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Friday, July 25, 2014   Calendar Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher
December 2013, Vol. 15, No. 12 There are now   231   people reading Vocabula. ISSN 1542-7080
 Discuss This Article

Jean Mallinson's essay on prepositions is instructive, deeply felt, and beautifully written. It leads me to think that the opposite of the old pedant's rule is the truth: sentences not just may, but must, end with a preposition, since that which determines structure, hence meaning, is conclusive. — What do you say?

Right ho for Mr. Morrow, and for his sentiments, which are spiffy in my view! I think he's dead on about the techie influence, but I would like to suggest another, more eldritch one, the speech of the British Upper Classes, already elevated to the voice of angels by Mr. Wodehouse before it became the dialect of my own youth. — What do you say?

Bravo! Mr. Halpern, your writings on this subject are an unfailing source of insight and pleasure. Thanks so much for the wit, will, energy, and patience you bring to this oddly important controversy. Enlightening enough on its own turf, Linguistics seems to insist on jumping the fence into the traditional fields of rhetoric, editing, criticism, and of course humanistic grammar (which I like to think of as language criticism), where its highly abstract methods and principles grow clumsy, unhelpful, and sophomoric. You do a better job than anyone of leading the bull back out of the corn, over and over. — What do you say?

Actually, there really are some good reasons to Google oneself, as page rank and visibility can have considerable importance. Thanks for a great article. And the word, fantasts, too. I have never used that one, but will correct that problem. Much appreciated. — What do you say?

Well written, and I totally agree. I have never found it irritating or offensive to read "he" as a generic pronoun for both sexes. In fact, what I find more irritating is the use of the two words (he/she, his/her) when one will do. When an author goes so far as to make attempts at political correctness by changing words like mankind, postman, or even policeman, I start stewing over how much of an influence a petty minority has had on contemporary writers. And I find that really, really, sad. — What do you say?

Excellent. — What do you say?

Bravo! What a wonderful essay — I think it beautifully and elegantly captures a poignant moment of life. I found it very moving, and it reawakened old memories of the immigrant dreams of my parents. I also enjoyed the photos and learning about dirndles. — What do you say?

I thought at first that you were merely darkening counsel with a rather too-finespun casuitry, but I own now that your logic is irresistible. You stayed with your argument long enough to convince me (I'm ashamed to admit that if you had stopped your pen earlier I might have tossed the article aside with only a grimace, and an air of bemusement disguising my uncertainty). I am persuaded now that I have been guilty of using "or" as I do the word "and" when I have gone about negating; I had never noticed before the ambiguity involved. You have uncovered a very well hidden landmine in the language — one so well hidden that even when pointed out it remains difficult to see, camouflaged as it is under so many layers of accepted (though inexcusable) usage.

Your article is one more proof of the importance of The Vocabula Review. Thank you for it. — What do you say?

Bravo to Kerr Houston and Ingrid Pimsner! Their essay on art criticism is pellucid, learned and elegant. — What do you say?

I like this article. I have probably 3,000 books in my home (I hope I never have to move). In a moment of weakness I bought a Nook. I read one book, then gave it to be my niece. Bless her for taking it off my hands. I like the heft of a printed book. I like to turn the pages. I enjoy reading it. Had ebooks never been invented, my life would be just as enjoyable — so long as there are books. — What do you say?

A fascinating article. I just wanted to add that in Quebec, dolphins are often called marsouins (sea swine) rather than dauphins. — What do you say?

What a preposterous, linguistically naive and snobbish essay! Ms. Anderson's is a fascist view of language that ignores how living languages operate. She posits that vocabulary items must not stray outside their originating specialties. Poppycock! — 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

However curmudgeonly, Mr. Fiske betrays a bluff humanitarian spirit. ... Fiske wants to save the English language. And he knows that he can count on little help. "Dictionaries have virtually no standards, offer scant guidance, and advance only misunderstanding." His own flogging of Merriam-Webster's is one of the many pleasures of this lovely, sour, virtuous book. — Wall Street Journal

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


To the Point: A Dictionary of Concise Writing
The essential guide to writing succinctly

To the Point: A Dictionary of Concise Writing

To the Point: A Dictionary of Concise Writing is the perfect reference book for anyone who wants to communicate more effectively through clear and beautiful prose. In this freshly updated edition that features hundreds of new entries, Robert Hartwell Fiske lays out multiple lines of attack against verbiage. He starts by training writers, new or experienced, to tackle wordy trends in their work. His "Dictionary of Concise Writing" helps them identify and correct — or delete — thousands of specific redundant phrases. In addition, writers can turn to the new "Guide to Obfuscation: A Reverse Dictionary" to build a more pithy vocabulary. Filled with real-world examples that provide clarity and context for Fiske's rules of concision, this is a writer's sharpest weapon against verbosity.

You can preorder To the Point: A Dictionary of Concise Writing from Amazon or W. W. Norton.



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 In the December 2013 Vocabula
 The January 2014 issue is due online January 19.

I do not own a Kindle, Nook, or iPad, and I have no intention of purchasing one either. That is unless the makers enable a user to highlight a passage and copy it the way I print from an email or web document. Until that happens, I'll continue to invest in print media. As I have said elsewhere, if heaven has no books, magazines, or newspapers, preferably in hard copies, I do not want to go there. I simply owe paper, ink, and traditional libraries too much to give up on them now. I know the Sumerians thought clay tablets would be the recording medium for eternity just as the Egyptians believed in papyrus, and medieval Europeans bought stock in Pergamese parchment. But until Kindle's pixels can be conveniently transferred to a sheet of foolscap, I'll put my faith in paper. More ... 

by Donna Gorrell

Over the years I've acquired a personality tic that hinders effective acquisition of information. I edit. When I read a newspaper, I'm easily distracted by things that shouldn't have got past the copyeditor. For example:

Police arrested 13 people this week during a months-long investigation into drug sales by the St. Cloud Gang Strike Force and the St. Cloud Drug Unit.

Somewhat cynically, I wasn't surprised to learn that the Strike Force and Drug Unit were profiting from drug sales. The editor in me was also upset at the following headlines from the same paper: More ... 

Abyssal benthos is a phrase that names the animals and plants that live near the bottom of the sea (Greek βένθος, benthos, "deepest part of the sea"), whereas littoral benthos is the flora and fauna living in water nearer shore (littora, Latin "shore"). The flora and fauna of the abyssal benthos live at depths to which oxygen does not easily descend. Many organisms of the benthic zone are scavengers or — one of my favorite terms in oceanographic vocabulary — detritivores, "eaters of detritus." Several of my neighbors are detritivores. They live at fast-food joints. More ... 

For at least two decades, doctors, caregivers, the people they care for, and advocates have deplored the term patient or have been exposed to the arguments of those who deplore it. "Patient" has few defenders in an age in which Western consumers of health care insist on an equal voice in the management of their afflictions, and loathe ceding all power to those who are dispensing relief.

Several linguistic reasons argue for our not abandoning "patient." More ... 

Sixty years ago, a petite product of San Diego's public tennis courts accomplished the greatest feat by a teenager in the history of sport.

In 1953, Maureen "Little Mo" Connolly, at the age of 18, became the first woman to win the Grand Slam of tennis — all four majors in a calendar year — losing but a single set. In her meteoric career, cut short by a tragic horseback riding accident in 1954, San Diego native Mo Connolly captured the last nine Slam tournaments that she entered.

Had not her horse, Colonel Merryboy, been spooked by a speeding concrete truck careering around a curve, who knows what unreachable heights Maureen Connolly might have scaled? She was just 19, but she never recovered from the awful leg injuries she suffered in the mishap. Only fifteen years later, she succumbed to cancer. More ... 


The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest

by Clark Elder Morrow

What makes a great letter writer?

We know what makes a great letter-carrier: comfortable knee breeches, over-the-calf socks, a pith helmet…. But what of the epistolary artist? What are his or her accoutrements?

To answer that question, I think we need to look closely at a great letter writer's letters, even though I know some may disagree with me. My favorite epistolarian is Horace Walpole, who lived from 1717 to 1797. He was, coincidentally enough, a so-called man of letters, so it's not surprising that he excelled at writing them to his friends and acquaintances. He was not only a man of letters, but an art historian, an antiquarian, an interior designer, a critic and a fine raconteur. Naturally, a good raconteur has excellent material for a good letter writer: if you can hold people with your ribald stories and your raucous, naughty escapades, you're likely to hold them with your written exploits as well. Not that Walpole's letters are all salacious or scandalous — in fact, I've never come across any that are. But they are just as highly entertaining as any bawdy account you might have heard from your neighborhood lecher (and every neighborhood has one; they're like village idiots in that regard). That's how good these letters are. If he had been only an interior designer, I don't know how good his letters might have been. More ... 

by James Csank

Contracts of adhesion. These contracts are written by one party and, naturally, heavily favor that party. The classic example of a contract of adhesion is your insurance policy. It is a contract; you don't have to purchase a particular policy, but if you do, you take it as drafted by the insurer's lawyers. There is no bargaining, no give and take.

Because contracts of adhesion are one-sided, courts do not like them. By "courts," I mean the rules of interpretation developed and applied by judges over centuries as the common law grew and adapted itself to changes in society.1 One principle of the common law that is applied by courts to contracts of adhesion is this: any ambiguity in the contract is interpreted against the party who drafted the contract. More ... 

by Mark Halpern

To my mind, there are three steps to a correct view of the Shakespeare authorship question. The first of these is to understand that we know practically nothing about the man from Stratford-on-Avon to whom authorship is conventionally ascribed. The well-established facts about that man can be summed up on one standard typewritten page, and they are almost without exception insignificant, telling us nothing of real interest about him. Apart from that handful of unenlightening facts, everything you may have read and think you know about him is conjecture at best. There have been several books that call themselves biographies of Shakespeare, some running to several hundred pages, but they are not biographies. They are portraits of the Elizabethan age — the court, the theater, politics, education, and culture in general — and studies of Shakespeare's works, with here and there a tiny fact about the man Shakespeare thrown in. And in the hands of a writer with a pleasant, easy style, like Marchette Chute, one can be so entertained by the picture offered of the Elizabethan world and of Shakespeare's interesting contemporaries that one can easily overlook the fact that one has been told very little of him — far less, for instance, than one has been told about a number of minor figures whose sole claim on our attention is that they were in some way associated with him. More ... 

by John Reinhart

Jennifer worries what her neighbors will
think since the door panel fell off her
car not to mention the car itself, not the
latest model though highly reliable.
She worries about her children
eating dirt, eating worms, eating well More ... 

by Missy-Marie Montgomery

My freshmen are trying to figure out language, trying to learn the language of the academy, and it confuses them. I can well remember the feeling of being overwhelmed (indeed, I still sometimes feel this way) by the level of discourse I needed to understand and study my own particular field — how this new language signified a history of information I needed to "get." My mind worked as it did when I studied in Spain for a summer in college, constantly trying to translate the words coming at me, mentally rehearsing my answers in Spanish, pilfering verb formations from the questions asked of me, and waiting for the day when I'd finally dream in Spanish. 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 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 ... 

People long to write a clear, a readable, even, at times, an elegant sentence. In "Toward the Making of a Sentence," we talk about the style and sound, the grammar and punctuation, the words and meaning of a sentence. 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 ... 

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Love a word? Tell us what it is and perhaps we'll add it to our list of Best Words. There need not be any well-reasoned analysis of your high regard for a word; emotional reactions to the sound or meaning of words are welcome. If a word you love is already listed, you are welcome to tell us why you, too, love the word. The Best Words have an aura of fun or majesty. More ... 

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Hate a word? Tell us what it is and perhaps we'll add it to our list of Worst Words. There need not be any well-reasoned analysis of your distaste for a word; visceral reactions to the sound or meaning of words are welcome. If a word you hate is already listed, you are welcome to tell us why you, too, hate the word. The Worst Words have an aura of foolishness or odium. More ... 

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We welcome your submitting MP3 recordings of literary essays or poems to TVR Radio 2. If we like your recording, we'll add it to our database. More ... 

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Each ten-question Vocabula Quiz briefly discusses a specific topic, such as history, science, literature, or philosophy. Of course, you are quizzed not on content but on grammar or usage, vocabulary or spelling, punctuation or style. More ... 

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Robert Hartwell Fiske's
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