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LinguaPhile, February 2001

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


Portico Books News . . .

Work will soon begin on the second edition of Hands-On English. Please let us know what you like or don't like about the book. Are there things you would like to see added? omitted? Are there some explanations that you have always wished were clearer? Have you found a mechanical error? Is the reading level appropriate for your students?

As you are providing suggestions, please also include a little information about your students -- their ages and their needs. If, for example, you say that the reading level is too high, it would help us to know whether your students are dyslexic teenagers or gifted fourth graders.

Be sure to remember to tell us things you like that you would not want to see changed. If ten people recommend a particular change and 500 others especially like that feature but remain silent, we will not have an accurate assessment of customer preferences. This invitation for feedback is in no way limited to LinguaPhile subscribers. If you know others who are using Hands-On English, please let them know that we want their opinion. (You might also encourage them to subscribe to this newsletter.)

We don't promise that we will make every change that is suggested, but we do promise that every suggestion will be considered. Let us hear from you by e-mail, snail mail, fax, phone, whatever is most convenient for you. This is your opportunity to mold this book to your unique specifications.

* * *

Do you need products for lefties? resources for a classical education? activities for ESL students? the ultimate dictionary? Check out the new links on the Resources page:

Of particular interest are the Situation Puzzles. Here is an example: "Music stops and a woman dies." Through questioning, people would try to find the relationship between these apparently unrelated events. It is unfortunate that so many mysteries involve death; however, most of the solutions are much less gruesome than the original puzzle implies.

* * *

Fran will be exhibiting products at the following conventions on these dates in March:

9-10: Homeschoolers' Conference, Bloomingdale, IL
16-17: MO Middle School Assn. Conference, Tan-Tar-A, MO
23-24: MATCH Conference (Homeschoolers), Jefferson City, MO

If you are planning to attend any of these events, please stop by to say hello. If you know others who will be attending, please urge them to do the same.

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Quote of the Month

A new word is like a wild animal you have caught. You must learn its ways and break it before you can use it.
--H. G. Wells, English novelist and historian, 1866-1946


Expand Your Vocabulary: Valentine's Day . . .

Do you know the origin of Valentine's Day? It is a very old holiday, having been celebrated for more than 1700 years. It was named for a priest -- perhaps two -- martyred by the Roman Emperor Claudius on February 14 in A.D. 269. Imprisoned for helping the early Christians, the priest converted his jailer, Asterius, to Christianity. This so infuriated Claudius that he had the priest killed. Later the priest was canonized as St. Valentine.

While the name of Valentine's Day came from Christianity, our modern customs surrounding the holiday apparently originated in pagan traditions. The Festival of Lupercalia, honoring Lupercus, an ancient Roman fertility god associated with Juno and Pan, was given the name of St. Valentine's Day. Part of the celebration of this festival involved drawing names of young women at random from a box. Each woman was then honored by the person who had drawn her name.

In the Middle Ages, Valentine's Day greetings were spoken or sung, since few people could read or write. The oldest known written valentine was sent in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans. Charles was a Frenchman who was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Some of his valentine poems are now in the British Museum.

The custom of sending valentine cards was introduced in the United States by Esther Howland in 1847. She received a lacy valentine from England and began making her own to sell in her father's shop in Worcester, Massachusetts. Demand for her cards was so great that she was soon earning nearly $100,000 per year. Today nearly a billion valentines are sent in the United States and Canada each year.

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Valentine's Day Special: A Poem of Love and Grammar . . .

This poem, written by Janet M. Goldstein*, appeared in English Journal in February, 1973. It has been treasured for more than a quarter of a century.

Life Sentence

In the English language,
word order
determines meaning.
I love you
is not the same as
You love me--
and so,
although you are the object
of my affections,
I am not the subject
of your thoughts;
and not even
fifty governors
could commute
this sentence.

© 1973 Janet M. Goldstein. Used with permission.

*Janet M. Goldstein, a former English teacher, is an editor at Townsend Press in New Jersey. She is the co-author of A Basic Reader for College Writers (Townsend Press, 1995) and English Brushup, 2/e (McGraw-Hill, 1998).
Welcome to Townsend Press

Q & A: Using a.m. and p.m. . . .

Question: What is the correct way to write the abbreviations that indicate time before noon or after noon? Should they be capitalized or lowercased?
-- a St. Louis Subscriber

Answer: Excellent question! While style manuals show several correct ways to write these abbreviations, people seem to find just as many wrong ways to write them. And these wrong forms often show up in print, causing novices to be confused and veterans to check the latest style manual to see if standards have changed.

An example of the worst way to write such a time is 6am. Including the space between the numeral and the abbreviation is critical. Also, the colon and zeroes should be used to denote an even hour. The abbreviation a.m. stands for the Latin phrase ante meridiem, which means "before noon"; p.m. stands for post meridiem, which means "after noon." Periods are generally used with these abbreviations with no space following the first period. The word o'clock should not be used with a time written in numerals, nor should a phrase indicating morning or afternoon be used with a.m. or p.m. Either would be redundant.

Regarding capitalization -- the preferred form, when it is available, is to use "small caps" -- letters that have uppercase form and lowercase size. For example, if you were typing on the computer in 14-point type, you would adjust the font size to 11- or 12-point to make small caps. Often small caps are not available though. In their absence, lowercase is preferred. Although The Chicago Manual of Style permits the omission of the periods with small caps, I would not mention this to students since in most instances the periods are required and in no case are they wrong.

Military time, by the way, is written without punctuation and without an a.m.-p.m. designation.

To recap, here are some examples of right and wrong forms:

Wrong: 6am 6:00am 6:00a.m.
  6:00 a. m. 0600 a.m. 6:00 o'clock
  6 a.m. in the morning 
Right: 6:00 a.m. 6:00 A.M. 0600
  six o'clock in the morning 

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

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Review: Rootabaga Stories by Carl Sandburg . . .

Carl Sandburg, winner of Pulitzer Prizes both for his biography of Abraham Lincoln and for his Complete Poems, explores another genre in Rootabaga Stories, fairy tales that he wrote for his daughters. When asked how he wrote the stories, Sandburg replied, "The children asked questions, and I answered them."

The Rootabaga Stories are unconventional in almost every way. Unlike traditional fairy tales, they have no perfect princesses and evil witches. They are American fairy tales with a rural flavor and, in fact, they have no evil characters. The settings, though fanciful, include images that defined America in the 1920s, when the stories were published: the railroad, which "ran across the prairie, to the mountains, to the sea," and the skyscraper.

In Rootabaga Country the railroad tracks go from straight to zigzag, the pigs wear bibs (some checked, some striped, some polka-dotted), and the biggest city is the Village of Liver-and-Onions. Characters in this fanciful world are equally peculiar: Please Gimme, Blixie Blimber, Eeta Peeca Pie, and dozens of others. Children and literary critics alike would be hard-pressed to explain (even symbolically) the events that occur in the stories. Nevertheless, meaning comes through and truth is revealed. For example, in "Three Boys with Jugs of Molasses and Secret Ambitions," ambition is defined as "a little creeper that creeps and creeps in your heart night and day, singing a little song, 'Come and find me, come and find me.'" Who would expect that "The Two Skyscrapers Who Decided to Have a Child" would have an absolutely poignant ending?

Although the events of the stories may not be explainable, the stories are replete with concrete images. Sandburg provides both visual and auditory description with musical, repetitious phrases and novel juxtaposition of words ("a daughter who is a dancing shaft of light on the ax handles of morning"). Occasionally he invents words, such as pfisty-pfoost, the sound of the train's steam engine, and bickerjiggers, the buttons on an accordion.

Rootabaga Stories are wonderful for reading aloud. They provide an opportunity for readers and listeners to delight in language and revel in truths revealed in a fanciful world.

Recommended for ages 7 and up.

Available from Rootabaga Stories, Part One

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Reveling in Words

Encourage your students to take an interest in words as individual entities. (This is something you might enjoy, too! And if your students have you as a model, they're likely to be more successful.) Encourage them to collect favorite words, writing them on note cards, which can be organized in a file, or on appropriate pages of a notebook. Some words might be selected just for their sound, others for the image they conjure. Particular categories will depend upon individual interests and preferred writing topics. Here are a few examples: Speech Words (descriptive alternatives to "said"), Movement Words (descriptive alternatives to "walked"), Color Words, Outdoor Words, Smell Words, Playful Words, Harsh Words, Winter Words -- the list could go on and on. Once these words are identified and collected, lists can be consulted when a word is needed in writing.

The following class activity would be a good springboard for word collection. Have students, as a group, brainstorm a list of words they especially like. Encourage them to distinguish the word itself from the concept it represents; they are listing words they especially like, not their favorite ideas, such as money or ice cream. Encouraging them to use concrete words and to pay attention to the word's sound will make the activity more successful. It will also be helpful if the list includes various parts of speech. When the board is covered with words, have students combine three words into an original phrase (articles and prepositions may be added if necessary). This activity is likely to result in the juxtaposition of words that have never been juxtaposed before, such as "dappled mauve lullaby." Like the descriptions in Rootabaga Stories, the phrases convey an impression even if they are not completely logical, and they encourage students to combine words in fresh ways. Some of the created phrases might spark poems or even stories.

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Reading/Writing Stories: Conflict and Character . . .

Coupling the writing of any genre with reading and analysis of works in that genre can be very effective. Rootabaga Stories provides the opportunity to examine the inner workings of a story.

Central to any story is conflict. This critical ingredient is often missing from many student-written stories; characters experience one interesting event after another, but without conflict the stories lack drama.

A simple activity can demonstrate the importance of drama in a story. Place a chair at the front of the classroom or in another open area. Ask a specific student to sit on the chair. When the student has taken his or her place, ask if there was conflict in the achievement of that goal, if it would make an interesting story. Unless classmates "improvised," conflict was probably lacking and the task was easily accomplished. Then simultaneously invite two students to sit on the empty chair. Conflict is immediately present since the chair is designed for one person. Students can race for the available spot or resolve the conflict by sharing the chair. Ask again if there was conflict, if this incident would make a more interesting story than the first.

While some students write stories that lack conflict, others write stories fraught with conflict; one paragraph may have as many life-and-death situations as a full-length action film. It would help these students to be able to identify a central conflict so that other conflicts can be portrayed as secondary. The central conflict may be the quest for the Holy Grail, but along the way there may be damsels to rescue and dragons to slay.

Since the conflict in a story is experienced by the characters, a study of the characters is the best way to identify the conflict. Here are some questions to ask about each of the main characters in a story:

1. Describe the character. Physical characteristics may provide a start, but go beyond these. What are the character's strengths? What are his or her weaknesses?

2. What is different and interesting about this character? If you are writing a story, avoid having characters that are just alike; each should fill a unique role in the story.

3. What is this character's goal? What does he or she want more than anything else?

4. What are the obstacles to this goal? Which is the main obstacle? How are the obstacles related?

5. What is at stake? What does the character lose if the goal is not achieved? (The higher the stakes, the greater the potential for drama.)

6. When you finish reading a story, take time to pinpoint how the conflict was resolved. How are the characters different at the end of the story than at the beginning?

Answering these questions about characters in stories read is excellent preparation for creating powerful characters and meaningful conflicts in stories written.

Novice authors are likely to find that the success of their story is directly proportional to its simplicity. Having few characters and confining the action to a relatively small space and short time is likely to be more effective than, for example, documenting a futuristic intergalactic battle that has been raging since the creation of the world. Selecting a small story to tell enables the writer to develop it thoroughly, to recreate incidents for the reader -- and to polish that story until it has a fine luster.

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Puzzler: Amazing Anagrams . . .

These anagrams were passed along by a St. Louis subscriber. We are sorry we do not know the author in order to give credit for discovering these wonderful coincidences of our language.

An anagram is a word that includes the same letters as another word. For example, evil, vile, and live are anagrams of each other. Each of these items has an anagram that is virtually its synonym. For example, dormitory is an anagram of dirty room. (Note: New anagrams will not include the punctuation marks. Numbers in parentheses indicate the number of words in the new anagram.)

1. Evil's agent (1)
2. Here come dots. (3)
3. Cash lost in 'em (2)
4. Is no amity (1)
5. Alas! No more Z's (2)
6. Twelve plus one (I don't want to make this too easy.)
7. Accord not in it (1)

For the finale let's start with the familiar. See if you can make an anagram that basically describes the same event.

That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.
--Neil Armstrong

Use all 59 letters and any punctuation you wish. Please send your creations to include in next month's LinguaPhile.

Answers to January puzzler:


1. a barren of mules
2. a labor of moles
3. an ostentation of peacocks
4. a paddling of ducks
5. a peep of chickens
6. a shrewdness of apes
7. a sloth of bears
8. a smack of jellyfish
9. an unkindness of ravens

B. Nouns of multitude not in parentheses were listed by Lipton in An Exaltation of Larks. Those in parentheses are other creative submissions.

1. a (literacy) of English teachers
2. a (dedication) of homeschoolers
3. a persistence of parents (pride, exhaustion)
4. a dilation of pupils (curiosity, glaze)
5. a drowse of underachievers (sloth, complacence)
6. a leap of overachievers (steamroller, serendipity)
7. an (avalanche) of assignments (industry, diligence)
8. an (insufficiency) of weekends (laziness, honey-do)
9. a conjunction of grammarians (precision, foundation)
10. a worship of writers (composition, invention, wit)
11. a browse of readers (digestion, enlightenment)
12. an (eloquence) of linguaphiles

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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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