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Wonderful Words: And the answer is... Lilliputian

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If you are reading this blog, you clearly have some interest in words, their origins and their usages.  In that case, you should be following WordMasters on Twitter, as we tweet an Analogy of the Day (AOTD) from the WordMasters Challenge archives.  On Monday, we tweet an analogy that originally appeared on a fourth grade Challenge test.  The vocabulary gets progressively more difficult as we finish out the week by tweeting an analogy from an eighth grade Challenge test every Friday.  We also tweet the correct answer the following day.  To sign up for AOTD, follow us (@wordmasterslisa).  If you don’t Twitter, you can catch the AOTD and corresponding answers by visiting us on Facebook (click here).

 

Yesterday’s AOTD was:

gauche : tactful :: titanic : Lilliputian

I think this is a great example of why students need to understand literary references and how they make their way into our vocabulary.  In case you’re mystified by “Lilliputian”, it is a reference to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). Gulliver is washed ashore after a shipwreck and finds himself a prisoner of a race of tiny people, less than 6 inches tall, who are inhabitants of the island country of Lilliput. “Lilliputian” can be used as a noun to name a native of Lilliput, or more commonly, as an adjective meaning trivial or extremely small. 

Even if your students haven’t read Gulliver’s Travels, it is important that they recognize and understand the literary reference of “Lilliputian.”  When asked why they looked this word up on Merriam-Webster’s website (www.m-w.com), respondents answered “Crossword puzzle” and “GRE vocab word.”  (By the way, Gulliver’s Travels is available as a free download through www.planetebook.com and other websites!)


 

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The nuance of vocabulary and how WordMasters aligns with Common Core

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Today I want to focus on the word nuance, which is derived from a French word meaning “shades” (as in small differences in color).  Borrowing once again from Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Girl’s 101 Words to Sound Smart:

In English, a nuance is a subtle difference.  You can think of it as shades of meaning, taste, color or feeling with only slight differences, just as there is a slight difference in color between fern and forest green crayons.

Fogarty goes on to include this wonderful excerpt from journalist Henry Hazlitt’s Thinking as a Science:

A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker.  The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking.  Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together.  If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.

The WordMasters Challenge is designed to encourage students to explore the nuances of language – to know not only what a word means, but also how to use it in conversation or composition.  If your school is implementing the Common Core State Standards, note how the skills developed through WordMasters are specifically targeted through the following standards:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.3.5:  Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships and nuances in word meanings.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.5b:  Use the relationship between particular words (e.g. cause/effect, part/whole, item/category) to better understand each of the words.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.8.5c: Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions), e.g. bullheaded, willful, firm, persistent, resolute.

More on how WordMasters aligns with the Common Core State Standards to come!



 

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