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LinguaPhile, January 2001

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


Portico Books News . . .

Happy New Year! I hope 2001 will be a wonderful year for you and yours.

A few books, identified by the NEW icon, have been added to the Resources list.

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I'd like to point out a couple of things in The Activity Book that you might not have noticed. (I know that teachers sometimes don't bother to look at the Answer Key or Teacher's Notes.) On page 176, at the end of the Mechanics section, are fourteen sentences for dictation. These provide practice with basic capitalization, punctuation, and spelling rules -- and can also help students improve their listening skills. Writing a couple of sentences two or three days a week can provide ongoing practice of mechanical correctness.

Consider letting students refer to their Hands-On English books as needed during a test. What better way could we emphasize that the books are to be used until the information is internalized and they are no longer needed? Adults, after all, check a handbook whenever necessary to ensure that their writing is correct. Why shouldn't students -- less familiar with the language than we -- have the same privilege?

* * *

Have you developed new ways to use Hands-On Sentences or Hands-On Icons? If you would e-mail them to me, I'd love to be able to share them with other subscribers. I'll be glad to give credit for your contribution; just let me know how you would like to be identified.

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Quote of the Month

Every beginning is a consequence -- every beginning ends something.
-- Paul Valery, French poet and philosopher, 1871-1945


Expand Your Vocabulary . . .

James Lipton recognizes that our belletristic heroes had an uncommonly rich language at their disposal.

belletristic (bel li TRIS tik) adj. (from belles-lettres, meaning "literature regarded as a fine art: aesthetic literature") Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton are among the belletristic heroes of the English language.

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Q & A: Making Names Plural . . .

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

Answer: This is an area where errors often occur. First of all, forget the apostrophe; it will not be used in this 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)

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:

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

Remember this next December when you are addressing holiday greeting cards.

We invite your questions for this feature. Send them to Fran at GrammarAndMore.

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Janus: Writing/Bulletin Board Ideas

January is named for Janus, the ancient Roman god of doorways, of beginnings and endings. Janus had one head with two faces back to back, one looking to the past, the other to the future.

The threshold of a new year (indeed, a new millennium!) is an opportune time for students to reflect on the past year and speculate on the year ahead. Writing on this general topic could take a number of forms -- from group-generated lists to individually written multi-paragraph essays. Here are a few suggestions.

1. Have the class select what they consider to be the most important events of 2000. (It might be worthwhile to spend some time discussing criteria for determining importance.) These events could be limited to the school or class, or they could include national and international events. In the same way, students could predict important events that they think will occur in 2001.

2. Students could consider individually the topics mentioned in #1 above. Similarly, they could identify the most important events in their own lives or in their families.

3. Each student could identify the event of greatest personal significance in 2000. In an essay the student could reflect on the importance of this event and speculate on its ramifications in 2001.

4. Students could write "Then and Now" poems, explained more fully on page 23 of The Activity Book. The poem comprises a series of unrhymed couplets, the first line of each beginning with "I used to be" and the second line beginning with "But now I'm." A poem will be stronger if all of its couplets relate to growth in the same area. (This form works especially well with the study of compound sentences.) A special New Year's version of the poem could have lines beginning with "In 2000 I was" and "In 2001 I will be."

5. All of this writing could be edited and polished for classroom display. A more elaborate display would involve mounting each student's writing on a Janus-style silhouette. To make the two-faced silhouette, fold a large piece of colored paper in half, and tape it to a wall. Position the student so that light from a projector casts a shadow of the student's profile onto the paper. The shadow of the back half of the student's head should be beyond the fold, off the paper. Outline the top and front of the shadow; then, leaving the paper folded, cut the profile out of both thicknesses of paper. Unfold the paper to make the double-faced head on which the writing can be mounted.

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Meeting Your Goals . . .

The beginning of the year is a time when many people set goals, target the things they want to accomplish before the year is over. Often those goals are not met because after setting them, people sit back and wait for the goals to be realized. That isn't how things work.

Logically we know (but in practice we sometimes forget) that we must energetically and systematically pursue our goals. We will not lose 50 pounds if we don't change our habits of eating and exercise. Students will not raise their grades if they do not change their study habits and improve the caliber of work they submit.

Here is a guide that will help you -- or your students -- realize your goals.

A. Achieving Your Goals

1. State your goal in specific, measurable terms (so you'll know for sure whether you've achieved it). Use a verb phrase -- something you will do.

2. List your reasons for wanting to achieve this goal. These reasons are your motivation.

3. Establish a target date for completion.

4. Is the goal achievable? yes no (If the answer is no, revise the goal, change the completion date, or forget the whole thing.)

5. With a higher number showing greater importance, how important is this goal to you?

1 2 3 4 5

The more difficult the goal is to achieve, the more important it must be to you if you are going to achieve it. A difficult goal with importance lower than 4 is not likely to be achieved.

6. List steps that you will take to achieve the goal. Be sure each is a verb phrase -- something you will do. As you get farther into your project, you are likely to identify more steps. However, it's fine to start with generalities.

7. Tell at least one person about your goal. Telling people about it will increase your commitment to it.

B. Evaluating Your Progress (to be completed later)

8. Was your goal achieved? yes no

9. If yes, what helped you achieve this goal?

10. If no, what prevented you from achieving this goal?

11. What have you learned from this experience?

Having students evaluate their study habits by using pages 155 through 158 of The Activity Book is likely to help them identify worthy goals as well as steps that will lead to their accomplishment.

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Review: An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton . . .

Here's a real gem! I never dreamed that my minimal research to identify James Lipton for December's Quote of the Month would be so richly rewarded. An Exaltation of Larks (Ultimate Edition) is the culmination of more than two decades of Lipton's research of "nouns of multitude," which he prefers to call "terms of venery."

Many of these terms are commonplace: plague of locusts, pride of lions, litter of pups. Imagine, though, hearing these expressions for the first time. Lipton invites us to "sharpen our senses by restoring the magic to the mundane."

Lipton traced a number of these terms back to the 1400s, specifically to The Book of St. Albans, printed in 1486. In addition to today's ordinary terms, he discovered some that had a fresh sound, precisely because they had not made the 500-year journey to our modern era.

Lipton identifies six sources of inspiration for the terms. He lists these "Families" with the following examples:

1. Onomatopoeia: a murmuration of starlings, a gaggle of geese.

2. Characteristic (by far the largest Family): a leap of leopards, a skulk of foxes.

3. Appearance: a knot of toads, a parliament of owls.

4. Habitat: a shoal of bass, a nest of rabbits.

5. Comment (pro or con depending on viewpoint): a richness of martens, a cowardice of curs.

6. Error (in transcription or printing; sometimes preserved for centuries): "school" of fish was originally intended to be "shoal."

Lipton enthusiastically joined the "game" of coining terms, which had been in progress for more than 500 years. In 1968 he published his first Exaltation of Larks, which contained 175 terms -- some from Middle English, some original. Neither the hardbound nor the paperback edition went out of print before the Ultimate Edition (with more than 1,000 terms) was published in 1991. As Lipton puts it, textbooks and various media "used the book like sourdough to leaven new batches of terms."

Lipton believes that a pun or a play on words detracts from the vigor of a term. Alliteration, likewise, is unnecessary. Rather the success of the term hinges on identifying the "quintessential part" of the group of people or things and allowing it to represent the whole: a blur of impressionists, a brood of hens, a quiver of arrows. (Lipton's research on this last item revealed that as early as 1300 a poetic soul rejected the available words case and scabbard and turned quiver into a noun.)

An Exaltation of Larks includes a few pages detailing Lipton's lexical odysseys and triumphs. Most of the book comprises the lists themselves. The origin of some of the terms is explained, and more than 250 of the terms are illustrated with witty engravings by Grandville, a 19th Century French lithographer. More than half the book lists terms in 25 categories, such as professions (an aroma of bakers), daily life (a belch of smokestacks), and academe (a discord of experts).

Lipton includes several versions of games in which players coin new terms. His index lists his 1,000+ terms with a blank replacing the first item, which is the source of a term's poetry. The reader is thus encouraged to discern the essence of the thing collected. The page number facilitates the comparison of newly coined terms with existing ones.

An Exaltation of Larks is indeed "a word lover's garden of delights."

Available from An Exaltation of Larks by James Lipton

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Puzzler: Nouns of Multitude . . .

A. Here is a matching activity designed from Lipton's lists. Decide which word on the left is the "essence" of the animal on the right.

1. barren a. apes
2. labor b. bears
3. ostentation c. chickens
4. paddling d. ducks
5. peep e. jellyfish
6. shrewdness f. moles
7. sloth g. mules
8. smack h. peacocks
9. unkindness i. ravens

B. Now try your hand at invention. And encourage your children and students to do the same. What is the quintessence of a group of each of these people?

1. English teachers
2. homeschoolers
3. parents
4. pupils
5. underachievers
6. overachievers
7. assignments
8. weekends
9. grammarians
10. writers
11. readers
12. linguaphiles

E-mail your creations to, and the most interesting will be published in next month's LinguaPhile. Be sure to include the identification you would like in your credit line: first name, city, e-mail address, etc. If an original term occurs to you that does not use one of the words on this list, by all means send that, too.

Answers (and submissions!) next month.

Answer to December puzzler:

A. Christmas Song Titles
1. O Come, All Ye Faithful
2. Joy to the World!
3. O Little Town of Bethlehem
4. Silent Night
5. We Three Kings
6. There's a Song in the Air
7. While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night
8. It Came Upon a Midnight Clear
9. Angels We Have Heard on High
10. Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer

B. Adages
1. Birds of a feather flock together.
2. Look before you leap.
3. Don't cry over spilled milk.
4. The pen is mightier than the sword.
5. You can't teach an old dog new tricks.
6. A watched pot never boils.
7. Where there's smoke there's fire.
8. Dead men tell no tales.
9. People who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

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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:

© 2001 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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