Get Into Grammar with A Word With You

Eminent and immanent and imminent 

I know there are difficult, complicated, even convoluted languages out there, I understand the language of Greenland is a mindbender, but English has definitely got to be up there on the list. Which of course makes the teaching of grammar that much more challenging.

We have altogether too many words that are ridiculously similar in pronunciation and spelling yet mean entirely different things. Take eminent, immanent, and imminent for example.

Eminent: of high standing; superior in position, fame, or achievement

Immanent: within something; existing within or inherent in something

Imminent: about to happen, or threatening to happen

Now the last two are honest to goodness homonyms but the first is so similar in pronunciation I’m throwing it in as well.

It’s easy to look at our language and complain that it’s occasionally overcomplicated but I prefer to think of it as well-rounded. And amazing. And challenging. Seriously, wouldn’t you prefer too many words as opposed to too few?

Awaiting the imminent arrival of the eminent Professor Plum, the class anticipated his lecture on the immanence of “dark matter” in the universe.  

Grammar Fun with Pronunciation

Teaching grammar with pronunciation!

Pronunciation is one of those concepts that never fail to intrigue me. And puzzle me. And occasionally leave me nonplussed. Okay, I’ll admit it; our language is probably a bit on the over-complicated side. We do tend to have half a dozen words that mean roughly the same thing. Fine. I still love it. Except for the words that get screwed up. A lot. Regularly. And never fail to annoy me when they do.

Here are just a couple of them: Mischievous  and irreparable.

Irreparable and irrepairable. I just saw this one on a television program in large white pint against a black background and couldn’t  believe my eyes. Irreperairable, big as life. Seriously! Microsoft Word would have given them a major red squiggly line under that word, but there it was, big as life. And of course you have to know that one of the people on the show (this was one of those reality shows talking about hoarders) kept pronouncing the word ir-repair-able instead of the correct usage, ir-repar-able. And yes, it bugged me every single time he did. C’mon, people, when the spelling tells you how it’s pronounced why does it get so twisted? And so commonly used?

Which brings me to mischievous, or, as it seems to be better known as: mis-chev-ious. Okay, now that one I’ll admit to doing that one myself from time to time until it hit me that I was wrong, wrong, wrong. There is no mischevious, the word is pronounced mis-chev-ous. Really.

 So, why do we pronounce it mischevious? Irreparable—so often comes out ir-repair-able, which isn’t a word. Joolery I’ve already griped about instead of jewelry. Joolery is not a word! Neither, as it turns out, are mischevious and irrepairable. Who knows? The “wrong” words actually contain more syllables and are even more difficult to pronounce.

So I challenge you to go out into the world and pronounce these commonly wronged words correctly. And when you hear them mispronounced, please point it out—politely—to the pronouncers. Before you know it we’ll all be speaking better. Or you’ll have a black eye.               

Get Them Writing with Grammar Punk

Writing is a skill that has to be a requirement not an option. Strong writing skills are an absolute necessity in nearly every type of employment. The stronger the skills the wider the net of opportunity waiting to be flung, the more choices become available. This onerous does fall on teachers because it is teachers who see who is getting it and who isn’t. Teachers will also tell you that, as with any skill, the best way to perfect a thing is to do it. Over and over and over again. Every single day.

We want to take that onerous one stop further. Another challenge most teachers bump up against is what to do with the kids who get it…but aren’t doing anything with it. Those students can be more frustrating than the ones who struggle with basic skills.

We need to start encouraging students to focus their writing skills to a purpose. A specific purpose. Writers need to be encouraged—to become writers.

I once had the opportunity—and privilege to talk to a group of high school juniors and seniors about writing. I came prepared to talk about honing strong grammar chops, stretching vocabularies, editing skills and stellar spelling—and I did—before we got down to the fun stuff. I had stumbled across a group of kids who got it and who wanted to use it. It just hadn’t occurred to anyone to tell them they were already doing it.

Creating writers often means supplying them with plenty to read from the get-go then staying out of their way. Some of us knew from an early age that writing was all we wanted to do. We are the exception, not the rule. Many writers need to be pointed in the right direction. Ask any artist and they’ll tell you that someone, at sometime put a paintbrush in his or her hand and pointed them to the canvas. New writers need to be encouraged, often cajoled, occasionally bullied, rarely threatened, always prodded. Don’t just tell them they can do it, prove it by giving them the tools, the structure, the skeleton and the enthusiasm—then get out of their way. Until it’s time for the next project.

 

Like Grammar Punk

Stop saying like! There have been many such space-filler words in the language, no doubt since the beginning. I’m quite certain early man moved from unintelligible grunting to rudimentary language to throwing in early equivalents of “um”, “uh”, “er”, and the infamous (and annoying) “you know.” We all do it, we can’t help it, it’s even necessary to keep the social flow of conversation moving along while our brains catch up. We just don’t need to do it incessantly.

Which leads me to the supremely aggravating and teeth-clenching LIKE.

This word has its proper usage of course, don’t they all? It’s difficult to pull of a good simile without the word like. It’s a comparison sort of word, a very useful sort of word. Like: similar or in a similar way; similar to someone or something. similar to someone or something else, or in a similar way to someone or something else. See? Good word, fine word, innocent word, horridly overused word!

Apparently, we once again blame the surfers, in this case Valley-Speak for pushing this one to the forefront. “Like I can’t believe how, like, awesome that last, like wave like was!”  

I’ve said it, I say it, I’m usually aware of it and wince internally but I do say it. I just try (very hard!) to keep it to a minimum. Let’s face it folks, over-liberally sprinkling your speech with this particular overused word makes you sound, well, not smart. Worse, depending on the circumstance, it makes you sound unconfident, diffident, unsure of yourself. I don’t know about you but there are very few occasions in life when I wish to sound diffident and dorky.

Saying “like” like this is a habit. And like most habits, it’s not a good one. And like all habits, it can be broken. And like many habits, it SHOULD BE!

Teacher of grammar and English out there, I am proposing a challenge. Start noodging (gently at first then maybe not so gently) for your students to snip this word out of their vocabulary. And for some of you teachers of grammar, let’s admit it, out of your own as well.

Make a game of the simile angle so that they will be more cognizant of the proper usage of the word and have some fun with the language itself. Encourage fun, goofy, even outlandish similes’; The flock of penguins huddled together like a gathering of formally dressed gentlemen. Inundate your students with the proper usage of this handy little word and it may just get them using properly. Which would make the rest of us very happy.

Create Grammar Fun with Predators

I may have mentioned a time or two before that I like animals. A lot. All kinds of animals, many of them in fact I’m fonder of than people. Animals are so honest. They don’t lie, they don’t prevaricate, they don’t hide their feelings or do anything but be…animals.

I spent a few years living in Alaska as a kid and it was an experience I’ve never forgotten. One of my fondest memories is of a house we rented in Fairbanks. The front room had a huge picture window. I woke in the middle of the night and as was my habit on my way to the bathroom I stopped to look out the window at the snow that would inevitably be falling only to see fur. Lots and lots of fur. A very large, very black, very hairy bear was standing on his hind legs, large paws pressed to the window as he looked back in at me.

I don’t know how long we stood there staring at each other, it felt like a couple of centuries. I was about six years old at the time and I’ve never forgotten the sensation of being so close to something so large. I remember being thrilled, I don’t remember being afraid. In my defense, seeing bears was not an unknown phenomena and as they were black bears and relatively unagressive, even a bit worrisomely used to people, I was actually worried he’d break the window and eat me. I was just fascinated. And enthralled. And in love.

And have been ever since. Granted my exposure to animals is mainly of the domestic kind, and lots of wildlife spectacles on television, but my love affair has never ended. Which is a long way to go around what this particular blog is really about, which is those wildlife spectacles I just mentioned, and my one complaint thereof. Namely, the fact that there you are, watching this very interesting, even gripping account of some critter or other and, BAM! in pops a lion or tiger or shark or a stupid snake and the cute little critter is lunch! With no warning they do this. With barely a second for a person to hit the remote and change the stupid channel. Or to just throw the remote at the television in hopes of hitting the off button in time to avoid the actual chomping to ensue.

Okay, I’m aware that the world is made up of predator and prey, that it has been ever thus, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. That doesn’t mean I want it shoved in my face right in the middle of enjoying the magnificent beauty of the whatever. Just once I’d like to watch a nature program where the prey win. Just once. 

Teachers of English, grammar and writing, this is a good writing prompt. Challenge your students to write about their favorite—or not so much—aspect of nature shows.

Make Grammar Fun with Shoes

Waiting for the other shoe to drop

To await an event that is expected to happen, due to being causally linked to another event that has already been observed.

This particular saying has held a fascination for me for far too long. It’s just such an accurate way to convey a sense of suspense, of bated breath, of waiting for something to happen that is not necessarily a good thing.

Where this particular figure of speech comes from seems to be up for some debate, big surprise. The best I can tell is that it has been around for some time, probably at least a hundred years or so. There is a cartoon about Hitler entitled “Waiting For That Other Shoe To drop!” which means the phrase had to have been used enough to feel familiar as a catch-phrase by 1943.

As far as I can tell the original source seems to be the story of a man who comes in late at night to a boarding house tired and out of sorts. He sits on his bad, pulls one shoe off and drops it to the floor with a thump, then feeling guilty for disturbing his neighbors sleep he takes off the other and much more quietly puts it on the floor. Just as he’s drifting off to sleep a voice from below bellows, “Well drop the other one then! I can’t sleep waiting for you to drop the other shoe!” This may have come from a music hall or perhaps Vaudeville.

Just goes to show that an old joke can long outlive its original intent and live on as a catch-phrase that is almost immediately identifiable and, as with the best of such phrases, makes a great analogy.

For some reason whenever I hear this phrase I think of Kruschev removing his shoe and banging it on the table at the UN conference. In 1956 in a speech to the United Nations by Harold Macmillan, Soviet President Nikita Kruschev famously interrupted by beating his shoe against his desk before shouting to the US representatives “We will bury you”.

Macmillan, in keeping with his reputation for unflappability, responded to the highly irregular shoe-banging with: “I shall have to have that translated!”

I don’t even want to think what might have happened if Kruschev had removed the other shoe… And just for the record, this incident was way before my time…

Teachers of English, grammar, and writing, this is a gret prompt to jumpstart discussion about this particular catch-phrase. Ask your students to examine this figure of speech. Then challenge them to write an essay or better yet a short story with a character waiting for the other shoe to drop—or what happens once it has.

Teach Grammar with Urgency

Teaching Grammar…With Urgency

I’ve been fascinated by the recent upswing in interest in the state of education in our country, and it’s in a sorry state, no big surprise. Which is probably the most disturbing aspect of all. We’re not terribly surprised—and we should be. It’s also no secret that we’re lagging behind in things like math and science, but also in reading and writing skills. This should be particularly shocking. And isn’t.

Literacy: the ability to read and write. What a deceptively simple concept. What a tragic mistake to fail to instill these skills in students. Let’s face it, we simply can’t function out there in this fast-paced world without strong literacy skills. And let’s face it again, teaching grammar with an emphasis on rote memorization isn’t cutting it either.

When helping to create Grammar Punk I returned again and again to the old maxim, “If you teach a man to fish…” Writing is one of those skills that can only become ingrained and part of a student’s repertoire by doing. You can’t learn to write without writing. Writing everyday. Writing with a purpose.

I also love the concept of “muscle memory.” Muscle memory, also known as motor learning, is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. In other words, the more you do something the less you have to struggle with it. I know when I’m typing or using ten-key if I stop and really think about what my fingers are doing it throws me off my pace. This is also what happens when I’m writing and really into the story or concept I’m barely aware of anything but what I’m creating. Writing is doing and doing is learning.

Teachers of grammar and English we’re aware that this concept is easier said than done, which is why Grammar Punk takes the ouch out of teaching grammar and puts it back where it belongs, in the teaching of writing. Created by a teacher of English who loved everything about teaching Language Arts with the glaring exception of grammar, Grammar Punk was born. Grammar Punk will not only boost those test scores it will also create writers with muscle memory. From the first (already created) lesson to the last students will learn by writing. Students will learn. Students will write. They must.  

Create Fun Grammar with Spam

Can I complain?

Spam: unsolicited usually commercial e-mail sent to a large number of addresses.

 When looking this up in the dictionary I really did expect to see the original meaning at the top of the list, Spam, the disconcertingly pink pork product thing that comes in an oblong can and makes a semi-disgusting swoosh-plunk sound as it slides out of the can and hits the plate. But no, SPAM means annoying, often disturbing, occasionally creepy, not as often semi-threatening, always unwanted solicitation of…you name it.

My gripe today is about a trend I’ve noticed of late, a supremely annoying one. There have always been and no doubt will always be gimmicks and tricks and patterns in the creation of all this…stuff, but I’ve been noticing lately that they are getting even more insidious. I’m speaking about the headers in the subject lines. Specifically the Re: and even more lately, the word Statement keeps popping up.

I’m aware that these are solicitations and meant to grab our attention, I’m just objecting to the blatant in your face “open me!” when what they are touting has nothing to do with that header. Just this morning I very nearly shipped off to the Spam file a purchase order because the header read Statement. Because I’d just received another email that was a legitimate statement.

Anyway, long story short I truly tremble at what they Spammers might come up with next. And just for the record, I don’t need an interest-free mortgage, a business loan, business cards, or heaven forbid a prescription for…anything, thank you very much.

I don’t have a solution to this one, not even a suggestion or six. Spam will no doubt be with us forever, like athlete’s foot and bedbugs. Sorry about that.

Tell me about any particularly annoying trends you’re all noticing in the obnoxious world of spam.

Create Grammar Fun with A Word With You

ca·price

/kəˈpris / –noun

1.

a sudden, unpredictable change, as of one’s mind or the weather.

  1. a tendency to change one’s mind without apparent or adequate motive; whimsicality; capriciousness: With the caprice of a despotic king, he alternated between kindness and cruelty.

A whim, a quirk, fancy, impulse or fad. All perfectly workable words, all perfectly familiar and commonly used words; caprice, not so much. My question is why is that? Caprice is such a cool word. It looks cool, it sounds cool, it is cool. It’s also not used so much. Not anymore. And yes, English has just too many words that mean approximately the same thing, which is not the point.

The point is my point is that we oftentimes pick the most…boring ones. Like awesome, my least favorite word—at least for the past few years when it has become ridiculously overused—in the dictionary. Synonyms are also a very cool concept, certainly with our language, and since we have so much redundancy (superfluous, outmoded, disused, surplus, unnecessary) built right in we may as well take advantage of it. 

So here’s to caprice instead of whim. Here’s to spectacular instead of awesome. Dim-witted instead of stupid. You get the idea.

This message is especially aimed at all you teachers of English, grammar, and writing. We encourage you to egg on your students to reach for that unusual word. Push for the synonym rather than the over-used, strive for the creative rather than the mundane.

Grammar Punk Sentence: C E 2

Familiar with her great Aunt Sheila’s caprice for odd hats, Sophie braced herself for the shopping trip.

Make Grammar Fun with Office Supplies

Everyone has a weakness, whether it’s the latest fashions, shoes, maybe cars or jewelry. For me it’s office supplies. I am totally transfixed by the rainbow of Post-Its, arrays of markers, spectrum of cardstock, and don’t get me started on the variety of paperclips, pushpins, and rubber bands. I think it’s the possibilities they offer, the potential. I look at a freshly sharpened pencil and I picture the words flowing across a clean sheet of white (or pink, yellow, orange, green…) paper.

One of my earliest—and fondest memories is opening a brand new box of Crayola crayons (the big one) and just being transfixed by not only the assortment  of hues but also by the names of those colors; midnight blue, magenta, spruce, soldier blue, bittersweet, periwinkle. Those names sent my imagination soaring and sparked my once and future love of office supplies.

My back to school days are behind me but I never fail to get a zing at this time of year just thinking about a spanking new backpack, clean new notebooks, a fresh pack of Bics,  a set of neon highlighters… I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Which is probably why, as we were creating our Grammar Punk Programs to add a little (lot!) fun and color to the teaching of grammar, my love of both office supplies and colors crept in. Big time. The six specially designed Grammar Punk dice were created to not only introduce and ingrain punctuation with a purpose but to spark the imagination. Ditto the (many) card sets whose bright colors and funky print were designed to light the fire of creativity in your students. Just like that long ago big box of Crayola’s did for me. It’s all about the office supplies.