|Thursday, November 20, 2014||Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher|
|October 2014, Vol. 16, No. 10||There are now 119 people reading Vocabula.||ISSN 1542-7080|
The Dimwit's Dictionary
This is a Vocabula Book. Whereas a witticism is a clever remark or phrase indeed, the height of expression a "dimwitticism" is the converse; it is a commonplace remark or phrase. Dimwitticisms are worn-out words and phrases; they are expressions that dull our reason and dim our insight, formulas that we rely on when we are too lazy to express what we think or even to discover how we feel. The more we use them, the more we conform in thought and feeling to everyone else who uses them. The Dimwit's Dictionary is a compilation of thousands of dimwitticisms (clichés, colloquialisms, idioms, slang, and the like) that people speak and write unendingly.
You can order The Dimwit's Dictionary from Vocabula.
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
Pappus is the botanical name of the kind of air-borne, wind-blown seeds of plants like milkweed. Such aerial seeds in flotillas of tiny, silky parasols are dispersed by the winds of autumn. Filament-topped thistle-tufts and the velutinous and plumose pappi of dandelions belong also to this family of sky seeds.
The word pappus is a Latin form of an ancient Greek term for white down or fluff on certain seeds. Before that developed meaning in ancient Greek, πάππος, pappos was a word for grandfather. Gramp's white hair probably suggested this second meaning of a white-haired seed.
In form, πάππος is an affectionate diminutive in which the root *pa, "dad, father," is duplicated, for example πάππος, pappas, was a Greek child's word for father, much like papa in English and some European languages. More ...
by Skip Eisiminger
The rhythm we learned rolling in the womb
Wystan Hugh Auden claimed that "poetry makes nothing happen," and William Carlos Williams claimed that it contains information that, when absent, people die from. So which is it? After reading of Dr. Alain Bombard's brave experiment in which he drifted across the Atlantic with the trade winds but without food or water, I figured Dr. Williams had the upper hand. So I thought if I could just versify what Bombard learned on his voyage, I could achieve immortality and save lives simultaneously. And so I have written:
One may survive
Perhaps this is immodest of me, but if these verses have any legs, it's not so much my substance as the style, the rhythm and rime, that will propel them into the future. More ...
by Clark Elder Morrow
In 1774 an English Unitarian minister and moralist by the name of William Enfield published a book called The Speaker. It was a collection or anthology of what Enfield thought were the finest passages available in the English language passages that would, he felt, teach elocution to the young. The book is a rich pastureland of nourishing tufts fit for the choicest grazing. It is a forerunner, of sorts, of Bill Bennett's The Book of Virtues: A Treasury of Great Moral Stories, in the sense that the vignettes, fabliaux, fables, speeches, and allegories found in Enfield are designed to inculcate basic morals as much as fine speech.
I will give you a sample of the kind of story found in The Speaker, and since it is brief I can share with you a tale in its entirety. What I would draw your attention to is the craft of the storytelling, and the concision of the language used throughout. There is hardly an extraneous word in the anecdote. You will notice, I hope, the balance and symmetry of the story, and how it could scarcely have been told in a more perfect manner. And because this particular story is representative of many of the others in the book, it tells us a great deal about what was thought of as eloquent in the late eighteenth century. I will dilate on that after the piece. It is called (somewhat awkwardly for we who come so long after Enfield) "The Old Man and His Ass": More ...
by Joseph Epstein
Grammar is not everybody's idea of a good time. Thanks to the remarkable inefficiencies of the Chicago public school system, I was able to steer happily clear of the subject until going off to college. Until then the entirety of my grammatical knowledge included beginning a sentence with a capital letter and ending it with a period and never using the word ain't. Commas to me were so many gnats strewn upon sheets of printed paper, a colon was an internal organ, and a dash a synonym for just a touch of ketchup or mustard. As for the semicolon, my understanding of it was equal to my understanding of Mandarin Chinese, in which, for all I knew, it might have passed as a letter.
Part of the problem here is youth, which is often unprepared to receive knowledge that does not immediately excite. How, after all, could a male adolescent, hormones churning, care about a dangling participle when his own participle so seldom dangled? I could scarcely have told you what a split infinitive was because I had no notion of what an infinitive might be. If a sentence wished to run on, hey, that was fine by me. Ask me the meaning of the genitive, the ablative, or the gerundive and I would probably reply that it is not nice to mix with Mr. Inbetween. Grammar, fair to say, was not my long suit. More ...
Culture and SocietyRace: The New Prudery
by Mark Halpern
Everyone's a little bit racist it's true
In June of this year, the owner of a professional basketball team had his privacy invaded, or somehow violated, and he was revealed as having made some ugly and offensive racial remarks to one of his intimates and unintentionally, to the whole world. The reaction to this revelation was massive and instantaneous: the man was heavily fined by the commissioner of the NBA, was practically ordered to sell the team, and was all but read out of the human race by many columnists, commentators, and writers of letters-to-the-editor. But offensive and stupid as his remarks were, they were only remarks, and privately made (he thought) at that they broke no bones. So it is instructive to compare the public reaction to his offense with that to the atrocities of all sorts taking place in the world every day see The New York Times, any issue, passim which do break bones, and massacre captives, and routinely rape, torture, and decapitate. These the public seem able to take in their stride, without outbursts of outrage and revenge-seeking. What the disparity between the public reaction to the two sorts of offense indicates, I think, is that racism is badly misunderstood by much of the public; I hope to shed some light here on the subject. More ...
by Richard Lederer
Thanksgiving is a delicious time of year to nibble on a spicy, meaty, juicy honey of a topic that I know you'll savor and relish. Feast your eyes on the veritable banquet of mushrooming food expressions that grace the table of our English language and season our tongue. As we chew the fat about the food-filled phrases that are packed like sardines and sandwiched into our everyday conversations, I'll sweeten the pot with some tidbits of food for thought guaranteed to whet your appetite.
I know what's eating you. I've heard through the grapevine that you don't give a fig because you think I'm nutty as a fruitcake; that you're fed up with me for biting off more than I can chew; that you want me to drop this subject like a hot potato because I'm a spoiled-rotten weenie; and that you're giving me the raspberry for asking you to swallow a cheesy, corny, mushy, saccharine, seedy, soupy, sugarcoated, syrupy topic that just isn't your cup of tea. More ...
by Ken Bresler
Principle: Always a noun. It means a guiding rule. A mnemonic (the memory device) is that "principle" and "rule" both end in "le."
Principal: A noun (sometimes). It means a leading figure, a partner, or a school head. Contract law and the law of agency discuss the relationship between a principal and agent. Criminal law discusses a principal in the first degree and second degree. Mnemonic: The principal is my pal.
Principal: An adjective (sometimes). It means leading, primary. Examples: A principal goal, the principal dissent in a Supreme Court case.
Principal: A noun (sometimes). Assets, money, capital. Example: A guideline of investing is: Spend the interest, but don't touch the principal. More ...
Vocabula RevisitedMashie-Niblicks of the World, Unite!
by Carey Harrison
Doctors usually deserve to be called doctors at least as much as bricklayers deserve to be called bricklayers. Many of us, especially if we have worked hard to earn a professional degree, are upset when we think someone isn't paying us the respect our professional status deserves. Even in such an apparently egalitarian society as ours, titles have a lot of clout. If job and professional titles were not important, the word entitlement would not have moral as well as literal significance.
Most physicians expect people they don't know to address them as "Doctor" rather than with the over-familiar and potentially insulting "Doc." On the other hand, the average American hates what he perceives to be false gentility; we are very quick to castigate anyone who seems to be putting on airs. This sometimes leads to a frustrating dilemma in choosing the appropriate way to address a physician, psychologist, judge, professor, or other person whose profession entitles him or her to be called "Doctor," "Judge," or "Professor." Even if we don't think much of the person holding the degree, polite convention suggests that we honor the person's profession with the appropriate title. But, being Americans, we don't want to seem to kowtow to bigwigs. Unfortunately, this often admirable skepticism toward people in power can lead some of us, often unwittingly, to be too informal in the way we address people whose professional identity is hard to detach from their names. If we are too informal, we may insult people whose office, at least, deserves the respect associated with titles like Doctor, Judge, and Professor. 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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