Inspired by my InSight Words, a friend and colleague asked me to give a webinar about so-called ‘sight’ words for the Upper Midwest Branch of the IDA, on February 23rd. Register online even if you can’t make it live, because you’ll get a notice linking you to the archived version to watch at your leisure. There are 500 spots available; nearly 200 have been taken in the first day of registration, so don’t delay. You know you want to.

If you don’t yet have the first volume of my InSight Words, you might want to consider amending that situation. The second volume is still in production, and this still available at a discount. I’m late, as per usual, because taxes and work and research and laundry. Everything always takes longer than you think it will.

Maybe that’s the best InSight I’ll offer you, but I don’t think so. Join me on February 23rd to find out.

Several days ago, a friend’s Facebook comment got me to thinking about the word pink. I like pink. And pink things. Probably to a pinkfault. I still daydream about a pink-rhinestone-covered stapler a former colleague had. I have pink pillow shams, lots of pink clothes, pinkish boots, a pink flashlight, and a pink lampshade. I can’t resist snapping photos of pink sunrises and sunsets from my hilltop home. I need a new pink purse because I’ve worn out the last one. I even made the instruction cards in my first InSight Words deck pink.

So the word was stuck in my head for a few days, which means it had to be investigated if I had any hope of accomplishing anything else. It turns out there are no fewer than seven different base elements spelled <pink> in English:

  1. The color pink  is named for the flower.
  2. The flower (Dianthus) may be named for its ‘pinked’ edges (perforated or punctured) — think pinking shears. Or it may be named for pink eyes — not conjunctivitis, mind you, but an early Modern English phrase on loan from the Dutch pinck oogen, ‘small eyes,’ — referring to the flowers’ appearance reminiscent of small, half-closed eyes. The pink in these pink eyes doesn’t historically refer to the color, but to size.dianthus
  3. The first hypothesis for the flower’s name, it’s ‘pinked’ edges, is its own etymological wild goose chase. Found today mostly in reference to sewing or design, this <pink> may be related to Germanic words like peck, pick, and/or pike, or to Latinate words like puncture, poignant, pungent, punch, and pugnacious.
  4. The second hypothesis for the flower’s name, pink [‘small’] eyes, works well as a translation of the French synonym oeillet, a ‘little eye.’ The Dutch word pink has a historical denotation of ‘small,’ and is used to refer to the pinkie (or pinky) finger, whence the English name for the littlest manual digit.
  5. The ‘small’ sense also shows up in the name of a pink, a fast, nimble little watercraft common in the  Atlantic ocean during the 17th and 18th centuries. The Spanish pinque and Italian pinco also reflect this Dutch derivation.
  6. Some folks say an engine knocks and pings; others, mostly Brits, say it pinks.
  7. There’s also a dated term pink that refers to a kind of lake (lacquer) pigment, but it’s yellowish and of uncertain origin. Go figure.

The pronunciation of pink is worth paying attention to: #6 is onomatopoeic, and #3 belongs to either one or another family of words that also kind of sound like what they mean: pike, pick, and peck, or puncture, punch, and repugnant (literally, something that ‘punches back.’) The word pink has a nice ring to it. It’s sharp and tingly and saying it makes you smile a little.

Pink has a straightforward orthographic phonology, too: it has four graphemes <p i n k> and four phonemes /p ɪ n k/. The phonetic realization of those four phonemes, however, sends a lot of folks into quite a tizzy. The /n/ is realized as a velar [ŋ] because of its coarticulation with the velar /k/ — the same thing happens in words like distinct or banquet, but few phonics programs address [ŋ] beyond monosyllables. The /ɪ/ is nasalized, and often raised by the velar coarticulation too, so it ends up feeling more like an [ĩ] — a long, nasal eeeee. That’s the part that makes you smile.

Traditional phonocentric approaches teach this and other velar nasal patterns as whole rimes (ink, ank, onk, unk) and giving them made-up names like “welded sounds” or “nasal blends,” rather than taking an accurate look-see at the orthographic phonology. Instead of studying the phonology of <n> — which can be realized as [ŋ] before a velar consonant — these approaches add to the cognitive load for each child by piling eight new patterns (including ing, ang, ong, ung) into the mix, and often not clearly identifying them as rimes and not as graphemes or as that phonics horror of horrors, “blends.” This is largely because phonics is so stuck in its misapprehension of the phoneme that it can’t deal with the difference between the /n/ phoneme and the [ŋ] allophone. [I’m happy to consider an argument that there is a /ŋ/ phoneme, but it has to present an accurate understanding of the difference between a phoneme and an allophone.] Another phonics problem I’ve observed time and again is the failure to differentiate between an <ing> rime and an <ing> suffix. This distinction is a non-negotiable understanding in orthographic study: the same sequence of letters doesn’t always bear the same identity or the same function. It depends on which word they’re surfacing in.

My spelling teacher (who happens to be French) always says that there are no coincidences. As I was working on this pink-inspired piece, I spoke with a colleague who told me about a 3rd grader she works with who has a very hard time with the inks anks onks and unks of her Wilson Reading System instruction. The child reads words with these rimes just fine in connected text, but not in isolation. I bet you a dollar that she’s trying to “sound them out” and is trying to string [p ɪ n k] together, for example, but can’t make sense of it without a meaningful framework. My question — my colleague’s question too, which is why she contacted me — is What in the heck is the goal of “reading” words in isolation if she can read them fine in text?

I can’t answer that in any way that I can argue has the child’s best interest, her engagement with language, or her lifelong development as a literate soul, at heart. The bloom is off the phonocentric rose.

The phonology only has structure in a meaningful framework, which word lists really never provide. The ways in which <pink> makes meaning are interwoven with each other and with our history.  According to Oxford, the use of pinkie for ‘little finger’ was reinforced by the color sense (#1), but of course, that only works well for pasty Celts and Anglo-Saxons, not across the English-speaking world. The association between the flower, color, and flesh is also reflected in the word rose (think rosy cheeks), but especially in the name of one kind of dianthus, the carnation. In late Middle and early Modern English, the Latinate words carnation and incarnation were used to mean ‘the color of flesh,’ anything from ‘blush-color’ to ‘blood-color.’

Again, this whole pink-flesh connection only really works, at least on the surface, if you’re a white person. Oxford points out that not all carnations are pink, so of course not all dianthus are pink. Likewise, not all flesh is pink. I’d say Duh, English, but the French did it first.

I’ve also learned from my spelling teacher that the study of the writing system necessarily and organically brings about the possible study of so much more. What does it mean, in a world where we argue about whose lives matter, that the historical association of pinkness with human skin is captured in our written language? How would today’s third-grader respond to the information that my childhood Crayola box had a pinkish crayon labeled “Flesh,” but hers does not? What might a study of words like white and black reveal to us? I’m not interested in this because I had some social studies agenda in mind when I started studying pink; rather, these questions are where the study of pink led me. Just in time for Martin Luther King Day and everything.

I wrote that. Then I saw this:
skin ffs

There are no coincidences. That’s not some kind of mystical statement; it’s an observation. There are no coincidences; there are the connections that we conceive of, the stories that we tell, and the meaning we make.

Tickles me pink.

Registration is now open for Etymology Four!
Register online  or  Download the complete flyer here.
Save 10% if you register on or before December 31, 2015.
Contact me for group registration discounts.

Single Page 160402 Etymology Four




Great news.

My InSight Words and Matrix Study Sheets are going to ship, and they’re only two months late.

As several of you know, these products were in development earlier this fall, and I sent everything off for printing on September 15th, as planned. However, I ran into massive formatting and design problems, had to learn a new software, and had to re-format both files more than once.

I’m not a graphic designer, and I don’t even play one on teevee. I have no secretary, no intern, no IT guy, and definitely no art department. I grossly underestimated the amount of production work these resources would be, and it’s set everything else behinder than usual. I do apologize for the delays, and your continued patience as I manage and organize shipments will be appreciated.

As people have politely inquired about the status of their orders, I have been blown away by the kind patience and understanding I have encountered as I explained the delays. Moreover, I’ve been moved by the gratitude people have expressed for my work, and their eagerness to get their hands on it.

Many thanks, and I can’t wait to get this stuff into your hands!

160402 Save the Date

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 the San Francisco Friends School. Doug and I are looking forward to spending time in northern California, and we especially relish the opportunity to study in the metro 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!


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