May 26: Replete With Ts Day

On this day in 1927, Henry Ford watched as the last Ford Model T rolled off the assembly at his factory in Highland Park, Michigan.  Introduced in 1908, the Model T was the first car that was mass-produced on an assembly line. Its 20-horsepower, four-cylinder engine could reach a maximum of 45 miles per hour. 

By 1918, one of every two cars on U.S. roads were black Model Ts.  As Ford famously said, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.”  In 1999, the Ford Model T was named The Car of the Century by the Global Automotive Elections Foundation (1).

Just as the Model T was at one time ubiquitous on U.S. roads, the letter T remains the most ubiquitous of all consonants in written English.  In fact, Ts are so prevalent that writing students might attempt to write compositions replete with Ts.

Today’s Task:  Composition Replete With Ts Contest

What types of writing compositions contain Ts?  Attempt to write a composition in which every word contains at least one T.  Brainstorm composition types first; then, try to construct the most tremendous, t-ladened masterpiece written this century.

Composition Types to Try:

Tall Tales, Narratives, Descriptions, Editorials, Creative Non-fiction, Skits, Worksheets, Advertisements, Diatribes, Tongue-Twisters, Letters, Fact Sheets, Timed Tests, Textbooks, Telegrams, Detective Stories, Fantasies, Gothic Tomes, Metaphors, Mysteries, Eyewitness Accounts, Reflections, Arguments, Tragedies, Reports, Interviews, Abstracts, Short Stories, Sonnets, Alliterative Poetry, TV Sitcom Scripts

Contest Criteria:  creativity, clarity, jocularity, lucidity, timeliness, style, originality, plot, character development, tone, diction, detail, organization, craftsmanship, editing, syntax, sentence variety, grammatical correctness.

Caution:  Writing compositions replete with Ts might turn tragic.  Students often get addicted. They can’t stop writing with Ts.  Therefore, trust this caveat: try to contain writing to ten contest entries tops.  Thanks.

Quotation of the Day:  Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it. -Henry Ford

1-https://media.ford.com/content/fordmedia/fna/us/en/news/2013/08/05/model-t-facts.html

 

May 25:  Towel Day

Today fans of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, honor his life and work by wearing or displaying towels. Why towels? Well, the explanation can be found in an excerpt from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

H2G2 UK front cover.jpgA towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value – you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you – daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have “lost”. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Adams was born in Cambridge, England in 1952. His publishing career began with a short story that was published in a comic book called Eagle when he was 11 years old. His best known work, the comic sci-fi novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy began as a BBC Radio 4 series in 1978. The novel was published in 1979. The original novel spawned four sequels and a cult following that bought more than 15 million books. The Hitchhikers Guide was made into a movie in 2005.

Towel day was established in 2001 after Adam’s unexpected death of a heart attack on May 11, 2001. He was 49 at the time, living in California with his wife and daughter.

The following proclamation is from the official Towel Day website:

You sass that hoopy Douglas Adams? Now there’s a frood who knew where his towel was. You are invited to join your fellow hitchhikers in mourning the loss of the late great one. Join in on towel day to show your appreciation for the humor and insight that Douglas Adams brought to all our lives.

Today’s Challenge:  The Catalog of Literary Swag

If you were putting together a catalog of physical objects from various great literary works, what are some of the items you would include?  Brainstorm some physical objects that would be included in a catalogue featuring items from great literary works, such as Adams’ Towel, Yorick’s Skull, Huckleberry Finn’s Raft, Scout’s Ham Costume, Romeo’s Vile of Poison, or Hester Prynne’s Scarlet Letter.  Select and name three specific items from three separate works. Next to the name of each item, write a brief description, the kind of description you would find in a catalog to entice buyers. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  But the point which drew all eyes, and, as it were, transfigured the wearer–so that both men and women who had been familiarly acquainted with Hester Prynne were now impressed as if they beheld her for the first time–was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.

-Nathaniel Hawthorne, description of Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter

May 24:  Toastmasters Day

On this day in 1905, the very first Toastmasters meeting was held in Bloomington, Illinois.  The idea for the club was hatched by Ralph C. Smedley, an education director with the YMCA, who wanted to teach speaking skills to the young men in his community.  

Toastmasters 2011.pngToday, Toastmasters clubs span the globe in 142 countries, providing men and women opportunities to practice their public speaking.  The major focus of Toastmasters International, a nonprofit agency, is to develop leaders through the teaching of effective communication skills.  At weekly Toastmasters meetings, members present a range of different talks, gaining valuable speaking experiences.

As stated at the Toastmaster International website, the collaborative nature of the clubs are an essential ingredient in their success:

By regularly giving speeches, gaining feedback, leading teams and guiding others to achieve their goals in a supportive atmosphere, leaders emerge from the Toastmasters program. Every Toastmasters journey begins with a single speech. During their journey, they learn to tell their stories. They listen and answer. They plan and lead. They give feedback—and accept it. Through our community of learners, they find their path to leadership.

Don’t let speaking drive you nuts.  Use PECAN

One way to improve your public speaking skills is to identify the specific elements that lead to a successful presentation.  PECAN is a mnemonic device that will help you remember five key elements of a successful presentation:

Pace, Eye Contact, Control, Articulation, and Non-verbal Communication

PACE: Think Goldilocks

The timing and pace of any speech is an essential element. Remember, your audience hears your speech only once, so practice your speech with an ear to your rhythm and your pace.  As you practice, try not to go too fast or too slow; instead, aim to make it just right. When people get nervous, they tend to speed up, so practice with a stopwatch until you get your time down within a 10-second window of your predicted time.  Always mark your speech to remind you to vary your speed, pacing, and pauses. Use pauses at appropriate times and avoid any pauses that don’t compliment your message. Watch out for verbal ticks (um, like, ya know); again, practice will help you eliminate these so that they don’t distract from your message.

EYE CONTACT:  Engage Your Audience and Get Feedback

Make eye contact with your audience and smile a little at the very beginning of any speech.  Eye contact is essential to make human contact with your audience. Look at your audience so that each person in the room feels involved.  You cannot connect with the audience without eye contact, and if you don’t connect with the audience, you can’t get your message across to them.  Eye contact will also give you instant feedback about your performance.

Don’t try to memorize your speech, but practice it so that you know it so well that you can say it, not read it.  Make marks on your speech to remind yourself to look up; at the very minimum, you should be able to do this at the end of every sentence. As you gain experience and confidence with eye contact, practice moving your head to look at each person in the room.  Strive to make as much eye contact as possible and try to spend more time looking at the audience than looking at your speech.

CONTROL:  Keep Calm and Carry On  

Public speaking is not easy and having fear and anxiety before and during your speech is natural.  The key is to harness the nervous energy and use it to motivate your preparation and practice. The goal is to appear calm and confident so that the audience can focus on the content of your speech and to avoid being distracted by anything that is not relevant to your message.  

Use the tree as your metaphor for control.  Trees are natural, and they have a solid base below – a trunk.  A tree also has branches that move naturally in the wind. Like the tree, keep your feet planted, stand up straight, and balance your weight evenly.  Use your upper body – your arms, hands, and head – to compliment your message, moving them naturally like the limbs of the tree in the wind. Everyone has idiosyncrasies of speech and behavior, the problem is that these get exaggerated when we get nervous.  This is why you must practice. Be aware of shuffling, fidgeting, wiggling or nervous gestures that might distract from your speech. As you gain experience you will become more aware of your weaknesses and will become more confident with strategies to eliminate them.

Another key element of control is staying focused and ignoring distracts.  Don’t allow anyone in the audience to distract you. Maintain the tone that is appropriate for your speech.  If you lose focus or burst out in inappropriate laughter, it is your fault. You are responsible for being in control of your speech from beginning to end.

ARTICULATION:  Your Audience Hears Your Speech Just Once

To articulate means to express yourself as fluently, as coherently, and as eloquently as possible.  Part of articulation is the volume of your voice. You do not need to yell, but you do need to speak loudly enough for everyone in the room to hear you.  If you naturally speak at a low volume, practice raising it a bit. Also, make sure to enunciate your words so that they are as clear as possible. If you speak too softly, mumble, or blur words together, your audience will not be able to understand your speech.  

Another key element of articulation is the variety of your voice.  Mark your speech to ensure that you include vocal variety. Consider where you will pause and where you will emphasise certain words and phrases.  You must build-in vocal variety to avoid just reading your speech in a monotone manner. You must try to make your written words sound as natural as possible.  To do this vary your sentence lengths and types, and practice your speech out loud. The other thing you must do is to practice your speech enough so that it doesn’t sound scripted.

The final key element of articulation is the tone of your voice. Putting together a clearly organized speech with cogent reasoning is vital, but the best speeches combine reason (logos) with emotion and passion (pathos).  With passion, you will be able to animate your message and transfer it to your audience. If you care and believe what you are saying, there is a more likely chance that your audience will accept what you are saying. Consider the tones of your speech, and as you practice make those tones come alive with your voice.  If you just read your speech with no passion, emotion, or feeling, it will sound as if you don’t care about what you’re saying. If you don’t care, your audience won’t either. And remember, one of the major purposes of any speech is to move your audience to think and to feel.

NONVERBAL CUES: Match Your Movements to Your Message

The advantage of spoken language over written language is that you can include nonverbal gestures to enhance the understanding of your message.  The key is to use body language, gestures, and facial expressions that enhance your message instead of distracting from it. As you practice, think about what you will do with your hands.  Placing them on the podium is better than fidgeting. Again, everything you do should serve your speech and your audience, so any gestures that distract should be eliminated. This is why you must practice so that you include gestures that work and eliminate gestures that don’t.  

Wear appropriate clothing for your presentation.  Just like gestures and body language, what you wear should complement your speech.   

Today’s Challenge:  PECAN Pie

What are the most important elements of effective public speaking?  Watch a Ted Talk or other public presentation, and use the elements of PECAN to evaluate the effectiveness of the presentations.  Use the metaphor of a pecan pie, and identify each of the five elements as a slice of the presentation. Draw a circle and make specific notes on the speaker’s Pace, Eye Contact, Control, Articulation, and Non-Verbal Cues (Common Core Speaking and Listening)

Quotation of the Day:  Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue . . . -William Shakespeare

May 23:  Defenestration Day

It’s not often that we can trace the precise day that a word was born, but one particularly interesting word was born on this day in 1618. The word is defenestration which means: The act of throwing something or someone out the window.

Just before the beginning of The Thirty Years War, a war in which Roman Catholics and Protestants battled for political and religious power, Protestant nobles threw two members of the Roman Catholic royal council and their secretary from a window in Hradcany Castle in Prague. The good news concerning this momentous defenestration is that no one was hurt — the three victims fell into the waters of the castle’s moat (1).

The word defenestration comes to us from Latin: de-, out + fenestra, window.

The word window comes to English via Old Norse vindauga: vindr, wind + auga, eye. Window is also a kenning, a figurative device used figuratively in Old English and Old Norse where a compound expression is used in place of a noun, such as oar-steed for ship or whale road for sea. They are found frequently in poetic epics like Beowulf, but we also create them today. For example, here are some modern kennings: boob tube, fat pill, gas guzzler, and gut bomb.

Today’s Challenge:  To Coin a Verb

What are some examples of acts for which there are no single verbs?  The verb form of defenestration is defenestrate – “To throw something or someone out of a window.”  Imagine you were to come up with some new verbs in English to describe very specific actions, such as “to jump into a pile of autumn leaves” or “to laugh so hard while drinking milk that it comes shooting out your nose.”  You might also think of some types of actions that are relatively new, such as: “to get stuck in a fast food drive through lane without enough money to pay for your meal.” Don’t worry about coming up with the actual verbs; instead, focus on the wording of at least three separate definitions. (Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Words and Language)

Quotation of the Day: Never trust a computer you can’t throw out a window. -Steve Wozniak

1 – Ammer, Christine. Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers. New York: Paragon House, 1989.

 

May 22:  Words From the Sea Day

Today is National Maritime Day established in 1933 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The date was established as May 22nd based on the first successful transoceanic voyage under steam propulsion. The steamship The Savannah set sail from Savannah, Georgia, on May 22, 1819 (1).

National Maritime Day is the perfect day to acknowledge and recognize the large number of English words that have washed up on shore and been adopted into everyday speech.  Many words we use today have their origins in the salty talk of sailors. Below are some examples from An Ocean of Words: A Dictionary of Nautical Words and Phrases by Peter D. Jeans:

Blowhard: Sailor’s slang for a wind-bag.

Debacle: Referred to the break-up of ice on a river or navigable channel.

Filibuster: Originally a term for a buccaneer, pirate, or other person who obtained plunder. It later evolved to refer to the use of obstructive tactics in the legislature.

Nausea: From the Greek nausia, meaning seasickness.

Vogue: From the French, voguer, ‘to be carried forward on the water.’ No doubt it comes from the figurative sense of being in fashion – that is being in the swim, going with the flow or current, or moving with the tide (2).

In addition to words with nautical origins, there are boatloads of idioms and common expression we use every day.  For example, if one of your co-workers is a “loose cannon,” it means he or she does not conform to the rules and might say or do something at any time that might hurt the company. Few people realize that this term originates from the actual heavy metal cannon that were tied and secured to a ship’s side. If a cannon became loose, it could cause a lot of damage to the ship and the crew.

Here’s a list of more expressions:

All hands on deck , Ship shape , Full steam ahead, Like a fish out of water, Turn the tide, To make Waves, To Stem the Tide, To run a tight ship, Rock the boat, To have bigger fish to fry, Two ships that pass in the night , In deep water, A big fish in a small pond, The coast is clear, The tip of the iceberg, The world is your oyster, Happy as a clam, Above board, Don’t rock the boat, We’re all in the same boat

Today’s Challenge:  A Net-full of Nautical Words

What are some examples of words in English that you associate the sea?  Although there are many words like tide, wave, and vessel that have clear associations with the ocean, many of the words we use frequently have a hidden nautical history.  Select two of the words below, and research each word’s etymology to find out how its origin or former meaning was sea-related. Contrast any former uses of the words with current dictionary definitions.

Ahoy, Bamboozle, Cranky, Derelict, Exonerate, Fairway, Guzzle, Handsome,  Idler, Junk, Kickback, Listless, Mayonnaise, Noggin, Over-rated, Posh, Quarter, Rummage, Scope, Trick, Victuals, Wash-out, Yarn

(Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day: There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away. –Emily Dickinson

1-https://www.marad.dot.gov/education/national-maritime-day/a-short-history-on-national-maritime-day/

2- Jeans, Peter D. An Ocean of Words: A Dictionary of Nautical Words and Phrases. Secaucus, New Jersey: Birch Lane Press, 1993.

May 21:  Yoda-Speak Day

Released on this day in 1980 was the film The Empire Strikes Back.  The second installment of the original Star War trilogy, features the debut of one of the most memorable characters in the history of science fiction: Yoda.  Although small and unimposing in appearance, Yoda is a wise and powerful Jedi master who trains Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Force. Just as distinctive as Yoda’s appearance is his manner of speaking.

Yoda Empire Strikes Back.pngFrom the first words out of Yoda’s mouth when he meets Luke Skywalker, we realize something is different in his speech pattern:

Luke: I’m looking for someone.

Yoda: Looking? Found someone, you have, I would say, hmmm?

Luke: Right…

Yoda: Help you I can. Yes, mmmm.

Luke: I don’t think so. I’m looking for a great warrior. (1)

The reason Yoda’s manner of speaking seems odd to us is because it doesn’t follow the typical pattern of English syntax.  The majority of sentences in English follow the subject-verb-object word order.  In his speech, however, Yoda inverts the typical word order to verb-object-subject.  For example, instead  of saying to Luke, “You still have much to learn,” Yoda says,  “Much to learn, you still have.”

Yoda’s syntax might seem alien, but it’s not. Generations of writers, especially poets, have used the rhetorical device called anastrophe (or inversion) to rearrange the syntactic furniture for effect (Anastrophe in Greek means “turning back or about.”).  Using something other than the usual word order, makes the reader slow down a bit and spend a bit more time pondering a phrase or a clause.  Anastrophe also allows writers to add emphasis to a particular word, just as you might move your sofa to a more prominent position in your living room.

So, for example, Shakespeare might have written:

The question is: to be, or not to be?  

Instead, Shakespeare used anastrophe to alter the typical pattern, kicking off the most famous soliloquy in English with:

To be, or not to be, that is the question.

Kennedy might have said, “Don’t ask what your country can do for you”; instead, he inverted his words slightly, saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you . . . .”

Today’s Challenge:  “Try Not. Do…or Do Not.  There Is No Try”

What are some of the most famous quotations in the English language?  Brainstorm some famous quotations.  Then, try your hand at applying anastrophe by changing the word order of at least three separate quotations. You can change the word order any way you like, as long as make sense it does.

For example,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . . -Charles Dickens

Revised with anastrophe:  

The best of times, it was; the worst of times, it was

Here are a few classic quotations:

Give me liberty or give me death. -Patrick Henry

Speak softly and carry a big stick.  -Theodore Roosevelt

Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. -Thomas Edison

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi

The unexamined life is not worth living. -Socrates

Necessity is the mother of invention. -Plato

With great power comes great responsibility. -Voltaire

The pen is mightier than the sword. -Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. -John Dalberg-Acton

Quotation of the Day:  Much to learn, you still have. -Yoda

1-http://www.starwars.com/databank/yoda

May 20:  Phonetic Alphabet Day

Today is the anniversary of the first Armed Forces Day, established by President Harry S. Truman in 1950. The new holiday stemmed from the unification of the Army, Navy, and Air Force under the Department of Defense, which was activated in 1947 and is still headquartered at the Pentagon.

In his Presidential Proclamation establishing Armed Forces Day, President Truman said the following:

Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.

In addition to expressing the unification of the armed forces, this holiday was intended to be an opportunity to educate civilians as to the role of the military, to show off the hardware of the military, and to honor the men and women serving in the armed forces.

The goal of the establishment of the Department of Defense was improved cooperation and communication between the armed services. One element of this cooperation, and especially this communication, is the NATO Phonetic Alphabet (1).

Although the alphabet we use today helps children achieve literacy, the 26 letters of the alphabet are not a full representation of all the sounds in English. A quick glance at any dictionary’s pronunciation chart will reveal 45-50 different pronunciations of English letters and letter combinations. In fact, even the 26 letters are not truly phonetic representations. For example, try writing out each of the letters: Aye, Bee, Sea, Dee, Eee, Ef, Gee, Aych . . . . As you can see, the letter C begins with an “S” sound and the letter F, begins with an “E” sound.

As a result of the non-phonetic nature of the English alphabet, verbal communication that is not face-to-face can be a problem. To improve verbal communication over telephone and radio, the armed forces adopted the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. In this alphabet, each letter is assigned a standard code word so that, if necessary, words can be spelled out clearly and unambiguously regardless of individual accent or communication interference.

Alpha

Bravo

Charlie

Delta

Echo

Foxtrot

Golf

Hotel

India

Juliet

Kilo

Mike

November

Oscar

Papa

Quebec

Romeo

Sierra

Tango

Uniform

Victor

Whiskey

X-ray

Yankee

Zulu

Today’s Challenge: Put (PAPA-UNIFORM-TANGO) Your Initials on the Alphabet

What words would you use for each of the 26 letters in your own phonetic alphabet?  The NATO Phonetic Alphabet we have today has evolved over time. For example, in World War II, the joint Army/Navy alphabet looked like this:

Alfa Bravo Coca Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliett Kilo Lima Metro Nectar Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Union Victor Whisky Extra Yankee Zulu

In celebration of Armed Forces Day and in celebration of clear communication, create your own phonetic alphabet. Make each word memorable, but also try to make sure that each word you pick clearly corresponds to the pronunciation of each letter.

Quotation of the Day: Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword obviously never encountered automatic weapons. -General Douglas MacArthur

1- United States Department of Defense:http://www.defenselink.mil/afd/

May 19:  Literacy Narrative Day

Black nationalist leader Malcolm X was born on this day in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. Born Malcolm Little, he considered Little his slave name, so he replaced it with an X to represent the lost name of his African tribal ancestors.

Malcolm X in March 1964When he was 21 years old, Malcolm was convicted of burglary and received a ten-year sentence.  In prison, Malcolm transformed his life through voracious reading and study. He stopped using drugs and became a member of the Nation of Islam.  After his early-release from prison in 1952, Malcolm became a spokesman for the Nation of Islam. Like Martin Luther King’s quest for civil rights, Malcolm advocated for racial equality.  However, unlike King’s tactics of nonviolent resistance, Malcolm promoted a more militant approach, saying “There’s no such thing as a nonviolent revolution.” Shortly before he died, Malcolm left the Nation of Islam.  While preparing to give a speech in New York, he was assassinated on February 21, 1965.

In his autobiography, Malcolm recounts the events that led to his education behind bars.  With time on his hands, he attempted to read but due to his limited vocabulary, he could comprehend few of the words on the page.  To remedy this he decided to study a dictionary. Beginning with the letter A, he read and copied by hand page after page and soon discovered that he was learning more than just vocabulary:  “With every succeeding page, I also learned of people and places and events from history. Actually the dictionary is like a miniature encyclopedia.”

As his knowledge base and vocabulary grew, Malcolm turned to other books beside the dictionary, reading in every free moment during the day, and well into the night by a small corridor light outside his jail cell.

Talking about his prison studies, Malcolm says:  

I never have been so truly free in my life. . . . the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive . . . . My homemade education gave me, with every additional book that I read, a little bit more sensitivity to the deafness, dumbness, and blindness that was afflicting the black race in America.

Today’s Challenge:  Your Love Letter to Literacy

What are some memorable experiences that would be in your autobiography regarding your acquisition of literacy?  What do you remember about learning to read, about learning to write, and about being influenced by books?  Imagine you are writing your autobiography and that it must include a literacy narrative, that is a story of your experiences with learning to read and write.  Write about a specific incident from your life that is related to books, reading, or writing.  Also consider the people who have influenced your experiences with literacy. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-The Autobiography of Malcolm X 1965

 

May 18:  Connotations Day

Today is the birthday of philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell who was born in Wales in 1872. Russell received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.

Russell’s writings are eminently quotable. Here are a few examples that demonstrate his genius for language that is both concise and profound:

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.

Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.

One particular quotation by Russell has helped a generation of English teachers to illustrate the subtleties of denotation and connotation in the English language. On a BBC radio program called Brain Trust, Russell said the following:

I am firm.

You are obstinate.

He is a pig-headed fool.

With this one quotation, Russell demonstrated how a writer’s word choice is colored by his or her point of view and how the plethora of synonyms in English is a double-edged sword: it allows for an amazing array of possibilities, choices, and variety, but it also requires the writer to be a discriminating student of not just a word’s meaning, but also its associations and appropriate context.

The denotation of a word is its dictionary definition, but its connotation is its implied meaning – the associations and emotions that are attached to the word. For example, when addressing 15-year old, you have a choice of addressing him as a: young adult, a young person, an adolescent, a teenager, a teen, a teeny-bopper, a juvenile, or even a whipper-snapper. Although each of these words has the same basic denotation, they certainly have a range of different connotations on a scale of positive to neutral to negative.

Writing Russellesque triads is an excellent way to exercise your verbal muscles and learn to discriminate between the subtle differences in the connotations of various synonyms. For example, there is a classic example of a student who was looking for a synonym for “good.” He picked up a thesaurus and looked down the list of synonyms. Making a selection of what he thought was an appropriate synonym, the student wrote the following sentence: “Today I ate a benevolent donut.”

Here are some examples of triads:

I am an erudite scholar.

You are an learned instructor.

He is a didactic pedagogue.

 

I’m a patriot.

You are a flag waver.

He is jingoistic.

 

My smoking is a vice.

Your smoking is a transgression.

His smoking is a sin.

 

My story was a fascinating narration.

Your story was an interesting anecdote.

His story was a strange yarn.

 

I am sagacious.

You are astute.

He is crafty.

 

I am a scholar.

You are a student.

He is a pupil.

 

I am a wordsmith.

You are a writer.

He is a hack.

 

I’m resting.

You’re lounging.

He’s a couch potato.

 

I’m frugal.

You’re cheap.

He’s a tightwad.

Today’s Challenge: Connotative Concoctions

What are some examples of words that come in a variety of connotations?  Celebrate Bertrand Russell’s birthday by doing your own triad of synonyms. Use the following guidelines as you write:

-Arrange your concoction in first, second, and third person points of view: I, You, and He.

-Begin in the first person with the word or phrase that has the most positive connotations. Continue by using words and/or phrases with ever-increasing negative connotations.

Example:

My bathroom has a fragrant aroma.

Your bathroom has an odd odor.

His bathroom has a strange stench.

(Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quote of the Day: The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.-Mark Twain

 

May 17:  Collective Noun Day

Today is the anniversary of a landmark United States Supreme Court decision that changed American Education. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, announced its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. The decision was to end the segregation of public schools and reverse the 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that established the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine. In the Plessy case, an African American named Homer Plessy was tried for his refusal to sit in a separate railroad car. Plessy v. Ferguson segregated blacks and whites in many areas of common life from water fountains to the school house. The Court’s decision in Brown started the slow march toward desegregation of American schools by stating: “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal” (1).

The word segregation and desegregation share the common Latin root greg which means flock, as in people coming together in a group. Below are other words that relate to people or things coming together or, in the case of egregious, things standing out, outside of the flock.

Aggregate: A sum total or mixing together to constitute a whole (ag-, toward + greg, flock)

Congregate: To gather together into a crowd or group (con-, together + greg, flock)

Egregious: Extremely bad. Flagrant. Standing out from the group (e-, out + greg, flock)

Gregarious: Tending to live in flocks or herds; Sociable (greg, flock)

The word flock is a collective noun, which The American Heritage College Dictionary defines as, “A noun that denotes a collection of persons or things regarded as a unit.”

You run into collective nouns most often when you are talking about groups of animals, as in a pride of lions or a school or shoal of fish. In an earlier age when hunting was more common, the knowledgeable sportsman could correctly identify not only individual species but also the appropriate collective noun. In 1486, Dame Juliana Berners compiled a book of more than one hundred collective nouns called The Book of St Albans (1).

Here are some examples of collective nouns:

An array of hedgehogs, A brood of hens, A cloud of grasshoppers, A dray of squirrels, An exaltation of larks, A fall of woodcocks, A gaggle of geese (in flight: a skein of geese), A herd of deer, A leap of leopards, A mumble of moles, A nye of pheasants, A parliament of owls, A rout of wolves, A shrewdness of apes, A tittering of magpies, An unkindness of ravens, A watch of nightingales

Today’s Challenge:  Create Your Own Colony of Clever Collective Nouns

What are some different types of everyday objects or different types of people that could be labeled with some original collective nouns?  Brainstorm a list of different types of objects and different classifications of people.  Then, generate some of your own collective nouns to cleverly identify the group. Below are some examples:

A stretch of rubber bands, A squabble of siblings, A flush of toilets, A speedo of swimmers, A trip of klutzes, A ton of weightlifters, A chew of gummy worms, A keg of drunkards, A headache of homework, A crash of computers

(Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day: You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of discussion. –Plato

1 – Crutchfield, Roger S. English Vocabulary Quick Reference. Leesburg, VA: LexaDyne Publishers, Inc., 1999.

2 – Manser, Martin. The Guinness Book of Words (2nd Edition). Middlesex: Guinness Publishing Ltd, 1988.