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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.



[The Vocabula Review] is a lively, interesting, and even amusing look at the sad state of our language that offers inspiration for improvement.Harvard Management Communication Letter



Coming in the October issue of The Vocabula Review: "Politicians Incorrect" by Richard Lederer

In October, TVR will publish "Politician's Incorrect," a chapter from Richard Lederer's new book, The Bride of Anguished English, which will be published in mid-October by St. Martin's Press.



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). Pat H. Fredeman, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and author of Paradise Regained, sent a contribution and wrote: "I am enjoying TVR."

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New!  There are now more than 4,200 subscribers to the email version of TVR (about TVR). If you prefer reading TVR as email, please subscribe.

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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:

September 2000, Vol. 2, No. 9 Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor, editor@vocabula.com

Why Linguists Are Not to Be Trusted on Language Usage Mark Halpern

Writing a book on computer programming a few years ago, I had occasion to mention the fact, as I then supposed it, that Eskimos had special terms for a great many varieties of snow. I was reluctant to trot out this old, well-worn story — next, I said to myself, you'll be quoting Santayana on repeating the past — but it was the perfect support for the point I was trying to make at the moment, so, taking heart from Fowler on clichés, I used it. My discomfort at using so overworked an illustration became real chagrin, though, when I learned that it was not only hackneyed but false. More ...

A Bestiary of Adjectives Susan Elkin

Darwin, Desmond Morris, and David Attenborough, to mention but three, teach us that man is just another animal: a hairless primate distinguished by uniquely complex language patterns. In DNA terms, a human being is more than 95 percent chimpanzee. Does that explain our curious habit of describing human attributes in animal language? A sort of anthropomorphism in reverse. 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.

could care less. Solecistic for couldn't care less. • However, if your clients are like most small business owners, they could care less about the technical details on blocking well-known ports, SMTP support, and dynamic HTML. USE couldn't care less. [Microsoft Direct Access] • Okay, okay, we know — you could care less about our formative years, when Tommy took apart and rebuilt our dad's heap over and over again — each time having a few extra parts, until eventually there was nothing left to disassemble. USE couldn't care less. [The History of Car Talk] • Then you end up with a site that makes you happy but which everyone else on the planet could care less about. USE could not care less. [eFUSE.com] • What could be more fascinating than knowing what really matters to American women — what they adore, detest and could care less about? USE couldn't care less. [Oxygen Markle Pulse Poll]

However it is meant, whatever the speaker's intention and inflection, the phrase could care less means just the opposite of the one it is so often misused for. Though hardly elegant English, couldn't care less means that apathy reigns in regard to whatever is being discussed; could care less clearly means that there is still interest. More ...

The Grumbling About Grammar Awards (GAGAs)

Now I'm a good liberal, too, and I believe that helping people, respecting diversity, saving the environment, etc., etc., are good things. — Melvin McLeod, Editor in Chief, Shambhala Sun

Frankly, it's surprising that an editor in chief would use such a puerile contrivance as etc., etc. This is a mark of callow writers and editors, not experienced ones. 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.

Sunlight and storm-cloud, the subdued busyness of outdoors, the rumble of cities, the mud of life's beginning and the heaven of its hopes, stain his pages with the glad, sweaty sense of life itself. — Walter Lippmann, An Open Mind: William James 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.

avid reader An avid reader suggests someone who reads little more than mysteries, gothic novels, and self-help books. These are people whose avidity is more for how many books they read than it is for any meaning in books — people, that is, who prefer counting to reading. 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.

(a; the) -ance (-ence) of -ing. • With such asset and liability opportunities, the avoidance of large credit losses was a practical management consideration in ensuring attractive profitability. With such asset and liability opportunities, avoiding large credit losses was a practical management consideration in ensuring attractive profitability. • In the performance of  their routines, they are acting as extensions of your position. In performing their routines, they are acting as extensions of your position. • A recent variation on providing version protection has been liquidation of the product on site by issuance of a credit to the retailer. A recent variation on providing version protection has been liquidation of the product on site by issuing a credit to the retailer. 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.

anchorite (ANG-kah-rit) n. a person who lives in seclusion for religious reasons; a hermit; recluse. 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:

Never use the expression be advised or please be advised, be informed or please be informed. 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.

Thomas Mann: Doctor Faustus More ...

Letters to the Editor

I subscribe to a lot of e-zines about writing, editing, and English grammar, and this is by far the most informative, well written, and interesting. I save every issue for future reference. Keep up the good work!

Rene Howard
WordProse, Inc.
rshoward@home.com More ...


Features

Why Linguists Are Not to Be Trusted on Language Usage

A Bestiary of Adjectives

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

The Bookshelf

The Collected GAGAs

TVR Banner

A Word on Generosity

Contributors

Susan Elkin

Mark Halpern

Contributors' Guidelines

Recent Issues

August 2000

July 2000

June 2000

May 2000

April 2000

Vocabula Books

The Dictionary of Concise Writing

The Dimwit's Dictionary

Speaking of Silence

TVR for PDAs

Order Form




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



The Vocabula Review welcomes letters to the editor. Send email to letters@vocabula.com.



The Vocabula Review depends in part on the generosity of its readers for its continued existence.



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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.




September's TVR Poll results: Are you comfortable with "enormity" being used as a synonym for "enormousness"?

• Only imbeciles would use it to mean enormousness: 18%
• Use "enormity" only to mean excessively wicked: 45%
• Change is inevitable; there's nothing to be done: 15%
• Both words do, and ought to, mean the same thing: 14%
• Words should mean whatever we want them to mean: 8%


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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.