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LinguaPhile, January 2002

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


January Literary Calendar

Any of these events might spawn further study.

2, 1920 birthday of Isaac Asimov, supposedly the only writer to have published books in all of the Dewey-decimal categories (d. 1992)
4, 1785 birthday of Jakob Grimm, who along with his brother Wilhelm collected fairy tales (d. 1863)
6, 1878 birthday of Carl Sandburg, American poet and biographer of Abraham Lincoln (d. 1967)
10, 1776 Thomas Paine published Common Sense
17, 1706 birthday of Benjamin Franklin, U.S. writer, inventor, and statesman (d. 1790)
18, 1882 birthday of A.A. Milne, English author (d. 1956)
1809 birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, U.S. poet and writer of mystery and horror stories (d. 1849)
22, 1789 first American novel published: The Power of Sympathy by "Philomenia" (Sarah Wentworth Morton)
25, 1759 birthday of Robert Burns, Scottish poet (d. 1796)
27, 1832 birthday of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), English mathematician and author of books for children (d. 1898)

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Reminder: Writing Contest for High School Seniors

In case you missed this in the flurry of the holidays, I want to remind you about the scholarship-essay contest announced in last month's "LinguaPhile." Sponsored by SPELL (the Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature), the contest is open to high school seniors in the United States and Canada. Prizes range from $200 to $1,000. Entries must be postmarked by March 1, 2002.

For complete details (and a look at a prior year's winning essay) visit

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Quote of the Month: Time

Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.
-- Carl Sandburg

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Expand Your Vocabulary: Virga

Virga (the first syllable, which is accented, rhymes with her, and the g is hard) -- virga is moisture that evaporates in the atmosphere before it hits the ground. It may be liquid or frozen -- water or ice. The phenomenon of virga can occur at any time of year but is most common in winter, when the lower-level air is dry.

Interestingly, virga has the same root as virgule, which comes from Latin and names the oblique mark [/] often called a slash. We have all seen a driving rain that looks a lot like these "little rods."

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Q and A: None: Singular or Plural?

Question: I often see none used with a plural verb. Why don't people realize that since none is less than one it must be singular?

Answer: Actually, none represents a very tricky situation. It is one of those indefinite pronouns (along with all, any, most, and some) that can be either singular or plural, depending on the noun it represents. This is concretely illustrated in Hands-On English.

If none refers to a noun that is plural (as it most often does), the verb should be plural; if it refers to a noun that is singular, the verb must also be singular. Notice these examples:
None of the assignments were difficult. (None refers to assignments, countable items, and takes a plural verb.)
None of the homework was difficult. (None refers to homework, which has amount but not quantity; it takes a singular verb.)

When none means "not one," it is preferable to use not one with the singular verb:
Not one of the guests at the birthday party knows the age of the honoree.

We invite your questions for this feature:

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Meeting Your Goals

Do you have lofty aspirations for 2002? Remember that your goals are much more likely to be realized if you follow a systematic plan for accomplishing them. Achieving a goal is not simply a matter of making a wish and waiting for it to come true.

For a step-by-step approach to achieving your goals, see the January 2001 "LinguaPhile":

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Portico Books News

Do you or anyone you know have any of these goals for 2002?

  • Use English more correctly and effectively.
  • Build a larger vocabulary.
  • Read more efficiently.
  • Improve study habits.
  • Become a better speller.

Hands-On English and its companion products are excellent tools to aid in the realization of those goals. And they make wonderful gifts! Referring to Hands-On English as often as necessary will help people internalize rules and develop confidence and independence with English.

If you enjoy "LinguaPhile," you are likely to appreciate Hands-On English as well. If you are not satisfied with your purchase, your money will be promptly and cheerfully refunded. (There has been only one such return in 3 1/2 years.)

You can order directly from

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Are You Missing "Acu-Write"?

Remember that Fran also publishes "Acu-Write," a FREE weekly e-mail tip sheet that addresses common errors in English. "Acu-Write" is a valuable resource for anyone whose writing is read by others: business people, report writers, newsletter editors, copywriters, etc. Some teachers have had their students subscribe to "Acu-Write." They use the tip sheet as a basis for weekly study and quizzes.

To subscribe,

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Review: The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig

Published more than three decades ago, The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig is still a book not to be missed. It is the autobiographical account of young Esther Rudomin, who, with her family, is uprooted from her home in Vilna, Poland, in 1941 and transported across the Soviet Union to Siberia.

At the beginning of the story, ten-year-old Esther says that she would not change any detail of her life. However, once her family's home proves vulnerable to the war that rages outside it, scarcely any detail of her life remains the same.

The Endless Steppe is valuable not only as a compelling historical account but also as a story that holds lessons for all of us. In addition to deepening our appreciation for our families and our comforts, The Endless Steppe provides us with models of courage, resilience, and optimism. Although the Rudomins, accustomed to a life of luxury, must work at hard physical labor and must struggle just to meet their basic needs, we see the strength of their character shine through. We see them delight in simple pleasures, such as a trip to the market. We see them laugh.

Esther struggles with some of the same issues universally faced by young people -- starting a new school, seeking the acceptance of her classmates. She is an inspiration to those of us who live in comfort as well as to those of us who struggle against adversity.

Esther Hautzig appears to have an exceptional aptitude for language. She became editor of her school paper after studying Russian for only three years. She also demonstrates a remarkable command of English. The Endless Steppe contains many words appropriate for vocabulary study. Hautzig's writing also includes vivid description and fresh examples of figurative language.

Reading the first chapter of the book aloud can help to draw students into the story. Once readers are intrigued, Hautzig's style and pace will intensify their interest.

I recommend The Endless Steppe for anyone sixth grade and older, including adults. This is an excellent book for parents and children to share.

Available from The Endless Steppe

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The Endless Steppe: Ideas for Writing or Debate

1. When money for food is scarce, Esther is invited to go to an American movie, which costs four rubles. While Tata and Grandmother believe it important for Esther to go to the movie, Mother believes that the money should be used for food. If you were an adult responsible for Esther, would you favor using the money for the movie or for food? Give reasons to support your answer.

2. In Vilna, Esther and her family would not have taken "so much as a crumb belonging to someone else." Yet in Siberia Esther picks up coal and wood shavings in order to provide heat for her family's home. Do you think this is right or wrong? Support your answer with reasons and examples.

3. If you had experienced Esther's five years in Siberia and then had the opportunity to return to your native Vilna, would you want to go back to Poland or would you feel as if Siberia had become your home? Support your opinion.

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Puzzler: Palindromes

We will begin 2002, the only palindromic year we will have in this century, with puzzles involving palindromes -- words, phrases, sentences, numbers -- that read the same backward as forward. An occurrence even rarer than a palindromic year is a palindromic date, including numeric month, day, and year. We had one just three months ago -- October 2 (10 02 2001).

Here are some palindromes to exercise your mind in celebration of our palindromic year.

1. Prior to October 2, 2001, when was our most recent palindromic date? (A systematic approach will quickly reveal the answer.)

2. How many palindromic times, such as 01:10, are in a twenty-four-hour period? What are they?

3. What is the longest palindromic word that uses common English word parts?

4. What is a synonymous palindromic phrase for each of these expressions?
a. course competitor
b. expression of mild disapproval
c. dynamic wickedness
d. crazy cats

5. Super Challenge: Which three internationally known twentieth century government leaders have palindromic names?

Answers next month.

Answers to December Puzzler

A. Deciphering Disguised Carol Titles

1. White Christmas (Natal Celebration Devoid of Color)
2. Little Drummer Boy (Diminutive Masculine Master of Skin- Covered Percussionistic Cylinders)
3. O Come, All Ye Faithful (Move Hitherward the Entire Assembly of Those Who Are Loyal in Their Belief)
4. Joy to the World (An Emotion Excited by the Acquisition or Expectation of Good Given to the Terrestrial Sphere)
5. God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen (Omnipotent Supreme Being Who Elicits Respite to Ecstatic Distinguished Males)
6. O Holy Night (In Awe of the Nocturnal Time Span Characterized by Religiosity)
7. Go Tell It on the Mountain (Proceed Forth Declaring Upon a Specific Geological Alpine Formation)
8. Jingle Bells (Tintinnabulation of Vacillating Pendulums in Inverted, Metallic Resonant Cups)

C. Complete the Adage

1. He who would catch fish . . . must venture his bait.
2. To err is human, to repent divine; . . .
to persist devilish.
3. Necessity . . . never made a good bargain.
4. Search others for their virtues, . . .
yourself for your vices.
5. Promises may get you friends, . . .
but non-performance will turn them into enemies.
6. Genius without education is like . . .
silver in the mine.
7. He who would live at peace and at ease . . .
Must not speak all he knows, nor judge all he sees.
8. Each year one vicious habit rooted out, . . .
In time might make the worst man good throughout.
9. With the old Almanack and the old year, . . .
Leave your old vices though ever so dear.

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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!

© 2002 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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