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May 2012, Vol. 14, No. 5 There are now   5083   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

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?

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?

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 May 2012 Vocabula
 The June issue is due online June 17.

"Safe home." — Anonymous

"Eclipse yourself." — Anonymous

In 1994, when the founder and publisher of the online magazine Weekly Hubris was teaching journalism at Clemson University, I chanced upon her waiting for an elevator in Strode Tower.

"Waiting for Godot?" I asked.

"No," she replied, "a streetcar named Desire."

Unable to follow that reply at the level it deserved, I took the steps to my office. I might have said, "Go and catch a falling star," or, "Wherever you go, there you are," or, "Go where glory awaits you," but I took the stairs less traveled by.

Threshold rituals surely originated when hunter-gatherers met each other on the East African savannah, where thresholds may have been defined by the last place someone voided their bladder. Freud argued that civilization began when someone cast a word instead of a stone at a stranger. Since that word often was a threat, I'd argue that it began when we learned to say, "You are well come." More ... 

by Mark Halpern
The essay that follows is a series of footnotes or appendices to A Prescriptive Manifesto, which was published here in January 2012.

The publication in 1961 of the third edition of the Merriam-Webster New International Unabridged dictionary (henceforth W3) brought to wide public attention some issues that until then had been the exclusive concern of those professionally or personally concerned with language usage. It was, as David Foster Wallace called it, the Fort Sumter moment of the war between Descriptivism and Prescriptivism. The avalanche of newspaper editorials, magazine articles, letters to the editor, and other expressions of strong feelings on the subject is now a matter of wonder; Nero Wolfe bought a copy of the new dictionary just to have the satisfaction of burning it in his fireplace, page by page. And a young lady appealing to him for help in defending her father against a murder charge was asked, as a test of worthiness, if she used infer and imply interchangeably, as W3 at least implied one could; she gave the right answer (No), and thereby saved her father's life.1

Many critics attacked the thinking behind W3, but the most thorough-going of the attacks were the two by the cultural critic Dwight Macdonald. The earlier, "The String Untuned," first appeared in the New Yorker for March 10, 1962; the second, "Three Questions for Structural Linguistics, or Webster 3 Revisited" appeared in a book2 that collected the most noteworthy of the writings on the debate, including Macdonald's earlier piece. In making it easy to consult Macdonald's original critique, and then giving him an opportunity to reply to the counterattacks it provoked, Sledd and Ebbitt, the editors of the volume, performed a notable service. His critiques, and his opponents' replies, contain at least the seed of every major point made since then; it might be said that all prescriptivist writings since then are footnotes to Macdonald, as all descriptivist writings are to those of Sledd and his allies in the cited volume. More ... 

by Bill Casselman

Among Grecian and Roman deities of yore, Aeolus was blustery regent of the winds, superintendent of tempests, justly weather-vain, Caesar of the sirocco, the rex in the storm, monarch of the mistral, whistling conductor of whirlwinds, in short: the pomposity of ventosity (ventus, Latin "wind"). Think of that morsel of urinary sagacity embodied in the Latin proverb: vir prudens non contra ventum mingit, "a wise man doesn't piss into the wind."

The Greek Aiolos (or Aeolus in his Roman form) was a mortal king, ruler of the island of Aeolia, a real isle, and, so Homer tells us, one visited by Odysseus and the setting of an episode of the Odyssey. No divine, deifying ichor flowed purply in his human veins, and yet Aiolos controlled the winds. His name may be Greek, from their adjective aiolos, "changeable, quick-moving, rapid." But Aiolos could have been borrowed earlier than classical Greek from a Semitic language like Phoenician, where aol means "whirlwind." More ... 

Back to Top  Connect the Dots
by Brooke Horvath

The subject of the period brings Bob — known as "Bobert" to his friend Thom, who never reconciled himself to Bob's sudden desire to be called "Robert" — up short, stops him in his tracks. Moreover, thanks to his wife's present indisposition, Bob finds himself in a celibate period, which tends to make him a bit dotty. However, he will not expatiate, and should someone ask him what is wrong, he will reply curtly, "NothingPERIOD" Indeed, Bobert is occasionally given to the verbal punctuating of his sentences ("Are those new bracesCOMMA ThomQUESTION MARK") and finds it fascinating that even in Arabic or Chinese one would encounter one's friend the period — something he discovered during periodic trips abroad during that full point in his life before radical surgery repunctuated him (see SEMICOLON), end stopped his former occupations. The books on his shelf (held up barely by two bent brackets), given over in whole or part to matters punctuative — from The Harbrace College Handbook to Lynne Truss — now sit unread above the easy chair where once Bobert, punctual as nature's menses, as the successive phases of the moon, would contemplate the comma, dote on the dash. Perhaps this silence is merely one of the two phrases composing the complete statement of his otherwise less than musical life; here, in any event, is his most recent word on the subject, a poem: More ... 

The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest

by Clark Elder Morrow

I dare say most of us have felt, at one time or another, as the poet does in the following lines:

Flowers in the wisdom of creative choice
Seem blest with feeling and a silent voice.

And I presume further that most of us would be more or less touched by this image of those same flowers, a few lines further down the same poem:

These in leaf-darkened woods right timid stray
And in its green night smile their lives away.

But none of us would be able to enjoy either the sense or the sentiment of these passages if we did not occasionally indulge in a second-tier poet, such as this poet undoubtedly is, the so-called rustic poet John Clare (1793–1864).

The rewards of the second-rate are profuse, as anyone who has read Edmund Crispin or listened to a concerto of Medtner can confirm. There are times when the relatively uncelebrated artist of comparatively minor achievement strikes a note that not even the greatest have struck, or shapes a phrase worthy of the highest icons in the pantheon of his discipline. Such a poet is John Clare. More ... 

by Richard Lederer

What do you make of the fact that we can talk about certain things and ideas only when they are absent? Once they appear, our blessed English language doesn't allow us to describe them. Have you ever seen a horseful carriage or a strapful gown? Have you ever run into someone who was combobulated, sheveled, gruntled, chalant, plussed, ruly, gainly, maculate, kempt, pecunious, peccable, or souciant?

English is a language populated with a lot of heads without tails and odds without ends. In his poem “Gloss,” David McCord spoofs the ability of the English language to identify negatives but not the corresponding positives:

I know a little man both ept and ert.
An intro-? Extro-? No, he's just a vert.
Sheveled and couth and kempt, pecunious, ane,
His image trudes upon the ceptive brain.

When life turns sipid and the mind is traught,
The spirit soars as I would sist it ought.
Chalantly then, like any gainly goof,
My digent self is sertive, choate, loof.
More ... 

Vocabula Revisited
Back to Top  Black Holes
by Julian Burnside

It is a curious thing about the English language, that although it has a vast vocabulary and rich idiomatic variations, it lacks words for some common and useful ideas. This is so even though we have words for ideas so obscure that they can hardly expect to be used more than once in a lifetime. For example:

abaciscus  A square compartment enclosing a part or the entire pattern or design of a mosaic pavement.
catapan  The officer who governed Calabria and Apulia under the Byzantine emperors.
denariate  A portion of land worth a penny a year.
holluschickie  Young males of the northern Pribilof, or Alaskan fur seal.
pitarah  A basket or box used in traveling by palankeen to carry the traveler's clothes.
spetch  A piece or strip of undressed leather, a trimming of hide, used in making glue or size.
wennish  Of the nature of a wen.
turdiform  Having the form or appearance of a thrush.

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

From Hand Shakes to Fist Explosions: Greetings and Departures — Skip Eisiminger

Footnotes to a Manifesto — Mark Halpern

Wind Words Go Windwards — Bill Casselman

Fiction: Connect the Dots — Brooke Horvath

The Most Romantic of the Romantics — Clark Elder Morrow

The Attraction of Opposites — Richard Lederer

Vocabula Revisited: Black Holes — Julian Burnside

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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.