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LinguaPhile, November 2001

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


November Literary Calendar . . .

Any of these events might spawn further study.

Family Stories Month; National Lifewriting Month

11-17 National Education Week
National Geography Awareness Week
Random Acts of Kindness Week

12-18 National Children's Book Week

13, 1850 Robert Louis Stevenson born (Scottish writer; d. 1894)

15, 1887 Marianne Moore born (U.S. poet and critic; d. 1972)

19, 1863 Gettysburg Address delivered by Abraham Lincoln

24, 1826 Carlo Collodi born (creator of Pinocchio; d. 1890)

26, 1864 Charles Dodgson sent a hand-written copy of Alice's Adventures Underground to Alice Liddell as an early Christmas gift. The book later became known as Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and Dodgson assumed the pen name Lewis Carroll.

29, 1832 Louisa May Alcott born (U.S. author; d. 1888)

    1898 C.S. Lewis born (English novelist and essayist; d. 1963)

30, 1667 Jonathan Swift born (English writer; d. 1745)

    1835 Samuel Langhorne Clemens born (U.S. author and humorist better known as Mark Twain; d. 1910)

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Quote of the Month

If I, a living witness, one who experienced those times, don't speak about them, then others who did not experience or witness those times will invent their own version of them.
--Anatoly Rybakov, Soviet writer (1911-1998)

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Expand Your Vocabulary: cousin . . .

Although the term cousin in Colonial days denoted a niece or nephew and for many years indicated an imprecise familial relationship, today cousin means the offspring of an aunt or uncle. People who are first cousins have at least one grandparent in common.

The term cousin, though, becomes complicated when various qualifiers are applied. The word can be preceded by an ordinal number (first, second, etc.) and followed by a phrase denoting degrees of removal.

To fully understand the relationship between cousins, you must identify their common ancestor. If that common ancestor is a grandparent of each of them, they are first cousins. If the common ancestor is a great-grandparent, they are second cousins. In other words, the offspring of first cousins are second cousins to each other. The offspring of second cousins are third cousins to each other. Thus, cousins whose relationship is expressed only in terms of an ordinal number are members of the same generation.

Degree of removal is a little more complicated. A "degree" is actually a generation. Cousins who are "removed" are not related to their common ancestor in the same way. For example, one person might be the ancestor's grandchild while the other is the ancestor's great-grandchild. Cousins who are "removed" are not members of the same generation. Therefore, the offspring of your first cousin would be your first cousin once removed.

You can find a chart which will make all of these relationships immediately apparent (once you determine relationships to the common ancestor) at

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Q and A: used to . . .

Question: I found this sentence in a textbook: "You didn't use to be so picky." Is that correct? I would say, "You used to be picky," and, if I wanted the negative form, "You never used to be picky." Is this a regional variation?

Answer: What an appropriate question for Family Stories Month, for when telling family stories, we often talk about the way things used to be.

Perhaps surprisingly, all of the sentences in the question are correct -- no regional variations involved. The reason for the difference is the helping verb did. The idiom is used in the past tense; however, when you use did, you already have past tense, so the d on used is dropped. In The Careful Writer the eminent Theodore M. Bernstein compares "I didn't used to" to "I didn't went." The error is more jarring there since used to and use to often sound alike.

After a few minutes of focused attention, the whole idiom seems to border on absurdity. Bernstein ends his discussion with this comment: ". . . employing use in this sense, though common in conversation, lacks grace in writing."

We invite your questions for this feature:

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10 Fun Ways to Start Saving Family Stories . . .

In celebration of Family Stories Month, Scrapbook Storytelling author Joanna Campbell Slan suggests trying one of these fun family activities.

1. Dig out family albums. Find wedding albums and baby books, too. Go through them with your children or parents. Take notes about what you are saying to explain the photographs. Keep your notes with the photos.

2. Pull out old family portraits. Write down who is in the photos and everything you remember about them, including remembered stories. Have copies made, and swap photos with the stories with other family members.

3. Tape record your voices. If possible, videotape and tape record all of your family members. Interview each other about what it is like to go through old albums and the memories they bring back.

4. Create "a day in the life of" journal. Ask each family member to talk about his or her daily routine, from breakfast burritos to bedtime books. Future generations will be curious about our daily life.

5. Go on a memory hunt. Set a timer and go through boxes in the attic, basement, closet, or shed. Fight the urge to clean; you are there to explore.

6. Watch old family movies. Assign a family scribe. Take notes on family members' thoughts and feelings about the movies.

7. Interview grandparents. Ask older family members what it was like when they were young. What was life like without a refrigerator, a television, a computer?

8. Share special memories. For example: what was it like the day a baby was born? What was the best family meal in history? What was a most embarrassing moment in school? What are the legendary stories in your family that no one but family would find hilarious?

9. Safeguard your memorabilia. For tips on how to keep your photos and notes safe for generations to come, visit . Also see the site for an "all about me" sheet for each family member.

10. Talk turkey on Thanksgiving Day. Go around the table and have each person share the one thing for which he or she is most grateful. Use the scrapbook storytelling template (on the Web site mentioned in #9 above) to record your family and friends' thoughts.

Joanna Campbell Slan is the author of four books in the Scrapbook Storytelling series and two guided journaling books. Read more about her books at under "Books by Joanna Campbell Slan."

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Poem: "Family Reunion" by Jim Wayne Miller . . .

This poem has been a favorite of mine for years. Although it seems to be describing a summer reunion, its last three stanzas include ideas appropriate to Thanksgiving Day gatherings.

Family Reunion

Sunlight glints off the chrome of many cars.
Cousins chatter like a flock of guineas.

In the shade of oaks and maples
six tables stand
filled with good things to eat.
Only the jars of iced tea sweat.

Here the living and dead mingle
like sun and shadow under old trees.

For the dead have come too,
those dark stern departed who pose
all year in oval picture frames.

They are looking out of the eyes of children,
young sprouts
whose laughter blooms
fresh as the new flowers in the graveyard.

Reprinted with permission of Mary Ellen Miller, literary executor for the estate of Jim Wayne Miller. Jim Wayne Miller's books are available through his publisher, Jonathan Greene, Gnomon Press, Frankfort, Kentucky.

Jim Wayne Miller (1936-1996) was a scholar and teacher as well as a poet. Although he traveled internationally and translated works from German, his focus was Appalachian Studies. Visit these pages for more information about this interesting, versatile man:

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Review: From Me to You: The reluctant writer's guide to powerful personal messages by JacLynn Morris & Paul L. Fair, Ph.D. . . .

In keeping with our theme of Family Stories Month, I want to tell you about a relatively new book that recently came to my attention. Although I haven’t had the privilege of meeting all of you personally, I know many of you to be passionate both about communication and about people. From Me to You: The reluctant writer's guide to powerful personal messages will help you to marry these related passions, creating memorable gifts that are as rewarding to give as to receive.

In From Me to You JacLynn Morris and Paul L. Fair, Ph.D., present examples of many kinds of personal messages, including those of appreciation, apology, advice, inspiration, and comfort. The first requirement of a personal message is to write in your "true voice." Using vivid everyday language contributes sincerity and depth to a message.

Morris and Fair identify five basic elements to include in nearly every message, regardless of its purpose.

1. What got me thinking about you?
2. What are my positive feelings for you?
3. What makes you special to me?
4. What do I remember and treasure about our time together?
5. What do I want you to get from my message?

These elements, which need not be in any particular sequence, are unobtrusively identified in the many messages that serve as models in From Me to You. The authors also add several special elements and techniques that are helpful for especially difficult messages. One of the most interesting of these is Writing in the Margins, creating a separate column on your page in which you write your inner thoughts and feelings that might detract from your message's purpose.

Morris and Fair do not limit their messages to print -- or even to words. They discuss audio and videotape messages, collections of music, annotating children’s creations, passing along stories with family recipes. There is no end to the number of ways to create lasting messages for the special people in your life.

Two chapters that relate specifically to Family Stories Month are "Passing Along Your Favorite Memories" and "Sharing Your Traditions and Life Lessons." Many of us are in the sad situation of having questions about our family members but having no living person who can answer them. Providing your loved ones with messages that communicate your feelings and your family stories will reduce the likelihood that this will happen to them.

As you celebrate Thanksgiving -- or the upcoming winter holidays -- why not give powerful, personal messages to those you love? Such messages are lasting gifts; they can be read again and again, and they might be read by a descendant even a century later.

From Me to You will make it easier for you to initiate communication that will connect you more deeply with those around you. The example messages will show you how, and the accompanying stories of their success will contribute inspiration.

(From Me to You was published by Writer’s Digest Books, 2000)

Available from

Available from From Me to You: The Reluctant Writer's Guide to Powerful, Personal Messages

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Portico Books News . . .

Are you an "Acu-Write" subscriber? This "tip sheet" is sent FREE by e-mail each Monday. Each issue contains two tips: The first distinguishes words often confused; the second clarifies other common errors involving usage, punctuation, sentence structure, etc.

Next week: between / among; correlative conjunctions

"Acu-Write" is ideal for anyone whose writing is read by others: business people, report writers, newsletter editors, copywriters, etc. 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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Using the materials as a supplement is an excellent way to try them out to see if you want to make the program your principal language arts curriculum in the future.

You can order by phone, fax, Internet, or snail mail. Visa and MasterCard are accepted; schools or other institutions can use a purchase order.

If you have questions, or call Fran at 1-888-641-5353.

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Why not give Hands-On English or any of its companion products as a gift? It's 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

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Research: Gathering Information . . .

If you are just beginning a research project, I would suggest that you read "Research: Selecting a Topic" in the October 01 issue of "LinguaPhile." I would also recommend The Kid's Guide to Research by Deborah Heiligman in cooperation with the New York Public Library. It will provide more depth than is possible here; it is appropriate for students third grade and older.

Another topic that should be addressed briefly before we dive into information gathering is setting a timetable for the research project. Procrastination is one of the main reasons that many research projects become nightmares. When the project is first assigned, work backward from the due date to set intermediary deadlines, at least for gathering information and for completing your first draft. Allow enough time so that at some point in your revising or editing process you will be able to set the paper aside for a couple of days and come back to it with a fresh perspective.

Now on to gathering information.

1. At the outset -- and periodically as you are working -- ask yourself what you know about your topic and what you need to know. Make a working outline of your report. Of course, this will change somewhat as you learn about your subject, but having at least a general plan will provide you with questions that you are trying to answer. This approach will help to ensure that most of the information you gather will indeed be pertinent to your report.

2. Draw information from a variety of sources. This will help you to develop an original presentation. Reference books, such as encyclopedias, are often a good place to start. They are likely to provide background material that helps you become acquainted with your topic. Reference books' bibliographies might also suggest sources for further study. In addition, you are likely to find key terms that will lead you to more information -- in library or Internet searches. Think of yourself as a detective, alert to any clue that will take you a step forward on the trail of information. Using a dictionary will help you get an understanding of key terms; noting the pronunciation will help you pronounce words correctly when you ask others for help.

Do not hesitate to ask other people -- especially librarians, teachers, parents -- where you might find information. You might be able to request free printed information from an appropriate organization, but that will usually require that you do so promptly since several weeks might be needed for delivery.

Consider which other resources in addition to books would contribute to your topic: magazines, newspapers, radio, television, videos, CDs, the Internet, interviews, surveys, experiments, etc. Try to use both primary and secondary sources. A secondary source consists of commentary or interpretation; most reference works are secondary sources. A primary source, as its name suggests, is more immediate; it is firsthand information that relies less on interpretation. Examples of primary sources would be a work of fiction (if you are writing about literature), an autobiography, diary entries, or letters (if you are writing about a person's life), and interviews. Generally, young researchers rely heavily on secondary sources; as they mature and are better able to do their own interpretation, they use more primary sources.

3. Evaluate each source, considering more than whether it has information on your topic. Does the author have credentials that make him or her a recognized authority on this topic? Does the author seem to be free of an obvious bias? If not, either do not use the source or balance it with information from an author with an opposing viewpoint. Is your source recent enough to be usable? Check the copyright date, which is usually on the back of the title page. Information in many scientific fields quickly becomes obsolete. Does the book include an appropriate amount of information? Is it written at a level you can understand?

4. As soon as you determine that a source contains information that will be useful to you, make a bibliography card for that source. A 3- x 5-inch card works well for this purpose. If your source is a book, be sure to list the first and last names of all authors, the title, the publisher, the publishing city, and the copyright date. Be sure to copy spelling and capitalization carefully. Writing information exactly as you will use it in your bibliography will make your work easier later on. Carefully check the information you will need from each source; if you need to make a special trip to the library to find this source again, you could waste a lot of time. Magazine articles, for example, need page numbers; Internet sources need the date the page was last updated as well as the date it was accessed.

Assigning a number to each source will be an easy way to keep track of sources of your information. It is easiest if you simply number the sources consecutively as you find them. This is not likely to be the sequence in which they will be listed in your bibliography.

5. As you are examining your sources, keep in mind the information you need. Use table of contents, index, headings, and subheadings to help you efficiently find the information you need. When you have found information you expect to use, record it on a note card. A 3- x 5-inch card will probably work best for this; however, some people prefer a larger card. You might want to use spiral-bound cards that are perforated so you can detach them from the spiral when you are ready to organize your report. The spiral helps to keep the cards together; however, a rubber band can serve the same purpose. Each card should bear the number of your source in one of the upper corners (be consistent). Below the information you should write the number of the page or pages where you found it. This will be helpful if you need to cite the page in a footnote or check the information again.

If you are photocopying pages and plan to take notes from them later, be sure that you get the bibliographic information from the source, assign it a number, and identify your photocopy with that same number.

6. When you are taking notes, put information in your own words as much as possible. One way to do this is to read the information, think about its meaning, then write your notes with the book closed. After writing your note, you might want to look back at the source to be sure you have correct spellings, correct numbers, etc. The information you write need not be a complete sentence; however, you need to be sure you will know what it means when you read it again -- perhaps weeks after you write it.

You should not quote from secondary sources unless the idea is original or the wording is especially eloquent. If you are quoting, be sure that you quote exactly and identify your quote with quotation marks.

7. Put each idea on a separate note card. This will simplify organization of your report when you get ready to write your first draft. Each card should have the number of a bibliographic source at the top and a page number at the bottom.

8. Either as you are taking notes or later as you are preparing to organize your report, write the subtopic at the top of the card. For example, these might be some of the subtopics you would have if you were writing about Abe Lincoln's boyhood: Birth, Early Family Life, Schooling. Classifying your notes with these headings will help you organize your cards when you are ready to write your first draft.

9. In addition to the notes that you take from your sources, make note cards on which you jot down original ideas that occur to you as you are doing your research. Identify these with a bibliographic number or with words such as "Original" or "My Idea."

10. Interviews can add a vivid perspective to a report, particularly if you can interview someone who has firsthand experience with your topic. Even before you request an interview, prepare with the convenience of your interviewee in mind. An interview can be conducted in person, by phone, by mail, or by e-mail. If you hope to interview someone face to face and will need your parents to drive you to the interview, check with your parents even before you request the interview to get several possible times they might drive you. Usually it is best to contact your prospect first by letter, telling him or her of your desire to do the interview and the purpose the interview would serve. That prevents a person from agreeing to do an interview only because he or she was taken totally by surprise -- a commitment the person might later regret. Then shortly after your prospect receives your letter requesting an interview, you can follow up with a phone call and try to schedule a time that is convenient to everyone involved. You might also ask at this time if the person would be comfortable with your tape recording the interview. If the person agrees to this, it will probably simplify the interview for you (you won't have to be writing fast and furiously) and it will probably save both of you time.

Planning is crucial to the success of your interview. You should write your questions, grouping them by category and leaving space to write answers (even if you're planning to tape record; you never know when you'll have technical difficulties). Be sure you listen, though, to what your interviewee is saying. Be alert to any statement about which you'd want more information. For example, if your interviewee says, "Our schools were very different from yours; we had almost no resources for learning," it would be better for you to say something like, "What resources did you have?" than to go on to the next question on your list, which may be on a different topic.

Be sure you go to the interview well supplied. If you're planning to tape record, have an extra tape or two; if you're relying on batteries, be sure you have plenty. Be sure you have extra writing implements and plenty of paper. If you are sending the interview to be completed and sent back to you, tell the interviewee when you need the information, being sure to allow plenty of time both for your interviewee and for yourself.

Finally, be sure to thank the person for the interview and to write a note thanking him or her again. This provides a good opportunity to let the person know that you found the content of the interview interesting.

Although most of these points are geared toward school reports, interviewing is something you can do with family members. As you get together over the upcoming holidays, you might interview relatives on topics about which you are curious.

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Puzzler: Deciphering Regionalisms . . .

In considering family stories, it is interesting to speculate on the ways our relatives' use of English might (have) differ(ed) from our own. Here are some colorful words and expressions from around the United States. Can you decipher their meanings?

From Rhode Island (this set only is based on sound, not spelling)
1. p s d s
2. Jazeet?

From New York City
3. Don't block the box.
4. BBQs
5. a regular
6. a black

From Pennsylvania Dutch Country
7. Outen the light.
8. My off is on.
9. My off is all.

From Appalachia
10. Why don't you much me 'steada faultin' me?
11. He's down in the mullygrubs.
12. You're burnin' green wood for kindlin'.
13. I'll try to enjoy you.

From the West (Cowboy slang)
14. He's above snakes.

From Alaska
15. breakup
16. outside

To see more examples of regionalisms and dialects, visit

Answers next month.

Answers to October Puzzler

1. moustache
2. universal
3. unusual
4. sausage
5. businessman
6. musical
7. enthusiastic
8. Mustang
9. Lusitania
10. unscathed

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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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