Baseball, fireworks, and apple pie

Just need a coffee.

I might make myself look like a fool in this post, but that hasn’t stopped me before 🙂

What do baseball, apple pie, and fireworks have in common?

Summer? American symbols? All reasonably enjoyable?

Right. Right. Right. And they are all compound words!

Compound words are used frequently in the English language, but after thinking a bit more about them I wasn’t exactly sure when a compound word was written as one word or two. What was the rule or pattern that determines if a compound word is one word or two?

Let’s go back a bit and first define what a compound word is. I tell my students that it’s a word that is made when you take two words or more, stick them together, and make a new word.

So, foot + ball = football. Football is the name of a sport that uses helmets and pads and that word is written as one word, football.

Other examples of one word compound words are: catfish, eyeballs, schoolbook, and railroad just to name a few. These are all words that are made up of two free morphemes (Foreman & Foreman, p. 161).

Understanding what compound words are and how they are made can help students with decoding. “Teachers of younger students might begin by having their students look for meaningful word parts in compound words like sunshine and rainbow” (Foreman & Foreman, p. 189). Seeing two separate words in the compound word will help the reader decode the word.

But a compound word can also be written as two words.

For example, post card, outer space, ice cream, and high heels are all compound words made up two separate words.

That’s simple enough. Compound words can be written as one and two words. Using our knowledge of compound words can help us decode the words by recognizing the free morphemes.

But I started thinking more about the why and the reason of the difference between the two. Why are some compound words written as one word while others are written as two? Was there a rule or pattern that I didn’t know about? Could I could uncover this pattern to help me better understand if I wanted to write and spell compound words? For example, I wanted to write the word playthings? Should I write it as play things, or playthings? Besides memorization, was there a rule or pattern that compound words follow to help me decide how it is written?

After doing a Google search, it seems to me that the difference between one and two word compound words is quite arbitrary! (Please share any information or theories you might have!) I couldn’t find a good explanation about why some compound words are written as one versus two, but I was instructed to consult a dictionary to decipher which one to use! Now I don’t have a problem looking words up in the dictionary, that’s a strategy to use to learn or check how it is spelled, but as the only strategy people have available I felt our language can be pretty unpredictable (and therefore confusing) at times.

(Please don’t even get me started on hyphenated compound words.)

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Future passive voice

I don’t often consider or question the syntax of my own native language, why certain words are used in these phrases, and the order that they come in. The importance or significance of knowing syntax is being able to use it correctly when we speak and write.

The other day I ran across a verb phrase while proofreading a Japanese teacher’s writing that gave me pause.

The teacher wrote the sentence, “The tests will be return on Monday.” When you read that sentence as a native speaker, the error immediately jumps out at you. I changed the infinitive “return” to the past tense, “returned,” to make the sentence grammatically correct. “The tests will be returned on Monday.” But then I began to think more about this particular error.

Will be returned

When I thought more about it, I knew this particular verb phrase (will be returned) was in the future tense, it will happen, it will happen on Monday. I knew that “will” was followed by the “be” verb form, and I was pretty sure the “returned” was just the past tense form of “return”.

After researching more online, I found out “will be returned” was an example of the future passive voice.

I had forgotten learning about the passive voice and the future passive voice. According to the website Jerz’s Literacy Weblog, “The passive voice is used to show interest in the person or object that experiences an action rather than the person or object that performs the action” (

I can form the passive voice when writing or speaking and know when it sounds right or wrong by reading or when listening to it, but I guess I never really thought that much about what situations warrant the use of the passive voice.

An example sentence can help illustrate.

The rules will be read again.

This sentence helps us see that the focus is on the thing that is experiencing an action, in this case the rules, rather than the rules performing any direct action. That makes sense.

Would English second language learners have trouble deciding to use the active or passive voice? If we are able to see a sentence and deconstruct it, we can see how the ideas inside the sentence work together but I wonder how difficult it is to decide to form the future passive voice or not as an English learner.

When I thought more about it, it also seems strange that the future passive voice would include a past tense verb. In the case of “will be returned,” the correct past tense is “returned.” If it is happening in the future, why are we using a past tense verb? (Because it will be completed in the future?) Again, it’s something that I never really thought much about but just accepted. I would imagine using the past tense for future events might be confusing for second language learners!

Loanwords: Words with a Japanese origin

Emoji, a Japanese word meaning literally “picture” and “writing”

Because I live in Japan, I’m interested in seeing aspects of Japanese culture and language make their way into American society. It’s fun and interesting to see how people react to, adopt, and make these new elements their own.

There have been many Japanese words that have gained popularity, acceptance, and hence usage in English. Some words I can think of have been in the American English lexicon longer than others. Some are newer and have been introduced more recently.

Karate, judo, typhoon, tsunami, karaoke, sushi, anime, sake, and emoji.

When I look at the list, I notice there are categories that these words fall into. Sports, weather, and food. The fact that those are words that have been adopted into English make sense because they represent concepts and cultural items that are unique to Japan.

What got me thinking about this topic was the pronunciation of these loanwords. Recently my sister visited me here in Japan. We had a lot of fun, but in conversation she used a couple of words that had a Japanese etymology- sake and karaoke namely.

Sake is a type of rice alcohol but closer to wine made from rice. In Japanese, it is pronounced /seɪk/ or /sakay/. I noticed many people who haven’t studied or are aware of the pronunciation of Japanese pronounce it /sakee/. It’s interesting how that word changed when it was adopted and used.

Sake or Japanese rice wine is enjoyed by people all over the world

If you change the Japanese sounds and characters to the alphabet what they call romaji, the word is written sake. You can see how someone who is reading that word in alphabet characters (with the final e) might decode it as /sakee/, instead of /sakay/ because in English we don’t often spell the /keɪ/ or /kay/ sound – ke.

Foreman & Foreman suggest for emergent bilinguals comparing spelling in the two languages to find similarities and differences (p. 149). But this comparison, Foreman & Foreman write works better for languages that are related like English, Spanish, and French. Japanese is not related to English, but I feel that a comparison of what letters make which sounds could be a valuable exercise.

On a related note, because I know how words like that are pronounced in Japanese and English, I noticed and feel this sort of tension between how to pronounce it depending on which group I’m with. When with Americans, I feel unsure how to pronounce it because of the difference. Should I pronounce it the American way or the Japanese way? To pick which one, sometimes you have to make certain assumptions about what the other person knows and understands.

Ant, a Greek prefix

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I just learned a connection between the words: Arctic and Antarctica.










We were going to learn about Antarctica in Social Studies and I was doing some planning. (I also must admit I have a hard time spelling Antarctica!)

“Hmmm. I see the word Arctic in Antarctica. I wonder if there is any connection. There must be. They are on opposite end of the Earth,” I thought to myself.

the Arctic

I’m sure I learned about the locations of Antarctica and the Arctic in school but I don’t remember making the connection between the location and the word relationship between Arctic and Antarctica. The prefix in Antarctica is ant- and is closely related to anti- which I have probably used more in my life. But here I am, an adult using a new Greek prefix to help me understand the meaning of a word!

Ant- is a Greek prefix that is related to anti-. These prefixes mean against, opposite of, or preventative (

Other words that have the ant- prefix include:

“Prefixes help readers understand the meaning of a word as long as they know the meaning of the base or root,” Foreman and Foreman write (p. 161). Now knowing the meaning of the prefix ant- and its relationship to anti-, we can easily understand Antarctica.  When we examine the word Antarctica, we can interpret it as, “the opposite of the Arctic.” When we look at a globe, the Arctic is the region located at the North Pole. Antarctica is located at the South Pole, “the opposite” pole of the Arctic region.

And if we understand the relationship (And know that there is even a relationship!), then we can more easily spell Antarctica, because I already know and remember how to spell Arctic.


The word Arctic is couched in Antarctica and if I combine that understanding with using the sounds of the word, I can spell it more easily!

This is a great example of how using prefixes, roots, and word parts can help us understand and discover new or unknown words. I’m not afraid to tell students this story and use it as an example of how and why they should do the same!



Foreman and Foreman introduce us to two different approaches to spelling- the learning view and the acquisition view (p. 129-131). I would say that I’m somewhere in the middle of the two.

I do teach spelling in “a consistent and systematic way” by concentrating on teaching spelling patterns and letter arrangements that will help students develop the sounds and understanding of the order of letters that make up words in the best way possible (not a perfect way for sure.) I also believe that true spelling is best used and practiced in authentic, meaningful writing which is more closely aligned with the acquisition view.

No matter what approach a teacher takes in regards to spelling. There are some words in the English language that are downright strange in terms of letters and the sounds they make, and I might classify some of them as evil even for English language learners. I’ve heard these types of words also called ‘tricky words.’

We learned in class that words that are spelled like V – C – e often make the long vowel sound. So the vowels in words like place, write, and tone all make the sound of the name of the letter, the long sound.

Later that day…

“What is this continent called?” I asked.

“Ummm, is that Europe?” Lukundo answered.

“Ok, how do we spell Europe?”

Lukundo tried, “E-U..” He knew that Europe started with an E and U and not a Y. He continued, “R-U-P.” Lukundo’s attempt at transferring the sounds into letters made a lot of sense. Those letters could make those sounds. I wrote the correct spelling on the board and explained that here Europe is spelled E-U-R-O-P-E.

In this word, the V-C-e pattern does not make a long vowel sound, at least not in my Midwestern American accent. I went on to explain that not all words follow the pattern, but knowing V-C-e gives us a really great tactic for spelling and reading the word correctly.

Why is Europe spelled like this?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, Europe comes from the latin, Europa. If you listen to the word pronounced it sounds like  /jʊˈɹoʊpə/ which follows the pattern of having the o make a long vowel sound. So maybe the spelling does make sense at a certain point in history in a certain part of the world.  


Lost in Translation, a book of untranslatable words

Link to the book on Amazon

My wife was killing time in a used book store. She picked up a book with a cute cover called Lost in Translation: an Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders.

This book is a treasure trove of illuminating and engaging words from languages around the world that do not have an English equivalent. The author makes the point that while we are able to communicate at lightning speed and as frequently as we like, there are still gaps in meaning, feeling, and interpretations in language.

Here are a few untranslatable examples from Lost in Translation: an Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World .

Akihi– Hawaiian – noun
Akihi is when you listen to directions, walk away, and promptly forget them. Loving Hawaii and Hawaiians, this was a favorite of mine. I love that they have named this!

Wabi-sabi – Japanese – noun
Wabi-sabi, which I have ran across but I think is not so well known, is finding beauty in imperfection. So the rice bowl that is chipped and worn but you take care of it and keep it clean is an example of wabi-sabi.

Trepverter – Yiddish – noun
When you think of a witty comeback or intelligent thing to say but it’s too late because the person has already walked away or the situation is past is known as trepverter in Yiddish. I can definitely identify with this feeling and situation. “Ahhh, I should’ve said that! Too late now.”

One more-
Kilig – Tagalog – noun
The feeling you get when something cute or romantic happens, like the feeling of butterflies in your stomach has a name in Tagalog kilig. I thought that was a really sweet one and I’m glad they have made a word for that.

Sanders picks endearing and wistful words that I think help illuminate the people and cultural values from these different places around the world. In addition to the words and meanings, Sanders uses very charming illustrations. I think you’ll enjoy reading this book!


It’s Shoop, Mr. Shoop

Last Monday, a new student joined the 1st grade class. I finally got a chance to meet her when our classes joined at recess. I had this simple conversation with her:

“Hi, what’s your name?”


“Hi, Yuito. My name is Mr. Shoop.”

On the surface, this seems like a completely innocent conversation, not much going on. Two people introducing themselves, we’ve probably seen and done this sort of thing millions of times. Well, maybe not millions but you get the picture.

On closer examination, there is something interesting going on here with language. I’m not sure what made me think of this but here I am.

I noticed that I introduced myself as “Mr.” A teacher using Mr., Mrs., or Ms. to talk about himself or herself is completely natural in the United States.

In Japanese, people do not refer to themselves using an honorific, さん (san). It’s just something not said and sounds very strange and noticeable when said. So when I introduced myself as Mr. Shoop, that was a very culturally specific use of language. The concept just does not translate culturally.

Another honorific that is used more specifically in Japanese is 先生 or sensei. This word is used when addressing a teacher or someone who is very knowledgeable and professional like a doctor, lawyer, or coach. Still, a teacher who is introducing himself or herself to a student will not call themselves ‘sensei.’

I asked my wife how a teacher in Japan would or might introduce himself or herself to a student or class. She said that they would probably say something like,

“Hajimemashite. Shoop desu.”       Nice to meet you. (Literally) I’m Shoop.

Or “watashi no name was Shoop desu.”     My name is Shoop.

On the other hand, when people talk about other people’s name they often use san depending on the relationship. So a Japanese coworker who I work with every day might still call me, Shoop san, which would sound strange in English, calling an acquaintance or someone who you meet every day, Mr., Mrs. or Miss.

Don’t you remember? It’s me, Mike san!