November 5:  Guy Fawkes Day

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Today is the anniversary of a foiled plot to blow up the British Parliament. On the night before the ceremonial opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605, 36 barrels of gunpowder were discovered in the basement of the House of Lords. The perpetrators of the plot, 13 Catholics who hoped to topple the Protestant King, James I, were arrested, prosecuted, and hanged.

A monochrome engraving of eight men, in 17th-century dress. All have beards, and appear to be engaged in discussionAlthough he was not the ringleader of the plot, Guy Fawkes became the “face” of the Gunpowder Plot.  This is probably because he was the one man caught red handed, with matches in his pocket, skulking in the basement of the House of Lords waiting to light the fuse.  Once capture, Fawkes was tortured and signed a confession.  He also implicated his fellow conspirators who were hanged with him on January 31, 1606.

Ever since that fateful night in 1605, November 5th has been a night of thanksgiving and revelry. Celebrants of the failed coup light bonfires, set off fireworks, and burn effigies, called “guys,” of the notorious rebel Guy Fawkes (1, 2).

On Guy Fawkes Night, or as it is also known “Bonfire Night,” British children collect wood for their fires or solicit money for their “guys” as they chant or sing:

   Remember, remember!

   The fifth of November,

   The Gunpowder treason and plot;

   I know of no reason

   Why the Gunpowder treason

   Should ever be forgot!

   Guy Fawkes and his companions

   Did the scheme contrive,

   To blow the King and Parliament

   All up alive.

   Threescore barrels, laid below,

   To prove old England’s overthrow.

   But, by God’s providence, him they catch,

   With a dark lantern, lighting a match! (3)

Frequently in English the famous and infamous become enshrined in the language when their last names become common, lower case nouns or verbs (called eponyms). In rare cases, however, a first name becomes a part of the lexicon.  Guy Fawkes not only became the subject of burned effigies, but also his first name became synonymous with anyone of odd appearance. Across the Atlantic, the name is used in American English to refer to any male, either bad or good. It is also a handy word used in its plural form to refer to any group of people (2).

Guy Fawkes, himself, has undergone a makeover, transforming from villain to rebel hero and freedom fighter.  This is due mainly to the graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta.  Set in a dystopian Britain, the book and film feature a hero who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and who battles the future fascist government of Britain.

Today’s Challenge:  Remember, Remember the Date

What hero or villain, who is not already honored with a day on the calendar, should be recognized with his or her own specific day? What makes this person influential or notorious enough to rate having a dedicated day on the calendar, and what kind of activities would you suggest to appropriately mark the day? Brainstorm a list of important figures and events from history. Select the one person you would honor, and write a proclamation which explains who the person is and what specific date will be set aside to recognize the person.  Include some background on what the person did and why the person is important.  Finally, include some details on the kinds of activities that will accompany the person’s special day. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1 – Guy Fawkes and Bonfire Night. Bonfirenight.net 2011. http://www.bonfirenight.net/gunpowder.php.

2 – Word History and Mysteries. (by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

3-The Fifth of November. English Folk Verse (c.1870).

November 4:  Fumblerules Day

On this day in 1979, New York Times columnist William Safire (1929-2009) published an article on the “Fumblerules of Grammar.”  Each of Safire’s fumblerules states a rule while at the same time breaking it, such as:

Never use prepositions to end sentences with.

Several years after Safire’s column appeared, he wrote a book based on his collection of fumblerules called How Not to Write: The Essential Misrules of Grammar.  In the book Safire includes 50 chapters, one for each of his fumblerules.  After stating each “misrule,” he provides a brief essay with examples and explanations of the right way to write.

In the first ten chapters of the book, Safire features the following essential fumblerules:

  1. No sentence fragments.
  2. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  3. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  4. Do not put statements in the negative form.
  5. Don’t use contractions in formal writing.
  6. The adverb always follows the verb.
  7. Make an all-out effort to hyphenate when necessary but not when un-necessary.
  8. Don’t use Capital letters without good REASON.
  9. It behooves us to avoid archaisms.
  10. Reserve the apostrophe for it’s proper use and omit it when its not needed. (1)

Today’s Challenge:  Recover the Fumblerule

What is your favorite fumblerule — a writing or grammar rule that states a rule while at the same time breaking it?  Select your single favorite fumblerule, and write an explanation of how it relates to effective writing.  Use the fumblerule as your title, followed by a paragraph where you explain how the rule relates to legitimate writing.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Safire, William.  How Not to Write:  The Essential Misrules of Grammar.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1990.

November 3:  Dogs in Space Day

On this day in 1957, the USSR launched the satellite Sputnik 2 into orbit.  Aboard the spacecraft was the first ever living being launched into space, a female terrier named Laika.  Just four weeks earlier the Russians had shocked the world by launching the first-ever satellite, Sputnik I on October 3, 1957.

Laika went from obscurity to fame as the first cosmonaut; just a week before the launch she was a stray living on the streets of Moscow.  Unfortunately, there never was a plan to return Laika to earth, so the Russian canine was forced to sacrifice her life for the benefit of humanity.  Laika most likely died from overheating within hours of takeoff.  Sputnik 2 continued to orbit the Earth for several months before it burned up in April 1958 upon reentering the atmosphere.

A Chicago newspaper tried to lighten Laika’s passing with a pun:

The Russian sputpup isn’t the first dog in the sky. That honor belongs to the dog star. But we’re getting too Sirius (1).

The launches of the two Sputnik satellites led to a crisis in the United States as leaders feared Soviet domination of space.  In July 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and in September 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, which poured billions of dollars into the U.S. education system.

Russia was successful in launching the first human, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, into space on April 12, 1961; however, the United States proclaimed victory in the Space Race when NASA’s Apollo program landed a man on the Moon on July 20, 1969 (See July 20:  Antithesis Day).

Going to the Dogs

English is replete with idioms (expressions that don’t make sense when taken literally) related to dogs. And it is interesting to note that despite the dog’s reputation for being “man’s best friend,” most of the expressions use “dog” in the negative sense. For example, they are used as scapegoats for missing homework: “My dog ate my homework.” They are associated with sickness: “Sick as a dog.” And they are even used to characterize life in general as harsh and cut throat: “It’s a dog eat dog world.”

Use the clues below to identify the eight dog-related idioms. For each idiom you are given the number of words in the expression and a brief literal translation of the meaning of the idiom as it might be used in everyday speech.

  1. Five words: Don’t make something unimportant the most important thing.
  2. Five words: You’re searching in the wrong place.
  3. Four words: My feet are very tired.
  4. Four words: My wife is very mad at me.
  5. Seven words: He’s not really as mean as he seems.
  6. Eight words: Some people will never change.
  7. Four words: Don’t remind him of your past conflicts.
  8. Five words: Every person is successful at something at some point in his/her life.

Today’s Challenge:  Giving the Dog His Day

What words, phrases, or titles come to mind when you hear the word “dog”?  What is your favorite dog-based writing topic, either literal or figurative?  Brainstorm a list of words, phrases, or titles that you associate with dogs.  Try to generate at least 20 ideas.  Then, select the one idea that sparks a writing idea, and write a poem, story, or essay on your idea.  Use the word “dog” in your title. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3 – Expository and Narrative)

Answers: 1. The tail wagging the dog 2. Barking up the wrong tree. 3. My dogs are barking  4. In the dog house 5. His bark is worse than his bite 6. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. 7. Let sleeping dogs lie. 8. Every dog has its day

1-Latson, Jennifer.  “The Sad Story of Laika, the First Dog Launched Into Orbit.”  Time 3 Nov. 2014.   http://time.com/3546215/laika-1957/.

November 2:  Cheerleading Day

On this day in 1898, a medical student at the University of Minnesota became the first cheerleader.  College teams had pep clubs and fight songs prior to 1898, but after his school’s football team had suffered a three-game losing streak, Johnny Campbell took the radical step of grabbing a megaphone and running down onto the field.  Once there, he turned to the crowd and led them in a rousing cheer: “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-ta!” Minnesota won the game, and thus began the tradition of on-field cheerleading.

Interestingly, cheerleading remained primarily a male endeavor until the 1940s. As college students, U.S. Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush led cheers at their respective schools.  Only when the male student body became depleted because of World War II did cheerleading squads become primarily female (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Pep Talk

What single motivational quotation do you find the most uplifting and encouraging?  Why is the quotation so motivating? Just as cheerleaders use pre-packaged cheers to motivate the crowd, writers often integrate quotations from other writers into their work.  Write a brief pep talk based on the motivational quotation that you find the most uplifting and encouraging.  Go beyond just the writer’s quotation by explaining why you find it so motivational and how you are encouraged by the quotation. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Being a Cheerleader – History of Cheerleading. Varsity.com. 20 Oct. 2014. http://www.varsity.com/event/1261/being-a-cheerleader-history.

November 1:  Art Imitates Life Day

On this day in 1866, the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky met a very important deadline.  Based on the terms of his contract with his publisher, Dostoyevsky would either deliver his completed novel on November 1, 1866 or his publisher would be given complete rights to his works, without compensation, for the next nine years.  Clearly entering into such a contract was a gamble, but then Dostoyevsky had a reputation as a gambler.  After all, the reason he agreed to a contract with such stark terms was because he was desperate for money to pay off his gambling debts.

When Dostoyevsky began work on his novel on October 4, 1866, he had just 26 days to finish.  To assist him, he hired a stenographer, a woman named Anna Grigorievna whom he would later marry.  They met daily.  Dostoyevsky dictated the story to Grigorievna, and on November 1st, two hours before the deadline, the complete manuscript was delivered to the publisher.

The title of Dostoyevsky’s novel is appropriately The Gambler, and its plot revolves around several desperate characters winning and losing at the roulette table.  In the novel, art imitates life as the author’s addiction to roulette is the focus of his novel’s plot.

Today’s Challenge:  From Fact to Fiction

What anecdote from your life would be worthy of adapting to fiction?  Just as Dostoyevsky used his life experiences, his passions, and his misfortunes for his fiction, the challenge here is to take something from your life and adapt it into a fictional anecdote.  Once you have an actual incident, transform it into fiction by creating a character in a specific setting.  Decide also on a point of view – 1st person or 3rd person (limited or omniscient).  Then, write your anecdote.  Base the plot of your anecdote on the facts of your experience, but also use your poetic license as a fiction writer to embellish the facts. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Nissley, Tom.  Reader’s Book of Days.  New York:  W. W. Norton, 2014:  315.

November 2:  Cheerleading Day

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On this day in 1898, a medical student at the University of Minnesota became the first cheerleader.  College teams had pep clubs and fight songs prior to 1898, but after his school’s football team had suffered a three-game losing streak, Johnny Campbell took the radical step of grabbing a megaphone and running down onto the field.  Once there, he turned to the crowd and led them in a rousing cheer: “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-ta!” Minnesota won the game, and thus began the tradition of on-field cheerleading.

Interestingly, cheerleading remained primarily a male endeavor until the 1940s. As college students, U.S. Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush led cheers at their respective schools.  Only when the male student body became depleted because of World War II did cheerleading squads become primarily female (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Pep Talk

What single motivational quotation do you find the most uplifting and encouraging?  Why is the quotation so motivating? Just as cheerleaders use pre-packaged cheers to motivate the crowd, writers often integrate quotations from other writers into their work.  Write a brief pep talk based on the motivational quotation that you find the most uplifting and encouraging.  Go beyond just the writer’s quotation by explaining why you find it so motivational and how you are encouraged by the quotation. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Being a Cheerleader – History of Cheerleading. Varsity.com. 20 Oct. 2014. http://www.varsity.com/event/1261/being-a-cheerleader-history.

November 1:  Art Imitates Life Day

On this day in 1866, the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky met a very important deadline.  Based on the terms of his contract with his publisher, Dostoyevsky would either deliver his completed novel on November 1, 1866 or his publisher would be given complete rights to his works, without compensation, for the next nine years.  Clearly entering into such a contract was a gamble, but then Dostoyevsky had a reputation as a gambler.  After all, the reason he agreed to a contract with such stark terms was because he was desperate for money to pay off his gambling debts.

When Dostoyevsky began work on his novel on October 4, 1866, he had just 26 days to finish.  To assist him, he hired a stenographer, a woman named Anna Grigorievna whom he would later marry.  They met daily.  Dostoyevsky dictated the story to Grigorievna, and on November 1st, two hours before the deadline, the complete manuscript was delivered to the publisher.

The title of Dostoyevsky’s novel is appropriately The Gambler, and its plot revolves around several desperate characters winning and losing at the roulette table.  In the novel, art imitates life as the author’s addiction to roulette is the focus of his novel’s plot.

Today’s Challenge:  From Fact to Fiction

What anecdote from your life would be worthy of adapting to fiction?  Just as Dostoyevsky used his life experiences, his passions, and his misfortunes for his fiction, the challenge here is to take something from your life and adapt it into a fictional anecdote.  Once you have an actual incident, transform it into fiction by creating a character in a specific setting.  Decide also on a point of view – 1st person or 3rd person (limited or omniscient).  Then, write your anecdote.  Base the plot of your anecdote on the facts of your experience, but also use your poetic license as a fiction writer to embellish the facts. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Nissley, Tom.  Reader’s Book of Days.  New York:  W. W. Norton, 2014:  315.

October 31:  Thesis Day

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Today is Halloween, but the most famous individual to approach a door on this date was not dressed in a costume. The year was 1517, and the man approaching the door was a 34-year-old Augustinian monk named Martin Luther.  The door he approached was not a residence; rather, it was a church door in Wittenberg, German.  Instead of knocking on the door, Luther nailed a list of 95 theses to the church door.   It was this single act by one man that sparked a religious revolution called the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther by Cranach-restoration.tifIn the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was the dominant church in Europe.  Since Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire in 325 AD, the church had grown in both political and spiritual power.  In 1513 Leo X became Pope and began plans to rebuild St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, the headquarters of the Catholic Church.  To raise funds for this major project, the decision was made to sell indulgences, the church’s promise that an individual could escape God’s judgment in the afterlife in exchange for money in this one.

It was the act of selling indulgences as well as other corruption in the church, that sparked Martin Luther’s act of nailing his 95 theses.  As a monk lecturing at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, Luther believed that forgiveness of sins could only come from God, and that unchecked power had caused the church to lose sight of it biblical foundation.

Luther’s 95 theses, written in Latin, challenged the authority of the Pope, calling for an end to indulgences, corruption, and decadence — and a return a proper spiritual focus.

For his act, Luther was charged with heresy and was excommunicated from the church.  Luther’s cause did not die, however.  Aided by the printing press, which had been invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439, copies of Luther’s theses were circulated throughout Europe.  The “protest” movement that resulted became the Protestant Reformation, which spawned numerous Christian sects that rejected the authority of the Roman Church (1).

Just as Martin Luther stated what he believed in his 95 theses, an essay’s thesis must clearly sum up what the essay’s author believes, the writer’s core argument.

Margaret Heffernan, in her 2012 TED Talk entitled “Dare to Disagree,” emphasizes the importance of knowing what you believe and being prepared to defend and debate it.  In her talk Heffernan also alludes to students at the University of Delft, The Netherlands, who must “submit five statements that they’re prepared to defend” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Thesis Under Construction

What is a thesis — a debatable statement of what you believe — that you believe in strongly enough to defend?  Brainstorm some topics that you believe in strongly.  Then, craft five thesis statements that you would be prepared to defend.  To help you craft your theses, read the “Three Things a Thesis Does” below and make sure that each of your theses do those three things.

Three Things A Thesis Does:

  1. States a debatable claim (an opinion) – “What you believe”
  2. Provides reasoning to support the claim – “Why you believe it”
  3. Combines the “What” and the “Why” into at least one clear, complete sentence.

Examples:  

Gun control laws should be further tightened because guns do not deter crime.

Gun control laws should not be further tightened because gun control laws punish only law-abiding citizens.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Marsh, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  365:  Your Date with History.  Cambridge, UK:  Totem Books, 2004.

2-Heffernan, Margaret. Dare To Disagree. TED 2012. http://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_dare_to_disagree/transcript?language=en#t-614227.

October 30: All I Really Need to Know Day

On this day in 1989, Robert Fulghum published his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  The book, which stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for almost two years, is a collection of short essays, subtitled “Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things.”

Fulghum grew up in Waco, Texas, and before he began writing full time, he was a Unitarian minister and an art and philosophy teacher.

Robert Fulghum - All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.jpgThe first essay in Fulghum’s book, called “Credo,” explains the origin of his book’s title.  Fulghum explains that each spring throughout his life he would sit down and write a personal credo, a list of statements of personal belief.  This list evolved over the years with statements that were sometimes comical, sometimes bland, sometimes cynical, and sometimes over-complicated.  The final version of his credo came to him, however, when he realized that true meaning in life did not need to be complicated.  In fact, he already knew what he needed to know; he had learned it a long time ago in kindergarten. The basic rules he learned like “Share everything,” “Play fair,” and “Clear up your own mess” served him throughout life (1).

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten has spawned numerous imitations, spinoffs, and parodies based on television shows, movies, books, etc.  These imitations adopt Fulghum’s title and list as their template, beginning with “All I Really Need to Know I Learned From ______,” followed by a list of principles based on the source of inspiration.

For example:

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from My Dog

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Fairy Tales

A further adaptation narrows the learning a bit to a single specific area, as in:

All I Really Need to Know about ___________ I Learned from ___________

One example of this kind of spinoff is a book, published in 2014 by Paul Oyer, Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating.

Today’s Challenge:  Create Your Credo

How would you finish the following titles, and what principles would you include in your personal credo?  “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in/from ______.”  And “All I Really Need to Know about ___________ I Learned in/from ___________.”

Create your own spin-off of Fulghum’s credo.  Brainstorm some ideas based on books, movies, television shows, the internet, or some other aspect of life that you know well.  Once you have selected a single focus, generate a list of principles that spring from your selected area.  Your list may contain serious insights or humorous insights.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Fulghum, Robert. All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. New York:  Ballantine Books, 1989.

 

October 29: Rules for Correspondence Day

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On this day in 1890, Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), English writer and mathematician, published an essay entitled “Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing.” Best known for his works Alice in Wonderland and “Jabberwocky,” Lewis Carroll’s essay on letter writing was included as a booklet in the “Wonderland” Postage-Stamp-Case, a product designed to help letter writers organize their postage and correspondence.

In his essay, Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson, offered tips on opening a letter, closing a letter, and keeping a registry of correspondence.  The main focus of the essay, however, is the section entitled “How to Go on With a Letter” in which he provides his key considerations for the body of a letter.  The nine rules are summarized below:

Rule 1:  Write legibly.

Rule 2:  Begin with remarks about your reader or your reader’s last letter rather than about yourself or about your apologies for not having written sooner.

Rule 3:  Don’t repeat yourself.

Rule 4:  If you think your letter might irritate your friend, set it aside for a day and re-read it again.  Then, re-write the letter, if necessary, to make it less offensive.  Also, keep a copy of the letter so that you’ll have a record of what you actually said.

Rule 5:  If your friend makes a severe remark in his or her letter, either ignore it or respond in a less severe way.

Rule 6:  Don’t try to have the last word.

Rule 7:  Watch out for sarcasm and humor.  If you write in jest, make sure that it is obvious.

Rule 8:  If you write in your letter that you have enclosed something, stop writing for a moment and get the item for enclosure and put it into the envelope immediately.

Rule 9:  If you get to the end of the note-sheet and you have more to say, take out another piece of paper instead of cross-writing. (Cross writing was a paper-saving practice of writing vertically over the horizontal lines of your letter) (1).

What seems to unify Carroll’s rules is the consideration for the reader.  Carroll reminds writers to avoid egocentricity and to craft every sentence with the reader in mind.  Even though letter writing today is certainly less popular than in Carroll’s time, his emphasis on this universal writing principle — “Put the reader first” — makes his rules applicable to just about any form of writing.

American humorist Will Rogers stated the rule using an apt metaphor: “When you go fishing you bait the hook, not with what you like, but with what the fish likes.”

Today’s Challenge:  Rules for Email

What are your rules for crafting an effective email?  Brainstorm some rules that effective writers and communicators should consider when writing an email, either for personal or professional purposes.  State at least three rules, and follow each rule with an explanation and rationale, using specific examples where appropriate. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Carroll, Lewis. Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing. 1890. Public Domain Project Gutenberg. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/38065/38065-h/38065-h.htm.