July 31:  Harry Potter Day

Today is the birthday of the literary character Harry Potter and Harry’s creator, J.K. (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Book Cover.jpgThe British author was born on July 31, 1965. The idea of a story about boy wizard came to Rowling one day on a long train ride from Manchester to London in the Summer of 1990.

At her website, Rowling recounts the day Harry was born in her imagination:

. . . I was travelling back to London on my own on a crowded train, and the idea for Harry Potter simply fell into my head.

I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one…

I did not have a functioning pen with me, but I do think that this was probably a good thing. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.

Perhaps, if I had slowed down the ideas to capture them on paper, I might have stifled some of them (although sometimes I do wonder, idly, how much of what I imagined on that journey I had forgotten by the time I actually got my hands on a pen). I began to write ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ that very evening, although those first few pages bear no resemblance to anything in the finished book. (1)

It took seven years for Rowling to bring Harry Potter to life in a published book. After rejections from several publishers, Bloomsbury Children’s Books published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in June 1997.

After the publication of Philosopher’s Stone, success and awards came fast for Rowling. She sold the American rights to her books to Scholastic Books, and quit her job teaching French to write full time.  When published in the United States, the title was changed from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because publishers felt that Sorcerer’s Stone would be more suggestive of magic, whereas Philosopher’s Stone was more suggestive of togas.

Sales of the seven books in the series have reached unprecedented numbers with  more than 400 million copies sold.

In 2003, Rowling achieved the rare distinction of having one of her coined words added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) — a very rare achievement for a living author.

The word is muggle, defined as:

A person who possesses no magical powers. Hence in allusive and extended uses: a person who lacks a particular skill or skills, or who is regarded as inferior in some way.

The editors of the OED had little choice but to include the word in the dictionary after considering the seemingly universal popularity of Rowling’s books and the fact that the word was being used everyday by people all over the world. A similar feat was accomplished by J.R.R. Tolkien when the OED included his word “hobbit” in the 1976 edition of the OED. Tolkien, however, had died before seeing his word in the dictionary (2).

Seven Spellbinding Roots

The made-up language of spells in J. K. Rowling’s books is not a totally random creation. Hidden in the spells are word parts that resemble familiar Latin and Greek roots:

  1. Wingardium Leviosa!  Root: LEV – To Raise Up Common Words: lever, elevator, levee, elevate
  1. Locomotor Mortis!  Root: LOCO – Place Common Words: locomotive, locate, dislocate, allocate
  1. Expelliarmus!  Root: PEL To Push – Common Words: propel, expel, repel, compel
  1. Lumos!  Root: LUM – Light  Common Words: illuminate, lucid, bioluminescence, elucidate
  1. Fidelus! Root: FID -Trust  Common Words: confide, confidence, fidelity, infidel
  1. Expecto Patronus!  Root: PATR – Father Common Words: paternal, patron, patronize, patriot
  1. Finite incantatem!  Root: FIN – End or Limit Common Words: infinite, define, affinity, infinitesimal (3)

Today’s Challenge: I Put a Spell on You

What fictional character do you think special enough to warrant a birthday celebration?  What makes this character so special, and what kind of things might be done to truly honor his or her birth and fictional life?  Brainstorm a list of fictional characters that are so distinctive that although they are fictional they seem to be as real as any person who ever lived.  Select the one you like the best and write a proclamation honoring the character’s “birth” and “life” as well as suggesting what kind of unique activities might be appropriate to celebrate the character’s birthday. (Common Core Writing 2)

Quote of the Day: The book is really about the power of the imagination. What Harry is learning to do is to develop his full potential. Wizardry is just the analogy I use. –J. K. Rowling

 

1-http://www.jkrowling.com/en_GB/#/timeline/it-all-started/

2 – ‘Muggle’ Goes Into Oxford English Dictionary. BBC Newsround 24 March 2003.

3 – Resource Room: Free-spirited Structured Multisensory Learning. Reading Comprehension. Vocabulary words parts index (Greek and Latin Roots)

 

 

 

July 30:  Paperback Day

Today is the anniversary of the publication of the first modern paperback books. On July 30, 1935, Penguin Books issued its first 10 paperback titles.

Penguin logo.svgPenguin owes its success to a German publisher, Tachnitz, which had been publishing paperbound books in a variety of languages, including English, as early as 1845. In 1931 an English language offshoot of Tachnitz was established in London. Wanting a name for the company that could be understood in a variety of languages, the German company selected the name Albatross Books.

Albatross had early success in selling English books, but when the Nazis seized the company’s presses in Germany, the company failed.

The brief success of Albatross was noted by Allan Lane, the president of England’s Bodley Head Publishing House. Lane approached the head buyers of F.W. Woolworth, a chain of retail stores, with the idea of publishing ten literary titles in paperback in the Woolworth stores at a cost of sixpence each, about the same price as a pack of cigarettes. Imitating the Albatross model, Allan called his company Penguin Books.

Lane’s plan doesn’t sound very radical today, but in the 1930s books were sold in bookstores, not retails stores. In addition, the 10 titles Lane proposed were considered too highbrow for the lower classes, the main buyers of paperbacks.

Here are the titles and authors of the first Penguin paperbacks:

  1. The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie
  2. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L Sayers
  3. Gone to Earth, Mary Webb
  4. William, E. H. Young
  5. Carnival, Compton Mackenzie
  6. Poet’s Pub, Eric Linklater
  7. Madame Claire, Susan Ertz
  8. A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway
  9. Twenty-five, Beverley Nichols
  10. Ariel, Andre Maurois

The conventional wisdom of the publishing world was wrong, however, and Lane’s plan was a rousing success. Paperbacks became all the rage in England. By the end of the year over 3 million books had been sold, and by 1937, Penguin paperbacks were being sold from vending machines at train stations.

Making books less expensive has certainly done much to spread the cause of literacy.  Another excellent feature of the inexpensive paperback is that it can be given away and enjoyed by others.  In April 2001 a website was created to encourage book sharing.  The site is called Bookcrossing.com founded by Ron Hornbaker. Taking the idea of PhotoTag.org, a site that tracks disposable cameras, and WheresGeorge.com, which tracks U.S. currency, Hornbaker had the idea of creating a site where readers could register a book and then deposit it in some public place: a park bench, a laundromat, or a coffee shop. The Bookcrossing.com website provides an ID number for each book and a registration card that can be attached to the inside cover of the book. The card briefly explains the Bookcrossing mission and directs finders of books to the online journal page of the website where they can document where and how they found the book and, if they read it, what they thought of the book.

To date, nearly half a million people have become bookcrossers. The practice has become so popular that it has been added as a word in the August 2004 edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary:

bookcrossing n. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.

To date, the two most popular books at Bookcrossing.com both have over 50,000 registrations:

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Caution – Bookcrossing
What one book do you think everyone should read?  What makes that book so special?  Write your own literary message in a bottle. Imagine you are writing a note that would be placed on the inside cover of your favorite book.  Write the note to invite and to entice the finder to take the book home and to take the time to read it.

Quote of the Day: A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold. –Henry Miller

 

1 – http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/first-penguin-paperbacks

2-  Bookcrossing website

July 29:  Defeat of the Spanish Armada Day

Today is the anniversary of Britain’s victorious sea battle against Spain’s “Invincible Armada” in 1588. At the time England was a small, insignificant island nation while Spain was the richest, most powerful empire in the world.

The conflict between the two countries was political as well as religious. Elizabeth, the Protestant Queen of England, had encouraged the activities of British pirates who plundered Spanish ships returning from the New World. The Catholic king of Spain, Phillip II, had had enough of the Protestant upstarts of England and dispatched his fleet of more than 100 ships to invade the British.

On July 29, 1588 the Armada reached sight of the English shore and confronted the much smaller British fleet. Sea battles raged on and off until August. Although the English were the smaller force, they used superior tactics to outmaneuver the Spanish; in addition, terrible rain and wind prevented the Spanish from reaching the English shore. By the time the Armada turned around to return to Spain, nearly half of its ships had been destroyed (1).

Before the British victory over the Spanish Armada had been sealed, Elizabeth courageously left her palace in London to travel to Tilbury in Essex, England to address her assembled troops. Her tenacious refusal to be defeated by the Spanish foreshadows Winston Churchill’s similar refusal to yield to the Germans more than 350 years later.  Her speech was short but powerful.  Notice how in the opening lines of the speech she switches quickly from the royal “we” to the first person “I.”

My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves 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 but of a weak and 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 in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. 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 those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people (2)

The astonishing and decisive victory by the British over the Spanish Armada is one of the key turning points in history. It prevented the extinction of Protestantism in England and also prevented the end of the Reformation in Europe. It gave birth to the nationalism of the British Empire and opened the door to British exploration of the world, especially North America. Linguistically it meant that English, not Spanish, would survive on the British Isles and eventually become the global language it is today (3).

Imagine how different it would have been if Shakespeare, who began writing his plays in London in 1589, would have written in Spanish rather than English.

Today’s Challenge:  The Queen’s Speech
How do effective speakers combine reason, emotion, and credibility to make their point and motivate their audience?  Carefully read Elizabeth’s famous speech at Tilbury, and write an analysis in which you identify what makes it effective.  Consider important elements such as the speaker, the subject, the audience, the purpose, and the occasion.  Also consider her use of logos (logic), pathos (emotion), and pathos (credibility). (Common Core Speaking and Listening 3)

Quotation of the Day: Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. –Sun-tzu

 

1 – Coffin, Judith G., Robert C. Stacey, Robert E. Lerner, and Standish Meacham. Western Civilization, Volume 2. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002.

2 – The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th Edition. Vol 1, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1993. ISBN. 0393962873

3 – http://www.microsoft.com/uk/homepc/articles/battles.asp

4 – Reader’s Digest Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1983.

 

 

July 28: Near Synonym Day

Today is the anniversary of the debut of the first cartoon featuring Bugs Bunny. On July 28, 1940, Warner Brothers released the animated short A Wild Hare in technicolor. The cartoon did not identify Bugs by name — that would come later — but it did premiere his catchphrase “What’s up Doc?” and his nemesis Elmer Fudd (1).

Coincidentally, it is also the birthday of Beatrix Potter, born in London in 1866.

Potter had few playmates as a child, but she did have a menagerie of pets that included a tortoise, a frog, a snake, and a rabbit. A shy, quiet girl, Potter sketched, painted, and kept a journal in which she wrote in a secret code she invented. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was published in 1902. She published numerous other animal tales, but Peter Rabbit remains the most popular (2).

All this talk about rabbits brings up the question: what is the difference between a rabbit and a hare? Well, according to Bernice Randall’s book When Is a Pig a Hog?, a hare is larger than a rabbit, with longer ears and legs; another difference is that hares live in the open, among rocks and thickets, while rabbits live in burrows.

Many words in English feature these kinds of fine distinctions, especially since English has more synonyms than any other language. This expansive lexicon is a blessing for writers, but it also demands attention to detail, since there are few truly synonymous words — that is words that can be used interchangeably regardless of context.

For example, the words lectern and podium appear to have no significant difference in meaning, but subtle distinctions in each word’s definition make them near-synonyms rather than true synonyms. A lectern refers to a stand that a speaker might use for holding notes, but it also refers to a slanted-top reading desk in a church from which the scriptures are read. Like lectern, podium is used for a speaker’s stand, but it also refers to a low platform upon which a speaker or conductor might stand.

The Tortoise and the Hare or The Turtle and the Rabbit?

In English, there is a menagerie of near-synonyms. Read the definitions below from When Is a Pig a Hog? See if you can identify which of the two animals listed fits the definition more closely.

  1. This domesticated member of the camel family is prized for its long, silky brown or black wool. Llama or Alpaca?
  1. A domesticated ass. Donkey or Mule?
  1. An immature swine weighing less than 120 pounds. Pig or Hog?
  1. A torpedo-shaped, small-toothed whale with a blunt snout. Dolphin or Porpoise?
  1. A leaping amphibian with smooth and moist skin, able to live on either land or water. Frog or Toad?
  1. A reptile with a soft body and hard shell that lives in the water, especially the sea. Turtle or Tortoise?
  1. A large, flesh-eating lizard-like reptile that is more aggressive than its counterpart; it also has a longer and more pointed snout, and its closed mouth shows teeth. Alligator or Crocodile?
  1. An amphibian, not a reptile, with soft, moist skin and no claws. Lizard or Salamander? (3)

Today’s Challenge:  Find the Fine Distinctions
What are some examples of pairs of words that are used interchangeably, such as “boat” or “ship”? Although the words are used interchangeably, what are the subtle differences between the two words?  Careful readers and writers pay attention to the fine distinctions among similar words.  For example, a boat is smaller than a ship, and a ship, unlike a boat is not powered by oars. Furthermore, a ship carries people or goods across deep water over long distances.

Select two of the words from the list below, or a closely related pair of your own.  Then, research, using a good dictionary, the definitions of both words.  Write an explanatory paragraph that gives the definitions for both words, including a clear explanation of what makes your two words different.  Your goal should be to provide your reader with a clear understanding of the similarities and differences between the two words and how the words might be used in different contexts. (Common Core Writing 2)

homicide and murder

burglary and robbery

slander and libel

abbreviation and acronym

monologue and soliloquy

myth and legend

story and narrative

novel and novella

diary and journal

Quotation of the Day:  What’s the difference between a fanatic and a zealot?  A zealot can’t change his mind. A fanatic can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject. –Winston Churchill

Answers: 1. Alpaca 2. Donkey 3. Pig 4. Porpoise 5. Frog 6. Turtle 7. Crocodile 8. Salamander

 

1 – Hunter, Matthew. “The Old Grey Hare: A History of Bugs Bunny.”

2- www.peterrabbit.com

3 – Randall, Bernice. When Is a Pig a Hog?: A Guide to Confoundingly Related English Words. New York: Galahad Books, 1991.

July 27: SMOG Day

Today is the anniversary of the coinage of the word smog. On July 27, 1905 the London Globe reported: “At a meeting of the Public Health Congress Dr. Des Voeux did a public service in coining a new word for the London fog, which was referred to as smog, a compound of smoke and fog” (1). Smog is just one example of a class of English words know as blends (a.k.a. portmanteau words), such as spork (spoon + fork), or brunch (breakfast + lunch).

The London fog of Dickens and Hollywood was certainly less romantic than it appeared. The major culprit of the city’s dark fog was burning coal; it seems appropriate that a physician would be the one to appear on the scene to name the culprit and to try to clear it up.

When it comes to writing, there is another kind of SMOG know as the Simple Measure Of Gobbledygook. This type of SMOG, an acronym, is a test of a text’s readability, based on a formula devised by reading researcher G. Harry McLaughlin. McLaughlin says he designed his formula in 1969 BC [Before Computers], to give educators an easy method of calculating the grade level of a given text.

The readability formula works like this: First, select three, 10-sentence samples from the text. Second, count the words in the text that are 3 or more syllables. Third, estimate the count’s square root, and add 3. The resulting number will correspond to the estimated grade-level of the text.

Today, in the age of computers, you can use the SMOG Formula online by simply cutting and pasting your text. This passage, for example, comes in at 11.02 on the SMOG Index.

The final word in the SMOG acronym, gobbledygook refers to more than just multisyllabic words. It means unintelligible language, especially jargon or bureaucratese.

The word was coined by Texas lawyer and Democratic Congressman Maury Maverick. He created the word in 1944 when referring to the obscure, smoggy language used by his colleagues. To craft his metaphor, Maverick turned to the turkey since the bird is “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity.”

It should be noted that word origins ran in the Maverick family. Maury’s grandfather was Samuel Maverick, the Texas rancher who became famous and eponymous for his unconventional practice of not branding his cattle. Of course today a maverick is anyone who stands outside the crowd, or herd, defying the status quo (3).

One organization defying SMOG is the Plain English Campaign based in New Mills, Derbyshire, England. Their stated mission is to fight “for crystal-clear language and against jargon, gobbledygook and other confusing language.”

Each year the Plain English Campaign presents The Golden Bull Awards for the year’s worst examples of gobbledygook. Here is one example of a 2004 winner:

British Airways for terms and conditions

CHARGES FOR CHANGES AND CANCELLATIONS NOTE – CANCELLATIONS – BEFORE DEPARTURE FARE IS REFUNDABLE. IF COMBINING A NON-REFUNDABLE FARE WITH A REFUNDABLE FARE ONLY THE Y/C/J-CLASS HALF RETURN AMOUNT CAN BE REFUNDED. AFTER DEPARTURE FARE IS REFUNDABLE. IF COMBINING A NON-REFUNDABLE FARE WITH A REFUNDABLE FARE REFUND THE DIFFERENCE /IF ANY/BETWEEN THE FARE PAID AND THE APPLICABLE NORMAL BA ONEWAY FARE. CHANGES/UPGRADES- PERMITTED ANYTIME (4).

Below are examples given by the Plain English Campaign of sentences containing gobbledygook. Each of the three sentences is followed by a clear, concise version.  Study each sentence noticing how the three bad versions cloud meaning with gobbledygook:

  1. High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.

-Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

  1. If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.

-If you have any questions, please ring.

  1. It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information detailed opposite then complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior to its immediate return to the Council by way of the envelope provided.

-Please read the notes opposite before you fill in the form. Then send it back to us as soon as possible in the envelope provided.

Today’s Challenge:  SMOG Alert

Why do some writers write sentences clogged by gobbledygook, and more importantly, what can they do to prevent writing this way?  Write a PSA in clear, simple, forceful language that provides the audience with a clear warning against using gobbledygook as well as some specific tips on how to avoid it. (Common Core Writing 1)

Quotation of the Day: The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. -George Orwell

 

1 – Funk, Charles Earle. Thereby Hangs a Tale: Stories of Curious Word Origins. New York: HarperPerennial, 1950.

2 – McLaughlin, G. Harry. SMOG: Simple Measure of Gobbledygook.

3 – Quinion, Michael. “GOBBLEDYGOOK OR GOBBLEDEGOOK.” World Wide Words.  

4 – http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/index.html

 

 

 

July 26:  Ghoti Day  

Today is the birthday of playwright George Bernard Shaw. He was born in Dublin in 1856 and began his writing career as a journalist and theater critic in London. Eventually he began writing plays of his own, his most famous being Pygmalion (1912) — the play upon which the musical My Fair Lady is based. In 1925, Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature (1).

In addition to writing plays, Shaw was active in political causes, most notably socialism, vegetarianism, and spelling reform.

To illustrate the troubled state of English spelling, Shaw gave a famous example by fabricating a word spelled G-H-O-T-I. He said it was a new way to spell the word fish and was perfectly logical based on the spelling in existing English words:

-The gh in Ghoti was the f sound in enough.

-The o was from the i sound in women.

-The ti was from the sh sound in nation.

Clearly, argued Shaw, the spelling of words in the English alphabet had little logical relationship with the sounds of words.  It’s little wonder we have problems with spelling since we have an alphabet of twenty-six letters and a language with more than 40 sounds.  On top of that there are over 300 different ways to spell those forty-plus sounds.

Shaw’s passion for the spelling reform cause is reflected in the tone of his writing in a preface to a book by R.A. Wilson, The Miraculous Birth of Language in 1941:

Professor Wilson has shewn that it was as a reading and writing animal that Man achieved his human eminence above those who are called beasts. Well, it is I and my like who have to do the writing. I have done it professionally for the last sixty years as well as it can be done with a hopelessly inadequate alphabet devised centuries before the English language existed to record another and very different language. Even this alphabet is reduced to absurdity by a foolish orthography based on the notion that the business of spelling is to represent the origin and history of a word instead of its sound and meaning. Thus an intelligent child who is bidden to spell “debt,” and very properly spells it d-e-t, is caned for not spelling it with a “b” because Julius Caesar spelt the Latin for it with a “b” . . . .

If the introduction of an English alphabet for the English language costs a civil war, or even, as the introduction of summer time did, a world war, I shall not grudge it. The waste of war is negligible in comparison to the daily waste of trying to communicate with one another in English through an alphabet with sixteen letters missing. That must be remedied, come what may.

Shaw, like many others before and after him, failed to reform English spelling (Shaw died in 1950).  The fight for spelling reform, however, goes on even today as seen in a headline from a 2006 Associated Press article:  Puush for Simpler Speling Perzists — despiet th lak of public intrest (2).

Today’s Challenge: The Spelling List From Hell
What are examples of words in English that are difficult to spell because their pronunciation has very little correlation with their spelling?  On this 26th day of the month, create an abecedarian list of words from A-Z that are extremely difficult to spell.  To check how challenging the words on your list are, write each word phonetically and compare that to the word’s actual spelling.  For example, notice how words like psychology, chaos, colonel, and tsunami are spelled quite differently from the way they are pronounced.

Quote of the Day: You must remember that it is permissible for spelling to drive you crazy.  Spelling had this effect on Andrew Jackson, who once blew his stack while trying to write a Presidential paper.  “It’s a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word!” the President cried. -John Irving

 

1 – George Bernard Shaw. The Novel Prize in Literature 1925.

2 – http://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Puush-for-simpler-speling-perzists-despiet-lak-of-119163.php

 

July 25: Retronym Day

Two seemingly unrelated events that happened on this date, 151 years apart, merge to illuminate the endless vitality of the English language.

The first event took place on July 25, 1814 when British engineer George Stephenson demonstrated the first steam locomotive. The second event took place on July 25, 1965 at the Newport, Rhode Island Folk Music Festival. For the first time ever, Bob Dylan performed with an electric guitar.

Besides the date, these two events both deal with inventions that were later improved upon or at least altered in some significant way. The alteration was such that the name also changed. For example, the word guitar was a fairly straight forward term for a stringed instrument, but the invention of the electric guitar required that a new adjective be attached to guitar to distinguish the plugged version from the unplugged version. The new term is acoustic guitar, and it’s an example of a class of words called retronyms. The word locomotive lead to the retronym steam locomotive when electric and diesel locomotives came on the scene.

A retronym, as defined by the American Heritage Dictionary is: “A word or phrase created because an existing term that was once used alone needs to be distinguished from a term referring to a new development, as snail mail in contrast to e-mail.

The word was coined by Frank Mankiewicz, one-time press secretary for Robert F. Kennedy. He used existing Greek roots to create: retro (Greek, backwards) + nym (Greek, name).

Probably the largest collection of retronyms can be found at the website of Barry Stiefel who has cataloged 229 examples. Here are a few examples that show the variety of categories that retronyms can fall under:

politics: absolute monarchy

communications: AM radio

family: biological parent

warfare: conventional weapons

computers: corded mouse

sports: natural turf (1)

Given the name of the new idea or invention, see if you can name the retronym.

Example: Color television. Retronym: black and white television

  1. surrogate mother
  2. online journalism
  3. New Coke
  4. disposable diapers
  5. microwave oven
  6. digital camera
  7. paperback book
  8. nuclear warfare
  9. New Testament
  10. World War II

Today’s Challenge:  What’s in a Retronym?
What is an example of a word that was modified in order to distinguish an old technology or idea (‘snail mail’ or ‘acoustic guitar’) from a new technology or idea (‘email’ or ‘electric guitar’)?  Select a single retronym from the list of examples below, and write a brief explanatory history of the original term and the reasons behind the need for a retronym.  Do a bit of research to find details that go beyond the obvious to provide your audience with interesting details and evidence. (Common Core Writing 2)

absolute monarchy

bar soap

British English

broadcast television

conventional weapons

human computer

land line

Old Testament

silent movie

tap water

Quotation of the Day: This paperback is very interesting, but I find it will never replace a hardcover book – it makes a very poor doorstop.–Alfred Hitchcock

Answers: 1. birth mother 2. print journalism 3. Classic Coke 4. cloth diapers 5. conventional over 6. film camera 7. hardcover book 8. conventional warfare 9. Old Testament 10. World War I

 


 

1 – Stiefel, Barry. Retronym: Aspiring To Be The World’s Largest Collection Of English Language Retronyms (229 And Counting!)

 

 

 

July 24:  Freeze Day

Today is the anniversary of the final performance of one of the most famous comedy duos of all time: Martin and Lewis. The partnership of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis began in 1946 and continued successfully on stage, screen, and radio until their final performance together at New York’s Copacabana Club in 1956 (1).

Of course, Martin and Lewis are not the only famous duo in entertainment history. Below are just a few examples of names that for better or worse are frozen in time.

Abbott and Costello

Burns and Allen

The Captain and Tennille

Cheech and Chong

Donny and Marie

Laurel and Hardy

Lennon and McCartney

Penn and Teller

Simon and Garfunkel

Sonny and Cher

One interesting aspect of the duos above is that the order of the names is fixed and seldom altered: who ever heard of Teller and Penn or Costello and Abbott? This same phenomenon happens with word pairs in English called freezes. Freezes are “pairs of words which have been apparently frozen in a fixed order, such as bread and butter, husband and wife, knife and fork.”  These idiomatic combos are sometimes called Siamese twins or irreversible binomials. (2).

Because these three-word expressions are frozen in the language, they sometimes become idiomatic — that is they become metaphors. For example, in the sentence The quality of the school is the bread and butter of town property values, the freeze bread and butter does not refer to literal food but to anything that is a basic, essential, and sustaining element.

A less obvious example is the freeze warp and woof. It means “the underlying structure or foundation of something,” as in He foresaw great changes in the warp and woof of the nation’s economy. The expression goes back 1500s, alluding to woven fabric and its “threads that run lengthwise (warp) and crosswise (woof)” (3).

Here are ten more examples of freezes:

above and beyond

alpha and omega

apples and oranges

ball and chain

black and blue

cap and gown

ebb and flow

fine and dandy

hard and fast

law and order

Today’s Challenge:   Dynamic Duos

What duo from either fiction, myth, or history would you say is the most important or influential?  Why would you argue that your duo rates as the most influential duo ever?  Brainstorm a list of famous duos.  Try for a variety, such as duos from literature, myth, religion, history, music, film, or television.  See the list below for some examples:

Ben and Jerry

Bonnie and Clyde

Cain and Abel

Calvin and Hobbes

David and Goliath

Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde

Hall and Oates

Hansel and Gretel

Jack and Jill

Laverne and Shirley

Lewis and Clark

Laurel and Hardy

Romulus and Remus

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern

Romeo and Juliet

Simon and Garfunkel

Tippecanoe and Tyler too

Once you have settled on your single greatest duo, write your argument, giving reasons, evidence, and explanation for what makes your duo the greatest.

Quote of the Day:  All minds quote. Old and new make the warp and woof of every moment. There is no thread that is not a twist of these two strands. By necessity, by proclivity, and by delight, we all quote. -Ralph Waldo Emerson “Quotation and Originality”

 

1 – Big Bands and Big Names.

2- Aitchison, Jean. A Glossary of Language and Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

  1. Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

July 23:  Grand Slam Day

Today is the anniversary of Tiger Woods’ victory at the 2000 British Open. Woods won by shooting a record 19 under par at the course in St. Andrews, Scotland. Certainly winning a major professional golf tournament in record fashion is noteworthy, but what made Woods’ victory extraordinary was the fact that it made him, at 24 years-old, the youngest golfer ever to win all four of golf’s major championships: the British, the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the PGA.

Later when Woods won the 2001 Masters, he became the only player to win consecutive titles in all four major championships. Because he did not win all four titles in the same year, however, his accomplishment was dubbed The Tiger Slam. No player has ever won all four of the major tournaments in the same year (1).

Your first guess as to the origin of grand slam might take you to the baseball term for a bases loaded home run that scores four runs. While this is probably the most common use of the term, it actually originated in card games, bridge for example, where one side wins all thirteen tricks. It is also a prominent term in tennis, referring to the four national championships: the Australian Open, Wimbledon, the French Open, and the U.S. Open (2).

Wherever the term grand slam is used, it usually relates to superlative achievements in high stakes competition. Also, at least in the modern sense, it has come to be associated with things that come in fours. Maybe there is something magical about the number four; after all, it is the only number in the English language which when spelled out has the same number of letters as the number it represents. Look at the groups of four below, and see if you can identify the category into which all four fit.

Example: hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds. Answer: the four card suits.

  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
  2. John, Paul, George, and Ringo
  3. Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, Thing
  4. simple, complex, compound, compound-complex
  5. from want, from fear, of speech, and of worship
  6. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph
  7. Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde
  8. index, middle, ring, little
  9. fire, air, water, earth
  10. war, famine, plague, death
  11. meat, dairy, grains, fruits and vegetables
  12. Boreas, Eurus, Zephyrus, Notus
  13. Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Indian

Today’s Challenge:  Your Fantastic Four for Success

How would you complete the following?:  There are four things you need for a successful _______________ : 1) _______________, 2) ______________, 3) ______________, and 4)______________. Brainstorm several topics first.

Below are ten to get you started:

camping trip or vacation

freshman year in high school or college

job search or car purchase

basketball team or football coach

marriage or friendship

website or blog

birthday party or retirement party

career in real estate or career in

interview or resume

essay or speech

Then, identify the four ingredients of success that you want to explore.  Make sure that your four things are laid out in a parallel fashion.  For example:

Four things you need for a successful freshman year are 1) a plan to fight procrastination, 2) a focus on your long term goals, 3) a willingness to work hard, and 4) an ability to evaluate your own learning.

Notice how each of the four ingredients begins in the same way, making the four elements parallel and coherent for the reader.  Once you have this basic thesis sentence formed, explain each of the four things in detail, one at a time, using evidence and examples for each.

Quotation of the Day:  Newspapers should come in four sections: Truth, Probability, Possibility, and Lies. -Thomas Jefferson

Answers: 1. the four gospels 2. the four Beatles 3. the four members of the Fantastic Four 4. four types of sentences 5. the Four Freedoms (from F.D.R.’s famous speech) 6. the four patriarchs 7. the four ghosts in Pac-Man 8. the four fingers 9. the four ancient elements 10. the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse 11. the four food groups 12. the four winds 13 the four oceans

 

1 – Tiger Woods Wins British Open. Aired July 23, 2000 CNN Transcripts

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0007/23/sun.04.html

2 – Ammer, Christine. Southpaws and Sunday Punches and Other Sports Expressions. New York: Plum___oe Books, 1993.

 

July 22:  Syntax Sorcery Day

Today is the birthday of author Tom Robbins.  Born in North Carolina in 1932, Robbins attended college at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of Washington.  Including service in the U. S. Air Force as a meteorologist, he also worked as a journalist, radio host, and art critic. Robbins moved to La Conner, Washington, in 1970 and since that time has written eight novels.

Robbins’ best known novel is his first, Another Roadside Attraction (1971).  As explained by reviewer and Robbins fan Mike Stone, this novel, and just about everything Robbins writes, defies easy description:

Most of the people I know who are now avid Robbins readers began that life baffled and confused by his prose. I include myself in that group. But after trying and giving up and trying and giving up several times, all of the sudden something clicks and you realize that he is a literary samurai (1).

Tom Robbins.jpgProbably Robbins’ most admired gift is his ability to craft sentences.  As critic Jason Sheehan put it, other writers look up to Robbins, both literally and metaphorically:  “He’s the mountain every working writer surveys when they’re trying to put a sentence together that’s more complicated than subject-verb-predicate” (2).

As Robbins explained in an interview in 2012, when combined with care, words, phrases, and clauses can create something magical:

Certain individual words do possess more pitch, more radiance, more shazam! than others, but it’s the way words are juxtaposed with other words in a phrase or sentence that can create magic.  Perhaps literally.  The word “grammar,” like its sister word “glamour,” is actually derived from an old Scottish word that meant “sorcery.”  When we were made to diagram sentences in high school, we were unwittingly being instructed in syntax sorcery, in wizardry.  We were all enrolled at Hogwarts.  Who knew? (3)

Special insight into Robbins’ sorcery is provided by Michael Dare:

When he starts a novel, it works like this. First he writes a sentence. Then he rewrites it again and again, examining each word, making sure of its perfection, finely honing each phrase until it reverberates with the subtle texture of the infinite. Sometimes it takes hours. Sometimes an entire day is devoted to one sentence, which gets marked on and expanded upon in every possible direction until he is satisfied. Then, and only then, does he add a period (4).

Today’s Challenge:  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice
What are some examples of three-word combinations that form complete simple sentences, such as “The sun rose”?  How might you expand such a kernel sentence to make it exactly twenty words long?  Try your hand at some syntax sorcery by taking a three-word kernel sentence and expanding it in a variety of ways so that it has exactly twenty words.  Working within these constraints will force you, like Robbins, to pay careful attention to every word, phrase, and clause.  In Robbins’ words, “Challenge every single sentence for lucidity, accuracy, originality, and cadence. If it doesn’t meet the challenge, work on it until it does.”  Write at least three different 20-word expansions of your three-word kernel.

Example:

Three-word kernel:  The sun rose.

Twenty-word Sentences:

The sun, a blazing ball of fire in the sky, rose triumphantly into the welcoming arms of the patient morning.

As a single ripple glided across the lake, the run rose, bathing the scenery in hues of pink and orange.

Even though yesterday Mary dumped him and he failed both his English and math tests, today the sun still rose.

For an added challenge, try to write using some rhetorical flourishes, such as metaphors, similes, personification, alliteration, parallelism, adjectives out of order, or hyphenated modifiers.  Also try a variety of phrases, clauses, and sentence forms.  Here’s a menu from which to mix and match:

Appositive Phrase

Participial Phrase

Absolute Phrase

Adverb Clause

Adjective Clause

Periodic Sentence

Cumulative Sentence

Quotation of the day:  I love mayonnaise! I eat so much they’re gonna send me to the Mayo Clinic. I think it’s definitely a watershed food. People who don’t go for it are destined for a Miracle Whip. They don’t know what they’re missing. Actually, people ought to be aware that Miracle Whip, which isn’t real mayonnaise at all, is a crutch for people who aren’t strong enough to handle the real thing. Mayonnaise is the one product that’s better than homemade. This is an unsolicited testimonial. I always thought Cinco de Mayo was for mayonnaise. I celebrate it every year. -Tom Robbins

 

1-Stone, Mike.  Review of “Another Roadside Attraction

2-http://www.npr.org/2014/05/27/314614799/tom-robbins-takes-a-bite-out-of-life-in-peach-pie

3-http://realitysandwich.com/150587/syntax_sorcery_interview_tom_robbins/

4- Michael Dare, in “How to Write Like Tom Robbins” in The Spirit Of Writing : Classic and Contemporary Essays Celebrating the Writing Life (2001) edited by Mark Robert Waldman, p. 41.