|Thursday, August 21, 2014||Robert Hartwell Fiske, Editor and Publisher|
|July 2014, Vol. 16, No. 7||There are now 95 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 Clark Elder Morrow
To Aristotle, Rhetoric is principally about everything except rhetorical terms and techniques. He takes a very open and expansive view of the ancient discipline: he thinks it deals with everything else. Oh sure, he'll cannonade words like "enthymeme" and "elenchus" at you when the fit is on, but his heart's not really into waxing sesquipedalian. He's much more interested in examining the hidden, underlying moral organs of the human animal. By which I mean this. If rhetoric is the art of persuading people to agree with you on the truth of a proposition, the sage surmises, then it is paramount to understand the nature of truth itself, and to be able to recognize it when you see it. Then you will be in a position to help others see and understand it as well. So Aristotle spends the bulk of his treatise laying out for us what he perceives to be the great truths of The Archetypal Human Being the truth of all those conflicting and complementary feelings, instincts, and faculties that make up each one of us. If we are going to influence and persuade people, we need to know people not in order to practice on and exploit their emotions ("It is just as absurd to try to win a judge by anger, pity or jealousy as to make the ruler crooked you're about to use"), but to apprehend the essentials of their human condition both collectively and individually; once we do that, sharing our insights with others will help bring them along to our viewpoint.
Consequently, Aristotle maps out for himself a free-fire zone or a playground without rules in which he can indulge himself in endless speculation on the nature of Man. What is shame, and how does it affect individuals? How does anger influence our perceptions? What are the differences between punishment and revenge? Many times it seems that Aristotle is studying Ethics rather than Rhetoric. But that's what makes his book so much fun: it reads like a collection of aphorisms on morality in all of morality's lurid and lustrous dimensions. The Stagarite is not afraid to lift a few rocks to see what crawls out, but his view of his fellow creatures is generally benign and balanced. And it should be said remarkably trenchant. No doubt his real-world experience in the halls of Macedonian power, where the purest form of Realpolitik was practiced, had taught him much about human nature (the father of his princely student was assassinated). And one of the conclusions he arrived at was this: "Men in general are depraved." In that he agrees with the Judeo-Christian outlook. Aristotle can sound, occasionally, as cynical as anyone else: having in mind an unnamed priestess who tried to dissuade her son from becoming a public speaker, he quotes her as saying: "If on the one hand you speak what is just, men will hate you; if what is unjust, the gods." "Public speakers" in ancient Greece were primarily politicians and lawyers, and Aristotle shares the opinion of many people today regarding them: "… when in public, they praise beyond all things what is just and honorable; but within themselves they prefer what is expedient." More ...
by Joann Allen
"Para ti, Papá" reads the dedication for Sandra Cisneros's novel Caramelo. The message is clear that she wishes this to be a personal tribute to her Mexican-born father, Alfredo, who had recently died. American-born Cisneros is one of several bicultural authors who write in English but liberally code-switch back and forth between English and Spanish, usually without any attempt to translate the Spanish. Cisneros has often said that she does this unapologetically, because she does not write for a mono-lingual audience. She describes her ideal audience as "world readers," those with very high standards, who are modeled after her own favorite writers. Her reasons for code-switching are the same as those for most authors who code-switch. Sometimes it is done to add authenticity to the dialog of non-English-speaking characters; sometimes it is to add cultural color and beauty to the story that involves those of diverse cultures; sometimes it is to increase the number and variety of phrases and words that are available, thus adding depth to the diction. In other words, a bilingual author may simply choose the language that best expresses what he or she wishes to say.
Cisneros, unlike some Chicana writers, such as the late Gloria Anzalduá, does not incorporate long passages of Spanish. Cisneros uses Spanish words and phrases primarily for the effect, and one can usually discern their meaning from the surrounding context. An example of such code-switching can be found in Caramelo, as the protagonist, Lala, describes the scene that greets her family when they arrive at their grandparents' house in Mexico for their annual visit: "In the belly button of the house, the Awful Grandmother tossing her black rebozo de bolita crisscross across her breasts, like a soldadera's bandoleers. The big black X at the map's end" (26). Mireya Navarro, in reviewing Caramelo, asserts that Cisneros's writing is poetic yet accessible, "even when she springs it with Spanish words that go untranslated" (2). More ...
by Richard Lederer
William Shakespeare was a busy and prolific writer who, in twenty-five years, turned out thirty-seven long plays and co-authored several others, yet he still found time to provide titles for their books to generations of authors who return again and again to the well of his felicitous phrasing.
Take John Green's immensely popular teen novel The Fault in Our Stars, which has recently been transmogrified into an immensely profitable movie. The title echoes Cassius's speech in Julius Caesar to his co-conspirator: "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings."
From that same play have been lifted the titles of Robert Stone's The Dogs of War, James Barrie's Dear Brutus, John Gunther's Taken at the Flood, Barry Sadler's Cry Havoc, R. Lance Hill's The Evil That Men Do, H. Hall's The Valiant, and David Halberstam's Noblest Roman. More ...
Culture and SocietyReparations: Don't Go There
by John Kilgore
Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you. Satchel Paige
June's Atlantic Monthly cover story, "The Case For Reparations," by Ta-Nehisi Coates, impressively reopens a question that is as old as the country itself: whether African Americans should be compensated for centuries of racial injustice. Early on, the essay set records for hits at the Atlantic website, and print and online responses have been proliferating ever since. Some of these credit the piece with transformative, landmark significance.
Yet it is a little hard to say just what Coates has added to the topic. The article is not at all what it sounds like a systematic proposal and rationale for a reparations program but a long meditation on black history, rambling, passionate, anecdotal, often moving, but rather diffident and at worst simply unclear as to what it really intends. At one point the author tosses out a figure of $34 billion annually, in 1973 dollars, "for a decade or two," as a possible budget for a reparations program, but that kind of detail is mostly absent. What Coates really cares about, he says, is not such nitty-gritty, but the "conversation" he wants America to have about slavery and its sequelae; that, and the mere principle of having America try to undo the wrong done over the centuries. (Adding some substance, perhaps, to the official apologies made by the House and Senate, if anyone noticed, in 20082009.)
The essay makes a convincing case that slavery contributed far more powerfully to the early growth of the country than whites (at least) generally believe:
Nearly one-fourth of all white Southerners owned slaves, and upon their backs the economic basis of America and much of the Atlantic world was erected. In the seven cotton states, one-third of all white income was derived from slavery....More ...
by Bill Casselman
A spluttering splorp of insult words, of hatred's projectile invective, exists to name shrewish, aggressive, or ugly women: amazon, battle-ax, bowwow, dirty bitch, hellcat, she-devil, bull dyke, dog, scrag, diesel dyke, and their less potent synonyms not widely known because they are passé or literary harpy, harridan, gorgon, Medusa, ogress, termagant, shrew, and virago.
But putdowns of swaggering, pushy males are rarer. Most synonyms, straight or gay, for a hot guy are laudatory: chick magnet, stud muffin, hunk, he-man, macho male, beefcake, fuck meat, stallion, dick dude, asshole buddy. English needs some vocabulary ripe with scorn to put these jockstrap-bursting Casanovas in their proper category: all dink, no brain. Pectoral parodies of the masculine chest lurk outside every gym now, popping their pumped pecs at passersby. Bah, c'est dégoûtant! Quite barf-inducing. Do women really want to date guys whose chests are bigger than theirs? More ...
Personal EssayUnweaving the Rainbow: Light
by Skip Eisiminger
Darkness ... makes dogs four times as disobedient. Harper's Magazine
One of my favorite buildings on the Clemson University campus is Sikes Hall, which has a cornerstone I used to invite my humanities students to decipher. In part the inscription reads, "5904 A[nno] L[ucis]," which freely translated means that the building was begun 5,904 years after the light came on, or more conventionally, 1904 AD. Apparently, the local Masons rounded off 4004 BC, Bishop Ussher's date for Jehovah's creation, and added it to 1904. A century later, the Clemson physics department would surely deny that pitiful but quaint number because it's much more likely the stuff of combustion originated 13.8 billion years ago, give or take a few million. Yet as long as the light has been travelling, the vast majority of the universe is still waiting for its arrival.
In 2014, most of the myth and pseudoscience associated with light is behind us, though as late as 1915, light bulbs came in packages warning consumers not to light them with a match. We laugh, but we have not lit a hundred thousand fires, striking matches on our taut rumps the way our great grandparents did either. Regardless of whether light emanates from star fire, foxfire, or fireflies, the stuff that quivers on the rods and cones of our retinas is fascinating stuff, and I hope to see a lot more of it before facing Shelley's "white radiance of eternity."
In no particular order, consider the transparent quintessence that makes the pixels dance on your computer screen: More ...
Vocabula RevisitedEnter the Universal Buttock
by Carey Harrison
In April 2009, hoping to improve on an average annual sales rate of 200,000 copies over a span of fifty years, Longman Publishers released a black faux leather-bound, gold-embossed anniversary edition of The Elements of Style.1 This handsome volume comes adorned with politically correct "gender-fair" language unknown to either of its credited authors and includes several pages of gushing approbation from various public figures past and present, from Dorothy Parker to Ben Affleck, all for $19.95.
Such a spectacle of prescriptivism is bound to draw fire from the academic left. Catherine Prendergast, a self-described "composition scholar," escalates the language war to an unprecedented level of vehemence in her fanciful essay, "The Fighting Style: Reading the Unabomber's Strunk and White,"2 in which she posits that the copy of the manual that "tells us most about [its] legacy" is the one found in Ted Kaczynski's Montana cabin.
Taking off on Andy White's fond memory of his Cornell English professor "Sergeant Strunk snapping orders to his Platoon" Prendergast solemnly warns us of the mortal danger that attends "Sergeant Strunk's warlike, exhortative style, his up-tempo apocalyptic railings against the paucities of modern life": 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 ...
No More Price Increases
No More Advertisements
The Vocabula Review
Ask your library to buy a site license to The Vocabula Review.