February 22:  Homophone Day

Today is a day of triple 2s:  2/22.  It’s a day we might think of those words in English that are pronounced alike but that are spelled differently, such as two, to, and too.  Homophones are a double edged sword.  On one side they add an enormous level of difficulty to English spelling.  For example, even if you have the spelling of a word “write,” you still have to check to make sure you have the “right” homophone.  On the other side, however, they also allot writers a lot of opportunities to create puns.  For example, you might have heard the old joke:

Why did the father who willed his three boys his cattle ranch demand that they name it “Focus”?

Because it was where the “sons raise meat” (sun’s rays meet).

Most homophones come in pairs (as in knew and new), but like to, two, and too, there are several triple homophones.  Here is a sample list:

aisle, I’ll, isle

aye, eye, I

bole, boll, bowl

cent, scent, sent

cite, sight, site

dew, do, due

for, fore, four

gnu, knew, new

idle, idol, idyll

meat, meet, mete

pare, pair, pear

peak, peek, pique

poor, pore, pour

raise, rays, raze

their, there, they’re

vane, vain, vein

way, weigh, whey

write, right, rite

Today’s Challenge:  Triple Word Play

What are some examples of triple homophones that vex writers, and how can you explain the correct usage of each word?  Select a trio of homophones and research the correct usages of each.  Then, write a clear explanation that explains clearly how each different spelling matches up with the correct meaning and usage of each word.  Below is an example that explains the homophones to, too, and two.

To:  To is a preposition, as in “Today I went to the store.”  It is also frequently used before a verb to form the infinitive, as in Today I hope to buy some new shoes.

Too:  Too can be used as a synonym for “also” as in I’m planning to go to college, too.  Too is also used to indicate excessiveness, as in My teacher gave me too much homework last night.

Two:  Two is used to spell out the number 2, as in, We bought two lobsters for dinner last night.

Use each of the three words correctly in a single sentence looks like this:

I wanted to eat two peppers, but I couldn’t because they were too spicy.

Quotation of the Day: I’m the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be. -Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

 

February 21:  Boom’s Taxonomy Day

Today is the birthday of American psychologist Benjamin Bloom who was born in 1913.  In 1956 Bloom created what has become the most influential model of how people learn and how people think.  Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, which was created over sixty years ago, remains one of the most useful tools for teachers and students to articulate the ways in which the brain processes learning, beginning with foundational learning and moving to higher levels of critical thinking.

The idea behind Bloom’s Taxonomy is to help teachers and students advance their thinking and learning beyond superficial levels.  By classifying thinking into six categories, the model makes the thinking and learning process less abstract, showing how students can process their learning in different ways and at different levels.  

  1. Knowledge – Remember: This is the most fundamental level of learning something.  It is the recall level where students memorize a fact, a definition, or a concept.  If, for example, you were studying the concept of cognitive dissonance, you might write down and memorize the definition.
  1. Comprehension – Understand:  This is where students move beyond just memorization by explaining what they know in their own words, by summarizing main ideas, and by illustrating what they know with examples.  This also involves comparing, contrasting, classifying, inferring, and predicting.  Engaging with the learning in this way, moves the learning from short term memory to long term memory, making it more likely that the learner will be able to master what they are learning.  If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might demonstrate your understanding of the term by explaining what cognitive dissonance is in your own words and by giving a specific example to illustrate it.
  1. Application – Apply: This where students use what they have learned by applying it to a new situation or context.  Using the knowledge takes it from the theoretical level to the practical application level, making the learning both more meaningful.  If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might apply your knowledge of it by explaining how cognitive dissonance might relate to a situation in which a person buys a new car.
  1. Analysis – Analyze: This is where students examine and break information into parts or classifications.  It involves looking at causes and effects, making inferences, and supporting generalizations with evidence.   If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might analyse it by identifying the specific causes and effects that make it happen.
  1. Evaluation – Evaluate: This is where students form and defend opinions about what they are learning.  It involves making judgements based on criteria and supporting those judgements with valid evidence.   If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might evaluate it by discussing whether or not the overall effects of cognitive dissonance on individuals is positive or negative.
  1. Synthesis – Create:  This is where students use their knowledge and learning to create something new and original.  It involves combining elements into new patterns or generating alternative ideas or solutions.  For example, if you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might write a research report on the term where you use evidence from two or three difference sources to explain your position on why it is an important concept.  You might also develop your own graphic to illustrate the cause and effect relationships related to the idea.

Notice that each of the six different levels of the taxonomy requires the learner to engage at deeper and deeper levels with the learning, integrating that knowledge in different ways, ways that are successively more  challenging, ways that require more and more cognitive engagement which then leads to higher order thinking and higher levels of mastery.

Today’s Challenge:  Learning in Bloom

How might you create a lesson that teaches a basic abstract concept in a way that students truly learn it?  Take an abstract concept that you know well, such as capitalism, photosynthesis, or rhetoric, and write a lesson plan that involves six different activities that students will do — at each of the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The goal is to help students move from basic understanding to higher order thinking. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Creativity follows mastery, so mastery of skills is the first priority for young talent. -Benjamin Bloom

 

February 20: Four Freedoms Day

On this date in 1943, American artist Norman Rockwell published the first of his four prints depicting “The Four Freedoms.”  The prints were designed to illustrate “The Four Freedoms” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated in his January 6, 1941 State of the Union address:  freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

At the time of Roosevelt’s speech the United States had not yet entered World War II, but Roosevelt saw the dark clouds of war approaching.  His speech was a call for preparedness for war and a call to provide aid to allies fighting against anti-democratic forces around the world. For Roosevelt, the four freedoms were not just American values, they were values that needed to be preserved everywhere in the world:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world. (1)

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, 12 months after Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, the United States ended its isolationism and entered the war.

After hearing Roosevelt’s speech and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Norman Rockwell was inspired to do his part by trying to capture and illustrate the abstract ideas of the Four Freedoms in concrete, human terms.  The first print, for example, depicts a scene of a local town meeting where a man wearing a plaid shirt and suede jacket stands among his fellow citizens to express his position.  Rockwell based the scene on an actual town meeting that he had attended where citizens gathered to discuss plans to build a new school in their town.  At the meeting, a lone dissenter named Jim Edgerton, a young blue-collar worker, stood to voice his opposition.  Rockwell remembered the scene vividly because although no one at the meeting agreed with Edgerton, they still listened to him respectfully.  

Each of Rockwell’s four prints appeared in the weekly magazine The Saturday Evening Post.  The prints proved so popular that the United States Department of the Treasury used them to promote the sale of war bonds.  The Four Freedoms Tour, which displayed the paintings around the country, raised over $130,000,000 (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Your Four

What is an abstract idea that you could classify into four types or four varieties?  Just as Roosevelt wrote about four types of freedoms, take an idea that you know something about and classify the idea in four distinct different types, such as four types of crime, shoppers, success, study habits, leaders, or bosses.  Make sure to use a single ruling principle for classification.  For example, if your topic was “English Classes” and you classified them as hard, challenging, and easy, your ruling principle for classification would be “level of difficulty.”  Based on this ruling principle, it would be illogical to add a classification called “homework.”  Instead create another category that fits the “level of difficulty” principle, such as “impossible.”  Once you have created your four classifications based on a single ruling principle, write a definition of each one, along with specific illustrating examples that show what makes each type distinctive from the others. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend to remember. -George Orwell

1-http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/fdr-the-four-freedoms-speech-text/

2-http://www.americainwwii.com/articles/norman-rockwell-and-the-four-freedoms/

 

February 19: Metacognition Day

Today is the birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus, a man who not only changed the world as we know it, but also the universe.  

Nikolaus Kopernikus.jpgBorn in Poland in 1473, Copernicus was both a polyglot and a polymath.  He spoke Latin, German, Polish, Greek, and Italian.  In addition to holding a doctorate in canon law, he was also a physician, mathematician, classics scholar, translator, governor, diplomat, and economist.  Today, we know him best as the astronomer who challenged the orthodox belief that Earth was the center of the universe.  Fifteen-hundred years after the ancient Greek astronomer Ptolemy established his theory that the planets, the sun, and the stars revolved around a stationary Earth, Copernicus presented his revolutionary theory.  He claimed that not only did the Earth rotate on its axis, but also that Earth and the other planets revolved around the sun.  Copernicus’ work in astronomy was the quintessential achievement of the Renaissance, totally transforming mankind’s view of the universe and paving the way for future work by Galileo, Kepler, and Newton.

A true man of science and of learning, Copernicus embodied the Renaissance ideals of searching for knowledge and challenging conventional wisdom. His opus On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres was published in 1543, the same year he died (1).

One quotation that typifies Copernicus’ scientific approach is one that uses simple terms to express a profound insight:

To know that we know what we know, and to know that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.

Today cognitive psychologists sum up Copernicus’ insight using a single term: metacognition.  Meta is Greek for “about,” and cognition is Latin for “to know.” Metacognition, therefore, is “thinking about thinking.”  More than just being aware that we think, metacognition is the process of monitoring our own thinking.

As Copernicus reminds us, metacognition is not just what we know, it is also being aware of what we don’t know, as well as being aware of the ways we sometimes delude ourselves.  To understand the ways we think best and the ways we fall short of sound thinking, we should always keep in mind the relationship between both knowledge and ignorance.  

Notice, for example, how the following wise voices from the past express this relationship:

-Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.  –Confucius

-The greatest obstacle to discovering the shape of the earth, the continents and the ocean was not ignorance but the illusion of knowledge. –Daniel J. Boorstin

-The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance. — Socrates

-The recipe for perpetual ignorance is: Be satisfied with your opinions and content with your knowledge. — Elbert Hubbard

-To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge. — Benjamin Disraeli

-The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand. — Frank Herbert

In the book Make It Stick, the authors discuss one specific learning strategy that employs metacognition to help learners be more productive and more efficient in their study.  The strategy is called retrieval practice, and recent studies have documented that this strategy is much more effective than rereading a text, highlighting a text, or even reviewing notes.

The key aspect of retrieval practice is self-quizzing or testing.  When reading a text or listening to a lecture, therefore, the student should generate questions for self-testing.  Once the student has finished reading or listening, he or she should use the questions to recall and recite out loud the facts, concepts, or events from memory, without using the book or notes for reference.  The basic premise of retrieval practice is that learning that sticks is learning that is effortful.  Furthermore, the effortful act of retrieving knowledge from memory strengthens the memory, increasing the likelihood that knowledge will stay in long term memory.  Like walking an unfamiliar path through the woods, the more you travel the path, the more confidence you have in remembering your way without getting lost.  Retrieval practice also decreases the likelihood that students will delude themselves into believing they know what they don’t know. Since the strategy requires that student recite answers aloud, they are able to exercise good metacognition by clearly determining what they know and what they don’t quite know yet (2).

Today’s Challenge:   What Do You Know?

How can you apply retrieval practice to increase your metacognition?  Select an article or short story that you have not read before.  As you read the passage, write down three questions based on the key ideas you’re reading.  When you finish the reading, put the passage away, and attempt to answer each of your questions by reciting the answers out loud.  As you answer each question, rate your level of confidence with your answer on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being you feel highly confident; 1 being you need to look back at the passage to answer).  Once you have finished, take a moment to reflect on the strategy.  How did it feel to answer out loud?  Do you feel like this strategy will work for you in the future? (Common Core Reading 1 – Key Ideas and Details)

Quotation of the Day:  When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it – this is knowledge. — Confucius

1-http://www.nmspacemuseum.org/halloffame/detail.php?id=123

2-Brown, Peter C., Henry L. Roediger III, Mark A. McDaniel.  Make It Stick:  The Science of Successful Learning.  Cambridge, Mass.:  Harvard University Press, 2014.

 

February 18: Sequel Day

On this date in 1884, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in the United States.  Since its publication, the language of Twain’s novel has sparked controversy, yet it remains a book unparalleled in its influence.  Unlike other American novels of the time which were imitations of European literature, Huckleberry Finn was a truly American book, the first to be written in the American vernacular.  Twain’s revolutionary move was to give the narration of his book to the uneducated, unwashed Huck, who speaks in dialect and introduces himself in the novel’s famous first sentence:

Huckleberry Finn book.JPGYou don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another . . . .    

Ernest Hemingway praised Twain’s book, saying, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn’ . . . . All American writing comes from that.  There was nothing before.  There has been nothing as good since.”  

Twain began write his masterpiece in 1876, but after writing 400 pages he set it aside unfinished.  At one point Twain threatened to burn the unfinished manuscript, but luckily he took it out of his drawer and went back to work on it in 1882, finishing in August 1883.

Twain’s novel is so influential and so distinctive that some forget that it was a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).  It is the rare sequel that achieves the level of its predecessor, let alone eclipses it.  

In 1995, American novelist E.L. Doctorow highlighted the differences between the two books, pointing out that Twain’s motivation was to take on the issues of racism and slavery in his sequel — issues he had ignored in Tom Sawyer:

But Twain had to have understood, finally, that, in its celebratory comedy, his book [‘Tom Sawyer’] was too sentimental, too forgiving of the racist backwater that had nurtured him.  He had ignored slavery as if it hadn’t existed.  And after all was said and done his Tom Sawyer character was a centrist, a play rebel, who, like Twain, had been welcomed into the bosom of a ruling society he sallied against.

Today’s Challenge:   It Takes II to Tango

What are some examples of great sequels, great books or movies, that continue the story of an original book or movie?  Make your argument for the single sequel, book or movie, that you think is the best, and explain what makes the sequel so great.  See the list of examples below.  Don’t assume your reader has read the book or seen the movie. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Books:

The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

That Was Then, This Is Now  by S.E. Hinton

The Odyssey by Homer

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Movies:

The Color of Money

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

The Bourne Supremacy

Monsters University

The Matrix Reloaded

Quotation of the Day:  It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened- Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. -Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

 

February 17: Two Sources Day

On this date in 1942, the Voice of America (VOA), the United States’ government-funded multimedia news source, made its first radio broadcast.  With the world at war, the mission of the VOA was to combat Nazi propaganda, to promote American policies, and to boost the morale of its allies around the world.   

VOAlogo.pngAt the end of World War II and with the beginning of the Cold War, VOA began its first Russian-language broadcasts into the Soviet Union in 1947.  These broadcasts included news, human-interest stories, and music.  The stated purpose of the VOA at this time was to give listeners in the USSR a picture of what life was like on the other side of the iron curtain (1).

Congress did not enact an official charter for the Voice of America until 1976.  The charter, which was signed by President Gerald Ford, requires VOA to “serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news” (2).

Today the VOA provides programming through the internet, mobile and social media, radio, and television in more than 40 languages.  Located in Washington, D.C., VOA serves an estimated weekly global audience of 187.7 million people (3).

From its first broadcast in 1942, the VOA made the following promise:  “The news may be good.  The news may be bad.  We shall tell the truth.”  One principle that assists its quest for accurate reporting is its “two-source rule,” which it instituted in 1981.  The two-source rule stipulates that the VOA will not report a news story until it has two independently corroborating sources or an eyewitness report from a correspondent.   It’s this principle that prevents the VOA from making mistakes in its reporting.  It also promotes the VOA’s reputation as a trusted, credible source for news.

Today’s Challenge:  Two Sources to Truth

What are some questions that you have, questions that you are truly curious about and that you do not know the answer to?  Select a question that you are curious about and research it.  Find at least two separate sources, and write a paragraph answering your question.  If the two sources do not corroborate a clear, single answer to your question, continue your research until you have at least two separate sources that corroborate your answer.  Use direct quotations, and cite your sources. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  It was very hard to get any records, so the only source for us to really hear what was happening was listening to the Voice of America. We would be taping all the broadcast and then sharing the tapes and talking about it.  -Jan Hammer

1-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/voice-of-america-begins-broadcasts-to-russia

2-NYTimes

http://www.nytimes.com/2001/10/06/opinion/06UNGA.html

3-VOA History

http://www.insidevoa.com/p/5829.html

February 16: Sports Quotations Day

Today is the birthday of tennis great John McEnroe. He was born in 1959 in Germany where his father was serving in the U.S. Army.  McEnroe is remembered not only for his masterful play as a singles champion, but also for his many victories in doubles and mixed doubles. His most memorable matches came at Wimbledon in the 1980s where he battled Bjorn Borg.

Although he won many major tennis titles and spent several years as the number one ranked tennis player in the world, John McEnroe is best remembered for his words and antics on the tennis court. Smashing tennis rackets and challenging umpire decisions, McEnroe became one of the most volatile and boisterous athletes ever.

Perhaps his best known line was one shouted in the direction of an umpire at Wimbledon in 1981: “You cannot be serious!” This line became so often associated with McEnroe, that he used it for the title of his 2002 autobiography (1).

Although McEnroe’s famous line might be one of the most emphatic sports quotations of all time, it certainly is not one of the most profound.  The following sports quotations have much more rhetorical flair.  As you read them, notice the variety of rhetorical devices used, such as alliteration, metaphor, simile, parallelism, chiasmus, antithesis, and anaphora

Football is like life — it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority. -Vince Lombardi

Discipline of others isn’t punishment.  You discipline to help, to improve, to correct, to prevent, not to punish, humiliate, or retaliate. -John Wooden

Players don’t care how much I know until they know how much I care. -Frosty Westering

You are either green and growing, or ripe and rotting. -Frosty Westering

The Six W’s:  Work will win when wishing won’t. -Todd Blackledge

Spectacular achievements are always preceded by unspectacular preparation. -Roger Staubach

Don’t tell me how rough the waters are.  Just bring the ship in. -Chuck Knox

Don’t let winning make you soft.  Don’t let losing make you quit.  Don’t let your teammates down in any situation. – Larry Bird

Work like a dog. Eat like a horse. Think like a fox.  And play like a rabbit. -George Allen

Today’s Challenge: The Sports Section

What is the best thing ever said by a sports personality?  Research a quotation by a sports personality that you think shows true insight, either about sports or about life in general.  Write an explanation of what makes the quotation so compelling to you.  Talk not only about what the quotation says, but also how the writer says it — the rhetorical devices use to make the quotation memorable. (Common Core 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there is a man on base. – Dave Barry

1 – The Biography Channel “John McEnroe.”http://www.thebiographychannel.co.uk/biography_story/141:459/1/John_McEnroe.htm

 

February 15: Slogans that Stick Day

On this date in 1889 the Unites States battleship Maine exploded while harbored in Havana, Cuba, killing 260 of the 400 sailors aboard.  The Maine had been sent to protect American interests when a Cuban revolt broke out against Spanish rule.  Although no clear cause for the explosion was proven definitively, a U.S. Naval Court of inquiry at the time placed the blame on a Spanish mine.  

USS Maine entering Havana harbor HD-SN-99-01929.JPEGAlthough he was initially against war with Spain, President William McKinley faced enormous public pressure to go to war.  The yellow journalism of William Randolph Hearst inflamed American resentment against Spain, and cries of “Remember the Maine” increased tensions.  Finally in April 1889, the U.S. declared war on Spain.  

The Spanish-American war lasted just five months.  Spain was not prepared to fight a distant war and was easily routed by the U.S.  As a result of the brief war, the U.S. acquired Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, as well as temporary control of Cuba (1).

In 1976 an investigation into the explosion of the Maine by U.S. Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover cleared the Spanish.  Rickover concluded that the explosion was caused by spontaneous combustion in the ship’s coal bins (2).

“Remember the Maine” is one of the more memorable slogans of history.  Like “Remember the Alamo” before it and “Remember Pearl Harbor” after it, these slogans remind us that slogans are not just about advertising a product; instead, they are about getting people to do something:  buy a product, vote for a candidate, or take arms against an enemy in war.  In fact, the etymology of slogan is from the Gaelic sluagh-ghairm, meaning “army-shout” or “battle cry” (3).

“Remember the Maine” features two principles that make it stick in the mind.  First, it is stated as an imperative sentence; second, it is clear and concise.  Nothing arrests the attention like a short imperative sentence.  Stated as a command, an imperative sentence like “Remember the Maine” doesn’t need to waste time stating a subject; instead, the slogan begins with a verb that acts like the blast of a starting gun telling us to “Go!”  In addition to being a call to action or a call to arms, great slogans make every word count.  They are micro-messages, and the fewer the words, the greater they stick.

 

For more proof the effectiveness of the concise imperative slogan, read the examples below — each one with no more than six words:

Eat fresh

Make believe

Think Small

Think different

Challenge everything

Just Do It!

Obey your thirst

Dig for Victory

Spread the happy

Ban the Bomb

Have it your way

Say it with Flowers

Fly the friendly skies

Save Money. Live Better

Don’t Leave Home Without It

Twist the cap to refreshment

Reach Out and touch someone

Buy it. Sell it. Love it.

Put a Tiger in Your Tank

Today’s Challenge:  Build a Better Battle Cry

What is an existing product or cause that you would be willing to promote?  Brainstorm some products, causes, and some original imperative slogans.  When you have found one that works, write a brief letter to the company or to someone representing the cause, and make your pitch for your slogan.  Why do you think it works and should be used to promote the product/cause?  Make your case. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. -Calvin Coolidge

1- http://www.historytoday.com/print/8602

2-http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5470/

3-http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=slogan

 

February 14:  Metaphors of Love Day

Our modern Valentine’s Day rituals date back to an ancient Roman fertility rite called Lupercalia, celebrated from February 13-15.  Roman myth tells of the twin brothers Romulus and Remus who were abandoned in a cave (Lupercal) of a she-wolf (lupa).  The twins survived and went on to become the founders of Rome thanks to the she-wolf who nursed them.

Wolf head, 1-100 CE, bronze, Roman, Cleveland Museum of Art.JPGTo commemorate the deliverance of Romulus and Remus each year, priests gathered at Palatine Hill above Rome to sacrifice goats and a puppy along with making an offering of grain.  Two young boys were then stripped naked and clothed in the freshly skinned coats of the sacrificed goats. In addition to the goatskins, the boys were also given a narrow strip (or thong) cut from the hide of the goats.  These thongs were called februa, meaning “instruments of purification.”  Running down hill and through the city streets, the two boys slapped everyone they met with the februa in a symbolic act of purification.  Women often came forth to be struck since they believed the ceremony rendered them fertile, as well as ensured an easy delivery in childbirth.

A less violent aspect of Lupercalia festival was a lovers lottery where young men would be coupled with young women by drawing names randomly from a jar.

The modern name of Valentine’s Day also originated with the Romans; however, the day’s name resulted more from martyrdom than from a fertility rite.  In the 3rd century A.D., Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two men in two different years.  Both men were named Valentine and both men were executed on February 14.  Later, the Catholic Church commemorated the two saints’ martyrdom with the feast of St. Valentine.  In 494, attempting to expel pagan traditions, Pope Gelasius I outlawed Lupercalia and replaced it with Valentine’s Day (2).

Today we associate Valentine’s Day more with Venus – the Roman goddess of love – than with Catholic saints.  And the most ubiquitous symbol of the day is Venus’ son Cupid.  It’s his bow and quiver of arrows that represent the capriciousness of romantic love; anyone struck by one of his arrows is instantly filled with uncontrollable desire.

As we can see from the history of Valentine’s Day, it is a tradition filled with symbols that attempt to make the abstract ideas of romantic love and attraction more concrete.  In a similar fashion, lovers have attempted to make the abstract idea of love more concrete through the use of metaphor.  Notice in the following examples, the variety of metaphors used by various writers to define this elusive yet universal emotion:

Love is like war:  easy to begin but very hard to stop. -H.L. Mencken

Love is like a virus.  It can happen to anybody at any time.  -Maya Angelou

Love is an exploding cigar which we willingly smoke. -Lynda Berry

Love is the wildcard of existence. -Rita Mae Brown

Love is friendship set to music.  -E. Joseph Cossman

Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flip over, pinning you underneath.  At night, the ice weasels come. -Matt Groening

Love is the master-key that opens the gates of happiness of hatred, of jealousy, and, most easily of all, the gates of fear. -Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Love is like an hourglass, with the heart filling up as the brain empties. -Jules Renard

Love is the ultimate outlaw.  It just won’t adhere to any rules.  The most any of us can do is sign on as its accomplice. –Tom Robbins

Love is the only disease that makes you feel better. -Sam Shepard

Today’s Challenge:  Love Is a Metaphor

What is the best thing anyone has ever said about love?  What makes this person’s observations so insightful?  Select a quotation about love, either from the quotations above or from your research.  Your quotation can be lines from a poem, lyrics from a song, or prose from a Valentine’s Day card.  Explain why you find the quotation so insightful and specifically why you agree with it.  (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Life is a journey. Time is a river. The door is ajar. -Jim Butcher

1-http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Lupercalia.html

2-http://www.npr.org/2011/02/14/133693152/the-dark-origins-of-valentines-day

February 13:  Poetic Definition Day

On this date in 1890, the English writer Samuel Butler (1835-1902) presented a lecture in London entitled “Thought and Language.”  Butler was a novelist, a satirist, and a translator.  In 1898 and 1900 respectively, he translated both the Iliad and the Odyssey from the original Greek into English prose.  

Samuel Butler by Charles Gogin.jpgIn his 1890 lecture, Butler addressed age-old questions about the evolution of human language and whether or not language and reason are exclusive to the human species, as opposed to other animals.  In the course of his discussion of language, he presented a metaphorical definition of the word definition, presenting the reader with a fascinating figurative image:

Definitions . . . are like steps cut in a steep slope of ice, or shells thrown onto a greasy pavement; they give us foothold, and enable us to advance, but when we are at our journey’s end we want them no longer (2).

Another poetic definition – again of the word definition – is found in Butler’s Note-Books, which were published posthumously in 1912:

A definition is the enclosing a wilderness of ideas within a wall of words.

Butler’s poetic definitions remind us of the power of figurative language to help us to understand new ideas based on comparisons to old, familiar things, as well as its power to help us to see old ideas in new ways based on fresh comparisons.  Certainly the literal, textbook definitions of words are helpful, allowing us to grasp new ideas in objective black and white.  But metaphor, simile, analogy, and personification provide such powerful subjective imagery that it is as if a spotlight is shining down, illuminating ideas so that they stand out in vivid color.

Today’s Challenge:  A Lexicographer Walked Into a Bard

What are some aspects of language that might be defined using figurative language, such as words, language, speech, writing, reading, dictionaries, the alphabet, specific parts of speech, grammar, syntax, etc?  Read the poetic definitions below, noticing how each writer uses different types of figurative language to define different aspects of language.  Then, craft your own poetic definition using metaphor, simile, analogy, or personification.

Language is the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved. -Richard Chenevix Trench

The etymologists finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture.  Language is fossil poetry. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Language is a city to the building of which every human being brought a stone. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ideas are enclosed and almost bound in words like precious stones in a ring. -Giacomo Leopardi

Speech is the messenger of the heart. -Hebrew Proverb

Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap out tunes that can make bears dance, when we would move the stars. -Gustave Flaubert

Geometry is to sculpture what grammar is to the art of the writer. -Guillaume Apollinaire

The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech.  -Clifton Fadiman

Dictionaries are like watches:  the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true. -Samuel Johnson

Writing enables us to find out what we know — and what we don’t know — about whatever we’re trying to learn.  Putting an idea into written words is like defrosting the windshield:  the idea, so vague out there in the murk, slowly begins to gather itself into shape. –William Zinsser (3)

(Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Life is like music, it must be composed by ear, feeling and instinct, not by rule. -Samuel Butler

1-http://www.victorianweb.org/science/butler.html

2-http://www.authorama.com/essays-on-life-art-and-science-9.html

3- Crystal, David and Hilary Crystal:  Words on Words:  Quotations About Language and Languages.