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 published on the third Tuesday of each month. Click here to read the journal archives:
Little other than loonie-fringe experimentation is likely to come about in foreseeable years unless content is generated that is specific to the opportunities offered by the new technologies. Look at television: stunning technology for transmission and reception, yet crap for content for most of the time; but if we had not invented movies, and talkies, and Technicolor, think how television would be infinitely worse if you can imagine that!
The Linguistic Conservationist
Robert P. O'Shea
All over the world, people's hearts rightly bleed for endangered species of animals, such as whales, pandas, rhinoceroses, and koalas. Most countries effect strict quarantine regulations to protect native species from introduced species. In some countries, vast sums are spent on measures to combat vigorous, fast-breeding, exotic animals when these are threatening the native fauna. In short, it is fashionable to be a conservationist.
Our Democratic Language
H. L. Mencken once quipped that England and America are two countries separated by a common language. Linguists teach that the different languages with which the two types of English have come into contact are in part responsible for their respective pronunciations, vocabularies, and syntax. But these are mere differences in linguistic structure. Differences in usage are more difficult to explain, but surely our democratic principles gradually transformed the English of an 18th century monarchy into the distinctive American variety we use today. Our industrious pace of life has made us terse and impatient with elaborate expressions. Our belief in the ideal of equality has minimized the distance between formal and colloquial language. But at the same time, we Americans use our language to overcome in speech those inequities that have not been eradicated in reality. Our vernacular fulfills an underlying frustration.
The Rebirth of Writing
Some say the telephone killed the art of executive writing. Now writing is ready for a comeback. As a performance improvement consultant, I have noted the demand for business writing skills from both large and small businesses.
Mark L. Levinson
The lady who handled the carnival till
gave you twenty pink chits for your one-dollar bill,
and her wrists knew precisely the length to unreel
without counting them off from the countertop wheel.
She was quick, she was bored, she was unreverential,
but what she dispensed was exquisite potential.
Grumbling About Grammar
Although few people can complain of another's grammatical mistakes with impunity, that is, without revealing their own, I am 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. The grammatical errors that I have assembled here come from publications like The New York Times, Wired, TV Guide, and Martha Stewart Living. Others come from websites like Salon.com and Winmag.com. And still others from TV newscasters, politicians, and businesspeople. These are the people we so often read and listen to whether or not we care to. Woefully, it is not Edith Wharton or Henry James from whom we learn to speak and write the language; rather, it is these sometime purveyors of confused, misused, and abused language.
all right Misspelled alright. It looks alright from this view, but Pooh's Bridge, near Hatfield, England, was recently condemned and rebuilt. USE all right. [Book] With five games remaining, things are anything but alright along the banks of the Mississippi. USE all right. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution] "Alright, close No. 2 and 3," says the manager of the Mt. Hermon ski resort, Israel's only winter wonderland, as the sight of cable cars with legs and skis dangling from them disappears into sky soup. USE All right. [The Christian Science Monitor] The next morning, I knew that everything would be alright. USE all right. [Travelmag.co.uk]
All it takes for a solecism to become standard English is people misusing or misspelling the word. If enough people do so, lexicographers will enter the originally misused or misspelled word into their dictionaries, and descriptive linguists will embrace it as a further example of the evolution of English. Alright is today indefensible, and it ought always to be indefensible. Likewise, a lot is correct, and alot is not.
The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)
1. We have let the liberal paradigm define the debate, and the result is the false stereotyping of Conservatives as disinterested in the suffering of this nation's at-risk kids. Tom DeLay, Majority Whip U.S. House of Representatives
As middle school and high school children are tested before they are allowed to graduate, so perhaps elected officials ought to be tested before they are allowed to serve. Disinterested means without bias, impartial.
Elegant English vs. Everyday 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. Everyday English: She looked miserable, but he looked worse.
Elegant English: The misery painted in the woman's visage was not half so strongly expressed as the agony in his. [Oliver Goldsmith, The Man in Black]
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.
alive and kicking One of the consequences of endlessly saying and hearing and writing and reading formulaic phrases is that, eventually, people do become weary of them. But instead of expressing themselves differently more eloquently or more inventively, perhaps people will simply substitute one word in these selfsame formulas for another.
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.
... activity delete. There could be some thunderstorm activity as well. There could be some thunderstorms as well. Unfortunately, countries where counterfeiting activity is widespread are generally not parties to such treaties. Unfortunately, countries where counterfeiting is widespread are generally not parties to such treaties.
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.
bumptious (BUMP-shes) adj. offensively assertive or pushy.