I often give a shout-out to the self-employed.
But today I want to give a shout out to the employees of the Children’s Dyslexia Centers, past and present, the directors and tutors and office staffers who have worked with me for nearly 20 years. Many have moved on — some got treated poorly first — and many are still there, still training and tutoring and rescuing kids and families, all free of charge or at a very low cost. Still hosting walkathons and spaghetti dinners and raffles to raise the funds to keep serving.
On my first trip to study spelling in France in 2009, I was accompanied by 8 Dyslexia Center colleagues. When I first encountered the orthographic truth, it was with and because of two people: Marcia Henry, one of my CDC trainers, and another dear friend also trained through the CDC, whom I’d known since 2000 or 2001. Screen Shot 2018-05-02 at 10.05.33 AMThose are the people who introduced me to Peter Bowers, and who introduced Peter Bowers to the CDC and the IDA. Of the 16 of us who traveled to France last year, half were trained by and/or worked for at least one Children’s Dyslexia Center. Eight of my orders in the past two weeks have been from people with CDC ties. At any given time, any one of my LEXinars is likely to have CDC people in it, including my year-long offerings. The bulk of my international clientele is from the international work of Pete Bowers, whom I also met through my near and dear CDC contacts.
If there is any single affiliation that has brought me a good, solid portion of my present day work, it’s the Children’s Dyslexia Centers. Period.
I remain grateful for the CDC and its employees, past and present, for affording me the opportunity in countless ways to be of good service to others, perhaps especially people with dyslexia. You never tell me how to be, or how to do what I do. You know me, and you keep folding me in to your circles. You know who you are. I thank you for raising me up in so many ways.
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The words imply and employ are historically the same word, having diverged in French. They both derive from the Latin implicare, also the root of implicate. The Latin verb plicare is ancestor to a host of Present-Day English base elements. Go have a look.
Once in a while, I find that folks within the Dyslexia Industry, but outside of Children’s Dyslexia Center circles, try to imply that they are responsible for giving me access to a Dyslexia Industry audience, that some considerable portion of my work comes from their selfless referral, and that they have the ability to put a stop to that if I say the wrong thing or otherwise misbehave.
I’ve worked in literacy since 1993, started attending national IDA conferences in 1999, and started offering workshops and presenting for IDA in 2001, nearly two decades ago, long before I encountered Real Spelling or Structured Word Inquiry. I trained in an IMSLEC-accredited program under two AOGPE fellows, maintain my certification in good standing, and have offered accredited professional development hours through ALTA for years.
Allow me to be explicit: No one is in any position to imply that they are my ticket to Dyslexialand. Dyslexia didn’t bring me anywhere; rather, people with dyslexia, their families, and those who participated in the same charitable endeavors as I have, through the CDCs — they have brought me not only work around the world, but understanding, companionship, and joy, and that’s why I continued my charitable work with the CDC long past my employment with them.
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The CDCs are still open, and still in need of funds to continue their good work. They train hundreds of teachers and serve more than 1000 children each year. If you’d like to be trained in Orton-Gillingham, see if there’s a Center in your area. Their free or low-cost training program is fully accredited by both IMSLEC and IDA. If you know a child who needs help, apply and get on a wait list. If you’d like to just make a donation, to keep this critical, charitable work alive, you can do so at this link. Make sure to specify the CDC or a specific CDC as the beneficiary of any donation.
It’s not complicated.


If a picture is worth 1,000 words, what are 1,000 words worth?

What if some of them are nonsense?

What if some of them are lies?

The Wilson Reading System is coming out with the 4th edition of its lucrative 12-level scripted product.


Here are some pictures of what Wilson has made publicly available, annotated.


Because I have no more words.

We can do better than this.

We must.

I love getting excited messages from people as their copies of the 2nd volume of the Matrix Study Sheets arrive. I still need to do international orders, which will go out this coming weekend, but all U.S. orders placed prior to April 2, 2018, have been shipped.

“I got my book! Started looking through it. Beautiful! So excited to dig deep! ”

“I just got the matrix study sheets!!! can’t wait to use them with my kids!! Thanks so much!!”

“I actually received the sheets today! They are absolutely incredible and I am so excited to study up!”

“The Matrix Study Sheets came! Thank you!”

“Hurrah! I got my two copies!!”

Not every linguist gets greeted with cheers and a surfeit of exclamation points.

I’m a pretty lucky linguist.

LEX in pleased to announce two new products from our partners:



Truer Words

Emily O’Connor of Advantage Math Clinic has hand-selected 10 words for study.  Each card in this deck explores a single, complete lexical item — a single written English word — as both a big-picture tapestry of a word family, and through the Four Questions of Structured Word Inquiry.

They are beautiful and useful for personal study, teaching, investigation, and just plain marveling at.


Etymology Study Sheets

Scott Mills of LIV(E), my co-author on the 2nd volume of Matrix Study Sheets, offers this superb resource for individuals, classrooms, and clinics that allows for engagement with Etymology without an online connection. This book, created in conjunction with LEX and the Online Etymology Dictionary, is a collection of timelines and entries from the Etymology Dictionary. Entries feature broad etymological word families, and where applicable, a cross-reference with LEX’s Matrix Study Sheets.

Both items, along with the 2nd Volume of Matrix Study Sheets, are available in Portland this weekend at our Etymology Weekend Book Reception, and online in the LEX store for a limited time.

Order yours today.

I’ve got some new things going on.

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First, for those of you who have been waiting for Volume Two of the Matrix Study Sheetsit’s finally gone to press. I mean that I have actually uploaded the files to the publisher website to be printed. I expect to have a proof copy in a couple of days. I’ll ship pre-ordered copies as soon as I have them, which will be before the end of March. Barring any printing issues, I will also have fresh copies for sale at the Etymology! weekend in Portland in two weeks.

I know this book took forever. A legal battle, a cross-country move, a car accident, and the loss of two designers were part of the problem. But one considerable delay was conceptual rather than circumstantial: my trip to France last November and my conversations with folks there about the matrix and the representation of an etymological word family really gave me pause and caused me to reconsider — and redo — the graphics for all 30+ matrices.

The book is really beautiful and I’m so proud of it. Scott Mills did a great job riding shotgun on this book. If you haven’t ordered yours, you’ll want to do that now.


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Second, I am officially announcing that the 3rd Edition of the LEX Grapheme Deck is available for pre-sale.

The LEX Grapheme Deck is a comprehensive study of literal units in words in use in English. The Deck is a textbook in card form. It’s an encyclopedia of graphemes. It’s a life’s work. It’s unique in all the world. There’s nothing else like it. This 3rd Edition takes into consideration my deepening understanding of orthographic phonology, cultivated over the past four years of research and development, including my LEXinars on the Nature of the Phoneme, the Zero Allophone, the Nature of the Grapheme, and more.

Earlybird Pre-Order Pricing — the same $60 I’ve always sold the decks for — is available until the cards are published; after that they will be $75. I’ve never raised the price through two editions, and it’s time. The cartons are custom made, and everything costs me more than it did in 2011. I anticipate publication of the 3rd Edition in August or September 2018, but sometimes things take longer than I hope they will.  Place your order now to guarantee the held price. If you want to order multiple copies, contact me for discounted shipping.


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, I will be offering some special products in the LEX store for a limited time only, starting March 22nd or 23rd, including Spanish Matrices and other brilliant new study resources from Scott Mills of Language InnerViews for Educators, and from Emily O’Connor of Advantage Math Clinic.

Fourth, Douglas Harper and I are still working on an Etymology book suitable for kids, but it’s not yet ready for showtime. My illustrator had surgery on her wrist, and Doug and I have more work to do. I don’t plan to make it available for pre-sale, but will let you know when it’s ready.

Finally, don’t forget that my latest LEXinar, The Science of Silence, starts next week.

All this happens in-between studying with nine or ten different kids, all online, including one, a second grader, who noticed this past week that the <v> in new and the <w> in novel must be related.

Guess I’ll need to add that to the new Grapheme Deck. Order yours today.

I am ridiculously excited to welcome two new companions to my study circle.  The first time I meet with a child for the first time, I always ask them what their parent has told them about our meeting.

Wynn identified me as a linguist. I asked him what a linguist studies, and he said, “Words?” So I showed him that yes, we can study words, but we can also study structures larger than words and smaller than words. For any of those structures, we can consider how it’s built, where it came from, and what it is and is not related to.

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Wynn is a 5th grade boy who is a non-writing avid reader who loves history and his pug. He’s not the first adolescent boy who snugged his pupper during our whole online session; my ‘in’ words with other boys have included both dachsund (German for ‘badger-dog’) and cockapoo (a portmanteau of cocker spaniel and poodle). Next time I meet with Wynn, we’ll study pug. I have no idea where that word came from: Was the pub named for its nose? Or was the nose named for the dog?

Zebra is a 2nd grade girl who pegged me right away as a “word specialist” and who loves, well, zebras, of course. Zebra and I both love pink and glitter, so we totally bonded.

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She already knew that < a, e, i, o, u > and sometimes < y > are vowels; I told her that lexical words that end in < a > or < o > are not native English words. She had a hunch that zebras were from Africa, so we looked at the history of the word, and found out that it is indeed foreign, just like the thing it names. We built a house for our word family, also known as a matrix, and we practiced a couple of word sums.

I also told Zebra about my other study partner Cupcake, who loves pandas like a crazy person. When I was that age, it was koalas. Hey! Look! All those animal words end with < a > and name animals that are not native to England and do not have native English names!

Animals are an inspired way in to language study for so many kids. Even the word animal is itself wonderful and revealing to study, for those who aspire to an understanding. The wonderful ways that humans have named their animal companions make for fascinating study, and that study can really breathe new life into how kids understand and are motivated to understand their writing system.

Over the past several years, it has been my pleasure to offer Dave Buchen’s Why is a Tiger a Tiger, as it provides an almost conspiritorially enticing entry into etymology for any kid who resonates with animals. LEX kept that book alive in a second edition after the first went out of print. Dave recently informed me that he is doing a Spanish version of the book, and will be publishing both on his own later this year.

I will continue to sell the book through this year’s Etymology conference; order yours now so you don’t miss out! You never know what will transpire.

I’ve used this title for workshops and conference presentations and professional developments — and I’m using it again for exciting work next month in Portland! But it’s also what I do for kids and families, on a daily basis: Make Sense of English Spelling.

While schools and schoolteachers bask in the ignorance of lists and quizzes, I take those lists and make sense of them. Word sums. A matrix, maybe. Word histories. Patterns that are the same. Patterns that differentiate.

Last week, I made sense of a spelling list for a dyslexic 6th grader I’ve studied with a handful of times. He got 100%. I don’t really care about that grade, but I do care about what it reveals: that dyslexics are not phlawed people who need to be phonemed to death; they are liberated by the truth about their own language. After only about 6 or 7 meetings, he’s self-reporting that reading is “easier” and “makes more sense.”

Today, one of my favorite Mother Bears posted her kiddo’s silly spelling list:

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Not a single one of these words is a native English word. What, praytell, makes papaya a bigger challenge than macaroni? These are abritrarily grouped according to “Spelling Words” (which are somehow not challenging?) and “Challenge Words” (which also have to be spelled?). How totally random.

Instead, how about if we grouped them into Non-English Foods and Non-English Natural Phenomena? Or New World Words and Old World Words? Or How Imperialism Stole Words and Butchered Them Before Handing Them Over to English?

Native and nativized English lexical words do not end in single syllabic vowels other than <y>. A final <e> is non-syllabic; English doesn’t end words in <i> or <u>, and polysyllabic lexical words that end in <o> or <a> are not native. Sofa, aroma, banjo, bongo, tacohaikucaribouplateau, all adopted.

Really, there are so many ways to make sense of these. Here’s one:

Not English because it ends in <i>:

khaki ~ From the Persian word for ‘dust.’ Besides the <i>, the <kh> is also foreign. We find it in words we’ve adopted from Persian, Hindi, Arabic, Turkish, sometimes Greek, and former Soviet-block languages. Also non-English: the <k> after a single vowel letter. Like yak or anorak.

safari ~ From the Arabic word for ‘journey.’ Picture a dusty journey through the desert sands and you’ve got khaki and safari. The vowels are all <a>s outside of that final <i>.

macaroni ~ From Italian, of course, in which the <i> on the end of pasta marks them as plural (in Italian only. In English we would say macaronies and spaghettis).  The word was probably originally Greek, but it denotes paste or pasta or dough and is related to macaroon and macaron — two different kinds of sweet (pasty) treats. I could go on about that <on> in there, so I will: it’s all over Romance languages. In French, it’s <on>. We anglicized it to <oon>: saloon (compare salon), spitoon, balloon, cartoon (carton)… In Italian it’s <one>, and when that’s pluralized, it’s <oni>. Like Patrone. Note the single <c>.

Just for fun:

spaghetti: ‘little strings’
linguini: ‘little tongues’
orichetti: ‘little ears’
radiatori: ‘little radiators’
ditalini: ‘little thimbles / little digits’
penne: ‘feathers‘ (plural of penna

tsunami ~ From Japanese, in which it is a compound: tsu ‘harbor’ + nami ‘wave.’ In Japanese, /ts/ is an affricate / cluster phoneme. In English, sometimes we pronounce the [t] and sometimes we don’t.

Not English because Imperialism:

succotash ~ Corn and lima beans. Native New World foods. Note the <cc> double. Native American loanwords are one of the few places we see that non-English <cc>: raccoon, tobacco, moccasin, yucca.

papaya ~ The same thing as a pawpaw. This is the Spanish / Portguese version of the New World word.

barbeque ~ Also spelled <barbecue>, because it’s not English. It’s also a Spanish / Portguese rendering of a New World word.

tomato ~   also a Spanish / Portguese rendering of a Native American word.

banana ~ Spanish / Portguese version of a native Mande (Niger-Congo) word.

Not English because food (in addition to the above):

yogurt ~ Also spelled <yoghurt> or <yoghourt>, because it’s not English. Turkish. That <gh> is sometimes in there? It’s like the <kh> that we saw above. Why are words that can be spelled multiple ways even on spelling tests? Duh.

artichoke ~ from Arabic via Spanish & Italian. A handful of food words from/through Arabic start with <a>: alcohol, alfalfa, apricot, aubergine, because of the Arabic article al.

sauerkraut ~ The <kr> sequence is foreign. A German compound: sauer ‘sour’ + kraut ‘cabbage.’ People have called Germans ‘Krauts’ since the 19th century, but the morpheme just means cabbage. That <au> as /aʊ/ is German: frau, ablaut, umlaut.

Not English words because not English things:

karate ~ Japanese. The <ka> sequence is foreign. The syllabic final <e> is foreign. The CVCVCV is very Japanese (also in tsu.na.mi).

koala ~ From an Aboriginal Australian word for the animal, of course. The <ko> sequence is foreign, as is a final <a> in a polysyllable (see also banana, papaya).

stampede ~ Another Spanish contribution to the English of the New World, this used to be stampedo, and it’s related to stamp; they are both historically Germanic and have a denotation of ‘press, pound.’

The red words have European origins. The purple ones are Japanese. Green are New World. Maroon and brown and orange are Middle Eastern and African and Aboriginal. At least give kids an idea that words, like people, are diversely storied. Their foreign origins make them more interesting, not something to be avoided.

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This is the time of year when many of my linguist friends are reading (and often groaning) through piles of urgent and tender and cloying personal statements from would-be linguists and speech pathologists applying for university admission. Many years ago, I wrote something like that, a statement of purpose for my application to graduate study in linguistics at the University of Chicago. My stated interest, at the time, was admittedly lofty: I wanted to build a career on teaching tolerance through the study of foreign language.

I had no idea then that my career would orbit around English, let alone around English spelling. I’d argue that my experiences with foreign languages equipped me uniquely to make sense of English spelling; would-be linguists who are not polyglots lack a broad enough linguistic vision to be able to do so. It wasn’t my plan, but everything I ever studied in earnest prepared me for this life: languages, logic, set and number theories, writing, and linguistics.

Good thing I worked so hard then so I can explain spelling lists now.

Someone ought to.

*                          *                       *

This next point may sound like I am politicizing things, and I am.

In a time of rising nationalism and xenophobia, in an era in which immigrants are demonized and widely and falsely associated with crime, in a day in which it is increasingly hard to Dream, for crying out loud, can we please at least talk to kids about the very real and very cool things that can and do happen when different peoples and languages and cultures contribute to each other?

Like karate and barbecue and macaroni. Hold the succotash, though. I can’t make sense of lima beans.


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