October 6:  Xerox Day

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On this day in 1942, Chester F. Carlson (1906-1968) received a patent for his invention, electrophotography.  His discovery was a giant leap in the history of publishing.  For centuries making a copy of a single document was arduous and time-consuming.  Electrophotography, or xerography as it came to be called, is fast and easy.

Unlike previous wet copy processes, Carlson’s process was “dry.” First an electrostatic image of the original document was created on a rotating metal drum; then, with the help of toner – powdered ink – a copy was transferred to a piece of paper and the print was sealed in place by heat (1).

To differentiate the name of his invention – electrophotography –  from print photography, Carlson searched for a new term. He settled first on the word xerography from the Greek xeros (meaning “dry”) and graphein (meaning “writing”). Xerography later became xerox because of Carlson’s admiration for the name Kodak, the iconic American photography company. Carlson especially liked the fact that the name Kodak was nearly a palindrome (a word that is spelled the same frontwards and backwards).  Adding an “x” at the end of his invention’s name, Carlson reasoned, would give it the same memorable ring.  Thus, Xerox, the word that would become synonymous with duplication, was born (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Copywork, Not Copy Cat

Long before Xerox, copying by hand – or copywork – was a popular method of teaching writing in America.  As children, we learn to talk, at least in part, by imitating others, so the rationale behind copywork is that we can also learn to write by imitating others.

In their article on copywork’s historic roots, Brett and Kate McKay trace how great American writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, Benjamin Franklin, and Jack London used copywork to learn their craft (3).

By zeroing in and copying the words, phrases, and clauses of a single exemplary model, you discover elements of style you wouldn’t otherwise notice.  Like a cook who samples and dissects the dishes of a master chef, you become both inspired to produce your own recipes and equipped to combine the ingredients more artfully.  What is a short passage of published writing that you admire for its rhetorical craft, the kind of passage that might be held up as an exemplary model for writers?  Select a published passage of at least six sentences, and, following the principles of copywork, reproduce the writing verbatim — that’s Latin for “word for word.”  Make sure to write the author’s name and the title of the work at the top of your paper.  The purpose here is not to plagiarize; rather, it’s to use your pen to help you pay better attention as you read and write. (Common Core Reading 1)

1-Thompson, Clive. How the Photocopier Changed the Way We Worked — and Played. Smithsonian Magazine March 2015.

2- Owen, David. Copies in Seconds:  How a Lone Inventor and an Unknown Company Created the Biggest Communication Breakthrough Since Gutenberg.  New York:  Simon and Shuster, 2008:  146.

3-McKay, Brett and Kate. Want to Become a Better Writer? Copy the Work of Others! Art of Manliness.com. 26 Mar. 2014.

October 5:  Epistrophe Day

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On this day in 1988, a candidate for the United States vice-president made one of the more memorable and rhetorically nuanced retorts in political history.  The Democratic candidate was Lloyd Bentsen.  His opponent was Republican candidate Dan Quayle, a younger and much less experience candidate than Bentsen.  It was inevitable that Quayle’s lack of experience would come up in the debate.  When it did, Quayle made a historical comparison, saying he had as much experience as did John F. Kennedy before he was elected president. Bentsen seemed to anticipate the comparison and pounced:

Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

Bentsen’s response was not only the most memorable line in the entire debate, it was also the most memorable line ever from any vice-presidential debate.  Even more, it might just be the most memorable line ever from a political debate.

It’s not just the repetition of “Jack Kennedy” that gives the quip its force; it’s also the placement of the name. Notice that of the four times “Jack Kennedy” is repeated, three of them are at the end of a clause.  Each time Bentsen repeats the name, it echoes, like the sound of gavel pounding on a judge’s bench.

This rhetorical repeater is called epistrophe (eh-PIS-tro-fee), and it’s simply defined as repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive phrases or clauses.  It’s the exact opposite of anaphora, repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases or clauses (See August 28: Anaphora Day)(1).

If you want to write well, learn to use epistrophe.  If you want your sentences to resonate with your reader, learn to use epistrophe.  If you want to add a pleasing rhythm to your sentences — punctuating them with a key idea — learn to use epistrophe.

Great writers and great speakers use epistrophe to make their sentences more rhythmic and more dramatic.

Here are two examples:

. . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.  -Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (1863)

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”  -Jacob Marley’s ghost in Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)

Today’s Challenge:  Save the Best for Last

Epistrophe is especially effective when you want to emphasize and drum home a concept or idea.  What is a basic concept that all children should be taught, either in school or out of school, such as manners, creativity, patience, or dental hygiene? Brainstorm a list of possible concepts.  Then, write a catchy, but brief, Public Service Announcement (PSA) on the one concept you think is most important and why you think it is most important.  Use epistrophe to make you PSA unforgettable and to leave your concept echoing in the mind of your audience long after they have listened to it. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Farnsworth, Ward.  Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric.  Boston:  David R. Godine, 2011:  32.