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.