September 1:  Author Perseverance Day

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Today is the birthday of Robert M. Pirsig, who received 121 rejections for his novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Pirsig persevered.  The book he wrote in 1968 about a motorcycle trip that he and his son took from Minnesota to San Francisco was finally published in 1974.  Not only was the book published, it achieved cult status, selling more than five million copies.

Zen motorcycle.jpgPirsig is not the only author to experience rejection.  L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, received so many rejection letters that he kept a journal called a “Record of Failure.”  J.K. Rowling received 14 rejections for her first Harry Potter book, and Stephen King received more than 30 rejections for his first novel Carrie.  In fact, King almost gave up on Carrie.  Discouraged with his lack of progress, he threw the manuscript in the garbage.  His wife retrieved it, however, and told him to keep writing.  Sometimes even the best writers need the encouragement of others.

Today’s Challenge:  The Write Stuff

Writing is hard work, and all writers must persevere through rejection before getting their writing published.  What’s your favorite book?  What makes it such a special book?  Write an acceptance letter to the author explaining why you love it so much and thanking the author for all of his/her hard work. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Temple, Emily. The Most Rejected Books of All-Time. Literary Hub. 22 Dec. 2017.  https://lithub.com/the-most-rejected-books-of-all-time/.

 

August 31:  Short Letter Day

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Today is the anniversary of a short letter that became the opening salvo in a chain of events that changed television history. The letter, dated August 31, 1988, was sent to NBC President Brandon Tartikoff by George Shapiro, agent for comedian Jerry Seinfeld. This brief letter of recommendation led to a meeting between Seinfeld and NBC executives, and an eventual pilot called The Seinfeld Chronicles. That pilot then became one of television’s most successful sitcoms Seinfeld running from 1990 to 1998.

With the popularity and longevity of Seinfeld, you might think that success was assured for Jerry Seinfeld, but few people know that he was dropped from an earlier sitcom Benson in 1980 after appearing in three episodes (1).

Looking back at the text of Shapiro’s letter — only three sentences long — it’s hard to believe it was the spark that set off a powder keg of comedy that dominated American TV ratings from nearly ten years.

When Seinfeld ended in 1998, it was still at the top of the ratings, and Jerry Seinfeld made it into The Guinness Book of World Records under the category “Most Money Refused” when he turned down an offer of $5 million dollars per episode to continue the show. In addition to ratings success, the sitcom also made an impact on American vernacular with catchphrases such as “Yada, Yada, Yada.”

Seinfeld’s Agent George Shapiro, who later became one of the show’s executive producers, had the gift for writing a short but strong letter of recommendation for his client (2).

Unlike an email, a short letter is likely to get the attention of your audience. If you want something done or you want an answer to a question, a short letter is a great way to guarantee a response. However, unlike the sitcom Seinfeld you can’t write a letter about nothing; you need a specific subject and purpose for your letter.

Today’s Challenge:  Short, Simple, Strong, Sincere Snail Mail

What is something that you would recommend right now, something that is overlooked or underappreciated?  Just as George Shapiro wrote a letter of recommendation for Jerry Seinfeld, your job is to write a short letter of recommendation. Your letter, however, should not recommend a person, rather it should recommend an object or an experience.  This idea comes from a weekly feature of The New York Times Magazine called “Letter of Recommendation,” where various writers recommend an object or experience that has been overlooked or underappreciated.  Past topics featured have been:  egg shakers, summer Fridays, The Oxford English Dictionary, Skiing, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, and alternative search engines.

Brainstorm a list of ideas.  Then, select the topic you feel most passionately about.  Your purpose is to share your passion with a general audience, telling and showing them why your object or experience is worth holding in higher esteem. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1– Jerry Seinfeld Biography.  Biography.com.

http://www.biography.com/people/jerry-seinfeld-9542107.

2 – Grunwald, Lisa and Stephan J. Adler (Editors). Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999. New York: The Dial Press, 1999.

August 30:  Top 10 Day

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Today is the anniversary of the debut of The Late Show with David Letterman, which premiered on CBS on August 30, 1993, and ended on May 20, 2015. Letterman had previously spent eleven years as the host of Late Night with David Letterman, but after he was passed over as the host of The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson retired, he signed a multi-million dollar deal to move to CBS. This put him in direct competition with Jay Leno, who took over for Johnny on The Tonight Show.

Many aspects of Letterman’s show followed the basic pattern of the late night talk show genre, established and perfected by Johnny Carson. Letterman added a few new wrinkles of his own that became staples of his show and focus points for his fans.

One of Letterman’s trademarks was “found comedy” — people, places, and things found on the streets of the city that became the subject of Letterman’s ironic wit. These consist of actual items found in the newspaper, viewer mail, “stupid pet and human tricks” performed on the show, esoteric videos, and person-on-the-street interviews (1).

Letterman’s best-known feature is one that is originally “found” in the Old Testament, a list of ten — sometimes called a “Decalogue.”  This list of ten is best known as The Ten Commandments.  The Book of Exodus records Moses bringing the commandments, which are carved on two stone tablets, down from Mount Sinai and delivering them to the people of Israel.

Of course, Letterman’s Top Ten lists are meant not to deliver the law but to deliver laughs. Based on a topic from current events, each list counts down ten hilariously warped responses.

Today’s Challenge: TOP TEN TOP TENS

What would be the topic of your Top Ten list? First, brainstorm some titles of lists, such as Top Ten Reasons . . . , Top Ten Things . . ., Top Ten Ways . . . Then, when you find a title you like, complete your 10 items.

Here are ten possible top ten list titles:

  1. Top Ten Alternative Uses for a Paperclip
  2. Top Ten Ways to Save Time on Your Homework
  3. Top Ten Reasons to Attend College
  4. Top Ten Rejected Prom Themes
  5. Top Ten Songs to Have With You on a Deserted Island
  6. Top Ten Reasons to Quit Social Media
  7. Top Ten Tenets of Effective Writing
  8. Top Ten Reasons to Read a Book Rather Than Watch TV
  9. Top Ten Habits of Successful Students
  10. Top Ten Topics for a Top Ten List

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1 – Late Night With David Letterman. The Museum of Broadcast Communications

http://www.museum.tv/eotv/latenightwi.htm.

August 29:  Akeelah and the Bee Day

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Today marks the anniversary of the DVD release of the film Akeelah and the Bee. This 2006 film is a drama about 11 year-old Akeelah Anderson (played by Keke Palmer) who overcomes personal struggles to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Directed by Doug Atchison, the film stars Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Larabee, an English professor who coaches Akeelah.

The film is an offshoot of the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary and surprise hit Spellbound, which profiled a number of the competitors in the National Spelling Bee. After the success of Spellbound, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast on network television for the first time in May 2005. The growing popularity of spelling has even entered the adult world with spelling competitions in bars around the country and a senior national spelling bee sponsored by the AARP.

Akeelah and the Bee film.jpgIn addition, in 2005 the film Bee Season was released, and spelling even hit Broadway with the 2005 musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Below are the eight winning words for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee for the years 1998-2005:

chiaroscurist: 1998 – a painter who cares for and studies light and shade rather than color

logorrhea: 1999 – pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking

demarche: 2000 – a move or step or maneuver in political or diplomatic affairs.

succedaneum: 2001 – (medicine) something that can be used as a substitute (especially any medicine that may be taken in place of another.

prospicience: 2002 – prevision: seeing ahead; knowing in advance; foreseeing.

pococurante: 2003 – Indifferent; apathetic.

autochthonous:  2004 – of rocks, deposits, etc.; found where they and their constituents were formed.

appoggiatura: 2005 – grace note: an embellishing note usually written in smaller size.  (1).

Today’s Challenge:  To Bee or Not to Bee

Should schools still hold spelling bees?  What are the arguments for holding bees and for eliminating them?  Imagine that an elementary school in your city or region is considering eliminating the annual elementary school spelling bee; make your argument either against or in support of this action.  In the course of your argument, address the relative importance or unimportance of spelling in the education of young people today. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1 – Simon, Johnny. The Champions and Winning Words from the Last 20 Years of Spelling Bees. Quartz.com. 1 June 2018. https://qz.com/1294814/the-2018-spelling-bee-champion-winning-word-and-winners-from-past-20-years/.

 

August 28:  Anaphora Day

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Today is the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his unforgettable I Have a Dream speech to a crowd of roughly 250,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.

Early in his speech, King invokes Lincoln and the unfulfilled promise of the Emancipation Proclamation. King cites two other vital American documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Using the metaphor of a bad check, King argued that the United States would not be a truly free nation until it fulfilled these promissory notes for all of its citizens, ending segregation, “withering injustice,” and the persecution of black Americans.

An ordained Baptist minister and a doctor of theology, King knew how to craft a sermon and how to deliver a speech. His choice of nonviolent protest meant that his words and his rhetoric would determine the success or failure of his civil rights mission. King was up to the task. There is probably no more telling example of the power of words to persuade, motivate, and change the course of history than the speech King delivered on August 28, 1963.

Rhetoric is the use of language to persuade. Aristotle defined it as “the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion.” Martin Luther King, Jr. used many of these “means of persuasion” (also known as rhetorical devices) to persuade his audience. He used metaphor:  beacon of hope and manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. He used alliteration:  dark and desolate, sweltering summer, and Jews and Gentiles. He used antithesis: will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

But more than any other device, King used repetition and anaphora, the repetition of one or more words at the beginning of a phrase or clause.

Certain words echo throughout his speech. Unlike redundancy, this repetition is intentional. These words ring like a bell, repeatedly reminding the listener of key themes. In the I Have a Dream speech, the words justice and dream both ring out eleven times. But one word is repeated far more than any other; the word freedom tolls 20 times. In King’s dream there is no crack in the Liberty Bell; instead, it rings out loudly and clearly, a triumphant declaration that America has finally lived up to its potential.

Anaphora comes from the Greek meaning “I repeat.” It’s the kind of repetition at the beginning of a line or a sentence that you see in the Psalms or in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

(Matthew 3:3-6 King James Version)

King uses anaphora for six different phrases that echo throughout his speech:

One hundred years later . . .

We refuse to believe . . .

Now is the time . . .

With this faith . . .

I have a dream . . .

Let freedom ring . . .  (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Repeat After Me
What is something that you think is underrated?  What makes this topic so underrated, and why should people hold the topic in higher esteem?  Certainly, the purpose of Martin Luther King’s speech was to help the nation to not overlook the importance of civil rights for black Americans.  His speech succeeded in changing the course of the movement, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Brainstorm some topics that you think are underrated?  Try for a variety of topics, including some serious topics as well as some not so serious topics. Select the one topic you feel is most underrated, and construct an argument where you explain why the topic should be held in higher esteem.  In addition to specific evidence and commentary, use anaphora to make your case.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Example:  Positively Peripatetic

Walking is underrated.  It benefits the body, the mind, and the pocketbook.  If everyone in the U.S. were to walk briskly for just thirty minutes per day, we would cut the incidences of chronic diseases dramatically.  Walking reduces the risk of heart disease, the risk of diabetes, the risk of arthritis, and the risk of cancer. It’s also good for the mind since studies show that walking reduces the likelihood of clinical depression.  Smart seniors know the psychological value of staying active, breathing fresh air, and saving their hard-earned dollars by paying less for gas.  Instead of venerating our motor vehicle obsessed society, we should celebrate citizens who stroll along the sidewalks of suburbia. More walkers mean less traffic, less pollution, and less wasted gas money.  With so many potential positives, no one should view walking as a pain anymore.   

1-The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Stanford University. I Have a Dream Address. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/i-have-dream-address-delivered-march-washington-jobs-and-freedom.

August 27:  Superlative Day

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On this day in 1955, the first edition of the Guinness Book of World Records was published in the United Kingdom.

The idea for the book began on November 10, 1951, when Sir Hugh Beaver, Chairman of the Guinness Brewery, was bird hunting in Ireland.  After missing a shot at a golden plover, Beaver wondered if the plover was the fastest game bird in Europe. Sir Hugh was unable to get his answer, however, because he could not find a reference book that answered his question.

Guinness World Records logo.svgIn 1954, Sir Hugh commissioned twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter to make his idea a reality. Today the Guinness World Records reference book is published annually in 20 different languages in over 100 countries.  In fact, the book holds a world record of its own, being the best-selling copyrighted book of all time (1).

A Superlative Achievement

The Guinness Book of World Records could not have been written without superlative adjectives.  When using adjectives to make comparisons, think of three forms:  positive adjectives, comparative adjectives, and superlative adjectives.

Positive:  I am tall.

Comparative:  Sam is taller than I am.

Superlative:  Bill is the tallest one in the class.

As you can see by the examples above, the superlative form is the highest degree of comparison, as in tallest, greatest, fastest, richest, or highest.

When an adjective is three syllables or more, add the word more to the comparative form and the word most to the superlative form.

Examples:

Comparative:  more beautiful or more memorable

Superlative:  most beautiful or most memorable

Today’s Challenge:  Speaking in Superlatives

What are ten things that you think are worthy of superlatives — things, places, or people that you think are the greatest?  Write a review of something, someplace, or someone you consider to be worthy of superlatives.  Explain what makes your topic the greatest. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Cavendish, Richard. Publication of the Guinness Book of World Records. History Today.com 8 Aug. 2005. http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/publication-guinness-book-world-records.

August 26:  Abecedarian Day

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On this day in 1873, the first public school kindergarten in the United States was established by the St. Louis, Missouri, board of education. The word kindergarten can be traced back to Germany, where Friedrick Froebel opened a preschool in 1840. Froebel invented the term Kinder-Garten (‘children’s garden’) to describe the experience of cultivating young minds through creativity and play (1).

Some say that we learn everything we need to know in kindergarten, but there is certainly one lesson that is vital to every kindergartner (See October 30: All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Day).  In fact, instead of kindergartners, we might call these children abecedarians. An abecedarian is a ‘student of the alphabet.’ The word comes from the letters A B C D.

After we have mastered the ABCs and learned to read, we take the alphabet for granted. What we don’t realize, however, is how fundamental it is to our literacy. We also sometimes forget that the alphabet, reading, and writing are all human inventions.

We don’t know who the inventor was, but we do know that around 2000 BC the idea of using letters instead of pictures to represent sounds and words began to take root. As a result, communication in writing became much more efficient and easier to learn. Instead of learning hundreds of symbols, the student now needs only learn fewer than thirty letters. Today kindergartners, or abecedarians, who learn the 26 letters of the alphabet have a foundation to begin mastering the language for reading and writing. The word alphabet is from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha and Beta. The Greeks didn’t invent the alphabet, but they did perfect it; one of their most important adaptations was the addition of vowels.

You’ve probably mastered the alphabet by now, but there are other ways of returning to your abecedarian roots. Below is a list of 26 vocabulary words spanning all 26 letters of the alphabet. How many do you know? How many familiar roots do you recognize? Pick up a good dictionary and look up any unfamiliar words:

antecedent, bellicose, circumscribe, dyslexia, euphemism, factotum, gregarious, hyperbole, infinitesimal, jovial, kudos, lethargic, malediction, neologism, orthography, pandemonium, quintessence, resonance, sophomoric, theocracy, unilateral, verbose, wanderlust, xenophobia, yeoman, zephyr

Today’s Challenge: Advanced Abecedarian

Can you generate a list of 26 challenging and interesting words, one for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet?  Create your own unique abecedarian collection of words.  Use a dictionary as a resource.  Share your list with others, and be prepared to define the words on the list and explain what you find interesting about each one. (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

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

August 25:  Encyclopedia Day

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On this day in A.D. 79, Pliny the Elder died, a casualty of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  Based on his thirty-seven volume work called Natural History, Pliny is known as the father of the encyclopedia.

Born in Italy in A.D. 23, Pliny was educated in Rome and served as a commander in the Roman army.  He is best known, however, for his prodigious efforts to catalog the knowledge of his age in his Natural History.  Using a plain, non-dogmatic style, Pliny covered cosmology, astronomy, zoology, botany, agriculture, medicine, and minerals.  Not only was the comprehensive coverage of his multi-volume work unprecedented, but also his citation of over 100 sources set the standard for the modern encyclopedia.  His work truly lived up to the meaning of the word encyclopedia, which means an “all-around education.”  The root cyclo is from the Greek for “circle” and paideia is from the Greek for “education.”

On the day of his death in 79 A.D., Pliny was serving as a fleet commander in the Bay of Naples.  This was the same day that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Pliny might have survived; however, he went ashore to assist citizens in need and was overcome by toxic fumes from Vesuvius’ eruption (1).

Today we experience an encyclopedia format that has evolved from book form, to compact disk form, to online form. Whatever the form, however, it still is a format that attempts to encircle all that is known from A to Z.  One fascinating adaptation made to the encyclopedia was published in 2005 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal in her book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  Departing from the traditional objective tone of general knowledge, Rosenthal adapted the encyclopedia template to reflect subjectively on the topics that have made up her life so far.  Part memoir, part autobiography, Rosenthal’s book presents her humorous, wry insights on an array of topics.

Here’s a small sample of some of the topics:

Anxious, things that make me, Birthmark, Childhood Memories, Deli Trays, Escalator, Folding Chairs, Groceries, Humbling, Infinity, Lucky (Versus Smart), Marshmallows, Napkins, Office Depot, Parking Ticket, Q-Tip, Running Into Someone, Sandwiches

The topics Rosenthal covers are diverse.  Some are abstract and others are concrete, but each of her insights, though personal, seem to touch on something universal.  For example, Rosenthal shares her personal insight on the topic “Palindrome”:  “I am overly enamored with the palindrome: Won Ton, Not Now.”

On “Pie” she says, “There are few gestures kinder than a friend baking you a pie” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Encycloautobiography

What would be the topics from A to Z that you would include in the encyclopedia of your life?  Brainstorm a list of at least 26 topics; use a dictionary if you get stuck for ideas.  Then, take one of your topics and write at least 6 sentences about it, providing personal insights and/or personal experience to bring the topic alive and to help the reader see it in a new way. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-”Pliny the Elder”  Britannica Online Encyclopedia

http://www.britannica.com/biography/Pliny-the-Elder.

2-Rosenthal, Amy Krouse.  Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press, 2005.

August 3:  Idiot Letter Day


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On this date in 1993, one of the most hilarious missives in the history of letter writing was sent to an American corporation. Before we look at the letter, let’s look at the history of how it came to be written.

In July of 1993, Paul Rosa received a piece of junk mail that changed his life. It was a brief letter from Pizza Hut’s delivery unit saying that they had not received an order from Rosa’s address in a long time. The letter from the Vice-president of Pizza Hut marketing reminded Rosa of the quality, variety, and value of Pizza Hut pizza. It might have been just another piece of junk mail, but one line in the letter resonated with Rosa. It said: “You see, you’re the kind of customer we’d like to see more often.” Rosa wrote back a letter to Pizza Hut asking, “What kind of customer wouldn’t you like to see more often?”

This first letter started a letter-writing campaign that went on for months, covering more than 100 different corporations. Rosa’s mission statement was: Since American corporations are treating their customers like idiots, “while reaching for their wallets,” I am going to get even by writing them letters in which I act like an idiot.

The letters from Rosa’s “kamikaze consumer crusade” were published in 1995 in the book Idiot Letters: One Man’s Relentless Assault on Corporate America.

The following is the letter that Rosa sent to Oil-Dri Corporation of America the makers of Cat’s Pride Premium Cat Litter on August 3, 1993.

Dear Cat Lovers,

Continue reading →

August 1:  Heteronym Day

August First is one of the most august days on the calendar.  The preceding sentence illustrates one of the most interesting aspects of the English language.  Not only does it have more words than any other language, it also has:

  1. Many words that are spelled the same but with different meanings, called homonyms, (such as the word run which has 645 different meanings listed in the Oxford English Dictionary; the word set has over 200).
  1. Many words that are spelled differently but with the same pronunciations, called homophones (to, two, and too or sight, site, and cite).
  1. Many words that are spelled the same but with different pronunciations and meanings, called heteronyms (august, produce, and buffet).

It’s this last class of words, heteronyms, that we honor on this august day — the first day of August.  Heteronyms allow us to enjoy jokes like the following:

Why do we know so little about salivary glands?

Because they are so secretive.

Test yourself by reading the following list of heteronyms; see if you can come up with two pronunciations for each one:

agape, axes, bass, bow

buffet, console, content, converse

coop, deserts, do, does

dove, drawer, entrance, evening

fillet, grave, incense, lead

liver, minute, mobile, moped

more, number, object, present

resent ,route, rugged, sewer

slough, sow, supply, tear

tower, unionized, wind, wound

The month of August is named for the first Roman emperor Octavian Augustus Caesar (63 BC – AD 14), whose great-uncle was Julius Caesar. Just as the Roman Senate renamed the month Quintilis, July in honor of Julius Caesar, they renamed Sextillus for Augustus (1).  The etymology of the adjective august dates back to the ancient Roman “augurs,” religious officials who foretold events by interpreting omens.  A person or event that was seen as favorable to the augurs was described in Latin as augustus, “meaning venerable, majestic or noble.”

August also fits into a special subcategory of heteronyms called capitonyms, words that change pronunciation and meaning when capitalized.  Based on the capitonyms below, see if you can pronounce both the capitalized and lowercase forms:

Colon, colon

Herb, herb

Job, job

Muster, muster

Nice, nice

Polish, polish

Rainier, rainier

Reading, reading

Today’s Challenge:  Hypnotic Heteronyms

What are examples of words in English that are spelled the same but that are pronounced in two different ways depending on their different meanings and different parts of speech, as in the word “produce,” which is pronounced differently when it is used as a noun than when it is used as a verb?

Select three heteronyms and write a sentence for each in which you use the word twice with both of its pronunciations and meanings, as in:

  1.  The magician made a grand entrance, and entranced the audience for three solid hours.
  1.  Yesterday’s produce sale, produced pandemonium at the Piggly Wiggly.
  1.  We had a nice two-week vacation in Nice, France.

Below each of your sentences write a brief explanation of what accounts for the different pronunciation.  For example, sentence number one above would be explained as follows:  “The first use of entrance is a noun meaning, “the manner by which a person comes into view”; the second use of entrance(d) is a verb meaning, “to fill with wonder or to put into a trance.”  For bonus credit make a drawing or cartoon to illustrate your sentence, and use your sentence as the caption. (Common Core Writing 2)

Quotation of the Day: The first week of August hangs at the very top of summer, the top of the live-long year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot. -Natalie Babbitt

1- BBC History “Augustus”

2 – Lederer, Richard. The Word Circus. Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, Incorporated, 1998.

3- Funk, Wilfred. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1950.