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November 2003, Vol. 5, No. 11 There are now  12345  people reading TVR. ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the December issue of The Vocabula Review:
"Organ Solo: Masturbation Words" by Mark Morton
The December issue of The Vocabula Review is due online December 21.
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"Stakeholders" This refugee from Buffy the Vampire Slayer needs to be, well, buried with a stake through it's sweet heart. — What do you say?
As far back as I can remember, maybe farther (further? backer?), I have used "they" on purpose, rather than "he", or the hated "he or she." As soon as I had internalized the desire to not be chastized for sexism, I decided that liberal sprinklings of "she," oh-so-casually placed on the page like so many throw-pillows, was exactly as bad as neanderthal droppings of "he." "They" was it, as far as I was concerned. — What do you say?
As kids in northeastern Ohio in the '50s we used 'hut' and 'hike' interchangeably, 'hut' being, eventually, the more sophisticated way to say 'hike'. That was how the big kids said it. We had no conscious notion of military overlap. I think we saw it as a kind of phonetic continuum, 'hut' a more gruntable form of 'hike'. Of course that begs the question of where the big kids got it and why it stuck. See if you can find some 70 year old and older ex-coaches and players; do they remember a time when it wasn't there?. I'm 56; I don't. .... What's the 'hut' from in military drill? And I've heard that with a final 'p'. Is there a football variant with a 'p'? — What do you say?
This question was raised by a recent Trivia note: Why do the words 'testes' and 'testimony' have the same root? The explanation in the trivia was that when a man gave testimony, he swore on his testicles that he was telling the truth. — What do you say?

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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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Two by Fiske The Dictionary of Concise Writing (with a foreword by Richard Lederer) and The Dimwit's Dictionary (with a foreword by Joseph Epstein) are now for sale.

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The Dictionary of Disagreeable English
Ignominies of grammar and usage

Coming in 2004 from Writer's Digest, Robert Hartwell Fiske's The Dictionary of Disagreeable English.

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Back  Ain't We Got Fun? Steven G. Kellman

"Fun is fun," observed Anita Loos, "but no girl wants to laugh all the time." Sometime between 1925, when Loos published that quip, in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and 1983, when Cyndi Lauper laughed all the way to the bank singing "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," human nature changed. Though life once seemed a vale of tears, it had become a barrel of fun. Today only a sourpuss insists that the best use for barrels is to accommodate pickles. More ... 

Back  Marginalized Joseph Epstein

I was reading along in a library copy of C. S. Lewis's book Four Loves, which, to my mild chagrin, had been underlined and sidelined by various earlier readers using different markers: both fine and soft pencils and a ballpoint pen. I'm afraid that the writing of Lewis, a wise man whose style tends toward the aphoristic, encourages this activity. I am a sideliner of books myself, usually using a light pencil to do my marking. But I much prefer to do so on a virgin page, and it's more than a little distracting to have other readers underscore significant passages for me before I come to a book. More ... 

Back  Ollie, Ollie, -Ologist Michael J. Sheehan

Danish physicist Niels Bohr defined an expert as "Someone who has made all the mistakes that can be made, but in a very narrow field." In an age where word inflation makes it mandatory to use the term expert on every resumé, no matter how humble the position being sought (consider hamburgerologist), the word has lost its usefulness. More ... 

Back  The Age of Exploration Kerr Houston

In 1989, annoyed by an all-too-familiar phrasing in an article on the decline of the traditional American family, Fortune writer Daniel Seligman typed in a computer search on "Ozzie and Harriet." In a matter of seconds, he had a list of eighty stories — all written within the last six months, and nearly all analyses of the nuclear family — which had employed the term. Seligman had trapped his cliché. More ... 

Back  The Greatest Dictionary Richard Lederer

This year marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of the greatest monument ever erected to the English language. In 1857, the idea of a comprehensive "dictionary of historical principles" was first presented. On June 1, 1928, the first two complete twelve-volume sets were formally presented — one to King George V and one to President Calvin Coolidge. More ... 

Back  Literary Review  
Hamlet in the Closet
John Kilgore

English teachers do strange things, and lately, pestered by some kind of academic bug, I have gathered all the videos of Hamlet I can find and sat down to compare their versions of the famous "closet scene" at III, iv. It has been a depressing exercise. You remember the scene: Hamlet confronts his mother, more or less inadvertently slays Polonius, resumes confronting his mother, is briefly interrupted by his father's ghost, confronts his mother a little bit more, and finally leaves, dragging the corpse of Polonius with him. It seems that modern directors have reached a consensus about how this scene ought to be played: in bed, mainly, and with so much touching, clutching, and kissing that a nave observer might well think the dramatic issue was Hamlet's attempt to get to second base with a slightly older girlfriend. More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
My Life as an Owl, Part Dos
Clark Elder Morrow

Speaking as an owl, I find it remarkable that a lifetime spent largely in the company of books has not, in fact, been a lonely one. Writing is described as a lonely profession — which it may well be (I have never depended on it exclusively) — but I have never found a reading life to be a lonely life. The reason is obvious: too many first-rate minds talking to you, and too many highly interesting people (alive and dead) engaging you in a mind-game that does not allow for conversation, but does in fact ask you to ponder and wander among the stars (to "consider," from con siderare — to be "with the constellations"). More ... 

Back  The Critical Reader  
Two Worrisome Thoughts
Mark Halpern

It has been suggested by more than one observer that a good deal of what is popularly called "crime" is in fact nothing more than the behavior of those belonging to a culture other than ours; behavior perfectly appropriate in that culture, however unacceptable in ours. This has been asserted, for example, of the activities of the Mafia, which have been characterized as Sicilian folkways translated onto the American scene, and of certain cases of rape, which have been attributed to the misunderstanding by men from one cultural background of signals sent out by women from very different backgrounds. More ... 

Back  The Last Word  
From Down-Home to Decadence
Christopher Orlet

"Americans, since the 1960s, have lived in a country with less pride in its language than any society in recorded history," writes John McWhorter in his provocative new book, Doing Our Own Thing: The Degradation of Language and Music and Why We Should, Like, Care. It seems we have no love of language, and treat American English like a trailer bride, taking it for granted, often abusing it or battering it into something unrecognizable. 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.

ambivalent Misused for ambiguous. • Although it clearly was not the intention of the Administration to force the change for existing or already authorized projects, it is true that the language is ambivalent. USE ambiguous. • If we are of serious intent we should have watertight wording, not ambivalent wording. USE ambiguous.

And ambiguous is misused for ambivalent: • Even today when I look at photographs of the boat I have ambiguous feelings — a love-hate relationship! USE ambivalent. • And Allen's self-loathing, misanthropy and ambiguous attitude toward women are hardly news. USE ambivalent. • Ambiguous feelings in Poland, for example, about military commitment in Iraq reflect the contradictory pulls of these impulses. USE ambivalent.

Ambiguous means unclear; capable of being understood in more than one way. Ambivalent means having two different or contradictory feelings or views about someone or something. The meanings of these two words are decidedly different. Let us not waste the words we have under the false rubric, the artificial idealism, of liberalism or democracy, which as espoused by some, asserts one word may mean much the same as another. Neglecting or not knowing the distinctions between words can lead only to ambiguity and ambivalence at best, anarchy and turmoil at worst. 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.

I impeach Warren Hastings in the name of the Commons of Great Britain, in Parliament assembled, whose parliamentary trust he has abused.

I impeach him in the name of the Commons of Great Britain, whose national character he has dishonoured.

I impeach him in the name of the people of India, whose laws, rights, and liberties he has subverted, whose properties he has destroyed, whose country he has laid waste and desolate.

I impeach him in the name of human nature itself, which he has so cruelly outraged, injured, and oppressed. And I impeach him in the name and by the virtue of those eternal laws of justice which ought equally to pervade in both sexes, every age, condition, rank, and situation in the world. — Edmund Burke, Speech 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.

great The word great is a suspect superlative, for that which is called great is seldom more than good, and that which is good is scarcely mentionable. 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.

(then) ... proceed (to) later; next; then; delete. • He took my number, which he proceeded to lose. He took my number, which he later lost. • When you are ill, you don't read the medical encyclopedia, diagnose your case, and then proceed to doctor yourself. When you are ill, you don't read the medical encyclopedia, diagnose your case, and then doctor yourself. • They will then proceed to view the site of the proposed stadium, Rainbow Junction. They will then view the site of the proposed stadium, Rainbow Junction. 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.

aborning (ah-BOR-ning) adj. being born or produced. 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:

Do not begin a sentence with the word Too or As well or Also in the sense of moreover or further. 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.

George Grossmith: The Diary of a Nobody More ... 


Ain't We Got Fun? — Steven G. Kellman

Marginalized — Joseph Epstein

Ollie, Ollie, -Ologist — Michael J. Sheehan

The Age of Exploration — Kerr Houston

The Greatest Dictionary — Richard Lederer

Literary Review: Hamlet in the Closet — John Kilgore


Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — My Life as an Owl, Part Dos

Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — Two Worrisome Thoughts

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — From Down-Home to Decadence


Grumbling About Grammar

Elegant English

On Dimwitticisms

Clues to Concise Writing

Scarcely Used Words

Oddments and Miscellanea

On the Bookshelf

 TVR Revisited

Rhetorical Abusage: Oxymorons and Pleonasms — Bruce O. Boston

"Different From" Not "Different Than" — Peter Corey

Kvetching About Literary Criticism — David Isaacson

Lawyers vs. Language — Kelly Cannon

The Myth of Gaps — Allan Metcalf

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