Six ugly words in English

An image of 'ugly toys' - what about ugly words?

On a recent absent-minded surf of the web, I came across Wordie. Wordie is the kind of site after my own heart. Its tagline is “Like Flickr but without the photos”. Wordie allows you to make lists of words and people can add, comment or vote on them. An hour or so wasted there yielded the following little gem of a list: ugly words that had been cited by users of the site. I list them here, along with definitions from the Macmillan Dictionary (I used their site to get these quickly, of COURSE I knew the meanings of all of them before!)

harangue – to speak to someone in a loud angry way for a long time, in orderto criticize them or to try to change their opinion It DOES look kind of ugly when I see it written down actually.

2. subpoena an official legal document that says you must come to a court oflaw to give information I bet this one is in there because 1) people hate getting these and 2) it looks like murder to spell, I doubt I could spell this one correctly.

3. quaff to drink something quickly or with a lot of enjoyment I don’t understand, I really LIKE this word! Maybe it’s the double ‘f’ at the end…

4. unctuous seeming to be interested, friendly, or full of praise, but in a way that is unpleasant because it is not sincere. Yes, this feels ugly both in meaning and in form. I think it’s the consonant cluster at the beginning.

5. visceral relating to basic emotions that you feel strongly and automatically I agree this is an ugly word to spell and feels ugly in my mouth when I say it.

6. onus – if the onus is on someone to do something, it is their responsibility or duty to do it. I can only think of one reason someone would nominate this as an ugly word, and that’s because it looks like the word ‘anus’. Otherwise, I don’t see anything ugly at all about it.

I don’t know if I would share these with students, but it could make an interesting question. I often ask students to list what they say are their favourite or most beautiful words but I hadn’t thought of asking the reverse. Of course all of this is subjective, but these things can help people remember words and are always good for people who enjoy language.

What do you think? What are your own “ugly” words in English and why? Post a comment.

Published in: on September 11, 2009 at 10:53 am  Comments (35)  
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Six other notable sixes

Things are beginning to wind down here at Six Things headquarters. My classes have finished and I’m getting ready for the summer. It is also getting extremely HOT in my office, which has caused a few strange flights of fancy. The latest one resulted in this list, a collection of other notable sixes!

1. Number Six – The codename given to the character in the cult British television show of the sixties The Prisoner (image above). I loved (and still love) this show – although I have serious doubts about the remake they are threatening to do this November. Anyway, the main character is an unnamed prisoner in a model village and is referred to by the authorities simply as “Number Six”. This was the show that coined the phrase: I am not a number, I am a free man! What does this have to do with English teaching? Nothing. But it’s a favourite “six”, and I’m feeling self-indulgent, so it goes in.

2. Six word memoirs – A fantastic premise for creative writing. There is a legend that Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in six words and he came up with this: For sale: baby shoes, never worn. There are books of these, or check out the website. Now this DOES have potential in the language classroom.

3. Scott Thornbury’s “Six” talks – Scott Thornbury was using lists in his talks well before this blog was started, and some of them included the number six (most notably, Six Things beginning with R – a fantastic talk I saw at IATEFL). See abstracts and powerpoints of some these talks here. I can feel good about this one too on my blog as it is completely ELT related.

4. Six degrees of separation – The six degrees of separation theory states everyone is at most six steps away from anyone else on the planet. For example, I am three degrees away from the Canadian singer Alanis Morrisette (a friend of a friend dated her in high school), two degrees away from the Queen of England (I met her husband at Buckingham Palace) and… well I could go on name-dropping horrendously but maybe we’ll keep that for the comments below. Relation to English language teaching? Well, it could provide gist for some interesting conversation with students!

5. Six-pack – Yes, I may be grabbing at straws but this was another one that jumped to mind on a very hot afternoon. A very Canadian thing, the six-pack of beer was a staple of my university days since it was cheap entertainment for an evening in at a friend’s place. I don’t know if it has the same cultural cachet in other places. Maybe you can tell me? A six-pack can also refer to very well-defined stomach muscles but let’s not even go there. Relation to English language teaching? None whatsoever (although the Tefl Tradesman may beg to differ!).

6. Sixth sense – This is not, as one student suggested, the ability to speak with ghosts but rather a special ability to feel or see things without using the other five senses. Good teachers have a sixth sense, I think, for what works in the classroom with their students.

Published in: on June 14, 2009 at 6:28 pm  Comments (14)  
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Six ways to use a list

Since I’m going to be rabbiting on about lists at various workshops I’m doing I thought I would save the bother of making a handout and simply include here some teaching tips. There are of course six of them. A longer version of these appeared in Humanising Language Teaching and It’s for Teachers magazine.  Here are my top six ways to use a list in class.

1. Dictation

Introduce your list, and simply dictate the items to the students, who write them down. Ask students to check their dictations in pairs afterwards and have one pair come and write it on the board.

A variation would be to dictate the items first and ask students to guess what they think the list is about.

Try it with: This basic technique works best with lists of short items (no more than three or four words) and words that the students recognise – don’t use it with names of people for instance.

2. What’s the list?

Write up some key words from the list randomly on the board (these could be numbers, or names of people or places). Introduce your list and explain that you are going to read out the items on it. Tell the students that they have to number the words on the board in order that they hear them.

Read out your list. Check the answers to the order of items. Then ask students to work in pairs and retell as much of the information as they can remember, using the words as a prompt.

Try it with: This works well with lists of facts about something, somebody or somewhere.

3. Mixed up list(s)

Give students items from a list in a mixed up order. This could mean putting each item on a different slip of paper or, if all that cutting up seems to onerous, simply jumbling the order of items on a piece of paper.

Ask the students to try and put the items from the list in the correct order.

Try it with: This works only with lists which are a ranking of some kind (for example, most popular leisure activities, top ranking movies of all time etc). It’s best too if the items are not too long.

4. The students’ list

Introduce the subject of the list (e.g. 10 top things to do in your city) but without saying what the items are. Ask students to work in pairs and brainstorm 10 different things for the list. Ask each pair to work with another pair and combine their lists into a new list of 10 things. Then do feedback on the final lists as a whole class.

At the end of the discussion, read out (or distribute) the original list for students to compare with. Do they agree with the author of the list?

Try it with: This activity works well with lists that are based on opinion (the best things to do in X city, the most newsworthy items of the year etc).

5. Work on intonation

Lists can also be used to practice pronunciation. One characteristic of lists is that the intonation usually rises on each item of the list (as if indicating “I’m not finished yet”) and falls on the last item (as if indicating “I’ve finished now”).

 You can raise students’ awareness of this by asking to listen to you read the list with this intonation and mark their own arrows. Then ask them to create their own (more common, or useful) lists and read them to each other with the correct intonation.

Try it with: Almost any list of short items – even a shopping list. Read out the items on the list, paying attention to the intonation. Then ask students to do the same, in pairs. Finally, ask students to make their own lists. For example:

Today I have XY, Z and English class.

I’d like to visit X, Y, Z and ZZ. Etc

6. As a springboard for discussion

Of course, many lists can be great as a springboard for discussion and conversation. Some ways you could do this would be: to ask students to underline the items they found most interesting/unusual/typical and compare with a partner; discuss what items are missing (in their opinion) from the list; discuss a different order to the list or simply talk about the topic that the list brought up.

Try it with: Any list that you think will spark interest!

Published in: on April 2, 2009 at 1:57 pm  Comments (6)  
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Six wildly popular lists in English Language Teaching

list2Yes, by this time you’ve figured out that this site is all about lists. However, I’m far from the first or last person to be interested in lists. And there are quite a few lists in English Language Teaching (not as many as there are acronyms but still…). Here are six “wildly popular” lists, that you just can’t afford to ignore 🙂

1. Irregular verb list – the daddy of all lists. This is the list of choice to fill the last page of a coursebook, put on a classroom wall, go on a school promotional bookmark etc. etc. It’s also the list that no student can escape. I have long sought a secret “way” to teach this list to students without them having to memorise it. Can’t find one though.

2. Multiple Intelligence list – The idea that there are seven, or eight (or more, this list keeps getting longer) “intelligences” was proposed by Howard Gardner over twenty years ago but it still keeps popping up at conferences as if it’s the newest thing. The original seven “intelligences” proposed were (I believe) logical-mathematical, bodily-kinaesthetic, musical, visual/spatial, linguistic. interpersonal and intrapersonal. This list tends to be very popular with teachers looking to change their teaching style.

3. Krashen 5 Hypotheses – a theoretical list, these are the five hypotheses proposed by Stephen Krashen in the early 1980s on how people acquire a second language. They are: the natural order hypothesis, the acquisition/learning hypothesis, the monitor hypothesis, the input (or input +1) hypothesis and the affective filter hypothesis. I don’t have space to explain them, but Vivian Cook has a nice resume here. These hypotheses have been contested, but the list remains popular especially on MA and Diploma courses.

4. Eight word classes – This is a language list, the main classes that a word can fall into. They are noun, verb, adjective, adverb, preposition, determiner, conjunction and pronoun. The sad truth is that many language teachers (native English novice teachers especially) would be a bit hard pressed to identify whether or not a word belongs to one class or another.

5. Common European Framework of levels – A1, A2 etc. This list has become the bane of many large institutions as they switch their system of classes, levels and exams to attempt to reflect the descriptors and levels outlined in the Common European Framework. For those wishing a cure for insomnia, you can read the whole list here.

6. Frequency Lists.  Since the arrival of large corpora, the idea of frequency of words, longer lexical items or grammatical items has gained more and more importance. It’s used in dictionaries and grammar books and to a lesser extent in coursebooks. The top six keywords, according to one source, are the, of, and, to, a, in. I personally think this kind of list is more useful for those who make teaching and reference materials than teachers in their day-to-day work but I may be wrong. This list, and its implications,  is popular at conferences.

Are there any lists you would add?

Published in: on December 22, 2008 at 12:29 pm  Comments (7)  
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