29 June 2009

Parading One’s Vocabulary

At the start of this month, I read in the local paper about a school "Vocabulary Fair." I'd never heard of this tradition. What are those crazy schoolkids up to, I thought, now that they've gotten past Pi Day?

The little boy to the left is carrying his mask for the word "prehistoric." The little girl staggering across the stage below is "discombobulated." (Both photos by Mark Thompson for the Newton Tab.)

There were prizes in each grade for "the most memorable word or costume, the most original word or costume and the costume or performance that best matched the word," plus Best Overall Noun, Verb, and Adjective. (Showing up as "underneath" would, I suppose, be a losing preposition.)

With some Googling, I discovered that the tradition also exists in the form of a "Vocabulary Parade," as in this example from Alpharetta, Georgia, archived by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and this from Mrs. Gorham's Second Grade Class. And here are a couple of sets at Flickr.

Cute as the results are, I imagine that parents sometimes perceive vocabulary fairs as just another burden. Come up with a costume that your child likes to illustrate a word that child probably hasn't heard of yet! Yes, your originality and craftsmanship will be on display for all the other parents. (And did we mention it's time for your child to bring in 100 of something?)

Sometimes these lexical events occur near Halloween, when kids are already focused on dressing up. In those cases, some parents seem to have chosen the better part of valor and found a word to fit the already-chosen costume.

Apparently, this new tradition owes a lot to author-illustrator Debra Frasier, who has instructions for such an event on her website promoting Miss Alaineus: A Vocabulary Disaster, published in 2000.

In particular, I note that there's a costume for the word "effervescent" in Frasier's gallery that I've seen replicated at a couple of Vocabulary Fairs, in at least one case winning a prize. So does that costume actually represent "plagiarism" or "cliché"?

Now I must go envision a way to dress up as "verisimilitudinous."

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