January 6: Personification Day

Photograph of Sandburg
Carl Sandburg

Today is the birthday of American writer and poet Carl Sandburg, who was born on this day in 1878 in Galesburg, Illinois.

Image result for word days book

The son of Swedish immigrants, Sandburg left school at the age of thirteen to work odd jobs to help support his family.  In 1898, he volunteered to travel to Puerto Rico where he served with the 6th Illinois Infantry during the Spanish-American War.  After the war, he attended the United States Military Academy at West Point but dropped out after just two weeks after failing a mathematics and grammar exam (1).  Returning to his hometown in Illinois, Sandburg enrolled in Lombard College.  At Lombard, he honed his skills as a writer of both prose and poetry, and after college, he moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where he worked as an advertising writer and a journalist.

Sandburg achieved unprecedented success as a writer of both biography and poetry.  His great work of prose was his biography of Abraham Lincoln, an exhaustively detailed six-volume work that took him 30 years to research and complete. Not only did he win the Pulitzer Prize in 1939 for his stellar writing, he was also invited to address a joint session of Congress on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth on February 12, 1959.  This was the first time a private citizen was allowed to make such an address (2).

Before he began his biography of Lincoln, Sandburg established himself as a great poet, winning the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1919.  Writing in free verse, Sandburg’s poems captured the essence of industrial America.  

Perhaps his best-known poem Chicago begins:

HOG Butcher for the World,

              Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,

              Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;

              Stormy, husky, brawling,

              City of the Big Shoulders . . .

One of the primary rhetorical devices at work here is personification.  Sandburg does not just describe the city, he brings it to life, giving it job titles, such as “Tool Maker,” and human characteristics, such as “brawling,” and even human anatomy, such as “Big Shoulders.”

Personification is figurative language used in either poetry or prose that describes a non-human thing or idea using human characteristics.  As Sandburg demonstrates, the simple secret of personification is selecting the right words to animate the inanimate.  The key parts of speech for personification are adjectives, nouns, verbs, and pronouns:

-Adjectives like thoughtful or honest or sneaky

-Verbs like smile or sings or snores

-Nouns like nose or hands or feet

-Pronouns like I, she, or they.

In the following poem, Sandburg personifies the grass.  Notice how he makes the grass human by giving it not just a first person voice, but also a job to do:

GRASS

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work–

         I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:

         What place is this?

         Where are we now?

         I am the grass.

         Let me work.

Today’s Challenge:  I Am the Homework, I Make You Sweat

What are some everyday objects that you might bring to life using personification?  If these things had a voice, what would they say?  Using “Grass” as a model, select your own everyday non-human topic and use personification to give it a first person voice, writing at least 100 words of either poetry or prose.  Imagine what it would say and what it would say about its job.  Your tone may be serious or silly.

Possible Topics: alarm clock, coffee cup, textbook, guitar, bicycle, paper clip, pencil, car, microwave, baseball

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Carl Sandburg was more than the voice of America, more than the poet of its strength and genius. He was America. -President Lyndon B. Johnson

1- Wikipedia Carl Sandburg. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Sandburg.

2-Poetry Foundation. Carl Sandburg.  https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/carl-sandburg.

January 5: List Day

Today is the birthday of Umberto Eco (1932-2016), the Italian novelist, literary critic, philosopher and semiotician (one who studies signs and symbols).  Although he is best known for his historical mystery novel The Name of the Rose, Eco’s most interesting work might just be a work of nonfiction that he published in 2009 called The Infinity of Lists.  In his book, Eco collects and catalogs examples of lists from literature, music, and art, showing over and over how people have turned to lists in an attempt to bring order to chaos (1).

Some people are critical of lists as a writing form.  They see the ubiquitous internet listicles as a sign of the apocalypse (See March 19:  Listicle Day).  Eco, however, views lists differently:

The list doesn’t destroy culture; it creates it. Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In fact, there is a dizzying array: lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants, or of treasures and book titles. Think of the nature collections of the 16th century. My novels, by the way, are full of lists (2).

The following are some of the lists from literature that Eco includes in his book:

-A list of the residents of Hades from Virgil’s Aeneid, Book VI.

-A list of conditions for manhood from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.”

-A list of items that Tom obtained from his friends as payment for the privilege of whitewashing his fence, from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

-A list of book categories from the bookstore in Italo Calvino’s novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.

Lists fascinate us because they appeal to our inherent need for organization.  A list’s title gives the reader immediate and easily categorized information, such as “The Ten Commandments” or “Thirteen Signs You’re Addicted to Lip Balm.”

Lists are an essential tool that assist writers to shovel up heaping helpings of savory details for the reader to enjoy.  Too often writers dwell too much on abstractions and generalities. Lists remind the writer that the reader is hungry for concrete details.  Readers can be told things for only so long; they prefer, instead, to be shown things, things that they can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel.

Today’s Challenge:  Your Personal Parade of Particulars

What are some titles of lists that you would find interesting to enumerate and catalogue your life experiences?  Generating your own lists is a great way to practice generating specific, concrete details in your writing.  Generate at least three list titles of your own, or use some of the examples below.  Then, based on the three titles, generate three separate lists, each containing at least seven items.

Things I’ve Found

Songs on My iPod

Jobs I’d Hate to Have

Things I Love to Hate

Things I Hope to Do by the Time I’m Fifty

Reasons I Get Up in the Morning

Important Numbers in My Life

Things I Can Rant About?

Things I Can Rave About?

Places I’d Like to Go Before I Die

Nicknames I’ve Had in My Life

Most Memorable People I’ve Met

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with . . . . We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.  -Umbeto Eco

1-Eco, Umberto.  The Infinity of Lists.  New York:  Rizzoli, 2009.

2-Beyer, Susanne and Lothar Gorris. We Like Lists Because We Don’t Want to DieSpiegal.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/spiegel-interview-with-umberto-eco-we-like-lists-because-we-don-t-want-to-die-a-659577.html.

January 4: Grimm’s Fairy Tales Day

Today is the birthday of Jacob Grimm, who was born in Hanau, Germany on this day in 1785.  Grimm, along with his brother Wilhelm, is the author of one of the best-known works of German literature, Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

While in college at the University of Marburg, the Brothers Grimm developed an interest in German folklore and began a lifelong process of collecting and recording folk tales.  The first edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales was published in 1812 and contained 86 stories.  The book was revised and expanded several times, until 1857 when the 7th edition of Grimm’s Fairy Tales was published with over 200 stories.  Published in more than 100 languages, the fairy tales became known throughout the world, and even today the name Grimm remains synonymous with children’s literature (1).  

Whether we were read adapted versions as bedtime stories or whether we watched filmed versions adapted by Walt Disney, the stories originally collected by the Brothers Grimm remain some of the most familiar stories of our youth:

Snow White

Sleeping Beauty

Rapunzel

Hansel and Gretel

Little Red Riding Hood

Rumpelstiltskin

The Pied Piper of Hamlin

Today’s Challenge:  Your Fairy Tales and Fables Final Four

What children’s stories would you enshrine in the Children’s Literature Hall of Fame?  What makes them so memorable and enduring?  Select four separate children’s stories from Grimm’s Fairy Tales or from other children’s literature.  Write an explanation of why you would enshrine each of your chosen stories into the Children’s Literature Hall of Fame.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.  –Albert Einstein

1 –Eiland’s Online English Materials.  A Brief History:  The Brothers Grimm. http://englit.org/eiland_shared/critical/grimm.htm.

January 3: Latin Phrase Day

Today is Memento Mori, a day to remember our mortality.  In Latin, memento mori translates, “Remember that you must die.” The Latin phrase was put to use in ancient Rome to prevent leaders from falling prey to hubris.  When a Roman general paraded through the streets after a victorious battle, a slave was strategically placed behind the general in his chariot.  As the general basked in the cheers of the crowd, the slave’s job was to whisper in the general’s ear:  “Memento mori” or “Someday you will die” (1).

Memento Mori is not just for Roman generals however.  After he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, Apple Founder Steve Jobs gave a moving commencement address at Stanford University, reminding graduates that facing our mortality is no morbid exercise; instead, it is motivating:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.  (2)

As Steve Jobs reminds us, everyone dies, but their words live on; the same is true of languages, especially the Latin language.

Because of the great influence of the Roman Empire, Latin was the primary language of education in the West from the Middle Ages until the mid-20th Century.  The major works of science, law, history, religion, and philosophy were all written in Latin; therefore, for over a thousand years, proficiency in Latin was a must for any classically educated person.  

Today the English language has replaced Latin as the lingua franca, and many view Latin as just another dead language. Nevertheless, the residue of Latin’s past influence is very much alive in English words with Latin roots as well as many legal, literary, and scientific terms.  For example, common words like dictionary, vocabulary, description, and civilization all derive from Latin.

Today’s Challenge:  Latin’s Not Dead Yet

What Latin phrase, expression, or motto might you use as the central focus of a commencement address?  Research the English translations of the Latin expressions listed below. Select one, and like Steve Jobs did with memento mori, use the expression as a central theme for a brief motivational commencement address.

faber est suae quisque fortunae

astra inclinant, sed non obligant

aut viam inveniam aut faciam

bono malum superate

docendo disco, scribendo cogito

fortes fortuna adiuvat

honor virtutis praemium

magna est vis consuetudinis

nulla tenaci invia est via

omne trium perfectum

praemonitus praemunitus (3)

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  

I hold your doctrine of Memento Mori.

And were an epitaph to be my story

I’d have a short one ready for my own.

I would have written of me on my stone:

I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.

-Robert Frost

1-Crosby, Daniel. Memento Mori – The Ancient Roman Cure for Overconfidence. http://wealthmanagement.com/commentary/memento-mori-ancient-roman-cure-overconfidence.

2-Jobs, Steve.  Death is Very Likely the Single Best Invention of Life.  The Guardian. 10 Oct. 2011.

http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/oct/06/steve-jobs-pancreas-cancer.

3-McKay, Brett and Kate. The Art of Manliness. Latin Words and Phrases Every Man Should Know .  http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/07/25/latin-words-and-phrases-every-man-should-know/.

January 2: 55 Fiction Day

On this day in 1974, President Richard Nixon signed the Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act, which established a 55 mile per hour speed limit on the nation’s highways.  Nixon’s effort to conserve gasoline was spurred by the 1973 oil crisis where Arab countries declared an oil embargo, dramatically increasing U.S. gas prices (1).

Just as reducing your speed when driving increases fuel efficiency, reducing your word count when writing increases your communication efficiency, making every word count.  One excellent way to practice limiting your word count is by trying your hand at an exciting new genre of writing called 55 Fiction. In these short, short stories, you must not exceed the 55-word limit.

Since 1987, Steve Moss, the editor of New Times, a California newspaper, has held a Fifty-Five Fiction Story Contest. The contest has spawned two books of 55 Fiction:  The World’s Shortest Stories and The World’s Shortest Stories of Love and Death.

As Moss explains, 55-Fiction is a little like a one-minute episode of “The Twilight Zone,” or “what O. Henry might have conjured up if he’d had only the back of a business card to write upon . . . .” Shakespeare said it best: “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and in the 21st century, where sound bites compete for our limited attention span, 55-Fiction is the perfect form (2).

The keys to 55-Fiction are a good story, concise — yet clear — writing, and a denouement with a payoff. Surprise, irony, and/or humor are the hallmarks of the truly great short, short stories.

While 55-fiction is fun to read and write, these are not just frivolous throwaways. The writer of a good 55-Fiction piece must practice many of the key techniques of any good writer: clear diction, vivid detail, concise language, careful revision, and thoughtful editing.

Here are a couple of examples:

Last Call

It’s a dark summer evening. Lightning strikes in the distance. Two young lovers rendezvous. She lies sleeping. He kisses her soft, yet strangely warm lips. He makes a toast to his love and drinks. As he swallows, his cell phone rings. He grabs it with a trembling hand. “Romeo! Stop! Listen! Juliet’s not really dead!!”

Alone

He shivered in the darkness. Long ago, there had been 12 in his pack, disappearing over time. Only he remained. Suddenly, a change; the light at the end of the tunnel was coming nearer. Giant hands grabbed him, pulling him towards the light. God, perhaps? Then, a voice: “Mom, we’re down to the last soda!”

Today’s Challenge:  Fifty-Five Test Drive

What is an anecdote that you can tell in no more than 55 words? Write your own 55-word short story. Use the guidelines below. If you can’t think of an original story, consider adapting something from classic literature, as in “Last Call.”

Five Guidelines for Writing Fifty-Five Fiction:

1. Like any good story, these stories need a setting, characters, conflict, climax, and resolution.

2. Stories may be any genre: sci-fi, romance, detective, horror, parody, etc.

3. Don’t try to write exactly 55 words in your first draft; instead, focus just on writing a good short, short story. Then, go back to revise and edit until you’re down to 55.

4. Humor, puns, suspense, or parody are encouraged.

5. For more examples of 55 Fiction, go to the New Times web site.

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Less is more. -Andrea del Sarto

1-The American Presidency Project – Richard Nixon. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=4332.

2-New Times.  55 Fiction. https://www.newtimesslo.com/sanluisobispo/55-fiction/Category?oid=2872608.

January 1: Exordium Day

On New Year’s Day our head is on a swivel; we look backward, reflecting on the year just passed, and forward, anticipating the new year ahead.

This swivel-headedness is reflected in the etymology – the word history – of the word “January.” The month’s name comes to us from the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings, endings, gateways, and doorways.  Janus was depicted as a two-faced god, one face looking backwards to the past and the other looking forward to the future.  

Like Janus, on this New Year’s Day, we look forward as we begin a new year.  It’s an appropriate day to spend some time considering methods for getting off on the right foot, whether writing an essay or a speech.  

In classical rhetoric, the introduction or beginning of a speech was called the exordium.  In Latin it means “to urge forward,” and it is the ancestor of the English verb exhort, which means “to urge earnestly.”  Any good exordium introduces the speaker’s topic and purpose, but the exordium is also important to establish the speaker’s ethos, or credibility, by showing the audience that he or she is intelligent, reliable, and trustworthy.  When you write a speech or essay, the exordium is your first impression, so it is important to give it careful thought (1).

Whatever you do, it is important to establish why your topic matters and why it is relevant to your audience.  The best way to do this is not by telling the audience; instead, show the audience using specific concrete language.  Use a captivating story or relevant anecdote that shows how real people are impacted by your topic.

Today’s Challenge:  New Year’s Introduction

What issues do you believe will be or will continue to be important in the coming year?  Brainstorm some issues and your specific position on those issues.  Then select one specific claim that you feel you can defend.  Imagine that you are presenting a speech on your issue, and write your exordium. Before stating your claim, show the reader why the topic is relevant.  Look at the issue for your audience’s perspective, and explain why this issue matters today and why it will still matter tomorrow. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The beginning is the most important part of the work. –Plato

1- Crowley, Sharon and Debra Hawhee.  Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students (Third Edition).  New York:  Pearson, Longman, 2004.

December 31: Spam Day

On this day in the 1930s, Jay Hormel hosted a New Year’s Eve party where he challenged his guests to create a name for his latest invention, a canned pork product.

On that night, not only was a new year born, but also one of the most successful and most recognizable brand names in history came into being: Spam. The winning name was formed from the contraction of sp(iced h)am; the winner of the contest was awarded $100.

Thanks to a sketch and song from the British television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the word Spam lost its capital letter and became a lowercase common noun referring to unsolicited e-mail. In the sketch, which first appeared in 1970, a waitress recites a list of menu items, all including Spam. As the menu is being recited, a song begins where male voices chant the word Spam more than 100 times. It’s this seemingly endless, repetitive chant that inspired computer users to select spam as the appropriate appellation for unwanted, disruptive email in 1994 (1).

One organization that is especially interested in language and new words is The American Dialect Society (ADS), a non-profit organization that studies the varieties of English specific to North America.  Founded in 1889, the ADS publishes the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), a dictionary that attempts to document and map the varieties of spoken American English in the United States.

At its annual convention each January, members of the American Dialect Society vote on their “Word of the Year,” selecting the single word that was both popular in the previous year and that was demonstrably new.  Below are some examples of previous winners:

2015:  they

2014:  #blacklivesmatter

2013:  because

2012:  hashtag

2011:  occupy

2010:  app

2009 – Tweet

2008 – Bailout

2007 – Subprime

2006 – Plutoed

2005 – truthiness (2)

Today’s Challenge: New Year, New Words

What words or phrases do you think best typify the past year? What individual words or individual phrases would best sum up your experiences this year?  Write an explanation for the word or phrase that you would submit as this year’s nominee for word of the year.  You may base your explanation either on the important influence the word has had on the broader culture, or you may base your explanation on the important influence the word has had on your personal experience this year.  

Use this writing exercise as an icebreaker at your New Year’s Eve party.  If you’re really ambitious, you might also challenge your guests to honor Spam Day by inventing a new word for the year ahead.  Award cans of Spam as the prize. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Steinmetz, Sol and Barbara Ann Kipfer. The Life of Language. New York: Random House, 2006.

2-American Dialect Society. All of the Words of the Year, 1990 to Present. http://www.americandialect.org/woty/all-of-the-words-of-the-year-1990-to-present.

December 30: Subordinating Conjunction Day 

Today is the birthday of Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), England’s master storyteller and poet.  Kipling was British, but he lived many years in India where he was born.  Known especially for his short stories and his popular work of fiction The Jungle Book (1894), Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 when he was just 42 years old.  He was the first English language writer to win the prize, and he was also the youngest ever to win the prize

In addition to his well-known fiction, Kipling was also a poet. In 1910, he published the poem “If,” which remains today one of the best known poems ever written in English.  

Written in the voice of a father giving advice to his son, the four-stanzas of the poem make up a single 283-word sentence. More specifically, the single sentence is a complex sentence, constructed in the form of a periodic sentence, a sentence that begins with subordinate phrases or clauses, and ends with the main clause.  In the case of Kipling’s poem “If,” he crafts twelve subordinate clauses, each beginning with the subordinating conjunction “if,” and ends with an independent clause.  Each of the “if” clauses provides conditions or prerequisites for manhood.  The speaker in the poem, the father, concludes with a statement, saying in effect, by making the choice to do these things, you will be a man and the world will be yours.

If

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

The structure of Kipling’s poem demonstrates the power of the periodic sentence.  Certainly no one is writing 200-word sentences these days; however, using a periodic structure that begins with a string of subordinate ideas is a nice technique for drawing your reader in and building dramatic tension.  The periodic structure also allows a writer to capitalize on the rhythm created by parallel structure and the anticipation created by compounding details (1).

Subordination is a fundamental aspect of writing that is used for more than just periodic sentences.  Subordination in syntax relates to a method of constructing sentences where some of the ideas in a sentence are dependent on other parts.

For example, take the following two sentences:

Bill loves to read.  Bill is always carrying a book.

To show a logical relationship between these two ideas and combine them into a single sentence, we can use a subordinating conjunction (because) to make one idea subordinate to the other:

Because he loves to read, Bill is always carrying a book.

Instead of two simple sentences, we now have a single complex sentence, a sentence with one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.  In the sentence about Bill, the clause “Because he loves to read” is dependent because it cannot stand alone; it needs the independent clause “Bill is always carrying a book” in order to form a complete thought.

Because subordination is such an effective method for logically combining ideas, it makes sense for writers to recognize subordinating conjunctions, the words that signal the logical connections between ideas.

The following are the most frequently used subordinating conjunctions:

after, although, as, before, because, even though, if, since, so that, unless, until, when, while

These words signal four basic logical relationships.  Read the examples below to see the different ways that subordinating conjunctions connect ideas:

Cause and Effect (or Reasons): because, since, so that

Because he loves to read, Bill is always carrying a book.

Contrast (or Concession): although, even though, though, while, whereas

Although he loves to write, Bill’s favorite pastime is reading.

Time:before, after, as, once, since, while, when, whenever

After Bill gets home from school, he sits down and reads the newspaper.

Condition:  if, once, unless

If Bill gets money for his birthday, he plans to buy some new books.

Today’s Challenge:  WIIFM

What is a specific skill you have or an activity you participate in that you would be willing to promote for the general public? What makes this skill or activity so worthwhile?  Use subordination to write the introduction to a “how to” speech that provides direction on how to achieve something desirable. Begin with “if” clauses that give your audience the WIIFM, or “What’s in it for me.”  Structure your subordinate clauses using parallel structure to give your sentence clarity and rhythm. Crafting a periodic sentences using this structure will build your audience’s interest and anticipation to learn more about your topic.

Possible Topics:

-Join a specific organization or club

-Learn a specific skill or enhance a talent, such as singing, dancing, or barbecuing

-Take a specific class or course of study

-Participate in a new type of pastime, such as hang gliding, stamp collecting, or origami

-Achieve a lifelong goal, such as graduating college, climbing a mountain, or running a marathon

-Practice a good habit that will improve your life, such as avoiding procrastination, practicing meditation, or eating right

Notice how the 83-word sentence below uses parallelism and the “if-then” structure to build audience anticipation:

If you want to be the life of the party, if you want to impress strangers on the street and make money while you’re doing it, if you want to learn a life-long skill that will keep you active and provide you with mental stimulation, if you want to improve both your ability to persevere and your hand-eye coordination, and if you want a form of mediation that won’t allow you to fall asleep, then learning to juggle is the way to go.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Forsyth, Mark.  The Elements of Eloquence.  London:  Icon Books, 2013:  47.

December 29: Greeting Card Day

Today is the birthday of Joyce C. Hall (1891-1982), the founder of Hallmark Cards.  Joyce grew up in Nebraska, and his first job was selling perfume door-to door.  At 16, he and his two brothers pooled their money to open the Norfolk Post Card Company.  Later in 1910, seeking better business opportunities, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he opened a card and gift shop.  When fire destroyed his entire inventory in 1915, he transformed tragedy into opportunity by taking out a loan and buying an engraving firm.  This set the stage for the creation of his first original greeting card designs.  

Still based in Kansas City, Joyce built Hallmark into a national company, pioneering the card-plus-envelope greeting cards we see today, which replaced postcards.  He also pioneered the way cards were merchandised in stores by taking them out of drawers and placing them in eye-catching displays.  To further promote his company and make Hallmark the most recognizable name in the industry, Joyce began sponsoring television programs, beginning with a live Christmas Eve production of Amahl and the Night Visitors in 1951.  That first program set the stage for the long running primetime television series, the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Today’s Challenge:  Word Play for a Word Day

What would be your choice for the best Word Day to celebrate with a greeting card?  What ideas do you have for crafting a clever card?  Select a single Word Day and create a clever greeting card to promote and celebrate that day.  Think about what words and art you will put both inside the card and on the front of the card.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Hallmark.com.  J.C. Hall. http://corporate.hallmark.com/Company/JC-Hall.

December 28: Great Ideas Day

Today is the birthday of philosopher and author Mortimer J. Adler (1902-2001).  As a teen, Adler dropped out of high school and worked as a copyboy for the New York Sun, but he later resumed his education at Columbia University.  After he finished the academic requirements for his bachelor’s degree, Adler was not allowed to graduate because he had refused to participate in physical education.  Nevertheless, Adler continued at Columbia as a teacher and a graduate student until he earned his Ph. D. in experimental psychology.  When he finally walked across the stage to collect his doctorate, he was the only Ph.D. in the country without a master’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a high-school diploma.

Soon Adler moved to the Midwest to teach philosophy at the University of Chicago.  At Chicago, he worked closely with his university’s president, Robert Maynard Hutchins, to develop a new liberal arts curriculum based on a core collection of outstanding works that constitute the foundation of the literature of Western culture.  Together Adler and Hutchins initiated the Great Books Foundation, a non-profit organization founded to promote continuing liberal education among the general public.

In 1952, Adler compiled a 54-volume collection called Great Books of the Western World.  This collection included the works that Adler considered the canon of Western culture, the best writing from fiction, history, poetry, science, philosophy, drama, politics, religion, economics, and ethics.

In addition to the writings of the canon, the Great Books of the Western World included a two-volume index to the 102 “Great Ideas.” Compiled by Adler, this index is called the Syntopicon and contains all references to each of the Great Ideas in the Great Books.   

By Great Ideas, Adler means the “vocabulary of everyone’s thought.”  The ideas are not technical terms or specialized jargon of different branches of learning; instead, the Great Ideas are “the ideas basic and indispensable to understanding ourselves, our society, and the world in which we live (1).  For Adler, philosophy is not just an academic pursuit; instead, philosophical thought is the business of everyone, and inquiring and conversing about big ideas is a core part of what it means to be human.

Below is an A to W listing of some of the Great Ideas. Each of these ideas is universal in the sense that each is a “common object of thought,” meaning these are ideas which any two human beings should be able discuss.  Unlike the tangible, common objects we interact with, these are ideas — intangible, abstract objects that live in the mind.

Art, Beauty, Change, Democracy, Emotion, Fate, Government, Happiness, Induction, Justice, Knowledge, Language, Mind, Nature, Opinion, Progress, Quality, Rhetoric, Science, Truth, Universal and Particular, Vice and Virtue, Wisdom

Today’s Challenge:  One Great Idea, Two Great Works

What is a single universal idea or theme that appears in the work of two separate authors?  Identify a single universal idea, such as truth, wisdom, or democracy, and explain how that idea appears in two different written works. The works may be fiction, drama, poetry, or non-fiction.  In the course of explaining your idea, relate your interpretation of what you think each author is saying about this idea, along with specific evidence from the text that supports your interpretation. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Adler, Mortimer.  How to Think About the Great Ideas.  Open Court, 2000.