An Exceptional 6-Year-Old

I’ve just learned a bit of disappointing news: 6-year-old Lori Anne Madison, AKA the youngest National Spelling Bee contestant, has been disqualified from the Bee.  It has nothing to do with her age or a wild, overlooked technicality; she simply misspelled her second word (each contestant only got two).  Nevertheless, she’s done pretty well just being admitted, but then she spells “dirigible” correctly and her only mistake is replacing the first “i” with an “e” in “ingluvies“.  That’s pretty good shootin’ for someone who has only been on the planet for 6 years and has spoken English for less time than that.  Besides, English is a pretty confusing language, especially when so many letters and combinations of letters make the same sounds.  Most of us have a lot of trouble with simpler words than Lori’s and we’ve been here a bit longer; I don’t think we have much of an excuse, do you?   

Still, I wish she had lasted a bit longer, just to show the big kids she could (though getting in at all is a great accomplishment).  Then again, she may get to return next year and maybe she’ll make it farther then.  In the meantime, she can practice being a kid and enjoying life, whether that includes swimming, soccer, making cookies with her mom, riding bikes with her friends, learning to roller skate, or diving back into the world of words.  I hope she has a great time being carefree while she is allowed that.  Maybe we’ll see her next year, but then maybe she’ll take a few years off and be a regular girl. 

However, I worry for her and other highly intelligent children, particularly since we adults sometimes feel we can treat them as we would our peers.  We forget that emotionally and psychologically, not to mention physically, they are very young and impressionable.  They are likely unsure how to behave toward adults and may become overwhelmed with so much attention from their elders, forget all the pressure we tend to put on them after discovering their special intelligence.  To those children and adolescents, they use their talents in ways they enjoy, because there is a challenge (learning to spell very long words, for example) or a calling to create and they just cannot resist it.  It’s not money or fame that draws them; it’s the love of the thing.  I think these kids could teach us a lot. 

What do you think about how adults tend to treat very intelligent children and adolescents?

How do you think those  younger people see their situation and their gift?

What is your special intelligence or natural passion?

National Spelling Bee

National Spelling Bee (Photo credit: erin m)

Books Tell More Than You Think

 I’ve almost finished The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary, by Simon Winchester, which I highly recommend.  The story has been fascinating, particularly since I keep dictionaries close to my heart (and my bed, where I often write).  My only complaint is the author’s excessive use of complex words.  I would  have liked to know their definitions, but hadn’t the time or really even the desire to take so much trouble.  All I wanted to do was ready the story, but I kept tripping over these words that context clues sometimes illuminated and sometimes did not. 

Recently, I decided I wanted to know more about how to increase the old vocab while enjoying my favorite form of recreation, reading.  Of course, learning new words takes a little effort from the reader, so here are a few sites that offer some solid yet practical advice:

How to Learn Vocabulary , A site for non-English speakers, but it has great suggestions for those of us who are still (and will always be!) learning new words.

Learning with the New York Times , It’s easier than you think!

A Celebratione Oxford English Dictionary

Cover of "The Professor and the Madman: A...

A history of words

To the Oxford English Dictionary, I wish you another happy birthday and many more.  Not too many folks make it to 128 these days, but you showed ’em it can still be done!  I can’t even imagine what the world was like in 1884, nevermind the years, full of research and preparation, beforehand. 

Ever since you splashed into our wonderful and wacky language, we have loved you for your clear-sighted guidance and marvelously detailed entries stuffed with information.  Though I never knew you well, you being confined to the reference section of my college library and marked “Library Use Only”, I know intuitively you are a kindred spirit. You are so much more than just another dictionary; you are a complete history of words–a history of a language, a culture, a people.  I hope we become good friends in the future.  How about I distract the librarian so I can take you out for tea?

If you would like to learn more about the fascinating history of the Oxford English Dictionary, try this site.  I think you might enjoy it.   :) 

P.S. There is a book called The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester.  I have yet to read this one, but it sits, alert and ready, on my night table, ever eager to guide my exploration into the world of the English language’s official dictionary.

Additional Note: The title for this post reads, “In Celebration of the Oxford English Dictionary”.  I had it translated into Latin, which is a significant contributor to the English language.

The Curious Student’s Battle:19th Century Books


Late 12th-century manuscript of the Hungarian ...I love old books, especially those written a hundred years or more ago.  I love the brilliant language, flowing sentences, and that each is an introduction to history.  However, I am still working through the vocab list from a 19th century novel I read almost a month and a half ago.  It’s pretty long–apparently, I am much less familiar with the language from that period than I thought–but I also haven’t been as proactive with that project as I should be, so I’m behind schedule.

My current trouble is this: I’m only a few chapters into an anticipated library book and most of the stories in it were written in the 19th century.  That means there are a lot of words I don’t recognize, but I don’t have time to look up each one, so I have to use context clues like I did in elementary school.  While this method is useful, it is also frustrating; I feel like I’m missing some crucial information.

Lately, I’ve become especially interested in learning the definitions and roots of the unfamiliar words I meet.  Unfortunately, I am not always near a dictionary (or, so I am left with fuzzed and unsatisfactory spaces in the story, thin stretches between my best guess at a definition and the true definition (which may or may not be anywhere near my guesstimation).  Perhaps I should ease off my interest in language so I can make it through my book?  I know I could learn so much if I took time to break out the authoritative text (aka dictionary), but if I try to research every obscure word I bump into, I’ll never get anything read!  Such a task would also severely dampen my interest in reading at all. 

How do you handle the new words you meet? Some may be skipped or guessed at without taking too much from the story, but others are necessary in understanding an idea or storyline.  How do you make sure you comprehend a text, but without cracking the dictionary every five seconds?


“Sir” and “madam” are shorter versions of what older, fancier terms? | The Hot Word

I found this interesting tidbit on, so I thought I’d share.  Soak it up!  :)

Let’s say you want to get the attention of a male clerk in the produce section of the grocery store. Would you say, “Excuse me sire, but could you please explain the difference between a yam and a sweet potato?” 

(For the answer to that question, read this.)

Addressing a stranger as “sire” might raise an eyebrow. But if you said it, you wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. 

The word “sir,” which is a respectful term used to address a man, derives from the word “sire.” When written with a capital “S,” it is used as the distinctive title of a knight or baronet

The word “sire” is now considered archaic. But it was once used to refer to an authority or a person of general importance.

The history of the word “madam” is similar to “sir.” The word derives from “my dame.” While the word “dame” is now usually considered offensive slang, it was once used to address a married woman or one in a position of authority. The traditional term of address for a single woman is “Miss.” The story of Miss, Mrs., and Ms. deserves its own blog post.

 The origin of dame is the Latin domina, which is the feminine form of dominus, meaning “lord or master.”|utmccn=(direct)|utmcmd=(none)&__utmv=-&__utmk=213965975