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Well I’m running late.

Been running late all week. I was suppose to end the Etymology V Earlybird Discount price yesterday (2/25), and I neglected to do so. So I’m extending it instead, to the end of the month, Tuesday, 2/28. After that point, deposits already made are non-refutable, and only the full-price registration will be available.

However! I also do plan, after careful consideration, to have a Zoom-In option, live only, no actives. For folks overseas or unable to travel, I will have assistants in the room, at the event, manning the Zoom camera and addressing Zoom issues so that Doug and I can do our thing. Th online option will come at a slight discount, since I will not be charging for catering, room fees, or site insurance.

The live attendance fee structure will remain in place for two more days, an then it’s full-price. The single online price will be made available that same day. Registration is still in my online store or via P.O.

Gotta go — running late.

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The Measure of a Man

Recent conversations with my colleagues involved the words percent (‘for every 100’) and cubit (the length of the ‘lying down’ part of the arm when bent; the forearm). I got to thinking about the words we use to talk about measuring things. The lexicon of physical measurement includes some very bodily words: think about that cubit, or a foot, or marking a horse’s height in hands (four-inch units). There is an ell, now equal to 45 inches, but historically variable and denoting some measure of an arm’s length, like a cubit; that <ell> is unsurprisingly a free allomorph of the <el> in elbow and cousin to ulna, a Latin word used not only as the name of the bone, but also of a Roman unit of measurement. It is also the name of the letter that looks like a bent arm.

Of course, this way of making meaning is not unique to English. In German, pi mal daumen, or ‘pi times thumb,’ is a term for approximating a measurement. The French word pouce means both ‘inch’ and ‘thumb.’ I recall learning this while living in Paris, and I marveled, because my dad had once told me that if you don’t have a ruler, using your thumb from the first knuckle to the tip is a good estimate. While it’s not an exact measurement across human incarnation, it anchored deep in my belly, as a kid, what an inch is. Made it internal and recognizable, fathomable. It allowed me to embody and own my understanding of an inch, gave me an inch to stand on.

Sometime after college I first heard the apocrypha suggesting a link between a rule of thumb and domestic violence. While there’s no evidence for that link, it’s been in our collective consciousness since at least the 18th century, and that (false) consciousness is anchored by a rich and surprising set of semantic links between sizing things up and body parts.

Sizing things up by body parts. We do that in So. Many. Ways. Tall men are judged as good and honest; women’s shapes are…evaluated. Literally. An outsized public figure with tiny hands boasts and speculates about other anatomical measurements. Look, don’t make me spell it all out for you. Body parts are measures as much as they are measured.

Anyhow. As I was researching and writing this post, I noticed something about the terminology of measurement, especially the modern metric system, that is built out of classical roots: it has sharp edges and joints and movable parts.

per + cent
mill(e) + i + liter
kilo + gram
met(e)r(e) + ic

This agglutination is common for words of modern scientific origin in general, plucked from classical words in parts or as wholes. This is something Douglas Harper and I have been talking about lately in our joint work (pun intended, I guess, now that I’ve noticed it), but I’m confident that he’s been thinking about it a lot longer than I have. In fact, the sharp-edges trope is his. He has a gift for linguistic metaphor.

The terminology of the English measurement system, on the other hand, is full of Old English and Old French shards whose edges and hinges have been worried smooth or corroded over time. Both inch (OE ynce) and ounce (OF unce or once), for example, are Latinate words that made their way into English within a couple hundred years of each other. Their shared root is the Latin uncia, a unit of measurement that was one-twelfth of a larger quantity, like a Roman pound (libra) or an Anglo-Saxon foot. Uncial is a savant word adopted from Late Latin and first attested in Modern English; it is now most commonly used to refer to the style of Medieval chancery script from which our majuscule letters are derived. Inch and ounce and uncial are members of a huge word family that includes the Germanic one and once and the Latinate unit and unique, and their many cognates and derivations. I think of people counting on their fingers starting with the thumb for “one,” though I could never prove any connection there.

Anyone who has studied real script will appreciate that the measurements and proportions of writing bear a direct and compelling relationship with the hand.

The hand, like the foot, has survived as both a body parts and a unit of measurement, now equaling four and twelve inches respectively. Feet are still part of our everyday dimensional discourse, of course. While hands as a measure only useful for those sizing a horse, connections to hands and the arms they come with are embedded in our ways of measuring things. Both a bushel (now eight gallons of dry goods) and a dram (now 1/8 fluid ounce) are words that once denoted a ‘handful.’  Fathom is both a noun, a measure of depth equivalent to about six feet, and a verb, to understand, to imagine; they are the same word, historically denoting a human armspan, and/or an embrace.

What’s more embodying than an embrace? The <brace> also surfaces in <bracelet>; it’s from the Latin word for ‘arm.’ It’s the very opposite of keeping someone, or something, at arm’s length.

The span in armspan (or wingspan, for the aspirational among us) was used in Anglo-Saxon England as a measurement of about 9 inches, marked by the span between the tips of one’s extended thumb and pinky finger. That word, span, can denote a distance or the thing that bridges it: the Old English verbal root could mean to “join, link, clasp, fasten, bind, connect; stretch,” as Doug puts it. But its relatives really bring more balance to our understanding:

~spangle: think of a glint of something metallic, like a clasp or gold link
~spin, spindle, spider: think of a weight on the end of a string (the span), spinning
~ponderous, preponderance, ponder (to ‘weigh’ something)
~pendant, pendulum, expend, pensive (‘hanging’ or ‘weighing’ something)
~pound: a unit of weight measurement, abbreviated as <lb.>*
~the <poids> in avoirdupoids, a French loanword meaning ‘having weight’
~poise: composure, equilibrium, balance

*A pound is now 16 ounces in the avoirdupoids system, but 12 ounces still in a troy weight pound. While a pound is not a body part, its etymological connections to the physicality of weights and scales, hanging and spinning, spanning a balance, stretching taut a string or a balance, are evident. The mental image I can’t escape is a pockmarked metal weight my brother and I found at the local park when we were kids, on the end of a fishing line. We played with that thing forever. I think we were 8 and 13, two analytical tinkerers, stretching and spinning, hanging and weighing that heavy spangle on its string all summer long. I can still feel its weight in my hand.

*While pound has a lot of Latinate relatives, the word itself is Germanic. The <lb.> that we use to abbreviate it, however, is all Latin, an abbreviation for libra, the Latin word for a balance, for scales, or for a full measure of weight (a pound). A libra pondo is a ‘pound weight’ or a ‘pound weighed.’  After Proto-Italic, the trail goes cold, but moving forward, this Italic word family grew in some meaningful and revealing ways. A pound sterling in French is a livre; the Italian and Turkish lira were units of currency (all money traces back somewhere in history to physical, corporeal goods). And a liter is a Hellenic word, a unit of measurement named for a Sicilian coin, a litra. A pound.

But there’s more bang for your linguistic buck. There’s Libra, of course the zodiac sign whose symbol is the balance. And there’s the bound <lib(e)r> base denoting ‘to weigh,’ as in equilibrium and deliberate. Go ahead, take it for a spin.

How’s your brain?

Anyhow, as I was researching and writing this thread, I located something of editorial note in the Online Etymology Dictionary, and I sent Doug a message about it. He’s the one who pointed me to bushel and to dram, whose cousin is drachma, another unit of currency. He confirmed that the use of the thumb as roughly an inch is attested back to about 1500. He suggested span. I said I had already been down that rabbit hole. He had asked me if I’d already looked at ell (I had); he told me, as only he can, to “give em ell.”

I continued researching, and dove into yard, as in yardstick, which derives from a Germanic root denoting ‘rod, staff, measure.’ An overly-optimistic Shakespeare used this yard euphemistically. Ahem, body parts again. This yard has nautical echoes still present in a yard-arm and in its influence over the spellings of the unrelated halyard and lanyard.  I always unconsciously thought of this yard as the same thing as the other yard, as in backyard. It’s not.

That yard, ‘an enclosure,’ is related to garden, jardin, kindergarten, Kirkegaard (‘churchyard’), gird, girth, garth, orchard, horticulture, cohort, and the <grad> in Leningrad, but not to the yard in yardstick. This discovery led me down a new garden path upon which I explored a couple other homographic (but unrelated) elements in this whole measurey arena:

~<pound>: (1) pound weight~ponder; (2) dog pound~pond (also an ‘enclosure’); (3) pound to bits (no known relatives); and (4) the bound base in expound, propound, and compound (related to expose, proponent, and composite). In this last family, this <d> is excrescent, or “unetymological,” in the Dictionary. Hmm…I wonder how that happened?

~<lib(e)r>: (1) deliberate, equilibrium, weigh~ponder; (2) liberate, liberty, liberate, to free (also in deliver); and (3) library, libretto, and delibrate. Not deliberate, but delibrate, which means to peel the bark off a tree. This last family denotes ‘skin, peel, or rind’ and is related to leaf.

How have these historically distinct elements weighed on each other, and what considerations have hung in the etymological balance? Doug has said that words have gravity (‘weight’) and pull each other into their orbits. I messaged him again. Yard,” I wrote. “I had no idea that yard and yard were unrelated.” Doug said, “there’s a collection of words for (sort of) ‘enclosed space’ that seem to lead to something the ancients saw that we can’t understand anymore.” I had seen that also, maybe, in the impound~pound~pond family.

That’s when he sent me to fathom. To embrace. “Neat, huh?” he asked. “And thus the nautical measure of the width of the arms. There were no ‘machines’ on board an English sailing ship until the 19th century. Everything at sea was in human terms. The body is the immediate reference for everything before you introduce the poison of technology.

I recognized a familiar perspective in his words, and I said so. “You are channeling Old Grouch. Or he is channeling you. But he talks about this same phenomenon in terms of the written word, human script, the chancery arts. The hand is the measure of script. There’s a great deal of meaningful proprioception to one’s hand, properly trained or intuited. Both ‘manuscript’ (print) and ‘cursive’ were invented for machines, and that’s what we cram down kids’ throats in schools, if they’re even lucky enough to get some cursive,” I explained. “A legible hand has a sense of measurement and proportion to it. This whole thing is blowing my mind.”

I went from dram to gram, which is, of course, related to diagram and grammar and graph, ‘to write.’ A gram as a unit of measure derives from a special use of the Greco-Latin word gramma, a special use of the the word meaning ‘letter’ to denote a unit of weight.

This post brings together so many conversations over the past several days. Not only the math and measurements of percent and cubit; not only checking in and dialoguing with Doug as I wrote. But a much broader conversation that I return to again and again in my studies: a conversation about ancient connections between physicality, goods, measurements, math, money, and writing. As I studied measuring, I kept coming up against the body, marking, marking on the body and with the body. I’ve been thinking and writing too about the word body since it showed up on a student’s <y>-to-<i> spelling list lately. Why does it only have one <d>? I can’t find any evidence of substructures in <body>, so there’s no doubling as in knobby or dropping an <e> as in copy, but why not *<boddy>, as in <toddy> or <lobby>? Because. An element’s spelling has to wok for every member of its family. A doubled consonant is the mark of a lexical spelling and it doesn’t follow a schwa. The base <body> has to work for every member of the family, including the pronouns anybody, everybody, somebody and nobody. So *<boddy> wouldn’t measure up.

I also kept coming back around to writing, to script, to the hand. To the hand that writes, the human hand that scratches out and wears smooth the written word over time. I thought again of a span, of the joints in words and the joints in hands. I remembered another recent conversation with a colleague about the word ancient with its excrescent <t>: lacking an <ent> suffix and with a base that surfaces nowhere else, it is unanalyzable in present-day English. Its joints and spans have weathered, ossified, but we can still see the structure of the word that was. Here’s what I wrote to that colleague:

“It’s kind of like a fossil: it’s all fused together now but you can still see where its bones once articulated at the joints.” Bones. Joints. Checking the joins. Structures and histories. Maybe I’m catching on to this etymetaphor thing Doug does so effortlessly.

There’s “lots of bad, bogus etymology to hack through in those sorts of words,” Doug had warned me in our dialogue. “But man is the measure of all things. Or human. Why I prefer Fahrenheit to centigrade. It’s human.” That was already the working title of this post when he wrote that. I already had script and da Vinci’s Vetruvian man in my mind. I know that writing makes physical what is not, what is in the human mind. Our grammar, our hand. And then Doug re-minded me about the humanity embodied in our writing, in our words, in how we size up our shared understanding. We discover our humanity in the written word. I’m pretty sure the Old Grouch has led me to ponder that before.

I have got to get those two men within arm’s distance of each other. I can hardly fathom the conversations that might result.

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Every year, Doug Harper and I put our heads together to figure out what we’re going to study for and with the folks who show up to our annual Etymology! weekend, and this year is no different.

Thanks to some recent questions about phonesthemes, assimilation, and to the constant, steady drip-drip-drip of Phombie sheeple who keep bleating praise to their gods of phalse phonology (really — it’s been a crazy few weeks), this year we’re taking a look at pronunciation, sound, phonology, and phonetics, over time.

Read the Registration Flyer. Look up the word phylogeny. Or just go and register now. And then look up phylogeny.

Hope to see you in March!

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Wait — Is This REAL?

The reaction to my claims about nonsense words being, you know, nonsense, has been ongoing and wide — including four continents, pro-phonics people and anti-phonics people (I am neither), accolades and insults. I have heard about what people feel and believe and even think, but I have not seen any actual evidence to falsify my assertions. I’ve had my name dragged through the mud on Facebook, had people call me mean (uh-gain), and had my credentials maligned because a mom in Australia can’t find me on Google Scholar.

It has been incredibly stressful.

So I was really looking forward to my study session tonight with a 2nd grader I call Cupcake. We almost didn’t make it, because scheduling stinks. But she came tonight at the end of a long and busy day, even with a bad cold, eager to look at word sums and matrices and the stories of silent letters. I haven’t even told her yet that making a matrix in a circle isn’t a “game.”

Her mom had texted me a picture of her spelling list this week: words with <wr> and <kn> and <gn> — some of my favorites! Phonics says those digraphs have “silent letters” (which is not helpful) and rarely offers much more of an explanation; I told Cupcake we were going to study not only how these spelling words were spelled, but also why they’re spelled that way.

She chose <sign> off her list to study first. Of course she did! I have met many a true scholar whose journey started with a question about the <g> in <sign>. We talked about traffic signs and traffic signals, did a word sum for <signal>, and then we talked about signatures and the significance of whatever it is that signs and signals can signify. We talked about how the <g> in <sign> is a zero, but the <g> in <gnat> is just part of a <gn> digraph (a distinction no phonics phan ever understood, but this 2nd grader did). We saved the <kn> stories for last, but my favorite part of the lesson came while we were studying <wr>.


Edit: I realized after I posted and shared this photo that the title should be TRUE, not REAL: look in the upper right corner. But that doesn’t change the story at all.

While we looked at the <wr> words on her spelling list (including writing, even though she hasn’t learned about replacing a final <e> in school), I explained that bases with an initial <wr> pertain to twisting or turning. We picked a word from her list, <wrist>. I asked her what it means. She said, “It’s like an ankle, only it’s on your arm.” I thought that was a perfect definition. I asked her to show me how her wrist moves, and we compared it to her elbow. One twists; the other doesn’t. We talked about the word <wrong> and how when your sock is on wrong, it’s twisted, and how when you write, there are some twists and turns and you use your wrist.

As we thought of examples, Cupcake looked at me with a grin-crinkled nose and interrupted delightedly: “Wait—” she asked me, “is this stuff REAL?”

I thought this was a fantastic question, and I said so just as soon as I got done cracking up. I understood exactly what she meant. “Yes,” I said. “it’s real. I am not making this up.” I pulled out the <wr> card, the <kn> card, and the <gn> card out of my LEX Grapheme Deck and we began to look at them. “This is not a magic trick or some silly thing I invented,” I said. “It’s the real story and structure of the language.” I pointed to the Four Questions. She and her mom were so smiley and so amazed. Poor Cupcake had a runny nose and was yawning, but she stuck with me, because she was getting something real and she knew it.

Sense and meaning are the whole point of language, and written language is no exception. There is no need for nonsense. It’s not controversial or fruitless to study real things. It’s not even hard.

It’s all in the wrist.

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Develop, not Envelop

OK, Phombies, let’s consider phonics from the perspective of professional development. Phonics requires participants to memorize arbitrary sets of made-up things, like these:

~phonograms, which may be single graphemes, clusters, markers, syllables, parts of syllables affixes, rimes, or combinations thereof.

~syllable types, which are an unspecified mix of spoken and written patterns. Are there 6? 7? 8? I’ve heard it all.

~syllable division patterns, which are noncontrovserially artificial. Are there 4 patterns? 5? 6? 8? Where do you divide royal? How about roil? Or father? Is it fa.ther or fath.er? How do you know? What’s the evidence? If you divide de.ter.min.a.tion or ques.tion, you are totally missing everything about those words.

~phonemes for a grapheme, which may or may not actually be phonemes (like grouping <a> in with ‘short u’) or graphemes (like *<eigh> or *<ti>)

~copious, endless lies about etymology (I’ve documented this widely — go look — cry is not Anglo-Saxon and television is not Latin. The Romans HAD no televisions and they were so jealous of the Greeks about that).

~”guided questioning” which teachers are supposed to be able to pull out of their mental hat, and which are based on the rest of the false understanding: “what type of syllable is it?” “what is the vowel sound in a closed syllable?” “How many phonograms are there in nation?” “What spells */shun/?” Infinite questions, finite discoveries.

~red words or whatever you call this abomination. Words are not red or tricky or demons unless human beings make them that way. That is a fact. Give me any word you think is an exception and I will make your brain grow.

~symbols for pronunciation, which differ from one program to another, beyond the short and long vowels. If you represent medial consonant in ‘father’ as */th/, then how do you represent the medial consonant in ‘panther’ (also */th/?) or in ‘hothouse’ (also /th/?). Some programs use /TH/ or they underline it or bold it or whatever — as I said, not consistent.

Phonics makes you good at . . . phonics. It may improve your literacy performance, but it won’t make you good at other things.

And then there’s real language study, in which you get to gather the following things, organized in an elegant framework with finite set of scientific tools to understand and infinite discoveries to make:

~morphemes, which may be free (bases) or bound (bases, affixes)

~graphemes, which are actually visible and have been researched, analyzed, and published in my LEX deck, which my “peers” are welcome to “review” at any time. Graphemes reveal and pinpoint the messiness of the phonemes that are in our heads, about whose pronunciation phonics people are arguing ad nauseum. (How do you pronounce <wh>? Or the <a> in bang or bank? Is <ar> spelling one phoneme or two?)

~syllable types: there are only two: closed, which have a consonant coda, and open, which have no coda. We also get to understand that the nucleus of a syllable is not always a vowel, and under what circumstances. Linguists don’t disagree about this, at all.

~IPA: a comprehensive, real-world symbol system that works not only for English, but for any language, and that is used not only by linguists, but by lexicographers (proper dictionaries), musicians, speech pathologists, dialect coaches, actors, singers, computer programmers, communications researchers, university professors, language teachers and students, translators and interpreters, and more.

~word sums: these work the same way for any word, including checking the joins for suffixing patterns, and they are an established tool in linguistic science.

~matrices: infinite possibilities, finite guidelines, scientific tool.

~questions: Four. The same four, always. Nothing arbitary. Finite questions, infinite discoveries.

~attested roots and reconstructed roots: etymology is a linguistic science, not a triangle with false examples.

~explanations, not exceptions.

~InSights, not sight words

~Tools to form, test, and falsify hypotheses based on physical evidence

I am not interested in developing phonics professionals. I’m interested in developing professionals. Actually, I’m just interested in developing people and being developed by them.

If you want to cheerlead for phonics here, please do so with evidence, not with citations about some article you read or what some government is doing with its schools.

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For the last couple of days, I’ve been running into a lot of online phonics apologia about the use of nonwords, nonsense words, pseudowords, word-attack words, phonemic decoding items, and/or so-called “detached syllables,” in instruction, intervention, and assessment. For starters, the fact that these things have so many different names should cue us in that they are not an actual thing, not a scientific thing, anyhow (just like so-called “sight words”). They are not an actual category, if for no other reason than that many of the examples I’ve encountered over the years are actually real words in use in English, like cam, pate, lander, din, rayed, oft, knap, sedge, bi, [P]og, ta, lat, lum, barchan, and a lot more. Some people collect stamps; I collect linguistic scat from literacy educators and I study it.

People like to argue that nonwords are an effective means of teaching or assessing a student’s knowledge of what they call “grapheme-phoneme correspondences,” or GPC. But every single one of these nonword materials and studies misapprehends both a G and a P, as evidenced by such fabricated baloney as the “quadgraphs” [sic] like *<ough> and *<eigh>, and by the failure to even consider the difference between phones and phonemes. The fact of the matter in our writing system is that no G has a C to a P outside of an M, and M stands for morpheme. Once you remove phonemes and graphemes from a meaningful context, they’re no longer phonemes or graphemes.

To a resource, they all erroneously assume phonological primacy; that is, they remove orthographic phonology from its meaningful context because they wrongly assume that it’s primary to the meaningful constraints and influences of morphology and etymology. That very practice effectively means it’s no longer phonology, because phonology — including phonemes and the graphemes that spell them — is distinctive for meaning and it’s language-specific; nonwords are neither. It is noncontroversial that English orthographic phonology is delimited and constrained by meaning, structure, and history, regardless of how that fact makes people feel.

More than one person has suggested that nonwords were the only way to “break” a student of the habit of guessing at words, often in isolation. Well, you can break an overeating habit by taking up smoking, too, and you can kick a heroin habit by taking up methodone, but that doesn’t mean that the new habits have no harmful consequences. I’d rather focus my scholarship on what I can build than on what I can break.

I’ve also heard from a number of people working with “older” children who are called “treatment resisters” or “treatment fatigued” — kids who spend YEARS in Barton or Wilson and never get past so-called closed and open syllables [sic]. They may begin to “read” better (depending on what you think “read” means), but they continue to spell and write years behind their eulexic peers, largely spelling everything based on the way they pronounce it, because that’s exactly what they’ve been taught to do. I’ve heard from teachers and parents of children who read years ahead of their peers too, kindergarteners who read 3rd grade chapter books with ease, but have no idea how to spell or how to “decode” unfamiliar words, so they’re subjected to nonword drills in order to “measure” their “knowledge” of “alphabetics” or of GPCs.


So here is my analysis of all of the nonwords featured on a publicly available assessment called The Nonword Reading Test. The test instructions say “Either a regular or an irregular pronunciation is acceptable,” but no definition of “regular” or “irregular” is offered beyond that for <soser>, “soaser” would be “regular and rhyming with “loser” would be irregular.

First of all, there is NO ENGLISH WORD spelled with the sequence <oaser>, or even with an <oase> to which we could add an <er>. So how on God’s Grapheme Earth is that “regular”? Moreover, they do NOT specify how the <oa> or the medial <s> in “soaser” would be pronounced. Is the <oa> pronounced as in boat or as in broad or as in oasis? Is the <s> pronounced as in wiser, eraser, or pleasure? And how is the child or the teacher supposed to know or understand that?

You know why <loser> is spelled with an <o>? Because <looser> is a different word, and <lose> is cognate to <loss> and <lost>. What’s “irregular” about that? Just because teachers and researchers and psychometricians are generally ignorant to that breathtaking fact makes it no less a breathtaking fact. Context matters to so-called GPCs. Otherwise they’re neither Gs nor Ps, and any Cs you think are there are not real.


While we’re talking about <soser>, we may as well take a closer look at, um, <closer>: in“this street is closer than that street, the medial consonant is [s]. In he’s the best sales closer of the month” it’s a [z] — those two examples have two different suffixes that happen to spelled and pronounced the same, but don’t share a meaning! The ONLY way you know how to pronounce that word is if you know what it means. And that’s not even considering the pronunciation of the <s> in <closure>.

My analysis provides incontrovertible evidence against the motivating characteristics of all nonword resources: That dusty old crooked Assumption of Phonological Primacy.

The CrAPP.

Here’s the list from this test, along with English words I provide that share (some of) the same sequences of letters. If it feels like some kind of shameful hell for you to read through these, just imagine you’re a 12-year-old dyslexic with an IQ of 138. Or really, anyone.

One Syllable
1. plood: food, good, blood

2. aund: auberge, auto, Auschwitz — and <aunt> can rhyme with pant [ænt], haunt [ɔnt], or font [ɑnt], depending on your dialect.

3. wolt: colt, but also wolf, wolverine, woman, word, work, worm

4. jint: pint, lint — in many dialects lint and lent rhyme.

5. hign: sign, malign, benign, but signal, malignant; also hour, honor, and herb.

6. pove: shove, move, stove

7. wamp: ramp, swamp, swam

8. cread: bread, bead — for crying out loud, <read> is both [riːd] and [rɛd] — and how about create, or triad?

9. slove: glove, stove, prove — haven’t we been here before?

10. fongue: tongue, fondue, wrong, humongous, segue

11. nowl: bowl, fowl, snow, now, lowly, bowlegged

12. swad: swan, swam, swamp (is there an echo in here?)

13. chove: choir, cholera, chop, chef, and see pove and slove

14. duede: suede, due, clued, cued, swede, educate

15. sworf: sword, swollen, sworn, swore, word, work

16. jase: base, phase — vase, for crying out even louder, can be [veɪs], [veɪz], or [vɑz]

17. freath: breath, wreath, great, smooth

18: warg: war, warm, forward, wary, argue (there is no English word that ends in <arg> — if it’s a detached syllable, then what about larger?)

19. choiy: the graphemes <oi> and <y> are never, ever in sequence. Even <iy> is tightly constrained: that sequence is either across a morpheme boundary (as in multiyear) or in a non-English word, like teriyaki or aliyah. Consider joy and soy and bok choy.

Two Syllable (so much for that ‘detached syllable’ rationale)
1. louble: double, rouble, boucle, tousle, loud

2. hausage: sausage, usage, garage, stage, courageous, also hour and honor and herb again.

3. soser: loser, poser

4. pettuce: lettuce, induce; petty has a double <t>; petting has a doubled <t>; flattop has neither.

5. kolice: police, policy (some people say POlice), malice, preslice. And why does this have a <k> before an <o>?

6. skeady: steady, beady, skean

7. dever: clever, fever — hell, lever can be both [‘lɛvɚ] and [liːvɚ]!

8. biter: This is not a nonword. It’s a word: “My new puppy is a biter.” Nonetheless, if it were, say, <piter> instead, notice writer, whiter (note the different <er> suffixes), liter, arbiter

9. islank: island, mislay, Islam, mankiller, and anyhow, vowel pronunciation is often disputed before [ŋ], but the orthographic phonology is revealed by the graphemes.

10. polonel: colonel, colony, colon, polish, police, Polish — what in the hell can *polonel tell you about anything at all? Someone please make it stop.

11. narine: This is actually a word; it means “pertaining to the nostrils” or the same as “narial.” Criminy, is your google broken? But also, marine, margarine, alkaline, urine, line, incline…

12. kiscuit: biscuit, intuit, circuit, circuitous, recruit, and how about Jesuit? The Jesuits have always valued knowledge and evidence.

Why 19 monosyllables? Why 12 disyllables? Why 31 total? Only the <shade + ow> <know + s>.

This “test” features the following rough distribution of graphemes, depending, for example, on whether the <s> in <islank> and the <g> in <hign> are supposed to be graphemes or markers, or on whether the <<ui> in <kiscuit> is one grapheme (bruise) or two (intuit). Those are just a few examples of the ascientific foolishness embedded in here that makes a real scientific analysis challenging:

b (3)
c (4, including both [k] and [s])
d (5)
f (3)
g (2-3, [g] and [ʤ] and [∅])
h (0-2, initial only, which could be French markers)
j (2, initial only)
k (4, including the unconventional *kolice)
l (9-10, including *polonel. Honestly.)
m (1)
n (9)
p (4, initial only)
r (2, initial only)
s (8-9, most of which have multiple possible pronunciations)
t (5, including <tt>)
v (4, of which 3 are in an <ove> rime)
w (3-4, initial or following <s>)
ch (1, initial only)
th (1, final only)
gue (1, or maybe it’s a <g> followed by a <ue>, as in argue, or a <g> followed by a <u> and an <e>, as in segue. Who knows?)
That’s 17 of 20 single-letter consonant graphemes (x, y, and z didn’t rank), two digraphs (out of more than two dozen), and whatever the heck <gue> is supposed to be. Why are <n> and <l> — which have a single phonemic association — as important as <s>, or more important than <c> or <ch>, which all have multiple pronunciations?
I so want to cuss right now. FFS: the middle F stands for Fonics, though.
a     (4-5)
e     (3)
i      (8)
o     (8-9, including whatever the hell is up with *polonel)
u     (0-2, depending on whether the <u> in *duede or in *fongue is a grapheme or not)
y     (2)
ar   (2)
or   (1)
er   (3)
au   (2)
ea   (3)
oi    (1)
oo   (1)
ou   (1)
ow   (1)
ue    (0-1)
ui    (0-1)
Final non-syllabic <e> (10, of which 3 are in an <ove> rime)
This includes 5 or all 6 of the single-letter vowel graphemes, but <i> and <o> are featured 2-3 times as much as <a> and <e>. It also includes three of many rhotic vowel spellings (why <or> but not <oar>, <ore>, <oor>, or <our>, which can all spell [ɔɹ]?) It also includes 6-8 vowel digraphs (out of around 30) and zero vowel trigraphs (we have two). This doesn’t even include half of the orthography’s vowel graphemes, the vast majority of which are digraphs. You know why <feat> has an <ea> and <feet> has a <ee>? I can give you at least two good reasons for each word. And they make total sense.

How is this nonword GPC inventory in any way representative of any kind of coherent “knowledge” about graphemes, phonemes, or their alleged correspondences? It’s just not. Whoever slapped it together — as with every single nonword resource I’ve ever seen, used, or recently investigated — has no idea that <w> can mark the phonology of a subsequent <a> or <o>, or that an <ove> rime has multiple possible pronunciations. I can think of at least three good reasons why <move> is spelled with an <o>; nonwords can’t think of a single one.

As my good and wise friend and colleague says, if a child writes *<dun> instead of <done>, you have all the information you need that he already owns the CrAPP concept of GPCs, and that it’s already doing its damage.

Can anyone offer any explanation that makes this kind of nonsense anything other than a sadistic but nonlethal method of collecting meaningless data about meaningless “knowledge” about meaningless “patterns”? I welcome any and all nonsense word measures. I guarantee you I can find you massive problems with any one of them.
Ighm aul ierse. Doar’z oapon.

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I’m Ready for my Closeup

I’ve had the immense pleasure recently of working with two different second graders. One’s journey I’ve been documenting in a Facebook group (complete with pictures and narratives about our sessions); I call her Cupcake, because that’s the word she wanted to investigate with me first. The other, whom I call River, I just began with after working with other family members for the past couple of years.

River lives a little ways away from me, so she and I met online. Her mom prepared the physical materials for our session from files I emailed her, and I prepared the electronic version so River and I could work together.

I had met River only once in the past, and that was brief. Our first session together was yesterday, and our second, today. Yesterday, we established some basics: a base element (<heal>), its immediate family — the relatives built on <heal>, and its more distant family — the relatives that share a root but not a base.

I gave her a lot of words. I read some. She read some. If she hadn’t heard of a word, I made a decision — I either told her what it meant and used it in a sentence, or I put it aside. She identified those that had an <heal> and added them to the square that will become our matrix. Words River thought might be related went in or near the circle. Words deemed unlikely to be related went in the lower right. Over the course of our 45 minutes or so, River read several words and gave examples of those words in sentences. We discussed bases, suffixes, digraphs, pronunciation, word relatives (and people relatives).

Here’s how our screen looked at the end of our first session:





Today, we picked up where we left off, and I was smart enough to record some of our time together to share with curious folks, thanks to River’s mom.

We’ll continue with this study next week, and I’ll update this post then.

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