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The Vocabula Review

A society is generally as lax as its language.



Even today — subjected as we are to the apotheosis of popular culture — using the English language respectfully helps us maintain a sense of ourselves and our values. To do otherwise, to disregard the ways of our words, is to forsake our humanity and, perhaps, even forfeit our future. A society is generally as lax as its language. And in a society of this sort, easiness and mediocrity are much esteemed.



The Vocabula Review is published on the third Tuesday of each month. Click here to read the journal archives:

April 2000, Vol. 2, No. 4 Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor, editor@vocabula.com

The Remains of All Writing, the Spoils of All Speech Robert Hartwell Fiske
No longer can the English language be divided, by lexicographers and others, simply into two principal categories of usage, standard and nonstandard; today, language must be divided into more exacting labels. I propose these four: egregious English, uneducated English, everyday English, and elegant English. More ...
The Linguistic Conservationist Robert P. O'Shea
All over the world, people's hearts rightly bleed for endangered species of animals, such as whales, pandas, rhinoceroses, and koalas. Most countries effect strict quarantine regulations to protect native species from introduced species. In some countries, vast sums are spent on measures to combat vigorous, fast-breeding, exotic animals when these are threatening the native fauna. In short, it is fashionable to be a conservationist.

Today's endangered species: alternative[ly] (adj., n., [adv.]). More ...

Grumbling About Grammar

Although few people can complain of another's grammatical mistakes with impunity, that is, without revealing their own, I am hopeful that "Grumbling About Grammar" 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. The grammatical errors that I have assembled here come from publications like The New York Times, Wired, TV Guide, and Martha Stewart Living. Others come from websites like Salon.com and Winmag.com. And still others from TV newscasters, politicians, and businesspeople. These are the people we so often read and listen to — whether or not we care to. Woefully, it is not Edith Wharton or Henry James from whom we learn to speak and write the language; rather, it is these sometime purveyors of confused, misused, and abused language.

accidentally Misspelled accidently. • Lee admits he may have accidently passed secrets to other countries. USE accidentally. [Hannibal Courier-Post: http://www.hannibal.net] • Immediately smitten, Guido, who gets a job as a waiter, arranges to accidently bump into Dora over the next several days, but eventually realizes that she's engaged — albeit unhappily — to a Fascist official. USE accidentally. [Screen It!: http://www.screenit.com] • If a thrown ball accidently touches a base coach, or a pitched or thrown ball touches an umpire, the ball is alive and in play. USE accidentally. [Baseball Almanac: http://baseball-almanac.com]

At least one well-known dictionary does recognize the spelling accidently. But let this be a further reminder that dictionaries merely record how people use the language, not necessarily how it ought to be used. Some dictionaries, we can reasonably infer, actually promote illiteracy. If we were to rely exclusively on dictionary pronouncements, we'd be altogether undone. More ...

The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

I've always thought Marilyn Monroe looked fabulous, but I'd kill myself if I was that fat. — Elizabeth Hurley in Allure

This is a stupid statement for more than one reason. But it's the was instead of were that I'll confine my comments to. The subjunctive mood has all but been abandoned in the evolving (or, shall we say, devolving) English language, except in sentences of this sort that describe something contrary to fact or impossible. Here were is the word needed. More ...

Elegant English vs. Everyday English

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 try to 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.

1. Everyday English: This was the heart of America, the center of industry and the pride of the nation, yet it was a god-awful, very ugly, depressing place that could only defeat the ambitions of all who lived there.

Elegant English: Here was the very heart of industrial America, the center of its most lucrative and characteristic activity, the boast and pride of the richest and grandest nation ever seen on earth — and here was a scene so dreadfully hideous, so intolerably bleak and forlorn that it reduced the whole aspiration of man to a macabre and depressing joke. [H. L. Mencken, The Libido for the Ugly] More ...

On Dimwitticisms

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.

(for) a laugh This expression is spoken by people who tally their giggles and count their guffaws, people who value numbers and sums more than they do words and concepts, people who consider laughter a commodity and life a comedy. • I need a laugh. • Sue and I want to do these silly things to you for a laugh. • I'm always looking for a laugh. More ...

Clues to Concise Writing

Words often ill serve their purpose. When they do their work badly, words militate against us. Poor grammar, sloppy syntax, misused words, misspelled words, and other infelicities of style impede communication and advance only misunderstanding. But there is another, perhaps less well-known, obstacle to effective communication: too many words.

irrespective of the fact that although; but; even though; still; though; yet. • Ireland Under 21 coach Ciaran Fitzgerald spoke of the value of keeping together his charges for tonight's game in Musgrave Park, irrespective of the fact that the only doubt surrounding the outcome is the final margin of victory. Ireland Under 21 coach Ciaran Fitzgerald spoke of the value of keeping together his charges for tonight's game in Musgrave Park, even though the only doubt surrounding the outcome is the final margin of victory. • Irrespective of the fact that the proposed regulations apply only to foreign workers, it means that for the first time it will be stipulated in law that those relying on social assistance loose their claim to a fundamental democratic right. Although the proposed regulations apply only to foreign workers, it means that for the first time it will be stipulated in law that those relying on social assistance loose their claim to a fundamental democratic right. More ...

Scarcely Used Words

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.

benighted (bi-NI-tid) adj. 1. unenlightened; morally or intellectually ignorant. 2. overtaken by darkness. More ...

Features

•  Grumbling About Grammar

•  The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

•  Elegant English vs. Everyday English

•  On Dimwitticisms

•  Clues to Concise Writing

•  Scarcely Used Words

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No material from this site may be used without permission.
Vocabula is a registered service mark of Vocabula Communications Company.
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