The images above show two of the 8 folded crepe paper pages from the 1910 woodblock print calendar published by Takejiro Hasegawa 1853–1938. There are  8 folded crepe paper pages with each month as a single page colour woodblock print. Calendar– ‘the way in which the natural divisions of time are arranged with respect to each other for the purpose of civil life’ (Chambers) from Latin calendarium, account book from Latin kalendae the ‘calend’, the first day of month when accounts were reckoned, from calare :to call, proclaim, summon.

From August to June, a school year and a reckoning of what we understand about words. I worry that one year of thinking orthographically is not enough. I worry that our year of hypothesising morphemes and investigating the roots to locate a word’s relatives, words connected in meaning and that share a common root and often times a common base, will be a distant memory left behind in middle school. I worry that students will be given lists and asked only to copy a definition and impale the word in a sentence then move on to the next word where each word’s story will lie mute and the relatives remain undiscovered.

Yet  student reflections on their end of year portfolios tell a different tale. Many wrote of the importance of etymology and the legacy this leaves in the language.  Reading their statements, I feel encouraged that this knowledge will not disappear. It may lie untended for a while, but an intriguing word may lure this year’s word nerds to the dictionary and once opened, they will wonder about the origins and perhaps analyze the morphemes.

Lachie, inspired by  Visualizing English Word Origins, wanted to show his mum what he now understood about the diachronic layers of English.

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 1.14.09 PMScrumptious and posh:

‘I feel I learned a lot about words this year, and it helped me to more thoroughly understand the past. When we studied literature like The Odyssey or The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas I saw what effects words have, they can make you cry, laugh or smile. Words tell stories of adventures and journeys. Words can sound scrumptious and posh. Words have stories of their own. Words have taught me that there is a deeper meaning behind everything. We researched roots and bases and morphemes, each branching into something new…Through this year, through words, I have found out more about myself; what I like and don’t like, and how I fit in or don’t fit in. We have learned to think about difference, and how conforming and not conforming to regulations is a difference, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the worse. ‘ (Laurie)

Words like a puzzle piece in history

‘This whole Humanities year, words and their history have been the most prominent of forces and ideas in the class. Ms. Whiting, being a word addict, fanatic and enthusiast, has included words into completely unrelated topics, where she quickly and impressively broke down a word in front of us, or when she asked us to travel back in time and study them. At the beginning of the year, I thought that words were simply… words. A language that we use to express ourselves, nothing more. But deeper into the year, I realized that there was more. So much more. The history of words and the people that use them and the thoughts people have and the way people say it all mattered. Every word had a tale, a tale that stretched back through time itself. I myself took insight from the word <loss>. A simple- to- say word. Four letters. Not very hard. But the weight of the past and life of this one word was like a puzzle piece in history. Its ‘tail’ was long enough to stretch back to the Old English Period; which can be as old as the year 700.  Each word was connected to an enormous spider- web that kept the most beautiful and complex system of sounds- languages. We learned that words themselves have a story; a story that is made up of other, magnificent words. … Words have the ability to change someone’s mind, mess up their emotions, inspire them, puzzle them, make them believe.’ (Sean)

Breathing, hearing,writing and talking words

Tiril, a new English speaker, wrote: ‘Words, words, words and more words. I breathe words, I hear words, I write words and I talk words. There are so many words. Every word has a story; where it come from, when it was first used and what it first meant. All words has a base element, some also has suffix or prefix too. When you study one word, so many more are revealed and connected and you find more questions than answers, but knowing the family of the word helps you understand the individual word. During this year I have done a word study on Heffalump, floss and dream. In class we also studied different words, suffix and prefixes. We learned how to use web pages such as Etymology Online and the OED. The word I have studied the most lately is the word dream. I learned where the word dream come from, when dream was first used and what dream first meant and a lot more. Before I started this year I didn’t think about that word or that it has another meaning , or where all the different words came from or when they was first used. Throughout this year I have learned all of this and how to find it if I meet new words I want to know more about. Words can be nice and useful, but can also be used as a weapon, instead of bombs and guns. A historical example we saw this in was when Hitler used words to manipulate laws and people to his advantage and how he used words to become a dictator, the supreme leader of Germany. Word study is important and I will continue to use what I have learned about words in 7th Grade throughout my life’.(Tiril)

More interesting than I expected

‘At first when I had heard word study, I thought uh-oh. I never really got the concept of word study and the use of it in my life. However, as I learned more about it, I found it more interesting than I had expected it to be. Suddenly it opened my range of vocabulary, because there were so many words that came from the same base.  Throughout this year of 7th grade it lead me to an insight of what it truly meant to use words. I saw that words had the power to manipulate and dominate,to provoke  deep emotions.’ (Celes)

More than bricks

‘I’ve learnt that words are more than bricks that make up a sentence (if the sentence was a wall). Throughout the humanities journey, I have discovered that words have more meaning hidden in them which I would’ve never thought to discover. When I chose my word, <malevolence> it was because I thought that the word sounded interesting. Malevolence really is full of history, and if you know where to look, you’ll be able to uncover the amazing story. Through vowel suffixes, bound bases, affixes and all sorts I have found that each part of a word has a reason. From Mrs.Whiting I have also discovered new words that seem to have more magic to them than the words I previously used. Mrs.Whiting also says that words are weapons, and learning words are like fighting back. Which is true, and the use of words could’ve been a less impactful tactic instead of War.'(Megan)

Changed by words

‘Word Study has been an important part of our humanities year and has deepened my understanding of words and where they come from. Word study started out feeling slow and boring but as we got farther into the year and deeper into words, the more connections I saw and the more interesting it seemed. Word study has changed me and has given me a new curiosity that humanities has never given me. Before I would never give much thought to words past the definition, but now I see connections and I want to learn more about the word. So nowadays I have a much better understanding of the word and find them so much more interesting. Word Study has offered me a chance for a new insight into the world.'(Jose)

An insight on humanity
‘ At first I was skeptical about Word Study and its relevance, and found it to be quite boring and tumultuous. Eventually though, I appreciated just how much value and significance words and the study of words actually have in our lives. Words are perhaps the most powerful tools we have, they can move someone to tears, create atmospheres of joy, and even fear and bring about any emotion we are capable of feeling. Words can be moulded and merged with others to create anything the human mind can imagine. There is history weaved into word study, and this study can gift us not only the power of words, but an insight on humanity. I honestly cannot believe how much I have grown to enjoy words, word study and what it can carry.’ (Nanami)

Caught in a sea of words

‘Word study has taught me a lot this year. It has taught me about the morphemes of words: bases (free, bound), prefix, suffix. As I studied words, I learned how they are little treasures, their secrets are drawing me in. They have caught me “in a sea of words”. There is no escape now. It isn’t like I would like to anyways. It helps me understand words better, and now I can’t see words the same way. If I learn a new word, what I want to do is go onto www.etymonline.com and look up the root, figure out the morphemes, and get down to the overall meaning of the word. Wherever I go next in the world, whatever school I may go to, I will take this with me. Whenever I find a new word, I will figure out what it really means, and I will try to inspire others to learn about words this way.'(Sasha)


From the 1910 calendar published by Takejiro Hasegawa. Read more about Japanese crepe paper souvenir calendars at Letterology.


After our year together my hope is that these students will, like Dylan Thomas, have ‘tumbled for words’

I fell in love–that is the only expression I can think of–at once, and am still at the mercy of words, though sometimes now, knowing a little of their behaviour very well, I think I can influence them slightly and have even learned to beat them now and then, which they appear to enjoy. I tumbled for words at once. . . . There they were, seemingly lifeless, made only of black and white, but out of them, out of their own being, came love and terror and pity and pain and wonder and all the other vague abstractions that make our ephemeral lives dangerous, great, and bearable.

(Dylan Thomas, “Notes on the Art of Poetry,” 1951)