October 2:  Thirteen Ways Day

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Today is the birthday of American poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955).  Wallace won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955 even though he never worked as a full-time poet.  His day job was as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut.

One of Stevens’ best-known poems is “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” published in 1917.  The poem captures the essence of poetry, a form of writing that challenges both the writer and the reader to “look” at the world from different perspectives and to see it in new ways.  In the tradition of Imagism, a poetic movement that emphasizes precise imagery and clear, concrete diction, Stevens presents thirteen numbered stanzas, each featuring a different way of seeing the ordinary blackbird (1).

Wallace Stevens.jpgToday’s Challenge:  Ways of Looking – the Seven “Sees”

What are ways you can see the world in a new way and from different perspectives even on an ordinary day in an ordinary place?  Writing itself, in its various forms, is an excellent way of looking at the world from different perspectives.  The different modes of writing described below mirror the various ways our brain organizes and processes information.  Select one topic — a  person, place, object, or idea to examine; then, explore that one idea in at least 7 of the 13 ways listed below:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Subject

  1. Description:  Create a picture in words of what it looks like, sounds like, feels like, smells like, and/or tastes like.
  2. Comparison and Contrast:  Explain what is it like and what it is not like.
  3. Cause and Effect:  Explain where it came from and how it impacts the world.
  4. Definition:  Explain exactly what is it called, what it means, and what makes it distinctive from other things.
  5. Narrative:  Tell a true story related to it that involves real people in conflict.
  6. Exemplification:  Make a generalization about it; then, support the generalization by giving specific examples that illustrate and explain it.
  7. Argumentation:  State a claim related to it, and provide reasoning and evidence to prove your claim is valid.
  8. Problem and Solution:  Explain conflicts that arise because of it, and how those conflicts can or might be resolved.
  9. Process:  Explain how something happens related to it by giving a step by step sequence.
  10. Division and Classification: Identify its different parts and its different types.
  11. Poetry: Explore ideas related to it in verse, using imagery and figurative language.
  12. Fiction:  Create a story about it that has a narrative point of view, characters, conflict, climax, resolution, and theme.
  13. Drama:  Create a dramatic situation around it, with character, conflict, dialogue, and theme.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Poetry Foundation. Wallace Stevens.

 

October 1:  A Book Can Save a Life Day

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On this day in 1901, Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim was published.  The novel is an adventure story set in 19th century India, a time of British colonial rule.  The adventure in the book, however, pales when compared to the adventure surrounding what happened when a soldier in the French Foreign Legion acquired a French edition of the novel.

The soldier’s name was Maurice Hamonneau, and his decision to take Kipling’s book into combat during World War I saved his life.  Shot in battle near Verdun, Hamonneu lay unconscious for hours.  When he regained consciousness, he realized that the book which he was carrying in his breast pocket had shielded him from the bullet. Piercing the book, the bullet left a hole that stopped 330 pages into the book, leaving only 20 intact pages between the bullet and Hamonneu’s heart.

KimKipling.jpgIn gratitude, Hamonneu sent the bullet-pierced book to Kipling along with the medal he had been awarded in the battle. Kipling was moved by the gesture, but later when he learned that Hamonneu had become a father, he returned the book and the medal with a note to Hamonneu’s son, advising him to always carry a book of at least 350 pages in his breast pocket.

Today the book and Hamonneu’s medal are preserved in the rare book section of the United States Library of Congress (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Books Not Bullets

What one book is so good that it’s worth taking into battle — a book that everyone should read as if his or her life depended on it?  What makes the book so special, so inspirational?  Explain your choice, and assume you are writing to an audience who has not read the book. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-History.com. The Book That Saved a Life.

September 30:  Mnemonic Device Day

On this last day of September, we focus on not forgetting one of the more famous mnemonic rhymes in English:

Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November.

All the rest have 31,

Except for February all alone,

It has 28 each year,

but 29 each leap year.

This verse is attributed to Mother Goose, but it’s only one of many versions of the poem.  One website, for example, lists an astonishing 90 variations of what has come to be called The Month Poem (1).

Mnemonic rhymes are just one type of mnemonic device. No, you can’t buy them in stores. A mnemonic device is a method of remembering something that is difficult to remember by remembering something that is easy to remember.

The word mnemonic is an eponym (See May 28 – Eponym Day), originating from the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne.

To make things easy to remember, mnemonic devices employ different methods, such as rhyme, acrostics, or acronyms. Another method is the nonsense sentence made up from the initial letters of what it is you are trying to remember. Here’s an example of a sentence that is crafted to help us remember Roman numerals:

In Various Xmas Legends Christ Delivers Miracles.

Notice how the letters that begin each word correspond, in order, to Roman numerals:

I=1, V=5, X=10, L=50, C=100, D=500, M=1,000

You might also us an acronym. For example, CREED is a mnemonic device that helps us remember the essential elements of an argument:

C = Claim

R = Reasoning

E = Evidence

E = Explanation

D = Documentation

Another acronym ASK PEW is a mnemonic for remembering the essential elements of the rhetorical situation:

Audience, Subject, Kairos, Point/Purpose, Exigence, and Writer

Generations of school children have used the rhyme from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” (1861) to remember the start date of the American Revolution:

Listen my children and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.

Today’s Challenge:  Remember, Remember the Mnemonics of September

What are some examples of important information that needs to be committed to memory?  Think of something you need to remember, or something that everyone should remember, and create your own original mnemonic device.  Use rhyme, acrostics, acronyms, and/or nonsense sentences to package your device in a handy, easy-to-remember format. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1 – Leap Year Day.com. Days of the Month Poem. 1904 Public Domain. http://leapyearday.com/content/days-month-poem.

 

September 29:  The Beatles and the Bard Day

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On this day in 1967, the Beatles worked to complete the recording of the song I Am the Walrus.  Known for their innovative work in the studio, the group on this day did something truly unique, blending the conclusion of their new song with a BBC recording Shakespeare’s King Lear.

In addition to the Bard, the Beatles also drew inspiration from two other poetic sources.  One was Lewis Carroll’s poem “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” which inspired the song’s title and its plentiful use of nonsense lyrics.  The second was a playful nursery rhyme that they remembered from their childhood in Liverpool:

Yellow matter custard, green slop pie,

All mixed together with a dead dog’s eye,

Slap it on a butty, ten foot thick,

Then wash it all down with a cup of cold sick. (1)

HelloGoodbyeUS.jpgThis bit of rather grotesque verse inspired the colorful lyric:  “Yellow matter custard, dripping from a dead dog’s eye.”

The Beatles had no name for their process of creative synthesis, and they were so ahead of their time that they really didn’t need one.  Today, however, we have a name for it; it’s called a “mash-up.”

According to Newsweek, the word “mash-up” was coined in 2001 by DJ Freelance Hellraiser who used Christina Aguilera’s vocals from ‘Genie in a Bottle’ and “recorded [them] over the instrumentals from ‘Hard to Explain’” (2).

Mash-ups are certainly not limited to music, however. A mash-up applies to any combination of two or more forms of media: music, film, television, computer program, etc. As seen by the examples below, these creative combos synthesize just about every imaginable form of media:

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters – a book mash-up that combines classic fiction and sea stories.

The Dark Side of Oz – a film/music mash-up pairing Pink Floyd’s classic album The Dark Side of the Moon with the visuals of the film The Wizard of Oz.

Star Wars:  Invasion Los Angeles:  a computer-animated video created by Kaipo Jones that sets the intergalactic battle from the film Star Wars among the familiar and famous sites of Los Angeles.

TwitterMap –  an internet mash-up that combines Twitter and Google Maps to create a visual map of Tweets.

Today’s Challenge: Mother Tongue Lashing

What one word fits between the words ‘Jelly’ and ‘Bag’ to form two separate compound words? Jelly __________ Bag The answer is the word “bean” as in jelly bean and beanbag.  This is a type of lexical mash-up called Mother Tongue Lashing. It takes advantage of the wealth of compound words and expressions in English. For each pair of words below, name a word that can follow the first word and precede the second one to complete a compound word or a familiar two-word phrase.

  1. Life __________ Travel
  2. Punk __________ Candy
  3. Green _________ Space
  4. Rest __________ Work
  5. Word  __________ Book
  6. Rock __________ Dust
  7. Spelling __________ Sting
  8. Night __________ House

Now, create your own list of 8 Mother Tongue Lashings.  Use a dictionary to make sure that you have two-word expressions or compound words, not just two-word combinations. (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Answers:  time, rock, back, home, play, star, bee, light

1- The Beatles Bible.com. I Am the Walrus. https://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/i-am-the-walrus/2/.

2- Newsweek. Technology: Time for Your Mashup? 3 May 2006. http://www.newsweek.com/technology-time-your-mashup-106345.

September 28:  Spelling Reform Day

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On this day in 1768, Benjamin Franklin — founding father, diplomat, printer, scientist, writer, and civic reformer — wrote a letter making his case for spelling reform.

Many know about his inventions, such as the lightning rod, bifocals, and the Franklin stove, but not many know about his attempt to eliminate six letters of the English alphabet and replace them with six of his own invention.

Benjamin Franklin by Joseph Duplessis 1778.jpgFranklin’s chief concern, like many who came both before and after him, was the confusing discrepancy in English between its sounds and its alphabet:  “The difficulty of learning to spell well . . .  is so great, that few attain it, thousands and thousands writing on to old age without ever being able to acquire it” (1).

To correct the imperfections in the English alphabet, Franklin proposed throwing out the six letters C, J, Q, W, X, and Y and replacing them with six new letters of his own, letters which would represent the six sounds found in the following words:

  1. law, caught
  2. run, enough
  3. this, breathe
  4. singer, ring
  5. she, sure, emotion, leash
  6. thing, breath (2)

In his letter Franklin addresses objections to his spelling reform scheme.  One was that books published before the reforms were implemented would become useless.  To rebut this Franklin asked his reader to consider a similar case in Italy:  “Formerly, its inhabitants all spoke and wrote in Latin; as the language changed, the spelling followed it.”  Another objection addressed by Franklin was that of etymology – or word history –, particularly the historic roots of words that are preserved in their orthography (the way they are spelled).  To this objection, Franklin responded with the following apt example:

If I should call a man a knave and a villain, he would hardly be satisfied with my telling him that one of the words originally signified only a lad or servant; and the other an under-ploughman, or the inhabitant of a village. It is from present usage only, that the meaning of words is to be determined (3).

Although Franklin’s arguments are convincing, his reform plan never came to fruition.  Perhaps he was sidetracked by his other possibly more important role as midwife to the birth of the world’s first great democracy.  Not until Noah Webster’s An American Dictionary of the English Language, published in 1828, did spelling in the United States see much reform (See October 16: Dictionary Day).

Today’s Challenge:  The Case for X Reform

Great people like Benjamin Franklin demonstrate the power of ideas, ideas for making their town, state, country, or world a better place.  What do you see in your world that should be reformed, and how specifically would you propose to make it better?  Argue your case by addressing the current problem, followed by a specific vision of how your reforms would improve the situation. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Stamp, Jimmy. Ben Franklin’s Phonetic Alphabet. Smithsonianmag.com 10 May 2013. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/benjamin-franklins-phonetic-alphabet-58078802/.

2-Twilly, Nicola. Six New Letters for a Reformed Alphabet. http://www.benfranklin300.org/_etc_pdf/Six_New_Letters_Nicola_Twilly.pdf.

3-Ibid.

September 27:  Capital Day

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On this day in 1777, the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, became the nation’s capital for a single day.  With the Revolutionary War still raging, George Washington’s Continental Army was outflanked at the Battle of Brandywine, causing them to retreat.  Victory by the British allowed them to capture Philadelphia, the capital of the young nation, with little resistance.

The arrival of the British caused the Second Continental Congress to pack up and move 60 miles west to new headquarters in the Lancaster County Courthouse.  Lancaster’s time as capital city was short-lived, however.  The next day the Continental Congress packed up and moved again, this time to a more strategic position on the west side of the Susquehanna River, 20 miles away in York, Pennsylvania.

Residents of Lancaster have not forgotten their moment in the sun.  In 2011 the Lancaster City Council officially designated each September 27 as Capital Day.

On a usage note, one of most common mistakes in English is confusing the words “capital” and “capitol.”  The only time you should use “capitol” with an “o” is when you are referring to buildings, such as “the capitol buildings” or “the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.  “Capital” with an “a” is used for all other meanings of the word, including capital letters, capital punishment, capital finances, and capital city, meaning the name of the city on the map, rather than a reference to its governmental buildings (2).  For example, “We visited the capitol building in Olympia, the capital of Washington state.”

Today’s Challenge:  Make It a Capital Day

What makes your hometown worthy of being designated “The Nation’s Capital for a Day”?  You’ve been appointed to argue the case for your hometown, and if successful, your town will be awarded the 24-hour honor plus five million dollars.  Promote your town or city for this honor by describing its virtues Chamber of Commerce-style, identifying what makes it a special, one-of-a-king place, worthy of being named capital for a day. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Trex, Ethan. Glory Day: Lancaster’s Brief Stint as Our Nation’s Capital. Mental Floss.com 27 Sep. 2017. http://mentalfloss.com/article/31494/glory-day-lancasters-brief-stint-our-nations-capital.

2-Fogarty, Mignon.  The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2009.

September 26:  Debate Day

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On this day in 1960, the first-ever televised presidential debate was held in Chicago.  Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon squared off before an audience of more than 65 million viewers.

This debate revealed the power of television as a modern medium for politics.  Radio listeners awarded the debate to Nixon, but the much larger television audience gave the prize to Kennedy.  In contrast to Kennedy’s relaxed, confident appearance, Nixon looked glum and sweaty.  In addition to a more youthful, vigorous appearance, Kennedy also seemed more at ease with the new medium, looking at the TV camera to address the American viewers.  Nixon, however, instead of looking into the TV camera, turned to Kennedy, addressing his comments solely to his opponent.

It’s these small factors that probably gave Kennedy the edge, not only in the debates, but also in the election.  He won the presidency in November 1960 by one of the smallest margins in U.S. presidential history (1).  Nixon ran for president again, winning the 1968 and 1972 elections for president.  In both of these winning campaigns, Nixon declined all invitations to debate his opponent.

Today’s Challenge:   Abecedarian Debate Topics

Abecedarian is an adjective meaning “of or related to the alphabet.”  On this 26th day of the month, it’s appropriate to turn to the alphabet, covering your subject from A to Z.  What are the best topics for a debate — timely or timeless topics that are controversial enough to spark a two-sided argument?  Your challenge is to generate at least 26 different possible debate topics, one topic for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.

September 25:  Convocation Day

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On this day in 1991, Professor Jacob Neusner, a historian of religion, delivered the convocation address to students at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.  Unlike a commencement speech, which is presented at a graduation ceremony at the end of a school term, a convocation is a speech to incoming students at the beginning of a school term.

The purpose of a convocation, therefore, is to call a student body together and to spark the students’ quest for knowledge as they stand poised at the beginning of a new school year. Neusner clearly is qualified to speak about acquiring knowledge, having played a part in the publication of over 1,000 books, either as an author, editor, or translator.  In his convocation, Neusner evoked examples of history’s great teachers, teachers who helped their students to discover truth for themselves.  First, he held up Socrates as an example, saying his primary method was to walk the streets and to stop people to ask them irritating questions.  His second example was Jesus, whose Sermon on the Mount was anything but a long, boring lecture (1).

Today’s Challenge:  School’s Cool! You’d Be a Fool to Miss a Single Day of School

What is the purpose of education?  What would you say to welcome, motivate, and inspire students to make the most of their learning in the coming year?  Write the text of your convocation speech, giving your audience the best advice you can about how not to take their education for granted. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.

 

September 24:  Vivid Verb Day

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Today is the birthday of F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940), known for his novel The Great Gatsby as well as numerous other short stories and novels.

In a 1938 letter to his daughter, Fitzgerald presented his powerful case for what he felt was the English language’s most potent part of speech:

. . . all fine prose is based on the verbs carrying the sentences. They make sentences move. Probably the finest technical poem in English is Keats’ “Eve of Saint Agnes.” A line like “The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,” is so alive that you race through it, scarcely noticing it, yet it has colored the whole poem with its movement–the limping, trembling and freezing is going on before your own eyes. (1)

Verbs are the engines of every sentence.  They create movement and action as well as images that your reader can see and hear.  Because verbs are so important, you should learn to select your verbs with care and learn to differentiate between imprecise, passive verbs that suck the life out of your sentences and precise, action verbs that enliven your sentences.

Like Fitzgerald, writer Constance Hale argues that confident writers know the importance of vivid verbs.  Hale believes so strongly in verbs, in fact, that she wrote an entire book on them called, Vex, Hex, Smash, and Smooch.

In her book, Hale talks about a “cheat” she employed as a magazine editor to determine whether or not a writer was up to snuff.  She would begin by circling every verb in the first two or three paragraphs of a submitted story.  Then she would study each verb (2).

Put Hale’s “Verb Check” to the test by examining the two sentences below.  Notice how a wimpy verb only tells, while a vivid verb shows, providing both sight and sound:

Sentence 1:  Mary was angry.

Sentence 2:  Mary slammed her fist on the desk, lowered her eyebrows into an indignant glare, and stomped out of the room.

Today’s Challenge:  Parts of Speech on Parade

What would you say is the most important single part of speech in the English language, and why should writers pay careful attention to how they use it?  Make your case using sentences from great writers as examples. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Seven Tips From F. Scott Fitzgerald on How to Write Fiction. Open Culture.com. 26 Feb. 2013. .

2- Hale, Constance.  Vex, Hex, Smash, and Smooch:  Let Verbs Power Your Writing.  New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, 2012.

September 23:  Pathos Day

On this day, two emotionally charged speeches about dogs were given more than 50 years apart.

The first was a closing argument from a trial in 1870.  Attorney George Graham Vest was representing a client whose hunting dog, Old Drum, had been killed by a neighboring sheep farmer. Instead of addressing the specific facts of the case, Vest took another approach, an emotional appeal to the faithful nature not just of Old Drum, but all dogs:

Gentlemen of the jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world.

Vest won the case and Old Drum’s owner was awarded $50. Today a statue of the dog and a plaque with Vest’s speech are located in front of the courthouse in Warrensburg, Missouri (1).

The second canine-themed talk was a nationally televised speech by vice-presidential candidate Richard Nixon in 1952. As the running mate for Dwight D. Eisenhower on the Republican ticket, Nixon faced a challenge when a story broke that he had taken money from a secret fund set up by a group of millionaires from his home state, California.  Nixon’s reputation and his political future were on the line, so on September 23, 1952, he went on national TV, a relatively new medium at the time, to deny the accusations.  One major tactic Nixon used in his speech was to appeal to his audience’s sympathies by talking about his humble background, his modest income, and most importantly, his family dog:

A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog, and, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?

It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate that he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it Checkers.

And you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it. (2)

Nixon’s speech was a great success.  Letters and telegrams of support poured in, and Eisenhower decided to keep him on the presidential ticket, a ticket that six weeks later won in a landslide. Today, Nixon’s speech is known as “The Checkers Speech.”

Both of these speeches — coincidentally presented on September 23rd — exemplify the power of pathos in writing. The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about three key components of persuasive rhetoric:  ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is the writer’s credibility, and logos is the writer’s reasoning.  The third, and perhaps most important component, is pathos, the writer’s appeal to emotion.  Both Nixon and Vest knew that to persuade their audience they needed more than just reasonable arguments and facts; in addition,  they needed to move their audience’s emotions by tugging at their heart strings.  By using their words to create moving and specific images, and to tell specific, personal anecdotes, Vest and Nixon crafted cogent and convincing cases.

Today’s Challenge:  Pathos-Powered PSA

What is something specific that can be done today by you or by anyone to make the world a better place?  Write a Public Service Announcement (PSA) making your case.  Craft it as a logical argument, but also pour on the pathos by thinking about not just your audience’s head, but also its heart.  Use specific imagery, figurative language, anecdotes, and personal insight to make a connection and to move your audience to act. (Common Core Writing 2 – Argument)

1- Vest, George Graham. Tribute to a Dog. 1855. Public Domain. History Place.com. http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/vest.htm.

2- Nixon, Richard. Checkers Speech. Public Domain. History Place.com. http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/nixon-checkers.htm.

3 – Gallow, Carmine.  Talk Like TED:  The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds.  New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 2014.