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January 2003, Vol. 5, No. 1 ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the February issue of The Vocabula Review: "Sorry, Charles" by Joseph Epstein

Joseph Epstein, former editor of The American Scholar, teaches writing and literature at Northwestern University. His Penman appeared in the June issue of The Vocabula Review.

The February issue of The Vocabula Review is due online February 16.

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by Clark Elder Morrow
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by Mark Halpern
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by Christopher Orlet
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by Valerie Collins
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Back  "The Relationship" Equals "You"; The Passive-Aggressive "Oh, Well" Maggie Balistreri

There is no third entity called "the relationship."

"Honey, we need to talk about the relationship."

"I just don't feel like I'm getting what I want from the relationship."

"Sometimes I think I put more into the relationship than I'm getting back." More ... 

Back  Linguistic Chaos: English in the Gulf of Araby Tony Donovan

Classifying and categorizing are essential processes, we believe, in nearly every field of human endeavor. In linguistics, for example, we are taught early on that most languages form part of a pyramidal structure of relationships, with the modern languages situated at the bottom, while a remote, unattested Ur-language crowns the elegant system. Equally, we are informed that these languages are spoken within certain geographical areas, and specialized maps detail the dialectology of many areas of the world with precision.

But often what we see on paper and what our maps and charts tell us can be misleading. Languages and their usage cannot so easily be dealt with and dismissed. Our systems can often be but a shadow of reality, and what looks orderly and understandable in vitro often turns out to be chaotic and frustrating in vivo. More ... 

Back  The Pen Is Mightier Than MSWord Rohit Gupta

Strangely enough, the QWERTY arrangement designed by Christopher Shoales intended to actually slow down the typist. This was to prevent the mechanical keys from getting stuck as often as they did. And yet, when Mark Twain was sent one of the first Remington typewriters for review, he wrote:

I am trying t to get the hang of this new f fangled writing machine ... The machine has several virtues I believe it will print faster than I can write ... It piles an awful stack of words on one page.
More ... 
Back  A Noo-kyuh-lur Nonproliferation Treatise Richard Lederer

In a stunning New York Times article, Jesse Sheidlower, the North American editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, contends that it is now time to accept noo-kyuh-lur as a variant pronunciation of n(y)oo-klee-ur. The sounding noo-kyuh-lur has received much notoriety because a number of presidents from Dwight David Eisenhower to George W. Bush have sounded the word that way. Edwin Newman writes, "The word, correctly pronounced, is too much for a fair part of the population, and education and experience seem to have nothing to do with it." More ... 

Back  Just Say Know Ken Bresler

A simple way to improve your writing is to avoid using nominalizations. A nominalization is a device of grammar that turns verbs into nouns. For example, the nominalization give consideration to can and should be consider. Make provision for can and should be provide.

I can think of seven reasons to avoid nominalizations. More ... 

Back  Sound Off  
Caught in a Spell
Terry Ballard

In 1991, libraries were moving from the day of the card catalog to the era of the online catalog. I was the systems librarian at Adelphi University in Garden City, New York, and I thought our catalog was in nearly perfect condition. One day my supervisor, Dean Jacqueline Maxin referred me to an article that listed ten typographical errors that might show up in a catalog. I checked and found a few of them. They were corrected, and that seemed like the end of the matter. Over the next few weeks, Dean Maxin kept sending me mistakes that she found in Alicat. Instead of waiting for the next one, I began the arduous task of inspecting every one of the 20,000 words in our keyword index, so I could eliminate the typos once and for all. More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
Of Apes and Apprentices
Clark Elder Morrow

Just for the fun of it, guess, if you will, the author being parodied in the following passage:

Mr Proddleby was as fastidious in taking his tea as a badger would be in laving a delicacy in a creek before consuming it. His (Mr Proddleby's, not the badger's) countenance shone with the effort of hoisting each sweet cream or biscuit to its toothy destination. Mrs Proddleby herself was so far consumed in the tea ceremony as to be uncustomarily blind to her husband's struggles at replenishment; indeed, she was heard to eject a periodic 'Humpff!' in the course of her dining — ejaculations which fell with the grace of fresh snowflakes on the ears of her boarders, who were draped about the parlour as if they were decorative bolsters, placed there by a languid designer. 'Eh?' Mr Proddleby would inquire at each Humpff, showing no other signs of curiosity in the course of his ingestion; 'Humpff!' Mrs Proddleby would rejoin, equally indifferent to the tenor of her yokemate's question. And thus the domestic colloquy would progress, in its limping, circular fashion, to the waning amusement of the boarders, who found themselves entertaining notions on rather sanguinary themes. And thus it came about that while the shadows lengthened in Proddleby Manor, and while the woodcocks twittered in the eaves, Eh? followed Humpff! in dog-tail-chasing fashion, and the world of marital confabulation was enriched thereby.
More ... 
Back  The Last Word  
Circling the Wagons
Christopher Orlet

Like all solemn and dedicated professionals, I consider it my duty to stay current with the latest developments of my trade. And for me the least strenuous way to do this is by regularly checking out two websites whose hallowed mission is to tread on culture's neologistic cutting edge — one being, coincidently, The Vocabula Review's New Words Forum, which invites people to post their coinages; the other the trendy Word Spy site, which is devoted to recently coined words. New words, like all great inventions, are born out of mundane necessity, but that doesn't mean they cannot be fun and amusing. Neologisms can also be sad commentaries on the state of contemporary society, which can also be fun and amusing if done properly. More ... 

Back  Love Your English  
Get Vivad!
Valerie Collins

To kick off the New Year and this column, I decided to sort through my dusty stacks of shoe boxes labeled "English Language," "Odd Bits and Pieces," "Spanglish Texts" [I live in Spain, where both Spanish speakers and learners of English and longtime native English-speaking residents produce eccentric mixtures of the two languages], and similar, which contain innumerable scraps of paper covered with undated, unreferenced scribbles. I regularly write about movies, and one of the more legible gems is a list of synonyms for winning Oscars and other awards: earn, cull, net, land, snag, sweep, garner, harvest, scoop, bag, hoover up. I'm sure you can come up with many more: English has a massive word store and a staggering number of synonyms, both for historical reasons and thanks to its ongoing open-arms policy to foreign words (for example, glitch, guru, karaoke, zombie, robot). These are effortlessly naturalized and then seized on with glee to form new compounds (glitch-free, guru-hopping, and the like). 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.

ad feminam  Idiotic for ad hominem. • No ad hominem (or ad feminam) attacks. Criticize people's words, not the people themselves. DELETE (or ad feminam). [WebTeachFL] • However, it seems unfortunate to me that the discussions have degenerated into ad hominem (or perhaps more properly, ad feminam) attacks against those involved. DELETE (or perhaps more properly, ad feminam). [Daily Princetonian] • In 1998, Crittenden subjected the pro-working mother book, A Mother's Place, by journalist Susan Chira, to a startingly ad feminam thrashing in National Review. USE ad hominem. [Reason] • Butler's defenders branded it an ad feminam attack on an innovative thinker whose reputation was surpassing Nussbaum's own. USE ad hominem. [RobertBoynton.com]

Latin for "to the man," ad hominem — attacking the character or motives of an opponent rather than debating the policy or position — obviously does not refer to men alone. Ad feminam is thus no more needed than the sexist womyn and herstory. The notion — which to some ad feminam is also supposed to convey — that women are being attacked, not for their positions or character, but solely because they are women, might be articulated, if articulated it need be, far more sensibly with other words. 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.

For clinical sexual observation, for full acceptance of the natural functions, for discrimination in the selection of graffiti, for boldness in the use of words that it should take courage to say before a lady, give me a sophomore girl every time. Her strength is as the strength of ten, for she assumes that if one shocker out of her pretty mouth is piquant, fifty will be literature. And so do a lot of her literary idols.

Some acts, like some words, were never meant to be casual. That is why houses contain bedrooms and bathrooms. Profanity and so-called obscenities are literary resources, verbal ways of rendering strong emotion. They are not meant to occur every ten seconds, any more than — Norman Mailer to the contrary notwithstanding — orgasms are.

So I am not going to say shit any more before ladies. I am going to hunt words that have not lost their sting, and it may be I shall have to go back to gentility to find them. Pleasant though it is to know that finally a writer can make use of any word that fits his occasion, I am going to investigate the possibilities latent in restraint.

I remember my uncle, a farmer who had used four-letter words ten to the sentence ever since he learned to talk. One day he came too near the circular saw and cut half his fingers off. While we stared in horror, he stood watching the bright arterial blood pouring from his ruined hand. Then he spoke, and he did not speak loud. "Aw, the dickens," he said.

I think he understood, better than some sophomore girls and better than some novelists, the nature of emphasis. — Wallace E. Stegner, Good-Bye to All T--T 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.

(even) as we speak  Whenever someone says (even) as we speak, we should hear (even) as we misspeak, for a person who uses this sad phrase instead of, say, now or even at this moment, speaks unhappily. 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.

numerous in number numerous. • These lines are lower voltage than the high power lines, but they are much more numerous in number. These lines are lower voltage than the high power lines, but they are much more numerous. • The lesions may be few or numerous in number, reddish or brownish in color, with a surface that is usually smooth and shiny, but may sometimes be dry and rough with scales. The lesions may be few or numerous, reddish or brownish in color, with a surface that is usually smooth and shiny, but may sometimes be dry and rough with scales. 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.

koine (koi-NA) n. 1. a lingua franca. 2. a regional dialect or language that becomes the standard language over a wider area, losing its most extreme local features. 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:

Somewhat is an adverb (meaning rather; to some extent or degree); do not use somewhat as a pronoun (meaning something). 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.

Thomas Hardy: The Pursuit of the Well-Beloved and The Well-Beloved More ... 


"The Relationship" Equals "You"; The Passive-Aggressive "Oh, Well" — Maggie Balistreri

Linguistic Chaos: English in the Gulf of Araby — Tony Donovan

The Pen Is Mightier Than MSWord — Rohit Gupta

A Noo-kyuh-lur Nonproliferation Treatise — Richard Lederer

Just Say Know — Ken Bresler

Sound Off: Caught in a Spell — Terry Ballard


Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — Of Apes and Apprentices

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — Circling the Wagons

Valerie Collins: Love Your English — Get Vivad!


Grumbling About Grammar

Elegant English

On Dimwitticisms

Clues to Concise Writing

Scarcely Used Words

Oddments and Miscellanea

On the Bookshelf

 TVR Revisited

Urban Renewal English — Jeff Danziger

Words of a Feather — Valerie Collins

Student Bloopers — Michael J. Sheehan

The Art of Conversation — Tim Buck

Memo to Reviewers — David Carkeet

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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 The Dictionary of Concise Writing, Fiske shows how to identify and correct wordiness.

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