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LinguaPhile, May 2002

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


May Literary Calendar

Any of these events might spawn further study.

1, 1872 first U.S. postal card issued
5, 1867 birthday of Nellie Bly, investigative reporter (d. 1922)
7, 1963 first communications satellite, U.S. Telstar II, launched
9, 1933 first Nazi book burning (25,000 books)
13, 1804 first practical printing press (the Washington press) was patented by Samuel Bust. This type of press is still used in some places.
15, 1672 first copyright law passed in Massachusetts
20, 1895 first public viewing of motion pictures occurred in New York City

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"A Message to Our English Teachers: You Can Save the World" by Charles Harrington Elster

Editor's Note: This article, which appeared in the March-April issue of SPELL/Binder, was adapted from a speech Elster delivered to the San Diego chapter of the California Association of Teachers of English. Elster's comments can be applied to anyone who teaches English -- whether in school or at home. I am grateful to Charles Harrington Elster for allowing me to reprint his tribute to English teachers.

I have a four-year-old daughter, Judith, whose emotions sometimes get the better of her. When she loses her temper and begins to scream, as she often does around her ten-year-old sister, or when she becomes demanding to the point of incessant, inarticulate whining -- sort of like a human car alarm -- we grab her by the shoulders, look her in the eye, and firmly tell her, "Use words! Use words!" Invariably she snaps out of it and explains calmly and clearly what the problem is or what she wants, and together we work out a solution.

Language is the great, mysterious gift that distinguishes the human being from the beast (and the car alarm). Using words is an expression of our humanity, and how we use them is a measure of our character, our intelligence, and our refinement.

When we use words, we can accomplish many good and useful ends. We can share experience, solve problems, cause laughter, make friends, comfort each other, and give love. We can even agree to disagree, which we often do. But when we abandon words, the world becomes a harrowing place, a giant car alarm going off at 3:00 a.m. It becomes Matthew Arnold's "darkling plain, / Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight, / Where ignorant armies clash by night."

The world is always in danger of being swept away by inarticulate emotion. English teachers can save the world because they teach us to use words.

English teachers are also saving the world -- quite literally -- by saving the recorded expression of its people. You are saving the world by preserving and passing on written language, without which we would have no literature, no history, no philosophy, no theology, no science, no civilization.

Every time the light bulb goes on in a first-grader's mind, and random letters converge magically into meaningful words, you are saving the world. Every time you read a story to a classroom full of wide-eyed children, you are saving the world. Every time a tenth-grader hears the echo of her own heart in a 16th-century sonnet, you are saving the world.

Every time a play or a poem comes alive in the mouths of your students, you are saving the world. Every time you help a young person find beauty, wisdom, or solace in words, to see in words a mirror of the soul, to seek in them the expression of our common humanity, to take from them a measure of our common hope, you are saving the world.

Why were the Dark Ages so dark? Because nobody but a handful of clerics could read!

English teachers, you are the light of the world because you save us from the hopeless darkness of illiteracy. You are the backbone of our democracy because you cultivate literacy, and the literate person is the sine qua non of a self-governing society. You are the stewards of civilization because you safeguard our literature and ensure that its legacy lives on.

The skills you impart -- how to read, how to write, and how to think critically -- are primary. The good that can come from the scrupulous application of those skills is immeasurable. All knowledge is founded on what you teach; all knowledge springs from it; all knowledge is bequeathed by it.

So, dear English teachers, my friends and partners in the ways and wonders of words, you can indeed save the world, and you are helping to save it every day with every precious mind that you illuminate with language. I salute you for upholding standards of correctness, and I thank you for your guardianship of the written word.

Verily I say unto you: Go forth with glad hearts and do good -- which, because you are English teachers, I know you will do well.

Charles Harrington Elster is the author of Tooth and Nail: A Novel Approach to the SAT, Verbal Advantage, The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations, and There's a Word for It! With Richard Lederer he co-hosts "A Way with Words," a program about language, on San Diego public radio. This is broadcast on the Internet Sundays at 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (Pacific time):

Available from
Tooth and Nail: A Novel Approach to the SAT
Verbal Advantage
The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations
There's a Word for It!

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"LinguaPhile" Milestone

On April 8 the number of current subscribers to "LinguaPhile" surpassed 1,000. I thank you readers for the large role you play in the success of this publication: for sharing it with your friends and colleagues, for submitting questions and other suggestions for content, for your frequent notes of appreciation and encouragement.

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Do We Have Your Summer Address?

In addition to 1,000 current subscribers, we have more than 70 "bouncing" members -- subscribers whose e-mail addresses are defunct. Please don't join this group!

If your e-mail address will be changing -- temporarily or permanently -- be sure to subscribe at your new address. You can do so simply by sending a blank e-mail message to the appropriate address below:

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Quote of the Month: News Media

Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I must not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter.
--Thomas Jefferson, 1787

Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.
-- Credo of Journalists and Social Workers

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Expand Your Vocabulary: Lucubrate

Students lucubrated for hours the night before the exam; teachers did the same the night afterwards.

Lucubrate (LOO koo brate) means "to work at night by lamplight" -- in other words, "to burn the midnight oil." You might recognize luc, the root that you see in lucid and Lucifer. Words with the lum root (luminary and illuminate, for example) are from the same source. The noun forms are lucubration and lucubrator.

Roget's II: The New Thesaurus, Third Edition includes this additional meaning: "To apply one's mind to the acquisition or production of knowledge."

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: One Word or Two?

Question: Should for ever and can not be written as one word or two? I have seen them both ways.

Answer: Let's look at the easier one first. Forever should always be written as one word. It is an adverb telling when:
I will love you forever.
If you split the word, the first part (for) is a preposition; it requires an object. Since ever cannot be a noun, however, splitting the word does not work.

Cannot is not so clear-cut. The one-word form is preferred, even though can is the only verb allowed to combine with not to form a single word.

If the goal is to emphasize the negative aspect of the word, writing can not is permitted:
I can forgive what he did; I can not, however, forget.
In the preceding sentence, use of cannot as one word would also be acceptable.

When using cannot, be sure not to create an error such as the following:
They cannot only attend college but also obtain scholarships.
Since you want to use the helping verb can with both attend and obtain, cannotmust be split into two words:
They can not only attend college but also obtain scholarships.

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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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 the CHAP convention in Harrisburg, PA, May 10 and 11, be sure to stop by Booth 1304 to say hello to Fran. Take your friends along!

Some of you have inquired about Townsend Press products, one of which was reviewed in the March "LinguaPhile." Townsend Press will have a booth at CHAP right next to the Portico Books booth. Make that area of the exhibit hall your headquarters for language arts materials!

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Winding Up the School Year

The current school year is rapidly drawing to a close. Do you have funds that will be lost if you don't spend them? This would be a great time to order some Hands-On English materials -- perhaps a "Package" as a resource for yourself, or a classroom set of Hands-On English as a resource for your students.

The ideal way to use Hands-On English is for each student to have a personal copy that can be used at school and at home, this year and next. When students have this information at their fingertips, they develop independence and confidence with English -- and teachers can more easily meet students' diverse needs.

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

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

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Review: Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by Bernard Goldberg

That someone wrote a book about the media's liberal bias is not surprising. That Bernard Goldberg did so is remarkable.

Goldberg -- himself a liberal with nearly thirty years of experience at CBS News -- had often voiced his concern about liberal bias to network executives. After CBS Evening News aired a blatantly slanted "Reality Check" report on February 8, 1996, Goldberg decided to take stronger measures. He submitted to the Wall Street Journal an op-ed piece detailing the report's bias. The piece was published five days later.

Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News analyzes the bias that has developed in the news over the past several decades. In addition, the book reveals the personality of some media celebrities and executives. It seems impossible to completely extricate "the news" from the people who report it.

Goldberg traces the problem of bias in the news back to 60 Minutes, the pioneer of news magazines. In the early days of television, the networks viewed comedy, drama, and variety shows as their moneymakers. The news, however, was different. Once network executives discovered that even the news could be profitable, news programs began competing for ratings. Rather than simply reporting the news objectively, networks tried to ensure that the news would have entertainment value, that people would like what they saw and would tune in regularly.

As Goldberg points out, many journalists selected that career in order to improve the world. Eventually, however, their compassion began to interfere with their objective reporting. They took on the work of activists. In order to motivate people to support causes -- perhaps financially -- they made the people who would benefit from that support look like the prospective donors. Thus, homelessness and AIDS were portrayed as problems of mainstream America. Facts were distorted; numbers were exaggerated.

The ratings and the causes are only part of the problem, however. Goldberg is most alarmed that reporters and executives are not even aware of much of the bias in the news. No one at CBS News, for example, had seen any problem with the report that had sparked Goldberg's initial op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal -- even though a reporter had in the guise of a "Reality Check" ridiculed Presidential candidate Steve Forbes and his flat-tax proposal, using such words as scheme, elixir, and wacky.

In network newsrooms the middle of the road between liberals and conservatives is off center. Virtually everyone in the newsroom is a liberal. People are so insulated that they don't even know anyone whose opinions are different from theirs; they genuinely believe they represent the middle of the road. Goldberg cites the example of film critic Pauline Kael, who was astounded when Nixon was elected President in 1972. "I don't know a single person who voted for him!" she said. Yet Nixon carried forty-nine states. Is it healthy for those who report our news to be so out of touch with the populace?

Freedom of speech and of the press are among the highest ideals in our democracy. Even Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, valued newspapers (the principal news medium of his day) above government. If we are to be responsible citizens, we must be able to gauge the accuracy of news reports. Bias provides information that will help us to raise necessary questions about the news -- what is reported and what is not -- in order to discern the truth.

Bias was published in 2002 by Regnery Publishing, Inc.
Available from Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News

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Propaganda: A Game to Identify Techniques of Persuasion

In this game, published by Wff'N Proof, students learn 55 techniques of persuasion, such as rationalization, flattery, hasty generalization, faulty analogy, and begging the question. After students understand the techniques, they analyze examples to determine which techniques are at work. The examples could include verbal or pictorial presentations -- perhaps even ads or commercials.

The Academic Games League of America (AGLOA) sponsors local and national competitions in Propaganda and LinguiSHTIK (another language arts game) as well as in math and social studies games.

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Writing Ideas for Mother's Day

Mothers love to have samples of their children's writing. Those samples are even more deeply treasured if they have to do with the relationship between mother and child. Here are some suggestions for creating a Mother's Day gift that will be treasured for a lifetime.

A. Formula poems. These poems, with prescribed content for each line, can be written by very young children -- and also by adults. Consider writing a series of poems, each one portraying a different family member or the same person at different times.

Be sure to revise and edit your work carefully. You might want to include illustrations or in some other way make it visually attractive -- so that even its appearance is of gift caliber.

1. Acrostic Poem. Write a poem in which each line begins with successive letters of the subject's name or relationship to you. Your poem will be most effective if each line is simply a word or phrase rather than a whole sentence. Avoid cluttering your poem with words that are not packed with meaning.

2. Feelings on Four
First line: The subject of the poem (becomes the title)
Second line: Two adjectives that describe the subject
Third line: A verb phrase
Fourth line: A question or statement about the subject. This line can add depth to the poem or give it an unexpected twist.

Red and tart
Falling from the tree.
Why do you always have a worm?

3. People Poem
First line: Subject of the poem (becomes the title)
Second line: Two adjectives (connected with and or but) that describe the subject
Third line: A verb and an adverb that show this person in a typical action
Fourth line: A comparison showing a special quality about this person
Fifth line: An "if only" phrase that expresses something you wish for regarding this person

My baby brother
Whiny and wet
Cries constantly
As noisy as a thousand screeching tires.
If only I had a soundproof bedroom.

4. Bio-Poem. In addition to yourself and family members, you can write bio-poems about famous people (living or dead) or fictional characters. You need to know a person very well to write a bio- poem about him or her.
First line: Person's first name
Second line: Four adjectives that describe the person
Third line: Daughter / Mother of . . . (or choose another word that identifies one of the most important relationships in the person's life)
Fourth line: Lover of . . . (three people or ideas)
Fifth line: Who feels . . . (three items, perhaps specifying different times when these feelings occur)
Sixth line: Who needs . . . (three items -- same as above)
Seventh line: Who gives . . . (three items)
Eighth line: Who fears . . . (three items)
Ninth line: Who would like to see (three items)
Tenth line: Resident of (city); (street)
Eleventh line: Person's last name

Happy, honest, alert, curious;
Daughter of Allan and Nancy
Lover of good books, movies, chocolate;
Who feels confident in the classroom, small in the mountains, awkward in gym class;
Who needs privacy, sunshine, snacks;
Who gives smiles, advice, hand-me-downs;
Who fears snakes, tornadoes, shots;
Who would like to see world peace, an end to homelessness, the earth from space;
Resident of Springfield; Willow Drive;

B. Prose compositions

1. Select an outstanding characteristic of your mother (or whomever you are writing about). Write an essay in which you show that characteristic of the person, perhaps by relating an incident in which that characteristic is vividly illustrated. Include sense details and conversation to recreate the experience for your reader.

After you have written your first draft, read it to someone, omitting any references to the characteristic you are describing. Is your description vivid enough that the person can identify the characteristic?

2. One of my favorite times with my mom . . . . Again, use details and conversation to recreate this experience for your reader.

3. I was really proud of my mom when she . . . .

4. (especially for teens and adults) Write a personal message to your mother, including the points recommended in From Me to You: The reluctant writer's guide to writing powerful, personal messages.

Puzzler: Homophones

Do you know the difference between a homonym and a homophone? Both indicate words with identical pronunciations. The first meaning of homonym, though, indicates words that are not only pronounced the same but spelled the same as well; they just have different meanings. Run, for example, is a homonym with many meanings. A homophone is a word that is like another in pronunciation but not in spelling or meaning. Ate and eight, for example, are homophones. (It should be noted that a secondary meaning of homonym is "homophone.")

Each of the following phrases could be paraphrased as a pair of homophones, the first an adjective and the second a noun. For example, "a grizzly without clothing" could be a "bare bear." An effort has been made to use some of the less common homophones.

a. a plank with holes drilled in it
b. beast of burden with laryngitis
c. the person who wins the wager
d. hot dogs and ice cream cones, for example
e. troll from western Alaska
f. people who make their living writing something other than poetry
g. when the herbs are added
h. vile countenance

Answers next month.

Answer to April anagram challenge:

Two subscribers -- Janet Goldstein (author/editor from Townsend Press) and Larry Charles -- submitted solutions to the anagram challenge. Janet's arrived within minutes of the publication of "LinguaPhile." For their verbal agility Janet and Larry have received . . . (drum roll) . . . the May issue of "LinguaPhile"!

Here is the solution to the challenge:

A VILE old lady, on EVIL bent,
Put on her VEIL, and away she went.
"LEVI, my son," she was heard to say,
"What shall we do to LIVE today?"

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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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