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Grammar Granny        < Previous        Next >


Long Words: Handling Humdingers


You can tell who learned to read from phonics instruction, and who didn't, by how well people do in pronouncing big, long words. You could call them "polysyllabic." Or you could call them "humdingers."


When you are faced with an unfamiliar word with lots and lots of letters in it, you need to "sound it out." You attack it from left to right, silently "pronouncing" the different syllables. Then you can see what root words, prefixes and suffixes are at work.


But people taught to read with Whole Language techniques, chiefly sight reading, have trouble "hearing" the different syllables in order to sound out a longer word. Their eyes tend to skip from front to back and front again, and they get all mixed up.


Phonics instruction teaches children the various rules of pronunciation, such as when you use the long vowel and when you use the short one, and that helps a lot. But with sight reading, the sense of sound is basically back-burnered, so those cues aren't helpful when dealing with serious vocabulary words.


It's just another reason we need our schools to stick with phonics-only reading instruction in the early grades. It's the best foundation for handling humdingers on down the road. Sadly, though, most teachers don't know how to give phonics-only instruction. We need parents and the public to demand it.


If you don't have good phonics skills, the best thing to do is to look up a long word in the dictionary and follow the pronunciation guide that's given in parenthesis. Then you can handle humdingers . . . and be thankful you don't have to handle them too often!







opposition to separation of the church and state.




(ON-uh-rif-i-kay-bi-li-too-DIN-i-tee, -tyoo-)



(The longest word that Shakespeare ever used was another form of this: honorificabilitudinitatibus. Costard, the clown, uses it in Love's Labour's Lost:


"I marvel thy master hath not eaten thee for a word; for thou art not so long by the head as honorificabilitudinitatibus: thou art easier swallowed than a flap-dragon."




(FLOK-si-NO-si-NY-HIL-i-PIL-i-fi-KAY-shuhn) noun

Estimating something as worthless.



By Susan Darst Williams Grammar Granny 026 2006


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