August 21: Fifty 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).

On the day when American reached 50, it seems appropriate to look at things that come in 50s. A search on the Internet yielded a variety of topics related to things that come in 50:

1. 50 States: A site that provides facts about all fifty states, such as state birds, state songs, and state flags.

2. 50 Things: A site started in 1998 that discusses things that are worth saving in the new millennium.

3. My50: Allows visitors to create a list of 50 things to achieve in their lifetime.

4. 50 Things Every Guy Should Know How to Do: Celebrity and Expert Advice on Living Large: A book on

5. Fifty Word Fiction: A blog devoted to stories that are only fifty words long.

6. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover: The lyrics of the Paul Simon hit.

7. 50 Reasons to Oppose Flouridation: The Fluoride Action Network seeks to broaden public awareness about the toxicity of fluouride compounds.

8. Fifty Reasons that Golf is Better than Football and Baseball: A list by Rick Woodson of the Rochester Business Journal.

9. National Geographic Traveler’s “50 Places of a Lifetime”: A list of great places at a web site full of all kinds of different lists.

10. 50 Ways to Love Your Liver: Tips for maintaining a healthy liver.

Today’s Challenges: Three for Fifty

Challenge 1: Write a 50-Word Abstract
Writing a summary to an exact word count is an excellent exercise in revision. Select a news or magazine article of interest, and write a summary of the article’s key points in 48-50 words — that’s no less than 48 words and no more than 50! Don’t try to go for an exact word count on your first draft; instead, wait until you have a draft to work with. Revise your draft so that every word counts. Use varied sentences and transitions to connect your ideas and sentences.

Challenge 2: List of 50
Look at the 10 links provided in this post that have to do with 50s. Use them for inspiration to create your own list of 50: 50 reasons, 50 ways, 50 best, 50 worst, 50 things, 50 anything.

Challenge 3: First 50
This is a creative writing exercise inspired by Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones. Pick a topic and start writing. Just write, don’t judge, edit, or stop. Get at least 50 words down on paper before you look back at what you have written. You might do it with a friend or group of friends. Pick a common topic, write, and compare your compositions. If you are really ambitious, select one topic for each letter of the alphabet and create an Encyclopedia of Fifty-Word Topics. For more on this technique, see the First 50 Words website.

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 –

2 – Aloha State Day. Those Were the Days.

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).

Today’s Challenge: 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.
2. Rage at 20,000 feet.

3. Rage directed at noisy audience members at a musical performance.

4. Rage directed at doctors, nurses, and HMOs.

5. Rage directed at pedestrians or cyclists.

6. Rage at sporting events, directed at other fans or the coaches or players of the opposing team.
7. Rage caused by the perceived commercialization of the Internet.

8. Rage directed at colleagues or bosses.

Quote 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. 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. 19August 2006.

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

August 19: Royal “We” Day

On this day in 1588, Elizabeth I addressed her land forces at Tilbury, England.  Knowing that the Spanish Armada was poised to attack, Elizabeth’s purpose was to inspire her troops to protect their homeland from imminent attack.

Elizabeth’s speech is a masterful example effective rhetoric, and one specific aspect — her use of pronouns — is especially worth noting.  She opens her speech using the royal “we,” also known as the majestic plural.  This is the use of a plural pronouns by a single person, usually a person of high rank, such as a monarch or pope.

Constance Hale, author of Sin and Syntax, explains the background of the royal “we”:

The origin of this pronoun has been traced variously to 1169, when the English king Henry II used it to mean “God and I,” and to King Richard I, whose use of the pronoun bolstered his claim to be acting in concert with the deity and to be the ruler by divine right. A more recent example of the royal we would be Queen Victoria’s oft- quoted “We are not amused.”

The genius of Elizabeth is her shift from the royal “we” to the singular pronoun I.  In doing this she speaks both as the Queen of England and as a woman willing to stand among the people and join them by taking arms against a common foe.

My loving people

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain,or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you on a word of a prince, they shall be duly paid. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over these enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.

Today’s Challenge:  Read and watch Elizabeth’s speech and evaluate its rhetorical effectiveness.  Besides its use of pronouns, what makes her speech effective?

Quotation of the Day:  Over time, the “royal we” has made its way from the mouths of Queen Victoria and Margaret Thatcher into our writing. At best, it seems a crutch, while at worst it’s an assumed arrogance. —Jeremy Gordon

August 18: CiffsNotes 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 books seller named Jack Cole, who published guides in Canada called “Cole’s Notes.” Years later Cole suggested to Hillegrass 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 an 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 to replace the reading of the great literature. Nevertheless his work has spawned numerous imitators, to the point that test prep and reading guides have become a multi-million dollar industry. 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, still carries the following message from its founder:

Cliff’s Message to Students
A thorough appreciation of literature allows no short cuts. By using CliffsNotes 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

Today’s Challenge: 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.

2. Robert Cohn was once the middleweight boxing champion of Princeton.

3. Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.

4. 124 was spiteful.

5. When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor ….

6. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

7. “Well, Prince, so Genoa and Lucca are now just family estates of the Buonapartes.”

8. “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

Quotation of the Day: If you are not reading and thinking, it means that your windows looking to the ocean are closed! –Mehmet Murat ildan


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

August 16: Mononym Day

On this date in 1977, Elvis died of cardiac arrhythmia at Graceland, his home in Memphis, Tennessee.  Born Elvis Aaron Presley in Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1935, Elvis rose from humble beginnings to become one of the most successful recording artists of all time as well as one of the most prominent cultural icons of the 20th century.

Of course, one of the key indicators of achieving status as a cultural icon is becoming mononymous, that is becoming so well known that you are known by a single name or mononym.

The word is from the Greek:  mono = one + nym = word or name.

The following are some examples on mononyms:








Today’s Challenge:  Mononym-mania

Beside being recognized by a mononym, another sure sign of having achieved immortal fame is having your name listed in the dictionary.  Using a good dictionary that features pictures in its margins, open to a random page with an individual photo or picture.  See if you can identify the person featured in the image and whether or not that person is generally recognizable by his or her first name.

Quotation of the Day:  The parade of mononyms on the pop chart is getting monotonous: Beyoncé, Pink, Adele, Rihanna, Duffy, Akon, Usher, Mims, Eminem, Seal, Brandy, Joe et al. –Jon Bream

August 15: Understatement Day

On this date in 1945, after two atomic bombs had been dropped on his country, Emperor Hirohito of Japan addressed his nation in a radio broadcast.  -The speech was notable not only because it was the first time that a Japanese emperor had addressed the common people, but also because of its understatement of the situation.
In announcing Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces, Hirohito attempted to soften the blow of defeat by understating its effect, saying:
“the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage . . . .” 

Understatement is a rhetorical device use by speakers and writers to deliberately make something seem less serious than it actually is.  It may be used to soften serious matters as in the Emperor’s broadcast, or it can be used for humorous effect.  A classic example of this is in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  After confronting King Arthur and having both of his arms cut off, the Black Knight continues to taunt Arthur with the understatement, “It’s just a flesh wound!”

Today’s Challenge:  The Understatement of the Century

Generate a list of bad news stories from the past ten years.  Imagine a spokesperson trying to break the bad news utilizing understatement to soften the blow.

Example:  Payton Manning speaking to Denver Bronco fans after losing Super Bowl XLVIII to the Seattle Seahawks by a score of 43-8:  “We got down early and just ran out of time to mount a comeback.”

Quotation of the Day:  I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain. –Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye.

August 14: Macbeth Day

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1057 of the Scottish monarch Macbeth about whom Shakespeare wrote in his tragedy Macbeth. The facts of the historical Macbeth differ somewhat from the Macbeth of the Elizabethan stage, but like modern writers, Shakespeare was never one to let history get in the way of telling a good story.

Born in 1005, Macbeth rose to the thrown of Scotland by election in place of King Duncan’s 14-year old son Malcolm. Duncan was not murdered at Macbeth’s home as in the play; instead, he was killed in battle. The Macbeth of history was a Christian king who ruled for 14 years until August 14, 1057 (some sources say August 15) when he met Malcolm man-to-man in a fight to the death in a stone circle near Lumphanan. Dunsinane and Birnam Wood, locations refered to in Shakespeare’s play, were actual locations of battle; however, these battles took place earlier than 1057. At Lumphanan, Malcolm was victorious, and it was he, not Macduff, who beheaded Macbeth (1).

Shakespeare adapts history in the Tragedy of Macbeth to examine the themes of free will, fate, ambition, betrayal, good, and evil. In his play, Macbeth is transformed from war hero to serial killer after he hears the prophecies of the weird sisters. Although he is warned by his friend Banquo to disregard the witches’ words, Macbeth is unable to shake their spellbinding words. There is not a lot of subtely or subplot in Macbeth. The action is swift and bloody. Even when the action on the stage is seemingly calm, the imagery of the dialogue is full of violent, grotesque images, such as in Lady Macbeth’s plee to her husband to keep his promise to kill Duncan even though the king has honored Macbeth with a promotion and has come to their home as a guest for the night:

I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me;
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.

(Act I, scene 7, lines 58-63)

It’s probably no accident that a play about a Scottish king was written by Shakespeare during the reign of King James, the first Scottish King of England and the king whose most famous act was the commissioning of the King James Translation of the Bible, completed in 1611.

The history of the play’s production, however, is full of accidents and superstition. From the very start Macbeth aquired a reputation as a cursed play. During the first production of the play in 1606, the boy actor playing Lady Macbeth died backstage. It seems the dark and sinister events of the on-stage plot are echoed backstage. To this day superstitious actors refuse to identify the play by name, alluding to it only by the euphemism: “The Scottish Play.” (2)

Today’s Challenge: Macquotes
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most read and performed plays. See if you can identify the speaker of each of the quotes below. Here are the names of the key players to refresh your memory: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, King Duncan, Macduff, Banquo, The Porter, The Witches

1. Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand?
No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

2. Fair is foul and foul is fair.

3. And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,The instruments of darkness tell us truths…

4. There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face…

5. Is this a dagger I see before me,
The handle toward my hand?

6. Here’s a knocking, indeed! If a man were porter of hell-gate he should have old turning the key. Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ the name of Beelzebub?

7. He has no children. All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?

8. Out, damned spot! Out, I say!

Quote of the Day:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

–Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 19-28: Macbeth to himself

Answers: 1. Macbeth 2. The Witches 3. Banquo 4. King Duncan 5. Macbeth 6. The Porter
7. Macduff 8. Lady Macbeth

1 –

2 – Epstein, Norrie. The Friendly Shakespeare. New York: Winokur/Boates, 1993.

August 13: Americanisms from the 50s Day

Today is the anniversary of an article published in the show-business magazine Variety that featured a new word. The article published on August 13, 1950 used the term disc jockey for the first time in its reporting the phenomenon of New York radio hosts selecting and playing phonograph records for an eager audience of young fans of popular music. The term stuck, sometimes abbreviated as DJ or deejay. DJ is an example of an Americanism, an English word or expression that is born in the U.S.A.

The book America in So Many Words by David K. Barnhart and Allan A. Metcalf documents Americanisms from the 1600s to the end of the 20th century. For each year, the authors select a single representative Americanism that was “newly coined or newly prominent.” Looking at the words and the background of each is a reminder that every English word is like a fossil or an archeological artifact that reveals the attitudes and trends of the age in which it was coined.

The below list of Americanisms from 1949 to 1960, for example, gives interesting insights into the characteristics of post-war America; the list also foreshadows several political, cultural, social, and economic trends that would emerge in the second half of the 20th century.

1949 cool

1950 DJ

1951 rock and roll

1952 Ms.

1953 UFO

1954 Fast Food

1955 hotline

1956 brinkmanship

1957 role model

1958 Murphy’s Law

1959 software

1960 sit-in (1)

If English is the global language of the 21st century, then it is certainly American English which is the most influential variety of English. Whereas the English language of the British Empire dominated and propagated English around the world in the first half of the 20th century, American English, since the end of World War II, has exported English even farther than the Brits, via satellite and computer technology.

Even as early as 1780, John Adams envisioned this linguistic American Revolution:

English is destined to be in the next and succeeding centuries more generally the language of the world than Latin was in the last or French is in the present age. The reason of this is obvious, because the increasing population in America, and their universal connection and correspondence with all nations will, aided by the influence of England in the world, whether great or small, force their language into general use.

One aspect that characterizes the American variety of English is its brevity. Americanisms are typically single syllable words or at least single syllable compounds. Americanisms include a variety of classifications that produce words that are short and sweet: Americanisms are clipped words (such as fan from fanatic), blends (such as motel from motor + hotel), abbreviations (such as Ms. from mistress), initialisms (such as UFO from Unidentified Flying Object), and acronyms (such as AWOL from absent without leave).

In fact, even the word acronym is an Americanism that emerged from the government and military build-up of World War II to give Americans a way to compress multiple word expressions into easy-to-communicate small packages. This Americanism uses Greek roots: acro- meaning top, peak, or initial and -nym meaning name. Using the intial letters of words, acronyms condense names, titles, or phrases into single words, such as radar for radio detection and ranging.

Today’s Challenge: Born in the U.S.A.
Given the number of letters and a brief definition, see if you can identify the Americanisms below. None are more than four letters long

1. Three-letter word in response to someone stating the obvious.

2. A three-letter clipped word that emerged from rap music and its performers’ desire for respect.

3. Two-letter initialism that reflects the American faith in the ability to measure anything, including the quality of a person’s gray matter.

4. A three-letter clipped word that refers to any liquid, especially a sticky one.

5. A frequently used two-letter initialism with two different meanings. The first came out of the world of technology; the second meaning came out of the multicultural movement.

6. A two-letter initialism that refers to American soldiers.

7. A four-letter acronym that evolved from the Civil War to refer to soldiers who fled the battlefield or their assigned posts.

8. A three-letter initialism that reflects the American tendency to live life at a fast pace and to get things done in a hurry.

Quote of the Day: Thus the American, on his linguistic side, likes to make his language as he goes along, and not all the hard work of his grammar teachers can hold the business back. A novelty loses nothing by the fact that it is a novelty; it rather gains something, and particularly if it meets the national fancy for the terse, the vivid, and, above all, the bold and imaginative. —H. L. Mencken

1. duh (1963) 2. dis (1986) 3. IQ (1916) [intelligence quotient] 4. goo (1902) 5. PC (1990) [personal computer; politically correct] 6. GI (1917) [See Word Daze June 22 GI Day 7. AWOL [absent without leave] (1863) 8. P.D.Q [Pretty Darn Quick] (1875)

1- Barnhart, David K. and Alla A. Metcalf. America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

2 – Algeo, John. “Americans are Ruining English.” Language Myth #21. Do You Speek American? PBS.

August 12: Fifty Words Day

On this date in 1960, Green Eggs and Ham was published by Dr. Seuss (pen name of Theodor Seuss Geisel).  One of the most popular children’s books of all time, Green Eggs and Ham was written on a $50 bet between Seuss and his editor, Bennett Cerf.  After Seuss wrote his popular book The Cat in the Hat using a mere 225 words, Cerf challenged Seuss to write a book using only 50 words.

In the 1950s debate swirled concerning early childhood literacy and the lack of liveliness in children’s books, such as the traditional Dick and Jane primers. Seuss’ response was to create books that captivated children as they learned to read. Combining his talent for illustration with his talent for writing, Seuss crafted great stories that brought children back the printed page again and again.

Seuss won his bet, using the following 50 words:

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you (1).

Today’s Challenge:  One Syllable Story

Can you write with short words?  Try to write your own tale with short, clear words like these.  For an added challenge try some rhyme or alliteration like Dr. Seuss.  Legend has it that before Seuss began writing The Cat in the Hat, he looked at a list of the most common words in English and selected the first two that he saw that rhymed.  You might be able to guess what they were:  cat and hat.  If you need some inspiration, check out a list of the Most Common Words in English.

Quotation of the Day:  When you speak and write, there is no law that says you have to use big words.  Short words are as good as long ones, and short, old words — like “sun” and “grass” and “home” — are best of all.  –Richard Lederer


1 –

2 -

August 11: Presidential Gaffe Day


On this date in 1984, President Ronald Reagan, known as the “great communicator,” made one of the rare gaffes of his political career. While warming up for a radio address, Reagan said:

My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.

At the time Reagan was running for re-election against Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, and the President’s faux pas resulted in a temporary dip in his poll numbers. However  Reagan won the November election and went on to continue his get-tough policy towards Russia. Ironically one of Reagan defining moments came in later comments about Russia; in 1987 he visited the Berlin Wall where he famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (1).

Some might argue that the most glaring faux pas in presidential history was committed by President William Henry Harrison. Ignoring advisers who told him to wrap up against the cold, he proceeded to give the longest ever inaugural address in history (8,445 words) and died one month later of pneumonia.

Faux pas, by the way, is translated from the French as “false step.”

Today’s Challenge: Presidential Tongue Lashings

1. Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.

2. Depends on what your definition of is is.

3. I love sports. Whenever I can, I always watch the Detroit Tigers on the radio.

4. When a great many people are unable to find work, unemployment results.

5. Comment made on September 7th: Today is Pearl Harbor Day – 47 years ago from this very day we were hit and hit hard at Pearl Harbor.

6. Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning? (2)

Quotation of the Day: A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth. 
–Michael Kinsley

Answers: 1. George W. Bush 2. Bill Clinton 3. Gerald Ford 4. Calvin Coolidge 5. George H. W. Bush 6. George W. Bush

1 – This Day In History – Presidential – August 11. The History Channel

2 – List of U.S. presidential faux-pas, gaffes, and unfortunate incidents