Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

The Treasure of Our Tongue

W e best learn the meanings of words by their context. Yet Charles Harrington Elster, known to San Diegans for his five-year stint on the KPBS radio program A Way with Words, recalls a lesson that emerged after a talk he gave to youngsters on learning vocabulary. "A mother in the audience told me," he says, "'I don't need a dictionary because I can figure out the meaning of a new word from context.' So I asked her to explain the meaning of the word 'enervated' from the following sentence: 'After her exciting night on the town, she felt enervated.' The woman said it means 'stimulated' or 'worked-up.' But it means the opposite. The mistake comes from what I call the 'sounds-alike syndrome.'"

Elster bemoans people's habit of "reading around words. It's a very detrimental habit," he says. "Not all contexts are clear. I teach you to look for unfamiliar words and look them up as you read. My vocabulary-building books [for taking the college-entrance SAT and ACT exams] make that easier by boldfacing the test words and putting the dictionary inside the book."

The vocabulary books Elster is talking about are novels. In 1994 he published Tooth and Nail: A Novel Approach to the New SAT. His second, A Test of Time: A Novel Approach to the SAT and ACT, appeared last spring. Elster calls it "a comic time-travel adventure" in which Mark Twain visits a New England college of today a year before publishing Huckleberry Finn.

On Tuesday, January 25, Elster will give a talk at the Mission Hills Branch Library called "Reflections on the Treasure of Our Tongue." Afterward he will sign copies of his vocabulary books and other works, including Verbal Advantage and The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations.

Elster says he began writing about words in the 1980s after Andy Kay of Kaypro Computers asked him to work on an interactive vocabulary-building program. "It was based on the work of an aptitude tester and researcher named Johnson O'Connor, who had theories on vocabulary and its relation to your career development," explains Elster.

"Meanwhile, a buddy from college had been developing curricula for a big test-prep company. One time we were bemoaning the fact that there was nothing but tedious lists of words with definitions and sample sentences on the shelf for young people to study and use as vocabulary-building tools to prepare for the college-entrance tests. We thought, 'That's boring...there must be another way, a novel approach,' and the lightbulb went on."

For test-taking strategies, Elster recommends tools other than his books. "I'm not an expert on the tests or test-taking," he says, though he does call the ACT (used by Midwestern colleges) more knowledge-based than the SAT, which puts emphasis on skills. Originally, SAT stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test and ACT for American College Test. Today both of the tests go exclusively by their acronyms.

Elster contrasts his "novel" approach to a series done by publisher Simon and Schuster that uses books from the public domain. "Their gimmick is to boldface and define words in 19th-century classics, like Frankenstein and Jane Eyre. Nineteenth-century writing is littered with SAT words. But to today's teenage reader, 19th-century literature is like a foreign language. The average kid is quite impatient with it."

I ask Elster if he forced his fiction to display the vocabulary he wanted. "Sometimes I tried to use specific words because they needed to be in there. But more often I would write a section and go back to boldface them. I've been living with these words so long that I tend to think with them."

Elster made sure to get the most frequently used words into his novels. But he also included "extra credit" words, such as "squalid," "impecunious," "respite," "puerile," "stentorian," and "legerdemain." "Some of the hardest words that people think are typical SAT words occur very infrequently," says Elster. "The core of the SAT and ACT is based on standard high school vocabulary -- words like 'indifferent,' 'vivid,' 'clarify,' and 'lucid' -- middlebrow words. If you don't know them, though, you're going to bomb the tests."

In his talk in Mission Hills, Elster will focus on the "polyglot element" in English and neologism. In the "art of word making, the champion was Shakespeare, who made up 8.5 percent of his vocabulary," he says.

Elster is fond of words based on Greek locations, such as "Arcadian" and "Laodicean," which today means "lukewarm in matters of religion." "Laodicea was a city of ancient Asia Minor that was infamous among Christians for its lip service to the Lord," says Elster.

Southern Californians tend to be interested in Spanish contributions to English, which many take to be of recent origin. "But it's astonishing how far back the contribution goes," says Elster. "The word 'stevedore' preceded 'longshoreman' and came from Spanish. By 1600, English had acquired from Spanish 'chocolate,' 'vanilla,' 'alligator,' 'anchovy,' 'banana,' 'cannibal,' 'cocoa,' 'hurricane,' 'potato,' 'sassafras,' and 'sombrero.'" -- Joe Deegan

Charles Harrington Elster "Reflections on the Treasure of Our Tongue" Mission Hills Branch Library Tuesday, January 25 7 p.m. 925 W. Washington Street Cost: Free Info: 619-692-4910

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Black Lives Matter offshoot chooses street outside Police Headquarters for street mural

Placing the BLAME

W e best learn the meanings of words by their context. Yet Charles Harrington Elster, known to San Diegans for his five-year stint on the KPBS radio program A Way with Words, recalls a lesson that emerged after a talk he gave to youngsters on learning vocabulary. "A mother in the audience told me," he says, "'I don't need a dictionary because I can figure out the meaning of a new word from context.' So I asked her to explain the meaning of the word 'enervated' from the following sentence: 'After her exciting night on the town, she felt enervated.' The woman said it means 'stimulated' or 'worked-up.' But it means the opposite. The mistake comes from what I call the 'sounds-alike syndrome.'"

Elster bemoans people's habit of "reading around words. It's a very detrimental habit," he says. "Not all contexts are clear. I teach you to look for unfamiliar words and look them up as you read. My vocabulary-building books [for taking the college-entrance SAT and ACT exams] make that easier by boldfacing the test words and putting the dictionary inside the book."

The vocabulary books Elster is talking about are novels. In 1994 he published Tooth and Nail: A Novel Approach to the New SAT. His second, A Test of Time: A Novel Approach to the SAT and ACT, appeared last spring. Elster calls it "a comic time-travel adventure" in which Mark Twain visits a New England college of today a year before publishing Huckleberry Finn.

On Tuesday, January 25, Elster will give a talk at the Mission Hills Branch Library called "Reflections on the Treasure of Our Tongue." Afterward he will sign copies of his vocabulary books and other works, including Verbal Advantage and The Big Book of Beastly Mispronunciations.

Elster says he began writing about words in the 1980s after Andy Kay of Kaypro Computers asked him to work on an interactive vocabulary-building program. "It was based on the work of an aptitude tester and researcher named Johnson O'Connor, who had theories on vocabulary and its relation to your career development," explains Elster.

"Meanwhile, a buddy from college had been developing curricula for a big test-prep company. One time we were bemoaning the fact that there was nothing but tedious lists of words with definitions and sample sentences on the shelf for young people to study and use as vocabulary-building tools to prepare for the college-entrance tests. We thought, 'That's boring...there must be another way, a novel approach,' and the lightbulb went on."

For test-taking strategies, Elster recommends tools other than his books. "I'm not an expert on the tests or test-taking," he says, though he does call the ACT (used by Midwestern colleges) more knowledge-based than the SAT, which puts emphasis on skills. Originally, SAT stood for Scholastic Aptitude Test and ACT for American College Test. Today both of the tests go exclusively by their acronyms.

Elster contrasts his "novel" approach to a series done by publisher Simon and Schuster that uses books from the public domain. "Their gimmick is to boldface and define words in 19th-century classics, like Frankenstein and Jane Eyre. Nineteenth-century writing is littered with SAT words. But to today's teenage reader, 19th-century literature is like a foreign language. The average kid is quite impatient with it."

I ask Elster if he forced his fiction to display the vocabulary he wanted. "Sometimes I tried to use specific words because they needed to be in there. But more often I would write a section and go back to boldface them. I've been living with these words so long that I tend to think with them."

Elster made sure to get the most frequently used words into his novels. But he also included "extra credit" words, such as "squalid," "impecunious," "respite," "puerile," "stentorian," and "legerdemain." "Some of the hardest words that people think are typical SAT words occur very infrequently," says Elster. "The core of the SAT and ACT is based on standard high school vocabulary -- words like 'indifferent,' 'vivid,' 'clarify,' and 'lucid' -- middlebrow words. If you don't know them, though, you're going to bomb the tests."

In his talk in Mission Hills, Elster will focus on the "polyglot element" in English and neologism. In the "art of word making, the champion was Shakespeare, who made up 8.5 percent of his vocabulary," he says.

Elster is fond of words based on Greek locations, such as "Arcadian" and "Laodicean," which today means "lukewarm in matters of religion." "Laodicea was a city of ancient Asia Minor that was infamous among Christians for its lip service to the Lord," says Elster.

Southern Californians tend to be interested in Spanish contributions to English, which many take to be of recent origin. "But it's astonishing how far back the contribution goes," says Elster. "The word 'stevedore' preceded 'longshoreman' and came from Spanish. By 1600, English had acquired from Spanish 'chocolate,' 'vanilla,' 'alligator,' 'anchovy,' 'banana,' 'cannibal,' 'cocoa,' 'hurricane,' 'potato,' 'sassafras,' and 'sombrero.'" -- Joe Deegan

Charles Harrington Elster "Reflections on the Treasure of Our Tongue" Mission Hills Branch Library Tuesday, January 25 7 p.m. 925 W. Washington Street Cost: Free Info: 619-692-4910

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Wall of Moms MAGA?

Non-profit expands efforts to include stopping flow of drugs to kids
Next Article

More palm greasers’ help wanted

Tom Sudberry, Peter Cooper give to Barbara Bry
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer News — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close