Judy Sierra

poet and folklorist

kids+word+play

Word of the day

April 20, 2015

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This week, in celebration of Poetry Month, some words from the realm of the poet. Many of the English words describing how poetry is written originated thousands of years ago in Ancient Greece. Even today, some poets say that they are inspired by their Muse. Greek myth tells of nine Muses, the daughters of the god Zeus and the titaness Mnemosyne, whose name means "memory." The Muses and their domains were:

Calliope (epic poetry)
Clio (history)
Erato (lyric poetry)
Euterpe (music)
Melpomene (tragedy)
Polymnia (hymns)
Terpsichore (dance)
Thalia (comedy)
Urania (astronomy)

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April 17, 2015

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Go to the library and feast on poetry. Fill your head with words. Let the rhythms of poetry settle in your brain. There is no better time than right now. It’s National Library Week! The poetry books are in the library’s nonfiction section, in the 800’s of the Dewey Decimal System. Cruise through the 800's and you’ll find poetry in many languages. Books of jokes, riddles and tongue twisters live there, too.

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Word of the day

April 16, 2015

Tags: rhyme

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It would be pleasant to populate a poem with piranhas—those razor-toothed South American fish—but there’s a pronunciation problem.

Is it pronounced pi-RAW-nah or pi-RAW-nyah? Some dictionaries give one pronunciation, some give the other.

In verse, this only matters if you plan to put the word piranha at the end of a line. Then, you might have to decide whether to name your piranha Anna, or Anya; or whether it prefers to eat a banana, or lasagna.

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Word of the day

April 15, 2015

Tags: rhymes

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It would be so easy to write a Valentine poem about a porcupine. Porcupine rhymes with romantic words like fine, pine, divine, mine, and Valentine. But porcupines are so unhuggable! Rhymes are only based on sound, of course. It takes a poet to make sense (or nonsense) of them.

Porcupine entered the English language by way of French over 700 years ago. Around 1400, it was mentioned in a description of a banquet for King Arthur. Porke despyne was on the menu, served on platters of gold. Over the years there have been many different spellings such as porkepyne and porcupyn. Shakespeare called the animal a porpentine.

Pronunciation and origin here.

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Word of the day

April 14, 2015

Tags: rhymes

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Pity the poor poet trying to find a rhyme for penguin, because no English word rhymes exactly. In English, the ending sound for exact rhyme begins with the last stressed syllable, and so penguin (PEN-gwin) only rhymes exactly with strange-sounding made-up words like menguin or benguin.

However, just because a word has no exact rhymes doesn’t mean you can’t write rhyming poems about it. I wrote an entire book of poems about penguins, Antarctic Antics.

Some words and phrases almost-sort-of rhyme with penguin: genuine, engine, England, jump in, swimmin’. Whether any of these rhymes work or not depends upon the style, sense and sounds of that particular poem. Almost-sort-of rhymes are known as near rhymes, or slant rhymes. Most online rhyming dictionaries will let you search for near rhymes.

Pronunciation and origin here.

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Word of the day

April 13, 2015

Tags: rhymes

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The name of this bird has no exact rhyme in English. Nevertheless, the American poet Dixon Lanier Merritt (1879–1972) used creative spelling to make this rhyme,

A wonderful bird is the pelican.
His beak can hold more than his belican.

Moral: Never be discouraged by the apparent lack of a rhyming word. You might come up with something surprising and memorable.

Pronunciation and origin here.

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April 10, 2015

Tags: rhymes

Rhyme the name of an animal with something that the animal might say if it could talk, for example,

“I can’t,” said the ant.
“Please try,” said the fly.

It’s easiest if you start by thinking of the animal. Try one of these:

alligator
crocodile
giraffe
snake
mouse
cat
bat
shark
clam

Need a rhyming dictionary? The very best rhyming dictionary for kids is the Scholastic Rhyming Dictionary by Sue Young. Yikes! It seems to be out of print. Find a copy at your library, or look for a used copy online.

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Word of the day

April 8, 2015

Tags: rhymes

Pronunciation and origin here.
Who doesn’t love an alligator? In a cage or on the page, that is. Alligator is a scrumptious word for writers of funny poems. Dozens and dozens of words rhyme with alligator. Hundreds if you count the ones that aren’t very poetic, like ventilator. Interesting and useful rhymes for alligator include

later
waiter
roller skater
elevator
refrigerator
illustrator

You can even rhyme alligator with a string of words like,

then he ate her.

The alligator’s cousin, the crocodile, also has many appealing rhymes, such as,

while
pile
smile
style
Nile
single file
juvenile

Alligator and crocodile remind me that sayings, proverbs, and lines of poetry are easier to remember when two or more words within them make an internal rhyme.

See you later, alligator.
In a while, crocodile.


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Word of the day

April 7, 2015

Children’s poets from Dr. Seuss to Jack Prelutsky. have found the word poodle irresistible. It rhymes deliciously with noodle, and prodigiously with oodle, and artistically with doodle. In James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl’s centipede sings about “hot noodles made from poodles on a slice of garden hose.” Keiko the poodle doesn’t approve, and will bark about it later, as soon as she figures out how to get this noodle off her nose.



If the word poodle sounds a lot like puddle, that’s because the name comes from a German word that means “to splash, to roll around in the mud.” Poodles were bred to retrieve water birds for hunters.

Pronunciation and origin here.

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Word of the day

April 6, 2015

Tags: insults

Doggerel is a word used to describe very bad poetry, especially when the rhythm and rhyme aren’t right, but the poet doesn’t seem to know it. What does this have do with dogs? Just another case of dogs getting a bad rap.

Pronunciation and origin here.

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