book sculptureI had intended to exhume ‘humiliation’ and continue the forensic operations on the corpse of  L. ‘humus’ today! However, this morning as I came to school, and after several days of contemplating the state word study in schools in general and ours in particular, I wondered what I’d say to someone who asked why study words ?

I could state that I believe that word study skills are vital in developing reading and writing, that through word study you deal with history, philosophy, literature and science. I could argue that it is in discerning morphemes and justifying these, students discover other related words and a vital strategy to understand unfamiliar words encountered in reading. I could argue that this investigative approach promotes a scholarly use of resources as students follow leads down the byways and highways of time to identify the roots and the other base elements that spring from these roots to unearth a connection to hundreds of words connected in meaning. I too could argue that this investigative approach to word study is rigorous and develops an understanding of the subtle shades of meaning between synonyms, or that this approach develops authentic learning partnerships where critical thinking is intrinsic. I could argue that in studying one word you study hundreds of words. I could go down the  ‘Common Core’ route and show that open ended investigative word study addresses the standards and benchmarks such as  ‘Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings’. Ultimately however, I believe word study develops a love of words where students begin to feel the power of words and  begin to use words well . It was from rambling musings such as this that I remembered Robert Pirosh’s job application! Go immediately to Inky Fool!

So today a pause in ‘humiliation’. Inspired by Pirosh, we deconstructed his writing to shamelessly steal, plunder and plagiarize, to follow his pattern and develop our own homage to words and word- play , to wallow in the sheer exuberance and sound of words.  A 15 minute romp through the thesaurus unearthed this treasure trove as students tasted and played around with the words they found there. Below are our first two line drafts…to be finished later and  in a different format.

And from my other humanities class:

And why the painted faces? Our school is host to an inter-school tournament for the noble game of rugby! Wahoo! We have gone rugby mad.. and yet our Nerds,  despite their clamouring to watch the game, did not know the origins of this word, nor the term ‘toponym’, – so Liam, an avid rugby fan to the rescue!

Below read Billy Collins’s homage to words and plea for their release from confinement in thesauri! I would go further and say in our classrooms set the words free from martialling and trammelling by spurious categorization such as frequency, letter strings, ‘look-cover-write-check’ lists, tricky word brandings, and rhyme.


It could be the name of a prehistoric beast
that roamed the Paleozoic earth, rising up
on its hind legs to show off its large vocabulary,
or some lover in a myth who is metamorphosed into a book.

It means treasury, but it is just a place
where words congregate with their relatives,
a big park where hundreds of family reunions
are always being held,
house, home, abode, dwelling, lodgings, and digs,
all sharing the same picnic basket and thermos;
hairy, hirsute, woolly, furry, fleecy, and shaggy
all running a sack race or throwing horseshoes,
inert, static, motionless, fixed and immobile
standing and kneeling in rows for a group photograph.

Here father is next to sire and brother close
to sibling, separated only by fine shades of meaning.
And every group has its odd cousin, the one
who traveled the farthest to be here:
astereognosis, polydipsia, or some eleven
syllable, unpronounceable substitute for the word tool.
Even their own relatives have to squint at their name tags.

I can see my own copy up on a high shelf.
I rarely open it, because I know there is no
such thing as a synonym and because I get nervous
around people who always assemble with their own kind,
forming clubs and nailing signs to closed front doors
while others huddle alone in the dark streets.

I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.

Billy Collins

Listent to the audio of Billy Collins reading this poem here:

Image: Mystery book  art where words were freed from the page that had Edinburgh in a flutter. Read more here at The Guardian

and here.