|Thursday, October 23, 2014||Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher|
|April 2014, Vol. 16, No. 4||There are now 105 people reading Vocabula.||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
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
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.
by Bill Casselman
We've all heard of incarnation, when an airy spirit or incorporeal deity assumes fleshly form. Incarnation is the literal embodiment of an entity not customarily provided with a perceptible body.
But excarnation, particularly in the sciences of archaeology and anthropology, names a common human burial practice: removing the flesh and organs from a corpse and burying or preserving only the bones. Ancient Egyptian mummification procedures involved partial excarnation. Various world peoples expose a new corpse on a high place and permit birds like buzzards to pick clean or even carry off the bones of the dead.
Excarnation may also be a natural process; for example, the flesh of a dead body exposed will rot away by natural putrefaction, from Latin puter, "rotten" + facere, "to make, to render." A cadaver or, in the charming euphemism of ambulance drivers, mortal remains that have VSA (vital signs absent), any corpse may find itself outside, subject to natural law, and thus subject to be torn or consumed by plundering predators, vulturine raptors, botfly larvae, and the entire hellish circus of saprotrophic fauna and flora evolved to devour our fragile and oh-so-temporary flesh. More ...
by Clark Elder Morrow
Today we have naming of cocktails.
The task is not an easy one. It would be much easier to name a racehorse, because a thoroughbred racehorse can be called just about anything you like. Think of any combination of words, and there is no reason in the world why it could not be applied to your horse. Here, I'll give you a sample of what I mean: Gloverman. I just took two words that came to mind (glover and man) and put them together. A perfectly good horse's name. The same goes for sailboats: call them anything you like, and who's going to question you (unless, of course, you are being deliberately provocative there would be nothing arbitrary or unobjectionable about using Slaverunner as your boat name).
But the name of a cocktail should have some connection however remote with what you find in the glass. If you're mixing scotch with rosewater (and God knows why you should be doing such a thing), you're going to find some impetus for the name of it in the "rose" portion of rosewater. So you might call your concoction an American Beauty, or a Primrose Pounder, or a Deflowerer (of course that last name could be used for any alcoholic drink). Or, if your libation contains something exotic, like cumin or hibiscus or jasmine, you might want to elaborate on the exoticism involved by naming your drink something like Mystic Scent, or Asian Ghost, or Timor Tea. You'd go for the romance and poetry of all the imagery associated with the colonial Spice Islands of, say, 1885. More ...
by Richard Lederer
Fifty years ago, on April 5, 1964, General Douglas MacArthur passed away. When he retired from the military in 1951, he declaimed the famous line "Old soldiers never die they just fade away." But five-star generals are not the only ones who never say die:
Old librarians never die they just check out, become overdue, and lose their circulation.
Old crossword puzzlers never die they just go across and up.
Old milkmaids never die they just kick the bucket and lose their whey.
Old plumbers never die they just get out of sink and go down the drain.
Old teachers never die they just grade away and lose their principals, their faculties, and their class. More ...
by Skip Eisiminger
I suppose the empty nest had something to do with it, but after our daughter graduated from the University of South Carolina and moved to New York, I started feeling guilty about all the great advice I'd never given her. So I bought a collection of epigrams entitled As the Saying Goes and distilled a list of what I claimed were "Pop's Proverbs." The Chinese say, "The palest ink trumps the best memory," so I placed it first to encourage writing. Among other things, I advised her to plow around the stumps of Manhattan, to forgive herself over and over, and not to wait for people to love her. I reminded her that civility costs nothing, that there's an exception to most rules, that the end usually does not justify the means, and that pretty is as pretty does.
She wrote back in the palest ink saying thank you, but she'd assimilated most everything I'd collected long before she left home. Apparently "Pop" had conveyed the wisdom through his actions, making the precepts redundant. As Anja put it, "Pop had planted seeds rather than scattering pearls under foot." More ...
by John Kilgore
"Bridge May Ice," the signs say, or sometimes, "Bridge Ices Before Road." I have noticed these especially on interstates, especially in the South and West, but also in the Midwest, and for all I know they exist in all fifty states. Clearly, this way of using the word "ice" is favored by massive precedent and high authority. So who am I to find it awkward?
I do, though, quite consistently and involuntarily. Every time I pass one of the signs, my eye catches on it, with a surge of restless annoyance that may last twenty or thirty whole nanoseconds. Shouldn't that be ...? Perhaps by writing this I will finally desensitize the reflex, and find myself able to drive right past the signs like a normal person, caring only about content, alert to the danger of ice on this next overpass, glinting in the August sun.
For now, though, I find the usage elliptical and ungainly. My problem is that ice, as a verb, wants to be transitive; it requires a direct object. Icing is usually not something you do by yourself, as you rise in the morning, but something you do to something or someone else, as you raise the blind for a peek outside. You can ice a cake, or a sprained ankle, or (unusually but comprehensibly) a soda or a just-caught fish, or a kicker or foul shooter (in sports slang, by calling time out). But if you say I'm going to ice now, people just stare. Bill ices with the best of them does not seem to be a meaningful proposition. Nor does the clock always ices in February. The biggest dictionary I own (Random House, 1987) does give an intransitive sense for the word, but far down the list, at number 23, and the example provided the sherbet is icing in the freezer sounds quite odd to me. More ...
by Richard Lederer
A hundred and seventy-five years ago, the most useful expression of universal communication ever devised first appeared in print. That word is OK, and it is recognizable and pronounceable in almost every language on earth.
The explanations for the origin of OK have been as imaginative as they have been various. But the late language maven Allen Walker Read, a Columbia University professor, proved that OK did not derive from okeh, an affirmative reply in Choctaw; nor from the name of chief Old Keokuk; nor from a fellow named Orrin Kendall, who manufactured a tasty brand of army biscuit for Union soldiers in the Civil War and stamped them OK; nor from the Haitian port Aux Cayes, which produced superior rum; nor from "open key," a telegraph term; nor from the Greek ola kalla, meaning "all good."
Rather, as Professor Read discovered, the truth is more political than any of these theories. He tracked down the first known published appearance of OK with its current meaning in the Boston Morning Post on March 23, 1839: "The 'Chairman of the Committee on Charity Lecture Balls' is one of the deputation, and perhaps if he should return to Boston, via Providence, he of the Journal, and his train-band, would have the 'contribution box,' et ceteras, o.k. all correct and cause the corks to fly, like sparks, upward." More ...
by James Csank
A few years ago, there were so many pending foreclosure cases in Cuyahoga County, Ohio (Cleveland and its suburbs), that from the filing of the Complaint to the Confirmation of the Sale consumed two years. The situation made the front page of the Plain Dealer. To a lot of people, this was news; to a lot of others, those whose properties were being foreclosed, attorneys, bankers, it was not.
Foreclosure is a legal process in which the court takes control of troubled real estate, orders that the property be sold at a public sale, and distributes the money arising from the sale. Quite literally, it takes ownership of the land from one person ("person" includes entities such as corporations, partnerships, estates, and Real Estate Investment Trusts) and transfers it to another.
Foreclosure accomplishes two things: property is sold to pay the debts of the owner, and title to the property is cleared. Most parcels of real estate have at least one cloud on the title. "Cloud" is a metaphor; the legal terms are either "lien" or "encumbrance." The most common lien is a "purchase money mortgage." A mortgage is a voluntarily assumed lien; judgment liens and others are not. When owners of real estate run into financial problems, their creditors can reduce their claims to liens upon the debtors' land. These are involuntary liens that the owners would avoid if they could. More ...
Vocabula RevisitedAnother Plea for Avoidance of "Singular They"
by Robert Hollander
Perhaps nothing in the fetid grammatical atmosphere we are all breathing is more disturbing than the frequent presence of so-called singular they. This should be seen as plain error but is tolerated by some, perhaps to avoid the stilted, awkward he or she construction. As an example, consider the following sentence: "If a writer does not wish to offend the female reader, they should avoid male-gendered general pronouns."
I confess it hurt to compose that sentence even as an example of what should never be uttered or written. Nonetheless, this ungrammatical practice has been gaining unofficial cachet in the past forty years indeed, it has a long history as an alternative usage even in a few passages in Shakespeare and other British and American classics, when grammatical rules were looser than they became in the eighteenth century. Avoidance may be the best solution. For instance, we might recast that offensive example as follows: "If writers do not wish to offend the general reader, they should avoid use of singular they."
As the Italians say, c'è sempre una terza via (there's always another way). Thus I deplore a willingness to deploy a solecism even if one can thereby "avoid sexism." Just last year, asked to write a recommendation for a student who wanted to enroll in a graduate program, I found myself reading the following from an admissions officer at one of the most respected universities in this country: 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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