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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.

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

March 2000, Vol. 2, No. 3 Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor, editor@vocabula.com

What's a "Meta" For? Pamela Black
In 1662, The Royal Society became Britain's first scientific association, and in 1665, the society began to publish its findings in Philosophical Transactions, Britain's first scientific journal. A mere five years after its inception, Thomas Sprat felt called upon to write the first history of the first scientific association, and in this enthusiastic document he describes the style and intention of early scientific essays as follows:

[U]nless they had been only watchful to keep in due temper, the whole spirit and vigor of their Design had been soon eaten out by the luxury and redundance of speech.... They have therefore been most vigorous in putting in execution the only Remedy that can be found for this extravagance, and that has been a constant Resolution to reject all amplification, digressions, and swellings of style; to return back to the primitive purity and shortness, when men delivered so many things almost in an equal number of words. They have exacted from all their members, a close, naked, natural way of speaking, positive expressions, clear senses, a native easiness, bringing all things as near the Mathematical plainness as they can, and preferring the language of Artizans, Countrymen, and Merchants before that of Wits and Scholars. (History of the Royal Society, 1667) More ...

Two Poems Laura Cherry
Story for a Dull World

Those coffee-drinking monks knew what they were doing.
I can see them now in their cappuccino-colored robes,
running to morning prayers, planting rutabagas with zeal,
illuminating manuscripts in flagrant teal and wild vermilion. 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.

consensus Misspelled concensus. • The concensus in Ottawa is the banks have not made that case, despite extensive public relations campaigns and behind-the-scenes lobbying. USE consensus. [The Toronto Star] • Concensus is a sportsmanlike approach to group decision-making, which avoids the win/lose situation sometimes caused by voting. USE Consensus. [United Soccer Alliance: http://www.vhsc.com] • V2#11 includes a look by Carrie Menkel-Meadow at the evaluation process and the need for development of a concensus on how to evaluate ADR programs and how to understand the evaluations. USE consensus. [The Alternative Newsletter: http://www.mediate.com]

Though a common misspelling, people would do well to remember that the only c in consensus is the one that begins the word. More ...

The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

1. I seriously do not have a speech prepared whatsoever. — Christina Aguilera, pop singer

This is typical of the sort of blather that so many rock stars, sports figures, and other celebrities spout. Talented though these people might be, their tongues often suggest they are little more than founts of foolishness. More ...

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: Anyone can show an interest in other languages — that's easy — but not everyone has much real knowledge of them.

Elegant English: They must exhibit an interest in languages — a different and vastly easier thing than a knowledge of them. [Evelyn Waugh, Well-Informed Circles ... and How to Move in Them] 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.

actively The popular use of actively suggests that any verb not affixed to it is feckless. We cannot simply consider an idea lest we be accused of not thinking; we cannot simply engage in a pursuit lest we be accused of not trying; we cannot simply participate in a conversation lest we be accused of not speaking. • Another possibility is actively being considered by the administration: the use of force. DELETE actively. • The core group of ASC founders worried that the membership was restricted too narrowly to policing, so they actively encouraged others to participate. DELETE actively. • I have no intention of mailing a second letter to anyone who does not actively show an interest in becoming part of my collectors club. DELETE actively. • Police are actively searching for the killer, actively looking in all areas, and actively examining all the evidence. DELETE actively. Here is an example of just how absurd our fixation on actively has become: • Among the new features of WSF2 R3.3 that he is actively looking forward to is the statistical information that can be provided through SMF records. DELETE actively. 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.

(an; the) important ... for (in; of; to) important for (to). • Because decision making is an important element of a manager's job, we need to discover anything that can improve the quality of decision making. Because decision making is important to a manager's job, we need to discover anything that can improve the quality of decision making. • Their willingness to commit capital was an important factor for success. Their willingness to commit capital was important for success. • Certainly, overall physical health is an important component in any society. Certainly, overall physical health is important to any society. 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.

logorrhea (log-ah-REE-ah) n. excessive, often incoherent talkativeness. More ...


•  Grumbling About Grammar

•  The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

•  Elegant English vs. Everyday English

•  On Dimwitticisms

•  Clues to Concise Writing

•  Scarcely Used Words


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