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October 2003, Vol. 5, No. 10 ISSN 1542-7080

Coming in the November issue of The Vocabula Review: "Ain't We Got Fun?" by Steven G. Kellman


The November issue of The Vocabula Review is due online November 23.

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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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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  Harmless Drudges Julian Burnside

Many people regard philology as a dry subject. Not surprisingly, many people assume that all philologists are therefore dry and humorless people. That may well be true for the generality, but in even the most arid desert an oasis can be found.

I have not met many philologists. Those whom I have met have ranged from intellectual stick-insects to crusty pedants. I have read many books written by philologists. A significant number of them are works of dry and humorless authors. However, there is a surprising number of philologists (or at least published philologists) whose wit crackles and sparkles across the page, and marks them as people who would have been fascinating to meet, if not likeable. More ... 

Back  Making Peace in the Language Wars Bryan A. Garner
This battle between linguistic radicals and linguistic conservatives continues unabated. — Robert W. Burchfield

Shortly after the first edition of my Dictionary of Modern American Usage appeared in 1998, a British reviewer — the noted linguist Tom McArthur — remarked about it: "Henry Watson Fowler, it would appear, is alive and well and living in Texas."1 This might have seemed like the highest praise possible. After all, in the American press in the 1980s and 1990s, Fowler had been hailed as "immortal" (Fortune), "urbane" (Boston Globe), and even "saintly" (L.A. Times). Meanwhile, his 1926 Dictionary of Modern English Usage had been called "classic" (New York Times) and "indispensable" (Christian Science Monitor) — "one of the great works in and of the language" (L.A. Times).

But McArthur didn't intend much, if any, praise in his comment. Fowler, you see, was a prescriptivist: he issued judgments about linguistic choices.2 McArthur, like almost every other linguist, is a descriptivist: he mostly disclaims making judgments about linguistic choices.3 And the describers and the prescribers (if I may call them that) haven't been on speaking terms for a very long time. More ... 

Back  Telling It Slant Marylaine Block

"Tell all the truth," Emily Dickinson said, "but tell it slant." In eight simple words, she explained what lies at the heart of all great writing.

Why not proceed straightforwardly, simply state "the truth"? She offered one reason, though there are many. It's like looking directly into the sun; truth, she says, is too glorious, too powerful, and we are too weak, too limited, to bear it. "The truth must dazzle gradually, or every man be blind." More ... 

Back  Read Free! Eric Scheske

You wouldn't think it to see me, but I'm a lusty man. As of this writing, I am seeing five highly attractive companions, and at least ten more are begging for my attention. In the past few years, I have dumped at least a score of escorts.

I started seeing every one of them, incidentally, with the good intention of taking the relationship all the way but soon lost interest or found myself wooed away by others. More ... 

Back  None Is or None Are? Frank E. Keyes, Jr.

A Washington insider who later became an archeologist in New Jersey gave me the background on how the government decided on the correct usage of none. I do not vouch for its veracity, but the 234 government employees I showed it to said something like this: "Yeah, that's probably what happened." The background:

Two members of the government style board voted for none is (they became known as the Singularists), two voted for none are (the Pluralists), two voted for both (the Bootlickers), and two abstained (the Abstainers) in 1978. The members were deadlocked over this issue for six years (the planned date for publication was that year, not 1984). More ... 

Back  A Feast of Halloween Puns Richard Lederer

You may well have heard the seasonal prey upon words "What do you call an empty hot dog?" Answer: A hollow weenie.

But you may not have realized how capacious is the tricky treat bag of Halloween puns that we've made up for you for the holiday. More ... 

Back  rresponse tto jjoan ttaber altieri Peter Corey
One of the surprise downsides of triumphing in the battle for nonsexist language is the dilemma created by the fact that English doesn't have a "grammatically acceptable" gender-free third-person singular pronoun to reference a person. — jjoan ttaber altieri, Singular They: The Pronoun That Came in from the Cold

And with good reason. Every person is of one sex or the other; therefore, any noun or pronoun that refers to a person must be of one grammatical gender or the other. There is no "gender-free" pronoun because there is no "sex-free" person. What she apparently means is that there is no pronoun that combines both masculine and feminine genders explicitly. More ... 

Back  Sound Off  
Refuting Fiske and Halpern
Michael Glazer, David Wilton, Bob McHenry

In September, I invited members of the largely descriptivist American Dialect Society to comment on, and try to refute, my article The Decline of the Dictionary. David Wilton unhesitatingly agreed to my challenge. Michael Glazer and Bob McHenry, not so far as I know, ADS members, also both wrote letters expressing their views.

In this month's The Critical Reader, Mark Halpern, in turn, replies to Glazer, Wilton, and McHenry. — RHF More ... 

Back  Two Poems Frank Anthony

     To All Trained Killers
       In Paradise

Six of my sewer series
a dreamland last night
in the city of choices
the big game coming up
is an Associated Press
that plans your vision
More ... 

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

I suppose it is inevitable: the temptation is overwhelming; the pull too strong: I simply must do what all my preceding Cohorts of the Inkpot have done, and write something on the joys of reading. It happens to everyone whose vocation or avocation is in writing and the world of books. Sooner or later one must tell the universe about one's most memorable perusals, usually in a piece called something like "Hours in a Library" or "Adventures by the Fireside" or "Books I Have Loved." I have swelled to the point of parturition on this issue, and here is my own miniscule contribution to the genre. More ... 

Back  The Critical Reader  
Replies to Michael Glazer, David Wilton, and Bob McHenry
Mark Halpern

Much to my surprise — and pleasure — my September "Critical Reader" column, in which I attacked Erin McKean's views on dictionaries, has already attracted comments from several readers. And not only comments, which are rare enough, but civil, thoughtful, well-expressed comments; something almost unprecedented in my experience. I offer responses to them here, trusting that my readers will have read the messages I'm replying to, and will turn back to them to refresh their memories of them as necessary (see Refuting Fiske and Halpern in this issue). Two cautions at the outset: because I have tried to respond specifically to each of the major points these critics have made, and there is some duplication among their critiques, my responses will likewise show some repetition. And finally, I'm going to be speaking for myself here, hoping that I represent Robert Hartwell Fiske as well — but I can't be sure I do, because I have not discussed with him every point I will try to make here. So hold me, not Fiske, responsible for everything I say here. More ... 

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Back  The Last Word  
The Gloomiest Trade
Christopher Orlet

It is small wonder so many writers are sad sacks and melancholy babies, rejection being the one constant in their lives — a near daily ritual of sorrow and self-doubt. In no other profession does one dwell so much beneath a cloud of constant doom and despair. The architect may have his occasional design rejected, the lawyer this or that appeal dismissed, but such setbacks are temporary and relatively uncommon. The writer — the busy writer anyway — may receive a rejection letter with each morning mail. Perhaps two or three. Thanks to email, rejections can now arrive in overwhelmingly rapid succession, piercing the author's thin soul like consecutive rounds from a Kalashnikov. 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.

architect Idiotic for design (or similar words). • Advanced modeling tools based on Visio enable developers to architect applications, design databases, and model business processes. USE devise. • You'd never ask an interior designer to architect a house, and you probably wouldn't go with an architect's opinion of a color scheme for the walls of your living space. USE design. • Howard Alan's vision is to architect buildings that are of the continuous present. USE engineer. • They were faced with the dilemma of how to rearchitect the existing site and deliver a high-quality application to their customers on a timely basis. USE redesign.

To architect is an absurdity. Not everyone can concoct an effervescent verb from some stolid noun. Though nouns do indeed occasionally become verbs, architect is hardly a good candidate, for many other words already provide the definitions, and more exacting ones at that. A word not born of need begets only noise. 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.

Ever since I have been old enough to think for myself, I have entertained the idea that, notwithstanding the cruel wrongs inflicted upon us, the black man got nearly as much out of slavery as the white man did. The hurtful influences of the institution were not by any means confined to the Negro. This was fully illustrated by the life upon our own plantation. The whole machinery of slavery was so constructed as to cause labour, as a rule, to be looked upon as a badge of degradation, of inferiority. Hence labour was something that both races on the slave plantation sought to escape. The slave system on our place, in a large measure, took the spirit of self-reliance and self-help out of the white people. My old master had many boys and girls, but not one, so far as I know, ever mastered a single trade or special line of productive industry. The girls were not taught to cook, sew, or to take care of the house. All of this was left to the slaves. The slaves, of course, had little personal interest in the life of the plantation, and their ignorance prevented them from learning how to do things in the most improved and thorough manner. As a result of the system, fences were out of repair, gates were hanging half off the hinges, doors creaked, window-panes were out, plastering had fallen but was not replaced, weeds grew in the yard. As a rule, there was food for whites and blacks, but inside the house, and on the dining-room table, there was wanting that delicacy and refinement of touch and finish which can make a home the most convenient, comfortable, and attractive place in the world. Withal there was a waste of food and other materials which was sad. When freedom came, the slaves were almost as well fitted to begin life anew as the master, except in the matter of book-learning and ownership of property. The slave owner and his sons had mastered no special industry. They unconsciously had imbibed the feeling that manual labour was not the proper thing for them. On the other hand, the slaves, in many cases, had mastered some handicraft, and none were ashamed, and few unwilling, to labour. — Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery 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.

a good read This is a hideous expression that only the very badly read — those, that is, who read merely to be entertained — could possibly verbalize. The people who use this phrase are the people who read best-selling authors. • This bookstore caters to those looking for a good read in paperback. REPLACE WITH a readable paperback. • While Foley's piece on football stadiums was a good read, it is entirely off the mark in terms of the proposed megaplex. REPLACE WITH entertaining. • It is hard to make air-conditioning repair a good read. REPLACE WITH captivating. 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.

in accord (accordance) with according to; by; following; in keeping with; in line with; in step with; to; under. • This document shall be governed and construed in accordance with the laws of the State of Utah. This document shall be governed and construed under the laws of the State of Utah. • In accordance with the guidelines set out in the Ontarians With Disabilities Act (ODA), the City of Sarnia is currently putting together the Sarnia Accessibility Advisory Committee (SAAC). According to the guidelines set out in the Ontarians With Disabilities Act (ODA), the City of Sarnia is currently putting together the Sarnia Accessibility Advisory Committee (SAAC). 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.

capacious (kah-PA-shes) adj. capable of containing a large quantity; spacious. 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:

The expression one in (five) takes a singular, not a plural, verb. 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.

Samuel Beckett: More Pricks Than Kicks 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. If you'd rather, you may post, at any time, a message in TVR Forum.

I completely agree with Ms. Altieri's conclusions in "Singular They: The Pronoun That Came in from the Cold" [Vol. 5, No. 9].

I couldn't help feeling skeptical while reading the historical examples, however, because many of them seem ambiguously singular. In eight of the sixteen, the antecedent of "they" is everybody/everyone or nobody/no one. While these do take singular verbs, I feel they often carry enough of a plural implication that the "they" is not so surprising, especially when there is no clearly singular verb. When Whitman says, "everyone shall delight us, and we them," I am more inclined to believe he is using a plural "everyone" than a gender-neutral, singular "them."

Mike Radford
mrad@blorf.com More ... 


Harmless Drudges — Julian Burnside

Making Peace in the Language Wars — Bryan A. Garner

Telling It Slant — Marylaine Block

Read Free! — Eric Scheske

None Is or None Are? — Frank E. Keyes, Jr.

A Feast of Halloween Puns — Richard Lederer

rresponse tto jjoan ttaber altieri — Peter Corey

Sound Off: Refuting Fiske and Halpern — Michael Glazer, David Wilton, Bob McHenry

Two Poems — Frank Anthony


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

Mark Halpern: The Critical Reader — Replies to Michael Glazer, David Wilton, and Bob McHenry

Christopher Orlet: The Last Word — The Gloomiest Trade


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

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

Kvetching About Literary Criticism — David Isaacson

Lawyers vs. Language — Kelly Cannon

The Myth of Gaps — Allan Metcalf

The Prepositionless Excremental — David R. Williams

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