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AWADmail Issue 380

October 11, 2009

A Weekly Compendium of Feedback on the Words in A.Word.A.Day and Tidbits about Words and Language

From: Paul Naughton (paul melvynhanley.com)
Subject: Ecru
Def: Of a pale brown color, like raw silk or unbleached linen; beige.

Some years back Liverpool FC wore off-cream second choice shirts that they described as being "Ecrus" in colour. Following a string of poor results whilst wearing the shirt it was pointed out that this was an anagram of the word Curse.

From: Elsa Marston Harik (elsa.marston gmail.com)
Subject: ecru/raw

I've always wondered about those ladies who say they want to bring crudities [crudités] to the potluck luncheon. Now I know "crudities" simply means raw vegetables. No wonder those luncheons were never quite so exciting as I hoped they'd be.

From: T John (tks hevanet.com)
Subject: Sorrel
Def: A light reddish-brown color.

We named our son Sorrel, inspired by an Oxalis variety native to our region. True to his name, and despite our coloring, he has reddish-brown hair!

From: Joy Livingstone (joyliving aol.com)
Subject: Sorrel

Sorrel is also made into a popular drink at Christmastime on the island of Jamaica. The color of the plant is red and the drink is red. It is boiled with ginger and sugar. Rum is added.

With red poinsettias blooming and Christmas pudding (with marzipan) and red sorrel drink, "sorrel" as it is called, is part of the Jamaican culture.

From: Gregg Farrier (gjf mindspring.com)
Subject: Sorrel

General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's horse was known as "Little Sorrel". It is mounted and on display in Lexington, VA.

From: David Mezzera (DaMezz comcast.net)
Subject: Umber
Def: A natural brown earth, used as a pigment; a reddish-brown color.

When I was in grammar school in the 50s, Crayola came out with their "huge" box of 64 crayons which included a self-contained sharpener. I had totally forgotten about the color 'umber' until your AWAD reminder, but I remember that the favorite color of the entire class in those days (don't ask me why) was 'burnt umber' and you had to keep a careful eye on your own set, or the 'burnt umber' crayon might just disappear.

From: Andrew Kay (noseeum invisibules.org)
Subject: Dowdy socks (Re: subfusc)
Def: Dark, drab, or gloomy; Dark, formal clothing worn at some universities.

I was an undergraduate at Oxford and yes, subfusc was part of the mandatory examination dress code, an essential element of "full academic dress", along with the right grade of gown, and a mortar board. For men a white bow tie was also required. Rumour had it that you could fail your degree for wearing insufficiently drab socks. Maybe that's why so many of my comics seem to have a colourful sock theme.

From: Roger Waddell (corru.gate xtra.co.nz)
Subject: AWAD: 5 October

Please note that autumn has only arrived in the northern hemisphere. We in the southern hemisphere are relishing spring. So, it would be great if you were less hemispherecentric! On that note too, 'fall' is a peculiarly American term -- let alone the curious spelling of 'colour' as 'color'.

From: Al Waitz (riplips usa.net)
Subject: Fall colors

Friends in Minnesota commented that the fall colors would not be particularly good this year owing to the dry summer. I explained to them that here in the Phoenix, AZ area, the leaves do not turn colors in the fall but the license plates do as the snowbirds start arriving from the northern states and Canada.

From: James Eng (jameseng hotmail.com)
Subject: frustration

Not frustration with you! Rather, frustration with the powers-that-be here at the middle school where I work. For over a year, I've shared my love for A.Word.A.Day with my students and I have had much positive feedback regarding the words, the clever and creative weekly themes, and the downright interesting, thought-provoking word choices. But a single parent has complained and now I find myself in a morass of having to justify what I do in the class, provide documentation that shows there is, indeed, value to what we do in class, to ultimately prove that our attempts to "control" language via ANY vocabulary program will always be imperfect because the evolution of communication is ongoing and, in the end, best experienced rather than caged. Sigh. It seems that there's no incentive to think outside boundaries or to innovate. It appears that people want something simple, quick, and cut and dried. Well, whatever may be, I will continue to anticipate the words with eagerness. I guess I must accept that at times, my views are "antipodal" to those of others.

Ironically, the parent's complaint is based on the argument that the words are not usable for the kids, that they're not grade appropriate, which I know is something similar that you all at Wordsmith.org have experience with. Also, that the use of the Wordsmith.org material is from a website "not approved", by the district, and that it is not entirely in line with the school curriculum. And the entirely laughable notion that the kids may be exposed to "inappropriate material"! I thought that the basis of ANY language arts curriculum is an exploration of language and the interesting patterns that we notice along the way. Is there anyone in this world who is 100% fluent with any language?

Really, if this is examined closely, this incident is not about vocabulary, or curriculum, or any of the other stated things. Rather, it's about authority and power. It's about people whose self-esteem and confidence level are based solely on how high they can make people jump. Sad.

The kids and I discussed "Beau Brummell" the other day and they created visual representations of the word.


Having had a one and a half hour meeting with our school's language arts supervisor, a meeting replete with many, many examples of students' work that clearly demonstrates an active interaction with the vocabulary words from Wordsmith.org, I was told that administration in the building, "will not approve your vocabulary program". I am flabbergasted at such a statement given that administration has no clue as to what my vocabulary program entails, nor have they shown the least bit of interest in finding out in the past 1+ years that I've been running my program. So, I am writing to you for advice. I need to know a really terrific word that is synonymous with, "manufactured", since it seems that the so-called leaders of the school are devoted, lock, stock, and barrel to such an approach. I am stunned that such obtuseness has become so prevalent and in my 17 years as an educator I am speechless regarding the state of middle school education in my neck of the woods.

English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment, and education -- sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. -E.B. White, writer (1899-1985)

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