Click here to donate to Vocabula

Click here to listen to TVR Radio 2

Click here to buy a one-year subscription to Vocabula

Click here to read The Best Words

Sunday, May 1, 2016   Calendar Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher
July 2013, Vol. 15, No. 7 There are now   11256   people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080
 Discuss This Article

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?

Simply, what a lovely essay. — What do you say?

Good article; sweet, too. But the way you slipped in the pronouncement, "By the age of four, children from welfare families have heard thirty-five-million fewer words than their financially better-off peers" wasn't quite fair. You don't cite a source, but even if you have one or two sources, I'd remind you that there are many financially well off families who bring up their children up in front of the television just as there are many so-called "welfare" families who do quite the opposite. If money were the deciding factor in language acquisition and/or the accumulation of an extensive lexicon, we'd have a nation of Churchills and Chisholms. But, uhm, like, you know, just like listen, ah, to like just about uhm anyone in the, you know, like, public eye? — 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.

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.

  Next Page Back Issues
  1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 | 2009 | 2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013

 In the July 2013 Vocabula
 The August 2013 issue is due online August 18.

Back to Top  Acropox
by Skip Eisiminger
The French spell NATO backwards but pronounce it forwards. — The Wordspinner

If FEDEX and UPS were to merge, would they call it FED UP? — Anonymous

In 1950, Fred Iacocca chose not to bestow a "junior" on his son, Ed, but perhaps he should have. Fred was named by his father, Luigi, who had joined FIGHT REDS, EXPAND DEMOCRACY, which was long before ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION shriveled into ED. Ed's mother, Jan, had approved the name because, as she told friends, "I'm JUST A NURSE," and she was. However, to her patients, she was the woman with the MILK OF MAGNESIA; to Fred, she was the MASTER OF MAGIC, and to Ed, she was the MAKER OF ME.

When Fred's second cousin took over at Chrysler years later, Jan said it was clear he was perfect for the job given that "Iacocca" stood for "I AM CHAIRMAN OF CHRYSLER CORPORATION OF AMERICA." (To Ed, however, Fred was "Dad," the DEPUTY ASSISTANT DIRECTOR of something slightly less ambiguous than his title.) However, Fred, who'd always driven Fords, was torn by his cousin's success. He favored Fords because they were FIRST ON RACE DAY, but Jan, who loved the Dodge, countered with her own etymology: FOUND ON ROAD DEAD. Fred was ready for her, however, claiming that Dodges were DEAD ON DAY GUARANTEE EXPIRES. More ... 

by Bill Casselman

The earliest word in Old English for a hole in a wall that let in air, wind, and light was eyethurl or, as Anglo-Saxon scribes wrote it, éagþyrel = éag, "eye" + Old English noun þyrel thyrel, thurl, thyrl, "perforated hole, pierced opening, aperture" < through a noun use of an adverbial form "orifice, made hole" + -el, English suffix chiefly diminutive, so that the compound thyrel means "small cut hole in some object."

Has the word thurl totally disappeared from contemporary English speech? Not quite. One of the two external holes in your nose to speakers of older English was nosþirl, later nosðyrl, later still in Middle English noistrell, and by 1677 in Paradise Lost John Milton spelled it nostril, "nose-thurl, nose-hole." More ... 

I've tried to be kind to John McWhorter, but there's a limit to my patience. I've explained the facts of language usage to him at length,1 in simple words, yet he shows no sign of having listened, let alone reformed; this makes me grumpy. But I may not have the right to call myself so; he has apparently preempted the term grumpy for descriptivists, calling his language-usage column in The New Republic "The Grumpy Grammarian," even though the standard claim of the descriptivist linguists is that we, their prescriptivist opponents, are the grumpy ones,2 while they are the serene and quietly confident ones. Why then does McWhorter call himself grumpy? I suppose it's the lure of alliteration; perhaps the only adjective he could think of that starts with "gr" was grumpy, so grumpy it was, despite its meaning the opposite of what he really thinks (I suggest "groovy"). But this must not be allowed to distract us; on to more important points. More ... 

by Richard Lederer

Since 1777, Americans have associated red, white, and blue with their flag, the Stars and Stripes. As Charles Sumner explained in "Are We a Nation?" (1867), "white is for purity, red for valor and blue for justice."

Colors color our language — and that's not just a pigment of my imagination. Here's a red, white, and blue quiz that I'm confident you'll pass with flying colors. Using the clues that follow, identify each common expression in English that contains the color red, white, or blue.

Let's start by seeing red:

1. In debt.

2. To have a great party time in the city.

3. Embarrassed.

4. Angry.

5. The bordello part of town.

6. What makes someone feel especially welcome and important.

7. Badly sunburned.

8. A plane or train that travels at night.

9. Discovered in the act of committing a crime.

10. Complications in a bureaucracy.

11. Nearly worthless.

12. A false issue that distracts from the real issue.

13. A special day.

14. An athlete who sits out a year to gain maturity.

More ... 

The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest

by Robert Hartwell Fiske

Write in sentences, not in phrases.

Writing phrases is unremarkable, talentless. If you want to write engagingly, if you want to write distinctively, if you want to write well, avoid writing flat phrases as though they were inspired sentences.

A sentence is a selection of words that includes a subject and a verb and that expresses a complete thought. One other measure of a sentence is that it can be well or badly written; a phrase can be neither. More ... 

Vocabula Revisited
Back to Top  Please Don't Say What You Mean
by Amalia Gnanadesikan

A linguist colleague of mine says that when he was in graduate school he and his classmates used to play a certain unusual party game. Linguists are known (to themselves, at least) for their unusual party games, hilarious to themselves and entirely uninteresting to others. This particular game involved thinking of the most unusual thing to say that would get someone to close a window — without ever mentioning the window. The winning utterance was apparently, "Cheetahs are retromictural."

It helps to know that retromictural means "urinating backwards." If, therefore, there were a cheetah outside your open window, the statement "Cheetahs are retromictural" might indeed get you to close the window very quickly, depending on which way the cheetah was facing.

The scenario might be fanciful, but a disconnect of this sort between what we say (a simple statement of fact in this example) and what we intend to communicate (such as an instruction to close the window) is extremely common. More ... 

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, Disagreeable English, Scarcely Used Words).

"Oddments and Miscellanea" is a collection of musings about language, quotations from the enemies of English, archival material, and more. More ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back to Top  Gotcha Grammar

Here are quotations from well-known people, all of whom have used words ungrammatically or unstylistically. These are unnotable quotes, a collection of solecisms, by well-known people who speak as though they should be unknown. More ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back to Top  Best Words

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 ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back to Top  Worst Words

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 ... 

Free in Vocabula
Back to Top  TVR Radio 2

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 ... 

 Featured Essays

Acropox — Skip Eisiminger

Window Words — Bill Casselman

A Dwarf If You Insist, but Not Grumpy — Just Dopey — Mark Halpern

Flying Colors — Richard Lederer

Toward the Making of a Sentence — Robert Hartwell Fiske

Vocabula Revisited: Please Don't Say What You Mean — Amalia Gnanadesikan

 Departments and Diversions

 Other Business

 Vocabula Books

 Recent Issues

Among the 11256 people now reading The Vocabula Review are the following subscribers:

What's this?

Robert Hartwell Fiske's
Disagreeable English

A Quarterly Bulletin of Misused, Misspelled, and Mispronounced English

Four 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. Sign up today. Please make your credit card payment using PayPal.

EBSCO makes Robert Hartwell Fiske's Disagreeable English available in its Literary Reference Center Plus database.

Click the image to order101 Wordy Phrases Kindle Edition by Robert Hartwell Fiske

The Vocabula Bookstore Is Now Open.
(click the image to order)

A distillation of Fiske's The Dictionary of Concise Writing, this handy reference includes some ludicrous, though much used, examples of wordiness. Sentence examples illustrate how wordy phrases can be made more concise.

Click to see another book.