Do you remember the first time you heard the word “email”? How about “booting”? Or “text” as it relates to sending messages on phones? Or, speaking of text, “OMG”?
Our language is always changing. Lately, that change is propelled by words related to technology and the work of technology, such as texting. But there are other sources for new words or phrases, such as foreign foods and immigrants.
Merriam-Webster added more than 800 new words to its dictionary this month. Some I am familiar with; others are totally new. If you want your writing to be up-to-the-minute, try slipping in some of these.
Hophead: someone who likes beer.
Generation Z: people born in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Latinx: a gender-neutral version of Latino or Latina.
Portmanteau words: blended words such as mocktail: a nonalcoholic drink.
Iftar: the after-sundown meal taken by Muslims during Ramaden.
Airplane mode: the setting of an electronic device during flight.
For more information, go to https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/new-words-in-the-dictionary-september-2018.
Too bad school’s not in session. Retorts by Congressmen to President Trump’s remarks about President Putin would make a great vocabulary lesson, tying current events (of interest to students) to vocabulary (of lesser interest).
Using direct quotes could happen any time a current event brings forth a slew of comments. Even events from history and the responses of the people of the time could be used. What could the writing lessons be?
- Define ten of the words as used in the sentences and then use them in your own unrelated sentences.
- Select ten of the words and write a narrative / editorial / news story /poem using those words properly.
- Create a multiple choice test. Use the quoted sentence as the prompt and then underline one word per sentence and offer four choices identifying the correct meaning.
- Write a persuasive essay saying which remark is the most persuasive or the most polarizing or the most noncommittal.
Here are some of the comments from a week ago. (The underlines are my own.)
Senator Susan Collins of Maine: [The president’s] position is untenable.
Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska: When the president plays these moral equivalence games, he gives Putin a propaganda win he desperately needs.
Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas: The problem is. . .Russia’s duplicitous behavior.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington: The president must hold Russia accountable for their adversarial actions and their continued efforts to undermine our democratic institutions.
Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina: the United States will not tolerate hostile Russian activities against us or our allies.
Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri: [Putin] is a calculating adversary who is trying to exert all the influence he can anywhere he can.
Senator John Cornyn of Texas: I think [Trump is] conflating different things — the meddling and the collusion allegations for which there does not appear to be any evidence.
Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma: We must unequivocally denounce Russia’s election interference attempts.
Senator John McCain of Arizona: No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.
When parents ask for writing help for their children, what kind of help do they want?
- Sentence structures?
- Introductions and hooks?
- Cursive handwriting?
- Particular types of writing (paragraphs? essays? book reports? short answer responses? long answer responses? summaries?)
- Narrative elements (character development? plot? setting? foreshadowing? point of view? conflict? dialog? voice? suspense?)
- Verb tenses?
- Figures of speech?
Most parents have no idea so many elements combine to create good writing. When they see a list like this, they are taken aback.
That is why it is important for parents and teachers to agree on what students should learn at various ages. If a parent thinks the student should be perfecting grammar, but the teacher instead focuses on organization of information, the parent will not be happy. Or if a parent thinks a student should be using a great piece of rhetoric as a model, but the teacher wants the student to develop his own way of expression, again the parent will be dissatisfied.
Only when a parent is aware of all that a student is expected to learn can the parent and teacher have a meaningful conversation about how to improve a student’s writing.
Posted in adding details, clarity, complex sentence, compound sentence, conclusions, cursive handwriting, dialog in writing, elements of a narrative, essay conclusions, essay introduction, essay thesis, essay writing, foreshadowing, grammar, hooks, how to teach writing, narrative writing, paraphrasing, point of view character, prewriting organizer, revising first drafts, sentence modeling, short answer responses, simple sentence, spelling, Transitions, vocabulary building
I was working with a high school freshman writing an essay. He was baffled by his teacher’s directions to write a chicken foot and buckets. So was I. There was a drawing of a horizontal line with three diagonal “toes” going out from the end of the horizontal line. This was the chicken foot. There was another drawing of four cans with a space for a label at the top of each one. These were the buckets. But there was no identification of what these terms or diagrams meant.
Emails back and forth solved the problem. The chicken foot was the thesis. The horizontal line was the opinion and the three toes were the supporting ideas backing up the thesis. The buckets were the details for each of the chicken’s toes, with an extra one in case.
The more I thought about these terms, though, the more annoyed I became. Why not use the terminology that the student will need to use in other high school English classes and in college classes? Why not call a thesis a thesis and its supporting topic sentences supporting topic sentences? Why not call evidence “evidence” or “citations”?
What my student’s teacher is doing is what so many parents do for babies learning to talk. The parents say “night-night” instead of “sleep” or “bye-bye” instead of “we’re leaving.” But eventually the children need to learn the proper names for “sleep” and “leaving.” Why introduce “baby” versions of the words? Isn’t “sleep” just as easy to understand as “night-night”?
I know the teacher is well meaning. And I know she explained “chicken foot” and “buckets” during class. But my student didn’t understand, and looking up those words on the teacher handout didn’t help. If the teacher had used the word “thesis,” he could have looked that word up and found plenty of explanation. If she had used the words “topic sentences” or “supporting topic sentences,” he could have found those words and their meanings online. If she had used the words “evidence” or “citations,” my student could have figured out what they meant and what he was expected to do.
Children eventually need to learn proper vocabulary for ideas, whether it is “identify” or “cite.” Babying their vocabulary does no service to children; rather it confuses them and stalls their acquisition of adult vocabulary.
Several dictionaries announced their “word of the year” as 2017 closed. Here are their choices, in no particular order.
Youthquake: “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” Oxford Dictionaries (British)
Complicit: “choosing to be involved in an illegal or questionable act, especially with others.” Dictionary.com
Feminism: “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” and “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” Merriam-Webster Dictionary (American)
Fake News: “false, often sensational information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.” Collins Dictionary (British)
Another word to consider is “whatever,” not as a choice for word of the year but for the ninth consecutive year, as Americans choice for the most annoying word, according to the annual Marist Poll. “Fake news” came in second.