Tuesday, September 3, 2013


Book review: Sow or Sow (History & Pronunciation of different ow words)

 In honor of the pronunciation theme that the most recent ELT blog carnival contained, this is a book that may help some people master English pronunciation just a little more. I know that some teachers who teach pronunciation label words with colors. This book reminds me of that method mixed in with etymology.

Title: Sow or Sow: A guide to the origins of English words spelled with ow   
Author: R.E. Skibiski    Pages: 56 Price: $2.99

Who should buy it? The book has a small text at the end which quite aptly summarizes why someone may want to buy it. If any of this applies to you then you may want to consider buying it. “To some people, how words change is interesting: to other people, how words change isn’t interesting at all. As for the former this guide might make them say WOW! As for the latter, well, this guide might make them say OW!...This guide … can be used for many purposes from improving your pronunciation to improving your vocabulary, … from English as a second language students who are frustrated by English spelling to native speakers who have never paid close attention to these words before. It can also be a starting point for learning more about the history of the English language in general.”

What’s it do?  This book is essentially a limited dictionary with more cohesion. It divides all ow words into two groups yellow () and brown (aʊ).
It starts by explaining how the book works, explaining a bit of the history of English and explaining Old English pronunciation.
At this point it begins to list the yellow words from arrow to yellow. Each word has a brief definition, a number (the group it falls into) and the word’s original origin and spelling (if known). After the words it explains those groups we saw by each word earlier. These ten different groups give a bit of background as to how the word has changed over time (if known).
Now that the yellow words are down it switches into the brown words from alloy to yowl. Exactly like with the yellow words each words has a definition, group and origin. Once we see the end with yowl we see the brown words ten groups.
After the words we go onto special notes! These include uncommon words that may be linguistically cool but not of much use to an EFL student (so they can make note to not bring those out in their next pick up line), notes on past participles, a bunch of cool words (for example what makes owe so special? If you’re interested then this book is for you!) borrowed words, Old English infinitives.
To finish us off what would a book on English pronunciation be without exceptions? Luckily the exceptions are few:  Co-worker and knowledge for example.

Is it any good?  As I stated before, I am a word nerd. That being said I am not sure I would want to read this. I skimmed it and mostly enjoyed it, but I feel like actually reading it would be similar to reading a dictionary…not very exciting. This would be useful to have access to in a bathroom or on a coffee table so you could look up random words when you had spare time. I could also see it fitting into a class library or office bookshelf quite nicely. If a student finished their work early they could do a quick write up on a new word they found and where it came from originally. Plus the author is a fellow ELT who gives away free material on his site

What do you think? Does this sound like anything you'd buy or is it too dry for your taste?

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