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A society is generally as lax as its language.

Coming in the April issue of The Vocabula Review: "Playing the Synonym Game" by Ken Bresler

Ken Bresler is a plain English consultant and writing coach at the Clear Writing Co. in Newton, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School, a former prosecutor, and a former daily journalist. His book Kissing Legalese Goodbye (William S. Hein and Co.) is scheduled for publication later this year.

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

The Muse of Mopar David Carkeet

I have fallen in love. I have found grace, class, and subtlety, along with an intuitive appreciation for who I am, in a place where I would never have expected to find it. I am speaking, of course, of The New Dodge Caravan Owner's Manual. More ...

Going Without the Flow Joseph Epstein

Having voted for George W. Bush for president, I find myself in the slightly awkward position of having to defend what I gather might be four or more years of a continuous drizzle of our forty-third president's ill-formed sentences, persistent errors of verbal tact, and hilarious malaprops of a kind on which liberals can dine out. More ...

Future Imperfect Michael J. Sheehan

Humans have never been satisfied with the present. Against all logic, we demand to know the future, and we will use just about any object, natural or man-made, to pry it loose from the grip of mystery. "There is no nation, civilized or barbarian," said Cicero, "which does not believe that there are signs of the future and persons who interpret them." More ...

Like Maggie Balistreri

The Undercutting Like

Translation: I'm not smart; I'm cool. I don't know where I picked up that knowledge.

• "I think he meant it like, metaphorically."

• "You can't do that; it's like, a federal offense."

• "That was by like, Beethoven."

• "I just used the like, law of contrapositive to figure out the answer."

• "Who? That guy? Oh, he's the ambassador to like, Nigeria."

• "That's, like, an umlaut or something." More ...

TVR Audio Two Poems Herbert Stern


Far more than them he loved
the things they owned. Or better,
loved the way that things resisted
owning. Example, three daughters
in their vacuous curls, bedizened
silks and velvet, skin
kissed into green and rose
and white by his quick brush,
as if the brush itself were a thing
intent on taking back from them
all ownership. Sargent was here
and there, Sargent was everywhere,
no other ownership than this. 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.

adjure Misused for abjure. • There should also be a commitment on both sides to adjure violence against non-combatant civilians and a willingness to pursue the democratic process. USE abjure. [Sunday Observer] • But the Bridegroom does not adjure anger and concupiscence themselves, because these passions never cease from the soul — but their vexations and disorderly acts, signified by the "lions, fawns, and bounding does," for it is necessary that these disorderly acts should cease in this state. USE abjure. [Catholic First] • At the moment the government takes not in consideration, like in eastern Europe to adjure the communism and to build up a capitalistic society. USE abjure. [Vidacubana.com]

And abjure is sometimes misused for adjure: • In the name of the Lords of the Dead, I command you; with the Three Sigils of the Dreamless Ones, I abjure you; by the pleasure of the Dread Majesties of Night, I order you. USE adjure. [The dead envy the living]

Adjure means to command or enjoin solemnly; to appeal to or entreat. Abjure means to forswear; to renounce under oath; to repudiate. More ...

The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

We expect them to cast their net as far and wide as possible because any stone that's not unturned will be questioned. — Brig. Gen. John F. Sattler, chief spokesman for the Marines as quoted in The Washington Post

Brig. Gen. Sattler is as mixed in his metaphors as the V-22 Osprey aircraft is in its maneuverings, and both fail in their respective efforts. More ...

TVR Audio 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.

Listen! for if you are not totally callous, if your consciences are not seared, I will speak daggers to your souls, and awake you to all the horrors of guilty recollection. I will follow you with whips and stings through every maze of your unexampled turpitude, and plant thorns under the rose of ministerial approbation — Edmund Burke, Speech 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.

class The antithesis of culture, class is a quality possessed by those who have neither elegance nor grace nor poise nor polish. • This always hurts me because I know who he is: a very intelligent, sensitive, classy human being. 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.

in (a; the) ... manner -(al)ly; delete. • I hope future stories dealing with sensitive issues such as this will be handled in a more responsible and accurate manner. I hope future stories dealing with sensitive issues such as this will be handled more responsibly and accurately. • According to CAREI, studies have found that some families were affected in a positive manner by the start changes and some were negatively affected. According to CAREI, studies have found that some families were positively affected by the start changes and some were negatively affected. • All writing on labels must be printed in a clear and legible manner and should be in Spanish unless authorized otherwise by the DFC. All writing on labels must be printed clearly and legibly and should be in Spanish unless authorized otherwise by the DFC. 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.

distrait (di-STRAY) adj. inattentive or preoccupied; distracted. 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:

Avoid using the expression as per or, simply, per. 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.

Samuel Beckett: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable More ...

Letters to the Editor

I refer to the "Grumbling About Grammar" section in the February edition of The Vocabula Review [Vol. 3, No. 2]. As a paid-up prescriptivist, I nodded along with most of the mistakes you included. However, I disagree on the inclusion of the first and last items. More ...


The Muse of Mopar

Going Without the Flow

Future Imperfect


Two Poems


Grumbling About Grammar

The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

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

Other Business

Back Issues

Language Links

Letter from the Editor

Printer-Friendly Version

Sponsorship Programs

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The Contributors

David Carkeet

Joseph Epstein

Michael J. Sheehan

Maggie Balistreri

Herbert Stern

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No material from this site may be used without permission.
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