David L. Hoof

Strictly Speaking

Toxic Usage: Poisoned Expression

August 25, 2014

Tags: toxic, poison, usage, expression, meaning, defintion, words, meanings, precision in intent


Here’s another legitimate, specific and limiting word that has been hijacked into misuse, simply because it is so short, punchy and evokes immediate fear and dread in listeners. Since news programs thrive on creating anxiety, they are unlikely to be scolded into correction, even when they are dead wrong. Misuse makes them wrong, and many toxins will make them dead. But a toxin is a poison that is evolved by natural selection in certain predators (snakes, scorpions, wasps, bees, ants, fish, lizards and spiders, plants, bushes, fruits and mushrooms) with one of two purposes: (1) either to incapacitate its prey, or (2) to make it inedible to animals inclined to prey on, and eat, it. If the substance, like phosgene gas, has not evolved by natural selection, it is not a toxin, and therefore cannot, by definition, be toxic. It can be poisonous, deadly, lethal and any number of other fairly applicable adjectives

But toxic?

Not on your life. In terms of communicating vital information, the narrowest and most exact application of a word is the most useful in evoking a correct meaning, and in seeking the appropriate remedy to a problem.

In writing contracts, lawyers use exact, commonly understood words to create a set of agreements between parties, one that the courts can easily interpret and on which they can consistently rule. In law, at least, a word cannot be claimed to mean one thing to one party and another to another party. If you’re puzzled as to what use should be applied where toxin does not, it’s poison.

Use Words Exactly to Avoid Confusion

July 12, 2014

Tags: words, definitions, missusage, denotations, connotations, macadam, tarmac, hardstands, airports, landing strips


Tarmac is short for Tarmacadam, a road surfacing material patented by Edgar P. Hooley in 1901. It is a perfectly legitimate word based on asphalt, the highest boiling point and least volatile mixture remaining after oil is distilled to remove the lower boiling point fractions. Straight off the first fraction from the well, oil is a mixture of naturally occurring organic compounds from methane to polynuclear aromatics.

As a driving surface for motor vehicles, tarmac is usually adequate, and served adequately for landing light planes, even the smaller, early commercial passenger aircraft. But tarmac is too soft to support the landing of larger commercial and military aircraft. The word itself defines when it (the word, not the material) should (and should not) be applied.
When the surface is tar + macadam, it is tarmac. When the road surface is sand and aggregated calcium silicate, it is concrete.

Modern runaways and taxiing areas are exclusively concrete. Because they are not as soft as their predecessor, tarmac, they are called hardstands.

Strictly speaking, no major airport in the world has landed or taxiied an aircraft on a tarmac surface in the last sixty-five years. Yet reporters are loathe to abandon a word that most listeners associate, generically, with a landing surface. As historian Will Durant once quipped, “Tradition sanctifies absurdity.”

If you want to make yourself some easy money, the next time you find yourself awaiting a flight, bet the passenger next to you than no flight will touch tarmac at this airport in the next five hours. They will check the descent paths, see an incoming 747 and say, “You’re on.” As soon as the plane hits the hardstands, collect your bet.

Your claim is based on a unarguably valid point. Heavy aircraft would sink into tarmac up to the engines. And when fire erupts from jet fuel, tarmac has the additional inconvenience of burning. Because it is already oxidized, the concrete of hardstands does not.

Please Report to the Podium?

April 4, 2014

Tags: core vocabulary, words, meanings, denotation, podium, lecture, speech, communication


Podium means literally footing, or step up and corresponds to a slightly raised platform giving speakers, an advantage in being heard while projecting their voices over the heads of the crowd. It comes from the same root word as podiatrist, or foot doctor. Properly applied it does not mean counter, as those in airline lounges, where passengers are asked to report to the podium, and looking around, find no podium.

The counters passing themselves off as podiums (or podia) are not set on a slightly raised platform. Nor can a speaker on a stage be asked to take the podium, as he or she is already on the podium, left only the opportunity of advancing to the lectern, or speaker’s stand,. This is usually a rectilinear stand with a titled top for papers and a microphone for audio pick-up. Even modern speakers, afraid to seem overly educated, might prefer asking a speaker to come to the microphone, in that the microphone is actually still unconfusingly a microphone.

The problem with the expansion of meanings in words like podium is that they gradually eliminate previously common and more distinctive words from use. Pity, that. Only words that are narrowly distinctive facilitate clear understanding immediately. If, per the trend, the core vocabulary continues to shrink, the end point will be the time when one size fits all. So any noun will be called a “thing” and another object in the same space will be “the other thing,” even when there are many things to be confused. The sole benefit would be to improve consensus. All could agree on a thing that is unbounded by denotation.


March 14, 2014

Tags: nebulous, malapropisms, words, meanings, the power of language, Winston Churchill, wit


Being members of a linguistic species, words provide ample opportunity to trip over one’s tongue, particularly if an individual is caught in the unblinking public eye of the media while providing a seemingly glib response that becomes an instantaneously and universally embarrassing faux pas. The first rule is always think before you speak. Second to this is to be certain that you understand that meaning or meanings of the words that you speak.

Winston Churchill memorably recommended that it is better to keep one’s mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. It is perhaps his second wittiest saying. Wittiest by far is when Churchill was approached by a liberal adversary in seemingly indemnifying female form, who said, “If you were my husband, sir, I would give you poison,” to which Churchill instantly responded (without as much as exhaling from his execrable cigar), “If you were my wife, madam, I would take it.”

Proving that where great wit has been cultivated by class, education and repartee, even excusing Churchill being half American, leaves the conclusion that with practiced tongues, gaffes are rare and trips rarer yet.

Pity the poor instantly famous astronaut and future President of American Airlines when asked, “Mr. Borman, how do you see the future of NASA.” Blinded by Klieg lights and unaware that he was playing out a Warholian moment, Borman responded, “I see the future of NASA as extremely nebulous.”

Star-crossed with words, Borman was probably alluding to nebulae, which as interstellar objects are brilliant clouds of gas, often remnants of supernovae, hatching places and nurseries of new stars, many of which will form solar systems, and – known only recently with great confidence – many of which will have earth-like planets circling them in orbits known as the Goldilocks zone, far enough from their star to resist incinerating radiation, close enough to keep water liquid, a condition most favorable to life as we know it. And so, Borman the star-seeker, seeking Earthly stardom like any normal person thrust into the blaze of fame, burned up after re-entry, thinking that a word meant one thing, while failing to know that it was another: a zone or place of confusion and disorder, a place sometimes brilliant but on deeper contemplation, a source of bafflement as to its origins, purpose and ultimate destiny. The kind of organization that would push on after Challenger and Columbia is, arguably, producing lots of confusion and hot gas in Congressional hearings.

And you wonder how American Airlines got into its tailspin. Houston, we have a problem. It’s not just a southern accent and you can’t solve it with an ap on your i-phone, because it deals with words and their meanings, and precious few people use words corresponding to their meanings any more. As words once familiar and correctly applied in former ages become recycled, often they are reduced to no more than noises.

Sometimes a flash of misuse creates a brilliant and unforgettable linguistic blooper. The reason why this phenomenon continues to increase in frequency as we boldly go where no one has gone before may come down to Captain Kirk’s message to Scottie after the Enterprise has warped forward in time to see what planet Earth has become in the 23rd century: “Beam me up, Scottie. There’s no intelligent life down here.”

Mastication During Dinner

February 27, 2014

Tags: mastication, misuse, masturbation, words, meaning, speech, appearance, sports announcers


Not what you might think. Don’t chew on this one too long, because all is it means is to chew, even if, as with cows, it doesn’t lead to quick swallowing. Mutual mastication would require the presence of an extensive appetizer during osculation, as the latter word does not mean shopping for the right dress for the Oscars.

In order to create an impression of erudition, sports announcers try to stretch their expression using words they think fulfill their intentions. Often they don't. During the Sochi Olympics we were treated to one open mic that gave us, "Wow. The French relay went from austerity to fame!" I think he meant "obscurity." Austerity is a discipline he experienced in vocabulary. Later the same guy said, of the men's bobsled. "Here he makes a mistake, then tries to compound it." I have to wonder if he shouldn't have just stuck with "correct." And in the waning days of the Games, one commentator on (yes) NPR asked if the Russians intended to "dissemble" the venues after the Olympics. Here I'm guessing, "disassemble." At the UN they have simultaneous translation, one language to another. I wonder if there shouldn't be this service for sports events.

Hopefully, A Guide to Useage

January 22, 2014

Tags: words, meaning, useage, hope, hopefully, trial noise, interjections


As currently used to open a sentence, hopefully fails utterly in communication not only because it assumes that the listener has the same hopes as the speaker, but because, in a complex world where opposition may occur, an adverb should be directly associated with a verb, coming either before or after it

So one may say “She trained hopefully,” in that hopefully describes her training, not, as often now, after the pronoun I (Hopefully, I). And yes, training can be other than hopeful, in that hope may not characterize the process of training. It may better or more accurately be motivated by revenge, ambition, envy, a quest for recognition or equality, a feeling of responsibility to teammates, the nation, or even an appetite for pain.

Hopefully has become an introductory conversational noise intended to disarm criticism and to enlist support and understanding, rather than to provide a convincing launching pad for effective arguments.

Strange as it may seem, hopefully does not necessarily imply benevolence or a hopeful outcome for all. Hitler hopefully attacked Russia, betting that he could overrun Moscow before winter. Certainly he hoped this, and certainly he attacked with this hope, but neither his hopes nor the associated actions left any hope whatever for the poor Russians, who had misguidedly signed a nonaggression pact with Germany not a year earlier.

Words that aren't Words

January 21, 2014

Tags: words, dialect, dialogue, Chicago, The Fugitive, Tommy Lee Jones, henkie, henke


For nearly every claim, one exception proves the rule. Proving in the sense originally intended does not mean “establishing” but “testing.” And so it is necessary to include, and admit, a word that has no broadly understood meaning but a word that nonetheless, as Strunk and White might have admitted, works nonetheless. On this encounter we stumble into that area of softening otherwise rigid arguments, tossing out a token bone to those who are unconvinced by the grandeur of evolution or the inevitability of gravity by being able to snatch up this book, open to this page and say, “See, you see that this guy admits right here that he’s all wrong.” Well, that’s what we call misrepresentation, quoting out of context and overinferring evidence that, while real, remains unrepresentative.

Please ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, welcome today’s guest word, so let’s have a warm hand for this Chicago-born native, henkie, aka henke. A regional shibboleth, henkie or henke, pronounced HEN-KEY, with the stress on the first syllable, derives from a nineteenth century politician who rigged elections, siphoned off public funds to his own use, abused public trust to exempt himself from laws and regulations, and believed that every one of his actions was his unabridgable right as an American. Ergo henke became, in application, attached to any deal, situation, analysis or decision that seemed off the square, unreliable and just plain not right.
Without knowing the details, a Chicagoan would sense something wrong even without the benefit of proof, and would react by saying, “That’s henke.” As to why henkie or henke works, one needs to break out of the trend of common usage of one size fits all, globally assimilable noise production to realize the underlying charm of words as traditional and regionally colorful as henke.

Henke is a regional prerequisite. It needs to appear in dialogue in order to convince the viewers that this story happened in Chicago because it’s use is so Chicagoan. More so even than the Wacker Drive maze, the Art Institute, the fossils on the Tribune Building. More than a river engineered to flow from the lake rather than into it, not just a river that’s dyed green every year because being Irish enables voters long dead to rise, walk and cast votes, but — in henke – a sound that is, in addition to being flat nasal and matter-of-fact is peppered with words and expressions common in and around Chicago. Sports bars are great, and Mike Ditka was allowed to spit on fans as long as he got the Bears to the Super Bowl and no one now alive believes for a heartbeat that the Bulls will relive another Jordan era and that the former Playboy Mansion is now a hotel behind the famous Drake or that Hugh Hefner went to the University of Chicago and so did Eliot Ness, or that the nuclear age was opened in an abandoned squash court beneath Stagg Field by achieving nuclear criticality by Enrico Fermi on my birthday in 1942, or that the University of Chicago is not merely the only college football team even to escape defeat by Notre Dame and its running back Jay Berwanger is the guy atop the Heisman Trophy, or that JFK was so loved by Catholic and black Chicago that nobody from Dallas could get a cab ride in the city for twenty-five years after his assassination, all of those things and more, where one fan of the Chicago Cubs who caught a foul ball that if played would have sent the Cubbies to the series lived in mortal danger for months afterward, or that Joliet Prison is not Joliet Prison but Stateville, or that Oprah Winfrey is only one of two Oprah Winfreys of identical birthday and approximately that same age in Chicago, but to communicate in the word choice, usage, cadence and manner the conviction that the actors are Chicagoans, not guys from Van Nuys on a shoot near the Wells Street L station.
To do that requires that magical abracadabra suspension of disbelief word, henke. Chicago is a henke kind of city. Historically and by its nature. It’s no big deal, just the way things are.

So suppose you are actually from Van Nuys or West Hollywood or Santa Monica and you want to convert to a denizen of the only truly cosmopolitan city in the Midwest. Aside from sports and bargains, make sure you get in a line with henke in it. It doesn’t matter than nobody outside Chicago knows what is means. Its meaning can be inferred from context and from its inflection and the scowl of confusion on the speaker’s face. Applied to The Fugitive, set in Chicago and featuring a homicidally myopic detective who worked his way into a badge after years taking bribes from motorists on Lake Forest Drive, the innocent man on the run in Richard Kimball (Harrison Ford). When the case against him – no motivation, no evidence becomes so flimsy that no measure of police suspicion and obstruction of justice can hold it together, one of the Federal Marshals working the case says as much to his boss, “Big Dog” Sam Garrard, played in an Oscar-winning performance by Tommy Lee Jones. The other marshal says to Sam Garrard. “I don’t know. It (the case against Kimball) just seems henke.”

There is an obligation of credible local dialog in works of fictions or film to use local dialect to create authenticity, a sense of place. If verisimilitude creates a credible illusion that this exact story can only occur in this exact way because all parts of it, all forces and emotions and expressions are tightly interconnected in a single tightly woven fabric, then the crafting of dialogue is crucial.

And so, within this web, all characters must be true to character. Federal Marshal Sam Garrard, whose intelligence is communicated by his requirement that sentences be as convincing as cases, and that the words are all understood, says back, “What’s ‘henke’?”

The response to his question is a Chicagoan shrug, followed by “You know, henke,” as if it shouldn’t be necessary to explain a heap of dog shit; everyone knows what it is. But Sam Garrard says, “Look, I don’t what you guys using words that aren’t words,” even though the movie is set in Chicago, henke was born in Chicago and lives in the usage of Windy City dwellers who don’t even know why henke is henke. It just IS. And so, for Sam Garrard to ask a coworker with whom he has been working for years in a city where henke RULES is a bit of a stretch.

It is more strange still, Garrard’s response, even had been some bureaucratic twip from Washington, if he were a cop from anywhere, he would still have heard and known henke (or henkie). Without providing the etymology requisite to the Oxford English Dictionary (an oxymoronic tower of sane erudition composed by a certified institutionalized maniac) Linda Tiner claims (www.lindaburden.com) in her unrefereed post “A Little Lesson in Police-ese (sic)” that something is henkie when it doesn’t feel right, or when it leaves too may unanswered questions.

As, in The Fugitive, by failing to question why a loving, loyal husband with no mistress or dalliances would kill his own wife on their anniversary if this suspect, Richard Kimball, has such a reputation as being shrewd, resourceful and unassailable. Why does he make a call from the murder scene when he could far more easily have been alibied at one of the many conferences that he routinely attended, and had plenty of money to hire someone else to do it?

So why doesn’t Sam Garrard associate simply say, “It doesn’t feel right. It leaves too many unanswered questions?” Aside from not being compact and terse, and departing from the pattern of speech expected of cops, try to imagine how many Cyrillic or Chinese subtitles would be required.

Then ask yourself whether those words could be read in the time remaining before the camera cuts away to the next (fast moving scene). Ask basically the same kind or questions that you would have to ask if you were the director, ask what the choice of word use does for verisimilitude and characterization, then ask what the question that the producer would ask: Does it take more or less film, require a greater or fewer number of retakes? Ask whether the choice of words increases or decreases the chances that the actor speaking will fumble his lines.

If the shoe fits and all that. If henke or henkie works, and you’re in Chicago, not Rome. If in addition you live in the world of cops, you make yourself understood by earning your place at the local smorgasbord of sound. In the city of bulls, not the guys at the commodities exchange like Jerry Reinsdorf but the ones that used to arrive by the thousand by train at the stockyards south of the Loop, it’s the windy city, not because of the wind off the Lake but because of their braggadocio bidding for the 1892 Columbian exposition, where first electricity was used by George Westinghouse to light the White City. It’s a steak and potatoes kind of town, with twenty-two ethnic neighborhoods from Albanian to Zambian. Every one of them knows damn well what henke means even if they have not a glimmering how it came about. By the mere way that henke is said, with a look on the face as if you’ve just stepped through canine poop and can’t get it off your shoe, you know that henke can’t be good. You know that you haven’t closed the deal, and in the Second City, the place that burned to the ground and rebuilt from the ashes, that developed the engineering of skyscrapers built on mud, in the city of Big Shoulders, a place where a man could buy a steer for nearly twice as much as he sold its meat for in New York and still make a profit, something needs to be pretty henke to call it henke.

To date, there has been no such thing as superhenke. Henke is the kind of word that has no degrees of being. It exists as an implicit superlative. If with a certain beer it doesn’t get any better than this, for certain situations rating henke, is doesn’t get much worse.

The next time they turn you away for losing your internet-confirmed reservations at Harry Cary’s Restaurant, just say, “Holy Cow! This is really henke.” This is the password, the kind that you used to need to enter the speakeasies during the Al Capone era, when a dozen enemy mobsters celebrated St. Valentine’s Day by eating a hale of lead from Tommy Guns. After hearing “henke,” the waiters at Harry Cary’s will take you in and say, “No problem. We found a table for you.”

Tribal Noise: Misuse, Overuse, Predictability and Meaninglessness

November 25, 2013

Tags: language, words, word choice, communication, meaning


Scientists define accuracy as the nearness to that elusive Eldorado of the mind, the truth. If one attempts to determine the rest mass of an electron, as a start it might do to start with Millikan’s famous, clever, crude and laboriously brilliant oil drop experiment. But that is just a start, and science pursues accuracy relentlessly. So you will need to and continue to measure this fundamental unit of our universe in different, independent experimental ways, using different experimental results that should – if the theories connecting them are correct – converge on one value good enough to plug in to experiments that are, in turn, used to measure other fundamental properties of units containing electrons, such as atoms, molecules, and ions.

Of course the results of careful experiments are expected to be reproducible, but reproducibility is communicated by an entirely different word, precision, which for the purposes of making this discussion long enough for a published book, is discussed again under – why not? – precision. It is done precisely because of Marine Corps dogma that if you repeat enough times to a recruit, however stupid, something that you want him to believe, he (or these days, she) will eventually accept and apply it.

In science, the purpose of reference books is to accumulate in tabular form from the professional literature such values as are, at that fleeting moment, the received wisdom. Sometimes, more often than one might hope, errors occur.

And why not? The books are compiled by humans based on other humans whose motives and methods are occasionally not as pure as their putative ideals.

Once during a famous multiparametric experiment into a matter so arcane and yet nonetheless vital that Richard Feynman felt driven to pursue it with his legendary indefatigable graduate students.

Feynman’s experiment was, in the parlance of physicists (who speak to each other and argue with God), infallibly structured. The expected answer could, as often in physics, be predicted in advance. Yet the measurement he got, time after time, continued to give an uncalculated answer.

Bringing us back, along the conversational Mobius strip, to accuracy, and the fact that when a value is given, it is never perfectly rendered. To the extent that either experimental device or fundamental prohibitions dictate, accuracy is always plus or minus something.

On a grocer’s scale you can measure the weight of an apple to plus or minus, say, one eighth or .125 of a pound. And so the weight that is given, even if digitally presented, can be greater than the value indicated by this much, or less by this much. Since its weight is uncertain by the span between the low and the high, the value shown is uncertain by twice this 0.125 pound, or 0.25 pound. This isn’t unfairness in commerce. It’s just the limit in the Hooke’s Law constant, k, in the spring under the pan.

Every scientist has to live with this, and to report it. But Feynman’s famous funny experiment was not just off by the cumulative errors of all the devices used in the experiment. It was off, and always off, by an amount that corresponded to the difference of a conventionally accepted physical constant that was used as given in the literature, as an assumption. And so this forced the brilliant Dr. Feynman, who was surely not joking, to ask, “As regards the value of this constant, how well do we know this ‘fact?’”

The answer to that question was not just a successful outcome for Feynman’s clever experiment, but a revision of the value of the formerly accepted constant to its correct, and, yes, accurate value. You will not find the person establishing the former value to introduce himself at parties as, “The guy who provided the wrong number that cost Dick Feynman a hundred hours of anguish.”

Nobody likes to be the guy who used to be right. Worse, of course, was the fact that Feynman, while Einsteinian in asking questions that were very simple and profound, was also handsome, charming, funny and entertaining. Mere people, the ones who write and rewrite history, will forgive a scientist like John Cavendish being a fulminating misogynist because he was, surpassing that fault, a brilliant physicist. Ad they might have forgiven Richard Feynman at least half of his ineffably delightful traits but for one: women loved him.

In matters of love, it cannot be said that a woman loves a man plus or minus anything, because so far no one has established a basic unit for love, or devised a scale upon which it can be measured. Mostly it’s more absolute that way, either everything or nothing. True love is chronically infatuating.

But in other human competitions, especially sports, there is usually a metric that establishes with some accuracy who wins and who doesn’t.

In the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Michael Phelps is said to have won his record setting eighth gold medal in the finals of the one hundred meter butterfly by 0.01 second. His victory was measured on a timing system that was claimed to be accurate to plus or minute 0.005 seconds. No one ever verified this. In China, those who question authority end up submerging from view, with their organs popping up in paying recipients from Stockholm to Tierra del Fuego.

But assuming the Chinese timers were accurate to the precision mentioned, this means that Michael Phelps’ time could have been 0.005 seconds slower, and his rival, silver medalist Lásló Cseh of Hungary could have been 0.005 seconds faster, meaning a dead heat.

This happens, even officially. In the immediately preceding Games in Athens in 2004 the gold medal in 50 meter freestyle was shared by Gary Hall, Jr. and Anthony Edwards. A silver medal was unawarded, the next place being third, for bronze. Like it or not, them’s the rules.

The Gold Standard of Words, Part 2

November 23, 2013

Tags: language, words, word choice, communication, meaning


The emergence of excellence in communication does not require ponderously long sentences. It is catalyzed by using words that are correct in detonation, informative in connotation, and sufficiently succinct as to disallow confusion in meaning. In a world where even the distinct consequences of shouting, “Fire!” may be either a group response to a conflagration or total thermonuclear war, it is important that intent and care inform word choice.

Now let’s see the way that the current usage of a number of familiar words indicates that many current speakers have lost the command of language in service of meaning. The importance of immediate acceptance, as indicated by the epidemic of friending on Facebook has shrunk and hidebound our core vocabulary at exactly the time when the complexity of future issues requires an extension of its reach.

What follows is a necessarily incomplete illustration of how this shrinkage is diminishing the ability to communicate precisely. And to the unanchored drift, we need to recall the Bard’s advice:

“Suit the action to the word, the word to the
action; with this special observance, that you
o’erstep not the modesty of nature.”
- Hamlet, Act III, scene 2

More to come.

The Gold Standard of Words, Part 1

November 22, 2013

Tags: language, words, word choice, communication, meaning


In order to polarize my argument, I’ll provide you with a linguistic choice. It is not an arbitrary choice, or a choice of preference, or one that skews the field of reason toward a favored conclusion; it is a linguistically utilitarian choice. It favors choices that improve the density in meaning that result from making the best choice among many available options.

In its most extreme form, unshaded by the many nuances that language often brings, it is this: either words are unconfusing universally understood symbols of meaning that guide communication, discussion, argument, agreement, actions and commitments, or they tend toward familiar noises, issued without attention to a emotional connotation or deep meaning, but only for the purpose of creating the illusion of agreeability, and for signaling that you belong to a group, share their beliefs, outlooks, values and hopes, and are not one of the dreaded Other.

Uttering familiar tribal noise indicates that you belong, are a person every other tribesman would like to share a beer with. By narrowing vocabulary and avoiding substance in your speech, you assure other tribesmen that no serious disagreement will arise, because by limiting the range of words used, utterances can never be divisive. By resetting your default to tribal noise, or MacLanguage, conformist usage forces words to change meaning to buttress the social purpose of unification.

The result is that the scientific convention of deliberately and consciously choosing exactly defined words, words that are dense in unambiguous meaning, words that encourage skepticism and dispute, is consciously suppressed in favor of the repetition of familiar, even contradictory words, words or gestures nurtured by social conventions – such as nodding, shrugging, and “whatever.”

If we could find a gold standard for word choice, it would require a density of meaning, words created as distinct for specific and important purposes not subordinated to intellectual pretenses, words not conscripted to create the appearance of meaning whereas in fact their use betrays a lack of understanding. E. B. White recognized a fundamental elegance in the English language: if a speaker or writer is conversant enough with its vocabulary and presses hard enough, he or she can almost always find the word with exactly the intended meaning.

This kind of definitive specificity eliminates the confusion of vagueries arising from using unspecific words, as in “Why didn’t you show up at the place and get the thing and the other thing along with whatever and bring them you know where after?”

In spoken American English, this sort of expression occurs every day. A clear improvement would be, “Why weren’t you at Sutton Place at three to pick up the salad and wine?” This question rephrases the former one with specific referents, and at a level of language that is no more demanding of immediate comprehension than its earlier version.

The recurrent point of such considerations is that unless the objective of speech is the simultaneous destruction of individuality and communication, a departure from the current trend toward ever narrower core vocabularies is essential.

Selected Works

suspense mystery
For every emerging independent woman today, men can be little better than annoying at best and downright monstrous at worst. A creation of a stolen NSA computer program, Fiona Halloran is launched into the present to assist faltering novelist Andy Delaney capture the market that has evaded him, the one for and about women. But there’s an emerging risk: increasing personal danger to them both. This doesn’t stop when they finish his latest novel, Babes & Bastards. It just spills over to the next best seller in a series starring Fiona Halloran, Nun No More. Look for it soon in a bookstore near you.
In the dying Montana town of Sanctuary, helf-Crow Deputy Redfawn Kravitz relentlessly tracks the killer of Senate candidate Jeb Holloway, who then starts picking off the best suspects, one-by-one.
Using only sounds as clues, a blind man must locate his six-year-old niece before kidnappers kill her.
historical mystery
Just before Oktoberfest in 1931, Adolf Hitler's niece and secret lover is found dead in a locked room in the Fuhrer's Munich flat. Pressured by the Nazis, the police rule it a suicide, but evidence suggests a cold blooded execution. If the killer can be outed, widespread outrage will thwart a maniac's rush to power.
A cheated wife goes way overboard to get revenge on - and a fair settlement from -- her uberrich husband, with terrifyingly hysterical results.
literary mystery
Little Gods is prep school noir, like A Separate Peace as if it were written by Alfred Hitchcock.
action adventure
A clandestine biowar attack on America reduces society to medieval chaos.
Approaching Christmas, a winter blizzard locks Chicago in snow. Among its residents, retired FBI poisons expert Tad Lindholm is a haunted man. Haunted by his past, haunted by his recently dead lover Yvette, haunted by the long shadows of too many empty booze bottles, haunted by depression, and tempted by an arsenal of deadly doses to end it all. At the same time, he is trapped by lingering suspicions that he alone synthesized the traceless toxins responsible for recent deaths. Numb with stubbornness, encircled by intersecting mysteries, Lindholm pursues the real killers among his enemies, only to discover an unimaginably personal betrayal.