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A society is generally as lax as its language.

May 2001, Vol. 3, No. 5 Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher

Coming in the June issue of The Vocabula Review: "English Words of Arabic Origin: Still a Vast Unknown World" by Habeeb Salloum

Habeeb Salloum is a freelance writer and author residing in Toronto. Among his most recent books are Arabic Contributions to the English Vocabulary (Librarie du Liban: Beirut, 1996) and Journeys Back to Arab Spain (Middle East Studies Centre: Toronto, 1994).

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A Definition a Day

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TVR Audio   TVR Audio  Hear Steve Cook reading Writing Down to Readers; David R. Williams reading Clichés; Barry Spacks reading his two poems The Placing of a Comma and From the Skymind Café; and more.

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  TVR Audio Writing Down to Readers Steve Cook

In an earlier age of print journalism, articles were written in a style that displayed a strong respect for the intelligence of the reader. Writers waded directly into complex topics, and were seldom discouraged from magniloquence. Balance and neutrality in news reporting were concepts yet unborn. The political or social viewpoint of the writer — and by extension the publication — were abundantly clear. More ...

  TVR Audio Clichés David R. Williams

Avoid these like the plague. Now, when was the last time you personally had to avoid bubonic plague? Not recently, I'll bet. This is a good example of a cliché, a phrase with no immediacy, no life, merely a collection of words left over from some other time repeated to the point where it is used without anyone paying any attention to what the words say. We get the idea; that's about it. More ...

  Words to Be Wise Marylaine Block

When I was teaching freshman English, one of my students explained in an essay how to go about applying for a job. "You should not wear your Sunday best," she said, "or wear your grubbies. Just a mediocre attire of clothing will be sufficient." More ...

  "Unfortunately" Equals "Um, Fortunately" Maggie Balistreri

"I can't work on my résumé because unfortunately, I don't have access to a computer. Otherwise, I would apply for that job and quit this dead-end pit."

"Believe me, I would love to be a published writer. But unfortunately I don't have time to write anymore. Otherwise I would." More ...

  TVR Audio Two Poems Barry Spacks

The Placing of a Comma

Eyes rolled back in his head, a trick
he'd learned in years in China, whites
white blindness — sign of inward vision --
he lectured our class on verbal virtue:
"morality of style."

The best of speech has testified
to truth exactly toned: "Jesus
wept." "Pray undo this button."
Few endure such high demand.

(His eyes snap blue, a sort of invasion). 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.

as to Solecistic for about (or similar words). • One hint as to his possibly altered standing comes from the latest version of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which, although Roget was an editor of the seventh edition and a contributor of more than 300,000 words to it, gives him somewhat short shrift today, with an entry of a mere twenty lines. USE of. [The Atlantic Monthly] • Suddenly expectations and preconceptions as to how things should be done and what steps could be taken disappear, often leaving the displaced family members feeling confused, resentful and, perhaps most importantly, alone. USE of. [ Federation of American Women's Clubs Overseas] • For example, testing of a graphics library will require a very different approach as to that of a calendar manager. USE from. [Sun Microsystem's Year 2000 Testing Guide] • Depending on the night, the meal and the energy of the evening, I also made distinctions as to the drink best suited to the occasion. USE in. [Food & Wine]

As to the phrase as to whether, delete as to. • If your browser is not secure, or there is any question as to whether or not it is, please download Netscape Navigator, Microsoft Internet Explorer, or an equivalent browser. DELETE as to. [Gleim Publications] • Yet there has been some question as to whether their hearts can take it. DELETE as to. [Dr. Koop.com]

Except when used to begin a sentence, as to is, if not solecistic, certainly sloppy for a more precise about or of, for or with, from or to, on or in. This phrase, midsentence, identifies a philistine, a person who, though he writes, doesn't much care to. 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 language of the street is always strong. What can describe the folly and emptiness of scolding like the word jawing? I feel too the force of the double negative, though clean contrary to our grammar rules. And I confess to some pleasure from the stinging rhetoric of a rattling oath in the mouth of truckmen and teamsters. How laconic and brisk it is by the side of a page of the North American Review. Cut these words and they would bleed; they are vascular and alive; they walk and run. Moreover they who speak them have this elegancy, that they do not trip in their speech. It is a shower of bullets, whilst Cambridge men and Yale men correct themselves and begin again at every half sentence. — Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Language of the Street 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.

positive feelings As the following synonyms show, positive feelings is a pulpous expression that arouses only our inattention: affection; approval; blissfulness; courage; delectation; delight; ecstasy; enjoyment; fondness; friendliness; friendship; generosity; goodwill; happiness; hope; joy; kindness; lightheartedness; like; liking; love; loyalty; merriment; passion; peace; pleasure; rapture; relish; respect; warmth.

• I feel she may have positive feelings for me, and I'd like to know for sure. REPLACE WITH affection. • The goal is to capture the positive feelings about making special purchases. REPLACE WITH delectation. • The better in touch you are with your positive feelings for each other, the less likely you are to act contemptuous of your spouse when you have a difference of opinion. REPLACE WITH fondness and admiration. 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.

is dependent on (upon) depends on; hinges on. • You shouldn't be dependent upon anyone else for your happiness. You shouldn't depend on anyone else for your happiness. • The position of the object of a phrasal verb is dependent on whether or not the phrasal verb is separable or inseparable. The position of the object of a phrasal verb depends on whether or not the phrasal verb is separable or inseparable. • The Morton Grove Days Committee's annual budget ($40,000 to $50,000) is dependent upon the size of the July 4th parade and fireworks, and the costs related to the festival activities. The Morton Grove Days Committee's annual budget ($40,000 to $50,000) depends on the size of the July 4th parade and fireworks, and the costs related to the festival activities. 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.

braggadocio (brag-ah-DOH-see-oh) n. 1. empty or pretentious boasting. 2. a braggart. 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 use very to modify words that clearly do not need to be so modified. 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.

Henry James: The Golden Bowl More ...

  Letters to the Editor

I enjoyed the article "'Secrets' of the Pros" by Richard Dowis [Vol. 3, No. 4] not only for its excellent writing tips, but also for the opportunity afforded to revisit so many great speeches from history. I was disappointed, however, to see that Mr. Dowis felt the need to qualify the use of a selection from a speech by Jesse Jackson with the phrase, "Whether you agree with his positions or not." This slight was not extended to any of the other politicians cited in the article, including Spiro Agnew. I hope that Mr. Dowis was not intending to cast gratuitous aspersions on Mr. Jackson's politics. More ...


Writing Down to Readers


Words to Be Wise

"Unfortunately" Equals "Um, Fortunately"

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

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

What's a "Meta" For? — Pamela Black

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