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Silence, Language, & Society: A guide to style and meaning, grace and compassion

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Language not only expresses our thoughts, it shapes them as well. Robert Hartwell Fiske has a very special expertise with language as the editor and publisher of "The Vocabula Review," a publication dedicated to the study of language. He applies that expertise in "Silence, Language, & Society: A Guide to Style and Meaning, Grace and Compassion," a pocket-sized compendium of information and insight that will prove invaluable for students of the English language, as well as writers aspiring to a deft and definitive elegance in whatever they choose to write about. How words, language and thoughts intermingle, their relationship with "silence and society" is the focus of this remarkable little volume that contains definitions, word usage examples, and such miscellanea as imprecations and misspent words. "Silence, Language, & Society" is a treat for anyone who finds the study of the English language to be of interest either as a pastime or a profession. --Midwest Book Review

About the Author

Robert Hartwell Fiske is the editor and publisher of The Vocabula Review.
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Product Details

  • Perfect Paperback: 145 pages
  • Publisher: Vocabula Books; First edition (August 15, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 097743687X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0977436873
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 4 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,965,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Fiske is a linguistic curmudgeon, a stickler for proper definitions and clarity of style. Readers will likely love him or hate him quickly. Sticklers prickle our prose and discomfort us when we are called up short of perfection. And some of use aim for perfection. Those who prize words and want to write winning and winsome prose will benefit from this book. However, it has several weaknesses.

First, the title indicates a philosophical reflection on language. Besides a few chops about silence, it is not that, but, rather, a feisty book about usage.

Second, Fiske is repetitive with his insults, often lambasting "laxographers" (his neologism) and "descriptive linguists". Insults abound, some on point, others mean-spirited. I question some of his resolute judgments. Take one: "It ain't over till its over," which is attributed to Yogi Berra. This is not a tautology because Berra was talking about the logic of baseball. Since baseball does not run on a clock, but proceeds according to a set number of outs, it is possible that a team could be down by 10 runs (or any number) with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, and win the same. But in clock-oriented sports, come comebacks are impossible, because there is not enough time to score six touch downs or make thirty-five baskets. Therefore, Fiske, in his passion to condemn idiocy and bad taste, blunders badly.

Third, I doubt there is much here not found in one Fiske's other books. Fourth, he often chides or condemns dictionaries of the descriptive sort, such as Miriam-Websters. But he sometimes seems to condemn then all! If so, where do we go for authoritative meanings? He does not say, except to offer himself.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word remains. Since all our words answer to the Word, let us mind our words well.
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Format: Perfect Paperback
Language not only expresses out thoughts, it shapes them as well. Robert Hartwell Fiske has a very special expertise with language as the editor and publisher of 'The Vocabula Review', a publication dedicated to the study of language. He applies that expertise in "Silence, Language, & Society: A Guide To Style And Meaning, Grace And Compassion", a pocket-sized compendium of information and insight that will prove invaluable for students of the English language, as well as writers aspiring to a deft and definitive elegance in whatever they choose to write about. How words, language and thoughts intermingle, their relationship with 'silence and society' is the focus of this remarkable little volume that continues definitions, word usage examples, and such miscellanea as imprecations and misspent words. "Silence, Language, & Society" is a treat for anyone who finds the study of the English language to be of interest either as a pastime or a profession.
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Format: Perfect Paperback
Robert Hartwell Fiske is one of the most quotable writers alive, and "Silence, Language & Society" positively oozes epigrammatic sentences from every page. If you like great writing, and if you enjoy reading pithy observations about language, literature, and life, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of this book. Here is just a small sampling of the gems to be found within its pages:

"Alas, where one man sees a goal - bright, beautiful, magnificent - another sees a gargoyle - ugly, repulsive, grotesque. Goal or gargoyle, magnificent or monstrous, still, let us not, at the end of our lives, have cause to curse the cowardliness with which we lived them."

"Be silent and all you neglected to consider, all you failed to feel, all you hoped to say will unfold before you."

"Life is measured by its meaning, and a good deal of that meaning is inherent in the words we use. If so many of our words are superfluous - and thus do not signify - so much of our life is, ineluctably, meaningless."

"A person who expresses himself with genuineness instead of in jargon, with feeling instead of with formulas, is capable as few have been, as few are, and as few will be; this is a person to heed."

"The only meaning in life is what we assign to it. Similarly, we assign meaning to the principal way we express meaning, to our words. If we fail to observe the meaning of our words, we contribute to the meaninglessness of our lives."

"Swear words are among the least expressive words available to us. They are boring and boorish at once. Using scatological phrases and swear words no longer shocks anyone and suggests only that you are not clever enough to think of better, more meaningful words.
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