September 4: Light Bulb Joke Day

On this date in 1882, Thomas Alva Edison pulled the switch that lit the streets of New York City for the first time.  Today we think of Edison as the inventor of the light bulb, or as it was known then “the electric lamp,” but supplying the network of electric power necessary to light all those bulbs was an even greater part of his achievement.

Although Edison had over 1,000 patents, one thing he did not invent was the light bulb joke.  These jokes are an example of a genre of joke, like knock, knock jokes, that have endless variations, covering just about any group of people imaginable.  The set-up question is always the same:  How many (name of group) does it take to change a light bulb?

The answer to the question is the punch line, which inevitably pokes fun at the target group.

For example:

How many teachers does it take to change a light bulb?

Teachers generally don’t change light bulbs, but they can make a dull one brighter.

Today’s Challenge:  The Bulbs They Are A-Changing

Joke writing, like any genre of writing, requires creative thinking and attention to structure.

Below are some sample light bulb jokes from Energy Quest, the energy education website of the California Energy Commission.  Read the jokes, and then take your own “turn” at writing some of your own light bulbous beauties.

How many telemarketers does it take to change a light bulb?  Only one, but he has to do it while you’re eating dinner.

How many procrastinators does it take to change a light bulb?  One, but he has to wait until the light is better.

How many mystery writers does it take to change light bulb? Two.  One to screw the bulb almost all the way in, and one to give a surprising twist at the end.

How many paranoids does it take to change a light bulb?  WHO WANTS TO KNOW?

Quote of the Day:  It is requisite for the relaxation of the mind that we make use, from time to time, of playful deeds and jokes.  –Thomas Aquinas


September 3: Treaty of Paris Day

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War. The treaty document was signed at the Hotel de York by David Hartley — the British Representative — and John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay, representing the colonies. In what was entitled “The Definitive Treaty of Peace Between His Britannic Majesty and the United States of America,” Britain recognized the thirteen colonies as free and independent states for the first time (1).

From the beginning of the Revolutionary War until the end, from the Declaration of Independence to the Treaty of Paris, two synonymous words were paramount in the colonists’ struggle against the British: freedom and liberty. Since the French served as midwife for American independence, it’s appropriate that one of these words is of French origin: liberty, from Old French via Latin. Freedom is of Anglo-Saxon origin.

The dictionary definitions from the American Heritage Dictionary are so similar as to be practically indistinguishable:

Freedom: The condition of being free of restraints.

Liberty: The condition of being free from restriction or control.


Today’s Challenge: Freedom’s Just Another Name for . . . Liberty
Memorable quotes don’t resonate with the reader by accident. They are crafted using stylistic devices (also known as rhetorical techniques) that make them stand out like italicized passages. The eight quotes below all refer to either freedom or liberty. Each quote also features one of the seven rhetorical techniques defined below. From the three options given for each quote, see if you can identify the most prominent rhetorical technique.

Allusion: A passing reference to a proper noun from history, the Bible, mythology, or literature.

Antithesis: Contrasting ideas used in a parallel structure in the same line or same sentence.

Irony: Saying the opposite of what is meant or expected.

Metaphor: A figurative comparison of two unrelated nouns.

Parallelism: Repetition of grammatical structures in writing.

Personification: Using human attributes to describe things.

Simile: A figurative comparison of two unrelated nouns using “like” or “as.”

1. Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth. –George Washington
Metaphor, Allusion, Parallelism

2. Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed — else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die. –Dwight D. Eisenhower
Irony, Allusion, Simile

3. Another thing: What has liberty done for us? Nothing in particular that I know of. What have we done for her? Everything. We’ve given her a home, and a good home, too. And if she knows anything, she knows it’s the first time she every struck that novelty. –Mark Twain
Parallelism, Allusion, Personification

4. Liberty, n. One of Imagination’s most precious possessions. –Ambrose Bierce
Irony, Allusion, Parallelism

5. We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people–the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world. –Herman Melville
Irony, Allusion, Parallelism

6. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. –Thomas Jefferson
Irony, Personification, Parallelism

7. Nothing brings more Pain than too much Pleasure; nothing more bondage than too much Liberty. –Benjamin Franklin
Metaphor, Antithesis, Allusion

8. As long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress. –John F. Kennedy
Metaphor, Parallelism, Antithesis (3).

Word of the Day: Revolution
This word, originally from French, emerged in the 14th century as an astronomy term referring to the movement of celestial bodies. It did not acquire a political meaning until the 1600s, where it was used to describe turnarounds in power as well as in planets. The word took on new connotations in 1987 when the song Revolution became the first Beatles song ever to be featured in a television commercial. The ad prompted Paul McCartney to say, “Songs like Revolution don’t mean a pair of sneakers, they mean Revolution” (4).

Quote of the Day: What other liberty is there worth having, if we have not freedom and peace in our minds — if our inmost and most private man is but a sour and turbid pool? –Henry David Thoreau

Answers: 1. Metaphor 2. Metaphor 3. personification 4. irony 5. allusion 6. parallelism 7. antithesis 8. Parallelism

2 – Klos, Stanley L. Treaty of Paris.
3 – The Book of American Values and Virtues (Edited by Erik A. Bruun and Robin Getzen). New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1996.
4 – Online Etymology Dictionary

September 2: Idioms of Fire Day

Today is the anniversary of the start of the Great Fire of London in the year 1666.  The fire started in a bakery and spread throughout the city, raging for four days and nights before it was extinguished.

Fire is a common word in English with many literal and figurative uses.  Many English idioms feature fire.  Idioms are expressions of two or more words that mean something different from the literal meaning of the individual words.  Here are some examples:  hold someone’s feet to the fire, play with fire, fire on all cylinders, fight fire with fire.

Today’s Challenge:  Fire Away

Brainstorm — or should we say firestorm — a list of compound words, idioms, and titles that include the word fire.

Alternative Assignments:

-Research the etymology of the word curfew.  How does it relate to fire?

-Write about a personal experience you have had with fire.

Quote of the Day:  Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.  –William Butler Yeats


September 1: Author Perseverance Day

Today is the birthday of Robert M. Pirsig who received 121 rejections for his novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Pirsig persevered, and the book he first wrote in 1968 was finally published in 1974.  Not only was the book published, it achieved cult status, selling more than four million copies.

Pirsig is not the only author to experience rejection.  J.K. Rowling received 14 rejections for her first Harry Potter book, and Stephen King received more than 30 rejections for his first novel Carrie.

Today’s Challenge:  The Write Stuff
Writing is hard work, and most writers must persevere through rejection before getting their writing published.  What’s your favorite book?  Write an acceptance letter to the author explaining why you love it so much and thanking them for all of his/her hard work.

Quote of the Day:  Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.  –Robert M. Pirsig