Wordsmiths – Quality grammar, vocabulary, and writing materials in the field of English
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Notes from the Smithy… #98
Greetings from Southern Oregon! It’s rain, some snow, and a little sun, and school is in session. I trust you are making the most of it and keeping those noses to the grindstone.
NEWS what’s happening
JUST FOR FUN compounds
A WRITING CLASS ongoing report
THE DIFFERENCE language
RECENT READS a few from me
MISCELLANY as it says
You will be interested to know that I have quarterly and semester vocabulary tests and a final grammar test that are yours free for the asking. You need to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get them. I am the only source for these tests. You will have to print them off. Each set includes the test and the answers. I will send them via an attachment.
I have a very few books left on sale. At present I have 4 Jensen’s Grammar and 8 Jensen’s Format Writing. As mentioned in previous newsletters, the grammar books are new but have a name written on the inside cover. The writing books are also new. Some have a bent corner or some discoloration on the covers, but others have no noticeable problems. Five of them are an older edition, but only cosmetic changes were made for the newer edition. I am going to sell them at the regular price but include the JFW DVD for free. The DVD has a flaw in the first lecture, but the content is correct. Additionally I have a number of Tests & Answers, the keys for Jensen’s Grammar.
Life continues to roll along. Earlier this month God graciously allowed me to complete my 75th circuit around the sun. Praise Him for His mercy and grace. Life is good. My health is relatively good, and I continue to keep up with the chores, sort of, on my tree farm and large garden here in Oregon.
JUST FOR FUN
Twenty-one years ago, I put together a little book called English Fun Stuff. It was 74 pages of creative and fun things to do in a classroom that used the language. Students were happy to do these exercises when they finished their other work. It took me about twenty-five years to gather these exercises, and I would have dearly loved it had I been able to find something like it before I did all the collecting. Below you will find one of the exercises. It is about compounds.
A compound word is made up of two smaller words put together. For example, lighthouse consists of two words, light and house. Your job is to see how many compound words you can make by combining any two of the single words listed below. You should be able to find at least 32. Enjoy!
Note I am not giving you spaces to write here, so you will need to have a separate sheet of paper to put your answers on. Be aware that a word may begin or end a compound no matter where it is in the list. In other words, you are not limited to putting the words in the first column first; they may be the second word in a compound.
A WRITING CLASS
It’s been said that old politicians never die, they just steal away. There is a similar statement about teachers: old teachers never die, they just lose their class. Thinking to avoid that condition, I offered a writing class to a few young people in our church along with a few others. At present I have twelve students total; they range from 8th graders to a couple who have recently graduated from high school. They are a mixed lot, and they have widely varying experiences with writing and grammar. All that is to say it is a challenge to teach them due to their diversity of abilities regarding language.
I provided each student with a copy of Jensen’s Format Writing and a DVD for each family involved. They have to do some reading and viewing the DVD on their own but as directed by me in advance.
I am meeting with them on Mondays when we meet. Some weeks we skip because they submit their writing to me via email. I correct with a check sheet and post that back to them. Once in a while we meet to answer questions or if I have something on which I think they need extra work or instruction.
Here we are in mid-January and writing the five paragraph essays. What fun. Well, for me at least. The students are less inclined to think so. Since I last reported, I have received some interesting paragraphs. We did some work on topic sentences, particularly with the comparison paragraph. One topic sentence was quite memorable. It said that the paragraph would finally settle the bacon-sausage war. I liked the creativity. By the way, the author favored bacon.
After we finished the seven paragraph formats found in the book, I taught them how to write a paragraph on a verse in Scripture. They did three of those, so in total they turned in twenty-four paragraphs. It was a bit of reading on my part, but I could do it at home on my own time. That helped.
Once we finish the five paragraph essays, it will be about early March. Then we will do a few things in sections three through five of the book. Depending on time, I will likely have them write at least two or three major papers. Thus far, the students have learned a few things, and their writing has improved somewhat. I pray the Lord will bless their efforts.
There are a number of questions about origins. The Bible has answers to some of them. Many don’t accept the truth of Scripture, but I happen to. It makes sense. One of the big questions the evolutionists can’t answer is how man came to use language. My personal conviction is that it is a gift of God. Adam, after all, walked and talked with God and was given commands: name the animals; care for the garden; don’t eat the forbidden fruit. All of those imperatives were understood although not all of them were fulfilled. The point is simply this, words matter; they make all the difference.
Of all created things, animals are most like man. We share skeletons and flesh, some breathing apparatus, various senses, and so forth. All animals communicate in some ways. Birds sing and twitter; animals grunt or bray or whine or bark or purr. You get the idea. They can communicate danger or distress or that they are where food is. Even we recognize some of their sounds for what they mean. Hunters, for instance, mimic distress calls to bring in predators. But such communication is limited. What makes the difference between all those animals and man? Words!
Without words, we would have no thoughts, no ability to reason, no speech, and no writing. It would be a very different situation for mankind. Life as we know it would not be. With words, however, we have all of the above. Words are powerful; they can uplift and cast down, make us happy or sad or angry or content. Proverbs 18:21a tells us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” As a kid I remember saying, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That is, of course, false. Words can destroy a reputation and crush the spirit of a person, but they can also comfort and build up someone.
Teaching others to use words well has been my goal as both a teacher and a writer of textbooks. It is a great skill to have. In Beowulf the author uses a most interesting term for vocabulary, word hoard. Having a good sized word hoard is a good thing. The more words a person knows, the more precise communication can become. Vocabulary is the starting point, but using that vocabulary well is the next step. Turning out well crafted phrases and clauses and then combining them into something larger is the essence of good communication.
Don Marquis wrote a most interesting poem in which he describes how one person can tell you that giant rocks are falling from the sky and large cracks are appearing the ground, but it makes little impression. Another person can tell you about buying some pink tissues, and you will be sitting on the edge of your seat, listening in rapt attention. It’s all about phraseology, words and their use.
In sum, words are a gift from God. As all other gifts, it can be used for good or ill. Let’s all strive to speak well, speak clearly, and speak positively whenever possible, and make a difference.
The holidays always seem to interrupt my reading pattern. From Thanksgiving through New Years, there is just a lot of social activity going on, and that means I don’t just sit and read. However, I did managed to read a few books. My reviews are below.
The first book I read was by Brandon Sanderson. It is called Elantris. I liked this book, and I like this author. Elantris is a standalone novel. The three main characters, a prince, a princess, and a priest, are in various degrees of contention. They are sometimes at odds and sometimes allied. It is a changeable relationship. The chapters are each told by one of these three main characters, so there is a constant shifting of point of view. It is not hard to follow and makes for an interesting story. Sometimes actions and times overlap a bit from chapter to chapter.
Reading through the text, various surprises pop up. While they are unexpected, most of them have a clue or two given earlier in the text. Not always, however, a few are explained after the revelation.
The setting is quite imaginative. There is a dying city that was once a miraculous place peopled by men and women who had seemingly miraculous powers, yet it changed overnight ten years before the novel opens. Something similar continues to happen at times to various individuals in apparently random selection, and they are changed overnight into a dead like existence. Their skin gets blotchy; they no longer have a heart beat or bleed. In effect, these people become Elantrians and are exiled into the city of Elantris. It is a city of the living dead where everything is in decay.
When Elantris fell, the old order in the rest of the country failed, and a new regime was established. The new king is a businessman, but he has made life difficult for nearly everyone and is quite unloved. Rival powers are at work to replace him.
There is also an external enemy, a country with ambitions to rule and either take over or wipe out those who don’t conform. They pose a distinct threat and are working to take over the world. The priest represents this group. This group is based on a fanatical view of religion. It is suggestive of Islam.
I thought the ending was a bit rushed, lots of revelations and things going on at once, but it worked out. It is a well told story. Brandon Sanderson has a sense of humor and drama, and he tells a good tale.
The second book was Vagrant by Peter Newman.
World magazine had a brief review of this book. Then it popped up on Book Bub, so I bought it and read it.
Twisted writing. Jerky. Odd. Unexplained. Weird and grotesque, the fantasy of an odd mind that spews forth dark impressions.
That’s what the writing seemed like to me. There are flashbacks to help explain some things. It is a typical journey story from innocence through trial to maturity, at least in a sense. There is no real resolution to the problem, but that in theory will come in the sequel, which I won’t bother to read.
The Vagrant, the Usurper and his usurperkin, the Uncivil, the Commander, the First, Vesper, Harms, and of course the goat, they represent most of the main characters. A really odd batch of – I can’t say characters or even personalities – on various sides of the issues. The goat can’t talk; it just bleats. The Vagrant doesn’t talk, ever! Vesper is a baby and only begins to talk at the end. The Usurper and the Uncivil don’t talk either; they are essences. It’s a strange and broken world; ugly is a better word.
Next I read #8 in David Weber’s Safehold series. It is called Hell’s Foundations Quiver. The story moved forward with some interesting turns of events. Yes, the war on the ground proceeded, and that was good. The introduction of the Sisters of Saint Kohdy was a revelation and made for some interesting reading. The Battle of the Kaudzhu Narrows was a good story in and of itself, and the aftermath provided lots of fallout for the rest of the book. Poor Thirsk has lots of mental torment and anguish, but the final chapter of the book suggests there will be a way out for him.
Again all the impossible names of folks who have little or no bearing on the story continue to crop up. The real bad guy, Clynthan, is worse than ever, but somehow he continues to plow on disregarding the signs of possible defeat. It just makes him angrier and more desperate. He fights within his own Group of Four. He is a nasty character and a very suitable villain.
A careful look at the cover of the book reveals what looks like a space craft or at least a non-Safeholdian vessel. Read the story to find out how that appears and what part it plays in a covert action.
I liked the book although my reading in it was somewhat intermittent until the last two to three hundred pages. I will definitely get #9 when it’s available in paper. The Mighty Host and the Archangels will come against Green Valley along with rockets. How will the Charisians and Siddermarkans handle that? Maybe things will settle down to a real victory for the Charisian Empire, and the story can move on to take on the Gbaba.
The next book I read was a mix of history and biography. It was titled Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates. Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger collaborated to write this book.
It was good history, readable, and interesting. While I was somewhat familiar with the war against the Barbary pirates, I had not heard of, or at least did not remember, William Eaton and Tobias Lear. Talk about substituting paying tribute for an outright victory and putting self in front of country! Yeesh! The state department in that case reflects some of stuff we see now. Diplomats get in the way of the military. It appears the diplomats didn’t realize or didn’t care that negotiations can only proceed from a position of strength.
The book moves along quickly and is engaging. The Mussulman hasn’t changed much. Quoting the Koran as justification for taking Christians prisoners is one example. Ill fortune for the young navy was overcome by good judgment and the willingness to take it to the enemy. Some of the young lads were quite full of derring-do. We had heroes then. Too bad they don’t get much mention in the history books today.
Read it for information and for fun. It is a window on our nation when it was just starting up. Politics were just as divided then as now.
The next book, The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs, I read on my Kindle.
The author, Andrew Gant, is obviously quite knowledgeable about carols and hymns and their histories. Someone more musically gifted or educated than I would likely get more out of the book. He uses musical terms and some British words I am unfamiliar with; he also quotes in Latin, French, and a couple of other languages, so some of what he said was lost on me. He has a good sense of humor and displays some irreverence at times by poking fun, but it probably adds to the readability rather than distracts from it.
The book is organized according to those songs applicable to the various parts of the Christmas and New Year season. It begins with Advent and ends with Epiphany; he covers 21 hymns and carols in all ranging from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” to “Jingle Bells.” The histories he gives were quite interesting to me. The carol is folk music from the field; the hymn is church music from the cleric, and somehow they mix into what we sing today. I found most of it fascinating stuff.
Will I read it again? Doubtful. Am I glad I read it? Absolutely. Would I buy it for my library? Don’t think so. But hey, for a dollar on my Kindle it was a great bargain.
The last book I read this quarter Heritage of Cyador; It is number eighteen in the Recluce series, all of which I have previously read. Obviously I like L.E. Modesitt, Jr. as a writer.
This book was classic Modesitt. I found it to be an entertaining read. It was a well told story with plot movement, character development, and good detail to describe the various settings, mostly all new to this book. The author draws his characters well, and there is enough action to make it a page turner at times. There are lots of intrigues, and Lerial has to figure things out as he goes along. The treachery, underhandedness, incompetence, and anything for pay mentalities of many in Afrit have created a lousy society. Most of Afrit seems to care little for anyone other than family, and even that is guarded. Gold is more loved than country; loyalties are often fragile. It is a messy place.
A lot goes on in this book that is in undercurrents. Things are said with double meanings or not explained. Details are given that seem unimportant until later. Not everything is resolved at the end, but things get readjusted in Afrit with a new duke. There is closure in this book, but there will likely be some sort of follow-up story. The immediate situation is settled; how the changes in society will work out, well, that is yet to be told.
For background it would be helpful to read the previous novel, Cyador’s Heirs, as it gives a picture of Lerial in his younger years, which is not necessary for the current story, but it helps to understand him and his relationship to others in his family. It all plays in. Read this book and enjoy it, especially if you like L.E. Modesitt Jr.’s writing.
- This newsletter is posted quarterly on the website, and it is emailed free to those who wish to subscribe. You will note my website and this newsletter are free of commercials except for my own stuff; I plan to keep it that way.
- Remember, if you have questions, I am only an email away, email@example.com. I am your support, so use me when the need arises. I try to email a response within a day or two. The more specific the question, the better my answer will be. I suspect the folks at New Leaf are answering a few questions now as well.
- Thanks so much to those of you who purchase, use, and recommend my books. A couple of notes from home schooling moms came in during the interval. Both were complimentary. It is gratifying to me to know that my materials have helped many students and teachers/moms over the years.
- The next issue of Smithy Notes will likely appear next spring if I manage to keep the schedule. The future is unknown, but for now I plan to do a couple more issues, maybe get it to 100 and stop. We will see.
Under God’s hand,