Five ideas for Family Literacy Day

Did you know that Wednesday January 27 is Family Literacy Day in Canada? From the Web site:

Family Literacy Day takes place every year on January 27. ABC CANADA Literacy Foundation and Honda Canada created the day in 1999 to encourage families to read and learn together. […] Literacy is more than books. There are many ways to strengthen your literacy skills – all it takes is practicing for 15 minutes every day. Reading, writing, playing a game, following a recipe or even singing a song all help prepare children for challenges ahead and sharpen skills for adults.

Now, I’m guessing that I’m preaching to the choir when I tell you that literacy is one of the most important tools you can give your children, but I’m always looking for new tips and ideas for turning learning into a fun family activity.

Here’s five ideas for inspiring literacy in your family every day:

  1. Encourage your kids to tell stories. When you’re waiting in line, or in the car, or otherwise find yourself with time on your hands, create a story together based on something around you. See that man with the bright yellow t-shirt? What do you think he had for breakfast this morning? Why is he wearing that yellow shirt? Is his favourite colour yellow? Do you think he wears yellow every single day, one day wearing yellow pants and one day wearing yellow underwear? Why? You can get really silly with this, but it’s great fun and my kids love it.
  2. Did you know there’s a Sesame Street podcast? You know I love Sesame Street, and you know I’m fixated on my iPod. What could be better than the Word on the Street podcast from the creators of Sesame Street?!
  3. Sing it! I mentioned the other day how astonished I am that Lucas, not yet two, knows the melody if not all the words to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, and he’s been calling out the last word of each line to You are my Sunshine for months now. This year’s official theme for Family Literacy Day is “Sing for Literacy” and ABC Canada has provided access to free karaoke videos online.
  4. Wear your words. This is a neat idea for older kids from ABC Canada’s family literacy tips pdf: write a story or a poem on an old pair of jeans. Love this idea!
  5. Make yer own books. Tristan was about three when I helped him make his first book, made of pictures cut out of a Thomas the Tank Engine catalogue. He made his own first comic book around age five. All you need is a single letter-sized page cut into quarters and stapled along one edge and voilà: instant 8-page mini-book ready for words or scribbles or stickers or whatever your child can think of. If you like, get fancy and use a hole-punch and ribbon or yard to bind the side. The only problem with these is that the kids make them by the pile and I never have the heart to throw them out!

Care to share? Add your thoughts for making literacy fun in the comment section!

Words: Banished and Best of 2009

It’s a great week for content here at the Mothership. Earlier in the week, we had a righteous (but, as always, entirely civil) debate about parenting, and today we have some word geekery. All we need is a cute kid anecdote and we’ve hit the “my favourite things” trifecta!!

I’ve blogged about Lake Superior State University’s Banished Words list each year from 2006 through 2008, so of course I had to bring you the 2009 list. Rather than list them for you, I just cut-and-paste LSSU’s press release. The bolded terms are, of course, the banished words.

Word czars at Lake Superior State University unfriended 15 words and phrases and declared them shovel-ready for inclusion on the university’s 35th annual List of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.

“The list this year is a teachable moment conducted free of tweets,” said a Word Banishment spokesman who was chillaxin for the holidays. “In these economic times, purging our language of toxic assets is a stimulus effort that’s too big to fail.”

Former LSSU Public Relations Director Bill Rabe and friends created “word banishment” in 1975 at a New Year’s Eve party and released the first list on New Year’s Day. Since then, LSSU has received tens of thousands of nominations for the list, which includes words and phrases from marketing, media, education, technology and more.

Other terms nominated for banishment included sexting, App, transparency and bromance.

One can’t help but notice the congruence of “Tweet” being on one group’s Banished Words list while being named the Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society.

Other nominees for ADS’s 2009 Word of the Year were:

-er A suffix used in such words as birther, someone who questions whether Obama was born in the United States; deather, someone who believes the government has death panels in its healthcare reform plan; Tenther, someone who believes the Federal government is mostly illegal because it usurps rights which belong to the States, in violation of the 10th Amendment; and truther, someone who doubts the official account of the 9/11 attacks.
fail A noun or interjection describing something egregiously unsuccessful. Usually used as an interjection: “FAIL!”
H1N1 The virus that causes swine flu.
public option A government-run healthcare insurance program, desired by some to be part of the country’s healthcare reform.
Dracula sneeze Covering one’s mouth with the crook of one’s elbow when sneezing, seen as similar to popular portrayals of the vampire Dracula, in which he hides the lower half of his face with a cape.

And of course, since we changed not only years but decades this past New Years Eve, we have a Year of the Decade list from the American Dialect Society, too. The winner, quite rightly IMHO, is google. Note the small “g” – it’s google the verb, as in to search the Internet, and not Google the company. Also-rans in the Word of the Decade contest were: blog, 9-11, green, text, war on terror and Wi-Fi.

(In the ADS press release, they have a list of prior winners. In January 2000, the Word of the Decade was web, the Word of the Twentieth Century was jazz and the Word of the Millennium was she.)

I always find the banished words more fun than the favourited ones (oh look, there’s another term that didn’t exist 10 years ago: favourite as a verb) and not only because the ADS’s list is a little too, um, Americanized for my taste. Frankly, I hadn’t even heard of some of the terms they nominated.

So speak up, bloggy peeps. What words or phrases would you banish if you could and why? Or, take the other road and tell me what you think the most influential word of the decade should be. (Personally, I’d ban the words “why” and “no” exclusively because my toddler has worn my nerves to stubble by using them as a torture device.)

Worthy words and banished words

Okay, so retro is cool, right? And retro is basically recycling old stuff and making it new again, often by those who missed it the first time around, right? Grand, so I’m totally retro in finally remembering on St Patty’s Day that I forgot to put up my annual posts in January about the word of the year and the banished word of the year. I’m so kewl it hurts.

Right then. Word of the year for 2008 from our friends at the American Dialect Society is “bailout”. Excellent choice, IMHO.

In its 19th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted “bailout” as the word of the year. In the specific sense used most frequently in 2008, bailout refers to the rescue by the government of companies on the brink of failure, including large players in the banking industry.

The winner was selected by popular vote, following nominations from the public. Subcategories include Most Useful (Barack Obama)(!), Most Unnecessary (moofing), Most Euphemistic (scooping technician), Most and Least Likely to Succeed (shovel-ready and PUMA, respectively), and Most Creative:

WINNER: recombobulation area: An area at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee in which passengers that have just passed through security screening can get their clothes and belongings back in order.

long photo: A video of 90 seconds or less. Used by the photo-sharing web site Flickr.

skadoosh: A nonsense interjection popularized by Jack Black in the movie Kung Fu Panda.

rofflenui: A blended New Zealand English-Maori word that means “rolling on the floor laughing a lot.”

Ironically — or perhaps not so much — “bailout” was also on the list of words nominated for banishment by Lake Superior State University’s “34th annual List of Words to Be Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.”

Bailout was defeated, however, and the banishment crown went to “the ubiquitous ‘Green’ and all of its variables, such as ‘going green,’ ‘building green,’ ‘greening,’ ‘green technology,’ ‘green solutions’ and more.”

Not a bad choice, even if I do support the movement in principle. What should really be banished is the use of “green” as a marketing term. THAT would make me happy!

If I were to banish any one word from the English language, it would be “utilize.” I can’t tell you how much it makes me cringe to see this word “utilized” when good old “used” would do just fine. Maybe that’s because it’s usually “utilized” by officious users who never pass over a five dollar word when a nickel word would do, and by people who think turning any prose from active to passive voice is a stroke of creative genius. ( /rant)

What say ye, bloggy peeps? What words or phrases would you banish, should you suddenly find yourself King or Queen of the Language?

(And, can I just add one more quick coda to say how proud — and, honestly, a little surprised — I was yesterday when Tristan correctly used the subjunctive tense in the phrase “if I were allowed to” as opposed to “if I was allowed to”. Yay for internalizing obscure grammar rules!!!)

Apostrophe catastrophe

We’ve defended the disappearing hyphen and debated the lowly comma, but it’s been a bloody good long time since we’ve had a dust-up as much fun as the one-space or two after a period debacle.

Thanks to Kerry, though, we can now turn our attentions to the latest incidence of grammar-phobes running amok. From the Globe and Mail :

The city council of Birmingham, England, has decided to eliminate apostrophes from its street signs. Apostrophes are of course normally quite common in British place names, in constructions such as St. Paul’s Square and Acock’s Green. Apparently Birmingham has been quietly removing them from official signs since 1950, and now it faces a non-standardized mishmash of usage across the city. Citizens have often protested against the changing of historical names. After a recent dispute about punctuation in the name of the suburb of King’s Heath – now Kings Heath – the council decided to put an end to the bickering forever, and introduce a simple rule: no apostrophes anywhere. Now, even the Birmingham Children’s Hospital is the Birmingham Childrens Hospital, dashing the ambitions of that city’s schoolteachers to ever hope to teach children how to write.

Further, “In the British press, the pro-apostrophists accuse Birmingham of Philistinism and degrading the English language, while the antis accuse the grammarians of pedantry and uptightness.”

Now, much as I like a good pedantry-versus-Philistinism cage match, I’ll admit that I’m not as frothed about this debate as I have been over some of our earlier language debates. The apostrophe vexes me at the best of times. Just here in the neighbourhood, for example, we have Smiths Falls and Bells Corners with nary an apostrophe to be found. I usually find myself siding with the traditionalists in any language debate, but I find this one particularly hard to defend.

What do you think? Shall we rally the troops to join the Apostrophe Protection Society, or is the simple existence of the Apostrophe Protection Society yet another sign of the pending apocalypse?

In defense of grammar geeks

Courtesy of Kerry, #99 in the ongoing series of Things White People Like: Grammar.

Sheesh, can you believe there are people in the world who get frothed over the use of the comma? Or punctuation? Or the last letter of the alphabet? What kind of geek delights in discovering grammatical errors the same way kids love to find Easter Eggs?

*whistles tunelessly while looking obliquely to the left*


(P.S. If you click through to read the article, be sure to scan the comments. The original post is funny, but seeing how many people completely miss the satire and argue the rules of grammar — correctly and incorrectly — is priceless.)

I thought for sure I’d be the dash — or, the ellipses…

Filched from Toddled Dredge, deep in my unexamined Bloglines account:

You Are a Comma

You are open minded and extremely optimistic.
You enjoy almost all facets of life. You can find the good in almost anything.

You keep yourself busy with tons of friends, activities, and interests.
You find it hard to turn down an opportunity, even if you are pressed for time.

Your friends find you fascinating, charming, and easy to talk to.
(But with so many competing interests, you friends do feel like you hardly have time for them.)

You excel in: Inspiring people

You get along best with: The Question Mark

A good pun is its own reword

I’m a sucker for a quirky guy with a guitar and bad hair, and bad puns. A friend sent me these and I couldn’t help but share. Not only are they punny, but they’re quite clever… I had to read a couple of them more than once to find the pun. Or maybe that’s just a comment on the state of my brain these days!

  • A man’s home is his castle, in a manor of speaking.
  • Shotgun wedding: A case of wife or death.
  • A man needs a mistress just to break the monogamy.
  • Dancing cheek-to-cheek is really a form of floor play.
  • Sea captains don’t like crew cuts
  • Condoms should be used on every conceivable occasion.
  • In democracy your vote counts. In feudalism your count votes.
  • With her marriage, she got a new name and a dress.
  • He often broke into song because he couldn’t find the key.
  • Every calendar’s days are numbered.
  • A boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.
  • A plateau is a high form of flattery
  • .

You’re welcome!

Calling all grammar geeks!

Growing up with a surname that ended in the letter “s”, it was drilled into me from an early age that one does not add the superfluous “s” after the apostrophe to indicate possession in this situation. Now, it seems common usage prefers the additional “s” after the apostrophe: i.e. Lucas’s breakfast.

Discuss: the correct way to use a possessive apostrophe with a singular proper noun ending in the letter “s” is to use only the apostrophe. i.e. Lucas’ breakfast.

Massive slaughter of innocent hyphens

Fryman, one of my favourite sources for unsolicted blog fodder, sent me an article from the Globe and Mail detailing the mass genocide of 16,000 innocent hypens in the latest edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Formerly hyphenated words will either become new compound words (pigeonhole, waterborne and chickpea) or separated into two distinct words (test tube, water bed and hobby horse.)

In many of these cases, the Oxford was merely catching up with usage: Waterborne, for example, is probably used by the majority of newspapers anyway. (But as if to prove how arbitrary this all is, the old Oxford Dictionary for Writers and Editors has long given waterbed as one word. Aren’t these books published by the same company?)

Of course, the Shorter Oxford retained some hyphenated phrases to avoid ambiguity: They will permit the phrase “twenty-odd,” meaning “approximately twenty,” because to say “twenty odd people” has a somewhat different meaning. Copy editors love to give examples of the ways in which missing hyphens can cause confusion; perhaps the best-known example is “used car salesman,” which can be read in two ways unless you make a hyphenated compound out of “used-car.” The phrase “50 year old kittens” will also need a hyphen somewhere if it is to make any sense.

According to the UK Telegraph (I will stop at nothing to provide you with high-quality research), Shorter Oxford editor Angus Stevenson said the hyphen has fallen victim to our inherent laziness and unwillingness to stretch out our pinkies and reach for that hyphen key in our electronic communication.

It’s been a while since I railed against the injustices of an evolving language. My latest rant on the subject was outrage at the reduction of two spaces to one after a period (link is to the old blog because your comments are actually more entertaining than the original post!) And, for what it’s worth, a year later I am still firm on this one. A period gets TWO thumb-thwacks on the space bar, not one.

I am much less perturbed about a reduction in the use of the gentle hyphen, however. (I also have more moderate views on the use of the serial comma.) As far back as the first edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary in 1911, there has been confusion about the role of the hyphen:

We have also to admit that after trying hard at an early stage to arrive at some principle that should teach us when to separate, when to hyphen, and when to unite the parts of compound words, we had to abandon the attempt as hopeless, and welter in the prevailing chaos.

I’m guilty of having at least a working knowledge of the accepted practices of hyphenation – and ignoring them for convenience’s sake. When I’m feeling persnickity, I’l go back and edit them in after the fact, most notably when talking about my three-year-old. But some days, it’s just easier to talk about my five year old, ya know?

The one place I use the hyphen rather compulsively, intentionally and against what seems to be growing convention, is in the term “e-mail.” Email just doesn’t look right to me – you need to stretch out the eeee sound with that hyphen.

What say ye, oh wise and learned bloggy peeps? Do you have even the faintest idea of how to properly use a hyphen – and do you care?