Tag Archives: English

On words and a love for dictionaries

A zillion years ago, I majored in English at Bluffton College (now University). English. Not English education. Didn’t plan to teach. Had not a whit of an idea of what I would do with the rest of my life. But English was fun…all that reading, writing, analyzing, etc. And yes, I was one of a very few in my graduating class. Today, at least one of the others is a college professor. A few of us fell into journalism.

I love words. I love reading dictionaries. That wasn’t always true. Let’s blame that on my dad. Well, you can probably also blame him for the fact that eventually I learned to love dictionaries. When I was a kid and got stuck on a word, I’d ask my dad. Hey, he was a college professor with a PhD. He knew everything, right? But here’s the thing. He never gave me a direct answer. His usual response was, “You know where the dictionary is.” And yes, I did, but it was easier to ask. Eventually — probably after about 20 years — I learned to quit asking.

When our kids were growing up, we often played the dictionary game after dinner. It was a ruse to keep them at the table. Each person got to pick a word from the dictionary and try to stump the others. Yeah, we were a pretty nerdy, boring family. But it was a great way for the girls to learn new words. Thing is, they both surpassed us long ago.

So anyway, yesterday I was grading a student’s research paper draft. She’d used the word “continual.” My first thought was that she was wrong…that it should have been “continuous.” So, I logged onto my favorite online dictionary (I was not in my office and didn’t have access to the paper version, which would have been my first choice). Turned out she was right; I was wrong. She’d used “continual” in the right context.

And just in case you’ve read this far and wonder about the difference between the two? Look them up. You know where the dictionary is.

Fun is the essence of learning

A few days ago, I sent an e-mail to the students who will be in the feature writing course Fred and I are teaching during fall semester. This time around, we’ve added a photo component to the course — hence, Fred’s participation in teaching. It seemed wise to remind the students that they’ll need to have access to a camera.

With a few weeks until the start of class, I didn’t expect immediate responses to the e-mail; in fact, I apologized up front for interrupting their last few weeks of freedom. Of course, if they’re working, they may see a return to school as freedom.

Within just minutes, I received a response from one student thanking me for the heads-up. His only question was “will we have fun in this course?” Hmmmm. Had to ponder the best way to answer that question….was the point of the course to learn feature writing skills or was it to have fun? My mind backtracked to my days in college with Mary Ann Sullivan and Linda Suter, two of my English profs. Did we have fun?

It took just a few minutes to realize that of course, we’d had fun. That had been a crucial component to learning. Since I was an English major, the courses with the two of them were small — usually fewer than 10 students. Class sessions were filled with laughter, freedom to talk, discuss, argue — and learn. In grammar class, we stood at the board to write out sentences. We learned parts of speech, of the sentence, and mechanics of grammar. Okay, that sounds boring. But for us, it was fun.

Our lit courses were usually held in a small room where we sat around a table, chewing over the meaning of whatever we were reading. Over cans of pop, we argued, discussed and ultimately, we learned.

So…back to the question posed by the feature writing student. Yes, we’ll have fun. We’ll work, we’ll do a lot of writing and rewriting and more rewriting. We’ll take photos and learn to enhance the written word with the visual. We’ll learn the basics of Photoshop and its place in the world of journalism today.

We’ll laugh, we’ll argue, but most of all we’ll learn…all while having fun. Mary Ann and Linda didn’t spend all those days teaching me the importance of fun in learning without the hope that I would someday share that secret with others.