August 26:  Abecedarian Day

On this date in 1873, the first public school kindergarten in the United States was established by the St. Louis, Missouri board of education.  The word kindergarten can be traced back to Germany, where Friedrick Froebel opened a preschool in 1840.  Froebel invented the term Kinder-Garten (‘children’s garden’) to describe the experience of cultivating young minds through creativity and play(1).

Some say that we learn everything we need to know in kindergarten, but there is certainly one lesson that is vital to every kindergartner. In fact, instead of kindergartner we might call these children abecedarians. An abecedarian is a ‘student of the alphabet.’ The word comes from the letters A B C D.

After we have mastered the ABCs and learned to read, we take the alphabet for granted. What we don’t realize, however, is how fundamental it is to our literacy. We also sometimes forget that the alphabet, reading, and writing are all human inventions.

We don’t know who the inventor was, but we do know that around 2000 BC the idea of using letters instead of pictures to represent sounds and words began to take root. As a result, communication in writing became much more efficient and easier to learn. Instead of learning hundreds of symbols, the student now need only learn less than thirty letters. Today kindergartners, or abecedarians, who learn the 26 letters of the alphabet have a foundation to begin mastering the language for reading and writing. The word alphabet is from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha and Beta. The Greeks didn’t invent the alphabet, but they did perfect it; one of their most important adaptations was the addition of vowels.

You’ve probably mastered the alphabet by now, but there are other ways of returning to your abecedarian roots. Below is a list of 26 vocabulary words spanning all 26 letters of the alphabet. How many do you know? How many familiar roots do you recognize? Pick up a good dictionary and look up any unfamiliar words.

antecedent

bellicose

circumscribe

dyslexia

euphemism

factotum

gregarious

hyperbole

infinitesimal

jovial

kudos

lethargic

malediction

neologism

orthography

pandemonium

quintessence

resonance

sophomoric

theocracy

unilateral

verbose

wanderlust

xenophobia

yeoman

zephyr

Today’s Challenge: Advanced Abecedarian
Can you generate a list 26 challenging and interesting words, one for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet?  Create your own unique abecedarian collection of words.  Use a dictionary as a resource.  Share your list with others, and be prepared to define the words on the list and explain what you find interesting about each one. (Common Core Language 3)

Quotation of the Day: Of all the achievements of the human mind, the birth of the alphabet is the most momentous. -Frederic Goudy

 

1 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

 

August 25:  Encyclopedia Day

On this date in A.D. 79, Pliny the Elder died, a casualty of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  Based on his thirty-seven volume work called Natural History, Pliny is known as the father of the encyclopedia .  

Pliny the Elder.pngBorn in Italy in A.D. 23, Pliny was educated in Rome and served as a commander in the Roman army.  He is best known, however, for his prodigious efforts to catalog the knowledge of his age in his Natural History.  Using a plain, non-dogmatic style, Pliny covered cosmology, astronomy, zoology, botany, agriculture, medicine, and minerals.  Not only was the comprehensive coverage of his multi-volume work unprecedented, but also his citation of over 100 sources set the standard for the modern encyclopedia.  His work truly lived up the meaning of the word encyclopedia, which means an “all-around education.”  The root cyclo is from the Greek for “circle” and paideia is from the Greek for “education.”

On the day of his death in 79 A.D., Pliny was serving as a fleet commander in the Bay of Naples.  This was the same day that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Pliny might have survived; however, he went ashore to assist citizens in need and was overcome by the toxic fumes from Vesuvius’ eruption (1).

Today we experience an encyclopedia format that has evolved from book form, to compact disk form, to online form.  Whatever the form, however, it still is a format that attempts to encircle all that is know from A to Z.  One fascinating adaptation made to the encyclopedia was published in 2005 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal in her book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  Departing from the traditional objective tone of general knowledge, Rosenthal adapted the encyclopedia template to reflect subjectively on the topics that have made up her life so far.  Part memoir, part autobiography, Rosenthal’s book presents her humorous, wry insights on an array of topics.  Here’s a small sample of some of the topics covering the letters A to I:

Anxious, things that make me

Birthmark

Childhood Memories

Deli Trays

Escalator

Folding Chairs

Groceries

Humbling

Infinity

The topics Rosenthal covers are diverse.  Some are abstract and others are concrete, but each of her insights, though personal, seem to touch on something universal.  For example, Rosenthal shares her personal insight on the topic “Palindrome”:  “I am overly enamored with the palindrome: Won Ton, Not Now.”

On “Pie” she says, “There are few gestures kinder than a friend baking you a pie” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Encycloautobiography
What would be the topics from A to Z that you would include in the encyclopedia of your life?  Brainstorm a list of at least 26 topics; use a dictionary if you get stuck for ideas.  Then, take one of your topics and write at least 6 sentences about it, providing personal insights and/or personal experience to bring the topic alive and to help the reader see it in a new way. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  My brother, who grew up with three sisters, was I won’t say how many years old when he finally realized that he did not have to wrap the towel around his chest when he came out of the shower. -Amy Rosenthal

 

1-”Pliny the Elder”  Britannica Online Encyclopedia

2-Rosenthal, Amy Krouse.  Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press, 2005.

August 24:  Meteorological Metaphors Day

Today is the anniversary of an editorial by Charles Dudley Warner published in the Hartford Courant in 1897. The subject of the editorial is long forgotten, but one line from the article lives on as a famous quote: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

Although many credit Warner with the funny line, some argue that it really should be credited to Mark Twain, who was a friend and collaborator with Charles Dudley Warner. Ralph Keyes, the author of The Quote Verifier, comes down on Twain’s side, saying that the wording of the editorial reveals that Warner got the quote from Twain: “A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it” (1).

Weather or not Twain said it (pun intended), there is no doubt that weather has rained down on the English lexicon. Many of our everyday idioms are weather related, and some of our common words have meteorological origins:

Astonish: Being struck by thunder would certainly be an astonishing experience. This word comes to English via the French estoner which in turn was derived from Latin ex = out + tonare = to thunder. Thus the literal translation of astonish is thunderstruck.

Window: This word comes from the Norse vindauge which comes from vindr = wind + auga = eye. Thus a window is the “wind’s eye.”

Lunatic: For centuries people have considered the effects of the moon on the weather and the varying moods of earthlings. Because the moon does affect ocean tides, it does have an indirect impact on the weather. There is less evidence, however, to prove the moon’s relationship to the human psyche. Nevertheless the word lunatic is derived from Luna the moon goddess, who in myth would sometimes toy with the sanity of mortals.

Here are a few example of weather idioms, where weather is used as a metaphor for some aspect of human experience:

A port in storm

Chase rainbows

Cloud nine

Cloud of suspicion

Fair-weather friend

Head in the clouds

Greased lightning

Shoot the breeze

A snow job

Steal someone’s thunder

Tempest in a teapot

Under the weather

Forecast Calls for Neologisms
The nouns below probably do not look familiar. They are all neologisms, new words that have appeared in print but that are not yet in the dictionary. See if you can match up the words with their definitions below. For more details on each word visit Word Spy, a site devoted to neologisms.

geomythology

weather tourist

weather bomb

megacryometeor

gigantic jet

tornado bait

space weather

season creep

  1. Earlier spring weather and other gradual seasonal shifts, particularly those caused by global climate change.
  1. A person whose vacation consists of tracking down and observing tornadoes, hurricanes, and other severe weather phenomena.
  1. A massive and powerful storm that develops quickly and without warning.
  1. One or more mobile homes or trailers, especially when located in or near a tornado zone.
  1. A massive lightning flash that extends from the top of a thundercloud up to the ionosphere.
  1. Electrical storms generated when the solar wind emitted by the sun interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field.
  1. A large chunk of ice that forms in the atmosphere and falls to the ground.
  1. The study of past earthquakes, volcanoes, and other geological events that combines the analysis of both physical evidence and the myths and legends related to the events.

Today’s Challenge: “Over the Rainbow”
What are some songs that talk about weather either literally or figuratively? What would you argue is the single best weather-related song?  Brainstorm a list of songs that deal with weather, and select your favorite.   Make your argument by explaining what makes the song great and by explaining how the lyrics reflect the weather, either literally or figuratively. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

For example, in the Beatles song “Good Day Sunshine” the sunny weather parallels the sunny disposition of the singer who is happily in love:

Good day sunshine, good day sunshine, good day sunshine

I need to laugh and when the sun is out

I’ve got something I can laugh about

I feel good in a special way

I’m in love and it’s a sunny day

Quotation of the Day: Weather forecast for tonight:  dark.  -George Carlin

Answers: 1. season creep 2. weather tourist 3. weather bomb 4. tornado bait 5. gigantic jet 6. space weather 7. megacryometeor 8.geomythology

 

1 – Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006.

2 – Funk, Wilfred. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. New York:Grosset & Dunlap, 1950.

3 – http://www.wordspy.com/index/Science-Weather.asp—-

 

August 23:  Invictus Day

On this day in 1849, poet, critic, and editor William Ernest Hendley was born. Suffering from tuberculosis since he was 12, Henley was frequently hospitalized.  In 1875 his leg was amputated due to complications from the disease.  That same year as he recovered from his surgery, he wrote his best known poem Invictus (Latin for “unconquerable”) (1).

The poem’s brilliance revolves around its expression of the indomitable human spirit.  Also, the poem’s generalized statements of human anguish –“bludgeonings of chance,” “fell clutch of circumstance” — make it applicable to all manner of human struggles.

One example of the poem’s influence comes from the life of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013).  While imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years, Mandela frequently recited the poem to buoy the spirits of his fellow prisoners.  

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,   
 Black as the Pit from pole to pole,   
I thank whatever gods may be   
 For my unconquerable soul.   
  
In the fell clutch of circumstance
 I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
 My head is bloody, but unbowed.   
  
Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
 Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years   
 Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   
  
It matters not how strait the gate,   
 How charged with punishments the scroll,   
I am the master of my fate:
 I am the captain of my soul.

A short poem like Invictus is perfect for memorization.  As Mandela demonstrated, it is the kind of poem that can lift your spirits or the spirits of your compatriots when courage is needed to face what Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

In his essay “Why We Should Memorize,” Novelist and poet Brad Leithauer talks about a bygone era (from 1875 to 1950) when the memorization and recitation of poetry was a staple of the curriculums of both Britain and the United States:

The rationales for verse recitation were many and sometimes mutually contradictory: to foster a lifelong love of literature; to preserve the finest accomplishments in the language down the generations; to boost self-confidence through a mastery of elocution; to help purge the idioms and accents of lower-class speech; to strengthen the brain through exercise; and so forth.

Leithaurer hopes for a revival of memorization, a process where students literally learn poems “by heart”:

The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen. [N.Y.U Professor Catherine] Robson puts the point succinctly: “If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.” (2)

Today’s Challenge:  I Am the Master of the Poem
What are the keys to effective memorization and recitation of poetry?  What process would you use to learn a poem by heart?  Begin the process of memorizing Invictus.  Read and reread the poem.  Read it aloud.  Write the poem down.  Break the poem down into smaller parts.  Then, memorize it line by line and stanza by stanza.  Decide what key words you want to emphasize and experiment with reciting it using different tones.  Finally, use the words of the poem to inspire your goal of memorizing the poem.  Don’t give up!

Quotation of the Day:  Sure I am this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us. -Winston Churchill

 

1-http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/william-ernest-henley

2- Leithauer, Brad.  “Why We Should Memorize.”  The New Yorker.  25 Jan. 2013.

August 22:  Fahrenheit 451 Day

Today is the birthday of Ray Bradbury, the American writer best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was born in Illinois in 1920 and later moved to Los Angeles where he graduated high school in 1938. After high school he educated himself, spending long hours roaming the stacks in the public library.

Cover shows a drawing of a man, who appears to be made of newspaper and is engulfed in flames, standing on top of some books. His right arm is down and holding what appears to be a paper fireman's hat while his left arm is wiping sweat from the brow of his bowed head. Beside the title and author's name in large text, there is a small caption in the upper left-hand corner that reads, "Wonderful stories by the author of The Golden Apples of the Sun".He began writing full time in 1943, publishing a number of short stories in various periodicals. His first success came in 1950 when he published The Martian Chronicles, a novel made up of a number of his short stories about the human colonization of Mars (1).

On October 19, 1953, he published his most popular and critically acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451, a story about a dark future in which books are illegal, and instead of putting out fires, firemen answer calls to burn illegal caches of books. The main character is one of these firemen, Guy Montag. Instead of reading, the general public immerse themselves in pleasure, watching television screens that take up three of the four walls in their homes and listening to seashell radios that fit in their ears. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984, Guy Montag begins to question his job and the entire status quo of the society in which he lives. He begins to become curious about the books he’s burning. However, Montag’s curiosity and his books betray him, and the firemen one day arrive to burn his home and his books.

Montag flees the city and comes upon a group of educated but homeless men who each memorize a great work of literature or philosophy. When the time comes to return to the city and rebuild civilization from the ashes of burned books, these men will be ready to play their part. Montag will join them with his book, Ecclesiastes.

Bradbury published over 30 books, almost 600 short stories, as well as a number of poems, essays, and plays. Along with Fahrenheit 451, his most read book, his short stories are published in numerous anthologies and textbooks.

Fahrenheit 451 began as a short story called “The Fireman” published in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine in 1950. Bradbury’s publisher then asked him to expand the story into a novel in 1953. The first draft of the novel was completed in a typing room located in the basement of the University of California Library. The typewriter was on a timer connected to a change slot. For one dime Bradbury got thirty minutes of typing. (He spent $9.80 to complete the first draft).

When he wasn’t typing furiously against the clock, Bradbury would go upstairs to explore the library:

There I strolled, lost in love, down the corridors, and through the stacks, touching books, pulling volumes out, turning pages, thrusting volumes back, drowning in all the good stuffs that are the essence of the libraries. What a place, don’t you agree, to write a novel about burning books in the Future.

Bradbury had more than just a love affair with books. For him they were the backbone of civilization as illustrated by a statement he made in an interview published in the 50th Anniversary Edition of Fahrenheit 451:

Let’s imagine there’s an earthquake tomorrow in the average university town. If only two buildings remained intact at the end of the earthquake, what would they have to be in order to rebuild everything that had been lost? Number one would be the medical building, because you need that to help people survive, to heal injuries and sickness. The other building would be the library. All the other buildings are contained in that one. People could go into the library and get all the books they needed in literature or social economics or politics or engineering and take the books out on the lawn and sit down and read. Reading is at the center of our lives. The library is our brain. Without the library, you have no civilization (2).

It’s no wonder that one of Bradbury’s most famous quotes is: There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.

Today’s Challenge: On Fire for a Book
Near the end of Fahrenheit 451, the main character Montag finds himself among a group of people who each memorize a forbidden book.  Each person becomes the keeper of the book, preserving the book for future generations.  If you found yourself in a society that banned books, what single book would you select to memorize, and what makes that book so special?  Brainstorm some titles of important books that should always remain alive in the hearts and minds of readers.  Select a single book that you would commit to memory, and write an explanation of what the book is about and what makes that book important and special? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little. –Ray Bradbury

Answers: 1. teem 2. cacophony 3. tactile 4. litterateur 5. oblivion 6. verbiage 7. filigree 8. cadence 9. scythe 10. olfactory

1- About Ray Bradbury

2 – Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. The 50th Anniversary Edition. New York: Random House.

 

August 21:  Hawaii 5-0 Day

Today is the anniversary of the date that Hawaii became the fiftieth state of the Union. President Dwight D. Eisenhower presided over a White House ceremony welcoming the Aloha State on August 21, 1959. The following is an excerpt from the New York Times story on Hawaii statehood:

Hawaii Becomes the 50th State; New Flag Shown

Washington, Aug. 21, 1959 — Hawaii was officially proclaimed as the fiftieth state of the United States today by President Eisenhower at bipartisan White House ceremonies.

The Presidential action was followed immediately by the unfurling of a new fifty-star flag, which will not become official until next July 4. The thirteen alternate red and white stripes remain unchanged, but the stars on a field of blue are arranged in nine alternate staggered rows of six and five stars each.

The President welcomed the new state along with Alaska, admitted earlier this year. Not since 1912, when Arizona and New Mexico were added to the Union, had any new states been admitted (1).

Known as the Aloha State, Hawaii consists of a chain of 122 volcanic islands, but only seven are populated:

Hawaii (the Big Island)

Maui (the Valley Isle)

Lanai (the Pineapple Isle)

Molokai (the Friendly Isle)

Kauai (the Garden Isle)

Niihau (the Forbidden Island)

Oahu (the Gathering Place)

The state capital is Honolulu on the island of Oahu, which is also its largest city (2).

Today’s Challenge:  The Best of Fifty

What single U.S. state, besides the one in which you reside, would you most like to visit?  What makes it attractive as a destination?  Brainstorm a lists of the states you would like to visit.  Select the one you think is the most attractive destination.  Do a bit of research to find some details about the state that go beyond the obvious.  Then, write at least 50 words in which you persuade the audience that the state you have chosen is the state that everyone must visit.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quote of the Day: It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English — up to fifty words used in correct context – no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese. –Carl Sagan

1 –http://gohawaii.about.com/od/hawaiianhistory3/a/admission_day.htm

2 – Hawaii Visitors and Conventions Bureau

 

August 20:  Going Postal Day

On this date in 1986, Patrick Henry Sherrill, a disgruntled postal worker, opened fire on his co-workers at a post office in Oklahoma City. Before he committed suicide, he killed 14 people. This terrible incident along with a string of such incidents involving postal workers over the next seven years, led to coinage of the phrase to go postal.

The U.S. Postal Service was understandably unhappy when this usage began gaining currency in the language. In response to this public relations nightmare they created an independent commission to assess workplace violence in 1998. The Associated Press reported its findings:

The commission found that postal workers were no more likely to resort to workplace violence than workers in other jobs. It found 0.26 workplace homicides per 100,000 postal workers from 1992 to 1998. By comparison the rate was 2.10 per 100,000 for retail workers, 1.66 in public administration, 1.32 for transportation and 0.50 for private delivery services (2).

It seems that the final fifteen years of the millennium could be called “The Age of Rage.” As chronicled in the book Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture, the phrase road rage, meaning “extreme anger exhibited by a motorist in response to perceived injustices committed by other drivers,” began to appear in a few media stories in 1988. In the years that followed, the phrase became more and more common. The statistics below show the number of stories containing the phrase road rage that appeared each year:

1988-1993: 4

1994: 10

1995: 200

1996: 900

1997: 2,000 (1)

Expressions relating to angry, crazed behavior are nothing new in English. The expression to go berserk entered the language in the 19th century, but its roots go back much farther. Berserk is from Old Norse meaning “bear shirt.” It describes the Viking tactic of putting on bearskins and attacking and pillaging the enemy in a furious, crazed rage. British author Sir Walter Scott introduced the word into English in his 1822 novel The Pirate, and by 1940 it was being used in its present form to describe “crackpot behavior” (3).

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Millennium

Besides going postal and road rage, other forms of rage have made it into print, according to Paul McFedries in his book Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture. All the examples below appeared in the 1990s, where rage was clearly all the rage. Given a clue, see if you can identify the specific rage:

  1. Rage that resulted when proper etiquette was not followed, especially on greens and fairways.
  1. Rage at 20,000 feet.
  1. Rage directed at noisy audience members at a musical performance.
  1. Rage directed at doctors, nurses, and HMOs.
  1. Rage directed at pedestrians or cyclists.
  1. Rage at sporting events, directed at other fans or the coaches or players of the opposing team.
  1. Rage caused by the perceived commercialization of the Internet.
  1. Rage directed at colleagues or bosses.

Today’s Challenge:  Write A Rant
Writing is a great way to work out your problems and to blow off steam.  It also allows you to express your passion while working through and thinking about what’s bothering you.  What are things that you think are worth complaining about, the hassles of life that frustrate you?  Brainstorm a long list of things to complain about.  Then, pick one complaint you feel passionately about.  Write your rant, expressing your passion but also explaining the reasons behind your frustrations in concrete terms so that you audience can understand them. Don’t just tell what frustrates you; show it. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae. –Kurt Vonnegut

Answers: 1. golf rage 2. air rage 3. concert rage 4. patient rage 5. sidewalk rage 6. sports rage or sideline rage 7. dot.com rage 8. work rage (or desk rage)

1 – Paul McFedries. Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.

2 – Talley, Tim. 20 years later, survivors recall terror of US postal massacre.

Associated Press. 19 August 2006.

3 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

August 19:  Post-it Note Day

Today is the birthday of Arthur Fry, the inventor of the Post-it note.  Fry was born in Minnesota on this day in 1931.

Fry’s idea for the Post-it note was born in 1973.  At his job as a new product developer at 3M, Fry attended a presentation by a colleague named Spencer Silver.  Silver’s talk was on an weak adhesive he had developed, a seemingly useless invention — a glue that didn’t stick.

Later when Fry was singing in his church choir, he had the epiphany that brought the Post-it note to life.  To mark the pages of his hymnbook, Fry used slips of paper.  When he opened the hymnbook to a marked page and the bookmark fell out, he got his million-dollar idea.  Applying some of Silver’s adhesive to the bookmark, Fry discovered that not only did the bookmark stay in place, it also could be removed without damaging any pages of the hymnal.  

Later, when he wrote some notes to his boss on his new invention, Fry realized it had more uses than just as a bookmark.

Post-it notes went on the market for the first time in 1980, and today Post-it notes and Post-it related products are sold in over 100 countries worldwide (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Post-it Pitch
What are some possible uses for a Post-it note?  Brainstorm as many ideas as you can, trying for a wide range of ideas.  Follow Fry’s example by thinking out of the box. Where others saw just a glue that wouldn’t stick, Fry saw useful innovation.  After you have generated at least twenty ideas, select your best single idea and write your pitch on one or more Post-it notes.  If you’re working with others, have a contest to see which ideas are the best. (Common Core Writing 1)

Quotation of the Day: [Post-it notes] spread like a virus. It was always a self–advertising product, because customers would put the notes on documents they sent to others, arousing the recipient’s curiosity. They would look at it, peel it off and play with it and then go out and buy a pad for themselves.  -Arthur Fry

1- Horne, Richard and Tracey Turner.  101 Things You Wish You’d Invented …and Some You Wish No One Had.  New York:  Walker & Company, 2008.

 

August 18:  CliffNotes Day

Today is the birthday of Cliff Hillegass, the founder of CliffsNotes. Working for a college bookstore in the 1930s, Hillegass developed contacts with a Toronto bookseller named Jack Cole, who published guides in Canada called “Cole’s Notes.” Years later Cole suggested to Hillegass that an American version of Cole’s Notes might be a good idea for U.S. students.

In August 1958, Hillegass took out a $4,000 loan and began CliffsNotes with his first title: Hamlet. He continued by publishing 15 more guides to Shakespeare’s plays. At the beginning, the guides were simply Cole’s Notes repackaged with a new cover: Cliff’s characteristic, and now famous, yellow and black cover.

In fact, CliffsNotes have become so popular and recognizable that they have become a part of the English language. For example, you might hear someone say, “Just give me the Cliffsnotes version,” meaning: “Give me a short summary instead of all the details.”

Hillegass never intended his guides to just summarize the classics or replace the reading of the classics. Nevertheless his work has spawned numerous imitators, to the point that test prep and reading guides have become a multi-million dollar industry. Fairtest.org estimates that the amount spent on test prep material for the SAT alone amounts to $100 million dollars annually.

Hillegass sold his business to Hungry Minds, Inc. in 1999 for $14 million dollars. However, CliffsNotes.com still carries the following message from its founder:

Cliff’s Message to Students

A thorough appreciation of literature allows no short cuts. By usingCliffsNotes responsibly, reviewing past criticism of a literary work, and examining fresh points of view, you can establish a unique connection with a work of literature and can take a more active part in a key goal of education: redefining and applying classic wisdom to current and future problems.

—Cliff Hillegass

First Impressions

The editors of CliffsNotes put together a list of the ‘Ten Titles that Every Adult Should Read.’ See if you can match each of the opening lines below with the appropriate title from the list.

  1. This is the story of Achilles’ rage.
  1. Robert Cohn was once the middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.
  1. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.
  1. 124 was spiteful.
  1. When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor ….
  1. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
  1. “Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.”
  1. “Who’s there?”

9.  Call me Ishmael.

10.  Who is John Galt?

A A Tale of Two Cities

B The Sun Also Rises

C War and Peace

D Walden

E The Sound and the Fury

F Moby Dick

G Beloved

H The Iliad

I Atlas Shrugged

J Hamlet

Today’s Challenge: Short Story, Short Version
What is your favorite published short story?  How would you summarize its key characters, plot, and theme in just a few words?  Brainstorm a list of your favorite short stories.  Then, select one, and write a CliffNotes version, summarizing the key characters, setting, conflict, resolution, and theme of the story.  Assume your reader has not read the story, but also try to write such a great summary that your reader will want to read the actual complete version.
(Common Core Writing 2)

Quotation of the Day: Don’t fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have. -Louis E. Boone

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

 

August 17:  Subjunctive Mood Day

On this date in 1929, James Thurber (1894-1961), the celebrated American cartoonist and short story writer, published an essay entitled “The Subjunctive Mood” in The New Yorker. In the essay Thurber used the context of a marital disagreement to explore the importance of maintaining the proper mood — the proper grammatical mood that is.  The essay begins as follows:

The importance of correct grammar in the home can not be over-estimated. Two young people should make sure that each is rhetorically sound before they get married, because grammatical precision, particularly in mood, is just as important as anything else. (1)

James Thurber NYWTS.jpgAn understanding of mood in English grammar means understanding the different ways we use verbs.  Most of the time we make statements; this is the indicative mood:  “The student arrived on time to first period.”  Sometimes we ask questions; this is the interrogative mood:  “Is there any homework tonight?”  Other times we are a bit more stern or imperious; this is the imperative mood:  “Take your seats so we can begin class.”  And finally, we sometimes use our imaginations to talk about things that are contrary to fact, such as dreams or fantasies; this is the subjunctive mood: “If I were to take that class, I’d make sure to schedule it after lunch.”

What makes the subjunctive mood tricky, however, is its strange conjugation. When using the verb to be in the subjunctive mood, the verb used is were, even when the subject is first person singular, as in the previous example:

If I were to take that class, I’d make sure to schedule it after lunch.

or the song from Fiddler on the Roof: “If I Were a Rich Man”:

If I were a rich man,

Ya ha deedle deedle, bubba bubba deedle deedle dum.

All day long I’d biddy biddy bum.

If I were a wealthy man.

Today’s Challenge:  Assume the Position
What are some examples of positions of power or authority you might aspire to, and imagining that you did assume one of those positions, what would you do once you attained it?  Write at least 100 words in the subjunctive mood about what you would do if you were in a specific position or occupation, such as “If I were the king of the world I would . . . ” or “If I were the CEO of Microsoft, I would . . ..” (Common Core Writing 2)

Quotation of the Day:  The thing is, proper use of the subjunctive—once you learn it and get over that difficult-sounding word, subjunctive, which has absolutely nothing to do with pinkeye—is one of the most easily deployed copy editing techniques that will put you in good stead with word nerds. Essentially, you’re altering a verb to reflect what is or is not fact.Jen Doll

 

1-http://grammar.about.com/od/readingsonlanguage/a/The-Subjunctive-Mood-By-James-Thurber.htm

2-http://www.thewire.com/entertainment/2012/09/if-one-were-use-subjunctive-mood-properly/56739/