Category Archives: language

What do you know about vodka and Matryosha dolls?

The origin of words and the culture and history behind them are fascinating. Jenny Luca sent me to the Words of the World website today and I’ve been having fun learning about my Russian cultural background.

From Nazi to Chocolate, words play a vital role in our lives.

And each word has its own story.

But where do they come from? What do they mean? How do they change?

The University of Nottingham School of Languages and Cultures does a brilliant job of unpacking words in a very engaging way. It’s difficult not to go through all the videos in one sitting when the experts present their knowledge in such an accessible way. It makes me want to study at Nottingham University. So much more interesting for students to learn in video form, I think, and learning from experts in this way would be something which could entice reluctant learners or just bring knowledge through a face and voice, whetting the appetite for more.

Check out the YouTube channel, join the Facebook group, follow @wordsnottingham on Twitter, or follow the blog of the creator, film-maker Brady Haran.

My question is – will the word bank increase? I hope so because this learning site is very addictive.

Ever wondered about the history of Russian nesting dolls?

You might also like to have a look at The University of Nottingham’s YouTube channel.

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Filed under 21st century learning, language

Spreading the word to stop the word

Twitter informed me that Jenny Luca was spreading the word to stop the word. In her post, Jenny joins the push for awareness to stop the inappropriate and discriminative use of the word ‘retard-ed’. The post is a response to the incredible Laura Stockman’s blog carnival. Laura is donating a flip video camera to the cause.

Here are the rules for the carnival:

  • To be entered you MUST have at least one blog POST that focuses ending the use of the r-word.
  • Your post MUST be on how the r-word makes you feel, how you will help Spread the Word to End the Word, or have to do with the Spread the Word to End the Word campaign.
  • Your post MUST be entered on 3.31.09.
  • Once your post is up, please leave a comment here so that I know you are entered. It would be great if you could leave your name or the name of your class/school and a link to the post. I will create a new post on my blog that day with a list of all of the bloggers who have spread the word!
  • Everyone who posts and leaves their link here will be entered into a random drawing to win the Flip Video Camera! I will draw the name of the winner on April 1st!

Like Jenny, I remember the ‘r’ word being used freely at school, not just primary school, and I still hear it now. I’m ashamed to say that I often don’t bat an eyelid when I hear it because it’s used so flippantly that it doesn’t even arouse offence. Clearly, this is not acceptable, and we must think about the implications of this attitude, and then do something about it. This goes for all words that discriminate against and offend people, whether they discriminate against disability, race, religion, gender or any other group that stands out as different.

Why don’t we have a class collection tin for charity and create awareness by penalising students for using the ‘r’ word or name-calling in general? We might be surprised to discover how often we use inappropriate language.

There’s no nice way to use the word ‘retard’. As John McGinley says in the video, using the word ‘retard’ or ‘retarded’ is an act of cowardice because you’re discriminating against a group of people who can’t defend themselves.

 

Betsy says it so well in her post.

There is no shame in having a developmental delay or a disability of any kind. Trust me, some of the greatest human beings you will ever meet are ones that you may have just walked right by without even noticing or acknowledging. Do them and yourself a favor and see others as fully living and loving human beings, no matter what the differences.

Please stop using the R word – replace it with respect.

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PicLits

piclit-1

I thought I’d try out PicLits: inspired picture writing.

PicLits.com is a creative writing site that matches beautiful images with carefully selected keywords in order to inspire you. The object is to put the right words in the right place and the right order to capture the essence, story, and meaning of the picture.

I wasn’t that pleased with my first effort, so I tried another one.

piclit2

Well, unless I’ve missed something, the list of words is limited. Then again, I haven’t read the instructions, just had a go.  I think there’s something to be said for adding text to a picture from a limited supply. The challenge is to work with what you’ve got, thinking about the position of the words, whether you want a sparse message or story, or whether you want a more crowded and descriptive text. 

Definitely much to play with either in English, foreign language or English as a Second Language classes.

I almost forgot to thank Tom Barrett for this application, and if you go to this post you’ll find 9 other digital writing opportunities.

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Filed under art, creativity, language, photos, play, technology, Web 2.0, writing

Words come to life in Wordia

oscarpuppet

I love the idea of a dictionary created by many people, but Wordia is more than that. It’s a media dictionary created by people sharing their own videos. It’s people talking on video about a word that they’ve chosen. So it’s much more than a definition. Watch Oscar Puppet’s video defining the word ‘buncombe’ and you’ll see that it’s just as much about the person (or character) behind the chosen word – it’s a word definition with personality.

What else is Wordia?

It’s a community of people who, for one reason or another, care about a word enough to spend time making a short film to explain their chosen word.

wordiacommunity

You, too, could join this collection of people who make this media dictionary. This is what you have to do:

wordiainstructions

 Wordia is in beta and is far from comprehensive. There’s something good about a brilliant, new idea in the making, especially when anyone is invited to contribute.

I got sick of searching for words that weren’t there so I browsed using the ‘words’ tab. There’s a list of ‘best words’ and that’s how I came across the definition for ‘fermata’. Very entertaining.

Wordia has it all. Aside from the obligatory dictionary definitions on the page, the list of synonyms, you also get comments from people, making Wordia not so much a dictionary as a linguistic peopleonary.

There are many ideas for the English classroom here. Apart from the kids watching or making their own Wordia clip, you could discuss which videos work best and why, or how the video presentations could be improved, or you could get the kids to choose 5 words they didn’t previously know, or 5 words that sound the most ridiculous, or 5 legal words, 5 words associated with emotions, etc. You get my drift.

Have a look for yourselves and tell me what you think.

 

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Filed under creativity, Education, film, humour, language, learning, play, teachers, teaching, Web 2.0

21st century jargon

An article in The Telegraph voted the phrase ‘thinking outside the box’ as the most despised business jargon. Some of these cliches really get on my nerves. For example: Touch base (2), Pushing the envelope (18), In the loop (20). Others I haven’t heard of: Blue sky thinking (6), Singing from the same hymn sheet (10), thought shower (13).

The BBC News Magazine published an article entitled ’50 office-speak phrases you love to hate’. Tim from Durban, won my vote with a mixed-metaphor phrase from his boss –

‘You can’t have your cake and eat it, so you have to step up to the plate and face the music’. 

That’s not entirely ridiculous if you mean a dessert plate, but then you wouldn’t step up to it, would you?

What is it about language, that it can express something so well that it becomes popular usage, but that its  popularity leads to its demise? Or is it that we are too lazy to define our own meaning so we borrow phrases and use them to death?

What about ‘Web 2.0′, ’21st century skills’, ‘social networking’? Are these bandied about so much that they start to annoy? Are they loved by some, and hated by others? Sometimes I feel as if I should avoid talking about blogs, wikis, Twitter in front of people who don’t use them, because the very sound of these words are enough to turn people off. How should we speak about these things to people who haven’t embraced them?

Which phrases do you love to hate?

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Filed under language, Web 2.0

A different language

I’m still thinking in an expansive way about different ways of seeing, learning, living. I found this on Twitter thanks to @ggrosseck

Sometimes I feel my vision of people and the way things work is so tunnel-narrow. I really need to open up my understanding. It’s frightening to admit that foreigness can cause such a defensive reaction.

Here is the blog of this passionate autistic woman. This is how she describes herself and the purpose of her blog: 

This is a blog by a self-advocate who has participated in several aspects of the disability rights movement including autistic liberation, psychiatric survivor, mainstream disability rights, and developmental disability self-advocacy.

What do you think of the video or the blog?

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Filed under creativity, Education, film, language, learning, Remarkable

Dictionary evangelist – redefining the dictionary

Erin McKean does more than redefine the dictionary in her TED talk; she redefines our concept of language. She says that our idea of what a dictionary is hasn’t changed since Queen Victoria’s times – we have the idea that a dictionary contains the ‘good’ words (the ‘real’ ones) and keeps out the bad words (‘not real words’). That’s what she finds frustrating about her perceived role as lexicographer – that she is seen as a traffic cop, whereas she’d rather be a fisherman (yes, she used ‘man’). 

But, I hear you say, dictonaries have changed, they’ve come online, they are well connected; they have hyperlinks. Well, according to Erin, an online dictionary has essentially remained unchanged – it’s just a Victorian design with a modern propulsion.

What Erin challenges the audience to do is to rethink ‘good word’/’bad word’. She says when people find a word that isn’t in the dictionary, they think it’s because it’s a ‘bad word’ (think Scrabble), but actually, it’s not in there because the dictionary is too small. The book is not the best shape for the dictionary.

Erin challenges us to look past the artificial constraints of the book-form dictionary; we should study ALL the words. So how do we know that a word is ‘real’? She says, if you love a word, use it. Using it makes it real. It’s less about control and more about description. New words are everywhere, and Boing Boing is an example of the use of ‘undictionaried’ words. Erin suggests we look at the English dictionary as a map of the English language. An antiquated map of the world only contained what we ‘knew’ at that time, but there was much more to discover. As Erin says, when we left out countries in the old maps, we didn’t even know they were missing. So too with words.

And so Erin McKean is in the business of collecting words. She says that words need to be collected with all their background information – a word is ‘like an archaeological artefact’, and ‘a word without a source is like a cut flower – it dies fast’.

Well, I’m swept up by the evangelistic fervour of this New Age lexicographer, but do I dare embrace the new lexicographical freedom and risk chaos? Can we open up the business of word making to the masses when it has traditionally been the hallowed role of unseen word geeks? But then again, Wikipedia has opened up the font of knowledge, and the world hasn’t collapsed yet.

And I recommend Erin’s blog, Dictionary evangelist if you want to discover the unchartered seas of 21st century language. Here, instead of talking about a word’s etymology, Erin delights in its ‘roots, bones, innards, pips, and secret parts’. Or read about the acceptance of new words like ‘chillax’ in Erin’s article in the Boston Globe.

And let’s have some fun with words. To quote Erin, ‘if it works like a word, just use it’.

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Filed under 21st century learning, creativity, Education, internet, language, learning, writing