May 20:  Phonetic Alphabet Day

Today is the anniversary of the first Armed Forces Day, established by President Harry S. Truman in 1950. The new holiday stemmed from the unification of the Army, Navy, and Air Force under the Department of Defense, which was activated in 1947 and is still headquartered at the Pentagon.

In his Presidential Proclamation establishing Armed Forces Day, President Truman said the following:

Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.

In addition to expressing the unification of the armed forces, this holiday was intended to be an opportunity to educate civilians as to the role of the military, to show off the hardware of the military, and to honor the men and women serving in the armed forces.

The goal of the establishment of the Department of Defense was improved cooperation and communication between the armed services. One element of this cooperation, and especially this communication, is the NATO Phonetic Alphabet (1).

Although the alphabet we use today helps children achieve literacy, the 26 letters of the alphabet are not a full representation of all the sounds in English. A quick glance at any dictionary’s pronunciation chart will reveal 45-50 different pronunciations of English letters and letter combinations. In fact, even the 26 letters are not truly phonetic representations. For example, try writing out each of the letters: Aye, Bee, Sea, Dee, Eee, Ef, Gee, Aych . . . . As you can see, the letter C begins with an “S” sound and the letter F, begins with an “E” sound.

As a result of the non-phonetic nature of the English alphabet, verbal communication that is not face-to-face can be a problem. To improve verbal communication over telephone and radio, the armed forces adopted the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. In this alphabet, each letter is assigned a standard code word so that, if necessary, words can be spelled out clearly and unambiguously regardless of individual accent or communication interference.

Alpha

Bravo

Charlie

Delta

Echo

Foxtrot

Golf

Hotel

India

Juliet

Kilo

Mike

November

Oscar

Papa

Quebec

Romeo

Sierra

Tango

Uniform

Victor

Whiskey

X-ray

Yankee

Zulu

Today’s Challenge: Put (PAPA-UNIFORM-TANGO) Your Initials on the Alphabet

What words would you use for each of the 26 letters in your own phonetic alphabet?  The NATO Phonetic Alphabet we have today has evolved over time. For example, in World War II, the joint Army/Navy alphabet looked like this:

Alfa Bravo Coca Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliett Kilo Lima Metro Nectar Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Union Victor Whisky Extra Yankee Zulu

In celebration of Armed Forces Day and in celebration of clear communication, create your own phonetic alphabet. Make each word memorable, but also try to make sure that each word you pick clearly corresponds to the pronunciation of each letter.

Quotation of the Day: Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword obviously never encountered automatic weapons. -General Douglas MacArthur

1- United States Department of Defense:http://www.defenselink.mil/afd/

May 19:  Literacy Narrative Day

Black nationalist leader Malcolm X was born on this day in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Born Malcolm Little, he considered Little his slave name, so he replaced it with an X to represent the lost name of his African tribal ancestors.

Malcolm X in March 1964When he was 21 years old, Malcolm was convicted of burglary and received a ten-year sentence.  In prison, Malcolm transformed his life through voracious reading and study. He stopped using drugs and became a member of the Nation of Islam.  After his early-release from prison in 1952, Malcolm became a spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Like Martin Luther King’s quest for civil rights, Malcolm advocated for racial equality.  However, unlike King’s tactics of nonviolent resistance, Malcolm promoted a more militant approach, saying “There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution.” Shortly before he died, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam.  While preparing to give a speech in New York, he was assassinated on February 21, 1965.

In his autobiography, Malcolm recounts the events that led to his education behind bars.  With time on his hands, he attempted to read but due to his limited vocabulary, he could comprehend few of the words on the page.  To remedy this he decided to study a dictionary. Beginning with the letter A, he read and copied by hand page after page and soon discovered that he was learning more than just vocabulary:  “With every succeeding page, I also learned of people and places and events from history. Actually the dictionary is like a miniature encyclopedia.”

As his knowledge base and vocabulary grew, Malcolm turned to other books beside the dictionary, reading in every free moment during the day, and well into the night by a small corridor light outside his jail cell.

Talking about his prison studies, Malcolm says:  

I never have been so truly free in my life. . . . the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive . . . . My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America.

Today’s Challenge:  Your Love Letter to Literacy

What are some memorable experiences that would be in your autobiography regarding your acquisition of literacy?  What do you remember about learning to read, about learning to write, and about being influenced by books?  Imagine you are writing your autobiography and that it must include a literacy narrative, that is a story of your experiences with learning to read and write.  Write about a specific incident from your life that is related to books, reading, or writing.  Also consider the people who have influenced your experiences with literacy. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-The Autobiography of Malcolm X 1965

 

May 18:  Connotations Day

Today is the birthday of philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell who was born in Wales in 1872. Russell received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.

Russell’s writings are eminently quotable. Here are a few examples that demonstrate his genius for language that is both concise and profound:

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.

Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.

One particular quotation by Russell has helped a generation of English teachers to illustrate the subtleties of denotation and connotation in the English language. On a BBC radio program called Brain Trust, Russell said the following:

I am firm.

You are obstinate.

He is a pig-headed fool.

With this one quotation, Russell demonstrated how a writer’s word choice is colored by his or her point of view and how the plethora of synonyms in English is a double-edged sword: it allows for an amazing array of possibilities, choices, and variety, but it also requires the writer to be a discriminating student of not just a word’s meaning, but also its associations and appropriate context.

The denotation of a word is its dictionary definition, but its connotation is its implied meaning – the associations and emotions that are attached to the word. For example, when addressing 15-year old, you have a choice of addressing him as a: young adult, a young person, an adolescent, a teenager, a teen, a teeny-bopper, a juvenile, or even a whipper-snapper. Although each of these words has the same basic denotation, they certainly have a range of different connotations on a scale of positive to neutral to negative.

Writing Russellesque triads is an excellent way to exercise your verbal muscles and learn to discriminate between the subtle differences in the connotations of various synonyms. For example, there is a classic example of a student who was looking for a synonym for “good.” He picked up a thesaurus and looked down the list of synonyms. Making a selection of what he thought was an appropriate synonym, the student wrote the following sentence: “Today I ate a benevolent donut.”

Here are some examples of triads:

I am an erudite scholar.

You are an learned instructor.

He is a didactic pedagogue.

 

I’m a patriot.

You are a flag waver.

He is jingoistic.

 

My smoking is a vice.

Your smoking is a transgression.

His smoking is a sin.

 

My story was a fascinating narration.

Your story was an interesting anecdote.

His story was a strange yarn.

 

I am sagacious.

You are astute.

He is crafty.

 

I am a scholar.

You are a student.

He is a pupil.

 

I am a wordsmith.

You are a writer.

He is a hack.

 

I’m resting.

You’re lounging.

He’s a coach potato.

 

I’m frugal.

You’re cheap.

He’s a tightwad.

Today’s Challenge: Connotative Concoctions

What are some examples of words that come in a variety of connotations?  Celebrate Bertrand Russell’s birthday by doing your own triad of synonyms. Use the following guidelines as you write:

-Arrange your concoction in first, second, and third person points of view: I, You, and He.

-Begin in the first person with the word or phrase that has the most positive connotations. Continue by using words and/or phrases with ever-increasing negative connotations.

Example:

My bathroom has a fragrant aroma.

Your bathroom has an odd odor.

His bathroom has a strange stench.

(Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quote of the Day: The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.-Mark Twain

 

May 17:  Collective Noun Day

Today is the anniversary of a landmark United States Supreme Court decision that changed American Education. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, announced its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. The decision was to end the segregation of public schools and reverse the 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that established the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine. In the Plessy case, an African American named Homer Plessy was tried for his refusal to sit in a separate railroad car. Plessy v. Ferguson segregated blacks and whites in many areas of common life from water fountains to the school house. The Court’s decision in Brown started the slow march toward desegregation of American schools by stating: “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” (1).

The word segregation and desegregation share the common Latin root greg which means flock, as in people coming together in a group. Below are other words that relate to people or things coming together or, in the case of egregious, things standing out, outside of the flock.

Aggregate: A sum total or mixing together to constitute a whole (ag-, toward + greg, flock)

Congregate: To gather together into a crowd or group (con-, together + greg, flock)

Egregious: Extremely bad. Flagrant. Standing out from the group (e-, out + greg, flock)

Gregarious: Tending to live in flocks or herds; Sociable (greg, flock)

The word flock is a collective noun, which The American Heritage College Dictionary defines as, “A noun that denotes a collection of persons or things regarded as a unit.”

You run into collective nouns most often when you are talking about groups of animals, as in a pride of lions or a school or shoal of fish. In an earlier age when hunting was more common, the knowledgeable sportsman could correctly identify not only individual species but also the appropriate collective noun. In 1486, Dame Juliana Berners compiled a book of more than one hundred collective nouns called The Book of St Albans (1).

Here are some examples of collective nouns:

An array of hedgehogs, A brood of hens, A cloud of grasshoppers, A dray of squirrels, An exaltation of larks, A fall of woodcocks, A gaggle of geese (in flight: a skein of geese), A herd of deer, A leap of leopards, A mumble of moles, A nye of pheasants, A parliament of owls, A rout of wolves, A shrewdness of apes, A tittering of magpies, An unkindness of ravens, A watch of nightingales

Today’s Challenge:  Create Your Own Colony of Clever Collective Nouns

What are some different types of everyday objects or different types of people that could be labeled with some original collective nouns?  Brainstorm a list of different types of objects and different classifications of people.  Then, generate some of your own collective nouns to cleverly identify the group. Below are some examples:

A stretch of rubber bands, A squabble of siblings, A flush of toilets, A speedo of swimmers, A trip of klutzes, A ton of weightlifters, A chew of gummy worms, A keg of drunkards, A headache of homework, A crash of computers

(Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day: You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of discussion. –Plato

1 – Crutchfield, Roger S. English Vocabulary Quick Reference. Leesburg, VA: LexaDyne Publishers, Inc., 1999.

2 – Manser, Martin. The Guinness Book of Words (2nd Edition). Middlesex: Guinness Publishing Ltd, 1988.

May 16: Biographer’s Day

Today is the anniversary of the first meeting between Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the author of the landmark Dictionary of the English Language, and his biographer James Boswell (1740-1795) (See June 18:  Dictionary Day). The two men met in Davies’s London bookshop in 1763, and established a relationship that would allow Boswell to produce what is recognized as the greatest biography ever written: The Life of Samuel Johnson, published in 1791.

James Boswell of Auchinleck.jpgThe word biography derives from the Greek (bio = life + graph = writing).

A number of words feature the graph root as it relates to writing. Here are words and definitions from English Vocabulary Quick Reference by Roger S. Crutchfield (1):

Autobiography: The story of one’s life written by oneself (auto-, self)

Autograph: Written or made with one’s own hand, as a signature (auto– self)

Bibliography: A list of writings (biblio– book)

Cacography: Illegible handwriting (caco, poor)

Cryptography: The art or science of writing and deciphering secret codes (crypto, secret)

Dysgraphia: Impairment of the ability to write (dys-, impaired)

Hagiography: Biographies written about saints (hagio, holy)

Lexicography: The branch of linguistics dealing with the writing or compiling of dictionaries (lex, word)

Orthography: Correct spelling (ortho, correct)

If you are a bit behind on your reading of biography, an excellent way to get caught up is to read the book 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. As the title suggests, this excellent book features 1,000 mini-biographies that are models of concise and clear prose. In addition, the authors created what they call the BioGraph System of ranking each of the 1,000 people. To lend some objectivity to their process, they created a list of five specific criteria and awarded points in each category. For example, number one on the list is Johannes Gutenberg with a score of 21,768 and number 1,000 is Andy Warhol with 1,000 points (2).

Criteria for Inclusion in the Top 1,000 People of the Millennium:

  1. Lasting Influence 10,000
  2. Effect on the sum total of wisdom and beauty in the world: 5,000
  3. Influence on contemporaries: 5,000
  4. Singularity of contribution: 3,000
  5. Charisma: 2,000

Today’s Challenge: Biomania

Who are at least ten people whose biography or autobiography you would like to read? Brainstorm the top ten people you would like to read about in a biography or autobiography.  Then, for your top person, write a brief biography that provides background details on who the person is and why you believe they lived an influential life.  Identify at least two key general principles that can be drawn from the individual’s life and applied to helping anyone live a fuller life. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. –William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night.

1 – Crutchfield, Roger S. English Vocabulary Quick Reference. Leesburg, VA: LexaDyne Publishers, Inc., 1999.

2 – Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, and Brent Bowers. 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. New York: Kodansha International, 1998.

May 15:  Beatles Trivia Day

What do Jesus Christ, San Francisco, and a Russian spacecraft have in common? The answer is: The Beatles, who released their last album, Let It Be, in the United States on this day in 1970.

Beatitudes

The story of this odd Fab-Four related threesome begins with Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount where he issued his Beatitudes (from Latin beatitudo for ‘happiness’). These statements are found in the books of Matthew and Luke, and each begins with the word Blessed (or Happy), as in “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.”

San Francisco

Flash forward to the West Coast in the 1950s. A group of young writers and artists attempt to rattle the conventional cages of their elders. Through self-expression and social protest, they make a name for themselves, and one of them, American writer Jack Kerouac, coins the term beat generation in 1952. As cited in Twentieth Century Words, Kerouac associated the word beat with beatitude: “Beat means beatitude, not beat up.”

Sputnik

Five years later, the Russians shock the world with the launch of the first artificial earth satellite. They call their satellite Sputnik, meaning ‘traveling companion.’ When news of the satellite’s launch on October 4, 1957 hits the newspapers, this Russian word is instantly absorbed into the English lexicon.

In 1958, San Francisco columnist Herb Caen blends the ‘beat generation’ with ‘Sputnik’ to create beatnik, a catchy term to describe young bohemians like Jack Kerouac.

Two years later across the Atlantic, a fledgling group of musicians from Liverpool, England settle on the name The Beatles. Despite John Lennon’s claim that the name came to him in a vision of a man riding on a flaming pie, it appears more likely that the name was influenced by one of John’s favorite bands, Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Looking for something catchy, they originally used Beetles, but no doubt the pun value of ‘beat’ got the better of them, influencing them to become The Beatles with an A.

Unlike Sputnik, the British band’s name did not become an instant household word. Their launch had to wait until 1963 when Beatlemania became first a British epidemic and later, in 1964, an American and worldwide pandemic (1).

In 1970, however, the world mourned as The Beatles came crashing to earth. John, Paul, George, and Ringo dissolved what was without a doubt the most popular, successful, and influential band of all time.

Even though decades have passed since the breakup of the Beatles, there is no waning of the passion for their music; for example, in the year 2000, 30 years after their breakup, The Beatles’ greatest hits CD The Beatles 1 hit number one on the Billboard Album Charts. For Beatles fans, the term Beatles trivia is a contradiction in terms. For them, reading about and listening to The Beatles is anything but a trivial pursuit. For a fan of The Beatles, knowledge about the Beatles is just as important as any other category of E.D. Hirsh’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. (See March 1: Cultural Literacy Day)

The word trivia has an interesting history in its own right that relates to its roots. Originating from the Latin trivialis, it is made up of tri meaning three and via meaning roads. What do three roads have to do with the modern sense of ‘unimportant tidbits of information’? Where else than at the crossroads would common people meet to exchange weather reports, small talk, and gossip?

Today’s Challenge:  Pursuit for the Trivial and Not So Trivial  

What are some examples of important organizations, groups, or clubs?  Brainstorm a list of groups of people that come together for a specific purpose.  It could be a musical group, a political (special interest) or religious group, a community group, or a business organization.  Select a single group, and research the group’s background, history, and purpose. Write a brief report for an audience who knows little about the organization.  Try to give them the vital details about the organization as well as some trivial details that might be interesting. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day: Why tell me why did you not treat me right? Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight! — from The Beatles’ song “I’m Looking Through You”

1- Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

May 14:  Seven Types of Sentences Day

On this day in 2004, Ronald Reagan died at his home in Bel-Air, California. Certainly much has been written about Reagan’s political career as governor of California and as the 40th president of the United States, but after his career in politics was over, Reagan accomplished something unique. On November 5, 1994, he announced to the world that he had Alzheimer’s disease, the brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills.

In a short handwritten letter, Reagan explained his desire for privacy, but also his desire to raise public awareness for the millions afflicted with Alzheimer’s. With his characteristic candor and optimism, Reagan closed the letter by saying: “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead” (1).

The disease is named after a pioneer in brain research, Alois Alzheimer, a German doctor who described the abnormal brain tissues of one of his patients in 1906.

The May 14, 2001 edition of Time magazine contained a cover story tracing the search for the causes and a potential cure for Alzheimer’s. One study of particular interest involved a group of more than 600 nuns. Scientist David Snowdown of the University of Kentucky began studying the nuns’ personal and medical histories looking for clues that might solve the mystery behind why some people get Alzheimer’s and others don’t.

Snowdown became interested in autobiographical essays that the nuns had written when they entered the order in their early 20s. He analyzed each essay for its idea density and grammatical complexity, and the results provided some interesting insights. Snowdown discovered that the nuns whose essays contained grammatically complex sentences were the same nuns who six or more decades later were free of any signs of Alzheimer’s. Conversely, those nuns who used relatively simple sentences were the same nuns who contracted Alzheimer’s. With the nuns’ early writing, Snowden was able to predict with 85% to 90% accuracy which nuns would have the disease 60 years later (2).

There is no evidence yet that teaching students to incorporate complex sentences into their writing will prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s in later years. However, one thing is certain, a healthy menu of intellectual pursuits, including writing, in your younger years doesn’t hurt. Another certainty is that good writers use a variety of sentences, and understanding the difference between simple sentences and complex sentences is a starting point for adding variety to your sentences.

Seven Major Sentence Types

Knowing the major types of sentence types allows writers to revise and edit their sentences, making them more varied and clear.  Below, the following seven types of sentences are explained: simple, complex, compound, compound-complex, balanced, cumulative, and periodic.  Notice that the definition given for each sentence is a Meta-Sentence, that is, the definition is written in the form of the sentence being defined. Each definition is followed by an additional example:

A simple sentence is a sentence with one independent clause — a group of words with a subject (noun), a predicate (verb), and a complete thought.

Example:  Bill completed his homework.

A compound sentence is a sentence with at least two independent clauses; often the two clauses are connected by a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS), a semicolon, or a conjunctive adverb — such as “however,” “therefore,” or “then.”

Example:  Bill completed his homework, and Jane wrote a report on penguins.

A complex sentence is a sentence that contains one independent clause and at least one dependent (adjective) clause.

Example:  Bill, who owns a dog named Huck, sat studying for his math test.

OR

If a sentence has a single independent clause and at least one dependent (adverb) clause, it is a complex sentence.

Example:  Bill was angry because his dog chewed up his homework.

A compound-complex sentence is a sentence that contains two independent clauses, and it also includes at least one dependent clause.

Example:  Although there were a lot of good things to watch on television, Bill, who always gets his work done on time, sat doing his homework.

If a sentence has two parallel independent clauses, it is a balanced sentence; if it does not have two parallel independent clauses, it is not a balanced sentence.

Example: Bill read his math book; Jane wrote her English essay.

A cumulative sentence begins with an independent clause, followed by additional modifying clauses and phrases which elaborate on the main clause.

Example: Jane is a great student even though she works two jobs after school and rarely has time to do homework.

Unlike a cumulative sentence, which has its main clause at the beginning, a sentence with its main clause at the end is a periodic sentence.

Example:  Even though she works two jobs after school and rarely has time to do homework, Jane is a great student.

Today’s Challenge:  Seven Ways to Make Sentences Sing

What are examples of the different types of sentences you can write to create sentence variety?  Write one original example of each of the different sentence types:  Simple, Complex, Compound, Compound-Complex, Balanced, Cumulative, and Periodic. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

May 13: Velcro Day

Today is the anniversary of a registered trademark that gave the world an alternative to zippers and buttons: Velcro.

One man’s annoyance can be another man’s eureka. One day, when Swiss inventor George de Mestral returned with his dog from a walk, he noticed that he and his dog were covered with cockleburrs. Instead of being annoyed, he studied the burrs under a microscope where he noted their hook-like shape.

Engineering artificial fasteners that replicated the ones he found in nature took a few years, but Mestral eventually succeeded in creating his easy to use hook and loop fastener. He registered his invention in 1958. For the name of his product, he blended two French terms: “vel” from velvet and “cro” from crochet (little hook).

Logo velcro.pngToday Velcro Industries is a successful international company, but like other successful companies, Velcro is challenged by a paradox: they want people to use their trademarked name as much as possible to promote their product; however, because the name is used so often and the product is so successful and so ubiquitous, the name of the product becomes a generic, non-capitalized word. As a result, companies like Velcro are in a constant battle to protect their trademark and in turn their bottom line. The lines are blurred even more when a word, like Google, becomes used so often that it becomes more than just a noun. No doubt the legal department at Google and the neologism department at the American Heritage Dictionary are both busy tracing the growth and development of this word.

The following statement from the Velcro website is an example of the kinds of reminders and warnings that companies put out to protect their brand names:

The goodwill and integrity which are reflective of the Velcro companies are ingrained in the VELCRO® trademark. This makes the trademark a very valuable asset to the company and to our customers who purchase the VELCRO® brand fasteners.

Many terms that we all use frequently in our everyday language were once trademarks …. All of these terms lost their distinction as trademarks because their owners allowed them to be misused by the public. That’s why the Velcro companies pay close attention to how the VELCRO® trademark is used (1).

As stated by the Velcro website, there are several brand names that were once registered trademarks, but today they have lost their capital letter and entered the dictionary and the English lexicon as generic terms, such as cellophane, escalator, and the yo-yo.  Other brands seem generic, but they legally retain their trademarks, such as Kleenex, Jet Ski, Play Dough, Popsicle, and Q-tips.

Today’s Challenge:  The Law and the Language

What are some examples of the names of specific products you might buy?  Brainstorm a large A to Z list of specific brand names of products. Then, select one of your brand names and research the history of the product and specifically the trademark history of the product’s name.  Is the product’s name a registered trademark or is it a generic term? For example, Jacuzzi is the name and registered trademark for the generic term “hot tub spas” or “whirlpool bathtubs” made by the American corporation called Jacuzzi Brands Corporation. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  . . . the average English-speaking adult knows about 40,000 words.  The number of active US trademarks is more than thirty times larger than the common English vocabulary.  -Christopher Johnson in Microstyle

1 – https://www.velcro.com/about-us/our-brand

 

May 12: Limerick Day

Today is the birthday of Edward Lear, born in 1812 in London, England. Before he was a poet, Lear was a painter, illustrating birds for such noteworthy clients as Charles Darwin.

In 1832, while on an assignment to paint animals in the Earl of Darby’s private zoo, Lear began composing humorous verse for the Earl’s grandchildren. He put his poems together in his Book of Nonsense, published in 1846.

Lear is remembered for his famous poem “The Owl and the Pussycat,” but his most noteworthy contribution to the literary world is the limerick.

Here are some limericks from his Book of Nonsense.

1.

There was an Old Man with a beard,

Who said, “It is just as I feared!–

Two Owls and a Hen,

Four Larks and a Wren,

Have all built their nests in my beard!”

10.

There was an Old Man in a tree,

Who was horribly bored by a Bee;

When they said, “Does it buzz?”

He replied, “Yes, it does! “

It’s a regular brute of a Bee!”

12.

There was a Young Lady whose chin,

Resembled the point of a pin:

So she had it made sharp,

And purchased a harp,

And played several tunes with her chin.

 

The limerick is a universally popular verse form, enjoyed by children as well as adults. Besides the fixed form of five lines, rhyming AABBA, the content of the Limerick is characteristically comical and nonsensical. Adult versions frequently feature lewd content. One other common feature is the naming of a character and geographic location in the first line.

Today’s Challenge: Literary Limerick

How might you adapt the limerick form for a modern purpose?  On Limerick Day write lots of limericks. Write one as a love note and put it on the refrigerator or write it on your child’s lunch sack. Write a limerick advertising a product that you think is worth buying. Write a limerick about your best friend, your pet, or your boss. Finally, select a favorite literary character and write a limerick about him or her.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  

The English language is a maze

You can get lost in it for days

Exploring the mother tongue

Can be lots of fun

So, read today’s post on Word Days

1-http://www.gutenberg.org/files/982/982-h/982-h.htm#2H_4_0071

May 11:  Tall Tale Day

On this day in 1720, Baron Karl Friedrich Münchhausen was born.  The German nobleman fought for the Russian Empire in two Turkish Wars.  When he retired to his German estate in 1760, he gained a reputation as a raconteur, weaving outrageous tall tales based on his experiences as a soldier, traveler, and sportsman.

Munchausen might have been forgotten by history if not for German writer Rudolf Erich Raspe who listened to the baron’s tales and adapted them in a book Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia.

In Raspe’s book, the outlandish tales are narrated in first person by Munchausen.  In one story, for example, the baron recounts a near-death experience he had while bathing one day in the Mediterranean.  Startled by a giant fish swimming towards him, Munchausen curled his body into a ball and sailed into the fish’s mouth and into its stomach. Before he could figure out how to extricate himself from the fish’s belly, he felt the fish rising from the waters. A fisherman had caught the fish and was about to cut it up when he heard the baron yelling.  Freed by the fisherman, the baron ends his story by saying that ever since that day, whenever he smells fish, he becomes sick.

Throughout the years the stories that Raspe put in print have been adapted, expanded, and rewritten in numerous languages.  In 1988, Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame made a film adaptation called The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

In addition to being a name synonymous with tall tales, Munchausen’s name has also become well-known in the psychiatric and medical communities for a condition known as Munchausen Syndrome.

More than just telling entertaining tales, victims of Munchausen Syndrome deliberately deceive their doctors, describing false symptoms of illness and in some cases even inducing real symptoms by injecting themselves with foreign substances.

Today’s Challenge:  Munchausen Your Autobiography

What are some incidents from your life that you might exaggerate in the tradition of the tall tale?  Brainstorm a list of key incidents that you would include in your autobiography.  Select one important incident and write it as a short autobiographical anecdote based on what really happened.  Next, take that story and “munchausen” it by adding some hyperbole, drama, and outrageous embellishments. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  The raconteur knows too well that, if he investigates the truth of the matter, he is only too likely to lose his good story. Herbert Butterfield

1-Goldberg, Philip.  The Babinski Reflex. Los Angeles:  Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1990.