May 4: Variety of English Day

On this day in 1976, Australia adopted “Waltzing Matilda” as its national anthem(1).

Original Waltzing Matilda manuscript.jpgAccording to the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the official national anthem became “Advance Australia Fair” in 1984 and at various times in Australian history the nation adopted the British anthem “God Save the Queen.” However, whether or not it is the official anthem, few would argue that at the very least “Waltzing Matilda” is the unofficial anthem.

The lyrics were written by Banjo Paterson in1895. However, like many folk songs, it’s virtually impossible to document the time or place of the tune’s origin.

The song is a reflection of the unique variety of Australian English that springs from three main sources: borrowed words from the Aborigines, archaic British words, and finally words that have evolved out of the unique geography and history of the Aussies.

The British first established a penal colony at Botany Bay in 1788.  Additional British colonies were established up to 1901, when the colonies voted to unite into a single nation, independent of Britain.  In both World Wars, Australia fought on the British side. Since World War II, Australia and the United States have been strong allies.

Unlike the lyrics to the U.S. national anthem, the words to “Waltzing Matilda” are not exactly clear.  In fact, for someone unfamiliar with Australian English, the lyrics of “Waltzing Matilda” read like “Jabberwocky.” With the glossary of key terms listed below, from the National Library of Australia, you can begin to make sense of the song’s story.

Waltzing Matilda

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,

Under the shade of a coolibah tree,

And he sang as he watched and waited ’til his billy boiled

“Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda

Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me

And he sang as he watched and waited ’til his billy boiled,”

Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Along came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong,

Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,

And he sang as he stowed that jumbuck in his tucker bag,

“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda

Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me

And he sang as he stowed that jumbuck in his tucker bag,

“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?”.

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred,

Down came the troopers, one, two, three,

“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?”

“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”.

WALTZING MATILDA: The act of carrying the ‘swag’ (an alternate colloquial term is ‘humping the bluey’).

BILLABONG:  A blind channel or meander leading out from a river.

COOLIBAH:  Sometimes spelled coolabah: a species of gum or eucalyptus tree.

SWAGMAN:  An Australian tramp, so called on account of the ‘swag’, usually a chaff bag, containing his ‘billy’, provisions and blankets.

BILLY:  An open topped tin can, with a wire carrying handle, used as a kettle for boiling water into which tea was thrown.

TUCKER BAG:  A bag for ‘tucker’ or food; part of the ‘swag’.

JUMBUCK:  A sheep. The term is a corruption of ‘jump up’ (Macquarie Dictionary, 3rd rev. ed. Sydney: Macquarie, 2001)

SQUATTER:  A grazier, or station (ranch) owner. Note that the meaning of the word changed later in the twentieth century to mean a person who occupied or resided at a property illegally. (2)

Today’s Challenge: Variety is the Spice of Language

What are some examples of the subcategories or dialects of the English language?  The English language has grown to become the dominant world language through two historical movements.  First, there was the expansion of the British Empire in the 19th century. Second, there was the expansion of the United States as a world economic power in the 20th century.   Although there are more native speakers of the Chinese language than native English speakers (982 million for Chinese versus 375 million for English), there are more total speakers of the English language than any other language (1,500 million).  The next closest for total speakers is Chinese with 1,100 total speakers (2).

David Crystal’s Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, identifies eight distinct varieties (or dialects) of World Standard English:

American English

British and Irish English

Canadian English

Australian, New Zealand, and South Pacific English

East Asian English

South Asian English

West, East, and South African English

Caribbean English (3)

Research one of these varieties of English and write a brief report on what makes this variety distinctive from other forms of English.  Include some details on the variety’s historical influence and evolution as an English dialect, as well as some examples of specific words from the dialect. (Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Viewed freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all. -Walt Whitman

1 – Frewin, Anthony. The Book of Days. London: Collins, 1979.


3-Crystal, David. Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 1995.


May 3:  Will Shortz Day

On this day in 2008, Will Shortz, the crossword editor of the The New York Times, delivered the commencement address at Indiana University, his alma mater.

Will Shortz 2006.jpgShortz was born in 1952 in Indiana and attended Indiana University, studying Enigmatology, the study of puzzles. To earn his degree, Shortz had to persuade his professors that puzzles were a legitimate course of study. Once he got the go-ahead, he then designed his own curriculum. Completing his degree in 1974, Shortz is the only person in the world with a degree in the field.

In a 2016 interview with Forbes Magazine, Shortz talked about the importance of truly immersing yourself in the study of whatever career you chose:

The . . . thing is to know your field, whatever it is. I once had a summer research grant from Indiana University to study the history of puzzles at the Library of Congress. That’s where I found ‘The Enigma,’ the magazine of the National Puzzler’s League, and I read all the issues back to 1903. I also read every puzzle book and article there that I could get my hands on. I became a regular contributor to Dell puzzle magazines when I was 16 and never stopped making puzzles thereafter. So I think I understand the history, psychology, and nuts-and-bolts of my field better than anyone else.

Shortz’s studies did not go to waste. He is the former editor of Games magazine and the current director of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which he founded in 1978. In addition to his work with The New York Times, Shortz has been heard each week on National Public Radio stations since 1987, where he is known as the Puzzle-Master (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Two Letters, Many Words

How many possible two-word names, phrases, titles, or compound words can you come up using the initials of your first and last name?  Will Shortz’s initials are WS.  See if you can identify the two-word names, phrases, titles, or compound words that also have the initials WS:

  1. Major League Baseball’s Championship
  2. New York financial center
  3. He wrote Hamlet
  4. Famous for playing Captain Kirk
  5. In page layout, it’s the part of the page that’s empty
  6. You measure this for bad storms and hurricanes
  7. The Fresh Prince
  8. Kayaking, windsurfing, and wakeboarding are examples

Using the initials of your own first and last name, create your own version of the Will Shortz word game. (Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day: We try to do a Shakespeare play every year, because I feel that it provides the best tool for actor training. It’s challenging in performance and language, physicality, analytical skills, and this particular one is along the serious lines, which seemed to fit the bill in terms of the kind of genre we wanted to explore. I call this the Sunday Times Crossword Puzzle for actors. –Jack Cirillo

1 – “Will Shortz Biography.” NPR.



May 2: King James Bible Day

Today is the anniversary of the publication of what is probably the most influential work in the history of the English language, the King James translation of the Old and New Testaments, completed in 1611. Of course, one might argue that it is not one work but 66 separate books (39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament); nevertheless, the reading and proclaiming of the words from the King James Bible have made a significant impact on the words we speak today.

The title page's central text is:"THE HOLY BIBLE,Conteyning the Old Testament,AND THE NEW:Newly Translated out of the Original tongues: & with the former Translations diligently compared and revised, by his Majesties speciall Comandement.Appointed to be read in Churches.Imprinted at London by Robert Barker, Printer to the Kings most Excellent Majestie.ANNO DOM. 1611 ."At bottom is:"C. Boel fecit in Richmont.".For example, take any letter of the alphabet and think of expressions we use in print and spoken word that came to us from the King James Authorized Version. Here are just a few examples from the letter A:

Adam’s apple

Apple of one’s eye

Adam’s rib

A little lower than angels

All things are possible

All things work together for good

Alpha and omega

Am I my brother’s keeper?

A soft answer turneth away wrath

Ask, and it shall be given

For a more complete collection of words and phrases from the Bible, see the book Mene, Mene, Tekel (The handwriting is on the wall): A lively lexicon of words and phrases from the Bible (1).

In the second year of his reign, after the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, King James I ordered a new English authorized translation of the Bible. It was a time of renaissance for the spoken and written word in English as witnessed by the works of William Shakespeare, who was a contemporary of the men working on James’ translation. Over fifty scholars worked on the project, making it probably the most impressive work ever completed by a committee.

The King James Bible and the manner of speaking it influenced soon crossed the Atlantic to the New World, where in 1620 the Mayflower arrived at Plymouth to plant the seed of King James’ English in this new Promised Land.

The King James Bible was published the same year that Shakespeare began work on his last play The Tempest. In Shakespeare and the Authorized version of the Bible, we have the Yin and the Yang of the English language. Shakespeare prodigiously invented words, metaphors, and turns of phrase; his works make up a vocabulary of approximately 30,000 words. In contrast, the King James Version uses a sparse 8,000 words, a basic lexicon that could be read, spoken, and understood by common men and women.

Bard or Bible?

Read the common expressions below. Which come from the King James Bible and which are from Shakespeare’s plays?

  1. Apple of one’s eye
  2. Out of the mouth of babes
  3. There’s the rub
  4. Fallen from grace
  5. Lamb to the slaughter
  6. It’s Greek to me
  7. Through a glass, darkly
  8. To eat out of house and home
  9. Tower of strength
  10. Pearls before swine
  11. Serve God and Mammon
  12. Sings of the times
  13. Too much of a good thing
  14. Skin of the teeth
  15. Fatted calf
  16. Feet of clay
  17. Giants in the earth
  18. Gone with the wind
  19. Every inch a kind
  20. Turn the other cheek
  21. Eye for eye, tooth for tooth
  22. Den of lions
  23. Cast the first stone
  24. Paint the lily
  25. Cruel to be kind
  26. Blind leading the blind
  27. Budge an inch

According to the scholar and critic E. D. Hirsch, knowledge of the Bible is not simply an issue of religious education; it is instead an issue of literacy (see March 1: Cultural Literacy  Day).. A basic understanding and working knowledge of the Bible is essential to being literate in the English-speaking world. As Hirsch puts it:

Literate people in India, whose religious traditions are not based on the Bible but whose common language is English, must know about the Bible in order to understand English within their own country.  All educated speakers of American English need to understand what is meant when someone describes a contest as being between David and Goliath, or whether a person who has the “wisdom of Solomon” is wise or foolish . . . . Those who cannot use or understand such allusions cannot fully participate in literate English. (2)

Allusions are references to people, places, events, and things from history, mythology, religion, or literature.  The mention of an allusion doesn’t just evoke a story, it also evokes an abstract idea or universal theme. For example, if a writer makes an allusion to “Judas,” most literate readers will comprehend the reference to Judas Iscariot, the disciple who betrayed Jesus as told in the New Testament.  In addition to the story of Judas, the allusion also evokes themes related to Judas’ story, such as treachery and betrayal.

Today’s Challenge:   Tales from the Testaments

What are some examples of stories from the Bible that everyone should know — the kind of stories that are alluded to not just in religious works, but also in secular poems, novels, and nonfiction works?  Brainstorm a list of stories you think of that come from the Bible, either the Old or the New Testament.  The following are a few examples of allusions that most literate persons would be expected to recognize:

Abraham and Isaac, Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, David and Goliath, Good Samaritan, Jacob and Esau, Job, Jonah and the Whale, Lot’s wife, Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, Moses and the Exodus, Noah and the Flood, Pentecost, Pontius Pilate, Prodigal Son, Solomon, Tower of Babel

Select one allusion and paraphrase the essential elements of the story. Imagine an audience who has not heard the story before. Your purpose is to give them details concerning the story’s plot and its characters to that they will understand both the story and the meaning of the story. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  It ain’t the parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand. –Mark Twain

1 – Ehrlich, Eugene and David H Scott. Mene, Mene, Tekel: A lively lexicon of words and phrases from the Bible. New York: HarperCollins, 1990.

2- Hirsch, E. D. The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.


KJV: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14,15, 16, 17, 18, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26

Shakespeare: 3, 6, 8, 9, 13, 19, 24, 25, 27