September 16:  Eponymous Adage Day

Today is the birthday of Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), the author of the book The Peter Principle. Peter was an education professor at the University of Southern California and the University of British Columbia, but he became famous in the field of business when he published The Peter Principle in 1969. The book is full of case histories that illustrate why every organization seems to fall short of reaching maximum productivity and profit. His explanation relates to the corporate mentality that promotes productive workers upward until they achieve positions beyond their ability to perform competently.

Peter’s insights into the organizational structures of businesses were so well-received that The Peter Principle has gone well beyond just the title of a popular book; it has entered the language as an adage, immortalizing its creator. The American Heritage Dictionary records the following definition of the Peter Principle:

The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent (1).

Laurence Peter is not alone in the world of eponymous adages (a proverbial insight that is named for a person). If you’ve ever been a victim of Murphy’s Law, for example, you know that certain rules for living have the signature of the person who first identified them.

Today’s Challenge: An Adage by Any Other Name

See if you can match up each of the eponymous adages listed below with its correct definition:

Dilbert Principle

Parkinson’s Law

Murphy’s Law

Amara’s Law

Hofstadter’s Law

Stigler’s Law of Eponymy

Ockham’s Razor

 

  1. Explanations should never multiply causes without necessity. When two explanations are offered for a phenomenon, the simplest full explanation is preferable.
  2. If anything can go wrong, it will.
  3. The most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.
  4. It [a task] always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.
  5. Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.
  6. We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
  7. No scientific discovery, not even Stigler’s law, is named after its original discoverer (2).

Quotation of the Day: A pessimist is a man who looks both ways before crossing a one-way street. –Laurence J. Peter

Answers: 1. Ockham’s Razor 2. Murphy’s Law, ascribed to Major Edward A. Murphy, Jr. 3. Dilbert Principle, coined by Scott Adams, author of the comic strip Dilbert. 4. Hofstadter’s Law, named after Douglas Hofstadter. 5. Parkinson’s Law, coined by C. Northcote Parkinson. 6. Amara’s Law, proposed by Roy Amara. 7. Stigler’s law of eponymy

1 – American Heritage Dictionary

http://www.bartleby.com/61/4/P0220400.html

 

2 – List of adages named after people

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adages_named-after_people

 

September 14: Anthem Day

On this day, “by the dawn’s light,” Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  The inspiration for Key’s great words was the British fleet’s shelling of Fort McHenry, which guarded the harbor of Baltimore, Maryland.  The year was 1814, and the war was the War of 1812.  Key watched the bombardment from an odd perspective.  An American lawyer, Key had boarded a British ship prior to the battle to negotiate the release of another American being held by the British.  Once on the ship, Key was detained by the British until the battle ended the next morning.  Thus Key’s vantage point was from the enemy’s side, as the British fleet aimed its guns at the flag flying over the American fort.

A few days after Key wrote his poem, it was published in American newspapers.  Soon people began singing the poem’s words to the tune of an English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”  The song did not become the national anthem immediately,however.  More than one hundred years later, in 1931, the U.S. Congress made it the official anthem.

Today’s Challenge:  An A+ Anthem
An anthem is a rousing, reverential song of devotion or loyalty to a group, a school, or a nation.  While the “Star-Spangled Banner” is certainly reverential, many have criticized it as a song that is difficult to sing. What would you argue would be a good alternative anthem? Identify a song that is already in existence (one that meets the definition of anthem) or compose your own original anthem.

Quotation of the Day:  

Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream;
‘Tis the Star-Spangled Banner! Oh long may it wave

(words from the 2nd stanza of “The Star-Spangled Banner)

 

September 13: Literary Hoax Day

On this day in 1956 the novel I, Libertine was published.  What makes this novel such a literary oddity is that it made the New York Times bestseller list before a single word of it had been written.

The story begins with the writer Jean Shepherd, best known as the narrator and co-writer of the film A Christmas Story.  In 1956 Shepherd hosted a late-night talk radio show in New York City.  Annoyed that bestseller lists were being influence not just by book sales but also by the number of requests for a book at bookstores, Shepherd hatched one of the great literary hoaxes in history.  Shepherd encourages his listeners to visit their local bookstores and request a book that did not exist, a novel whose title and author were totally fabricated:   I, Libertine by Frederick R. Ewing.

The plot thickened once the nonexistent book hit the bestseller list.  With the imaginary book now in demand, publisher Ian Ballantine met with Shepherd and novelist Theodore Sturgeon.  Sturgeon was hired to write the novel based on the rough plot outline provided by Shepherd.

Today’s Challenge:  Fabricated First Lines

Try your own hand at fabricated fiction.  Grab a novel that you haven’t read.  Look at the title, and then compose a captivating first sentence.  Next, grab a friend.  Read your friend your sentence along with with actual opening sentence (in no particular order) to see if your friend can tell which is the actual opening sentence.  Your goal is to pass your prose off as professional!

Quote of the Day:  My own luck has been curious all my literary life; I never could tell a lie that anyone would doubt, nor a truth that anybody would believe.  –Mark Twain

September 11: Motivational Speech Day

On this date in the year 1297, the Scottish defeated the English in The Battle of Stirling Bridge.  Heavily outnumbered by English infantry and cavalry, the Scottish army led by William Wallace and Andrew de Moray nevertheless won the battle.

In the film Braveheart, William Wallace, portrayed by Mel Gibson, gives a rousing speech to the Scottish troops.  Never having defeated the English and being heavily outnumbered, the Scottish troops are at first reluctant to fight.  After listening to Wallace’s succinct, clear, and forceful speech, however, they are moved to fight for their freedom.

Here is the speech of William Wallace from Braveheart:

“Fight and you may die. Run and you will live at least a while. And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance, to come back here as young men and tell our enemies that they may take our lives but they will never take our freedom!”

 

Quote of the Day:  Every man dies.  Not every man truly lives.  –William Wallace

 

September 10: Notorious Eponym Day

On this day in 1945, Vidkun Quisling was convicted of high treason for his collaboration with the Germans during during World War II.  A Norwegian politician, Quisling met with Hitler in April 1940, just prior to the Nazi invasion of Norway, and he was appointed Minister-President during the Nazi occupation of Norway.  After the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945, Quisling was arrested and put on trial for his treasonist activities during the war and for his collaboration with the Nazis.  After his conviction, he was executed by firing squad on October 24, 1945.  Since that time his name has become synonymous with any traitor who collaborates with enemy occupiers (1).

The word quisling is a classic example of an eponym, a word derived from a real or imaginary person. For example, the word shrapnel evolved from Henry Shrapnel, an English artillery officer who developed an exploding shell that sent out bits of metal. Most often the capitalized proper noun that refers to the specific person becomes lowercase as it is transformed into a general noun, adjective, or verb.

Today’s Challenge:  Quiz on Quisling-like Eponyms

Most eponyms have fairly positive, or at least neutral, connotations, such as sandwich, sideburns, and sequoia.  The list of eponyms below, however, have entered the language with decidedly negative connotations.  Do a bit of etymological research to see if you can discover the story and the character behind each word.

bowdlerize

chauvinism

draconian

gerrymander

lynch

narcissism

procrustean

Quotation of the Day:  There are still people in my party who believe in consensus politics.  I regard them as Quislings, as traitors.  –Margaret Thatcher

1- http://www.historyinanhour.com/2010/10/24/vidkun-quisling-the-norwegian-nazi/

 

September 9: State Motto Day

Today is the anniversary of California’s admission as the 31st state of the Union. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 caused its population to explode, and in 1849 settlers applied for admission to the Union after drafting a state constitution that prohibited slavery. Because making California a state would upset the balance of free and slave states, statehood was delayed until September 9, 1850, when the Compromise of 1850 opened the door for California statehood.

In addition to a state constitution, Californians adopted a state seal in 1849 with the motto “Eureka,” — The Greek word for “I Have Found It” — an appropriate interjection for a state whose reputation was made on gold strikes (1).

The official state motto of Missouri is Latin: Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto (“Let the Welfare of the People Be the Supreme Law”). In fact, ‘English Only’ proponents might be surprised to learn that more than half of states in the union have mottos in languages other than English.

Here are the statistics on the polyglot mottos:

Latin: 22

French: 2

Greek: 1

Hawaiian: 1

Spanish: 1

Italian: 1

Native American – Chinook: 1

Six states feature one-word mottos. Only one state, Vermont, has its state’s name in its motto, and Florida is the only state with the same motto as the United States of America: “In God We Trust.”

For a complete list of mottos with English translations visit Wikipedia (3).

Today’s Challenge: Motto Mania

Generate some new state mottos for your home state or the other 49 states.  Have a motto contest in your class or online.  They can be funny or serious, but they should all memorable; after all, they may someday be emblazoned on a license plate.

Quotation of the Day:  The Philosopher’s Motto: I came, I saw, I pondered! –Greg Curtis

The geography pages at About.com include a humor section called “New State Mottos.” See if you can match up the state with its “new” motto. When you finish, try creating some of your own mottos.

Sources:

1 – The Library of Congress. American Memory. “Today in History: August 10.”

http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/aug10.html

2 – Missouri Secretary of State’s Office

http://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/history/slogan.asp

3 – U.S. State Mottos – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_mottos

4 – New State Mottos – http://geography.about.com/library/misc/blhumor11.htm

Answers:

  1. Illinois 2. California 3. Nebraska 4. Indiana 5. Rhode Island 6. Washington 7. Iowa 8. Kansas 9. Minnesota

September 8: International Literacy Day

Today is International Literacy Day sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). First observed in 1967, International Literacy Day calls attention to the need to promote literacy and education around the world as an antidote to poverty.

According the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, more than 100 million girls and boys never enroll in school. At the minimum 860 million adults worldwide are illiterate.

Education and literacy are central to the stability, prosperity, and well-being of any country. As explained by Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General:

Literacy is not merely a cognitive skill of reading, writing and arithmetic, for literacy helps in the acquisition of learning and life skills that, when strengthened by usage and application throughout people’s lives, lead to forms of individual, community and societal development that are sustainable.

Today’s Challenge: Read All About It
Read and reflect on the the quotations below about the importance of literacy and education. Which do you like the best and why?

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.” –Frederick Douglass

“Learning to read is probably the most difficult and revolutionary thing that happens to the human brain and if you don’t believe that, watch an illiterate adult try to do it.” –John Steinbeck

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life in modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development, an essential complement to investments in roads, dams, clinics and factories. Literacy is a platform for democratization, and a vehicle for the promotion of cultural and national identity. -Kof Annan

“Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both.” –Thomas Jefferson

“One of the greatest gifts adults can give — to their offspring and to their society — is to read to children.” –Carl Sagan

True literacy is becoming an arcane art and the United States is steadily dumbing down.
-Isaac Asimov

Quote of the Day: Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. –Kofi Annan

1 – UNESCO – Education – Literacy Day – http://portal.unesco.org/education/en/ev.php-URL_ID=41537&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html

2 – http://www.literacyday.net/

3- Online Etymology Dictionary

September Seventh: Univocalic Day

A univocalic is a piece of writing where the writer may use only a single vowel. Because September Seventh has nothing but the vowel ‘e,’ it’s the perfect day to celebrate this rare but interesting writing form.

As Richard Lederer points out in his book The Word Circus, some of the longest common univocalic words use the vowel ‘e’:

strengthlessness, senselessness, defenselessness

Lederer also cites a univocalic translation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” by Paul Hellweg from Word Ways magazine:

Meg kept the wee sheep,
The sheep’s fleece resembled sleet;
Then wherever Meg went
The sheep went there next;
He went where she needed her texts,
The precedent he neglected;
The pre-teen felt deep cheer
When the sheep entered there.

But ‘e’ is not the only vowel for constructing univocalics. Dave Morice in his book Alphabet Avenue quotes a univocalic haiku by Howard Bergerson that uses only the vowel ‘i’:

The Haiku of Eyes

In twilight this spring
Girls with miniskirts will swim
In string bikinis (2).

Today’s Challenge: One Vowel Howl
Pick a vowel and make a list of words that contain only that vowel. Then, put those words together in a sentence or a Haiku in which you only use a single vowel. Here’s a famous example concerning the Ten Commandments:

Preserve these perfect tenets, men;

Ever keep these precepts ten.

Quote of the Day: Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell the name will carry. –Bill Cosby

1 – Lederer, Richard. The Word Circus. Springfield, Massachusetts, Meriam-Webster, Incorporated, 1998.

2 – Morice, Dave. Alphabet Avenue: Wordplay in the Fast Lane. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1997. September 24:  English Academy Day

September 6: Borrowed Words from French Day

Today is the birthday of Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), the French general and aristocrat who played a significant role in both the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

Lafayette argued on behalf of the American colonists, persuading King Louis XVI of France to send French troops to aid the colonists’ struggle for independence from Britain. George Washington gave him command of an army at Virginia, and he fought valiantly on the American side at both Valley Forge and Yorktown.

Lafayette returned to France in 1782. Clearly influenced by his experience in the American Revolution, he became active in French politics drafting the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” which was adopted by the National Assembly in 1789. During the French Revolution he protected the royal family from attack at Versailles, but he lost popularity in his homeland when his soldiers fired on a crowd of demonstrators who were demanding that King Louis XVI abdicate his throne. During the tumultuous revolution, he fled to Austria but returned later when Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power.

President George W. Bush, on July 24, 2002, made Lafayette an honorary citizen of the United States, making him only the sixth person ever to receive such an honor (1).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jxnTdBW3_9g

Just as the United States benefited from borrowing Lafayette from the French, so too has the English language benefited from its liberal borrowing from the French language. With the invasion of Britain in 1066, the French language took a prominent role, especially in the language of government, law, and the military. Since that time and under more peaceful circumstances, English has continued to borrow hundreds of words from French.

Below are some examples of common English words that have their origins in French:

ambulance, bastion, cache, detour, entrepreneur, faux pas, gaffe, hors d’oeuvre, lieutenant, macabre, niece, omelette, picnic, queue, raffle, souvenir, trophy, umpire, velocity, wardrobe, zigzag (2).

Today’s Challenge: Be a Borrower and a Lender
Using a good dictionary, search for other examples of English words and/or phrases with French origins.

Quote of the Day: I stand and listen to people speaking French in the stores and in the street. It’s such a pert, crisp language, elegant as ruffling taffeta. –Belva Plain

 

1 – The Teacher’s Calendar of Famous Birthdays (The Editors of McGraw Hill). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.

2 – http://www.krysstal.com/borrow_french.html

September 5: English Academy Day

On this date in 1780, John Adams wrote to the President of Congress to discuss an important linguistic issue.  Although the colonists were still at war with the English nation, Adams, with the characteristic foresight of a Founding Father, looked forward to a time when his young nation might succeed where the British failed by establishing an academy to regulate the English language:

Most of the nations of Europe have thought it necessary to establish by public authority institutions for fixing and improving their proper languages. I need not mention the academies in France, Spain, and Italy, their learned labors, nor their great success. But it is very remarkable, that although many learned and ingenious men in England have from age to age projected similar institutions for correcting and improving the English tongue, yet the government have never found time to interpose in any manner; so that to this day there is no grammar or dictionary extant of the English language which has the least public authority, and it is only very lately that a tolerable dictionary has been published even by a private person, and there is not yet a passable grammar enterprised by any individual . . . . I would therefore submit to the consideration of Congress the expediency and policy of erecting by their authority a society under the name of “The American Academy for refining, improving, and ascertaining the English language (1).

History tells us that Adams wish never came to fruition  The closest thing that American English has to an academy is the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel, a group of 200 scholars and writers who are surveyed each year to share their opinions on questions of usage and grammar (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Laying Down the Language Law
If an American English Academy were established, and you were elected its leader, what linguistic proclamation would you make concerning the speaking and/or writing of English?

Quote of the Day:  The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane. Each sentence we produce, whether we know it or not, is a mongrel mouthful of Chaucerian, Shakespearean, Miltonic, Johnsonian, Dickensian and American. Military, naval, legal, corporate, criminal, jazz, rap and ghetto discourses are mingled at every turn. The French language, like Paris, has attempted, through its Academy, to retain its purity, to fight the advancing tides of Franglais and international prefabrication. English, by comparison, is a shameless whore. –Stephen Fry

1 http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/officialamerican/johnadams/

2 http://www.ahdictionary.com/word/usagepanel.html