Yesterday, we drove 75 miles down the Great River Road from West – Central Wisconsin to North – Eastern Iowa. My husband and I had a dual purpose to our trip. Firstly, I needed to deliver some pieces to a gallery in the town of McGregor where I am on consignment as a jewelry designer/artist. Secondly, we wanted to leaf peep.
But, along the road, which follows the eastern bank of the Great Muddy or Mississippi River, we were repeatedly exposed to the word, slough.
I am a person of words. I love vocabulary. I mean, I seriously LOVE it! When I have the opportunity to teach, whether it is for an occasional day as a substitute, a garden club lesson, writer’s circle, or even while developing math questions for my math enrichment series, I try to build student vocabulary. Words are interesting. I try to show that to the students I encounter. In addition, each of my boys, at some point in their younger days, had “word walls” – an idea borrowed from a few excellent teachers I knew – on their bedroom closet doors. We would post new words for a week, and review them at night. This mostly took place in the summer, but I remember it well. My actions demonstrate how very important I feel vocabulary is to student success. And, it is one of the easiest things to do to enrich your child!
But, here’s the thing. English is a weird language. It can be difficult. This was no better demonstrated by the difficulties my middle son had in second grade. Three to four nights a week we would enter a spare room in our house to work on word recognition, definition, pronunciation, and even, spelling. We just had a recent conversation about this ten-year old series of meetings. Although he hated it, and I knew that at the time, we both knew it was necessary, as he did not qualify for any “services” at school and it was important to both of us that he become a better than average reader. Our lessons went on for a year, he made progress, and today is that above average reader we sought him to be. But we both noticed during our time together that the English language is weird. So many words are spelled alike but mean different things, so many vowels with similar sounds when in particular combinations, and so many other things that can throw one-off as a new reader and writer. It can be extremely frustrating!
Such is the case with the word we saw on our journey yesterday. Slough. I thought I knew what it meant and even said it correctly in the particular context the signs meant to signify. Slough – pronounced to rhyme with cow. Not slough – (ff) – pronounced to rhyme with fluff. One word, spelled the same with two entirely different meanings.
As we drove, we noticed the small inlets, marshy areas, and even bogs along the edges of this great river. I knew, due to the context and a half century of life experience as a word lover, that slough was referring to these areas. My husband, although more of a man of science than literature, had to agree. But, just to confirm, this morning I went to my trusted online Merriam Webster Dictionary. I love this resource and would highly recommend it to any student, educator, or fellow lover of words! Here is a link to the word slough, as defined by Merriam Webster, as well as the Word of the Day Podcast for slough. I love these podcasts….because they give the history of the word, as well as context and meaning. Listen to the end of the two minute podcast for the appropriate definition. Plus, I find the narrator’s voice very engaging!
Slough, “an inlet on a river, or swamp, or marsh.” Yes, a slough is what I thought. But, how interesting it also has the meaning to shed or be removed, such as in a snake shedding its skin. In this case, the same spelled word, slough, is pronounced with an “f” at the end. Slough (sluff). I am sure if we looked alongside the river banks, on a hot summer day, we’d see some evidence of that, too.
Words are wonderful, fascinating, and enriching elements. Do you not think so?