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December 2002, Vol. 4, No. 12 ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the January 2003 issue of The Vocabula Review: "The Relationship Equals You" and "The Passive-Aggressive Oh, Well" by Maggie Balistreri

Maggie Balistreri recently co-organized a marathon reading of the complete poems of Emily Dickinson in New York City. Her Like appeared in the March 2001 issue of The Vocabula Review.

The January issue of The Vocabula Review is due online January 19.

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by Christopher Orlet
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Back  Holy Wars Julian Burnside

President George W. Bush has never displayed much sensitivity for the nuances of language. Even its basic rules elude him. Consider a few of his famous blunders while speaking on public occasions, and try to imagine the qualities of his less-considered private discourse:

"More and more of our imports come from overseas."

"What I'm against is quotas. I'm against hard quotas, quotas that basically delineate based upon whatever. However they delineate, quotas, I think, vulcanize society."

"If you're sick and tired of the politics of cynicism and polls and principles, come and join this campaign."

"You teach a child to read and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test."

More ... 
Back  Talk to Me Marylaine Block

I always told my son I made enough money to provide the three essentials of life: food, shelter, and books. But now that I do most of my work in the home my son has left, I realize that conversation is every bit as essential to life. Small talk and big are no longer built into the fabric of my days, a byproduct of the daily grind of work. I can't get them automatically from those who share my household — cats may be good listeners, but they don't laugh at my jokes and they're lousy conversationalists. Just as I have to go out on expeditions for groceries, I have to make deliberate expeditions in quest of the good talk I'm just as hungry for. More ... 

Back  The True Meanings of Christmas Richard Lederer

The great English etymologist Owen Barfield once wrote that "words may be made to disgorge the past that is bottled up inside of them, as coal and wine when we kindle or drink them yield up their bottled sunshine." When we uncap the sunshine that is stored inside the many words that relate to the Christmas season, we discover that the light that streams forth illuminates centuries of human history and customs. More ... 

Back  Words and Powers Robert McHenry

Two stories in today's newspaper, concerning two quite different matters, call attention to the very peculiar way in which words are sometimes used. One story turns on the belief that words are infinitely malleable, taking one shape or a very different one as their user desires; the other suggests a belief that words possess some occult quality, a power to shape and reshape reality. More ... 

Back  Sound Off  
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: A Lost Legacy
Paul G. Zolbrod

Mine is the last generation to remember Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the nineteenth-century American poet who became an icon during his lifetime and remained so well into the twentieth. One of the so-called schoolroom poets along with John Greenleaf Whittier, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and James Russell Lowell, he was a mainstay in our early adolescent education. That was a much different world, of course, from today's. Freeways did not yet exist, kids went to the local public library on Saturday morning to hear stories instead of watching television, and they routinely read classics like Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, and Rudyard Kipling's Kim. More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
Movies, Masks, and Music
Clark Elder Morrow

I propose to inaugurate a tradition with this month's column.

Because of their diminutive dimensions, Beethoven's bagatelles for piano are often referred to as "chips from the Master's workbench." I propose to collect an assortment of my own chips for this month's offering. Not every set of observations lends itself to a full-blown column. The end of the year seems a good time to collect those incipits (the term musicologists use for fragmentary stabs at a composition) that have been littering my study for months, and to weld them inharmoniously into a year-end grab bag. Herewith the potpourri for 2002 (but I remind you that these shards are sketchy by nature; my modest hope is that they may offer a bit of that quaint appeal people seem to find in unfinished works, or in a cryptic unpolished comment). More ... 

Back  The Critical Reader  
The Meaning of Objectivity: Part 2
Mark Halpern

Abandoning the idea that objectivity is attainable and worth striving for — a dangerous step in itself — seems to lead inexorably to the even more pernicious step of thinking that there is no such thing as objective reality: not only can we know nothing, really, but there is nothing, really, for us to know. Even the findings of the hard sciences and mathematics have been called simply stories that we like to tell ourselves, and stories very different from those that other cultures, or at least alien beings in distant galaxies, might tell themselves with equal justification.1 And this doctrine, in itself so abstract as to seem to have no bearing whatever on sublunary life, has in fact had some very curious effects on Western politics and cultural life. More ... 

Back  The Last Word  
Gibrisch Spoken Here
Christopher Orlet

Strolling down a busy commercial street in Warsaw, my wife overheard two elderly women talking outside a sausage shop.

"Poor babcie,"1 my wife, who is Polish, said.


"They were complaining they can't read the signs in the shop windows any more because everything is written in English. You stupid Americans ruin everything." 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.

connotate Solecistic for connote. • I think the difference between the words denotate and connotate is one of those important distinctions people need to know about words. USE connote. [Kim's Cultural Critique Lesson] • The reference to "God's eyes" is an Old Testament term used to connotate divine oversight of God in the life of an individual or group of people. USE connote. [Arguments Against Abortion] • Obviously, therefore, a white elephant in India's cultural context can never connotate redundancy, as it would in the West. USE connote. [The Indian Elephant] • In common usage in the Usui Shiki Ryoho and Usui/Tibetan Systems in the West, Reiki "Mastery" does not connotate advanced spiritual development, enlightenment, superior moral character or virtue. USE connote. [Reiki Plain and Simple]

Connotate is, or ought to be, obsolete. Connote, to suggest or imply meaning in addition to the explicit meaning, is the word to use. 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.

This is a world in which each of us, knowing his limitations, knowing the evils of superficiality and the terrors of fatigue, will have to cling to what is close to him, to what he knows, to what he can do, to his friends and his tradition and his love, lest he be dissolved in a universal confusion and know nothing and love nothing. It is at the same time a world in which none of us can find hieratic prescription or general sanction for any ignorance, any insensitivity, and indifference. When a friend tells us of a new discovery we may not understand, we may not be able to listen without jeopardizing the work that is ours and closer to us; but we cannot find in a book or canon — and we should not seek — grounds for hallowing our ignorance. If a man tells us that he sees differently than we or that he finds beautiful what we find ugly, we may have to leave the room, from fatigue or trouble; but that is our weakness and our default. If we must live with a perpetual sense that the world and the men in it are greater than we and too much for us, let it be the measure of our virtue that we know this and seek no comfort. Above all let us not proclaim that the limits of our powers correspond to some special wisdom in our choice of life, of learning, or of beauty. ... 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.

in any way, shape, form, or fashion That anyone uses this expression is wondrous. To discerning listeners and readers, in any way, shape, form, or fashion, as well as similar assemblages, is as rickety as it is ridiculous. • If students are asked to leave the University, their return certainly should not be celebrated in any way, shape, form, or fashion. DELETE in any way, shape, form, or fashion. • Do you feel being on television will help you in any way, shape, or form? REPLACE WITH somehow. • That control is no longer there, not in any way, shape, or form. REPLACE WITH at all. • He wants something that doesn't resemble the landmark in any way, shape, or fashion. REPLACE WITH in the least. 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.

a (the) decreased (decreasing) number of fewer. • The financial position of the healthcare system has become more and more strained, and this in turn has resulted in a decreased number of hospital beds. The financial position of the healthcare system has become more and more strained, and this in turn has resulted in fewer hospital beds. • This means there are a decreased number of pellets being shot at the target. This means there are fewer pellets being shot at the target. • In particular, it has led to a dramatic decline in the profitability of Japanese small businesses and decreasing numbers of small firms. In particular, it has led to a dramatic decline in the profitability of Japanese small businesses and fewer small firms. 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.

anurous (ah-NOOR-es) adj. having no tail; tailless. 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 use about after discuss or explain or similar 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.

Jane Austen: Northanger Abbey 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.

Dear Mr. Isaacson:

Thank you for your thoughtful article about the word "like" ["Like, He Said," Vol. 4, No. 11]. But, like, with all due respect, where have you been? I recall my 11th grade English teacher Mr. Neucomb trying to force me not to start my sentences with the superfluous "like." That was like 20 years ago!

So, even an old-time "like" user like me plus, like all of my friends turned out just fine. That is, most of us have a clue about proper English grammar and do tend to use it when necessary. We read the New York Times, abhor New York magazine and we do not choose our books from the bestseller list.

"Like," is a fantastic word! It is not non-committal, as you have asserted. But, in my opinion is rather committal. Emphatic, in fact. Perhaps emotional, yes. You may have a point there. But, if we are in fact baring our emotions by uttering the word, as you suggest, what could possibly be more committal? Can emotions and intelligence not coexist?

I am 35 and I love "like." Perhaps it's a need to feel young? I must admit, I do cringe whenever I hear my mother use "like" superfluously. I guess, like it's a generational thing? I only hope my children don't feel the same about me. Although, until I have children — I'm like apparently postponing adulthood in other ways as well — I intend to hold on to "like."

Thanks for bearing with me.

Stacie Leone
staciepl@yahoo.com More ... 


Holy Wars — Julian Burnside

Talk to Me — Marylaine Block

The True Meanings of Christmas — Richard Lederer

Words and Powers — Robert McHenry

Sound Off: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: A Lost Legacy — Paul G. Zolbrod


Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Movies, Masks, and Music

Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — The Meaning of Objectivity: Part 2

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — Gibrisch Spoken Here


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

Words of a Feather — Valerie Collins

Student Bloopers — Michael J. Sheehan

The Art of Conversation — Tim Buck

Memo to Reviewers — David Carkeet

Snobs and Slobs — David R. Williams

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The point of this collection is to show that the language can be written with grace and polish qualities that much contemporary writing is bereft of and could benefit from. Read these examples of elegant English, and from each you might glean some turn of phrase, some device of rhetoric, some clarity of expression, some novelty of thought that, in more contemporary writing, you seldom will have noticed.

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