Archive for December, 2018

Etymology Seven!

Douglas Harper and I began our joint work in 2013 with our first Etymology! conference in greater Philadelphia. That first weekend was an exhilarating and dynamic study of a modern linguistic understanding and the website that cultivates it, carried out on wooden benches in a Quaker meeting house at a Friends School. I remember Doug writing about it afterwards, and likening my analysis of written words to loading and locking a weapon.

The 2013 beginning was just that — a beginning, an introduction to this greater world of etymology for our growing community of orthographic scholars, plus whatever local Pennsylvania teachers were brave enough to join us. We covered the basics of the history of the English language, the basics of the website, and some hands-on study.

Every year since then, Doug and I have put our heads together to pinpoint a single theme for the weekend — we continue to cover the basics, but we focus our lens on a limited time frame or a specific language origin or a particular aspect of linguistic study. The past six years of community scholarship have looked like this:

2013: Etymology! The Science of Word Stories (Philadelphia)

2014: Etymology Two! Word Origins, Word Meaning, and Word Knowledge (Philadelphia)

2015: Etymology Three! The Dictionary, The Dynamics, and the Stories of Words (Chicago)

2016: Etymology Four! Words and Writing: The History and Prehistory of English (San Francisco)

2017: Etymology Five! Philology, Phonology, and the Phylogeny of Words (Chicago)

2018: Etymology Six! Middle English: From the Battle of Hastings to the Wife of Bath and Beyond (Portland, OR)

This year? Lucky Number Seven? It’s all about Spelling.

2019: Etymology Seven! The History of English Spelling: Letters and the Lexicon

We will take a close look at the history of English Spelling, including the who (from King Alfred to Noah Webster), the what (from the Old English alphabet to modern-day abbreviations), the when (from the Norman Invasion to the Great Vowel Shift), and how (from the Printing Press to the Digital Age). We will study the Dictionary to see how we can understand orthography better from its entries, including bold new graphic timelines that depict the evolution of a written word.

But words aren’t the only thing that evolves: so do communities. Over the years of our joint work, our shared audience has grown (Doug’s own audience is huge; I’m referring to the folks who work with the two of us together, by and large), and we have established a critical mass of participants who are not beginning, but continuing their serious study of Etymology and English Spelling. Each year to this point, we’ve begun our study with Etymology Basics, to introduce or review foundational concept and to ensure a common understanding among the audience members.

Last year, for the first time, it became apparent that our core group of scholars — the weirdos who follow us around the country and spend time studying with us and somehow still manage to like not only Doug, who is immeasurably likable, but also me — had really already internalized the basic understanding of etymology and the dictionary that we were offering for the first several hours of the conference. A couple of said weirdos prevailed upon us last year to please consider separating out the introductory material and offering opportunities for deeper study in 2019.

So that’s what we’re doing.

This year, Doug and I are offering a new, 3-day conference format, with attendance options for people new to this study (Etymology Basics), as well as options to continue pursuing a deeper understanding.

We are back in the Middle West at the Historic Dayton Masonic Center in Dayton (of course), Ohio. On Friday, April 26th, we will offer a five-hour Etymology Basics seminar for beginners and anyone who’d like a refresher on synchronic and diachronic etymology and the structure and flow of the Online Etymology Dictionary. On Saturday and Sunday, we will delve into this year’s specific theme and offer a 10-hour, 2-day seminar on the History of English Spelling. Beginners who have attended Friday’s session are welcome to stay through the weekend! Veteran etymologists — those who have attended past Etymology weekends and/or the Etymonline Online LEXinar, may join us for the weekend only, without attending Friday’s session. In sum, beginners have the option to attend Friday only, or the full 3-day conference. Veterans may also attend all three days, or they may skip Friday and come for only the Saturday-Sunday conference.

Based on evaluations from past seminars, we are streamlining the agenda for this year’s seminar. We will continue to provide lunch on-site, but each day ends by 3pm to allow for processing, local color, rest, and time to travel home. Continuing Education contact hours will also be offered, either 5 for Friday only, 10 for Saturday-Sunday, or 15 for the full 3-day weekend. Local hotel and transit options will also be made available to those who register.

I am currently offering an EarlyBird Special: Pay a refundable $100 deposit on or before December 31st, and lock in the following discounted rates to register later:

$200 : Friday Only     ~     $375 : Saturday & Sunday     ~     $450 : All Three Days

This pricing means that the full, 3-day conference is only $75 more than last year’s (and this year’s) 2-day conference, and that includes lunch! It also means that the price of the 2-day conference has not increased. In fact, this basic cost has decreased since our most costly conference in San Francisco 3 years ago. These rates are much, much lower than the 1, 2, or 3-day conferences by professional organizations where speakers routinely lie to you about your own language.

Sounds like a bargain.

These rates are subject to increase on or after January 31st by $50-75, depending on what pricing information comes in from caterers and the venue, but you can lock them in now  by making a refundable $100 deposit. (Terms and conditions apply.) There’s nothing to lose, and money to be saved. These EarlyBird registrations also really help me with planning the event, so if you know you want to go, please sign up with a deposit today.

I’m not yet sure whether I will be able to offer an online attendance option yet or not, but I will post more as I learn more. I *am* sure that this year’s conference will be of maximum benefit for those who have received their new LEX Grapheme Decks and are fascinated by the new etymological content, as it will be informing what I present.

The understanding is right here for the taking. Understand Etymology! Understand the Online Etymology Dictionary! And understand English Spelling better, for one, two, or three days in Dayton in April 2019.


190426 Etymology VII page 2



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I Can Help You Do Grammar!

One of the most misunderstood and misrepresented concepts in the study of PDE (Present-Day English) is verbal constructions, especially auxiliary verbs (“helping” verbs) and their roles. In English, one of the functions of auxiliary verbs is in the construction of interrogatives and negatives. If a declarative sentence has an auxiliary verb in its predicate, that auxiliary can be inverted wth the subject to form a closed interrogative (a yes-or-no question):
She can pick you up at seven.
Can she pick you up at seven?
That adorable baby has been sleeping well.
Has that adorable baby been sleeping well?
The Queen of England’s valet is coming over.
Is the Queen of England’s valet coming over?
The auxiliary also assists in negative constructions; the negator is placed between the first auxiliary and the following verb:
She will pick you up at seven.
She will not pick you up at seven.
That adorable baby has been sleeping well.
That adorable baby has not been sleeping well.
The Queen of England’s valet is coming over.
The Queen of England’s valet is not coming over.
When your declarative sentence has no auxiliary verb, then you need to add one for closed interrogative and negative constructions. But you don’t just add any old verb; you add some form of ‘do.’
She picks you up at seven.
Does she pick you up at seven?
She does not pick you up at seven.
That adorable baby slept well.
Did that adorable baby sleep well?
That adorable baby did not sleep well.
The Queen of England’s valet came over.
Did the Queen of England’s valet come over?
The Queen of England’s valet did not come over.
This auxiliary ‘do‘ is referred to in linguistics as Operator Do, Dummy Do, and Periphrastic Do. These interrogative and negative constructions — as well as other verbal constructions with auxiliaries — arose as Old English (c.500-1100 CE) evolved into Middle English (c.1100-1500 CE) — in fact, the Rise of Periphrastic Do is one of the hallmarks of Middle English grammatical development.
It. DOES. NOT. Have. Anything. To. Do. With. Celtic.
Begosh and begorrah.
See, this is the problem with just pulling graphics off the Internet when you have no real understanding to interrogate them. Some wack-job claims in a graphic on the Interwebs (which I refuse to share / perpetuate here in its entirety) that Celtic is responsible for Periphrastic Do in English (annotated):
Screen Shot 2018-12-16 at 10.22.53 AM

Oh No He Didn’t!

This is just patently false. Here are the facts, from This Language, a River: A History of English (Smith & Kim, 2018), a clear and concise and beautiful textbook by two of my teachers:
The use of do as an auxiliary verb may have its origins as early as the O[ld] E[nglish] period, but by M[iddle] E[nglish], the construction that becomes the present-day pattern emerges more clearly:

Whan Phebus doth his bryghte bemes sprede… (Troilus & Criseyde, 1.54)

See? Nothing to do with Celtic. The Celts who inhabited the British Isles before the Common Era — and for whom Britain and British and also Brittany in France were named — when the Germanic mercenaries arrived in the 5th century CE were conquered by the Romans, and then conquered by the Anglo-Saxons by and large. Conquered people don’t generally contribute syntactic constructions to the conquerors’ language. To wit:
The Anglo-Saxons did absorb some words from the [Celtic] Britons, place names like Thames or Kent, and words for geological features like torr (a high, rocky peak), a common element in place names like Torcross. But the borrowing was quite limited…. In some ways, these patterns of borrowing are not unlike the borrowing that occurred in the American colonies when speakers of English borrowed native names for places ike Waukegan from Native American languages. Patterns of borrowings such as these, being so largely tied to physicality (as opposed to more deeply cultural kinds of borrowing), being chiefly lexical (as opposed to grammatical), and numbering only about a dozen words in total, strongly suggest that Celtic-speaking peoples had little cultural influence among their conquerors.
~Smith & Kim
Features like the <-ing> participle, used in the progressive verbal construction (am running, was eating, will be studying…) — note, it’s a progressive aspect, not a *continuous *tense, the Periphrastic Do, and the loss of case/gender have NOTHING TO DO WITH CELTIC. It’s 100% Germanic. These are grammatical features, not lexical, and they did not really develop until the Middle English period, long after the conquered Celts were relegated to the far corners of the kingdom.

Here’s more from Smith & Kim, in their chapter on Middle English:

In the ME period we begin to witness the expansion of the verb phrase (e.g. the rise in frequency and types of periphrastic verb forms).
This has Nothing. To. Do. With. Celtic. At. All.
So the [Middle English] sound losses that we have been talking about obliterated a number of grammatical meanings…and weakened the entire system of case in the paradigm…
Noun classification according to grammatical gender becomes defunct.
Again, nothing t do with Celtic, for crying our loud.

How about this?

In OE the present participle (PDE: speaking) had the suffix -ende (e.g. sprecende [speaking]. In ME the familiar -ing replaces -ende in most dialects…. In OE and early ME, we find instances of the auxiliary verb be + the present participle both with -ende and -ing….

K. Aaron Smith is a real expert on the <-ing> form and the progressive construction, not some alternative medicine practitioner who only writes under a pseudonym. Isn’t it a shame when teachers don’t know how to differentiate between a reliable academic source and an Interwebs wingnut?

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A colleague recently informed me of his belief that I “the level of content knowledge [I] demand … in grammar instruction” is unreasonable and discouraging to would-be scholars. That’s an interesting reprimand to offer someone who teaches grammar classes to people who understand nothing about grammar — that I hold people to a high standard if they are going to claim to understand grammar.


You know, one of us has personal knowledge of what adults are capable of learning and understanding about English grammar, and one of us is only guessing.

It also strikes me as hypocritical that it’s somehow perfectly acceptable for people in this “scholar community” [sic] that I am so often lectured about to hold me to a very high standard of politeness and deference because it’s their opinion that I should be so held, and also acceptable that I am so often kicked out of Facebook groups, excoriated publicly, name-called, and harassed and threatened, because I don’t meet these totally subjective behavioral and personality-based standards.

See, the standards I want to hold people to are these: If someone is going to teach other people grammar — especially adults — that person should know how to tell the difference between a noun and an adjective. They should know the difference between form and function. They should understand that adverbs don’t always modify verbs. They should know how to interrogate Internet graphics that they want to share to make sure they’re accurate and from a reliable source. Likewise, if someone is going to try to teach people about the growth and structure of the English Language, they should actually have studied it, and they should have an understanding of how PDE grammatical forms developed historically so that they don’t fall for total rotten baloney like this bloody bloggy Celtic sausage-making and so they don’t continue to perpetuate these false understandings.

I am not mean or wrong to hold grammar teachers to such a standard. I’m not holding gas station attendants or certified public accountants or electrical engineers to a high grammar-knowledge standard. But people who make money teaching grammar? Absolutely. And for the love of God, that standard does not make me a bully. In fact, I regularly hear from people who appreciate it, because they can trust my integrity as a scholar and as a teacher.

This high expectation is not the same as people trying to hold me to some kind of standard of patience and politeness and tolerance of abject errors spread by “experts.” I do not owe politeness or patience to anyone who is lying to children and teachers, misrepresenting their expertise, or making excuses for the ignorance they are spreading. The thing is, this colleague doesn’t mind at all when I call out Louisa Moats or Malt Joshi or She Templeton on their spelling and grammar errors; it’s only when I call out someone he considers a friend.

That’s not scientific.

It also strikes me as interesting that a colleague — especially a male colleague — has no problem lecturing me about “offering time” to “deepen understanding” — but no one wants to offer me time to deepen my “patience” and “politeness,” even if I were interested in doing so. Of course it’s fine to take all the time you want to understand something, but maybe don’t try to teach a thing you have not yet had the time to come to understand. I’ve been learning, for example, about hypnosis in the treatment of sleep maintenance disorders, but that doesn’t make me a hypnotherapist, and I’m not offering online classes in hypnotherapy. It’s remarkable to me that some of my colleagues — male and female alike — have no problem expecting me to bear some politeness standard that is not even remotely empirical, and that lies outside of my area of expertise (I’m not a therapist or a sex worker; I don’t get paid to make people feel good), but the same people balk when I expect a teacher teaching other teachers to bear a knowledge standard in the subject area they are teaching.


Seriously, go wash that hog, because it stinks.

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This past week, I was celebrating a family member’s college graduation, and talking with my older brother. My brother’s educational background is in physics and business, and he is a muckety-muck in water management in the southwestern U.S. (He also happens to be an amateur linguist who has a Greek tattoo and a Russian license plate and translate hymns from Old Church Slavonic.) Over lunch, he described to my mother and me a regional meeting he recently attended. Needless to say, water management is contentious, and at times, he said, he has to tell stakeholders, “Let’s not pretend like there are simple solutions here.” I seized upon that let’s not pretend.

“When you tell people ‘Let’s to pretend,’ do they call you mean?” I asked him.

“No. I’m not the mean one,” he said.

“Interesting,” I said, “because in my field, when I say things like ‘Let’s not pretend like you actually know what a phoneme is’ or ‘Let’s not pretend like that never happens in phonics instruction,’ people complain and call me mean.

“That’s because you say it in a mean way,” he teased. Har-de-har-har. What that really means is that I am guilty of facts while female.

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I’m starting a new round of Grammar for Grown-Ups — a class informed by my studies with Dr. Smith — a class that has radically changed and is continuing to change the understanding of grammar in this “scholarly community” — in March of 2019. It will be scheduled according to the needs of the first 10 people registered. Lock in your price now with a deposit before the New Year; prices are subject to change.

This class does not require any pre-requisites or prior grammatical knowledge; in fact, the more you think you know now, the more you’ll have to unlearn over the course of the year.

Do you want to understand English grammar? Does that sound good to you?

don’t doubt it.

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An Explosive Understanding

I grew up in a very fruity family.

One set of maternal great-grandparents (Morris and Ann) met through their fathers (Solomon, a.k.a. Max or Meyer, and Sam), both Polish Jews who had emigrated to the U.S. in the late 19th century. Meyer and Sam were both produce salesmen in California; later, Morris and his brother Pete ran Smith Brothers Produce, a small stand in California. I’m not positive what happened to Smith Brothers, but I think it was one of the small produce operations bought out by eventually giant produce wholesaler Levy-Zentner & Company.

Later still, my maternal grandpa, Ted — son-in-law to Morris and Ann — worked for Levy-Zentner. My mom and my aunt remember their father’s relationships with central Californian farmers and their families, including an Italian immigrant family whose daughter’s wedding they attended as young adults. I mostly remember my grandpa being retired, but I always knew he worked in produce; as a kid, I remember my large family receiving large cardboard crates of fruit from my him: grapefruits and mangos and California pears.  As a young adult, reading William Saroyan and John Steinbeck’s California fictions made me imagine what things might’ve been like in my grandfather’s life as a young husband and father, whom he may have encountered. I wish I had known enough to ask him when he was alive, but I lacked that foresight. For years, I schlepped stacks of yellowish ledger paper marked with their red rooster logo from one home to another around the country. I still have a few sheets, but most of it left my current premises at the urging of my office organizer.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 11.06.26 AM.png

On my dad’s side, my uncle Tony was the son of one of Delaware, Ohio’s Dinovo Brothers produce wholesalers. An uncle by marriage, he was the third generation of Dinovo Brothers, the produce business having been started by his grandfather, Sam, in 1913. My Uncle Tony sold the business in the 1980s, and then ran a place called Cranberry Resort.

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 1.11.43 PM

See? Fruity.

Fruit is the thing I pretty much always feel like eating, and there really aren’t any fruits that I don’t like.

But my favorite? Pomegranates, hands down. They’re really only good for a couple months in the late fall / early winter. They taste better out west because they don’t have to travel quite so far. I remember visiting some of the old Spanish Missions in southern California whose gardens boast pomegranate trees full of unharvested fruit. I really wanted to take some of them home, but I didn’t. Some say that the pomegranate was the fruit of the Tree of Life in the mythical Garden of Eden, rather than the proverbial apple.

For those couple of months, I peel and eat the seeds of one or two pomegranates pretty much every day.

Both the Latinate pome (French pomme) and the Germanic apple have more general historical denotation of ‘fruit’ than their present-day specifics as Granny Smith or Fuji or Red Delicious apples. To wit: pomme de terre (that’s French for ‘potato,’ literally ‘apple of the earth’) and pineapple. A pomegranate is etymologically a grainy (or seedy) apple/fruit, because of its tight matrix of juicy seeds (or grains).

Screen Shot 2018-12-11 at 1.13.22 PM.png

A grenade is so named because of its resemblance to a pomegranate; indeed, in Modern French, the same word is used for both the explosive and the fruit. Classic grenadine is made from pomegranate juice, and the Spanish city of Granada (and its namesake Grenada) is likely named for the red fruit. The icy Italian dessert granita is named for its snowcone-like grains of flavored ice. And the granite countertops in my kitchen have a slightly grainy appearance, as any granite.

I guess you could say that my love of fruit, like my love of words, is set in stone.

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My shippers are having a baby! Since they are already wonderful parents of a wonderful family, this is the best kind of news.

Their Christmas package arrives December 14th, and I plan to give them some time and space to family without worrying about shipments.

The last set of shipments for 2018 will go out on Friday, December 7th. Any subsequent orders received in 2018 will not ship until shipments resume on January 4th.

While LEXinar costs are holding steady, prices on study materials are subject to change after January 1st, so make your plans and place your year-end orders now.

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