Wordsmiths – Quality grammar, vocabulary, and writing materials in the field of English
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Our mission is to provide teachers and students with quality grammar, vocabulary, and writing materials in the field of English. Home schools, Christian schools, and private schools currently use and recommend our materials.
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We have a very few books left to sell; check out the newsletter for details.
Notes from the Smithy…#101
fall – 2017
Hello from Southern Oregon! Cool nights, a bit of Indian summer and some rain. It’s fall and a wonderful time here. School is back in session.
NEWS what’s happening
JUST FOR FUN bowls & people
PERSPECTIVES view points
READING good & bad news
RECENT READS a variety this time
MISCELLANY as it says
What do I have left to sell? As of this writing, I have four copies of Jensen’s Format Writing. I am selling them at the regular price but will include the JFW DVD for free. The DVD has a flaw in the first lecture, but the content is correct. I also have two older copies of Jensen’s Grammar along with the tests and answers booklet. See the website for pricing.
What more do I have left that you might like? If you have an older version of the vocabulary book and want the six quarterly tests, you can get them from me. They are free for the asking. Send an email to email@example.com and ask for them. You will have to print them off. Each set includes the test and the answers. I will send them via an attachment.
If you need the Tests & Answers, the keys for Jensen’s Grammar, I have them also. They cost $1, but you have to pay for shipping and handling, so send $5. I ship first class mail on these.
There is a final test for Jensen’s Grammar. You can get that for free from me just by asking for it via email.
I still sell the Journey through Grammar Land series for now. Vernie Jones, the coauthor, is taking over those titles sometime early next year.
JUST FOR FUN
I don’t remember where I found this, but it is attributed to Karen Robertson. Use your imagination here, but the truths are readily apparent.
Ten Ways Bowls are like People
- Every one is unique.
- Some of them are useful, and some just sit around looking pretty.
- You can’t judge them by appearances. Sometimes those with the roughest bark on the outside have the sweetest grain on the inside.
- Those that have weathered life’s worst storms usually end up having the most character.
- Some of our favorite ones are a little cracked.
- You can’t really tell what one is going to be like until you see what’s deep inside.
- The older they are, the more we treasure them.
- Just like children, they’re not always perfect, but we love them anyway.
- They’re not much to look at until the master craftsman gets hold of them and chops away all the rough spots.
- Most of them are pretty decent, but you’ll always have a few knotholes.
This past summer my wife and daughter and I took our youngest grandson to Kentucky to a STEM camp. I learned of it through Answers in Genesis and thought it would be good for our grandson. He enjoyed it, and we spent a week in Kentucky. During that time we took the opportunity to visit the Creation Museum, the Ark Encounter, and some other places in the area. It was a nice time, and my grandson profited from the camp.
The two aforementioned places were quite interesting to visit. I have to say the Ark was most impressive. Its very size rather boggles the mind. However, the displays inside both these places are what really set them apart from the other places. For instance, we also went to Big Bone Lick, a state park where lots of bones of historic animals have been found. Now here’s the key. The state park has an evolutionary perspective; the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter have a creationist perspective.
It’s all about presuppositions. Both see the same set of facts, but they look at those facts through different lenses. Their biases differ, so they see things differently. So what does this have to do with English grammar? Let’s find out.
Who wrote the first grammars about English? The easy answer is the scholars of the time. They were men who had gone to school, were familiar with the classics, and had a strong background in Latin, which was the universal language of academics in those days. Thus, it was natural for those scholars to lean on the grammar of Latin to describe the English language. They viewed the grammar of English with a Latin lens so to speak.
And what’s not to like about their approach? All languages have words that name things; we call them nouns. All languages have words that describe those things; we call them adjectives. All languages have words that show action; we call them verbs. Obviously the similarities are many.
There is, however, a problem. English is not a Latin based language; English is a Germanic language. Sure, we have lots of Latin based words which we have borrowed into English, but our grammar is not like Latin. Latin is an inflected language. That simply means that the endings of certain words determine their relationships to other words. Yes, we still have inflections in English, but they do not influence the sentence structure in the same way as inflections in Latin do.
English is a syntactical language. That means our words form their relationships in sentences by where they are spaced in relation to other words; position determines relationship. Here is an example.
The dog bit the man.
The man bit the dog.
We have the same exact words, but the meanings are different. The first is common place; the second is newsworthy. What changed in the second sentence? Only the position of the words changed; that is syntax in action.
The Latin oriented perspective of the early English grammarians caused them to make certain assessments of English. Their view influenced how they described the grammar of English. Please note that I am not faulting these folks; they worked from the knowledge base they had. That is a human thing to do, work from the known to the unknown. We tend to describe new things in terms of what we already know.
The fallout is that we have had traditional grammar, also known as prescriptive grammar, hold sway as the majority view of grammar since those first grammars were produced. Is that a bad thing? I am not going to go that far, but I will say traditional grammar is really insufficient and even confusing at times due to its starting point. There are inconsistencies and exceptions all over the place with traditional grammar, but it has the weight of time and tradition behind it, so it persists.
Time and tradition are both helpful and a hindrance at times. Think of the QWERTY keyboard on your typewriter or keyboard. It was invented to slow down the operator. The early typewriters had long arms with a single key that came down to strike the paper. A fast typist caused the keys to get tangled with one another. The ASK, the American Simplified Keyboard, resolves that problem. All typing records have been set with the ASK, but how many people use it? Very few, since most of us were taught the QWERTY system.
So it is with grammar. The traditional perspective still reigns. It is hard to change; inertia has its way even though other approaches offer better understanding and less inconsistencies.
Two other grammars exist; they have similar terminology but have differing starting points. James Sledd’s book, A Short Introduction to English Grammar, was published in 1959. He stated that an eighteenth century grammatical tradition has persisted in academia in spite of two later centuries of modern linguistic developments. He uses the structural approach and describes elements of the language with reference mostly to position.
Paul Roberts wrote a relatively popular grammar in the early 1960’s called English Sentences. It was a high school text. His perspective was transformational. Simply stated, there are a few basic sentence types in English, and all other sentences are transformations of those basic types in some way or another.
What I did when I wrote my own grammar was to take what I thought were the best elements of each approach and combine them into something that would give my students a clearer and more consistent framework for the grammar of English. Ultimately those lessons and ideas were published in my book, Jensen’s Grammar. It has sold well over the years and has profited many students, both in my own classes, in the classes of others, and in many home school situations.
What follows is an adaption of something I read some time ago, I believe on Breakpoint.
When asked the secret of his success, billionaire investor Warren Buffet pointed to a stack of books and said, “Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will.”
The fact is Americans aren’t reading. The habit of reading is deteriorating. The Literacy Project Foundation stated that 44% of American adults don’t read a book in a year, and six out of ten households don’t even buy a single book in a year.
Author Michael Hyatt has said that readers are leaders, and leaders are readers. He further says that reading makes us better thinkers, improves our people skills, and helps us master communication. Reading also helps us combat stress and keeps our aging minds more alert.
Since we are about the time of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting his 95 theses, a quote from him is in order, “If you want to change the world, pick up your pen and write.” The fellows at Breakpoint added, “If you want to change your world, pick up a book and read.”
So, how many books have you read this year? And perhaps equally important, how are you going to manage the time to read with all the other things going on in your life? We all know life is full of distractions. Personally, we don’t have a TV. However, we obviously do have the internet and the capability to watch DVD’s. And then there’s all that social media and texting and so forth.
Charles Chu at Qz.com speculates a person could read 200 books per year in the time spent on social media. Here’s the math. The average American reads 200 to 400 words per minute. Assume that a typical book is 50,000 words. 200 books would equal 10 million words. At 400 words per minute, it would take 417 hours in a year to read all 200 books. That equates to a little over an hour per day.
Remember the adage, “Yard by yard it’s hard; inch by inch it’s a cinch.” But here’s the clincher. Chu says the average American spends 608 hours per year on social media and another 1,642 hours watching TV. You have the time. In fact, if you spent all those hours reading, you could be reading over 1000 books a year. That’s pretty astounding when you think about it.
It’s really about priorities. I am reminded of Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, published back in 1985, well prior to the internet and social media. The slide downhill continues.
Chu is point on when he says that it’s not that hard to read a lot of books. The time is available, but we are “too addicted, too weak, and too distracted” to set aside reading time.
My admonition to parents and teachers: Read to your children and students. Set aside time for them to read and relax. They will be the better for it.
Summer came and went, but as always I was able to read some. As the previous article says, we are all busy, but some of us make more time to read than others. Anyway, what follows are brief reviews of what I have read since the last newsletter.
In the interim, I read two more of the Wheel of Time series, numbers 12 and 13, The Gathering Storm and Towers of Midnight. Both of these were written by Brian Sanderson from Robert Jordan’s notes although some scenes were apparently written by Jordan. Sanderson meshed with Jordan unobtrusively. The transition was not really noticeable.
The Gathering Storm, relatively long at 1070 pages, moved along fairly well. There are more battles, more devious plans, and more conflicts among the various segments that are trying to reach similar goals but by different paths.
The Two Rivers four are the mainstays in this book, but they don’t get equal time. This time Rand and Egwene dominate the chapters. Mat and Perrin appear, but they are sort of side stories at this point even though they will meet up with Rand in the future.
Rand battles the Forsaken, in this case Semirhage and Graendel, albeit separately. That’s probably a good thing since both are formidable and have lots of power. The Seanchan are a major force to be reckoned with, and Tuon gets reunited with them and assumes leadership.
The last battle is drawing closer. The blight is spreading. Rand thinks everyone is trying to control him; it’s not everyone, but certainly some want to guide and direct him. Is he going insane? Is he still Rand, or has he become Lews Therin or some combination of the two? That question is raised but not resolved. Will the various factions finally get together for the final battle? Probably, but how will be told in the upcoming books.
I enjoyed this book now that some of the names and places and customs have become a bit more familiar; it was a good thing to have it on the plane for a few hours.
I also finished The Towers of Midnight, another biggie at 1218 pages. So I am finally nearing the end. Sanderson’s humor became evident to me in this book. The story moved forward. Mat and friends have a quest, and a character is revealed to have been living under another name, interesting. Perrin and the Whitecloaks meet up for some interesting times. Again, another character is revealed to be living under an assumed name. Things are unfolding. Also in the wolf dream a third character is revealed. There are lots of surprises in this book. The last battle looms; a couple of Forsaken are defeated; Rand seems more fully in control; the Borderlanders have a confrontation. Yes, threads of the story are getting tied together, nice, and only one more book to go.
I read a short series suggested by my sister, The Northern Lights series by Lisa Tawn Bergren.
Endearing, that’s the word that describes this series for me. The first book is titled The Captain’s Bride. All the folks start from Bergen in Norway but end up in various places in America or on the high seas. Peder and Karl are friends and have a dream of building a company together. However, both of them have affection for Elsa, and that causes some disruption as time goes on. Tora, Elsa’s sister, is a handful. She is willful and ambitious in a not so good way. Kaatje is a good friend and a solid person, but she has her own struggles.
While it is the author’s privilege, a couple of coincidences are a bit strained. People show up at just the right time in unexpected places. The scene in Japan comes to mind, but there are others. However, the story proceeds without explanation, so there is little need to question the circumstances.
The Christian perspective shows through in how people handle the issues God puts in their paths, and they do have some serious issues to deal with as the story progresses. It is a story of life in the new land, the opportunity to build and grow as a person. It is also a story of sailing and daring at times. There are action scenes such as rounding the Horn in a storm, and there are contemplative scenes where one of the characters is thinking or a couple of them are talking. It is a decently balanced book in that sense.
The second book is called Deep Harbor. The characters continue to develop, and some startling things happen. A west coast portion emerges with a base in the Seattle area as well as the yards in Camden, Maine. Connections are made with characters who have been separated for a time. The reunions are not always sweet. Once again the Christian character of the main proponents along with some of their struggles helps to make those people more plausible as real people. They are understandably human in their actions, and I think that helps the book.
Book #3 is titled The Midnight Sun. The Lord works in wondrous ways, and truth is stranger than fiction. Some of the coincidences in this book, however, stretch the imagination. I mean, how many people can end up in Juneau, Alaska of all places. While strained, they are still satisfying to the reader. Loose ends are tied up for the most part, and certain issues are resolved. All in all, the ending chapters close the books on a series of relationships. Sure, an astute reader has it figured out who will end up with whom, but the author handled it rather nicely I thought. A couple of near miss tragedies give a little excitement to the book. It was enjoyable for me and a good ending to the series. I liked the series; I liked the characters. The books can be purchased as a package on the kindle, which is what I did.
Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp combined to write Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. This is an important book. There are 15 chapters, each with a short title such as Mercy, Burdens, Hope, Time and Money, Talk, Obstacles, and so forth. I liked the way it was organized, a personal story, some theology, and practical outworkings which were used to rectify the situation or at least get things going in the right direction.
The thesis is that no one is perfect, so relationships with others will also be imperfect. That means friction and stress and so forth, but it is all a part of the sanctifying process, and Christians should welcome the issues as they come and attempt to see how God is working in their lives to make them better and their relationships better.
There were numerous statements that struck me as quotable. A few follow.
“While relationships are not inherently dangerous, the expectations we bring to them can be.” (P19)
“Our mistake is to think of mercy as deliverance from problems; in reality, it is the ability to persevere in the midst of those problems.” (P40)
“Struggles are not obstacles, but instruments in God’s hands.” (P51)
“All of us have allowed inconsequential actions and habits to get under our skin and argued for a personal preference as if it were a moral absolute.” (P55)
“No human being was ever meant to be the source of personal joy and contentment for someone else.” (P59)
“It’s inevitable; if you live with other sinners, you will have conflict.” (P79)
“We want mercy for ourselves because we want our lives to be comfortable, and we want justice for the other guy because we want our lives to be comfortable.” (P137)
You get the idea. It’s a good book and valuable to read and learn from. Buy it, read it and apply it.
Well, it’s the 500th year anniversary of the Reformation. Gustavas Adolphus: A Hero of the Reformation by C. A. LaCroix, seemed an obvious title to pick up an read.
This is a fine little book about a king who gave his life for the cause of the Protestant Reformation. The writer is very much in favor of Gustavus and his accomplishments, not that I have anything against that position, but you should know that is his position. Overall I think the book is fair, and it certainly points out what a good man G.A. was and how he figured in the 30 Years War.
I have a couple of reservations about the book. The language is somewhat archaic, and modern readers will struggle some with the length of sentences and the actual wording. Also, the book assumes the reader would know something of the history of Europe at the time and of the 30 Years War. Other than that, the content is very good, and it is organized in chronological fashion, so it flows along.
I think we often discount people who went before us. Gustavus was a bright and good man. He spoke eight languages by age 16, was a military genius, and a devout Christian. He disciplined his men well and fairly. Would that our generals would attend services on Sundays and have prayers and sing hymns with their men each morning and evening. He sacrificed personally for the cause of Christ by leaving his family at home and leading his soldiers on the field of battle. Ultimately, he gave his life.
While short, only 102 pages, the book is fairly comprehensive. It is not possible to contain a man’s life within a book, but reading it will give you a good picture of the man and his times. Parents and teachers, if you have a reluctant boy reader, hand him this book. It might capture his attention.
Colin Tabor wrote and is writing a series called The United States of Vinland. The first book is titled The Landing. Alternative history is fun and imaginative. The concept for this book and series interested me. Vikings landing and settling in North America and building a nation, which by definition would be quite different from the one we have today. So why do I rate it as just OK if the concept is promising?
First off was the position of the settlers of strict adherence to the old ways, worshiping the Norse gods, Odin, Thor, Freya, etc. They didn’t like the White Christ. The author doesn’t give us a time when the settlers arrived, but it was likely somewhere around 1000-1100 AD. By that time Greenland and Iceland would have developed enough to have some resources, and the lands would mostly have been taken; hence, some folks would be looking westward for land they could claim. Society by that time had become more rigid, and the influence of the church had become pretty strong. The question is whether or not there would have been enough traditionalists and adventurers to mount the expedition. But, it is alternative history, so I get it. The author is entitled to a little literary license.
Mr. Taber portrays the most of them as being pretty touchy and prideful. It would be hard to work for the common good in such a society. It is curious that with all the tradition and hideboundness of the people, the author has a couple of very strong willed women who take a form of leadership. That seems to be a contradiction to me. Nonetheless, the society they shape seems to work.
The characters are a bit flat with the possible exception of Seta, a Skraeling. Eskil doesn’t change at all; he is a thoughtful leader but a bit thin-skinned like the rest, and he listens to his wife. And so forth. There is a bit of a love story, one ruinous division, a fight with a wolf and then later other wolves, and the problem of how to get along with the natives. All in all it was an ok story. I might pick up one that’s generations down the pike just to see what sort of society the author has them develop.
The Race: Living Life on Track has three authors: Kyle Froman, Billy Maudlin, and Darrell Waltrip.
This book was down to earth and relates life on the race track to ministry. Each chapter begins with Darrell Waltrip writing a few pages and then either Kyle Froman or Billy Mauldin writes a section. Both of these two fellows are with Motor Racing Outreach, a group that ministers and evangelizes those in the motor racing sports. In this book, it is mostly NASCAR that is talked about.
The book is in three sections: preparing for mission, receiving your mission, and living on mission. Each chapter has the two sections mentioned above. A couple of chapters I liked were “Teams Win Races: Be in Community” and “Boots, Hats, Ties, and Chrome: Live with Style.”
This book is partly advice, partly Darrell’s reflections on the sport and his life, and partly a look at how MRO conducts ministry at the track. There are a number of stories all three men tell, and the stories are short but make a point.
One quote I really liked was, “Social justice without Jesus is welfare. There’s lunch but no hope.”
While I have a couple of disagreements with some of the theology expressed, I still liked the book. If you like NASCAR and love Jesus, you should enjoy this book.
Denise Doming has a series called Servant of the Crown Mystery. Currently there are three books; a fourth is planned. The first book is called Season of the Raven.
It’s a medieval whodunit in similar fashion to the Brother Caudfel series; I like it. The three books in the series are woven together, but it is obvious after reading the first one that all the ends will not be tied together until the last book is written. The first book solves one murder, but one of the murderers, although known in the mind of Faucon, is yet at large and not even charged of his crime.
Sir Faucon, called Pery by his family, is a landless knight home from serving in the Crusades. His appointment as Keeper of the Pleas gives him a little income and lots of responsibility, but it puts him in conflict with the local sheriff. He also gets a monk named Edmund as his helper, and Edmund is a bit of a puzzle himself. They are at odds immediately but begin to work together as the book progresses. Faucon learns about his position and the people under his jurisdiction. Edmund is his clerk and is keen on the letter of the law but sticks his nose in at awkward times and in awkward ways.
At least there is law, some written and some by tradition, that rules the shire, so the people have some protection. Faucon, with the help of others, picks up clues, makes observations, and mulls over various possibilities. He seems to act judiciously, but the reader is required to accept some of his intuition and conclusions without solid justification. Even so, what happens is reasonable as explained or revealed in the text.
The secondary characters are of some interest. They are representative of mostly common folks of the age. Some relationships are revealed over time that give the story credence and lend new evidence. In my opinion, if you like a decent mystery without the hype of modern techniques, you will find the book pleasurable to read. Be aware there is a fair amount of description to give the reader a strong impression of what life for folks of the day was like in 12th century England.
The second book is titled Season of the Fox and more of the same. Faucon and Edmund solve a mystery with Colin helping. There is lots of description, and the action moves along acceptably well. Once again much of the solution is in Faucon’s head with only a few clues thrown to the readers. The sheriff plays a hand, but Faucon finds a relative to help. There will be more to that story down the road.
I like the main characters, especially Faucon. The secondary characters are interesting as well. Edmund is still an odd mix of traits and talents; I wonder if his back story will ever come out. Colin shows up and offers good counsel, his earlier apothecary training being helpful. Faucon is a quick study; he picks up on details and thinks things through. The sheriff’s conflict with Faucon remains unresolved. The strange killings of maidens is also unresolved.
This story takes place in town. The crime takes place in a relatively well off home-shop combination, apparently common in those days. The murdered fellow was not particularly well liked, and the implicated murderer is a young man, who runs to sanctuary and plays little into the story except for one interview by Faucon. The family is full of secrets. It is a bit of a sordid tale. Book #2 is a nice follow-up to the first in the series, and the familiar characters add color to the story.
Lost Innocents is the third book’s title. The author did better this time in passing along clues as the mystery developed. There are a few red herrings and a bit of a surprise at the end when the murderer is finally exposed. The setting this time is a hamlet, a few rude houses grouped together. The people are poor and bound to the land. The local bailiff is a meanie; the female baker is a thief and a person not to be trifled with. The lady or owner of the property is distant and never appears. Wike, the hamlet, is very poor and will likely come to nothing in future, so there is a sense of dying in the little community.
A local who was banned by the bailiff has become a leper, and her daughter by rape, a pretty girl, is found dead. Faucon is called to investigate, so he and Edmund arrive as the girl is raised from the community well. Faucon checks her out and decides she did not drown; he perceives she was murdered by strangulation. The leper mother appears and drives the people away except for an old man who watches Faucon and the leper and Edmund interact.
The wrong person is initially blamed, but he flees into the woods. Suspicion then gravitates between the baker and the bailiff. A local church is involved, and the sheriff shows up, which imperils Faucon. The upshot is that the true murderer is revealed.
A side story involves a very young girl who disappears. It is the maiden killer again, but this time the girl is found alive. When will that maniac be caught, and who is it? We are no closer than at the beginning of the first book.
A character, Alf, from the first story appears and attaches himself to Faucon. The sheriff and Faucon are still at odds. That’s another issue yet to be resolved. A fourth book is in the offing; it is to be out sometime in 2018, and I will likely read it.
- My policy is to post this newsletter more or less 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 random plugs for my own stuff.
- Remember, if you have questions, I am only an email away at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am here to help, 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. I am pleased to know that my materials have helped many students and teachers/moms over the years.
- I am not sure if there will be a next issue of Smithy Notes. Lord willing, if it happens, it will likely appear next winter or even early spring.
For His kingdom,