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A society is generally as lax as its language.

June 2001, Vol. 3, No. 6 Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher

Coming in the July issue of The Vocabula Review: "The End of Linguistics" by Mark Halpern

Mark Halpern is a freelance editor and writer living in Oakland, California. He has been a computer programmer, college instructor, soldier, and software designer. His Why Linguists Are Not to Be Trusted on Language Usage appeared in the September 2000 issue of TVR.

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  English Words of Arabic Origin Habeeb Salloum

The Arabic contribution to the English language is well known to both Western and Arab linguistic scholars. This is attested to by the many wordlists and glossaries listing English words of Arabic origin published by a number of these men of letters. My late colleague, James Peters, and I compiled the most complete work in this field, a lexicon entitled Arabic Contributions to the English Vocabulary. This, we believe, is the most comprehensive study ever written on the subject and is the culmination of more than twenty-five years of research. The book lists nearly 3,000 English words of Arabic origin, as well as another 5,000 derivatives of these basic words. More ... 

  Mr. Epstein Regrets Joseph Epstein

I have a small, slowly growing number of people who mustn't expect an invitation to lunch from me. Roger Clemens is on it, so, among others, are Donald Trump, Jack Valenti, Shirley MacLaine, Howell Raines, Jack Quinn, Barbara Walters, and Alan Dershowitz. Noteworthy for expressing odious or merely silly opinions, they would, I feel, complicate my digestion. More ... 

  Children Deserve Poetry Susan Elkin

Why are teachers so terrified of poetry? And I mean real poetry — by Keats, Tennyson, Blake and Browning, and the like — not the desultory, trite little ditties that worm their way into modern English textbooks masquerading as poems. Is it because — heaven forbid — that they no longer know any? Or do they just prefer to keep it to themselves rather than sharing it with pupils? More ... 

TVR Audio Two Poems Elana Wolff


sun in cloud glissade
across the sky in cirrus. Fallen

flowers driven down
by age and rain dispatch the night: black

turned bright
the appointed time. More ... 

  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.

credible Misused for credulous. • Teach us not to be gullible, and credible, swallowing every line that comes along. USE credulous. [When Unbelief is Right] • I have asked Dr. Wilkinson more than once to name an ancient writer who was not, on occasion, credible, gullible and superstitious. USE credulous. [The UK's Leading Atheist Page] • This is the paperback of the movie by Sun Classic Pictures, a company notorious for semi-slick movies aimed at credible and gullible audiences. USE credulous. [Science/Pseudoscience Bibliography]

Credible means believable, plausible. Credulous means believing too readily, gullible. 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.

The professors themselves, in truth, must have the same habit, for sometimes they show plain signs of it in print. More than once, plowing through profound and interminable treatises of grammar and syntax during the writing and revision of the present work, I have encountered the cheering spectacle of one grammarian exposing, with contagious joy, the grammatical lapses of some other grammarian. And nine times out of ten, a few pages further on, I have found the enchanted purist erring himself. The most funereal of the sciences is saved from utter horror by such displays of human malice and fallibility. Speech itself, indeed, would become almost impossible if the grammarians could follow their own rules unfailingly, and were always right. — H. L. Mencken, "Grammarians and Their Ways," The American Language 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.

pillar of society (the church; the community) It is the pillars of society — whether powerful, knowledgeable, or moneyed — who are often the most wobbly among us.

Few who have power do not misapply it, few who have knowledge do not misuse it, and few who have money do not misspend it. For these reasons and others, before long and before others, pillars totter and then topple. • But beware — you'll be going up against the well-informed dealer who might be viewed as a pillar of the community. • They throw the little thief into jail while the big thief becomes a campaign contributor and pillar of society. 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.

of ... dimensions (magnitude; proportions; size) delete. • It was a success of monumental dimensions. It was a monumental success. • The mess surrounding our president is a tragedy of substantial proportions. The mess surrounding our president is a substantial tragedy. • Manny Ramirez hit a homerun of historic proportions. Manny Ramirez hit a historic homerun. • If He did not return when He said He would, we have a dilemma of huge proportions. If He did not return when He said He would, we have a huge dilemma. • A storm of monstrous proportions developed in the Atlantic that year and several ships were caught in its fury. A monstrous storm developed in the Atlantic that year and several ships were caught in its fury. • For those of you who don't know, World War II was an event of immense magnitude in world history. For those of you who don't know, World War II was an immense event in world history. 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.

depauperate (dah-POH-per-it) adj. 1. falling short in growth or development. 2. severely diminished; impoverished. More ... 

  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 separate a subordinate clause beginning with the word which from the sentence in which it belongs. More ... 

  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.

Nancy Mitford: The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate More ... 

  Letters to the Editor

Despite what Steve Cook says in "Writing Down to Readers" [Vol. 3, No. 5], journalism is not, in my view, an appropriate venue for elegant style and opinionated writing.

This, of course, does not mean that grammatical and spelling errors are acceptable in journalism. However, the purpose of daily journalism is to get facts to readers as quickly as possible. For this reason, elegant vocabulary is not only inappropriate but actually hinders most readers from getting the essential information in the news article. And deliberately injecting the writer's perspective in a news story implies that the readers are incapable of making up their own minds based on the information provided but must be guided as to how the information is to be interpreted. More ... 


English Words of Arabic Origin

Mr. Epstein Regrets

Children Deserve Poetry

Two Poems


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 Editorials

On Dimwitticisms: An Introduction

The Imperfectibility of People

The Perfectibility of Words

The Remains of All Writing, the Spoils of All Speech

TVR Revisited

Bottle That Punaphor — Joseph Epstein

Getting the Words Right — Tracy Lee Simmons

Why Linguists Are Not to Be Trusted on Language Usage — Mark Halpern

Double Your Pleasure — Michael J. Sheehan

Two Poems — Laura Cherry

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