English: what is a morganatic marriage?

Tutoring English, you may encounter a surprise anytime. The tutor shares a find.

Apparently, a morganatic marriage is one between a high-status person and one less prominent, wherein the social standing of the partner of lower rank doesn’t change.


Gilmour, Laura (ed). Collins Essential Canadian English Dictionary & Thesaurus. Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Math: Excel: square roots of negative numbers

Tutoring college math, complex numbers will likely arise. The tutor mentions using Excel.

Square roots of negative numbers (aka, complex numbers or imaginary numbers) may not be encountered by many high school students. However, in college math they are used, and electricians also use them.

Excel will calculate the square root of a negative number, using the imsqrt() function. Example:


gives, on this desktop, 1.8377E-16 + 3i.

1.8377E-16 is so tiny, of course, it’s equivalent to zero. So the effective answer is 3i, which is correct. An electrician might call it j3.


Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

School supplies: stick pens

Tutoring, school supplies are ever-present. The tutor brings up stick pens.

Stick pens (ball-point with a cap) are perhaps my favourite kind. One reason I like them is they don’t make noise. Plus, they’re cheap enough that it makes sense to buy a box of them, then leave a few here and a few there in places you might need one.

Today I picked up three of unknown age that I found at various places in the house. The PaperMate Write Bros, the Staples generic, and the Bic Round Stic all write nicely on cue. So I guess any of these seems good to me.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

English: what does prolix mean?

Tutoring English, new, short, descriptive words are welcome additions to the vocabulary. The tutor mentions prolix.

prolix: using more words than needed, in a clumsy way; overly long for its meaning.

The essay was prolix; the student had padded it to fill the word count.


Barber, Katherine et al. Oxford Canadian Dictionary of Current English. Don Mills: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

English: what is blank verse?

Tutoring English, blank verse is a term you might need to define. The tutor explains it.

Blank verse, in the traditional sense, is unrhymed iambic pentameter. (For an explanation of iambic pentameter, see my post here.)

In Shakespeare, members of the nobility typically speak in iambic pentameter, especially when delivering ideas that span many lines. The common people typically do not.

In Julius Caesar, Antony speaks in iambic pentameter at Caesar’s funeral (III,ii,116-135, for example).


Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Hertfordshire: Wordsworth Editions Ltd., 1996.

Coles Notes: Literary Terms. Toronto: Coles Publishing, 2009.

English: is some singular or plural?

Tutoring English, new ways to see familiar words can be interesting. The tutor brings up the case of some.

I would have said, spontaneously, that some is plural:

We bought some pens.

However, I got schooled by a handbook today:

Some wine is sweet.

We bought some sugar.

On the other hand:

Some wines are sweet.

We bought some flowers.

Apparently, some is singular when it describes a singular noun, but when describing a plural noun, some is plural.


Hodges, Horner et al. Harbrace Handbook for Canadians. Scarborough: Nelson Education, 2003.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Lifestyle: microwaving coffee or tea: a safety precaution

Tutoring, I drink coffee. (What academic doesn’t?) The tutor gives a hint for those who microwave coffee but drink it black.

I’ve been told that, when you microwave a cup of liquid, an air bubble can develop beneath the surface. Then, if the drink remains undisturbed, it can pop into your face when you take a sip.

For decades I didn’t worry about that, since I took cream in my coffee. However, last summer, I stopped using cream; now I just drink it black. As a precaution, I always dip a spoon or stir stick into freshly-microwaved coffee, just to release any air bubble that might be waiting.

The other day I was in such a situation, but there was no stir stick or spoon handy. Wondering what to do, I put the cup of microwaved coffee under the tap, then let a few drips of cold water fall in. It broke the surface tension well enough.

I believe the air bubble phenomenon can happen, but rarely. I think I’ve seen microwaved liquid “jump” up from the cup a few times over the last fifteen years.

PS: Only four months ’til Christmas!

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

Lifestyle: taking the transit bus

Tutoring, I rarely go offsite, but it can happen. The tutor shares his recent experience taking transit.

As a student, down in Victoria, I never owned a car. For years I bought a monthly bus pass; transit was how I got everywhere. Victoria was big enough to be well-serviced by transit – I imagine it’s even better now.

In ’95 I moved to Campbell River. The immediate difference I perceived was that Campbell River was a driving town, whereas in Victoria many people chose transit over driving. Down there, even people with cars – or who could afford to buy one – would commonly elect to take transit instead.

Soon after arriving here, my wife’s father bought her a car. It was $100, but very reliable. We’ve owned a car ever since. However, we don’t own two.

This week my wife’s got the car away camping, and I’m working in town. After decades, I’m once again boarding the bus by morning and returning on it come evening.

How do I find taking transit? It’s great – much easier than driving. I don’t have to park, nor do I have to move the car several times during the day.

Perhaps best of all, I don’t have to drive. Rather, I let the bus driver concentrate on the road.

I live on Robron Road; this week, I work in town from 8:30am to 5pm. For that particular situation, the bus is much better than driving. At $2 per ride, $20 will cover my transportation to and from work this week.

Taking transit has been a great experience for me.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

English: vocabulary: what does parlous mean?

Tutoring English, unfamiliar, two-syllable words are always great finds. The tutor shares parlous.

I thought parlous would be related to talking, but it’s not at all.

parlous: dangerous; risky

She views cliff-jumping as a parlous activity.


Merriam-Webster. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Springfield: Merriam-Webster, 2004.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.

School supplies: pens

Tutoring, you see all manner of school supplies. The tutor mentions two kinds of pens.

I love good pens. By “good” I mean they write well.

There are a few classifications of pens, from my point of view: stick, click, and other (fountain, for instance).

In the case of click pens, there are a couple of kinds I like. If you like PaperMate, the InkJoy might appeal to you. For Bic fans, there’s the Soft Feel.

I like both.

I’ll be sharing more about school supplies.

Jack of Oracle Tutoring by Jack and Diane, Campbell River, BC.