Saturday, June 9, 2012

Multi-meaning words and idioms

A friend of mine once told about a visit she had with her grandchildren. Early one morning, while she was in the kitchen, three-year-old Rylan came in and asked her for some apple slices. His voice was bass-low and raspy so she said, “Rylan, you lost your voice. Where did it go?”  She turned back to slice his apple but soon noticed him wandering around the kitchen, head down, searching. When he lifted his face, she saw a tear coming down his cheek.

“What’s the matter, Rylan?”

More tears fell and he squawked, “I can’t find my voice.”

He was sure if he looked into all the corners, under the table or in the back of a cupboard, he was going to find it.

That misunderstanding might make us smile but children are not the only ones who get confused over language. A few weeks ago, one of my coworkers announced in the teacher’s room, her son had lost his first tooth. Most everyone in the room looked worried. Someone said, “How sad - he won’t be able to put it under his pillow.” His mom quickly explained that he still had his tooth and was now wearing it around his neck in a plastic tooth-shaped holder.

Multi-meaning words and figures of speech can bring to mind some unusual pictures if we misinterpret them. A second grade class put on a play this week and one of my students was extremely worried about performing. Before the play, I met him outside the stage door to give him a few words of encouragement. I had to stop myself from saying, “Break a leg.”

This year I discovered a great resource to introduce kids to multi-meaning words: Chopsticks by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Scott Magoon. It is filled with clever humor. My students didn’t catch all the word play, but they learned, and the story entertained us all. Take a look at a few quotes:

 “No one stirred, not even Spoon.”

“At first, Chopstick was just plain stumped.” (The illustration shows him standing on a cutting board that looks like a stump of wood.)

“Knife knew this revelation called for a toast.” (Knife is pictured holding a slice of toast.) “He was sharp that way.”

What a fun book – this one was a hit with my students and a good teaching tool “to boot.” (Don’t you wonder where that phrase came from?)

I know many school districts are already out for the year but we have one week left. As summer approaches I’m already making plans to hike a few trails, take a couple short trips and get lost in several good books. I just hope I don’t get lost on the trips or trip over the stack of books collecting next to my favorite reading chair.

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