July 2:  Broadcast Day

Today is the anniversary of the first major sports broadcast. On July 2, 1921 in Jersey City, New Jersey, heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey met Georges Carpentier in what was billed as “The Battle of the Century.” Nearly one hundred thousand spectators witnessed the fight, and thousands more listened across the nation, including a crowd of ten thousand in New York’s Times Square.

The fight did not live up to its hype, ending in four rounds with Dempsey scoring a knockout, but the people who came to Times Square to listen to a fight, left wanting a radio of their own. According to Bill Bryson in his book Made in America, “The very notion of instant, long-distance verbal communication was so electrifying that soon people everywhere were clamoring to have a radio” (1).

The lone announcer that day was J. Andrew White, who probably never envisioned today’s sports fans who have access to sports broadcasts literally 24-hours a day. Today, in addition to a play-by-play announcer, who reports the who, what, when, and where, there are also color commentators, sometimes called color analysts, who give the listener or viewer the why and the how of what is happening in the ring or on the field. These expert analysts are especially important since the advent of instant replay, first used on December 7, 1963 during the CBS broadcast of the Army-Navy football game.

The relationship between the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator provides an interesting metaphor for writing. The play-by-play person provides what every good piece of writing needs: details, description, examples, facts, and statistics. The color commentator provides something else that good writing needs: the interpretation and analysis of the details. A good writer, therefore, must do both the job of the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator. This balance between the evidence provided to the reader (the proof) and the explanation of that evidence (the warrant) is a key to effective writing, especially argumentation.  So, as you write, ask yourself whether or not you are providing enough of both in your own essays, speeches, or broadcasts.

The word broadcast originated in the 18th century as an agricultural term to describe the wide swing of the hand as it throws, or “casts” seeds over a “broad” area.  With the advent of radio in the 1920s, the term was adopted as a metaphor to describe the dissemination of information over the air waves.

Today’s Challenge:  Broadcast Your Claim
What are some claims that you can make that you can support with detailed evidence and clear explanation?  Write a short editorial where you state a single clear claim.  Then, support your claim with both details and explanation. Use the broadcaster metaphor as a reminder to provide both play by play and color commentary that makes your case. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Any good broadcast, not just an Olympic broadcast, should have texture to it. It should have information, should have some history, should have something that’s offbeat, quirky, humorous, and where called for it, should have journalism, and judiciously it should also have commentary. That’s my ideal. -Bob Costas

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

July 1:  Strunk and White Day

Today is the birthday of William Strunk, Jr. (1869-1946), the principal author of The Elements of Style.  This book, also known as Strunk & White, is the single most influential style guide ever written, selling over ten million copies.  Strunk originally published the book as an instructional pamphlet for his students at Cornell University in 1918, but it didn’t gain its great notoriety until after it was revised and published by Strunk’s former student E. B. White in 1959.

Elements of Style cover.jpgOne of Strunk’s recommendations, which dates from the original 1918 edition, still holds today as one of the most insightful things ever said about the characteristics of effective writing:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.  

This passage not only proclaims one of the key principles of effective writing, it also exemplifies it, by omitting needless words.  Below is a list of Stuck and White’s other Principles of Composition, each of which is explained in The Elements of Style:

  1.      Choose a suitable design and stick to it.
  2.      Make the paragraph the unit of composition.
  3.      Use the active voice.
  4.      Put statements in positive form.
  5.      Use definite, specific, concrete language.
  6.      Omit needless words.
  7.      Avoid a succession of loose sentences.
  8.      Express coordinate ideas in similar form.
  9.      Keep related words together.
  10.      In summaries, keep to one tense.
  11.      Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

Today’s Challenge:  What’s Your Primary Principle for Proper Prose?
What would you argue is the single most important rule for effective writing? Select one of the 11 principles from Struck and White, or come up with your own.  Then, support your rule by explaining it in detail along with showing examples where appropriate. (Common Core 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day:  The mind travels faster than the pen; consequently, writing becomes a question of learning to make occasional wing shots, bringing down the bird of thought as it flashes by. A writer is a gunner, sometimes waiting in the blind for something to come in, sometimes roaming the countryside hoping to scare something up. –E. B. White

June 30:  One-Book Author Day

On this day in 1936, Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949) published her first and only novel Gone with the Wind.  The book became a blockbuster, mesmerizing readers with its story, set in the Old South, and its fascinating characters, Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler.

Gone with the Wind cover.jpgMitchell worked as a reporter for The Atlanta Journal until 1926 when complications from an ankle injury prevented her from walking. To occupy herself, she began to read.

Mitchell read voraciously, so voraciously that her husband John Marsh became tired of carting books back and forth from Atlanta’s Carnegie Library.  One day instead of a pile of books, he arrived with something else to keep her occupied, and announced, “. . . here is a typewriter.  Here is some copy paper.  Write your own book to amuse yourself” (1).

Although her experience as a writer was in journalism, she began to write fiction, turning to the stories she had heard from her family about the South during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Because she always struggled to write the openings of her newspaper stories, Mitchell got in the habit of writing the last part first.  She followed this same pattern with Gone With the Wind, beginning with the last chapter, Chapter 63.

Mitchell wrote for nine years without any real ambition to publish, until she had a chance meeting with a publishing representative in 1935.  Bashful about sharing her work, Mitchell was at first reluctant to show anyone her book.  Fortunately, she reconsidered.  Pulling together her manuscript of over one thousand pages, she placed it in a suitcase and delivered it to the publisher.  A few days later Mitchell received a wire announcing that her book had been accepted for publication.

When the book went on sale on June 30, 1936, Mitchell hoped it would sell 5,000 copies.  The book sold one million copies in its first six months, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937.  Two years later the film version of the book premiered in Atlanta on December 15, 1939.

Although Gone With the Wind became the most successful book ever published by an unknown author of a first novel, Mitchell never wrote another book.  Besieged by admiring readers, the press, and fan mail, Mitchell found little time to write fiction.  Mitchell died in 1949 after being struck by a speeding car near her home in Atlanta (2).

Margaret Mitchell is not the only author to write only one book. Other one hit wonders include J.D. Salinger (The Catcher in the Rye), Emile Bronte (Wuthering Heights), Anna Sewell (Black Beauty), and Sylvia Plath (The Bell Jar).  The 2003 documentary The Stone Reader traces one reader’s quest for one-book author Dow Mossman, who published The Stones of Summer in 1976.

Today’s Challenge:  One Book, One City
Many communities across the United States have participated in One Book, One City projects where a single book is chosen to be read and discussed by everyone in that community.  The first such program began in Seattle in 1998 with Russell Banks’ 1991 novel The Sweet Hereafter (3).  What one book would you argue would be worth reading by your entire hometown?  What makes this one book something special?  Write the pitch for the book that you think would be a good fit for your hometown, explaining why it is a book that would appeal to all ages and interests. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.  -Samuel Johnson

1-http://www.npr.org/2011/06/30/137476187/margaret-mitchells-gone-with-the-wind-turns-75

2-http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/1108.html

3-http://read.gov/resources/

June 29:  Blend Day

On this day in 1995, Diane White, writing in The Boston Globe, coined the blended word bridezilla (bride + Godzilla) to describe “brides who are particularly difficult and obnoxious” (1).  White’s neologism follows a trend that began in the 20th century by combining two words to form a single new word.  These blended words are also called portmanteau words.

Portmanteau comes to us from the English poet Lewis Carroll who used the portmanteau — a suitcase with two compartments that fold into one — as a metaphor to describe the word-blending that happens in the poem “Jabberwocky.” Examples from the poem are chortle (chuckle + snort) and galumph (gallop + triumph). The popularity of Carroll’s work not only added these new words to the English lexicon, it also seems to have encouraged others to try their hand at word blending (2).

In his book A Bawdy Language, Howard Richler traces the history of various blended words that preceded and followed Carroll’s Jabberwocky, which was published in Through the Looking Glass in 1871.

1823 anecdotage – The tendency for elderly people to tell stories, from anecdote + dotage.

1843 squirl – Handwriting with great flourishes, from squiggle + whirl.

1889 electrocute – Death by electricity, from electricity + execute.

1896 brunch – breakfast + lunch.

1925 motel – motor + hotel (3).

Blended words should not be confused with compound words, another popular method of adapting old words to create new ones. Unlike compound words, the two words that come together don’t just latch onto each other; instead, at least one of the words, and often both, must lose some of themselves in the merger, as in the following more contemporary examples:

Reaganomics – Ronald Reagan + economics

Spanglish – Spanish + English

motorcade – motor + cavalcade

telecast – television + broadcast

tangelo – tangerine + pomelo

moped – motor + pedestrian

hazmat – hazardous + material

agribusiness – agriculture + business

blog – web + log

The Internet and technology are probably the most prolific sources of new word blends these days. One interesting example is the term blook, which combines book with blog. USA Today featured an article on blooks on April 3, 2006, documenting the phenomenon of popular blogs morphing into books.

Today’s Challenge: Grab Your Blender

What two words might you blend to create a new blend?  In the tradition of Lewis Carroll, try your own hand at coining some new blended words. Take two existing words and blend them into something new. Include a definition that makes the logical connection between the two words and explains the word’s meaning and relevance. (Common Core Language – 3)

Quotation of the Day: It seems you can’t open a paper or laptop these days without being ambushed by a new portmanteau word. They cover every walk of life: smirting and gaydar, guesstimate and Chunnel, metrosexual, stagflation, glamping, frappuccino and Buffyverse. . . . We have, I think it’s fair to say, reached peakmanteau. –Andy Bodle

1- Word Spy  http://wordspy.com/index.php?word=bridezilla

2 – Nunberg, Geoffrey. The Way We Talk Now. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.

3 – Richler, Howard. A Bawdy Language: How a Second-Rate Language Slept Its Way to the Top. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1999.

June 28:  War and Peace Day

On this day we remember two specific dates, one that marked the outbreak of war and the other establishing peace.

The first event took place on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo. On that day Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by a Serbian nationalist.

DC-1914-27-d-Sarajevo-cropped.jpgFerdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was visiting Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina to inspect the imperial armed forces.  The provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina had been annexed by Austria-Hungary a few years earlier to the opposition of neighboring Serbia.

Traveling in a motorcade in a car with its convertible top folded down, the Archduke passed Serbian nationalist Nedjelko Cabrinovic, who tossed a bomb in the direction of Ferdinand’s car.  The bomb did not land in the car, however. Instead, it hit the back of the car and bounced underneath a trailing vehicle. The explosion injured two army officers and several bystanders. Continuing in his motorcade unharmed, Ferdinand arrived at Sarajevo’s city hall where he presented a speech.  After his speech, Ferdinand insisted he be taken to visit the injured officers. As Ferdinand’s car raced through the Sarajevo streets to the hospital, his driver took a wrong turn. While slowing down to turn around, the car, by coincidence, passed near one of Cabrinovic’s co-conspirators, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip.  Seizing this chance meeting, Princip pointed his .38 Browning pistol at Ferdinand, shooting twice at point-blank range and killing both Ferdinand and his wife.

The assassination of Ferdinand was the spark that ignited the powder keg of World War I.  Within one month Austria-Hungary, backed by Germany, declared war on Serbia Soon Russia, France, Belgium, Great Britain, and eventually the United States were drawn into the escalating conflict that eventually claimed the lives of ten million soldiers (1).

While June 28 marks the beginning of World War I, it is also the date that marks the official end of the war five years later in 1919.  While fighting ended in the war with the declared armistice of November 11, 1918, the specific terms of peace had to be written up and signed.   To create the treaty, national leaders met at Versailles, near Paris. The key players — David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Woodrow Wilson of the United States — met behind closed doors to hammer out the terms of what became the Treaty of Versailles.

The treaty laid out brutal terms for Germany, requiring them to pay millions in reparations, to forfeit thousands of acres of their land holdings, to plead guilty for starting the war, and to massively reduce the size and strength of their army.   Reluctantly Germany signed the treaty on June 28, 1919.

Although the Treaty of Versaille brought temporary peace, its harsh terms laid the foundation for future conflicts in the 20th and 21st Centuries, most notable of which was World War II, where a World War I German corporal named Adolf Hitler rose to power, seeking revenge for the unjust terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

Today’s Challenge:  Opposite Day

What are some pairs of antonyms — words that are opposites — that you could use to make a claim that contrasts the two ideas?  Select a topic based on a pair of antonyms, such as:

parents/children, success/failure, truth/falsehood, logic/creativity, speaking/listening, victory/defeat, yesterday/today, reading/writing

Next, write an opening sentence that makes a claim based on differences in the two topics, such as:

Logic teaches us about the world; creativity teaches us about ourselves.

Notice that the sentence above is balanced, meaning both of its independent clauses are parallel.  Also notice that it features the rhetorical device called antithesis, which frames contrasting ideas in a parallel form.  This is a classic device used by speakers and writers to craft memorable lines (See March 20:  Antithesis Day).  For example, you probably remember this famous example by Neil Armstrong:

That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

Once you have crafted your claim, write a paragraph that supports your claim, using contrast, details, examples, and evidence.

Quotation of the Day:  Nobody is mad enough to choose war whilst there is peace. During times of peace, the sons bury their fathers, but in war it is the fathers who send their sons to the grave. -Herodotus

1-http://www.history.com/news/the-assassination-of-archduke-franz-ferdinand-100-years-ago

 

June 27:  Short Story Day

One of the most iconic and most anthologized short stories ever written is set on this day.  The story is Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery.”

The date is established in the story’s opening line:

The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.

ShirleyJack.jpgWhile the story’s opening sentence paints a calm, serene picture, the events of the story soon turn dark and even horrifying as the reader discovers why the residents of an unidentified small American village have gathered.  In an annual rite, the villagers draw lots to determine which one of them will be stoned to death.

Soon after the story was published in the June 26, 1948 edition of the New Yorker, a deluge of letters arrived expressing the shock and bewilderment of its readers.  In fact, “The Lottery” sparked more letters to the New Yorker than any work of fiction it ever published.  Some of the readers were critical — including some who canceled their subscriptions — but most were simply confused by the story, wanting an explanation of its meaning (1).

On July 22, 1948, nearly one month after the story’s publication, Jackson wrote to the San Francisco Chronicle, giving a brief explanation of the story’s meaning:

Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives (2).

The day and month of the story’s setting are noteworthy.  June 27th has significance dating back to the Roman calendar as the first day of summer.  It was known as Initium Aestatis or the Feast of Aestas, the Roman Goddess of summer (3).  

But perhaps more noteworthy in determining the meaning of “The Lottery” is the year of its publication:  1948. In her take on the meaning of the story, Ruth Franklin, biographer of Shirley Jackson, explains why it makes sense that a story like this would emerge three years after one of history’s darkest and most brutal wars — World War II:

[“The Lottery”] anticipates the way we would come to understand the twentieth century’s unique lessons about the capacity of ordinary citizens to do evil—from the Nazi camp bureaucracy, to the Communist societies that depended on the betrayal of neighbor by neighbor and the experiments by the psychologists Stanley Milgram and Philip Zimbardo demonstrating how little is required to induce strangers to turn against each other. In 1948, with the fresh horrors of the Second World War barely receding into memory and the Red Scare just beginning, it is no wonder that the story’s first readers reacted so vehemently to this ugly glimpse of their own faces in the mirror, even if they did not realize exactly what they were looking at (4).

Today’s Challenge:  Short Story Almanac

If you were to write a short story that takes place on a specific day and month, what would it be and why?  Write the opening paragraph of a short story that takes place on a specific day and month.  (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  I frankly confess to being completely baffled by Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery.’ Will you please send us a brief explanation before my husband and I scratch right through our scalps trying to fathom it?  –Miriam Friend in a letter to the editor of The New Yorker.

1- http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-lottery-letters

2-http://northbennington.org/jackson.html

3-http://www.thaliatook.com/OGOD/aestas.html

4-http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/the-lottery-letters

June 26:  Personal Pronoun Day

On this day in 1963, John Lennon and Paul McCartney began composing the song “She Loves You.”  They began on their tour bus, continued work in their hotel room in Newcastle, and finished the following day at the home of Paul’s father in Liverpool.

When they finished the song, John and Paul played it for Paul’s father, Jim McCartney.  His response was: “That’s very nice son, but there’s enough of these Americanisms around. Couldn’t you sing ‘She loves you, yes, yes, yes!’?”  (1).

In his biography of Paul McCartney entitled Many Years From Now, Barry Miles quotes Paul, discussing the song’s grammar:

“It was again a she, you, me, I, personal preposition song. I suppose the most interesting thing about it was that it was a message song, it was someone bringing a message. It wasn’t us any more, it was moving off the ‘I love you, girl’ or ‘Love me do’, it was a third person, which was a shift away. ‘I saw her, and she said to me, to tell you, that she loves you, so there’s a little distance we managed to put in it which was quite interesting.”

Of course, Paul should have said personal pronoun, not preposition.

When it comes to rock songs and pronouns, who can forget the Grammar Rock Pronoun song?  It tells just about everything you need to know about pronouns and why we use them.

Today’s Challenge:  Grammar Rock

What are some examples of your favorite songs that have pronouns in their titles?  Create a list of your top 5 favorite songs with pronouns in their titles.  Include the artist and a brief explanation of why you like the song. If you are a Beatles fan you might list the following examples:  “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I, Me, Mine,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.  -Lyrics from I Am the Walrus

1 – http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/she-loves-you/

-For more on the Beatles and pronouns, check out the following article:  I Me Mine:  The Beatles and Their Pronouns.

 

June 25:  Dead Metaphor Day

Today is the birthday of British journalist, essayist, and novelist George Orwell (1903-1950). His birth name was Eric Arthur Blair, and he was born in Motihari, India, where his father was serving as an official in the British colonial government. Orwell left India to get his education in British schools, but he returned to Asia in 1922 to work with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. He decided to devote himself to writing full time in 1928, and in 1933 he published his first novel Down and Out in Paris and London under his pen name, George Orwell.

A photo showing the head and shoulders of a middle-aged man with black hair and a slim moustache.Orwell’s best known and most widely read novels are Animal Farm and 1984. Both novels are potent warnings against big government, totalitarianism, and fascism.

In Animal Farm, a political allegory, Mr. Jones’ animals take over his farm, and in events that parallel the Russian Revolution, they learn that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four tells the story of a future dystopia called Oceania. The one-party government is in a perpetual state of war and is led by the all-seeing but unseen leader called Big Brother. From the very beginning of the book, the novel’s main character, a party worker named Winston Smith, is doing something that is both radical and unlawful: he is questioning his government, and he is writing his thoughts in a journal.

Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948 (reversing the numbers 4 and 8), but he probably should have called it 2084 since questions about big government, privacy, and the role of technology make this novel even more relevant in the 21st century than it was in the 20th.

Two words created by Orwell in 1984, doublethink and newspeak have been melded in our modern lexicon to become doublespeak, meaning language that is deliberately constructed to disguise rather than clarify meaning. William Lunz, author of the 1989 book Doublespeak, keeps Orwell’s memory alive in his annual Doublespeak Awards, which call attention to language from government, business, and the military that is “grossly deceptive, evasive and euphemistic.” (See December 12:  Doublespeak Day)

Orwell’s use of the suffix -speak in 1984, for words such as newspeak, duckspeak, and oldspeak, popularized the use of the suffix -speak to refer to any specific variety of spoken English, such as Haigspeak, Bushspeak, or soccer-speak.

The 1946 essay Politics and the English Language is George Orwell’s plea for writing that is clear, concise, and thoughtful. In a famous example, he presents the following passage from Ecclesiastes as a model of clarity:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

He then translates the passage into modern gobbledygook:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Also in Politics and the English Language, Orwell practices what he preaches when he presents the following concise list of rules for writers:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive [voice] where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (2)

In order to elaborate on his first rule, Orwell discusses dead metaphors, which are figures of speech that once evoked images, but because they have been used and recycled so often by writers, they have lost their luster.  Today the most common term for a trite and overused figure of speech is cliche.  Orwell’s goal is to get writers to eschew cliches and instead create fresh figures of speech that will bring their writing to life.  

In the following 170 words, Orwell explains the writing process meticulously, showing how fresh figures bridge the gap between the abstract and the concrete and how good writing must be intentional and thoughtful:

When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally.

Today’s Challenge:  I See Dead Metaphors

What are some examples of dead metaphors that you might read in the writing of others or use in your own writing?  A dead metaphor is a word or expression that once evoked a visual image, but because it has been used and recycled so much and for so long, it is now just an ordinary word, evoking meaning but no specific imagery.  For example, people today use the expression “a red letter day” to mean a day that is special or especially memorable. Few people realize, however, that the expression evolved from an age-old practice of using red to mark holy days on church calendars.

The words and expressions below are additional dead metaphors.  Each one has a dictionary definition, but also a backstory that originally evoked imagery as well as meaning.  Investigate the backstory of at least two dead metaphors. Identify what the words mean today, but also tell the words’ backstories so that your reader can add a picture along with the words’ meanings.

aftermath, bedlam, canard, decimate, eavesdrop, feet of clay, gadfly, honeymoon, iconoclast, jeopardy, know the ropes, labyrinth, mercurial, nitpick, ostracize, procrustean, quixotic, red herring, scapegoat, shibboleth, sour grapes, tantalize, Uncle Tom, vandal, white elephant, yahoo, zealot

(Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Effective metaphor does more than shed light on the two things being compared. It actually brings to the mind’s eye something that has never before been seen. It’s not just the marriage ceremony linking two things; it’s the child born from the union. An original and imaginative metaphor brings something fresh into the world. -Rebecca McClanahan

1 – Lunz, William. Doublespeak. New York: Random House, 1989.

2 – Orwell, George. Politics and the English Language. http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/politics/english/e_polit/

 

June 24:  Devil’s Dictionary Day  

Today is the birthday of Ambrose Bierce, American journalist and short-story writer. He was born in Ohio in 1842, and after serving in the Civil War, he traveled west, where he worked as a journalist in San Francisco. His best-known work of fiction is a short story called An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a war story about the last thoughts of man before his execution.

Abierce.jpgBierce’s best-known work though is his Devil’s Dictionary, a satirical work featuring definitions that display Bierce’s sardonic, piercing wit. Bierce began publishing his definitions as a part of his newspaper column in 1875 and continued until 1906. A complete collection of words and definitions was first published in 1911.

Here are some samples of the definitions:

Bigot: n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.

Cynic: n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic’s eyes to improve his vision.

Dictionary: n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work (1).

Year: n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments.

The Devil Made Me Define It

Given the definitions below from Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary, see if you can come up with the appropriate word.

  1. n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.
  2. Adj. Able to pick with equal skill a right-hand pocket or a left.
  3. n. The salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out.
  4. n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage . . . .
  5. n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.
  6. n. A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.
  7. n. A rich thief.
  8. n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.
  9. n. A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket.
  10. n. A despot whom the wise ridicule and obey (1).

Today’s Challenge:  The Glass is Half Full and Half Empty

What are some examples of nouns that you would find in a book called ‘The ABCs of Life’?  Select five nouns that represent universal aspects of human experience, such as school, walking, breakfast, parents, and job.  Next, generate two contrasting creative definitions for each of your words.  For the first, follow Bierce’s example from the Devil’s Dictionary and write a definition that reflects a cynical, pessimistic mindset.  For the second definition, put yourself in a positive, optimistic frame of mind.

JOB:

Half Empty Definition:  A tedious way to spend one third of each day in exchange for a few greenbacks.

Half Full Definition:  A daily opportunity to transform your passion into a livelihood.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: There is nothing either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so. -William Shakespeare

Answers: 1. telephone 2. ambidextrous 3. wit 4. love 5. patriot 6. heaven 7. kleptomaniac 8. peace 9. dentist 10. fashion

1 – Bierce, Ambrose. The Devil’s Dictionary. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/972/972-h/972-h.htm#link2H_4_0001

June 23:  Pangram Day

Today is the anniversary of the patent for the first QWERTY typewriter.

Around 1860, Christopher Latham Sholes, a journalist for the Milwaukee News, began his quest to create a machine that could write words both legibly and quickly on paper. Sholes’ design was not the first attempt at creating a writing machine, but it was the fastest and most efficient model available when he filed for his patent in 1868.

Sholes’ great innovation was the QWERTY system (named for the arrangement of the first six letters on the first row of letters on the keyboard). As explained in Great Inventions, Sholes’ design, coupled with the QWERTY letter arrangement, made his typewriter faster than a pen:

The secret of its speed lay in the keyboard design, which paradoxically slowed the typist down. Sholes arranged the letters in the now familiar qwerty sequence: this forces typists to move their fingers further than was really necessary to type common letter sequences but it gave the keys time to fall back into place after typing (1).

The name type-writer was coined by Sholes, who sold his machine to E. Remington & Sons in 1873. In 1874, the Remington typewriter hit the market at a price of $125. One of the first buyers was Mark Twain who completed the manuscript for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on his new machine, becoming the first writer ever to present a publisher with a typed manuscript (2).

Even today, in an era where metal keys have been replaced by electronic word processing, the QWERTY system remains the standard keyboard layout.

Wordplay enthusiasts have an entire category of words related to typewriter order. For example, the word typewriter can be written using just the letters on the top row of the keyboard.

Chris Cole’s book Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities lists the following additional examples:

-Other common words that can be written using just the top row: repertoire, proprietor, perpetuity.

-Longest common word that can be typed using only letters from the middle row: alfalfa.

-Longest common words using letters in typewriter order: weigh, quips, quash, quaff, quill.

-Longest common words using letters in reverse typewriter order: soiree, sirree.

-Longest common words using just the left hand on the typewriter: aftereffects, stewardesses, reverberated, desegregated.

-Longest common words using just the right hand on the typewriter: polyphony, homophony.

-Longest common word using alternating hands: dismantlement.

-Longest common word using one finger: deeded.

-Longest word from adjacent keys: assessed, reseeded (3).

A less esoteric type of typewriter wordplay is called the pangram. Common to students who are learning the keyboard, a pangram is a single sentence that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet at least once, such as: The quick brown fox, jumps over the lazy dogs. A common competition among hardcore word-buffs is to create pangrams with the fewest possible letters. It is possible to create a 26-letter pangram, but it is hard to do without resorting to obscure words and strained syntax; for example, try to decipher this 26-letter pangram: Cwm, fjord-bank glyphs quiz vext.

Here are some other examples of pangrams that use more common words:

How quickly daft jumping zebras vex.

The five boxing wizards jump quickly.

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs (3).

Today’s Challenge: Pangrams With a Purpose

How would you revise the title of your favorite book or movie using every letter of the alphabet? Imagine that a new Equal Usage Amendment for letters has been passed which states that every book and movie must be renamed so that every letter of the alphabet appears in its title.  Try writing a panagramic title for your favorite book or movie.

The following are some examples:

The Sometimes Quixotic, Other Times Joyless Prince Who Lost his Zest For Life, Yearned For His Adulterous Mother, and Killed His Boisterous, Vile, and Godless Uncle. (Hamlet, The Tragedy of the Prince of Denmark)

An Extremely Vocal Wolf’s Huffing and Puffing Quickly Jumbles Zany Pigs’ Houses (The Three Little Pigs)

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: If the monkey could type one keystroke every nanosecond, the expected waiting time until the monkey types out ‘Hamlet’ is so long that the estimated age of the universe is insignificant by comparison … this is not a practical method for writing plays.  -Gian-Carlo Rota

1 – Dyson, James and Robert Uhlig. Great Inventions. New York: Barnes & Nobles Books, 2001.

2 – Baron, Naomi S. Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It’s Heading. London: Routledge, 2000.

3 – Cole, Chris. Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1999.