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October 2002, Vol. 4, No. 10

Coming in the November issue of The Vocabula Review: "The Secret Nature of Nicknames" by Darren Crovitz

Darren Crovitz teaches composition at Arizona State University. His Hyphenology, or The Missing Link appeared in the June issue of The Vocabula Review.

The November issue of The Vocabula Review is due online November 17.

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by Clark Elder Morrow
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by Christopher Orlet
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Back  Penman Joseph Epstein

An article in the recent issue of The Women's Quarterly bemoans the absence of the teaching of handwriting in schools, pointing out that this is especially a hardship on young boys. Handwriting apparently comes less easily for boys than it does for girls. "Boys are graphologically challenged," the article reports; and a professor of special education at the University of Maryland named Steve Graham adds that boys being poorer at penmanship than girls "is one of the better established facts in the literature." More ... 

Back  The Myth of Gaps Allan Metcalf

What's the best way to ensure the success of a new word? Some say it's this: find a gap in our language and fill it.

It's easy to see why so many people follow this principle. After all, the vocabulary of a language is not just a haphazard heap of words (a great heap, in the case of English), but an organized whole. It's a network, a great web, with one word tied to another. If there were no connections, word associations would be impossible. But there are connections. Say cheese, for example, and a listener will think of mozzarella or mice or photographs; say cheesecake, and the listener will think of dessert and perhaps even pinups. Psychologists use word associations to test our preoccupations and also our intelligence because our knowledge and our thinking depend on the connections we make among words. More ... 

Back  Playing with a Full Deck Richard Lederer

My son Howard and daughter Annie live and move and have their beings in that windowless, clockless pleasure dome known as Las Vegas. I'm pleased to report that they are the only sibling pair ever both to reach the finals of a World Series of Poker event and to have won national tournaments with capacious and impressive names, such as the 1991 Diamond Jim Brady Texas Hold'em Shootout, the Four Queens Poker Classic in High-Limit Omaha, and the Hall of Fame Classic Deuce-to-Seven Lowball Draw No-Limit. More ... 

Back  Get 'em to Read Real Books Susan Elkin

Why are English teachers so frightened of asking their pupils to do any real reading? Much fuss is made in education circles and elsewhere about the mechanics of reading. Yet almost all pupils do eventually learn, one way or another, to decode the squiggles on the page. The really important thing about reading is, surely, what you apply the skill to once you've mastered it. More ... 

Back  Sound Off  
Lawyers vs. Language
Kelly Cannon

While riding her bicycle, two dogs attacked my client.

Early in my ten years as a legal secretary, I mailed a letter containing the preceding sentence. It wasn't my letter, thank heaven, and I didn't sign it. It was dictated and signed by a brand new lawyer — a "baby attorney" we call them in the field — who apparently thought his law degree and subsequent passage of the bar exam made him an ex officio English scholar. More ... 

Back  Two Poems Laura Cherry

Spring's turbulence is over,
and summer's solitude.
The house is peaceful again.
September loves the blue sky,
which loves it back.
I have let the cat into the yard More ... 

Back  The Elder Statesman  
The Proud and the Pitiful
Clark Elder Morrow

Up to about a hundred years ago, the word pride was understood almost universally in a negative sense. Conversely, the word pity was always taken in a positive way. Then, largely in the twentieth century, both words suffered a near complete reversal of meaning in the popular mind. That was a bad thing. More ... 

Back  The Last Word  
What's so Funny?
Christopher Orlet

Recently a British think tank released the startling news that after years of exhaustive research and billions of public and private money they had at last succeeded in isolating the world's funniest joke.

I must admit I was somewhat disappointed at the findings. The world's funniest joke didn't even elicit a chuckle from me. Not a titter, gurgle, or snigger. But isn't that the way these things go? The incident reminded me of the first time I saw the Mona Lisa at the Louvre. 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.

authentification Solecistic for authentication. • The Justice Ministry has been found to be testing a high-tech voice authentification system for surveillance of some violent and sexual offenders released on either bail or probation. USE authentication. [The Korea Times] • A certificate of authentification signed by the late Maris comes with the etching. USE authentication. [djournal.com] • authp is either one, for successful authentification, or zero if the authentification was unsuccessful. USE authentication. [Roxen] 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.

Whatever the form or constitution of government may be, it ought to have no other object than the general happiness. When, instead of this, it operates to create and increase wretchedness in any of the parts of society, it is on a wrong system, and reformation is necessary.

Customary language has classed the condition of man under the two descriptions of civilized and uncivilized life. To the one it has ascribed felicity and affluence; to the other hardship and want. But however our imagination may be impressed by painting and comparison, it is nevertheless true, that a great portion of mankind, in what are called civilized countries, are in a state of poverty and wretchedness, far below the condition of an Indian. I speak not of one country, but of all. It is so in England, it is so all over Europe. Let us enquire into the cause.

It lies not in any natural defect in the principles of civilization, but in preventing those principles having a universal operation; the consequence of which is, a perpetual system of war and expense, that drains the country, and defeats the general felicity of which civilization is capable. — Thomas Paine, Rights of Man 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.

pretty adequately; amply; enough; fairly; moderately; quite; rather; reasonably; somewhat; sufficiently; tolerably. • She's a pretty bright woman. REPLACE WITH tolerably. • We're suffering some pretty devastating effects right now. DELETE pretty.

Pretty, in these senses, proclaims its users have a vocabulary of little more than disyllabic words. For a person who says pretty also says little and logy, really and leery, input and impact. And with so few words, and such shoody ones, only so much can be known, only so much can be conveyed. 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.

hopefully (I; we) hope; let's hope; delete. • Today, hopefully, we'll have some answers to these problems. Today, I hope, we'll have some answers to these problems. • We're looking forward to working with you on this project (and hopefully others later). We're looking forward to working with you on this project (and we hope others later). • Hopefully women's magazines will help to empower our society's females. Let's hope women's magazines will help to empower our society's females. 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.

mumpsimus (MUMP-si-mus) n. 1. a traditional custom or notion adhered to although shown to be unreasonable. 2. a person who persists in a mistaken expression or practice. 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:

Use somewhat, not some, as an adverb. 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.

Virginia Woolf: Night and Day 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.

It's been instructive to see the comments about "fuck" and "cunt" from female readers ["Letters to the Editor," Vol. 4, No. 8]. Fuck especially seems to carry a lot of baggage that, I think, most men wouldn't be aware of. For some, or many, or most men, it's simply a way of belonging to the male club. To say something like "that fucking son-of-a-bitch" means no more, not necessarily the same, but no more than "that no-good son-of-a-bitch."

I haven't collected data on this, but it's the way I use the word "fuck." I'm just indicating to another male that I'm one of you guys. I don't use the word "cunt."

Maurice Imhoof
imhoof@kiva.net More ... 

 Features

Penman — Joseph Epstein

The Myth of Gaps — Allan Metcalf

Playing with a Full Deck — Richard Lederer

Get 'em to Read Real Books — Susan Elkin

Sound Off: Lawyers vs. Language — Kelly Cannon

Two Poems — Laura Cherry

 Columnists

Clark Elder Morrow: The Elder Statesman — The Proud and the Pitiful

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — What's so Funny?

 Departments

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

The Art of Conversation — Tim Buck

Memo to Reviewers — David Carkeet

Snobs and Slobs — David R. Williams

Writing: The Democratization of American Letters — Christopher Lord

Grammar and Disputation — Peter Corey

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