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LinguaPhile, December 2001

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


December Literary Calendar . . .

Any of these events might spawn further study.

10, 1830 birthday of Emily Dickinson, U.S. poet (d. 1886)
10           Human Rights Day, commemorating adoption of the United
Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948
11, 1918 birthday of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Russian writer
16, 1775 birthday of Jane Austen, English novelist (d. 1817)
16, 1917 birthday of Arthur C. Clarke, English science fiction writer
18, 1892 first performance of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker in St. Petersburg, Russia
19, 1732 first issue of Poor Richard's Almanack published
30, 1865 birthday of Rudyard Kipling, English author (d. 1936)

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Writing Contest for High School Seniors . . .

The Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL) has just announced its annual scholarship contest for high school seniors in the United States and Canada.

The subject of the essay must be related to some aspect of language and should support SPELL's primary objective of promoting high standards of English grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation, and syntax. Minimum length of the essay is 500 words. Maximum length is three typewritten, double-spaced pages.

First prize is $1,000. Second and third prizes are $300 and $200 respectively. Entries must be postmarked by March 1, 2002.

Get more information about the contest and read a prior year's winning essay at

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Quote of the Month: Human Rights . . .

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. . . . Everyone has the right to freedom of thought. . . . Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
--United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, 1948

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Expand Your Vocabulary: gound . . .

Here is a useful word that we let slip into obsolescence about three hundred years ago. Gound, which rhymes with pound, is a noun referring to the matter that collects in the corners of the eyes during sleep. The Oxford English Dictionary reports uses of the word as early as A.D. 1000.

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Q and A: Making Names Plural . . .

Question: What is the correct way to make a surname, such as Roberts, plural?

Answer: This question was answered in "LinguaPhile" in January of this year. However, with so many of us preparing to write holiday cards and invitations, I think it bears repeating.

First of all, forget the apostrophe! Although it is used to make nouns possessive, it is not used to make them plural.

Actually, the rules governing pluralization of names are simpler than those governing pluralization of many nouns: Depending on the ending of the name itself, form the plural by adding s or es:

We visit the Robertses each year. (plural of Roberts)
There are two Roberts in our class. (plural of Robert)
There are two Charleses in our class. (plural of Charles)
The Riches live next door. (plural of Rich)
The Joneses live next door. (plural of Jones)

It is always important to take time to identify the singular form of the noun. If you don't, you might end up with something like this:

The Jones are coming to dinner. (That would be fine if the surname is Jone; however, that is quite unlikely.)

Proper nouns ending in y simply add s; the y is not changed to i as in common nouns:

There are two Marys in our class. (plural of Mary)
There are two Maries in our class. (plural of Marie)
The two Kansas Citys are separated by the Missouri River.

Exceptions to this rule are Alleghenies, Rockies, Sicilies, and Ptolemies.

If the correct construction seems awkward to you, try to avoid the plural by rewording your sentence:

The Roberts Family (instead of The Robertses)
Two girls in our class are named Mary.

We invite your questions for this feature:

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Hear Fran on the Radio

Fran will be the guest on "Phyllis Schlafly Live," also known as "Radio Live," on Saturday, December 22. Since the program features call-ins, most stations that carry it air it live (11:00 a.m. to noon Central Standard Time). For a list of the stations that carry the program, and the times that it airs, see

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Portico Books News . . .

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 a subsequent 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 the day they are received, so a prompt order should guarantee holiday delivery. You could even have your gift sent directly to the recipient. You can order directly from

* * *

Are you yourself an impoverished college student, a beginning teacher, or a young parent? Put Hands-On English products on your holiday wish list. Tell your family and friends they can shop for you at

* * *

Short of money for holiday gifts? Give subscriptions to "LinguaPhile" and/or "Acu-Write." They're FREE! Send the e-mail address plus the first and last name of the person(s) you want to subscribe: Be sure to also indicate which newsletter(s) you desire. If you include your own name as well, we will let the recipient know that the subscription came from you.

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Adult Literacy in the United States . . .

Try to imagine that you cannot read. You would have to hold in your mind everything you wanted to remember because you would be unable to jot down a reminder to yourself. What job would you have? Even if you were able to find a job that required little reading, you might live in constant fear of the day you would need to read instructions on a new product or a note from your boss. How would you get to work? Imagine trying to drive if you couldn't read road signs -- or trying to find your way through the maze of public transportation. How would you care for your family? Imagine the struggle of shopping, preparing meals, dealing with your mail, dispensing medication. You would not be able to read to your children, and you might not even be able to play a simple board game with them. You would probably always be haunted by the fear that you might not be able to provide the information needed in an emergency.

For millions of Americans, the preceding scenario is a grim reality. The National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) of 1992, funded by the Department of Education and administered by the Educational Testing Service, resulted from Congress's direction to assess the English literacy skills of American adults. A follow-up study, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL), is planned for 2002. The purpose of the NALS was not to label the 26,000 participants "literate" or "illiterate." Rather participants' performance on tasks involving prose, documents, or numbers placed them at one of five levels, I being the lowest and V being the highest.

One might expect the distribution of these scores to form a bell curve, the greatest number of participants placing at Level III, fewer at Levels II and IV, and the fewest at Levels I and V. Such was not the case. Although Level III did include the greatest number of participants (about 32 percent), the curve was heavily skewed toward the low end with about 49 percent at Levels I and II, and only about 19 percent at Levels IV and V.

The 21-23 percent (representing 40-44 million Americans) who scored at Level I may or may not have been able to perform such simple tasks as finding a particular fact in a newspaper article or signing a Social Security card in the appropriate place. Of those participants scoring at Level I, 25 percent were immigrants, who might have just been learning to speak English. Sixty-two percent had not completed high school. Nineteen percent reported visual difficulties that made it difficult for them to read print. Twenty-six percent had physical, mental, or health conditions that prevented their full participation in work, school, or other activities. (Simple addition will reveal that some participants had more than one of these handicaps.)

While a low literacy level poses a serious problem to the person who must cope with it on a daily basis, it is no less of a problem for our society as a whole. It is estimated that among the annual costs of adult illiteracy in the United States are $225 billion in lost industrial productivity, $8 billion in lost tax revenue (due to unemployment and lower wages), $5 billion in money paid to public assistance recipients whose low literacy skills make them unemployable, and $6.6 billion in prison maintenance for inmates whose incarceration has been directly linked to low literacy.

The problem is growing. Children whose parents are functionally illiterate are twice as likely as children of literate parents to be functionally illiterate themselves. They are less likely to be read to; their homes are less likely to have a variety of reading material; they sense that education and literacy are not highly valued. U.S. News has predicted that in the next decade America will have "an elite literate class of no more than 30 percent of the population."

This is not news. Most of these facts are based on a study that is ten years old. But what are we doing about this problem? I know that most of you are vitally involved in education -- as parents, or teachers, or both. Consider also contributing time and/or money to adult literacy programs in your community. It is very rewarding to help a young parent learn to read so that he or she can be more involved in children's education -- or can read the names on the birthday board at work. This is an investment that will pay dividends for generations.

For more information on adult literacy in the United States, see the following sites:
Literacy Statistics
NALS, including score distribution and interpretation!intro.htm
Access to sample items in prose, document, and quantitative literacy
Report on Adult Literacy in America
A Dissenting Opinion: Myths About U.S. Literacy

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Review: Turbo Reader by Phyllis Schlafly . . .

Phyllis Schlafly has adapted her successful First Reader, which uses a phonics approach to teach young children to read. The result is Turbo Reader, appropriate for people of any age who are learning to read English.

Schlafly is a firm believer in phonics as the foundation for reading. Although many teachers prefer a more eclectic approach, phonics is the key that can unlock a word when sight recognition, context clues, and all other techniques have failed. It is a key that many people don't possess -- and its lack often becomes apparent around fourth grade, when emphasis shifts from "learning to read" to "reading to learn."

Turbo Reader is a user-friendly, economical, no-nonsense approach to reading instruction. No special training is required in order to teach reading using Turbo Reader. The book's foreword includes general instructions, and brief page-by-page instructions are included at the back.

Turbo Reader is designed to be used one on one. (Reading is, after all, generally an individual activity.) Turbo Reader can be used within a family with parents or older siblings as teachers. It can also be used in other tutoring situations. Schlafly recommends, though, that sessions be brief (no more than twenty minutes) and frequent (at least once per day).

The program is organized and sequential, beginning with consonants and short vowels. Sounds are introduced with four- color photographs and are blended to make words. Within words, letters in red type alert readers to target sounds or, in later lessons, to different syllables within words. Schlafly does not burden the student -- or even the teacher -- with a lot of rules to remember. The emphasis is on being able to blend sounds within each word. A photograph of an eye alerts readers to words that must be recognized by sight because they do not follow the rules of phonics; Schlafly keeps these to a minimum, however.

Each page is to be mastered before the student moves on to the next page. Sentences are introduced on page 10, and stories are introduced about halfway through the book. Many of the stories are Aesop's fables; poems are also included. (Did you know that "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" has three additional stanzas?)

Turbo Reader includes an easy-to-administer test to determine whether reading instruction is needed.

Turbo Reader is very attractive, using large easy-to-read type on coated paper. The book's hard cover wraps around pages that are wire bound so that the book will easily lie flat for instruction.

If you know someone who is a candidate for reading instruction -- a young child who has not yet been exposed to reading instruction, or an older child or adult who continues to struggle with reading -- consider giving Turbo Reader a try. It can be a powerful weapon against the rising force of illiteracy.

Pere Marquette Press, Inc., 2001, 179 pages (9.25 x 11.25), $49.95

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Poem: "English" . . .

This poem illustrates the challenges created by English spelling and pronunciation. The author of the poem is unknown.


I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble, but not you
On hiccough, thorough, slough, and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird.
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead --
For goodness sake, don't call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother
Nor both in bother, broth in brother.

And here is not a match for there,
And dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose --
Just look them up -- and goose and choose,
And cork and work, and card and ward,
And font and front, and word and sword,
And do and go, and thwart and cart --
Come, come, I've hardly made a start!

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Ideas for Writing . . .

1. Read some of Kipling's Just So Stories, such as "How the Camel Got His Hump" and "How the Leopard Got His Spots." Use Kipling's stories as a model for an original story, offering a reason why something in nature came to be as it is.

2. Decide on one thing that you believe should be an important right of every human being on Earth. Write an essay in which you explain why you believe this right should be guaranteed to everyone.

3. Write a story about a person with low literacy skills. Center your story around one incident, such as an emergency situation or a trip to the store. Consider what you want the reader to know or feel at the end of the story, and select details to achieve this goal. Will your character change as a result of this incident?

4. Read some of the adages from Poor Richard's Almanack. Choose one that is especially meaningful to you. Write an essay in which you demonstrate the truth and/or importance of this adage. Consider including an anecdote to illustrate your point.

5. Spend some time reflecting on the past year -- not only national and international events, but also events in your own personal life. Of the many things that happened in 2001, which do you think will have the greatest effect on your life? In an essay, explain what happened, how it has affected you so far, and how you expect it will affect you in the future.

6. (Related to #5) Write a "Then and Now" poem to show how a major event has changed your life. This poem, explained more fully on page 23 of The Activity Book, comprises a series of unrhymed couplets. The first line of each begins with "I used to be," and the second line begins with "But now I'm." A series of these couplets related to one event can concretely and dramatically illustrate the difference that event has made in your life.

7. Explain what makes [favorite seasonal holiday] special to you. You might do this in the framework of a five-paragraph essay: an introduction, three paragraphs (each supporting one reason), and a conclusion. Presenting your second-strongest reason first and saving your strongest for last usually makes the most effective presentation. Support each reason with specific details. Use some concrete words that will create sense images in your reader's mind. For your conclusion, consider what you want your reader to know or feel after reading your essay. What do you need to include to accomplish your purpose?

8. Identify the particular Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, or other celebration that stands out most in your mind. Consider what makes it so memorable. Was it a particular person, an event, a comedy of errors? Recreate this celebration in a story or essay so that your reader can experience it as you did. Do not try to tell everything that happened during your celebration. Instead, select the details that support the impression you are trying to convey.

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Puzzler: Deciphering Carol Titles; Completing Adages . . .

A. Deciphering Disguised Carol Titles: Can you decipher the titles of these well-known Christmas songs in which less familiar words have been substituted?

1. Natal Celebration Devoid of Color
2. Diminutive Masculine Master of Skin-Covered Percussionistic Cylinders
3. Move Hitherward the Entire Assembly of Those Who Are Loyal in Their Belief
4. An Emotion Excited by the Acquisition or Expectation of Good Given to the Terrestrial Sphere
5. Omnipotent Supreme Being Who Elicits Respite to Ecstatic Distinguished Males
6. In Awe of the Nocturnal Time Span Characterized by Religiosity
7. Proceed Forth Declaring Upon a Specific Geological Alpine Formation
8. Tintinnabulation of Vacillating Pendulums in Inverted, Metallic Resonant Cups

These "translations" are not original. I am sorry that I do not know their author so that I can give proper credit. More titles like these are available in last December's "LinguaPhile."

B. Create some "translations" of your own -- of titles or familiar sayings. A thesaurus and a dictionary can be helpful. Although such obscure language is not recommended for everyday communication, this activity can be a good way to expand your vocabulary.

C. Complete the Adage: You have probably seen humorous conclusions of well-known sayings, such as Early to bed and early to rise . . . means you'll have to do your homework in the morning. Here are some less common sayings from Poor Richard's Almanack. Try your hand at completing them.

1. He who would catch fish . . .
2. To err is human, to repent divine; . . .
3. Necessity . . . (something besides the "mother of invention")
4. Search others for their virtues, . . .
5. Promises may get you friends, . . .
6. Genius without education is like . . .
Complete the following by adding a line to make a rhymed couplet:
7. He who would live at peace and at ease . . .
8. Each year one vicious habit rooted out, . . .
9. With the old Almanack and the old year, . . .

Answers next month.

Answers to November Puzzler

We are following a subscriber's suggestion to include the clue as well as the answer.

1. (p s d s) pierced ears
2. (Jazeet?) Did you (plural) eat?
3. (Don't block the box.) Don't drive into the intersection until there's room to cross it.
4. (BBQs) commuters to Manhattan from Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens
5. (a regular) a cup of coffee with milk but no sugar
6. (a black) a cup of coffee with sugar but no milk
7. (Outen the light.) Turn off the light.
8. (My off is on.) My vacation has begun.
9. (My off is all.) My vacation is over.
10. (Why don't you much me 'steada faultin' me?) Why don't you support me instead of criticizing me?
11. (He's down in the mullygrubs.) He's depressed.
12. (You're burnin' green wood for kindlin'.) You're performing a futile exercise.
13. (I'll try to enjoy you.) I'll try to entertain you.
14. (He's above snakes.) He's alive (above ground).
15. (breakup) end of winter when frozen major rivers thaw
16. (outside) anywhere but Alaska

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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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