Friday, January 27, 2017

Dazed and Bemused

Confused about nonplussed and bemused? You’re not alone.

I must admit that nonplussed and bemused are not words I use a lot. But I’ve been seeing them in writing more and more, and most of the time, they are not being used correctly.



What do you think nonplussed means? If you think it means something like “calm, unfazed,” you are not alone. But that is not correct. It actually comes from Latin “non plus,” meaning “no more,” and it describes that feeling when you are so flabbergasted you have nothing more to say. Picture a nonplussed person as slack-jawed and tongue-tied in disbelief.

If you mean “unfazed,” you could try “impassive” or “stoic,” but not nonplussed.

Similarly, I keep seeing people using “bemused” when what they really mean is “amused.” Though these two words obviously share the same root, muse, they are not synonyms. We all know what amuse means: to distract, in a pleasant way. “To bemuse” means to distract in an unpleasant way – “to confuse” or “to befuddle” – much like nonplus.

So, if what I am telling you leaves you flabbergasted, tongue-tied, and confused, then you are nonplussed and bemused. You’re welcome. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Compliment vs. Complement: A Complimentary Lesson

The confusion over compliment and complement is an easy one to rectify! Both words share a Latin ancestor, complere, which means to fill, and which also gives us the words comply and complete.

Complement is more closely related to complete, hence the e. If your scarf complements your eyes, it’s not saying, “Hey, eyes, lookin’ good!” It is completing or harmonizing with your look. 

http://www.ausphotography.net.au

Compliment comes from comply. I learned this reading Shakespeare: when Hamlet is making fun of the sycophantic dandy Osric, Hamlet says, "He did comply with his dug before he sucked it," meaning that Osric is such a stuffy stickler for proper behavior that he would pay his mother's breast a compliment before nursing. (I do wish I could find that scene for you, with Robin Williams playing Osric to perfection, but alas, poor Yorick, it seems you must watch all four hours of Kenneth Branagh's Hamlet to see it.)

Y turns to i when you add an ending:

Happy → happiness
Twenty → twentieth

So, the verb comply turns into compliment, which can be both noun and verb. But what do flattering words have to do with obedience and compliance? Actually, you are complying with or satisfying etiquette when you make a compliment. Hence the phrases “with my compliments,” or “compliments of the house,” or even "pay a compliment." A complimentary gesture is a gift of good will and welcome that satisfies, complies with, or fills expectations.

Easy mnemonic:
Compliment has an I, because it’s about stroking the ego. It’s all about me, myself, and I!

Complement has an E, because it’s about complEting something Else.

Et voilà! With my compliments.


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

How to make your family name PLURAL for holiday greetings

Hello and Happy Holiday Season from VocabLady!

Perhaps you are preparing to send out holiday cards and invitations. I hope so; I love getting mail (hint, hint). Here are some tips on handling your family’s last name. I know, it's not really vocabulary, but it's important



1. Are you just saying “Happy ChrisKwanzHannuNewYear from the Smiths”? Then all you need is a PLURAL. Follow these steps:

A.    Add -s to your last name, as I did for the Smiths.

Examples: The Turners. The Simons. The Gagas.

B.     …unless your last name ends in an -s sound already, as in the letters s, z, x, ch, or sh. Then add -es, just like you would for any word like that, such as boxes or glitches.

Examples: The Lucases, The Schwartzes, The Foxes, The Fitches, The Galoshes. (I couldn’t think of a last name that ended in -sh.)

C.     NEVER, under any circumstances use an apostrophe!!!

2. However, are you saying or implying something about your home? Welcome to the Smiths’, for example? That’s really “welcome to the Smiths’ HOME,” and in that case, you MUST use an apostrophe to create a PLURAL POSSESSIVE. The apostrophe goes after the plural formed above, in part 1.

Examples:

  • You’re invited to the Flatts’ annual Egg Nog Fest.
  • Please come help us decorate the tree at the Hugheses’.
  • Welcome to the Millses’!


WRAP UP: It’s that simple: add -s or -es; only add an apostrophe when referring to your home (or something else your family possesses). Happy HanKwanLangSyneMas, everyone! And to all a good night.


Friday, October 7, 2016

SubLog: The Story of Taylor from Minnesota

Last week, I subbed for Mrs. S., social studies teacher. At the beginning of 6th period, a young man came in. When he saw I was a sub, he introduced himself to me. I must say, that is exceedingly rare. There are whole days when I sub for about a hundred kids, and not one introduces himself.

“Hi, I’m Taylor,” he said. “We just came out here from Minnesota.”
“Pleased to meet you, Taylor from Minnesota. I’m Ms. T.”

His class turned out to be one of the not-so-great ones that day, because some young man took it upon himself to liberate some candy from a bin the teacher kept in the corner. I turned around to find an open bin half-fallen over, and three boys frozen in place, looking at me wide-eyed. I spent the rest of class periodically urging the row nearest the candy to do the right thing.

Toward the end of class, a student in the row next to the candy suspects asked, “Were we good?”

“You would have been fine, except for the candy incident.”
“Oh, that was Isaac.”

Isaac, one of my three prime suspects, neither confirmed nor denied the accusation, and the bell rang with me still not fully convinced.

After class, I happened to see Taylor from Minnesota kneeling on the floor in front of his locker, gathering his books. I squatted down next to him and asked quietly, “Hey, Taylor, did you see who took the candy?” I had seen him throwing me meaningful glances in class, and I even scanned his worksheet when he turned it in to see if he had written me a note, but nothing. He looked all around, to make sure he wouldn’t be seen talking to me, and whispered, “It was Isaac.” I thanked him and added his testimony, anonymously, to my note for the teacher.

Today, I saw Taylor again, in a last-period science class full of kids who would not shut up. It was hot in the room, but I had kept the windows closed because of a noisy construction project outside. Turns out the kids were noisy enough to drown out the jackhammers. When they started to complain about the heat, I saw my chance.

“Okay,” I said, “if you can be quiet for one minute, I’ll open a window.”

They could literally not be quiet for one second. Not one. As soon as a kid made a noise, another kid called out his name, setting off a chain reaction of noise. Then someone said, “One window won’t make a difference, we might as well talk.”

In the midst of the chaos, Taylor raised his hand for help. I helped him on a question, then got called away by a child wanting a bathroom pass. Another one threw pieces of crayon every time I turned my back. Then I tried to quiet a fight. Then I scolded a boy who had not been in his seat more than a minute at a time. Taylor sat there patiently with his hand in the air. I helped him on another question, but the same whirlwind of distraction pulled me away. Finally, the class ended. Most of the students tumbled out the door as fast as possible, but as I straightened their pile of papers, I saw Taylor still in his chair.

“Can you help me now?”

The poor kid was literally unable to work with the noise and distraction around him, and unable to get the help he needed because I was stretched too thin, trying to keep thirty kids on task. He sat in class twenty minutes after the bell rang and patiently finished his work, the work he could not do because of the inconsiderate, disrespectful fools surrounding him, him and the other handful of kids who cared. How wrong is this, that learning could not take place in class? How many other kids just gave up when he persevered? Kids like Taylor are the exception, not the rule.


And I found myself wanting to tell Taylor’s family from Minnesota, get him out of here. Get him into a public magnet school, or a private school, or a better district, because it doesn’t really get much better here until students can be in all honors classes. Maybe 10th, 11th grade. He’s in 8th now. How long will it take for a kid like Taylor to just give up, to say it’s not worth it, and to start behaving like the rest of the troublemakers? And what a sad loss would that be?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Chaise Longue - not Chase Lounge!

Bonjour! I’m back in my niche: French words adopted into English.

Don’t treat these words like a beret-headed stepchild: they make our language riche! (Which, like niche and quiche, should be pronounced to rhyme with “sheesh.”)

Today’s words are chaise and chez.

Have a seat, and we’ll talk about chaise, which just means chair, and is pronounced “shez,” to rhyme with “Pez.” Sometime in the mid-seventeenth century (think poofy powdered wigs and frilly lace collars), the English language adopted the phrase “chaise longue” – which means nothing more than “long chair” – from French. Hear the whole phrase pronounced here.



You know how “court martial” means a “martial (military) court”? The same thing is happening in the phrase “chaise longue.” Typically, in French, the adjective – long or martial – comes AFTER the noun – chair or court. In English, on the other hand, the adjective comes first. So, when we say White House, they say la Maison Blanche – House White. (And the French are not the only ones to do this; most Romance languages have the same rule.)

But what did we silly English k-nig-its do? (If you need to brush up on your Monty Python references, check out minute 1:20 of the taunting scene from The Holy Grail).

1) We decided that the phrase must conform to our syntax, so we decreed that “chaise” was the adjective and “longue” was the noun. 

2) We absolutely massacred the pronunciation. 

I grind my teeth when I hear it, but most Americans pronounce the phrase as if it were “chase lounge.” And that is how we invented the word “lounge” – from mistakenly identifying a long chair as a piece of furniture made to lounge on. (At least, that’s how *I* think it happened. The three etymology sources I checked say origins are “vague,” but I think they should consider my theory.)

Finally, chez. This is a really handy word in French. Pronounce it “shay.” Chez is a preposition that means “at the home of,” “to the home of,” or “at the place of business of.” For example, in French, you could say “Je vais chez Justin Trudeau” and you would mean “I’m going to Justin Trudeau’s house.” {I wish!} You’ll see it a lot in restaurant signs: Chez + name is just a handy way of saying “So-and-So’s Place.” If you have studied any German, you’ll recognize it as an equivalent of “bei.”



So, if you come chez moi, I might offer you a seat on the chaise longue. Sounds fancy, but I’m just inviting you over to my place to sit on a long chair. You’re welcome.

Monday, August 29, 2016

SubLog: A Tale of Two Classes

I love subbing half days, and I love subbing in my own subject areas, so I was thrilled when I was notified of a half day in English at F. High School.

I waited for Ms. C.’s kids to leave the class and introduced myself. I found out that the next period was her plan bell, followed by lunch, so I would only have two classes. Woo hoo! This was going to be a piece of cake. Or so I thought…

6th bell. The students wandered in after lunch and I greeted them. Some asked what we were going to do, and I pointed to the agenda displayed on the Smartboard. When the bell rang, I got everyone’s attention, introduced myself, and explained that their teacher had gone home early. I said they would be reading and annotating an article, then answering some questions on it.

As the students were coming in and reading the agenda, I had heard a few kids asking, “What’s annotating?” so I asked the class to explain annotating, and a few students gave examples. I thought we were ready to go, so I said, “Okay, get started with the reading, and when you’ve finished, you can come up and get the worksheet.”

During my introductory spiel, a few kids had been horsing around and chatting, but I thought that would calm down when it was time to get down to work. It didn’t. Kids were just blatantly talking across the room. I shushed. They got quiet for a few seconds, then started up again. I grabbed the clipboard with the roster on it and I started walking up and down the rows, looking for names on papers and binders. After a few more “shushes” and “back to works,” I started making marks by the names of the noisy kids. One girl noticed.

“Why’d you make a mark by my name?”
“Because I’ve asked you more than once to get to work.”

The class exploded. “Did you mark my name?” “Did you mark my name?” Most often my reply was “not yet.”

Eventually things calmed down again for a few minutes, but never longer than that. I continued walking around, but every time I bent down next to a student’s desk to answer a question, the rest of the class grew noisy. All that I felt I could do was continue walking around urging each student to stop talking and get back to work, with the threat of a mark if they didn’t.

Ugh. Another class of this?

7th bell. In addition to the introduction I used with the previous class, I had a student read the quote at the beginning of the article, which was the basis for the first question. This had given the last class trouble, and I figured it would help to discuss it together. But things really turned around when a student asked, “Can we read the whole article together?”

I hesitated. I know some kids don’t understand what they read when they are reading out loud. Other kids will tune out. Some students don’t read out loud well. But it couldn’t be any worse than what had happened sixth period, could it?

“Okay, who wants to read the article out loud?” About two-thirds of the class raised their hands. I read the title of the article, and pointed out the author’s name, which I know from experience that some students tend to skip over. Then I called for a volunteer for the first paragraph.

We read the whole article together. I called for volunteers; when no one volunteered, I invited a particular student to read, and allowed them to decline if they wished. By the end of the class, everyone had read, even kids who had passed before. One fellow seemed particularly antsy, and I gave him the option to stand at a bookcase at the back of the room and work there. He gratefully accepted. I had two students pass out the questions, and everyone got to work.

Everyone got to work. And they worked until they were done. I walked around helping, answering questions, and made not one tally mark.


What was the difference? Was it just the kids? Maybe. But I think it was reading together. The students and I worked together, and in just that fifteen or twenty minutes, we had created a bond. Not a strong one, but we set a tone: we have work to do, and we can do it together. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

VocabLady: Pique, peek, and peak

Bonjour! I think I've found a niche for my VocabLady posts: English words borrowed from French (like niche, hee hee). So let's get started with a little troublemaker that I see frequently abused on the Interwebs, pique.

Piquer in French means to sting. You can hear the word clearly here in this French music video from 1988 for a song called "Mosquito," sung by child star and model, Vanessa Paradis. No comments on the quality of the video, please. It was the 80s. We didn't have smartphones or the Internet. We shushed our little brothers when our favorite song came on the radio and recorded it on a tape recorder. It was like living in caveman days. 

But back to English, we use the past participle, piqu√©, to describe a textured fabric that has little holes and bumps -- that looks like it's been stung or poked. 



We also use the verb, to pique, to mean to stimulate, to arouse an emotion, like interest or anger. 

Example: The stranger's casually arrogant statement that he could beat anyone in the room at Scrabble piqued the VocabLady's interest, as well as her pride.


That would be magnifique, but English already has two other words that sound exactly the same (homophones), peek and peak.

So here are three mnemonics to help you remember this troublesome trio:

1. Peek: The word peek means to peep, to look furtively

You can remember it because the two matching e's are like two matching eyes, as in this precious graphic from http://peek.usertesting.com/ (even cuter animation on their site).

 

2. Peak means top or height, like a mountain summit, when it's a noun, and to reach the fullest height, as a verb. 

Example: VocabLady's Scrabble game peaked when she spelled "pique" with the Q on the triple-letter square.

You can remember this because the letter A in peak has a peak at the top

The Oatmeal has done a fantastic post on sneak peek vs. sneak peak. 


3. Pique means sting, poke at, or otherwise arouse emotion. 

You can remember it because the Q's tail looks like a stinger


Can you remember the difference? If you can, with no peeking, you are at the peak of your homophone game, and you will pique others' envy by going forth and using these three words correctly!


***

A little more history, in case you are interested:

peek, late 14th century, origin unknown (Online Etymology Dictionary)

peak, mid 16th century, perhaps from picked, meaning pointed (Google); or, a variant of pike, a sharp point (Online Etymology Dictionary), both of which ultimately go back to French pique

pique, also mid 16th century, borrowed French word