Tag Archives: educational publishing

Words and Reason: Hear Ye, Hear Ye

by Cynthia Clampitt

Cynthia Clampitt
Cynthia Clampitt

It is unlikely that any of you have ever heard Old English (and, to be honest, it’s not highly likely that loads of you have even heard Middle English, unless you studied Chaucer in school). Most people are surprised to learn that Shakespeare was writing in Modern English, but that’s what it was. However, as you’re probably aware, a few things have changed since the bard’s day.

One thing that makes a big difference is the change in the size of the working vocabulary of the general population. Shakespeare’s vocabulary ran around 25,000 words (though I’ve seen higher estimates), while the average vocabulary of English speakers today ranges between 3,000 and 5,000 words. Granted, there are some of us who collect words as if they were gold, but that is becoming less common.

Pity that working vocabularies are so low today, as English is a wildly rich language. Because it in essence merged two languages (Anglo-Saxon and French, after the Norman Conquest in 1066), and has since that time adopted words freely from languages around the world, it has vastly more words than any other language—something like three times as many words as our nearest competitor, German.

English is an amazing language, evolving and absorbing words: kangaroo, pecan, rodeo, pajama, shampoo, kimono, chipmunk, safari, barbecue, and thousands more. However, some of the evolution in modern English makes it harder to understand what one is reading, even when reading things written as recently as the first half of the 20th century.

Today, I thought I’d share a couple of things that could help you if you’re visiting England or if you’re reading anything written a while back (in some cases, that includes anything before about 1970). Continue reading Words and Reason: Hear Ye, Hear Ye

Words and Reason: Getting Back to our Roots

by Cynthia Clampitt

Cynthia Clampitt
Cynthia Clampitt

Because a lot of freelancers work in educational publishing, I thought I’d offer a little help with something that is increasingly demanded by publishers—because it’s demanded by state and national standards. I’m offering this because I worked for years as an in-house editor at a major publisher, and I saw over and over again that this is an issue.

It has been my experience that few freelance writers understand how to teach Greek and Latin roots as a skill to aid students in comprehension and language acquisition. I’ve already mentioned, in a previous column, the most frequent (almost universal, in fact) error I saw: teaching that export and import mean coming out of or going into a port. Even in situations where we’d had meetings with development houses where I stated explicitly, “Do NOT send me a lesson that teaches that export and import are things moving out of or into a port,” I’d still, often as early as a week later, get the dreaded lesson. (Of course, if you were following my earlier suggestion to look everything up, you probably wouldn’t be turning this in.)

That is an example of a lesson that understands the concept but gets the information wrong. The other problem I’d see is a complete lack of understanding of the concept. I received many lessons that ran along the lines of, “The word “volunteer” comes from the Latin voluntarius, which means, “voluntary.” Umm, yeah. But what have you just taught?

The point of teaching Greek and Latin roots is to help students understand English, not to teach Greek and Latin.

So what is the concept? Taking the export/import example, a lesson might go something like this: The Latin portare means “to carry.” We can see this root in export and import, which mean to carry out and carry in. It is also in transport, which is to carry across—if you transport something, you’re carrying it across some distance. A porter is someone who carries things. The word portable also shares this root. Using what you know about the suffix “able” and the root “portare,” what do you think portable means?

You might, if there is space (though there rarely is) add a note that student should not confuse this with the port in seaport or airport. That comes from the Latin portus, which means entrance, passage, or harbor.

Always remember that you have to have more than one word derived from a root. If, as in the “voluntaris” example above, there is only one word in English related to the root, you have not given students a useful tool for understanding new words—and that’s the objective—handing out tools.

Here are some examples of roots with multiple derivatives—though there are many others. Continue reading Words and Reason: Getting Back to our Roots