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December 2003, Vol. 5, No. 12 There are now  143  people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the January 2004 issue of The Vocabula Review:
"Quote-idian" by Joseph Epstein

And "The Fiske Ranking of College Dictionaries" by Robert Hartwell Fiske
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The Elder Statesman
by Clark Elder Morrow
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The Critical Reader
by Mark Halpern
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The Last Word
by Christopher Orlet
TVR Columnist

Love Your English
by Valerie Collins
TVR Columnist

Shibboleths
Coming in January

by John Kilgore
TVR Columnist

TVR Forum

There are several compound words in the English language, besides kennings, such as wiggle-waggle, dilly-dally, and wishy-washy that are remarkably playful and interesting. First, what are these called, are they simply compound words? Second, where could I find a list of such words? Personally, I think they are a fascinating part of the English language. — What do you say?
I wonder what people have to say about the distinction between the past tense of the verb to hang (hung and hanged). In a tragic story on page one of NYT sports section today, the writer reports at least three times that a boy had "hung" himself. Have we in America ceased teaching the difference between hung and hanged, and if so, what is the significance of this? As a teacher, would you continue to teach the two meanings and expect your students to recognize and employ them correctly? I would, but when I see the NYT abandoning the form (repeatedly in one article), I wonder if I have become too picky. — What do you say?

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Back  Organ Solo: Masturbation Words Mark Morton

Sex is less about bodies than bodies in motion. It's not the static organs that make sex, but rather the things that are done with them (or to them). To put it another way, sex is more about verbs than nouns. More ... 

Back  Math and Meaning Brian Kimberling

My father is a great man.

He is a pioneer in geometry, a composer of magnificent hymn tunes (and master of several instruments), an authority on the paleontology of southern Indiana, and the foremost chronicler of the early study of natural history in the same region. More ... 

Back  Things They Told Me Not to Do Amalia Gnanadesikan

"Do not use," says my bottle of pain reliever, "if seal is broken or missing." I puncture the foil cover on the bottle with my thumbnail. Oops, now the seal is broken. I pull off the foil. Worse. Now the seal is missing from the bottle. What should I do? Disobey the instructions? Just suffer through the headache? Try another bottle, but this time saw through the bottom of the bottle so as to leave the seal intact? More ... 

Back  Satire: Tool of the Surgeon Jim Kittle
The difference between satire and sarcasm is the difference between surgery and butchery. — Edward Nichols

I took English 101 from Ed Nichols in the fall semester of 1964, and it was there, in my college freshman year, that I learned what satire was. Today, nearly forty years later, I regularly hear the term misused, and I can only surmise that, somehow, Americans have confused the art of satire with something else. I expect confusion in my classes, at least until we've studied satire, but I have heard parody, even in such lofty places as National Public Radio, introduced as satire. The standards of our English classes seem to have slipped over the years — even for the elite people of the national media who make their living as writers. More ... 

Back  The Abdominal Snowman Richard Lederer

James Fenimore Cooper wrote about the life of Santa Claus. Naturally he titled it The Deer Sleigher. He could have also called it The Abdominal Snowman. On the inside cover appears a photograph of Santa taken with his North Polaroid camera. More ... 

Back  Sound Off  
Spell, Memory!
Clifton Raphael

"The word is villain."

"May I have a definition, please?"

"Villain. A malicious person. In fiction, someone who opposes the hero."

"Villain. V-I-L-L-A-I-N. Villain."

"No. I'm sorry." More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
Child's Play with Words
Clark Elder Morrow

Would you like to clarify your thoughts on a particularly hazy concept? Try explaining the concept to a seven-year-old. This is an old technique, of course — one that has been used by countless teachers since the dawn of nebulous thought. Disassembling a room-sized machine so that each of its parts can be passed through a funnel helps us gain a very lucid notion of the machine. So I think it just might be worthwhile to tackle a few key ideas with this method, not only to grind philosophy into digestible chunks, but to watch the transmogrification of a prose style in the process. More ... 


Back  The Last Word  
Too Wretched for Words
Christopher Orlet

The English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge — a first-rate, if underappreciated, writer — believed success could be had only in second-rate pursuits — like becoming a millionaire or a prime minister. First-rate pursuits involved "trying to understand what life is about" and therefore must inevitably result in a sense of failure. Thus could a Napoleon or a Roosevelt feel themselves successful, but a Socrates, never. More ... 

Back  Love Your English  
Blog and Be Merry
Valerie Collins

What a year. The tide of bad spelling, bad grammar, bad syntax, and bad punctuation has not only engulfed the Internet, but is spilling over into "proper" books, magazines, and newspapers. The issue is the sloppiness permitted by the immediacy of the medium. I am jurassic enough to remember the inkwell, the dip pen, and the blotter. When you were at primary school, you had to make a big effort to think clearly before you ever started writing: sucking your pen, scratching your head, and then forming the letters carefully, your tongue protruding slightly from the corner of your mouth. You were allowed one "rough book" for making notes and drafts, in pencil. By the last years of high school, in the 1960s, you were allowed (with much gnashing of teachers' teeth and muttering about declining standards) to use the wondrous ball-point pen. Writing was a laborious task, so you made an effort to figure out what you wanted to say and to look up dodgy spellings before you began. Later, you learnt to type. It wasn't rocket science, but you still chewed biros and fingernails trying to get it right in your head before you started. So the invention of Tipp-Ex (white-out) totally blew you away. And if you wanted to get published, you most certainly had to get it absolutely perfect. Now you can just let it all out and shove it straight onto the Net. It's a no-brainer. You can blog. (I'm not implying here that all bloggers are bad writers — they aren't.) 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.

apropos Solecistic for appropriate. • They've had three years to get it right and the timing could not be more apropos. USE appropriate. • I think it was very apropos for the kind of person he is and the way he respects this organization, and the kind of respect the organization gives him. USE appropriate.

Apropos means in regard to; relevant. Appropriate means suitable or fitting. 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.

We have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another. ...

When we desire or solicit anything, our minds run wholly on the good side or circumstances of it; when it is obtained, our minds run wholly on the bad ones. ...

The latter part of a wise man's life is taken up in curing the follies, prejudices, and false opinions he had contracted in the former. ...

Whatever the poets pretend, it is plain they give immortality to none but themselves; it is Homer and Virgil we reverence and admire, not Achilles or AEneas. With historians it is quite the contrary; our thoughts are taken up with the actions, persons, and events we read, and we little regard the authors. ... 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.

I feel your pain Sympathy is compassion for another person; empathy, the ability to imagine how another person feels. Sympathy is often unwelcome (people may feel insulted when being pitied), and if empathy is not yet also, it very well soon will be. The people who spout about how empathic they are (I feel your pain; I know how you feel) are often the same people who have scant notion of what it is to be sensitive, kindhearted, even responsive. The emphasis is on showing empathy, which we do more for our own welfare than for others'; it's socially obligatory to be, or pretend to be, empathic. Ultimately, empathy will be thought no more highly of than sympathy now is. Unwelcome terms both, they may come to mean much the same thing. 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.

in a (the) ... sense -(al)ly; delete. • In a broad sense, office automation is the incorporation of technology to help people manage information. Broadly, office automation is the incorporation of technology to help people manage information. • Although there is a significant relationship in a statistical sense, the association is not strong. Although there is a significant statistical relationship, the association is not strong. • I don't mean this in a pejorative sense. I don't mean this pejoratively. • There was really nothing which could be called communication in any genuine sense. There was really nothing which could be called genuine communication. 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.

coetaneous (ko-i-TA-nee-es) adj. of equal age, duration, or period; coeval. 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:

They, them, and their are plural pronouns; never, not in spoken nor in written language, should they be used as singular pronouns. 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: Mansfield Park More ... 

 Features

Organ Solo: Masturbation Words— Mark Morton

Math and Meaning — Brian Kimberling

Things They Told Me Not to Do — Amalia Gnanadesikan

Satire: Tool of the Surgeon — Jim Kittle

The Abdominal Snowman — Richard Lederer

Sound Off: Spell, Memory! — Clifton Raphael

 Columnists

Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Child's Play with Words

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — Too Wretched for Words

Valerie Collins: Love Your English — Blog and Be Merry

 Departments

Grumbling About Grammar

Elegant English

On Dimwitticisms

Clues to Concise Writing

Scarcely Used Words

Oddments and Miscellanea

On the Bookshelf

 TVR Revisited

The End of Linguistics — Mark Halpern

Rhetorical Abusage: Oxymorons and Pleonasms — Bruce O. Boston

"Different From" Not "Different Than" — Peter Corey

Kvetching About Literary Criticism — David Isaacson

Lawyers vs. Language — Kelly Cannon

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