Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Words are my business and my passion. And I'm not going to lie: words are my favorite weapon, too. I teach my students that all the time. Nothing is more valuable to put in your personal arsenal than an impressive vocabulary. And they believe it, too. I never dummy down my vocabulary when I talk in my classroom, and I tell them to sing out when I use a word they don't know. Often, I have a Designated Dictionary Person in the room and that person knows to go get the dictionary, look up the word, and once he has it, raise his hand and read the meaning out. It doesn't happen as often as you'd think, though. One, they don't often care, and two, much of the time the word's meaning is apparent through context. (I feel like #1,however, is the biggest reason.)

Anyway, I try to instill an appreciation of words in my students. In honors, we look at diction and the way writers write. Even with my regular juniors, we take a look at that when we can, especially when I read aloud. They humor me when I fling around a few "big words" here and there at them; they retaliate by slinging slang at me.

I love to keep current with slang. I find it refreshing and encouraging. The English language is such a vibrant, living organism to me. It's constantly expanding and accepting; it morphs and grows as the world changes and moves forward.

My new favorite slang term was introduced to me on Monday. My student Taylor was tardy to class without a pass. She came charging in, breathless and apologetic. She's never tardy and kids in Creative Writing want to be there. I merely looked at her and waited while she gulped air and composed herself.

"Ms. D," she said, fanning herself and huffing and puffing, "I'm so sorry I was late, but me and Ms. Roberts was in the team office choppin' it up about colleges and we just lost track of time."

*choppin' it up--talking things over; chatting about a topic extensively

I love it. It's very evocative and somehow precise. Not too far off from "chewing the fat" but so much more...oh...direct and simple.

Yesterday, I thought I had invented a new word. Well, not an entirely new word, but a noun form of a word that would, I thought, be so nice and easy to say. I had never really heard it said, and I already had a snippy little snarky use for it. I rushed to a dictionary just to be sure and...crap. It was already a word. That word? Ubiquity. I love the word ubiquitous already. I use it often. It's even fun to type. (Go ahead and try it--ubiquitous--it's quite the workout getting that q in there.) Anyway. I never knew that there was a nice, short noun form already. I thought it would be fun to start putting some of Brian Williams' ties in a Fashion Den of Ubiquity--you know, the ones he wears all the time--and thought, wow, Nance, you invented a cool little word, there. Except, not. Sigh. Dammit.

Finally, I do want to invent a new use of an existing word and here it is. You know how some people just wear you out? (In the interest of fairness, I must admit that my Very Own Husband will immediately nod and say, "Yes, Nance, I do. You, for instance." ) How those people put you through an incredible amount of arduous and strenuous effort or mental distress? These individuals might be co-workers, children, family, or even friends. Here is the new word we can use to describe them: calisthenic. Heretofore, this word has been a noun only, meaning "exercises designed to develop physical health and vigor, usually performed with little or no special apparatus." Well, forget that. Now, we are going to start using it as an adjective, and it is going to describe people who just work us out until we are exhausted. Here is an example:

I am done with these hour-long phone calls with my mother; she is just too calisthenic.

My friend Leanne finds purse shopping with me to be calisthenic. I find my seventh period junior regular class of 16 boys and 4 girls to be highly calisthenic.

What fun! I just love choppin' it up about words.


  1. Do not dare leave out your fantastic wordsmithing this past weekend.

    Allow me to set the scene...since you seem to have forgotten.

    Ravens --V-- Texans
    Second quarter
    Joe Flacco, Ravens QB, is sacked by the Houston Texans.
    You said: "Flacco, Flacco, Flacco, Flacco Sacko.

    Now, if I had said something like that when I was...say...10...you would have told me to calm down.

    Just sayin'.

  2. What about a word for people that just amaze you as well as amuse you? Would 'Nance' do it, do you think?

  3. I wish I had a better vocabulary.

    In word news, the head of human resources at work used "plethora" in an e-mail and then said, "I love that word." It makes me happy :-)

  4. mikey--i have found that, by and large, math people do not possess an envious command of the English language. in response to your Word News, my husband is also a big fan of "plethora" and has amazed and astounded his co-workers with it to the extent that now they use it,too.

    mary g--i'm blushing! thank you so much. flattery will get you everywhere, especially when you're CANADIAN! welcome to the Dept, and i hope you stop by and chop it up here often. LOL.

    jpd--are you being a smartass? because you could very well become calisthenic with comments like this. besides, that was, i believe, one too many "Flaccos".
    go update your pathetic blog, boy.

  5. There is a show on for little kids that you might like. It's called Pinky Dinky Doo. Each episode has a word of the day. The last time I watched the word was "cacophony". Now, I just learned this word myself not all that long ago while reading The Pillars of the Earth. So I'm either waaaaaay underdeveloped in the vocabulary area or we just have super kids today that use expremely cool words.

    I'm going to make sure that Micah knows cacophony :)

  6. Words are wonderful ... I am still learning daily and, obviously, we'll never stop learning since new terms like "choppin' it up" are entering our lexicon daily. ;-) BTW, I am hoping to avoid those people who are calisthenic so I won't be going purse shopping with you either ... just in case I agree with your friend Leanne. LOL (Maybe not shoe shopping, either. Good thing we are several states apart.)

    Oh, I love when you share your husband's comments. Too funny.

  7. Anonymous10:12 PM


    I am loving this new term, it describes my monster-in-law to a t. I may even be able to use it in front of my husband without him knowing what exactly i am saying. I love it......
    Chopping it up, I hear this alot at work, patients love to say: "if all of you all weren't sitting around chopping it up and doing nothing, I could have been sent home by now." I wonder if this phrase is a lorain county thing or does it spread beyond the county limits???

  8. Chopping it up must be a big kid and grown-up thing because I can report I have not heard it on the elementary scene. There still busy thinking that saying "Oh, snap!" is cool. Little kids move pretty slow in the slang circles!

  9. Anonymous10:22 AM

    Hmmm... I have a few students who are calisthenic. Good one.

    I know what you mean about vocabulary in the classroom. I am constantly amazed when I use a word in my Spanish IV class which I consider to be an obvious cognate, and when I finally say what it is in English... I get a blank stare. Such the other day when I said "clandestino"... and finally had to say, "Clandestine!" ... and then had to explain it in English. *sigh*

    I love making words up, too. Most of mine are compound forms which have something scatological included, however, as expletives are more useful to me of late.

    And speaking of choppin' it up with words... I think there should be a ban on over-used buzz words. You know the kind: $5 words that the average person never heard of until someone in the media decides that everything evil that happens is... HEINOUS. For example. :-)

  10. ortizzle--i hear you. i wrote a post a couple years ago about the overuse of the word "amazing." I am so sick of that word. and how funny is it when kids pronounce "clandestine" as clan-duh-STYNE? lol.

    j.--yes, elem. kids and jr. high are a step or two behind, usually. "oh snap" is not used unless to mockingly BE behind.

    halley--not too sure of the "spread" of the term "choppin' it up." NE Ohio is such a weird linguistic and "fashion" microcosm. we tend to be very far behind the coastal regions in fashion and very singular in language. there is a Chicago and Detroit influence in both, but we really tend to create our own along the lakeshore areas.

    shirley--leanne has the patience of Job when it comes to purse shopping with me. mainly because she tends to be in her own little world. it's worth it because she lives in MD and we don't see each other often and we can catch up with so much chatter. now, shoe shopping...that's a whole other thing. i am very quick: if i see it, i immediately KNOW IT, and I BUY IT. PERIOD. ask jared about shoe shopping. the only thing he hates about me is that i cannot fit the shoes back into the box properly and i never put them back correctly. he used to be a store manager and he really gets all over me about it. THAT'S WHY I TAKE HIM ALONG--I NEED A STAFF. LOL.

    nina--i am so excited that you are reading Pillars of the Earth. SUPER WONDERFUL FICTION. did i recommend it to you? it is one of the few fiction books i recommend. make sure you read its sequel WORLD WITHOUT END. and i know your darling gorgeous baby MICAH will know wonderful words. whatever you don't teach him, I WILL.

  11. Anonymous7:49 PM


    Optometrist: Definition..

    I think I saw one of these on an Alaskan island, but it turned out to be an optical Aleutian.....

    Just choppin it up trying not to be calisthenic..Oh, snap!

  12. Hee hee! Ya word nerd! ;D

    Love you!

  13. Anonymous7:48 PM

    I like when you use "worky."

    Words heard at Chez V:

    troubley--adj. someone or something that has a propensity for causing trouble, such as a troubley boy or a troubley friend.

    muckamuck--a mess attached to children's hands, clothing, or environment. "Don't get all covered in muckamuck out there." "The kitchen floor is totally covered with muckamuck following that playdate." "Go wash all the muckamuck off your hands."

  14. We love teaching new words to one of our Spanish-speaking cooks at work. However, we teach him all the naughty things to say. And then he uses them in the funniest situations!

    I love words too, and I really wish I was around more wordy people in my life!!

  15. Anonymous11:29 PM


    When I read Jemomena's comment I had to smile.I have a Puerto Rican DIL and I love her a lot and enjoy listening to her speak English. She says so many great things like:

    "No matter what anybody does to me, I don't hold a grouch."

    "Don't drive so fast. That is a very bad hobby of yours."

    "I don't like to stay in the house by myself, I get very scare."

    I won't even mention how I mess up Spanish when she tries to teach ME.

  16. nancy--love the use of "hobby" and "grouch" which are actually very appropriate! and your previous pun...as my great grandma would say,"I bet your head exploded thinkin' that one up!"

    jenomena--no wonder foreigners have such a low opinion of americans.

    V-grrrl--i love the term "worky" also. it's just a more all-purpose term for "calisthenic." and "troubley" would be what I'd use for owning a dog.

    circus kelli--holy crap! where ya been???

  17. I read both books while I was pregnant. I actually read the first because I saw that it was all rage on Oprah but I think that you and I did discuss it a bit. I loved them both. But since the little man was born I haven't been able to complete an entire book...can't wait to get that part of my life back. Until then, I'll always have Pinky Dinky Doo :)

  18. I love the word ubiquitous too. Unfortunately I'm too sleepy to think of a new clever word at the moment.

  19. anali--i've been really tired lately, too!

    nina--i'm sorry for not recalling our book chat. i recommend those books (and Edgar Sawtelle) to so many people anymore that i'm just like a recording! christmas is near, so i'm on the hunt now for books to put on my list.

  20. Nance you know I am over here DROOLING!!!! You know how I love, love, LOVE words!!! I often make them up myself as well! And darn it, I just used ubiquitous the other day :)

    Nina...what is this word you speak of? I know it not! I must make haste to Dictionary.com Damn!

  21. Tera--Oh, I know. And, have you noticed that they've changed the layout of dictionary.com? I don't like it as much as I used to. And it's not as fast, either.

  22. What a great post! Mary G. sent me here, and I'm glad she did.

  23. slouchy--

    thanks. Mary G. was kind to put in a good word for me, too. (This is a Golden Oldie Post, though! I hope you've found some new ones to enjoy as well...!)


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