Jump in and combine topics for learning

October 09, 2009|By LISA PREJEAN

Beowulf and the Boston Celtics are two subjects that are rarely broached in the same breath.

Yet when you're dealing with high school students, you never know what topics are going to be considered, what associations are going to be made.

And so it was on a recent day in senior English as we began a discussion of literature in the Middle Ages. We spoke of Germanic tribes that invaded England in A.D. 450. We examined the Angles and Saxons - invading peoples who occupied the middle and southern regions of England.

Then we read about the Celts, the native people who were forced to flee to Scotland, Ireland and France. That's when the light bulbs started to flicker around the room.


A student who was reading pronounced the tribe's name "Selts." I calmly explained that it actually is a hard C sound, as in "cat." The pronunciation would be closer to "Kelts."

By the looks on their faces, it was obvious that some of my students were either doubting my pronunciation of the word or were eager to tease me into a challenge.

"But it's spelled the same way as the Boston Celtics," one student said.

Another student nodded his head and commented that people in Boston are smart. They know what they're doing. Why would they pronounce the word incorrectly?

After a little research, I found that my students might be on to something.

According to encyclopedia, the word "Celtic" comes from Greek, which would dictate a K sound for the C. However, in medieval Latin, the K sound shifted to an S.

In fact, until the mid-20th century, Celtic was pronounced with an S sound, except in academic circles. The K pronunciation began to gain popularity, especially in regard to Celtic culture and music.

After going back and forth from the S-sound to the K-sound, I asked my class if they had ever heard Celtic music. A few of them had. I told them I'd bring in a CD sometime so the others could expand their cultural horizons.

But basketball is what they really wanted to know about.

When Walter Brown founded the Basketball Association of America in 1946, he needed a name for his own team, based in Boston. According to, Brown considered the names Whirlwinds, Unicorns and Olympics, but none of those seemed quite right. While talking with friend Howie McHugh, Brown thought of Celtics. Because Boston was home to many people of Irish descent, Brown picked green uniforms, and the Boston Celtics were founded in the summer of 1946.

So what does all this have to do with Beowulf? Well, very little, really. It was just that the history of that time period was setting the stage for next week's reading of the epic poem.

If my hook from present to past needs to involve a sport, I'll take the ball and run with it.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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