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In Next Month's TVR



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David R. Williams
David R. Williams
Years ago, in a justifiably famous essay titled "Politics and the English Language," George Orwell pointed out that the way politicians use language tends to confuse the public and destroy the clear communication that is the basis of a true democratic politics. His novel 1984 shows how a totalitarian state can destroy people's understanding of the meaning of words in order to keep those people in a state of oppression. The cure for this is for all of us to use words clearly, to insist that academics and politicians speak to us in a language we all can understand. From the days of the Puritans, the plain style has been at the root of all true social revolution. The rules that maintain clear communication are thus tools of progressive, not reactionary, politics. While it is true that some snobs do defend strict rules simply to hold onto conservative structures of power, good reasons do exist to insist on rules that keep the language from the incomprehensible extremes of both snobs and slobs.


Mark Halpern
Mark Halpern
By coincidence, our two leading upper-middlebrow journals, Harper's Magazine and The Atlantic Monthly, have almost simultaneously run long pieces about language usage and books that offer to guide us on it. In April 2001, Harper's published "Tense Present: Democracy, English, and the Wars Over Usage" by David Foster Wallace; in May, The Atlantic ran "Word Imperfect" by Simon Winchester. It's reassuring to see that questions of usage are still live ones, and that editors can be induced to publish articles on them; it's dismaying to see how poor even educated thinking on such matters is, and how little editors demand in the way of quality in what they print on the subject.


Brenda Townsend Hall
Brenda Townsend Hall
Recently I heard I heard someone talking about feeling nauseous on a ferry crossing; her companion said, "Oh, you mean seasick." I couldn't help giving a knowing smile, because the first speaker had in fact chosen the more accurate term. The word nausea derives from the Greek and Latin words meaning ship and sailor (the same word that has also given us nautical) and thus originally carried the idea of sickness from sea-travel. Smollett used the word in its original meaning in his novel Humphrey Clinker in 1771: "Most of the passengers were seized with a nausea."


Habeeb Salloum
Habeeb Salloum
The Arabic language is the youngest of Semitic idioms that include Aramaic, the Assyro-Babylonian tongues, Ethiopic, Hebrew, and South Arabic like Sabean and Himyaritic. However, it is the nearest to the original archetype, Ursemitisch, from which all these tongues are derived.


David Isaacson
David Isaacson
"Been there, done that." The first time I heard these words I loved them. Yes, that's the way I feel, too, I thought. I wish I'd come up with such a catchy phrase myself. But now I'm sick of it. It's no longer fresh. In fact, I'd like to persuade you to join me in killing it. Let's make "been there, done that" as passe as "deader than a doornail."


The October issue of The Vocabula Review is due online October 18.


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