Vocabulary Builder – Week 6 & 7, 2022

Welcome to our vocabulary bulding lesson. This blog comes to you on Wednesdays. As usual, we discuss some of the outstanding (not “new”) words and expressions we come across in people’s writings and speeches. We also highlight a few mistakes made by writers and speakers of this great English language, and rectify them. If you are yet to subscribe to our site, then kindly do so to receive email alerts of this blog and others.

Let’s begin today’s lesson with the following poem written by Dennis Odhiambo.

The Shadow

He was fiendish,
a completely deviant figure;
no one could tell
nor make a diagnosis
of his malady,
because he was completely reinvigorated

Across the neighbourhood,
tongues sharpened;
the search for his identity intensified,
he was unpalatable and unacceptable;
perhaps, he was a foe
even to the unborn

The news of his arrival
echoed across the two ridges,
spreading from door to door
like jungle fire;
and there he was,
with no name, identity and race

He set up a tiny tent
next to the mupeli tree
while the curious crowd flooded,
glancing and glaring at him;
he was unmoved,
undisturbed and unshakable

No one knew
nor completely fathomed
what his mission was,
thus tongues shivered,
brains weeped
and hearts throbbed,
but no answer visualized

Dusk crept in,
ushering in darkness;
only crickets could be heard
singing graciously to their loved ones;
the moon shone serenely,
spreading a blanket of warmth
to the two ridges;
at a distance,
his tiny tent mercilessly stood

I gave up my weary persuit
for his chemistry;
he was indefinable –
all about him was henid;
I thus set off to his habitation,
and stormed into his tiny tent

It was pitch and dark
with no sign of life;
all I saw was his shadow
hanging on the same tree
he had erected the tiny tent:
he was gone, never to re-emerge,
to the land of no return

(C) 2022 Dennis Odhiambo, All rights reserved.

Meet the writer:

Dennis Odhiambo is Kenyan. He is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree programme in Education (Arts), English and Literature, at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST) located in the Western Province of Kenya. He has been writing poetry since high school and draws his inspiration from reading the works of renowned poets such as Jared Angira (Kenyan) and the Late Langstone Hughes (American). He currently runs his personal website where he showcases his writing skills.

Meaning of italicised words as used in the poem

Fiendish: contrary to natural physique or behaviour (in a rather evil way).

Malady: a deep-seated defect or illness.

Reinvigorated: renewed in terms of life, energy or strength; revitalized.

Unpalatable: unpleasant; evoking disgust.

Fathomed: comprehended.

Serenely: clearly and peacefully.

Chemistry: social construction, in terms of one’s posture and undertakings.

Henid: wrapped in mystery; incomprehensible.

Using the right modifiers

A modifier is a word that tells us more about another word in a sentence. They are basically adjectives and adverbs. It is important as a writer to choose the right modifiers for your work so as to create a more vivid and outstanding description for your readers.

Simply saying something is nice or bad or has been done nicely or badly is not enough because it leaves the reader with lots of unanswered questions. And that is not the goal of writing.

If the aim of your writing is to create an impact, you should consider using more specific modifiers. Don’t leave your reader asking: nice in what way or great in what perspective? Simply nail the hammer on the head.

For example:

I came across the following description in Luisa Zambrotta‘s post “John Steinbeck, Charley and Ruby“. It was made by the late American Author John Steinbeck way back in the 60’s to describe a racially regressive crowd of parents and students, and their denigrating remarks as they shouted at a little schoolgoing black girl, during a local protest against racial integration. Steinbeck, in his 1962 travelogue “Travels with Charley: Search of America“, insisted that American newspapers left out crucial details in their description of the scene. Consider how he uses modifiers to appeal to the reader.

“No newspaper printed the words these women shouted, but they only indicated that they were rude, or even obscene. On television the soundtrack was blurred or crowd noises were cut off. But I have heard the words, bestial, dirty and degenerate. In a long and unprotected life, I have already seen and heard the vomits of demonic humans. Why then did these screams fill me with awesome and nauseating pain?”

From the blog “John Steinbeck, Charley and Ruby” by Luisa Zambrotta (Feb. 6, 2022)

Care must, however, be taken to ensure no dangling modifiers are left in a piece of writing. These are words or clauses that do not clearly modify any word or group of words in a sentence. Keep in touch for an extensive discussion about this in our next Vocabulary Builder blog.

This week’s list of idioms

1. One brick short of a full load: crazy or stupid.

2. Play hooky/truant: deliberately skip work, school or duties without permission.

3. Take a long walk on a short pier: used to tell someone to go away or that their wish will not be granted. (Synonyms: go jump in the lake, sod off, get lost).

4. Roll the dice: try something risky.

5. A fly on the wall: a quiet or non-participatory observer (a witness).

Idioms add flavour to writings and speeches but only if used sparringly.

Common mistakes to avoid in writing

Using everyday in place of every day and vice verse.

“Every day” is an adverb meaning each day (daily) while “everyday” is an adjective meaning ordinary or usual. Avoid confusing their usages.

Examples:

INCORRECT: I watch movies everyday.

CORRECT: I watch movies every day.

INCORRECT: Singing was an every day activity in the life of Cyril.

CORRECT: Singing was an everyday activity in the life of Cyril.

In the same manner, care must be taken when using indefinite pronouns with two morphemes such as anyone, everyone, something, someone, etc. and their divergent noun phrases such as any one, every one, some thing, etc.

Examples:

INCORRECT: The choir was composed of teenagers, everyone of them wearing a pair of brown sneakers.

CORRECT: The choir was composed of teenagers, every one of them wearing a pair of brown sneakers. (“Every one” means each).

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Many thanks for reading till the end. Kindly write your thoughts in the comments section below. See you here again next Wednesday with another chapter of “Vocabulary Builder”. Meanwhile, keep reading our blogs.

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Vocabulary Builder – Week 4 & 5, 2022.

Let’s grow our English vocabulary together.

Hello and welcome to our weekly “Vocabulary Builder” which comes to you every Wednesday. As always, we discover some of the most outstanding (not “new”) word usages, phrasal verbs, idiomatic expressions and common mistakes to avoid in English. If you are yet to subscribe to our site, then kindly do so (be sure I’ll follow back and share in your thoughts too).

Do not be surprised to find me reopening a poem or story you wrote many days or years back and referring to it in my Wednesday posts. It is simply what I love doing.

So, let’s roll out today’s compilation. I’ll deliberately skip phrasal verbs in today’s post.

Outstanding word usage

Cavalcade /ˈkævəlˌkeɪd/

Definition:

A series or chain of an event or something.

Example of usage:

Ingrid Wilson uses this word in her poem “Do-you-think-the-saurus?” to refer to the different interconnected ‘versions’ of English that have been used in different ages since time immemorial. See below:

‘Dawlin, Baybe!’ Essix nearby

Nowf Lahdan too: a cavalcade

of Englishes

down through the years, the Middle

and the Old

taught me to be bold

with my word choices.

From stanza 2 of “Do-you-think-the-saurus?”

Lest we forget, writers are at liberty to deviate from the literal meaning of a word (definition) to its figurative meaning, but with great regard to the principles of semantics, as seen in this case.

I bet no linguist would wink at this detailed and memorable poem by Ingrid.

Outstanding idiomatic expression

An idiom is saying “to make a monkey of someone” when we mean “to fool someone”.

Step up to the plate

Definition:

To take up responsibility or initiate an action (by volunteering).

Cindy Georgakas uses this beautiful expression in the fourth stanza of her new year poem “Ignite our Light for the New Year: Spoken Poetry” published on her website on Jan. 3, 2022.

Let’s step up to the plate

being an example and walk away

from getting on our soap box. 

We need to practise what we preach

and go back to what we learned as children

and be kind to one another,

in and out of the sandbox. 

Stanza five of “Ignite our Light for the New Year”

The difference between a skilful writer and a native writer is the ability to contextualize a word or a phrase as seen in Cindy’s case. When you contextualize an idiom, you consider its suitability for the message you’re trying to convey. Kindly read Cindy’s poem; you’d agree with me that this usage is well-fitting and exemplery (and that Cindy is a skilful writer).

More idioms to add to your writer’s voc-list

1. Spoil the ship for a ha’p’oth of tar (ha’p’oth – half-penny-worth): have something important fail for want of a small reward.

2. Twenty to the dozen – fluently. (E.g. She speaks English twenty to the dozen.)

3. Burn daylight – waste time.

4. Harsh one’s mellow – spoil one’s good mood or annoy someone.

5. Take a load off – sit.

Idioms add flavour to writing but should be used abstemiously since they have hidden meanings. Kindly post one or two in the comments section for other readers to see and enrich their vocabulary too.

Common mistakes to avoid

Poor writing is like a glaring wrong answer in Mathematics.

Using the phrases “at this point in time” and “at this moment in time” in writings and formal speeches.

These phrases are redundant (needlessly wordy). Instead, use now or at this time.

Examples of usage:

NONSTANDARD: Most people can at this point in time access the Internet.

STANDARD: Most people can now/at this time acess the Internet.

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Thank you many times for reading till the end. Kindly like and leave your thoughts in the comments section below. See you again next week with another chapter. Meanwhile, keep reading our posts.

Vocabulary Builder – Week 3, 2022

Hello and welcome to our weekly vocabulary builder. This blog comes to you every Wednessday only at Laminsa Indies. If you’re yet to subscribe to our website, kindly do so.

Today, we’ll break the normal procedure of our lessons to look into a poem that espouses the journalistic desire to create an imapact in the society using words and, in general, writings. Read with me.

Smiting Pen

O smiting pen, my weapon,
listen to my plea this season,
go to the corners of the world,
to my people who into wiles are sold,
into vice,
into malice;
the vile thoughts of bandits,
the serpent’s slander that bites
and the shedding of innocent blood
which make make me feel so mad.

O smiting pen, my weapon,
whirl upon these your brimstone;
spring up and spread like wild fire
and consume this world’s biggest liars
with your ink
finer than mink;
smite our sins long ago
to let all learners grow;
smite the corrupt gourmand
and give my people back their land.

O smiting pen, my weapon,
o smiting pen, my weapon,
rise up like a restless cow;
o how I want to see you act now!
Tread upon evil
things that many marvel.
Bring down the sin of colourbar
and the nepotistic dealings of my neighbour.
Tear the stained shirts of necromancers
who provoke spirits as men take bracers.

O smiting pen, my weapon,
spring up into the morning silence
and devour with the strength of romance
even unto that, which is not yet known,
the black,
the wicked dark;
stretch out and make the demons scatter
and spectres of immorality shutter;
spin out the insecurity in my country,
o that man-poachers cross not the boundary.

O smiting pen, my weapon,
listen; jot down my slogan,
write and reach out to my people,
wash out evil and make their hearts supple,
and clean,
of no sin,
rich in resources, both human and nature,
and the covert pulchritude of good teachers;
redeem street urchins and cold hands,
now and forevermore in the lands.

Poem by Lamittan Minsah.

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Meaning of italicized words and phrases

Slander: a malicious statement made with the intent of injuring someone’s reputation.

Mink: the fine fur or pelt of a mink (a semi-aquatic, carnivorous mammal in the Mustelinae subfamily, similar to weasels, with dark fur, native to Europe and America) used to make apparel.

Gourmand: a greedy or ravenous eater; according to the poem, a person with unimaginable greed for people’s property.

Colourbar: racism.

Necromancers: persons who perfom witchcraft, especially involving death or the dead (like raising the dead using dark magic).

Spectres: ghosts; phantoms.

Man-poachers: kidnappers.

Pulchritude – physical beauty (in this case, covert pulchritude means non-physical beauty); comeliness.

Cold hands – ruthless and unfeeling people.

Common mistakes to avoid

Using bing that in place of because or since.

It is generally nonstandard to use “being that” when making reasons. Instead, use “because” or “since”.

Examples:

UNCONVENTIONAL: Being that James studied gynecology, we expected it would be easy for him to know his wife had obstetric fistula.

UNCONVENTIONAL: We expected it would be easy for James to know his wife had obstetric fistula being that he studied gynecology.

CONVENTIONAL: Because James studied gynecology, we expected it would be easy for him to know his wife had obstetric fistula.

CONVENTIONAL: We expected it would be easy for James to know his wife had obstetric fistula since he studied gynecology.

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Many thanks for reading. Kindly let me know your thoughts in the comments section. Till we meet again next Wednesday for another chapter, keep reading our blogs.

Also check:

1. Vocabulary Builder – week 1, 2022.

2. Vocabulary Builder -Week 2, 2022.

Vocabulary Builder – Week 2, 2022

Hello and welcome to our weekly vocabulary builder. If you’re yet to subscribe to our site, then kindly do so (be sure we’ll follow back and gladly share in your thoughts too).

As always on Wednesdays, we handpick some of the best words, phrasal verbs and idiomatic expressions from blogsites and rectify mistakes made by writers and speakers.

If you have any poem or short story with outstanding vocabulary, kindly drop the link to it at the comments section. We will check through your work and showcase your knowledge and proficiency of the English language to the world.

Here we go with our recent selection.

Outstanding word usage

Morph (verb)

Definition:

To slowly change (into something).

Usage example:

Britta Benson uses this word in her short story ‘The Quiet’ published at MasticadoresIndia to explain the action of slowly changing from a healthy state to a morbid one.

In the story, the main character Alex, whose family suffered from cancer and were later cremated, is pinned by disquietude over the fungus growing between his fingers and toes and thinks he might be slowly changing (morphing) into her family’s distorted physiques before their demise (which she likens to the cellar walls).

I’ve got some weird fungus growing between my fingers and toes now. Raw bits of flesh with something white sitting on them, like the crest of a wave. My skin stings and feels wet and damp like the cellar walls. Perhaps I’m morphing into them. …

Paragraph 10, line 8 – 11 of “The Quiet”.

Aside from cutting the verbiage, this word incites the reader towards thinking of the scietific process involved (which is the case, as a result of cell division) rather than a mere physical process.

Outstanding phrasal verb usage

Hunker down

Definition:

To prepare oneself for a possible occurence.

Usage example:

Britta Benson uses this phrase in the introductory paragraph of her aforementioned story to describe the action of first-time cancer survivors preparing for future battles against the ailment.

It can only stay quiet for a certain time. That first uncertain time, when the survivors hunker down, stay as low as they possibly can and live on scraps and dust mites. Some have planned for this and built a bunker. I guess, they’ll be slightly more comfortable. Mum and dad didn’t see the point. …

The Quiet, paragraph 1.

Phrasal verbs add flavour to writing and ignite the readers perception of the reality in which the story has been knit.

Today’s idiom

Send to Coventry

Definition:

To deliberately ignore someone (typically by not talking to them); to ostracise.

The first letter of the word Coventry is capitalised because the word is a proper noun referring to a city in England where this idiom originated, possibly during the 17th century English Civil War. Coventry was then a parliamentary stronghold and the king’s soldiers were so hated that royalist prisoners were punished by being sent to Coventry, where it was believed they would be ignored.

Usage example:

  • Noah’s comminity sent him to Coventry for constantly warning them about an ominious flood.
  • The coaches thought they would send Otieno to Coventry by failing to notify him when the team trainings were due.

Common mistakes to avoid in formal writing and speeches.

Using when and where to begin definitions.

It is generally considered nonstandard to use these two words to introduce the definitions of words or phrases.

Examples:

UNCONVENTIONAL: Dilemma is when one finds it hard to choose.

CONVENTIONAL: Dilemma is finding it hard to choose.

UNCONVENTIONAL: A kraal is where livestock is enclosed for safety.

CONVENTIONAL: A kraal is a safe enclosure for livestock.

Many thanks to you for reading till the end. Kindly like and drop your thought in the comments section below. See you again with another chapter next week.

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Readers’ airtime picking point.

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Airtel: 11277-76707-2836

Vocabulary Builder – Week 1, 2022

Hello and welcome to this section of our blog.

I am a great lover of the English language and, especially, the lexical and figurative usages of words and phrases. Every Wednesday, therefore, I’ll be taking us through a short list of words, idioms and phrases I come across in people’s writings to help us enrich our vocabulary. Besides that, we’ll be learning some of the most common mistakes made by writers in their works and how to avoid them.

If you have any writing, either poetry or short story, that you feel has some amazing words and phrases to share with the world, then kindly drop links to those works here every week. Be sure I’ll go through them and, if I find such vocabulary, discuss them here in my Wednesday posts.

Here is my recent selection.

Outstanding word usage

Brackish /ˈbrakɪʃ/ (adjective)

Definition:

Repulsive; tending to rouse aversion or disgust.

Usage example:

Mike U. of Silent Pariah uses this word in his poem Odysseus to refer to the repulsive hearts of certain parents who try to show their kids love through severe discipline.

of the black brackish hearts of fathers
who show their children love by means of the belt…

Odysseus: stanza 2, line 26-28

The word “brackish” instantly triggers the reader’s imagination of the nature of the fathers’ “black” (evil) hearts that have the ability to cause repulsion instead of attraction.

Outstanding phrasal verb usage

Wash over (verb)

Definition:

To affect the emotions (of a persons) suddenly and overwhelmingly.

Usage example:

Janis uses this phrase in the second paragraph of her short story dubbed A freshly baked short story to describe how memories overwhelmed Lettie’s emotions at the sight of a cookbook she had been sent by her deceased friend, Violet, just before she (Violet) died.

Lettie carefully slipped her fingers under the tape and slowly unwrapped the package. When she saw what was inside, a flood of memories washed over her. The Christmas Cookbook had been an often-used and much-loved reference when Lettie and Violet were young mothers…

Paragraph 2, lines 1, 2 and 3 of “A freshly baked short story”.

Using the word in that context might sound slightly hyperbolic to some, but it is a perfect usage because it provokes the reader’s mental perception of strong emotions.

Today’s idiomatic usage

Put lipstick on a pig

Definition:

To superficially alter something in the hope of making it more appealing than it already is.

Usage example:

  • Constantly changing your website’s theme in the hope of making it better may be an act of putting lipstick on a pig as it may crash down your uniqueness.

Using idioms abstemiously in your works can, no doubt, make them feel more lively and psychologically engaging to your audience. You should consider giving them a shot once awhile.

Common mistakes to avoid in writing

Using the words ‘reason‘, ‘why‘ and ‘because‘ in one sentence.

In formal writing and speech, avoid using all or two of these words in one sentence because they mean the same thing.

Examples:

UNCONVENTIONAL: The reason why I came to your shop is because I wanted to talk to your son.

UNCONVENTIONAL: The reason I came to your shop is because I wanted to talk to your son.

UNCONVENTIONAL: I came came to your shop because I wanted to talk to your son. (Cut the verbiage)

CONVENTIONAL: I came to your shop to talk to your son.

Thanks for reading till the end. Kindly share your thoughts in the comments section below.