to the Editor
2008 in twelve new words
New Word of the Month
Natives and immigrants – new words and the digital divide
Take our word for it
Name Dropping? A No-Nonsense Guide to the Use of Names in Everyday Language
Your questions answered
Next in a series of short articles looking at web resources useful for teachers
and learners of English. As a rough guide, each site is marked out of
25 in terms of content, design and ease-of-use.
Take our word for it
Take our word for it (or TOWFI) is an American website devoted to etymology and written by husband and wife team Melanie and Mike Crowley. The site describes itself as bi-weekly, yet the current issue is dated October 30th 2006. Don't let that put you off, though, there's enough information in the Back Issues section to keep any etymologically-inclined reader happy for a long time.
The word histories themselves are detailed and well-researched, and as you roam around the site it is impossible not to get sucked into the stories behind the words. The authors are particularly keen to debunk myths surrounding the origins of words. One of their aims is to ‘stamp out netymology’, netymology being their word for incorrect word origins spread over the Internet.
The bulk of the material can be found in two sections; Spotlight and Words to the Wise. Spotlight is devoted to exploring themes in the history of English, and offers an in-depth look at phrases and topics, such as the influence of Arabic on English. Words to the Wise answers questions posed by the webzine's readers. These are shorter explanations to specific queries, usually about idioms and phrases. Reader participation is also evident in the Letters to the Editor section. This interaction between the readers and authors gives the site a lively, friendly feel.
Another part of the site worth noting is Curmudgeon's Corner, where language purists get the opportunity to let off steam about any gripes they have over modern language use.
The old-fashioned design lets the site down. Illustrations aren't labelled so it isn't always clear what they are referring to. Navigation is reasonably straightforward, however you need to tread carefully when exploring the Back Issues as it's easy to end up back at the start of the current issue. That said, the search facility provides a neat way of finding out about a particular phrase. Typing 'kick & bucket' leads you quickly to a short explanation for ‘kick the bucket’. The origins of 'cut the mustard' weren't addressed, but at least I now know where the word mustard comes from!
The amount of detail could be bewildering for a learner, but with a little guidance there's a lot of material that can be used to develop vocabulary and practise reading skills. For teachers, the infectious enthusiasm of the site's authors makes this a great place to dip into for background material and topics for classroom discussion. Here's hoping the site will emerge from hibernation soon!
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