July 5:  Toponym Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1946 debut of a garment that sent shock waves across the world of fashion: the garment was the bikini. Paris fashion designer Louis Reard took the name for his design from a remote Pacific Ocean Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where the United States military was conducting the first peacetime detonations of nuclear bombs. So explosive was Reard’s skimpy design that it didn’t really catch on as acceptable beachwear until the 1960s.

The 1960 hit song “Itsy-Bitsy-Teenie-Weenie-Yellow-Polka-Dot Bikini,” along with many beach movies that targeted the youth audience, made the two piece bathing suit ubiquitous (1).

The word bikini is a classic example of a toponym:  a word that began as a geographical place name and evolved a new meaning based on something associated with that place.  The following are some examples of toponyms:

afghan

bourbon

angora

cashmere

cologne

denim

dollar

hamburger

jeans

marathon

mayonnaise

tuxedo

venetian blind

Today’s Challenge:  Wide World of Words
What are some examples of toponyms, and what are the stories behind their transformation from capitalized proper noun to lowercase common noun?
Research the definition and origin of a toponym, one listed above or some other one that you are curious about.  Write a brief report on its general meaning as a noun as well as the geographical source of its origin.
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Bikini, we might argue, should have become a word to sum up the devastation that a nuclear weapon can cause; instead it became a word for a skimpy piece of beach attire. –Henry Hitchings

 

1 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

2 – Funk, Wilfred. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. New York: Gosset & Dunlap, 1950.

 

July 4: Twenty-Seven Reasons Day

Today we celebrate the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Thomas Jefferson, only 33 years old at the time, was chosen to write a draft of the Declaration. One of the masterworks of both literary and political prose, the Declaration opens with a 71-word sentence that although long is clearly and precisely worded:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation (1).

United States Declaration of Independence.jpgAlthough the preamble is Jefferson’s, a comparison of his drafts shows that he was influenced by others like English philosopher John Locke and an earlier Declaration of Rights written by the Virginian George Mason. Another clear influence was Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense, published in January 1776, used plain language to ignite revolutionary fervor in the colonists. In fact, Paine gave us the modern sense of the word “revolution” as change, as opposed to describing the movements of the planets.

In addition to being influenced by others, Jefferson got help with revisions. His document underwent 40 changes and 630 deleted words as drafts were presented to the Committee of Five and Congress. The date on the Declaration of Independence reads July 4, 1776, but a more accurate date is probably July 2nd when the actual proposal to declare independence was ratified. According to Bill Bryson in Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States, only two of the 57 signers of the Declaration did so on July 4th, Charles Thomson and John Hancock. Hancock’s large signature later became synonymous with signing your name.

The official signing did not take place until August 2nd and the names of the signers, for fear of retaliation, were not released until January 1777. Signing such a document was no small act. It was considered treason, and according to Bryson: “The penalty for treason was to be hanged, cut down while still alive, disemboweled and forced to watch your organs burned before your eyes, then beheaded and quartered” (2).

Stories of the Declaration of Independence being read in Philadelphia on July 4th to the ringing of the Liberty Bell are a myth since the first public reading was on July 8th, and “there is no record of any bells being rung. Indeed, though the Liberty Bell was there, it was not so called until 1847 . . . . “(2).

One year later, however, on July 4, 1777 there is a record of celebrations and parades on the first anniversary of independence. It is also on this date that a new word appeared: fireworks, which previously had been called rockets.

At the core of the Declaration is a list of 27 specific grievances that provide the rationale for revolution. American school children learn mainly about “taxation without representation” (#17), but as you can see by the parallel list below, American colonists had many more reasons to be unhappy with the British monarchy:

-He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
-He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
-He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
-He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
-He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
-He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
-He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
-He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
-He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
-He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
-He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
-He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
-He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
-For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
-For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
-For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
-For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
-For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
-For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
-For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
-For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
-For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
-He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
-He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
-He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
-He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
-He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Today’s Challenge: 27 Reasons to Celebrate
What is something that you love so much that you could write 27 reasons to celebrate it? Select a person, place, or thing you feel passionate about and list your 27 reasons to celebrate it. For example, today might be a day to good day to write “Twenty-seven Reasons to Celebrate American Independence.” (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. –Thomas Jefferson

1 – Declaration of Independence. http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/declaration_transcript.html

2 – Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: William Morrow, 1995.

July 3:  Dog Day

Today is the first day of what is known as the Dog Days of Summer. The association of summer with “man’s best friend” comes to our language via ancient astronomy. During the period from July 3 through August 11, the Dog Star, Sirius, rises in conjunction with the Sun. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky and is part of the constellation Canis Major, Latin for the Greater Dog.

Some ancient Romans believed that the sultry heat of the Dog Days was explained by the combined heat of Sirius and the sun; however, even in the days before the telescope, this belief was more prominent among the superstitious than serious students of the stars (1).

English is replete with idioms (expressions that don’t make sense when taken literally) related to dogs. And it is interesting to note that despite the dog’s reputation for being “man’s best friend,” most of the expressions use dog in the negative sense. For example, they are used as scapegoats for missing homework: “My dog ate my homework.” They are associated with sickness: “Sick as a dog.” And they are even used to characterize life in general as harsh and cut throat: “It’s a dog eat dog world.”

Today’s Challenge: Dog Daze
What idioms, compound words, titles, quotations come to mind that contain the word “dog”?  First, brainstorm a list of at least ten words and phrases that contain the word dog, such as the following:

-Dog tired
-Hot dog
-Every dog has his day
-You Ain’t Nothin But a Hound Dog
-Dogtown and the Z-Boys
-“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” –Groucho Marx

Second, use your list of ideas as a springboard for a topic that you can write about — any form or genre is okay, as long as your writing is interesting: speech, argument, memoir, poetry, fiction, dramatic monologue, open letter, personal essay, description, anecdote

Third, begin writing.  Use the brainstorm idea that sparked your topic as your title. Make sure that the word “dog” is in your title. Write at least 200 words. (Common Core Writing 1, 2, or 3)

Quotation of the Day: To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs. –Aldous Huxley

1 – http://www.space.com/8946-dog-days-summer-celestial-origin.html

2- Claiborne, Robert. Loose Cannons and Red Herrings: A Book of Lost Metaphors. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.

July 2:  Broadcast Day

Today is the anniversary of the first major sports broadcast. On July 2, 1921 in Jersey City, New Jersey, heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey met Georges Carpentier in what was billed as “The Battle of the Century.” Nearly one hundred thousand spectators witnessed the fight, and thousands more listened across the nation, including a crowd of ten thousand in New York’s Times Square.

The fight did not live up to its hype, ending in four rounds with Dempsey scoring a knockout, but the people who came to Times Square to listen to a fight, left wanting a radio of their own. According to Bill Bryson in his book Made in America, “The very notion of instant, long-distance verbal communication was so electrifying that soon people everywhere were clamoring to have a radio” (1).

The lone announcer that day was J. Andrew White, who probably never envisioned today’s sports fans who have access to sports broadcasts literally 24-hours a day. Today, in addition to a play-by-play announcer, who reports the who, what, when, and where, there are also color commentators, sometimes called color analysts, who give the listener or viewer the why and the how of what is happening in the ring or on the field. These expert analysts are especially important since the advent of instant replay, first used on December 7, 1963 during the CBS broadcast of the Army-Navy football game.

The relationship between the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator provides an interesting metaphor for writing. The play-by-play person provides what every good piece of writing needs: details, description, examples, facts, and statistics. The color commentator provides something else that good writing needs: the interpretation and analysis of the details. A good writer, therefore, must do both the job of the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator. This balance between the evidence provided to the reader (the proof) and the explanation of that evidence (the warrant) is a key to effective writing, especially argumentation.  So, as you write, ask yourself whether or not you are providing enough of both in your own essays, speeches, or broadcasts.

The word broadcast originated in the 18th century as an agricultural term to describe the wide swing of the hand as it throws, or “casts” seeds over a “broad” area.  With the advent of radio in the 1920s, the term was adopted as a metaphor to describe the dissemination of information over the air waves.

Today’s Challenge:  Broadcast Your Claim
What are some claims that you can make that you can support with detailed evidence and clear explanation?  Write a short editorial where you state a single clear claim.  Then, support your claim with both details and explanation. Use the broadcaster metaphor as a reminder to provide both play by play and color commentary that makes your case. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Any good broadcast, not just an Olympic broadcast, should have texture to it. It should have information, should have some history, should have something that’s offbeat, quirky, humorous, and where called for it, should have journalism, and judiciously it should also have commentary. That’s my ideal. -Bob Costas

1 – Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: Perennial, 1994.

July 1:  Strunk and White Day

Today is the birthday of William Strunk, Jr. (1869-1946), the principal author of The Elements of Style.  This book, also known as Strunk & White, is the single most influential style guide ever written, selling over ten million copies.  Strunk originally published the book as an instructional pamphlet for his students at Cornell University in 1918, but it didn’t gain its great notoriety until after it was revised and published by Strunk’s former student E. B. White in 1959.

Elements of Style cover.jpgOne of Strunk’s recommendations, which dates from the original 1918 edition, still holds today as one of the most insightful things ever said about the characteristics of effective writing:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.  

This passage not only proclaims one of the key principles of effective writing, it also exemplifies it, by omitting needless words.  Below is a list of Stuck and White’s other Principles of Composition, each of which is explained in The Elements of Style:

  1.      Choose a suitable design and stick to it.
  2.      Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
  3.      Use the active voice.
  4.      Put statements in positive form.
  5.      Use definite, specific, concrete language.
  6.      Omit needless words.
  7.      Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
  8.      Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
  9.      Keep related words together.
  10.      In summaries, keep to one tense.
  11.      Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

Today’s Challenge:  What’s Your Primary Principle for Proper Prose?
What would you argue is the single most important rule for effective writing? Select one of the 11 principles from Struck and White, or come up with your own.  Then, support your rule by explaining it in detail along with showing examples where appropriate. (Common Core 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day:  The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up. –E. B. White