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Lyceum for Logophiles

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At Venice (Calif.) High School, lexicographical disquisitions are a quotidian occurrence among matriculants.

That is, when students and teachers wear their "Have You Used Your Word of the Day?" pins, they know what they are talking about.

For the past four years, the school has operated the "word of the day" program, which gives students an opportunity to display their understanding of a relatively difficult word in exchange for a small emolument, usually a candy bar.

At the beginning of each school year, a group of teachers from various disciplines makes up a list of words for the entire year. Often, the daily word is centered on a current theme. For example, when the school is rehearsing for a musical, "crescendo" might appear on the bulletin board of daily words. Similarly, if a mathematics competition is taking place, students might be asked to use "parallel" or "logarithm" in a sentence.

Each day, Principal Andrea Natker makes her rounds during lunch hour, rewarding students who use the daily word correctly with a "Word Wizard" card and a prize. At the end of the semester, one lucky Word Wizard wins a stereo.

The program has not only improved students' vocabulary and writing samples, says Ms. Natker, but also has had a salutary impact on the school's climate. "Kids look for recognition," she observes, noting that the daily word has opened the door for "positive adult-student interactions."

Of course, the principal readily admits, students will not be using words such as "exoteric" in casual conversation. But, she notes, they will surely have cause to be "jubilant" should some of the daily words appear on a future college-entrance examination.

And what about students who don't know the daily word? They can always tergiversate.

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