Sunday, November 22, 2009

Seasonal Word Reasoning (poll)

Readers beware! Here be invented words on several topics, created for budding vocabulogicians. Verbiventing is a great way to develop word logic in children and adolescents. Invent words. Interpret other's inventions. Grow in word sense.

1) Naming the season: Whether we call it harvest, autumn, or fall, it's the most brightific season of all! Could the term fall simply refer to falling leaves? Yes. Fall was originally “fall of the leaf.” For example, in 1545 Ascham wrote “Spring tyme, Somer, faule of the leafe, and winter” (OED online). A century later, the truncated form 'fall' was used. Today, the term ‘fall’ for autumn is commonly used in America but rarely in Great Britain. 
2) Food! Wishing you pantries plenished and replenished with abundant nourishments! Sadly, PBS reports that 1 in 7 American households have insufficient eatings. At present, words like starvation and famished are not frequently used to describe Americans, but poverty exists. Related books: The Glass Castle (Walls), Angela’s Ashes (McCourt).

Speaking of food, this traditional Thanksgiving picture is a cornucopia, literally meaning ‘horn of plenty’ because corn means ‘horn’ as seen in unicorn (one horn), cornet (the instrument, a horn), and in the Zodiak sign Capricorn (look it up at Etymology Online). Less obviously, we see corn=horn in tricorn and corner. Is a corner like a horn?  Does the other part of cornucopia (-copia) bring any abundance-related words to mind? 

3) Native Americans: November is National American Heritage Month (resources). Related to that, note the brilliant design of the secret code, created and used with tremendous success by the Navajo Code Talkers during WWII. Browse the extensive, student-friendly museum of the Navajo Code Talkers. Help students crack a few codewords; it's logical and answers are provided. Check out the marvelous illustrations in the children's book, The Unbreakable Code.

4) Opining on homework: It's nearly Thanksgiving! Time to vacate the schools! Time for family and/or friends, feasting, festing, football, and refeasting (possibly followed by fasting). Let’s hope all students can enjoy vacation sans schoolwork. My opinion? Hyperhomeworking is counterproductive. Entire families, including parent(s), have become homeworkaphobic and/or ultracompetitive. A new film documents the problem; see trailer  

Thanks, visitors! I count you as fellow philologists. Here's hoping few readers unfriend me! The New Oxford American Dictionary has named unfriend the word of the year for 2009 (ABCnews) but it’s not totally new. Fuller wrote in 1659, “I hope, Sir, that we are not mutually Unfriended by this Difference which hath happened betwixt us” (OED online). 

PS. I planned to write about context, but seasonal spirits fell upon me!


  1. Hey Susan, I love the idea of intentionally inventing words to build word sense.

    I think an important element of that kind of work, however, would be to have structures in place to test whether the inventions are "well constructed." Students need to be able to show me that they know what their word means, and they need to be able to prove the word's structure with a word sum.

    I can illustrate what I mean with the SIGN matrix at the link. When a student builds ‘signment’ I ask them to use it in a sentence. So far no one has been able to do so. This word fails to meet the first criteria of building words from a matrix - that the builder understand what it means, and can use it in a sentence. Sometimes, I add the point that there is no need for this word, as the existing word ‘signage’ already takes the job the proposed ‘signment’ would presumably provide.
    My favourite neologism from this matrix was the first time I used it when a student made a word sum re + signal = resignal. When I asked her to use it in a sentence, the student answered, "I resignaled because you didn't see me the first time". Excellent!

    Furthermore, the word sum re + signal (resignal) demonstrates that this is the only possible correct spelling of this word. This makes a very powerful point to students (and teachers) with regard to how well ordered English spelling is. We all agree that this word MUST be spelled resignal and that reesignul or risignel, while phonologically plausible in terms of common grapheme-phoneme correspondences, cannot be the correct spelling because they do not represent the meaning of the word introduced by our student.

    The fact that in the very first lesson with a class in this kind of instruction I can provide convincing evidence that students can create a new word that cannot be checked for spelling in a dictionary, but that has a spelling that we can prove or disprove is quite a powerful message.

    So I would encourage testing any word that is novel for students, whether it be attested or not, by investigating the meaning and structure links with word sums - and then one step further if possible with a word matrix.

    Here's a link for a video of teaching the word sum. Here's a link to see how word matrices and some other useful teaching tools for word structure work:

  2. I'm curious about the word ‘verbiventing’ in your blog. The only structure I can propose is:

    verb + i + vent + ing = verbiventing 

    While your word & spelling is possible, it requires the connecting vowel letter -i- where the prefix in- might be more effective. Maybe the compound verbinventing would mark the meaning you intend to communicate better.

    Your word vocabulogicians could have this structure:

    vocab + u + log + ic +ian + s

    which works nicely. The base –vocab- could be a clip, and –log- is one of my favourite bound bases from the Greek "logos" for 'speech, account, reason, word". This word, its and its spelling all holds together nicely it seems.

    My point there isn't to be picky, but to suggest that using tools like the word sum bring tools that support meta-linguistic and/or meta-cognitive elements to the investigation of invented words. They provide students and teachers a means to make judgments about the words they create, and to refine word structure knowledge that applies to all words, whether attested or invented.

  3. I agree with Peter's admonition to use well-constructed inventions. I use a similar admonition with my teacher colleagues who enthusiastically endorse "invented spelling" for their emerging readers.

    My response: "Oh, really? Do you REALLY want your students to show their unfettered, creative thinking when attempting to spell words they are unsure how to spell? So, you'd be happy if a student "invented" a new spelling for cat: QVP? It is hard to argue that QVP is a very "inventive" way to spell "cat". Is this what you want?"

    I'm convinced what these teachers actually want for their students is to have them use the very same skill they are learning in their math lessons: how to ESTIMATE an appropriate answer when the exact answer is unknown.

    I'm an enthusiastic encourager of "estimated" spelling (with corrections to follow). If one of my students was unsure how to spell "cat" and ESTIMATED the spelling as "kat" or "catt" I'd be much happier than if they had "invented" a new spelling such as qvp. If I did see "kat" on a paper, my response would be, "Wow, you did an excellent job of estimating the spelling of that word. Well done! Here is the traditional spelling: c-a-t."

    As teachers we too often confuse our students by failing to use skills (such as estimation)across disciplines.

    Having said all this, I love your idea of joyfully playing with language. Well done, Susan.

  4. I had not heard this distinction between invented and estimated spellings, but I like where you are going with it. Thanks, Jan!

    Every teacher becomes savvy at interpreting spellings, but migh own oarthowgrafick schilz jave knot bin wurcking so greight laitlee!

  5. Wow, Peter! Lots of great info above. Thank you so much for sharing the wealth. I will respond to both of your posted comments here.

    Readers, if you do not know Pete yet, you will soon recognize that he is extremely knowledgeable on spelling through morphology (affixes, roots, bases, stems, whatever!). Do visit his website and check out his videos.

    First, it's so logical to teach spelling through word sums, as you illustrated with the -sign- matrix. It's effective to have students use the invented word in a sentence, so you are working on usage as well as meaning (and as a measure of knowledge, as you said).

    As for your next comment, I agree with you! Verbinventing is more precisely correct than verbiventing! Believe, I debated with myself.

    BUT--verbinventing may be "correct" now--in its bright new stage of existence, but what about euphony and assimilation over years? You will notice that the word verb-iventing flows more easily from the tongue than does verb-in-venting. Thus, I jumped to the natural assimilation of speech sounds that occurs over time, as seen when prefixes are assimilated into roots. Examples:

    sub-port became support
    in-legal became illegal
    ex-vaporate became e-vaporate

    Ps--in the back of my mind, verb-iventing made me think of herb-ivore, which is really herb + devour, but it's so much easier to say herbivore.

    Also, I wanted to make my invented word less obvious, to make my readers think (easy for adults, but try it with your students! Not easy for all of them!)

    For learning vocabulary, it is important to engage in wordplay in an open forum (not to gainsay your astute spelling comments, Pete).

  6. I heartily recommend the OAD blog entry re:Word of the year. It was much more interesting and accurate than the ABC article (for example, a 'sexting' also includes pictures, something that you can't do in an sms message).

    I also offer the following commentary:

    While most of the words are interesting and timely, some are not. 'Sexting' perhaps should have been nominated in 2006-7.

    'Paywall' is a little old, too. And if it's back again it's only because Rupert Murdoch is using the word. Any time a crotchety 78 year old defines the Word of the Year you need to question if language is really evolving.

    You may know of the dust-up that ensued after 'unfriend' was named Word of the Year. I feel strongly, and I am not alone, that it should be 'defriend.' Unfriend is for n00bs.

    Nobody uses the word 'intexticated' (distracted while texting & driving). That's just preposterous.

    Finally, Susan, I think you will certainly appreciate the OAD's Twitter word family, which includes: tweets, tweeting, tweeps, twitterati and tweetups. I think a 'Net Corpus Linguistics masters' thesis is out there for someone.

    the pg

  7. Thanks, PG- I love it! Supposedly the OAD (Oxford American Dictionary) new word of the year 'unfriend' reflects the "ethos of the year and its lasting potential as a word of cultural signficance..." Unfriend embodies the best of us all, yes? Sheesh! Wouldn't it be a shame if the winner had been something noble and beneficial, such as vocabulogic.

    Yes, I do indeed appreciate the twitter family of words, including those obnoxious 'twitts' who twitterate and retweet at the cinema.

    Ps--Thanks MUCH for the link to the Oxford University Press blog. Only problem, most V-bloggers won't have access to it unless they pay a pretty premium, methinks.

  8. Maybe anyone CAN access that Oxford blog link. Hope so. The first time I tried, it wanted my UCB password, but not the next time.

  9. To wrap up the spelling-related feedback: Thanks to Jan and Peter for provoking worthwhile reflection on my part. I learn so much from these colleagues!

    To clarify, with emergent learners, one should BEGIN with words of a clear structure, sans nuance. I do not know where one should END.


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