Lexical Love

When I was at university, completing my BA in linguistics and German, I wrote for the student magazine. (For some unknown reason New Zealand universities all have magazines rather than newspapers). Being the eclectic girl that I am, and of course being completely incapable of choosing just one thing to focus on, my roles with the magazine ranged from feature writer to books editor to arts reviewer to columnist. Although Book Editor wins hands down as my favourite role (free books – what’s not to love?), being a columnist is probably the role that challenged me and taught me the most.

I was only a second year student when I took on my column and definitely still finding my writing voice, but one thing I did know was words. So naturally that’s what I choose to write about. I guess you could call it the logical choice for a linguistics student. My column was boldly (and aptly) titled Word Freak! Basically each week I explored the etymology, usage and social connotations of a different word. It was fun to write. Of course some hated it, but others loved it. Fortunately for me, my editor fell in the latter category and so I wrote the column for an entire year.

What this column did for me, aside from affording me an opportunity to write, was to cement my passion for sharing my love of words and language with others.

Just recently I’ve found a way to share this with my students. On Fridays I am lucky enough to teach a group of 18 talented students who (at 11 and 12) are spelling above a 16 year old level. I only have them for 45 minutes, but it is one of the highlights of my week. Deciding that these students needed an extra challenge I developed a series of lesson plans looking at pulling apart language. At the moment, we discuss 15 different latin roots each week and look at the words they have contributed to English. Next week we’re going to put their knowledge to the test and analyse the latin roots in Harry Potter (not sure whether the kids are more excited or whether I am!).

I know, I know, you’re all wondering what the kids think about this, right? Well actually they really love it. I think part of it, is that they get to see an adult share their love and excitement for language (it’s always good to feel validated, right?), but part of it is that they get to think critically about something they have taken for granted most of their lives and it’s an amazing thing to watch.

If you look closely you'll see the Latin for dancer - it's where we get Salsa from (the dance obviously, not the food).

If you look closely you’ll see the Latin for dancer – it’s where we get Salsa from (the dance obviously, not the food).

On a personal level, I am challenging my own linguistic leanings at the moment, in studying for my ballet teacher’s exam. One of the things I have be able to do, is explain the french roots of ballet terms and link this to the quality of the movement. Having never learnt French before, this is definitely a new experience for me.

I’m lucky in sharing my lexical love with S. who is, after all, a latin teacher, but I do wonder whether there are other who share my passion. So what about you, any lexical lovers or individuals with linguistic leanings out there?



4 thoughts on “Lexical Love

  1. Anne-Marie says:

    I am crazy about words, and if I’d had a teacher like you at secondary school I would have been much happier at school! I think it’s fantastic that you are stretching these very bright students. When I was at school, so much went into the students who struggled to learn, that the bright students [and I was one of them] were virtually ignored. I was excellent at English but only ever had one teacher who seemed to acknowledge this.

    I used to be the editor of a student newspaper – ours was the only newspaper out of all the universities. [It’s now defunct, unfortunately.] I used to run a word of the week and pick out some strange word no-one had ever heard of. Great fun!

  2. tribblesnz says:

    Big fat wordlover here. When I can’t remember a word, looking up the etymology usually cements it in my mind, even if it’s a completely new bit of information. Also, I was one of those kids who used to READ the dictionary. Any dictionary, really. On the other hand, still do. Just usually in my phone or online. Cheers, Rebecca

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