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April 2012, Vol. 14, No. 4 There are now   168   people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

Robert Hartwell Fiske's Disagreeable English
A Bimonthly Bulletin of Misused, Misspelled, and Mispronounced English

Six times a year, we will email you this addendum to Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English. Each bulletin will include new examples of misused, misspelled, or mispronounced English.

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Views of Vocabula   Calendar Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher

 Discuss This Article

Terrific essay. I wish more people (especially women, if I may say so) would speak out against this lunacy. In case you haven't seen it, I highly recommend the Guidelines for Gender-Fair Use of Languageof the National Council of Teachers of English, an entertaining manifesto rife with examples of the silly arkwardness that comes with political correctness. ... — What do you say?

It is a shame that poems are no longer read in school. Someone needs to know what poetry can be, other than most of the crud we see currently. These days, all one has to do is break a paragraph into "verse paragraphs," call it a poem, and voila! Rhyme, meter that is intelligible and not so precious as to be unrecognizable by anyone not schooled in "prosody," the traditional poetic forms make poetry. Instead we get the vaporings of people who should keep their diaries to themselves. I invite anyone to defend contemporary poetry against these charges of commonness and mediocrity. — What do you say?

Your lengthy repost to that ass dignifuies the Yahoo and treats him as if he were a peer. He isn't and, to my way of thinking, a "Whatever...." would have sufficed as your response. Or, as the inimitable Monty Python would say, so might you say to the man, "I fart in your general direction." ... — What do you say?

Your article is an incredibly rich and highly enjoyable contribution. ... — What do you say?

The pronouncements of eminent, respectable people carry no weight with me. Abolish the apostrophe? Never. We need it to indicate possession, though I would have no problem with the abolition of contractions. It's a simple bit of punctuation, and we shouldn't capitulate to the slobs who can't be bothered to use it correctly. Like my drill sergeant used to say, "Ignorance is no excuse!" I also think you gave too much away when you capitulated to your slob roommates. — What do you say?

As always, your essay today is a delight. Howsomever, if Homer be none the less Homeric for his infamous nodding, you are still the delightful you for your nodding concerning Swift's Houyhnhnms. Sir: Swift's Houyhnhnms are, not to mince words, horses' asses!--rather akin to our "Public Intellectuals". They are NOT intelligent; they are pompous (horses') asses--think Chomsky. Be ever well and keep up the delightful writing for TVR. — What do you say?

You mention Hofstadter's essay. If "chairman", to take one example, were "chairwhite", so what, so long as "chairwhite" included people of all complexions? In Urdu, we use the word "habshi" (original meaning: Abyssinian) for all Negroes - and I use the word "Negro" because it's the only correct translation of the Urdu word. "Habshi" is polite (its origin lies in the early history of Islam), but precise - Urdu speakers do not use it for white Africans like Nadine Gordimer or for dark-complexioned people like Sri Lankans, so I can't translate the word "habshi" with "African" or "Black" or "black". ... — What do you say?

Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English
A Compendium of Mistakes in Grammar, Usage, and Spelling with Commentary on Lexicographers and Linguists

Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English

Today's popular dictionaries often fail to define words correctly or to distinguish between them; some dictionaries even maintain that one word means the same as another simply because people who do not know the correct meanings of the words confuse them. Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English — a supplement to whatever dictionary you own or use — is an attempt to combat this nonsense, to return meaning and distinction to the words we use.

You can order Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English from Vocabula or Simon & Schuster or Amazon or elsewhere.


The Best Words

The Best Words

The point of learning new words is not to impress your friends or to seem more intelligent than they. The point is to see more, to understand more. An ever-increasing vocabulary uncovers connections, introduces spheres, and — in reminding us that there are words for all thoughts, all feelings, all behaviors, all things — upholds all humankind.

You can order The Best Words from Marion Street Press or Amazon or elsewhere.


The Dimwit's Dictionary, Third Edition

The Dimwit's Dictionary, Third Edition

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.

You can order The Dimwit's Dictionary, Third Edition from Marion Street Press or Amazon or elsewhere.


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.


You can order Vocabula Bound 1 and Vocabula Bound 2 from Vocabula Books.

Poem, Revised
54 Poems, Revisions, Discussions

Poem, Revised

The creative world of the writer is uncovered in this captivating exploration of the techniques of poetry revision. An in-depth look at the writing processes of fifty-four poems, each by a different modern author, is provided, complete with early drafts, subsequent revised versions, and short essays from the poets themselves, revealing how and why they made specific changes, as well as their editing secrets. Poetry lovers will enjoy browsing through their favorite works and authors, and budding writers will learn the skills needed to grow a first draft into a polished final piece.

You can order Poem, Revised from Marion Street Press or Amazon.


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.


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 In the April 2012 Vocabula
 The May issue is due online May 20.

by John Kilgore

Should everyone go to college? Absolutely everyone? It's election season, and that idea is in the air again. The president has been soft-pedaling it for years, in his circumspect way, as in the February 2009 speech that called on high school graduates to commit voluntarily to at least one year of college or trade school. More recently, Monsignor Santorum brought the issue front and center with a weirdly stinging rebuke:

President Obama wants everyone in America to go to college. [Dramatic pause.] What a snob! [Startled laughter from the audience; some applause.] You have good, decent men and women who go out and work hard every day, who put their skills to test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor ... and trying to indoctrinate them. Oh, I understand why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image.

The next day, just in case there were any moderates he had not yet frightened off, Santorum trotted out a statistic to support his vision of universities as secular-humanist indoctrination mills: 62 percent of students arriving to college with religious faith find it weakened by the campus experience. Strange thought, almost flattering in its way, that term papers and morning lectures could succeed where rack and fire have always failed! — but alas, the fact checkers soon tore the claim to shreds. All this was shortly after Donald Trump remarked, sensibly for once, that a Santorum candidacy would be a best-ever Christmas gift from the Republicans to the Democrats. More ... 

Culture and Society
Back to Top  Thinking About Chivalry
by Clark Elder Morrow

If you trace the idea of chivalry back far enough — and you have to go back very far indeed — you will come to a place where your principal thought is one of height — of simple elevation. You arrive at a notion of one man raised above other men — not in any vague philosophical sense, but in the very real, quite physical sense of a man on horseback looking down upon other men.

The elementary fact is that a man sitting upright and straightbacked on a horse appears to be a nobler creature than a man "walking dully along." For reasons having to do with its mixing of gentleness with strength, and its graceful proportions rising above men's common line of sight, a horse usually strikes human beings as a noble creature in itself. This nobility is often conveyed, by a process of association, to the rider. In addition, there is the unarguable fact that a man on horseback is more far-seeing than a man on foot, and a more dangerous opponent in battle. The advantage of being able to strike from above, along with the long-ranging endurance of a mounted warrior, makes him a formidable foe. All these factors contributed to two early conceptions that were intertwined: a cavalryman is a superior fighter, and he appears to be nobler than an infantryman. More ... 

by David Galef

A while back, I was trying to explain to my precocious eight-year-old nephew what snigger meant. "It's a kind of laugh," I told him.

"I know that."

"Rather unpleasant."

"I know that, too."

"Then what do you want to find out?"

"The difference between it and snicker. Snigger sounds nastier."

I gave him my scholarly look. "You may be right," I told him, "but let's check." As it turns out, snicker is merely the American equivalent of snigger. But he was right: snicker sounds only somewhat derisive compared to snigger. To define by example, I made a noise approximating a snigger, and he imitated it for the next half hour.

A similar situation came up two weeks later, when he encountered the sentence "Oh, do stop sniveling, Cyril!" More ... 

by Carey Harrison

To begin with: an email correspondence. (If only I were inventing it for your amusement. Alas, every word is true.) Only a name has been changed, to protect the innocent.

On Tuesday, March 6, 2012, at 9:32 p.m., Taneesha Baron wrote:

Dear Professor Harrison,

My name is Taneesha Baron and I am one of your student from English 2, section MW3B from 3:40-4:55pm. I am emailing to find out if there is any work that I should get done before our next class due to no classes on wednesday September 28th, 2011.

Thank you,

Taneesha Baron

On Wednesday, March 7, 2012, at 12:55 p.m., Carey Harrison wrote:

Taneesha, thanks for writing to me! But if you write "one of your student," as you do in your email, for my class, you will fail.

If you can't tell what's wrong with the English of "one of your student," please let me know and I will sign you up for classes at the Learning Center.

CH

On Friday, March 9, 2012, at 12:58 a.m., Taneesha Baron wrote:

Dear Professor Harrison,

Thank you for emailing me back. I have figured out the mistake that I have made with "One of your student". It is suppose to be written as "One of your students".

Thank You,

Taneesha Baron

On Monday, March 12, 2012, at 12:55 p.m., Carey Harrison wrote:

Thanks, Taneesha. Glad you figured out the mistake you made. But oh, Lordy: you've replaced one elementary error with another. Can you see what's wrong with "it is suppose to be written"?

CH

On Friday, March 17, 2012, at 12:01 a.m., Taneesha Baron wrote:

Dear Professor Harrison,

Correction: "Its suppose to be written"

Taneesha Baron

This last should be followed by a cartoon of my bearded face with a blank expression and the subtitle, "Sans paroles," as the French have it: "No comment." More ... 


The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest
The 2012 Contest Ends May 31.
Enter Today.

by Bill Casselman

Most writers prophesy eternal fame for themselves. I was joking with a friend about how immodest your average scribe is when the subject turns to glory after death. I offered the doctored engraving above as a possible joking sketch of what might be appropriate for my tomb.

My friend emailed me back with an apt neological pun, writing, "Your necropalace seems commensurate with your modesty, but the motto may stay those most inclined to visit. I suggest something a bit more understated, like: "My name is William Casselman. Look upon my works, ye literati, and despair." His pun on necropolis (Greek "city of the dead," that is, cemetery) as necropalace is nifty. More ... 

by Richard Lederer

Early in my career as a verbivore, I became fascinated with long words. My heart leapt when I beheld the likes of inappropriateness (17 letters), incomprehensibility (19 letters), and the 22-letter counterrevolutionaries and deinstitutionalization.

Then I was introduced to the 28-letter antidisestablishmentarianism, "a doctrine against the dissolution of the establishment." In the nineteenth century, the word meant "opposition to the separation of the established church and state."

Only in my early middle age did I discover that antidisestablishmentarianism is a mere pigmy in the hierarchy of truly long words. Gazing upon their length and bulk reminds us of the bizarre shapes that English words can assume. More ... 

by Kevin Mims

In The Cookbook Collector, a novel by Allegra Goodman, a used-book dealer experiences an immense thrill when he stumbles upon a cache of 873 very old and rare cookbooks. Multiply that number by 14, and it comes close to describing a recent experience of mine.

In August 2011 I began renting a single bookcase at a local antiques co-op. At first I filled the six shelves with all different types of books: hardback novels, pulp paperbacks, art books, histories, biographies, books of travel and exploration, old National Geographics, and so forth. After two months of disappointing sales, I decided that perhaps specialization would bring me more luck. I considered various options and finally elected to fill my bookcase with nothing but vintage cookbooks. I own only about 100 of these, none of them terribly rare or valuable. Most are from the 1950s and 1960s. I am a child of that era and have always been intrigued by its culinary tastes. I knew I wouldn't make much money selling forty-year-old cookbooks. Secondhand shops all over Sacramento sell vintage cookbooks at rock-bottom prices. I was merely hoping to establish myself as a cookbook connoisseur so that I might make the acquaintance of other likeminded collectors. And it worked — sort of. More ... 

Vocabula Revisited
Back to Top  What the Cat Drug In
by Tina Bennett-Kastor

In the dialectology section for my 100-level linguistics class, I devote much time to carefully explaining how all the levels of a language can exhibit dialectal differences. I tell the students, for example, that varied pronunciations of a word, such as "greasy" with a z versus an s sound, are phonological in nature; that variation in grammatical inflection, such as for plurals, past tenses, or past participles — as when people from rural areas say "I seen him yesterday" — are morphological; that differences in sentence structure should be considered syntactic, for example, the native Kansan's exclamation that his "house needs painted"; and that the use of alternative vocabulary, as in the Texan's use of "coke" for what we call "pop," represents differences in the lexicon of one dialect as opposed to another. I was nonplussed, therefore, when on the quiz nearly every student incorrectly marked the contrast of "snuck" versus "sneaked" as a lexical rather than a grammatical matter. The error turned out to be ignorance: they had never heard the word sneaked before.

"But 'sneaked' is the past tense of 'sneak,'" I exclaimed, perhaps with a bit too much exasperation. 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 ... 

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 ... 

 Featured Essays

On Hating College — John Kilgore

Culture and Society: Thinking About Chivalry — Clark Elder Morrow

Harder, Softer — David Galef

Midterm Meditations — Carey Harrison

Profane Reflections — Bill Casselman

Sesquipedalian English — Richard Lederer

Recipes & Remembrance — Kevin Mims

Vocabula Revisited: What the Cat Drug In — Tina Bennett-Kastor

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Robert Hartwell Fiske's
Disagreeable English

A Bimonthly Bulletin of Misused, Misspelled, and Mispronounced English

Six times a year, we will email you this addendum to Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English. Each bulletin will include new examples of misused, misspelled, or mispronounced English.

The cost is $25 a year for the emailed version, or $35 a year for the mailed version. Sign up today. Please make your credit card payment using the PayPal system. You may also order individual issues.