National Writing Project

Book Review: The Vocabulary Teacher's Book of Lists by Edward B. Frye

By: Melanie Rawls Abrams
Date: July 24, 2009

Summary: With its lists of words arranged by category, The Vocabulary Teacher's Book of Lists is surprising, bemusing, wildly informative, and practical.


Edward B. Frye's The Vocabulary Teacher's Book of Lists, a doorstop of a book, is an arrangement of lists of words that is surprising, bemusing, and sure to please word-lovers of all sorts. It is also an excellent resource for teachers who hope to demonstrate to their students that vocabulary, in its variety, scope, and surprises, can be exhilarating to learn.

The lists are arranged by categories that are unusual, to say the least. Chapter 1, "Interesting Lists" includes, for example, capitonyms, or "words [that] take on a different meaning when they are capitalized forming proper nouns," for instance, August—a month; august—grand, majestic; Polish—citizen of Poland; polish—to make shiny.

Other categories in chapter 1 are SAT Vocabulary Words, SAT Math Words, The Shortest Words, Oxymorons, and Palindromes. There are twenty-one lists of words in chapter 1 alone.

Chapter 2 is lists of roots; chapter 3 is word origins. Chapter 4 lists words by subjects: driver's license terms, words of the Old West, myths, emotions, sports, cooking terms, American military ranks—you get the idea.

This is a wildly informative book of unexpected associations, exploration, and discovery. But it's also a practical volume, with its lists of nations' capitals, U.S. weights and measures, geometric figures, et cetera. The book's eight chapters contain 199 lists, and many of the lists go on for pages.

In addition, there is a chapter offering methods for teaching vocabulary that includes lesson plans and exercises. Following that chapter are master lists of affixes, roots, and homophones. Finally there is a list of reference publications.

I can see teachers searching through the lists to find ones that fit a particular lesson: "Food with Place Names" (Dijon mustard—France) for a geography lesson; or, for an anatomy lesson, calling attention to "anatomyms," words that use a body part as a verb, such as "foot the bill" and "face the music."

I highly recommend this book. It is difficult not to appreciate a book that defines the word cacophony as "a harsh sound sometimes produced when the teacher is not in the room." Vocabulary was never presented in a more fascinating or fun style.


List 15: Oxymorons

An oxymoron is a pair of two terms that seemingly have opposite or noncompatible meanings. The word oxymoron itself is an oxymoron (oxy = sharp or keen, moron = foolish, dull). Some common oxymorons are pretty ugly, honest crook, and awfully good. To understand oxymorons, you need to concentrate on one half of the pair, usually the second term, and use the other term as a modifier. A clever fool is a fool all right, but he has some cleverness. Sometimes one of the terms has a different meaning: A jumbo shrimp is a type of animal called a shrimp, but the term shrimp often means someone small. Below are a few more oxymorons that are vocabulary terms encountered in reading and used in writing. You can probably add some of your own.

bankrupt millionaire
clearly misunderstood
global village
graduate student
living dead
black light
Microsoft Works
loud whisper
original copy
random order
student teacher
work party
controlled chaos

About the Author Melanie Rawls Abrams is a composition instructor at Florida A & M University in Tallahassee. She has been affiliated with the Florida State University National Writing Project site since 2007.

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