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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.



Coming in the December issue of The Vocabula Review: "Titanic Blunders" by David Carkeet

In December, TVR will publish "Titanic Blunders" by David Carkeet, linguist and novelist. Carkeet is the author of five novels, Double Negative, The Greatest Slump of All Time, I Been There Before, The Full Catastrophe, and The Error of Our Ways. His short stories have appeared in Carolina Quarterly, Kansas Quarterly, The North American Review, The Oxford American, The Village Voice, and Prize Stories 1982: The O. Henry Awards.



Although there are no subscription fees to The Vocabula Review, voluntary contributions would be gratefully accepted and used to support the continuation of this journal (generosity).

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The Vocabula Review (TVR) is published on the third Tuesday of each month. To read the journal archives, click on any of the following dates:

November 2000, Vol. 2, No. 11 Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor, editor@vocabula.com

You Got Attitude? Joseph Epstein

I don't believe I have attitude, but I do own at least one bowtie that does. Some readers will wonder if that sentence isn't missing an indefinite article. Shouldn't it be "an attitude"? For anyone who feels the want of that indefinite article, I can only say, in the mortal words of Mr. T., from the old television show The A Team, "I pity the fool." Mr. T., in his mohawk haircut, his ample, well-defined muscles festooned in gold, had attitude in sweet excelsis. More ...

Double Your Pleasure Michael J. Sheehan

One is the loneliest number, and three has often been hailed as the perfect number, but there's something about the number two that resonates in our souls. To be sure, that companionable number evokes images of belonging and social bonding, but I suspect that its pervasive impact owes just as much to our centuries-old preoccupation with the medial plane, that imaginary anatomical line that runs from head to toe and divides us into right and left sides. More ...

Words Can Harm Me: They Can Make Me Crazy! Terrie Ens

Few things make me as crazy as the mispronunciation of words. This has always been a pet peeve of mine, although it's probably rather petty (no pun intended). Mispronunciation, misspellings, and speech idiosyncrasies drive me up the wall. More ...

Killin' Me Softly with Your Verbs Bill Miles

Word that digital technology is speeding up radio talk by compressing consonants and aborting pregnant pauses is certainly upsetting. But there is an even more insidious trend infecting — or reinfecting — our speech patterns: the vanishing final g. 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.

averse Misused for adverse • A good time for playing the good samaritan, contributing to a human cause and providing cheer to those facing averse circumstances. USE adverse. [The Tribune] • In addition, dosage guidelines and averse effects of these therapies are presented. USE adverse. [Pediatric Pharmacotherapy] • Natural doesn't necessarily mean allergy-free, of course — fruits and plants can cause averse reactions on sensitive folk, just like the man-made stuff — but consider this: Everything your skin absorbs ends up in your bloodstream. USE adverse. [Nature Girl] • Despite the averse weather most caught well from the start with only 4 blanks recorded over the two days. USE adverse. [National Coarse Fishing Federation of Ireland]

And adverse is sometimes used for averse: • Risk adverse market participants need to know the most likely cost of environmental response and most likely value of the impaired property based on insightful decision tree analysis and discounted cash flow models. USE averse. [HSI Geotrans]

The word adverse means antagonistic or adversarial; unfavorable or harmful. Averse means having a feeling of distaste, repugnance, or aversion; disinclined. More ...

The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

Anyway, his tragic passing got me thinking a lot about death and how permanent the condition is. You can never go back. It's an awesome concept if you really think about it. — Lisa Klugman, Editor in Chief, Fit

This is writing worthy of a sixth grader, not an editor in chief of a national magazine. Having neither style nor sensibility, these sentences are deplorable.



Do you, too, think that this writing is deplorable, or do you, more charitably, perhaps, believe that this may be an example of "dumbing down" to today's reading public? Express yourself:

Express yourself
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 moon rises ruddy from that solemn obscurity of jebel like a mighty beacon: -- and the morrow will be as this day, days deadly drowned in the sun of the summer wilderness. — Charles M. Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta 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.

remedy the situation Like all torpid terms, remedy the situation neither moves nor motivates us; its use practically ensures that nothing will be righted, nothing remedied.

An ill we might be moved to correct, a problem we might be inspired to solve, but a situation we might never be roused to remedy. • If the decisions actually turn out to hamper civil rights enforcement, obviously I would want to take steps to remedy the situation. • To remedy the situation and make the process fairer, the SEC should require that voting be strictly confidential. • One issue has been bothering management for quite a while, but they feel somewhat helpless to remedy the situation. 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.

insofar as ... (goes; is concerned) about; as for; as to; concerning; for; in; of; on; over; regarding; respecting; to; toward; with; delete. • The president's position, insofar as negotiations are concerned, has never changed. The president's position on negotiations has never changed. • Intent, an element of the offense, may also be a factor insofar as a vehicle's recovery and condition are concerned. Intent, an element of the offense, may also be a factor in a vehicle's recovery and condition. • The ruling clarifies that the orthotics benefit in section 1861(s)(9) of the Act, insofar as braces are concerned, is limited to leg, arm, back, and neck braces that are used independently rather than in conjunction with, or as components of, other medical or non-medical equipment. The ruling clarifies that the orthotics benefit in section 1861(s)(9) of the Act, regarding braces, is limited to leg, arm, back, and neck braces that are used independently rather than in conjunction with, or as components of, other medical or non-medical equipment. 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.

animadvert (an-i-mad-VERT) v. to comment with disapproval or censure; to remark critically. 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:

Be sure that only is properly placed, modifying the word it is meant to. 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.

Virginia Woolf: Between the Acts More ...

Letters to the Editor

Consider this fan mail. I have just laughed my way through Lederer's article [Vol. 2, No. 10], and before I continue on to the next offering, wanted to congratulate you on such a fine production.

Elizabeth Abbott
Dean of Women
Trinity College
University of Toronto
abbott@trinity.utoronto.ca More ...


Features

You Got Attitude?

Double Your Pleasure

Words Can Harm Me: They Can Make Me Crazy!

Killin' Me Softly with Your Verbs

Departments

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

Ads and Offers

English-Language Links

TVR Banner

A Word on Generosity

Contributors

Terrie Ens

Joseph Epstein

Bill Miles

Michael J. Sheehan

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August 2000

July 2000

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The opinions expressed in The Vocabula Review are not necessarily those of the editor.



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Copyright 1999-2000 Vocabula Communications Company. All rights reserved. No material from this site may be used without permission. Vocabula is a registered service mark of Vocabula Communications Company. Grumbling About Grammar is a registered service mark of Vocabula Communications Company.




October's TVR Poll results: Do you agree that how people speak and write is far less effectual than how they might?

• Yes, most people speak and write abominably: 23%
• We all need to improve our use of language: 64%
• Most people speak and write tolerably well: 3%
• People speak and write exactly how they should: 5%
• Usage dictates what's effective, nothing else: 5%



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