The Dimwit's Dictionary — Second Edition by Robert Hartwell Fiske


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Though I've been writing professionally for more than twenty-five years, I'm having fun reading random entries in The Dimwit's Dictionary: 5,000 Overused Words and Phrases and Alternatives to Them, and its companion volume, The Dictionary of Concise Writing: 10,000 Alternatives to Wordy Phrases, because I need the occasional expert opinion (suspect superlative!) because my prose can suddenly and without warning (a wretched redundancy!) go overboard (a moribund metaphor!) and basically (overworked word!) commit egregious errors (an inescapable pair!) and even lapse into what is really and truly (infantile phrase!) as dead as a dodo (insipid simile!). — Bill Kent, award-winning journalist and author of the six books

This is not a book that most people would sit down and read as I did, but it is a great and interesting reference! — Stephanie L. Roberts, Joseph-Beth Booksellers

Your Dimwit's Dictionary has helped me become much more critical of how I write and speak. Thank You, Mr. Fiske! Your work is original because there is no other work which categorizes overused phrases and cliches, and offers concise alternatives. Your title, Dimwit's Dictionary, masks the precision and true noble purpose of your book: to regain a sensitivity to our language so that we may express our feelings and thoughts more accurately and deeply, and become more self-aware as human beings. — Bullwinkle495 (Amazon.com reviewer)

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.

Many of the entries in this book are followed by synonyms that may be used in place of the worn-out word or phrase, and by sentence examples taken from a miscellany of publications; others are followed by commentary; and still others by both. But even the mere inclusion of an entry — that is, one unaccompanied by synonyms or commentary — damns it as a dimwitticism.

Along with the many individual entries, The Dimwit's Dictionary — Second Edition discusses the following categories of dimwitticisms:

  • Foreign phrases
  • Grammatical gimmicks
  • Ineffectual phrases
  • Inescapable pairs
  • Infantile phrases
  • Moribund metaphors
  • Overworked words

  • Plebeian sentiments
  • Popular prescriptions
  • Quack equations
  • Suspect superlatives
  • Torpid terms
  • Withered words
  • Wretched redundancies
Here are a few entries from The Dimwit's Dictionary — Second Edition:

a living hell A moribund metaphor (SEE). chthonian; chthonic; hellish; impossible; infernal; insufferable; insupportable; intolerable; painful; plutonic; sulfurous; unbearable; uncomfortable; unendurable; unpleasant; stygian; tartarean. The force and colorfulness of this metaphor is no longer evident. An uncommonly used word — such as chthonic, insupportable, plutonic, sulfurous, stygian, or tartarean — is often more potent and captivating than a commonly used metaphor. SEE ALSO hell on earth.

have (take) a listen An infantile phrase (SEE). listen. As inane as it is insulting, have (take) a listen obviously says nothing that listen alone does not. Journalists and media personalities who use this offensive phrase ought to be silenced; businesspeople, dismissed; public officials, pilloried.

I can't believe I'm telling you this A plebeian sentiment (SEE). Only the foolish or the unconscious, unaware of or ambivalent about the words they use or why they use them, can exclaim I can't believe I'm telling you this. Language use, the essence of being human, entails certain responsibilities — care and consciousness among them; otherwise, it's all dimwitted.

keep smiling A plebeian sentiment (SEE). Keep smiling is insisted on by ghoulish brutes who would rob us of our gravity, indeed, steal us from ourselves.

  You can order The Dimwit's Dictionary — Second Edition from Vocabula or the publisher or Amazon.


Other Books by Robert Hartwell Fiske
The Dictionary of Disagreeable English
The Dictionary of Concise Writing
The Dimwit's Dictionary
The Best Words
Vocabula Bound 1
Vocabula Bound 2
101 Wordy Phrases
101 Foolish Phrases
101 Elegant Paragraphs
Silence, Language, & Society
Speaking of Silence


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