top of page

English Roots

WHy poetry is like a green dot.

November 29th, 2018 / Allison Langenburg

I remember clearly sitting in church several years ago, staring at the notebook eternally open in my lap, as my pastor gravely informed us that a church member was dangerously ill. I’d heard the news already and was very upset, so to distract myself, I began listing words: “Ensanguine, acoustic, lightning…” I ended up with a multi-column list of random words, words that made me feel better just to pronounce in my head, to write on paper, and to envision, one syllable at a time. That list was nothing near a poem, but now I realize that that’s what poetry is to me: getting lost in the syllables, the flow of the letter and the rhythm of words. That’s why often times poems “make no sense”; In these cases, the beauty of the words themselves was more important to the poet than conveying a perceivable meaning. And that beauty is why they’re valuable anyway. But a convoluted poem is no less valuable than a surreal or abstract painting. Just because you can’t tell what that thing on the ground below the runny clocks is doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from appreciating it.


Just like paintings, a poem can be just about anything, from the Mona Lisa to a white sheet of paper with a snobby-looking green dot in the center and a price tag that makes you question the morals of society. Since I find words therapeutic, here are several different methods of obtaining that comfort.


1.) The Free Verse Poem

There are no rules here. Make something up that comes from your heart and it’s a free verse poem. It doesn’t have to rhyme or have consistent rhythm (or any rhythm). It’s whatever you want it to be. If you are literate, you can write a free-verse poem (Okay, I’m not saying it’ll be good, I’m just saying you don’t have to count your syllables for it to qualify).


After the Sea-Ship

By: Walt Whitman


AFTER the sea-ship, after the whistling winds,
After the white-gray sails taut to their spars and ropes,
Below, a myriad myriad waves hastening, lifting up their necks,
Tending in ceaseless flow toward the track of the ship,
Waves of the ocean bubbling and gurgling, blithely prying,
Waves, undulating waves, liquid, uneven, emulous waves,
Toward that whirling current, laughing and buoyant, with curves,
Where the great vessel sailing and tacking displaced the surface,
Larger and smaller waves in the spread of the ocean yearnfully
The wake of the sea-ship after she passes, flashing and frolicsome
under the sun,
A motley procession with many a fleck of foam and many fragments,
Following the stately and rapid ship, in the wake following.


2.)The Narrative

It’s a poem, plus a story. Well, a poem that tells a story. The poem actually has things like “characters” and “plot”. I’ve written one or two of these and enjoyed them. If you don’t know what to write about, a narrative poem may be most comfortable to compose; once you know the story you want to tell, the structure of the poem will fall more smoothly into line.


Excerpt from: The Charge Of The Light Brigade

By: Alfred Tennyson


Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred...


3.) The Couplet

A couplet is two rhyming lines, on their own or in a poem (which is made of this pattern repeated over and over). Shakespeare used many couplets, mostly because they are a necessary component of the Sonnet, which he was fairly fond of (That was sarcasm. He wrote so many sonnets that they literally named one style of sonnet after him, “The Shakespearean Sonnet”. He didn’t even invent it, some Italian guy did, but I guess that guy didn’t write 154 of them after the initial inspiration).

Here are some examples:


Yet seem’d it winter still, and, you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.

-Sonnet 98


Did my heart love till now, forswear it sight,

For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.

-Romeo and Juliet


The point is, poetry doesn’t have to be dry, structured, and predictable. There are many other types not even listed here (epics, haikus, limericks…). And we haven’t even scratched the surface of rhyming schemes. However you want to express yourself, there is a way to do so, whether it’s a story, a formless flow, or some simple rhyming words. Maybe your poems are dazzling Monet’s that everyone loves, or maybe they’re quirky Picasso’s or Dali’s that nobody quite understands. Maybe your poem is the green dot that’s either nonsense or pure genius, and if you understand it, maybe it doesn’t matter. Writing poetry lets people connect with your heart. It binds us together, and if that doesn’t have meaning, what does?

Borrowed Words.


January 1st, 2018 / Allison Langenburg

My eighth grade teacher once told our class that we don’t speak English, we speak American. Actually, she was my “Challenge I” teacher. And my class was seven people large. We met once a week. What can I say, I was homeschooled.


I suppose she meant to convey an “oh how the great have fallen” message. Despite this, the effect her words had on me was that I felt considerably better about saying things like “a little ways back”, “yes, they’ve got some”, and, well, “like.” After all, I wasn’t speaking bad English, I was actually speaking fantastic American.


I’m fairly certain this was not the intent of my teacher’s quip, but it did serve to remind me that English as we speak it is not just from England. We have morphed it almost into a separate language, if you consider what qualifies as correct in spoken word. A language is “correct”, in my opinion, when people make it correct. To elaborate, anyone learning a foreign language would do well to learn it the way people actually speak it. If you learn the grammar of a language that its people neither use nor understand, who is really speaking it correctly? I mean really, we say things are “cool” and “hot”, “nice” and “sick”. Or maybe people don’t, but at least our parents probably did.


In addition to this, English has been altered in another way, and that is from the phrases we have borrowed from other cultures. Really, borrowed phrases are how English was created, and how languages in general seem to form: from being mixed with each other, and then developing from there. The history of English is really quite fascinating. It began as the same base-language as the Celtic, Slavic, Italic, Germanic, and many other languages, called the Proto-Indo-European language. The people who spoke it didn’t call it that (thankfully), just people who went back and studied it. It is theorized that it originated above the Black Sea in Europe. In short, as the people spread, so did the language, until some people who spoke it arrived in what is now England, and so there Celtic began to be spoken. Then, the Romans conquered that area (just like pretty much everywhere). Latin and Greek were mixed in under the Roman influence, because the Romans utilized much of Greek culture.


Next came the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes from across the sea to help fight off the Romans, speaking Germanic, and they stayed there once they’d done their job. The result was that Celtic was no longer used in Britain. Danish and more Latin words were tossed into the speech. Then came the Normans, who spoke French. When they took over, French began to be spoken alongside English, and Norman-French words were added into English. English regained power as the King lost it with the Magna Carta in 1215, and was solidified with Caxton’s printing press in 1476. In a nutshell, when different people gained influence over one piece of land, the language came to reflect their culture. Not to mention, the way grammar rules functioned and words were pronounced fluctuated as well. Over time, Old English turned into Modern English, which turned into New English, which we speak today.


As you can see, many, many different tongues contributed to ours, and that’s not even all of them. (Think, taco). But I’m going to focus on one of my favorites: Latin. Our everyday words are so based off of Latin and Greek that we can see and hear root words at every turn. In some areas of our culture, such as in law and science, we didn’t even bother to change the foreign phrases. Instead, we grafted them into our language and use them as part of English. Not to drone on ad nauseum, but this is a bona fide quality of our status quo here in America. (Et cetera, et cetera.)


Here are some of my favorite Latin phrases:


Vice versa

Literally: ”the positions being reversed”

I find this phrase very useful, although I don’t hear it employed much by others.

“You know, I think Batman’s real problem with Superman is costume envy, and vice versa, actually.”


Argumentum ad baculum

Literally: “Appeal to the stick”

This is actually the name of a logical fallacy one can commit when trying to prove a point. You commit this error when you give a threat rather than a response to a question. Another, similar fallacy is ad hominem, or “to the man”, which means attacking your opponent rather than the argument they’re presenting. I always just thought this one was a bit humorous.

“So, why is it necessary to stir this boiling wax for five hours? Because it’ll end up poured over my head if I don’t? Pardon me, but I think that was an argumentum ad baculum.”


Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Literally: “That which was to be demonstrated.”

This phrase, abbreviated Q.E.D., is written at the end of logic proofs, which, if you haven’t seen one, are basically mathematical proofs (which they’re also at the end of), but with words. I find it very satisfying to write that at the end of a proof.

“If the sun turned to ice, we would die. The sun has turned to ice. Therefore, we have died. Q.E.D.”


Disiecta Membra

Literally: “Scattered remains”

This was on a Latin classroom wall in the form of a poster. I thoroughly enjoy this piece of knowledge.

“Try that thing without the harness and I’m telling you they’ll be recovering your disiecta membra in ten seconds flat.”


As a note, if you are ever learning a language, I personally recommend Latin, because it is useful, exciting and, above all, clean. Unlike, say, Spanish, it has a total of one truly irregular verb that I have learned, that being the verb for “to be”. Not to be misleading, any takers of this challenge will find the irregularities of third conjugation verbs annoying, but they are not truly irregular. Being unique is normal in that conjugation. So irregular is actually regular there. Q.E.D.


I hope this article has both entertained and informed you.There are tons of languages that turned out to be English, but Latin resides at its core, and does deserve a special shout-out, I believe. Until next time, Deus Vobiscum!



bottom of page