|Tuesday, September 16, 2014||Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher|
|August 2014, Vol. 16, No. 8||There are now 114 people reading Vocabula.||ISSN 1542-7080|
Robert Hartwell Fiske's Dictionary of Unendurable English
A compendium of mistakes in grammar, usage, and spelling with commentary on lexicographers and linguists
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
To the Point: A Dictionary of Concise Writing
The essential guide to writing succinctly
To the Point: A Dictionary of Concise Writing is the perfect reference book for anyone who wants to communicate more effectively through clear and beautiful prose. In this freshly updated edition that features hundreds of new entries, Robert Hartwell Fiske lays out multiple lines of attack against verbiage. He starts by training writers, new or experienced, to tackle wordy trends in their work. His "Dictionary of Concise Writing" helps them identify and correct or delete thousands of specific redundant phrases. In addition, writers can turn to the new "Guide to Obfuscation: A Reverse Dictionary" to build a more pithy vocabulary. Filled with real-world examples that provide clarity and context for Fiske's rules of concision, this is a writer's sharpest weapon against verbosity.
by Verónica Albin
Remember the book Coffee, Tea, or Me that was later turned into a movie? It is some forty years old, so I had to go to Amazon to refresh my memory for you. The novel, purportedly the "uninhibited memoirs of two airline stewardesses," was published by Bartholomew House in New York under the names Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times when people still put fancy clothes on to fly, and flight attendants, at least those on Braniff, took fancy clothes off, piece by piece, in that infamous play-on words ritual known as the "air strip." Back then the attendants were all female, young, and purty as a pitcher, and Braniff was not alone in selling meat. PSA conjured an image of its stewardesses of purity, sobriety, and availability; Southwest Airlines flew with "Love Birds"; and National Airlines, infamously, carried the slogan that enraged feminists: "I'm Cheryl, fly me." In any event, the novel was evidently popular because, in English, it spawned three sequels: The Coffee, Tea or Me Girls Lay It on the Line, The CToM Girls Get Away from It All, and The CToM Girls ‘Round the World Diary. Since one ought not to mention deep works of literature such as these in a journal of the caliber of The Vocabula Review without having done thorough research, I discovered a book called Coffee, Tea or Me, Mei Shih ai ching published in Taiwan a few years later, but Trudy and Rachel aren't the authors. I did find, however, an observation about Trudy Baker by one George Thompson that said: "RLIN (Research Libraries Information Network) also shows Trudy Baker to be the author of a number of elementary school math texts, published in Canada, so perhaps she has reformed, not that I necessarily think that one needs to reform from being an uninhibited airline stewardess, nor that writing mathematics texts would be a symptom of reformation." Indeed, Mr. Thompson. Indeed. Reformed or not, this important book just recently got republished by Penguin, which tells us a lot about the fine taste of the American reader.
Anyhow, the title is funny to you because of the cliché "coffee, tea, or milk." It is funny to me because milk is just such an American choice of a beverage. You see, what happens is that south of the border, in Old Mexico, that particular combination of beverages would never be offered to adult or child. If you come visit me at my place, you'll get to choose from un vinito, un tequilita o una chela. Do you really want to come back from your next vacation and say that you Got milk when you could have gotten a Margarita instead? Nah! Still, it was translated literally into Spanish as Café, té o yo. No word play but enough foreplay to sell, I'm sure. Just to broaden your horizons, there is no word for "foreplay" in Spanish. No need for it when one is a real macho. More ...
by Marylaine Block
She may well have been thinking of a truth too big, too abstract to be graspable: the infinite love of God. We are a species that needs concreteness. That love had to be conveyed in terms humans could understand He loved His son, but, loving us even more, allowed Jesus to die to save us.
Equally hard to grasp, though, would be the darkest of our suspected truths that we are powerless victims of careless gods that use us for their sport, or that, given absolute power any of us could become monsters, like Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness, confronting "the horror! the horror!" that is the hole where his soul should be. Indeed, when I was asked at a poetry workshop to supply a second line for the line of poetry I had chosen, mine was, "Tell all the truth and tell it slant Head-on, truth is tough. It body-tackles."
Abstractions of any kind are difficult for us. How can you make people envision what peace or justice or truth might actually look like, let alone get them to see the same thing? Truths told in too-large numbers also don't make sense to us. When a tourist asked a guide in the Colorado mountains, "How high is 13,000 feet?" she must surely have meant "Please compare it with something we can understand, the Empire State Building piled on how many Empire State Buildings?" How can you write about "2,312,000 slaves in the United States in 1860," and make your readers see these were living, breathing people, not statistics?
You have to tell it slant. Fortunately, writers have a whole bag of tricks for doing that. More ...
by Ada Brunstein
I'm determined to make photoelectric the next big catch phrase. I don't see why it should be relegated to a life of obscurity in the pages of seldom read and even seldomer enjoyed physics books. It has so much more to offer than that! I'm going to spread the word, and the word I'm going to spread is photoelectric. I'll start with the bars of New York. A bartender will slide me a flaming fuschia cocktail, I'll smile and say, photoelectric, thanks!
As I take my first sip, I see a pair of hazel eyes across the bar that I can't ignore. I walk right up to him. Drink in hand, I do a little half twist and lean my back against the bar, looking at Mr. Hazel Eyes over my shoulder. With my free hand I slip a finger under his designer tie just below the knot, and slide it down slowly until it reaches the tip. Photoelectric, I'll whisper.
After a few weeks, it'll spread from bars to the modeling studios, where New York bar-goers spend their days. Scantily clad Amazons will thrust their hips and shoulders while photographers fawn photoelectric, dahlin', yeah, that's it, that's photoelectric! Click, click, click. In the next Austin Powers movie, Mike Meyers will seduce women with his toothy photoelectric, baby, and his purple velvet jacket. Paris Hilton's that's hot will be so yesterday, tomorrow. She'll be quoted in every People and Us, coyly crooning, that's photoelectric. Not that the two phrases are unrelated solar panels use the photoelectric effect and yeah, you guessed it, they're hot. More ...
by Bill Casselman
Among the English terms borrowed from the Chinese language are several containing dai and tai, dialect forms of ta, which means "great" or "big" in standard Chinese.
Tycoon 名 大君
Tycoon, borrowed through its Japanese form, taikun, itself borrowed from Chinese = ta "great" + kian "prince," with the adoptive meaning of "great prince of commerce," that is, "wealthy merchant."
A cumbrous jumble of tongues contribute, in a sort of historical glossolalic vortex, to our word typhoon.
The chief influence is the Cantonese word tai-fung, for standard Chinese ta fêng "big wind."
But appearing earlier in print is the Urdu tufan, "a violent tempest of wind and rain," a word signifying the typhoons of India and summer storms on the China Sea. Since Urdu borrowed words from Persian and Arabic, some etymologists suggest tufan arises from an Arabic noun like tawafan, "violent twisting or whirling," from the verbal root tafa, "turn around."
But Persian, Arabic, and Urdu forms could all be borrowings from the name of a much earlier Greek wind monster, Typhon (too-FOON), a primitive Greek god of the winds.
Tai Chi (Ch"uan) 太極拳
Tai Cantonese "great" "extreme" + ji "limit" "source" + ch"uan Cantonese for Chinese quan "fist"
This Chinese martial arts-like system of calisthenics combines physical power with internal meditative power. Legend says tai chi arose in the Sung dynasty (9601279 CE), invented by a priest.
A Japanese actor playing a daimyo, in black cap, occupies center stage.More ...
by 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.
In a collection of short pieces with the provocative title The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax,1 I found an essay of the same title that exploded the notion that Eskimos have especially extensive snow vocabularies. Pullum, professor of linguistics and dean of graduate studies and research at the University of California, Santa Cruz, described how the error had originated and how it had passed from book to book until it became one of the things that every schoolboy knows. So far so good; the embarrassment I felt on finding myself among the many dupes who had been taken in by this piece of misinformation, and propagated it, was easily overbalanced by the satisfaction of being finally enlightened, and by the interest of the story Pullum had to tell. In the ordinary course, I would be grateful to Pullum for correcting my error, but the manner in which he does it makes it hard to feel gratitude.
First, he seems to feel that the error is a shameful one, illustrative of human credulity in the face of the absurd and irrational, and of "falling standards in academia." But why we should have known better than to believe that Eskimos have an especially rich and nuanced vocabulary for describing their natural environment, he does not explain. Nor does he explicitly suggest that readers should check against original sources every assertion made by every writer, no matter how plausible the assertion or how credible the writer; yet such a course would be the only way to preclude such errors.
Second, he is puzzled, and a bit angry, that the error was not quashed by a paper delivered by Professor Laura Martin at the 1982 annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association; referring to her presentation, he says, "that ought to have been enough for the news to get out." Perhaps professors, even deans like Pullum, are still unworldly; this one appears to think that an obscure paper delivered at an obscure conference by a scholar whose name is hardly a household word should have made the world sit up, take notice, and mend its ways. This strikes me as far harder to believe than that Eskimos have many words for snow.
Third and by far worst he and Professor Martin think our readiness to believe the canard is, in part at least, due to our racism. He quotes her and adds a comment:
It is good of Professor Martin to be gentle, and to say "we" when she clearly means "you fools" or worse. But she, too, fails to explain why it is racist of us to credit the Eskimos with words for many varieties of snow. Speaking for my possibly bigoted self, I felt closer to the Eskimos when I supposed them to be walking Rogets on the subject of frozen water that's just what I would be, I think, if I lived near the Arctic Circle. But it may be that to understand my feelings, Professor Martin would have to learn something of the ways of my unfamiliar and peculiar group, the nonacademics. More ...
by John Kilgore
We like to believe, we serious people, that we say what we mean. But the truth may be that we choose our phrases first for the sound, letting meaning drift in rather casually.
Infants understand this. During the first year, while nonverbal cries, gestures, smiles, and eye contact suffice for all substantive communications, their real language development begins as a love affair with pure sound. The spontaneous crib talk that so charms and tantalizes the grownups in all cultures has, of course, a vital purpose: it allows babies to explore their own sound-making and sound-detecting abilities while they absorb the phonological system of what will soon be their native language. Parents pace and fret, eager for the first dispatch from the great beyond that is baby's consciousness: "C'mon, Brittney, say 'Daddy'; say 'amortize'; say 'televangelist.'" But Brittney knows instinctively that meaning will wait. What really matters is phonology, the essential foundation on which everything else will be built, so she goes on patiently babbling, guided only by her instinctive pleasure in rehearsing the basic sounds and sound combinations of the language she hears around her. Such practice is one of the best educational investments she will ever make, helping her attain the perfect native pronunciation that forever eludes Yoda and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
When the words finally do start to emerge from the stream of babble, they seem as doubtful as faces in the clouds. We might not count them as words at all, except that culture seems to force the issue, taking the sounds baby is most likely to make anyway and assigning the least unlikely meanings to them. Hence in language after language we get Dada or something like it for the father, Mama or something like it for the mother, and Baba or something like it for the little one herself. Sound, in an important sense, comes first. Once the syllables are there, reliably produced and distinguished, we can begin to hang meanings on them but not before.
It is, of course, always a question of multiple meanings. Words are just like that: endlessly recyclable, always ready to surprise us by saying something they have never quite said before. Humpty Dumpty is wrong when he tells Alice, "When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean," and offers the example of making "glory" mean "there's a nice knock-down argument for you." But his error is only one of degree. What a word can mean is roughly stipulated by the culture, but what it does mean in a particular instance depends on how it is used, on a creative effort of the speaker and listener. All this is true from the very beginning, by the nature of the case, and so before long it occurs to Brittney that the sitter or the dog is a type of Mama, and she points and says so. We laugh, but know to at least a first approximation what she means: "This, too, is a large, familiar, likeable creature whose purpose is to amuse and take care of me." More ...
by Clark Elder Morrow
After I told a friend of mine once that a famous writer had described the late nineteenth century as the height of human civilization, my friend responded thoughtfully: "No, the rot had already set in by then."
The remark is interesting not as the token of a reactionary mind (my friend was a liberal Democrat at the time), but as a simple recognition of at least one element or aspect of the truth. In the late nineteenth century there really was a certain overripeness in the more elevated spheres of thought and life throughout Europe. And Oscar Wilde is only the most conspicuous figure representing this development. The world we see in An Ideal Husband may reveal the highest refinements and most sophisticated flights of fancy, and may show us a level of civilized observation rarely before achieved, but the world of Salome exemplifies quite clearly the "rot" my friend undoubtedly had in mind.
I myself have a different author in mind as a candidate for Most Conspicuous Figure Representing Nineteenth-Century Overripeness. My nominee is Henry James. And I will tell you why. More ...
Free in VocabulaBest Words
Love a word? Tell us what it is and perhaps we'll add it to our list of Best Words. There need not be any well-reasoned analysis of your high regard for a word; emotional reactions to the sound or meaning of words are welcome. If a word you love is already listed, you are welcome to tell us why you, too, love the word. The Best Words have an aura of fun or majesty. More ...
Free in VocabulaWorst Words
Hate a word? Tell us what it is and perhaps we'll add it to our list of Worst Words. There need not be any well-reasoned analysis of your distaste for a word; visceral reactions to the sound or meaning of words are welcome. If a word you hate is already listed, you are welcome to tell us why you, too, hate the word. The Worst Words have an aura of foolishness or odium. More ...
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