At the fifth grade curriculum night last night, Matt met Laura's English/Language Arts teacher and heard about this vocabulary program they do--you probably have it in your school--where the kids learn Latin (and later Greek) word stems, prefixes, and suffixes, and build up a healthy reading vocab from that.
As a little illustration of her goals, the teacher gave Matt a list of 100 Classic Words that are said to let students "read comfortably" in classic lit. Go take a look and see what you think.
When I got home from my meeting and we sat down to swap info, Matt mentioned the list and said, "There were two words on the list that I wasn't quite sure about."
Reader, my interest was piqued. Positively piqued.
(Sidebar: Matt insisted, "Okay later when you blog this, you have to find a way to tell them that, when I said I didn't know two of the words, your eyes shone." It may be true. My intense interest in this vocabulary issue may have been communicated through my eyes. As they are the window to the soul. And my soul was on fire to know what words Matt didn't know, so I could see if I knew them, not out of a desire to one-up him, but because this is where I live, where we both live. When he brandished that list, it was like, oh let us commence to play.)
Then he handed me the list and my eyes immediately went to a little '?' he had drawn next to "verdure." This made me, I admit, begin to smile involuntarily, because I knew what verdure meant. I knew I knew! And Matt, seeing this involuntary twitching of my lips, was like, "Oh you are so happy right now!" And I was! Then he said, "Well, I suppose it means greenery," and I was like, yes. Go Latin!
Then he said the other word he wasn't sure of was "fain." We agreed that this is a tricky one, as it is truly, truly archaic. You will read it in old books, but you will never hear a living person say it. He said he had a sense of it though, and thought it meant reluctant. It means the opposite of that, "willing, glad, or eager," which I only knew from reading old stuff. The only example I could think to quote him was from one of John Donne's sonnets, where the narrator says (addressing God), "Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain, but am betrothed unto your enemy." That was in the seventeenth century, and I think "fain" was on the way out then. I would look in the OED but that is so many buttons to press.
That is a really hot poem, now that I think of it.
Anyway, of the whole list, I thought "fain" was the least likely to be in the reading vocab of even an educated reader. What do you think?
Funny, when I looked at the list, I got tripped up by "tremulous." Which is way more familiar, right? I mean, I would have said that it meant "fearful," but when I come upon a word like that, it crowds into my mind with so many of its synonyms and cousins--timid, timorous, trembling, trepidatious--that I start to think I might not know exactly what it means, that I might have it confused with something else. It's a word I would avoid for that reason, I just don't feel totally confident of it.
Then we were just tucking in to a juicy discussion of "sublime" in all its different senses in aesthetics, philosophy, and critical theory, and then a phone rang and also the dog needed to be let out, and I forgot the no-doubt crucial point about Edmund Burke I was making. Just as well.
So I guess there is no great punchline to this story. I just know y'all like words, right? And this is a thing that happened in my house. Also, I am blogging every day.