25 January 2011

Word Smiths? ... or Joneses?

Comments which are repeated often come to the foreground of my focus. I've often taught that in interpreting any type of writing. If a word, theme or phrase is repeated, pay attention.

So when I've heard similar comments of late, I've noticed. Words come fairly easily to me. Whether in speaking or in writing, I can often craft a sentence or a story in a way
that flows and follows and informs. Sometimes I get things jumbled and have modifiers in the wrong places or leave things dangling where I ought not.

But in general, words have been my tools for many years now. How much of that is embedded in my DNA, a design that was intentional or could have a genetic trail back to . . . ? I don't know. I have a totally unproven theory. If you can substantiate it, please do so and let me know so I can speak with authority on the subject instead of theorising.

I think it had to do with having literate parents and grandparents. My family held good grammar up as a value. We always had shelves of books in our home, and even this week my dad and I were talking about what we were reading and planning to swap books, even across 12875 km (8000 miles). Distance Calculator

Words do matter, even if they are evolving and may have nuances or multiple meanings that lead to misunderstanding or offense. The original meanings matter and grammar gives language its skeleton, it's structure. Using the wrong word, or using a word wrongly, can change the understanding of the sentence entirely. See the pig.

Anyway, I've been told recently that I word things well. I can find a way to say difficult or potentially offensive things in ways that are more palatable than they might have been.

My dad has funny sayings that tend to appease situations, until the person realises what he really said. By then, my dad usually plans to be long gone. "South end of a north bound cow" and the like . . .

My mom too ran PTA meetings and other club functions, with aplomb. She could turn things around to highlight positives or progress, while deferring the contentious until logic could be employed more effectively.

My point in writing this is not to laud my skill, but to highlight my theory. If language skills are caught as well as taught, parents and grandparents might want to invest more time in conversation, books, software and games that enhance vocabulary, curiosity, reading and writing.

At the risk of being a total geek, when's the last time you played a rhyming game in the car to turn energy in a creative channel rather than bickering battle? When's the last time you played word games, the alphabet game or tried the kids' hand at crosswords or word search?
Most of these options do not require batteries or power cords.

Teresa Plowright suggests the following:

The Alliteration Game This one can be funny. Find alliteration words for their name, or a friend's name. Make them as funny as possible. Or use names of animals. For example, "loud little Louie" or "silly Sammy Snodgrass" or "leaping Larry lizard." When your child gets the hang of it, they will take off on their own.

Straight Face This one can be very funny. One child is "it" and the others pick a phrase for him. Try "the cat's tail." The others ask him questions, and he must answer with "the cat's tail." Other children ask him questions like, (copied as is, with grammatical errors)

  • What do you brush your teeth with?
  • What is your favorite breakfast food?
  • What would you write with?
  • What do you comb your hair with?
When he laughs, it is someone else's turn to be "it." And you pick another phrase. Some phrases might be "My monkey's moustache" or "Six smelly sneakers."

Another fun game might be to make up names for characters in a book, like Plowright, or to work as a group in writing a story.

Does every child you love have a dictionary, with pages, in which they can look up interesting words?

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