THINKER’S ALMANAC – March 31

Subject:  Persuasion/Rhetorical Appeals – “To His Coy Mistress”

Event:  Birthday of English poet Andrew Marvell, 1621

On this day in 1621, English poet Andrew Marvell was born in Hull, England. Marvell was one of the metaphysical poets, a group of 17th-century poets whose verse is characterized by its sharp wit, passionate arguments, and intellectual elaborateness.  

Marvell’s best-known poem “To His Coy Mistress” is probably the single greatest argument ever written in verse.  The poem is a dramatic monologue in which the poet addresses a young woman who is slow to respond to his amorous advances.  

Andrew marvell statue.jpg
A statue of the poet Andrew Marvell, located in King Street, Hull, UK (Wikimedia Commons)

To win the mistress, the poet constructs an elaborate argument, making his case for why she should “act now” and agree to love him.  The poem’s three-part structure also is an excellent example of Aristotle’s three persuasive appeals by character (ethos), by logic (logos), and by emotion (pathos).

In the poem’s first stanza, the speaker begins with ethos, establishing his character and credibility with the mistress.  Here the speaker employs hyperbole, elaborately exaggerating the amount of time he would invest in admiring and cataloging the beauty of the mistress from afar if only time allowed:

Had we but world enough and time,

This coyness, lady, were no crime.

We would sit down, and think which way

To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side

Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide

Of Humber would complain. I would

Love you ten years before the flood,

And you should, if you please, refuse

Till the conversion of the Jews.

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires and more slow;

An hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;

Two hundred to adore each breast,

But thirty thousand to the rest;

An age at least to every part,

And the last age should show your heart.

For, lady, you deserve this state,

Nor would I love at lower rate.

In the second stanza, the poet makes a sudden shift from the hypothetical to the harsh reality of the real world.  Signaling the transition with “But,” he begins to construct a case based on the logic of their mortality. Devouring time will take his mistress’s beauty, and reason dictates that no one can cheat death.

But at my back I always hear

Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie

Deserts of vast eternity.

Thy beauty shall no more be found;

Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound

My echoing song; then worms shall try

That long-preserved virginity,

And your quaint honour turn to dust,

And into ashes all my lust;

The grave’s a fine and private place,

But none, I think, do there embrace.

Having established his credibility and the logic of his case, the speaker concludes with a climactic appeal to emotion. Here the speaker makes his final pitch, urging the mistress to “act now,” presenting the dramatic image of mating birds of prey in flight.  In the tradition of carpe diem – Latin for “seize the day” – the poet implores the mistress to join him; they cannot stop time, but they can make time fly by having fun.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue

Sits on thy skin like morning dew,

And while thy willing soul transpires

At every pore with instant fires,

Now let us sport us while we may,

And now, like amorous birds of prey,

Rather at once our time devour

Than languish in his slow-chapped power.

Let us roll all our strength and all

Our sweetness up into one ball,

And tear our pleasures with rough strife

Through the iron gates of life:

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Challenge – Head and Heart:  What is an essential item that people need to have in their possession every day in order to be successful?  Brainstorm some essential physical products that people use and need every day.  Select one of the products, and write a sales pitch, persuading your audience to purchase the product. Use the argument structure employed by Marvell in “To His Coy Mistress.” Begin by thinking about your audience and how you can establish trust with them (ethos).  Next, shift to reason, by laying out your claims and evidence about the product (logos). Finally, make the sale by appealing to the emotions of your audience and by showing them, not just telling them, why they need the product (pathos).

As author Jay Heinrichs explains in his book Thank You for Arguing, Aristotle’s appeals are the Three Musketeers of persuasion:  

Logos, ethos, and pathos appeal to the brain, gut, and heart of your audience.  While our brain tries to sort the facts, our gut tells us whether we can trust the other person, and our heart makes us want to do something about it. (2)

Use the following three essential questions to assist you in constructing your pitch:

-Ethos:  How can I get my audience to believe that I am credible, and how can I make them trust me?

-Logos:  Is my argument reasonable, and how can I organize my points and my evidence so that it is clear and logical?

-Pathos:  How can I show, not just tell my point, and how can I get my audience fired up to feel something?

Sources:

1-Marvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress.”  Poets.org.

2-Heinrichs, Jay. Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2007. Print.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – March 30

Subject:  Invention – Eraser-tipped Pencil

Event: Hyman L. Lipman patents pencil with eraser, 1858

The average pencil is seven inches long, with just a half-inch eraser – in case you thought optimism was dead. -Robert Breault

On this day in 1858, a Philadelphia stationer named Hyman L. Lipman patented the first eraser-tipped pencil.  This is one invention that has stood the test of time and is also one of the best metaphors there is to remind us that everyone makes mistakes and that no human is faultless.

New Number 2's (4125904945).jpg
(Wikimedia Commons)

One common misnomer about pencils is that they contain “lead.” In reality, pencils contain a mineral called graphite.  Legend has it that in the 16th century a shiny black substance was discovered in England’s Lake District under a fallen tree.  The substance was first used by local shepherds to mark their sheep. Because the black material resembled lead, it was called plumbago (from the Latin word for lead, plumbus — the same root that gave us the word “plumber,” someone who works with lead pipes).

A pencil shortage in 18th century France resulted in the invention of another well-known writing implement.  While at war with England in 1794, Revolutionary France could not access the graphite needed to make pencils.  An engineer named Nicolas-Jacques Conte improvised, combining low-quality graphite with wet clay. Conte then molded the substance into rods and baked it.  This process produced “Crayons Conte” or what we know today as chalk.

Before he lived at Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau made a significant contribution to the pencil’s evolution.  After graduating from Harvard College, Thoreau went to work at his family’s pencil making business. Working with material from a New Hampshire graphite deposit, Thoreau developed his own process for making pencils.  He numbered his pencils from the softest to the hardest using a numbering system from 1 to 4. The No. 2 was the Goldilocks of pencils — not so soft that is smudged easily and not so hard that it breaks easily.

The origin of the most common color for pencils is another story.  Pencils were commonly painted in any number of colors, but in 1889, at the World’s Fair in Paris, a Czech manufacturer Hardtmuth debuted a yellow pencil.  Supposedly made of the finest graphite deposits, the pencil was named Koh-I-Noor, after one of the world’s largest diamonds. The distinct yellow of the Koh-I-Noor became the industry standard for quality, and soon other manufacturers began painting their pencils yellow.

The final key element in the evolution of the pencil came in the 1770s when British polymath Joseph Priestley discovered that a gum harvested from South American trees was effective for rubbing out pencil marks — appropriately he called this substance “rubber.”  Prior to Priestley’s discovery, the most common erasers used were lumps of old bread.

Priestley was also the author of an influential textbook called The Rudiments of English Grammar which was published in 1761 (1).

Challenge – Ordinary Objects, Extraordinary History: What are some examples of inventions, like the pencil, that are everyday ordinary objects?  Brainstorm a list of some ordinary objects that you encounter every day.  Select one of these objects and do some research on its origin. Write a report providing details about the object’s origin and history.  

Sources:

1-”Trace The Remarkable History Of The Humble Pencil.”  All Things Considered.  NPR.org 11 Oct. 2016.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – March 29

Subject:  Dual Coding

Event:  Birthday of Allan Urho Paivio, 1925

Today is the birthday of Canadian psychologist Allan Paivio, who was born in Ontario in 1925.  Early in his career, he developed a theory related to memory called the “conceptual peg hypothesis,” which states that concrete words are easier to remember than abstract words because the concrete words create more vivid mental images.  Words combined with a concrete visual image are easier for the mind to hang onto, like a hat hangs onto a peg.

Later he developed his most influential concept, a learning strategy called dual coding, which intentionally combines verbal material with visual materials.  The combination of words and pictures enhances the learner’s memory by engaging two separate mental channels (verbal and visual), giving the learner two ways of remembering the learning (1).

Unlike learning style theory, which attempts to match students to their single best mode of learning — visual, auditory, or kinaesthetic — dual coding works under the assumption that all human brains learn best when verbal and visual materials are combined.

Teachers and students can employ dual coding with a variety of visual forms, including pictures, diagrams, graphs, tables, graphic organizers, symbols, or cartoons.  It is important to note, however, that in order for the visual representations to be effective and memorable, they must be closely related to the verbal information.  For example, a student might take notes using words on the left-hand column of a piece of paper and then review those notes by generating visual representations in the right-hand column (2).

Challenge – Study Smart With Six Strategies:  Dual coding is one of six study and learning strategies that cognitive scientists have documented as legitimately effective for students to practice and use. The other five are Spacing, Retrieval Practice, Elaboration, Interleaving, and Concrete Examples.  The website “The Learning Scientists” explains each of the six strategies and provides research on the effectiveness of each strategy.  Select one strategy, and explore what it is and how it works.  Write a paragraph explaining to a student how the strategy works.

Sources:

1-Allan Paivio In Memoriam

2-Sumeracki, Megan. “Dual Coding and Learning Styles.” The Learning Scientists.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – March 28

Subject: Thought Experiments – Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Event:  Birthday of American philosopher Daniel C. Dennet, 1942

Today is the birthday of Daniel C. Dennett, American philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist, who was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1942.

In 2013, Dennett published his book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.  Dennett begins his book by acknowledging that thinking is hard work.  But just as a shovel makes it easier and more efficient for us to dig a ditch, thinking tools make cognition easier and more efficient.  

One specific category of thinking tools used frequently by philosophers is thought experiments.  Dennett calls them intuition pumps (a term he coined in 1980), the philosophical equivalent of Aesop’s fables.  These thought experiments present vivid vignettes, hypothetical situations that allow thinkers to explore and examine ideas.  Like parables, thought experiments are micro-narratives, making ideas more practical and easy to remember (1).

One ancient thought experiment comes from Plato’s The Republic:  

An Illustration of The Allegory of the Cave, from Plato’s Republic.jpg
Plato’s Cave (Wikimedia Commons)

The Allegory of the Cave

Imagine three prisoners who have been chained in a cave their entire lives.  They are chained in such a way that all they can see is the wall of the cave in front of them.  Behind them, there is a fire and a raised walkway. As people walk along the walkway carrying things like books, animals, and plants, the prisoner sees nothing but the shadows of the people and the items they carry cast on the wall in front of them.  Because the prisoners see only the shadows, these shadows become their reality. When they see a shadow of a book, for example, they take the shadow as the real object, since it is all they know.

Imagine that one of the prisoners escapes his chains and leaves the cave.  Leaving the darkness of the cave, he is first blinded by the light. As his eyes slowly adjust and as he becomes more used to his new surroundings, he begins to realize that his former understanding of the world was wrong.  Returning to the cave, the enlightened prisoner tells the other prisoners what he has learned of the real world. The others, noticing that the returning prisoner is groping around in the darkness as his eyes readjust to the darkness, think he is insane. They can’t imagine any other reality but the shadows they see before them, and they threaten to murder anyone who would drag them out of the cave or annoy them with supposed insight into what a “real” book or a “real” tree actually looks like (2).

Plato’s Cave allows us to address and discuss the abstract ideas of knowledge versus ignorance and perception versus reality.  It doesn’t just tell us that philosophy will improve our lives; instead, it shows us: most of us live our life watching the shadows in the cave; philosophy and education, however, offer us a way out of the darkness and into the light of reason.

Challenge – Pump Up Your Tired Thinking:  What are some examples of philosophical questions that might be debated about universal topics, such as the nature of reality, of knowledge, of morality, of consciousness, of free will, or of government?  Research a specific thought experiment (see the list below).  Summarize the key elements of the thought experiment in your own words; then, discuss what specific philosophical ideas the thought experiment addresses.

The Whimsical Jailer, The Nefarious Neurosurgeon, Infinite Monkey Theorem, Buridan’s Ass, The Brain in a Vat, The Trolley Problem, Schrodinger’s Cat, Ship of Theseus, The Chinese Room, The Lady or the Tiger

Sources:

1- Dennett, Daniel C.  Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

2-Plato’s Republic.  

THINKER’S ALMANAC – March 27

Subject:  Figurative Language – Gump’s Simile

Event:  Forrest Gump wins best picture at the 1995 Academy Awards

Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get. -Forrest Gump

On this day in 1995, the film Forrest Gump won best picture at the 99th Academy Awards.  The movie was based on the 1986 novel of the same name, written by Winston Groom.  

Groom grew up in Alabama, and many of his books, including Forrest Gump, draw on his experiences in Vietnam, where he served in the U.S. Army from 1966-1967.  Before Winston’s novel was adapted for the big screen, it was not a big seller; however, after the film came out in 1994, the book became a bestseller.  Winston’s 1988 novel Gone The Sun won the Pulitzer Prize (1).

Film poster with a white background and a park bench (facing away from the viewer) near the bottom. A man wearing a white suit is sitting on the right side of the bench and is looking to his left while resting his hands on both sides of him on the bench. A suitcase is sitting on the ground, and the man is tennis shoes. At the top left of the image is the film's tagline and title and at the bottom is the release date and production credits.
Film Poster (Wikimedia Commons)

Winston’s best-known character is the slow-witted southerner Forrest Gump, who faces his life with childlike innocence and optimism.  Almost as memorable as the character himself is his iconic simile — a quotation that became one of the most famous lines in movie history:  “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.”

When you use figurative language like metaphors and similes, you set the tone, frame the argument, and prime your audience. Positive imagery makes your reader feel and imagine good emotions; negative imagery makes your reader feel and imagine negative emotions.

Notice a key difference between metaphors and similes.  Similes use the words “like” or “as” to admit that they are making a comparison.  As writer Mardy Grothe says, “A simile is just a metaphor with the scaffolding still up.” Metaphors are more subtle than similes.  They sneak up on you, making comparisons without calling attention to themselves.  In this way, metaphors tend to make readers feel, while similes make readers think.   

Challenge – Life is Like a Writing Assignment: What concrete noun presents the best figurative comparison for life?  Notice how each of the similes for life below follows the same basic formula.  Like Forrest Gump’s simile, they begin with a simple comparison, using “like” and a concrete noun.  Each writer then follows the comparison with elaboration, explaining how or why life is like the concrete noun.

Life is like a ten-speed bicycle.  Most of us have gears we never use. -Charles M. Schulz

Life is like a play; it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters. -Seneca the Younger

Life is like a dog-sled team.  If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes. -Lewis Grizzard

Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance you must keep moving.

 -Albert Einstein

Write your own simile for life by brainstorming some possible concrete nouns. Use the list below to get you started.

a sandwich, a sandbox, a symphony, a slug, a salad, a game of checkers, a battle, a bruised banana, a lunchbox, a race, a book, a fire, an alphabet, a cat, a hammer

Feel free to modify your nouns with other words that make them more specific; for example, life might be a “relay race,” “a sprinting race,” or “long-distance race.”

Use the following template to help you construct your simile:

Life is like [concrete noun] _______; [Explain how, why, or under what circumstances life is like this] ______________.

Sources:

1-Blount, Serena. “Winston Groom.”  Encyclopedia of Alabama

THINKER’S ALMANAC – March 26

Subject:  Cognitive Dissonance – “The Fox and the Grapes”

Event:  William Caxton publishes first English translation of Aesop’s Fables, 1484

Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder. -Thomas Aquinas

On this day in 1484, William Caxton published the first English translation of Aesop’s Fables. Born in 1422, Caxton established the first printing press in England and not only printed books but also translated them into English from French, Latin, and Dutch. Caxton’s English transition of the fables was translated from the French.

The Greek storyteller Aesop lived in the 5th century B.C. Although we know few facts about his life, we do have legends that report he was a slave who eventually won his freedom.  

One legend tells of his ability to think on his feet and his skill for constructing analogies in story form. One day, walking with his master, the philosopher Xanthus, Aesop came upon a gardener.  The gardener asked Xanthus for some gardening advice, complaining that the weeds in the garden always grow faster than the fruits and vegetables he plants.  Xanthus is a bit flummoxed by the question, but answers that the only explanation is divine providence.  After hearing Xanthus’ answer, Aesop laughs, so Xanthus challenges him to give his answer to the question.  Aesop explains that nature is like a woman who has been married twice.  In her first marriage, she had children who she raised and cared for; in her second marriage, however, she inherited stepchildren from her husband’s previous marriage.  In Aesop’s analogy, the weeds are given special and loving care as Mother Earth’s biological children, while the gardener’s crops are her step-children.  As a result, they receive less care and attention. After hearing Aesop’s explanation, the gardener nods with understanding and shows his gratitude to Aesop by giving him a basket of vegetables.  

Today we are familiar with many of Aesop’s Fables because of their popularity as children’s stories, such as the “Ant and the Grasshopper,” “The Tortoise and the Hare,” and “The Lion and the Mouse.”  The Fables are not just for children, however.  Careful examination of their themes will provide profound insights into human thinking and behavior.  One specific example is the “Fox and the Grapes,” which identifies the natural human inclination for rationalization.

Caxton Fox and Grapes.jpg
Page from William Caxton’s Aesop Fables, 1484 (Wikimedia Commons)

Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’ People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.

Cognitive scientists recognize the fox’s behavior in this story as classic cognitive dissonance:   the internal mental conflict that occurs when our thoughts or beliefs run counter to our actions, behaviors, or new information.  

We seek out consistency when it comes to our attitudes and behaviors, just as the fox likes to see himself as a capable hunter of grapes.  When we encounter dissonance, or lack of agreement between our thoughts and actions, we become uncomfortable and seek to excuse or rationalize our behavior.  The fox, therefore, is better able to maintain his image of himself as a capable hunter by rationalizing that the grapes were sour.

Being right feels much better than being wrong, so we tend to see what we want to see.  We like it when our thoughts are consistent and balanced; however, like the fox, the world presents us with curve balls and contradictory information that can throw our thinking out of balance.  When we encounter this “dissonance,” it’s often easier to “explain away” or rationalize than to think deeply and reasonably.  After all, thinking is hard work, so we often avoid it. 

Challenge – Show Me the Dissonance:  The psychologist who first identified and named cognitive dissonance was Leon Festinger (1919-1989).  Do a bit of research to discover that specific experiment Festinger carried out to empirically demonstrate the reality of cognitive dissonance in the thinking of real people.  What was the experiment, and how did it reveal cognitive dissonance?

Sources:

1-Gibbs, Laura. “Life of Aesop: The Wise Fool and the Philosopher.” Journey to the Sea online magazine 1 March 2009.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – March 25

Subject:  Persuasion – Toulmin Argument

Event:  Birthday of British philosopher Stephen Toulmin, 1922

Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument. -Desmond Tutu

Today is the birthday of British philosopher and educator Stephen Toulmin, who was born in London in 1922.

Stephen Toulmin.jpg
Stephen Toulmin (Wikimedia Commons)

In 1958, Toulmin published a book entitled The Uses of Argument in which he explained his model of argumentation.  Toulmin’s objective was to give his readers a practical, real-world method for constructing or analyzing arguments.  Instead of the abstract, academic proofs written by logisticians, Toulmin proposed a method that could be understood and applied by ordinary people to everyday arguments.

The Toulmin model of argument is made up of six key parts:

The Claim is what you believe to be true, what the argument proves.

The Data is the facts, evidence, and reasons that lead you to believe the claim is true.

The Warrant is an assumption that connects the data with your claim.  The warrant makes the thinking of the argument explicit, explaining both how and why the data support the claim.  

The Backing is any facts or details that support the warrant.

The Qualifier is the limits of the claim, stating whether or not it is always true or in what cases it is true.

The Rebuttal is where the person writing the argument anticipates and answers possible objections to the claim by stating counterclaims and responding to them.

Toulmin’s model is an excellent way to analyze arguments made by others or to analyze your own.  It gives you a method for carefully thinking through each part and for troubleshooting the parts that don’t hold up under scrutiny.  In essence, the model is a grammar for arguments. Just as grammar allows you to name the parts needed for crafting and revising clear sentences, Toulmin’s model gives you the nomenclature needed to construct and examine sound arguments (1).

Challenge:  Try Toulmin’s Toolbox:  What are examples of five claims that you believe in fully?  Brainstorm some possible claims that you could confidently make.  Then, select one claim, and write a well-developed argument employing each element of the Toulmin model. Before you begin writing your own argument, analyze the example argument below, identifying the claim, qualifier, data, warrant, backing, and rebuttal:

The best way to become a good writer, in most cases, is to read widely. Most good writers build up their experience and understanding of the different ways that words, sentences, and paragraphs work through reading. Furthermore, most writers don’t just express their own ideas; instead, they build and test their own ideas by reading, responding, and referring to other writers. One of the common things you will hear when listening to interviews of writers is their references to other writers as well as to what they have read or are reading.  In the words of Stephen King, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” A writer might have great ideas, but without a lot of experience of analyzing the written word through careful reading, the writer is not going to be equipped to package his or her ideas in a way that they can be understood by an audience of readers.  Some may say that the best way to write is to just write; however, that’s a little like saying the best way to build a house is to just build a house. Just as home construction requires knowledge of architecture, good writing requires a solid understanding of the architecture of prose. Construction workers read blueprints before they pick up a hammer; likewise, good writers read good books before they pick up a pen.  

Sources:

1-Grimes, William. “Stephen Toulmin, a Philosopher and Educator, Dies at 87.” The New York Times 11 December 2009.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – March 24

Subject:  Creativity – Mash Up  

Event:  Pink Floyd releases the album Dark Side of the Moon, 1973

Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. -Nathaniel Hawthorne

According to Newsweek, the word “mash-up” was coined in 2001 by DJ Freelance Hellraiser, who used Christina Aguilera’s vocals from the song ‘Genie in a Bottle’ and “recorded [them] over the instrumentals from ‘Hard to Explain.’” Mash-up is not just a musical term, however. A mash-up applies to any combination of two or more forms of media: music, film, television, computer program, etc.

A prism refracting white light into a rainbow on a black background
Cover art for Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon Album (Wikimedia Commons)

So what does March 24 have to do with this strange new term? Well, on this day in 1973, Pink Floyd released its groundbreaking Dark Side of the Moon album. Later — no one really knows when – someone came up with the crazy idea of combining, or ‘mashing,’ the Pink Floyd album with the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The fans of this mash-up claim over a 100 different moments where Pink Floyd’s music and lyrics oddly coincide with events and actions in the film. For example, when Mrs. Gulch first appears riding her bicycle, the bells and chimes at the beginning of the song “Time” begin to sound.

“Mash-up” is just one example of a neologism, a new word that is created to describe some kind of phenomenon, concept, or invention. Some of these words have the lifespan of a common housefly, but others, if they are used enough, eventually are cataloged and included in the English lexicon (1).

Wordsmiths at the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, have the “rule of five” to guide their decision about whether or not to publish a neologism in the dictionary. According to the rule, the word must be published in at least five different sources over a five-year period. As a result, lexicographers are always reading, searching for potential new additions to the dictionary.

If you want to be ahead of the curve on new words, check out the website Wordspy.com. The site is maintained by Paul McFedries, a technical writer with an obvious love of language. Here is the description of his site in his own words: Wordspy “is devoted to lexpionage, the sleuthing of new words and phrases. These aren’t ‘stunt words’ or ‘sniglets,’ but new terms that have appeared multiple times in newspapers, magazines, books, websites, and other recorded sources” (2).

Challenge – The Old Man and the Dictionary:  What are some examples of words that fit the following categories:  abstract noun, plural noun, common noun, possessive noun, adjective?  Make a list of at least three words in each category.  Then, use words from your list to complete the titles below.  By doing this, you’ll slightly alter the title of a classic work by mashing it up with your new words.  Select one of your titles and imagine it is a novel you have written. Write the blurb for the novel, a brief description of the story’s plot that you would place on the back cover of the book to attract and interest readers in the story.

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the __________ (plural noun)

War and Peace

War and __________ (abstract noun)

The Strange Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

The __________ (adjective) Incident of the _________ (noun) in the Nighttime

Lord of the Rings

Lord of the ___________ (plural noun)

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet ___________ (noun)

The Grapes of Wrath

The __________ (plural noun) of Wrath

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to ___________ (plural noun)

Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on __________ (plural noun)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of _____________ (noun) Maintenance

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the ____________  (possessive noun) ____________(noun)

The Old Man and the Sea 

The __________ (adjective) Man and the __________ (noun)

Sources:

1-”Technology: Time For Your Mashup?” Newsweek 5 March 2006.

2-Paul McFedries. Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – March 23

Subject: Classical Argument – “Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death”

Event:  Patrick Henry argues for independence, 1775

On this day in 1775, Patrick Henry delivered one of the most memorable and most important speeches in American history.  The speech was delivered at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, to the 120 delegates of the Second Virginia Convention, which included George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  

The question at hand was whether or not to mobilize military forces against the British.  Some held out hope for peaceful reconciliation with Britain, arguing against the motion to use force.  Henry, a 38-year old lawyer and politician, listened respectfully, then rose to give what is probably the best-known call to arms in the history of rhetoric. 

"Give me liberty, or give me death!" LCCN2001700209.jpg
(Wikimedia Commons)

In making his argument, Henry drew upon the classical arrangement of an argument, dating back to Aristotle and Cicero:

-The Introduction (Exordium) – The Reason for Relevance

-The Context (Narration) – The Context of the Controversy

-The Thesis (Partition) – The Architecture of the Argument

-The Evidence (Confirmation) – The Explanation of the Evidence

-The Counterclaims (Refutation) – The Consideration of Counterclaims

-The Conclusion (Peroration) – The Finish With a Flash

As we read Henry’s speech, we can break it into the six-part structure and examine how each part relates to the whole.

Exordium (Paragraphs 1-2):  Instead of beginning with a claim, the exordium seeks to win the attention and good will of the audience. Here Henry’s focus is on showing he is trustworthy and credible.  Notice how he shows respect to those who have spoken before him, while at the same time establishing his own forceful and confident voice:

No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony.

The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfill the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offense, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the Majesty of Heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Narration (Paragraphs 3-8 ): In the Narration a speaker gives the context for the argument.  Notice how Henry provides background on the issue at hand. Also, notice how instead of making declarations, he more subtly guides his audience to join in his conclusions through the use of rhetorical questions:

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not, the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves and the House. Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.

Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with those warlike preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort.

I ask gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us: they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging.

And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years. Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves longer.

Sir, we have done everything that could be done to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne!

Partition (Paragraph 9):  In the Partition, a speaker presents the thesis, the core argument being made.  Notice how Henry clearly and forcefully states his claim, not just once but twice:

In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free—if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending—if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained—we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of hosts is all that is left us!

Confirmation and Refutation (Paragraphs 10-12):  In the Confirmation, a speaker supports the central argument with reasoning, proof, and evidence; in the Refutation, a speaker anticipates opposing claims and attempts to rebut them.  Notice how Henry builds his case for taking action and how he rebuts the case for inaction. Notice also how in addition to appealing to the logic of his audience, he uses powerful imagery to move his audience emotionally:

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance by lying supinely on our backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot?

Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us.

Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations, and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable—and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

Peroration (Paragraphs 13-14):  In the Peroration, a speaker presents the grand finale by summarizing the case and by attempting to move the audience to action by appealing to emotion (1).  Henry has constructed and arranged his entire argument to culminate in a single dramatic crescendo:

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, peace, peace—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?

Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death! (2)

Challenge – Classical Arguments, Classical Choices:  What are some examples of the kinds of fundamental choices people must make in their lives, such as to marry or to stay single, to go to college or to get a job out of high school, to join the military or to remain a civilian?  Brainstorm a list of at least 10 possible choices a typical person might make.  These may be monumental, life-altering choices, or they may be simple choices that an individual must make on a daily basis.  Select one of the key choices that you feel strongly about and construct a classical argument using Henry’s speech as your model.  Arrange your speech to include each of the six elements of the classical argument, and like Henry, make sure to end with a climactic peroration. 

Sources:

1-Purdue Writing Lab. “Classical Argument  A (Very) Brief History of Rhetoric

2-”Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death.”  Colonial Williamsburg 3 March 2020.

THINKER’S ALMANAC – March 22

Subject:  Leadership – The Wallenda Factor

Event:  Karl Wallenda falls to his death in Puerto Rico, 1978

I think that at the start of a game, you’re always playing to win, and then maybe if you’re ahead late in the game, you start playing not to lose. The true competitors, though, are the ones who always play to win. -Tom Brady

On this day in 1978, the high-wire artist Karl Wallenda fell to his death while performing in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Wallenda was 73 years-old and had been performing on tightropes since he was 6 years-old.  

While the death of Wallenda was blamed on high winds and an improperly secured wire, Wallenda’s wife had another possible explanation:  his mindset.  She claimed that prior to his attempted tightrope walk between the towers of the Conando Plaza Hotel, he contemplated something that he had never thought about before: falling.  In his wife’s words, “. . . it seemed to me that he put all his energies into not falling rather than walking the tightrope.”

Karl Wallenda in Sarasota, Florida.jpg
Karl Wallenda (Wikimedia Commons)

Based on Wallenda’s long career of successful tightrope walks rather than his final fatal fall, leadership expert Warren Bennis coined a leadership principle called the Wallenda Factor.  In his thousands of successful high-wire walks, Wallenda focused on walking across the rope with his eyes focused forward on his goal rather than looking down and contemplating thoughts of falling.  The Wallenda Factor is a mindset that focuses on strategies for success rather than on the possibility of failure (1).

There is a fine but very important line between focusing on succeeding rather than on not failing; it’s the same fine line between focusing on winning rather than not losing.  One excellent example comes from one of the most successful college basketball coaches of all time, Geno Auriemma.  Auriemma’s University of Connecticut women’s basketball team went undefeated in two straight regular seasons.  Unfortunately, both teams lost in the Final Four championship tournament.  The following year in the 2012-13 season his team lost multiple games in the regular season, which according to Auriemma gave them a better mindset going into the NCAA Championship Tournament:  “This team wasn’t burdened by being afraid to lose and was playing to win. [My past] teams were more afraid to lose a national championship than wanting to win a national championship” (2).

According to Warren Bennis, successful leaders don’t even have the word “failure” in their vocabularies.  Instead, they attempt to reframe failure, using terms with less harsh connotations, such as “mistake,” “glitch,” or “setback.”  That is not to say that great leaders never fail; instead, they don’t allow failure to take center stage.  When failure does happen, great leaders don’t let it intimidate them; instead, they put it in its proper perspective, using it as an opportunity to learn strategies for future success.

Recall, Retrieve, Recite, Ruminate, Reflect, Reason:  What is the Wallenda Factor, and how can it help people be more successful?

Challenge – Focusing Like a Laser on Success:  Research what successful people say about success.  Identify your favorite quotation on success, and explain why you like it.

Sources:

1-Goldberg, Philip.  The Babinski Reflex.  Tarcher, 1990.

2- Fournier, Julie. “Playing To Win vs. Playing Not To Lose.” Basketball Is Psychology 11 April 2019.