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LinguaPhile, February 2002

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


February Literary Calendar

Any of these events might spawn further study.

African-American History Month

1, 1902 birthday of Langston Hughes, African-American poet and novelist (100th birth anniversary) (d. 1967)

7, 1812 birthday of Charles Dickens, English novelist (d. 1870)

1867 birthday of Laura Ingalls Wilder, U.S. writer (d. 1957)

1885 birthday of Sinclair Lewis, U.S. writer, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1930 (d. 1951)

8, 1828 birthday of Jules Verne, French writer (d. 1905)

12, 1738 first puppet show in America

18, 1859 birthday of Solomon Rabinowitz, Russian-born writer and humorist better known by his pen name, Sholem Aleichem (d. 1916)

26, 1802 birthday of Victor Hugo, French writer (d. 1885)

27, 1807 birthday of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the first American to earn a living by writing poetry (d. 1882)

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Quote of the Month: Dreams

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
-- Langston Hughes, African-American poet (1902-1967)

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Expand Your Vocabulary: Chiasmus

A chiasmus (ki AZ mus; plural chiasmi) is a rhetorical device that inverts the order of words -- or sometimes letters -- in two otherwise parallel phrases. A chiasmus may be an adage or an inspiring quotation, even a joke or a riddle:

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

A person should eat to live, not live to eat.

"Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." John F. Kennedy

What's the difference between a New York baseball fan and a dentist?

A New York baseball fan roots for the Yanks,
and a dentist yanks for the roots.

Chiasmus has its origin in the Greek letter chi (X). To see if a phrase is really a chiasmus, write the two parts on two lines, one above the other (as has been done above with the answer to the riddle). If the expression is a true chiasmus, lines connecting the repeated key words (in this case roots and yanks) will form an X.

A spoonerism, which transposes letters (usually initial consonants), is related to a chiasmus. It simply switches the letters, however (as in flutter by for butterfly), rather than using the words twice. The telltale X is missing. Also, spoonerisms are usually accidental; a chiasmus is deliberate.

Dr. Mardy Grothe has spent a decade exploring the fascinating phenomenon of chiasmus. He shares a wealth of information -- as well as hundreds of examples of chiasmus -- at

Reviewers of Hands-On English have said that the vocabulary section alone is worth the book's modest purchase price. Learn more -- and place your order -- at

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Q and A: Are: Singular or Plural?

Question: You say that are is a plural verb. Yet if you use you to mean one person, you still say you are. Is this an exception to the rule that subject and verb must agree in number?

Answer: Congratulations on a great observation! You are really delving into the intricacies of grammar -- examining things that many of us take for granted. This is not an exception to the rule of subject-verb agreement. Actually, are is the present form of be (the most irregular of verbs!) for first, second, and third person plural and for second person singular. If you have studied a foreign language, you have probably conjugated verbs -- shown their inflected forms with various pronouns:

  Singular Plural
1st person I am. We are.
2nd person You are. You are.
3rd person He, she, or it is. They are.

The present tense of most verbs -- both regular and irregular -- keeps the same form with all of the pronouns above except third person singular. This is where an s usually gets added. Try this with a sampling of verbs: jump, look, see, grow, etc. When we talk about an -s suffix indicating the singular form of a verb, we are referring to third person singular. It is in third person that most problems of agreement occur.

Hands-On English will put a wealth of information at your fingertips so that you can quickly find what you need to know about grammar, usage, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and more. Get details -- and place your order -- at

We invite your questions for this feature:

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For Valentine's Day: A Poem of Love and Grammar

"Life Sentence," the poem that appeared in last February's "LinguaPhile," is well worth reading -- or rereading! Dealing with grammar as well as love, the poem revolves around a near- chiasmus: "I love you/ is not the same as/ You love me."

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Upcoming Exhibits

Conferences are a great place to
• get a firsthand look at Hands-On English products
• introduce your colleagues to Hands-On English products
• give feedback on products you're using (including suggestions!)
• get your questions answered
• avoid shipping costs on Hands-On English purchases

If you will be attending one of these conferences, be sure to stop by the Portico Books booth to say hello to Fran. Take your friends along!

• March 1: Write-to-Learn 2002 at Tan-Tar-A (MO)
• March 8-9: Home Educators' Conference, Bloomingdale, IL
Fran will be presenting two workshops at this conference:
    • Giving Your Children a Solid Foundation in English (Saturday, 10:05-11:05 a.m.)
    • Hands-On English (Saturday 11:30-12:30 a.m.)

Plan to attend -- and bring (or send) your friends!

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Looking Ahead to the 2002-2003 School Year

Although this school year is only about half over, educators are already beginning to plan for next year. As you select English books for your students, be sure to consider Hands-On English. While this is a valuable resource for teachers, it is even more effective when it is directly in the hands of the students. Having the information at their fingertips helps students develop independence and confidence with English.

A copy of Hands-On English for each student makes the teacher's job easier as well. When students can quickly find and understand the information they need, teachers can more easily meet the diverse needs of students in their classes.

Substantial discounts are available on quantity purchases. Orders can be placed by phone, fax, snail mail or Internet.

If you have questions, or call (toll free) 1-888-641-5353. This number will also accept fax orders.

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Review: Who Owns the Sun? by Stacy Chbosky

Who Owns the Sun? is a powerful component of the curriculum for African-American History Month -- or for any time. The book was the winner in the 14-19 Age Category of Landmark Editions' "Written and Illustrated By . . ." contest in 1987, when author/ illustrator Stacy Chbosky was only fourteen years old.

Who Owns the Sun? dramatically reminds us of the tangible and intangible things shared by all humanity. It clearly differentiates what can be owned from what cannot.

From the first page Chbosky beguiles us with her rich description and her simple, yet elegant, illustrations of nature. Midway through the story we are likely to discover that we have made erroneous assumptions. Chbosky has masterfully set the stage for the ideas presented in the latter part of her story.

Who Owns the Sun? is ideal for reading aloud. After the reading there is much to discuss -- both the content of the story and Chbosky's craftsmanship. Key to her craftsmanship is the division of the story into two distinct parts, each of which could be complete in itself. Considering what each part of the story lacks on its own and what it contributes to the other part will deepen the reader's appreciation of this work of art.

Beyond all of this, the fact that Chbosky wrote and illustrated this story when she was only fourteen years old should inspire readers -- and writers -- of any age.

Published by Landmark Editions in 1988, Who Owns the Sun? is now out of print. It is available from on a limited basis or in many libraries, however.
Available from Who Owns the Sun

Recommended for ages 8 and up.

Hands-On English and The Activity Book help you read and study efficiently, appreciate literature, and break the writing process into manageable steps. Get more details -- and place your order at (Hands-On English) (Activity Book)

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Reading and Writing Biographies

With both African-American History Month and Presidents' Day on the February calendar, this is an excellent time to read and write biographies.

The following questions will help students focus on the significant points of a subject's life -- whether they are reading the biography or writing it:

1. When and where did this person live? What was his or her everyday life like? For example, the life of someone on the American frontier in the late 1800s was very different from that of someone in our modern society, where information -- and even people -- can quickly be transported over thousands of miles.

2. For what contribution is this person known? How did he or she change the world?

3. How was this contribution accomplished? What obstacles did the person have to overcome?

4. Consider your subject's world in relation to other historical events. If your subject is someone in American history, for example, ask yourself questions like these: Was the United States a country? Had the Civil War been fought? Had the slaves been freed? Did women have the right to vote? Also consider whether or not certain inventions were available to your subject -- particularly those relevant to his or her accomplishment.

5. Apart from your subject's contribution, what was he or she like as a person? Choose one or two adjectives that you think best describe the person.

6. Try to find an interesting, little-known anecdote about the subject's life. How does the anecdote relate to the person's major contribution, or how does it illustrate his or her character?

While these are important points to consider in any biography, one would not write a biography simply by going down the list and writing a paragraph about each item. Some of them, #4 for example, might not appear at all in the final product. Reflection on these points, however, will help students to select relevant information and present it effectively to the intended audience.

Writing a report about a famous person often poses a major problem for students and teachers alike: how to make the report original. It can be discouraging for students to read a professionally written biography -- either a complete book or an encyclopedia entry -- and then attempt to write their own biography of that same subject. Most students recognize that their biography will fall far short of their model.

Giving the assignment a particular focus or format can help students become familiar with the biographical content and simultaneously reduce the temptation to use another author's words. Here are a few ways an assignment about Abraham Lincoln could be structured so that students are required to manipulate the information they find rather than simply parrot it:

a. Select an adjective that you think effectively describes Abraham Lincoln. Illustrate this characteristic by relating an anecdote from Lincoln's life. (Be sure to mention when and where Lincoln lived.)

b. Select several pivotal incidents from Lincoln's life (at least one from his childhood) and write about them in first person -- as if you were Lincoln himself. Include thoughts and feelings as Lincoln might in diary entries or letters. Be sure to tell when and where each incident occurred.

c. Using long paper, make a time line showing important events in Lincoln's life. Also show other important events from that time period. You might want to distinguish these related events from events in which Lincoln participated by using a different color or special graphic device. You might also want to illustrate your time line. Be sure to make your time line to scale (1 inch equals a certain number of years). To decide on your scale, look at the time when you have the greatest number of events clustered together. Decide how much space you will need to present those events effectively.

d. Write a bio-poem. The formula for this is included on page 128 of The Activity Book. Although the final product is short, it requires great thought and reveals extensive knowledge of the subject.

Activities such as these will help students learn about historical figures. The goal of having them learn to write traditional chronological biographies is likely to be more effectively accomplished by having them work from primary sources rather than from references. Students could interview (and write biographies about) each other, their relatives, or interesting people in their communities.

Hands-On English and The Activity Book help you break the writing process into manageable steps and find the information you need to edit effectively. To get more details -- and to order -- (Hands-On English) (Activity Book)

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Puzzler: Presidents' Day Anagrams

This is a two-part puzzle. Clues in the left-hand column describe former Presidents of the United States. The right-hand column includes anagrams of Presidents' names. Only the last name is used unless two Presidents had that last name. If two Presidents had the same last name, one or two initials are also used, depending on whether the President commonly used his middle name or initial. Match the clues in the left-hand column with the appropriate President.

1. First President not to be born a British subject a. FATT
2. First President to live in the White House b. DROF
3. President elected four times c. INNOX
4. President never elected to national office d. JADSAM
5. Only President to resign e. SQAMDAJ
6. President who served non-consecutive terms f. SAIDOMN
7. President who served only one month g. NACHBUAN
8. President who later became Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court h. JASONNOH
9. President who never married i. BRUNNAVE
10. President who never had a day of formal schooling j. VALLENDEC
11. President who had an alligator and silkworms as pets k. WHARSHIRON
12. Shortest and lightest President (5'4"; 100 pounds) l. TROFLESOVED

Answers next month.

Answers to January Puzzler

1. August 8, 1380 (08-31-1380). (Prior to October 2, 2001, when was our most recent palindromic date?)

2. 16. A.M. and P.M. for these times: 01:10, 02:20, 03:30, 04:40, 05:50, 10:01, 11:11, 12:21. (How many palindromic times, such as 01:10, are in a twenty-four-hour period? What are they?)

3. redivider (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. race car (course competitor)
b. tut-tut (expression of mild disapproval)
c. live evil (dynamic wickedness)
d. senile felines (crazy cats)
e. drab bard (Shakespeare on a bad day)

5. Lon Nol (Cambodia), U Nu (Burma), Laval (France). (Which three internationally known twentieth century government leaders have palindromic names?)

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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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