Vn032.01 The Word Box 6/20/77
As her term end in kindergarten approaches, Miriam brings home
more of materials from school. Today came the Word Box — a small
plastic case for holding 3×5 cards. As a reading-readiness activity,
the children are, occasionally, asked to select some word whose spelling
they would like to learn. The teacher prints it on a card; the child
then copies the word onto other cards and places the words in his box.
If one must teach spelling to children (and one must, eventually), this
is an eminently sensible approach.
Telling us about her word box over the noon meal, Miriam
explained a problem and her little joke in solution. Miriam was asked
to pick some words she wanted to spell; she didn’t particularly want
to learn to spell any words she didn’t already know. Noting her box
had nothing at all in it, deciding ’empty’ was a good beginning amused
her. ‘Word box’ followed. The other words — in no significant order
I can tell — are:
wonder wonder April wonder post office Indian
Post office, as a member of her word list, may derive from the near
term end walk she took with her student teacher Sue to buy supplies for a
farewell party. Miriam also noted she had asked Mrs. Badger, her
kindergarten teacher, how to spell ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ . . . .
And thereby hangs a tale.
Last summer, while we were moving from Connecticut to our
quarters in Massachusetts, the whole family made the trip several times
(we did some renovating of those quarters and performed the thorough
cleaning Miriam’s dust allergy required). To amuse the children we
often played the game ‘I am thinking of a word.’ In this game, the
selector informs the others of the initial and final letters of some
word as hints for their guessing. It fell my lot to select a word once
under difficult driving conditions. I said: “I am thinking of a word.
It begins with ‘F’ and ends with ‘N’ and it’s one you’ll never guess.”
This permitted me to deny without thinking FAN, FIN, FLOWN, FAUN, FUN,
FON (the ruler of an African kingdom; Gretchen was with us. Cf. Gerald
Durrell’s book The Bafut Beagles). Traffic improved; I was ready for
the outrage then when I announced ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’ (which
is the habit of making small of things. [The word does not appear in
Webster’s Third International but may be found in the Oxford English
Dictionary.]) A few days later Miriam and I drove back to Massachusetts
in my MG (a 1953 TD). Above the roar of the engine, Miriam began, “I
am thinking of a word. It begins with ‘F’ and ends with ‘N’.” In my
turn I guessed the obvious monosyllables. When they were rejected I
tried those with long vowels marked in spelling by the terminal ‘e’.
(Miriam was just beginning to read at that time). When I finally gave
up, I listened quite attentively as Miriam burst out laughing and said,
“Floccinockihilification.” (She mispronounced one vowel, a diphthong,
and omitted 3 of the 12 syllables). Since that time of her great
surprise, Miriam has wanted to learn to spell the word.
It is my intention that Miriam should continue using the word
box during the course of this project for words she encounters at Logo
(both Logo-words and others — for example, those she needs help with
in writing letters). The incidents here illuminate some of the non-
pragmatic use of words that elevate their interest for Miriam.