|Thursday, October 30, 2014||Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher|
|October 2014, Vol. 16, No. 10||There are now 128 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 Richard Lederer
The largest category of last names began as descriptions of the work people did. In the telephone directories of the world's English-speaking cities, Smith, which means "worker," is the most popular last name by a large margin over its nearest competitors, Jones and Johnson, (both of which are patronymics, "son of John"). And it is no wonder when you consider that the village smith, who made and repaired all objects of metal, was the most important person in the community. Two common expressions that we inherit from the art of blackmithery are strike while the iron is hot and too many irons in the fire.
International variations on Smith include Smythe, Schmidt, Smed, Smitt, Faber, Ferrier, LeFebre, Ferraro, Kovacs, Manx, Goff, and Gough. Versions of Tailor (Taylor) include Schneider, Sarto, Sastre, Szabo, Kravitz, Hiatt, Portnoy, and Terzl. More ...
by Bill Casselman
To paraphrase that well-known nursery song: if you go down in the woods today, you'll find a bounty of equivalence in wood words. Indeed, were I not a quasi-Quaker-like devotee of plain speech and down-home verbal modesty, I might say you will encounter a plethoric copiosity of sylvan synonymy.
Most pertly shall I treat these less than customary words for woodland, terms like spinney, frith or firth, bosk, weald, dingle and chaparral. If you know all these ligneous lexemes well, then, mes élèves, you may leave the classroom and play with utter abandon upon the margins of that sinkhole out in the recess yard.
The basic etymon here arose in the speech of Roman soldiers posted to defend Rome's northern Gallic territories, where they used a Late Street Latin adjective, the commonly spoken adjective meaning "wooden" or "made of wood," boscus, bosca, boscum. This is an example of Latin borrowing a term from a foreign language that was not Greek. Boscus is a Latinizing of a Frankish (a Germanic language) word for woods or forest, *busk, related to a later Germanic form, namely, our English word bush. More ...
by Skip Eisiminger
Once was a father who was so disappointed after reading his son's Who's Who account that he photocopied, amended, and mailed it to his slighted namesake. Junior, who had no illusions about his fame, measured the single-column entry, then measured his penis, and decided six inches was tolerable given that some he knew had seven or more.
Taking the measure of oneself in print with tongue in cheek or out is not easy. After Rome fell, it was not just difficult, it was well-nigh impossible for about a thousand years. One notable exception is Augustine's Confessions in Thirteen Books, which is not so much an autobiography as a lapidary description of how a rough gem came to be polished. Though later canonized, Augustine regretted that he could not recall any more of his sins than he did. But as the sun rose again on Western Europe about 1350, the Zeitgeist murmured, "Enough about you; it's time for me." Soon Benvenuto Cellini produced an autobiography in which he boasted of killing his enemies while working for the Pope. And soon the relatively flat, unsigned canvasses of Giotto, who left us one disputed self-portrait, deepened into the perspectival works of Albrecht Dürer, who left us at least seven, most signed. Actually they were initialed as if to say, "I don't need to spell it out; you know who I am." More ...
by Ken Bresler
There's no such thing as "12:00 A.M." or "12 P.M." Stay with me as I walk us through this.
The prefix "ante" means "before." (We're not talking "anti," which means "against.") "Ante," as in "antebellum mansion" or "antebellum plantation."
"Antebellum" as in "before the war," more specifically, the Civil War. So an antebellum mansion predates the Civil War. It antedates it, if you will. And this antebellum mansion might have an anteroom.
Now onto "diem," which is Latin for "day." You might get paid by the day, per diem. If you get a daily meal allowance, you're getting a per diem. "Carpe diem" (pronounced "car-pay dee-em") is the admonition to "Seize the day."
"Meri" means "mid. Thus, "meridiem" means "midday," in other words, noon. Meridiem = noon.
"P.M." stands for "post-meridiem," the time after noon. "Post," of course, means "after," as in "postseason play." More ...
by Susan Lear Weisgrau
A minor quibble: I've stopped asking students how their recent trip was (usually a semester abroad). The two a words are all I get amazing and awesome. I now know nothing about their trip, and I'd just as soon not see the pictures, if you please. Can't we come up with words that succinctly tell us about a trip that another has enjoyed?
I ask the students to describe one concrete thing that stays in the mind the sweet smell of the plums in the market, the rocky climb to Masada or Machu Picchu. Tell me about one person you met who will stay in the memory. Talk about the senses. What did you hear? Touch? Taste? Smell? I like Rudyard Kipling's dictum, "The first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell it." More ...
Personal EssayRemembering Bart: A Tribute to Our Fallen Furry Friend
by Richard Lederer
Recently, Simone and I lost our dear friend, Bart. He was our gentle, companionable black lab mix, and his mighty heart beat for more than sixteen years. Despite rickety back legs and a battalion of tumors, he greeted each day with bright eyes, waggy tail, and unconditional trust.
Bart showed Simone and me our finest selves. He loved us more than he loved himself. I think of our fallen boy when I read what the romantic poet Lord Byron wrote on the tomb of his Newfoundland: "Near this spot are deposited the remains of one who possessed Beauty without Vanity, Strength without Insolence, Courage without Ferocity, and all the Virtues of Man, without his Vices. This praise, which would be unmeaning Flattery if inscribed over human ashes, is but a just tribute to the Memory of Boatswain, a Dog." More ...
Vocabula RevisitedDoctoring Language
by David Isaacson
Doctors usually deserve to be called doctors at least as much as bricklayers deserve to be called bricklayers. Many of us, especially if we have worked hard to earn a professional degree, are upset when we think someone isn't paying us the respect our professional status deserves. Even in such an apparently egalitarian society as ours, titles have a lot of clout. If job and professional titles were not important, the word entitlement would not have moral as well as literal significance.
Most physicians expect people they don't know to address them as "Doctor" rather than with the over-familiar and potentially insulting "Doc." On the other hand, the average American hates what he perceives to be false gentility; we are very quick to castigate anyone who seems to be putting on airs. This sometimes leads to a frustrating dilemma in choosing the appropriate way to address a physician, psychologist, judge, professor, or other person whose profession entitles him or her to be called "Doctor," "Judge," or "Professor." Even if we don't think much of the person holding the degree, polite convention suggests that we honor the person's profession with the appropriate title. But, being Americans, we don't want to seem to kowtow to bigwigs. Unfortunately, this often admirable skepticism toward people in power can lead some of us, often unwittingly, to be too informal in the way we address people whose professional identity is hard to detach from their names. If we are too informal, we may insult people whose office, at least, deserves the respect associated with titles like Doctor, Judge, and Professor. 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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