Word of the Week: Fustilarian

The word “fustilarian” is so archaic, it does not appear on dictionary.com or merriam-webster.com. But it surfaced during an episode of Hell on Wheels, an AMC series my husband and I love to watch on Netflix, while we were watching last night. Merriam-Webster suggested I might have meant “fasciculation,” and dictionary.com suggested “sertularian,” neither of which I meant, but both of which I will reserve for a future Word of the Week post.

Despite its obsolescence, “fustilarian” is a valuable word to know, in that it surfaces in Shakespearean literature. Freedictionary.com defines it as a noun meaning, “a low fellow, a stinkard, a scoundrel.” According to wordsmith.org, it is a noun that means “a fat and slovenly person,” and the first recorded use appears in Shakespear’s Henry IV, in Falstaff’s line, “Away, you scullion! You rampallion! You fustilarian!”

The word is an insult, a nasty name to hurl at someone.

And so it functioned in Hell on Wheels last night. Durant refers to Bohannon, the show’s hero, as “That fustilarian backstabber!”

And now, armed with a brand new insult probably no one will understand (least of all those to whom it most applies)–go forth! You have been linguistically empowered!

Recent Words of the Week:





You Know You’re a Writer When…

Many people who write are hesitant to call themselves “writers.” There are various reasons for this. “I haven’t been published;” “I just write for myself;” “I write, but I’m not good at it;” “I’ve never written a book;” “I can’t write poetry” are just a few. I almost titled this post “You Might be a Writer If…,” but the fact is, if you write, you are a writer, much like if you read, you are a reader and if you run, you are a runner. You wouldn’t say of yourself, “Oh, no. I am not a real reader. I only read a couple books a year.” There is no set amount of books one must have read in order to be classified as a reader. You just have to read. There is not a certain number of miles one must have run to be a runner. You just have to run. Similarly, there is no true criteria to qualify as a writer–other than, of course the obvious: You write. There are, of course, various degrees of writers, readers, and runners, but they are all safe under their parent label.

Still, in the interest of closet-writers everywhere, I have composed the list below. If you can relate to any of them, you are probably a writer, despite your best efforts to shirk the label.

You Know You’re a Writer When…

10. you narrate others’ lives for them as they happen. For example, one of my students might come into the classroom and say, “We don’t have a test today, do we?” Instead of a simple yes or no, my response might be, “He says as he stares at the board in horror, noting where his teacher has scrawled ‘Test Today’ in red marker across the white board.”

9. you wanted a Master’s degree in writing just so you would have a reason to write. Okay, I admit it: I stole this from a meme I saw on Facebook. But it’s true. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons I myself hold a Master’s of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing. I realized I wasn’t writing as much as I wanted to. What better motivation to carve out the time to write than a writing prompt that costs over $2000 a semester? (Plus, it’s pretty cool to have a Master’s in creative writing!)

8. you have a constant narration running through your mind to help you make sense of the world. Admit it. You experience your day-to-day life as a story in your mind. You are constantly thinking in dialog, poetry, or narration.

7. you keep a pad of paper and pen(cil) near you at all times. And when you for some reason find yourself without these most basic of writerly tools, you text yourself your ideas–bringing us to number six…

6. your phone is full of texts you sent to yourself about things to write down because you somehow did not have your paper and pen(cil) with you

5. you dream poems and stories–and usually can’t remember them when you wake up…

4. your own story ideas keep you up at night

3. you agonize over the nuance of one word in a line of poetry or a sentence

2. you read books with a pen or pencil in hand–always–to jot down notes in the margin and improve your own craft

Lastly, most importantly, you know you’re a writer when…

  1. You write.

Word of the Week: Lachrymose

Though I have experienced the condition many times, I first encountered the word “lachrymose” in the same graphic dictionary that led me to last week’s Word of the Week, “kalopsia.”

Said graphic dictionary defines it as “tearful or given to weeping.” Merriam-Webster, which places the word in the bottom 50% of popularity when compared to other words, defines it as “tending to cause tears” or “tending to cry often.”

I found it interesting that the word could indicate something that may lead to tears, such as a funeral or a poignant movie, as well as someone who is prone to shedding tears.

I also found interesting the fact that thought I have myself been lachrymose, I didn’t know there was such a specific term for this state, beyond the more commonly encountered “moody,” “depressed,” or “tearful,” none of which are quite as precise as “lachrymose.”

You have been linguistically empowered!

Recent Words of the Week:






Lesson Plan: Recipe Poetry

The school year is winding down, and my students (and I!) are feeling a bit squirrely. We just took our last test of the school year on Zora Neale Hurston‘s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and there are a mere six regular school days left before final exams. So what do we do with this odd in-between that doesn’t allow enough time for another full unit, but is certainly too much time to descend into the pit of meaningless movie-watching day after day? The answer is: We write.

Now, tell that to most students, and they cringe. But I’m not talking about five-page-research-paper-in-the-MLA-format writing. I’m talking about fun writing. I know, I know. If my students remember what an oxymoron is, they’d apply it to the term “fun writing.” And of course, as a writer, I’m a bit biased; I think almost all writing is fun.

But I think my students did have fun writing today. Here is what we did:

Recipe Poetry


60-70 minutes


Students will: analyze nonfiction writing; analyze authentic texts; review and identify verbs; write using strong, specific verbs; write creatively, informally, and for enjoyment; analyze the structure and elements of an authentic, nonfiction text; work cooperatively; engage in the creative process; think critically, creatively, and abstractly; share their written work aloud


several sheets of notebook paper, composition book, or spiral notebook for every student

writing utensil for each student

several copies of cooking magazines or various copies of different recipes


  1. Put students into groups of three or four.
  2. Pass out magazines or recipes, so that each group has two or three magazines, or at least six to ten individual recipes.
  3. Give students five minutes in their groups to look through the recipes together, and instruct them to write down all the strong, specific cooking  verbs they come across.
    Some of the verbs my students pulled from the recipes they used for inspiration

    Each student should keep his or her own list.

  4. After five minutes, ask the students to call out the verbs they wrote down, and write them on the board for the class to see.
  5. Next, give students five minutes to start a new list. This time, they should write down all the units of measurement they see in the different ingredients lists.
  6. After five minutes, ask the students to call out the units they wrote down, and write them on the board for the class to see.

    Some of the units of measurement my students noticed in the recipes they read. Note the more unique ones, like “sprig” and “stalk.”
  7. Next, give students three minutes to examine the structure and format of the recipes together. They should write down elements they notice most or all of the recipes share. This should include items such as: prep time, cooking time, ingredients list, steps/process/procedure, servings, etc.
  8. After three minutes, ask students what elements a recipe should have, and write the elements on the board for the class to see.
  9. Explain to students that in a few minutes, they will write a recipe poem. A recipe poem is a poem that explains how to “cook” something abstract, such as a certain type of person, a certain emotion, or an experience. Give them some examples: a recipe for success, a recipe for a best friend, a recipe for the worst day ever, etc.
  10. Give students five minutes to brainstorm together in their groups. They should write down experiences, types of people, and emotions they think they might want to describe by way of a recipe poem.
  11. After five minutes, ask students to call their ideas out, and write them on the board for the class to see.

    A few of the topics students volunteered to share with the class, about which they planned to write their recipe poems. I myself found “superhero” and “patriot” particularly intriguing.
  12. Remind students that their recipe poem should include all the elements of a recipe, and be formatted like a recipe. Instruct them to pick a topic, but not to tell anyone else in the class what their topic is.
  13. Give students about 15 minutes to write their recipe poem, allotting more time if needed.
  14. Once everyone has finished (or mostly finished) a recipe poem, instruct students to go around in their groups and read their recipe poems aloud to their group members, still withholding the subject. After each student reads, his group members should try to guess what his recipe is for. After each group member has guessed, the poet can reveal what his topic was.
  15. After each person in each group has had a chance to share her poem with her group, ask willing students to share their recipe poems aloud with the class.

My students really seemed to enjoy this activity–so much so, that we actually have to finish tomorrow because so many students were so eager to share their poems with the class. We ran out of time!





Word of the Week: Kalopsia

I happened across the word “kalopsia” while browsing Facebook a few weeks ago. Someone had posted a status update about a  graphic dictionary, and “kalopsia” was among the words included. Said graphic dictionary defines the word as:

“delusion of things being more beautiful than they are.”

When I looked the word up on dictionary.com, I got a list of words I might have meant instead. When I checked on merriam-webster.com, the same thing happened, along with this message:

“The word you’ve entered isn’t in the dictionary.”

In a third attempt to learn a little more about this apparently obscure word I was starting to think might not even be real, I simply googled it. While it is absent from dictionary.com and merriam-webster.com, “kalopsia” does appear in the Urban Dictionary. There, its definitions include “condition wherein things appear more beautiful than they are” and “believing that everything that you do not have is better than what you do have,” among references to a death metal band out of New Jersey.

In addition, “Kalopsia” is the title of a song by rock band Queens of the Stone Age. As it turns out, Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys agrees with the definitions I found on Urban Dictionary. He is quoted as telling Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age: “it’s a condition wherein everything seems more beautiful than it actually is.”

So, there you have it. Decide for yourself. Is “kalopsia” a real word, or isn’t it? Either way, you have been linguistically empowered. Go forth with your new word (or not, if you’ve conclude it’s actually not a word).

Recent Words of the Week:






Poetry Society of Virginia’s Annual Poetry Festival

If you’ve ever been to Richmond, Virginia, then you already know: We are a party city. We are the third most-tattoed city in the United States, just behind Miami and Las Vegas. We are fast becoming the craft beer capital of the world. And we throw a festival (or ten) almost every single weekend. This weekend alone, I attended Dominion Riverrock, an outdoor

The skyline of Richmond, Virginia, on the shores of the James River, as seen from the suspension bridge to Belle Isle during a group hike organized as part of Dominion Riverrock.

festival celebrating Richmond’s active river life; Play Day at the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, an open house with various arts and crafts workshops, from wood and metal working, to glass blowing, to pottery; and the Poetry Society of Virginia‘s Annual Poetry Festival and Conference. If you are reading this blog, you are likely a writer or a reader (or, most likely, both!), so this post will focus on the latter.


During my time at the festival, I was privileged to hear readings and lectures from Robert Arthur, the current Poetry Society of Virginia President; Nathan Richardson, a performance poet and workshop teacher for Hampton Roads Youth Poets; Gabriele Glang, a bilingual poet who teaches creative writing in Germany; and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda, who was the Virginia Poet Laureate from 2006-2008. This post will provide take-aways from the lectures and workshops led by Mr. Richardson, as well as by Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda.

The Oral Tradition of Poetry, Nathan Richardson

The first lecture I heard focused on performance poetry, and was led by Nathan Richardson, himself a performance poet. One thing he said that struck me was this:

“Memory proved over the history of mankind to be the only fullproof [sic] method of safeguarding the thoughts, history, culture, literature, and law of the human race.”

How right he is, though it’s frightening, given how feeble our memories sometimes seem.

Performance poet and writing teacher, Nathan Richardson, gives a lecture on the oral tradition of poetry at the Virginia Poetry Society’s Annual Poetry Festival and Conference on Friday, May 20.

But even more fallible are hard drives that can crash, flash drives that can break or become lost, papers that can tear or burn, ink that can smudge, lead that can be erased. Even pictures carved into rock will someday erode, smoothed out by the work of wind and water. For me, this was something of a wakeup call. I always feel like my creations are far more secure once written down on paper or typed up on the screen. But if I lose that paper, or if that flash drive fails me, I will wish I had committed my own lines to memory.


An additional lesson I took away from Mr. Richardson’s lecture was a definition of the musical genre of rap. I was unaware, as were, it seemed, all the other poets in attendance, that the term “rap” was born of the combination of “rhythm and poetry.” It’s essentially an acronym. I also learned that one “bar” of a “rap” piece is equivalent to one couplet in a poem.

His advice for poets was simple: “In poetry, leave space for the reader’s imagination.”

He also provided guidelines for poets who need to cultivate a poetic voice for poetry readings and slams. While the ratio does not necessarily need to follow this exact formula, Mr. Richardson advises that the poetic voice consists of 33.3% experience, 33.3% vocabulary, 33.3% passion, and .1% divine intervention. What does this imply for you if you want to become involved in performance poetry? It means first, that you must perform poetry–as much and as often as you can. Attend and perform at poetry slams and readings. Get the experience. It implies second that you must increase the number of words with which you are proficient–you must become more fluent in your own first language. Improve your vocabulary. It means also that you must love what you are doing–love what you are creating, love what you are saying. Be dedicated and passionate. Lastly, though, it means that a small percentage of what you are doing as a performance poet is out of your control. The words, the ideas, the rhymes will just come to you through some sort of divine intervention. You just have to do the leg work–the other 99.9%–first.

Ekphrastic and Collaborative Poetry, Gabriele Glang and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda

One of the foci of Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda’s workshop was the haiku. Before we began writing, Ms. Glang gave a few guidelines.

Haiku Guidelines

  • Do not mention the season about which you are writing. The image you convey with your words should make clear the season.
  • Always title your piece, and title it well. Think of a title as a free line with no syllabic restrictions.
  • Save syllables in the following ways:
    • avoid articles; use plural nouns instead
    • replace conjunctions with punctuation
      • the em dash can communicate change, epiphany, turning points
      • “ah!” can signify epiphany or surprise
Gabriele Glang’s painting, “A Touch of Spring (Pink-Green),” served as inspiration for festival attendees to write haiku.

After providing us with these guidelines, Ms. Glang displayed a painting of her own creation, called “A Touch of Spring (Pink-Green),” pictured left, and we were given a few minutes to compose a haiku using the traditional three-line, 5-7-5 structure.


Ligne Donnee

The second exercise we completed in this workshop was writing a Ligne Donnee, or “given line” poem. We were paired up with another poet in the room and provided an art card that displayed one of Ms. Glang’s paintings. The art card my partner and I received is pictured below. Each of us then wrote just the first line of a poem, inspired by the art card. Then, we traded first lines with our partner. From there, we read our partner’s first line, and wrote a poem

For the Ligne Donnee (“given line”) poem, participants were paired up and given an art card to inspire their collaborative poems.

based on that initial line.


My first line was:

Quicksilver cold stealing sunlight from the sky, icy, metallic sheen

The first line my partner composed was:

More light than water, the lake

I followed with:

lapping up sunlight spilled

between clouds,

poured over black foliage,

dripping down leaflet, branch, and bud,

saturating the bibulous bank,

infusing the gray-turning,

pale-turning glass,

impersonal, thirsty,

with borrowed warmth.

At least until dark.

Kasen Renku Form

The final exercise we completed in Ms. Glang and Ms. Kreiter-Foronda’s workshop was another type of collaborative poem, kasen renku. Within this form, the first poet composes a haiku (three lines in the traditional 5-7-5 format). The second poet reads it, and then composes two lines of seven syllables each. A third poet (or the first poet) reads the first five lines, and adds his or her own haiku. A fourth poet (or the second poet) reads what has so far been accomplished, and adds to it another two lines of seven syllables each. This process is repeated until the poem consists of thirty-six stanzas. This, along with the Ligne Donnee form, would make an excellent classroom activity for an English or creative writing class.


I so thoroughly enjoyed the Poetry Society of Virginia’s Poetry Festival and Conference, that I plan to attend future conferences, and am contemplating membership. Attendance allowed me to meet like-minded people, as well as produce a few new pieces of poetry. I also gained exposure to some very creative and productive poets. I learned about resources in my community, and came away with a few new lessons plans for my English classroom.


Word of the Week: Vespertine

Friday afternoon, as I sat listening to Gabriele Glang and Carolyn Kreiter-Foronda read their work at the Poetry Society of Virginia‘s Annual Poetry Festival and Conference, a new word, nestled in the middle of a poem, stood out to me: “vespertine.”

An adjective, “vespertine” means “thriving during the evening” or “pertaining to the evening.” It can be used in reference to plants whose blooms open in the evening as opposed to during the day, as well as to nocturnal animals. It can also be used to describe anything that occurs in the evening–sunset, twilight, a certain type of light, a soft breeze, a certain sound specific to the coming night.

Below are some photographs that I think fairly illustrate the spirit of the word “vespertine,” as well as captions that utilize the word in a sentence.

This word would be an exceptional one to add imagery to a scene, as well as to establish its time of day and the mood. Employ it! You have been linguistically empowered.

Past Words of the Week:




The vespertine frogs that make a home of our back porch each spring and summer spend the day hiding in the shade of the eaves, but become very active after dark.
The flame of sunset faded into vespertine shadow, leaving the houses along shore mere silhouettes of their daytime selves.
Only the warm, amber glow of a candle and the pale, vespertine light of a summer sun hanging low in the sky lit the dusky room.

Less vs. Fewer

Basically, “less” works with singular nouns and “fewer” works with plural nouns. For example, you might drink less milk than your friend, but you ate fewer cookies.

You eat LESS salad, but FEWER vegetables.

You drink less water, but fewer glasses of water. This is because “water” is singular, whereas “glasses” is plural.

You eat less soup, but fewer bowls of soup.

You purchase less perfume, but fewer bottles of perfume.

You packed less clothing, but fewer clothes.

If you understand when to use “much” as opposed to when to use “many,” then another way to think about it is this: If you would use “many,” use “fewer.”  Think: I didn’t eat as many cookies as he did = I ate fewer cookies than he did.

If you would use “much,” use “less.” Think: I didn’t drink as much milk as he did = I drank less milk than he did.

Word of the Week: Bibulous

I can honestly say with almost complete certainty that until I began hunting for a Word of the Week for this week, I had never in my life seen nor heard the word “bibulous” anywhere. Ever. Its absence from my vocabulary is exactly what makes it a perfect Word of the Week candidate.

Bibulous,” which according to Merriam-Webster falls in the bottom 30% of popular words (surprising only in that it lands so high on the scale…) is an adjective that has two closely related meanings. The first is “given to the consumption of alcoholic drinks.” A drunkard is a bibulous person. On a more literal level, the word also means “highly absorbent.” While a bibulous person could be said to absorb large quantities of alcohol on a regular basis, a bibulous paper towel could be said to be very effective at wiping up spills.

This word could function exceptionally well when used to describe a character’s personality flaw: “Had she not succumbed to her bibulous nature yet again, she might have remembered the evening before a bit better. Hell, she might have remembered it, period.”

It could also work well in many different, more figurative capacities. For example, a character who seems to absorb knowledge (as opposed to alcohol) through osmosis might be quite positively described as bibulous: “So bibulous was his mind, that he seemed to need only cursory exposure to a thing before he knew it and understood it, inside and out.”

A haughty character might also be described using this versatile adjective: “Her self-esteem was so bibulous, that each compliment–or perceived compliment–she received seemed to take up permanent lodging there, until her ego was swollen like a gorged tick. And still, it kept expanding. There was always room for more.”

A welcoming home could also be described as “bibulous:” “Their bibulous home had become the neighborhood hub; no one was turned away. There was always a little more space, a little more food, a little more love.”

Now, go forth with your newly expanded vocabulary! You have been linguistically empowered.

Past Words of the Week:




Accept vs. Except

In the honors English class I teach right now, we are working on writing college essays in preparation for the students’ college application process next fall. As I stood at the front of the computer lab this afternoon, listening to the gentle tap of fingertips on keys, I overheard and subsequently entered into a conversation with two of my students. The first, a young man, was reading off a list of notable alumni from the college to which he plans to apply in the fall. Presuming he was thus engaged for lack of motivation to actually write his application essay, which consisted of a very broad prompt (basically: write a personal statement of 500 words), I suggested that instead of wasting precious writing time perusing a list, he should consider writing an essay about how he wanted to be added to the college’s notable alumni list–and all the things he planned to be notable for.

“So…for working at McDonald’s?” he quipped (he actually wants to be a nurse).

Matching his tone, I offered, “Well, everyone likes a burger.”

“Right,” he said. “Except me.”

At least, that’s what I heard him say. And so did his classmate beside him.

“What?!” she cried with incredulity, ripping her eyes from her computer screen. “You don’t like burgers?”

He looked at her for a moment, confused.

“Yes, I do,” he said.

“But you just said you don’t.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. Mrs. Creasey said everyone likes a burger and you said, ‘Except me.'”

“No! I meant accept me–like, let me come to your college,” the young man explained.

The young woman and I laughed, and she added, “See, that’s why the English language is so difficult: you have ‘accept’ and you have ‘except,’ and they sound just the same.”

And in this particular context, they both made sense–but the use of one over the other completely changed the meaning of the statement. In most cases, we can easily discern what the speaker means based on the context, but this is an example of a circumstance when that was not the case–when seeing the word spelled out would have greatly assisted in ascertaining its meaning (if, that is, you know how to spell it regarding its intended use).

When spelled as “accept,” the verb means to allow or admit in, to welcome, or to gain. When spelled as “except,” it means to exclude, bar, or leave out. A memory trick might be to remember that “accept” with an “a” is a synonym for “allow” and “admit,” which also begin with “a.” “Except” with “ex” is synonymous with “exclude,” also spelled with “ex.”

A ccept Ex cept
A dmit Ex clude

These words can, of course, also functions as nouns. To change “except” into a noun, add the ending “-ion” for “exception.” To change “accept” into a noun, add the ending “-ance” for “acceptance.” My student, then, might not be the exception to my everyone-loves-a-burger rule, but he definitely wants to gain acceptance into college.