A glossary for the less deceived

9th May 2003 at 01:00
AS the examination season gets under way, one truth shines out like a beacon: no matter what anyone may argue to the contrary, a system in which the stakes are high will produce anxiety to match. Teachers, parents and pupils all feel the pressure in their daily lives.

Nowhere is this better seen than in the rush to meet targets. The internet is awash with a huge target-strategy industry. In the field of literacy alone there are schemes of work, booster classes and lists of key grammatical terms, all supposed to push up your class's literacy scores.

At school I loved grammar, having learned English, German, French and Latin for 20 lessons each week. At university I signed up for every philological course in sight, Old High German, Middle High German, Gothic, the lot. You want something putting into the pluperfect passive? I'm your man.

So I feel envious of these website merchants purveying their ashen-faced offerings to the grammatically challenged. True, words like "homophone", "phoneme" and "morpheme" are more common than "creativity", "imagination" or "enjoyment", but I don't want to be a spoilsport and pour scorn on them.

As someone who can play the homophone by ear, I offer, albeit belatedly, my own web-type glossary, to help anxious teachers and pupils to raise standards of literacy: abbreviation: something cut short, as in "creativity in this school has experienced a considerable abbreviation". assonance: the repetition of vowel sounds, as in "prime time". But it can also describe something donkey-like: "Prescriptive literacy and numeracy teaching has a certain assonance about it."

cliche: a trite or overused phrase: "Our standards agenda is working"; "Teachers are as sick as a parrot."

comprehension: understanding, as in "The Number 10 policy unit has only a bog-standard comprehension of classroom realities."

digraph: a psychological condition produced by the sheer predictability of the numeracy hour always having three parts to it, inducing a hatred of anything mathematical and a wish for instant death: "At the end of every maths lesson I suffer from acute digraph."

fiction: anything put out by spin doctors about any educational topic.

homograph: a word which has the same spelling as another but a different meaning: "Ofsted tries to give a lead, but the prose in its school reports is like lead."

homophone: a word which has the same sound as another but a different meaning: "rite", "right" and "write", say, or "Margaret Hodge thinks she knows a right lot about education, but I wonder if she can actually write."

idiomatic: a word formed from "idiotic" and "axiomatic", as in:"Politicians should not tell teachers how to teach - that is idiomatic."

metalanguage: the use of profane language, as in: "When I asked him to take Miss Scattergood's Year 9 class he poured out such abuse I've never metalanguage like it."

morpheme: the smallest unit that has meaning, so a word may consist of one or more of them: dog (one unitmorpheme), doghouse (two unitsmorphemes), DfES (several units with no meaning).

oxymoron: a foolish act by a well-educated person: "Stephen Twigg's letter haranguing heads and teachers to meet their targets was a bit of an oxymoron."

passive voice: the feeling of being a head or teacher nowadays in a primary or secondary school.

phoneme: a strategy for dealing with dilatory officialdom: "If he doesn't reply to my bloody letter soon I shall just have to phoneme up."

simile: comparing something to something else, often using "as" or "like".

For example: "When the head was given early retirement, he bought himself a boat, called it Lump Sum and was as happy as a pig in muck."

synonym: a word with the same meaning as another, such as "policy initiative" and "tripe", "gobbledegook", "belly laugh", "utter bollocks" and "what planet are these people on?"

syntax: the duty levied by government on cigarettes and whisky.

tautology:teaching something nobody else can understand, like "ontology":

"I once knew a very clever bloke who tautology at the local university."

tense: the state of most teachers by Friday afternoon.

future tense: trainees who haven't yet started their teaching practice.

conditional tense: people who are only willing to take on a post of responsibility if you offer them a lot of money.

past tense:headteachers who are demob happy and don't care any more.

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