Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

Hello all, I'm new to this forum, but Pete suggested that I share this investigation, as there might be further discussion that could come from it.

A week or so back, a fourth grade student and I were investigating one of her spelling words, <transportation>. She constructed a hypothetical word sum, trans + portat + ion. We checked etymonline, found the root <portare>, looked it up on LatDict, and talked so she understood the root and the suffixes. She adjusted her word sum to trans + port + ate/ + ion. Quick, easy. She understood the word.

And then she pointed out that the letters <sport> were in <transportation>. She asked if <sport> was related to <port>. I said, "hmm, no, I don't think so." I asked if she thought there was a connection in meaning between <sport> and "to carry." We talked about how we carry a football, for example, in sports, but that seemed like a stretch, and besides, we have no evidence of a prefix <s>. So I was pretty sure that wasn't a real connection.

But fortunately, we took a look at the etymonline entry for <sport> just to see where that word does come from. And, WOW! Here's what we learned. <Sport> is a shortening - a clip, I think - of <disport> from Anglo-French, which is still a present day English word - one that I didn't know.

And <disport> came from des + porter which meant "to carry away" the mind from serious matters, from Latin <portare>. Isn't that a wonderful way to think about "sport?"

So ultimately <sport> in English is connected to <port> and my understanding of <sport> instantly expanded, beyond my limited automatic thinking of "athletics." And I had another reminder and example that the history of a word may hold a key to understanding it, even when it seems very straightforward. And another reminder not to make assumptions based on my own limited knowledge.

And the best part was that my student was the one who noticed and wanted to investigate those two words and a possible relationship. It was such a wonderful and engaging learning moment for ME, and my student's joy at making that happen was one of the high points of my week.

I shared this investigation originally in response to a discussion about a commercial program that uses artificial and ridiculous memory "hooks" to theoretically help students understand and remember words. But why does anyone do that? The "hooks" students need are right there, in the history, meaning and structure of the words themselves.

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