The students were not quite seated before the whispering began.
“Yeah. Go ahead, Ben. Ask her.”
“I’ll ask if you don’t want to!”
“No, Ben should be the one to ask. He’s the one who brought it up to begin with.”
As you can imagine, my interest was piqued. I looked at Ben whose cheeks were bright red. “Ben? Do you have a question for me?”
“Yes. Do you think <squad> is related to <quad>?”
I hope you can picture just how big my smile was at that moment! This was the first orthographic question of the year that was inspired by something happening outside of our classroom! I was delighted, and I hoped my smile conveyed that! “What a great question! Tell me more. What were you talking about when this question came up?”
Ben began by explaining that in math class they were discussing polygons. Specifically they were talking about shape families. When they got to quadrilaterals, the teacher asked if students knew any other words with <quad>. As students named words, it was the consensus that words with <quad> have something to do with “four.” When Ben asked whether or not <squad> was related to <quad>, the teacher suggested they bring that question to me. Perfect!
The first thing we did was to recreate the list of words the students had thought of earlier in math. They included:
Then I asked, what is the spelling they have in common? What specific string of letters do you see in each and every word?
The first response was <quad> (no doubt because that was what they had been talking about earlier). I asked them to look again and more carefully. That was when several hands shot up at once. “I see q-u-a-d-r!”
Great! Now I underlined the <quadr> in each word so we could look at the rest of each word.
Before I could even ask a question about this word, a student raised their hand to say, “The <i> could be a connecting vowel!” Awesome! I didn’t expect that, but it is true! It could be! Next I asked if anyone recognized any suffixes. Someone called out <er> and <al>. Great! Those might indeed be suffixes. They often are. (Notice that instead of saying, “You’re right,” or “Sorry, you’re wrong,” I’m using words like “might” and “could.” At this point we are doing some out-loud thinking about this word. We will consult a resource when we have had a chance to think through our observations.)
At this point I asked if anyone knew what <lateral> meant. No one did. So I said, “What if I told you that a fish has lateral fins? Does that help?”
There was a moment of hesitation as students mulled over this idea. Then someone said, “Side fins?”
“Yes! Do those of you who love to play football know what a lateral throw is?”
“Yes. It’s when you throw the ball in a backwards or sideways direction.”
“Right. So we’re seeing a sense of “side” in both when we refer to a lateral fin and a lateral football throw. So now tell me what a quadrilateral is.”
Several students at once responded with, “Four sides.”
Right away I wanted someone to tell me what quadruplets were. Everyone seemed to know that it was when four babies were born in a single birth. None of us knew much about the <uplet> part, but had heard it as part of <triplet>, <quintuplet>, <sextuplet>, <septuplet>, and <octuplet>.
Having identified the base as <quadr> made the rest of this word recognizable. I could just ask, “What is a quadrangle?” And several students replied that it was a shape with four angles. Instead of quickly moving on, I wondered aloud whether a quadrangle and a quadrilateral could refer to the same shape. Hmmm. After a bit of thought, the students agreed that a shape with four angles would also have four sides, and a shape with four sides would also have four angles.
The students quickly named <million>, <billion> and <trillion> when thinking of the second part of this word. I went on to name <quintillion>, <sextillion>, <septillion>, <octillion>, <nonillion>, <decillion>, <undecillion>, and <dodecillion>. (I love knowing this list because I can see the same <sept> in <septillion> as I do in <September>, the same <oct> as in <October>, and the same <dec> as in <December>.)
The students weren’t as familiar with the use of this word. I explained that if an area were to be split into four areas, one of the areas would be called a quadrant.
At this point a boy raised his hand and stated, “I don’t think <squad> fits with these. None of these words begins with an <s>.”
I loved knowing that the original question sat in his head as we were discussing all the words with <quadr>. I replied by saying, “You might be right, Sam. But then again, we can often be surprised by what we find. I don’t know the answer, but it’s almost time to look.”
But there was still something the students were wondering about. “Isn’t quad a word all by itself?”
“Yes. I think you’re right. I wonder if it isn’t a clip of one of the words we’ve looked at.”
Then I went on to explain that there are other words that had been clipped from a longer version – words like auto from automobile and flu from influenza. This was the perfect time to go over to my desk and pull up Etymonline on the Smartboard. I looked up <quad>. The entry was very interesting. It seems that <quad> has been a shortening (or clip) of several longer words over the years. In 1820 it was a shortening of <quadrangle>, which at the time referred to a building on a college campus. In 1880 it was a shortening of <quadrat>. In 1896 it was a shortening of <quadruplet>. We were all fascinated to read that a quadruplet originally referred to a bicycle for four riders! It was only later on that it referred to four young at a single birth. Lastly, <quad> was a shortening of <quadraphonic> in 1970. I remember my older brother talking about wanting quad speakers to go with his stereo! One of the students brought up one other more recent use of <quad> as a clip. They mentioned quads as in leg muscles. We decided that in that sense, <quad> must be a clip of <quadriceps>. This is an example of a word that needs to be in a context in order for us to know what it is referring to.
Once we had looked at <quad>, it was time to look at <squad>. This was really fascinating! In 1640, this word was used to mean a small number of military men.” That was a familiar use of the word for everyone. It is kind of what we were expected. As we read on, we noticed this word had been in French as esquade, Middle French as escadre, and Spanish as escuadra or Italian squadra where it meant literally “square.” Notice how the spelling in French, Middle French and Spanish began with <es> and the Italian spelling began with <s>. The next interesting information was this word was from Vulgar Latin (the Latin spoke by the everyday people) and possibly spelled (not for sure – notice the asterisk next to the spelling) *exquadra meaning “to square” from Latin ex “out” and quadrare “make square.” Ben, the boy who originally asked the question noticed the connection between a square and four right away. Another student pointed out the <quadr> spelling in the Latin word quadrare.
All in all, this glorious discussion took about 25 minutes. I enjoyed identifying what we knew already, and what things we could relate to other things without running immediately to a resource. There is such value in recognizing the connections one already knows. This is how the students will strengthen their confidence in their ability to connect one word to another.
What an opportunity to point out that both<quadr> and <squad> began in Latin, but had different journeys into Modern English. Both were used in French, but <squad> was also used in either Spanish or Italian and that different journey has been reflected in their spellings. It turns out that they ARE related! They are related etymologically, but because they do not share spelling, they are not morphologically related.
Now isn’t that something worth whispering about?