About That Time I Taught A #Lexivism Class (OMG?!)

About a month ago (as you can see, I have fantastic time-keeping blogging habits) most people who take interest in my life saw my Snapchat and Instagram stories about me teaching a class on “lexivism,” a term I completely made up, which is virtually unknown outside of this blog and my personal social media accounts. Most people had the same questions:

  1. OMG! How did this happen?
  2. So cool! How did it go?

And now, I shall finally answer both.

How did this happen?

There is a program called Splash that originated at MIT about 60 years ago, or so I’m told, where high school students come in to be taught by college students. The program has since grown larger and been adopted by other higher learning institutes across America, and now the consortium of colleges I’m in has its own similar program, called Claremont Splash. The idea for Claremont Splash is for the students of the Claremont Colleges to teach any subject they are interested in, which ordinarily wouldn’t be taught in a conventional classroom setting. You get to design your own class from top to bottom, and even choose the length of the class and how many students you would like in yours. And so I heard about it from my sponsor, who’s a sophomore, who thought that such a program was really up my alley. So I signed up when the time came, and I created my lesson plan the day before I had to teach it. (It’s not like we don’t already know I’m a wizard with time and planning and stuff. *flips hair*) Shout-out to Tronomie for staying up on the phone with me until 1 a.m. Cape Town time helping me create the lesson plan last-minute. As usual.

the class
A really bad picture of the class.

How did it go?

I designed my class to be 1 hour long, and made my maximum capacity for students 10. Surprisingly enough, the class got full. I hadn’t been expecting even two people to sign up, for a class based on a term that nobody knew. My maximum capacity was so small because for one, I don’t like people very much and I don’t believe in my ability to deal with too many of them at a time; for another, an intimate class for wholesome discussion was what I was aiming for.


Now I’m going to actually walk you through the lesson.

Part 1: What’s In A Name?

I thought it would be a good idea to start a lexivism class off with names, because our names are probably the most useful words we know. They are our identifiers, and our placeholders among people and in society. To set it off, I began with explaining the legend of my own name.

Even I am surprised that I’ve never blogged about the meaning of my name, but now’s as good a time as any to do it, I guess.

I was named after my paternal grandmother, and when I got to high school, I realized I had never known what my name meant. So I decided to ask my grandma, and lo and behold – she didn’t know what it meant either. She referred me to her sister, who is possibly the oldest woman I know (about 95 years old) and expert on history and legends surrounding our family. She told wrote a note that my dad delivered to me in the boarding house, telling me what her cousin had told her when she was a child, about the Akoto name.

First of all, the name in all its different forms runs in the family. I got to take a look at some of our family’s historical documents, and from about 1800, I’ve seen people in the family called Akoto, Akotoa, Akotaa, Akotowa, Akotowaa, and the list goes on. My grandma and I are Akotowaa (double A). I have a cousin called Akoto and another called Akotowa (single A). It’s probably going to keep getting passed down for centuries more.

In her note, my great-aunt told me two stories. One of them was fairly practical – which is probably why I can’t remember it. (It’s not lost, though; it’s in a notebook back in Ghana. Next time I go home, I’ll look for it.) The second one was much more absurd, amusing, and that’s likely why I remember it so well.

The legend: In an ancient Akwamu village, there was a chief who had several wives, the first of which was pregnant with a child who was prophesied to be the greatest leader the Akwamu people had ever seen. One day, the chief was out and the heavily pregnant wife was walking around the palace, and she came across a plate of delicious-looking and -smelling food. Unable to resist, she ate all of it. The chief came back and was enraged that his food had been eaten. After all, he was the chief, and that was basically sacrilege. He called for a confession from the culprit but nobody came forward. His hand forced, he declared that whenever the culprit was found, they would be sentenced to death. Upon discovering that the culprit was his precious first wife, he could not take back his word, so the execution had to take place regardless. The people, however, would not stand for the savior of the nation to be taken away from them before he’d even had a chance to live – so a C-section was performed on this woman to retrieve the baby, and only after this was she killed. Because this baby had to be reached for and fetched out of the mother’s stomach directly, they called him “AkÉ” tu,” as in, something like “[someone] has gone to pull [something] out”. The many factors of culture turned the name into Akoto. So, to quote verbatim from my great-aunt, Akoto means “that which was fetched or brought forth (for its anticipated value).” So I told the high school students all of this, and understandably, they were like, Whoa. (Same tho’.)

After this, I handed it over to them, and they each said their name and what it meant. Aside this being interesting and lexical, it was a great way to incorporate self-introduction into the lesson itself. See, I’m smart.

I predicted that not everybody would know what their name meant – fewer people than I expect usually do – so I had my Google page pulled up on the projector, ready for fire look-ups of name meanings. This, it turns out, was a great thing to plan for, because only one person out of the 9 who showed up had any clue what their name meant. So a few minutes were spent watching people discover the meanings of one of the most important words in their lives and watching them register how their names just might influence/have influenced their identity. That was fun.

Part 2: Who Is A Lexivist?

This is where I explained what lexivism was, as broadly as I could. Lexivism, I believe is an encompassing term that so many things can fit in, and I suspect it’s just going to get broader as time goes on.

The few definitions I gave them were:

  • “A word activist”
  • One who believes in or advocates strongly for the recognized value/significance of words.
  • An activist who operates through literary means (poetry, prose, essays, or any media that incorporates words).
  • A lover of words.

People take charge of terms and use them in interesting and creative ways. I asked them to imagine, if lexivism truly takes off in my lifetime, what could it possibly mean, say, 50 years after my death? Who really knows?

Parts 3 & 4: The Birth of Lexivism & Its Lexical Composition

Here, I said essentially the same thing I said in my blog post “#Lexivism: It’s A Movement,” but with a photo slideshow to help me tell my story! They were mostly DB27 pictures.

The summary: Once upon a time, there was a girl called Akotowaa who loved reading from a very young age. By the time she was ten years old, she got it into her mind that she was going to be a writer, and so she started writing stories. But whenever she told people she wanted to be a writer, they would shoot her down as if she’d said something offensive. They would pronounce poverty and starvation on her future and write her aspiration off as silly until she eventually began to doubt herself. But then she realized that she was African, she was Ghanaian, she came from a long lineage of lit culture, history and storytelling traditions, and had a pool of stories that were waiting to be told. She saw the irony in a nation that prided itself so much on its arts and culture constantly putting down those who aspired to use their lives and careers to exhibit it. So she decided that against all odds, she would write, and make her aspirations a reality. And, to top it off, she would be an activist on behalf of anyone who was in a situation similar to hers, who dared to aspire against society’s expectations, and as she used her art to realize her own visions, she would simultaneously use her words to advocate for these people. And this cause, she termed “lexivism.”

I explained the lexical composition of the word “lexivism,” which is also explained in the blog post I referenced earlier. Basically, the prefix “lex-” is for any word-related word. A vocabulary set is called a lexicon, one who writes a dictionary is a lexicographer et cetera. We all know what activism is.

lexivism's lexical composition

Part 5: Making Words

After that we did a fun little exercise where anyone who could think of a situation where they have once needed a word but either couldn’t find the right one or knew that it didn’t exist would tell the class, and then we would collectively work to come up with a word that meant exactly what we wanted it to mean. It’s an interesting exercise breaking the rules of language while following the rules of composition and meaning.

One girl brought up a need she once had to describe a kind of rigorous movement that no existing word could truly capture. She ended up with the word “trampede.”

Another talked about how she couldn’t find a word to describe the physical size of her cat when she was a kid. She made up a word that baffled her parents entirely, but it was so long ago that she couldn’t remember what it was.

Another person wanted a single word for what to call it when your foot fell asleep. We had a LOT of interesting suggestions for that, and we brainstormed around the word in much the same way as “lexivism” was formed: we had two categories, one for “foot” and one for “sleep,” involving all the connected words we already knew that made the parts of the word we wanted to take logical. For example, for “foot,” we had “ped” as in pedestrian, orthodpedist; for “sleep,” we had “dorm” as in dormitory and dormant/”somn” as in insomia and somnambulism. In the end, though, most people settled on the word “footingling” to describe the sensation, which was a very amusing turn of events!

the board
A Really Bad Picture of the Board

Part 6: Lexivism in Practice (Discussion)

This is the part where we talked a lot about lexivism in general, and the discussion started getting slightly political and philosophical. For one thing, after I asked, I realized that many people had come to the class because they were generally interested in activism. So we had a discussion about identity and how new words had to be created to accommodate for the broad range of identities we had now coming up, in any form. Misogynoir, womanism et cetera. We talked about the word “Chicano,” and how the need for it, as opposed to “Hispanic” or “Latino,” had only arisen from the increased migration of Hispanic people to America. The word Chicano exists to describe the American of Latinx descent. If Americans of Latinx descent did not exist in increasing numbers, there would be no need for the word.

We also spoke a bit about culture mixing, and how hybrid languages were rising – like Spanglish. Of course, I took that opportunity to bring up Twinglish and even pidgin, and the roles they play in expression and society.

Then we talked about the trials of a limited vocabulary, and someone brought up George Orwell’s 1984 “Newspeak,” which excited me because a large part of the book was focused on the subplot of the government revising the English language to decrease the vocabulary dramatically, for the reason that if people have less words to think in, they will think about things less (critically) and essentially become stupider. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I promise you, it’s in that book, and it truly struck me when I read it because hello – it’s true. Imagine having a vocabulary so limited that not only can you not call a skyscraper and a bungalow by two different words, but you can’t explain how they’re different either because the words to define saf don’t exist.

A lot more discussion happened but I honestly can’t remember it, so you’ll have to be satisfied with what I’ve already written. LOL. (Of course, if you have cool thoughts, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.)

Part 7: Anti-Indoctrination (Conclusion)

Can Akotowaa teach a class without adding spoken word to the whole show? LOL. We closed the class with my first ever spoken word video, obviously a lexivist poem which you really should have watched by now, “Anti-Indoctrination“.

And so concluded the class.

That’s it for an introduction. It’s interesting to think about what you could do if you first of all had more than an hour, and second, the opportunity to stretch it out into a months-long course. Any ideas of what that would look like?

[After the class, this really sweet 14-year-old girl came to talk to me because she’d been so inspired by my story and the video because she was going through nearly the exact same thing with her family. This kind of thing is what makes all the stress worth it. Yes, there are people who might have a bit of fun – or be bored out of their minds, of course – with a wacky class like this, but there are some people who will walk out emotionally touched by it. And I’m glad I did that for at least one person.]