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March 2003, Vol. 5, No. 3 ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the April issue of The Vocabula Review: "DisenYOUGUYSing American English" by jjoan ttaber altieri


The April issue of The Vocabula Review is due online April 20.

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Dictionaries should be much more prescriptive, far less descriptive, than they now are.

A Definition a Day


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The Elder Statesman
by Clark Elder Morrow
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The Critical Reader
by Mark Halpern
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The Last Word
by Christopher Orlet
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Love Your English
by Valerie Collins
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Coming in 2004

Vocabula Bound — Twenty-five of the best essays, and sixteen of the best poems, published in The Vocabula Review over the last few years.

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Back  How to Err in Italian David Carkeet

Day 1

We arrive at the hotel in mid-afternoon. I can't sleep. I leave my wife in the room and wander the streets. Young Romans stop me and ask in English what time it is. It's as if they can see the jet lag on my face and know I am confused about the time. I've read that Italians are fond of subtle mockery. Here it is already. More ... 

Back  Does Saying Make It So? Tina Bennett-Kastor

My cat stares at the door and meows in a demanding tone. The door opens and he saunters out. He is like the dervishes in cartoons I watched as a child, calling, "Open, Sesame!" at closed palace doors, which obediently spread themselves wide to allow entry, or perhaps like God at the creation commanding, "Let there be light!" And there was light.

In reality, my cat is not like a dervish or God. His voice has no divine dimension, and the relationship between his utterances and the actions that result is completely indirect. He requires human intervention (unlike my dog, who has learned to open the front storm door by himself). Without our cooperation, he could yowl until his vocal chords give out, and the door would not obey. More ... 

Back  Kvetching About Literary Criticism David Isaacson

You heard the one about the Jewish mother who says, "My son, he's not a lawyer or a doctor, but he does okay anyway. You know what he does? He kvetches for a living. He's a literary critic." It's not good form to explain a joke, but I'm going to here because in my judgment too much of what passes for literary criticism today is itself a joke — but a grim one — on those of us who think criticism is supposed to help us better understand and "appreciate" literature. (Often it is the reader who is not being appreciated — the literature is doing okay by itself.) The Yiddish kvetch loosely translates, according to Leo Rosten, as "to fret, complain, gripe, grunt, sigh."1 To suggest that the once noble profession of literary criticism — with its lovely image of a life devoted to the aesthetic pleasure of elucidating texts and sharing this pleasure with students — has become vulgarized into a game of mere fault-finding is an insult. I mean it to be. I love literature too much to take most contemporary academic literary criticism seriously. It seems to be written by and for people who have forgotten the sheer joy of reading literature. The critic is more interested in arguing abstruse literary theory than interpreting literature. He's got points to make, scores to settle, a reputation to defend. More ... 

Back  Nifty Neologisms Michael J. Sheehan

I have always been intrigued by offbeat words, especially those excruciatingly specific nouns that fill a void I never knew was there.

Need a word for the fine wood powder left by boring insects? Of course you do; try frass. What about that indentation at the bottom of a wine bottle? It's called a punt. Crossword puzzle fans all know that an aglet is the plastic or metal sheath at the tip of a shoelace. And who would have thought that the world needed a word like haw, a dog's inner eyelid. More ... 

Back  Haunted Words Richard Lederer

The Greek etymon means "true, original," and the Greek ending -logia means "science or study." Thus, etymology is supposed to be the science or study of true and original word meanings. But I have learned that the proud house of etymology is populated by all manner of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties miscreated by spook etymologists. (Spook reaches back to the Dutch spooc, "ghost, specter.") These sham scholars would rather invent a word origin after the fact than trace it to its true source. Spooks prefer drama and romance to accuracy and truth. With spooks it is sentence first, trial never. More ... 

Back  Two Poems Cher Cunningham

The scent of anathema
clung to her heavy as
the Vatican.

Misunderstood, she
was denounced by
the arrogant. More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
A Philosophical Dialogue Between Nature and Supernature
Clark Elder Morrow

The scene is the Tudor half-timber home of Nature, by the sideboard that serves as a bar in the oak-paneled and book-lined study.

Supernature: No, no, no. I couldn't possibly take another glass. You are scandalously — riotously — hospitable, but if I nurse this one for a while, I should just be able to drive home and join Mrs S. for the news. Without, I trust, relieving myself in her koi pond. More ... 

Back  The Critical Reader  
Our Friends, the Paradox and the Problem
Mark Halpern

Sir Richard Steele, who has a good claim to be the first professional English-language journalist, noted as he founded the profession the great problem that all journalists were to face:

When a Man has engaged to keep a Stage-Coach, he is obliged, whether he has Passengers or not, to set out; Thus it fares with us weekly Historians.

Steele found the scarcity of ideas and interesting topics a problem when there were a million subjects that had not yet been treated journalistically, and he and Addison had little or no competition; the problem it poses for journalists today, when thousands of them are chasing the handful of stories that editors imagine will attract readers, and every imaginable topic has been covered from every conceivable angle innumerable times, is so great that desperate measures have had to be taken to make the profession possible at all. 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.

amount Solecistic for number. • Your banner will be displayed until your target amount of visitors is reached — no worrying about click-through rates! USE number. [bCentral] • They say that with a finite amount of qualified staff to draw from in the area, paying more money will be the only way for multiple cardiac centers to keep qualified staff. USE number. [Daily Herald] • They compete physically and in the classroom, but the bigger competition is social and a fair amount of players come from lower-income families. USE number. [CBS Sportsline.com] • Gallea said she is sending more than the usual amount of extra plastic runners for her sled. USE number. [Great Falls Tribune] • In addition, actions taken to eliminate the amount of immigrants who are consuming U.S. jobs have created an underground economy and consequently lowered the wages for Americans as well as immigrants. USE number. [Central American Odyssey]

Amount is used with that which cannot be easily counted: oil, water, space, energy, time, work, information, data, evidence, snow, rain, damage, and the like. Number is used with that which is countable: people, chapters, companies, countries, jobs, subscriptions, species, schools, winners, losers, pixels, assaults, criteria, and the like. 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.

When the first savage saw his hut destroyed by a bolt of lightning, he fell down upon his face in terror. He had no conception of natural forces, of laws of electricity; he saw this event as the act of an individual intelligence. To-day we read about fairies and demons, dryads and fauns and satyrs, Wotan and Thor and Vulcan, Freie and Flora and Ceres, and we think of all these as pretty fancies, play-products of the mind; losing sight of the fact that they were originally meant with entire seriousness — that not merely did ancient man believe in them, but was forced to believe in them, because the mind must have an explanation of things that happen, and an individual intelligence was the only explanation available. The story of the hero who slays the devouring dragon was not merely a symbol of day and night, of summer and winter; it was a literal explanation of the phenomena, it was the science of early times. 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.

at the end of the day The popular phrase was once the equally silly in the final (or last) analysis. More sensible phrases include eventually, finally, in the end, in time, ultimately (or, perhaps, all in all, all told, overall), but people, unsure of who they are, imitate one another; people today say at the end of the day. If we were less inclined to say what others say (and do what others do), the world might be a wholly different place. Reason might even prevail. 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.

is based on the assumption assumes. • Capitalism is based on the assumption that you can win. Capitalism assumes that you can win. • The annual percentage yield is based on the assumption that dividends will remain on deposit until maturity. The annual percentage yield assumes that dividends will remain on deposit until maturity. • This proposal is based on the assumption that qualitative research can add new insight into the real life issues that contribute to the health disparities. This proposal assumes that qualitative research can add new insight into the real life issues that contribute to the health disparities. 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.

clement (KLEM-ent) adj. 1. inclined to be lenient or merciful. 2. mild. 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:

The number of a verb does not change by the addition of expressions such as along with, as well as, in addition to, including, in conjunction with, together with. 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.

William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair: A Novel Without a Hero More ... 

Back  Letters to the Editor

The Vocabula Review welcomes letters to the editor. Please include your name, email address, and professional affiliation. Send your letters to letters@vocabula.com. If you'd rather, you may post, at any time, a message in TVR Forum.

MUST you? Or should I say, "Et tu, Brute"? We have been inundated with movie and TV celebrities who suddenly become political voices. I'm sorry, but spare me; they need to stick to the business of entertaining us on the screen. As with you and your publication: it's a wonderful idea, and a much-needed venue. Stick to its purpose! Don't tarnish it with trying to be political!

I was a first excited with the information I received as I scanned your site. Then, noticing the voting on President Bush about his relative inability to speak eloquently, therefore showing his inability to think rationally [TVR Poll], well, I am now not only "unexcited" about your publication, I will NOT be sharing it with my college English students.

Too bad, too — it would have been helpful to me, and beneficial to my students.

Candace Frank
Chaffey College
cmfrankcc@aol.com More ... 


How to Err in Italian — David Carkeet

Does Saying Make It So? — Tina Bennett-Kastor

Kvetching About Literary Criticism — David Isaacson

Nifty Neologisms — Michael J. Sheehan

Haunted Words — Richard Lederer

Two Poems — Cher Cunningham


Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — A Philosophical Dialogue Between Nature and Supernature

Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — Our Friends, the Paradox and the Problem


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 Revisited

Heaven and Hello — Heinz Insu Fenkl

Practicing Prescriptivism Now and Then — Edward Finegan

Urban Renewal English — Jeff Danziger

Words of a Feather — Valerie Collins

Student Bloopers — Michael J. Sheehan

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