2016 word of the year by the American Dialect Society

“Dumpster fire” was chosen as the American Dialect Society’s 2016 word of the year.  To be considered, the word (in this case a phrase) must have become prominent in the past year and must have “reflected public preoccupations,” according to the chair of the selection committee, Ben Zimmer, who also writes the “Word on the Street” column for The Wall Street Journal.

The Dialect Society defines dumpster fire as “an exceedingly disastrous or chaotic situation.”  A synonym could be “train wreck.”

2015’s word of the year by this group was “they.”  They?  Yes, they, but with a new meaning, referring to the singular, not the plural.

In 2014 the word was “#blacklivesmatter.”

In 2013 the word was “because.”  That’s right.  Because.  It was chosen because it was being used not to introduce a clause (as in this sentence) but to introduce other grammatical constructions such as nouns.  Because bologna.  Hmm.

In 2012 the word was “hashtag,” in 2011 it was “occupy,” and in 2010 it was “app.”

For more on “dumpster fire” go to the American Dialect Society website (www.AmericanDialetc.org) or to this past weekend’s Wall Street Journal, p. C4.

By the way, did you know the word “dumpster” was coined by the Dempster brothers who invented the dumpster in the 1930’s?  You learn something new every day.

Teaching “and” and “but”

Learning new vocabulary words in elementary school is important for reading comprehension.  But vocabulary instruction needs to include a deeper understanding of words students use all the time, words they haven’t paid much attention to, such as the conjunctions “and” and “but.”

boy reading

Children know what “and” and “but” mean.  But do they realize they use “and” to connect two words or ideas which are both positive or both negative?  And do they realize they use “but” to join one word or idea they favor and another word or idea they don’t favor?

Helping students learn to read means pointing out the relationships which conjunctions create.  Here’s how.

  • Start with the word “and.” Write a sentence such as “I like ice cream and cookies.”  Point out to the student that you used “and” to join two ideas you feel the same way about.  Ask her if there are any other ways she could say “I like ice cream and cookies” without using “and.”  If she is stumped, suggest, “I like ice cream.  Additionally, I like cookies.”  Or, “I like ice cream as well as cookies.”  Or, “I like ice cream.  Also, I like cookies.”  Point out that “and,” “additionally,” “as well as” and “also” all are used to connect ideas which we feel the same way about, either positively or negatively.

Other words which mean the same as “and” include consequently, because,  moreover, and furthermore.  A semicolon between two sentences usually indicates that the idea in the first sentence continues in the second sentence.

  • Now write a sentence such as “I like ice cream but not anchovies.”    Ask her if there is any other way to say that idea.  She might say, “I like ice cream.  However, I don’t like anchovies.”  Or, “I like ice cream although I don’t like anchovies.”  Or, “I like ice cream even though I don’t like anchovies.”  Point out that “but,” “however,” “although” and “even though” all are used to connect ideas we don’t feel the same way about.  One idea we like and one idea we don’t like.  One idea usually uses a form of “not” or a prefix that means “not” such as un, im, ir, or dis.

Words which mean the same as “but” show contrast.  Some other words are though, despite and yet.

  • To reinforce the difference between “and” and “but” and their synonyms, suggest two ideas, such as summer and winter. Ask the student to say or write a sentence saying how they feel about those two times of year.  Now ask the student to change the word or words they used to connect summer and winter to a word or phrase which means the same thing.  Now do it again to another phrase or word which means the same thing.  Try another relationship, such as snakes and dogs.  Again, ask for synonyms for the connecting words.

Being aware how “and” and “but” and their synonyms create different relationships between ideas is important in reading.  If a child is reading and comes to the word “however,” she knows the thought has just changed to an opposite kind of thought.  If she comes to the word “moreover,” she knows more of the same kind of thought is coming.

Another way of teaching these ideas is to suggest that “and” is something like a plus sign, but “but” is something like a subtraction sign.  Or “and” is something like walking straight ahead while “but” is something like taking a U-turn.

What was the word of 2016, according to Oxford Dictionaries?

Post-truth” is the word of 2016, according to the Oxford Dictionaries*.  This adjective means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”  Post-truth has often been paired with politics, both in the US and UK, and saw a spike in usage beginning in May (before the Brexit vote), peaking at the time of the US Presidential election in November.

Child Browsing the Web

Contenders for Oxford’s word of the year include:

  • Adulating, a noun: meaning behaving like a responsible adult
  • Alt-right, a noun: an ideological group of extreme conservatives
  • Brexiteer, a noun: a person favoring the UK’s withdrawal from the EU
  • Chatbot, a noun: a computer program which simulates human conversation on the internet
  • Coulrophobia, a noun, an extreme fear of clowns
  • Glass cliff, a noun: a situation in which a woman or minority member gains leadership and where the risk of failure is high
  • Hygge, a noun: cosiness and comfortable socializing, making a person feel well
  • Latinx, a noun or adjective: a person of Latin American descent
  • Woke, woker, wokest, an adjective: alert to injustice, especially racial injustice


What was the word of 2016, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary?

Surreal” is the word of the year according to Merriam Webster Dictionary.  It is an adjective meaning “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.**”  The word is used to describe something shocking or surprising, something above or beyond what is real.  In 2016 it was used to describe terrorist attacks and the US Presidential election.


Contenders for Merriam-Webster’s word of 2016 include

  • Revenant, a noun: one who returns after a long absence
  • Icon, a noun: a person who is successful and admired
  • In omnia paratus, a Latin prepositional phrase: ready for all things.  This phrase was used in the original Gilmore Girls TV show and in its revival.
  • Bigly, a phantom word thought to be used by Donald Trump. Actually, he said “big league” in debating, but it sounded like “bigly.”
  • Deplorable, an adjective used as a noun by Hillary Clinton. It means “lamentable,” “deserving censure or contempt,” “wretched” or “abominable.”
  • Irregardless, an adverb used on air by a broadcaster during the final game of the World Series. This word is nonstandard English, and the dictionary recommends using “regardless” instead.
  • Assumpsit, a noun: a legal term meaning an express or implied promise of a contract.  It was used by Rep. Joe Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention.
  • Faute de mieux, a French phrase: “for lack of something better.”  It was used by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a decision she wrote.
  • Feckless, an adjective: weak or ineffective.  Mike Pence used it in a Vice-Presidential debate.


Learn vocabulary through online games

One key to reading well is to understand many vocabulary words.  Is there a fun way to learn new vocabulary words?  How about learning through online vocabulary games?

http://www.vocabulary.co.il offers many kinds of vocabulary learning games, a few of which are described below.

  • Prefixes offers matching games for various grade levels.  For third through fifth graders, four prefixes appear on the left and four meanings appear on the right.  Click on one prefix; then click on its matching meaning and a line connects them.  When all four have been matched, click on the “check answers” tab, and check marks appear in front of the correct matches.
  • Foreign-language offers matching and other games for English-Spanish, English-French, English-German, and English-Latin learners.
  • Word scrambles ask the player tot unscramble given letters to form a word. You can press “hint” for help.  A clock keeps track of your speed in finding the correct word.
  • Idiom games include matching games and choosing the right meaning of a phrase from four possible choices.
  • Spelling games include word searches, unscrambling of words and choosing the correct part of speech for a given word.
  • Syllable games ask the player to divide words into syllables.
  • SAT vocabulary games offer various kinds of word-building games for older kids.

Twenty-four different kinds of vocabulary learning are offered, and from them, usually there are many choices in kinds of games to play and age or grade level choices.

Bookmark gifts for child readers

Books make great holiday gifts for children, and so do special bookmarks tucked inside.  If you search online you will find hundreds of bookmarks, some to buy and some to make.  Here are a few that caught my eye, plus some “handcrafted” ones.

photo-of-book-mark-of-pen-pointPage Nibs are tiny metal book marks (one inch by ½ inch) shaped like the points of fountain pens. Children can move the bookmarks up and down a page as they read.  If children forget which line of text they have just read, using one of these line markers makes it easier to remember.  They’re also good for adults who want to know precisely where they left off reading on a given page.  Click on the “nibs” photo for more information.


Fingerprint Bookmark Bands are large rubber band-like book marks including a hand as part of the band. The hand’s index finger is pointed.  The whole thing can be slipped around an open book with the finger pointing to the line where the reader stopped.  Click on the “fingerprint” photo for more information.

houses-of-hogwart-bookmarksMetal bookmarks featuring the four houses of Hogwarts might thrill your Harry Potter readers. They along with other Harry Potter bookmarks are available from Amazon. Click on the “Harry Potter” bookmarks photo for more information.

photos-of-children-bookmarksFor the do-it-yourselfer, click on the photo at the left to find easy directions on how to create a bookmark out of a photo of a child.

Another do-it-yourselfer is a piece of cardboard (a cut up manila file will do) on which you write the child’s name and date at the top (for example, winter 2016-2017) and “Books read.” Underneath draw lines where the child can write the names of books read.  When filled in, save it in the child’s baby book.

Still another do-it-yourselfer is to trace the hand of your child at the beginning or end of every year or on every birthday. Trace the hand onto cardboard, write the date and the child’s name, and laminate.  Punch a hole through the top, and add a tassel.  Children love to measure their growth.

The child’s own signature on a card can make a great bookmark.  Laminate the card, and if you like, punch a hole and add a tassel.

How to make kids better readers

Renaissance Learning offers many ways to make children better readers.  Here are some of their suggestions.

“Give your students more choices.” Let children choose which books to read from a huge selection, both fiction and nonfiction.Young girl 's reading choices include a print book and an eBook.Young girl 's reading choices include a print book and an eBook.

Make sure the reading level is just right.”  A useful gauge is to count the number of words a student misses on a single page.  If it is five or more, that book is probably too hard and will discourage children from reading.

Devote time to reading practice.”  Designate a certain time every day—before bed, before the morning school bus or during the school day—for reading.  Children will look forward to this time, especially if it is part of a routine.boy reading on the floor

Build relationships with daily check-ins.” During reading time, talk to your child.  Comment on what he is reading.  Let him know you care.

Make reading practice a social experience.” Read together with a child, one page for her, one page for you.  Or after you read, discuss what you and the child like and don’t like.

Create a book-store style display.” On the bookshelf, show off books by their jackets or front covers to encourage a child to choose that book.  Display books you have read so you can talk to the child about why you like the book and why he might.girl reading Junie B. Jones

Read aloud to students of all ages.” When you read to a younger child, you expose him to books whose ideas he can grasp even though the vocabulary might be difficult for his reading level.  When you read to an older child, you introduce genres which the child might not choose, and you model comprehension strategies such as predicting, asking questions and summarizing.

Acknowledge and celebrate success.” Praise your child for his reading.  Create a spot to post his reading accomplishments—names of books and articles read, or number of pages read.

For more detailed information, go to http://doc.renlearn.com/KMNet/R60386.pdf.