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TVR Home > September 2001 TVR Today is

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A society is generally as lax as its language.

September 2001, Vol. 3, No. 9

Coming in the October issue of The Vocabula Review: "Empowering or Cowering" by David R. Williams

Dr. Dave Williams, a graduate of Harvard, Harvard Divinity, and Brown, has been teaching freshman composition at George Mason University in Virginia for the last fifteen years, tweaking the noses of the deconstructionists and thereby assuring himself more years in the freshman classroom. He is the author of Sin Boldly: Dr Dave's Guide to Writing the College Paper, Wilderness Lost: The Religious Origins of the American Mind, and Revolutionary War Sermons.


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 TVR Forum

Has anyway written or read a really penetrating article on this phenomenon ["between you and I"]? It has been widespread for years and years. It even appears in some standard pop tunes. It is used frequently by those who would refrain from the opposite: "Me and Mama went to town." — What do you say?

Even apart from this destruction of a beautiful theory by an ugly fact, the argument does not sustain Mr. Corey's assertion that "linguists misrepresent the history of humanistic grammar, claiming that it has sought to force English into a Latin framework." His support for this consists of showing ways in which this grammar differs from Latin. This would only refute the assertion that linguists claim that this grammar sought to make English grammar identical to that of Latin, but no such claim has been made. — What do you say?

John Simon is a cranky old fart, a supercilious snob, and why anyone takes him seriously is beyond me. (When Vietnam antiwar protests were at their most feverish pitch, John Simon was ranting against the use of "hopefully".) — What do you say?

Without question, certain foreign words have nuances in meaning that initially resist our attempt to articulate them elegantly in our native tongue. That does not imply, however, that speakers of that foreign language possess some privileged feeling, sensation, or knowledge that our own language prevents us from acquiring. — What do you say?

Where are we on this subject? Can we go back to saying "The user resets his password" or are we still mired in "Ask the user his/her mother's maiden name" to the point that we are allowing "Ask the user their mother's maiden name" just because we're so sick of the whole issue? — What do you say?

I disagree with Mr. Fiske's casual definition of "team player." His misunderstanding leads to an unfair representation of how the phrase is used. To me (and I think to many others) a team player is one who consciously subordinates what might be best for himself to what might be best for the organization, when the two are in opposition. — What do you say?

I work at a state university, and there are more "likes" punctuating the students' sentences to drive a person with even the least sensitivity to the language out of his mind. — What do you say?

In a private message, I apologised to a number of critics of my essay "The End of Linguistics..." for being unable to answer them individually, and promised that I would post a general reply on this Forum that would deal at least with their major points. This is it. — What do you say?

When you've never had consistent access to good education, to familial reading, to the countless small rules that govern clear expression, you crave someone to tell you: this is how this engine, the one that drives the entire culture, works. — What do you say?

Business operatives are almost competing with post-modernists in the quest for ever-greater pretension and obscurity. And, of course, the pedantic adviser, the word nazi, can quickly wear out his welcome. — What do you say?

Has anyone else noticed the maniacal insertion of hyphens when using the grammar check of Microsoft Word? Yes, I turn it off, but drafts from my coworkers come back to me with all of them reinserted. Who dreamt of such punctuation? — What do you say?

When did "absolutely" begin to become the way to respond positively to a question or statement, instead of simply "yes"? — What do you say?

I read Mark Halpern's piece with interest, as a person holding a strongly descriptivist point of view with regard to language evolution who somewhat disagreed with the author's argument. However, I must say it was nice to see the prescriptivist view being put forward in a clear, logical manner lacking in the hysterics and paranoid rambling often sadly associated with it (at least in the United Kingdom). — What do you say?

Our local TV "weathercaster" has taken recently to pronouncing temperatures such as -5, "negative 5" instead of the conventional "minus 5". — What do you say?

If "a society is as lax as its language," can freedom from an empirical society be defined as "poor grammar"? — What do you say?

Join the discussion.
  How Linguistics Killed Grammar Peter Corey

In her book, Verbal Hygiene, linguist Deborah Cameron refers to those who advocate prescriptivism in grammar as verbal hygienists. She is, of course, preaching to the choir, since her book (written during a public outcry in the United Kingdom over the issue of literacy) is a strategy manual for linguists, taking seriously the Roman adage "It is right to make your enemy your teacher." It might be fair, therefore, to refer to Cameron and other linguists as verbal nihilists, but I prefer to defend prescriptivism, which is a tradition I find liberal, honorable, and more sensible than linguistics. As a result, I will refer to linguistics by its name, and to prescriptivism — because its philosophical premises are key — as humanistic grammar. More ... 

  Thanks for Sharing Joseph Epstein

Your basic language snob — that, friend, would be me — is never out of work. Just as he gets his wind back after railing about one or another overworked or idiotically used word, fresh misusages appear to cause him to get his knickers in a fine new twist. Everyday evidence of the inefficacy of my own fulminations in print against the words focus and icon is available in the public prints, the airwaves, and what is laughingly called civilized discourse. With freshly twisted knickers, then, I persevere, "boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." More ... 

  But You Know What I Mean Robert Fulton

"Write! Just write anything! And you'll become a better writer!" No, you won't. That ridiculous suggestion makes as much sense as: "Invest! Just invest in anything! And you'll become a better investor!" The pseudo-rationale behind this is "practice makes perfect." No, it doesn't. Unless you're practicing things that improve you, you'll just be practicing the same old mistakes. Though that may make you perfectly better at making those mistakes, it won't make you a better writer. More ... 

  Two Poems Fred Moramarco

Takes on Shakes — 6

Because I'm your prisoner, what's to do
But pass the hours thinking where you are?
Locked in my self's cage, conjuring you
Time becomes my warden keeping me far
From other worldly things; an hour's a day,
A day's a week, a week's God knows how long.

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.

annoyment Idiotic for annoyance. • If you hide this bauble on one of your pages, you do risk major annoyment to any of your visitors who lack a sense of humor. USE annoyance. [Cacaphony Shock-Bauble] • A minor crack in the finger can be a major source of annoyment. USE annoyance. [Compeed] • This portion of the site contains a few ramblings for your enjoyment/annoyment. USE annoyance. [The Writings of Washy] • The annoyment level goes up as the fun quotient drops during tourist season but on an average day you almost always see someone you know. USE annoyance. [Aspen Daily News] • What are these words that men mistakenly repeat over and over that are a source of annoyment and can actually make you appear to be stupid because you lack a vocabulary? USE annoyance. [Dating Tips of the Week]

Annoyment, an archaic variation of annoyance, has no place in today's English language usage where words for being annoyed are already superabundant. 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.

This king, to say no more of him, and this queen, and their infant children, (who once would have been the pride and hope of a great and generous people,) were then forced to abandon the sanctuary of the most splendid palace in the world, which they left swimming in blood, polluted by massacre, and strewed with scattered limbs and mutilated carcases. Thence they were conducted into the capital of their kingdom. 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.

incredible One of the hallmarks of dimwitted language is the unimaginativeness of those who use it. We would do well to try to distinguish ourselves through our speech and writing rather than rely on the words and phrases that so many others are wont to use. Those who speak as others speak, inescapably, think as others think. 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.

mutual ... and (between ... and; both; each other; one another; two) and (between ... and; both; each other; one another; two). • I think all three news directors in town have a mutual respect for one another. I think all three news directors in town have a respect for one another. • Understanding exists when both parties involved in the communication mutually agree not only on the information but also on the meaning of the information. Understanding exists when both parties involved in the communication agree not only on the information but also on the meaning of the information. • You can live with many differences of opinion and personal style if you and your partner have mutual respect for each other's abilities. You can live with many differences of opinion and personal style if you and your partner have respect for each other's abilities. • It's time to begin the healing process, time to bridge the gap of miscommunication, and time to cultivate an atmosphere of mutual respect between law enforcement and our communities. It's time to begin the healing process, time to bridge the gap of miscommunication, and time to cultivate an atmosphere of respect between law enforcement and our communities. 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.

cynocephalous (sy-no-SEF-ah-les) adj. pertaining to or of the nature of a cynocephalus; dog faced or dog headed. 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:

Avoid the phrase (a; the) thing when you are able 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.

Evelyn Waugh: A Handful of Dust More ... 

  Letters to the Editor

David Grambs vividly describes the epidemic use of "like" in current speech ["The Like Virus," Vol. 3, No. 8], but his diagnosis may be incomplete. He takes it that what sounds like a word, and if transcribed looks like a word, is an ordinary word. He then searches for a definition, dictionary style, which means essentially some formulation of other words that can be substituted for the original without change of meaning. But "like" in the uses he cites may not always be purely a semantic token, and Grambs' finding that published dictionary definitions are unsatisfactory may be inevitable. The various substitute formulas he offers — "say," "you know," "dare I ask it" — are not so much substitute formulations as alternatives that might be used by other speakers in quite different registers. More ... 

 Features

How Linguistics Killed Grammar — Peter Corey

Thanks for Sharing — Joseph Epstein

But You Know What I Mean — Robert Fulton

Two Poems — Fred Moramarco

 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 Editorials

On Dimwitticisms: An Introduction

The Imperfectibility of People

The Perfectibility of Words

The Remains of All Writing, the Spoils of All Speech

 TVR Revisited

Titanic Blunders — David Carkeet

Grammar Matters — Marylaine Block

Practicing Prescriptivism Now and Then — Edward Finegan

Bottle That Punaphor — Joseph Epstein

Getting the Words Right — Tracy Lee Simmons

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The Thesaurus of Worn-Out Words and Phrases

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Speaking of Silence

The Vocabula Review

The Evasion-English Dictionary

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