August 10:  Show Me Day

On this date in 1821, Missouri was admitted to the union as the 24th state. Originally a part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, Missouri achieved statehood as a slave state. It was the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that settled the controversy about admitting Missouri as a slave state, by admitting Maine as a free state (1).

Known as the “Show Me” state, Missouri’s unofficial slogan is the stuff of legend. The story goes that Missouri’s U.S. Congressman Williard Duncan Vandiver coined the slogan at a 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia where he said:

I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me (2).

“Show Me” is only the unofficial motto of Missouri, however.  The official state motto is Latin: Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto (“Let the Welfare of the People Be the Supreme Law”). In fact, more than half of states in the union have mottoes in languages other than English (3).

When it comes to applying words to the page, all writers should think of Missouri and Vandiver’s demand to be shown rather than told.

Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, good writers craft their sentences with concrete details and imagery.  Like Vandiver’s “corn and cotton and cockleburs,” good writers watch out for focusing too much on abstract language by including plenty of concrete nouns and vivid verbs.

The two words “for example” are possibly the two most important words in a writer’s lexicon.  These two words remind writers to support the abstract with the concrete, to balance the general with the specific, and not just to tell the reader, but also to show the reader with specific, detailed examples.

The following are other transitional expressions you can use to signal the reader that you are going to show rather than just tell:

for instance

to illustrate

such as

to demonstrate

an example of this is

specifically

Notice how each of the following examples uses one of the previous signal expressions to connect the gap between general, telling statement and specific, showing examples:

Americans love their dogs.  For example, more than 80 percent of dog owners say that they would risk their life for their dog.

Computers have come a long way.  To illustrate, today’s musical greeting car is more powerful than the world’s most powerful computer was sixty years ago.

Today’s Challenge:  Tell Me, But Also Show Me
What examples would you give to support or refute the following generalization:  “Life today is much more hectic than it was fifty years ago”?Select one of the three general telling statements below and either support or refute it with specific showing examples, details and evidence:

Life today is much more hectic than it was fifty years ago.

Technology has made communications today much more effective than it was fifty years ago.

Hard work and diligent effort are often much more valuable than relying solely on good luck.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”–Anton Chekhov

1 – The Library of Congress. American Memory. “Today in History: August 10.” http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/aug10.html

2 – Missouri Secretary of State’s Officehttp://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/history/slogan.asp

3 – U.S. State Mottos –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_mottos

August 9:  Walden Day

Today is the anniversary of the publication of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Two thousand copies were printed and put on sale for $1 each on August 9, 1854.

It took five years to sell those first thousand copies, but today Walden is one of the all-time best sellers in American literary history. It has also sold well overseas and has been translated into over 20 languages.

In his essay “Five Ways of Looking at Walden,” Professor Walter Harding (1917-1996) talks about the different reasons that Walden has appealed to readers through the years. Below Harding’s five points are summarized.

Walden’s first appeal was as a nature book. In an age of American progress and expansion, Thoreau left the city to live in the woods for two years and commune with nature. In today’s modern age Thoreau reminds us that nature provides us with infinite metaphors for understanding our own existence. He reminds us to watch for signs of the changing of the seasons. In his own famous words from Walden, he explains why returning to nature is so important:

Walden Thoreau.jpgI went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

The second appeal of Walden is its lessons on how to live life more simply. This aspect of Thoreau’s work is especially relevant to the modern reader who is mired in possessions and the fast pace of the consumer culture.

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and refuse other things in proportion.

The third appeal of Walden is its satire. Thoreau doesn’t just observe life in the woods; he reflects on the life he has left in the city, and his biting commentary pokes fun at progress. Here are samples of his views on the transatlantic telegraph cable and French fashion:

We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.

The fourth appeal of Walden is simply the pleasure of reading great writing. Thoreau is a master of the abstract and the particular. Think of how many times you have seen Thoreau quoted. The clarity of his sentences and the exactness of his word choice make Thoreau’s prose eminently quotable.

Here is one example from Walden. It’s a 337-word sentence from the “House-Warming” section. It would be considered long even by 19th century standards. With Thoreau at the pen though, even an average reader can follow the sentence’s path from beginning to end:

I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house, standing in a golden age, of enduring materials, and without gingerbread work, which shall consist of only one room, a vast, rude, substantial, primitive hall, without ceiling or plastering, with bare rafters and purlins supporting a sort of lower heaven over one’s head, — useful to keep off rain and snow, where the king and queen posts stand out to receive your homage, when you have done reverence to the prostrate Saturn of an older dynasty on stepping over the sill; a cavernous house, wherein you must reach up a torch upon a pole to see the roof; where some may live in the fireplace, some in the recess of a window, and some on settles, some at one end of the hall, some at another, and some aloft on rafters with the spiders, if they choose; a house which you have got into when you have opened the outside door, and the ceremony is over; where the weary traveler may wash, and eat, and converse, and sleep, without further journey; such a shelter as you would be glad to reach in a tempestuous night, containing all the essentials of a house, and nothing for housekeeping; where you can see all the treasures of the house at one view, and everything hangs upon its peg that man should use; at once kitchen, pantry, parlor, chamber, storehouse, and garret; where you can see so necessary a thing as a barrel or a ladder, so convenient a thing as a cupboard, and hear the pot boil, and pay your respects to the fire that cooks your dinner, and the oven that bakes your bread, and the necessary furniture and utensils are the chief ornament where the washing is not put out. nor the fire, nor the mistress, and perhaps you are sometimes requested to move from off the trapdoor, when the cook would descend into the cellar, and so learn whether the ground is solid or hollow beneath without stamping.

Certainly not every sentence in Walden is this long, but whether writing a 2-word sentence or a 330-word sentence, Thoreau’s syntax is precise and clear. Thoreau is a master of every tool of the writer’s trade, including sentence variety.

The fifth appeal of Walden, as Professor Harding explains below, is its spiritual content:

It is a major thesis of Walden that the time has come for a spiritual rebirth — a renewal and rededication of our lives to higher things. It is true that we have progressed a long way from the status of the caveman. But our progress has been for the most part material rather than spiritual. We have improved our means, but not our ends. We can unquestionably travel faster than our ancestors, but we continue to waste our time in trivial pursuits when we get there. We have cut down the number hours of labor required to keep ourselves alive, but we have not learned what to do with the time thus saved. We devote the major part of our national energy to devising new ways of blowing up the rest of the world and ignore attempts to make better men of ourselves.

Thoreau is sometimes mislabeled as a misanthrope. Although he does at times lament man’s state, he nevertheless sees man’s potential for better things. At the conclusion of Walden, for example, his words sound like a sermon from a pastor who is full of hope for his congregation:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them (1).

Walden rewards the reader in many ways. One of these rewards is Thoreau’s word choice. Professor Harding says the following about Thoreau’s diction:

Perhaps the most noticeable characteristic of Thoreau’s word choice is the size of his vocabulary. Walden is guaranteed to send the conscientious student to the dictionary. In a random sampling, we find such words as integument, umbrageous, deliquium, aliment, fluviatile, and periplus. Yet Thoreau cannot be termed ostentatious in his word-usage. He simply searches for and uses the best possible word for each situation (1).

Today’s Challenge: Why Henry’s Words Are Worth It

What is it that makes Walden, published in 1854, still relevant today.  What did Thoreau say in the 19th century that has meaning to people living in the 21st century?  Read some excerpts from Walden.  Then, write a brief promo for Walden that provides both a little bit of background on the book and some details on why it is still relevant today.

Quotation of the Day:  I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. -Henry David Thoreau.

1- Harding, Walter. Five Ways of Looking at Walden. Massachusetts Review (Autumn 1962) ca. 1986.

August 8:  Dollar and Cents Day

Today is the anniversary of the Continental Congress’ establishment of the monetary system of the United States. The year was 1786, and the ordinance called for U.S. coins with the following names: mill, cent, dime, dollar, and eagle.

According to Bill Bryson in Made in America, bankers and businessmen wished to maintain the English system based on pounds and shillings, but Thomas Jefferson devised a distinctly new system based on dollars and cents.

The name dollar comes from a town in Bohemia called Joachimstal. A coin made there in the 1500s, the Joachimstaler, spread throughout Europe evolving from the taler, to the thaler, to the daler, and finally into the dollar.

The name dime comes from the French dixieme, which means tenth. It was originally spelled disme and pronounced as deem.

The name cent comes from the Latin centum which means one hundred. The unofficial name penny comes from the Latin term pannus, which means “a piece of cloth”; at one time these pieces of cloth were used for money.

The name mill comes from the Latin millesimus which means thousandth. A mill would have represented 1/1000 of a dollar; however, the federal government never minted the mill coin. The lowest denomination of coin ever created was a 1/2 cent piece.

The eagle was a $10 coin.

The missing coin from the 1786 ordinance, common today, is the denomination that represents 1/20 of a dollar: the nickel, named for the metal from which was made (nickels never were made of wood) (1).

Dollars and cents are certainly important in America, so important that many expressions contain references to money, such as fast buck, more bang for the buck, and pass the buck. The term buck has been slang for dollar since the mid-1800s, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms.

See if you can find the English idioms that fit in the sentences below; they all have to do with dollars, dimes, or cents. The literal definition of each expression is also given as a clue.

  1. A virtual certainty: It’s _____ _____ _____ that the team will make the playoffs.
  2. To be absolutely sure: You can _____ _____ _____ _____ that he will be at the party.
  3. Unexpected good fortune. I didn’t think I would get a $500 rebate on my new car. When I got the check, it was _____ _____ _____.
  4. Stingy about small expenditures and extravagant with large ones. Dean clips all the coupons for supermarket bargains but insists on going to the best restaurants; he’s ______ _____ _____ _____ _____.
  5. So plentiful as to be valueless. Don’t bother to buy one of these — they’re a _____ _____ _____.
  6. To inform on or betray someone. No one can cheat in this class — someone’s bound to _____ _____ _____ and tell the teacher.
  7. Take action and end delay. It’s time this administration _____ _____ _____ _____ and came up with a viable budget (2)

Today’s Challenge: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

What is a story that you could tell that relates to the theme “money”?  Below are ten idioms containing the word money. Using a money-related idiom as your title and as a spark for your memory or your imagination, tell a money-related anecdote. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Money is no object, Money talks, Hush money, A run for your money, Time is money, A fool and his money are soon parted, Money to burn, Pocket money, Easy money, Not for love or money (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either. -Robert Graves

Answers: 1. dollars to doughnuts 2. bet your bottom dollar 3. pennies from heaven 4. penny wise and pound foolish 5. dime a dozen 6. drop a dime 7. got off the dime

1 – Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: Perennial, 1994.

2 – Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

August 7:  Syntax Day

Today is the anniversary of the Whiskey Rebellion.

On this date in 1794, farmers in western Pennsylvania rebelled against a federal tax on liquor by tarring and feathering tax collectors and torching their homes. It was one of the first tests of federal authority for the young United States. In response to the uprising, President George Washington called in more than 12,000 Federal troops. The rebels put up little residence, fleeing to hide in the woods. Twenty were captured, and one man died while in prison. Only two of the rebels were convicted of treason, and both of these men were eventually pardoned by Washington (1).

File:Whiskey Insurrection.JPGThere is a long tradition of sin taxes in America, and it may be a bad pun, but on what other day can you celebrate the syntax of English sentences?

Syntax is simply the way writers put together phrases and clauses to make sentences. Knowledge of syntax helps writers create more varied sentences. For example, variety in sentence openings is an important feature of good writing. Starting with the subject is a natural feature of English sentences, and there is nothing wrong with it. However, if every one of your sentences begins with the subject, your writing will sound monotonous and lifeless.

Three effective methods for adding variety to sentence openings are using prepositional phrases, participial phrases, and absolute phrases. Let’s look at how you can manipulate a sentence’s syntax to open in a variety of ways.

I. Open with a Prepositional Phrase: These phrases begin with a preposition and end with a noun, such as: on the roof, over the rainbow, in the garden, from the city, out the window.

Original Sentence: The students gathered in the cafeteria to watch the multimedia presentation on dental hygiene.

Revised sentence, opening with a prepositional phrase: In the cafeteria, the students gathered to watch the multimedia presentation on dental hygiene.

II. Open with a Participial Phrase: These phrases begin with a verb (often in the -ing form) that works like an adjective to modify a noun, such as, eating a sandwich, mailing a letter, or singing a song.

Original Sentence: Bill killed time waiting for his dentist appointment by reading a magazine article on effective flossing techniques.

Revised Sentence, opening with a participial phrase: Reading a magazine article on effective flossing techniques, Bill killed time waiting for his dentist appointment.

III.  Open with an Absolute Phrase:  These phrases begin with a noun or pronoun followed by a participial phrase, such as her arms folded, her voice soaring, or eyes focused.

Original Sentence:  The boxer jumped rope.

Revised Sentence, opening with an absolute phrase:  His feet barely grazing the ground, the boxer jumped rope.

Today’s Challenge: No Sin Syntax Super Sentence
Can you craft a sentence that has at least one prepositional phrase, one participial phrase, and one absolute phrase?  Look at the example sentences below and see if you can identify the prepositional phrase, participial phrase, and absolute phrase in each.  Then, write the opening sentence of a short story that contains at least one prepositional phrase, one participial phrase, and one absolute phrase.

Her melodic voice singing out loud and strong, Mary astonished the concert-goers in the opera house, bringing the entire audience to tears.

Sitting in the chair, Max, a handsome young man with blond hair, read the book, his mind captivated by the unfolding mystery.

Quote of the Day: Those who prefer their English sloppy have only themselves to thank if the advertisement writer uses his mastery of the vocabulary and syntax to mislead their weak minds. –Dorothy L. Sayers

1 – U.S. Department of the Treasury. “The Whiskey Rebellion.”

2 – Backman, Brian. Thinking in Threes: The Power of Three in Writing. Fort Collins, Colorado: Cottonwood Press, Inc., 2005.

August 6:  Interjection Day

Today is the anniversary of the British release of the Beatles album Help!, the soundtrack of their second film by the same title.

The title song, like most Beatles songs, is credited to the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team, but it was primarily a Lennon composition. John Lennon explained that the song was written during the height of Beatlemania and was a literal cry for help.

The Beatles, standing in a row and wearing blue jackets, with their arms positioned as if to spell out a word in flag semaphoreThe covers of both the British and the American albums show the Fab Four standing with their arms outstretched to signal semaphore letters. Strangely the letters do not spell out H – E – L -P; instead, they spell N – V – U – J.

The Beatles’ second film, a James Bond spoof, was not as well-received as their critically acclaimed first film A Hard Day’s Night. The music of the film, however, revealed the Beatles maturing songwriting talent with such songs as “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” “Ticket to Ride,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” and “Yesterday.” The varied tempos of the songs and the lyrics, more sophisticated than those on previous albums, showed that the Beatles were moving beyond “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.”

The words help and yeah are both interjections: words or phrases that express emotion but have no grammatical connection to the rest of a sentence. One of the most overlooked and underrated parts of speech, interjections are an important part of the way we communicate.  Interjections are the one part of speech that is definitely a significant part of our everyday speech.  One example is the simple phone greeting hello.  Today we take it for granted, but when phones first appeared there was no standard greeting.  In fact, the phone’s inventor Alexander Graham Bell advocated the nautical Ahoy!  Another famous inventor, Thomas Edison lobbied for hello.  Bell got final credit for inventing the phone, but Edison’s choice of interjection prevailed.

The book ZOUNDS! A Brower’s Dictionary of Interjections is a catalog of over 500 interjections, their definitions and origins. Where else can you learn that there are a total of 109 two-letter words allowable for Scrabble and that 23 of those two-letter words are interjections:

ah, aw, ay, bo, eh, er, fy, ha, hi, ho, io, lo,

my, oh, oi, ow, sh, st, ta, um, ur, ou, yo

The book, written by Mark Dunn and illustrated by Sergio Aragones, gives fascinating and funny background explanations for each interjection.

Here is a small A-Z sample of some of the interjections featured. You can also watch the unforgettable School House Rock video.

aha

bravo

check

definitely

eureka

far-out

gadzooks

hi

I declare

jeepers

knock-knock

la-di-da

my bad

no soap

O.K.

please

quiet

rats

sorry

thanks

uff-da

very well

way to go

yadda-yadda

zounds (1)

Read each of the famous interjections below and see if you can identify the name of the person or character who made it famous.

  1. “Eureka!”
  1. “Badabing-badaboom”
  1. “Stuff and nonsense!”
  1. “Bah! Humbug!”
  1. “Fiddle-dee-dee !”
  1. Leapin’ lizards!”
  1. “Nanoo, nanoo”
  1. “Dyn-O-Mite!”
  1. “Bully!” (1)

Today’s Challenge: Wow! The Interjection Hall of Fame!
What are your favorite interjections — exclamatory blurt-outs or quips?  Brainstorm a list of interjections you use or ones that have been used by others.  They may be famous (cowabunga!), familiar (yeah, right!), or original to you.  Select the one interjection you like the best, and write an explanation of what it is, how it is used, and what makes it so special. (Common Core Writing 2)

Quote of the Day:  If language were some beautiful, intricately woven rug, interjections might be those end tassels that knot and mat and collect all the cat hair. -Mark Dunn

Answers: 1. Archimedes 2. Tony Soprano 3. Alice, in Alice in Wonderland 4. Scrooge 5. Scarlet O’Hara 6. Little Orphan Anne 7. Mork, from “Mork & Mindy” 8. Jimmy Walker from “Good Times” 9. President Theodore Roosevelt

1 – Dunn, Mark and Sergio Aragones. Zounds!: A Browser’s Dictionary of Interjections. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005.

August 5:  Brainstorming Day

Today is the birthday of Alex F. Osborn the father of brainstorming. Born in New York, New York in 1886, he pursued a career in journalism but eventually found himself working in business, first in sales and then in advertising.

In 1938 the advertising company that he founded (Batten, Barton, Durstine, and Osborn) began using an organized method of generating ideas. Although Osborn is credited with coining the word for this technique, brainstorming, he never took full credit for the word; instead, he acknowledged his colleagues who along with Osborn used their brains to attack or storm a problem. Osborn also credited religious leaders in the East, saying that Hindu teachers in India used a similar technique for more than 400 years. In India it was called Prai-Barshana: Prai for “outside yourself” and Barshana for “question.”

Regardless of where the word came from, brainstorming is a vital technique for generating ideas in business, government, and especially for writing.

Typically brainstorming sessions work best in small groups so that individuals can join forces and build on the ideas of others in the group. The goal is to create a list of ideas that has flexibility and fluency. Fluency means the number of ideas generated, and flexibility means how different the ideas are from each other and how different they are from what most people think up.

In order to create a list of ideas that has flexibility and fluency, follow these rules:

  1. Defer judgment. Don’t edit, eliminate, or hold back any ideas. Criticism kills participation, and often an idea that looks bad at first turns out to be a good one in the long run. Osborn used the following analogy to illustrate the need to put criticism aside when brainstorming:

If you try to get hot and cold water out of the same faucet at the same time, you will get only tepid water. And if you try to criticize and create at the same time, you can’t turn on either the cold enough criticism or the hot enough ideas. So let’s stick solely to ideas-lets cut out all criticism during this session.

  1. Go for quantity of ideas. The more ideas, the greater the likelihood that some of those ideas will be good. A good analogy for this is a professional photographer who takes hundreds of pictures, knowing that only a very small percentage of those pictures will be worth keeping.
  1. Encourage wild, exaggerated ideas. Free from the criticism and logic of the left brain, the right side of the brain, the creative side, will have a higher likelihood of creating something new. Imagine how absurd the initial idea of selling bottled water must have been twenty years ago? Why would people pay for water when they can get it free from the tap? Alex Osborn believed in the power of the human imagination to generate new ideas that can change our lives for the better. His 1953 book Applied Imagination is a pioneering work in the field of creativity. In this book, he outlines techniques like brainstorming that help us to enter into the creative mindset and stay there for a longer period of time.

Today’s Challenge: The Forecast Calls for Brainstorming
What is the best way to generate new ideas, how can it be done most efficiently, and what are pitfalls to avoid?  Brainstorming is an important prewriting technique for writers. The more time you spend brainstorming, the higher the chances that you will find something that is really worth writing about. Below are 10 questions for brainstorming. Select one question, and get a small group together or practice on your own. Use the rules for brainstorming to generate a large list of ideas that has both fluency and flexibility.

  1. What are some ways we might improve the #2 pencil?
  1. What would be the best opening scene for a suspense film?
  1. In the opening sentences of a novel, the main character takes off his shoes and socks and ties the two sock into a knot. Why is he doing this?
  1. If we divided blogs into three or more different categories, what might those three categories be?
  1. What are the similarities and differences between cats and dogs?
  1. What are some examples of stupid things that otherwise intelligent people sometimes do by mistake?
  1. What are the three most important steps in studying for a test?
  1. What will you see on the Internet five years from now that you don’t see today?
  1. Imagine that next year, 8-track tapes make a big comeback. Why might this happen?
  1. What are the most important qualities of an effective leader?

Quote of the Day: It’s the miner’s headlamp, not the eureka flash, that drives reliable innovation. The process of innovation is the sweaty work of digging through tons of information to find a few golden nuggets — mainly unlikely knowledge combinations. -T George Harris

1 – Gurule, Jason. “Alex F. Osborn.” The seminar on Theories of Persuasive Communication and Consumer Decision-Making for Dr. John Leckenby at the University of Texas at Austin.

August 4:  Top 100 Day

Today is the anniversary of the introduction of Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart. The first number one song on the chart was Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool.”

Prior to August 4, 1958, Billboard had separate charts for Most Played By Jockeys, Best Sellers in Stores, and Most Played in Juke Boxes. The new Hot 100 list combined the Best Sellers and the Most Played By Jockeys lists into a single chart. Because Jukeboxes were becoming less popular, their numbers were not included (1).

The linguistic equivalent of Billboard’s Hot 100 would have to be Word Spy’s Top 100 Words . Created by technical writer Paul McFedries, Word Spy is a website devoted to neologisms. Neologisms are new words — words that have appeared in print multiple times, but that are not in the dictionary.

Word Spy gives the armchair linguist a peek behind the lexical curtain. Visiting this web site is a little like watching a preseason football practice: you get to see all the players (words) on the field, but you’re not sure which ones will make the final cut. In the case of neologisms, the final cut is making it into the dictionary. The lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary do their work behind the scenes, and most neologisms have the life span of the common house fly. In contrast, Word Spy makes lexicography democratic: you get to see all the words, it’s free, and McFedries even accepts reader submissions.

Here are a couple of examples for neologisms from Word Spy:

aireoke (air.ee.OH.kee) n. Playing air guitar and singing to prerecorded music; playing air guitar in a public performance. Also: air-eoke. [Blend of air guitar and karaoke.]

Manilow method n. The discouragement of loitering in public places by broadcasting music that is offensive to young people, particularly the songs of singer Barry Manilow.

In addition to words and definitions, Word Spy also provides pronunciations, citations, and notes on each word. WARNING: Reading this site can become addictive! (2)

Brave New Words

See if you can match up the 8 neologisms from Word Spy with the 8 definitions numbered below.

freegan

buzzword bingo

godcasting

NOPE

Google bombing

Drink the Kool-Aid

fauxhawk

male answer syndrome

  1. n. A person or attitude that opposes all real estate development or other projects that would harm the environment or reduce property values.
  1. n. A hairstyle in which a strip of hair across the top of the head is longer and higher than the hair on the remainder of the head.
  1. n. A person, usually a vegan, who consumes only food that is obtained by foraging, most often in the garbage of restaurants, grocery stores, and other retailers.
  1. v. To become a firm believer in something; to accept an argument or philosophy wholeheartedly or blindly.
  1. n. Setting up a large number of Web pages with links that point to a specific Web site so that the site will appear near the top of a Google search when users enter the link text.
  1. n. The tendency for some men to answer a question even when they don’t know the answer.
  1. n. A word game played during corporate meetings. Players are issued bingo-like cards with lists of buzzwords such as paradigm and proactive. Players check off these words as they come up in the meeting, and the first to fill in a “line” of words is the winner.
  1. pp. Podcasting an audio feed with a religious message (2).

Today’s Challenge:  One Hundred on One
What is your favorite word?  What makes your word so interesting, distinctive, and special?  Brainstorm a list of your favorite words.  Select the single word you would rate as your favorite, and write 100 words on why your word is so special and what specifically makes it your favorite.  Do a bit of research to get some details on the etymology or history of your word so that you can give your reader some details that go beyond just the obvious. (Common Core Writing 1)

Quotation of the Day: The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express. –Alexis de Tocqueville

Answers: 1. NOPE: (Not On Planet Earth) 2. fauxhawk 3. freegan 4. Drink the Kool-Aid 5. Google bombing 6. male answer syndrome 7. buzzword bingo 8. godcasting

1 – Hot 100 Billboard

  1. wordspy.com

August 3:  Idiot Letter Day


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

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

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

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

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

Dear Cat Lovers,

Continue reading →

August 2:  Urgent Letter Day

Today is the anniversary of a letter that changed history. The letter, dated August 2, 1939, was written by physicists Albert Einstein and Leo Szilard; it was addressed to the President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The letter’s content warned the president of the Nazi’s possible use of uranium for the development of atomic weapons.

The story behind this historic letter that led to the Manhattan Project, begins in Germany, which prior to 1933 was a hotbed of scientific inquiry: Germany had been awarded 99 Nobel Prizes in science compared to the United States’ 6 Nobel Prizes. The rise of antisemitism and of Adolf Hitler, however, caused many Jewish scientists to flee Germany.

One of those who fled was physicist Leo Szilard who relocated to England. While sitting at a London traffic light in 1933 he had an epiphany: theoretically, the atom could be split, creating a chain reaction of enormous power.

Szilard’s idea moved from theory to fact in 1939 when German scientists successfully split an atom. The fact that German scientists now had the knowledge of the potentially destructive power of the atom in their hands alarmed Szilard.

Traditionally scientists around the world published their breakthroughs for all to see. Szilard was afraid that the German scientists were using this information to develop a bomb. His fears were heightened when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939 and stopped all exports of uranium ore from the occupied country.

He urged scientists outside of Germany to delay publication of their findings in fission-related areas, and he initiated a meeting with his former teacher Albert Einstein.

Einstein, like Szilard, was a Jew and had fled Germany during the rise of Hitler. By 1939 Einstein’s theory of relativity had made him an international celebrity — just the kind of name recognition that Szilard needed to get his alarm bell heard by world leaders.

Szilard met with Einstein in New York on July 30. Einstein dictated the letter to Szilard in German, and Szilard later translated it into a typed final draft for Einstein’s signature.

The letter’s opening read as follows:

Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. I believe therefore that it is my duty to bring to your attention the following facts and recommendations. (2)

Even Einstein’s signature, however, did not guarantee that the letter would get the attention it deserved. Einstein and Szilard entrusted the letter to Alexander Sachs, an unofficial advisor to F.D.R., but Roosevelt was preoccupied with the growing war in Europe, and Sachs was unable to get an appointment with him until October 1939.

To persuade Roosevelt, Sachs used a historical analogy. He told Roosevelt about an American inventor who met with the French emperor during the Napoleonic Wars. The inventor offered to build a fleet of steamships that could invade England regardless of the weather. Napoleon was incredulous, unable to think beyond ships with sails. He sent the American away. The shortsightedness, arrogance, and lack of imagination of Napoleon saved England and sealed Napoleon’s fate. It was a powerful analogy, and despite the fact that it took time for the Manhattan Project to get off the ground, it was the letter and Sach’s persuasiveness that led to the development of the atomic bomb that Harry Truman had dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Ironically, near the end of the war, the Allies discovered that the Germans were at least two years away from developing the bomb. Furthermore, both Szilard and Einstein objected to the United States’ use of the bomb. Even though Einstein did not work directly on the Manhattan Project, he called his decision to sign the letter to President Roosevelt the “one great mistake in my life” (1).

Today’s Challenge:
What are examples of the most urgent issues in today’s world, either at the local, national , or international levels?  If you were to select one urgent issue, what would it be, and how would you explain your reasoning behind why the issue is so urgent?  Select a single issue and writer an open letter to the president or other official who has the power to act.  Explain in your letter what the issue is and why it is specifically an urgent issue that should be addressed immediately.  The purpose of your letter is to persuade the addressee and the general audience that your issue is in fact an urgent issue that needs to be addressed immediately.

Quote of the Day: We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others. –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

1 – Gillon, Steven M. Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2006.

2-http://www.atomicarchive.com/Docs/Begin/Einstein.shtml

August 1:  Heteronym Day

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

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

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

Why do we know so little about salivary glands?

Because they are so secretive.

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

agape, axes, bass, bow

buffet, console, content, converse

coop, deserts, do, does

dove, drawer, entrance, evening

fillet, grave, incense, lead

liver, minute, mobile, moped

more, number, object, present

resent ,route, rugged, sewer

slough, sow, supply, tear

tower, unionized, wind, wound

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

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

Colon, colon

Herb, herb

Job, job

Muster, muster

Nice, nice

Polish, polish

Rainier, rainier

Reading, reading

Today’s Challenge:  Hypnotic Heteronyms

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

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

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

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

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

1- BBC History “Augustus”

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

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