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LinguaPhile, December 2002

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


Help with Your Holiday Shopping

Consider doing some of your holiday shopping at the GrammarAndMore Web site. Not only can you order Hands-On English and its companion products, you can also read about seventy-five of Fran's favorite books and -- for most of them -- link immediately with the page on where you can make your purchase:

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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 an additional 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 within twenty-four hours of their receipt, so a prompt order should guarantee holiday delivery. You could even have your gift sent directly to the recipient. You can order directly from

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

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Short of money for holiday gifts? Give subscriptions to LinguaPhile and/or Acu-Write. They're FREE! Simply have the recipient click on the appropriate link and send a blank e-mail message:

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Quote of the Month: Communication

If all my possessions were to be taken from me with one exception, I would choose to keep the power of communication, for by it I would regain all the others.
--Daniel Webster, U.S. statesman and orator (1782-1852)

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Sharpen Your Vocabulary: tryptophan

In recent years we have heard about tryptophan (/TRIP tuh fan/), a chemical in turkey that is allegedly responsible for the drowsiness one feels after eating a large turkey dinner. Now it appears that the bird may have gotten a bum rap.

While it is true that turkey (along with a number of other foods) contains tryptophan and that tryptophan can induce drowsiness, in order for this effect to occur, the tryptophan would need to be consumed on an empty stomach apart from other amino acids or proteins.

There are several more likely explanations of drowsiness, the prime suspect being the carbohydrates (consider the stuffing, the potatoes, the sweet potatoes, the cranberries -- laden with sugar, the corn, the rolls, the pie). Consumption of carbohydrates produces serotonin, which in turn causes drowsiness.

For a more detailed exploration of the causes of drowsiness after a large meal, visit

Hands-On English includes nearly 200 morphemes, along with their meanings and examples. Knowing the meanings of morphemes can help you unlock hundreds of words the first time you encounter them. 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: Making Names Plural

Question: I think once before you gave information about making names plural. Would you repeat that please?

Answer: Gladly! This is so often a source of error -- especially at this time of year -- that it bears repeating.

First of all, remember not to use an apostrophe when making a name plural!

In fact, the rules governing pluralization of names are simpler than those governing pluralization of nouns in general: 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 on our team. (plural of Robert)
There are two Charleses on our team. (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:
The Baileys are coming to dinner. (plural of Bailey)
There are two Marys in our club. (plural of Mary)
There are two Maries in our club. (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:
The Roberts Family (instead of The Robertses)
Two girls in our club are named Mary.

Now address those holiday cards and invitations with confidence!

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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Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift by Kathryn Lasky

A book in Scholastic's Dear America series, Christmas After All by Kathryn Lasky is the heartwarming story of an endearing family coping with the adversity of the Great Depression. The story is told through the diary of Minerva Swift, youngest of four sisters and the second-youngest child in her family. If you can suspend your disbelief that an eleven-year-old would write an average of five pages of flawless prose every day between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you are in for a treat.

The Swifts live in Indianapolis in 1932. Although they are struggling less than most families (some of whom we glimpse both in the Swifts' neighborhood and in the shantytowns), they do have to adjust their lifestyle -- their menus, their purchases, their activities. As Minnie astutely observes, "I think that there has never been such a collision between realness and fantasy. It is as if we are standing with our feet in the muck and grime of these hard times but our noses are pressed up against the window of some fantastically glamorous world."

Indeed, the juxtaposition of reality and fantasy pervades the book. People gather around the radio to listen to Jack Benny, Buck Rogers, or The Shadow; they go to the movies that provide an inexpensive, though temporary, escape from their troubles. They look for some magic to change the conditions of their existence. Willie Faye, an orphaned cousin who comes from the Dust Bowl of Texas to live with the Swifts, looks to faith rather than to magic for the change. (Despite this -- and the fact that the book deals with the month leading up to Christmas -- Christmas After All is not a religious book. It should be appropriate for use in a public school classroom.)

In Christmas After All we see a family showing optimism in the face of hardship, humor in the face of fear. Family members must determine when frivolities become necessities -- and they show great resourcefulness in making gifts and fashioning new clothes. Christmas After All gives a vivid picture of life during the Great Depression, and it holds lessons for all of us -- especially during our challenging economic times.

Published by Scholastic, 2001, 185 pages.

Available from Christmas After All: The Great Depression Diary of Minnie Swift

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Other Books in Scholastic's Dear America Series

I am thrilled to have discovered this series -- at least thirty-five books strong -- published by Scholastic over the last few years. The books are written from the viewpoint of a fictional young person (not necessarily a child) in the format of a diary or journal. Although the original series featured the diaries of girls, spinoff series (My America and My Name Is America) feature the journals of boys.

The books are actually written by more than a dozen award-winning authors of children's books -- authors of the caliber of Patricia McKissack, Patricia Hermes, Karen Hesse, Barry Denenberg, and Laurence Yep. These authors are veteran researchers. In addition, most of them have written about topics of special personal significance -- perhaps dealing with their region of the country or their own family's experiences.

One author, although an award-winner, was not well known. She is Katelan Janke, a fifteen-year-old who wrote Survival in the Storm: The Dust Bowl Diary of Grace Edwards. As a sixth-grader Katie had won the 1998 Arrow Book Club/ Dear America Student Writing Contest with her five-page diary entry about a young girl surviving the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Scholastic editors were so impressed with Katie's writing ability that they engaged her to write this book in their series. Katie spent more than two years on her research and writing.

In addition to the diary itself, most of the books include an epilogue that tells what happened later in the characters' lives, a historical note that provides background information on life in America during that period, and approximately ten pages of photographs, drawings, documents, and maps that further aid visualization of the story. Occasional inclusion of songs and recipes involves additional senses in experience of the era.

Some of the books describe major events of U.S. history -- colonization, the Revolutionary War, westward expansion, the Civil War, wars of the twentieth century. Some events have several diaries, providing multiple perspectives. Other books simply explore the lives of people in various circumstances -- a railroad worker, a black cowboy, a teacher on the prairie, a mill worker, a miner, etc.

Not only do these books bring history to life for their readers, they also help to develop an appreciation for ancestors' experiences and to open avenues of discussion with family members or friends who might have lived through those times. In addition, the books provide excellent models of journals for young writers to emulate. I heartily recommend them!

Many libraries shelve books of the series together. Although I have not yet found a page that conveniently lists all books of the series, this page lists those in the original Dear America series:

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Resources from IDA

The first two products described below are useful to all students, not only to those with dyslexia or other learning difficulties. In addition, they are easy to use, requiring neither special training nor extensive preparation.

Handwriting Without Tears
This multisensory program developed by Jan Z. Olsen, an occupational therapist and handwriting specialist, is developmentally based and is designed to make handwriting an automatic and natural skill for children of all ability levels. The readiness or prewriting program uses manipulatives -- "big lines" and "little lines," "big curves" and "little curves." These are made of sanded Baltic birch. The "big line," for example, is 10" x 1" x 1/4". The program continues with instruction in printing and cursive writing.

We have all agonized for students whose handwriting is illegible and/or laborious. Jan Olsen says that it is never too late to improve penmanship. In addition to products, she offers many helpful tips for parents, teachers, and therapists:

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MathLine is a self-contained multisensory tool that can be used to demonstrate more than twenty-five math concepts from simple counting to pre-algebra. When abstract concepts are made concrete, they are easier to understand. See more about how this product works:

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Do you suspect that a child you know might have dyslexia (an inherited condition that, despite at least average intelligence, makes reading, writing, and spelling extremely difficult)? This site provides a wealth of information about dyslexia, including symptoms, assessments, and methods of instruction:

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Puzzler: Cryptoquote

In previous years the December Puzzler has included disguised carol titles. If you are a new subscriber (or would like to see those again), visit these pages:
You won't have to wait a month for the answers!

Each letter in the following quotation stands for some other letter. Each A represents the same letter, each B represents the same letter, etc. However, there is no relationship between the letter represented by one letter and the letter represented by another letter. (For example, if A represents S, there is no reason to think that B will represent T.) To solve this type of puzzle, look for patterns -- within words and within the sentence. Warning: Cryptograms can be addictive! You can find other cryptoquotes in the September 2000, March 2001, and March 2002 LinguaPhiles:



Answer next month.

Answer to November Puzzler

What is the guiding principle behind this sequence of letters?

Letters are sequenced according to the frequency of their use in English.

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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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