December 21:  Sports Metaphor Day

On this day in 2002 President George W. Bush was meeting with his closest advisors in the Oval Office to review the evidence for the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq.  Determining whether or not Iraq had such weapons was crucial in the president’s decision on whether or not to commit U.S. forces to the invasion of Iraq.  At one point in the meeting, President Bush turned to CIA Director George Tenet, asking him how confident he was that Iraq had WMDs.  His reply was, “Don’t worry, it’s a slam dunk!”

In using a basketball metaphor, Tenet was expressing his belief that the presence of WMDs was a sure thing.  History tells us that Tenet might have been better served by selecting a different metaphor considering the fact that the eventual absence of WMDs became a huge embarrassment for the Bush administration after the U.S. invaded Iraq in March 2003.

Metaphors from sports are such a common element of our language that we forget how often we use them.  As George Tenet demonstrated with slam dunk, a term begins as sports jargon and is then adopted as a metaphor that applies to a situation outside of sports.  The metaphor then becomes an idiom (also known as a dead metaphor) as it is used by more and more people. Below are some examples of the expressions that have become idiomatic – that is they have become so integrated into the language that we forget that they originated and are associated with a specific sport:

Kickoff – football

Keep your eye on the ball – baseball

Down for the count – boxing

An end run – football

Game, set, match – tennis

Face-off – hockey

Throw in the towel – boxing

Putting on a full-court press – basketball

The inside track – horse racing

Hot hand – basketball

Today’s Challenge:  The Game of Life Metaphors

What sport do you think serves as the best metaphor or analogy for life?  What elements of that sport compare best with real life, and what lessons does the sport teach that provide wisdom for success in real life? In addition to expressions from sports that are metaphors, we also often turn to sports as a metaphor for understanding our lives, as the following quotations reveal:

In life, as in a football game, the principle to follow is:  hit the line hard. –Theodore Roosevelt

Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it. –Oprah Winfrey

Select the single sport that you think provides the best metaphor or analogy for life, and write a paragraph in which you extend the metaphor by explaining how the elements of the sport and the lessons it teaches parallel real life. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day: Basketball is like war in that offensive weapons are developed first, and it always takes a while for the defense to catch up. –Red Auerbach

1-Grothe, Mardy.  I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2008:  274.

 

 

December 20:  Polysyndeton Day

On this day in 1946, the movie It’s a Wonderful Life premiered in New York at the Globe Theatre.  Seventy years after its release, the story of how George Bailey arrived at his joyous epiphany is still one of the most popular holiday films ever made.

Its A Wonderful Life Movie Poster.jpgThe film was based on a short story by Philip Van Doren Stern called “The Greatest Gift.”  After unsuccessful attempts to get the story published, Stern mailed 200 copies of the story to friends and family during the holiday season in 1943 as a Christmas card.  After the story came to the attention of executives at RKO Pictures, they bought the rights to the story for $10,000. (1).

One rhetorically interesting aspect of the film is the dialogue of its protagonist George Bailey.  In one of film’s most famous scenes, George pleads with his antagonist, the scheming misanthrope Mr. Potter:

Just remember this, Mr. Potter: that this rabble you’re talking about, they do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community. Well, is it too much to have them work and pay and live and die in a couple of decent rooms and a bath?

Notice the intentional overuse of conjunctions here.  This rhetorical device is called polysyndeton.  The added conjunctions slow the list down, emphasizing each individual item.  The repetition of conjunctions gives the reader the feeling that things are piling up and creates a tone that is more formal than a typical list.

The film’s dialogue features polysyndeton at another dramatic point in the film.  It’s Black Tuesday, October 29, 1932, and George is trying to convince the citizens of Bedford Falls to resist the temptation to withdraw all their money from his savings and loan:

No, but you . . . you . . . you’re thinking of this place all wrong. As if I had the money back in a safe. The money’s not here. Your money’s in Joe’s house . . . right next to yours. And in the Kennedy house, and Mrs. Macklin’s house, and a hundred others.

The close cousin and opposite of polysyndeton is asyndeton, where instead of adding conjunctions to a list, a writer removes them all.  Comparing the following lists might show us why Julius Caesar chose asyndeton for his most famous proclamation:

Typical List:  I came, I saw, and I conquered.

List with Polysyndeton:  I came and I saw and I conquered.

List with Asyndeton:  I came, I saw, I conquered.

Instead of slowing down the list, as with polysyndeton, asyndeton has the effect of speeding things up.  Asyndeton also has the effect of making the list seem like it is continuing into infinity, as if there is more there than meets the eye.

Today’s Challenge:   A Monologue and a List and a Lot of Conjunctions

What is a hypothetical dramatic situation in which an individual would be unhappy with another individual or group?  Write a dramatic monologue in which a speaker expresses unhappiness with the individual or audience that he/she is addressing.  Before you begin writing, identify a hypothetical dramatic situation in which a speaker would be unhappy and who the speaker would be unhappy with, such as a teacher who is angry with a tardy student or a customer who is unhappy that the Slurpee machine at his local 7/11 is empty.  In the monologue include some lists using either polysyndeton or asyndeton for dramatic effect.  Try to capture the emotion in the voice of the character.

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  You have your own style of writing, just as you have your own style of walking and whistling and wearing your hair. -Martha Kolln

1-http://failuremag.com/feature/article/its_a_wonderful_life/P2/

 

December 19:  It Pays to Increase Your Word Power Day

On this date in 1932, the following list appeared in Time magazine under the title “The Ten Most Beautiful Words in the English Language”:

dawn, hush, lullaby, murmuring, tranquil,

mist, luminous, chimes, golden, melody

The list was compiled by author and lexicographer Wilfred J. Funk (1883-1965), who was the president of Funk & Wagnalls, the publisher of the Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary.  

Funk was a lifelong proponent of vocabulary acquisition.  From 1945 to 1965 he prepared a monthly feature for Reader’s Digest called It Pays to Increase Your Word Power.  Funk’s monthly Word Power quiz featured a collection of words united by a common theme and was one of the magazine’s most popular features.  When Funk died in 1965, his son Peter continued the feature, which became It Pays to ‘Enrich’ Your Word Power.

In 1942, Funk co-authored the book 30 Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary.  The book was a wildly popular bestseller, leading the way for the numerous vocabulary building books and programs published today (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Words to Drop on Your Foot

What are some names of some concrete nouns — words that name tangible things, the kinds of things you can drop on your foot like a baseball, a paper clip, or an apple pie?  Learning a new word opens our eyes and our mind to the world and to the ideas around us.  This is especially true when we learn a new concrete noun.  A concrete noun is a name of a specific, tangible thing.  For example, what do you call the ball at the top of a flagpole?  It’s called a truck.

As writer Natalie Goldberg explains, concrete nouns help us learn the names of the things that surround us and help to better connect us to our world:

When we know the name of something, it brings us closer to the ground.  It takes the blur out of our mind; it connects us to the earth.  If I walk down the street and see “dogwood,” “forsythia,” I feel more friendly toward the environment.  I am noticing what is around me and can name it.  It makes me more awake. (2)

Using a good dictionary, find 10 concrete nouns that you don’t know the definitions to.  Make sure that each word is a concrete noun, a tangible, specific thing that is not a proper noun.  For example, if you look up the following words, you’ll discover that each is a concrete noun that names something that is tangible enough to drop on your foot:

appaloosa, arbalest, arame, arrack

List your 10 concrete nouns in alphabetical order and follow each with its complete definition.  Do not include any (capitalized) proper nouns. (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Whenever we learn a new word, it is not just dumped into our “mental dictionary.”  Our brain creates neural connections between the new word and others relevant to our interests.  It develops new perceptions and concepts.  -Peter Funk

1- Lexicography:  Words That Sizzled. Time 11 June 1965.

2-Goldberg, Natalie.  Writing Down the Bones.

 

 

December 18:  Romance at Short Notice Day

Today is the birthday of Scottish writer Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916), better known by the pen name Saki.  Munro was born in British Burma, where his father was an Inspector General for the Indian Imperial Police. Munro later served in the Burma police force himself, but he was forced to resign after he contracted malaria.  Near the end of his life, Munro joined the British Army and served in World War I.  He was killed in 1916, shot by a German sniper in France during the Battle of the Ancre.

Hector Hugh Munro aka Saki, by E O Hoppe, 1913.jpgMunro’s writing career began as a journalist in England, but he is best known for his carefully crafted short stories.  The stories often satirized social conventions and frequently featured surprise endings.  Saki’s stories are often compared to the those of American writer O’Henry (1862-1910), which also feature endings with a surprising twist (1).

One particularly brilliant story by Saki is called “The Open Window.”  The story features a character named Framton Nuttel, who is visiting the country in hopes of finding relief for his nervous condition.  Nuttel, with letters of introduction from his sister in hand, visits the home of Mrs. Sappleton.  While waiting for Mrs. Sappleton to come down, Nuttel talks with Sappleton’s niece, a precocious fifteen-year old named Vera.  In the room where the two characters are sitting, a French window is kept open, despite the fact that it’s October.  Vera explains to Nuttel that the door is left open because Mrs. Sappleton is under the delusion that her husband and her brothers will return from hunting, despite the fact that the three men died three years ago, sinking into “a treacherous piece of bog.”

When Mrs. Sappleton arrives in the room and begins talking about the imminent return of her husband and brothers, Nuttel listens politely, but based on Vera’s explanation, he perceives his hostess as deranged.

When Mrs. Sappleton announces the return of the hunters, Nuttel turns and sees three men approaching the French doors accompanied by their hunting dog.  Thinking he is seeing ghosts, Nuttel leaps up, fleeing the house in horror.   At this point in the story, the reader realizes that Vera made up the story of the hunting tragedy simply to entertain herself.  Next, instead of explaining the trick she played on Nuttel to her aunt, she spins another tale to explain Nuttel’s odd behavior, saying that Nuttel was spooked by the dog:

He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him.  

The final line sums up Vera’s propensity for flash fiction:  “Romance at short notice was her speciality” (2).

The meaning of the word “romance” in the context in which Saki uses it does not mean romantic love.  Instead, in this context, romance relates to the long tradition of Medieval Romances, imaginative and extravagant stories of the adventures of heroic characters.  Therefore, if he were writing today, Saki probably would have written:  “Imagination at short notice was her speciality.”  

Today’s Challenge:  Short Notice, Short Fiction

What is something odd that a character might wear or carry, and why would the character wear or carry it?  Practice using your imagination at short notice.  Pick a number at random, from 1 to 7.  Then write the opening of a short story in which you, the narrator, give the backstory of why the character wears or carries the odd item.  Give the character a name, and also establish the setting of your story.

  1. A character who wears a Santa hat in May
  2. A character who wears a toga in January
  3. A character who wears earmuffs in July
  4. A character who always carries a rubber chicken
  5. A character who always carries a cheese grater
  6. A character who carries a guitar with no strings
  7. A character who carries an open umbrella when there is no chance or sign of rain

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Imagination grows by exercise, and contrary to common belief, is more powerful in the mature than in the young. –W. Somerset Maugham

1-https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saki-Scottish-writer

2-http://www.eastoftheweb.com/short-stories/UBooks/OpeWin.shtml

 

 

December 17:  Page 99 Test Day

Today is the birthday of British novelist and critic Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939).

Fordmadoxford.jpgFord is best known for his 1915 novel The Good Soldier, a novel which routinely turns up on lists of the greatest novels ever written.  The novel chronicles the lives of two seemingly perfect couples, one American and one British, who become acquainted at a German spa.  

The novel’s famous opening line, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard” is a more accurate indicator of its plot than is its title.  As events unfold, the reader discovers that the lives of these couples are not as happy as they appear.  Ford’s original title was The Saddest Story, but Ford’s publisher John Lane thought the title was a bit too dour, especially since World War I was raging in Europe at the time.  Ford, who himself had enlisted in the army, was too preoccupied to concern himself with the title.  He  later recounted how his novel came to have a somewhat incongruous title:

One day, when I was on parade, I received a final wire of appeal from Mr Lane, and the telegraph being reply-paid I seized the reply form and wrote in hasty irony: ‘Dear Lane, Why not The Good Soldier?’

In addition to being a novelist, Ford was a well known critic, and he left us with a handy method for judging a book.  The method is not to judge the book by its cover or by its opening line; instead, Ford suggested to judge a book by the quality of its writing on one specific page:

Open the book to page ninety-nine and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Putting Ford’s Test to the Test

What are the qualities you look for when judging a book?  Select a book that you have not read, and open it to page 99.  Read the page carefully, and then write a Page 99 Review based on what you have read on that page.  What do you notice about the quality of the writing?  Based on what you see on page 99 explain your verdict as to whether or not you think the book is worth reading. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it. -P.J. O’Rourke

1-https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/30/good-soldier-ford-madox-ford-100-best-novels

 

December 16:  Spelling Reform Day

On this day in 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote a letter wrote a letter to a friend explaining a recent political defeat.  Roosevelt, who won fame as a Rough Rider in the Spanish-American War and served two terms as president from 1901-1909, was not used to defeat.  He broke up monopolies, championed federal regulation of railroads, spurred conservation of natural resources, and began the construction of the Panama Canal.  As the leader of the Progressive Movement, however, there was one reform that Roosevelt could not make happen:  spelling reform.

President Roosevelt - Pach Bros.tifIn addition to being an age of reform, the 19th century was also a time when public education was being expanded and democratized in America.  Roosevelt, along with other education advocates, viewed spelling reform as a practical and economical way to improve education.  After all, English orthography is plagued with words that have more letters than necessary as well as inconsistent and capricious spelling rules.

In March 1906 the Simplified Spelling Board was founded and funded by industrialist Andrew Carnegie.  It’s mission was to reform and simplify English spelling.  

On August 27, 1906, President Roosevelt issued an executive order that 300 words from the Simplified Spelling Board’s list of revised spellings be used in all official communications of the executive department.  Some of the examples of changes are as follows:

blessed  to blest

kissed to kist

passed to past

purr to pur

though to tho

through to thru

On December  3, 1906, Roosevelt wrote his annual message to Congress using the new spelling.  He became an easy target for criticism, however, as can be seen in the following sentence from a newspaper editorial:

[Roosevelt] now assales the English langgwidg, constitutes himself as a sort of French academy, and will reform the spelling in a way tu soot himself.

On December 13, 1906, soon after it received Roosevelt’s annual message, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution rejecting the new spellings and urging that government documents be written using “the standard of orthography prescribed in generally accepted dictionaries of the English language.”

At this point Roosevelt decided to surrender.  He withdrew his executive order, and wrote a letter to his friend Brander Matthews, who was also the chairman of the Simplified Spelling Board, admitting defeat:

I could not by fighting have kept the new spelling in, and it was evidently worse than useless to go into an undignified contest when I was beaten.

Today’s Challenge:  Spelling Bee or Spelling De-bate

What are the arguments for and against spelling reform?  Should schools hold spelling bees?  Should correct spelling be a major criteria in evaluating writing?  Debates about spelling did not end in the 19th century.  Today people are still arguing about issues of spelling.  Select one of the resolutions listed below and take a side, yes or no.  Write your argument using reasons, evidence, and explanation to defend your position.

Resolved:  English spelling should be reformed

Resolved:  All students grades 1 to 7 should participate in an annual spelling bee.

Resolved:  Spelling should be weighted as a significant element in the evaluation of student writing.

(Common Core Writing 1:  Argument)

Quotation of the Day: The story of English spelling is the story of thousands of people – some well-known, most totally unknown – who left a permanent linguistic fingerprint on our orthography. –David Crystal

1-Thomas V.  Teddy Roosevelt, Rough Ride Over Spelling Rules. The Wall Street Journal 16 April 2015.

12/16 TAGS:  Roosevelt, Theodore, spelling, spelling reform, Simplified Spelling

December 15:  Trivia Day

On this day in 1979, the game Trivial Pursuit was born.  Two Canadian journalists Chris Haney and Scott Abbott were playing Scrabble when they discovered that some of the game’s pieces were missing.  Undeterred, they decided to create their own game.  It took two years to develop and market the game, but when it was released in 1981, it became wildly popular.  In 1984 more than 20 million games were sold.

The object of Trivial Pursuit is to acquire six wedge-shaped colored pieces by correctly answering trivia questions in six different categories.  Since the game’s release dozens of different editions of the game have been added, including theme-based versions, based on Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, The Beatles, and Disney.  All versions of the game follow the same pattern which is based on moving around a wheel-shaped game board and answering trivia questions in six separate categories.

In 2003 Trivial Pursuit was named to the “Games Hall of Fame” by Games magazine, and in 2008 Hasbro bought the full rights to the game for $80 million (1).

The word trivia has its origins in Latin, from trivialis, meaning three (tri) roads (via) or “crossroads.”  This probably explains the aspect of trivia being common or ordinary information, the kind of things that people would talk about when they met at the crossroads.  A related word trivium has a more academic history.  In Medieval education the trivium was the term used to represent the “three roads” or “three ways” to acquiring the first level of a classical education at university through the study of rhetoric, grammar, and logic.  The trivium would then be followed by the quadrivium (“four ways”):  arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.  The fact that the trivium made up the basic level of education and the quadrivium the advanced, is further explanation for the modern meaning of trivia as “less important matters”(2).

Today’s Challenge:  All Roads Lead to Trivia

The original Trivial Pursuit game, the “Genus” edition, classifies knowledge into the following six categories:  Geography, Entertainment, History, Literature, Science & Nature, and Sports & Leisure.  What topic do you know so well that you could create a Trivial Pursuit game based on that topic?  What six categories would you use to divide the knowledge about that topic?  Select a single topic that you know well:  a book, a movie, a television show, a sport, an author, or other general category.  Then, divide the topic into six distinctive categories.  Give each category a title, and create at least one trivia question for each of the six categories.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge. -Stephen Hawking

1-http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bl_trivia_pursuit.htm

2 –http://www.word-detective.com/052206B.html#trivia

 

December 14:  Eulogy Day

On this day in 1799 George Washington died at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia.  Funeral memorials were held in major U.S. cities , and throughout the world people were saddened by Washington’s death.  In France, for example, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered ten days of mourning for America’s great leader and Founding Father.

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpgFollowing Washington’s death, the Sixth Congress commissioned Henry Lee, the father of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee, to write a eulogy.  Having served under Washington as a major general in the Continental Army, Lee was a logical choice (1).

Written in the elaborate and elevated prose characteristic of the 18th century, Lee demonstrates mastery of parallelism as he praises his comrade in arms:

First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and enduring scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. To his equals he was condescending, to his inferiors kind, and to the dear object of his affections exemplarily tender; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. His last scene comported with the whole tenor of his life—although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and with undisturbed serenity he closed his well spent life. Such was the man America has lost—such was the man for whom our nation mourns (2).

Today’s Challenge:  A Word of Praise Before You Go

The word eulogy is from Greek meaning “praise.”  Although we normally associate eulogies with funerals, eulogies can also praise a person who is still alive.  Who is someone who is alive today that you think deserves sincere praise?  Write a eulogy for a living person.  Identify specifically the positive traits of this person with specific examples of what makes the person so special.  Whether or not the person is someone you have met, make it clear to the audience why this person means so much to you. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The promulgation of his fixed resolution stopped the anxious wishes of an affectionate people from adding a third unanimous testimonial of their unabated confidence in the man so long enthroned in their hearts. When before was affection like this exhibited on earth? Turn over the records of ancient Greece ; review the annals of mighty Rome ; examine the volumes of modern Europe – you search in vain. America and her Washington only afford the dignified exemplification. -Henry Lee on Washington

1-http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/first-in-war-first-in-peace-and-first-in-the-hearts-of-his-countrymen/

2-Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997: 169.

 

December 13:  Concession Day

On this day in 2000 one of the closest and most contentious presidential elections in U. S. history ended when Vice President Al Gore gave a speech conceding the presidency to George W. Bush.  The day before, the United States Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore ended voting recounts in the state of Florida and effectively awarded the election to Bush.  Although Gore won the plurality of the popular vote, he lost the election when Florida’s 25 electoral votes were awarded to Bush.

Thus, on December 13, 2000, more than a month after Americans had cast their votes, Gore gave his concession speech:

Now the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken. Let there be no doubt, while I strongly disagree with the court’s decision, I accept it. I accept the finality of this outcome which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College. And tonight, for the sake of our unity of the people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession (1).

As Gore demonstrated in his speech, sometimes a politician has to admit defeat.  That does not mean, however, that the person is a failure.  After leaving public service, Gore gained prominence as an author and an environmental activist, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work in combating climate change.

In argumentation, instead of being an admission of defeat, a concession is an admission that a portion of an opposing argument is true.  Inexperienced writers often see concession as a weakness, but experienced writers know it is a powerful method for establishing common ground.

When a concession is carefully and clearly framed, it shows the audience that you have carefully considered both sides of the argument.  By clearly addressing the opposing views and showing that you understand them fully, you can better neutralize them by combining them with arguments that support your thesis.

Imagine for example that a police officer pulls over two drivers for speeding.  The first driver argues as follows:

“Officer, I wasn’t speeding and should not get a ticket.”

In contrast, the second driver states the following:

“Officer, I probably was going too fast, but if you look at my driving record, you’ll see that I’m a safe driver.”  

Which of the two drivers do think has the best chance of getting off with a warning?  If this were a bet, you probably would put your money on the second driver.  He understands that making a concession is not admitting defeat; instead, a concession is a valuable move, requiring that you give a little ground to gain a lot.

Today’s Challenge:  Comparison, Contrast, and Concession

Given two items in a category to debate, how might you include a concession in your argument?  Write a comparison and contrast paragraph in which you argue for the merits of one thing over the other.  Include a concession in your argument, acknowledging at least one of the merits of the opposition side.  Select one of the topics below, or come up with your own:

Seasons:  Summer or Winter?

Pets:  Cat or Dog?

Sports to watch:  Football or Baseball?

Sports to play:  Team or Individual?

Continents to Visit:  Europe or Australia?

Sci-Fi:  Star Wars or Star Trek?

Movie Genres:  Action or Comedy?

Political Parties:  Republican or Democrat?

Political Philosophies:  Capitalism or Socialism?

Books:  Fiction or Nonfiction?

Bands:  Beatles or Rolling Stones

Presidents:  Lincoln or F.D.R?

NBA Franchises:  Celtics or Lakers?

Fast Food Franchises:  McDonalds or KFC?

As you write make sure that you make a strong claim for your side of the argument while at the same time conceding a strength of the opposition’s side.  Use the templates below to help you frame your concession:

People who argue X are correct when they say that _______________; however, a more important point is _________________________________.

Admittedly it is true that _____________________________________, but it does not necessarily follow that _______________________________________.

Although it is true that _____________________, I believe __________________ because __________________________________________.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  . . . one way to get people to agree with you is to agree with them — tactically, that is.  Agreeing up front does not mean giving up the argument.  Instead, use your opponent’s points to get what you want.  Practice rhetorical jujitsu by using your opponent’s own moves to throw him off balance.  -Jay Heinrichs

1-http://www.authentichistory.com/1993-2000/3-2000election/3-dispute/20001213_VP_Gore_Concession.html

 

December 12:  Doublespeak Day

Today is the birthday of linguist William D. Lutz, who was born in Wisconsin in 1940.  Lutz has dedicated his life to combating doublespeak, language that is ambiguous or intentionally obscure or distorted.  Lutz defines doublespeak as,

. . . language that pretends to communicate but really doesn’t.  It is language that makes the bad seem good, the negative appear positive, the unpleasant appear attractive or at least tolerable. . . . It is language that conceals or prevents thought; rather than extending thought, doublespeak limits it. . . .

In his 1989 book Doublespeak, Lutz defines four categories of doublespeak, to illustrate how it is “designed to alter our perception of reality and corrupt our thinking.”

The first kind is euphemism, where “an inoffensive or positive word or phrase [is] used to avoid a harsh, unpleasant, or distasteful reality.”  Certainly we use euphemisms appropriately when we are sensitive to the connotations of words and to the sensitivity of others.  For example, instead of saying, “I’m sorry your father is dead,” we say, “I’m sorry your father passed away.”  When euphemisms are used to intentionally mislead, however, they are classified as doublespeak.  For example, in 1984 the U.S. State Department wanted to avoid any discussion of government-sanctioned “killings” in its annual report on human rights, so it substituted the euphemistic phrase “unlawful or arbitrary deprivation of life.”

The second kind of doublespeak is jargon, “the specialized language of a trade, profession, or similar group, such as doctors, lawyers [or] engineers . . .“  Jargon is useful and appropriate as a kind of verbal shorthand when used among the members of a profession.  However, it is inappropriate when it is “used not to express but impress”  or when it is used to hide rather than reveal the truth.  For example, when a National Airlines 727 crashed in 1978, killing three passengers, the airline covered up the tragedy with jargon, calling it an “involuntary conversion of a 727.”

The third kind of doublespeak is gobbledygook or bureaucratese, “piling on words, or overwhelming the audience with words, the bigger the words and the longer the sentences the better.”  One example of this comes from Jesse Moore, a NASA official, who said the following when he was asked to assess the shuttle program after the Challenger disaster in 1986:  

I think our performance in terms of the liftoff performance and in terms of the orbital performance, we knew more about the envelope we were operating under, and we have been pretty accurately staying in that.  And so I would say the performance has not by design drastically improved.  I think we have been able to characterize the performance more as a function of our launch experience as opposed to it improving as a function of time.

The fourth kind of doublespeak is inflated language, using words “to make the ordinary seem extraordinary; to make everyday things seem impressive . . . .”  Inflated language is especially prevalent in the language of advertising.  At Starbucks, for example, you can’t buy a small, medium, or large coffee; instead, to  make these common categories sound more impressive they are called tall, grande, venti, and trenta.  Likewise car dealerships do not sell “used cars”; instead, these cars are called “certified pre-owned automobiles” (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Add Some Air to Your Ad

How do companies use language to inflate claims about the value of their products?  Sometimes products contain disclaimers, warning consumers about the dangers of using them improperly.  More and more, however, companies are writing “claimers,” using inflated language and hyperbole to tout the amazing ways in which their product will transform the life of the purchaser.  Have some fun with doublespeak by writing an advertisement for a product using exaggerated, inflated language to make the product seem too good to be true. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

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 spurting out ink. . . . Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. -George Orwell in “Politics and the English Language”

1-Lutz, William.  Doublespeak.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1989.