloth, even with a lunatic fringe. More ... 

by Richard Carter

In this essay, I reflect on one of Dorothy Parker's love poems, "The Small Hours":1

No more my little song comes back;
And now of nights I lay
My head on down, to watch the black
And wait the unfailing gray.

Oh, sad are winter nights, and slow;
And sad's a song that's dumb;
And sad it is to lie and know
Another dawn will come,

comparing it favorably with Sappho's lovely poem of the deep night's longing for an absent lover:

The moon's set,
and Pleiades;
Midnight is come
and I lie alone

and comparing both of these unfavorably to Andrew Hudgins's counterfeit of a poem, "The Funeral Service,"2 where he rejects the natural silence of a son's grief at his father's death with a disorderly account of the way his particular poetic brilliance trumps a son's feelings:

... It felt surreal
to hear Dad's stoic control
and loneliness spiral
heavenward on genial praise, real
enough for the general,
one supposes. An orchestral
hymn flared through the stereo's cloth grill.
Cold waves over the deep water roll,
we sang, some voices shrill,
mine guttural,
my brother's slow as a crawl—
More ... 

by Robert Hartwell Fiske

On August 23, 2007, The Wall Street Journal published What Did U $@y? Online Language Finds Its Voice, an article in which I was quoted.

Soon afterward, lexicographer Grant Barrett — whose specialty is slang and "new usages" (though he was interviewed for the WSJ piece, his words were not used) — wrote, rather bitterly, on his blog:

Robert Hartwell Fiske isn't a linguist. He's a self-involved curmudgeon — that's not a compliment, but a criticism of his intellectual limitations — who is the go-to guy for the same kind of dismissive claptrap you'll hear from anybody who's speaking on language outside their area of expertise.

In response to this, I commented, also on Barrett's blog: More ... 

Recommending that you stop writing press releases and start writing news releases is not a play on words. It is sound advice.

In common parlance, "press release" and "news release" mean the same thing. However, the terminology people use often betrays a fundamental difference in how they put this information together and how well it is accepted by the media. More ... 

Specialty Dictionary
Back to Top  Glossary of Phobias
by Fredd Culbertson

Ablutophobia — Fear of washing or bathing.

Acarophobia — Fear of itching or of the insects that cause itching.

Acerophobia — Fear of sourness.

Achluophobia — Fear of darkness.

Acousticophobia — Fear of noise.

Acrophobia — Fear of heights.

Aerophobia — Fear of drafts, air swallowing, or airbourne noxious substances.

Aeroacrophobia — Fear of open high places.

Aeronausiphobia — Fear of vomiting secondary to airsickness.

Agateophobia — Fear of insanity. More ... 

Vocabula Revisited
Back to Top  The Analysis of Meaning
by Barbara Ann Kipfer

Definitions are dictionaries' descriptions of meaning. Writing dictionary definitions depends on research and human judgments; each item presents a new set of problems. Definers must choose from a multiplicity of available methods in carrying out their duties as describers of the language. A person analyzing language divides meaning into senses and then writes definitions. This is done, usually, by looking at the citation (quotation) slips, and dividing the slips into separate meanings. The methodology from that point involves analysis and synthesis of lexical material.

There are two basic methods of ordering definitions within an entry — historically or by frequency of use. The way your dictionary orders the entries can alter your understanding of the book, making it sometimes discouraging to look for what you need if you do not understand that order. These first editorial decisions are the focus of this essay. More ... 

The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest

A Poem
Back to Top  For H.D.T.
by Keith Gogan

Emersonian spark
Fanned to flame by
Wings of a fly in his brain
That buzzed with
Uncivilized disobedience
Toward Concord More ... 

A Poem
Back to Top  Deluxe Starter Kit
by Eileen Hennessy

Newest hottest thing
seen in the latest greatest
green eyes that don't lie
on the coast as is commonly

Comes in various packages
opened nights and weekends
straight in off the streets
searchable even in insomniac
doze More ... 

The Elder Statesman
Back to Top  In the Classroom of the Gods
by Clark Elder Morrow

The characters of ancient Greek mythology are still — after 2500 years — helping us absorb great spiritual truths. I say this because I, for one, find myself making ongoing psychological discoveries in the playground of myth — discoveries that seem to shed a good deal of light on many human fundamentals. I will give you an example. There appears to be a difference between the desire we feel for something in our presence or possession, and the desire we feel for what is distant. You may yearn with equal strength in both cases, but the quality or nature of the wanting varies subtly between the two. The way I feel in the presence of the woman I lust after will be different from when she is away, when I am merely thinking of her and not observing her. Plato, in the Cratylus, explained the gods Pothos (yearning) and Himeros (longing) by saying that the former was an embodiment of the desire for what is distant, and the latter the yearning for what is present.

These gods help explain, for me, what was once an apparent contradiction between two adages: "distance makes the heart grow fonder" and "appetite grows with the food it feeds upon." Both saws are right, of course: you can grow in your desire for crème brulee while eating it, and that desire can increase while remembering the flavor of it afterwards. Pothos will flutter above you, scattering on your head his own brand of divine sparkles, while you reminisce; Himeros will touch your heart with his peculiar magic as you wolf down the delectable mélange. Both of these provocative deities are the offspring of simple Attraction Between Two Things, which was known to the early Greeks as Eros. Even in ancient times, growing sophistication meant growing specialization. More ... 

Bethumped with Words
Back to Top  Frog! The Origin of a Racist Insult
by Bill Casselman

Americans, Canadians, and Brits all use the racist insult frog to disparage a citizen of France or a French-Canadian. What is the origin of this abusive term?

The insult is of British provenance.

About one dozen explanations of frog exist, most of them glutinous with the specious stickum of folk etymology, that is, bad guesses by semiliterate "experts," the sort of twit who wishes to pontificate while knowing full well that he or she knows nothing of the term's history and so is free to make it up. More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back to Top  It's Out There
by Carey Harrison

Out there. This is a phrase not familiar to me, in its current usage, until fairly recently (and for me, "fairly recently" could span twenty years or so). When I first took up my current teaching position, some fifteen years ago, I was intrigued to hear my colleagues say of me, He's out there! and to me, directly, You're out there! I wasn't quite sure what they meant — I'm still less than entirely sure — nor was I sure whether it was a compliment or not. I'm still not certain about that either. Then again, perhaps they themselves weren't entirely certain on that score since the term gets used with an interesting combination of admiration and mockery. He's out there — he's fearless and extravagant? Or a little loopy, not to say out of control? The daring young man on the flying trapeze, or the show-off doomed eventually to fall off the wire? He's out there — but where exactly? On public view, everyone's fall guy? To say so means that you, the speaker, have taken the safe institutional position. You are not out there, you're discreet, making no waves, flying under the radar. It's an institutional byword, with its cocktail of praise and disparagement. Every department needs someone who's out there, just as every class needs a class clown. By contrast, all solo performers, all artists, all sportspeople, are surely out there. Where else could they be? When I heard it used about me, it reminded me of nothing — except perhaps that traditional baseball standby, outta here. (I was raised here in the United States, dear reader, despite my British birth and British locutions, acquired during the exactly 50 percent of my life spent there.) This is another phrase with two opposed implications, positive and negative. The ball may be "outta here" for a home run, or a protesting player or manager may be "outta here," tossed out of the game. More ... 

The Common Reader
Back to Top  The Chatterlings in Wordland
by Kevin Mims

If you are interested in exploring the differences between words whose meanings are nearly similar, your most eloquent guide might be Crabb's English Synonymes, a classic reference book about which Clark Morrow published a fine essay in the February 2006 issue of The Vocabula Review. Other helpful guides include Adrian Room's The Penguin Dictionary of Confusibles, Harry Shaw's Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions, Peter Melzer's The Thinker's Thesaurus, S. I. Hayakawa's Choose the Right Word, the Oxford American Writer's Thesaurus, or just about any language book with the word "usage" in its title: Harper's Dictionary of Contemporary Usage, Webster's Dictionary of English Usage, A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage by Bergen and Cornelia Evans, and so forth. If, however, you would like to interest a child in what distinguishes a word from its near synonyms, you might want to visit a rare bookstore and look for a copy of Michael Lipman's The Chatterlings in Wordland, originally published in 1928 and revised in 1935. More ... 

Summer Edition

In June, July, and August, The Vocabula Review will be published as summer editions; that is, we will publish Features and Columnists essays but few, if any, of the Departments (Disagreeable English, Clues to Concise Writing, etc.).

More Good Summer Reading

Let's see, we have logophiles, linguaphiles, verbivores, wordos, wordaholics, logolepts, sesquipedalians, etymologists — all lovers of words. But what do you call someone interested in the letters that make up the words? An alphabetaphile? An alphabetivore? An abecedarian? More ... 

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading — treading — till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through — More ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back to Top  Gotcha GrammarTM

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

Free in Vocabula
Back to Top  Vocabula Poll

"My bad." My what a clever and concise way of expressing regret or sorrow or acknowledging having made a mistake. More ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back to Top  Newly Coined Words

Have you recently coined a word? If so, tell us what it is and we may add it to our list of Newly Coined Words. For your neologism to qualify, it must be useful and not found on Google before we list it here. More ... 


Confessions of a Blooper Snooper — Richard Lederer

Dorothy Parker and Clapping — Richard Carter

Language Craven: A Definition — Robert Hartwell Fiske

Stop Writing Press Releases: Start Writing News Releases — Philip Yaffe

Specialty Dictionary: Glossary of Phobias — Fredd Culbertson

Vocabula Revisited: The Analysis of Meaning — Barbara Ann Kipfer

 Poetry and Fiction

A Poem: For H.D.T. — Keith Gogan

A Poem: Deluxe Starter Kit — Eileen Hennessy


Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — In the Classroom of the Gods

Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — Frog! The Origin of a Racist Insult

Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — It's Out There

Kevin Mims: The Common Reader — The Chatterlings in Wordland


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