U is for Underpass

U of Ottawa underpass
This underpass is a pedestrian walkway.

History of the letter U

The Phoenician letter waw (Y), or “hook”, was one of the most variable, undergoing many mutations as it was adopted by various languages and cultures. This letter was the sixth in the alphabet and the origin in Greek of the letters digamma (F) and upsilon (Y), and in Latin of F and V. The letters U, W, and Y were also derived from it. Thus, waw became both a consonant and a vowel.

In Aramaic, Hebrew, Arabic, and Syriac, the letter waw came to be written in different ways, as a single stroke or a little circle.

In Latin, a stemless waw (V) was used for the letters U and W. In the 14th and 15th centuries, the lower case letter v began to be rounded sometimes into a u. The capital U became accepted in the 1700s, especially in France.

There is still confusion over the pronunciation and usage of the waw-derived letters, especially in English words borrowed from other languages.

Some U words

cunning

sum

udder

ultimate

underneath

uniform

unusual

upper

urgent

user

Exercises

  1. Define each word in the lists, “Some U Words.” Identify each as a noun, adjective, verb, or adverb. Use each word in a sentence.

Special reading assignment

  1. An underpass is the space under a bridge of some sort, allowing traffic to go through. A long underpass may be called a “subway”, distinct from subway meaning “underground” or “tube” rail transport systems.
  2. Pedestrian underpasses are built where heavy foot traffic needs to avoid a major thoroughfare.

 

Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in 2017.

U is for Unicorn

Mythical beasts
Unicorns exist in the imagination, in toy stores, and sometimes in flea markets.

Consonant — vowel combinations

ub  U-boat                                     bu        bun

uc  buck                                        cu        curb

ud  udder                                       du        duck

uf   bluff                                        fu         fun

ug  ugly                                         gu        gun

uh  uh-huh                                     hu        hut

uj   U-joint                                     ju         junk

uk  ukulele                                     ku        skull

ul   ulcer                                        lu         lunch

um umbrella                                  mu       mutt

un  undo                                        nu        nut

up  upon                                        pu        puny

uq  bouquet                                   qu        quit

ur  urban                                       ru        run

us  user                                          su        sun

ut   utility                                       tu         tune

uv  uvea                                         vu        vulgar

uw thruway [US]                          wu       wurst

ux  uxorious                                  xu        xu (Vietnamese money)

uz  Uzi (gun)                                 zu        zucchini

 

Vowel — vowel combinations

ua  aqua                                         au        augur

ue  flue                                          eu        feud

ui   fluid                                        iu         radius

uo  buoy                                        ou        our

uu  vacuum                                    uu        muumuu

 

Exercises

  1. Examine the lists of “Vowel—Consonant Combinations” and “Vowel—Vowel Combinations,” and see how many more words you can add to the lists.

Special reading assignment

  1. A unicorn is a mythical beast with one horn or antler, rather than two. Unicorns are usually depicted as a white horse with flowing mane and tail.
  2. Do you use an umbrella in a downpour? Up until Thursday, I thought they were ugly.

 

Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in 2017.

T is for Tower

Sky scrapers
The top of the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada.

T is for that and those, this and these

That and this are used variously as pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

That (plural, those) is a commonly used to indicate a thing (or sometimes a person) or an action or a circumstance.

That particular dog over there was the one that ate the turkey.

Those skills are very necessary to succeed in that business.

We won’t do that again.

I would not go that far.

I would not go so far as to say that.

That morning, he was at work.

Used as an adverb to introduce a phrase, the word that is sometimes omitted.

That is one item that we defined as the priority.

That is one item we defined as a priority.

This (plural, these) is similarly used to indicate a thing (or sometimes a person) or an action or a circumstance.

This dog of yours, here under the table, ate some turkey, too.

These are the items that we defined as essential for this (our) business.

What did the team decide about this?

Don’t do this; you may break something.

This morning, I am very busy working.

Generally, this refers to familiar things close by and that to less familiar things further away.

I have this idea about that topic on the news.

The saying, this and that refers to unspecified things that you have been doing or getting.

I went to the store and got just a little of this and that.

Exercises

  1. How do you describe a class of things, such as cars, for example? Create your own taxonomy or classification.
  2. Create sentences using the words this and that in as many ways as you can think of.

Special reading assignment

  1. They told me that Timothy and Thomas treated themselves to ten trials at the terrible tumbled-down tenement.
  2. The CN Tower, which opened in 1976, is over 550 metres tall (over 1815 feet tall). The Edge Walk attraction is a narrow ledge 116 storeys above ground level.

T is for Tiger

You may visit this tiger at the Toronto Zoo.
You may visit this tiger at the Toronto Zoo.

Some T prefixes

tachi—, tacho—, tachy— all imply “swift”.

tachometer

tachycardia

tauto— means “the same”.

tautology

techno— relates to the use of technology.

technobabble, technocracy

tele— comes from the Greek “far off” and often refers to television or telephone.

telecast, telegraph, teleprompter, telescope

ter— means “three” or “thrice”.

tercel, tercentennial

tera— means a factor of one trillion (1012) or, in computing, a multiple of 240.

terahertz, terawatt

terabit, terabyte

Some T suffixes

t replaces the suffix —ed in some words.

gild, gilded [past tense/adjective], gilt [adjective]

spill, spilled [past tense], spilt [past participle]

spell, spelled [past tense], spelt [past participle]

spend, spent [past tense/past participle]

shall, shalt [second person singular, archaic]

 

th, —eth are archaic or Biblical verb endings (third person singular, present tense).

He leadeth me beside still waters…

th, —eth are endings that form ordinal numbers.

sixth, hundredth, millionth

nineth, twentieth

th may refer to an act, process, state, or quality.

depth, growth, health, wealth, width

the— may refer to God or gods.

atheist, pantheism

Exercises

  1. Look through the prefixes and suffixes. Do you see any that you might use on a day-to-day basis? Create a sentence with each of those.
  2. For the prefixes and suffixes that look less familiar, identify where you might find them, e.g., in a scientific text or a medical paper.

Special reading assignment

  1. Two tigers tore through three treacle tarts.
  2. Time and tide wait for no man. —Geoffrey Chaucer

S is for Sea Lion

Eumetopias jubatus
The book, “Animate Creation” is “Fully Illustrated with Scientific Accuracy.”

S is for Simple

Here is Dr. Holder’s version of “simple”. How would you put it?

In the present Volume, I have endeavored to carry out, on a more extended scale, the principle which has been partially indicated in several of my smaller works; namely, to present to the reader the outlines of zoologic knowledge in a form that shall be readily comprehended, while it is as intrinsically valuable as if it were couched in the most repellent vocabulary of conventional technicalities. In acting thus, an author must voluntarily abnegate the veneration which attaches itself to those who are the accredited possessors of abstruse learning, and must content himself with the satisfaction of having achieved the task which has been placed in his hands. In accordance with this principle, the technical language of scientific zoology has been carefully avoided, and English names have been employed wherever practicable in the place of Greek or Latin appellatives. 

–J.B.H.

From the Preface to “Mammalia,” volume I of Animate Creation; Popular Edition of “Our Living World,” a Natural History by the Rev. J. G. Wood, revised and adapted to American zoology by Joseph B. Holder, M.D., 1885.

 

Exercises

  1. Do you have trouble reading this passage? Try reading it out loud.
  2. How long is each sentence? Try to re-write the passage by breaking it into short sentences.
  3. Look up the words you don’t know. Are they now archaic or are they pedantic?
  4. Has the English language changed since 1885?
  5. Do you agree with what Dr. Holder is saying?

R is for Rock Cut

 

This rock cut is located on Highway 7 west of Ottawa, Ontario.
This rock cut is located on Highway 7 west of Ottawa, Ontario.

R is for rhyme and rhyme scheme

A rhyme is the repetition of the same or similar sounds, most often in the final syllables of the final words in lines of poetry or song. Rhyme is also a verb, used even to describe how someone made an unintentionally poetic statement.

Rhyme is a poetic device. One common type of poetry features rhyming couplets.

All the stream that’s roaring by

Came out of a needle’s eye;

Things unborn, things that are gone,

From needle’s eye still goad it on.

—  “A Needle’s Eye,” William Butler Yeats

 

A rhyme scheme is the pattern of the rhymes ending the lines of a poem or song. In English, different rhyme schemes have names, e.g., a limerick is AABBA.

Here is another example of rhyming couplets, using letters to mark the different rhymes.

He with body waged a fight,                                A

But body won; it walks upright.                         A

Then he struggled with the heart;                      B

Innocence and peace depart.                               B

Then he struggled with the mind;                      C

His proud heart he left behind.                           C

Now his wars on God begin;                                D

At stroke of midnight God shall win.                 D

— “The Four Ages of Man,” William Butler Yeats

 

Rhyming Mnemonic

Rhymes are also used as a mnemonic to aid memorization.

Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November;

All the rest have thirty-one,

Save February, with twenty-eight days clear,

And twenty-nine each leap year.

— Anonymous

 

R is for rhythm

Rhythm is the regular beat of sounds and silence in speech, prose, poetry, or music. It is as natural as walking and breathing; our hearts beat in a rhythm. In music, the upbeat and downbeat correspond to the metre in poetry, which is measured in feet, e.g. da DUM, which is an iamb.

Iambic pentameter is a common rhythm in poetry, consisting of five iambs per line.

And I do love thee: therefore, go with me;

I’ll give thee fairies to attend on thee,

And they shall fetch thee jewels from the deep,

And sing while thou on pressed flowers dost sleep;

(Act 3, Scene 1)

—“A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Shakespeare

Exercises

  1. Do you have a favourite poem? What is its rhyme scheme and rhythm?
  2. Do you know any mnemonics used as memory aids? Do they rhyme?

Special reading assignment

  1. Rock cuts are a feature of Canadian landscape, especially in the north.
  2. Rest assured, Rosemary has rated the recipe for roasted radishes.

R is for Raccoon

 

Toronto, Canada, has a large population of raccoons. Sometimes they get into mischief.
Toronto, Canada, has a large population of raccoons. Sometimes they get into mischief.

Prefixes

re— stands for “again” or “go back”. Sometimes, especially when the root word begins with R or RE, there is a hyphen. Also, if you make up a word starting with RE, you ought to use a hyphen.

react

redo

regrow

re-release

re-roof

rerun

restore

retry

Note that a hyphen may indicate a different meaning.

redress vs re-dress

reform vs re-form

rhodo— means “red” or “rosy”.

rhodonite

rhododendron

radio— indicates a relationship with radio or radiation.

radioactive

radiowave

 

Suffixes

er creates an adjective or adverb indicating more, by comparison.

bigger

faster

higher

stronger

er designates someone (or something) who does or is something.

banker

foreigner

New Brunswicker

swimmer

2-wheeler

cutter

re is sometimes preferred over the more common —er, most often in words that originate from French or Latin. This is one place where spelling variations occur, especially in the USA.

chevre [from French] (cheese)

goitre, goiter [US]

litre, liter [US]

louvre, louver

metre, meter [US]

sabre, saber [US]

theatre, theater [US]

ry, —ery designate a place for something, a class of something, a state or condition of something, or a quality or characteristic of something or someone.

bakery, tannery

finery, mastery

cheery, misery, slavery

snobbery, watery

Exercises

  1. Find a paragraph in a newspaper or online and look for all the words containing the letter R. How many of them contain a prefix or suffix beginning with R? What is the root of these words? Does the root make sense on its own?
  2. Write down as many verbs as you can think of. Place the prefix re— in front. Do the verbs still make sense? Try to use them in a sentence.

 

Special reading assignment

  1. Raccoons are native to North America but have spread around the world.
  2. Raccoons do not make good pets. Do you know anyone who has tried to make a pet of one? What happened?

 

Note: This blog post is an excerpt from a book, “English Manual: Letter by Letter,” to be published in the summer of 2015.