Divisive roots: videre

Word Sum Wednesday: divisive


di+vise+ive-> divisive
This is a word that in invading our homes through the news and social media. I, myself, have even said it several times in the last 48 hours. When I make posts about language, I fear the response will be that I am told I am being divisive when I am challenging the status quo. It is not my intension, but sometimes that is the result. My intension is to create critical thinking, for someone to really evaluate what they know or teach, as sometimes science makes us rethink what we have always thought to be the way things are. 
So, divisive. It is related to <division>, so one might suspect that the Latin root “videre” means to separate. The base is <vise> which has a twin <vide>. (Please note that I said they are bases.) Twin bases happen in Latin all the time. This is why we divide a division problem. <Divide> and <division> relate to separating. The Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root is *weidh “separate.” Etymological relatives include <with> and <widow>.
As I was studying this word, I really wanted to put other words in this matrix (word family) that has the same surface spelling, like <vision> and <evident>. The bases of <vision> is <vise> and the base of <evident> is <vide>, which again are twin base elements. Yet, the denotation of the <vise/vide> base have to do with “see.” Looking deeper, the Latin root is vidēre. While this root may look like the same surface spelling, the diacritical above the <e> is an important Latin distinction.  Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root of vidēre is *weid “to see”.  Since the two PIE roots are different, that means that these bases (the one to separate and the one to see) are not cognate. This is a perfect example that words that are included in a matrix need to pass both the morphological and etymological tests. Etymological relatives include <voila> and <au revoir>.
I cannot leave this discussion with discussing <indivisible> which is in our pledge of allegiance in America. This is the hardest word for students to recite when learning the pledge of allegiance. Many recite it as <invisible> which has the <vise> base of “see,” with a similar surface base spelling but a completely different meaning. It can create some laughs, but imagine if kids were taught the pledge with a little word study? They would understand the word and be able to pronounce proudly as well. With everything political going on, we have become rather divisive as a nation. Although that changes when we encounter misfortune. We come together in crises, which was seen in the Hurricanes, the Las Vegas shootings and the CA wildfires. In those times we are humans with no other classification. We are indivisible.

Just the Wrong Facts: Morphological Awareness

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) just came out with a new, “Just the Facts” sheet on Morphological Awareness. It is a new branding to bring awareness to the forgotten piece of our language, morphology. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree with the term “morphological awareness,” but that is not the point of this article. My concerns today are that the IDA so badly wants to jump on the “morphology bandwagon” that they have not done their due diligence to provide accurate information to those they serve. They just released an article called, “Morphology 101,” along with the Just the Facts sheet.

So what is all the hub-ub on morphology? Why is it all the rage? Here’s the thing. Spelling is not “sound written down.” Spelling is an interwoven use of morphology, etymology and phonology. The morphemes are the structures that make up a word. Morphemes include bases, prefixes, and suffixes. One of the biggest misnomers in the field of education is the term, “root.” A root is connected to etymology – the story behind a word. Where did this word travel from? Is it from Latin “placere?” Or maybe it’s Old English. If you are lucky you’ve find a word that got its beginning in our language from the warrior Viking of Old Norse. These traveler stories are the roots. Calling a morpheme a “root” or a “root word” is inaccurate. It is also confusing.

To make things even more confusing is the nonsense word “bound root.” Are we talking about a head of garlic that’s roots got all tangled? There are definitely bound bases. A bound base is a base that is not independent word. It requires an affix in order to be a complete word. An example would be the bases <rupt> or <cept> that is seen in <corrupt> or <intercept>. The respective roots would be rumpere and capere.

Word is getting out that morphology is a huge piece of the pie that’s been missing in reading and spelling. When morphology is accurately represented, it provides huge break throughs for kids who have sadly been deemed “treatment resistors.” These are kids who have been marked as having some sort of defect, with the inability to absorb what is being taught. In the medical field, physicians and scientist would agree that perhaps the medicine (or treatment) is not the right choice for the student. A physician would choose another medicine (or treatment). The other treatment includes the use of morphology. This is why and how the focus on morphology has become to great. Students are shining and making great strides with morphological instruction that includes etymology (and phonology) through orthographic linguistics. Sometimes it is termed, “Structured Word Inquiry” or “Real Spelling.” It is studying the written structures of English that bring about a deeper understanding, that drives both reading and spelling.

Another concern I have about how the Just the Facts sheet was written is the term “morphological awareness” is used when sometimes the word “morphology” would be beneficial. Sometimes we need to bring awareness to something, which means to be vigilant and watchful, but sometimes we just need to learn and understand something. When do we ever refer to the process of photosynthesis as photosynthesis awareness? We either know how photosynthesis works or we don’t. If we don’t we learn and understand it, we don’t become “aware” of it to figure out how it works. When I read this article, I asked myself, would “morphology” or “morphological understanding” be a better fit here than “morphological awareness.” Most of the time, the answer was yes. My concern is that we are creating a new “buzz word” when really the problem is that morphology needs to be understood. The IDA is just becoming aware that morphology is important. They are the ones who are becoming morphologically aware. Again, I’m still undecided about the concept of morphological awareness as a whole that needs to “address.” What I do believe is that morphology is a missing component in education and that it needs to start at a much younger age.

I also wanted to share what my white board looks like when I left my office today. I did not write any of this in response to the IDA article. I created this yesterday with a student and thought it might be helpful to leave it up for the week. I teach kids, 2nd grade, 4th grade, 8th grade, the difference between a root and a base. They are active participants in finding both of these. My white board, in my highly biased opinion, explains more about morphology than these articles.

Attached you will find my comments about the IDA article on Morphology 101 and the Just the Facts: Morphological Awareness: One Piece of the Literacy Pie. I will also be sending these critiques to the IDA in hopes they will consider a revision to their (inaccurate) “facts.” I will add that the Spring edition of the IDA Perspectives Journal on morphology also include linguistically inaccurate information (aside from the excellent article by Marcia Henry).  Perhaps I will include my feedback on those in a future post.

IDA Morphology 101 markup 

IDA Just the Facts: Morphological Awareness: One Piece of the Literacy Pie

While I would like to end the post here, I must leave you with the study of <pie>, since we are talking about “one pice of the literacy pie.” It turns out that <pie> has several definitions. Most people associate <pie> with the pastry, like apple pie, pumpkin pie. Yum, it’s getting to pie season. When we think of a piece of the pie, we usually associate it with a circle that has been cut in half, or quarter, or sixteenths. When we study fractions, pie shapes are often used. <Pie> is also a shortening of the bird, “magpie”. The names Margaret and Mag are derived from this bird’s name due to its “idle chatter.” In the 16th century, a phrase arose the “wily magpie” which referenced a sly rogue. Perhaps that is how I feel I will be looked at for writing this post. The last definition is the one that seems to fit the IDA’s literacy pie the best. Pie is also a mishap of typesetting. When a typesetter drops his tray of characters they would get all  jumbled up. If printed in this manner, this is called pie type (or pi type). Similarly, modern day “symbols” were referred to as “pi characters” by typesetters. When we type #(%&@^ , most consider this to be gibberish which is what pi type referenced. This, my friends, is how I think the morphological information provided about the literacy pie today by the IDA reads, in pi type.


Morphological Awareness: One Piece of the Literacy Pie. International Dyslexia Association, 11 Oct. 2017.

Hessler, Terri. Morphology 101. International Dyslexia Association, 11 Oct. 2017.

“Pi Type.” Pi Type – PrintWiki, printwiki.org/Pi_Type.

“Pie .” Etymonline, www.etymonline.com/word/pie.

“Pie.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pie.

Thornhill, Howard. “Pi the Type.” Pain in the English, 11 May 2008, painintheenglish.com/case/2585.

The Stellar Seller and the Chilly Cellar

For homophone Friday, I wanted to study <cellar> because it is a word on a spelling inventory that I give to students. Most of the kids start to write <seller> until the hear it in context. The sentence has the meaning of <cellar>, while some students don’t realize it’s even a homophone. Every time this happens, it makes me wonder about its etymology.  It is my intention to help figure this word out further.

Lets start with the most common word <seller>. This is the person that sells things, a salesperson. The word sum is <sell> + <er> -> <seller>. The word is made up of a base plus a suffix. The suffix is what is called an “agent suffix.” When I was at Pete Bower’s Summer Institute this summer I asked about agent suffixes, “like, what does agent really mean?” Well, in SWI fashion, we studied it. An agent is one who acts. The base of <agent> is <ag(e)>. What? I thought. I’ve always envisioned <agent> as the base. The base comes from Latin: agere “to set in motion, drive forward; to do, perform; keep in movement.” Now I can see agent as the doer, the performer, the driver. Going back to <seller>, the <seller> is driving, performing the sale. The base is Old English sellan. This is a free base, which means it can be a word on its own without affixes. The double <l> is there because of the base <sell>. English convention doubles the final <l> in one syllable bases with one vowel right before it, such as <fall>, <cliff>, <pull>.

The word <cellar> has a much fuller etymology and story. A cellar is an underground room typically used for food storage because it was a cooler place of the home (or castle) before refrigeration existed. Cellar can also be used as a verb – to bring something to the cellar. “I’m going to cellar the wine.” The word came to English through Anglo-French originally as celer which derived from Latin cellarium. In Latin a cella was a pantry. One can visit old castles and abby’s and find cellars in the basement. They were chilly, so that gathered food such as vegetables could be stored and kept for a longer period of time. Often there were nooks to keep the food. Today we have refrigerators for this kind of cooler storage, and a cellar is often relegated to mostly wine storage. So <cellar> has an analysis of <cell> + <ar>. It is also related to words such as cellular, cellmate, cellulite, celluloid, and cellulose. The word <cellar> has another meaning which means the lowest rank (such as subpar, or in the bottom as a cellar is the bottom of the house). So a sports team could be in the cellar when they come in last in the season. This is opposite of <stellar>, which I find the construction interestingly similar, although there is no etymological connection between <cellar> and <stellar>. Stellar relates to the stars. So if something is stellar, it is far and high reaching. “The first place sports team was stellar.”



Lastly, I want to touch on the pronunciation and graphemes. These two words a homophones so the pronunciation is the same, at least where I live. Here are the graphemes in these two homophones. The dots are placed between the graphemes.



The grapheme differences between these two words are <s> -<c> and <er> – <ar>. The <s> is the expected choice for the phoneme /s/, but <c> is can be pronounced as /s/ when there is an <e>, <i> or <y> after it, such as cemetery and cent. The ending <er> is the default spelling for /ɚ/ The final <ar> grapheme is less common with this phoneme but we do still have common words with its use, such as sugar, dollar, solar, lunar, cedar, and collar. The other note is that <cellular> is spelled with <ar> just as <cellar> is. The Latin connection is cellularus which is why it was spelled in English with an <ar> instead of an <er>.

So, now when I give my spelling inventory with <cellar> I will be able to further assist students in its understanding beyond that of <seller>. Living in California, cellars are very rare due to our soil, which is another reason that the word <cellar> is a tough one for students to grasp as it is not a commonly used word here.

Authored by Lisa Klipfel, MA, MFT, Educational Therapist

Lisa provides online sessions to help students understand the written English writing system.


Agent | Origin and History of Agent by Online Etymology Dictionary, www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=agent.

Cooke, Gina (2014). LEX: Linguist-Educator Exchange Grapheme Deck, 2nd Edition. www.linguisteducatorexhange.com

Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Cellar.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 9 Nov. 2011, www.britannica.com/technology/cellar.

“Cellar.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cellar.

Cellar | Origin and History of Agent by Online Etymology Dictionary, www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=agent.

“Sellar.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/sellar.

Seller | Origin and History of Agent by Online Etymology Dictionary, www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=agent.

“Stellar.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stellar.

Stellar| Origin and History of Agent by Online Etymology Dictionary, www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=agent.


Word Sum Wednesday: Prerequisite

I began this inquiry with the word <requisite>. It’s not a word I frequently encounter and when I heard it in a conversation, I wondered if the person actually meant <prerequite>. So, I curiously went down the rabbit hole on this adventure to find the answer.
I quickly found that the word <requisite> does exist. Here is a sentence I found it in, “He found most of the requisite funds at the last moment.” It is something that is essential or necessary. When seeking more information in Etymonline, I found that <requisite> is from Latin with the root requirere. The first thing I noticed is that if I take off the Latin infinitive suffix ere, I would get <requir(e)>. It is my first clue that I may have discovered a twin in my inquisition. It would make sense that a <requisite> is a requirement. Upon visiting the Latin dictionary, I find that indeed this is a twin base <quis(e)> and <quir(e)>.
This is quite neat and tidy, but there is something else that tugs at me to explore the rabbit hole further. It is that the etymonline entry for <requisite> indicated that for the most part the word <request> is mostly used in place of this word. It suggested that perhaps there is a connection to <quest> base. It is making me question quite a few things but decide to go further in my inquiry. The word <quest> is something that is asked or sought after. When researching the previous words the root quaerere kept popping up, “to seek, ask.” A connection of the base <quest> has now been connected to the bases <quire/quise>.
English words with the base of <quest> include: question, request, conquest, inquest. Although sequester (as in the separate a jury from the public) might have to do with not “saying,” but it appears that the base in this word has to do with following rather than asking or seeking. <Bequest> was also on my mind, but it turns out it is not etymologically related. The <quest> element is Old English relating to <quoth> and <bequeath>. Looking for “relatives” in the SWI process includes not only passing the structure test but also the meaning (etymological) test. In this case <sequester> and <bequest> did not pass that meaning test to be included. These are important aspects of the scientific inquiry process that surface spelling does not mean that a word or set of words gets included automatically without a series of defined criteria.
I cannot leave this conversation without the word <inquiry>. It too belongs in this set. The word sum is
<in>+<quire>+y–> inquiry.
It is the asking of questions. It is a quest, a seeking out. When we use the term “structured word inquiry” it is about seeking, asking and finding. It is not about being told how things are done or what the rule it. It is about being a detective and a scientist, learning, understanding for yourself as the expert scientist how the English writing system works. When you inquire direction and you acquire that knowledge through scientific inquiry, you feel you can conquer any aspect of our writing system.
A quest always ends with more questions. For further study, are any of these words are related to the above bases: quarrel, conquer, conquistador, lacquer?
Etymonline: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=requisite+
Latin Dictionary: http://www.latin-dictionary.net/search/latin/requirere
Merriam Webster Dictionary: https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/requisite

Word Sum Wednesday: proclamation

Word Sum Wednesday: proclamation


Proclamation came about when a friend secured a city proclamation to designate October as Dyslexia Awareness month. It got me thinking about what is a proclamation, really. I envision a scroll being unrolled as the townspeople gather while a government official shouts about to the people something that the king or government has declared.

A proclamation is “an official public announcement.” The base of this word is <clam(e)> which is from Latin clamare “to cry out.” So, a proclamation is a public crying out. The word sum is pro+clame/+ate/+ion-> proclamation. The slashes are where the letter before it will be replaced when the word is rewritten on the right side of the arrow. This word has one prefix <pro->, a base <clame>, and two suffixes <-ate> and <-ion>. All of these elements are morphemes. They are not syllables. A word sum is made up of morphemes as that is how words are built.

The relatives of this base include: exclamation, acclamation, declamation, declamatory, reclamation, clamor, and clamorous. An exclamation is to make a loud outcry. So an exclamation mark, essentially marks (in text) when the text is loud.  An acclamation is to shout in approval.  The <ac> of acclamation and the <ap> of applaud are assimilated prefixes of <ad-> denoting “towards.” This is not to be confused with acclimation, which is adjusting to “climate,” or surroundings (which also, by the way, has the same assimilated prefix <ac->). It is because of this prefix that there are 2 <c>’s in acclaim, acclamation and acclimation. Declamation is the act of “speaking rhetorically, pompously or bombastically”. The prefix <de-> is being used as an intensifier. So declamation is being intense in the outcry. To call back again is the act of reclamation, to reclaim something back. Often children and pets can be described with clamor or clamorous because they can be loud.

But what about proclaim? A proclamation is something we “proclaim” so why is it spelled differently? Although this word is Latinate, it came to English through French. When these words came to use through French some changes already started to happen from its road from Latin. This original Latin root <clamare> gives us at least two different English bases: <clame> and <claim>. The base <clame> that we are talking about is a bound base. This means that it requires a prefix or suffix to make an English word. The base <claim> stands alone as a free base, but takes affixes as well. Either way both bases have the same denotation of “crying out.”

proclamation – proclaim
reclamation – reclaim
acclamation – acclaim
declamation – declaim
exclamation – exclaim

The last discussion point is about phonology. Here is these words in IPA /ˌpɹɑklə’meɪʃən/ and /pɹoʊ’kleɪm/. IPA are the symbols that represent phones. There is a shift in stress between <proclaim> and <proclamation>. This is the reason there is a different pronunciation of the first vowels. Stress is where we put the emphasis. Although both take the same prefix, the pronunciation shifts. Another aspect of pronunciation is the <t> is being pronounced as /ʃ/. This is often seen when we have these two suffixes together <-ate> + <-ion> -> <-ation>. The <t> can be pronounces as /ʃ/ before an <i>, and can be seen often in these situations (<– see there is another <t> as /ʃ/).

Well, I hope my proclamation about the base has helped make some connections between words. While I’m not one for exclamation, I’m quite quiet and don’t ever ask for acclamation. Hopefully you can read without too much clamor going on in the background. My goal is to help people get acclimated to word sums.


“Help Make October Dyslexia Awareness Month” Dyslexia Parent Support Group of Huntington Beach, https://www.facebook.com/events/181564559053111/?acontext=%7B%22ref%22%3A%2222%22%2C%22feed_story_type%22%3A%2222%22%2C%22action_history%22%3A%22null%22%7D&pnref=story

“Proclamation.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/proclamation.

“Proclamation.” Etymonline, Etymonline, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=proclamation

Homophone Friday Series: ferry, fairy

I am starting a new series to sighing the homophone principle. English has a unique characteristic to its language

ferry vs fairy

called the homophone principle. Essentially if there is a word that is pronounced the same as another word with a different meaning it will take a different spelling if it is possible.

Homophones are words that are pronounced the same but spelled differently. English has many, many homophones. The most common are: two/to/too, eye/I, won/one, four/for/fore, here/hear, wear/where. Many people get confused with homophones, which are a characteristic of our English writing system and not a defect.

The grapheme choice for homophones are mostly etymologically driven. This means that studying where the word comes from and what its story is tells us a lot about how it will be spelled. When this is taken into account rather than thinking that spelling is only about phonology, then homophones make more sense.

I have recently started a series called, “Homophone Friday” looking at homophones which may be common or uncommon. The series will feature the IPA symbol representation of a homophone, as IPA is the way “sound” can be written. It will feature at least two words that are pronounced the same. Sometimes, there may be 3 or 4 words that are pronounced the same.

If you have a homophone that you are intrigued about, please email me at lisa@lisaklipfelmft.com. I am keeping a live Google slideshow of the homophones that I study to share with you. Click here for link.

A Great Breakfast to Start Your Day

While traveling recently, I came across an advertisement where cows are spelling as . While many chuckle and knod, stating, “Yeah, English spells stuff weird. Why don’t we just spell it how it’s sounded.” Let me walk you through the word .

When doing a scientific word investigation, we go through 4 scientific questions – mean? built? relatives? pronunciation? The definition of by Merrian-Webster’s is “he first meal of the day especially when taken in the morning.” Its definition leads us to question #2 about how it is built. Breakfast was the meal that broke the fast from the evening and overnight. In question #2, we look at the structure of the word. The morphemes identified in <breakfast> are presented in word sums: <break> + <fast> -> <breakfast>. In question #3, we look at relatives which can all be put into a matrix after word sums are created for each of them. Words with the same base include: break, breaks, breakage, breaker, breakers. It also has many compounds: breakout, breakwater, breakup, breakthrough, breakdown, windbreak, heartbreak, breakout, heartbreak.

It is an Old English word and is a strong verb. This means that the past tense will not have the default expected <-ed> suffix. The past tense is <broke> and the past participle is <broken>. There are many verbs that have a stem shift instead of a suffix added for past tense. So, <broke> and <broken> are relatives by having the same root, but they do not share a base <break>. For illustrative purposes, that would mean that <broke> and <broken> can go in the etymological circle and not in the lexical matrix.

The forth question is about pronunciation. Lets start with the graphemes of <breakfast>. There are 9 letters and 8 graphemes: <b.r.ea.k.f.a.s.t>. The pronunciation areas that are unexpected are at the grapheme <ea> and <a>. In the matrix, all the pronunciations of <ea> have a long <a> phoneme: break, breakage, breakable. There is a shift to a short <e> phoneme in <breakfast>. It is the same phoneme when the <ea> is used in <bread>. Some etymologists believe there is a connection between <breakfast> and <bread>. Either way, we know that <ea> can also be pronounced in this way.

So what about the <a>? Why do the cows want to spell it with a <u>? The answer is that it is pronounced as a schwa. The stress is on the first syllable and therefore the <a> can and is pronounced with a schwa. The schwa is a perfect example of why we can’t spell with phonology primacy. We must look at morphology (and etymology) to actually spell correctly. Knowing that that this meal broke a fast, helps us to spell it with the morpheme that means without food.

This is a quick example of how morphology and etymology are needed along with phonology for orthography. If we spelled by phonology only, we would spell <breakfast> as <brekfust> and we would need to change our dictionary in every state and dialect in the country, as well as any time we shifted the pronunciation of a word. This is another example of how our English writing system is morphophonemic.

Almost Nonsense Word of the Week: Sord

A flock of mallard ducks

Sord is a flock of mallard ducks. Yet, a group of (generic) ducks on the water is called a raft, bunch, or paddling. Mallards live mostly in North America. The tend to fly in the typical “V” shape. They are omnivores and like fresh water. The male is called a “drake” and has the colorful green head that distinguishes them from other ducks.

I know that some might think that is a misspelling of “sword”, or might be considered a nonsense word, but it is actually a dictionary abiding word. In late Middle English it was used to mean “to rise up”. It is thought to be related to the Latin word sugere which means to rise. Sugere gives us the base for words such as surge, resurge, insurgent, and upsurge.

Yet, the word <surgery> comes from Old French sugerie. The Late Latin etymology of was chirurgia coming from Greek χειρουργία kheiro (hand) and ergon (work). Surgeries were the work of the hands. It was a specific and delicate work.

The most commonly thought of word <sword> for /sɔʴd/ comes from Old English sweord, where it probably initially was pronounce with a /w/ phoneme. While it seems to come from Old High German sweran “to hurt”. The Proto-Indo-European root was *swer “to cut”. This root also gives us <swear> and <answer> from the same root *swer which meant “to speak, talk or say”. An answer is to not swear. The <w> in <answer> is an etymological marker connecting it to swear.

So <sord> relates to mallard ducks, while <sword> relates to a cutting device. The question of whether word is a nonsense word can now be answered.

Written by Lisa Klipfel

A Group of Animals is Called by Oxford dictionary. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/explore/what-do-you-call-a-group-of
Cornell Lab of Orthinology, Mallards. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mallard/id
Etymonline, sord. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?allowed_in_frame=0&search=sord
National Geographics Kids, Mallard ducks. http://kids.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mallard-duck/#mallard-male-swimming.jpg

Almost Nonsense Word of the Week: Cloy

The concept of nonsense words in reading instruction is to see if a student is properly decoding words via syllables. The flawed concept is that many of the so-called nonsense words are actually words. Today’s almost nonsense word is “cloy”. The grapheme <oy> spells the phoneme /ɔɪ/. An educator may “make up” the word <cloy> thinking that it is a nonsense word to “test” a child in their decoding ability, when in reality <cloy> is a word in the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary “to surfeit with an excess usually of something originally pleasing”. The word <cloying> is an adjective. Yes, the suffix <-ing> can be adjectival. The crying baby was sad. The <crying> describes the baby, where as <was> is the verb. An example: The woman’s cloying perfume hung in the air like a cloud. Upon research of this word, I found there is a perfume called “Cloy”.

The etymology of <cloy> is Middle English cloyen, which meant to hinder movement. So someone who  over eats and can barely move from the gluttony may be described as cloying. Looking farther back into it’s history, this word goes back to Old French relating to “fasten with a nail”, such as to shoe a horse. Going even further back it is connected to Latin’s clavus “a nail”. Latin’s clavus is the root for slot, clove, and glaive. A clove grows in the shape of a nail. A glaive is a spear-like weapon on a long pole. It often had a small hook on the reverse side (similar to a nail). Slot is related to this root as a slot was used to fasten (bolt or bar) a door shut.

So, the next time nonsense words come up, it would be an interesting study to see if they are actually in the dictionary as “real” words. I will leave you with the ability to consider the futility of nonsense words. In general the idea of reading is to understand the meaning behind what is written. Nonsense words don’t do that, because they are “nonsense” and not intended to make any sense. Enjoy your almost nonsense word of the day!



Etymonline cloying entry

Merriam-Websters Word of the Day: Cloying

The Phonotactics of Dry and Truck

There is a couple patterns I see with dyslexic spellings of initial blends. One of them is the use of <chr> when a word begins as <tr> and the other common one is using <jr> for words with an initial <dr>. Some experts might state that the child has not mastered phonemic awareness and I used to believe this. I would spend endless hours with them to separate the sound before the <r>. I now know that I was missing something valuable related to these English spellings and pronunciations. I realize that these children actually have excellent hearing and excellent discrimination of phones.

In the case of an initial word that begins with the blend <tr>,  we blend it so quickly in connected speech that we often say <truck> as /tʃɹʌk/, although most people “think” that they say /tɹʌk/. Only when we say the word in isolation and really focus on the enunciation the <t> separate from the <r> does it actually sound like /tɹʌk/. The only way to understand the difference is to say a sentence with <truck> in it: The red truck is big. One may not fully agree with me, but when a student writes <truck> as <chruck>, they are able to distinguish the phone [tʃ] before the [ɹ]. Therefore they are translating the phoneme [tʃ] into <ch> as that is what most children are taught to do- translate phonemes into graphemes.

Upon studying word patters of <tr> and <chr>, I will share with you a secret. It’s actually no secret, because anyone can study what I have. All the words that I was able to find that had an initial <chr>, the <ch> grapheme was represented with a /k/ phoneme. Some common examples were <chrome>, <Christmas>, and <chronic>. I was unable to find any English words that started as <chr> that was pronounced [tʃɹ]. Therefore, whether or not it is argued that a child has or has not mastered phonemic awareness, a student can be informed that if they have an initial blend with the phones [tʃɹ] that it will never be spelled <chr>, as <chr> is reserved for /kɹ/.

When I encountered a substitution of <jr> for when the initial spelling was <dr>, I started to wonder if there was a similar constraint. This is another common “misspelling” that I see in dyslexic students. I researched words with an initial <jr> and there just isn’t any English words with an initial <jr>. Zero. One may ask, what about <jr.>? This is an abbreviation and it is still pronounced /ʤuːnjər/ in full. Again this child is reproducing the phones that we actually say in connected speech. Saying a word alone, one may separate the [d] and the [ɹ] when one says <dry>, but in connected speech it will be pronounced more like [ʤɹaɪ ]. Say, “The river is dry.” Most likely it was said [ʤɹaɪ]. Again, whether or not one agrees with the pronunciation, a student can be taught that the spelling will never be <jr> because English just doesn’t use that spelling sequence initially.

The next question is why. Why do we not have words that start are <jr> or [tʃɹ]? The answer relates to a linguistic term phonotactics. Let me break down this word: phon(e) + o + tactic+s. The base <phon(e)> relates to sound produced by something with a mouth and lungs. The base <tactic> relates to arranging. So, <phonotactics> is about how we arrange our mouth/toungue to make phonemes. Why is this important? English (and all languages actually) has phonotactic constraints. There are certain consonant phones that we just don’t put together. When the movie, “Frozen” came out, I remember a long discussion with a student about the character Sven. She swore the character’s name was “Spen”. The reason is that we don’t typically have <sv> letter sequence in English. There is the loan word <svelte> but that’s about it. So this child’s brain interpreted the /sv/ phones into what makes “sense”  and phonotactically possible in English, “thinking” it was “Spen”. It was a processing issue, not a hearing issue for an monolingual English speaker. If English allowed words to be spelled <jr> along with <tr> then we could more easily distinguish these phones. The phones [ʤɹ] is not phonologically distinctive from [tɹ] as there is only one way to spell both of these pronunciations, <tr>. Likewise the phones [tʃɹ] can only be realized in spelling with the graphemes<tr>. Phonotactics explains a lot about not only how we pronounce words, but can also help us to eliminate spelling patterns English doesn’t use. Thus it makes spelling a bit more easy to understand. I hope this explanation can help a student to understand the spelling patterns of <dr> and <tr> a little more easily.