May 17:  Collective Noun Day

Today is the anniversary of a landmark United States Supreme Court decision that changed American Education. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, announced its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. The decision was to end the segregation of public schools and reverse the 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that established the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine. In the Plessy case, an African American named Homer Plessy was tried for his refusal to sit in a separate railroad car. Plessy v. Ferguson segregated blacks and whites in many areas of common life from water fountains to the school house. The Court’s decision in Brown started the slow march toward desegregation of American schools by stating: “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” (1).

The word segregation and desegregation share the common Latin root greg which means flock, as in people coming together in a group. Below are other words that relate to people or things coming together or, in the case of egregious, things standing out, outside of the flock.

Aggregate: A sum total or mixing together to constitute a whole (ag-, toward + greg, flock)

Congregate: To gather together into a crowd or group (con-, together + greg, flock)

Egregious: Extremely bad. Flagrant. Standing out from the group (e-, out + greg, flock)

Gregarious: Tending to live in flocks or herds; Sociable (greg, flock)

The word flock is a collective noun, which The American Heritage College Dictionary defines as, “A noun that denotes a collection of persons or things regarded as a unit.”

You run into collective nouns most often when you are talking about groups of animals, as in a pride of lions or a school or shoal of fish. In an earlier age when hunting was more common, the knowledgeable sportsman could correctly identify not only individual species but also the appropriate collective noun. In 1486, Dame Juliana Berners compiled a book of more than one hundred collective nouns called The Book of St Albans (1).

Here are some examples of collective nouns:

An array of hedgehogs, A brood of hens, A cloud of grasshoppers, A dray of squirrels, An exaltation of larks, A fall of woodcocks, A gaggle of geese (in flight: a skein of geese), A herd of deer, A leap of leopards, A mumble of moles, A nye of pheasants, A parliament of owls, A rout of wolves, A shrewdness of apes, A tittering of magpies, An unkindness of ravens, A watch of nightingales

Today’s Challenge:  Create Your Own Colony of Clever Collective Nouns

What are some different types of everyday objects or different types of people that could be labeled with some original collective nouns?  Brainstorm a list of different types of objects and different classifications of people.  Then, generate some of your own collective nouns to cleverly identify the group. Below are some examples:

A stretch of rubber bands, A squabble of siblings, A flush of toilets, A speedo of swimmers, A trip of klutzes, A ton of weightlifters, A chew of gummy worms, A keg of drunkards, A headache of homework, A crash of computers

(Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day: You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of discussion. –Plato

1 – Crutchfield, Roger S. English Vocabulary Quick Reference. Leesburg, VA: LexaDyne Publishers, Inc., 1999.

2 – Manser, Martin. The Guinness Book of Words (2nd Edition). Middlesex: Guinness Publishing Ltd, 1988.

May 16: Biographer’s Day

Today is the anniversary of the first meeting between Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the author of the landmark Dictionary of the English Language, and his biographer James Boswell (1740-1795) (See June 18:  Dictionary Day). The two men met in Davies’s London bookshop in 1763, and established a relationship that would allow Boswell to produce what is recognized as the greatest biography ever written: The Life of Samuel Johnson, published in 1791.

James Boswell of Auchinleck.jpgThe word biography derives from the Greek (bio = life + graph = writing).

A number of words feature the graph root as it relates to writing. Here are words and definitions from English Vocabulary Quick Reference by Roger S. Crutchfield (1):

Autobiography: The story of one’s life written by oneself (auto-, self)

Autograph: Written or made with one’s own hand, as a signature (auto– self)

Bibliography: A list of writings (biblio– book)

Cacography: Illegible handwriting (caco, poor)

Cryptography: The art or science of writing and deciphering secret codes (crypto, secret)

Dysgraphia: Impairment of the ability to write (dys-, impaired)

Hagiography: Biographies written about saints (hagio, holy)

Lexicography: The branch of linguistics dealing with the writing or compiling of dictionaries (lex, word)

Orthography: Correct spelling (ortho, correct)

If you are a bit behind on your reading of biography, an excellent way to get caught up is to read the book 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. As the title suggests, this excellent book features 1,000 mini-biographies that are models of concise and clear prose. In addition, the authors created what they call the BioGraph System of ranking each of the 1,000 people. To lend some objectivity to their process, they created a list of five specific criteria and awarded points in each category. For example, number one on the list is Johannes Gutenberg with a score of 21,768 and number 1,000 is Andy Warhol with 1,000 points (2).

Criteria for Inclusion in the Top 1,000 People of the Millennium:

  1. Lasting Influence 10,000
  2. Effect on the sum total of wisdom and beauty in the world: 5,000
  3. Influence on contemporaries: 5,000
  4. Singularity of contribution: 3,000
  5. Charisma: 2,000

Today’s Challenge: Biomania

Who are at least ten people whose biography or autobiography you would like to read? Brainstorm the top ten people you would like to read about in a biography or autobiography.  Then, for your top person, write a brief biography that provides background details on who the person is and why you believe they lived an influential life.  Identify at least two key general principles that can be drawn from the individual’s life and applied to helping anyone live a fuller life. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. –William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night.

1 – Crutchfield, Roger S. English Vocabulary Quick Reference. Leesburg, VA: LexaDyne Publishers, Inc., 1999.

2 – Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, and Brent Bowers. 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. New York: Kodansha International, 1998.

May 15:  Beatles Trivia Day

What do Jesus Christ, San Francisco, and a Russian spacecraft have in common? The answer is: The Beatles, who released their last album, Let It Be, in the United States on this day in 1970.

Beatitudes

The story of this odd Fab-Four related threesome begins with Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount where he issued his Beatitudes (from Latin beatitudo for ‘happiness’). These statements are found in the books of Matthew and Luke, and each begins with the word Blessed (or Happy), as in “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God.”

San Francisco

Flash forward to the West Coast in the 1950s. A group of young writers and artists attempt to rattle the conventional cages of their elders. Through self-expression and social protest, they make a name for themselves, and one of them, American writer Jack Kerouac, coins the term beat generation in 1952. As cited in Twentieth Century Words, Kerouac associated the word beat with beatitude: “Beat means beatitude, not beat up.”

Sputnik

Five years later, the Russians shock the world with the launch of the first artificial earth satellite. They call their satellite Sputnik, meaning ‘traveling companion.’ When news of the satellite’s launch on October 4, 1957 hits the newspapers, this Russian word is instantly absorbed into the English lexicon.

In 1958, San Francisco columnist Herb Caen blends the ‘beat generation’ with ‘Sputnik’ to create beatnik, a catchy term to describe young bohemians like Jack Kerouac.

Two years later across the Atlantic, a fledgling group of musicians from Liverpool, England settle on the name The Beatles. Despite John Lennon’s claim that the name came to him in a vision of a man riding on a flaming pie, it appears more likely that the name was influenced by one of John’s favorite bands, Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Looking for something catchy, they originally used Beetles, but no doubt the pun value of ‘beat’ got the better of them, influencing them to become The Beatles with an A.

Unlike Sputnik, the British band’s name did not become an instant household word. Their launch had to wait until 1963 when Beatlemania became first a British epidemic and later, in 1964, an American and worldwide pandemic (1).

In 1970, however, the world mourned as The Beatles came crashing to earth. John, Paul, George, and Ringo dissolved what was without a doubt the most popular, successful, and influential band of all time.

Even though decades have passed since the breakup of the Beatles, there is no waning of the passion for their music; for example, in the year 2000, 30 years after their breakup, The Beatles’ greatest hits CD The Beatles 1 hit number one on the Billboard Album Charts. For Beatles fans, the term Beatles trivia is a contradiction in terms. For them, reading about and listening to The Beatles is anything but a trivial pursuit. For a fan of The Beatles, knowledge about the Beatles is just as important as any other category of E.D. Hirsh’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. (See March 1: Cultural Literacy Day)

The word trivia has an interesting history in its own right that relates to its roots. Originating from the Latin trivialis, it is made up of tri meaning three and via meaning roads. What do three roads have to do with the modern sense of ‘unimportant tidbits of information’? Where else than at the crossroads would common people meet to exchange weather reports, small talk, and gossip?

Today’s Challenge:  Pursuit for the Trivial and Not So Trivial  

What are some examples of important organizations, groups, or clubs?  Brainstorm a list of groups of people that come together for a specific purpose.  It could be a musical group, a political (special interest) or religious group, a community group, or a business organization.  Select a single group, and research the group’s background, history, and purpose. Write a brief report for an audience who knows little about the organization.  Try to give them the vital details about the organization as well as some trivial details that might be interesting. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day: Why tell me why did you not treat me right? Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight! — from The Beatles’ song “I’m Looking Through You”

1- Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

May 14:  Seven Types of Sentences Day

On this day in 2004, Ronald Reagan died at his home in Bel-Air, California. Certainly much has been written about Reagan’s political career as governor of California and as the 40th president of the United States, but after his career in politics was over, Reagan accomplished something unique. On November 5, 1994, he announced to the world that he had Alzheimer’s disease, the brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills.

In a short handwritten letter, Reagan explained his desire for privacy, but also his desire to raise public awareness for the millions afflicted with Alzheimer’s. With his characteristic candor and optimism, Reagan closed the letter by saying: “I now begin the journey that will lead me into the sunset of my life. I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead” (1).

The disease is named after a pioneer in brain research, Alois Alzheimer, a German doctor who described the abnormal brain tissues of one of his patients in 1906.

The May 14, 2001 edition of Time magazine contained a cover story tracing the search for the causes and a potential cure for Alzheimer’s. One study of particular interest involved a group of more than 600 nuns. Scientist David Snowdown of the University of Kentucky began studying the nuns’ personal and medical histories looking for clues that might solve the mystery behind why some people get Alzheimer’s and others don’t.

Snowdown became interested in autobiographical essays that the nuns had written when they entered the order in their early 20s. He analyzed each essay for its idea density and grammatical complexity, and the results provided some interesting insights. Snowdown discovered that the nuns whose essays contained grammatically complex sentences were the same nuns who six or more decades later were free of any signs of Alzheimer’s. Conversely, those nuns who used relatively simple sentences were the same nuns who contracted Alzheimer’s. With the nuns’ early writing, Snowden was able to predict with 85% to 90% accuracy which nuns would have the disease 60 years later (2).

There is no evidence yet that teaching students to incorporate complex sentences into their writing will prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s in later years. However, one thing is certain, a healthy menu of intellectual pursuits, including writing, in your younger years doesn’t hurt. Another certainty is that good writers use a variety of sentences, and understanding the difference between simple sentences and complex sentences is a starting point for adding variety to your sentences.

Seven Major Sentence Types

Knowing the major types of sentence types allows writers to revise and edit their sentences, making them more varied and clear.  Below, the following seven types of sentences are explained: simple, complex, compound, compound-complex, balanced, cumulative, and periodic.  Notice that the definition given for each sentence is a Meta-Sentence, that is, the definition is written in the form of the sentence being defined. Each definition is followed by an additional example:

A simple sentence is a sentence with one independent clause — a group of words with a subject (noun), a predicate (verb), and a complete thought.

Example:  Bill completed his homework.

A compound sentence is a sentence with at least two independent clauses; often the two clauses are connected by a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS), a semicolon, or a conjunctive adverb — such as “however,” “therefore,” or “then.”

Example:  Bill completed his homework, and Jane wrote a report on penguins.

A complex sentence is a sentence that contains one independent clause and at least one dependent (adjective) clause.

Example:  Bill, who owns a dog named Huck, sat studying for his math test.

OR

If a sentence has a single independent clause and at least one dependent (adverb) clause, it is a complex sentence.

Example:  Bill was angry because his dog chewed up his homework.

A compound-complex sentence is a sentence that contains two independent clauses, and it also includes at least one dependent clause.

Example:  Although there were a lot of good things to watch on television, Bill, who always gets his work done on time, sat doing his homework.

If a sentence has two parallel independent clauses, it is a balanced sentence; if it does not have two parallel independent clauses, it is not a balanced sentence.

Example: Bill read his math book; Jane wrote her English essay.

A cumulative sentence begins with an independent clause, followed by additional modifying clauses and phrases which elaborate on the main clause.

Example: Jane is a great student even though she works two jobs after school and rarely has time to do homework.

Unlike a cumulative sentence, which has its main clause at the beginning, a sentence with its main clause at the end is a periodic sentence.

Example:  Even though she works two jobs after school and rarely has time to do homework, Jane is a great student.

Today’s Challenge:  Seven Ways to Make Sentences Sing

What are examples of the different types of sentences you can write to create sentence variety?  Write one original example of each of the different sentence types:  Simple, Complex, Compound, Compound-Complex, Balanced, Cumulative, and Periodic. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

May 13: Velcro Day

Today is the anniversary of a registered trademark that gave the world an alternative to zippers and buttons: Velcro.

One man’s annoyance can be another man’s eureka. One day, when Swiss inventor George de Mestral returned with his dog from a walk, he noticed that he and his dog were covered with cockleburrs. Instead of being annoyed, he studied the burrs under a microscope where he noted their hook-like shape.

Engineering artificial fasteners that replicated the ones he found in nature took a few years, but Mestral eventually succeeded in creating his easy to use hook and loop fastener. He registered his invention in 1958. For the name of his product, he blended two French terms: “vel” from velvet and “cro” from crochet (little hook).

Logo velcro.pngToday Velcro Industries is a successful international company, but like other successful companies, Velcro is challenged by a paradox: they want people to use their trademarked name as much as possible to promote their product; however, because the name is used so often and the product is so successful and so ubiquitous, the name of the product becomes a generic, non-capitalized word. As a result, companies like Velcro are in a constant battle to protect their trademark and in turn their bottom line. The lines are blurred even more when a word, like Google, becomes used so often that it becomes more than just a noun. No doubt the legal department at Google and the neologism department at the American Heritage Dictionary are both busy tracing the growth and development of this word.

The following statement from the Velcro website is an example of the kinds of reminders and warnings that companies put out to protect their brand names:

The goodwill and integrity which are reflective of the Velcro companies are ingrained in the VELCRO® trademark. This makes the trademark a very valuable asset to the company and to our customers who purchase the VELCRO® brand fasteners.

Many terms that we all use frequently in our everyday language were once trademarks …. All of these terms lost their distinction as trademarks because their owners allowed them to be misused by the public. That’s why the Velcro companies pay close attention to how the VELCRO® trademark is used (1).

As stated by the Velcro website, there are several brand names that were once registered trademarks, but today they have lost their capital letter and entered the dictionary and the English lexicon as generic terms, such as cellophane, escalator, and the yo-yo.  Other brands seem generic, but they legally retain their trademarks, such as Kleenex, Jet Ski, Play Dough, Popsicle, and Q-tips.

Today’s Challenge:  The Law and the Language

What are some examples of the names of specific products you might buy?  Brainstorm a large A to Z list of specific brand names of products. Then, select one of your brand names and research the history of the product and specifically the trademark history of the product’s name.  Is the product’s name a registered trademark or is it a generic term? For example, Jacuzzi is the name and registered trademark for the generic term “hot tub spas” or “whirlpool bathtubs” made by the American corporation called Jacuzzi Brands Corporation. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  . . . the average English-speaking adult knows about 40,000 words.  The number of active US trademarks is more than thirty times larger than the common English vocabulary.  -Christopher Johnson in Microstyle

1 – https://www.velcro.com/about-us/our-brand

 

May 12: Limerick Day

Today is the birthday of Edward Lear, born in 1812 in London, England. Before he was a poet, Lear was a painter, illustrating birds for such noteworthy clients as Charles Darwin.

In 1832, while on an assignment to paint animals in the Earl of Darby’s private zoo, Lear began composing humorous verse for the Earl’s grandchildren. He put his poems together in his Book of Nonsense, published in 1846.

Lear is remembered for his famous poem “The Owl and the Pussycat,” but his most noteworthy contribution to the literary world is the limerick.

Here are some limericks from his Book of Nonsense.

1.

There was an Old Man with a beard,

Who said, “It is just as I feared!–

Two Owls and a Hen,

Four Larks and a Wren,

Have all built their nests in my beard!”

10.

There was an Old Man in a tree,

Who was horribly bored by a Bee;

When they said, “Does it buzz?”

He replied, “Yes, it does! “

It’s a regular brute of a Bee!”

12.

There was a Young Lady whose chin,

Resembled the point of a pin:

So she had it made sharp,

And purchased a harp,

And played several tunes with her chin.

 

The limerick is a universally popular verse form, enjoyed by children as well as adults. Besides the fixed form of five lines, rhyming AABBA, the content of the Limerick is characteristically comical and nonsensical. Adult versions frequently feature lewd content. One other common feature is the naming of a character and geographic location in the first line.

Today’s Challenge: Literary Limerick

How might you adapt the limerick form for a modern purpose?  On Limerick Day write lots of limericks. Write one as a love note and put it on the refrigerator or write it on your child’s lunch sack. Write a limerick advertising a product that you think is worth buying. Write a limerick about your best friend, your pet, or your boss. Finally, select a favorite literary character and write a limerick about him or her.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  

The English language is a maze

You can get lost in it for days

Exploring the mother tongue

Can be lots of fun

So, read today’s post on Word Days

1-http://www.gutenberg.org/files/982/982-h/982-h.htm#2H_4_0071

May 11:  Tall Tale Day

On this day in 1720, Baron Karl Friedrich Münchhausen was born.  The German nobleman fought for the Russian Empire in two Turkish Wars.  When he retired to his German estate in 1760, he gained a reputation as a raconteur, weaving outrageous tall tales based on his experiences as a soldier, traveler, and sportsman.

Munchausen might have been forgotten by history if not for German writer Rudolf Erich Raspe who listened to the baron’s tales and adapted them in a book Baron Munchausen’s Narrative of his Marvellous Travels and Campaigns in Russia.

In Raspe’s book, the outlandish tales are narrated in first person by Munchausen.  In one story, for example, the baron recounts a near-death experience he had while bathing one day in the Mediterranean.  Startled by a giant fish swimming towards him, Munchausen curled his body into a ball and sailed into the fish’s mouth and into its stomach. Before he could figure out how to extricate himself from the fish’s belly, he felt the fish rising from the waters. A fisherman had caught the fish and was about to cut it up when he heard the baron yelling.  Freed by the fisherman, the baron ends his story by saying that ever since that day, whenever he smells fish, he becomes sick.

Throughout the years the stories that Raspe put in print have been adapted, expanded, and rewritten in numerous languages.  In 1988, Terry Gilliam of Monty Python fame made a film adaptation called The Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

In addition to being a name synonymous with tall tales, Munchausen’s name has also become well-known in the psychiatric and medical communities for a condition known as Munchausen Syndrome.

More than just telling entertaining tales, victims of Munchausen Syndrome deliberately deceive their doctors, describing false symptoms of illness and in some cases even inducing real symptoms by injecting themselves with foreign substances.

Today’s Challenge:  Munchausen Your Autobiography

What are some incidents from your life that you might exaggerate in the tradition of the tall tale?  Brainstorm a list of key incidents that you would include in your autobiography.  Select one important incident and write it as a short autobiographical anecdote based on what really happened.  Next, take that story and “munchausen” it by adding some hyperbole, drama, and outrageous embellishments. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  The raconteur knows too well that, if he investigates the truth of the matter, he is only too likely to lose his good story. Herbert Butterfield

1-Goldberg, Philip.  The Babinski Reflex. Los Angeles:  Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1990.

 

May 10:  Banned and Burned Books Day

On the evening of May 10, 1933, Students on 34 campuses across Germany gathered to burn books that were deemed “un-German.”  The book burnings were one of several of the actions the Nazi party took in the years leading up to World War II to bring German arts and culture in line with Nazi goals.

More than just spontaneous demonstrations, the book burnings were organized affairs, complete with ceremonial music and scripted statements called “fire oaths” that were read aloud as students tossed books onto bonfires.

In Berlin, where over 40,000 students and Nazi officials gathered, Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi minister of propaganda, delivered a scathing speech denouncing the decadence and moral corruption found in the unwanted books.

Any book expressing ideas that in any way ran counter to Nazi ideologies was deemed fit for incineration.  The following is a small sample of some of the authors whose books were burned: Thomas Mann, Erich Maria Remarque, Karl Marx, Bertolt Brecht, Ernest Hemingway, Jack London, Theodore Dreiser, and Helen Keller.  

Also burned on May 10th were works by the German Jewish poet Heinrich Heine, whose words foreshadowed the horror to come:  “Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people” (1).

Germany, of course, is not the only place where there have been book burnings.  In 1973, Charles McCarthy, Chairman of a school board in North Dakota had copies of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slaughterhouse-Five burned because of its “obscene language.”  Fortunately, many denounced the book burning, including the book’s author who sent a letter to McCarthy, saying the following:

I read in the newspaper that your community is mystified by the outcry from all over the country about what you have done. Well, you have discovered that Drake is a part of American civilization, and your fellow Americans can’t stand it that you have behaved in such an uncivilized way. Perhaps you will learn from this that books are sacred to free men for very good reasons and that wars have been fought against nations which hate books and burn them. If you are an American, you must allow all ideas to circulate freely in your community, not merely your own.

Each September since 1982, the American Library Association has sponsored Banned Books Week, a national campaign that promotes the freedom to read and that celebrates a diversity of ideas, even those that are unorthodox or unpopular.  Activities during the week include public readings, panel discussions, and even a teen fashion show where designers display original fashion inspired by challenged or banned books (3).

Today’s Challenge:   Only You Can Prevent Book Burning

What are some examples of books that have been banned or challenged?  Research some books that have been frequently banned or challenged.  Select one and write a report that gives a brief overview of the book and its author, along with some details on the specific context in which it was banned or challenged.

The following are examples of books that have been banned or challenged:

All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

1984 by George Orwell

The Rights of Man by Thomas Paine

The Bible

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Ulysses by James Joyce

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them. -Ray Bradbury

1 https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005852

2-http://www.lettersofnote.com/2012/03/i-am-very-real.html

3-http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/

May 9:  Turn Off the TV Day

Today is the anniversary of a memorable speech by Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to the National Association of Broadcasters. The year was 1961, and Minow did not have many good things to say about commercial television. His speech, where he called television “a vast wasteland,” sparked a national debate about the quality, or lack thereof, of television programming.

Newton Minow 2006.jpgSince Minow’s speech, television has been called the idiot box and the boob tube. Television viewers have become couch potatoes (1979), and the number of channels has grown to more than 500, but “nothing is on.”

Here’s an excerpt from Minow’s indictment:

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and loss sheet or rating book to distract you — and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And, endlessly, commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it. (1)

While Minow’s phrase “a vast wasteland” caught on, his speech certainly did not discourage the growth of television sets in American homes. In an age of reality television, satellite television, and 24-hour sports and cable news stations, television is more popular than ever.

One question that has been asked by educators since the advent of commercial television is: What is the relationship between television viewing and reading? One particularly interesting answer to this question was given by Norman Mailer in the January 23, 2005 edition of Parade Magazine. In the article, Mailer says that the one thing that he would do to change America for the better would be to get rid of television commercials. Mailer argues that the constant interruptions of commercials disrupt our children’s ability to read effectively by denying them something that is necessary for reading: concentration.

Here is an excerpt from Mailer’s Parade essay:

When children become interested in an activity, their concentration is firm—until it is interrupted. Sixty years ago, children would read for hours. Their powers of concentration developed as naturally as breathing. Good readers became very good readers, even as men and women who go in for weight-lifting will bulk up . . . . Each of the four major networks now offers 52 minutes of commercials in the three hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day. It is equal to saying that every seven, 10 or 12 minutes, our attention to what is happening on the tube is cut into by a commercial. It is as bad for most children’s shows. Soon enough, children develop a fail-safe. Since the child knows that any interesting story will soon be amputated by a kaleidoscope of toys, food, dolls, clowns, new colors and the clutter of six or seven wholly different products all following one another in 10-, 20- and 30-second spots all the way through a three-minute break, the child also comes to recognize that concentration is not one’s friend but is treacherous. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Boob Tube Best or Worst

What are some of the television programs of the past or present that you would argue represent the best and worst television programs of all time?  Brainstorm a list of the best and worst television programs of all time.  Select one program that you know well, and make your argument for why this program is either the best or worst program.  Don’t assume your audience is familiar with the program. In addition to making your argument, give some background describing the program and its genre. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Television is a new medium. It’s called a medium because nothing is well-done. –Fred Allen

1-http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/newtonminow.htm

2-http://www.parade.com/articles/editions/2005/edition_01-23-2005/featured_0

 

May 8:  Comma Day

On this day in 1884, a New York City newspaper featured a story on Irish writer Oscar Wilde (1854-1900).  The story, published in The Daily Graphic, is the source of one of the best-known quotations concerning the vagaries of English punctuation:

I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.

The source of this frequently cited Wilde quotation is an anecdote recounted by the newspaper article: Once on a trip to an English country house, Wilde was annoyed by the uncultured pronouncements of a fellow guest, who loudly proclaimed that artistic pursuits were a waste of time.  As the two shared lunch, the Philistine guest asked Wilde what he had been up to all morning. Wilde replied saying, “I’ve been very busy all morning editing my book of poems.”

The fellow guest followed up asking, “So have you made much progress?”

Wilde responded, “Yes, I took out a comma.”

“Is that all you accomplished?” the guest inquired with disbelief and disgust.  

“No, not at all,” retorted Wilde, “After careful consideration, I put the comma back.”  (1)

As the anecdote and Wilde’s quotation shows, even great writers have struggled with the most common and most vexing of all punctuation marks:  the comma.

The problem is that commas are used in so many different situations that writers become overwhelmed.  One solution to this problem is to specify each of the most frequently used applications of the comma and to name each of these applications as a distinct type of comma.

Nine Types of Commas

Introductory Comma:  A comma that separates a word or phrase at the beginning of a sentence from the sentence’s main clause:   

On a dark and stormy night, John sat in the library reading.

Coordinating (FANBOYS) Comma:  A comma that precedes a coordinating conjunction that connects two independent clauses:

John sat in the library reading, but he should have been doing his math homework.

Serial Comma (Oxford or Harvard) Comma:  A comma that is used to separate items in a series (See March 21:  Serial Comma Day):

John bought some paper clips, pencils, and rubber bands.

Adjective Comma:  A comma that separates two (coordinating) adjectives that equally modify a noun

It was a dark, stormy night in Pittsburgh.

Appositive Comma:  Twin commas that set off an appositive phrase from the rest of a sentence.  Typically, the appositive phrase comes directly after the noun it modifies:

Mary, a junior in college, hopes to get a summer job.

Adjective Clause Comma:  Twin commas that set off a restrictive adjective clause from the rest of a sentence:

Mary, who is a junior in college, hopes to get a summer job.

Subordinating Comma:  A comma that follows a dependent (adverb) clause, separating an opening dependent clause from an independent clause.

After he spent three hours reading in the library, John went to math class.

Quotation Comma:  A comma that precedes a quotation when the speaker of the quotation is introduced:

My mother always said, “Make sure you wear a warm coat.”

Participial Comma:  A comma that separates a participial phrase (or absolute phrase) from the rest of a sentence.  

Embarrassed to be wearing his Batman pajamas, Bill refused to answer the knock at the door.

Today’s Challenge: Comma, Comma, Chameleon

How many different rules are there for using commas?  What are some examples of specific times that a comma should be used in writing? Read the explanations above of Nine Types of Commas.  Then, write nine original sentences of your own, using all nine different types.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  What’s the difference between a cat and comma?

One has its claws at the end of its paws, and one is a pause at the end of a clause. -An old joke

1-http://quoteinvestigator.com/2015/10/25/comma/