Tag Archives: professional development

Ottava Rima

“Ottava Rima: In prosody a stanza of eight lines rhyming a-b-a-b-a-b-c-c. The form, which arose in Italy in the 14th century, was used by Boccaccio, Tasso, Ariosto, and many other Italian poets. In English is is usually written in iambic pentameters. It was used, for example, by Keats in ‘Isabella‘ (1820); in ‘Don Juan,’ Byron strikes the mock-heroic, almost burlesque note that has come to be associated with the form.”

Excerpted from: Murphy, Bruce, ed. Benet’s Reader’s Encyclopedia, Fourth Edition. New York: Harper Collins, 1996.

The Doubter’s Companion: Ad Hominem

Ad Hominem: The obverse of hero worship. Both indicate an unwillingness to deal with content.

Public figures have complained for decades about the growing tendency to judge them by violent personal attacks, often aimed at their private lives. But as public actors have chosen to assume Heroic guises—whether majestic, saintlike, martyred, romantic or touching—so those they attempt to seduce have reacted with personalized integral vilification.

There is nothing new about such ad hominem attacks. They were widely used for political purposes in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. If public figures paid a little more attention to history, they would know that their predecessors led a much rougher life. Today they are protected by concentrated media ownership, the obsession of the large professional elites with respectable public behavior and, in most countries, overly strict libel laws. Given that ours is a management-oriented society, we give far too much importance to the smoothness of public discourse and fear serious open verbal conflict.

Contemporary ad hominem resembles that of an earlier period—the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This was a society of courtiers constantly in pursuit of meaningless power. Court life was measured by personal details—orgasms, medals, gloves, cleavages, and titles. Ad hominem fed the endless appetite for gossip which filled the salons and occupied the days of those caught up in the complex structures of the state. These were powerless people living by irrelevant criticisms in the shadow of false human gods—the absolute monarchs. That such detached ad hominem attacks have returned with a vengeance in the late twentieth century suggests that we have also returned to the courtier-based society of the great palaces, which have been transformed into the great professions and the great organizations of the public and private sector.

Excerpted from: Saul, John Ralston. The Doubter’s Companion. New York: The Free Press, 1994.

Term of Art: Summarization

“summarization: The process of determining important information in a text and explaining it briefly in one’s own words.”

Excerpted from: Ravitch, Diane. EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.


“Circumlocution (noun): Wordy and indirect language, sometimes as an evasion; roundabout verbosity; an instance of wordiness. Adjective: circumlocutional, circumlocutionary, circumlocutory; noun:circumlocutionist.

Henry James, in his later fiction, tried to make his characters and prose so refined in subtlety that his paragraphs are often monuments of circumlocution. Edith Wharton recalled James’s trying to ask an old man the directions to Kings Road at Windsor: “My good man, if you’ll be kind enough to come here please; a little nearer-so” and as the old man came up: “My friend, to put it to you in two words, this lady and I have just arrived here from Slough; that is to say, to be more strictly accurate, we have recently passed through Slough on our way here, having actually motored to Windsor from Rye, which was our point of departure; and the darkness having overtaken us, we should be much obliged if you would tell us in relation, say, to the High Street, which, as you of course know, lead to the Castle after leaving on the left hand the turn down the railroad station.” Robert Morsheberger, Commonsense Grammar and Style'”

Excerpted from: Grambs, David. The Random House Dictionary for Writers and Readers. New York: Random House, 1990.

Term of Art: Sound Blending

“sound blending: The ability to hear sounds in isolation and then blend them into a continuous word. Sound blending requires auditory perception skills to take in information and reproduce the sounds fluently. For example, an instructor may say ‘put /m/ /a/ /t/ together’ to assess if the student can say mat. Sound blending is an important skill to develop the awareness of word sounds.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

Term of Art: Sound/Letter/Word Retrieval

“sound/letter/word retrieval: The process of reading requires a student to quickly retrieve sounds, letters, and words. Research has shown that a delay in naming pictures, symbols, letters, and words is an accurate predictor of reading problems. Problems in retrieving are probably due to memory retrieval problems that make it difficult to access phonological and verbal information.

Sound, letter, and word retrieval interventions are available, such as computer software programs that slow the pace of language to allow individuals to retrain the pace of language processing.”

Excerpted from: Turkington, Carol, and Joseph R. Harris, PhD. The Encyclopedia of Learning Disabilities. New York: Facts on File, 2006.

Russell Banks on Linton Kwesi Johnson

He is, of course, a top-notch poet, and his bittersweet poems can indeed make us weak, make us feel incomplete. In 2002 he became the second living and first black poet to have his selected poems published in England in the Penguin Classics series. He is Jamaican by birth, and though he has resided for most of his adult life in England, where he took a university degree in sociology, he writes in Jamaican Creole. Not a dialect, not strictly a ‘patois,’ either, and not a mere post-colonial version of Standard English, Jamaican Creole is a language created out of hard necessity by African slaves from 17th century British English and West African, mostly Ashanti, language groups, with a lexical admixture from the Caribe and Arawak natives of the island. It is a powerfully expressive, flexible, and, not surprisingly, musical vernacular, sustained and elaborated upon for over four hundred years by the descendants of those slaves, including those who, like LKJ, have migrated out of Jamaica in the second great diaspora for England, Canada, and the United States. Fortunately, its grammar and orthography like that of pre-18th century British English, have never been rigidly formalized or fixed by an academy of notables or any authoritative dictionary. It is, therefore, a living, organically evolving language intimately connected to the lived experience of its speakers.”

Excerpted from: Banks, Russell, “Introduction,” in Johnson, Linton Kwesi. Mi Revalueshenary Fren. Port Townshend, Washington: Copper Canyon Press, 2006.

Term of Art: Subtractive Bilingualism

“subtractive bilingualism: A description of a bilingual program in which students become proficient in a second language, which replaces their first language in the curriculum. Contrast additive bilingualism.

Excerpted from: Ravitch, Diane. EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2007.

byzantine (adj)

You noted, I expect, that the header for this post contains what is generally used as a substantive and in that role is capitalized. Byzantine, of course, means, variously, “of, relating to, or characteristic of the ancient city of Byzantium,”  “of, relating to, or having the characteristics of a style of architecture developed in the Byzantine Empire especially in the fifth and sixth centuries featuring the dome carried on pendentives over a square and incrustation with marble veneering and with colored mosaics on grounds of gold,” and “of or relating to the churches using a traditional Greek rite and subject to Eastern canon law.”

What we have in the context clues worksheet on the adjective byzantine with a lower-case b, is a run-of-the-mill modifier. Used this way, the word means “of, relating to, or characterized by a devious and usually surreptitious manner of operation <a ~ power struggle>,” “intricately involved,” and “labyrinthine <rules of ~ complexity>.” I tend to use this word as synonym for complex and complicated. It’s a tricky word, polysemous and altering between proper and common status. It shows up enough in academic prose, I would argue, that students probably ought to learn it.

If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.

Book of Answers: The Glass Menagerie

On what work did Tennessee Williams base The Glass Menagerie (1944)? The Broadway play was drawn from a screenplay called The Gentleman Caller, which Williams wrote while he was under contract as a screenwriter for MGM in the early 1940s.

Excerpted from: Corey, Melinda, and George Ochoa. Literature: The New York Public Library Book of Answers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.