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The Vocabula Review

A society is generally as lax as its language.

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.

Coming in the July issue of The Vocabula Review: "Bottle That Punaphor" by Joseph Epstein

I am pleased to be a contributor to The Vocabula Review, which is an important undertaking and one, by my reckoning, squarely on the side of the angels. — Joseph Epstein

Joseph Epstein is the author of, among other works, Ambition, the Secret Passion; A Line Out for a Walk; Life Sentences; and Narcissus Leaves the Pool. He is also the editor of The Norton Book of Personal Essays.

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Although there are no subscription fees to The Vocabula Review, voluntary contributions would be gratefully accepted and used to support the continuation of the publication (generosity). David Palmer, Senior Vice President, Publishing, MesaView, Inc., sent a contribution and wrote: "Thanks for creating such a useful journal."

The Vocabula Review (TVR) is published on the third Tuesday of each month. Click here to read the journal archives:

June 2000, Vol. 2, No. 6 Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor, editor@vocabula.com

The Tarnishing of English Stephen Heintz
Ever since political correctness reared its head, modern classical English has been severely, if not mortally, injured. Those of us in the English writing profession have been chastised for trying to keep it alive, close the wound, through our use of words such as "chairman," "firemen," and "postman." More ...
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 even the Southern Gastric Brooding Frog. 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 species when these are threatening the locals. In short, it is fashionable to be a conservationist. More ...
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.

congratulate Misspelled congradulate. • Over 3000 wrestlers signed already; congradulation to all of you. USE congratulation. [Fans Wrestling Federation: http://www.fwfwrestling.com] • Pro K-9 would like to congradulate Officer McClure and Officer Nelson and there K-9 partners Oky and Nash. USE congratulate. [Police K-9: http://www.prok9.com/police.htm] • U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen ... and Russian Minister of Defense Igor Sergeyev congradulate each other on the recently signed agreement. USE congratulate. [The Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com]

Despite how it is sometimes pronounced, congratulate is spelled with a t, not a d. More ...

The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

1. Last December, him and President Clinton came up with another solution. — Marty Delfin, reporter for the San Juan Star on National Public Radio

From National Public Radio correspondents, we have come to expect better. More ...

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.

1. I confess I love littleness almost in all things. A little convenient estate, a little cheerful house, a little company, and a very little feast; and, if I were to fall in love again (which is a great passion, and therefore, I hope, I have done with it), it would be, I think, with prettiness, rather than with majestical beauty. — Abraham Cowley, Of Greatness More ...

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 living hell The force and colorfulness of this metaphor is no longer evident. An uncommonly used word — such as chthonic, insupportable, plutonic, sulfurous, stygian, or tartarean — is often more potent and captivating than a commonly used metaphor. More ...

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.

(something; somewhere) on the order (of) about; around; close to; more or less; near; nearly; or so; roughly; some; delete. • Typically, the ratio of injury to mortality is something on the order of three or four to one. Typically, the ratio of injury to mortality is some three or four to one. • I counted something on the order of 50 interruptions for applause. I counted 50 or so interruptions for applause. • For software whose development time is on the order of two years, there are two possible arrangements. For software whose development time is around two years, there are two possible arrangements. More ...

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.

deracinate (di-RAS-ah-nate) v. 1. to pull up by the roots; uproot. 2. to isolate or displace from one's native or customary environment. More ...

On the Bookshelf

Among the best written, if least read, books are those that I 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.

Arthur Quinn: Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase More ...


•  Grumbling About Grammar

•  The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

•  Elegant English

•  On Dimwitticisms

•  Clues to Concise Writing

•  Scarcely Used Words


•  On the Bookshelf

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