Posts tagged ‘commentary’

Community Organizer vs. Leader

After watching Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech March 3, I’m feeling a little political. Feel to agree or disagree, but do not feel free to be angry in the comments. Convince us, don’t hit us over the head, all right?

This link has a transcript of his full speech.

Community Organizer                                                  vs.                                                                          Leader

Tells those around him what they need Listens to those around him to discover their needs
Writes off the opposition (or calls them names) Listens to opposing points of view to learn and improve his own ideas
Organizes the people around him Surrounds himself with smart, motivated people to sharpen and strengthen the country (or organization) and himself
If you disagree with him, you’re hateful in some way. If you disagree with him, he seeks to understand your point of view, in the interest of finding truth. You might even be friends.
Does what it takes to win, to get his point of view across Does what is right
Argues Discusses and persuades (again, in the interest of finding truth)
Sits at the head of the table Sits around the table
Manipulates Motivates
Goes for the win Works for a win-win
Works to gain political power Works to serve
Doesn’t negotiate—he’s right Negotiates when right and necessary

Word Nerd Wednesday: An Epic Rant


I promised an epic rant, and here it is, fellow Word Nerds. I was on Facebook yesterday for just a few minutes, and not once, not twice, but THREE times did a post refer to its topic as “epic.”

I don’t even remember what they were specifically. (You’d think I’d remember, if truly they were epic, wouldn’t you?) But I’ve recently seen epic dance moves, epic failures, epic pranks, epic comebacks, epic this, epic that.

Apparently we have an epic amount of epic things happening in this epic period of our epic history.

It’s all about social media. (Social media is so easy to blame, yes? So easy to forget that if the enemy is social media, the enemy is…us!)

Remember when everything was “cool?” (Back before everything was “hot.”) Our clothes were cool. Our music was cool. Our friends were cool. Even our schools were cool, right? Meanwhile, our parents rolled their eyes and wondered if we’d lost our vocabulary.

Think about it. Everything on social media is cool, or the poster wouldn’t bother to post it. So how do you set your cool post apart from the others?

You need something bigger than cool. Bigger than hot.

You need epic.

Here’s the problem: Does anyone even know what epic means? Epic comes from the Greek, epikos/epos meaning “word, story, poem.” Yep. Like the Odyssey, or Beowulf. The Online Etymology Dictionary adds: “Extended sense of ‘grand, heroic’ first recorded in English 1731.”

Is a dance move, or a prank really grand or heroic? Adventurous on the scale of Odysseus or Frodo Baggins or, even the Revolutionary War?

There’s the crux of my rant.

If everything is labeled epic, where do we go from here? What’s bigger than “epic?”

If we overuse a word, doesn’t it lose its meaning?

Oh, let’s use epic, but let’s use it for epic things!

Here’s the definition from Daniel Webster’s 1828 Dictionary:
EP’IC, a. [L. epicus; Gr. a song, or to speak.] Narrative; containing narration; rehearsing. An epic poem, otherwise called heroic, is a poem which narrates a story, real or fictitious or both, representing, in an elevated style, some signal action or series of actions and events, usually the achievements of some distinguished hero, and intended to form the morals and affect the mind with the love of virtue. The matter of the poem includes the action of the fable, the incidents, episodes, characters, morals and machinery. The form includes the manner of narration, the discourses introduced, descriptions, sentiments, style, versification, figures and other ornaments. The end is to improve the morals, and inspire a love of virtue, bravery and illustrious actions.

[epic. 2014. In Noah Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language.        Retrieved April 2, 2014, from

Let’s keep epic epic!

Fight on, fellow Word Nerds, fight on!

And, please share in the comments words that you see overused.



(N.B.: I followed through with the epikos spelling of the Greek root word, simply because the Greek language does not have a letter c. Webster used an Americanized version. Also, though Webster does not list the use of epic as an adjective, it is listed as such in my Webster’s New World College Dictionary: “having the nature of an epic poem…heroic; grand; majestic; imposing”)

Word Nerd Wednesday: Why Etymology Matters

Hey, fellow Word Nerds:

There is a discussion ongoing at The Conversation which explains why etymology could be an important part of the language-learning process. I know my love of words is what caused me to dive into the waters of etymology. Why should our children not be allowed the same joy? How we tend to dumb down  for our kids, and shame on us. It’s so much simpler to give a test of word memorization than to take the time to teach WHY a particular word is spelled that way. (Jump + ed, not jumt, as the author points out.) That’s how they will develop skills in both reading and spelling when they come across unfamiliar language. (They can then apply the same past-tense concept to cooked on their own and not spell it cookt) As the article points out, kids love stories, and etymology is basically a short story. I’d love to hear what you think of the article. How were you taught to spell?

With no further ado … Here is the article by Misty Adoniou of the University of Canberra.

Why some kids can’t spell and why spelling tests won’t help

By Misty Adoniou, University of Canberra

A couple of years ago, early one morning, I received an SMS advising “resadents to stay indoors because of a nearby insadent”. I was shocked by the spelling, as much as the message. Surely, I thought, if it was a real message then the spelling would be correct.

Spelling matters. In a text message from a friend teeing up a night out “c u at 8” is fine – but in an emergency warning text from a government agency, I expect the spelling to be standard. But why is it that some people struggle with standard spelling?

Spelling remains the most relentlessly tested of all the literacy skills, but it is the least taught.

Sending a list of words home on Monday to be tested on Friday is not teaching. Nor is getting children to write their spelling words out 10 times, even if they have to do it in rainbow colours.

Looking, covering, writing and checking does not teach spelling. Looking for little words inside other words, and doing word searches are just time fillers. And writing your “spelling” words in spirals or backwards is just plain stupid.

And yet, this is a good summary of most of the current spelling programs in schools today.

So, what should spelling teaching look like?

Finding meaning

Children should know the meanings of the words they spell, and as logical as that sounds – ask a child in your life what this week’s spelling words mean, and you might be surprised by their answers.

If spelling words are simply strings of letters to be learnt by heart with no meaning attached and no investigation of how those words are constructed, then we are simply assigning our children a task equivalent to learning ten random seven-digit PINs each week.

That is not only very very hard, it’s pointless.

More than sounds

English is an alphabetic language; we use letters to write words. But it is not a phonetic language: there is no simple match between sounds and letters.

We have 26 letters, but we have around 44 sounds (it’s not easy to be precise as different accents produce different sounds) and several hundred ways to write those sounds.

So, while sounds – or phonics – are important in learning to spell, they are insufficient. When the only tool we give young children for spelling is to “sound it out”, we are making a phonological promise to them that English simply cannot keep.

How words make their meanings

Sounds are important in learning to spell, but just as important are the morphemes in words. Morphemes are the meaningful parts of words. For example, “jumped” has two morphemes – “jump” and “ed”. “Jump” is easily recognised as meaningful, but “ed” is also meaningful because it tells us that the jump happened in the past.

Young spellers who are relying on the phonological promise given to them in their early years of schooling typically spell “jumped” as “jumt”.

When attempting to spell a word, the first question we should teach children to ask is not “what sounds can I hear?” but “what does this word mean?”. This gives important information, which helps enormously with the spelling of the word.

In the example of “jumt” it brings us back to the base word “jump”; where the sound of “p” can now be heard, and the past marker “ed” , rather than the sound “t” which we hear when we say the word.

Consider the author of the emergency text message at the beginning of this article as they pondered which of the many plausible letters they could use for the sound they could hear in “res – uh – dent”.

If they had asked themselves first, “What does this word mean?” the answer would have been people who “reside”, and then they would have heard the answer to their phonological dilemma.

Where words come from

English has a fascinating and constantly evolving history. Our words, and their spellings, come from many languages. Often we have kept the spellings from the original languages, while applying our own pronunciation.

As a result, only about 12% of words in English are spelt the way they sound. But that doesn’t mean that spelling is inexplicable, and therefore only learned by rote – it means that teaching spelling becomes a fascinating exploration of the remarkable history of the language – etymology.

Some may think that etymology is the sole province of older and experienced learners, but it’s not.

Young children are incredibly responsive to stories about words, and these understandings about words are key to building their spelling skills, but also building their vocabulary.

Yet poor spellers and young spellers are rarely given these additional tools to understand how words work and too often poor spellers are relegated to simply doing more phonics work.

Teaching – not testing

The only people who benefit from spelling tests are those who do well on them – and the benefit is to their self-esteem rather than their spelling ability. They were already good spellers.

The people who don’t benefit from spelling tests are those who are poor at spelling. They struggled with spelling before the test, and they still struggle after the test. Testing is not teaching.

Parents and teachers should consider these questions as they reflect on the ways in which spelling is approached in their school.

Are all children learning to love words from their very first years at school? Are they being fascinated by stories about where words come from and what those stories tell us about the spelling of those words?

Are they being excited by breaking the code, figuring how words are making their meanings and thrilled to find that what they’ve learned about one word helps them solve another word?

Put simply – is spelling your child’s favourite subject?

If the answer is no, then something needs to be done about the teaching.

Misty Adoniou is a Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and Teaching English as a Second Language at the University of Canberra. She occasionally presents workshops in schools on the teaching of spelling.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Word Nerd: No Thanks, I’m Good


Our Word Nerd discussion last week was about the use of “I’m Good” instead of “No, thanks.” So today, I wanted to rant in favor of “No, thanks.”

I asked my breathtaking 17yo why she believes “I’m good” is acceptable. She explained it’s informal. For instance, she would say, “No, thanks,” to Mrs. Bradley if offered something she didn’t need. But if a friend offered to share some Skittles, she would say, “I’m good.”

I wanted to rant that informality shouldn’t mean impoliteness.

I came to the computer ready to rant.

But then a quick internet search pulled up a definition of the acronym NTIG. Apparently, it stands for “No thanks, I’m good” (rolling my eyes). The existence of this texting acronym bolsters my girl’s idea that “I’m good” is simply a casual expression.

I also found this definition of “slang”: “Slang refers to a type of language that’s too informal to use in certain situations. You can tell a word is slang when it becomes uncool to use after a year or so, like rad or far out.”

This further bolsters my daughter’s opinion that “I’m good” — and “My bad” — are merely informal, not impolite.

Let’s think this through the Word Nerd way: by going to the words themselves.

“I’m good” implies that you already have enough of whatever is being offered. It seems appropriate, say, after the third helping at Thanksgiving dinner. The phrase also puts the emphasis on yourself and your level of contentment/satiation.

Also backing up my opinion here is the fact that most uses of “I’m good” I found online included, “No, thanks.” (Like NTIG) That’s relieving, because I just don’t see “I’m good” as showing gratitude for the offer in the same way as “No, thanks.”

I wonder if parents’ teeth were set on edge when we (our society) started using “No, thanks” instead of “No, thank you.” Because “No, thank you” would put the emphasis on the person doing the offering. “No thanks” merely implies that same emphasis.

Regardless, the heart of the issue of these slang-politeness blog posts (here, here) is, well, the heart. You can use the proper words robotically or rudely. You can use the slang substitutes flippantly, without care.

Or you could use either in all sincerity to show gratitude and appreciation, apology, greeting … all that polite stuff. After all, those things come from a heart of love.

BUT: Words matter! Words mean things. This is the theme of my Word Nerd posts, and the source of my love of words.

SO, the battle for this week:

When does informality cross the line into disrespect? Does the formality of politeness equal insincerity?

Weigh in below!



By the way: This post made it seem like we’ve been bickering over this issue here at the Harris house. We haven’t. 🙂 We are respectful, but informal, people here; however, the generational differences are noteworthy.

Last thing: The final episode of my Flash Fiction Suspense Serial story (inspired by Rory’s Story Cubes) will appear on Friday. Tune in for a fiction break!

Twelve years

English: World Trade Center cross in the debri...

English: World Trade Center cross in the debris of 6 World Trade Center. Original description: “This debris field in the center of the U.S. Customhouse at 6 World Trade Center was caused by pieces that fell from the North Tower. Steel beams formed several crosses in the midst of the debris field.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Twelve years ago today, my 5-year-old daughter and I had just finished a short time of homeschool kindergarten and I had sent her to her room to play for a while.

That’s when Debbie called. “Voni, do you have the news on?”

“No, we’ve been doing homeschool. What’s up?”

That’s when the school stopped for the day as I sat wide-eyed in front of the TV, watching the repeats of the planes hitting the World Trade Center towers.


Barely breathing.

Knowing our country would go to war.

Wracking my brain. For I would have to tell our daughter before she heard someone else talk about it. How do you tell a 5-year-old about terrorism? Death? War?

It was time to get out of the house before I obsessed, so I called Leah and we went to run some errands and visit the park.

After about the third stop, Leah looked at me and asked, “Mommy, why is everyone so sad and quiet today?”

That’s when I had to tell her. Let her watch  video of the attacks. Once. Only once. Pray with her for the rescuers and the injured and the families of the dead and our country.

Imagine. 9-11 affected our country so deeply, that a 5-year-old sensed something wrong in the community.

Lord God, I beg that you will continue to turn our hearts toward You as You did that day. Twelve years ago. And make our daughter, and those of her generation, strong and godly leaders for our future. For none of us are immune.

He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Matt 5:45

The same passage tells us to pray for our enemies, so I lift up all those who would tear down this country. Soften them that they can hear Your soft, gentle voice speaking to their hearts.

English: The World Trade Center cross, also kn...

English: The World Trade Center cross, also known as the Ground Zero cross, found amidst the debris of the World Trade Center following the September 11, 2001 attacks which resembles the proportions of a Christian cross. As it stands in 2008 at St. Peter’s Church, which faces the World Trade Center site. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


PS…Where were you 12 years ago today?

Word Nerd Wednesday: Frumious Snark

We’re all guilty of it, right? Snark, I mean? Being Snarky? I used this word talking with a friend of mine the other day, and I was compelled to look into its derivation. (As a Word Nerd, words compel me often. It’s just a fact of my life.)

So, imagine my delight to discover that it was coined by Lewis Carroll in 1876 in a nonsense poem called “Hunting of the Snark.”

Second of Henry Holiday's original ilustration...

“Hunting of the Snark” by Lewis Carroll, 1876 (from Fit the First)

 “Just the place for a Snark!” the Bellman cried,
As he landed his crew with care;
Supporting each man on the top of the tide
By a finger entwined in his hair.

 “Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
What I tell you three times is true.

The Random House College Dictionary (1975) says Carroll coined the word by combining sn(ail) and (sh)ark.

 Webster’s New World College Dictionary (2006) says it is a combination of sn(ake) and (sh)ark.

[BONUS: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1969) doesn’t have the word at all, in any form. Interesting! It was a word just six short years later.]

Either way, Carroll created quite a monster for the hunting. The poem has eight “fits” (as he calls the fairly short sections of the poem) to give it the feel of a good old-fashioned epic. It’s a fun read, especially if you have children who love to hunt.

Wait, what? A snark is an imaginary animal? That certainly doesn’t fit how it is used today, at all. Snark is when you jab someone with sarcasm, right?

Enter “snarky.” As an adjective, it means “touchy, short-tempered, irritable,” but Webster’s New World only gives it “informal” status and no derivation. The other two dictionaries don’t have it at all.

So, okay, maybe we English speakers took the idea of the terrible snark from Carroll’s poem and through the years turned it into an adjective that describes us when we humans act like that terrible beast, and from there turned it into a noun that describes the biting sarcasm we use when we act so.

Not so fast, fellow Word Nerd! The Online Etymology Dictionary says snarky the adjective comes from snark, “to snort,” taken from Low German snarken. Snarken apparently is meant to imitate the sound of a snort. Which is kind of what we’re doing to someone when we’re snarky at them, isn’t it? Giving them a verbal snort?

How frumious!


Okay, you knew I couldn’t let it go. Frumious is a combination of “fuming” and “furious.” From the seventh fit of “Hunting of the Snark,” and also from Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.”

Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!

WORD NERD CHALLENGE OF THE WEEK: I love the English language! What other words, like frumious and guesstimate can you come up with that we have created by combining two or more words.

AND A NOTE: My family is so grateful to all those who covered us in prayer after last week’s post on our daughter’s pregnancy. Some of you have been doing so long before that. Others don’t know us, yet still lifted us in prayer or offered support. Thanks! And Blessings back at ya!


Czars: Checks and Balances

A couple of weeks ago, I fussed/editorialized/blogged about having czars in our US government in a Word Nerd entry, here. Now, this week, up pops this article from the New York Times, Obama Takes on Congress over Policy Czar Positions.

The new Congressional budget does not include money to pay for czar positions overseeing several areas of policy. President Obama chooses to fight them on this, saying it’s limiting his ability to act as chief executive–never mind my feelings over the fact that the positions are either unfilled, and have been for awhile, or have already been closed down, yet the President is still fighting Congress on it.

Why is he fighting Congress over the budget to fill positions he apparently doesn’t even really want to fill?

As chief executive, the President has the right to appoint czars–never mind my feelings over the use of the word czar–over areas of policy that are important to him. Of course, Congress has the Constitutional responsibility to approve the budget including those czars’ pay.

Check, meet Balance.

It’s about power, plainly and simply: Our founders included a system of checks and balances to prevent the executive, judicial, or legislative branches of our government from gaining too much power over the others, and thus, over us.

The President has the right to make appointments in the executive branch. Congress checks that power by controlling the purse strings that pay those people, and by approving nominations. Check! 

Congress has the right to make legislation that we, as citizens, are bound to follow. the Supreme Court has the right to determine the Constitutionality of that legislation. Check!

The Supreme Court has the right to decide the Constitutionality of different issues before them. The President has the right to appoint those Justices. The Congress approves those appointments. Check! Check!

Even the Congress itself balances large states (which have an advantage in the House), and small states (which have an advantage in the Senate).

But we citizens have the biggest check of all.

It’s called the ballot box.


Weren’t the founders smart?