Saturday, July 26, 2008

Good Words from The Magic of Words

For all of you "wordaholics" out there, I hope you have found . Below are a few snippets from today's AWADmail Issue 317:

From: Bill Peters (billjanet word lover
Subject: catachresis
Def: The misuse of words

I went to many business meetings and began to collect the catachresis statements. Here is my best:
"You've got to step up to the plate or the wheels will fall off".
Heard at a seminar of the Chemical Industry of California circa 1988.


From: Vaishali Kamath (vaishali.kamath
Subject: Catachresis

A brother-in-law of mine once said (probably without knowing that it was wrong usage):
"...and the share prices plummeted gradually."

From: Kevin O'Grady (kevin.ogrady
Subject: catachresis

My favourite example of catachresis is that of Camil Samson, who was the leader of the Quebec Social Credit Party campaigning against the governing Union Nationale in the 1970 provincial election:

"Ladies and gentlemen, the Union Nationale has brought you to the edge of the abyss. With Social Credit, you will take one step forward."


From Gabe Helou (gabe
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--parapraxis
Def: A slip of the tongue (or pen) that reveals the unconscious mind

And not entirely without reason. In his famous dictionary, Johnson defined oats as, "A grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people."

I expect you will be flooded with e-mail from people quoting Boswell's rejoinder:

"Aye, and that's why England has such fine horses, and Scotland such fine people."

Still, it bears repeating.


From: Leilani Chandler (leilani
Subject: Re: A.Word.A.Day--orthoepy
Def: 1. Study of the pronunciation of words. 2. Customary pronunciation of a language.

What a laugh-filled moment this word brought to me this morning! Definition: study of the pronunciation of words... and the word for that action has TWO pronunciations. What a delightful bit of unintentional humor.


Arguments over grammar and style are often as fierce as those over Windows versus Mac, and as fruitless as Coke versus Pepsi and boxers versus briefs.
-Jack Lynch, English professor, author (b. 1967)

© 2008

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There is nothing new under the sun

The writer of Ecclesiastes (1:10) said that first, but having just finished reading Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, I must share this quote from the biographical notes. Plath wrote this about her book of poetry that was repeatedly submitted and rejected under ever-changing titles:

"Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing, which remark I guess shows I still don't have a pure motive (O it's-such-fun-I-just-can't-stop-who-cares-if-it's-published-or-read) about writing…I still want to see it finally ritualized in print."

Sigh. Doesn't that ring a bell for all of you aspiring writers out there?

If you haven't read Plath's book which is based on her own life and struggles with severe depression, I recommend it to writers, teachers, and high school students. Her language choices excel and her use of similes is stellar. "I felt very still and very empty, the way the eye of a tornado must feel, moving dully along in the middle of the surrounding hullabaloo" she writes, describing her life in New York City. Her vivid description of her inner turmoil gives the reader a front row seat into mental illness during a time (the 1950's) when electroconvulsiveshock treatment had become widespread.

Plath's main character's decisions to lose her virginity as well as her suicide attempts are graphic and therefore this might not be a book for everyone.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

And the winner is….

Thanks to all who entered my simile contest and thought long and hard to complete the following simile:

"A beach chair is as unusual source for a language arts mini-lesson as…."

Among the creative and unique similes received, I enjoyed the following contributions from fellow Carolina SCBWI'ers:

  • "A beach chair is as unusual source for a language arts mini-lesson as a warm shower that washes away the conundrums of a stringent day." Roosevelt Pitt
  • "A beach chair is as unusual source for a language arts mini-lesson as snot is an unusual ingredient for chocolate cake with sprinkles on top." Beth Revis
  • "A beach chair is as unusual source for a language arts mini-lesson as eyeteeth on a catfish." Jean Hall
  • "A beach chair is as unusual source for a language arts mini-lesson as a hairstylist for a bald man." Donna Earnhardt
  • "A beach chair is as unusual source for a language arts mini-lesson as a spelunker with claustrophobia." Donna Earnhardt

I wasn't as savvy as Donna who enlisted Susan Marlow to judge her Perfect Pitch contest, so I had to do it myself. Tough choice. But after serious (and fun) deliberation, I decided that the winner is…. (drum roll please!)

Donna Earnhardt
for her double entry and for making me laugh the most. For her efforts, Donna will receive a modest gift certificate to her local Barnes & Noble store.

What's the moral of this story? Coming up with an appropriate simile is hard work. When you're stuck, check in with your fellow writers. Someone is bound to have a bright idea that will spark your imagination.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

“That’s the way it was”

Attending an all black school, worshipping at an all black church, not being served at restaurants where Caucasians ate, going to the back of the bus…these were all normal part of Madie Smith's everyday experiences growing up in Charlotte, NC in the 30's and 40's.

Last week I began my research for my young adult novel which will take place in 1951 in Charlotte by visiting some places on the African American Heritage Tour in Charlotte. Madie, a friend of my writing compatriot, Linda Phillips, agreed to join us for the day. After nosing around downtown Charlotte and seeing where buildings such as St. Michael and all Angels Episcopal Church and Good Samaritan Hospital used to be (they were torn down when the Panthers Stadium was built in the early 1990's) we headed over to the historic Cherry neighborhood. There we found Mt. Zion Lutheran Church which was erected about 1896 and continuously served as a religious center until a contractor recently bought the building. In a city that is famous for tearing down historic properties in the name of urban renewal, this was one of the first jewels we saw that day.

After lunch, we headed to the Grier Heights neighborhood. We were excited to find the Billingsville School that is now home to the Grier Heights Economic Foundation. One of the few remaining Rosenwald Schools, this school is a memorial to the philanthropy and foresight of Julius Rosenwald. Disappointed that the doors were locked, we continued on to the Arthur Grier House, where George Wallace, executive director of the Grier Heights Foundation and his best friend since birth, Eugene Grier, Arthur Grier's grandson, were walking out to their cars.

Talk about a great moment in the life of a writer researching her first young adult historical novel!

Yesterday I had the opportunity to interview Mr. Wallace and Mr. Grier and heard stories of a swimming hole where white boys joined their black peers since "Big Boy" (as it was locally known) was the deepest hole around; stories about both grandparents who worked on Governor Cameron Morrison's plantation where SouthPark Mall now presides; and stories about Mr. Grier's grandfather's funeral business that also ran an ambulance for the black community.

That's the way it was in Charlotte, NC. As a story lover, I can't wait to hear more. Stay tuned, and as I hear them, I'll share them with you.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Integrating Technology into Your Classroom

I don't know about you, but I am easily overwhelmed with the amount of information that is available on the Internet. Add to information overload all of the new technologies that can be used in the classroom and it is easy to feel like crawling inside a cave, rolling a boulder in front, and taking a nice long nap. Like it or not, that's not an option for today's teachers. Yesterday I found some help for fellow educators: the oldest children's publication on the web, MidLink Magazine.

Established in October, 1994, MidLink, is jointly sponsored by NC State University and the University of Central Florida. I encourage you to take a look at their projects page and archives for free projects to help you integrate technology with language arts, geography, math, science….you name it!...into your classroom.

"What does skillful technology integration look like? What are the outcomes of a successful technology project? What does the student work actually look like? What learning outcomes can teachers hope to accomplish with their students?" These are the questions which are answered in this valuable resource that is visited by teachers, students, and parents at the rate of 5,000 – 10,000 per month.

I'm looking forward to the second edition of Teaching the Story coming out in September. It will include more than 15 mini-lessons, written by Steve Johnson, showing teachers how to use wikis, digital cameras, Interactive whiteboards, MP3 players, etc, to enhance the process of writing short fiction. Along with the great projects provided by MidLink, I hope it will prompt more teachers to crawl out of the cave and into the digital classroom.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

What good is a chair

When you're at the beach with a toddler?

That's the question I asked myself today after dragging along my folding chair to Figure Eight Island, to spend the afternoon with Ebby, my granddaughter.

If you click on the video below, the answer is obvious.

But, what does that question have to do with teaching language arts? Hang with me, and I hope you'll get the connection.

First, I thought of creating a simile that would have made this event clearer in your mind. What could I compare a folded-up, unused beach chair to? Hmmm… how about a yellow, #2 pencil in a technology-rich classroom? Not bad, but not quite the image of "something that is usually useful, but I didn't get the time to even take it out."

Let's see. What else. How about sprinkles and whip cream at a kid's birthday party that were forgotten until the party-goers had gone home? That conveys the image of a busy fun time with kids, but my beach chair wasn't forgotten, I just didn't have time to use it and wondered why I had bothered toting it along.

How about comparing it to a pile of library books on a backpacking trip across Europe? Perhaps that's closer.

Good similes take work. They don't often come at the first try, at least not for me, anyway.

Right now I'm reading Sylvia Plath's book, The Bell Jar. She rolls similes off the page like Ford trucks off an assembly line. When I read it I'm as jealous as a young dancer who watches a prima ballerina pirouette on stage. In fact, you could say that my envy wells up inside of me like a thundercloud that could burst all over the book, leaving it worn and useless.

Hmmm…. What good is a chair on the beach when you're with your 20-month-old granddaughter?

If nothing else, it's as unusual fount of inspiration for a language arts mini-lesson as well, ….I don't know what. Why don't you tell me?

Let's have a simile contest! Whoever completes the sentence, "A beach chair is as unusual source for a language arts mini-lessons as...." with the best simile will receive a yet-to-be-announced prize. E-mail me and I'll pick a winner by July 20th.


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