The Dictionary of Disagreeable English — Deluxe Editionby Robert Hartwell Fiske


Descriptivists Have Had Their Day

The Dictionary of Disagreeable English — Deluxe Edition
A Curmudgeon's Compendium
of Excruciatingly Correct Grammar

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The Grumbling Grammarian is back with a revised and expanded edition of The Dictionary of Disagreeable English. In this second edition, Robert Hartwell Fiske has added moreŚand more disagreeableŚlanguage blunders, additional witty commentary, and a new feature that includes frequently asked language questions, and their answers.

Fiske rails against "laxicographers and ding-a-linguists" who, with their misguided thinking, actually promote the dissolution of the English language. He also illustrates why dictionaries don't always provide the correct meaning or usage of a word. With concise instruction and numerous examples of misused words, Fiske makes it easier than ever to learn from others' mistakes.

However curmudgeonly, Mr. Fiske betrays a bluff humanitarian spirit. ... [Fiske] wants to save [the English language]. And he knows that he can count on little help. Dictionaries "have virtually no standards, offer scant guidance, and advance only misunderstanding." His own flogging of Merriam-Webster's is one of the many pleasures of this lovely, sour, virtuous book. — Wall Street Journal

(For) people who get a delicious kick out of getting incensed at loosey-goosey usage. — William Safire, New York Times

I recently purchased your Dictionary of Disagreeable English, a delightful little book with a somewhat depressing, big message. I find myself chuckling from page to page. Thanks for the entertainment! — Teresa Jones

We will continue to look to you for guidance and help in preserving the elegance of the English language. — Christel Marin

Please accept my congratulations on a wonderful and very useful book. — Frank Boccia

I'm enjoying the heck out of Disagreeable English. — Ron Harris

As a technical writer, I consult your Dictionary of Disagreeable English often, to "insure" that my documents don't fall "pray" to lazy language. — Tristan MacAvery

The Dictionary of Disagreeable English was one of my favorite Christmas presents this season. — Ralph Shelton

This reference book is excellent! Thank you, Robert Hartwell Fiske. — Gary B. Larson

As Fiske illustrates in his book, dictionaries are not what they used to be. Prominent dictionaries, including the vaunted Merriam Webster, have increasingly resorted to including nonstandard English, i.e. improper English, in their texts, all in the name of recording English as it is used, rather than how it should be used. Fiske attacks this concept of "descriptivist" as inexcusable. Although I admit that English does evolve, I am firmly in Fiske's camp — dictionaries should champion proper English, not popular English. After reading this book, you may find yourself taking up arms in Fiske's war as well. ... In The Dictionary of Disagreeable English, Fiske has compiled a rogue's gallery of painfully incorrect English. If you love acerbic sarcasm, you're in for a treat. Fiske's acidic commentary is frequently laugh out loud funny, as are the truly hideous examples of murdered grammar which Fiske has culled from journalists, celebrities, and politicians. As much fun as this book is to read, The Dictionary of Disagreeable English is also a handy, informative guide to avoiding the most common grammatical pitfalls. Fiske lists frequent misspellings, misuses (my favorite being "grisly" for "grizzly"), mispronunciations, and non existent words which are used with alarming frequency. ... If you are a fellow grammar geek/word nerd, you will adore this book. You will laugh at Fiske's biting wit and you will cry at some of the most foul atrocities that were committed against the English language in the examples provided. The Dictionary of Disagreeable English is the perfect way to both amuse and educate yourself. — Zella Kate Solomon

From the Introduction

A catalog of confusions

Lexicographers are descriptivists, language liberals. The use of disinterested to mean uninterested does not displease a descriptivist. A prescriptivist, by contrast, is a language conservative, a person interested in maintaining standards and correctness in language use. To prescriptivists, disinterested in the sense of uninterested is the mark of uneducated people who do not know the distinction between the two words. And if there are enough uneducated people saying disinterested (and I'm afraid there are) when they mean uninterested or indifferent, lexicographers enter the definition into their dictionaries. Indeed, the distinction between these words has all but vanished owing largely to irresponsible writers and boneless lexicographers.

Words, we are told, with the most citations are included in the Merriam-Webster dictionaries. Are then words with the fewest omitted, or in danger of being omitted? Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary includes alright, but what word was not included so that an inanity, an illiteracy like alright could be kept in? Boeotian is not defined in Merriam-Webster's; nor is diaskeuast defined; nor logogogue; nor nyctophobia; nor myriadigamous; nor ubiety; nor womanfully; nor hundreds of other words that a college student might find infinitely more useful than the entry, the misspelling and definition of, alright.

All it takes for a solecism to become standard English is people misusing or misspelling the word. And if enough people do so, lexicographers will enter the originally misused or misspelled word into their dictionaries, and descriptive linguists will embrace it as a further example of the evolution of English.

Merriam-Webster's laxicographers, further disaffecting careful writers and speakers, assign the meaning reluctant to the definition of reticent. Reticent means disinclined to speak; taciturn; quiet. Reluctant means disinclined to do something; unwilling; loath. Because some people mistakenly use reticent to mean reluctant, dictionaries now maintain reticent does mean reluctant.

Ignominies of Grammar and Usage

abberation Misspelling of aberration. • New employment data Friday will either corroborate recent evidence showing the economy is improving, or indicate that last month's job gain was an abberation. USE aberration. • Hedman had been a player in search of one, redemptive moment that would grant him forgiveness in the eyes of the fans after his abberation in Munich. USE aberration.

Abberation is how aberrant users of the English language spell aberration. The language has its deviants, its descriptive linguists, its dictionary makers.

enervate Solecistic for energize (or similar words). • Even the hurricanes, the torrential downpours, skies solid black with furious clouds, could do nothing but enervate and invigorate me. USE energize. • Fashion is photography's Frankenstein monster; a hideous parody of the photographic art rudely constructed with bits and pieces discarded from other art forms, which seeks not to elevate, illuminate, invigorate, enervate or inspire but exists only to serve its own purpose: to sell a rather ordinary garment at a grossly inflated price. USE energize. • Mitchell plays his curmudgeonly role with a vitality and energy that seems to enervate the rest of the cast. USE invigorate. • Any disease process anywhere in the body is affected, at least in part, by the ability of the nervous system to enervate and enliven that area. USE invigorate.

Enervate — never innervate — is an antonym, not a synonym, for invigorate or energize. Enervate means to weaken or enfeeble, to debilitate or deplete the energy of.

That aspect of it in particular is not to my taste, although on the whole, I believe it's been a very successful and enervating and exciting convention. — Ben Affleck, actor

Not only did Affleck embarrass himself by saying enervating when he meant invigorating, or perhaps, energizing, he, embarrassing himself further, chided one or two people he was talking to when they questioned his use of the word. It's all too dreadfully benervating.

volumptuous Idiotic for voluptuous. • Our glamour sets are for the woman who wants to create a volumptuous lip. USE voluptuous. • On October 8, 1997 an astonishingly large, volumptuous pumpkin appeared nestled atop Cornell's McGraw Tower. USE voluptuous. • Sensual, volumptuous actress Gina Lollobrigida (born Luigina Lollobrigida) was a sex symbol in her native Italy before becoming a Hollywood star. USE voluptuous. • I'm 5 ft tall, blue green eyes, long brown hair, and volumptuous. USE voluptuous.

Voluptuous means full of, characterized by, or producing delight or pleasure to the senses; suggesting sensual pleasure by fullness and beauty of form; fond of or directed toward the enjoyments of luxury, pleasure, or sensual gratifications. Volumptuous, except among lumpen lexicographers, means nothing at all; it is not a word.


Here is the table of contents:


About the Author

Foreword by John Simon

Introduction: The Decline of the Dictionary


The Dictionary of Disagreeable English


A: The Fiske Ranking of College Dictionaries

B: Fifty-Five Best Words as Identified by the Readers of The Vocabula Review

C: Fifty-Five Worst Words as Identified by the Readers of The Vocabula Review

D: Index of Names

E: Write to a Laxicographer

  You can order The Dictionary of Disagreeable English from Vocabula 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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