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Magicking Words

By Diane Talbot

My 8th grade student “Luna”* is obsessed with all things fantasy and so when I asked her what words she would like to investigate, the word magic was on the list.

We discussed what magic was and looked it up in the dictionary. We discovered that the word can be used as a noun, a verb, or an adjective. Luna worked to make a sentence of each type.

We brainstormed similar words and decided the base was probably <mage>. We began mapping out our thinking on the table top whiteboard in my office.

We used Word Searcher to find words that contained the same base, and ruled out words that, although seemed possibly promising, turned out to not be etymologically related. These words were image, imagination, and magistrate– along with their derivatives.

As you can see, the final, single, silent, non-syllabic <e> is replaced by a vowel suffix. This is shown with the red slash on the final <e>. In order to keep the /k/ sound when a vowel suffix is added, a <k> is added sometimes. We learned that at one time, long ago, the -<ic> ending was spelled <ick> and sometimes when someone wants the word magic to look more–well, magickal–it might be spelled with the old spelling.

Next we used the Mini-matrix Maker to make a matrix.

We explored the etymology of the word magic.

We also considered the pronunciation of the words and how unexpected changes happen in different related words.

mage /māj/

  • Long <a> because of single, silent, non-syllabic <e>
  • Soft g because it is followed by an <e>

magic /măj’-ĭk/

  • Soft <g> because it is followed by an <e>
  • Hard c because it has no vowel after and <-ic> at the end of a word is poronounced /ĭk/

magician /mə-jĭ’-shən/

  • First and third vowel sounds are schwas and middle syllable has stress.
  • Soft <g> because it is followed by an <e>
  • <c> has /sh/ sound when followed by <ian>

magicians /mə’-jĭ-shənz/

  • First and third vowel sounds are schwas and middle syllable has stress.
  • Soft <g> because it is followed by an <e>
  • <c> has /sh/ sound when followed by <ian>
  • Final <s> represents a /z/ sound.

Luna made the observation that in the Harry Potter universe “nomag” is American slang for non-magical people, the equivalent to “muggle” in the U.K. A fitting observation for this exploration.

Further discussion and investigation into the grammar of the words gave us this information. Luna made sentences to help her remember.

  • mage: noun “someone who performs magic”
  • magic: noun, verb, or adjective
  • magics: plural noun or third person inflectional ending (“She magics the moonbeans.”)
  • magical: adjective
  • magician: “Someone who performs magic”
  • magicked: past tense verb or adjective (“The magicked beans grew a bean-stock.”)
  • magically: adverb
  • magicians: plural of magician
  • magicking: present verb (“He is magicking the stones to turn them into bread.”) or noun (“She is an expert at magicking.”)
  • magic wand: a stick used to perform magic

While looking at the dictionary, we also noticed the link to the thesaurus and explored synonyms and antonyms.

Luna and I both agreed that being bewitching and charming was much more fun than being normal and unremarkable. Next up, Luna wants to investigate sorceress.

*Student names and details have been changed.

Reader, Come Home

Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World

By Diane Talbot

Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World by Maryanne Wolf

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I have been reading other reviews and people seem to either love or hate this book. It isn’t an easy read and it took me over eight months to finish it, which is highly unusual for me and my reading style.

I gave it a mid-range rating. I liked it. I picked it up here and there and read a chapter at a time. I enjoyed Proust and the Squid more and felt this book was overly pedantic and repetitive, but I did appreciate much of what Maryanne said.

I too worry about what the digital world is doing to ours and our kid’s brains with regard to reading and critical thinking. I also agree with her that the digital world is here to stay and our kids need to become bi-literate in a healthier way than they are currently. I do worry about how much of our textbook reading has moved to digital formats–especially for struggling readers. On the other hand, the ability to have audio readily available has been an advantage for many of my students.

I read this book with a real-live paper book, which is my preferred medium for informational books that I am learning from and that I will reference as a literacy specialist. I’ve been known to print out whole e-textbooks. However, in the time since I have read this book, I’ve read 48 other books, both fiction and nonfiction, the majority of which I read either on Kindle or by listening to audiobooks on my commute.

I don’t think there are easy answers to how to take advantage of and lessen the negative impacts of the digital world, but I appreciated Maryanne’s views and ideas on how to best introduce digital media to kids. In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy books in many forms and encourage my students to do the same.




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If you have a Garden and a Library, you have Everything you Need.

Two of my favorite things are teaching literacy and gardening and I get super excited when I can combine the two. I began making flower etymology memes just for fun when I ran onto a fun meaning in the course of researching for one of my tutoring sessions in response to a student question. The memes were a hit with my friends and colleagues, and I was having so much fun making them, that I took requests and continued creating them.

I love that pansy means “thought, remembrance” and that lilaceous is a real word. Here is part two of the results of my research. Enjoy!

The Plastic Magician

The Plastic Magician (The Paper Magician #4)

By Diane Talbot

The Plastic Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I am enjoying the world the author has created with these books–a world where magic is like a science to be learned and discovered. Those who are “magically inclined” are apprenticed to magicians who train them to take the exam that makes them a magician in their own right. Magic can be done on only man-made materials and this book focusses on Alvie, a young American woman who likes to wear pants and take apart cars, in the early 1900s. Alvie travels by mirror to Europe and London where she learns the art of polymaking–or magic with plastics.

The book chronicles Alvie’s apprenticeship and growing romance with a fellow apprentice in the art of paper magic.

There is not a lot of action during the first part, but then it picks up when Alvie is kidnapped and has to use her wits and magic to escape. The book has a sweetness and innocence that is rare nowadays. The Kiss didn’t happen until the 75% mark.

I can’t say this book was un-put-down-able, but it was a lot of fun to read.




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The Sun is also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star

By Diane Talbot

The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I enjoyed this YA novel. It is a romance with two smart and likable characters. The book is timely for its discussion on immigration, deportation, and racism. I enjoyed and learned from the sidebar chapters explaining the scientifically and culturally relevant information.

The story takes place in New York City over the course of one day. Natasha is a science-minded girl who spends the day trying to keep her family from being deported and worries about losing her friends, her dreams and her future. Daniel is a romantic poet who spends his day trying to get Natasha to fall in love with him by exploiting her love of science.



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Sharp as a Knife

By Diane Talbot

During a math lesson on angles with my verbally-gifted fifth-grade student, Brandan*, I drew a picture of an acute angle and an obtuse angle and labeled them. He immediately said, in a high voice, “Ooooh it is such a cute angle.” I told him that was exactly how I always remembered it, but that wasn’t really what it meant. Of course, he wanted to know what it really meant, and I already had my fingers on the keyboard to look it up on etymonline.com.

We found that acute is an adjective and came from the Proto-Indo European (PIE) root *ak, which means to “be sharp, rise (out) to a point, pierce.” The meaning was originally used for illness and fevers in the late 1400s. The meaning “ending in a sharp point” and “sharp or penetrating intellect” both came about around the late 1500s. As a descriptive term for intense or sharp pain it was used beginning in the early 1700s.

We talked about how the word could be used literally– like it is used in geometry or more figuratively such as when we talk of disease or pain.

And as it turned out—the adjective cute is related!

In 1731 it is attested as cute, meaning “clever, sharp, smart,” shortening of acute; informal sense of “pretty” is by 1834, It is American English colloquial and student slang.

Later, I followed up with a more indepth study of the word. In John Ayto’s Word I learned that it is related to the English word ague, which is an older word for flu. The Latin verb, acuere, was probably formed from Latin word for needle, acus. Other words that stem from the PIE root *ak are acid, acrid, acetic, oxygen and edge.

 With the information I had previously gathered, I used Wordsearcher.com to compile a list of possible related words.

I looked up, and ruled out, the unrelated words, persecute, prosecute, execute and their derivitives because they have a different base. I noticed that cutey and cuteys was an unconventional spelling, so I looked up both cutie and cutey and found that they are alternate spellings with the same meaning.

Next,  I created a matrix in Mini Matrix Maker.

These are the word sums possible with this matrix:

cute (free base)

a + cute à acute

cute/ + er à cuter

cute/ +ey à cutey

cute + ly à cutely

cute/ + est à cutest

cute + sy à cutesy

cute/ + ey + s à cuteys

a + cute + ly à acutely

cute + ness à cuteness

a + cute + ness à acuteness

cute/ + ie à cutie

cute/ + ie + s à cuties

(The slash mark indicates that the letter is replaced by the vowel suffix which follows.)

As Brandan and I were talking, I looked up obtuse in Etymonline.com. I found that obtuse is from the early fifteenth century and means “dull, blunted, not sharp” It comes from the Latin obtusus, which had the same meaning as well as a more figurative meaning “to beat against, make dull” The morphemes are ob- (“in front of, against”) + tundere “to beat” from PIE root*(s)tud-e- “to beat strike, thrust from PIE root *(s)teu- “to push, stick, knock, beat. The sense of “stupid, not senstetive or perceptive is from the 1500s. In geometry, it became the name of an angle greater than a right angle in the 1560s.

I tried to elicit its meaning from Brandan, I asked “What is the opposite of sharp?” He had a puzzled look on his face and answered with “fluffy?” I laughed at the image already in my head and tried again, “I can have a sharp knife or a…” I waited for him to come up with a response. And I waited a second longer. Then he cocked his head and slowly said “fluffy knife?”

I laughed and drew a cloud-like blade and handle on the whiteboard table in front of him. We both burst out laughing.

I explained the meaning “dull, blunted, not sharp” to him and his eyes got big with understanding and discovery. I then explained that the word could be used to describe someone who is being stupid, or just clueless. He rubbed his hands together in glee, planning already to use the insult on his little sister.

We went back to our math problems with a game we call “splatball” (an impromptu game we made up, basically throwing Crayola Globbles at a target drawn on the whiteboard.) Every few minutes, Brandan said, “fluffy knife” and we burst out laughing again.

Tutoring bright funny kids makes my job the best!

I continued the research the word obtuse later and found related words and made a matrix. From John Ayto’s Word Origins, I found that the word is related to contusion and toil. I searched words in Wordsearcher.com using the search <tuse>


Again, I ruled out any words that were not related, and then I did an additional search for <tus> which yielded the related words: contused, contuses, contusing, contusion, and contusive.

ob + tuse à obtuse

ob + tuse + ly à obtusely

ob + tuse + ness à obtuseness

con + tuse/ + ion à contusion

con + tuse/ + ive à contusive

con + tuse/ + ed à contused

con + tuse/ + es à contused

con + tuse/ + ing à contusing

obtund (does not fit in matrix but is related.)

Brandan’s drawing of a “fluffy knife”

*names and details changed but be sure to look up the meaning of the name “Brandan.”

Resources used:

etymonline.com

Word Origins, second ed. John ayto

Minimatrix Maker http://www.neilramsden.co.uk/spelling/matrix/temp/index.html

Wordsearcher http://www.neilramsden.co.uk/spelling/searcher/

Flour Power

By Diane Talbot

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been spending a lot of time in my garden this year. I’ve also been spending a lot of time researching the etymology of flower names. This question is the one that started my explorations.

I often ask students to think about words that they find confusing or hard to spell to base our lessons on.  A few weeks ago, Flora* asked me why flower and flour sounded the same but had different spellings. Our investigation led to many exciting discoveries.

Homophones often have different spellings because it helps us to differentiate the meaning of the word when we are reading. I teach this as a feature of the English language and not as a flaw. A bit of searching on etymonline.com showed us that the words flower and flour are related and in fact come from the exact same word.

Both words appear to come from the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root, *bhel meaning “to thrive, bloom, which is possibly a variant of PIE root *bhel meaning “to blow, swell.”

The word came into English around 1200 CE by way of the Latin word florem (nominative flos) which became the Old French word flor. The English word came into use circa 1200. Alternately spelled as flur, flor, floer, floyer, and flowre.

The word meaning “finer portion of ground grain” was also spelled as flower, until circa 1830, when flour became the accepted spelling in order to end confusion. Perhaps it referred to the “finest of fairest part of the plant”

The words flower and flour can both be used as a noun or as a verb.

The flowers (n.) in the field will flower (v.) all summer long.

She will flour (v.) the surface of the table with the flour (n.).

The word flower can also carry the meaning of “time of blossoming” and “innocence”or “virginity.”

The word flourish with the sense of “thrive” is from mid-14th century English and the verb meaning to brandish a weapon is from the late 14th century.

The related base <flor> which has the sense of “having to do with flowers” gives us words such as floral, florist, and florid.

I noted with amusement that cornflower and cornflour are both compound words.

The related words:

gave me difficulty; is the base <fol> or <foli>? I looked for evidence to support my hypothesis that the base is <fol> as in <fol + i + age>. I still felt unsure, so went to my word study group for opinions. My friend Mary Beth Stevens wrote this reply to my query:

“In the OED, I found an obsolete spelling of this base as <foil>. That made me think that the <i> was part of the base. But then I also found a number if words using this base, such as foliose, foliature, foliar, and folic. It is <folic> that made me pause! Like all the others it came from Latin “folium” with a denotation of “leaf.” We can question whether or not the <i> is a connecting vowel in <foliage> and the first three I mentioned, but in <folic> it becomes pretty clear that we have an <ic> suffix. That means that the base is <fol> by itself. According to Etymonline, the word <folic> (as in folic acid) was coined in 1941 because of its abundance in green leaves. It’s a very modern coining, so if anyone has evidence that this was borrowed incorrectly, I would be interested in hearing it. Until then, the evidence points to <fole + I + age>”

Another poster wondered about whether there was a single, silent, non-syllabic <e> on the base since otherwise, the l would double.

Then Erin Pizzo weighed in with this post:

“Taken from etymonline:

Foliage (n.)

mi-15c., “representation of leaves or branches” (as an ornamental design), from Middle French feullage from French feuille “leaf, foliage” from PIE root *bhel- (3) “to thrive, to bloom”) The form has altered 17 c. by the influence of Latin folium or its derivatives in English.

This is the evolution I was talking about. Not every word in English is a clear derivative of Latin and there are times when there are “alterations.” Also not looking at having a double <ii> in this sort as well? Folio + ic is perhaps an incorrect word sum because folio and folio are different declensions of the same stem. Looking at Etymonline, I would follow the ablative form, which is folium. Which may be why D. Harper of Etymonline gives the hyperlink for folio in the folic entry.”

I really enjoyed this exchange, and after sitting on this post, feeling like I didn’t have enough understanding to continue, I decided to leave this investigation for another day. I tend toward perfectionism and knew that if I waited to be sure of my thinking, this post would never be made.  I clearly need to recidivize Michel Rameau Spellinar Latin I for Orthographers, which is always a pleasure to do. As Michel often quotes:

“You can never step in the same river twice.” (Heraclitus)

In my own poking around for understanding, I came upon this in the pronunciation guide in Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

“Oddly enough, foliage traces back to Middle French foille (“leaf”), which is also the source of the English word foil (as in “aluminum foil”). When adopted by Middle English speakers, foil originally meant “leaf.” “

This gives me another list of related words:

Student (and teacher) questions lead to more and more questions. I hope you have enjoyed my dive down the rabbit hole of word investigation!

*student names and details have been changed.

Resources used:

Wordsearcher http://www.neilramsden.co.uk/spelling/searcher/

Etymonline Dictionary https://www.etymonline.com

Merriam-Webster Dictionary https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/foliage

Matrices made with  http://www.neilramsden.co.uk/spelling/matrix/temp/index.html

A Rose by any other Name

By Diane Talbot

I moved last year and this is the first year for a really good garden, so I have had flowers on my brain. I started playing around in canva.com and started creating flower etymology memes and sharing them. They are a bit addicting and others tell me they look forward to them each day. So here is my collection so far. Lily has two versions, because I just couldn’t choose my favorite! Enjoy them and the beauty of summer.

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Review: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

By Diane Talbot

Little Fires Everywhere
by Celeste Ng (Goodreads Author) 

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Diane A. Talbot‘s review Jul 15, 2019  ·  edit
It was amazing- five stars
I really loved this book. The character development was rich. I saw myself in Mia and in Elena. The book questions what we give up and what we gain no matter what our path in life takes us. And I also related to both women as a mother; how do we parent children very different from ourselves–or too much alike? Is what we want what is best for our kids? There are no easy answers and this book does not try to answer them, but it gives much to think about. beautifully written and crafted.