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Thursday, July 24, 2014
October 2010, Vol. 12, No. 10 There are now   103   people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the November 2010 issue of The Vocabula Review:
"Does the Workshop Work? (Or How Much Work Could a Workshop Work if a Workshop Workshopped Work?)"
by Clay Reynolds

The November issue is due online November 14.

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 In the October 2010 Vocabula

Advertisement Click to order The Gregg Reference Manual
The Gregg Reference Manual

by William A. Sabin
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Few issues to do with written expression generate more disagreement than the use of the relative pronouns that and which. I think that the numerous commentaries on it — often style manual entries — tend to be too brief. In this essay-length discussion — which seeks, at its end, to produce a statement that could function as a style manual entry — I highlight matters that receive little attention: that there are not two but three types of relative clause; that the utterance of one pronoun involves greater effort than the utterance of the other.

I begin by citing two influential style manuals.

In polished American prose, that is used restrictively to narrow a category or identify a particular item being talked about {any building that is taller must be outside the state}; which is used nonrestrictively — … to add something about an item already identified {alongside the officer trotted a toy poodle, which is hardly a typical police dog}. Which should be used restrictively only when it is preceded by a preposition {the situation in which we find ourselves}. Otherwise it is almost always preceded by a comma, a parenthesis, or a dash. In British English, writers and editors seldom observe the distinction between the two words. (The Chicago Manual of Style: 230)

Consistent use of that for restrictive clauses and which for nonrestrictive clauses, which are set off with commas, will help make your writing clear and precise. (Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association: 55)

Some relative clauses cannot be easily classified in terms of the restrictive–nonrestrictive taxonomy; and the difficulty is due not merely to a lack of lucidity. Consider the sentence: "It was his sister's unquiet ghost which came to him." If "which" refers to the phrase "his sister's unquiet ghost," then what this phrase designates is not restricted by the relative clause. Yet the clause seems essential to the sentence. And essential relative clauses are often treated as restrictive — witness the APA manual: "Which clauses can merely add further information (nonrestrictive) or can be essential to the meaning (restrictive) of the sentence" (55). In the sentence "Be careful when you reach his house: he has a dog that bites," the clause "that bites" says something about the one dog at issue; it does not define which dog is being spoken about. It is nonrestrictive. Yet it is essential to the point being made. More ... 

by Richard Lederer

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The Writing Revolution: Cuneiform to the Internet

by Amalia E. Gnanadesikan
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Being both a bird watcher and a word botcher, I recently took my three granddaughters to the San Diego Wild Animal Park, where we attended "Frequent Flyers," the famous bird show. Our family enjoyed various avians strutting their stuff on the ground, hawks swooping down from the sky, and a gray parrot squawking and squeaking all sorts of sound effects.

In their ongoing narrative, two of the Wild Animal Park's trainers kept pronouncing the name of the San Diego Zoological Society as ZOO-uh-LAHJ-i-kul society. After the performance, I mentioned to the two young women in private that there are two, not three, o's in zoological so the proper sounding is ZOH-uh-LAHJ-i-kul. They told me they knew that but had been instructed by their bosses to say ZOO-uh-LAHJ-i-kul because people wouldn't understand the proper pronunciation.

That kind of dumbing down is almost as bad as a highly placed politician being told by his advisers that he will get more votes if he says NOO-kyuh-lur, rather than the correct NOO-klee-ur. More ... 

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

by Robert Hartwell Fiske
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For years, my elementary linguistics course has begun with discussion of the need to study language objectively. I discuss the emotional associations our language has because it connects us to our families and other groups, and the subjective, judgmental ways in which people often discuss language. People refer to "broken English," or protest that language varieties are being "mangled," "butchered," "massacred," "bastardized," and "abused." The people who use certain types of language are also maligned; it is not uncommon, in fact, to hear someone label a person stupid or illiterate on the basis of a single double negative or "has went." Such examples do show the need for an objective, scientific vocabulary and approach. Another basic idea is emphasizing that language is human, an ability of our species. Every human child quickly acquires knowledge of the phonology, morphology, and syntax of his or her first language and becomes an expert in using it to communicate. It is useful to set aside our view of language as an academic subject, with teachers, textbook and dictionary writers enforcing its rules, and to think of language as human. Language as an academic subject comprises just a fraction of the language learning and use across the world. The language even a highly educated individual learns in school is also just a fraction of his or her mental knowledge of a language, most of which is subconscious, not learned or known in a formal, articulated way. Students in linguistics are also asked to look at the concept of a standard language in a new way, especially if they have come to equate standard and nonstandard too absolutely as "right" and "wrong." A standard language is the most formal dialect, the language required by the authorities in power, the common written form used by people who speak related dialects, or just one dialect among many that has been chosen to serve as the official medium of communication in governmental and educational institutions. It is "better" in terms of prestige and access to power, but its words and rules of syntax are not better in every sense. The textbook for my course, Introduction to Language (8th Edition) by Victoria Fromkin, Robert Rodman, and Nina Hyams states flatly, "linguistically, prestige and standard dialects do not have superior grammars" (17). More ... 

by Paula Marantz Cohen

Queen Elizabeth II greeting Pope Benedict XVI upon his recent trip to Scotland:

Religion has always been a crucial element in national identity and historical self-consciousness. This has made the relationship between the different faiths a fundamental factor in the necessary cooperation within and between nation states. It is, therefore, vital to encourage greater mutual and respectful understanding. We know from experience that through committed dialogue, old suspicions can be transcended and a great mutual trust established.

I heard these words during a news announcement on the radio while I was driving to work the other day. I have no recollection of what the Pope said. What struck me was this excerpted speech by the Queen. I was mesmerized by her words: the plummy accent, the stately syntax, the careful but resonant content. Listening, I suddenly understood the function of monarchy.

What I understood was that Queen Elizabeth is not just a dressed-up figurehead, a variation on beer and circus; she is also the keeper of the English language — a legacy that extends from Chaucer to Shakespeare to Milton to Austen, Dickens, Ruskin, and Woolf. The language, enshrined in its highest form in the English literary tradition, is also, I realized, kept alive in more pedestrian form by this dowdy lady in an oversized hat. Keeping that language is not about linguistic correctness — incorrectness can, at times, be useful — it is about using words in the service of the highest values of civilization. More ... 

by Clark Elder Morrow

Don't worry, Mr. Hitchens, I am not one of the mob of vulturous Yahoos egging you on toward some sort of deathbed conversion. I am neither so ghastly nor so presumptuous, and such efforts are as distasteful to me as I'm sure they are to you. My admiration for your integrity and moral courage is too great to allow me to play the ludicrous role of bedside pastor, when you are hewing so closely and so resolutely to your principles. My only purpose in intruding on your time is to call your attention to what I believe to be a not-so-minor error in your recent Vanity Fair piece (Unanswerable Prayers, October 2010). In that essay you inadvertently sound like Groucho Marx when he quipped that he would not be a member of any club that would have him as a member. Your point, as I recall, was that you would be ashamed of yourself for kowtowing to God as a result of your illness, and that it would be disgraceful to believe in the kind of god who would accept your solicitations if such prayers were the result of "cowardice." More ... 

Book Excerpt
Back to Top  The Forest for the Trees
by Betsy Lerner

Asking what editors want is a little like asking what women want. While particular editors become known for loving and choosing certain kinds of books, an extraordinary number of variables affect any editor's taste, judgment, and response, and these are subject to change based on everything from her workload, the support or lack thereof from her colleagues, her track record, and the length of time since her last acquisition.

Some editors are hired with a particular mandate: to bring in celebrity books, sports books, business books, commercial fiction, health, or how-to. And some publishers' lists are likewise focused. But for the average editor who works for a trade press, chances are she is a "generalist" and edits a variety of books in what we call the adult trade. An editor will become known as an expert in a certain field after she has a certifiable hit, a book that either sells exceedingly well or that walks away with one of the big literary prizes. An editor does not exist without her authors; as the coach of any championship team acknowledges as he enters the winner's circle, he's only as good as his players. More ... 

The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest

by Mark Halpern

Writing a book on computer programming a few years ago, I had occasion to mention the fact, as I then supposed it, that Eskimos had special terms for a great many varieties of snow. I was reluctant to trot out this old, well-worn story — next, I said to myself, you'll be quoting Santayana on repeating the past — but it was the perfect support for the point I was trying to make at the moment, so, taking heart from Fowler on clichés, I used it. My discomfort at using so overworked an illustration became real chagrin, though, when I learned that it was not only hackneyed but false.

In a collection of short pieces with the provocative title The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, I found an essay of the same title that exploded the notion that Eskimos have especially extensive snow vocabularies. Pullum, professor of linguistics and dean of graduate studies and research at the University of California, Santa Cruz, described how the error had originated and how it had passed from book to book until it became one of the things that every schoolboy knows. So far so good; the embarrassment I felt on finding myself among the many dupes who had been taken in by this piece of misinformation, and propagated it, was easily overbalanced by the satisfaction of being finally enlightened, and by the interest of the story Pullum had to tell. In the ordinary course, I would be grateful to Pullum for correcting my error, but the manner in which he does it makes it hard to feel gratitude. More ... 

A Poem
Back to Top  3 Days of Rain
by Joaquin Carvel

I.

Woke up to the tuneful sound
of steady-falling
rain come down.

Like a friend who's come around
who's been away,
who just hit town.

Let the wiper blades keep time;
we'll catch up in
the shimmer-shine
. More ... 

A Poem
Back to Top  Arriviste
by Laura Cherry

You're good for nothing but sucking
the tides to and fro, filling
the hospitals once a month, cajoling

packs of women to bleed on cue —
nothing of use in getting me home
on this dark road, two drinks in me

and the driver ahead stopping short
whenever I fiddle with the radio.
So why, navigating a 360 on-ramp More ... 

by Bill Casselman

Here, for your Halloween delectation, is a monster of 100 percent North American provenance. No need to wear the insipid incisors of honky vampires. No! Go to the fright-night party dressed as a windigo. Is everyone else as bored with vampires as I am? What will television and bad novelists offer next? Perhaps "The Hematophags"? A family of mafiosi vampires who are gay?

Eating People Is Bad


The more common American spelling by aboriginal people of Iroquoian descent is windigo. Witiku or wihtiikiw is Cree for a person who goes insane and turns cannibal. The English version is influenced by the word's pronunciation in Ojibwa too. This creature may embody the Indian myth of what will happen to a solo hunter should he dare to transgress proper nutritional behavior and eat human flesh. Then he will turn into the legendary cannibal night monster, the windigo. More ... 

Harrison's Corner
Back to Top  Farv and Murv
by Carey Harrison

Interviewed after a win over a Minnesota Vikings football team led by Brett Favre, the aging star who abandoned the New York Jets for retirement after a single, disappointing season and then blithely resurfaced in Minnesota, Favre's nemesis, the young, victorious Jets quarterback, Mark Sanchez, made the following comment: "I don't think we win this game last year."

This perverse grammar, once heard most often when broadcast from the sports commentary booth and now the standard locution of sporting princes, both athletes and management, has yet to be sanctioned in print. It won't be long, though. The New York Times will be the first to adopt it. I'm not joking. They are wisely responsive to American English as it is spoken, or, as we used to say, "as she is spoke" — a little joke that would be wasted on my undergraduates, who are unclear about past participles and often write, "Thanksgiving will be celebrate at my grandfather's."

Who is to say that my undergrads are not the wave of the future? — or perhaps the ooze of the future; "wave" doesn't quite capture their linguistic sluggishness. (I speak of the past ten or fifteen years. This year I have a class with almost twenty halfway decent writers out of thirty — four or five of them quite excellent, in truth. A fluke? We'll see.) "As language is spoke" may become the rule, one day. Now that the Times has outlawed "Whom do you love?" In favor of "Who do you love?" (while retaining "To whom do you speak" and all whoms directly following a preposition), why shouldn't their ear, attuned to spoken fashions, hearken unto Mark Sanchez and his ilk? More ... 

by Kevin Mims

For all fifteen years of its existence, I have been a loyal customer of The Book Collector, a Sacramento used-book shop owned by Richard and Rachel Hansen, a married couple. This summer Richard spent nearly three months in Scotland caring for his mother while she underwent chemotherapy and other cancer treatments. While he was gone, I and several other friends of the Hansen family volunteered to run the shop whenever Rachel's other duties (she's a midwife as well as the mother of a young daughter) made it impossible for her to do it herself. I've known for years that Richard was of Scottish descent. He and I have spent many hours discussing the works of "Rabbie" Burns, a writer we're both a bit obsessed with. But until I began working at the shop, I didn't realize just how much Scottish literature thronged its shelves. Richard doesn't have a special section for Scottish literature (although he does have one for Scottish history), but he appears to have never turned down a used book written by a Scot. The Book Collector is a small and somewhat sleepy enterprise located on a side street (24th) that is bracketed by two of downtown Sacramento's busiest Streets, J and K. Not only is it minuscule in comparison with giant chain bookstores such as Border's and Barnes & Noble, it is small even in comparison with other serious local used bookstores. But within its cozy confines, Richard has sneakily sprinkled more Scottish titles than you are likely to find at any other bookstore in town. Some of these are well known, such as Walter Scott's Waverley novels, Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Scots Quair, the popular multi-volume historical novels of Nigel Tranter (The Bruce Trilogy, The Stewart Trilogy, The James V Trilogy, and so on), the fairy tales of George MacDonald, and of course the works of Robert Louis Stevenson. But elsewhere in the stacks are many lesser known Caledonian titles. During idle moments at the shop, I came across such books as Morning For Mr. Prothero by Scotland native Jane Oliver (a pseudonym, I believe). Originally published in 1951, it is the story, according to its promotional copy, of:

Thomas Prothero ... an eminent London Surgeon suffering from a terminal illness. One moment, he is angered by hearing his colleagues give him up as a lost case. The next moment, he is being soothed by his old Nanny in her cottage in Scotland, a place that he has always loved. In this familiar setting he believes he has made a miraculous recovery. ... The reader is aware that the good doctor has 'crossed over the border,' from the physical to a spiritual plane. But Prothero is a man of science, and will not believe in anything not subject to physical proof. The fact that the sun never sets, that he doesn't require food or rest, and that he is able to travel from place to place in an instant, he stubbornly attributes to lingering after-effects of his illness.

I was intrigued enough by that description to purchase the book and take it home with me.

Another curious Caledonian text I came across at the Book Collector is Of Scottish Ways, a light-hearted and conversational introduction to Scotland by Eve Begley. It is filled with amusing observations on all things Scottish: 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 ... 

Whereas a witticism is a clever remark or phrase — indeed, the height of expression — a "dimwitticism" is the converse; it is a commonplace remark or phrase. Dimwitticisms are worn-out words and phrases; they are expressions that dull our reason and dim our insight, formulas that we rely on when we are too lazy to express what we think or even to discover how we feel. The more we use them, the more we conform — in thought and feeling — to everyone else who uses them. 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 ... 

I Am!

I am! yet what I am none cares or knows,
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost 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

The expression man up is infinitely more relevant and useful today than is its near converse mansuetude. 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 ... 

 Features

 Poetry


A Poem: 3 Days of Rain — Joaquin Carvel

A Poem: Arriviste — Laura Cherry

 Columnists


Bill Casselman: Bethumped with Words — Windigo: Cannibal Fiend of the North Woods

Carey Harrison: Harrison's Corner — Farv and Murv

Kevin Mims: The Common Reader — The Language and Literature of the Hebrides

 Departments

 Other Business

 Recent Issues

 Quizzes and Diversions

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