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July 2012, Vol. 14, No. 7 There are now   106   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

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Deliberately changing these cliche expressions can be fun (breakneck mountain, briny pickles, bumpkin pie, busman's transfer, days of bygones are just a few that come to mind); it's especially amusing to see innocent inexperienced readers misuse these ready-made expressions (One I have recently seen is "blathering idiot" for "blithering idiot." "A plan that went a rye" is also kinda funny ... I rate these up there with malapropisms sprung from spell-checkers, my favorite being "sand wedge" for "sandwich." — What do you say?

I don't read that the author is "sneering" at job training at all. His description of the efficacy of boot camp and jump school demonstrates his respect for the utility of training. His objection is that the university is being (has been?) drafted as a place to receive job training. The university in the traditional sense is a repository for the universe of knowledge. John Kilgore even used the term "monastery," when describing this view. The president of Yale told the incoming freshman class at orientation at least once "If you want to go to college to learn how to make a living, go to a trade school. At Yale, you learn how to live, and if you know how to live, making a living will always follow." ... — What do you say?

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?

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.


Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Concise Writing
2012 Edition

Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Concise Writing

This is a new 2012 edition of The Dictionary of Concise Writing, which was first published, by Simon & Schuster, in 1990. A pdf version and more than 800 pages long, this version of The Dictionary of Concise Writing is not now available elsewhere. Buy it once and receive updated versions when available.

You can order Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Concise Writing from Vocabula Books.


Guide to Obfuscation: A Reverse Dictionary

Guide to Obfuscation: A Reverse Dictionary

Guide to Obfuscation: A Reverse Dictionary is an appendix in the 2012 edition of The Dictionary of Concise Writing. You may buy it separately. It is 234 pages long.

You can order Guide to Obfuscation: A Reverse Dictionary from Vocabula Books.


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 July 2012 Vocabula
 The August issue is due online August 19.

The word travel comes from trepalium, a brutal Roman torture during which the victim was impaled on three sharp stakes. Travel hasn't changed much, has it?

Our English travel descends from travail in Old French whose first French meaning was le travail d'enfant, "the pain of child-birth," so we're not talking about some trifling inconvenient discomfort.

The first meaning of travailler in Old French was to suffer real torture. The first English meaning of travail was painful corporeal toil or oppressive suffering. The word travel in its earliest English semantic outing also meant toil and trouble, even the travails and difficult labors of child-birth.

In Medieval French, travailler implied odious and literally painful forms of transporting oneself. From these uncomfortable meanings evolved the modern English meanings of travel, which don't begin to appear in Britain until the onset of the fifteenth century. In French and Spanish, the derivatives came to signify hard work: le travail and el trabajo. More ... 

Google "semicolon," and up pops a mob of detractors bellowing for a noose and a white oak tree. Some want to lynch this punctuation mark because of its misuse; some want to see it twisting in the wind because it violates the "modern" style of writing; still others want to throw a necktie party simply because they think a semicolon looks ridiculous.

All these vigilantes have a case. The semicolon can be dismally misapplied, particularly by students who toss it into a sentence in place of a comma, as in "Hemingway created a code for his characters; a standard based on his idea of 'grace under pressure.'" Even when handled correctly, semicolons can damage the novice writer's work, encouraging sloppy sentences and disconnected thinking. Yet it is also the case that, properly taught, the correct usage of the semicolon is easily learned. Most students readily grasp that the semicolon has two primary applications — a coupler for two independent clauses and a divider in lists — and many of them soon come to treasure, perhaps too much, their semicolons, an attraction that derives in part from their ignorance or fear of dependent clauses. More ... 

by Clark Elder Morrow

When I was very young I had a passion for science. At nine I set up a little laboratory in the backyard toolshed, where I examined ants through a microscope and studied with fascination all the colorful little square jars of exotic chemicals from my chemistry set. At ten I was obsessed with test tubes and beakers and long white lab coats.

Then one evening, watching TV with my folks, and asking my father many questions about Einstein's Theory of Relativity, the old man grew impatient with my persistence and drew my attention to the television screen. He said, "Science is one thing, but art's important too. That's Ella Fitzgerald. Listen to the way she sings." I shut up and pretended to listen, but my mind was still buzzing with curiosity about Einstein. Yet my father's words stayed with me — to this day, obviously. More ... 

by Richard Lederer

Technically the so-called funny bone is the ulnar nerve that causes that tingly sensation when we strike our arm. But the source of that feeling is the knob on the end of the bone running from the shoulder to the elbow. The medical name for that bone is the humerus, and back in 1840 some wag seized upon the homophonic similarity of humerus and humorous and dubbed the humerus the funny bone, a learned pun that has become part of our language.

One of the amazements of language is that it seeks to name everything. Here are more little-known labels for body parts: More ... 


The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest

"Hyewîs yasmâ hwælnâ nahâst aqwhunsâz dadrrkta." In the infinite and ever-expanding depth of space, in a polished, glossy white room aboard the starship Prometheus, David speaks this sentence aloud in his calm, obviously brilliant British accent. David has just heard these words dictated to him as part of a lesson, delivered via a pre-recorded video hologram. David is s cybernetic android, a mechanical life-form that is all human in appearance, but milky white tubes and liquid and flashy metal and silicon parts and microchips inside. Naturally, our technology hasn’t advanced enough to create such a machine. David, played by Michael Fassbender, is one of the main protagonists of Ridley Scott's newest movie, Prometheus, the 2012 prequel to the 1979 sci-fi horror blockbuster, Alien (and its many cinematic spawn). The scene described appears early in the film, within the first ten minutes, and is taken to be part of android David's "training" as well as a way in which he bides time, David being the only thing aboard Prometheus that could survive the lightyears of interstellar travel; the humans are resting in cryogenic stasis, preserving their bodies in the exact same state for, essentially, eternity — or until the Prometheus reaches its destination. More ... 

by Ada Brunstein

I'm determined to make photoelectric the next big catch phrase. I don't see why it should be relegated to a life of obscurity in the pages of seldom read and even seldomer enjoyed physics books. It has so much more to offer than that! I'm going to spread the word, and the word I'm going to spread is photoelectric. I'll start with the bars of New York. A bartender will slide me a flaming fuschia cocktail, I'll smile and say, photoelectric, thanks!

As I take my first sip, I see a pair of hazel eyes across the bar that I can't ignore. I walk right up to him. Drink in hand, I do a little half twist and lean my back against the bar, looking at Mr. Hazel Eyes over my shoulder. With my free hand I slip a finger under his designer tie just below the knot, and slide it down slowly until it reaches the tip. Photoelectric, I'll whisper. More ... 

Summer Edition

In June, July, and August, The Vocabula Review will be published as summer editions; that is, we will publish Feature essays but few, if any, of the Department pieces (Elegant English, Clues to Concise Writing, Scarcely Used Words).

More Good Summer Reading


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 ... 

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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.