What's in a Word?

Pondering word play and power in The Daily Sentinel

Page 101 of 132

Mentoring fledgling democracies

By Debra Dobbins
Tuesday, March 1, 2011

As springtime draws near, we’ll soon see flowers and maybe even fledglings, young birds that have grown enough feathers to enable them to fly. Their first efforts to soar through the air, though, will probably be awkward.

From the noun “fledgling” comes an adjective spelled the same way. A fledgling democracy, therefore, is one that is considered young and inexperienced.

Afghans now have had some time to try out aspects of democracy such as voting. They may become mentors (see yesterday’s blog) for others in the years to come as citizens in Tunisia and Egypt seize their chances to create democratic governments. Perhaps Afghans will also mentor citizens in the North African country that lies between Tunisia and Egypt, Libya.

As violence escalates in Libya, we can only hope that its citizens will also soon enjoy democracy without having to pay for it with a civil war. To preserve lives, Libyans are asking members of the international community to enforce a “no fly zone” to protect them from air attacks from their own government headed by dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

At this point, not enough countries have agreed to help seize control of Libyan air space. According to news reports, some nations will not commit to such a move until all their citizens are out of Libya.

So, Libyans need a “no-fly zone” in order to give democracy a chance to fly. Granting that request will mean that enough freedom-loving nations, or birds of a feather, will need to decide to flock together. For the sake of Libyan citizens, I hope they do.


As mentioned yesterday, here are some sentences that support the idea of mentoring in the article on MSC basketball players Sigl and Bowdon:

“From the beginning we had that connection,” Sigl said. “I feel like she’s the little sister I never had.

I treat her like (I treat) my little brother. There’s no sympathy. I just tell her like it is.”

Sigl, only a sophomore, took it upon herself to help Bowden, a freshman from Montrose, learn the college game. Early in the season, Bowden was a little wideeyed, trying to keep up with the speed of the game and the atmosphere of college basketball.

She’s learned how to control her 6-foot-1 frame against players her own size, and has become more and more polished at catching the ball in traffic and scoring.

Defensively, she’s always talking from the baseline, calling out screens, and uses her strength and ability to block shots to go against more experienced players. She’s still a little raw, but is also like a sponge, taking every bit of coaching to heart.

“Ohhh,” coach Roger Walters said of Bowden’s play after Mesa State upset third-ranked Fort Lewis on Saturday night. “They have a great relationship. Kels tells her like it is, and she’s earned the right to coach her a little bit and does a great job with her.

“The Mavs are confident Bowden will become a dominant post player, and for the next two years, she’ll have Sigl constantly in her ear.

“I see her potential and I want the best for her,” Sigl said. “She’s going to be an absolute beast when she figures it out.”


Mentor is worth a mention

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.


A penchant for parsing

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:



Rebirthing, then and now

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                    


Drugged-up murderers or ‘patriots and martyrs’

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

Page 101 of 132


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