Vocab from The Book Thief: Vociferous

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday, the meme for book nerds who want to improve their vocabulary.  Visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for links to more challenging words.

This summer, Marcus Zusak has dominated my reading.  First, I enjoyed I Am the Messenger, a book many teens I know claim as “the best book I’ve ever read.”  Stay tuned for a review.

Now I’m reading The Book Thief,a novel about a girl who loves books but unfortunately lives in Germany in 1941 when the Nazis burned many volumes.  Zusak creates a unique spin on this World War II story with his poetic style and an unusual narrator (Death).

The Book Thief actually made my daughter cry.  She rarely gets emotional about books.  A wardrobe dilemma, maybe, but not books.

The Book ThiefSo I read with trepidation, because I frequently cry over books.  (Especially The Fault in Our Stars and The Time Traveler’s Wife).  I tried The Book Thief once before, in the dead of winter while I was postpartum.  I couldn’t finish it.  Too sad.  But now, I’ve promised my daughter I’ll read it so we can watch the movie together.

I’ve got tissues ready.

Besides giving me great imagery, Zusak also uses some fantastic vocab.  Here’s a sample:

He smiled loudest when the ring announcer listed his many achievements, which were all vociferously applauded by the adoring crowd.

Vociferous \vō-‘si-fə-rəs\ adj; from Latin vociferates, from voc/vox – voice + ferre to bear; marked by vehement, insistent outcry

Word Nerd Workout

Use vociferous in a sentence.  My example:

The teacher struggled to elevate her voice over the vociferous complaints of her students about the bathroom pass policy.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!


Spread the word on Twitter: Word nerd word from The Book Thief: vociferous = marked by insistent outcry via @juliatomiak 

Vocabulary from Sherlock: Ostensible

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday!  Do you ever come across words that you think you should know but don’t?  Wondrous words is the meme for you.  Visit meme hostess Kathy at Bermuda Onion to find links to tons of interesting vocabulary.

My entry this week comes from the T.V. show Sherlock.  My husband and I have recently discovered this series; it’s smart, fast paced, and the characters exchange brilliant quips. However, sometimes I have to pause and talk out the plot to make sure I’m following everything…

I can’t remember the exact quote from the show, but it was something like:

Hospitality is the ostensible reason for your visit, but I don’t buy it.

SherlockOstensible is one of those words I should know back from high school and the SATs.

ostensible \ä-‘sten-sə-bəl\ adj from Latin ostendere  meaning “in front of”, from ob- to show + tendere to stretch; intended for display; being such in appearance; plausible rather than demonstrably true

Aha!  I should have thought about the word ostentatious, which means showy.  Ostensible is all about appearances, not necessarily the truth.  (A perfect word for Sherlock.)

Word Nerd Workout

It’s back to school week here at our house; let’s get into academic mode.  Here’s an analogy for you to complete, which reviews a previous WWW word:

inchoate:imperfectly formed :: ostensible: ____________

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!


Spread the word on Twitter:

Tweet: Word Nerd Word: ostensible = intended for display. More at http://ctt.ec/Ze8v3+ #amreading #words

Vocab from Ann Voskamp: Carapace

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday, a meme for sharing new words learned while reading or just some old favorites.  Visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for more vocabulary boosters!

I’ve been slowly savoring Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts this summer.  Voskamp’s poetic and profound writing continues to amaze me, and I must absorb it in small doses.  Here’s a great example:

Do I believe in a God who rouses Himself just now and then to spill a bit of benevolence on hemorrhaging humanity?  A God who breaks through the carapace of this orb only now and then…

carapace \’ker-ə-pās\ noun; from the Spanish carapacho; a bony case or shield covering the back of an animal (like a turtle or crab); a protective, decorative or disguising shell (a carapace of silence around herself)

I’m guessing Mrs. Voskamp was using the second meaning.

1000 giftsWord Nerd Workout

Can you think of a synonym for carapace?  Everything that comes to my mind isn’t nearly as poetic, e.g. “shield”.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me today!


Tweetable: Word nerd word from @Ann Voskamp & #OneThousandGifts : carapace = a protective shell. 


What Is a Split Infinitive, Anyway?

Photo credit:  pancit tinola; https://www.flickr.com/people/kwein_01 CC-BY

Photo credit: pancit tinola, 2009, https://www.flickr.com/people/kwein_01 |CC-BY| via Wylio

A good friend of mine got chastised for using a split infinitive in one of his comments at a board meeting.

I admit to silently correcting grammar, but I would NEVER rebuke someone in a public setting! How tacky.  It’s stuff like this that gives the grammar conscious a bad rep.

Besides being appalled at my friend’s predicament, I also was curious.  What is a split infinitive anyway?   I figured a word nerd should know this.

For the answer, I turned to one of my favorite podcasts, Grammar Girl, hosted by Mignon Fogart as well as my desktop reference, Grammatically Correct.

First you must know what an infinitive is.  If you’ve tried to learn Spanish, I bet you know this. The infinitive is the unchanged form of a verb, and in English there are two forms:

  • Bare infinitives, like
    •  eat
    • sleep
    • fly
  • Full infinitives, like
    • to write
    • to read
    • to illustrate

When a writer or speaker puts another word, often an adverb, between the two parts of the full infinitive, he splits the infinitive.  An often cited example comes from Star Trek: 

To boldly go where no man has gone before

See how the boldly jumps in between “to” and “go”?  There’s the split infinitive.  Here are some more examples:

  • It’s in our best interest to avidly pursue this financial goal.
  • Sara opted to blindly follow her heart and not the warnings of her conscience.

Since the Victorian Age language experts have advised against splitting infinitives: one can’t split infinitives in Latin, so one shouldn’t split them in English.  (Note: one can’t split an infinitive in Latin because it’s usually ONE WORD.)  The rule against split infinitives is a classic example of an old rule that sticks “just because” it always has.

glassesCheck out Grammar Girl’s post and the comments that follow, and you’ll see that even in the 21st century, people have passionate opinions about the placement of verbs and adverbs.  (Have you ever heard that an adverb should always come after a verb?)

Both Grammatically Correct and Grammar Girl advise against splitting infinitives in formal writing if you’re concerned about offending an editor or other important figure.  However, for modern writers and speakers, the most important consideration should be flow.  If rewriting a sentence to avoid a split infinitive makes the phrasing awkward and clunky, then split away!

Word Nerd Workout

First, find the split infinitive I’ve used in this blog post.  Second, write your own sentence with a split infinitive, and then a rewrite without it.  Which sounds better?

My example:

  • It’s in our best interest to avidly pursue this financial goal.
  • It’s in our best interest to pursue avidly this financial goal.  (Yuck!)
  • It’s in our best interest to pursue this financial goal avidly.  (Maybe?)

I still like the first option the best.

If you like to dive deep into grammar discussions, check out the Grammar Girl podcast.  I thought I knew grammar until I started listening.  Each information packed episode lasts about ten minutes.


Tweetable: Do split infinitives trouble you? Find out what they are & if they’re acceptable with @juliatomiak, Word Nerd



What Does Debrief Mean?

wondrous memeWelcome to Wondrous Words Wednesday!  If you like to learn new words, you’re in the right place.  Visit Kathy at Bermuda Onion for links to more noteworthy vocabulary.

We had a word nerd debate in our house last week.  My son said that he “debriefed” his friend about a party.

I know – what 14-year-old boy uses the word “debrief”?  Mine, thank you.  And I’m proud.

But, I told him I didn’t think he was using the word correctly.  “Couldn’t you just say you ‘briefed’ her about what happened, as in a briefing? Debrief sounds like the opposite of a ‘briefing’.

He insisted, in Tomiak style, that he was right.  His father joined him.

I pulled out the Merriam Webster app.

Two minutes later, I had to admit they were right, sort of.

Debrief \dē-‘brēf\ verb; first used in 1945

  1. to interrogate someone upon return (as from a mission) in order to obtain useful information
  2. to carefully review upon completion (debrief the flight)

My son was telling his friend about something he’d done; he wasn’t asking her questions.  But he argued that his use fit under the “to carefully review” definition.

I still say it’s not quite the right use, but no one is listening any more.

Did you note the year this word first started being used?  This is definitely a term of military origin.

Word Nerd Workout

Can you use debrief correctly in a sentence?  Better yet, let me know if you have word nerd debates in your house and which words inspire them.

Thanks for getting nerdy with me!


Spread the word on Twitter: Word nerd word: debrief = to interrogate someone upon return from a mission; more at http://wp.me/p2SvHJ-sQ via @juliatomiak

What Is Your Screen Time to Reading Ratio?

Do these devices = the enemy?

My kids complain that I’m a “screen time Nazi” just because I set limits on the time we all spend with screens.

I like Instagram as much as the next girl, but with all things in life, balance must prevail.

Even though we have more free time in summer, that doesn’t mean our time with electronic devices should exponentially increase.  Right?

Some data about summer reading

A recent study about kids and summer time reading disturbed me.   During the “Library Barnacles” Book Riot podcast, hosts Jeff and Rebecca discussed a study promoted by RIF (Reading is Fundamental).  Over 1000 parents with kids aged 5-11 answered questions about their children’s leisure habits over the summer. Parents said that on average, in the summer their children spend:

  • 17.4 hours/week watching T.V. or playing video games
  • 16.7 hours/week  playing outside
  • 5.9 hours/week reading

Do these numbers concern you?

I was glad to see the 16 hours of outside playtime, but the 17: 5 ratio of screen time to book time bothered me.  That’s three times more hours on screens!

The hosts of the Book Riot podcast didn’t find the results shocking.  They argued that since kids spend more time playing outside in the summer, it leaves them less time to read.

I must respectfully disagree.  Hello!  If kids are spending 17 hours on video games and T.V.s, they probably aren’t outside.

Am I over-reacting here?

My husband thinks I am.  As a child who didn’t grow up reading much, he isn’t surprised by the numbers and tells me it’s unrealistic to expect more reading.

But I’m not willing to back down.  Couldn’t we all strive for a more equal balance between screens and books?  How about a 2:1 ratio?

books outside

We shouldn’t force kids to read in the summer.  But we can entice.

  • If we limit their time on screens, maybe they will pick up that book off the floor.
  • If we save screen time for an hour or two later in the day, maybe they will do something productive/ creative/ intellectually stimulating before they crouch over a device.  Like read.
  • If we establish a device curfew (ours is 9 pm -  for me too!), perhaps they will develop the lovely habit of reading before sleeping.  What a great way to use the natural light of those long summer nights.

And, for those of you playing Candy Crush all the time, wouldn’t you be more likely to read if you turned that screen off?

Yes, I have a teenager with a phone.  And he stares at his little screen of text messages during the day.  But if I keep interesting books around for him, he also reads an hour or two a day.


Do I live up to my own standards?

I did a survey of my leisure habits and discovered that I spend, on average, about 15 hours per week on social media, blogs, and T.V. and 6 hours reading books/ periodicals. I’m not counting my writing screen time.  It’s hard to tease out reliable numbers because I read a lot online (articles, blog posts, etc.)

Looks like I’m edging close to that 3:1 ratio myself.  Which reinforces my notion that I need to stop fiddling on my phone/iPad/ computer by 9 pm each night and dedicate the later hours of the day to reading books and magazines.  Being online in the evening usually revs me up and makes it hard to settle down for sleep.

What about you?  Tally up the average hours you spend reading versus screening.  What’s your screen to book ratio?  What do you think about the results of the study?  

Thanks for getting nerdy with me.