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A society is generally as lax as its language.

April 2001, Vol. 3, No. 4 Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher

Coming in the May issue of The Vocabula Review: "Writing Down to Readers" by Steve Cook

Steve Cook is one of the founders of the James Murray Society for English Excellence, a worldwide organization of word lovers, and an outgrowth of the wildly popular radio and Internet webcast program "Grammatically Incorrect." Named for the original editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, the JMS is dedicated to effective communication through proper use and respect for the greatest language in the history of mankind.

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TVR Audio   TVR Audio  Hear Bert Stern reading A Little Poem; Elana Wolff reading 1949 Santa Fe Lounge Car and Venus; Mark L. Levinson reading The Council and Shark Never; David R. Williams reading his essay Snobs and Slobs; and more.

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  Playing the Synonym Game Ken Bresler
We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.

That was Sir Winston Churchill to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940. It's called his Speech on Dunkirk, and in it, Churchill said, "We shall fight" seven times. More ...

  Bush-Whacked Language Richard Lederer

Along with the rest of the country, I have been amused and amazed by our president's Bushisms. "Bushism" was actually coined from the tongue tangles of Dubya's father, a pioneering master of language run a-mock: "For seven and a half years I've worked alongside President Reagan. We've had triumphs. Made some mistakes. We've had some sex ... ugh ... setbacks." More ...

  "Secrets" of the Pros Richard Dowis

I'm going to share with you some "secrets" of professional speech writing. Well, actually, the things I'll be discussing are not secrets at all. They're proven techniques that speech writers use to make their speeches more interesting, more meaningful, and more dramatic. You can find them not only in well-written speeches but in many kinds of writing, from ad copy to fiction. More ...

  Urban Renewal English Jeff Danziger

I have been living in New York City off and on most of my life and have formed a secretly amusing collection of inadvertent but sincere errors made by persons new to the city, and for whom the language is a partial mystery.

We noticed a sign in a deli near here:

We Served Hot Coffee

and another at Martin's Bar on Columbus Circle:

Now Open Later More ...

  TVR Audio Two Poems Mark L. Levinson

The Council

I could justify no vacillation;
there were no further data to see;
it was vital to reach a decision;
so I summoned a council of me.

There's the me who is blithe and big-hearted.
There's the me who thinks that one's a jerk.
There's the me who won't let me get started
doing any half-serious work. More ...

  Grumbling About Grammar

Although few people can complain of another's grammatical mistakes with impunity, that is, without revealing their own, we are 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.

less Misused for fewer.Trust has a smoother, more rock sound than Get Happy, but finds Costello with less ideas than ever before. USE fewer. [Elvis Costello] • The solution to this problem is to download more fonts, thus there are less reasons for X to use scaled fonts. USE fewer. [The Kennel] • Strong but beneficial herbs may be taken in teas with less problems. USE fewer. [Herbal Preparations] • A posting and handling charge of $3.50 applies once to orders of less than 10 books. Prepayment is required for orders of three or less books. USE fewer. [Victorian Channels Authority]

Less refers to amounts, to that which cannot be easily counted; fewer refers to numbers, to that which can be. Less is also used with plural nouns such as periods of time and sums of money.

Even the confusion between these two words is being sanctioned by lexicographers, for many dictionaries now offer one word as the synonym of the other. In the end, lexicographers who suppress distinctions between words reduce our ability to see clearly and reason convincingly. More ...

  Elegant 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.

But there are none to whom this Paper will be more useful than to the female World. I have often thought there has not been sufficient Pains taken in finding out proper Employments and Diversions for the Fair ones. Their Amusements seem contrived for them rather as they are Women, than as they are reasonable Creatures; and are more adapted to the Sex, than to the Species. The Toilet is their great Scene of Business, and the right adjusting of their Hair the principal Employment of their Lives. The sorting of a Suit of Ribbons is reckoned a very good Morning's Work; and if they make an Excursion to a Mercer's or a Toy-shop, so great a Fatigue makes them unfit for any thing else all the Day after. Their more serious Occupations are Sowing and Embroidery, and their greatest Drudgery the Preparation of Jellies and Sweet-meats. This, I say, is the State of ordinary Women; tho' I know there are Multitudes of those of a more elevated Life and Conversation, that move in an exalted Sphere of Knowledge and Virtue, that join all the Beauties of the Mind to the Ornaments of Dress, and inspire a kind of Awe and Respect, as well as Love, into their Male-Beholders. I hope to increase the Number of these by publishing this daily Paper, which I shall always endeavour to make an innocent if not an improving Entertainment, and by that Means at least divert the Minds of my female Readers from greater Trifles. At the same Time, as I would fain give some finishing Touches to those which are already the most beautiful Pieces in humane Nature, I shall endeavour to point out all those Imperfections that are the Blemishes, as well as those Virtues which are the Embellishments, of the Sex. — Joseph Addison, The Spectator, Monday, March 12, 1711 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.

I don't know • New passion is sweet, but after you know someone for a while, it fades. I don't know. • I know who I am — I have a good sense of that — but I will never know you, or anyone else, as well. I don't know.

For a person to conclude his expressed thoughts and views with I don't know would nullify all he seemed to know if it weren't that I don't know is less an admission of not knowing than it is an apology for presuming to. 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.

to a great (large) degree (extent) almost all; chiefly; commonly; generally; greatly; in general; largely; mainly; most; mostly; most often; much; nearly all; normally; overall; typically; usually; well.To a large extent, the success of any business venture depends on planning. The success of any business venture chiefly depends on planning. • I see the source of hope in a movement that's building around the country, to a large extent among young people in colleges and even high schools. I see the source of hope in a movement that's building around the country, largely among young people in colleges and even high schools. • Because the state will pay for the bulk of building and running the school, it will naturally be involved in the project to a large degree. Because the state will pay for the bulk of building and running the school, it will naturally be much involved in the project. • In Malaysia, imports are controlled to a great degree by a handful of European commission houses. In Malaysia, imports are mostly controlled by a handful of European commission houses. 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.

gynecocracy (jin-i-KOK-rah-see) n. 1. government by women. 2. a society ruled by women. More ...

  Oddments and Miscellanea

Each month, "Oddments and Miscellanea" will focus on a particular matter of faulty grammar, slipshod syntax, or improper punctuation. This month's admonition:

Avoid using the expression on ... part. More ...

  On the Bookshelf

Among the best written, if least read, books are those that we will be featuring each month in "On the Bookshelf." No book club selections, no best-selling authors are likely to be spoken of here. Best-selling authors, of course, are often responsible for the worst written books.

Robert Burton: The Anatomy of Melancholy More ...

  Letters to the Editor

David Carkeet's "The Muse of Mopar" [Vol. 3, No. 3] brought back memories from a decade ago when I wrote owner's manuals for several General Motors cars.

Mr. Carkeet's hypothesis of multiple authorship is right on the money. To put the matter more accurately, though, an owner's manual isn't so much written as assembled, like the car itself, from prefabricated parts. More ...

Features

Playing the Synonym Game

Bush-Whacked Language

"Secrets" of the Pros

Urban Renewal English

Two Poems

Departments

Grumbling About Grammar

Elegant English

On Dimwitticisms

Clues to Concise Writing

Scarcely Used Words

Oddments and Miscellanea

On the Bookshelf

Letters to the Editor

TVR Editorials

On Dimwitticisms: An Introduction

The Imperfectibility of People

The Perfectibility of Words

The Remains of All Writing, the Spoils of All Speech

TVR Revisited

The Wrong-Headedness of Linguistic Self-Righteousness — Alan Pagliere

What's a "Meta" For? — Pamela Black

Two Poems — Laura Cherry

Double Your Pleasure — Michael J. Sheehan

Why Linguists Are Not to Be Trusted on Language Usage — Mark Halpern

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March 2001

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Copyright © 1999-2001 Vocabula Communications Company. All rights reserved.
No material from this site may be used without permission.
Vocabula is a registered service mark of Vocabula Communications Company.
Grumbling About Grammar is a registered service mark of Vocabula Communications Company.
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