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LinguaPhile, November 2005

An e-mail newsletter nurturing the development and enjoyment of English language arts at home and at school.

We welcome new subscribers from the Writers Society of Jefferson County and from Educator Appreciation Weekend at Borders stores.


Portico Books Co-Sponsors Family Story Contest

Here's an opportunity for your kids to dig into your family history and write about what they learn! They could become published authors!

Portico Books and Thumbprint Press are co-sponsoring Writing Contests for One-of-a-Kind Kids. This year's contest is The Grannie Annie -- A Family Story Celebration. The contest is open to students in U.S. grades 4-8 and to homeschoolers and international students of equivalent ages (9-14). Students are invited to interview family members -- and perhaps others -- and write a 250- to 500-word story about someone in a past generation of their family. Stories must be submitted during January 2006.

At least five stories in each of two age categories will be selected for publication in Grannie Annie Vol. I. Orders for the book will be taken through April 2006, and books will be shipped the following month.

For complete contest information, including guidelines and entry form, see

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More Accolades for The World's Greatest Fair

An abbreviated version of The World's Greatest Fair, high definition documentary about the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, recently received three Mid-America Emmy Awards, including Best Documentary. This week Scott Huegerich and Bob Miano, the driving forces behind this project, will receive the Missouri Governor's Humanities Award in recognition of their special contribution to their community's understanding of its heritage.

A review of the full-length version of The World's Greatest Fair in the September 15 issue of the Library Journal said in part ". . . this is the finest history of the St. Louis fair this reviewer has ever seen and one of the best histories of any world's fair available. Highly recommended for any library wanting to improve its resources on early 20th century American history."

Fran contributed to The World's Greatest Fair by writing the story about the Observation Wheel, commonly known as the Ferris Wheel.

Keep watching for The World's Greatest Fair on your local PBS station -- and at other venues. Bob and Scott are now at work on another documentary, due out next year, about the Gateway Arch.

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Lifelong Quest for a Particular Poem -- Please Help!

One of the feedback items in Anu Garg's Another Word a Day (reviewed below) came from Margaret Howard in Oakville, Canada. As a second grader, Margaret was helping a favorite teacher clean out a closet when she discovered a poem that especially captivated her. She asked the teacher if she could have the book, which was to be thrown away, but the teacher said that giving her the book would be considered favoritism. Margaret is now sixty years old -- and is still searching for this poem.

Do you know of a poem that contains the lines "It paints the depth of love that lies / Within a dog's adoring eyes"? If so, please let us know:

It would be wonderful to get this poem to Margaret after all of these years!

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Happy Holidays to You and Your Family

Best wishes to you and your family for happy holidays. For suggestions of ways to share family stories when you're together, see

You might hear a story that you want to submit to The Grannie Annie, described above.

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Help with Your Holiday Shopping

Consider doing some of your holiday shopping at . Not only can you order Hands-On English and its companion products, you can also read about dozens of Fran's favorite books and -- for most of them -- link immediately with her review of the book and with the page on where you can make your purchase:

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Hands-On English products (especially the handbook, the card game, the "Package," and the T-shirt) make wonderful holiday gifts for any of the following:
• any student 4th grade or older
• anyone who teaches English at any level
• an education student, student teacher, or beginning teacher (in any subject)
• a homeschooling family
• any family with school-age children
• people learning English as an additional language
• people trying to strengthen basic skills in order to improve their employment options
• anyone wanting quick access to English fundamentals
Think of your children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, friends, neighbors, employees, baby-sitters, dog walkers. The list is endless!

Orders are generally filled within twenty-four hours of their receipt, so a prompt order will guarantee holiday delivery. You could even have your gift sent directly to the recipient. You can order from or call 1-888-641-5353.

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Quote of the Month: Language

A civilization which loses its power over its own language has lost its power over the instrument by which it thinks.
-- Henry Beston, U.S. writer and naturalist (1888-1968)

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Expand Your Vocabulary:  linguaphile

Probably most subscribers know the meaning of linguaphile. The word includes the root lingua, which means "tongue (language)," and the root phile, which means "love." A linguaphile, then, is a lover of language.

Did you know, however, that the word was originally coined by Anu Garg, author of the A Word a Day newsletter (with more than 600,000 subscribers in over 200 countries) and of Another Word a Day, reviewed below? Garg reports that linguaphile was accepted into the American Heritage Dictionary in 2000.

Synonyms of linguaphile include logophile, logologist, and wordsmith.

Hands-On English includes more than 200 morphemes, along with their meanings and examples. Knowing the meanings of morphemes can help you unlock hundreds of words the first time you encounter them. Reviewers of Hands-On English have said that the vocabulary section alone is worth the book's modest purchase price. Learn more -- and place your order -- at

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Q and A:  Evolving Language: went missing / beg the question

This month LinguaPhile sought the opinion of Charles Harrington Elster -- writer, broadcaster, logophile, lexicomane, and one of the foremost authorities on the English language. Elster says of himself, "I am an unrepentant, irremediable word nerd and proud of it, for language is the most pleasant obsession I know."

The questions asked happen to be addressed in Elster's new book, What in the Word? Elster includes excerpts from that book in his reply.
LinguaPhile's Question: How can we determine whether a new usage enhances or weakens our language? I have questions about a couple of usages in particular.

The first usage is went missing: She went missing on Thursday. Several people have told me that they find this coinage offensive. While I recognize that went missing does not follow standard grammar, I immediately accepted this as a new idiom, which I greatly prefer to the oxymoronic turned up missing. Does that make me a traitor to appropriate usage?

My second question involves the new use of begs the question. I first learned about begging the question decades ago in a logic class. Nowadays, however, the phrase is (far too often, in my opinion) used to mean "causes us to ask": His poor performance begs the question Was the injury more serious than we thought. (I'm not even sure whether to end that sentence with a question mark or a period -- and I'm not sure that people always follow the expression with a genuine question.) Is this a new acceptable meaning that I should learn to tolerate? If it is a corruption of the language, is there any hope of eliminating its use? 

Elster's Answer: Your first question -- How can you determine whether a new usage enhances or weakens our language? -- is very complex. I think ultimately it's a subjective matter. "Are there any enduring standards of English usage?" the poet and etymologist John Ciardi once asked. "I think there are only preferences," he went on, "'passionate preferences,' as Robert Frost used to say, the level at which any English-speaking person chooses to engage the instrument -- the orchestra -- of the language." For me, it's a gut feeling based on the body of knowledge about language that I have accumulated. Because I engage the language at a higher level than most folks, I'm much more discriminating, and I can more easily spot a mistake, a fad, a slipshod extension of meaning, a bit of affectation or jargon, or an ill-formed word or phrase. When evaluating something new, I tend to ask myself a number of questions about it. If it's a new word, is it properly made and euphonious? Does it fill a real need or only crowd out an existing and still useful word (as impact has done to influence and affect). If it's an extension of meaning, did it come about because of need or ignorance? Locutions that pass the test of usefulness, logic, and clarity are acceptable to me, but my test is a tough one and few locutions pass. Other people -- like the SDSU professor I once chided for using reticent when he meant reluctant -- are less inclined to insist that any newcomer must prove its worthiness before it can gain acceptance.

Anyway, let me now answer your questions about went missing and beg the question by sharing the relevant passages from my book.

Gone Missing Link

Q. Everywhere I turn these days I see the expression gone missing or went missing. Where did it come from? And why are people using it when they simply mean vanished or disappeared?

A. Gone missing and went missing are originally British, and have been documented in print since at least the 1870s. For no discernible reason (other than novelty) these phrases have lately enjoyed great vogue in the American press and have been repeated ad nauseam in broadcast news. Yet two respected language columnists, William Safire of The New York Times and Jan Freeman of the Boston Globe, have pronounced them acceptable and useful, and I tend to agree. They say that gone/went missing expresses a shade of meaning that vanish and disappear cannot -- that whatever has gone missing has done so under mysterious and probably suspicious circumstances, and although it is missing it is still somewhere to be found. But you're right that this nuance doesn't justify merely substituting went missing for vanish or disappear or using it to mean "to cease to exist": "my golf ball went missing" and "funding for that program has gone missing this year" are not felicitous applications.

Begging to Differ

Q. I'm wondering what your opinion is on the expression "to beg the question." I see and hear people use it in different ways. For example, I heard Leslie Stahl on 60 Minutes say, "The increasing influx of drugs into this country begs the question as to what we can do about it"; here it seems to mean simply to raise a question. And recently I found this sentence in a book called E-Writing by Dianna Booher: "Begging the question involves talking around the issue without addressing it. . . . stating the obvious." I've always thought that to beg the question meant to continue arguing a point after it has been decided. Can you sort this out for me?

A. Gladly. To beg the question properly does not mean any of the things you cite. The expression comes to us through law from the ancient art of rhetoric. It is a type of logical fallacy, formally called petitio principii, and it means "to assume as true what needs to be proved" or, as Garner's Modern American Usage puts it, "to base a conclusion on an assumption that is as much in need of proof or demonstration as the conclusion itself." When the lawyer asks the witness "Do you still have extramarital affairs?" before it has been proved that he ever committed adultery, that is begging the question. And the statement "Reasonable people are people who reason intelligently" begs the question "What is intelligent reasoning?"

Lately, as your examples show, beg the question has been misused in a number of ways including "to raise a question," "to evade a question," "to invite an obvious question," and "to ignore a question or issue." Of these, the misuse of beg the question to mean "raise a question" has become so common that, as Garner notes, this sense "has been recognized by most dictionaries and sanctioned by descriptive observers of language."

Yet Garner doesn't like it and neither do I, because using beg the question to mean "raise the question" is merely the result of a restless desire for elegant variation. Moreover, the consequence of this substitution is that we gain an imprecise variant that we do not need and lose a precise idiom that we sorely need. For if we relegate beg the question to a mere variant of raise the question, we will no longer have a simple, succinct way to describe the presumptuous logic of the young man in a public speaking class who, in a speech intended to persuade his audience that music and art should be dropped from his high school curriculum, began by saying, "Since I know we all agree that taking music and art does nothing to prepare you for college, a career, or life, I'll start there."

LinguaPhile is grateful to Charles Harrington Elster for enlightening us on these issues. His new book, What in the Word?: Wordplay, Word Lore, and Answers to Your Peskiest Questions about Language is published by Harvest Books.

Available from What in the Word? Wordplay, Word Lore, and Answers to Your Peskiest Questions about Language

Hands-On English will put a wealth of information at your fingertips so that you can quickly find what you need to know about grammar, usage, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and more. Get details -- and place your order -- at

We invite your questions for this feature:

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Review: New Books for Linguaphiles: Another Word a Day by Anu Garg and Viva la Repartee by Dr. Mardy Grothe

Either of these brand-new books would make a wonderful gift for someone who enjoys the English language.

Another Word a Day by Anu Garg

Another Word a Day: An All-New Romp through Some of the Most Intriguing Words in English is a linguaphile's delight! Written by Anu Garg, author of A Word a Day (the newsletter and the book), Another Word a Day "celebrates the English language in all its quirkiness, grandeur, fun, and delight."

Although the reader is likely to encounter some unfamiliar words in this collection (nyctalopia, dasypygal, and zugzwang, for example), all of the words are in use, and most are illustrated by examples from current sources.

Another Word a Day is organized into 52 chapters, each with a theme (for a few chapters the reader is invited to discover the theme). Examples of chapters are "Words Formed Erroneously," "Words about Words," and "Numeric Terms." Each chapter includes five entry words, and each entry includes pronunciation, plural (if applicable), part of speech, definition, etymology, and use in context from a published source.

Nearly every chapter includes reader feedback, presumably collected from Garg's online community -- some 600,000 strong. For example, seventeen theories of the origin of the term eighty-six are presented, even though no one theory can be proven.

Several chapters offer puzzles or quizzes (answers are provided at the end of the book), and an index of entry words is helpful. Pithy quotations appear at the bottom of most pages -- a bit of lagniappe for the reader.

Sometimes a person with a fresh perspective can help us appreciate things around us that we take for granted. Such is the case with Anu Garg, who was born and raised in the state of Uttar Pradesh, in India, and did not begin to learn English until he was in the sixth grade. Garg's fascination with words and his mastery of English are apparent, however. With clarity and conciseness he leads us on mini-explorations of our language. The enthusiasm of this most worthy "tour guide" is contagious.

Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2005, 226 pages.

Available from Another Word A Day: An All-New Romp through Some of the Most Unusual and Intriguing Words in English

You can subscribe to Garg's A Word a Day newsletter and browse its archives at

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Viva la Repartee by Dr. Mardy Grothe

Viva la Repartee: Clever Comebacks and Witty Retorts from History's Great Wits and Wordsmiths by Dr. Mardy Grothe celebrates the art of the ingenious reply. Grothe distinguishes between various kinds of witty comments -- for example, the retort, which is a response to an insult, and a quip, which is a clever remark prompted by a situation.

In Viva la Repartee Grothe follows the format that served him well in his previous books, Never Let a Fool Kiss You or a Kiss Fool You and Oxymoronica. He begins each chapter with a discussion of that chapter's theme illustrated by a few examples. Then he provides additional examples without discussion. Themes include repartee in the following areas: stage and screen, literature (one chapter being devoted to the Algonquin Round Table), politics, relationships, senior citizens, and sports.

Other chapters feature chiasmus and oxymoron, the literary devices celebrated in Grothe's earlier books. The ultimate example of laconic repartee, in the chapter with that theme, is an exchange of telegrams, each consisting solely of one punctuation mark.

The gems in Grothe's earlier books could stand alone as brief quotations -- often no more than a sentence. However, in order to appreciate a reply, one must know the words and the situation that prompted it. Viva la Repartee, then, is a collection of anecdotes. Grothe masterfully crafts the set-ups for his rejoinders. In taut prose that could well serve as models for aspiring writers, he provides the details of time, place, and circumstance.

Most of the remarks featured in Viva la Repartee were uttered by celebrities. Grothe's collection, which includes a helpful index of names, gives us personal glimpses that bring these people to life for us.

Whether you want to become better acquainted with the notables mentioned in this volume, hone your own wit and writing style, or simply revel in the ingenious use of language, you're sure to enjoy Viva la Repartee.

Published by Collins, 2005, 292 pages.

Available from Viva la Repartee: Clever Comebacks and Witty Retorts from History's Great Wits and Wordsmiths

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Puzzler: Cryptoquote

Each letter in the following quotation stands for some other letter. Each A represents the same letter, each B represents the same letter, etc. However, there is no relationship between the letter represented by one letter and the letter represented by another letter. (For example, if A represents S, there is no reason to think that B will represent T.) To solve this type of puzzle, look for patterns -- within words and within sentences. Warning: Cryptograms can be addictive! If you want more cryptograms, check the LinguaPhile index:






July Puzzler (Anagrams. Cover the right-hand column if you want another chance to solve these. The new anagram, related in meaning to the original, is just one word unless the number in parentheses indicates otherwise. Punctuation marks do not appear in the solutions.)

 1. Voices rant on
 2. Interpret one amiss
 3. A cent tip
 4. Nine thumps
 5. I form unity
 6. A stew, Sir?
 7. A rich Tory caste (2)
 8. Actual crime isn't evinced (2)
 9. Ah, not a smile (3)
10. Here come dots (3)
11. Cash lost in 'em (2)
the aristocracy
circumstantial evidence
the Mona Lisa
the Morse code
slot machines

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Thank you for reading. If you find LinguaPhile helpful and interesting, don't keep it a secret! Consider which of your friends would also enjoy it, and send them information about subscribing. Those receiving this forwarded message can subscribe at

We welcome your comments and suggestions:

The index to LinguaPhile, which is updated regularly, is now available on the GrammarAndMore website:
This makes the information from previous issues readily accessible. You are encouraged to print the index for your convenience or to share it with friends. Why not send them the URL of the text version?
It's a gift you can give, yet still have for yourself!

© 2005 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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