Understanding Shakespeare’s English

One of the biggest obstacles for people who have not previously watch or read Shakespeare is a perception that the language is hard to understand. While there are definitely some words that are unfamiliar because they are no longer used, the most commonly perceived challenge is understanding thee and thou, art and wert, and the like.

Before I ask my students to read or listen to Shakespeare, I teach them the basics of Early Modern English and what all those old-fashioned words mean. I give them a translation guide, and get them to practise speaking and writing basic sentences before moving on to the most fun lesson of the year: Shakespearean Insults!

Once they have played with the language, they are far more receptive to it in a film or written text.

Like anything in life, the path ahead is smoothed by breaking down barriers and removing obstacles.

This infographic is designed to present the basics of Early Modern English simply and directly, to serve as a memory aide and a translation guide as needed.

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Understanding Shakespeare’s English
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A Butt-load Of Butts.

A butt-load has long been one of my favourite ways ton refer to a large amount, either physically or a figuratively—  one might have a buttload of work, or have to carry or store a buttload of stuff. It amuses me, though, that butt-load can actually refer to an actual unit of measurement.

A butt is a large barrel for wine or spirits that holds roughly four times the size of a regular barrel or two hogsheads Butt came into English in the late 14th century from the Old French word bot  which was the word for a barrel or wine-skin. This came from the late Latin buttis which also meant cask.

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The butt used to be a legal measurement, but because the actual size and capacity tended to vary quite a bit — it could be anywhere between 108 and 140 gallons— it fell out of favour.

In Shakespeare’s ‘Richard III’, the Duke of Clarence is drowned in a butt of malmsey wine. In terms of  methods of execution, there are probably worse ways to go. Still, the references to the malmsey- butt never fail to make my students laugh.

This sense of the word is also used in ‘The Tempest’ where Stephano claims to have escaped the storm by floating “upon a butt of sack which the sailors heaved o’erboard”.

That’s because butt canalso mean one’s buttocks: the behind, the rump, the posterior. It first took this meaning from  animal parts in the mid 15th century in relation to butchering and cookery, as a shortened form of buttocks, which was the name given to the meaty rear end of animals and people by about 1300. The application of butt to humans  came later, as part of American slang in the mid 19th century.

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Butt came to mean the the thick end of something or the extremity of a piece of land by about 1400, which is most likely how the term came to be used for the end of a rifle, and therefore a pistol, or of a smoked cigar or cigarette, which was first recorded in 1847.

Photo by Basil MK on Pexels.com

Shakespeare’s Richard III uses this sense of the word when he responds to his mother’s invocation to “put meekness in thy breast,  Love,charity, obedience and true duty”  with “and make me die a good old man! This is the butt-end of a mother’s blessing— / I marvel that Her Grace did leave it out!” This is also a pun for butt as in his being on the receiving end of  her insult.

By the early 1600s, butt had come to be used for the target of a joke or an object of ridicule. 1610s. This was derived from the Old French word but  which meant an aim, goal, end, or a target in archery, which swans in turn the product of the Old French words bot for end and but for aim or goal which was used for a target for shooting practice or a turf-covered mound against which an archery target was set that dated to the mid 1300s.

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It is this earlier sense of the word used by Richard, Duke of York in ‘Henry VI part 3’ when he tells his killer, “Come, bloody Clifford, rough Northumberland, I dare your quench.ess fury to more rage. / I am your butt, and I abide your shot.”

Othello also uses sense of this word in his final scene, where he says, “Be thou not afraid, though you do see me weapon’d; / Here is y journey’s end, here is my butt.”

The verb to butt meaning to hit with the head, as a goat, a fighter or a soccer-player might do, was in use by 1200 . This came from Anglo-French buter and Old French boter which meant to push, shove, thrust or knock. This came from either Frankish or another Germanic source which traces back to Proto-Germanic word butan, and before that to the PIE root *bhau which meant to strike.

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In the banter between Katherine and Longaville‘Love’s Labours Lost’  V.ii, he admonishes  her: “Look how you butt yourself with these sharp mocks, Wilt thou give horns, chaste lady? Do not so.” Katherine responds with a comment about he should die a calf before his horns grow, which is a witty little bit of innuendo as they part ways.

Another example of Shakespeare’s word play is the pun on butt in ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ where Gremio describes the clash of wits between Hortensio and Petruchio thus:  “Believe me, sir, they butt together well.” Bianca responds with both pun and innuendo: “Head and butt! A hasty-witted body / Would say your ‘head and butt’ were ‘head and horn.”

To butt against, meaning to adjoin or sit right next to, dates back to the 1660s,p and comes from an abbreviation of abut.

A butt butting on a receptacle for butts. Image: WordyNerdBird.

To butt into a conversation by intruding without invitation came into American English at the turn of the 20th century.

Photo by Budgeron Bach on Pexels.com

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Sources:

Etymonline
Macquarie Dictionary

A Butt-load of Butts.
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Why ‘Guys’ Is Not An Inclusive Term- And What To Say Instead

While many people these days use ‘guys’ as a gender-neutral term, not everyone does. Some people have no problem with it, but others have a genuine and valid objection.

Guy is a masculine term with a masculine history. It began in 1605 and the Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of conspirators led by Guy- whose name was actually Guido- Fawkes planned to blow up the English Parliament. Guy Fawkes was tried, convicted, and put to death for his crime. Parliament instituted a yearly observation of the date in the ‘5th of November Act’ which encouraged remembrance and thanksgiving that the plot did not succeed. Commemorations of that plot being foiled, quite literally in the nick of time, involved effigies of Guy Fawkes being paraded through towns and then being burned in bonfires. Guy Fawkes Day is still celebrated today, often with bonfires and fireworks, although many people have no idea what they are celebrating.

Over time, the word guy came to be used for young men in general, a practice which became common in the 20th century.

It is, by comparison, very recently that people have been inclined to use guys as a gender-neutral term.

The risk of assuming that it is acceptable to use it inclusively is that it is not automatically an inclusive term: consequently, it can put up barriers for those who do not feel included by it, and even more so for those who feel actively excluded.

Some people may think it’s an overreaction or political correctness gone mad, but I would encourage those people to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and consider the question from a different point of view: perhaps a girl who is continually overlooked while her brothers or other male peers are favoured, a teenager who identifies as female and hates the fact that they have the body of a guy, or a girl who simply wants to be acknowledged as a girl. In each of these examples, the use of guys as an all-inclusive term is hurtful. To each of them, it is just as offensive as calling them anything else that they are not.

In social or close group settings such as family or friendship groups, there is probably more freedom to speak in any way that the members of each group are comfortable with. In more formal environments, or in groups where we are less familiar or intimate, there is less leniency in the way we address one another, and certainly less forgiveness for poor judgement.

In any structured environment, but particularly professionally, we need to speak and behave in ways that do not isolate or offend those we claim to serve or represent. As a teacher, the emotional well-being of each of my students is as important as their physical safety. I don’t want to do anything to harm them or to damage our working relationship. The same is true in my role as a director in a theatre company, and at other times as a cast member. People will learn and perform at their best when they feel valued, included, and respected. If not using a given term helps to achieve that, then not using it is the best thing to do.

Therefore, even though I am not personally offended when people include me in “guys” despite the fact that I am not a guy, I choose to speak otherwise to my students and to the cast and crew when I am directing.

There are other things one can say instead:

  • Everyone
  • Team
  • Folks
  • Students
  • The year level/name, such as Year 9 or Grade 4, according to the conventions of the school and/or locale.

* Not an exhaustive list.

  • People

This can sound impersonal, so try moderating it by using various positive adjectives: happy, busy, friendly… there are many appropriate options. I often walk into my classes and say “Hello, beautiful people!” If anyone responds that they aren’t beautiful, I always say that there are different types of beauty, and inner ones are far more important than outer ones. It may have taken some of them a few days, but now  they happily accept the greeting because they understand what I am communicating by it: I appreciate each of them for their own unique character.

  • Kids

I often mix this up with adjectives too. It’s actually an opportunity to give your students some affirmation while getting their attention.  Try saying , “Okay, cool kids” or “Right-oh, groovy kids” and it’s not hard to see the difference in how they respond.
Once, one of my students said, “We’re not kids anymore.” I apologised and said that I wouldn’t repeat that mistake again.  The next time I wanted their attention, I said, okay, you incredibly mature and responsible young adults.” They applauded, so that is how I have addressed them ever since.

In more relaxed situations, you could also use:

  • Peeps
  • Gang
  • Rockstars
  • Legends
  • Crew

* Also not an exhaustive list.

Sometimes I try to put a fun spin on things:

  • “Right, you rowdy lot!”  I might say this when they are working hard and being anything but rowdy.
  • “Hello, unique individuals!” Again, it’s an opportunity for affirmative language that includes everyone.
  • “Greetings, earthlings!”
  • “Whæt! Geats, Danes, Monsters and Dragons!” has been a favoured greeting while studying ‘Beowulf’, while “Aaaaarrgh me hearties!” Works when studying ‘Treasure Island’.

Finally, whatever you say, remember that tone is everything. The feeling in your words is what signals sincerity and positivity to the people around you.
As the saying goes, it’s not what you say, but for how you say it that matters.

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Why ‘Guys’ Is Not An Inclusive Term
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Carnival

Photo by Julia Kuzenkov on Pexels.com

I mentioned to someone yesterday that I would be at my school’s athletics carnival today.

“Ooooh, car-nee-vah-lee!” they exclaimed with a twinkle in their eye.

Brightly coloured images of vivid costumes, scantily clad women and wild parties in Rio de Janeiro flashed through my mind.
“Er… not quite!” I responded. “It’s not that colourful! And it’s a school event, so let’s keep it family-friendly, shall we?”

This got me thinking about the different meanings of carnival, and wondering what a rowdy celebration or a colourful parade might have to do with a school track and field sports day.

In my mind, the answer was obvious: not much.
So, as is my usual habit, I turned to Etymonline for some insights.

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The English word carnival dates back to the 1540s, when it was used to refer to a “time of merrymaking before Lent”. This was derived from French carnaval, which in turn came from the Italian word carnevale which referred to Shrove Tuesday. This came from older Italian forms such as Milanese carnelevale and Old Pisan carnelevare which meant to remove meat, presumably referring to changing one’s diet for the period leading up to Easter.

Etymonline also offered the folk etymology — that is, a popular but generally untrue story about the origins of a word— that carnival came from the Medieval Latin words carne and vale meaning ‘flesh, farewell!’

In the late 1500s , carnival had come to mean feasting or revelry in general.

Carnival being used in reference to a circus, sideshow or amusement fair developed in American English in the early 20th century.

Photo by Elly Fairytale on Pexels.com

That was as far as Etymonline got me, so I looked up a few other websites, but none of them shed any more light on the answer to my question.

I am still no closer to understanding why a series of track and field events is called a carnival.

Consequently, I am left performing some folk etymology of my own: perhaps it relates to the celebration of the physical achievements of the competitors, or the cheering and noise made by the spectators.  It could even relate to the pre-competition parading of competitors, team colours and mascots that used to be popular but, thankfully, is much less fashionable now.

Perhaps, though,  it’s just one of those weird quirks of English that I’ll never really understand.

Sources:
Celebrating an Etymological Carnival
Etymonline

Raspberry.

A raspberry can be one of two things.

First and foremost, a raspberry is a small red, black or yellow fruit which grows on a bramble or vine-like style of bush, and which generally tastes delicious.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

In English, the word raspberry goes back to the early 1600s, but its actual origins are a matter of contention: it could have come from Old French, Medieval Latin, or one of the Germanic languages.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

The second sense of the word raspberry dates to the late 19th century, and relates to the rude sound made with one’s tongue and lips. This meaning is derived from ‘raspberry tart’, which is rhyming slang for ‘fart’, which is precisely what a raspberry sounds like.

Blowing a raspberry is also called a Bronx cheer, a term which came from the sound being used to express derision or displeasure during sporting matches in the area of New York City called the Bronx.

In linguistic terms, blowing a raspberry is an unvoiced labial fricative. This may seem like somewhat useless information for anyone other than linguists and language enthusiasts, but rude children can be quite effectively stunned into submission with reprimands such as “Don’t you dare address me with your unvoiced labial fricatives!” I know this, because I have achieved it more than once with other people’s teenagers.

This term has also been immortalised in the Golden Raspeberry Awards or Razzies, a parody of the Oscars in which the awards are given for terrible performances in film.

Finally, raspberry is also used as an adjective to describe any shade of purplish red colour, as referenced by Prince in Raspberry Beret. You don’t need to thank me for the earworm – you’re welcome!

Raspberry beret
Photo by Roel Wijnants on Flickr. Reproduced without alteration under Creative Commons licence.

Sources:
Etymonline
The Razzies
Wiktionary

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End-of-Term Teacher Tired.

An image of a woman with her head on her computer keyboard  as though she has fallen asleep there.
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In response to requests from several quarters to explore the ways in which the added stresses of online and remote learning, social restrictions, working from home and everything else that has come with COVID-19 have affected teachers this year, I conducted a survey.

Open to all teachers worldwide, I distributed the survey both on social media and via professional networks.

I asked teachers to respond honestly to nine questions, which I formulated based on comments and social media posts by teachers. To remove any possible disincentive for honesty, participation in this survey was completely voluntary and anonymous.

Thus far, there is only a relatively small number of respondents , and my little survey is by no means scientific research. Still, the results thus far bear out my own experience and observations, and what I have heard others saying: as resilient and committed as we might be, it has been a really rough year that has left teachers exhausted and, at times, quite discouraged.

The survey is still open for any teachers wishing to respond.

Thus far:

  • 79% of respondents say they have been much more stressed and tired than previously
  • 21% reported no change in their levels of stress and tiredness.
  • There does not appear to be any correlation between how tired and stressed people are and the number of years of experience they have as a teacher.
  • 50% of respondents said their stress was created by their own expectations of themselves
  • 36% said that other people’s expectations of them as a teacher created their stress
  • 14% reported that their stress came from the media’s continual reporting of COVID-19 related news and issues.
  • 64% of people said that the tiredness experienced was longer term than usual, while 36% that it was about the same.
  • 29% said they had consumed more alcohol in 2020 than in previous years
  • 71% said their alcohol consumption was about the same as in previous years.
  • 36% of people also said they had increased their caffeine intake
  • 36% said that their caffeine intake had not changed.
  • It did seem that there was a correlation between people who had increased alcohol consumption and increased caffeine consumption with
  • The respondents’ responses regarding nutrition, though, was interesting.
  • Only 28% said their eating patterns had not changed
  • 7% said they had paid more attention to good nutrition
  • 65% said they had paid less attention to good nutrition.
  • 79% said they wanted to continue their career as a teacher.
  • 14% said they would only keep on teaching because they felt they had no choice.
  • Sadly, 7% said that the stress of the year had brought an end to their teaching career.
  • 14% of respondents said they had sought medical advice for issues related to the stress of teaching this year.
  • None had sought counselling.

This final statistic is, to me, evidence of our collective resilience and commitment: we’re stressed and we’re tired, but we keep on going.

I do wonder, though, if we as a profession need to be more proactive in seeking help and support when we are experiencing increased levels of stress and tiredness, and possibly not taking such great care of ourselves at the same time.

The key to my own determination to keep going this year has been that I wasn’t actually doing it for me– I was doing it for the kids. I suspect that most of us feel the same way. It’s not just me, and not just my colleagues, having a hard year. It’s everyone. Every family, every community, every workplace, every career, every school, every student… you get the idea.

If I can model resilience, positive attitude and commitment to making the best of a tough situation, that’s exactly what I’m going to do my best to achieve.

I hope my students are encouraged by my commitment to them. I hope they learn from my example. And boy oh boy, do I hope their parents are watching, because I want them to love this school and to understand how much we value them and their children.

I have been enormously encouraged by a my colleagues, and some have said that I have been an encouragement to them. The members of my faculty office have been a lifeline for me as we laughed, cried, and collaborated together throughout the experience of teaching remotely for two terms of this most challenging year. The entire staff of my school committed from the outset to making the whole deal of working from home and teaching online something that was achievable, coordinated and professionally delivered. “That will do” was never going to be acceptable.

At the end of every school term, I comment that the break is well-deserved. That has never been more true than at this end of 2020.

As the final term of 2020 winds down to a close and teachers (and students!) everywhere look forward to the Christmas break, I truly hope we are all able to stop working long enough to get some much needed rest and downtime.

Merry Christmas, Teachers. You’ve earned it.

End-of-Term Teacher Tired.
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Beyond Tired.

It’s almost the end of a school year that has been perpetually exhausting. Every teacher I know is beyond worn out.

I’ve used the words ‘tired’ and ‘exhausted’ so much in recent times, they have started to lose their currency. Not only are they becoming cliched, neither one really adequately describing the profundity or the long-term nature of the tiredness we’re feeling.

So, in the interests of communicating more effectively, I’d like to suggest some more expressive words to use instead.

Toilworn is a lovely word that reflects the nature of the tiredness that comes from hard work. It can also be used for something showing the effects of that kind of tiredness, or of the work that caused it.

Forswunk, as I’ve mentioned before, is one of my favourites. It’s a very old word that means exhausted by hard work.

Knackered is a term that is certainly expressive, and remarkably pleasing to say. I don’t know where else in the world people say this, but it’s certainly well understood in Australia as a term that means absolutely worn out.

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If you have any other suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Beyond Tired.
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Josh Frydenberg: You Have Some Nerve, Mister.

An open letter to Josh Frydenberg, Federal Treasurer and MP for Cooyong:

You have some nerve. Your outburst in Parliament yesterday was way out of line.

Yes, mistakes were made early on in Victoria’s management of COVID. And they got cleaned up. We’ve actually done a brilliant job, which you didn’t even acknowledge. But that isn’t the part of your speech to which I, and many other Victorian teachers, take particular exception.

While the rest of the House was congratulating the people of Victoria on crushing the curve and bringing the numbers back to zero, you chose to be ungrateful. That little tantrum of yours would make a two year old proud.

An excerpt from Frydenberg’s speech in Parliament, Tuesday Oct 27, 2020.

Your assertion that your children missed out on six months of schooling is highly offensive to every teacher in this fine state who has gone way beyond the call of professionalism and duty of care to ensure that our students did not miss a single thing that we were able to provide for them.

Were my colleagues and I merely dreaming all the extra work we put into setting up online classrooms, doing extra courses in online safety and classroom management, monitoring our students’ wellbeing and mental health, in addition to all the usual planning, preparation and teaching we have been doing all year?
Did we imagine the eye fatigue and headaches from being in online classrooms all day, doing all our marking and reporting online, meeting with colleagues and conferencing with parents online?

You have been able to do your job almost completely normally all year.

We have had to completely reinvent ours, while at the same time being required to switch from face to face teaching to online classrooms, then back, and back again, sometimes at only a few days’ notice.
We’ve done it without tantrums, without complaints, and without pointing fingers at people who were also trying to do their best in otherwise uncharted territory.

Victorian teachers have proven to be dedicated, resilient, and incredibly versatile this year.

And I will tell you one thing that is absolutely certain: the students at my school did not miss six months of school. They had their full timetable, every school day, complete with teachers and teachers aides, differentiated lessons, roll call, and individual help whenever they needed it.

Don’t be firing your nasty little aspersions at Victorian schools and the 100% committed teachers in them, Mr Frydenberg, even by inference.

We do not deserve that. We are exhausted, our patience has been pushed to the limit, and we are still going. We are not in the mood for your petulant tantrums.

It’s high time you gave credit where credit is due, learned some gratitude and grace, and got on with doing your job while we continue to do ours.

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An Open Letter to Josh Frydenberg @JoshFrydenberg
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Masking The Awkwardness With Humour

Teacher masks students covid COVIDSafe

Disclaimer: I don’t kneel for my students, as that would send entirely the wrong message. Besides, they are teenagers and I’m only 5’2″. Also, I can no longer kneel. Image via Pixabay

Face to face teaching is back in full swing in Victoria, with all students over the age of 12, and all teachers, required to wear masks.

The kids generally don’t like wearing masks, and I totally get that. Still, that’s not an excuse for defiance. It’s currently a legal requirement, so whether or not we like it is a moot point.

Most of the students are quite cooperative. Some kids, though, are getting sneakier— or perhaps just less conscientious— about wearing them properly. The challenge for teachers is to find ways to remind them without being awkward or, even worse, coming across as nagging. As anyone who has tried to get a teen to do something they don’t want to will attest, that’s only ever going to create more resistance. 

As I am wont to do, I have reverted to humour in addressing the problem. 

When a student has their mask pulled under their nose, I tell them “don’t fly the flag at half mask”. 

When someone is not wearing a mask, I say, “Oops! Your face is naked.”

When the mask is sitting under their chin, I tell them to “pull their face pants up.” 

In a quiet classroom environment, or if I want to remind someone without drawing attention, I  simply make eye contact, hold my hand horizontally near my chin and lift it to above my nose. 

These responses engage the students by surprising the m and making them think about what I’m saying. They generally respond with a smile and then comply. The occasional student tries to argue, which invariably ends in disappointment for them.

I am always happy when it works. I was also very pleased when, while I was on yard duty, I heard one of my students tell another kid to pull his face pants up. I smiled with great satisfaction and whispered, “Good work, kid! Keep it up!” Nobody noticed, though, because I had my mask on. 

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Masking Awkwardness With Humour
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Note: Arguments about whether or not masks should be worn will not be entered into, and negative comments to that effect will be deleted. 

Back in the Classroom: Putting My Teacher Mask On

Thoughts on the first day of face to face teaching after months of lockdown and teaching online.

Image by HaticeEROL on Pixabay

After nine weeks of only seeing my students in little squares on my computer screen, a two week term break, and a final week of online classes, we resumed face to face lessons today. Things were a little bit different than they used to be, though. 

The desks were distanced from one another as practically as they could be. The bottle of sanitiser at the front of the room had been joined by another and, this time around, the students didn’t need reminding to use it. Most obviously, though, we were all wearing masks. 

We used to talk about “putting our teacher hat on” when we walked into the classroom, and taking it off again at the end of the day. I guess now it’s our teacher masks we have to consciously think about wearing, as this seems to be the new normal— in Victorian schools, at least— for the foreseeable future. 

The wearing of masks is something disliked by many students and staff alike. Personally, I don’t mind wearing one, and I am happy to not be breathing in whatever germs are floating around the room. Most of my students seemed to manage without any difficulty, but getting some of them to wear their masks properly and not keep touching them proved to be yet another new classroom challenge.

Still, there were some good things going on. 

The tone and humour in my classrooms was generally positive. One kid who doesn’t even like me much told me it was good to see me. I laughed and told him to give it time, and everyone laughed at that because we all knew it wouldn’t last.

Marking the class roll was significantly easier and quicker than online: once again, I could see at a glance who wasn’t there. Marking the roll in online classes was something I always found arduous. Today it took two seconds. 

I could see right away who wasn’t doing what they should be, and I could move around behind them and see their screens. There is no more effective way to make someone work than to be able to see their screen. 

At the same time, I could instantly encourage those who were working hard amd staying on task. It’s so much easier to be positive when you can be both natural and proactive about it. The added bonus is that when you praise and encourage one student for doing a good job or making a great effort, it tends to make those listening more inclined to want to do better and get some praise, too. 

Those few kids who have avoided doing much at all since we returned to online schooling finally had to do some work. Those who did not engage in online lessons found themselves no longer able to just sign in and zone out or leave the room. And because I was wearing a mask, they couldn’t see my wry grin as I watched them working. 

I was able to move around the room and look over the shoulders of my students. Delivering instant feedback and reminders about spelling, punctuation and paragraphs is significantly easier than trying to give that kind of advice online.

All things considered, while the day was not without a few issues and challenges, it’s fair to say that the positives outweighed the negatives. It’s hard not to be satisfied with that. 

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