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August 2002, Vol. 4, No. 8

Coming in the September issue of The Vocabula Review: "Yes, We Have No Bananas" by Valerie Collins

Valerie Collins is a British writer who has lived in Barcelona, Spain, for many years. Her Words of a Feather appeared in the March issue of The Vocabula Review.

The September issue of The Vocabula Review is due online September 15.

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The Elder Statesman
by Clark Elder Morrow

The Critical Reader
by Mark Halpern

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Calling a refrigerator an "icebox" is not an anachronism (which is a form of solecism, an error). What, indeed, is a refrigerator if it is not in some way akin to an "ice box?": the term "icebox" is merely an archaism, a term from an earlier time. The use of an archaism can be idiosyncratic, a foible, an affectation or the like: it does not offend against the language or against the earlier truth; and sometimes can have great charm. We would blink if someone today referred seriously to a motor car (or "automobile") as a "Horseless Carriage" but we could not deny its truth nor that such a term was once generally accepted. Anachronisms usually do offend, as when, enjoying a play or movie set in a time before 1912, we hear a character refer to vitamins. What do you say?

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Back  Shoptalk Robert McHenry

Until recently my experience of the retail trade had been purely as a customer, and that as seldom as possible. I dislike shopping. No, "dislike" is too mild a word for how I react to what is for so many Americans a regular and apparently pleasant pastime. I abhor it. I become irritable approaching the parking lot, anticipating the frustration of trying to see past, or perhaps under, the giant SUVs infesting it. I recoil from the crowds of quasi-solipsists, each bent upon his or her own plastic-powered purchasing and oblivious of elementary courtesies. More ... 

Back  Jest for the Pun of It Richard Lederer

This past May, Gary Hallock invited pun-up girls and pun gents from all around the whirled world to sharpen their pun cells at the 25th Annual O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships, in Austin, Texas. More ... 

Back  Change a Word, Change a World Marylaine Block

As someone who respects words, I am bothered when people try to gain more respect by changing what they call themselves. The progression is almost always from clarity to vagueness; we know what janitors do, but are less sure what custodians and sanitary engineers are responsible for. My own profession is now in a wholesale flight from the words library and librarian, with a similar loss of meaning; we know what libraries and librarians are, but not what "learning resource centers" and "information specialists" will do for us. More ... 

Back  Two Poems Elana Wolff

Yellow lily, purple thistle,
sea of sere and flying seed—
          passing companions to grass.
                    A Monarch on Muskoka
for a moment hovers close
to the boat before it wavers away. More ... 

Back  Allegory: The Land of Hope and Glory Clark Elder Morrow

Consider for a moment the pallid and bedenimed junior college professor, intoning to yet another freshman Lit class (in his smug and inflectionless manner) how dull, irrelevant, cumbersome, and unpopular the device of allegory is. More ... 

Back  Must We Burn Roget?; Elliott on Imperialism Mark Halpern

I had supposed until just a few days ago that the attack on Roget and his Thesaurus by Simon Winchester ("Word Imperfect," The Atlantic Monthly, May 2001) was a freak, the momentary aberration of a journalist desperate for something to write about. But now a second writer, a novelist, has joined Winchester in attacking the man and the book. In a review for the British publication The Guardian of a new edition of the Thesaurus, Lawrence Norfolk writes what would seem to be a warmed-over version of Winchester's piece, but one that, if anything, is even less rational than Winchester's. More ... 

Back  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.

augur Misused for auger. • For the past several weeks Goldstake field crews have been correlating mapped diamond and augur drill hole and surface trench data with the actual sites on the property. USE auger. [Goldstake Explorations] • For the first three years that this operation was carried out, the City of Oconto used an off-the-shelf augur with a standard screw tip to drill the holes. USE auger. [Ice Engineering] • Ten inches from the ground in each of the posts, make a hole 3 inches by 1 inch, by boring 3 holes with an inch augur and clearing them out. USE auger. [Inquiry Net]

And auger is often used where augur should be: • Recent developments auger well for the public availability of a new class of drugs that appear to alleviate deficits in learning and memory and may also show promise in the treatment of schizophrenia, a University of California, Irvine (UCI) researcher told a gathering of university and biomedical industry scientists today. USE augur. [UCI News Room] • We do not auger future events, but rather focus upon present circumstances. USE augur. [Cheirology]

Auger is a tool that is used to make holes. Augur, as a verb, means to predict or presage; as a noun, it is a soothsayer, prophet, or diviner. More ... 

Back  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.

The expatriate American was a heroic Thersites who had come to Paris to be obscene. He detested beauty, a good prose style, sense, health, and learning, and suffered as much from happiness as he did from boredom. He fled from America because he hated middle-class virtue, nice principles, and success. Nothing in our times has become so unattractive as virtue. I would rather take hellebore than spend a conversation with a good, little man. — Edward Dahlberg, The Expatriates: A Memoir More ... 

Back  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.

a barrage of If our language seems languid, it's partly because our metaphors are moribund. This, a barrage of, is one of a certain kind of metaphor that is especially irksome to come upon; a bastion of, a chorus of, a cloud of, a deluge of, a firestorm of, a flood of, a flurry of, a hailstorm of, a mountain of, an army of, an avalanche of, an explosion of, an ocean of, an orgy of, a rising tide of, a sea of, a small army of, a spate of, a storm of, a torrent of, a world of are all shabby, unimaginative expressions. These are the least evocative, the least metaphorical, of metaphors. • He says the barrage of marketing has made teens tougher to teach. More ... 

Back  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.

as (so) far as ... (goes; is concerned) about; as for; as to; concerning; for; in; of; on; over; regarding; respecting; to; toward; with; delete. • The effect of lead is particularly traumatic as far as young children are concerned. The effect of lead is particularly traumatic on young children. • In fact, as far as the secrets of entrepreneurial success go, it's impossible to recognize that a little bit of luck helps and a lot of luck is even better. In fact, concerning the secrets of entrepreneurial success, it's impossible to recognize that a little bit of luck helps and a lot of luck is even better. • The general view seems to be that infectious agents transmitted by rodents are not of particular relevance as far as public health goes. The general view seems to be that infectious agents transmitted by rodents are not of particular relevance to public health.As far as fish are concerned, the optimal Hct theory appears to be too simplistic to account for our present state of knowledge. As for fish, the optimal Hct theory appears to be too simplistic to account for our present state of knowledge. More ... 

Back  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.

armiger (AR-mah-jer) n. 1. a bearer of armor for a knight; a squire. 2. a person entitled to bear heraldic arms. More ... 

Back  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 modify unique with very or other words. More ... 

Back  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.

Henry James: The Princess Casamassima More ... 

Back  Letters to the Editor
The Vocabula Review welcomes letters to the editor. Please include your name, email address, and professional affiliation. Send your letters to letters@vocabula.com.

Perhaps I am reacting more strongly than is generally felt acceptable. "Fuck" and "cunt" ["Obscene Words," Vol. 4, No. 7] belong in conversations between persons who usually discuss sex as a "sport" between two people. Sexual harassment laws today in the U.S. say that any word of this type is not to be used in the office. The freedom of speech and graphic art once part of the normal office routine has been totally banned. Men in the office tend to use language that guarantees to upset one person for the joy of doing so. I imagine that language in a police station is rather basic. Life is rather basic. Let the language used wherever reflect the work environment and the people present.

Sally Spangler
esdemio@worldnet.att.net More ... 

 Features

Shoptalk — Robert McHenry

Jest for the Pun of It — Richard Lederer

Change a Word, Change a World — Marylaine Block

Two Poems — Elana Wolff

 Columnists

Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Allegory: The Land of Hope and Glory

Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — Must We Burn Roget?; Elliott on Imperialism

 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 Revisited

Snobs and Slobs — David R. Williams

Writing: The Democratization of American Letters — Christopher Lord

Grammar and Disputation — Peter Corey

Four Cheers Five Victor Borge — Richard Lederer

Like — Maggie Balistreri

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Once you've made your $25 donation, you must email us at info@vocabula.com so that we know who you are. Snobbery: The American Version  by Joseph Epstein

Donate $25 to The Vocabula Review and receive Joseph Epstein's Snobbery: The American Version.

Joseph Epsteinís witty new book surveys American snobbery after the fall of the old Wasp culture of prep schools, Ivy League colleges, cotillions, debutante balls, the Social Register, and the rest of it. With ample humor and insight, Epstein uncovers the new outlets upon which the old snobbery has fastened: food and wine, fashion, high-achieving children, schools, politics, health, being with-it, name-dropping, and much else, including the roles of Jews and homosexuals in the development of snobbery.

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Once you've made your $25 donation, you must email us at info@vocabula.com so that we know who you are. The Oxford American College Dictionary

Donate $25 to The Vocabula Review and The Oxford American College Dictionary.

The Oxford American College Dictionary is completely new, based on the New Oxford American Dictionary. Drawing on Oxford's unparalleled language resources, including a 200-million-word database, this college dictionary contains • More than 175,000 entries and more than 1000 illustrations • Boxed quotes from famous writers, demonstrating word usage and style • Country guides — shaded boxes highlighting the most important geographical information on more than 180 countries • "Core sense" organization of definitions, a brand-new and utterly sensible plan in which subordinate definitions flow logically from primary ones, and the most important usage of the word comes first

Once you've made your $25 donation, you must email us at info@vocabula.com so that we know who you are and what book you would like. Copies are limited.

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Once you've made your $25 donation, you must email us at info@vocabula.com so that we know who you are. The Dictionary of Concise Writing by Robert Hartwell Fiske

Donate $25 to The Vocabula Review and receive Robert Hartwell Fiske's The Dictionary of Concise Writing.

The Dictionary of Concise Writing consists of two parts. In the first part (Chapter 1: "The Perfectibility of Words"; Chapter 2: "The Imperfectibility of People"), Fiske suggests how to identify and correct wordiness. The second part of the book is a compilation of several thousand wordy phrases followed by concise alternative expressions and real-world examples.

Once you've made your $25 donation, you must email us at info@vocabula.com so that we know who you are and what book you would like. Copies are limited.

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Once you've made your $20 donation, you must email us at info@vocabula.com so that we know who you are. The Penguin Dictionary of Critical Theory by David Macey

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The most up-to-date and authoritative introduction to critical theory available, this acclaimed dictionary provides an ideal overview of the full range of theories, schools of thought, and theorists. Whether it's Arendt or Woolf, object relations or orientalism, postcolonial theory or postmodernism, readers will find incisive entries on the work of key figures, powerful summaries of the crucial debates, and clear explanations of both the links and differences between the various thinkers and schools.

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More than 365 pre-typed, ready-to-use business letters for all occasions. There's no reason to write a business letter from scratch when a better one exists already. This authoritative book and easy-to-use CD-ROM have everything busy professionals need to create effective business correspondence — from style and grammar guidelines to hundreds of fully executed model letters and memos, plus new sections on business e-mail and more.

The book also offers a refresher course in the letter-writing basics, including formatting and addressing letters, getting a point across, and avoiding common stumbling blocks. The CD-ROM puts powerful communication right at the reader's fingertips with an impressive array of ready-made, customizable letters.

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