|Sunday, May 1, 2016||Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher|
|September 2013, Vol. 15, No. 9||There are now 12994 people reading TVR.||ISSN 1542-7080|
Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English
A Compendium of Mistakes in Grammar, Usage, and Spelling with Commentary on Lexicographers and Linguists
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.
To the Point: A Dictionary of Concise Writing
The essential guide to writing succinctly
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.
When the bell rang, signaling mid-morning break, the floors of the factory shook as workers scrambled away from their stations, rushing to vending machines or out exit doors for a smoke. Morning break was eight minutes. The men on the loading dock kept working. They kept working because they were blind and eight minutes was not enough time to navigate from one place to another.
Every day during the mid-morning break some of the women who didn't smoke or drink coffee because they were pregnant or still breastfeeding, or because they were sanctimonious goody-two-shoes, or simply too young, came down to the loading dock to watch the men load the trucks. The men knew when the women were watching because they could smell the fragrances, not as a mix but each individual scent. The men could almost taste each woman's proximity; through some enriched sense of smell they were able to separate the young from the old, the maidens from the mothers from the matrons. More ...
by John Kilgore
Here we go again. The JulyAugust issue of the Yale Alumni Magazine, here on my desk, features a gaily illustrated cover story entitled "Why bad' English isn't." An owlish subtitle adds, "Yale's grammar non-discrimination team wants you to let go of your prejudices."
The YAM has your number, it seems. It just knows, somehow, that you are a language snob, infected by the hateful "prejudice" that in English, or in language generally, certain things are right and others not. But don't panic! You are not beyond redemption, for the cure is simplicity itself: just "let go."
The article describes the work of Yale's Grammatical Diversity Project, a research group headed by linguistics professor Rafaella Zanuttini, which has set itself the task of cataloguing syntactic variation across the English-speaking world. Illustrations to the article offer a very generous sampling of the data: "Ain't nobody a man," for instance, recorded in New York; "Everyone is SO wearing flip-flops this season," in New Hampshire; "You might could keep the cuffs," in Texas; "She ain't in no seventh grade. She in eleventh grade," in Pennsylvania; and so on and so forth, colorfully and intriguingly, for five cartoon-like pages (six, if the magazine cover is counted) on which each little bit of variant speech appears inside a speech-balloon tethered to a spot on the map. More ...
by Bill Casselman
Ever sailed on a big luxury cruise, me hearties? Welcome to the ship's galley, ye venturesome landlubbers. Head Chef of ship's kitchen is Sanborn Patterson. His nickname? Foodborne Pathogen. The Greek pastry chefs are a happy married couple, Sam and Ella Streptococcopoulos. More mirth on cruise food appears below, but first, we humbly serve you the origin of the word cruise.
Here is my elaboration of the usually unclear dictionary entry about "to cruise." The metaphor appears to have originated in Holland during naval record-keeping, in sailing journals and mapmaking. In sixteenth-century Dutch nautical cartography, kruisen, was a verb meaning to make an "x" mark or a series of "x" marks, that is, serial crosshatching, to show on a nautical chart that a ship had "crossed" a certain expanse of water: xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx More ...
by Clark Elder Morrow
Damn it, every single time I use the word normal in conversation, some unwarrantably superior pseudo-sage arches an eyebrow, grins the grin of smugness, and drawls, "After all, what is normal?" And (to make the thing even more annoying) he or she does so with the olidous air of having struck forensic gold. I've had enough of this fatuous rhetorical question. Let's go to the reference books.
The mathematical sense of normal predates, by a hefty hunk of time, the usual or conversational sense of the word. The term originally had to do with geometry, and referred to perpendicularity or the meeting of straight lines at right angles. The carpenter's square used in building was called a norma, possibly from the Greek gnomon. The square was used in construction to establish a "norm," or standard 90-degree angle. It was thus a preset pattern useful for creating uniformity where the erection of buildings was concerned. This use of the word dates from medieval times, though the sense of normal as "common" or "typical" arose somewhere around 1500. Later shades of meaning, including most of those we use today, date from the nineteenth century. More ...
Culture and SocietyHooray for Democracy Whatever That Is
by Mark Halpern
"Democracy," like "justice," is one of those words that commands near-universal assent, which means that it means different things to different people, or even to the same people on different occasions; it is only by such polysemy that any term can achieve such general acceptability. Here are three senses in which the word is understood today by various people on various occasions:
1. Democracy: a polity in which the general population gets its way by votingMore ...
by Richard Lederer
Zizzebots are "the marks on the bridge of one's nose visible when one's glasses are removed."
Elecelleration is "the mistaken notion that the more you press the elevator button, the faster it will come."
Carperpetuation is "the act, when vacuuming, of running over a piece of string or piece of lint at least a dozen times, reaching down and picking it up, examining it, then putting it back down to give the vacuum cleaner one more chance."
A charp is "that one green mutant potato chip found in every bag." More ...
by James Csank
The law like many other occupations and professions has its own jargon, a short-hand in which complicated concepts are encapsulated into a few words. In this essay, I explain the phrases "accord and satisfaction" and "anticipatory repudiation."
I. Let's start with one that arises in contract situations: "accord and satisfaction." When a dispute arises between the parties to an agreement, they often resolve the dispute by entering into a new contract that takes the place of the old one. Suppose A lends B five thousand dollars, which B agrees to pay back within six months. The six months comes and goes, but A remains unpaid. A sues B to recover what is owed. B's attorney offers A's attorney the sum of three thousand dollars. He says that B owes a lot of money to a lot of people; unless B can make reasonable settlements with his creditors, he will have no choice but to file bankruptcy; if that happens most creditors will get no more that ten cents on the dollar. But unfortunately, the attorney continues, B cannot come up with the three thousand in a lump sum. He will have to make payments of, say, five hundred dollars a month for the next six months. A's attorney, on the theory that "a bird in the hand, etc." convinces his client to accept the offer. When A's attorney asks for some (any) kind of security, B's attorney says that, sadly, none is available, but B will agree to a judgment in favor of A for three thousand dollars. The parties prepare an Agreed Judgment Entry setting forth the terms, and the lawsuit is ended. The new agreement (three thousand dollars, six months, five hundred per month) is an "accord and satisfaction." More ...
Personal EssayOn Heroes: Laureled Heads and Feet of Clay
by Skip Eisiminger
I am the hero of Africa. Idi Amin
Heroes are often misrepresented. Samuel Johnson thought they must drink brandy, Emerson thought eventually they become bores, and Scott Fitzgerald thought their lives must end tragically. I suspect these gentlemen are mistaken, but I've yet to find a thoroughly unblemished hero outside of fiction. From Beowulf to Atticus Finch, literature teems with ideals life cannot provide.
To be sure, I misrepresented or misunderstood my share of heroes growing up. For years, I idolized Joe DiMaggio like many baseball-playing kids in the 1940s and '50s. Joe was heir to Babe Ruth; he was the "Yankee Clipper" who'd hit safely in seventy-two of seventy-three games and led the Yankees to nine World Series championships. After Joe's retirement, Paul Simon would wail, "Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo, woo, woo." It turned out that "Joltin' Joe" had not gone anywhere. He was making ads for Mr. Coffee even after spending much of WWII on Hawaii's beaches and battering Marilyn Monroe because none of that mattered if you ever hit a sinking fast ball. More ...
Vocabula RevisitedNews from the Front, Once More
by Carey Harrison
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 VocabulaGotcha 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 VocabulaBest 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 VocabulaWorst 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 ...
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