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A society is generally as lax as its language.

August 2001, Vol. 3, No. 8 Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher

Coming in the September issue of The Vocabula Review: "How Linguistics Killed Grammar" by Peter Corey

Peter Corey is the author of Ten Grammatical Errors in the American Heritage Dictionary. His Grammar and Disputation appeared in the January 2001 issue of The Vocabula Review.

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 TVR Forum

John Simon is a cranky old fart, a supercilious snob, and why anyone takes him seriously is beyond me. (When Vietnam antiwar protests were at their most feverish pitch, John Simon was ranting against the use of "hopefully".) — What do you say?

Without question, certain foreign words have nuances in meaning that initially resist our attempt to articulate them elegantly in our native tongue. That does not imply, however, that speakers of that foreign language possess some privileged feeling, sensation, or knowledge that our own language prevents us from acquiring. — What do you say?

Where are we on this subject? Can we go back to saying "The user resets his password" or are we still mired in "Ask the user his/her mother's maiden name" to the point that we are allowing "Ask the user their mother's maiden name" just because we're so sick of the whole issue? — What do you say?

I disagree with Mr. Fiske's casual definition of "team player." His misunderstanding leads to an unfair representation of how the phrase is used. To me (and I think to many others) a team player is one who consciously subordinates what might be best for himself to what might be best for the organization, when the two are in opposition. — What do you say?

I work at a state university, and there are more "likes" punctuating the students' sentences to drive a person with even the least sensitivity to the language out of his mind. — What do you say?

In a private message, I apologised to a number of critics of my essay "The End of Linguistics..." for being unable to answer them individually, and promised that I would post a general reply on this Forum that would deal at least with their major points. This is it. — What do you say?

When you've never had consistent access to good education, to familial reading, to the countless small rules that govern clear expression, you crave someone to tell you: this is how this engine, the one that drives the entire culture, works. — What do you say?

Business operatives are almost competing with post-modernists in the quest for ever-greater pretension and obscurity. And, of course, the pedantic adviser, the word nazi, can quickly wear out his welcome. — What do you say?

Has anyone else noticed the maniacal insertion of hyphens when using the grammar check of Microsoft Word? Yes, I turn it off, but drafts from my coworkers come back to me with all of them reinserted. Who dreamt of such punctuation? — What do you say?

When did "absolutely" begin to become the way to respond positively to a question or statement, instead of simply "yes"? — What do you say?

I read Mark Halpern's piece with interest, as a person holding a strongly descriptivist point of view with regard to language evolution who somewhat disagreed with the author's argument. However, I must say it was nice to see the prescriptivist view being put forward in a clear, logical manner lacking in the hysterics and paranoid rambling often sadly associated with it (at least in the UK). — What do you say?

Our local TV "weathercaster" has taken recently to pronouncing temperatures such as -5, "negative 5" instead of the conventional "minus 5". — What do you say?

If "a society is as lax as its language," can freedom from an empirical society be defined as "poor grammar"? — What do you say?

Join the discussion.
  The Like Virus David Grambs

And like I'm, like, really grossed out, like ...

The L-word. A kind of weightless backpack word that's more and more giving us humpbacked spoken English, the lite like has been airily clogging American sentences for years now. The war against the usage — well, it wasn't much of a war, alas — has been lost for some time, and we language-conscious losers are all trying to learn to live with the new, disjunctive babble. More ... 

  Black Holes Julian Burnside

It is a curious thing about the English language, that although it has a vast vocabulary and rich idiomatic variations, it lacks words for some common and useful ideas. This is so even though we have words for ideas so obscure that they can hardly expect to be used more than once in a lifetime. For example:

abaciscus  A square compartment enclosing a part or the entire pattern or design of a mosaic pavement.
catapan  The officer who governed Calabria and Apulia under the Byzantine emperors.
denariate  A portion of land worth a penny a year.

More ... 
  Words and People Richard Lederer

Has it ever struck you how human words are?

Like people, words are born, grow up, get married, have children, and even die. They may be very old, like man and wife and home. They may be very young, like veggies and househusband. They may be newly born and struggling to live, as netiquette, gangsta rap, and political correctness. Or they may repose in the tomb of history, as leechcraft, the Anglo-Saxon word for the practice of medicine, and murfles, a long defunct word for freckles or pimples. More ... 

  Two Poems Herbert Stern

The Winter Mind

sends steady snow aslant
the power cables. There's
a small drift on my neighbor's porch,
under the holiday flag
he keeps perpetually hanging,
and his six cars stand in the drive,
bleak as cattle being snowed on.

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.

accelerate Solecistic for exhilarate. • For a lot of these Wadsworth seniors, Grease will be an accelerating experience, but also a close to four years of hard work. USE exhilarating. [The Bruin Online] • It is an evolving, accelerating experience like none other that has come before. USE exhilarating. [Mysteries of Life] • The old Minerva would have felt sorry for the bickering couple, but she felt accelerated by their pain. USE exhilarated. [Key Lime]

Accelerate means to increase the speed of; to cause to occur sooner than expected. Exhilarate means to cause to feel refreshed and energetic; to invigorate. 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.

It is almost a fortnight now that I am domiciled in a medieval villa in the country, a mile or two from Florence. I cannot speak the language; I am too old not to learn how, also too busy when I am busy, and too indolent when I am not; wherefore some will imagine that I am having a dull time of it. But it is not so. The "help" are all natives; they talk Italian to me, I answer in English; I do not understand them, they do not understand me, consequently no harm is done, and everybody is satisfied. In order to be just and fair, I throw in an Italian word when I have one, and this has a good influence. I get the word out of the morning paper. I have to use it while it is fresh, for I find that Italian words do not keep in this climate. They fade toward night, and next morning they are gone. But it is no matter; I get a new one out of the paper before breakfast, and thrill the domestics with it while it lasts. I have no dictionary, and I do not want one; I can select words by the sound, or by orthographic aspect. Many of them have French or German or English look, and these are the ones I enslave for the day's service. That is, as a rule. Not always. If I find a learnable phrase that has an imposing look and warbles musically along I do not care to know the meaning of it; I pay it out to the first applicant, knowing that if I pronounce it carefully he will understand it, and that's enough. — Mark Twain, Italian Without a Master 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 just happened As an explanation for how circumstances or incidents unfold, none is more puerile. And though we might excuse children such a sentiment, it is rarely they who express it. It just happened is a phrase used by those too slothful to know what has happened. • It wasn't something I planned; it just happened. • What can I say? It just happened. 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.

(then) proceed (to) later; next; then; delete • The team proceeded to develop the recently generated ideas into a concrete curriculum. The team developed the recently generated ideas into a concrete curriculum. • He proceeded to declare his undying love for me. He then declared his undying love for me. • The two proceeded to examine the intriguing sample through dissecting microscopes, when suddenly Professor Armstrong noticed a tiny green speck among the larger duckweeds. The two next examined the intriguing sample through dissecting microscopes, when suddenly Professor Armstrong noticed a tiny green speck among the larger duckweeds. • Bobby Bonds entered the game during the fourth inning to replace starter Billy Williams, then proceeded to smack a two run homer during his first at-bat in the fifth inning off California's Bill Singer. Bobby Bonds entered the game during the fourth inning to replace starter Billy Williams, then smacked a two run homer during his first at-bat in the fifth inning off California's Bill Singer. 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.

eleemosynary (el-ah-MOS-ah-ner-ee) adj. 1. of, relating to, or supported by charity. 2. contributed as an act of charity. 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 begin a sentence with Too or As well in the sense of also, moreover, or furthermore. 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.

Ford Madox Ford: The Good Soldier More ... 

  Letters to the Editor

As a trained linguist, I find [Mark Halpern's] "The End of Linguistics" [Vol. 3, No. 7] not only absurd, but offensive. Its style of argumentation reminds me of partisan politics; like someone trying to score points against an adversary of the other party, you begin with your contempt for the opponent, misrepresent what the opponent is and does, and dismiss all the opponent's efforts and principles over the last century as worthless, all with virtually no evidence, quotes, or citations. Further, ironically for someone whose subject matter is excellence in writing, you undermine your argument by self-contradictions and propagandistic devices, especially the straw man. More ... 

 Features

The Like Virus — David Grambs

Black Holes — Julian Burnside

Words and People — Richard Lederer

Two Poems — Herbert Stern

 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

Grammar Matters — Marylaine Block

Practicing Prescriptivism Now and Then — Edward Finegan

Bottle That Punaphor — Joseph Epstein

Getting the Words Right — Tracy Lee Simmons

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

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 Vocabula Books

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The Thesaurus of Worn-Out Words and Phrases

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Speaking of Silence

The Vocabula Review

The Evasion-English Dictionary

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