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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 a lively, interesting, and even amusing look at the sad state of our language that offers inspiration for improvement.Harvard Management Communication Letter

Coming in the September issue of The Vocabula Review: "Why Linguists Are Not to Be Trusted on Language Usage" by Mark Halpern

In September, TVR will publish Mark Halpern's "Why Linguists Are Not to Be Trusted on Language Usage." This is the complete, never-before-published, essay — not the drastically cut, bare-bones "A War That Never Ends" published in March 1997 by The Atlantic Monthly.

Although there are no subscription fees to The Vocabula Review, voluntary contributions would be gratefully accepted and used to support the continuation of this journal (generosity). Rita Ter Sarkissoff, of Spring Hill Press, sent a contribution and wrote: "Thank you for this very worthwhile resource."

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The Vocabula Review (TVR) is published on the third Tuesday of each month. If you prefer reading TVR as email — or wish to receive an announcement of each new online issue — click here. To read the journal archives, click on any of the following dates:

August 2000, Vol. 2, No. 8 Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor, editor@vocabula.com

Stamp Out Fadspeak! Richard Lederer

Some people lament that speaking and writing these days are simply a collection of faddish clichés patched together like the sections of prefabricated houses made of ticky-tacky. They see modern discourse as a mindless clacking of trendy expressions, many of them from movies and television sitcoms. More ...

I'm Eppy, but Call Me Epstein Joseph Epstein

If Mrs. Albert Gore, at twenty years old and still Miss Mary Aitcheson, had walked into one of my classes at Northwestern University, I wouldn't have — forgive me, but I couldn't have — called her Tipper. I wouldn't even have called her Mary. I would have called her Miss Aitcheson, as has been my pedogogic habit for nearly thirty years. On the very first day that I began teaching, only in the classroom itself did I make the decision to call all students by Mr. and Miss and their last name. I made this decision when, calling the roll, a student, a kid named Faustin Pipal, a redhead with a winning smile, asked me if I would call him "Frosty." I hesitated only a nanosecond, and said, "Sorry. I'm going to call you Mr. Pipal." 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.

affect Misused for effect. • As for the world-wide affects of volcanic eruptions this only happens when there are large explosive eruptions that throw material into the stratosphere. USE effects. [Volcano World: http://volcano.und.nodak.edu] • Eventually, these gases escaped and produce a runaway greenhouse affect. USE effect. [Planet Earth: http://agcwww.bio.ns.ca/schools/EarthNet] • The primary affect on property values will come from the aerosols associated with the spray. USE effect. [Friends of the Creek: http://www.friendsofthecreek.org] • Now breathe deeply for the full affect. USE effect. [Home Safety Hazards: http://www.stargroup.com/hnt/sh052.html]

And effect is misused for affect. • The vice president had become self-conscious about the condition of his teeth and aides believed it was directly effecting his campaign performance. USE affecting. [Drudge Report: http://www.drudgereport.com/matt.htm] • Leslie says she teaches because it gives her a natural high to know she has the power to positively effect all who enter her classroom. USE affect. [Eastfield Faculty: http://www.dcccd.edu/news/efcnews] • Global warming will effect many aspects of daily life in the future. USE affect. [Global Warming: http://library.thinkquest.org/J003411] • How does HIV effect me? USE affect. [UNAIDS: http://www.unaids.org/index.html]

Though both affect and effect may be either a noun or a verb, it is usually the verb affect that is confused with the noun effect. Affect as a verb means to influence or have an effect on; as a noun, affect means an emotion or emotional response. Effect as a verb means to bring about or accomplish; as a noun, effect means a result or an influence. More ...

The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

1. It features, á la word-a-day calendars, pivotal events from the book world — the birth or death of a well-known author or the publication of a groundbreaking work. — BOOK magazine

Here the accent mark over the "a" of á la is acute when it should be grave. And a few pages later:

Sites along the way include ... gas pumps and a sign that's seen better days, both in Landergin, Texas; and a sign promising a long stretch, as well as an unusal cactus planter, in Hackberry, Arizona.

Month after month, there are illiteracies to carp about in this magazine devoted to literacy. 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.

1. I doubt whether even the tenderest of the Roman poets, whether Virgil even, was shy. Horace, as we know, was one large lump of bounce. Nor was Dante shy — disagreeable was Dante, but never shy. — Harold Nicolson, A Defence of Shyness 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.

(it's) a nightmare How impoverished our imaginations are. Nightmares ought to be terrifying, but this metaphor — so popular has it become — is hopelessly tame. It was a nightmare instills in us as little compassion as it does interest; it makes us yawn rather than yell. No longer is there terror to it. It was a nightmare, the metaphor, has hardly the force of a sweet dream. 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.

in the process of -ing -ing. • I'm in the process of cleaning the house. I'm cleaning the house. • The company is in the process of changing the regulatory framework in most of its states. The company is changing the regulatory framework in most of its states. • No publication date has been set for the book, which is in the process of being written. No publication date has been set for the book, which is being written. • Out of the parent survey have come many ideas and from those ideas, many projects, which we are currently in the process of putting into action. Out of the parent survey have come many ideas and from those ideas, many projects, which we are currently putting into action. • We are in the process of reviewing the resumes of all applicants. We are reviewing the resumes of all applicants. 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.

apollonian (ap-ah-LO-nee-an) adj. characterized by clarity, harmony, and restraint; serene, calm. 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:

Do not use also as an adverb at the beginning of a sentence or clause. 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.

Edward Dahlberg: Alms for Oblivion More ...


•  Grumbling About Grammar

•  The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

•  Elegant English

•  On Dimwitticisms

•  Clues to Concise Writing

•  Scarcely Used Words

•  Oddments and Miscellanea


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August's TVR Poll results: What do you think about presidential candidate George W. Bush's speaking ability?

• No gun control matters; speaking ability doesn't: 2%
• He's as articulate as anyone, and the best man: 19%
• So he isn't terribly articulate, so what?: 3%
• I'm apolitical and don't much care: 1%
• Vote for "Is our children learning"? Never: 39%
• Send him back to grammar school!: 36%

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