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Wednesday, April 23, 2014   Calendar Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher
May 2013, Vol. 15, No. 5 There are now   198   people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080
 Discuss This Article

A delightfully refreshing read. Thank you for posting it. — 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?

It was a pleasure to read Clark Elder Morrow's perceptive but scary article. It came at an interesting time, for I had just returned to Salisbury, Maryland from Baldwin, Long Island, where, with nine fellow alumni from the high school class of 1947, I celebrated our 65th reunion. It was a refreshing few hours of animated conversation where nary an "Oh my god — it was like amazing" comment was uttered. There were no "We shudda wents" or "They sent an invitation to Johnny and I" blunders, just English as we learned it at home and in our classrooms during the late thirties and early 1940s. I sent copies of Mr. Morrow's article to my three kids, 52, 54 and 56. who may be among the last generations of Americans who treasure the language and do it no harm. — 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.



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 In the May 2013 Vocabula
 The June 2013 issue is due online June 16.

"It's often important to use language which implicitly or explicitly [italics mine] includes both men and women," states 'He or she' versus 'they', an article featured on oxforddictionaries.com, "making no distinction between the genders. This can be tricky when it comes to pronouns." In the past, it explains, people used he, his, him, and himself in situations where they did not know the gender of a singular antecedent, an approach now seen as "sexist and outdated." However, it reassures us that there are "other options which allow you to arrive at a 'gender-neutral' solution," such as:

• You can use the wording "he or she", "his or her", etc.

To feminists, regardless of what the stated purpose of a piece of writing is, it should also engage in promoting social justice (as understood by feminists), and, regardless of context, human beings are always divided along gender lines, so that every instance of the generic pronoun can be read as though it were the masculine pronoun. Unsurprisingly, statements containing generic he consequently appear biased to them, and they demand that he or she, or some other so-called gender-neutral substitute, be used in lieu of so-called pseudo-generic he. In other words, they expect you to take their own erroneous reading of a statement, and run with it. More ... 

by Joseph Epstein

A year or so ago, I took part in a conference in Mexico for which I, along with several other intellectuals, academics, and writers, was paid an excellent fee to talk for 10 minutes. The proceedings took place over three days. They were held in a movie-sized theater and were well attended. I was distinguished at this conference, near as I could tell, in being the only one who did not avail himself of audiovisual aids. The reason I didn't is that I don't have any; nor have I any wish to possess any. I am a word man, a writer, a mere scribbler, and in me what you read or hear — not see — is what you get. More ... 

by John Kilgore

Language Log, a fascinating and important website, the blogging home of some very famous linguists and scholars, has a standing feud with what it calls "peeves": people's highly particular annoyances with one usage or another, and (especially) the habit of justifying such aversions with hazy ad hoc rules that have not really been investigated or tested or thought through. Writers at Language Log are peeved by peeves. The theme runs through post after post, on a wide range of particular topics; and the page explicitly entitled "peeving" (or assembled when you click that tag) includes discussions of singular data, of irregardless, of where we're at, of hopefully, of nucular, of tremendous and other empty superlatives, and so on. The category stretches all the way from prescriptive rules that have been put forward formally at some point, to small gripes in eager letters to the editor. Nearly always, LL defends the questioned usage or, at the least, holds it to be a small problem only, not nearly worth the peever's fustian. More ... 


The Vocabula Well-Written Writing Contest

by Richard Lederer

Back in 1907, one A. C. Pearson asked readers to identify the word described in his little poem:

A turning point in every day,
Reversed I do not alter.
One half of me says haste away!
The other bids me falter.

The answer is noon. Half the word is on ("haste away!"), and half is no ("bids me falter"). Together they form a word that reads the same forwards and backwards.

A palindrome is a word, a word row, a sentence, or a longer statement that communicates the same message when the letters of which it is composed are read in reverse order. Palindromes make us exult, Ah ha!, Oh, ho!, Hey, yeh!, Yo boy!, Yay!, Wow!, Tut-Tut!, Har-har! Rah-rah!, Heh-heh!, and Hoorah! Har! Ooh! and Ahem! It's time. Ha!

Palindromic words are summus, palindromic Latin for "the highest, uppermost, the top." More ... 

The Sirens (Greek Σειρῆνες, Seirenes) first lure sailors to their briny doom by enchanted singing in the Homeric hexameters of the Greek home-quest poem, The Odyssey. The Romans borrowed the word to give the Latin siren and subsequent Romance-language derivatives like Italian and Spanish sirena, French sirène, and Old French sereine and seraine, the source of the earliest English forms like sereyn, serayn, serayne, seryne, and syraine.

Σειρήν (seiren), as the word first appears in Homer, may be derived from Greek seira, "rope" (Ionic Greek seire, "rope") from an Indo-European etymon *sei, "to bind," as in the Sanskrit syati, "he ties, he binds." So siren might mean "binder," she-demon who ropes men into her spell. She's a spellbinder. More ... 

by David Galef

In this final column devoted to student bloopers, I unveil the pièce de resistance, or what a student some years ago termed the resistant piece. This set of sentences transcends typographical errors and mangled phrases. It's a grab bag assortment that ranges from bizarre logic to just plain bizarre. It includes puns that are surely unintentional. If the effects are often discombobulating, the results seem oddly justified. To quote the theater critic Addison DeWitt from All about Eve, wearily acknowledging the not-too-bright Claudia Caswell: "You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point." Here are some points. Not much comment is necessary here, though I often scrawled in the margin, "How did you mean this?" More ... 

Film Review
Back to Top  OH BOY!
by Marion DS Dreyfus

OH BOY!, a compelling tragicomedy in black and white, is an ironic portrait of a young man (Tom Schilling, in a believable, unforced performance) who drops out of university and ends up experiencing the streets of the city in which he lives: Berlin. The film deals with the desire to participate in life and the difficulty in finding one's place. His credit card is gobbled. His driver's license is withheld in an Orwellian interview. He loses interest in a girlfriend. He tries repeatedly to purchase regular coffee, but cannot seem to be able to find any or close the deal. He smokes constantly. More ... 

by A. D. Coleman

I've used these recent posts to describe a semantic and linguistic environment in which academic authority figures encourage their acolytes to talk about material with which they're unacquainted directly, applying to their engagement with it something called "theory" that never gets subjected to testing and possible refutation in practice, while using a standardized, opaque language to do so.

Alix Rule and David Levine, to whose cogent report on what they've named International Art English I referred, compiled a database of the 13,000 art-world press releases sent out in email bursts to "art professionals" since January 1999 through e-flux, the New York-based subscriber network. Then they ran that material through some language-analysis software called Sketch Engine, developed by a company in Brighton, UK, to identify its recurrent phrases and other commonalities, turning those into a statistical profile. (See Andy Beckett's January 27, 2013, piece in The Guardian, A user's guide to artspeak, which includes snippets from his interview with Rule and Levine.) More ... 

by Christopher Lord

The English novelist Martin Amis, in the preface to a newly published collection of essays,1 writes of the democratization of literary taste, and in particular of literary criticism, arguing that the Internet, among other factors, has contributed to an atmosphere in which everyone has an equal right to an opinion, and in which the elitist standards of previous decades must therefore be abandoned. Nevertheless, he is confident that "literature will resist leveling and revert to hierarchy." This is a comforting doctrine for those at the top of the tree, particularly, as in Mr Amis's case, when it might be mentioned that Daddy's connections could have had something to do with his earlier successes. It expresses a thought that most littérateurs, famous or not, would probably agree with in some form: the thought, that is, that there is some special talent that provides a piece of writing with that extra sparkle that makes it worth reading in the first place. Fiction, essays, criticism, even journalism: if it is vivified by this magical force, this élan, it will be transfigured and become, yes, literature. The highbrow publishing industry, the literary weeklies, and the English departments of universities could hardly stay in business without such a premise to justify their activities. 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 ... 

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 ... 

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The point of this collection is to show that the language can be written with grace and polish — qualities that much contemporary writing is bereft of and could benefit from. Read these examples of elegant English, and from each you might glean some turn of phrase, some device of rhetoric, some clarity of expression, some novelty of thought that, in more contemporary writing, you seldom will have noticed.


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