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LinguaPhile, September 2001

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


September Literary Calendar . . .

Any of these events might spawn further study.

National School Success Month

4-10 Letters from Mom Week: Parents, write letters of support to your children -- even if they still live at home. A letter can be a tangible form of encouragement that can be read repeatedly throughout the year. For ideas of things to include see

11, 1862 birthday of William Sidney Porter (O. Henry), U.S. short-story writer best known for surprise endings (d. 1910)

13, 1916 birthday of Roald Dahl, children's author (d.1990)

21, 1783 first daily newspaper published in the U.S. (The Pennsylvania Packet and Daily Advertiser)

22-29 Banned Books Week (See article below.)

30, 1452 first section of Gutenberg Bible printed in Mainz, Germany (first large book printed from movable type); completed by 1456

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Quote of the Month: Censorship . . .

He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself. --Thomas Paine, U.S. patriot and writer (1737-1809)

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Banned Books Week . . .

2001 marks the twentieth anniversary of Banned Books Week sponsored by the American Library Association (ALA), the American Booksellers Association (ABA), and other groups. Nearly all of us can think of books that we consider inappropriate for certain audiences; often those audiences comprise children. The question becomes, though, Who has the right to serve as Censor? As Thomas Paine implies in our Quote of the Month, once censorship begins, there is no controlling it; there is nothing to keep the "censors" from becoming the "censored."

The ALA suggests a number of resources to investigate censorship and activities to celebrate freedom of speech: Even if you choose not to celebrate by "exposing your mind" to a "challenged" book or by taking a political stand for or against censorship, the issue is worthy of consideration by young people as well as by adults.

One of the most thought-provoking and politically neutral activities on ALA's list involves staging a court case in which the two sides argue whether a particular book should be banned. Students who have read the book can be called as witnesses. If the goal is to measure effectiveness of the arguments, students who have not read the book can make up the jury. There are many possible variations to this activity: having students who have read the book vote on whether it should be banned, having students present their views in essay form, etc.

There is much to be said in favor of controversial books. If you think of the books you hold most dear, there is a strong possibility that someone would take offense at them or want to ban them. If all controversial books were banned and we were left with only innocuous, non-threatening books, we would also be left with books incapable of stirring us to excitement or presenting us with new ideas.

An excellent way of dealing with controversial children's literature is to read the books before your children read them. Select those you consider appropriate, and then discuss the books with your children. Many books that are questionable for children to read independently offer exciting possibilities when children discuss them with an adult (and perhaps with peers). Such discussion enables children to confront issues in the safety of a book (rather than in real life) and to have adult guidance as they solidify personal values. It also helps to prepare children for the complete literary freedom they will have when they become adults and no longer have the protective shield of parental censorship.

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Contests for Students . . .

Here are two of the many contests available for students to enter. Even if you choose not to have your students compete, these ideas can still provide starting points for investigations.

For students in grades 5 through 8 the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) sponsors an essay contest. The topic is "As editor of the Philadelphia Gazette, interview at least two signers of the Declaration of Independence and write an article for the July 5, 1776, edition." Essays must be submitted to your local DAR chapter by December 15. You should contact the chapter ahead of time for complete contest rules.

The President's Environmental Youth Award National Competition provides students "individually and collectively an opportunity to be recognized for environmental efforts in the community." Entrants need an adult sponsor. For information and suggested activities see

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Follow-Up to July's Vision Article . . .

Sheila Harmon, an educational consultant from Long Island, reminds us, "It is important to emphasize that training in itself has few long-term gains without being coupled with remediation." The further children have fallen behind before their vision problems are diagnosed, the more important remediation becomes.

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Portico Books News . . .

Probably our greatest news is creation of "Acu-Write," our spin-off newsletter. We thank those of you who have already subscribed. Please notice, though, that your "LinguaPhile" subscription does not automatically subscribe you to "Acu-Write." The two publications are aimed at different, yet intersecting, audiences. "Acu-Write," published weekly, is shorter than "LinguaPhile." Its goal is to reduce the number of errors in English by clarifying points of frequent confusion. This "tip sheet" is ideal for anyone whose writing is read by others: business people, report writers, newsletter editors, copywriters, etc. If you spot an error in English in public writing, consider politely informing the person of the correct use and telling him or her about "Acu-Write" and/or Hands-On English, which will help to prevent such errors in the future. Errors in English can be a source of miscommunication as well as embarrassment. Eventually they can cost people money. To subscribe:

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Although we did not realize our goal of doubling our subscription base between July 1 and September 1, we thank all of you who sent new subscribers our way. We particularly thank Sheila Harmon, who secured twenty-one new subscribers after she handed out issues of "LinguaPhile" at a training session she led for new teachers. Perhaps this will give some of the rest of you ideas about how you might promote a product you believe to be worthwhile.

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Sometime this month we will be participating in a newsletter exchange. This is something you might want to try if you are involved in publication of an e-mail newsletter. It often doubles a subscriber list within one day. Please notice that this does not involve publicizing your e-mail address. Here's how it works: I will submit information about "LinguaPhile" to Newsletter Digest, and they will send me links to newsletters that might be of interest to you, my subscribers. They will also send information about "LinguaPhile" to publishers of other newsletters whose subscribers might be interested in it. All subscribers are sent the list of links, where they might find a newsletter they would enjoy. It sounds like a winning situation for everyone! This will be a one-time mailing -- one extra message from me this month.

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It's not too late to order Hands-On English or any of its companion products for the new school year. It is a valuable resource for any of the following:

• any student 4th grade or older
• anyone who teaches English at any level
• a student teacher or beginning teacher (in any subject)
• a homeschooling family
• people learning English as a subsequent language
• people trying to strengthen basic skills in order to improve their employment options
• anyone wanting quick access to English fundamentals

Buy a copy for yourself and/or buy a copy for a gift.

* * *

Just in case you missed the list of two dozen things parents can do to ensure a successful school year for their child, here's the URL one more time:

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Expand Your Vocabulary: bibliobibuli . . .

The bibliobibuli mourned the end of summer, knowing that school and its accompanying homework would interfere with their favorite pastime.

H.L. Mencken, perhaps responsible for coining this little- used word, wrote, "There are some people who read too much: bibliobibuli. I know some people who are constantly drunk on books . . . . They wander through this most diverting and stimulating of worlds in a haze, seeing nothing and hearing nothing."

In this day when so many parents and teachers struggle to get children to read, we often forget that it is possible for people to read too much. Bibliobibuli are indeed a rare breed. Paul McFedries of Logophile Limited defines them as "people who read too much and so are generally oblivious to the world around them."

Bibliobibuli combines the biblio- prefix, meaning "book," with a form of the Latin bibulus, meaning "to drink." The root is related to the word imbibe, meaning not only "to drink" but also "to absorb" or "to receive into the mind."

Researching bibliobibuli led me to another treasure-trove for linguaphiles: The Word Spy features "lexpionage," "the sleuthing of new words and of old words used in new ways." You can subscribe to receive a word and a quote about words each day.

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Q and A: Negative Comparisons . . .

Question: We all know what metaphors and similes are. Is there, however, a distinct term for a "negative" comparison? Two examples that come to mind are "No man is an island" and "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun."

Answer: Well, this question sent me scrambling to my reference books -- and then to human resources. Although we had a nice discussion, we were unable to come up with any name for this concept. Robert Beard of summed things up: "All rhetorical devices may be positive or negative. Positive or negative similes remain similes. To the best of my knowledge, there is no term covering all negated rhetorical devices."

Does anyone else have light to shed on this topic?

We invite your questions for this feature. Send them to Fran at GrammarAndMore.

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Review: Keeping A Head in School by Dr. Mel Levine . . .

Keeping A Head in School by Dr. Mel Levine is designed to help students with a wide range of learning disorders "gain a realistic insight into their personal strengths and weaknesses."

The book is targeted at adolescents and pre-adolescents. It can also be used effectively by younger and older students, however. Levine makes information accessible to young people by presenting it in small chunks with frequent headings. His style is conversational, and he uses familiar metaphors to explain physiological concepts. Attention, for example, is described in terms of channel selection and filtration.

Levine heartens his readers -- not only by demonstrating a clear understanding of their difficulties but also by providing hope for the success that everyone needs. While he recognizes that people succeed in different areas -- academics, athletics, and art, to name just a few -- he acknowledges that during the school-age years, lack of success in the academic area can have far-reaching consequences.

After explaining how the brain functions normally to help a person focus attention, use language, and employ memory, Levine discusses various problems that might arise in these areas. He then relates performance in reading, spelling, writing, and math to those disorders. Levine even addresses social skills, recognizing that school has a very strong social component.

Levine celebrates the many strengths that people with learning disorders might have. He encourages them to appreciate and bolster their strengths even as they are attempting to understand and bypass their weaknesses. He empowers students to advocate on their own behalf, and he reassures them that they are likely to be more successful in life after school -- when they are free to work in their preferred area rather than in one assigned to them by someone else.

Keeping A Head in School is most effective if readers with learning disorders have the opportunity to discuss concepts presented with parents, teachers, and/or other adults.

The book can also provide valuable insight for those who interact with people who have learning disorders: siblings, friends, parents, teachers, and others. Understanding the problems will help people to be more compassionate and encouraging.

Available from Keeping A Head in School: A Student's Book About Learning Abilities and Learning Disorders

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Puzzlers: Inducing Word Patterns . . .

You might be familiar with the guessing game that begins with the leader saying something like, "Aunt Em likes apples, but she doesn't like oranges." The goal for the group of players is to induce the principle governing Aunt Em's likes and dislikes. Each person proposes various statements about Aunt Em's likes and dislikes, and the leader lets the group know which statements are correct. For incorrect statements, it is helpful for the leader to provide a new correct example that is somehow related to the proposed example. A session might go something like this (L is the leader and P represents various players):

L: Aunt Em likes apples, but she doesn't like grapes.
P1: Aunt Em likes peaches, but she doesn't like cherries.
L: No, Aunt Em likes cherries, but she doesn't like peaches.
P2: Aunt Em likes basketball, but she doesn't like baseball.
L: Actually, Aunt Em likes all kinds of ball, but she doesn't like sports.

The leader might clarify from the beginning that this is a word game so that players look for patterns within the words themselves rather than in the concepts the words represent. Once a player induces the pattern, he or she can assume the leader's role or can provide other correct examples, each of which provides additional clues to the pattern. The rest of the group continues to try to induce the pattern. If students remain stumped after some time, it can be helpful for them to write the names of things Aunt Em likes in one column and the names of things she doesn't like in another. Seeing the words can help students recognize the pattern.

This can be a great game to play on a car trip, around a campfire, whenever there are a few unexpected moments.

The answer to the first example, by the way, was that Aunt Em likes anything whose name has a double letter. The game could be varied, though, by using any other pattern. Here are some correct examples. You might figure out most of these just from the few examples given below.

Aunt Em likes:
1. aardvarks but not anteaters
beets but not turnips
skiing but not sledding
vacuuming but not dusting

2. pancakes but not waffles
birthdays but not anniversaries
suitcases but not luggage
airplanes but not jets

3. acorns but not nuts
peas but not vegetables
signs but not billboards
posters but not commercials

The following sets can be fun to figure out, but the number of examples is limited.

Aunt Em likes:
4. Mom but not Mother
noon but not midday
radar but not sonar
a Toyota but not a Honda

5. picnics but not cookouts
singing but not musicals
hubbub but not confusion
redheads but not carrot-tops

6. pets but not cats
golf but not croquet
rats but not mice
desserts but not cookies

7. maize but not corn
seas but not oceans
lead but not copper
carrots but not cauliflower

Answers next month.

Answers to August Puzzler

1. eerie (also queue)
2. queue
3. latchstring
4. ushers

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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. We welcome your comments and suggestions:

The index to LinguaPhile, which is updated monthly, is now available in either a text or .doc format on the GrammarAndMore Web site:
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!

© 2001 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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