Ignominious and other Words of Renown

Here’s another great example of the built-in clue system in English. All of these words share the meaning “name.” To recognize this root is to have a leg up on a huge variety of words (there are actually over 100 in the family). It takes practice, but in the end, studying vocabulary in root families is far more efficient than trying to master one word at a time.

Of course, there are lots of words that don’t have Latin and Greek roots, but the majority are high-frequency and familiar to the average reader. The more letters and/or syllables a word has, the more likely it is to be a root word. In the book Greek and Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary, Dr. Karen Bromley notes that 90 percent of  English words with more than one syllable are Latin based and most of the remaining ten percent are Greek based. These words are more complex, can be used in different ways, and often deliver vital descriptive content. Students need a reliable attack strategy to make sense of them.

For example, let’s analyze the roots in ignominious. Spotting the nom “name” root gets the ball rolling. The ig prefix is a variation on in “not, opposite of, without”, as seen in invisible “not seen”, so the root-level meaning of ignominious is “not named, or without a name.” Interesting. What does it mean to be without a name? Let’s consider the plight of Hester Pryne in The Scarlet Letter:

A crowd of eager and curious school-boys, understanding little of the matter in hand, except that it gave them a half holiday, ran before her progress, turning their heads continually to stare into her face, and at the winking baby in her arms, and at the ignominious letter on her breast.

It’s clear here that ignominious is something bad, but why didn’t Hawthorne use conspicuous, strange, or ominous? They all would have worked. This is a wonderful critical-thinking path for students to take. They can discover a broader sense of name as it relates to reputation, the idea of losing one’s good name, of being shamed. Ignominious is a powerful word–it doesn’t mess around!

Here’s how Orwell used it in Animal Farm:

At a moment when the opening was clear, the men were glad enough to rush out of the yard and make a bolt for the main road. And so within five minutes of their invasion they were in ignominious retreat by the same way as they had come, with a flock of geese hissing after them and pecking at their calves all the way.

Again, the context gives us a sense of what ignominious means, but the roots close the deal. The men’s names, their reputations, have been damaged. What’s more, knowing the full weight and meaning of ignominious lets us appreciate the irony in the scene. The men were stripped of their good names by a bunch of geese.

Spotting word roots builds critical thinking, engenders word curiosity, and improves reading comprehension. But there’s more: roots also promote exponential vocabulary growth. Once a student has made sense of nom in ignominious, he/she is primed to go after misnomer, nominate, binomial, nomenclature, onomatopoeia, denominator, nondenominational, and many others. This path will also lead to the root-spelling variations, opening doors to words like antonym, synonym, homonym, acronym, pseudonym, eponym, anonymous, noun, renown –the list goes on!

Caustic Candidate (who expected to be Coddled) Incensed by Nonchalant Chauffeur

Summer’s almost here, so let’s talk about HEAT. It’s amazing how many words we have on the subject. A quick scan of the Word Voyage database revealed 8 root families that mean heat, fire, glow, warm, cook, or ripen. Let’s take a look at them:

Hot Root #1: cald, calor, cauld, chaf, chal, chauf
Looking at the various spellings of this root, words like scald, calorie, cauldron, and chafe jump out. Some others that are less obvious are nonchalant “not warm, not having concern for”; and chauffeur, which originally meant “a stoker.” This word goes back to the days of steam engines, but in the early 1900’s it transitioned to the sense of “professional driver of a private motorcar.” So a chauffeur is one who has the car warmed up and ready to go.

An interesting outlier in this family is coddle, which was originally used as both a noun meaning “warm drink for invalids” and a verb “boil gently.” The modern meaning “treat in an indulgent or overprotective way” is said to have first appeared in Jane Austin’s Emma:

“My dear Isabella,”—exclaimed he hastily—”pray do not concern yourself
about my looks. Be satisfied with doctoring and coddling yourself and the
children, and let me look as I choose.”

Another outlier is chowder, from the French chaudière “a pot,” which maps back to the Latin calidus “warm, hot.”

Hot Root #2: cand, cend, cens, chand
This root also delivers a nice variety of words. We know a candle is “that which burns, makes light.” Given this, one might assume that a candidate is one who brings light, clarity. But no, this word comes from the Latin candidatus “white-robed.” Those Roman guys loved their togas, and if they were running for office they made sure it had “brilliant whiteness.” With that said, the cand root does bring the idea of “clarity” to candid and candor. Similarly, the filament in an incandescent bulb helps us see clearly by glowing white hot.

A chandler is a maker or seller of candles, a chandlery is a storeroom for candles, and a chandelier is a holder of candles and “that which shines.” Incense is something we burn, and to be incensed is to be “inflamed with anger.” Incendiary “capable of setting fires” is often used figuratively to mean “incite, rouse, excite, enrage.”

Hot Root #3: caust, caut
Here we have caustic “capable of burning; corrosive”, and cauterize, from the Greek kauter “burning or branding iron.” Interestingly, this family also includes calm, probably from the Latin cauma “heat of the mid-day sun.” And there’s also ink, from the Greek enkaustos meaning color that is “burned in.”

Hot Root #4: coct, cuis, kitch
This is the cooking family that serves up cook, kitchen, kiln, concoction, culinary, and cuisine. We also have terra-cotta “cooked earth.” And of course, there is food: biscuit and biscotti “twice-baked”, ricotta “re-cooked”, and apricot “early ripening.”

Speaking of early ripening, this root family is also home to precocious “pre-cooked, ripened before (others)”, describing kids that have amazing talents at an early aged.

Hot Root #5: fer, ferv
Here we have another root about “boiling, hot, and glowing.” The verb ferment “to leaven, cause to rise” maps back to the Latin fervere “to boil, seethe.” Effervescence comes from the same Latin word, but the added prefix ef creates the sense of “boiling up, boiling over.” As with so many “heat words,” it can be used figuratively: “high-spirited; vivacious; lively; sparkling.” More family members include fervor, fervent, fervid, and perfervid, among others. An interesting outlier is comfrey, “boil together”, referring to the plant’s medicinal use.

Hot Root #6: flam, flagr
Obviously, this one gives us flame, aflame, flammable, and other flaming words, but it also delivers flamboyant “glowing, shining”; inflammation “state of burning”; inflammatory “tending to inflame emotions”; flamingo flame-colored, red-feathered”; flagrant “burning with visual intensity, glaringly offensive”; and conflagration “that which burns strongly, thoroughly.”

Hot Root #7: pyr, pyro
Pyr rhymes with fire and means it too! There are many familiar words in this family, e.g. pyre, pyrotechnics, pyromania. The noun empyrean, from the Ancient Greek empyrus, “in or on the fire” refers to the highest heaven, which was supposed to be occupied by the element of fire. The adjective form empyreal might be used to describe a particularly radiant sunset.

Hot Root #8: therm, thermo
This last root on the list is very familiar, anchoring words like thermometer, thermostat, thermal, thermos, hypothermia, thermodynamics, and geothermal, as well as terms like endothermic and exothermic.

OK, we burned through the Heat Roots. Stayed tuned for the next hot topic!

Verbs: 7 Confusions

Verbs. They seem so simple, yet they can cause so much head scratching. Here is my attempt to clear up some of the confusion:

Confusion #1: Linking Verbs
Many students don’t know that words like is, are, am, was, be, and been are verbs. These are worker-bee words, but what do they do? Here’s a simple explanation: a Linking Verb acts like an equals sign.

This soccer game is exciting!
This soccer game = exciting.

I am a huge fan.
I = a huge fan.

Linking Verbs are the only type of main verb that does not show action. Rather, they join the subject to a noun or an adjective that identifies or describes it. This is what is meant by “state of being.” And here’s some great news: There’s only about 20 of them in the English language. I say “about” because there are varying opinions on the exact list, but there seems to be consensus on these:

Forms of be: is, are, am, was, were, be, being, been
Sense words: feel, appear, look, smell, taste, sound
State of being: seem, become, grow, stay, turn, remain, prove

Watch the video: Linking Verbs

Confusion #2: “Be Verbs” that aren’t Linking Verbs
The second and third groups above can also be action verbs, but it’s common to hear that forms of be are always linking verbs. Hm. What about this sentence?

The lion is chasing the antelope.

Here we have is working as a helping verb with chasing to form the present continuous tense. Remember: to decide if a verb is linking, we must use the “equals sign” test. Here’s another example:

Harriet is home.

Saying Harriet = home is not quite right. Home does not identify her, nor does it describe her. It tells us where she is. This is what we call an adverbial noun. It doesn’t function as a direct object, so that makes is an intransitive-complete verb in this context. It expresses action, but it does not transfer the action to an object. Weird! A way to make sense of this is to substitute exists for is, so the subject and intransitive-complete verb together would be Harriet exists.

Confusion #3: Transitive vs. Intransitive Verbs
It’s one thing to show action and another to transfer it. Transitive verbs work with a direct object that “receives” the action. If there is not a direct object, the verb is intransitive. To determine if a verb is transitive, insert what? or whom? into the sentence. For example:

Jeanne balanced her checkbook.
Jeanne balanced what?
checkbook (the direct object of the transitive verb balanced).

Lyle called Stephanie for the 14th time.
Lyle called whom?
Stephanie (the direct object of the transitive verb called).

The weather was hot, so I drank from the stream.

I drank what?
I drank whom?

The questions are not answered. The prepositional phrase from the stream answers the question where, but this is not the same thing. So in this case, the verb drank is intransitive complete because a prepositional phrase can never be a direct object–a good rule to know!

Side Note: Refer back to the sentence in the previous section: Harriet is home. Let’s change it to Harriet is at home. Now the verb is is followed by the prepositional phrase at home. Does this change the status of is? No, it remains intransitive complete because, again, prepositional phrases can never be direct objects.

Watch the video: Transitive and Intransitive Verbs

Confusion #4: Infinitives
Along with gerunds and participles (see below), infinitives are known as verbals, “words formed from verbs that don’t act as verbs.” Infinitives are almost always preceded by to, e.g. to swim, to sing, to read, etc. Since they can function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs, they can be quite confusing!

Infinitive as a noun:
Trevor loves to eat.
The infinitive is the direct object of the verb loves.

Infinitive as an adjective:
Trevor has a sandwich to eat.
The infinitive describes the noun sandwich.

Infinitive as an adverb:
Trevor must eat to survive.
The infinitive modifies the verb eat.

Watch the video: Infinitives

Confusion #5: Infinitives without “To”
To-less infinitives, also known as “bare infinitives” will often show up after the verbs feel, hear, help, let, make, see, and watch.

Trevor helped me make dinner.
To is not needed before make, but the infinitive phrase make dinner still functions as a noun and the direct object of the verb helped. This makes we the indirect object. Here’s a similar example:

He helped me understand the recipe.
To is not needed before understand.

Sometimes bare infinitives are hard to spot because adding to back in would be awkward:

He watched me stir the soup.
We would never say to stir the soup in this context, yet stir the soup is still an infinitive phrase functioning as a noun and direct object. Keep an eye out for feel, hear, help, let, make, see, and watch. They signal that a bare infinitive may follow!

Confusion #6: Gerunds
Another kind of verbal, gerunds are famous for always ending in ing and always functioning as nouns. Because nouns can do lots of jobs in a sentence, gerunds can show up all over the place.

A gerund as the subject of the sentence:
Eating will make Trevor very happy.

A gerund as a direct object:
Trevor loves eating.

A gerund as an indirect object:
Trevor gives eating all of his attention.

A gerund as the object of a preposition.
He is devoted to eating.

Watch the video: Gerunds

Confusion #7: Participles
The third and final verbal, participles function as adjectives and often end in ed, en, or ing.

The rising sun reminded Trevor it was time for breakfast.

Trevor would not eat the rotten fruit.

A participial phrase functioning as an adjective describing Trevor:
Removing his heavy coat, Trevor sat down to gorge himself.

Watch the video: Participles

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