What's in a Word?
Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel
By Debra Dobbins
Monday, February 28, 2011
If you’re not sure what the word “mentor” means, look at the words below it and then try to guess.
(Imagine the sound of game show music playing here …. )
Time’s up! Did you notice the phrase “Sigl passing knowledge on to Bowden”? That is the context clue that hints that a mentor must be a person who teaches another.
A mentor could be someone such as a teacher, coach, team member, pastor, youth counselor or a parent, sibling or some other older family member. A mentor takes someone else under his or her wing and guides that person into acquiring better skills or wisdom.
The word comes from the ancient Greeks. Homer, who wrote The Odyssey, included a man named Mentor, who was the trusted advisor for Odysseus. Odysseus was the famous hero who fought in the Trojan War and then spent 10 long, dangerous years trying to return home.
Odysseus put Mentor in charge of his young son, Telemachus, while he was away and asked Mentor to teach Telemachus.
According to Greek mythology, the goddess Athena, a protector of Odysseus, would often appear to Telemachus disguised as Mentor.
The word in its current meaning as “wise counselor” came into French in 1749 and English in 1750, according to The Mentor, a publication put out by Penn State University. The Mentor adds that the word stems "from the Indo-European root men, meaning ‘to think.’” (http://dus.psu.edu/mentor/homer.htm)
Can you find sentences in the article on MSC basketball players Sigl and Bowden that support the idea of mentoring? The story starts on page 1B today. Answers tomorrow.
By Debra Dobbins
Friday, February 25, 2011
The word “parse” made me smile as I scanned the front page of today’s paper. As a retired language arts teacher, I confess I like to parse.
In its literal sense, parse means to break down a sentence into its grammatical parts. Parsing a sentence in English means deciding which word is a noun, pronoun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, conjunction or interjection and then understanding how the words work in relation to each other. (See example below.)
As used in the headline, parse also means to break down. The story describes how students are breaking down not parts of a sentence but various aspects of a courtroom trial. They’re learning about key procedures such as opening statements, direct and cross examinations and closing arguments. Then, in mock (pretend) trials, they practice their skills in these procedures and other skills lawyers must have.
Oh, and the students are also taking time to look up the various meanings of an important legal word, “verdict.”
Parsing a sentence:
Clever students meet in a classroom, and they diligently practice their legal skills.
adj noun verb prep adj noun conj pronoun adverb verb pronoun adj noun
If GJHS beats out chief rival Glenwood Springs in the Western Slope regional tournament, we can all use this appropriate interjection:
By Debra Dobbins
Thursday, February 24, 2011
Oh, to be a Renaissance man – or woman!
The photo above appeared on today’s “You Saw It” page. Its caption notes that these singers performed at the Renaissance Feast recently at Mesa State College. If the food was as appealing as their costumes, it must have been a wonderful evening.
The Renaissance, according to Webster’s, was “the great revival of art, literature and learning in Europe in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries, based on classical sources.” Webster’s also notes that the Renaissance started in Italy, spread to other European countries and served as the transition from medieval times to the modern world.
The period is well named. Renaissance means “rebirth,” and that is what happened in disciplines ranging from art, literature, and music to philosophy, science and religion.
The Renaissance gave the world artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, writers such as William Shakespeare, composers such as William Byrd, philosophers such as Rene Descartes, scientists such as Galileo and religious leaders such as Martin Luther.
Nowadays, if someone were to call us a Renaissance man or woman, we would be receiving a high compliment. It means a person who is “well-versed in many or, ideally, all of the arts and sciences” (Webster’s).
As complex as our world now is, we could conceivably spend all our lives trying to merit such praise. Even so, it’d be a worthwhile goal.
William Shakespeare Leonardo da Vinci Galileo Galilei
All portrait reproductions courtesy of Wikipedia
By Debra Dobbins
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
The word “assassin” is emotionally charged. It means the murderer of someone prominent, such as President John Kennedy in 1963 and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968.
Knowing this word’s origin intensifies its impact. Webster’s says it comes from the Arab word hashshashin, or hashish users. Webster’s first definition of assassin is “a member of a secret terrorist sect of Muslims of the 11th-13th cent., who killed their political enemies as a religious duty, allegedly while under the influence of hashish.”
From assassin came the verb assassinate (ate is a suffix that means to become or cause to become, according to Webster’s) and another noun, assassination, or the act of killing a well-known figure.
The word morphed into its current meaning long before the 1960s. For instance, Isaac Arnold used it in a lengthy article published in Harper’s Monthly in June 1868. The article was on the alleged plot to kill Lincoln as he passed through Baltimore en route to his inauguration in Washington, DC.
Though historians do not fully agree whether there was indeed an assassination plot, in 1868 Harper’s apparently concluded that the conspiracy was real. Whether one chooses to believe Arnold’s account of that episode or not, his article is a riveting piece of writing. Despite words that seem quite old-fashioned to us, the account vividly describes the steps that were taken to prevent Lincoln’s murder by famed detective Allan Pinkerton and men and women working for him. Here’s an excerpt:
“Pinkerton then, himself, went over the ground, detailing to Mr. Lincoln all the facts connected with Fernandina, Hill, and others, the condition of popular feeling, and the plans of the assassins; also the fact that Kane, Chief of Police, had declared that he would give him no “police escort.” He told him there were perhaps ten or fifteen desperadoes—wild, enthusiastic young men—who had been wrought up to a pitch of fanaticism, in which they really believed they would be patriots and martyrs in taking his life, even at the cost of their own; that they had bound themselves by oaths to assassinate him”
The full account may be accessed at http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/ndlpcoop/moahtml/title/harp_vols.html. (Reproductions of Harper’s articles from 1850 through 1895 are at the same site.)
According to Wikipedia, critics frequently chastised Lincoln over his stealthy passage through Baltimore. Given Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, those same critics might well have deserved some chastisement of their own.
"’Passage Through Baltimore’. President-elect Lincoln depicted
ignominiously hiding in a cattle car by Adalbert J. Volck, 1863“
Illustration and cutline courtesy of Wikipedia
By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Writing a one-column headline can be challenging. The “hed” writer has to capture the essence of a story in just a few short words. An example is the headline on Libya above, which contains two strong action verbs, reel and escalate, to help summarize the story.
The country of Libya is not physically staggering, which is the literal sense of reel, but normalcy for millions of citizens there certainly is being buffeted by the government’s lethal crackdown on protesters. So, reel, in the sense of shaky uncertainty, is an appropriate word to use.
Escalates, in this sense, means to expand or grow rapidly. It is a back formation from the Americanism escalator, which was once a trademarked name for, of course, a moving staircase. The trademark was taken from elevator and the Italian word scala, which means steps, according to About.com (http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/blescalator.htm).
(A back formation is when a word is created when the affix of another is taken away. Two examples are edit from editor and diagnose from diagnosis, according to Webster’s.)
Ironically, escalate has been an American word adopted by the Italians, meaning to intensify, add to or rise, according to mydictionary.net (http://www.mydictionary.net/italian/scala.html).
Look for more action verbs as headline writers continue to encapsulate news updates of people risking their lives for reform. For more details on today’s story on Libya, go to our print edition or e-edition and/or head to www.gjsentinel.com for any breaking news.
Map of Libya courtesy of Wikipedia