|Saturday, October 25, 2014||Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher|
|June 2014, Vol. 16, No. 6||There are now 119 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 Jean Mallinson
Negative statements can be far reaching and compelling in a way that simple positive assertions cannot match; they command our attention.
The power of the hyperbole implicit in a negative statement is exemplified in the opening of a poem by Thomas Wyatt: "There was never nothing more me pain'd / Nor more my pity mov'd / As when my sweetheart her complain'd / That ever she me lov'd." The double negative makes the claim emphatic and the lovely contortion of syntax that follows assures us that we are in the realm of high poetic fancy, where such protestations are the rule. The large claim of "There was never nothing" lures us into the plaint that ensues.
D. H. Lawrence's poem in praise of Bavarian gentians begins "Not every man has gentians in his house." It seems an unpromising start, asking the reader to consider an absence, but the poem immediately embarks on an effusive description of gentians that elaborates into a compelling narrative. The opening line identifies the speaker as a fortunate being, one of the favored few who have gentians in their house, and lets us know that he is aware of his inestimable good fortune in having these flowers in his house, that he is rich, compared to the deprived others who are not so blessed. The negative predisposes us to like him he counts his blessings, takes nothing for granted and listen to what he has to say in praise of the flowers he is one of the select number to possess "in soft September, at slow, sad, Michaelmas." So the negative establishes his authority to address his musings to us, based on his sense of being honoured by the presence of the flowers. We feel his generosity in sharing his good fortune with us, the readers. The poem in praise of the flower that follows is ample reward. More ...
by Richard Lederer
We think of carnivals as traveling entertainments with rides, sideshows, games, cotton candy, and balloons; but the first carnivals were pre-Lenten celebrations a last fling before penitence. The Latin word parts, carne, "meat, flesh," and vale, "farewell," indicate that the earliest carnivals were seasons of feasting and merrymaking, "a farewell to meat," just before Lent.
Carnival is one of hundreds of words and expressions that began in religion (from Latin religionem, "respect for what is sacred"). Because our society has become secularized, we overlook the religious foundation of our everyday parlance:
by Skip Eisiminger
Advertising: hullabaloo; speculation and a mad dash for profits have made advertising a means of swindling the people and of foisting upon them goods frequently useless or of dubious quality. Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1941 edition
Born in 1941, I grew up with the jingles on Mother's kitchen radio like: "My beer is Rheingold, the dry beer; think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer!" In the 1950s, traveling between Virginia and Georgia, my sisters and I would vie for the right to read aloud the next set of Burma Shave signs: "Said Farmer Brown / who's bald on top / wish I could / rotate the crop. / Burma Shave!" In high school, a young friend thought I was the bees' knees because I threw The Washington Post for the man who drew the Coppertone ad showing a girl's bare bottom. That passed for sex in the 1950s. And finally, seduced by posters of Bavaria, I enlisted in the army because they promised to send me to Germany. Technically, they upheld their end of the bargain, but I was stationed 400 miles north of the Alps in a Wehrmacht ammunition factory on "Gallows Hill" for most of my enlistment. Winter in Germany had looked a lot cooler on the posters; Heidwinkel/Bahrdorf was just cold.
All-day suckers such as my younger self are what cartoonist Robert Mankoff was aiming at when he drew a consumer at a cigarette kiosk asking the clerk, "Oh, just give me a pack of whatever the guys in marketing are targeting for jerks like me." Mankoff's colleague at the New Yorker Jack Ziegler gives the ad maker his comeuppance at a chaotic press conference where he's explaining: "Yes, but take away the rodent droppings and the occasional shard of glass, and you've got a damn fine product." Somewhere between that ad man and the consumer lies a multi-billion-dollar industry. More ...
by Clark Elder Morrow
Is the United States beginning to see its Decline and Fall? The question is interesting from a cultural and artistic point of view, if from no other. Leaving aside politics, it might be entertaining (if nothing else) to take a look at a few cultural indicators of what might provocatively be entitled The Final Stage of America.
Here is what I have in mind. W. H. Auden, in his exquisite little poem "The Fall of Rome," lists several symptoms of the Empire's internal and external collapse. Among them are these:
Caesar's double-bed is warm
Now consider this news report (I clipped it from Softpedia) from early April of this year:
Instead of recording actual court dialogue during a high-profile criminal trial, an alcoholic Manhattan stenographer kept writing "I hate my job" over and over again.
by Bill Casselman
Here's a motley toolbox of terms derived from the classical Latin word for hammer, malleus.
Perhaps the most familiar English derivative is mallet, a percussive implement that one might wish to apply every now and then to the forehead of Rand Paul. Alas, such a restorative fillip has been deemed by our judicial betters to be a tort, to wit, a wrongful act, however conducive to Rand's mental correction said mallet might prove. Of course, none of us want to be low tortfeasors. Let us therefore settle for sending Rand a few eye-drops, mayhap a wet teabag, to assuage the twin shiners that a just electoral fate has in store for him.
However that stern goddess, Focus, now bids us, for the purpose of this wee divertissement, to press onward. A more pertinent exigency summons us mallet-wielders into the spark-dense smithy of etymology, where the acetylene torch of history noisily breaks words asunder. And then our gained knowledge of a verbal origin lets us weld words together, their prime meanings refreshed, their definitions restated and conjoined in pristine and tidy newness. More ...
by Jeff Minick
"Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh, Mr. Gibbon?" Attributed to Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, 1781, on receiving a volume of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
Here is the recurring scenario: I stand before the class, take in the generally happy faces of the students seated before me, and announce an in-class thirty-minute essay. The result is as predictable as yesterday's rain: a fog of gloom descends on the room, and as my students equip themselves with paper and pen, they look as if I have just suggested removing their wisdom teeth without a sedative.
The irony here is that nearly all of these same students daily write more than I ever did at their age, if we loosely define writing as putting thought into print. They text their family and friends, they chat online, they send emails, they post messages on Facebook. Many of them doubtless write more than a thousand words a day. Yet when the time comes for more formal writing an essay in school, an entry in a journal required by their teacher, even a thank-you note for a birthday present these same young people stiffen with apprehension, as if anticipating dungeons and dismal torments.
For the past fifteen years, I have taught Latin, history, and literature courses to homeschool students living in or near Asheville, North Carolina. The students come to me weekly for a two-hour seminar, then return to their homes with an additional four to seven hours of work. These courses range from early middle-school literature and composition to Advanced Placement subjects taken in hopes of gaining college credit. This past year, approximately 120 students attended these seminars, and since many of them sat in more than one seminar a few brave souls even registered for three the number of attendees grew to about 180. More ...
Vocabula RevisitedStrunk vs. White: An Analysis of Authorship
by David Russinoff
In April 2009, hoping to improve on an average annual sales rate of 200,000 copies over a span of fifty years, Longman Publishers released a black faux leather-bound, gold-embossed anniversary edition of The Elements of Style.1 This handsome volume comes adorned with politically correct "gender-fair" language unknown to either of its credited authors and includes several pages of gushing approbation from various public figures past and present, from Dorothy Parker to Ben Affleck, all for $19.95.
Such a spectacle of prescriptivism is bound to draw fire from the academic left. Catherine Prendergast, a self-described "composition scholar," escalates the language war to an unprecedented level of vehemence in her fanciful essay, "The Fighting Style: Reading the Unabomber's Strunk and White,"2 in which she posits that the copy of the manual that "tells us most about [its] legacy" is the one found in Ted Kaczynski's Montana cabin.
Taking off on Andy White's fond memory of his Cornell English professor "Sergeant Strunk snapping orders to his Platoon" Prendergast solemnly warns us of the mortal danger that attends "Sergeant Strunk's warlike, exhortative style, his up-tempo apocalyptic railings against the paucities of modern life": 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 ...
No More Price Increases
No More Advertisements
The Vocabula Review
Ask your library to buy a site license to The Vocabula Review.