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May 2003, Vol. 5, No. 5 ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the June issue of The Vocabula Review: "Who Owns English" by Orin Hargraves

Lexicographer, editor, writer Orin Hargraves is the author of Mighty Fine Words and Smashing Expressions. This is his first article for The Vocabula Review.


The June issue of The Vocabula Review is due online June 15.

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More than incorrect grammar and an infelicitous style, the deliberate misuse of words — euphemism, circumlocution, lying — is an assault on language and society.

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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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Back  Fading Distinctions Julian Burnside

The English language has developed haphazardly. Drawing on diverse sources, it has spawned as rich a vocabulary as any known language. The chaos Johnson found, and tried to tidy up, includes many words that have sprung from the same source with meanings that are related but different. For example, frail and fragile both come from the Latin fragilis. They are not synonyms for each other even though they share the same central idea. "A frail old man bought a fragile old vase" sounds right. Reverse the adjectives, and the resulting sentence would sound distinctly odd. Similarly, we have many words that sound similar but come from different roots and have different, albeit similar, meanings; and we have words from the same root differentiated by various prefixes or suffixes. More ... 

Back  Give Them Greek Susan Elkin

So, in the United Kingdom at any rate, Latin is making a small but very welcome comeback, especially in British primary schools, courtesy of an innovative book by teacher Barbara Bell. Her mouse, Minimus, an Ancient Roman rodent, lives at Vindolanda, a fort on Hadrian's Wall, which kept "the weasel Scot" out of northern England.

Good news, of course, but why stop at Latin? What about Greek, the language of Homer, Aristotle, Socrates, and of all educated men (and a few women) since time immemorial? More ... 

Back  Lexical Borrowing in Arabic and English Jamil Daher

Any living language is subject to a process of evolution; it must continually adjust to new needs and situations. A primary cause of this evolution is the influence exerted by one language on another. Contact between cultures leads to borrowing between languages. This borrowing is a major factor in language change and language development (Sapir 1921, Langacker 1967).

Some linguistic forms are more susceptible to borrowing than others. Although languages may borrow phonological and grammatical features from one another, it is lexical items that are most frequently borrowed (Haugen 1950), and on which this paper will focus. Among lexical items, nouns are the most frequently borrowed. English provides a vivid example of lexical borrowing: its wealth of vocabulary from French, Latin, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, and many other languages — including Arabic — no doubt accounts in large measure for the widely noted absence of regularity in English spelling (Crystal 1987:214). In addition to having been a significant source of loan words into English, Arabic has permeated the vocabulary of Persian, Turkish, and other languages (Bloomfield 1933, Chejne 1969, Bakalla 1980, Al-Harbi 1991). Arabic words account for 11 percent of Spanish lexicon, and in Portuguese there are over 3,000 words from Arabic. More ... 

Back  All-American Dialects Richard Lederer

I have tongue and will travel, so I run around the country speaking to groups of teachers, students, librarians, women's clubbers, guild professionals, and corporate clients. These good people go to all the trouble of putting together meetings and conferences, and I walk in, share my thoughts about language in their lives, and imbibe their collective energy and synergy. I will go anywhere to spread the word about words, and in going anywhere from California to the New York Island, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, I hear America singing. We are teeming nations within a nation, a nation that is like a world. We talk in melodies of infinite variety; we dance to their sundry measures and lyrics. More ... 

Back  Behavioral Writing: From Gobbledygook to Plain English Mark Hochhauser

Much of my work involves reading informed consent forms for clinical trials; consumer health information that's distributed by hospitals, clinics, and doctor's offices; privacy policies of healthcare institutions; and the like. Unfortunately for me as a reader, most of those materials are written very poorly. Over the past thirty years, most "readability" research has concluded that health information usually requires reading skills that most consumers simply don't have. And after thirty years, the poor- quality writing hasn't improved much. More ... 

Back  Sound Off  
Keep Foreign Languages out of the Classroom
Tony Donovan

According to the Digest of Education Statistics of 1998, more than five million U.S. students in grades nine through twelve were studying foreign languages in the fall of 1994. This number represented approximately 41 percent of all students in those grade levels. More recent data would very likely suggest that these numbers have not changed very much, but in any case, the figures are nothing short of staggering. More ... 

Back  Two Poems Ernest Hilbert

How many sent away to death
Impossible to understand —

Still he does not flee, caught in the awful
Stain and clasp of her.

He poses exquisitely there by the knotted tree
With ladders and jewels,

Looking back at her, at the horizon
Where she throws parts of her body,

Little by little, into the roots of day,
Interring them: More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
A Fable
Clark Elder Morrow

Once upon a time there was a realm that lived in peace and plenitude. Its ways were placid and congenial, its modes of trade and production apt and self-replenishing. The land of Concordia flourished like the famed green bay tree, and its mores were a credit to its ancient reputation for fairness and benignity. Throughout the meadows and quaint shops and fairs of the community, brotherhood reigned, and those immemorial personal rights long judged to be crucial to the harmony of society were held in high esteem. More ... 

Back  The Critical Reader  
An Ode to Science: Bird Thou Never Wert
Mark Halpern

One is constantly hearing of creatures and organizations and disciplines that know nothing of political boundaries, nor of other such divisive concepts as nationality, race, and religion. Few astronauts can resist telling us that from up in orbit, the earth is just one lovely, precious blue orb floating in space, that we ought all to treasure, and stop fighting over. Birds, we learn, migrate across the earth with no regard for the imaginary lines we humans draw on our maps and try to impose on the earth itself. Music, art, love, and laughter all share this blithe disregard for such arbitrary boundaries, we are regularly reminded. Occasionally the moral is drawn for us explicitly, but our instructors are usually tactful enough to trust us to see it without heavy-handed didacticism: these borders, we are allowed to realize without prompting, are in the worst sense of the word artificial, and vestiges of a cruder age and a less evolved humanity. More ... 

Back  Love Your English  
It Takes Two to Tango: Diary of an Alliteration Junkie
Valerie Collins

Recently, I was back home in Manchester, England, looking after my seventy-nine-year-old mother after her TKR (total knee replacement: left). Mostly confined to her tiny apartment without my notes or reference books, for the first few days I couldn't even get online with my brand-new laptop. ("A Spanish laptop? But this is a UK connection!" said the phone company helpline. "We don't think we can help you.") So much for globalization.

So I was sitting staring out of the window, swearing, waiting and watching for my old friend who was coming for tea, when a minibus with Ring and Ride emblazoned on its side trundled up the street to the bungalow opposite, stopped, and disgorged a doddery neighbor and her shopping cart. I knew that this was a door-to-door service that ferries people with mobility problems who don't have transport to and from the local shopping mall. You sign up by phone a day or so in advance. Ring and Ride: that really is a good name, I thought. So apt. 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.

infusement Idiotic for infusion. • Unfortunately, selling a sister station is a one-time infusement of capital. USE infusion. [Videography.com] • He's generally not a fan of federal involvement, but he hopes that the Byrd grant will provide an infusement of energy. USE infusion. [National History Project]

And there are examples in which the intended meaning of infusement is a little less clear: • The goals of the GeroRich Program include: To provide faculty with educational resources in gerontology to promote ease of infusement within existing curricula. [University of Washington School of Social Work] • There are (at least) three types of rituals: those with spiritual infusement, those that act as a rite of passage, and those that are merely repetitious. [Lies and Damned Lies] 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.

We all know what the war fever is in our young men, — what a devouring passion it becomes in those whom it assails. Patriotism is the fire of it, no doubt, but this is fed with fuel of all sorts. The love of adventure, the contagion of example, the fear of losing the chance of participating in the great events of the time, the desire of personal distinction, all help to produce those singular transformations which we often witness, turning the most peaceful of our youth into the most ardent of our soldiers. But something of the same fever in a different form reaches a good many non-combatants, who have no thought of losing a drop of precious blood belonging to themselves or their families. Some of the symptoms we shall mention are almost universal; they are as plain in the people we meet everywhere as the marks of an influenza, when that is prevailing.

The first is a nervous restlessness of a very peculiar character. Men cannot think, or write, or attend to their ordinary business. They stroll up and down the streets, or saunter out upon the public places. We confessed to an illustrious author that we laid down the volume of his work which we were reading when the war broke out. It was as interesting as a romance, but the romance of the past grew pale before the red light of the terrible present. Meeting the same author not long afterwards, he confessed that he had laid down his pen at the same time that we had closed his book. He could not write about the sixteenth century any more than we could read about it, while the nineteenth was in the very agony and bloody sweat of its great sacrifice. — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Bread and the Newspaper 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.

hero Seldom someone who strives valorously to achieve a noble goal, hero has come to mean anyone who simply does his job or, perhaps, doing it, dies. As often, hero is used to describe a person who behaves ethically or suitably — merely, as he was told or taught. Only comic book characters and cartoon creatures, today, define the word well. • The brother of former POW Jessica Lynch is calling his sister a hero. • A two-year-old boy who dialed 999 after his mother suffered an epileptic fit was today hailed a "little hero" by police in England. • Juventus goal hero David Trezeguet says his teammates are confident they can reach the Champions League final after last night's 2-1 defeat by Real Madrid. • A Brazilian bulldozer driver has become a national hero after refusing to knock down a house shared by a single mother and her seven children. • A male nurse who died of SARS was yesterday given a hero's funeral attended by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, several other top government officials and dozens of grieving health-care workers in white uniforms and surgical masks. 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.

irrespective of (the fact) whether ... (or) despite whether; no matter whether; regardless of whether; whether ... or (not). • One delegate said his parish would continue to raise money for its diocese irrespective of whether the archdiocesan assessment is met. One delegate said his parish would continue to raise money for its diocese whether or not the archdiocesan assessment is met. • You need to procure the visas for all the countries, even the ones that the trains are passing through, irrespective of the fact whether the trains are stopping in those countries. You need to procure the visas for all the countries, even the ones that the trains are passing through, whether or not the trains are stopping in those countries. • Every client has a right to discharge his or her lawyer at any time for any reason or no reason at all, irrespective of the fact whether or not any money is owed. Every client has a right to discharge his or her lawyer at any time for any reason or no reason at all, regardless of whether any money is owed. • Kundalini is present in the body of all persons irrespective of the fact whether they are ordinary persons or highly spiritual persons. Kundalini is present in the body of all persons whether they are ordinary persons or highly spiritual persons. 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.

uxorious (uk-SOR-ee-es) adj. excessively submissive or devoted to one's wife. 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:

Avoid using the acronym a.k.a. 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.

James Joyce: Ulysses More ... 


Fading Distinctions — Julian Burnside

Give Them Greek — Susan Elkin

Linguistic Analysis: Lexical Borrowing in Arabic and English — Jamil Daher

All-American Dialects — Richard Lederer

Behavioral Writing: From Gobbledygook to Plain English — Mark Hochhauser

Sound Off: Keep Foreign Languages out of the Classroom — Tony Donovan

Two Poems — Ernest Hilbert


Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — A Fable

Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — An Ode to Science: Bird Thou Never Wert

Valerie Collins: Love Your English — It Takes Two to Tango: Diary of an Alliteration Junkie


Grumbling About Grammar

Elegant English

On Dimwitticisms

Clues to Concise Writing

Scarcely Used Words

Oddments and Miscellanea

On the Bookshelf

 TVR Revisited

You Got Attitude? — Joseph Epstein

The Grammar of Anthony Burgess's The Eve of Saint Venus — Richard Burnett Carter

Heaven and Hello — Heinz Insu Fenkl

Practicing Prescriptivism Now and Then — Edward Finegan

Urban Renewal English — Jeff Danziger

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