June 25:  Dead Metaphor Day

Today is the birthday of British journalist, essayist, and novelist George Orwell (1903-1950). His birth name was Eric Arthur Blair, and he was born in Motihari, India, where his father was serving as an official in the British colonial government. Orwell left India to get his education in British schools, but he returned to Asia in 1922 to work with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. He decided to devote himself to writing full time in 1928, and in 1933 he published his first novel Down and Out in Paris and London and adopted his pen name, George Orwell.

PoliticsandtheEnglishLanguage.jpgOrwell’s best known and most widely read novels are Animal Farm and 1984. Both novels are potent warnings against big government, totalitarianism, and fascism.

In Animal Farm, a political allegory, Mr. Jones’ animals take over his farm, and in events that parallel the Russian Revolution, they learn that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four tells the story of a future dystopia called Oceania. The one-party government is in a perpetual state of war and is led by the all-seeing but unseen leader called Big Brother. From the very beginning of the book, the novel’s main character, a party work named Winston Smith, is doing something that is both radical and unlawful: he is questioning his government, and he is writing his thoughts in a journal.

Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948 (reversing the numbers 4 and 8), but he probably should have called it 2084 since questions about big government, privacy, and the role of technology make this novel even more relevant in the 21st century than it was in the 20th.

Two words created by Orwell in 1984, doublethink and newspeak have been melded in our modern lexicon to become doublespeak, meaning language that is deliberately constructed to disguise rather than clarify meaning. William Lunz, author of the 1989 book Doublespeak, keeps Orwell’s memory alive in his annual Doublespeak Awards, which call attention to language from government, business, and the military that is “grossly deceptive, evasive and euphemistic.”

Orwell’s use of the suffix -speak in 1984, for words such as newspeak, duckspeak, and oldspeak, popularized the use of the suffix -speak to refer to any particular variety of spoken English, such as Haigspeak, Bushspeak, or soccer-speak.

The 1946 essay Politics and the English Language is George Orwell’s plea for writing that is clear, concise, and thoughtful. In a famous example, he presents the following passage from Ecclesiastes as a model of clarity:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

He then translates the passage into modern gobbledygook:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Also in Politics and the English Language, Orwell practices what he preaches when he presents the following concise list of rules for writers:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive [voice] where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (2)

In order to elaborate on his first rule, Orwell discusses dead metaphors, which are figures of speech that once evoked images, but because they have been used and recycled so often by writers, they have lost their luster.  Today the most common term for a trite and overused figure of speech is cliche.  Orwell’s goal is to get writers to eschew cliches and instead create fresh figures of speech that will bring their writing to life.  

In the following 170 words, Orwell explains the writing process meticulously, showing how fresh figures bridge the gap between the abstract and the concrete and how good writing must be intentional and thoughtful:

When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally.

Today’s Challenge:  Five Fresh Figures
What are some examples of abstract words – ideas or concepts that live in the mind but that are not tangible?  Brainstorm a list of abstract words, such as truth, beauty, or justice.  Select five of the words from your list, and practice Orwell’s advice on crafting fresh figures of speech.  Use figurative language (metaphors, similes, or personification) to define or explain each of your abstract ideas.  Before you begin drafting your own, read the following fresh figures for inspiration.  Each is from Dr. Mardy Grothe’s book Metaphors Be With You:

Curiosity:  Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning. -William Arthur Ward

Fear:  Fear is a pair of handcuffs on your soul. -Faye Dunaway

Language:  Language is the apparel in which your thoughts parade before the public.  Never clothe them in vulgar or shoddy attire. -George W. Crane

Learning:  There is no royal road to learning; no short cut to the acquirement of any art. -Anthony Trollope

Memory:  Memory is the personal journalism of the soul. -Richard Schickel

Power:  The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing. -John Adams (3)

Quotation of the Day:  Effective metaphor does more than shed light on the two things being compared. It actually brings to the mind’s eye something that has never before been seen. It’s not just the marriage ceremony linking two things; it’s the child born from the union. An original and imaginative metaphor brings something fresh into the world. -Rebecca McClanahan

1 – Lunz, William. Doublespeak. New York: Random House, 1989.

2 – Politics and the English Language

3 – Grothe, Mardy.  Metaphors Be With You.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2016.

June 24:  Devil’s Dictionary Day  

Today is the birthday of Ambrose Bierce, American journalist and short-story writer. He was born in Ohio in 1842, and after serving in the Civil War he traveled west. He rose to prominence as a journalist in San Francisco. His best-known work of fiction is a short story called An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a war story about the last thoughts of man before his execution.

Cynics Word Book.jpgBierce’s best know work though is his Devil’s Dictionary, a satirical work featuring definitions that display Bierce’s sardonic, piercing wit. Bierce began publishing his definitions as a part of his newspaper column in 1875 and continued until 1906. A complete collection of words and definitions was first published in 1911.

Here are some samples of the definitions:

Bigot: n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.

Cynic: n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.

Dictionary: n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work (1).

Year: n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.

The Devil Made Me Define It

Given the definitions below from Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, see if you can come up with the appropriate word.

  1. n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.
  2. Adj. Able to pick with equal skill a right-hand pocket or a left.
  3. n. The salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out.
  4. n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage . . . .
  5. n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.
  6. n. A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.
  7. n. A rich thief.
  8. n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.
  9. n. A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket.
  10. n. A despot whom the wise ridicule and obey (1).

Today’s Challenge:  The Glass is Half Full and Half Empty
What are some examples of nouns that you would find in a book called ‘The ABCs of Life’?  Select five nouns that represent universal aspects of human experience, such as school, walking, breakfast, parents, and job.  Next, generate two contrasting creative definitions for each of your words.  For the first, follow Bierce’s example from the Devil’s Dictionary and write a definition that reflects a cynical, pessimistic mindset.  For the second definition, put yourself in a positive, optimistic frame of mind.

JOB:

Half Empty Definition:  A tedious way to spend one third of each day in exchange for a few greenbacks.

Half Full Definition:  A daily opportunity to transform your passion into a livelihood.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day: There is nothing either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so. -William Shakespeare

Answers: 1. telephone 2. ambidextrous 3. wit 4. love 5. patriot 6. heaven 7. kleptomaniac 8. peace 9. dentist 10. fashion

1 – Bierce, Ambrose. The Devil’s Dictionary. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.

 

June 23:  Pangram Day

Today is the anniversary of the patent for the first QWERTY typewriter.

Around 1860 Christopher Latham Sholes, a journalist for the Milwaukee News, began his quest to create a machine that could write words both legibly and quickly on paper. Sholes’ design was not the first attempt at creating a writing machine, but it was the fastest and most efficient model available when he filed for his patent in 1868.

Sholes’ great innovation was the QWERTY system (named for the arrangement of the first six letters on the first row of letters on the keyboard). As explained in Great Inventions, Sholes’ design, coupled with the QWERTY letter arrangement, made his typewriter faster than a pen:

The secret of its speed lay in the keyboard design, which paradoxically slowed the typist down. Sholes arranged the letters in the now familiar qwerty sequence: this forces typists to move their fingers further than was really necessary to type common letter sequences but it gave the keys time to fall back into place after typing (1).

The name type-writer was coined by Sholes, who sold his machine to E. Remington & Sons in 1873. In 1874 the Remington typewriter hit the market at a price of $125. One of the first buyers was Mark Twain who completed the manuscript for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on his new machine, becoming the first writer ever to present a publisher with a typed manuscript (2).

Even today, in an era where metal keys have been replaced by electronic word processing, the QWERTY system remains the standard keyboard layout.

Wordplay enthusiasts have an entire category of words related to typewriter order. For example, the word typewriter can be written using just the letters on the top row of the keyboard.

Chris Cole’s book Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities lists the following additional examples:

-Other common words that can be written using just the top row: repertoire, proprietor, perpetuity.

-Longest common word that can be typed using only letters from the middle row: alfalfa.

-Longest common words using letters in typewriter order: weigh, quips, quash, quaff, quill.

-Longest common words using letters in reverse typewriter order: soiree, sirree.

-Longest common words using just the left hand on the typewriter: aftereffects, stewardesses, reverberated, desegregated.

-Longest common words using just the right hand on the typewriter: polyphony, homophony.

-Longest common word using alternating hands: dismantlement.

-Longest common word using one finger: deeded.

-Longest word from adjacent keys: assessed, reseeded (3).

A less esoteric type of typewriter wordplay is called the pangram. Common to students who are learning the keyboard, a pangram is a single sentence that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet at least once, such as: The quick brown fox, jumps over the lazy dogs. A common competition among hardcore word-buffs is to create pangrams with the fewest possible letters. It is possible to create a 26-letter pangram, but it is hard to do without resorting to obscure words and strained syntax; for example, try to decipher this 26-letter pangram: Cwm, fjord-bank glyphs quiz vext.

Here are some other examples of pangrams that use more common words:

How quickly daft jumping zebras vex.

The five boxing wizards jump quickly.

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs (3).

Today’s Challenge: Pangrams with a Purpose

How would you summarize your favorite book in a single sentence? Try writing a review/summary of your favorite book or movie in the form of a one-sentence pangram. Don’t worry about the number of letters you use; instead, just make sure you include all 26 letter. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: If the monkey could type one keystroke every nanosecond, the expected waiting time until the monkey types out ‘Hamlet’ is so long that the estimated age of the universe is insignificant by comparison … this is not a practical method for writing plays.  -Gian-Carlo Rota

1 – Dyson, James and Robert Uhlig. Great Inventions. New York: Barnes & Nobles Books, 2001.

2 – Baron, Naomi S. Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It’s Heading. London: Routledge, 2000.

3 – Cole, Chris. Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1999.

JUNE 22:  G.I. Day

Today is the anniversary of one of the most significant pieces of legislation in American history. On this date, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Service Members’ Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill. Between 1944 and 1956 more than 7.8 million World War II veterans participated in the educational or training program.

Prior to the GI Bill, a college education was primarily an option only for the rich. Likewise, home ownership was out of the financial reach of most Americans. The GI Bill, however, fueled the American dreams of millions of returning GIs. Almost half took advantage of the education and training aspects of the programs, while nearly 2.4 million took out home loans backed by the Veterans Administration.

With the end of World War II in sight, the GI Bill was a proactive step to prevent the problems that occurred in after World War I. Thousands of returning American soldiers at that time were given just $60 and a train ticket home. There was little thought of helping these doughboys with the transition from military to civilian life. During the Great Depression, thousands of veterans marched on Washington, D.C. in 1932 demanding payment of a promised bonus. Instead of money, the veterans received an order to disperse. President Herbert Hoover called up active duty soldiers, led by General Douglas MacArthur, to clear out the Bonus Marchers’ camps using tear gas, bayonets, and rifles.

Soldiers returning from World War II thankfully had the GI Bill to ease them back into civilian life. Instead of unrest at the nation’s capital, an unprecedented post-war boom across the nation resulted after World War II.

In 1984 the GI Bill was revamped under the leadership of Mississippi Congressman Gillespie V. “Sonny” Montgomery. Known as the Montgomery GI Bill, it features VA home loan guarantees as well as education programs just like the original GI Bill (1).

The abbreviation G.I. originates from the a U.S. Army designation for galvanized iron, the kind of iron used for heavy garbage cans. The term, through misinterpretation of the initials, came to mean government-issue or general-issue in the 1930s, referring to items issued to soldiers upon induction into the armed forces — items such as uniforms, boots, or soap. The term GI first appeared in print referring to an enlisted man in 1939. In 1942 a comic strip for the Army weekly Yank used the term GI Joe, further popularizing the term (2).

In the armed forces shorthand language, such as abbreviations and acronyms, is used with a high frequency, so much so that the Army, for example, has an entire regulation devoted to the subject. It’s called Army Regulation 25-52: Authorized Abbreviations, Brevity Codes, and Acronyms (ABCA).

The three different classes of shortened forms are defined in the regulation as follows:

Abbreviation: An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase. For example, appt – appointment, assgd – assigned, or PA – Pennsylvania.

Acronym: An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of a name or parts of a series of words. For example, ACTS means Army Criteria Tracking System; ARIMS means Army Records Information Management System; and ASAP means as soon as possible.

Brevity Code: A brevity code is the shortened form of a frequently used phrase, sentence, or group of sentences, normally consisting entirely of upper case letters; for example, COMSEC means communications security, REFRAD means release from active duty, and SIGINT means signals intelligence.

The Army’s ABCs

Below is a list of common U. S. Army abbreviations, brevity codes, and acronyms. See if you can identify what each stands for.

  1. BDU
  2. CONUS
  3. IED
  4. IRR
  5. HMMWV (Humvee)
  6. MRE
  7. NBC
  8. ROTC
  9. RPG
  10. PT
  11. PX
  12. SOP

Today’s Challenge:  AM, BC, CD, DJ . . .
What are examples of two-letter abbreviations?  Using a good dictionary, find and define at least one two-letter abbreviation for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet. (Common Core Language 3)

Quotation of the Day: Neither a wise nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him. -Dwight D. Eisenhower

Answers: 1. Battle Dress Uniform 2. Continental United States 3. Improvised Explosive Device 4. Individual Ready Reserve 5. High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle 6. Meals Ready to Eat 7. Nuclear, Biological, Chemical 8. Reserve Officer Training Corps 9. Rocket Propelled Grenade 10. Physical Training 11. Post Exchange 12. Standard Operating Procedure

1- United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

http://www.gibill.va.gov/GI_Bill_Info/history.htm

2 – Ayto, John. 20th Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

3 – Army Regulation 25-52.

June 21:  Bibliophile Day

On this date in 2003, 16-year old Emerson Spartz traveled nearly 4,000 miles, from Chicago to London, to buy a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Spartz could have stayed in the United States since the American release of the book was on the same day as the British release, but Spartz said that he wanted to be “where the story began” and to “feel the weight of that book” (1). The fifth installment in the Harry Potter series, Order of the Phoenix weighed in at 768 pages.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.jpgAlmost ten years earlier the New York Times featured an article called The End of Books that speculated whether or not books and other print-based media were on their way out, being superseded by computer technology, principally hypertext. This is certainly not the first time that anyone prematurely declared books dead. As early as 1894 Scribner’s Magazine published an article entitled The End of Books, relaying the predictions of Arthur Blackcross, who claimed that inventions like the photograph and the Kinetoscope, the first silent movie projector, would replace the antiquated written page.

John H. Lienhard, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and History at the University of Houston, makes an interesting analogy, challenging the conventional wisdom that says that new technologies replace old ones:

So, are paper books doomed? Oddly enough, they’re not. Think about pianos. Pianos evolved from harpsichord improvements. But soon they were something wholly different. You still need a harpsichord for harpsichord music. In this century, cars replaced horses. But cars aren’t much use in rough, roadless country (2).

Lienhard continues to argue in the article that books do something for us that no other media can. Instead of just supplying us with images and sounds in a passive manner, books allow us to participated in the creation of images as we read actively and interact imaginatively with the text. Perhaps that’s why readers like Emerson Spartz are willing to travel to distant cities to feel the weight of a book in their own hands.

And speaking of distant cities –the Greek word for book biblos originates from the name of a Phoenician city, Byblos, renowned for its manufacturing of paper from the Egyptian papyrus plant. It’s the same root from which we get the word Bible, meaning book of books.

Bibliomania

A book for all book lovers(sometimes called bibliophiles) is A Passion for Books, a treasury of stories, essays, and lists all related to books. In a chapter called Bibliolexicon, it lists a number of words with the biblio root. See if you can match up each word with its correct definition. When you finish, go to your local bookstore and buy a book.

  1. Bibliobibule
  2. Biblioclast
  3. Bibliodemon
  4. Biblioklept
  5. Bibliolater
  6. Bibliophage
  7. Bibliophobe
  8. Biblioriptos
  9. Bibliosopher
  10. Bibliotaphe

A. One who steals books
B. One who buries or hides books
C. One who worships books
D. One who tears pages from or otherwise destroys books
E. A book fiend or demon
F. One who eats or devours books
G. One who reads too much
H. One who fears books
I. One who throws books around
J. One who gains wisdom from books (3)

Today’s Challenge:   RUSH for MORE Books
What are four books that should be on every bookshelf? What four books should readers buy today, read immediately, and keep on their bookshelf forever?  Make your argument for your Mount Rushmore of books.  Give a brief overview of each book along with an explanation of why each book is so essential.  (Common Core Writing – 1)

Quotation of the Day:  A room without books is like a body without a soul. Marcus Tullius Cicero

Answers: 1. G 2. D 3. E 4. A 5. C 6. F 7. H 8. I 9. J 10. B

1 – Grobman, Paul. Vital Statistics: An Amazing Compendium of Factoids, Minutiae, and Random Bits of Wisdom. New York: Plume Books, 2005.

2 – Lienhard, John H. Engines of Ingenuity Episode No. 2009: “The End of Books: 1894

3 – Rabinowitz, Harold and Rob Kaplan (Editors). Passion for Books: A Book Lover’s Treasury. New York: Times Books, 1999.

June 20:  Hot and Cold Running Idioms Day

Today is the anniversary of an important date in the history of communications. On this date in 1963 in Geneva, Switzerland, the United States and the Soviet Union signed what was called the “Hot Line Agreement,” which established a direct communication link between the two superpowers.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, it became abundantly clear that without prompt, direct communication between the heads of state in the East and the West, tragic miscommunication leading to nuclear war might result. During the 1962 exercise in brinkmanship, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev were forced to use intermediaries in their communications.

The Hot Line Agreement was the first bilateral agreement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and the first step in recognizing that cooler heads should prevail when it comes to the Cold War maneuvering of the nuclear powers (1).

It was the Soviet Union that first proposed the hotline in 1954. The word hot line first appeared in print in 1955, and the word brinkmanship, meaning the art of advancing to the very brink of war but not engaging in it, first appeared in 1956 (2).

Probably the most famous demonstration of the red phone comes to us via Hollywood rather than the history books. In the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, President Merkin Muffley, played by Peter Sellers, struggles to tell Soviet Premier Kissoff that an insane American general has ordered a nuclear bombing mission on Russia.

President Merkin Muffley: . . . Now then, Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb… The Bomb, Dmitri… The hydrogen bomb!… Well now, what happened is… ah… one of our base commanders, he had a sort of… well, he went a little funny in the head… you know… just a little… funny. And, ah… he went and did a silly thing… Well, I’ll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes… to attack your country… Ah… Well, let me finish, Dmitri… Let me finish, Dmitri… Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?… Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dmitri?… Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello?… Of course I like to speak to you!… Of course I like to say hello!… Not now, but anytime, Dmitri. I’m just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened… It’s a friendly call. Of course it’s a friendly call… Listen, if it wasn’t friendly… you probably wouldn’t have even got it . . . .

Today’s Challenge: Hot ‘N’ Cold
Below are descriptions of expressions that contain either the word hot or cold. Given the number of words in each expression along with a description, see if you can name the phrase:

  1. Four words: Newly printed; sensational and exciting.
  2. Two words: Immediate, complete withdrawal from something, especially an addictive substance.
  3. Two words: Trouble or difficulty.
  4. Two words: Retreat from an undertaking; lose one’s nerve.
  5. Two words: Deliberate disregard, slight, or snub.
  6. Four words: Extremely angry.
  7. Four words: In a position of extreme stress, as when subjected to harsh criticism.
  8. Five words: To cause one to shiver from fright or horror.

What are more examples of common expression or idioms in English that feature the words “hot” or “cold”?  Use one of these expressions as a launching pad for an original composition.  Use the idiom as your title, and write at least 250 words. (Common Core Writing 2/3 Expository/Narrative)

Quote of the Day: Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything. -Billy Graham

Answers: 1. Hot off the presses 2. Cold turkey 3. Hot water 4. Cold feet 5. Cold shoulder 6. Hot under the collar 7. In the hot seat 8. Make one’s blood run cold.

1 – United States Department of State. Memorandum of Understanding Between The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communication Link

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

3 – Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

June 19:  Create a Monster Day

Today marks the anniversary of one history’s most remarkable meeting of literary minds. On the night of June 19, 1816, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Byron’s doctor and travel companion Dr. John Polidori met in a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland.

Frankenstein 1818 edition title page.jpgInspired no doubt by the unseasonably stormy weather of that summer, caused by the eruption of Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, the group gathered to read aloud from a collection of German ghost stories, called The Fantasmagoriana. These stories inspired Lord Byron to challenge each person in the group to compose a ghost story (1).

One might guess that the two established poets Byron and Shelley would battle for first place in the contest; however, it was the two members of the party without literary reputation who rose to the challenge, each creating a monster that would change literature forever.

The English Doctor, John Polidori, wrote what has come to be called the first vampire tale, a short story called “The Vampyre,” published in 1819. Although his story is not widely read today, it predates other stories in the vampire genre and is seen as the inspiration of the masters of the form: Sheridan le Fanu, Edgar Allen Poe, and, of course, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula (2).

As far as the overall winner of the contest, based on the criteria of both influence and creativity, the award must go to Mary Shelley, whose contribution to the contest later became her novel Frankenstein (1818). In her introduction to Frankenstein, Mary credits a conversation between Byron and her husband, Shelley, as the inspiration for her story. She listened attentively as the two poets discussed Darwin’s discoveries and as they speculated about whether or not the secret of life could be found and whether or not a human corpse could be reanimated.

That evening the seeds of the poets’ conversation germinated in Mary’s mind, producing a vivid nightmare that gave her the story that would captivate readers and moviegoers for generations. In her introduction to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley describes what she saw in her nightmare:

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to make the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handiwork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade, that this thing which had received such imperfect animation would subside into dead matter, and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench forever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.

As a result of Byron’s challenge, on this one faithful day, two unique literary monsters were born.

Famous Monsters of Book Land

Long before Shelley and Polidori created their monsters, other monsters filled the pages of ancient myth. See if you can match up each monster below with its appropriate description. Then, challenge your family or a group of friends to create their own horror stories and monsters.

  1. Grendal
  2. Cyclopes
  3. Minotaur
  4. Cerberus
  5. Hydra
  6. Sphinx
  7. Harpies
  8. Medusa

A. The many-headed snake that Hercules defeated in one of his labors.

B. The monster that Beowulf fought and killed in the Old English epic.

C. The creature with a bull’s head and a man’s body that was confined in the Labyrinth until it was killed by Theseus.

D. The Gorgon who had snakes for hair and turned anyone who looked at her into stone. She was killed by Perseus.

E. The monster with the wings and claws of a vulture and the head and body of a woman.

F. The winged monster with a woman’s head and a lion’s body. It challenged travelers with a riddle and killed them when they failed to solve it. It killed itself when Oedipus finally solved its riddle.

G. The three-headed dog who guards the entrance to Hades.

H. The race of one-eyed giants who made thunderbolts for Zeus.

Today’s Challenge:  A Dark and Stormy Story
What would make a good setting for a horror story?  How might you create tension and suspense at the very beginning of a scary story?  Write the opening paragraph of a tale of horror.  Start your tale with a specific setting, and use the kind of specific description that creates a mood that is appropriate to a horror story.  For inspiration, read the first paragraph of a Stephen King story or novel. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: Everyone thinks I’m a horrible person, but I’m really not. In fact, I have the heart of a child, and I keep it in a jar on my desk. -Stephen King

Answer: 1. B 2. H 3. C 4. G 5. A 6. F 7. E 8. D

1 – Woodbridge, Kim. “The Summer of 1816.

2 – John Polidori & The Vampyre Byron

 

June 18:  Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary Day

On this date in 1746 Dr. Samuel Johnson, poet and critic, signed a contract with bookseller Robert Dodsley to write the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language. Johnson thought he would complete the project in three years, but the dictionary was not completed and published until April 15, 1755.

Samuel Johnson by Joshua Reynolds.jpgAlthough it took six years longer than he first estimated, it was worth the wait. The dictionary contained 40,000 words and definitions, along with 114,000 supporting quotations, and is written with precision, clarity, and wit. Johnson did for English in nine years what it had taken 40 French lexicographers 40 years to complete for the French language (1).

Here are few examples of words and definition from Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language:

Amulet: An appended remedy, or preservative: a thing hung about the neck, or any other part of the body, for preventing or curing some particular diseases.

Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words.

Microscope: An optick instrument, contrived various ways to give to the eye a large appearance of many objects which could not otherwise be seen.

Zootomy: Dissection of the bodies of beasts.

In his Preface, Johnson talks about the challenges he faced in trying to harness the recalcitrant words of English:

When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity, and modes of expression to be rejected or received, without the suffrages of any writers of classical reputation or acknowledged authority.

Having therefore no assistance but from general grammar, I applied myself to the perusal of our writers; and noting whatever might be of use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumulated in time the materials of a dictionary, which, by degrees, I reduced to method, establishing to myself, in the progress of the work, such rules as experience and analogy suggested to me; experience, which practice and observation were continually increasing; and analogy, which, though in some words obscure, was evident in others.

Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language set the standard for future dictionaries. Unlike other languages like French and Italian that established academies to fix the language and prescribe how words should be used, Johnson’s approach was not to prescribe but to describe the language. In this way, instead of fixing the language Johnson registered the English language by basing his definitions not solely upon his own whims, but upon the written record of centuries of writers in English. In the words of Simon Winchester, Johnson’s method created “a whole new way of dictionary making, and an entirely new intellectual approach to the language, had been inaugurated” (2).

Johnson’s process inspired the writers of the Oxford English Dictionary, whose 10 volumes were completed in 1928. And still today English lexicographers take the descriptive approach to dictionary writing by reading all kinds of published words and recording how the meaning of words are changing and what new words are appearing.

Today’s Challenge: The Only Constant is Change
If you were writing a dictionary, what are ten words — all starting with the same letter — that you would define?  New editions of dictionaries in English are published every year because the language is constantly changing. Because of this change, some of the words from Johnson’s Dictionary have very different definitions today than they did in 1755. Visit the online edition of Johnson’s Dictionary, and select five unfamiliar words.  Record the parts of speech and definitions of the words.  (Common Core Language – 4)

Quote of the Day: At painful times, when composition is impossible and reading is not enough, grammars and dictionaries are excellent for distraction. -Elizabeth Barrett Browning

1 – McCrum, Robert, Wiliam Cran, and Robert MacNeil. The Story of English. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

2 -Winchester, Simon. The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Hitchings, Henry. Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson’s Dictionary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

http://johnsonsdictionaryonline.com/

June 17:  Essay Question Day

On this day in 1901, the College Board Examination, the precursor of today’s SAT, was first administered.  The testing came about after presidents of twelve leading universities formed the College Entrance Examination Board.  The purpose of this organization was to create a more uniform college admissions process and to encourage New England boarding schools to develop a uniform curriculum (1).  In 69 locations a total of 973 test takers completed examinations in English, French, German, Latin, Greek, history, chemistry, and physics.

Although today’s SAT is primary a multiple choice test, the test administered in 1901 was made up entirely of essay questions.  After the test takers wrote their essays in answer books their essays were read and evaluated by experts in each subject.  Each essay was rated Excellent, Good, Doubtful, Poor, or Very Poor.

Today’s Challenge:   Say It in an Essay

What are five good questions you might ask a college candidate in order to assess his or her readiness for college?  Subject-related essay questions remain a common form by which students are tested.  In fact, the word “essay” originates from the Latin exigere, meaning “to examine, try, or test’ (2). Another common form of essay questions are the ones that students must answer as a part of the college application process.

The following questions are examples of Common Application Essay Prompts.  For these essays students must write between 250-650 words:

2017-2018 Common Application Essay Prompts

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.  (3)

Select one of the questions above, and write your own essay.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  The drama of the essay is the way the public life intersects with my personal and private life. It’s in that intersection that I find the energy of the essay. -Richard Rodriguez

1-http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/sats/where/timeline.html

2-Online Etymology – http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=essay

3-http://www.commonapp.org/whats-appening/application-updates/common-application-announces-2017-2018-essay-prompts

 

June 16:  Bloomsday

Today is the anniversary of one of the most important dates in the history of fiction. James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, one of the 20th century’s most important and most controversial novels, takes place on one day: June 16, 1904. The novel tracks the day in the life of three characters, Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus, as they walk the streets of Dublin, Ireland.

JoyceUlysses2.jpgAlthough the book is set in Dublin, the characters and events parallel Homer’s Greek epic the Odyssey. But Ulysses is not written in verse nor a traditional prose style; instead, Joyce’s novel employs stream of consciousness narration, where instead of moving in a linear fashion, the story flows from the impressions, random thoughts, sensations, and associations of the characters. In an attempt to imitate the natural flow of the characters’ thoughts and dialogue, Joyce omitted conventional punctuation. This, along with the novel’s many allusions to history and literature, make the novel notoriously hard to read.

Here is a brief excerpt of the opening of the novel:

STATELY, PLUMP BUCK MULLIGAN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently-behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:–

Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

— Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful jesuit.

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

Even before Ulysses was published it stirred up controversy because of its sexual passages. The novel was banned in the United States until 1933, when a New York judge ruled that the book was not obscene.

Born in Dublin in 1882, Joyce attended Catholic schools in Ireland and earned a degree in Latin. This probably explains his selection of the name of Ulysses for his protagonist, since Ulysses is the Roman name for the main character in Homer’s epic poem, while Odysseus is the Greek name (1).

June 16 is a date where fans of Joyce hold public readings of Ulysses, and in Dublin, fans retrace the steps of the book’s characters.

One resource traces 365 days of “events that did not really happen.” It’s called The Book of Fictional Days by Bob Gordon. Gordon’s book ties each day of the year to events from fiction and film.

Today’s Challenge: What and When It Didn’t Happen

What are the most memorable events from fiction?  If you could memorialize one specific event from fiction on one specific day, what would it be?  Select one unforgettable fictional moment in a book you love.  You may not know the exact day, but describe the specific event, what happened, and why you think it is so memorable.   For example, in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird the climactic events of the novel’s final chapter — Chapter 31 — occur on Halloween night.  Bob Ewell attacks Scout and Jem.  Boo saves the children and stabs Ewell.  After seeing Boo in the flesh for the first time, Scout escorts him home.

The following dates and events below are from The Book of Fictional Days (2).

January 12:  HAL 9000 becomes operational in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

February 1:  Willy Wonka gives a tour of his chocolate factory.

February 14:  Sam Baldwin and Annie Reed meet at the Empire State Building in Sleepless in Seattle.

February 26:  James Leer shoots Poe (Professor Grady Tripp’s lover’s husband’s dog).

May 1:  Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf return to Rivendell and the house of Elrond in The Hobbit.

May 15:  Horton the elephant hears a small noise in Horton Hears a Who.

June 3:  Billy Joe McAllister jumps off the Tallahatchie Bridge.

June 19:  Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee arrives in Camelot (1528).

(Common Core Writing 2  – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Mistakes are the portals of discovery. –James Joyce

1 – Raftery, Miriam. 100 Books That Shaped World History. San Mateo, CA: Bluewood Books, 2002.

2 – Gordon, Bob. The Book of Fictional Days: A Collection of Events That Did Not Really Happen. Korea: Tide-mark Press Ltd., 2003.

http://lithub.com/50-fictional-days-immortalized-in-literature/