Last week, my student brought a book with him. He wanted to read a chapter aloud to me. As he was reading, I noticed that he was hesitating at words like ‘started’ and ‘handed.’ When I had him cover up the <ed> suffix in those words, he quickly recognized the word and continued reading. After the fourth or so time this happened, I said, “There sure are a lot of words with the <ed> suffix in this chapter! Keep your eye out for them when you come to a word that doesn’t look familiar.”
At the end of the chapter we went back to the beginning to skim through it again, looking for words with an <ed> suffix. We found all of the words pictured below on only two pages! I made a chart with three columns, representing the different ways we pronounce <ed> when we read it in words. When we spotted one, Michael read it and told me which column it belonged in. I remarked that this book was a goldmine when it came to finding words with an <ed> suffix!
One of the words he was not familiar with was ‘sounded.’ We talked about the <ou> digraph and how it is pronounced similarly in ‘ouch’ and ‘loud,’ but not in ‘soup’ and ‘group.’ Whenever we needed to, we went grapheme by grapheme to pronounce the word.
Today when Michael came, I had written the same words on separate pieces of paper and asked him to sort them by pronunciation of the <ed> suffix. I wanted to review this important concept with him before we moved on. He read the words and slid them into the appropriate column. When needed he covered the suffix as a strategy for recognizing the base.
Next, I switched the column headings and said we would be sorting the same words in a different way. I wanted him to notice which words had a doubled consonant just before the <ed> suffix, which had needed to replace the base’s final <e>, and which simply added the <ed> to the base.
The majority of the words were composed of a base and the <ed> suffix — with no change to the base. The rest of the words in our batch had doubled consonants just before the suffix. I had him cover the <ed> and then we talked about how to spell the base. Was ‘stop’ spelled with one <p> or two? He wanted to include both ‘unrolled’ and ‘called’ in this column. I thanked him for noticing those, but pointed out that the <l> is doubled in both of those bases. Adding the vowel suffix did not cause the doubling as it does in ‘stopped.’
None of the words in our group had a base with a single, final, non-syllabic <e>, so I grabbed a book we read earlier and we looked for a few. We found ‘lived’ and ‘decided.’ I wrote word sums so he could see what I meant about the final <e> needing to be replaced.
I wrote a few more examples of words with that single, final, non-syllabic <e> and we talked about the reason for that <e>. Michael said, “It’s a silent <e>.”
I said, “Yes. It does not represent sound. That is not its job in this word. It has a different job. Let’s look at what that job is.” We circled the graphemes and noticed that in the following words, that final <e> was influencing the pronunciation of the previous vowel. It’s one of the jobs that <e> can do.
Then we went back to look at ‘live.’ I told Michael that when the word is being used as a verb (action word – I live in Wisconsin), the <e> is preventing the word from ending in <v>. It is not having an effect on the <i>. We know this because of the short pronunciation of the <i>. But when the word is being used as an adjective (describing word – Be careful of the live wire), the <e> is preventing the word from ending in <v> and also influencing the pronunciation of the <i>. It is doing double duty!
We practiced tapping out these words.
Next I showed Michael a video about the suffixing convention in which that single, final, non-syllabic <e> might need to be replaced.
After we watched that, I showed him another video. I’m sure we’ll be watching these again, but I thought hearing the information from other students might hold his interest.
Now it was time to build our own flow chart and practice using it. We thought back to the Affix Squad video to figure out what would be the most important question to ask. I reviewed the meanings of words like ‘base’ and ‘non-syllabic’ before we proceeded. Next we knew that the answer to that question would either be yes or no. I asked Michael to write those words for our flow chart. I wrote the final directions that would follow either the yes or the no.
We practiced using the word sum <jump + ed>. Then I got my video camera out and we practiced using the flow chart. Rather quickly, Michael took over with using the flow chart. He also gained both confidence at writing word sums and practice at reading the word sums.
Since we had been focusing on the <ed> suffix (and a few other vowel suffixes), we used this flow chart to help solidify what to do when adding a vowel suffix to a base with a single, final, non-syllabic <e>. Next time we’ll talk about how to alter our flow chart to include adding consonant suffixes as well. What kinds of changes will we need to make to our flow chart? I’m looking forward to hearing what my student suggests!
Michael was really engaged with this activity. I think the fact that we made our own version of the flow chart and then used it to accurately spell words drew him in. In the video you can see where he explained that the <ing> suffix would be replacing the final <e> on <take>. But then when writing the completed word, he still included the <e>. When I pointed it out, he laughed. He erased the <e> (not very well) and we moved on. I gave him a base without a final <e> next. When we came back to words like to <bake + er> and <like + ing>, it was evident he understand what replacing the final <e> really meant. It is really rewarding to see the understanding grow week to week!
New opportunities have opened up for me! I am meeting with almost all of the 5th grade students at my elementary school (half the group on Tuesday, the remaining half on Thursday) for about 25 minutes each week. I am coming into their classroom and one of three grade level teachers is observing the lesson. I am also working with an 8 year old for 6 hours a week in my home!
This week I talked about the spelling of ‘two’ with both groups. Since I was meeting the 8 year old for the first time, I had him use manipulatives. In this way, I could both check his math understanding and also his understanding of the spelling of some numbers. While he was having a bit of play time with the superhero figures we were using, I asked him if he could spell the number ‘two.’ He paused and slowly spelled out, “t.o.w.” I said, “That’s great. You have all the right letters! But the ‘t’ and the ‘w’ need to be together. Let me show you how I know that.”
I wrote the word ‘two’ on my paper and showed it to him. Then I asked him if he noticed whether or not there were any twins in the superhero collection. He did. There were two sets of twins. I wrote the word ‘twin’ on my paper and asked him if ‘twin’ had anything to do with ‘two.’ Then I asked him what the words (spelling) ‘two’ and ‘twin’ had in common. I asked the same questions of ‘twice.’
Next I asked him to count out ten of the superheros. I asked him how many more we would need in order to have twelve. He said, “two.” I replied, “So twelve is two more than ten. It is ten plus two.” He grinned. I added the word ‘twelve’ to our list. Then he laid out two rows of superheros for a total of twenty. He knew that two rows of ten would give us twenty. I added the word ‘twenty’ to our list. Then I wrote the word ‘between’ and asked him to name the superheros that Batman was between. From there we connected the meaning of ‘between’ to the meaning of ‘two.’ Then I went back through the list and underlined the ‘tw’ in each word and asked him why I did that.
From there, I asked him to write down the word ‘ten.’ He didn’t have any trouble. I asked him to write down ‘six.’ Then I said, “If we add ten to six, we’ll have sixteen. What will we add to the spelling of ‘six’ to have the word ‘sixteen’? He wrote ‘ten.’ Perfect opportunity to talk about the <ee> digraph versus the single <e> grapheme in the context of these words! Then we talked about the meaning of ‘ten’ and the meaning of ‘teen’ in the word ‘sixteen.’ He noticed right away that they shared meaning, but not spelling! (He seemed to have an established awareness that that can happen – cool!)
Now that he had an understanding of <teen> in ‘sixteen,’ I asked him to write the number ‘five’ and then ‘fifteen.’ He started writing *’fiveteen,’ but realized that wouldn’t represent how we pronounce ‘fifteen.’ In the context of these two words, we could focus on the voiced <v> in ‘five’ and the unvoiced <f> in ‘fifteen,’ and how the two spellings share meaning but not spelling. As he was thinking about this, he said, “fifteen and fifty both have the /f/!
Before we stopped with the superhero figures, skip-counting and number words, I asked him once more how to spell ‘two.’ Without hesitation he said, “t.w.o.”
The 5th graders were fascinated. They were engaged and quickly recognized the meaning connections between words like ‘two’ and ‘between.’ They helped brainstorm many words with an initial ‘tw’ and we discussed the meaning of each. I made sure the word ‘twilight’ came up because I knew they knew its meaning, but might not have thought of it since the ‘tw’ spelling isn’t initial in the word. At least three students came up afterwards to tell me how cool the discussion was!
My copy of Mona Voelkel’s new book, Stanley and the Wild Words arrived in the mail, so I shared it with my 7 year old friend, Michael, and also with the 5th grade students.
I began by reading the book aloud. I paused at times to encourage the students to share their understanding. For instance, I asked what they thought ‘enormous’ meant and then asked for examples of things that could be considered enormous. We talked of whales, dragon teeth, and mountains but also of appetites and loads of wash. Then we talked about the denotation of <norm> being “rule.” I wondered what they thought about when they thought of ‘rule.’ So I asked. The fifth grade students could name several rules they follow at school. One boy defined a rule as a condition that everyone followed. In other words, following the rules is considered normal. When something is outside of what we think of as normal – is bigger than normal – it can be considered enormous.
Below are pictures of what I wrote down as I was reading the book to Michael. As you can see, I began with a word sum for ‘enormous.’ I labeled the morphemes as ‘prefix,’ ‘base,’ and ‘suffix.’ After we had a list of words that shared the base <norm>, I asked Michael to draw a box around the base in each word.
When talking with the 5th grade students I added the term “analytic word sum.” I explained that with an analytic word sum, we begin with the fully spelled word and then loosen it into its morphemes. I pointed out that the bound base <lyt> had a denotation of “loosen.” The prefix <ana> brings a sense of “throughout.” If we begin with the morphemes and join them to form a complete word, that is a synthetic word sum. Having brought up the words ‘synthetic’ and ‘analytic’, I wanted to expand the students’ understanding of them by mentioning other situations in which we use these words. We talked about synthetic materials being put together by man and how analyzing a problem requires us to look closely at each component.
With the large group of fifth graders, I did the boxing of the base and then had them tell me what the word sums would be. As they hypothesized the word sums, I wrote them on the board. When we got to the word ‘ginormous,’ I explained that ‘gi’ isn’t a prefix – it represents the word ‘gigantic’ in this portmanteau word (gigantic+ enormous gives us ginormous). You’ll notice we didn’t include ‘gi’ on our matrix – again, because it isn’t a prefix. This may be the first time I am mentioning portmanteau words to these students, but it won’t be the last. At some point, I’ll ask the students to choose ten of their favorites. Until then, I used the example of ‘brunch’ being a combination of breakfast and lunch. I pointed out that when the two words join to become a portmanteau, letters from each word might be lost. That makes this different from a compound word, where two bases join (intact) to form a new word.
With the fifth graders, I followed this activity by having them write the word ‘help’ at the top of a piece of paper and then writing as many related words as they could think of. Then I walked them through creating a matrix with ‘help’ as the featured base. One of the students thought of ‘prehelpfully.’ I look forward to talking about this invented word and also about matrices next time. Although, before I even began reading the book today, one student said, “I thought of a word for you to explain – one!” Perfect! Doesn’t look like I’ll run out of topics, does it?
Day Three (Days Three through Five focus on my time with Michael)
Today Michael and I read the story of Ibis, a whale who gets caught in netting and almost drowns. It is based on a true account, although the author added details that gave us an opportunity to talk about authors and story writing. Why do authors sometimes embellish the facts? Why did this author give Ibis human characteristics?
While we were discussing the main character’s interest in humans, we noticed that the following illustration gave us the whales’ perspective from deep in the water. Michael had used the word ‘perspective’ earlier, so I pointed it out here. “Isn’t it interesting to see the boat from the whales’ perspective? What do you suppose that word ‘perspective’ means?”
Michael said, “My perspective might be different than yours. Because of where I am standing, it might look different.”
“That’s a great way to define that word!”
I wrote the word down and showed it to Michael. I boxed out the <spect> base and wrote down the denotation “see, look”. Then I pulled up Etymonline and wrote down the Latin root specere above where I had written the word ‘perspective.’ I typed specere in the search bar and looked for other words Michael might be familiar with that had this base (or a variation of this base). When I came across ‘spectator’ I asked him if he’s ever been part of a large crowd – at a sporting event perhaps. He said, “Like at a baseball game?”
“Yes. The people who come to watch, to see the game, those are the spectators.
Next I found the word ‘spectacle.’ Michael said he was not familiar with it, so I told him that I can refer to my glasses as my spectacles. They are what I look through! Then I described another way to use that word. Let’s say I was with a group of people who were all walking slowly, but then one of the people jumped out in front and started dancing and singing. We might say they were creating a spectacle. They were making a spectacle of themselves. In other words, their actions were drawing attention and people couldn’t help but look at them. Then we thought of a few other situations in which people could make spectacles of themselves.
The word spectacular is used to describe things. A sunset might be described as spectacular, but so might a tricky catch in a game of football. I asked Michael to tell me how either of those were related to the denotation of <spect>. He said they were cool to see. He was making the connection between the meaning of the base and the meaning of the words it shows up in! It was around this time that he said, “What about ‘expectation’? Does that word work here?”
I’m sure he noticed my smile at that suggestion. I said, “Let’s see if it comes from the same Latin root. That’s a way to know for sure that the base in ‘expectation’ is related to the base in ‘perspective.’
I read the entry for ‘expect’ to Micheal.
“1550s, “wait, defer action,” from Latin expectare/exspectare “await, look out for; desire, hope, long for, anticipate; look for with anticipation,” from ex- “thoroughly” (see ex-) + spectare “to look,” frequentative of specere “to look at.”
I said, “Look at that. We still use the word in the same way the Romans used it 500 years ago! When we expect something, we are looking forward to it with anticipation. In this word we are combining the base <spect> meaning “look” and the prefix <ex> meaning “thoroughly.” At that point we noticed that even though ‘expect’ has the <spect> base, we no longer include the ‘s’ in that spelling. Etymonline shows us that two spellings were used in Latin. One of those has the spelling we currently use.
It was around this time that he asked about the word ‘despicable.’ I said, “It doesn’t have the <spect> base, but it still might be related. I know there are some alternate spellings for this base. We won’t know for certain until we look!” As luck would have it, it was on the same page as some of the other words related to ‘perspective.’ It also derives from Latin specere. The base in this word is <spice> (which is not at all the word ‘spice’ ). I said, “We might find more words in which the base is spelled this way. Let’s start another list.
When we talked about the word ‘inspect’ meaning to look into something, I also pointed out that if we add an <or> suffix, we would have the word ‘inspector.’ That is the person who is doing the looking. Then I slide my finger back up to the word ‘spectator’ and said, “There’s the <or> suffix! A spectator is the person who is spectating! It was our first look at agent suffixes.
Michael was familiar with the words ‘inspect,’ ‘respect,’ and ‘suspect’ and was able to describe how they connected back to the denotation of <spect>.
Towards the end of our search, we found the word ‘suspicious.’ I listed it beneath ‘dispicable’ and pointed out the spelling of the base. I asked him what being suspicious of someone might have to do with looking or watching. Michael quickly replied that when you are suspicious of someone, you watch everything they do.
At this point, we had spent about 30 minutes talking about these related words and their connection to “see, look, watch.” As a final way to look at what we collected, I made a word web. As I was writing, Michael noticed that some of the suffixes could be used on several of these words (expecting, spectating, suspecting, inspecting, etc.) He also used some of the words in sentences which reinforced his understanding of their meanings.
My goal with this activity wasn’t so much that Michael would be able to walk away knowing how to spell these words, but rather that he notice the meaning connections within word families. I was helping him broaden his vocabulary by taking a familiar word and connecting it to unfamiliar words that share that base. I was showing him that words come in families and that he can expect this kind of familial relationship not only with spelling, but with meaning. I was showing him how the English language is structured.
On this day I took pieces of paper and wrote suffixes on some, bases on others, and prefixes on yet others. I took two long pieces of paper and created a matrix. We started with the base ‘like.’
The object was to see whether these particular suffixes and prefixes could work with this base. As Michael moved each affix towards the base and read the word, he described what the word meant and sometimes even used it in a sentence. A cool thing happened when he was fixing the <un> prefix to the base <like>. Instead of announcing the word ‘unlike,’ he announced the word ‘unliked.’ I immediately said, “Oh, neat! As you said the word, you added not only the <un> prefix, but also the <ed> suffix! You created the word ‘unliked’! He smiled and said, “Yup. The villain was unliked by the superhero!” The benefit of having these suffixes on movable pieces of paper is that Michael is already recognizing that the <ed> suffix will sometimes replace the single final non-syllabic <e> on the base. He moved it into place himself. This suffixing convention will be revisited many times. This is the second time we’ve talked about it.
He decided that all of these prefixes and suffixes could be used with this base.
Next I moved the base <like> out of the way and replaced it with <hope>. Now Michael had to decide if these same prefixes and suffixes work with this new base.
He started with the prefixes and grabbed <dis>.
He scrunched his nose and said, “Nope!” And moved <dis> to the side. Then he tried <un>. He was undecided about this one. When he tried to talk about what it would mean, he used the word ‘hopeless.’ I said, “Ooooh! We can add the suffix <less> to our group of suffixes. I’m so glad you thought of that word!” Michael grinned.
As he pulled the suffixes <ing>, <ed>, <er>, and <s> next to the base to see if they formed a word he recognized, we noticed that the suffix didn’t always replace that final non-syllabic <e>. We talked about vowel suffixes and consonant suffixes. The suffixes that replaced the final non-syllabic <e> were <ing>, <ed>, and <er> – all vowel suffixes.
Next he matched up the base <hope> with the suffix <ly>.
Hmmm. He said the word a few times, looked at me and said emphatically, “Nope! I can’t think of how to use that one!” We laughed. Then he slid the <ly> suffix out of the way and we looked at the matrix full of morphemes that worked together. We slid the base <hope> out of the way and pulled in the base <rope>.
By this time, Michael knew what to do. He moved the affixes next to the base and thought about whether it was a word that made sense to him. He slide <dis> and <ly> to the side. He noticed, too, that when he paired up the base <rope> and the suffix <er>, he was talking about a person who did the roping. I quickly slid <hope> back into place to see if a ‘hoper’ was a person who did the hoping and then if a ‘liker’ was a person who did the liking. On another day we’ll test that suffix some more! Does it always refer to a person?
After this activity, I read the book From Wolf to Woof by Hudson Talbot. Michael is very interested in the evolution of living things, so when I found this book, I knew he would be interested. Besides, I saw in the title the opportunity to talk about /f/ and /v/. We talked about these two when we talked about ‘five’ and ‘fifteen’ and I was looking to reinforce that concept.
I wrote down the word ‘wolf’ and asked what word we use if we are talking about more than one wolf. Michael said, “Wolfs.”
I asked, “Do you notice how it feels in your mouth to go from the /f/ to the /s/?” We tried it a few times. “Now let’s see how it feels when we go from /v/ to /s/ as in ‘wolves.’ We agreed that was a smoother transition. I wrote down the spelling of ‘wolves’ and showed Michael the switch from <f> in ‘wolf’ to <v> in ‘wolves.’
I had a list of other words where this happens and added them to the paper. We worked one at a time and Michael wrote the spelling of the word as a plural. We toggled the <f> to a <v> and added an <es> suffix. We noted that the word ‘leaf” had an <ea> digraph and the word ‘loaf’ had an <oa> digraph. We paused to talk about what a digraph was and thought of at least two other words that had each of those same digraphs. Then we came to the last two words. They were slightly different than the others. They didn’t have a final <f>. They had a final <e>. Michael recognized that the final <e> wasn’t being pronounced. That meant that it was a grapheme whose job was something other than representing pronunciation. But what? Well, it was signaling that the previous vowel (<i>) would have a “long” pronunciation. Does that change what we’ve been noticing about the /f/ to /v/ in these words? No. Not at all. We will still toggle the <f> to a <v> and add an <es> suffix. In this case, the <es> suffix will replace the single final non-syllabic <e> as it does in many other words.
Because we are also focused on meaning, we had a great discussion about the pronunciation of ‘live’ when it functions as a verb and when it functions as an adjective (There were live snakes in the exhibit. I live down the street.) With this word (and many others) we need to see the word used in a sentence to know how to pronounce it. There are other words like this and we will consider them at another time.
I began with the matrix again – the one in which morphemes were written on slips of paper and we could move them around. Michael was enthusiastic. The base I chose today was ‘do.’ (There is no significance to the two colors. It was just the paper I had on hand.)
Interesting things we noticed.
– The base is pronounced the same in ‘doing’ and ‘doer,’ yet different than in ‘does’ and ‘done.’
– If we were to strictly rely on pronunciation to spell ‘does’ we might think it is spelled as *duz. But then we wouldn’t see that it is built from the base <do>.
– Even though there is a shift in pronunciation, there is not a change to the spelling of the base.
– The base represents the meaning.
– Instead of adding an <ed> suffix to show past tense, there is a different spelling of the base.
– The original spelling of ‘did’ in Old English was dyde. According to Etymonline, the final <de> functioned as a suffix and has become our current <ed> suffix.
-When the <er> suffix is added to the base, we get the word ‘doer.’ In this word, the <er> is an agent suffix. A ‘doer’ is a person who is doing something. We can compare this suffix to the <er> in hoper, roper, and liker.
After exploring and noticing things in this <do> matrix, I pulled <do> and replaced it with the base <go>. Michael rejected both the <re> and the <un> prefix, but grabbed a piece of paper and wrote ‘by.’ Then he put it in front of the base and pulled the <ne> suffix to the end of the base. “Bygone! That’s a word, right? Let bygones be bygones, meaning something happened already.”
“Wow! You’re right. In this case, the <by> is not a prefix, it’s another base. So bygones is a compound word. Nice going!”
Michael was familiar with what a compound word was and was able to give me a few examples, so we were able to move on.
We noticed that ‘go’ was similar to ‘do’ in that neither could show past tense by adding an <ed> suffix. They had different spellings to represent that.
Just as we were finishing up, Michael grabbed two more pieces of paper and wrote a sentence. Perfect!
Without getting deeply into the how and why of dreams, I’d like to share a classroom discussion that took place recently while I was asleep and in fact, dreaming. Over the years, there have been many instances in which I have fallen asleep rehearsing how I wanted to introduce a word family or some specific characteristic of a word family to my students. If I woke up in the night, I woke up to my brain having that discussion “live” with the students participating. In the morning, I would realize that our brave discoveries–the ones I couldn’t wait to talk about now that I was awake–weren’t possible. They weren’t actually words I could find–even as obsolete words in the OED. My brain totally made them up, using what I understood about structure and meaning. Well, I had another one of those dreams the other night.
I don’t recall why, but my students and I were looking at the word ‘companion.’ We defined it as a person you spend time with. The students shared their thoughts on whether or not a companion had to be a close friend, a sibling, or even a person at all. One student claimed her dog was her companion. Next, people named places they visited or activities they enjoyed with companions.
And then, as has happened so often in my classroom, a student asked a question that made me pause. “Is the word ‘companion’ implying only one other person? Is there a member of this word family that could imply several people were spending time together?
Of course, if I had been having this discussion while awake, we would have discussed simply making the word ‘companion’ plural. But this discussion was happening in a dream where the obvious often seems like the least logical. So we didn’t even consider making the word plural and instead looked for a related word that would imply more than one companion. When someone suggested the word ‘polypanion,’ I yipped with delight! Here was a perfectly useful word that I never heard of before! The morpheme <poly> was suggested because earlier in the year we had made slime, which prompted an investigation of the word ‘polymer’ meaning “many parts”.
After a moment of thought, I brought up the fact that the base <pane> (I assumed this was the base – we hadn’t looked it up yet) was from Latin (again, an assumption because of the Latinate <-ion> suffix). I suggested that if the base was Latinate, maybe we should see if there’s a Latinate element that would work in place of <poly> which is Greek. You see, in the course of our school year together we had discovered many compound words in which there were bases from two different languages. This hybrid word, ‘polypanion,’ is an example of just that. The word ‘speedometer’ is another great example. The first base, <speed> is Germanic and the second base <meter> is Greek. A word that similarly means to “measure speed” is ‘tachometer.’ Both <tach> and <meter> are Hellenic, so this is not a hybrid. As a speaker of English, we sometimes have a choice of whether to use a hybrid word or not!
Considering that information, a student suggested ‘multipanion’ as a word in which all elements were from Latin. (When we had investigated ‘polymer’, we had compared Greek <poly> “many” to Latin <mult> “many” and collected familiar words that included each. I remember that the words ‘multisyllabic’ and ‘polysyllabic’ were on our lists. These two words carry the same sense and meaning. It’s just that multisyllabic is a hybrid and polysyllabic is not–all of its elements are from Greek.)
Once we were satisfied that we could use either polypanion or multipanion, someone asked about a word to indicate having only one companion. (Remember that this is a dream and in this “dream discussion” we already considered that the word ‘companion’ implies one. But now, here we are in the same dream trying to be even more precise–looking for the opposite of our word ‘polypanion.’) if we can have a polypanion “group of many companions,” can we then have a monopanion “only one companion?” And if monopanion works, what about unipanion? (When my students had compared Greek <poly> to Latin <mult>, they had also compared Greek <mone> “only one” to Latin <une> “one”.)
This is where the dream ended. I woke up excited, with this discussion still clear in my head. I told myself not to forget any details of this dream, especially the related words we had discovered! But as I said aloud the words polypanion, multipanion, monopanion, and unipanion, I recognized that they probably wouldn’t be part of our English lexicon because they aren’t needed. The word ‘companion’ is good on its own. It refers to spending time with one other being. The word is easily pluralized, so there is no need for the forms my mind created. Still, they do make meaning and structural sense. I could see calling an extra special friend my “one and only,” my monopanion, couldn’t you?
While dreaming, I created four words by combining familiar morphemes in unfamiliar ways. If you work with children, you have probably experienced this same thing happening. Back when I was new to SWI, I found that if I was too quick to hand students a matrix and asking them to use it to write word sums, they created all sorts of words not found in our lexicon. On the one hand, it is good to talk about how new words are created and to have that discussion about “when is a word a word.” On the other hand, it made me realize that they needed practice with writing word sums and creating their own matrices first. They needed to understand, for themselves, what a matrix can show us.
Unfortunately, students are sometimes given tasks they are able to complete without really thinking through what they have been asked to do. Writing word sums based on a specific matrix should not be one of those tasks. Without a solid understanding of word structure and its relation to word meaning, they won’t always stop to ask themselves if the morphemes they have paired create a familiar word or not. They are also less likely to go the dictionary to check to see if they created a word that exists, but is, perhaps, unfamiliar to them. In my experience, there is a deeper level of engagement and learning happening when a student goes through the necessary steps to create their own matrix. Once students have had repeated experience investigating words and their families, they are better prepared to consider someone else’s matrix and will seek to make sense of it. It is at this point that doing what I did in my dream — combining familiar morphemes in unfamiliar ways — becomes a thoughtful and enjoyable activity. The new words are formed purposefully and fit our criteria for “what a word is” — the structure makes sense and its meaning is clear to others.
Back to ‘companion.’
Now that I was awake, my curiosity took me to the structure of the word ‘companion.’ In my dream I hypothesized that the structure was <com + pane + ion>. I wasn’t familiar with the base <pane> but assumed it had something to do with “spend time” or maybe “person.” I could think of words like companions and company that are probably sharing the same base because they share meaning. If I am in the company of someone, I might also refer to them as my companion. If I am expecting company, it might mean I am having friends or guests in my home.
I hope you will be as delighted with the sense and meaning of this word as I am! According to Etymonline, the prefix <com-> brings a sense of “with, together” and the base <pane> is derived from Latin panis “bread.” The Late Latin companionem literally meant “bread fellow, messmate.” In other words a companion is a person you might break bread with (share a meal). I love it. It makes so much sense. So often, when I am in the company of friends, we eat!
Other words that derive from Latin panis are
pannier – a basket for bread and other foods (once referring to two large baskets carried on either side of a donkey – currently refers to pouches on either side of a rear bicycle tire)
pantry – originally a storeroom for bread
empanada – Spanish turnover
panettone – sweet Italian bread
panini – Italian for “small bread rolls”
As always, an investigation into one word broadens my sense of of many! I wouldn’t have assumed there was a connection between the words ’empanada,’ ‘panettone,’ and ‘panini,’ but now I see it! They share that sense and meaning of “bread” and all, ultimately, derive from Latin panis. Their basis in Latin is why Italian and Spanish (but also French, Portuguese, Romanian, and several other languages) are known as the Romance Languages. In this case, the word ‘romance’ refers to the language spoken by the Romans. These structured word inquiries don’t just explain English spelling, they expose me to connections across languages. I love that!
By Tamorlan – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14941288
By Codice1000 at Italian Wikipedia – Transferred from it.wikipedia to Commons. Transfer was stated to be made by User:Xaura., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3180469
By Breville USA – Soup and Sandwich 3of12 BGR820XL, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55047014
Not long ago in a Science of Reading Facebook group, someone posted a short video created by Reading Horizons in 2016 in which the idea of a ‘scribal o’ was featured. The video explained that when scribes encountered words in which a <u> was adjacent to <m>’s, <n>’s, <w>’s, <u>’s, <r>’s, or <v>’s, they changed that <u> to an <o> to make the word easier to read. You see, the script that scribes used had a lot of broad downstrokes, so sometimes it was difficult to distinguish one letter from the next when similarly formed letters were next to one another.
To clarify why the scribes might have thought to make this change, I am sharing a sample of the script known as Blackletter hand. It was used between the 12th and 17th centuries. It may take you a minute to get used to it and to recognize specific letters. Letters I had an easier time spotting were <g>, <a>, <e>, and <f>. With other letters it depended on what letter was adjacent to it. With some words it felt like my eyes were playing tricks on me. Was I looking at an <mi> letter string or an <nu> letter string?
Arpingstone, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Let me illustrate with the following letter strings. In the first, it could be an ‘n-u-i-n’ or it could be an ‘m-u-n.’ In the second letter string, the <o> in the middle helps make the identity of the adjacent letters more obvious, doesn’t it?
So that is the gist of what is meant by ‘scribal o.’ The pronunciation of the vowel didn’t change, but in certain circumstances the spelling did — the <u> was changed to an <o>. Because of videos like the one I mentioned, the idea of a ‘scribal o’ is becoming more commonly accepted and understood. Classroom teachers, interventionists, tutors and others who work with children have been looking for a way to explain the spelling of words like love, some, done, mother, and Monday, to name just a few.
For teachers who start with pronunciation and then try to explain the spelling based on that pronunciation, words like these stick out like sore thumbs. We would expect the stressed vowel in these words to be a <u> because of how they are pronounced. But in these words that pronunciation is spelled with an <o>. Naturally, teachers want to know why. This idea of a ‘scribal o’ seems to be the answer people have been seeking. In the video by Reading Horizons, the ‘scribal o’ explained the <o> in month, brother, love, come, done, and wonderful.
However, when I saw that list of words, I began to wonder if the idea of a ‘scribal o’ isn’t one of those things that is being broadly and mistakenly applied to any word in which the grapheme <o> represents the /ʌ/ phoneme (the stressed short u).
I responded with the following to both the post in the Science of Reading Facebook group and also with an email to Reading Horizons.
“I can’t seem to find any evidence that ‘Monday’ was ever spelled as *Munday. According to the Oxford English Dictionary and also Etymonline, it is an Old English word spelled then as mōnandæg, literally meaning “day of the moon.” The first part of the word is from monan, meaning “moon” and the second part, dæg, meaning “day.” The word ‘month’ is also connected to the moon as it was thought that a month was the length of time between one full moon and the next. It was never spelled as *munth.
I agree that the ‘scribal o’ explains the spelling in words like ‘love’ which was spelled lufu in Old English, ‘come’ which was spelled cuman in Old English, and ‘some’ which was spelled sum in Old English, but we should be careful about applying that explanation broadly without checking resources.
As I’m looking further, ‘brother’ was spelled broþor (the letter in the middle is like our modern <th> digraph). There was never a ‘u’ in the spelling. And there was never a ‘u’ in the spelling of ‘done’ either. It was always (and should continue to be ) explained as built on the base <do>. The <-ne> is not a productive suffix in English anymore, but we see it on ‘done’ and ‘gone.’ It is negativizing. If something is done, someone is no longer doing it.
Looks like this video, which appears to be a great resource, is misinforming anyone who uses it. Of the six words highlighted in the video, only three have a scribal o.”
I was quite impressed with my response from Reading Horizons. The curriculum developer thanked me for contacting them and apologized for this information not having been researched appropriately. Per my suggestion they are redoing the video and including words that have been verified as having the ‘scribal o.’ In the meantime, they are doing the responsible thing and have removed their video so as not to spread misinformation. I have such respect for a group that responds in this way! I look forward to sharing their new version of this video when it is published!
I’m not sure where the term ‘scribal o’ originated. but I think it is fair to say that most people understand what you mean if you use it. I haven’t been able to find reference to the ‘scribal o’ in any of my resource books which include Richard Venezky’s book, The American Way of Spelling, and several of David Crystal’s books. I have found reference to it at Reading Horizons in a post from 2013, but I don’t get the impression that the term originated with them. I’ve also run across it by watching two videos of teachers instructing their students in regards to this <o>. One of the videos specifically mentions that teaching about ‘scribal o’ was part of Saxon Phonics. In the second video the teacher seemed to be reading from the exact same script, so I’m assuming that the program she was using was part of Saxon Phonics as well.
When I listened to what the teachers were telling their students, I became concerned. The teachers were saying that the words ‘son,’ ‘month,’ and ‘wonder’ were originally spelled with <u>’s. That <u> was changed to an <o> because of mistakes by the scribes who had to copy words by hand. The ink the scribes used ran, making the <u>’s look like <o>’s. Then the teacher went on to say that when an <o> makes the short u sound, it is a schwa. Next the students were to code the words making sure the <o> was coded as a schwa.
My first concern is that this story being told to the children seems unlikely. I can picture this situation of running ink happening in one instance, but over and over? And only with these particular <u>’s? Were there other letters affected by this running ink? I’d love to know the source of this account, wouldn’t you?
My second concern is that the word ‘month’ was never spelled with a <u>! It began in Old English as monað. The Old English letter final in that spelling is eth and is equivalent to the modern digraph <th>. The Old English word is related to the moon. According to Etymonline, the month originally marked the time between one new moon and the next.
My third concern is that the teacher was telling the students that the <o> in son, month, and wonder was a schwa. By definition a schwa is an unstressed vowel. This teacher is telling the students that the only vowel in the word ‘son’ and ‘month’ is a schwa, which conflicts with the fact that we pronounce these words with one principal stress. It is not possible to pronounce these monosyllabic words with unstressed vowels! The third word, ‘wonder,’ has stress on the first syllabic beat and none on the second, yet the teacher is telling the students to mark the first vowel as an unstressed schwa. When the teacher announces the word, the stress is clearly on that first syllabic beat. The teacher does not say, “won-DER,” but rather “WON-der.”
I don’t blame the teachers in this situation as much as I blame the program they are using. The teachers are trusting the makers of the program to have done their due diligence and to be supplying them with accurate information. In this case, they have let the teachers down. Man, have they let the teachers down! It makes you question the other information presented in this program. Unfortunately, the teacher obviously doesn’t understand enough about stress or the schwa to even question this.
But wait. It gets worse. As I was looking through other sites to see what they had to say about this ‘scribal o,’ I came upon another video. This one is called, “Nessy Spelling Strategy -Why is ‘money’ spelled with ‘o’ instead of ‘u’? – Learn to Spell.” There is no mention of the ‘scribal o’ here, but there are questionable rules for teaching students why <o> represents /ʌ/ when followed by certain letters. The letters that supposedly cause this change are called “professors” in the video and they make the <o> go through what appears to be an unpleasant physical change that results in it representing /ʌ/ (as in oven instead of its usual /oʊ/ (as in go).
The first of these “professors” is <v>. According to the video, whenever “professor v” stands behind an <o>, it forces the pronunciation change. To show the effect of “professor v,” the letter <o> goes from having tired looking eyes to having scared looking eyes to looking like a hairy Frankenstein <o>. This rule may work for words like love, oven, above, and dove, but the video forgets to mention that it doesn’t work for stove, clover, move, or prove. The second “professor” is <n>. This rule explains the pronunciation of the <o> in words like month, son, done, and none, but again the video forgets to mention that this doesn’t work in bone, gone, pony, and donut. The third “professor” is <th>. This rule explains the pronunciation of the <o> in words like mother, brother, other, and another, but you guessed it, the video forgets to mention that it doesn’t work for moth, cloth, clothes, and both.
Why teach something as if it is a rule you can count on when, in fact, you can’t? It was not difficult to find words for which these made-up rules didn’t work. What nonsense! What will children think when they encounter words like bone, move, and both? My guess is that they won’t blame this silly video, but rather they will blame a spelling system that seems to make no sense.
If you are wondering how to explain some of this without using silly, half-true gimmicks, let me direct you to the Real Spelling Toolbox. There you will find an excellent description of why we use the letter combination <ov> instead of <uv> when the vowel is representing the /ʌ/ phoneme (the stressed “short u”). In fact, before you decide whether or not to subscribe to the Toolbox, you can read this explanation for yourself (and realize how much else you could learn by subscribing and reading more!) On the homepage there is a link to the sample theme “Learning from Love.” The term ‘scribal o’ is not used, but you will recognize the mention of the scribes, the Black Adder script used at the time, and the confusion caused when certain letters or other similarly formed letters were adjacent to each other.
Another great resource for understanding this switch from <u> to <o> is this video put out by the Endless Knot. Not only do you get an explanation that is similar to that in the Real Spelling Toolbox, you also get some information about the letters <u>, <v>, <w>, and <f>! Ever wonder why the <f> in ‘of’ is pronounced as /v/? Watch this video for an accurate understanding. I guarantee you that no letters will be poked, choked, scared, or harmed in the process!
Is there a “one size fits all’ rule that pertains to an <o> that corresponds to an /ʌ/ phoneme as it does in ‘some’ and ‘Monday?’ No. How unfortunate that we even think there should be. We are so used to quick and easy go-to rules that we have forgotten to use our own sense of logic to interrogate those rules. How easy is it to falsify the rules put out by the professors <v>, <n>, and <th>? Or the explanation that scribes routinely had runny ink every time they wrote a <u> in certain situations? If you want to make this idea of a ‘scribal o’ memorable, ask your students to be investigators. Ask them to find words that falsify what the three professors want them to believe. Ask them whether or not the “runny ink” story seems likely. Then ask them to make a list of words in which the <o> corresponds to an /ʌ/ phoneme. I’ll get you started below. then have them use Etymonline to see whether they were first spelled with an <o> or a <u>. Make two lists and keep adding to those lists as you and your students encounter other words with this <o> to /ʌ/ correspondence.
If you hesitate involving your students in using Etymonline for this, let me show you what you are looking for. Here is an Etymonline entry for the word ‘other.’
The information you need is the third word in! It is how this word was spelled in Old English. Notice that it has always been spelled with an <o>. That means that the scribes didn’t need to change it! This isn’t an example of a ‘scribal o’! In case your students are curious about the second letter in the Old English spelling (þ), that is the letter thorn. It represented the <th> digraph we have in Modern English!
So here are words in which the <o> corresponds to /ʌ/. Some of these were originally spelled with a <u>. Some have always been spelled with an <o>. But which are which? Have your students find out!
Someone asked a really great question in a Facebook group the other day. They specifically wondered why the word ‘chocolate’ didn’t follow the “a_e” rule. In other words, the pronunciation of the last three letters isn’t what is expected. (Just in case you are unfamiliar with this rule, many phonics programs refer to this as the “split vowel magic e rule” or the “split digraph magic e rule”. The underscore represents a consonant. When students see this pattern and the ‘e’ is silent, the ‘a’ will have its long pronunciation.)
The first two people responded with saying that ‘chocolate’ isn’t a word from English, so it won’t follow English conventions. That idea is generally true. Recognizing that a word is not following English spelling conventions is actually a way to spot that a word is probably a loan word. I’m thinking of words like kiwi, ski, khaki, and bikini that have a final ‘i.’ Typically complete English words won’t have an ‘i’ final. They won’t typically have a final ‘u’ either. Examples of words from other languages that don’t follow this English convention are bayou, haiku, tofu, tutu, caribou, and plateau.
While stating that chocolate is a loan word so it won’t follow English spelling rules isn’t false, it won’t help much when a student asks about fortunate, delicate, accurate, or desperate. In my mind, the question broadens to become, “Why aren’t these other words (and perhaps ‘chocolate’ as well) following this rule?” Other people commenting on the post identified words such as I have listed as exceptions. That is unfortunate.
Let’s think for a moment about labeling a word as an exception. What happens then? Nothing. The door shuts on that word. No one tries any further to understand what else might be affecting that word’s ability to follow the rule. (Or to consider that the “rule” might be worthy of critical contemplation.) Students are expected to accept that “exception” is the only understanding they will receive. They will need to remember which words follow the rule and which words are exceptions to that rule.
What I have always taught students is, “Just because I don’t know something about a certain spelling doesn’t mean there isn’t a reason for it.” With that kind of thinking, we are opening the door again on any word that others label as an exception. We are free to think further and collect evidence so we have something to consider. Who knows? We may garner an understanding that will help with remembering a word’s spelling in a way that calling it an exception just doesn’t.
Let’s take a further look at these words considered to be exceptions. I went to Neil Ramsden’s Word Searcher to quickly find words that had the same ending pronunciation as ‘chocolate.’
With a list this long, it seems a burden to ask students to remember that these are exceptions to the “a_e” rule. If they don’t remember, and spell the words according to how they pronounce them, they are likely to use ‘it’ or ‘ite’ at the end of each of these words. To add to this, I found words in which the final <ate> can be pronounced in two ways, depending on how the word is used in a sentence. Notice how the pronunciation of the same word changes as it changes its grammatical function (adjective or noun to verb).
Again, this seems like another burden for students who will now be taught that sometimes a word will be an exception and sometimes it will not. There just has to be a more elegant explanation that will truly help our students. What is it that is different in the pronunciation of animate and chocolate? It is the pronunciation of the final ‘ate.’ We’ve known that from the start. But what governs the pronunciation of that final part of the word? Stress. In all of the discussions about spelling “rules” that I see online, very few ever address stress. Stress is one of those things about our language that sets it apart from other languages. It is also one of the things that makes learning our language and speaking it as a native would difficult for many.
Our language is stress timed. If you’re not familiar with that idea (as I wasn’t when I began studying English spelling), you might be wondering what that even means. Simply put, it means that when we speak, we put the main stress or emphasis on one of the syllabic beats in a word. If a word has only one syllabic beat, then that is where we place the stress. Examples of words with one syllabic beat are frog, bed, mask, and light. When you announce those words, you put emphasis on the beginning of the word.
Now consider a word with two syllabic beats such as open, garden, begin, and exposed. Think about where we put the stress when we pronounce those words. Do we say “Open the door,” or do we say, “oPEN the door?” We put the stress on the first beat in that word. It is the same with ‘garden.’ We say GARden instead of garDEN. What about ‘begin?’ With this word, we actually put the main stress on the second syllabic beat. Think about it. Do we say “BEgin your work,” or “beGIN your work?” We put the stress on the second syllabic beat. It is the same with ‘exposed.’ Test it for yourself. Do you say EXposed or exPOSED? My guess is you say it with the stress on the second beat.
In polysyllabic words, one syllabic beat will have the main stress. We may raise our pitch as we announce it and we may hold it longer than we hold other syllables. Sometimes other beats have stress as well – just not has heavy. That is called secondary stress. But the remaining syllabic beats in those words? They are unstressed. And when a syllabic beat is unstressed, the vowel in that particular beat will become reduced to the point that we call it a schwa.
When I have introduced IPA and the idea of stress to my students, I did so by showing them the IPA symbols that correspond to the graphemes in their names, including the stress marks. One year I had boys whose names were Jaydin, Jackson, Aidan, and Kayden. When you say those names, you will notice that you put the main stress on the first syllabic beat of each name. That means that the second syllabic beat of each name is unstressed. With these names, it doesn’t matter which vowel letter we see in front of the final <n>. They are all pronounced the same because they all are unstressed and therefore are reduced in their quality enough to be considered a schwa. When I pointed this out to my students, they thought it was pretty cool. They always wondered why the pronunciation of the second part of their names was the same even though the spelling wasn’t. Here’s a small video clip of two students talking about having learned IPA.
The second student in the video is named Ava. Now that she understands that there is stress on the first syllabic beat in her name, but not on the second, she understands why the two a’s are not pronounced the same! I know that many teachers talk about the schwa sound with students, but I don’t believe that many talk about stress in words or stress in sentences. My guess is that they don’t spend time talking about it because they didn’t learn about it themselves. Because of that, they don’t know quite what to say.
There is a great resource for people who fall into the category of not knowing how to talk about stress seeing as how it was never explicitly taught to them. It’s called Rachel’s English. She has a series of videos that are actually there to help non-native English speakers sound more like native English speakers. One of the things someone learning English probably struggles with is stress – especially if their native language is a syllable timed language like French, Italian, Korean, or Spanish. In those languages, each syllable has the same amount of emphasis. No part of the word or sentence stands out in the same way that they do in English.
When I was first trying to wrap my head around this idea of our language being stress timed, I watched several of these videos. Here is another one that I found to be very helpful.
In the second video, Rachel demonstrates stress with the sentence, “I saw her at the meeting.” When she says it, the primary stress is on the verb ‘saw’ and the secondary stress is on the first syllabic beat of ‘meeting.’ One of the joys of English is that we can change the meaning of a simple sentence like this by changing where we put the stress. I can imagine reading this sentence with the primary stress on ‘I’ and meaning something different than if I put that stress on ‘her.’ The two function words in this sentence (at, the) would probably not carry the primary stress in this sentence very often.
Her next example sentence illustrates that the words in a sentence that are not stressed are reduced. The sentence she uses is, “I got this for you.” It is the function word ‘for’ that is reduced and announced more like ‘frr.’ Can you picture a student who is saying that sentence to themselves as they write it, spelling the word ‘for’ as ‘fer?’ Me too. It makes me wonder about the students I have had who misspelled a word different ways in a single writing. Could it be that the placement of stress in those sentences affected the way the student pronounced the word in that sentence? And if a student is taught to sound out words in order to spell them, they might indeed spell a word one way in one sentence and another way in another sentence.
The next video I’m including is longer than the first two, but continues on with this idea of what we do as we speak. I am fascinated watching these videos of Rachel’s. When we don’t introduce stress to students either at the word level or at the sentence level, we are leaving out such a crucial piece! This kind of discussion could help students understand why they are misspelling some words. It could also lead to a discussion that spelling based solely on pronunciation is prone to error. There are just too many contributing factors. Spelling based on morphemes, on the other hand, leads to spelling accuracy and a built-in understanding of a word’s sense and meaning.
Now that you have a better idea of how inherent stress is to our speech and how important it is to our understanding of spelling, I’d like to return to the words that were mentioned at the beginning of this post. Below I’ve given you the opportunity to compare the graphemes to the phonemes in each word including stress marks. I used toPhonetics to get a spelling to IPA transcription. What do you now notice?
Every one of these words has its primary stress on the very first syllabic beat. That means that the other syllables in each word are unstressed. This explains why the first <e> in ‘delicate’ is representing the phoneme /ɛ/, but the following <i> and <a> graphemes are both representing the phoneme /ə/. The same thing happens in ‘fortunate’, ‘accurate’, and ‘chocolate.’
The words ‘chocolate’ and ‘desperate’ have something else in common. Each looks like it would have three written syllabic beats, but when spoken, there would only be two. Notice the greyed ‘o’ in ‘chocolate’ and the greyed medial ‘e’ in ‘desperate.’ They are greyed because they are not graphemes representing phonemes. Those two particular letters in those particular spellings are so unstressed in the pronunciations of those words that they have been zeroed! The other greyed letters in this collection of words are all the single final non-syllabic ‘e’ that is also not a grapheme. It is there as part of the <ate> suffix. It may mark the pronunciation of the ‘a’ in the suffix when we see it in another member of the word family (desperation), but not necessarily. The <ate> suffix is usually seen on nouns and adjectives whose base derived from Latin. It is the stress placement in the word that determines the pronunciation of the <a> in that suffix.
Above, I gave you examples of words with this <ate> suffix that can be used in two ways. Below I compare the IPA and stress marks on two of those words when the words are used in the two ways.
The difference, as you can see, is that when the word is used as an adjective or noun, there is only one primary stress in the word. That leaves the remaining syllables unstressed and the pronunciation will reflect that by way of reducing the pronunciation of the vowels until they are a schwa. When the same word is functioning as a verb, you can see that the word now has two stress marks. One is primary (ˈ) and one is secondary (ˌ). In both words, there are two syllabic beats that are stressed and one that is not. That unstressed syllable is where we see the schwa.
If you are telling your students that sometimes a vowel is pronounced as a schwa, but you’re not telling them why, then you’re not helping them see the logic of English spelling. Without meaning to, you are contributing to the misconception that spelling is weird and hard to understand. How confusing must it be for a student to hear that sometimes vowels are reduced and can all sound similar, but then not to be told when this might happen. This assignment of a schwa must feel very random to a student when in fact it is not. Not at all.
English is a stress-timed language. It is not syllable-timed. Yet, many children are exposed to hours and hours of work with syllables and syllable types and little to no time spent understanding how the stress-timing of our language affects our speech. It is time to recognize the problems created by looking at English spelling with such a superficial lens as pronunciation. It is time to prepare the students for words they are encountering now and the words they will encounter in the future. To do that, we must teach how the English spelling system works. And to do that we must include instruction on morphology, etymology, and phonology (including stress). Trying to explain a spelling without considering stress, morphemes, or etymology is like trying to explain how a plant gets its nutrients by only looking at the surface of a leaf. If you want to understand the system, you have to be aware of all of the components and see how they work together. You can’t peek through the curtain and expect to see the full view. You must open the window and really take in the view.
Sitting at my desk, I’ve always had a clear view down the hallway. Each morning I heard the excited voices of the children seconds before they turned the corner and headed towards my room. One morning there was a student in the lead who wasn’t in the habit of being in the lead. I noticed but didn’t think too much of it. That is until the student came right into my room, even before going to her locker! And even before I could greet her, she asked, “Do you think that pediatrician and pedestrian have the same base?”
It’s a question I will never forget. Imagine! This student had two words in her head that seemed to share a base. She wasn’t quite sure about what meaning they shared and that was why she was there, asking me that question before she did anything else to begin her school day! I was thrilled that the question came from her own noticing of words while away from school. The curiosity and questioning I was hoping to nurture was evidently taking hold! All I remember besides her urgency and her question was that I didn’t have an immediate answer for her. But then she knew well enough that I didn’t always have an immediate answer to most word questions. (Sometimes I genuinely didn’t know, and sometimes I pretended I didn’t know so as to let the student own the moment of discovery.) She also knew I would be excited by the question and would partner with her to see what we could find out by talking about the words, thinking of other words that were possibly related and then looking in the references. As I recall, we looked at the words, talked about their meanings and how we use them, and decided they were probably not sharing a base. But because it appeared that they did, we checked with Etymonline to see if we could figure out the most likely base of each.
We knew that a pedestrian was a person who traveled by foot. We related the <ped> to bicycle pedals, the place where we put and also push with our feet. We also thought of a pedometer since the physical education teacher at our school had purchased a set for the students to use while in their gym class so they could measure how many steps they were taking. We wondered aloud if a pediatrician was a doctor who specialized in people’s feet, but were doubtful because we had heard of children going to a pediatrician and not because of anything to do with their feet. Was it the same base? The only way to know for sure was to head to Etymonline.
We saw that the noun ‘pediatrician,’ was first the adjective ‘pediatric.’ That information alone helped us understand that <-ian> was a suffix in this word. As an adjective the word ‘pediatric’ was coined in 1849 and referred to “of or pertaining to the medical care or diseases of children.” The base <ped> derives from the Greek παΐς (pais) “child.” According to the Cambridge Greek Lexicon, there was a dialectal difference that resulted in πης (pes) male and πηδός (pedos) female. The second base in this word is <iatr> which derives from Greek ιατρός (iatros) “physician, healer.” What other words can we think of that share this base?
pediatrician – one who specializes in the medical care or diseases of children. orthopedics – (Do you recognize <orth> meaning “straight, correct” from the word ‘orthography?’) Correcting bodily deformities of children or of people in general. pedophile – One who has an abnormal love of children (often sexual). encyclopedia – Originally (in Greek) it meant training a child in a circle of the arts and sciences. Do you see the morphemes in the word that represent those senses? First there’s <en> “in” and then <cycl> “circle.” According to Etymonline it is now thought that Latin authors misinterpreted this word to mean “general education.” pedagogy – The science of teaching children (originally referred to boys more than girls).
An interesting statement to note from Etymonline is this. “The British form paed- is better because it avoids confusion with the ped- that means “foot” (from PIE root *ped-) and the ped- that means “soil, ground, earth.” You may have seen the British spelling of pediatrician as paediatrician. While it is clarifying to have that British spelling explained, this statement also brings up a new question regarding a <ped> base that means soil, ground, earth. I’ve never heard of it. What words might I know that have it?
I found one quite by accident. Pedology. When I was looking for words that share the base <ped> “child,” I ran across it and assumed it meant “the study of children.” Well, it actually was used that way at one time (1894). But in 1924, its use became specific to “scientific study of the soil” based on the German word pedologie from 1862. Ultimately the base in this word derives from Greek πέδον (pedon) “surface of the earth, ground, earth.” According to Wikipedia, pedology “focuses on understanding and characterizing soil formation, evolution, and the theoretical frameworks through which we understand a soil body(s), often in the context of the natural environment.” Knowing its root makes it obvious that pedology couldn’t have anything to do with children – even if they sometimes get covered in dirt!
Next we decided to confirm what we felt sure of with ‘pedestrian.’ According to Etymonline, there is evidence of it being used more commonly as an adjective before it was used as a noun. Its adjective use has been attested as early as 1610 (Oxford English Dictionary). Interestingly enough, at that time it was used to refer to something as dull and plain. So if your writing was described as pedestrian, there was nothing out of the ordinary about it. At the OED I found this sentence from a 1969 writing. “Failing to live up to its sudden notoriety, the series has nothing to offer; just another pedestrian crime yarn.”
That sense of plain or dull comes from the literal sense of this word which has to do with traveling by foot. It was the expected thing to do before the invention of automobiles or bicycles unless you happened to have a horse! In fact, the word pedestrian can be compared to equestrian. Are you noticing the similarities in the second half of each word (-estrian)? In Latin, the word pedester was used when referring to foot soldiers. And as Etymonline shows us, you can contrast pedester “on foot” with equester “on horseback.”
The base here is not from Greek like the <ped> base (<paed> in British English) in pediatrician and the <ped> base in pedology. It is from Latin pedis “foot.”
pedestrian – A person who is walking (noun use). Something expected or plain (adj. use). pedometer – A device that measures the distance walked. pedals – The part on which you push with your feet. pedicure – A treatment for the care of one’s feet. expedite – To hasten. Literally, “to free the feet from fetters.” impede – For something to be in the way. Literally, “to shackle the feet.” centipede – A long, thin arthropod with many legs. biped – Animal with two feet. pedestrianism – Walking as exercise or as a competitive sport.
Have you noticed that I included a final potential <e> on the base in this matrix? A final <e> is always potential, and this word family illustrates that beautifully. In words like ‘centipede’ and ‘impede’ that final <e> has reached its potential and is part of the base. Notice how it signals the pronunciation of the previous ‘e’ in an expected way (/i/). In words like ‘biped’ and ‘quadruped’ that ‘e’ is not part of the base. And because it isn’t part of the base, the ‘e’ in this base is pronounced as /ɛ/ in words like ‘biped’ and ‘quadruped.’
Recently I came across the word ‘pedestrianism’ and since it was unfamiliar to me, I had a closer look. I found it when listening to a podcast. Immediately it brought this whole wonderful investigation of <ped> to life once more. It’s like one of my students said, “In orthography, you can explore words and come back to them as many times as you want, and it, like, never stops. But in spelling, once you memorize the word, the door is shut. You don’t need to go back. It’s done.” The student was spot on. Here I am revisiting what I understood previously and adding to it!
The podcast was called “Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America’s Favorite Spectator Sport.” , and it took me by surprise! I had heard of the dance marathons of the 1930s, but I hadn’t heard of competitive walking like this! According to a second article I read ( The strange 19th-Century sport that was cooler than football), what started as a bet in 1859, grew to a competitive sport that drew crowds as large as 10,000 by 1879! The original bet centered around a worker, Edward Payson Weston, who had missed a delivery truck and walked a long distance to catch up to it. When he succeeded at that, he made another bet with a friend based on the outcome of the 1860 presidential election. He bet on Lincoln’s opponent, John Breckinridge, to win. As previously agreed upon, the loser had to walk from New York to Washington, D.C. to witness the inauguration. It took Mr. Weston ten days to get there, but when he did, the idea of endurance walking was born!
One of the biggest competitions was in 1879 and was held in the original Madison Square Gardens in New York. There were 13 athletes and around 10,000 spectators. Each athlete brought their own dieticians, trainers, doctors, and chefs. Why such an entourage? Because the expectation was that these athletes would walk a circular track for six days or until they had walked the equivalent of 450 miles! They were not allowed to leave the track, but they were allowed to have their own tent in which they could eat, drink, and nap during the walk. Whoever traveled the farthest in the time allowed was promised $25,000 dollars ($679,000 by today’s standards) and a belt of solid silver with the inscription, “Long Distance Champion of the World.” As you might imagine, there were many injuries and towards the end of the event the athletes were crawling, barely making their way around the track. It became less about athleticism and more about enduring exhaustion, pain, and injuries.
If I’ve piqued your interest, as mine was piqued, I recommend that you go to the links I’ve provided and learn more. Fascinating! It does make you wonder whether these pedestrianisms had been sort of romanticized over time, and when the Great Depression rolled around, someone suggested holding dance marathons as a way to raise (and win) money. The idea of testing endurance to such an extreme seems to be a common feature of both!
Image is available with the kind permission of www.kingofthepeds.com
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
I ran across a fascinating article recently called “Anumeric People: What Happens When a Language Has No Words for Numbers?” While I immediately noticed the word ‘anumeric’ in the title, I set it aside while I read the article and imagined a life without words for numbers. What are the advantages/disadvantages? It’s quite likely that there are people in remote areas of the world whose lives don’t revolve around clocks and other numbered things. But is the ability to distinguish by number the difference between 3 and 6 items crucial to one’s existence? Obviously not, for the people who only have words to name “some,” have lived for generations. The interesting focus in this article is “how the invention of numbers reshaped the human experience.” The article is not particularly long, but certainly gave me something to think about!
Now. Back to the word ‘anumeric.’
Right away I connected it to the following.
If you compare the spelling of these words, you’ll notice (as my students would) that they each have <numer> in common. If given the opportunity to write a word sum hypothesis for ‘numeric’, I might see students write both <numer + ic> and <num + er + ic>. They are both logical. The first includes the letter string that is consistent among the words and might be the base. The second includes prior knowledge of <er> being the suffix in baker, teacher, and colder.
Once we have discussed the hypotheses and the fact that both are based on what we already know to be true about word construction, it is time to find evidence that will support one more than the other. If I look in either Etymonline, Chamber’s Dictionary of Etymology, or the Oxford English Dictionary, I find that all the words on our list derive from Latin numerus “a number.” Once the Latin suffix <us> is removed, we see the Latin stem that came into English as the base <numer>. This evidence shows that the <er> was part of the word’s spelling in Latin and is part of the base in English. I like to compare this situation to the <ing> in ‘bring.’ We know there to be an <ing> suffix, but that doesn’t mean that every time we see that letter string we are looking at a suffix. It’s logical to wonder about it, and scholarly to check with a reference!
Once I had looked closer at the base of ‘anumeric,’ I thought more about the prefix <a>. Thinking about its use in the article where I found it, it obviously has a negativizing sense. It has a similar use in the following.
apnea – without breathing
amnesia – not remembering
atheist – without a god
apathy – without feeling or emotion
atypical – not typical
aphotic – without light
The prefix <a> that incorporates a sense of “not, without” is sometimes spelled <an>. According to Etymonline, it is “a fuller form of the one represented in English by <a>.” You may recognize the <an> prefix in the following.
anarchy – without a ruler
anonymous – without a name
anomaly – not the same
anesthesia – without feeling
anhydrous – without water
So does this mean that every time we see a word with an <a> or <an> prefix that it contributes a sense of “not, without?” No. No it doesn’t. There are a number of words like asleep, awash, aside, and aflame that originated in Old English and in which the prefix <a-> contributes a sense of “on, in, into.” That <a> prefix can also be an intensifying prefix as it is in ashamed. An intensifying prefix is one that doesn’t contribute a separate sense to the base, but instead intensifies the action of the base. (More about intensifying prefixes to come.)
An unexpected sense
As I began a deeper dive, looking at words with an <a> prefix, I came across afraid, award, and astonish. The word ‘afraid’ was derived from Anglo-French (afrayer) and further back from Old French which influenced the spelling (affrai, effrei, esfrei) and further back from esfreer “to worry, concern.” The first part of this word is actually derived from Old French es-; Latin <ex-> prefix “out” and the second part is from Vulgar Latin *exfridare “to take out of peace.” Please note that the asterisk in this ancestor means that the spelling is unattested. This spelling is thought to be a likely spelling by those who study languages. Beyond that, just think about the denotation of this word! To be afraid is to have been taken out of peace! Don’t you love it?
Looking at ‘award,’ this is another word that was derived from Old French. It is from Old French (awarder) and further back from Old North French (eswarder). Do you notice the initial <es> spelling? To award something to someone is to give one’s opinion after careful consideration. As with ‘afraid,’ the first part is actually from the Latin <ex-> prefix “out” and the second part is from Germanic warder “to watch.” So the person choosing who will receive an award is the one who watches out for which person will be deemed most worthy!
That brings us to the word ‘astonish.’ This word, too, was influenced by its use in Old French. It is from Old French estoner “to stun, daze, deafen, astound.” If you noticed the ‘es’ in the Old French word estoner, you may be expecting that the first part of this word is from Latin <ex-> “out,” and you’d be right! The base is from Latin tonare “to thunder.” If something astonishes you, it leaves you a bit stunned or dazed, as if you were shook by thunder!
So the question with afraid, award, and astonish is whether or not they have an <a> prefix. The etymology clearly reveals that the prefix sense here is from <ex> even though we see an <a> prefix. The story of how the <ex> prefix came to be spelled as <a> can be found in the influence of Anglo-French and Old French spellings! So here we have evidence of words with an <a> prefix that represents Latin <ex>.
Assimilated forms of other prefixes
The prefix <an> can also be an assimilated form of the prefix <ad> “to” as it is in announce, annul, and annexation. You’ll notice that the <ad> assimilates to <an> when the next element in the word begins with an ‘n.’ The <ad> prefix can reduce to <a> in words like ascend, ascribe, avenue, and avenge.
In the word ‘avert,’ the <a> is a reduced form of the <ab> prefix “off, away from.”
If you’re wondering, “How will I know which prefix it is or which sense it brings to the word I’m investigating?” Fear not! A quick check with a reliable source like Etymonline will clear up which <an> you are looking at as well as which sense it brings to the base or stem!
What about other prefixes? Are they all like this?
Once I got thinking about <a> and <an> as a prefix, about all the different ways it can contribute sense to a word, I thought about all the other prefixes that I have been similarly surprised at. You see, prior to SWI, my understanding was that prefixes contribute a consistent meaning to each word they are attached to. For instance, in books that I was using to understand prefixes, suffixes, and “root words,” the prefix <re> was listed as meaning “again.” The examples given were similar to remarry, reuse, and resupply. Every prefix that was mentioned had a specific definition. Examples of some of those are below.
de – down
dis – away
ex – out
in – not, without
pre – before
un – not
con – with
I bet you’ve seen lists like this. Taking a close look at the English spelling system by incorporating Structured Word Inquiry into my teaching and learning has made me realize so much! For instance, the way in which a prefix steers the meaning of the base isn’t as “set in stone’ as we have been led to think. We’ve already had a glimpse of that with our look at the <a> prefix!
Recently the International Dyslexia Association presented a live Facebook chat featuring Sue Scibetta Hegland, who spoke on the topic of incorporating morphology in spelling instruction. The presentation was recorded and you can watch it below. In this talk, Sue uses the prefix <dis> to address the very point I am making in this post. I encourage you to watch it. Besides her point about prefixes, she makes many many others that are so eye-opening! In the paragraphs following the video, I have elaborated on the point she made with <dis>.
If you think about words in which you’ve seen a <dis-> prefix, you might think of words like disapprove, disappear, and disable. In all three of these words, the prefix brings a sense of “opposite of.” If you disapprove of something, that is the opposite of approving. When something disappears, it does the opposite of appearing. When a machine is disabled, it is the opposite of when it is able to do its intended job.
In the words distract, disrupt, and dismiss, the <dis-> prefix contributes a sense of “away” to the denotation of the base. In all three of these examples, the prefix is paired with a bound base. Looking closer at ‘distract,’ the base <tract> is from Latin trahere “to draw.” When someone is distracted, their attention has been drawn away from where it was. Looking closer at ‘disrupt,’ the base <rupt> is from Latin rumpere “to break.” When a meeting is disrupted, everyone’s attention is broken away from what it had been focused on. Looking closer at ‘dismiss,’ the base <miss> is from Latin mittere “to send, let go.” When you dismiss your students, you send them away!
A third sense that the <dis-> prefix might bring to a base or stem is “not.” This is the case in the words displease, dislike, and dishonest. When you are displeased, you are not pleased, When you dislike something, you do not like it. When you are dishonest, you are not being honest.
There are other senses as well. In the word ‘distribute,’ the base is from Latin tribuere “to pay, assign, grant.” The prefix <dis-> contributes a sense of “individually.” When you distribute materials, you are assigning those materials to each individual in the group. In the word ‘distort,’ the base is from Latin torquere “to twist.” The prefix <dis-> contributes a sense of “completely.” When something is distorted, it is completely twisted (whether physically or metaphorically). In the word ‘dissension,’ the base is from Latin sentire “to feel, think.” the prefix <dis-> contributes a sense of “differently.” When there is dissension within a group of people, they no longer are in agreement. Some or all think differently than the leader of that group.
I spoke earlier about prefixes that act as intensifiers. The example I gave was ashamed. In ‘ashamed,’ the state of feeling shame is intensified. There are others, of course. Once you begin finding them for yourself, you’ll experience a new kind of fun! Until then, here are a few I’ve discovered.
Let’s compare the words ‘reunion’ and ‘refine.’ A reunion happens when people are coming back together again to become one group with something in common. The main sense and meaning of that word, “the act of joining one thing to another,” has been consistent since it was first attested in the early 15c. The prefix ‘re’ adds that the act of joining one thing to another is happening again. These people have come together before and now they are coming together again. According to Etymonline, the word ‘refine’ was first used with a reference to metals (1580) and later to manners (1590). It has to do with reducing something to its purest form (or as close to it as one can get). The main sense and meaning of that word is “make fine.” In this word, the prefix <re-> does not indicate that a thing is becoming fine again. Instead, the <re-> prefix is an intensifier. It is intensifying the action. Whatever it is that is being refined is being made super fine.
Another example of a prefix that can intensify the action of the base is found in the word ‘corrode.’ The sense and meaning of the word since it was first attested in the late 14c is “wear away by gradually separating small bits of it” according to Etymonline. You might recognize the base as <rode>. It is from Latin and has a denotation of “to gnaw.” We see it in rodent and erode as well. The meaning connection is pretty obvious, isn’t it? That leaves <cor-> as the prefix. It is an assimilated form of <com->. We often think of <com-> or one of its assimilated forms (<col->, <con->, <cor->, or <co->) as bringing a sense of together to the base’s denotation. But that’s not what is happening here. Instead, the <cor-> of ‘corrode’ is intensifying the “wearing away.”
One more example of a prefix being an intensifier is found in the word ‘complete.’ The Latin bound base <pl> has a denotation of “to fill.” If you think about how you use the word ‘complete,’ you’ll realize that the <com-> doesn’t bring a sense of “together” to this word. The act of finishing or concluding something can be done together with others, but it can also be done alone. The prefix <com-> in this word is intensifying the “filling of something.” Check out the entry at Etymonline to see for yourself.
I hope I’ve made it obvious that when we teach children that <con> means together and <re> means again, we are teaching them only one possible sense when the truth is there are many. There’s nothing wrong with saying that <re> typically incorporates a sense of “again” to a word it is part of as long as we also say, “but let’s check to be sure. It could be doing something else as well!”
People who are hesitant to use SWI with their struggling students often say it is because their students don’t find dictionaries friendly. Mine didn’t either. That is, until they had a reason to use them. I remember the days when my dictionaries sat unused on the shelf. If I sent a student to grab one so we could look up a word, the student often said, “Nevermind. I’ll use a different word.” Since the students and I started asking questions that we were genuinely interested in exploring, those same dictionaries have become dog-eared and in come cases the pages have popped out. I couldn’t be happier! Once there was an authentic need to use the dictionaries, the students picked up the skills necessary more quickly than when we used to make up a fake scenario so they could practice. “Let’s check to make sure,” became the quick look it’s supposed to be. Students like knowing whether they’re on the right track or not, and using a dictionary lets them do that for themselves. They learn confidence by not needing to run every hunch they have by the teacher. When you avoid using dictionaries with your students because they are uncomfortable with them, you lose a huge opportunity to show them how to use reference materials and how to find out things on their own. In effect, you are helping them stay uncomfortable with them.
So do your students a favor. Make, “Let’s check to be sure,” a common practice in your classroom. Let them discover the value and worthiness of a great reference material! Thank goodness we have dictionaries and solid etymological resources like Etymonline, Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, and the Oxford English Dictionary! That is where you and your students will be able to distinguish which sense a prefix is contributing to a word! You don’t want your students to sort-of, kind-of understand the words they read and use in their writing. A quick “check to be sure” will create a solid definition of a word as well as a scholarly habit.
When I read about a woman in Mali having nonuplets a month ago, naturally my first thought was, “Yikes! Nine babies born at one birth?” But just this morning that news was topped when I read of a South African woman giving birth to decuplets two days ago! Most of us have heard of triplets and quadruplets, but having nonuplets and decuplets is so rare, they may be world record setting! The more I thought about the words ‘nonuplets’ and ‘decuplets,’ the more I was reminded of how many times I’ve come across familiar morphemes in words that help indicate a particular number. I also thought about the different ways we use these elements in different contexts. In thinking about these different ways to group things and the common morphemes we use to represent those numbers in words, I learned some interesting things!
Numbered sets – usually at one birth
The headline read, “Nonuplets: Woman From Mali Gives Birth To 9 Babies : NPR.” Nonuplets. How many is that? Well, obviously, the headline tells us it is nine. Nine babies born in a single birth. We recognize this word ending as connected to numbers of babies born at one delivery. And now there is this new report out of South Africa that a woman has delivered decuplets! Etymonline explains that the spelling of ‘quadruple’ came from ‘quadruplet,’ and the spelling of the ‘plet’ came from the ending on ‘triplet.’ Are these words uniquely fitted to babies? Not at all. Quadruplets are sets of four. They don’t have to be four babies. Triplets are sets of three. They don’t have to be three babies. But my guess is that most people picture sets of babies when they hear these.
According to Wikipedia (and this will come as no surprise to you either), twins are the most common type of multiple birth. Without fertility treatments, the chances of having twins is 1 in 60. The possibility of having fraternal twins runs in families. The possibility of having identical twins does not. The chances of having identical twins is more like 1 in 250.
Having triplets is much less common with the possibility being 1 in 1000. Triplets can be identical (least common), fraternal (most common), or a combination of those. According to Etymonline, in 1831 another name for triplet was ‘trin’. As you can probably guess, it was modeled on ‘twin’. Quadruplets are even less common than triplets. Although as fertility treatments become more widely used, the possibility is increasing. Quadruplets are usually a combination of fraternal and identical.
Quintuplets occur once in 55,000,000 births (without fertility treatments). The most famous set of quints to survive infancy were the Dionne sisters who were born in 1934. I have watched documentaries about these sisters. Unfortunately, the government feared the parents would exploit the quints and took custody of them. In the end, these girls were exploited by everyone. While they were at play each day, some 6,000 visitors stopped to watch them. Yikes! My mother-in-law shared a first name with one of the quints and was given this spoon at some point in her life. It was one of many souvenirs being sold. If you are interested, here is an article about the life of these five identical sisters.
Unknown authorUnknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
A well-known set of sextuplets are the Gosselin siblings. They were born in 2004 and became well-known when their parents agreed to be part of a reality tv show that chronicled what life was like with a set of six babies! It was a very popular show for a while, but it took a toll on the family. Must be difficult to have a camera recording so much of your life.
When the McCaughey septuplets were born in 1997, they received a lot of media attention. One of the more interesting letters they received was from the three surviving Dionne quintuplets. The Dionne sisters offered their congratulations, but also warned the parents to keep the children out of the public eye as much as possible to avoid what they themselves experienced.
The first confirmed set of octuplets was born in 1969. Unfortunately, all eight babies died within 13 hours. It wasn’t until 2009 that a full set of octuplets (Suleman) survived infancy. It illustrates how risky multiple births are, and yet also how the field of premature infant health care keeps improving.
With the birth of nonuplets to a couple in Mali, it appears another world record has been set. Interestingly enough, the couple and their doctors thought they were having septuplets. Apparently two of the babies were hidden during the ultrasounds.
As of June 9th I read of a woman in South Africa who gave birth to decuplets! Like the couple who thought they were having seven but had nine, this couple thought they were having eight and had ten! They were delivered at 29 weeks. Guinness World Records is the group that officially verifies these things and determines world records.
Numbered sets of legs/feet
If you want to group creatures by the number of legs/feet they have, you’ll work from this short list.
Snails and slugs are obviously unipeds. You can see the one foot they use to move with. The organisms that belong to this class Gastropoda were previously called univalves. That descriptive term referred to the fact that they have one valve or shell. The name Gastropoda is equally as descriptive and revealing. It comes from the Greek γαστήρ (gastér “stomach”) and Greek πούς (poús “foot”). Its stomach is positioned above its single foot.
Other unipeds are marine and freshwater mollusks, also known as bivalvia. I bet that after learning about univalves, you can hypothesize the meaning of ‘bivalvia!’ These are mollusks with shells that have two valves (hinged parts).
Much of the information in this section of the post is coming from Wikipedia which also has some interesting information about bipedalism. They describe it as “a means of moving forward by means of two legs and feet.” Picture a moving kangaroo or ostrich for a clear idea of an organism that uses bipedalism. Of course, humans are bipeds too! Some animals like bears and some lizards who are quadrupeds move bipedally when needing to move quickly or get to a food source. Can you picture it? Here’s a pretty cool video from National Geographic that shows a lizard running bipedally across the surface of the water!
Isn’t it interesting to see the use of biped, bipedally, and bipedalism in the same paragraph? Once you understand the structure of biped (<bi + ped>), you can also understand the suffixes that have been added to change how the word might be used. As an adverb, we would use <bi + ped + al + ly –> bipedally> and as a noun describing the condition of moving on two feet we would use <bi + ped + al + ism>.
If bipedalism is a means of moving by the use of two legs, then quadrupedalism is a means of moving by the use of four legs to bear the weight of the body. The word ‘quadruped’ can also refer to a machine. It simply means anything “that usually maintains a four-legged posture and moves using all four limbs.” Most often we use this word to refer to terrestrial mammals and reptiles, but there are also aquatic quadrupeds such as turtles, amphibians, and pinnipeds. If you’re wondering what a pinniped is, I’m right there with you! At Etymonline, the entry provides us with this information.
Word investigations lead to such interesting unintended discoveries, don’t they? So seals, sea-lions, and walruses are quadrupeds in a similar fashion to zebras, dogs, and giraffe’s! A look at the entry for ‘quadruped’ reveals more information. This word is from Latin quadrupes “four-footed, on all fours.” In contrast to the word ‘quadruped,’ there is also the word ‘quadrumane.’ That refers to an animal that is four handed or with four hands and feet with opposable digits. Merriam-Webster describes quadrumanes as having hand-shaped feet. I bet you are already picturing monkeys or other animals that are primates. This word was once used more commonly in the field of zoology, even being the name of the order of mammals Quadrumana, which included non-human primates. It is now considered obsolete. As an adjective, someone might refer to another creature as quadrumanous. In that instance, they are describing that creature as ape-like.
By Dave59 at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0
While reading about quadrupeds at Wikipedia, I learned that while the word ‘tetrapod’ literally means four-footed in the same way that quadruped does, there is a very specific difference between how the two words are used. When comparing the structure and etymology of these two words, you may have guessed that ‘quadruped’ has two elements from Latin (quandri- “four” and pes “foot”), and ‘tetrapod’ has two elements from Greek (τετρα “four” and πούς “foot”). Tetrapods descended from a four-limbed ancestor. Quadrupeds use all four limbs to walk/run.
“The distinction between quadrupeds and tetrapods is important in evolutionary biology, particularly in the context of tetrapods whose limbs have adapted to other roles (e.g., hands in the case of humans, wings in the case of birds, and fins in the case of whales). All of these animals are tetrapods, but none is a quadruped. Even snakes, whose limbs have become vestigial or lost entirely, are nevertheless tetrapods.”
It wasn’t until I published this post that I heard about pentapeds. It is one of the reasons I am so grateful for the broad audience my posts reach! Not having much exposure to kangaroos, I always picture them as moving fast and in that case moving bipedally. But check out this video of the walking movement of a kangaroo. Its tail is like another foot!
Another fascinating creature that I initially forgot to mention is the octopus, an eight limbed mollusc. There are 300 species of octopuses. According to Wikipedia, the largest octopus ever recorded weighed 600 pounds with an arm span of 30 feet! It was a giant Pacific octopus. The octopus wolfi, on the other hand is the smallest known. It weighs less than 1 gram and is about 1 inch in size.
albert kok, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
There is a character in the movie Finding Dory called Hank the septapus. Apparently, Hank was born with eight limbs, but one was pulled off by a human child who played too roughly. So in a sense, he might now be referred to as a septapus. But the reality of it is that he is an octopus. He was born with eight limbs, and if one was cut off, another would grow in its place. (I hope I’m not ruining the movie for anyone.) I found this information at Scientific American. It is quite a fascinating article!
“Like a starfish, an octopus can regrow lost arms. … Rare is the octopus with fewer than eight—at least partial—arms. Because as soon as an arm is lost or damaged, a regrowth process kicks off to make the limb whole again—from the inner nerve bundles to the outer, flexible suckers. Aug 28, 2013″
That being said, while I was looking in Wikipedia for information about the octopus, I came across a species known as the seven-arm octopus, Haliphron atlanticus. One of its earlier names (1929) was heptopus! You might recognize that hepta is Greek for “seven” whereas <sept> derives from Latin septem “seven.” Seeing as the second base in the word heptopus is from Greek pous “foot,” it makes sense that this species was once named using all Greek elements. As I read further about this specific octopus, it was revealed that it only appears to have seven limbs. One of males’ limbs has the specific function of helping with egg fertilization. Because of that specific function, that particular limb is kept coiled in a sac beneath the right eye. So the reality is that it has eight limbs like all octopuses; we just don’t see them all!
Whoever created the character Hank, knew about the Latin element for “seven” and knew of the spelling of ‘octopus’ and blended the two. You might call this a hybrid word because it combines elements from two languages.
I bet you think you know about centipedes. Well, at least you think you know how many legs they have. According to Wikipedia, centipedes always have an odd number of legs. That means they would never have exactly 100! Surprising, isn’t it? In fact they can have anywhere from 30 to 354 legs! I bet they were named centipedes because it seemed like they had a hundred legs when they were seen moving. A few more interesting facts are that they are carnivorous and range in length from a few millimeters to 12 inches. Wow.
Centipede: Kingsley, J. Sterling (1890) Popular natural history: a description of animal life, from the lowest forms up to man – Vol. 1
The name ‘millipede’ comes from Latin and means “1000 feet.” If you’re going to guess that they don’t actually have one thousand feet based on what you just learned about centipedes, you’d be correct. There is one species of millipede (Illacme plenipes) that holds the record for having 750 legs. That is more than any other animal in the world! Millipedes are detritivores (eat dead plant matter) and are found in central California.
Grouped by months
There are four months in our year that also contain one of these word elements that indicate a number.
Many people might guess that October might have something to do with “eight,” but they’re not sure what. Well, it used to be the eighth month, that’s what! In Ancient Rome, March was considered the first month of the year. Interestingly enough, July was originally named Quintilis “fifth” and August was originally named Sextillia “sixth.” While March, April, May, and June were named with other ideas in mind, July, August, September, October, November, and December were named for their order. January and February were added to the end .
Julius Caesar brought about changes to the calendar when he aligned it to the earth’s revolutions around the sun. January and February were moved to the beginning of the calendar. This caused some of the months to be out of alignment with their numbered names. That’s why September, October, November, and December are no longer the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th months.
It was in remembrance of Julius Caesar (and to honor him for his adjustments to the Julian calendar) that Quintilis was renamed as July. In a similar way, the month of Sextillia was renamed August to honor Augustus Caesar, the first Roman emperor.
Final adjustments to the calendar were made in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII who corrected some inaccuracies with the Julian calendar. We refer to the calendar we use today as the Gregorian calendar! Look at these two links (Wonderopolis and The Old Farmer’s Almanac) for more information about the naming of the months that you and your students can read together.
Grouped by millions
The following is a list that I have purposely shared with my students each year. There are so many great morphemes to know here! Let’s start with the word ‘million.’ After all, all the rest of these words share part of its spelling. According to Etymonline, it was first attested in the late 14c. At that time it was spelled milioun and used to mean “a thousand thousands.” Further back it was from Old French and spelled million. Further back yet it was from Italian millione and literally meant “a great thousand.” And the furthest back ancestor we find is Latin mille. You can see that the structure would be <mille/ + ion>. According to the Century Dictionary, “The French, who like other northern peoples, took most if not all their knowledge of modern or Arabic arithmetic from the Italians.” (I found that quote at Etymonline in the entry for ‘billion’).
Now when you look at the entry for ‘billion,’ you see that it was created from Latin <bi> “two” and million. When you look at the entry for ‘trillion,’ you see that it was created from Latin <tri> “three” and million. It is described as the third power of million. There is a pattern developing here. we can see the structure of ‘million,’ but can’t see the same structure in ‘billion’ and ‘trillion.’ Interesting, isn’t it? Every once in a while I come across words like this that are modeled on another spelling which makes them hard to analyze on their own. We can know how they came to be that way, but we can’t analyze them as we might like to. Instead, in a list like the following, we might underline the morphemic element that indicates a number. An example would be to underline the <quint> in ‘quintillion’ and mark that it means “five.”
The following link takes you to Sbiis Saibian’s Large Number Site. It is a web book on large numbers. The link takes you to the specific chapter called “The -illions Series.” I found that this chapter thoroughly tells the story of large numbers beginning with ‘million.’ I found much of the same information in my research, so I trust that this information is accurate. What’s nice is that this author has the story, along with the different versions of what to call the numbers larger than million all in one place! It’s quite fascinating, and I encourage you to take a look! The part of the chapter that deals with how these numbers came to have these names is under the the article 2.4.2 – Origin & Development of the -illions . Here’s a brief excerpt to whet your appetite!
[The term “million” doesn’t seem to exist at any time before the 13th century (1200’s). Apparently it is an augmented form of the latin word “mille” meaning thousand. By dropping the e and adding the -ion as a suffix one could translate “million” as literally “Great thousand”. It is not known who first coined this term. It was used sparingly in the centuries to follow and was sometimes regarded as a kind of slang and not legitimate language (perhaps much the same way neolisms today are regarded as unofficial ), and writers more often than not preferred the non-ambiguous “thousand thousand.”]
A particularly interesting fact is that the list doesn’t continue beyond the 20th family of million. But then, it is actually quite rare that any of these number names are used with any regularity beyond the use of trillion!
Grouped by shape
The following list is no doubt very familiar to anyone who has studied geometry. It is a list that I’m sure many school children have seen before and perhaps struggled with figuring out how to remember what each word means. To make that task easier, I usually put it side by side with the list you were just reading about – the list of numbers beyond millions. It is so interesting when you compare the two lists. Instead of me pointing out similarities and differences, the students can do it for themselves. I’ve made a chart so that you can see at a glance how all the numbered groups I’ve mentioned relate to one another in meaning. You’ll find the chart below this list of shapes.
What I have found interesting in looking at the list of shapes is that the first one (triangle) pretty clearly refers to a shape with three angles. The second shape listed is a quadrilateral which in math books is also referred to as a quadrangle. But why the two names? The word quadrangle originated in Latin as quandrangulum and was used to mean a “four-sided figure.” What’s interesting to me is that the word literally means “four angles” and yet it is defined as a “four sided figure”. Perhaps it is nothing to get hung up on since a four-sided figure will have four angles and a shape with four angles will have four sides. The word quadrilateral originated in Latin as quadrilaterus and was used to mean “figure formed of four straight lines.” That makes sense to me because I’ve seen ‘lateral’ in other words and it has always had something to do with “side.”
Sometimes the word is used generally. In the following pictures you are looking at a lateral view (side view) of a goat skeleton and also a building.
Wilhelm Ellenberger and Hermann Baum, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
ProtoplasmaKid, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Other times the use of lateral is more specific. Notice the darkly pigmented lateral line on this fish? Many fish have a lateral line.
Brian Gratwicke, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Here is an example of a lateral pass in football. According to Wikipedia, “The ball carrier throws the football to a teammate in a direction parallel to or away from the opponents’ goal line.” So the ball is moved to one side or the other. In Canadian football this is more commonly known as an onside pass and in American football it is known as a backward pass.
U.S. Navy photo by Chief Warrant Officer 4 Seth Rossman., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Getting back to the mathematical use of these words, I also recall seeing ‘equilateral’ in math texts that I have used with children. This indicates that a shape has equal sides. And just as I have seen quadrilateral and quadrangle referring to the same shape, I have also see equilateral and equiangular referring to the same shape. Again, when we have a shape with equal sides, it will have equal angles.
Now let’s look at ‘pentagon’ which will help us understand the spellings of the rest of the words on this list. According to Etymonline, its Greek root is πεντά–γωνος (pentagōnos) meaning “five-angled or five-cornered.” The Greek root is a compound made up of pente “five” and gōnia “angle.” From this information we can see that hexagon, septagon, octagon, and the rest are words for a shape with a particular number of angles.
An interesting relative of Greek gōnia is Greek gony “knee.” Do you see what a knee and an angle have in common? The Latin equivalent to Greek gony is genu. You may be familiar with that base in the word ‘genuflect’ which is when someone bends their knee in worship or out of respect. The Old English word for knee was cneo or cneow. In Old English, the initial <c> would have been pronounced as /k/. Now you can see where our <kn> digraph spelling came from!
I brought together all of the words I’ve mentioned that have something to do with a numbered group. Might be a great discussion starter! Perhaps someone will think of another kind of group that gets numbered in this way that I haven’t thought to include. How exciting!
Can you and your students spot instances in which the same element is used in the different lists? Do you notice that The Hellenic people and the Romans had different names for elements that represented the same amount? Do any of the word elements we see remind you of words from other languages? What does the rest of the word (besides the element that indicates a number) in each list mean?
Here’s an idea for those of you in classrooms. Split your class into groups and pair up each group with one of these categories. Let the students find what they can about the words, their origins, and the way we use these words in our society. This would obviously be a project they work at each day for a week or two depending on your students. Your job is to circulate between the groups to offer guidance and celebrate what they are finding. Then let each group rehearse in a corner of the room before present their findings to the rest of the class. In my experience, the groups may not finish at the same time. That’s fine. Let them present when they are ready. Have some new investigations ready for the groups who finish first.
The sources I used today were Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster, Etymonline, Liddell and Scott Greek Lexicon, and the OED.
Lately, the use of the title ‘doctor’ has come into question. The wife of our newly elected President has the title of Dr. Biden, and yet she holds no medical license. She has been accused of using the title to give herself fake importance. Is it fake though? Where does this practice of granting people this title come from? What does it take to be a doctor? Can anyone be one? As usual, we need to look into the story of this word. How long has it been in use? Has it always indicated a person with medical knowledge? When did it refer to others with particular knowledge in their respective fields as well?
I started at Etymonline and found that the word doctor was first attested c. 1300 and spelled doctour. At the time it was used to mean “Church father.” Before that it was used in Old French where it came directly from Medieval Latin doctor meaning “religious teacher, advisor, scholar.” In Classical Latin it was used to mean “teacher.”
So far the only tie to a specific area of knowledge is that of religion. I went to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) and found examples of this word in use. In the late 1300’s saints were known as doctors. In one example, a saint was known as a doctor of truth. In an example from the mid-1500’s, Christ Jesus was referred to as the heavenly doctor. And in the mid-1600’s a person was referred to as a doctor of divinity, while another a doctor of theology.
Around this same time, the sense of this word broadened to include other areas beyond religion. Notice this definition listed at Etymonline.
Look at that! Since the late 14th century, we as a society have been referring to people who hold the highest degree in a university as doctor. I looked back at the OED to verify this with actual examples and found that in the late 1600’s there was a person given the title of “Doctor of Music.” An excerpt from roughly a hundred years later mentions someone being named a “Doctor of Laws.” But as I continue to scroll through the entry, I find that people were called doctors of law as early as 1377! The noun ‘doctorate’ as in the degree of learning earned is from the 1670’s. This is not new, and it is not a fake title!
In the same way that the title of ‘doctor’ was given to someone with extensive learning in law or music, it was also given to someone with extensive learning in the medical field, although according to Etymonline it did not become popular until the late 16th century. The term “medical professional” replaced the term “leech.” How about that! Here is the Etymonline entry.
It is interesting to look at the possible roots of this word and see that they include things like “enchanter, one who speaks magic words, healer, physician, charmer, exorcist, one who counsels, and conjurer.” This speaks to the attitudes and perceptions regarding medicine as the field grew, doesn’t it? It may be difficult to separate the idea of a leech being a physician from the idea of a leech being a bloodsucking aquatic worm, but according to Etymonline they were indeed two separate words with distinctive uses. One (worm) became assimilated to the other (physician) by way of folk etymology. (Folk etymology is a popular but mistaken account of the origin of a word or phrase.) Here are some interesting compound words I found at the OED.
Leech-fee … a physician’s fee
Leech-house … a hospital
Leechman … a physician
Leech-finger … what we typically refer to as our ring finger. Old English spelling was læcefinger. It was translated from Latin digitus medicus which was in turn transcribed from Greek δακτυλος ιατρικος. It was called that because it was believed that this finger had a vein that stretched to the heart.
Apparently this term narrowed in its use to refer only to veterinary practices until the 17th century when it slowly became archaic. What a great example of how the people who speak the language determining by their use of words which ones stay and which ones fall out of use! If you are wondering where the connection is between physicians and the use of leeches as a medicinal practice, that wasn’t attested until 1802. In my own mind, I thought it was earlier than that, but I’m probably thinking of the related practice of bloodletting which happened much earlier.
If we renew our focus on the word ‘doctor’, and note its root of docere “to know, teach, cause to know,” we’ll recognize the following related words.
doctor – a person who holds a doctorate.
doctorate – the highest degree awarded by a graduate school or other approved educational organization.
doctoral – relating to achieving a doctorate.
doctiloquent – this word is rare but one I enjoy. It describes one who speaks learnedly.
doctrine – beliefs held and taught by a church, political party or other group.
indoctrinate – teach someone to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.
doctrinaire – someone who seeks to impose a doctrine without regard to practical considerations.
doctress – female doctor. Becoming less common as woman-doctor becomes more common.
docile – ready to accept control or instruction; submissive.
docility – this word began as “readiness or aptness to learn”, but since the 1600’s has meant “submissiveness to management.”
docent – a person who acts as a guide in a museum, art gallery, or zoo.
document – written work that provides information or evidence that serves as an official record.
Back to where this started …
Dr. Biden holds two masters degrees and a doctorate in educational leadership. Since the late 14th century, that kind of commitment to learning has earned a person the title of ‘doctor’. Granted, it probably didn’t include women back then, but we’re past that part, aren’t we? It can take between four and six years to complete a doctorate. That is in addition to the time it takes to get a masters. Many countries require a masters before one can study for a doctorate. The U.S. has been changing that requirement in recent years, but you can see that Dr. Biden earned two masters degrees before earning her doctorate.
Instead of choosing one doctorate program (medical) as important and all others as fake or undeserving of the title that goes along with that level of time commitment to learning, I say we encourage more people to seek that title. Our society needs experts in all areas! Our society needs more people committed to learning which in turn will benefit all of us!
This week I will be observing a lesson in a high school science class. The lesson will focus on naming ionic compounds. In preparation for this observation I asked to look over the reading materials the students will use. Having very little background in chemistry beyond that of what fifth grade students are expected to understand, I found words being used that I didn’t clearly understand. And, of course, knowing that if I want to increase my understanding of the lesson, I’ll need to understand the specific terminology, I did some word investigation.
The information tells us that this word was first attested in 1834. That means that the first time we have written evidence of this word existing is in 1834. And if you read further, you will see that it was coined by Michael Faraday on the suggestion by Rev. William Whewell and derived from the Greek word ion (ἰόν) which was a form of Greek ienai (ἰέναι) “go.” It is common to find scientific names for things attested from 1500 to present. During that time and in some cases even earlier, the Latin language was revived for scholarly and scientific purposes. This time period and the idea of coining words using stems derived from Latin and Greek is called Modern Latin. These words were coined in Modern Latin.
It is helpful to understand that the denotation of ‘ion’ is “go” because as it says at Etymonline, “ions move toward the electrode of opposite charge.” To see if I could find some more etymology, I went to the OED (Oxford English Dictionary). The word ‘ion’ is defined as either a single atom, molecule, or a group that has a net electric charge. It doesn’t matter whether that charge is positive or negative, only that that charge is a result of either the loss or addition of an electron. Next I set out to find some related words.
ionic – <ion + ic> “relating to or composed of ions.” adjective
ionically – <ion + ic + al + ly> “relating to or composed of ions.” adverb
ionicity – <ion + ic + ity> “the degree to which something is ionic.”
ionizer – <ion + ize + er> “a device that helps an air purifier be more effective.”
ionogen – <ion + o + gen> “a substance able to produce ions.”
ionography – <ion + o + graph + y> “a form of printing in which a static electric charge draws toner particles from the drum to the paper.”
ionomer – <ion + o + mer> “a polymer that contains ions.”
ionosphere – <ion + o + sphere> “layer of the atmosphere that contains a high level of ions and reflects radio waves.”
ionopause – <ion + o + pause> “the boundary layer of the ionosphere where it meets either the mesosphere at one side or the exosphere on its other.”
ionosonde – <ion + o + sonde> “special radar used to examine the ionosphere.”
cation – <cat + ion> “positively charged ion.”
anion – <an + ion> “negatively charged ion.”
You will notice that the only two words on my matrix that form a compound word with ‘ion’ being the second base are ‘anion’ and ‘cation’. A closer look at these two words brings with it many interesting finds!
The Etymonline entry is interesting.
Notice that the word ‘anode’ is bolded. When I see that, I always follow such a word to find out more. In this case, I see that ‘anode’ is first attested in 1834. As is the case with ion, cation, anode, and cathode, the word was proposed by Rev. William Whewell and published by Michael Faraday. It’s pretty obvious that these two were needing to name components of what they were studying and finding! The first base is derived from Greek ana “up”, and the second base is derived from Greek hodos “way, path, track.”
According to Wikipedia, “An anode is an electrode through which the conventional current enters into a polarized electrical device. This contrasts with a cathode, an electrode through which conventional current leaves an electrical device.” This definition makes sense if we think about the literal translation of ‘anode’ as “up a path or way.” If ‘cathode’ is the electrode through which conventional current leaves an electrical device, then I’m guessing that the first base in ‘cathode’ must have a denotation of down. According to Etymonline, <cat> is indeed derived from Greek kata “down.” So in this case, as the current enters the device it is on its way up (anode), and when it leaves it is on its way down (cathode).
Back to ‘anion’. This word has a literal translation of “go up.” An anion has more electrons than protons, so it is negatively charged. You might say that the number of electrons is what “goes up” in an anion.
Here is the Etymonline entry.
Are you noting the same year of attestation once again? And the same scientists who coined this word? Another interesting thing to note is written right after the date of attestation (1834). It says that ‘cation’ is from a Latinized form of Greek kation “going down.” It is a Latinized form because the Roman scribes wrote the Greek letter kappa as a <c>. Since we now know that an ‘anion’ has more electrons than protons and has a literal sense of “go up”, it makes sense to think of a cation as having less electrons than protons (positive charge). The number of electrons is what “goes down” in an cation.
A word about the pronunciation of anion and cation.
It might be tempting to pronounce ‘anion’ similarly to ‘onion’ and ‘cation’ to what we hear in the portmanteau word ‘staycation’. But we would only be tempted to do that because of the commonly used suffix <-ion>! When the <-ion> suffix is added to a word like ‘one’, we end up with ‘onion’. The IPA for the American pronunciation of ‘onion’ is /ˈʌnjən/. The IPA representation for ‘anion’ is /ˈænaɪən/. Compare this pronunciation to that of ‘ion’, /ˈaɪən/. Do you see what is similar? The <ion> base is pronounced differently than the <-ion> suffix! Let’s see if it is the same with ‘cation’. If we think of the pronunciation of ‘staycation’, we would represent it with IPA like this /steɪˈkeɪʃən/. But the IPA for the American pronunciation of ‘cation’ is /ˈkædˌaɪən/. If you compare this with the pronunciation of ‘ion’, you will once again notice that the base <ion> is not pronounced the same as the <-ion> suffix!
Where else do we see this Hellenic base <cat>?
cataclysm – <cata + clysm> “wash down.” Originally a flood, now a large-scale or violent event.
catalog – <cata + log> “list down.” Also spelled <catalogue>.
cataplexy – <cata + plexy> “strike down.” An example is when an animal pretends it’s dead.
catarrh – <cata + rrh> “flowing down.” It is inflammation and discharge from a head cold.
catastrophe – <cata + strophe> “turning down.” It is the reverse of what is expected.
catatonic – <cata + tone + ic> “toned down.” A mental illness in which the person is immobile in both movement and behavior.
catabolic – <cata + bole + ic> “thrown down.” According to Wikipedia it is the breaking-down aspect of metabolism.
There are other words that also have this Helenic base, and its sense and meaning isn’t just limited to “down.” I just included a few words with that specific sense so we could easily connect it to what we see in ‘cation’.
Where else do we see this Hellenic base <ana>?
anadromous – <ana + drome + ous> “running upward.” An example is fish going upstream to spawn. (The <drome> base “run” is the same as in ‘dromedary’)
analeptic – <ana + lept + ic> “take up.” A drug that restores your health.
analysis – <ana + lysis> “loosen up.” A loosening of something complex into smaller segments.
anabolic – <ana + bole + ic> “thrown up.” According to Wikipedia it is the building-up aspect of metabolism.
Like <cata>, <ana> isn’t just limited to one sense and meaning. I chose words with this base and this sense so we could more easily see the connections to ‘anion’.
I always find it helpful to collect more information about words I’ve heard, but am not completely familiar with. When I saw similar words like anode and anion, and also cathode and cation, I knew that I would need to understand both bases in each of these compound words in order to keep their meanings straight. I’ve learned that the second base in ‘anode’ and ‘cathode’ has to do with a path or track. An anode is the electrode through which the electrical current enters a polarized electrical device, and a cathode is the electrode through which the current leaves. I’ve learned that the second base in ‘anion’ and ‘cation’ has to do with movement. An anion has more electrons than protons and is negatively charged. A cation has more protons than electrons and is positively charged.
Knowing that <ana> has a denotation of “up” helps me picture an arrow pointed up indicating that the number of electrons is higher than that of the protons in an anion. Knowing that <cata> has a denotation of “down” helps me picture an arrow pointed down, indicating that the number of electrons is lower than that of the protons in an cation.
Now I feel better prepared to learn about naming ionic compounds.