Several eager customers have been asking, “Where are the InSight Words I ordered?”

Both the InSight Words and the Matrix Study Sheets are in production. When I announced them in August, I anticipated that they’d be in production September 15th. Since then, I’ve had delays I didn’t anticipate: problems with the color and design of the book cover; issues with the color and orientation of the instruction cards; a family wedding on my end, and a large order in line before me on the production end.

Besides designing the cards and the book and getting them into production, I also have to consider packaging, shipping, and handling. Once I have the products in my hands, I will have a big job processing and shipping orders all over the world. Now I’m gearing up for the Everyone Reading Illinois conference in Chicagoland next week, and I’m not even sure I’ll have the prototypes by then. This is my work and I do love it, but I do it alone, and as fast as I am able, and it doesn’t always happen the way I think it’s going to.

I deeply appreciate how much my colleagues and community look forward to receiving the products I’ve developed. I also deeply appreciate your patience with a self-employed, single mom in grad school. Both of these resources are enormously generative for study, and I’m proud of them. I can’t wait to get them out to you.

Thanks for investing in LEX.

Douglas Harper and I are pleased to announce the location of our fourth annual Etymology! conference. Appropriately dubbed WordStock IV, this highly-anticipated event will be hosted by Nueva School in Hillsborough. Doug and I are looking forward to spending time in northern California, and we especially relish the opportunity to study in the location where Pete Bowers is spending a year as a scholar-in-residence.

For the past three years, our Etymology! conferences have welcomed scholars from all over the world. Each year, we have a mixed audience of veteran word detectives and new recruits. We include an overview of the field of etymology, and then delve into specific examples in order to learn more about how the language evolves. Each year we choose a specific focus: Old Norse, Norman French, all the Latins . . .

The date is TBD, but we anticipate a late March or early April time frame. We hope you can join us!

New Leads

I’m so pleased to announce the coming availability of two new LEX products.

InSight Words Label The first is the long-awaited first volume of InSight Words, the first of several decks offering an inquiry-based understanding of words that most literacy instruction cannot explain. Commonly referred to as “sight words,” “red words,” “learned words,” “outlaw words,” “oddball words,” “rule-breakers” and other pointless names, these words are usually slated for memorization rather than investigation in most classrooms. The LEX InSight Words trust the intellect of new readers and are structured to reveal and reinforce the nature of the writing system scientifically, one InSight at a time.

Matrix Study Sheets Logo The second is a collection of Matrix Study Sheets made publicly available for the first time. Originally developed in 2013 for the private use of the Children’s Dyslexia Centers clinical staff, this invaluable resource is now available for anyone working to understand English orthography. Featuring 25 lexical word matrices, etymological information, and questions for further study, this softcover book includes both free and bound bases as well as both single and twin bases. Useful for personal study, lesson planning, or direct instruction — and half of the profits go to support to the Children’s Dyslexia Centers!

Both products are available for pre-order at a 10% discount through September 1st. Pre-orders help LEX offset production costs. Expected publication date for pre-orders placed through September 1st is September 15th. Place your order at https://squareup.com/market/linguist-educator-exchange and make sure you select the discounted option before it expires!

I’m not a huge fan of sales — it’s not why I got into this line of work. But developing and finding really good products to support word study around the world, well, that’s more my thing. The right <pro> + <duct> can lead us forward in our understanding, and I hope that’s what you’ll find in these new offerings.

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I’m looking forward to doing this at the end of July:

Gina Cooke Training Flier 2015

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Join us for this rich opportunity! Tell your teacher friends. We’re extending the early bird price.


I don’t usually reblog articles, and LEX wasn’t built as a sociolinguistic platform. Well, not in the realm of gender politics and language, anyhow.

But I’m reblogging this because it’s *language about language.* Debbie Cameron is a language scientist who does the nitty gritty work of peeling apart *what gets said* about language, and then looks at whether it reflects the evidence.

So often, it does not.

Originally posted on language: a feminist guide:

This week everyone’s been talking about an article in the Economist explaining how men’s use of language undermines their authority. According to the author, a senior manager at Microsoft, men have a bad habit of punctuating everything they say with sentence adverbs like ‘actually’, ‘obviously’, ‘seriously’ and ‘frankly’. This verbal tic makes them sound like pompous bullshitters, so that people switch off and stop listening to what they’re saying. If they want to be successful, this is something men need to address.

OK, people haven’t been talking about that article—mainly because I made it up. No one writes articles telling men how they’re damaging their career prospects by using the wrong words. With women, on the other hand, it’s a regular occurrence. This post was inspired by a case in point: a piece published last month in Business Insider, in which a former Google executive named Ellen Petry Leanse…

View original 2,244 more words

Scholars who take the Old English for Orthographers LEXinar take a critical look at what’s said about the historical origins of words. Many categorically false, totally ascientific claims have been made in print by language educators widely considered to be “experts.” It’s been going on for decades.

In the 1980s, Bob Calfee’s “Layers of the English Language” triangle listed a dozen words as having an “Anglo-Saxon” origin. Two of them are definitively not Ango-Saxon: cry is Latinate, and jump isn’t attested until the Modern English period. A third, grave, is a homograph. One of the pair (dig a grave) does have an Old English origin; the other (a grave illness) is Latinate. Certainly there were less ambiguous options available.

More recently (2004), Louisa Moats has claimed that tube is Anglo-Saxon (it’s French), that television is Latin (actually, the <tele> is Greek), that biodiversity is Greek (not quite — the diversity piece of the compound is Latin). Moats also indulges in a fantasy of Anglo-Saxon origins for amuse, engender, enable, and endure, all of which are of French origin in real life. Other words that Moats falsely associates with Anglo-Saxon across her work include crash, age, lilac, recess, cable, bugle, title, dabble, problem, commit, and adept, most of which were adopted from French. She also attributes gravity to Greek. Poor old French! It doesn’t even get a layer in the triangle.

Moats is unfortunately in good company. In a 2009 article in American Educator written with her reading science colleagues (Joshi, Treiman, and Carreker), more than half of the examples of Anglo-Saxon words and patterns they give are flat-out wrong, not including ambiguous examples like Calfee’s grave or the homographic found (past tense of find, to establish, and to pour molten metal — two of which are French). They mistake a Greek origin for ache (it’s actually Old English) and Anglo-Saxon origins for the following words: carpenter, farmer, grocer, butcher, passable, agreeable, punishable, catch, pouch, rich, age, saved, and plentiful, but they’re mostly adopted from French.

Le sigh.

All in all, this article alone boasts more than 40 etymological lies in 12 pages, and that’s just one piece of writing from these prolific authors. This is not an occasional error or a minor problem. It’s epidemic. It’s malpractice, and I’m not mean or nasty for calling it out. I’m right.

Now, I don’t know everything, and I don’t expect others to know everything. I make mistakes in my work, and when others point them out, I am grateful for the opportunity to deepen my own understanding. I’m not unreasonable. I don’t, for example, fault Moats and company for being unable to explain the spelling of words like us, thus, yes, if, his, much, which, such, or, all of which she refers to as “exceptions” to the final patterns <ss>, <ff>, and <tch>. These words aren’t really exceptions — there’s no such thing; rather, they’re function words, which take the smallest possible spelling (see in/inn, of/off, or/err). I don’t expect educators to have a good command of this yet, as it’s not necessarily terribly common knowledge, and not something a plain old dictionary will flag.

However, etymology — a word’s origin — is not a matter of guesswork or opinion. Any proper dictionary can tell us where words come from. We can look them up in the Online Etymology Dictionary on our phones for free, for crying out loud. People with Ph.D.s and secure jobs should be able to ask an intern or proofreader to look up all the examples in a dictionary if they don’t care to reap the incredibly rich, captivating understanding that word study brings for themselves. Either way, it is a professional and ethical imperative that these authors begin to ensure that the teachers and scholars reading the words they write will not continue to be systemically misinformed.

In addition to the rampant etymological underhandedness in print, teacher trainers and workshop speakers perpetuate the same careless claims in classrooms and conference rooms. I’ve heard countless examples myself, and colleagues who know better report them to me.

It kind of makes me mad. Like, mad angry and mad crazy.

Mistakes don’t make me mad. But willful, continual misinformation makes me mad. Irresponsible scholarship makes me mad. False claims of expertise make me mad. And, as faithful LEX readers will recall, experts meeting corrected information with denial and deflection make me really, really mad.

Well. Today I received the following email from a colleague:

“I was attending an Indiana IDA meeting yesterday in Indianapolis. In an adjacent room, [famous teacher trainer guy] was conducting his 1-day morphology training. I stuck my head in for about 10 minutes to hear him talking about how morphology builds vocabulary—OK so far.

BUT this was his example:

crazy is Anglo-Saxon

insane is Latin

lunatic is Greek

I just had to walk out.”

Now, this man is a well-known, well-traveled, well-respected trainer whose work I have found troubling before. He has a habit of telling teachers not to teach the schwa because it’s “too complicated.” Of course, this advice is problematic because the schwa is the most common phone in an English utterance, but what really fries me is the all-too-familiar “don’t worry your pretty little heads” tone of a man telling a roomful of female educators what’s too hard for them to understand. Yuck.

Now, as far as crazy/insane/lunatic go, of course, I find the choice of subject matter to be a little ironic, ’cause I do indeed think it’s a little crazy to make unsubstantiated claims about word origins while stressing how important word origins are to word study. As you might expect, our morphology “expert” only got one of his examples right: insane does actually have a Latin root. But crazy is built on a French loanword, and lunatic is derived from luna, the Latin word for moon.

Instead, if you really want to have a look at cross-linguistic synonyms pertaining to insanity, I’d submit the following:

Old English: moony

Latin: lunatic

Greek: selenomanic

See? That makes a lot more sense.


Old English: mad

Latin: insane

Greek: psychotic

I’d love to be able to include crazy, but its origin is a hard tail to pin on that tired, old layers-of-language donkey. It’s originally Germanic, but was adopted from French. And the French in question is Norman French, not Parisian French. This is true of so, so many words educators erroneously attribute to Anglo-Saxon: they’re short, common, everyday words, but they were Norman French contributions, not Anglo-Saxon. Some of them are Latinate; others are Germanic. After all, it was a really Germanic French that English was adopting words from in the late Middle ages.

Now, as I said, I’m not unreasonable. I get that understanding the nuances of language history and word histories requires study. After all, that’s what I do. I am sympathetic to the fact that most people don’t have the depth of etymological knowledge that I have. I get it. But that’s just the thing: you don’t have to have extensive knowledge of etymology in order to get it right, at least most of the time. You just have to look in a dictionary. Someone else has already done the study for you. It takes less than a minute or two to look up and read the entries for crazy, insane, and lunatic online.

Moreover, I’m not talking about generally held folk etymologies that get a foothold in the cultural rock wall; I’m talking about people who are widely regarded as “reading scientists,” people others rely upon for linguistic expertise and accurate information about language. Etymology as a field of study involves using established practices of comparative linguistics, based on the broader principle of the scientific method. The etymological guesswork across “reading science,” where every other example of an Anglo-Saxon word isn’t Anglo-Saxon, is pseudoscience, neither scientific nor a method.

Look, writing books and articles and speaking at conferences are activities that require research and preparation. I’m not a lunatic for pointing out that conference speakers, certified trainers, and respected, peer-reviewed authors be held to a higher standard when it comes to the empirical claims they make about words. Factual rigor is not an insane expectation for scholarly speaking and writing.

I’m not crazy.

I am, however, pretty mad about etymology.


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