Words Reflect Culture and Character

The power and potential of words is our theme. Rhetoric with rhetorical devices and rhetorical modes influences our reactions and actions. Language — adding new words, changing meanings and demoting others to footnotes. The way we express ourselves with words, communicates our culture and reflects our character.

“Rhetoric,” “misinformation,” “disinformation” and a flood of words related to the pandemic, campaigns and social media dominate the press and conversations. Lexicographers around the globe chose “lockdown” as their 2020 word of the year because of its “unifying experience for billions of people across the world.” The Economic Times suggested that “2020” be the word of the year — with the year’s coronavirus deaths, positive tests, masks and social distancing; its unending disastrous fires, floods and hurricanes; its political turmoil and economic uncertainty across countries.


Whether in English or another language, words reflect events, discoveries, new products and changes in culture. Neologisms, sniglets and changing definitions are also subjects of this month’s curriculum guide. The use of “they” to refer to a singular subject, punctuation gone wild, and the world-wide use of “okay” and “lockdown” make one wonder who is in charge of language use and acceptance. And make language purists cringe.


The Style Invitational has been a Post weekend humore/word play contest for more than 1400 weeks. Review past and current contests to see if any might be suitable for your students to do some word play, creating neologisms and commenting on society. Much of this guide is quite serious, but some levity is found here.


We include D.C.’s newest museum, Planet Word, a museum devoted to language. We encourage reading and discussing three Post articles that introduce it and review it. How much do audience, purpose and cultural sensitivity influence the word choice, details and tone of each? The Post and other media organizations made a Black and White decision considering those criteria.


When Tom Toles announced his retirement in a farewell panel, we thought of his work we have included in our guides — his use of wit, rhetorical devices and visual commentary. As an appreciation for his editorial cartoons, we selected cartoons to focus on rhetorical modes that influence his communication. Read Rhetorical Modes Penned by TOLES.


“Rhetoric” — its classic techniques of persuasion and its more recent meaning of lacking substance — filled many print columns and airwaves this year. Promises on the campaign circuit, announcements of vaccines soon to arrive and crowds yelling at rallies are just a few of the many instances of rhetoric that reflect current culture and a country’s character.


November 2020

Language and Culture
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Examine Etymology
English, Geograpy, Languages

In this curriculum guide, the Word Study: Sniglets, Neologisms and Other Additions to Language introduces the idea of coining new words. Discuss with students how words are created to define unnamed objects around you, to identify innovations and discoveries and to relate changes in cultures. Existing words may also change meaning to reflect changes in culture. Which writers, like Shakespeare, created words for their plays, novels and poems?


After reading Word Study, have students search the following gatekeepers to learn more about dictionary entries, national organizations that safeguard the nation’s language and the influence of the users of a language on what becomes part of its linguistic history.

• The Oxford English Dictionary is a main gatekeeper that decides which word, sense or sub-entry enters the OED.     

Canadian English entries in the OED reflect its diverse geography, peoples and culture.

• Other languages have their guardians of language for official recognition. Vocabolario (Dictionary) of the Accademia della crusca is Italy’s source of words and definitions.

• Five of the 150 terms added to the 2020 Larousse dictionary of the French language are included in the Word Study. Teachers may find other examples at “21 New Words in the French Dictionary That You Should Know.”


Teachers of the French language may wish to introduce their students to Emma and the comic strip in which she coined the term La charge mentale (mental load in English).


Find Your Words

English, Foreign Languages, Social Studies

Have students make lists of words and phrases from different types of activities. Areas might include archaeology, sports, cooking and baking, technology, internet use, or faith and religion. Are there “teen terms” that have wide use among your students? Are there words used in your community that are a combination of another language and English?


Search to see if the words are in the OED. If found, do students agree with the definition? If not, in what other dictionary might they find the terms? If not found after several attempts, have students define the word or term and tell why it should be a dictionary entry.


How Do You Say … ?
English, ESL, Foreign Languages

The chart in How Do You Say … ? may be used for a group activity with students who have studied another language or are native speakers in language groups. “Own choice” language allows for students to share their native language or to add another language studied in your school’s program of studies.


After students have completed the chart, teachers may ask:

• Do some of the words share a common root? What does this root mean?

• Are some of the words anglicized?

• What five phrases would you add to communicate with other students?


Journey to Planet Word

Art, Architecture, English, Journalism, Media Literacy

Read and discuss “Planet Word, a new D.C. museum, explores the landscape of language: Exhibits include interactives to get kids thinking about how humans communicate.” Questions might include

• Which exhibits or activities sound most interesting to you?

• Could you be a language ambassador? What would you want to teach visitors?

• Which book would you want to come alive in the library?

• If you could create an exhibit for Planet Word what would it be?


Modify With Adjectives

Art, English, Journalism, Media Literacy

Visual Modifiers activity is a take-off on Word Worlds, one of the Planet Word interactives. Students begin with sketching thumbnails of scenes, then selecting one to draw full size. See Teachers Notes for ideas for using the 40 adjective cards found on the second page of the activity.


Read More About Planet Word

Art, English, Journalism, Media Literacy

In addition to the KidsPost article that introduces the new D.C. museum, The Post featured Planet Word in an article meant for adults and families looking for an activity and a review by its Pulitzer Prize-winning art and architecture critic.


Read “D.C. museum isn’t at a loss for words” in the Weekend guide of October 2020, and “Planet Word, a new museum devoted to language, is a high-tech, feel-good experience,” Philip Kennicott’s review.

Discussion questions could include ones that ask students to think about intended audience (readers, age group), purpose and rhetorical devices used.

• What similar information do the articles contain?

• Select one of the features of the museum that the articles include. How do they differ in the details given? What might influence the differences?

• Compare and contrast the ledes. Which do you find most appealing?

• What do you learn about the creator of Planet Word in each article from the reporter? Use the information to write your own paragraph to introduce Friedman.

• Select a quotation from Ann Friedman that you found interesting or that answers a question you would have asked her.

Fake News, Trolls, Bots — How to Distinguish
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Distinguish Disinformation From Misinformation

English, AP English Language and Composition, Government, Health

The Nuance and Labels Make a Difference activity is composed of short readings, excerpts from longer opinion pieces and questions to guide discussion.

1. The first paragraphs of “Specter of violence has nation on edge” are paired with a Free For All letter to the editor. How does the label given a group in print change perceptions of the individuals involved?

2. Next are excerpts from two guest commentary essays. One written by Nina Jankowicz and one by Samantha Powers. Questions for discussion follow these pieces.

3. The next excerpt by The Post’s Fact Checker team focuses on President Trump’s use of rhetoric.


Teachers of older students and with time to explore the impact and distinctions of misinformation, disinformation and false claims may wish to use the complete articles either in e-Replica format or online.


“No matter who wins the election, disinformation will still poison our democracy,” the OUTLOOK guest commentary by Nina Jankowicz, the Wilson Center disinformation fellow, takes a serious look at the use of disinformation during elections, about the coronavirus and in social media that has far-reaching implications in daily life, business and the political arena.


Two things Facebook still needs to do to reduce the spread of misinformation” by former reporter and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers takes a closer look at what Facebook has done to label misinformation and the steps it still needs to take.


Glenn Kessler and members of The Post’s Fact Checker team write about President Trump, other world leaders and the press in the essay, “The central feature of Trump’s presidency: False claims and disinformation,” that is adapted from their book, Donald Trump and His Assault on Truth: The President’s Falsehoods, Misleading Claims and Flat-Out Lies.

Read a Review

AP English Language and Composition, English, Government

A deep dive into President Trump’s doublespeak and other rhetorical tricks” by Tim Weiner is a review of Demagogue for President: The Rhetorical Genius of Donald Trump. Jennifer Mercieca’s book has been described as a must-read. Does Tim Weiner in this review of the book agree with that assessment?


Book reviewers should be clear in their evaluations. Should the reader spend time and money on this book? The review should give reasons for that evaluation and quotations from the work. Teachers should ask students to highlight key statements made by Weiner in answering these questions.

Search The World

English, Geography, Social Studies

For The World section, Post foreign correspondents cover countries around the globe and send dispatches, personal accounts of their experiences. In these readers get to know current events from eyewitnesses and experience the culture. Ask students to read news, features and dispatches for vocabulary, celebrations and ways of life that is new to them.


To illustrate this idea, teachers might use “Along the River Thames, mudlarks find London’s history.” Before reading ask students what they think a mudlark is. Then read the headline; has their idea changed? Now read about a modern mudlark.

• Note that William Booth is experiencing this for the first time. Does he give details that bring the reader along? Where is the River Thames?

• Booth includes the 19th century view of a mudlark: “a foul and wretched profession, pursued by desperate children an old women, who scavenged the putrid muck of the Thames for anything of a penny’s value, such as a lump of coal or a piece of wood.” Which adjectives stand out?


• How does the past differ from the present? What do the finds tell about the culture?

Read About Disinformation, Information and Truth

Use Visual Commentary to Identify Rhetorical Modes

AP English Language and Composition, Art, English, Journalism, Visual Literacy

We collecte Tom Toles’ editorial cartoons in a special guide to focus on some of the nine main rhetorical modes (some literature and composition textbooks group selections by these): argumentation (opinion), cause and effect, classification, comparison and contrast, definition, description, examples (illustration), narrative, and process (how-to).


Give students Rhetorical Modes Penned by TOLES. Discuss the definition of each  rhetorical mode, a controlling approach used by writers, and discuss how this strategy is used by Tom Toles. This collection may be especially helpful to visual learners.


The last page is blank. Teachers may ask students to decide on an issue, action/no action, event; state in writing his or her point of view about the chosen topic; select one of the rhetorical modes that helps to convey the essential situation and perspective; and draw an editorial cartoon.


When Rhetoric and Image Converged

English, Government, U.S. History

Read and discuss “Trump’s rhetoric about the election channels a dark episode from our past.” Questions might include:

• What is racist propaganda? Give an example of it.

• What or who was the “Vampire that Hovers Over North Carolina”?

• What role did the Wilmington Red Shirts play in the election?

• What is a coup d’etat?

• What measures can be taken to prevent voter intimidation?


Think Like a Reporter

Composition, Debate, Journalism, Media Literacy, Philosophy, Psychology

Think Like a Reporter | Rhetoric Matters begins with a sampling of Post headlines that contained “rhetoric.” Read each one and ask students what rhetoric means or refers to in that context.


If there is time, review the persuasive approaches of ethos, logos and pathos and ideas of classical rhetoric. If this is a course that studies Artistotle and his Rhetoric, this may be an application of his ideas in contemporary life. The sections of the activity ask students to think of the influence that word choice has on readers and news viewers.

• How might the connotations as well as denotation of identifiers or labels convey a bias or lack of fairness?

• What care must reporters take when interviewing sources?


Teachers may use “The Washington Post announces writing style changes for racial and ethnic identifiers” with this activity. The PR blog relates the background for the change in capitalization of Black and White.


Please refer to Teachers Notes for additional suggestions for using the material selected for the November 2020 Post NIE Curriculum Guide.


Post NIE Guide Editor | Carol Lange

Post NIE Guide Art Editor | Donna McCullough


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In The Know 

Jargon or slang of a particular group or class; specialized vocabulary devised for private communication (professions, social groups, sub groups) not easily, if at all, understood by others; synonym of jargon


Popular word or phrase; fashionable at a particular time, a vogue word or phrase in a particular profession, field of study or popular culture; recent examples include “nanotechnology,” “ecotourism,” “drinking the Kool-Aid”


Specialized language, cryptolect, or jargon used to exclude or mislead people from outside the group; its purpose is to prevent outsiders from understanding conversations



A saying, image or idea that has been used so much it lacks creativity, fails to attract interest; negative connotation in societies that value creativity and individualism; positive connotation in societies that value tradition
Coined word

A word or expression that has been invented; its meaning is determined by the inventor. Shakespeare, poets and other writers, scientists and explorers, political leaders and comedians are known sources of coined words. It may also be a word used in a new way for the first time. 


The feeling or idea that a word conveys; emotions or meanings implied by a word


 Denotation A word’s literal or main definition; absent of emotion

Misinformation that is deliberately disseminated to mislead; intent is to give false information to persuade, to sharpen divisions and sow confusion


Etymology The origin and historical development of a word, based on its earliest known use and changes in form and meaning

Specialized language of a profession or group (computer programmers, physicians, plumbers and astronauts, for example, have terms to communicate easily with each other), activity or event


Language The words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community; the principal means used by human beings to communicate with one another
Lingo Language or vocabulary that is specific subject, group of people or region; including slang and jargon. Etymology is based in the Latin word lingua, meaning “tongue.” Refers to the spoken language.
Linguistics The scientific study of language; the humanistic study of language and literature [Late 16th century. Latin lingua meaning “tongue”]
Misinformation False information that is disseminated; sharing information that is wrong without knowing it is wrong
Neologism A newly coined word or expression; new use for an existing word
Patois The dialect of a particular country, region or area, considered nonstandard; rural or provincial speech. Patois is the French word for dialect. Related to pidgin, creole, dialect and vernacular. People are probably most familiar with Jamaican patois — not the King’s English. 
Portmanteau A neologism created by blending together two words to create a new word that combines their meanings

The ancient art of persuasion that was highly regarded; today, it has a negative connotation when the speaker makes speeches that may sound good, but have no substance: “all rhetoric and no substance”

Usage The way a particular word or expression is used in a language

Ordinary language; native spoken language; language of a group; not formal language use; includes slang and familiar talk at home


ANSWERS. How did Shakespeare shape the English language?

Playwright William Shakespeare added more than 1,700 words and phrases to the English language. Here are the 30 (in order) that were tucked into Sunday’s story, plus the plays they came from.

monumental (“Troilus and Cressida”) ●full circle (“King Lear”) 

flaming youth (“Hamlet”) ●excitement (“Hamlet”) ●brave new world (“The Tempest”) ●lie low (“Much Ado About Nothing”) ●countless (“Titus Andronicus”) ●bedazzled (“The Taming of the Shrew”) ●be-all and the end-all (“Macbeth”)

critical (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream”) ●laughable (“The Merchant of Venice”)●majestic (“Julius Caesar”) ●mind’s eye (“Hamlet”) ●too much of a good thing (“As You Like It”) ●suspicious (“Henry VI”)

wild-goose chase (“Romeo and Juliet”) ●budge an inch (“The Taming of the Shrew”) ●naked truth (“Love’s Labor’s Lost”) ●melted into thin air (“The Tempest”)


ANSWERS. Disinformation and Misinformation. From The Debunking Handbook  2020

Misinformation: False information that is disseminated, regardless of intent to mislead.

Disinformation: Misinformation that is deliberately disseminated to mislead.

Fake news: False information, often of a sensational nature, that mimics news media content.

Continued influence effect: The continued reliance on inaccurate information in people’s memory and reasoning after a credible correction has been presented.

Illusory truth effect: Repeated information is more likely to be judged true than novel information because it has become more familiar. 

District of Columbia Public Schools Academic Content Standards 

The District of Columbia has adopted the Common Core State Standards in reading and mathematics. In addition, DCPS has adopted new learning standards in arts, health and physical education, science, social studies, technology and world languages.



Academic Content Standards may be found at http://osse.dc.gov/service/dc-educational-standards.

Maryland Academic Content Standards 

English Language Arts. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening. (L3  CCR)


English Language Arts. Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. (L5 CCR)


The Maryland Voluntary State Curriculum Content Standards can be found online at http://mdk12.org/assessments/standards/9-12.html 

Virginia Academic Content Standards 

English. The student will produce, analyze, and evaluate auditory, visual, and written media messages.

a) Analyze and interpret special effects used in media messages including television, film, and Internet.

b) Determine the purpose of the media message and its effect on the audience.

c) Describe possible cause and effect relationships between mass media coverage and public opinion trends.

d) Evaluate sources including advertisements, editorial, and feature stories for relationships between intent and factual content.

e) Monitor, analyze, and use multiple streams of simultaneous information. (9.2: Communication: Speaking, Listening, Media Literacy)


English. The student will apply knowledge of word origins, derivations, and figurative language to extend vocabulary development in authentic texts.

 a) Use structural analysis of roots, affixes, synonyms, antonyms, and cognates to understand complex words.

b) Use context, structure, and connotations to determine meanings of words and phrases.

c) Discriminate between connotative and denotative meanings and interpret the connotation.

d) Identify the meaning of common idioms.

e) Identify literary and classical allusions and figurative language in text.

f) Extend general and specialized vocabulary through speaking, reading, and writing.

g) Use knowledge of the evolution, diversity, and effects of language to comprehend and elaborate the meaning of texts. (9.3: Reading)


English. The student will write in a variety of forms, with an emphasis on persuasion.

a) Generate, gather, plan, and organize ideas for writing to address a specific audience and purpose.

b) Produce arguments in writing that develop a thesis that demonstrates knowledgeable judgments, addresses counterclaims, and provides effective conclusions.

c) Organize ideas in a sustained and logical manner.

d) Clarify and defend position with precise and relevant evidence elaborating ideas clearly and accurately.

e) Adapt content, vocabulary, voice, and tone to audience, purpose, and situation.

f) Revise writing for clarity of content, accuracy and depth of information.

g) Use computer technology to plan, draft, revise, edit, and publish writing.

h) Write and revise correspondence to a standard acceptable both in the workplace and in postsecondary education.  (11.6: Writing)


English. The student will examine how values and points of view are included or excluded and how media influences beliefs and behaviors.

a) Evaluate sources including advertisements, editorials, blogs, Web sites, and other media for relationships between intent, factual content, and opinion.

b) Determine the author’s purpose and intended effect on the audience for media messages. (12.2: Communication: Speaking, Listening, Media Literacy)


Academic Content Standards may be found at http://www.doe.virginia.gov/testing/index.shtml.

Common Core Standards 

Language. L.9-10.5 Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.


Reading: Informational Text. RI.9-10.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.



Common Core standards may be found at www.corestandards.org.