Today is the birthday of American writer
and poet Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849).
Born into a family of traveling actors, Poe
was orphaned when he was just three years old. He was taken in and raised
by a Virginia family, the Allans.
Although Poe was an editor, literary
critic, poet, novelist, and writer of short stories, he constantly struggled
financially — a struggle that was no doubt fueled by his habits of drinking
and gambling. Not until after his death, at just forty years of age, was
his work recognized for its genius. His short stories “The Fall of the
House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Cask of Amontillado” have
become classics, and his poem “The Raven” is one of the most recognized and
recited poems in the English language. In fact, the poem is so well
recognized that when the city of Baltimore, the site of Poe’s death in 1849,
acquired its NFL franchise in 1996, they chose the Ravens as their name.
(The team’s three costumed raven mascots are named “Edgar,” “Allen,” and
Known for the tales of macabre and mystery
he wrote during his life, one specific mystery became associated with Poe after
For sixty years, beginning in 1949 (the
centennial of his death), an anonymous admirer visited Poe’s cenotaph — a
monument erected at the site of Poe’s original grave at Westminster Burial
Ground in Baltimore, Maryland. To commemorate Poe’s birthday each January
19th, this mysterious individual — known as the “Poe Toaster” — left three
roses, a bottle of French cognac, and occasionally a note. The
clandestine visits ended in 2009, the bicentennial of Poe’s birth (1).
Today’s Challenge: Gone but
What object would you leave at the grave of
an author or other famous person you admire, and what would you write in a note
to that person? Write
an explanation of what you would leave at the grave of a person you admire along
with an explanation of the object’s significance. Also, include the
contents of a note you would leave along with the object. (Common Core Writing
2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Where was the detective story until
Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”— Arthur Conan Doyle, at a Poe Centennial Celebration Dinner
1-Judkis, Maura. Edgar
Allan Poe Toaster Tradition Is No More. Washington Post 19 Jan. 2012. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/arts-post/post/edgar-allan-poe-toaster-tradition-is-no-more/2012/01/19/gIQAOQUBBQ_blog.html.
Quotation of the Day:Try to learn something about
everything and everything about something. -Thomas Henry Huxley
On this day in 1779, Peter Mark Roget was born in London. Roget is best known for his groundbreaking work, Roget’s Thesaurus, originally published in 1852. Roget’s work is a pioneer achievement in lexicography — the practice of compiling dictionaries. Instead of listing words alphabetically, as in a traditional dictionary, Roget classified words in groups based on six large classes of words: abstract relations, space, matter, intellect, volition, and affections. Each of these categories is then divided into subcategories, making up a total of 1,000 semantic categories under which synonyms are listed. Like a biologist creating a taxonomy of animal species, Roget attempted to bring a coherent organization to the English word-hoard.
In order to make the categories more
accessible, Roget’s son, John Lewis Roget developed an extensive index that was
published with the thesaurus in 1879. Roget’s grandson, Samuel Romilly Roget,
also worked to edit the thesaurus until 1952.
No one knows for certain how many words
there are in the English language, but because of its liberal tradition of
borrowing and adopting words from any language it rubs up against, there are
more words in English than in any other language. In fact, there are so many
more words in English that it is unlikely that the idea of a thesaurus would
even be conceived of for a language other than English.
Roget continued the English tradition of
borrowing words when he selected a Greek word for the title of his collection: thesauros
which means treasury or storehouse. Roget’s original title
for his work was The Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and
Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary
Like the association of Webster with
dictionaries, Roget’s name has become synonymous with thesauri (the
irregular plural of thesaurus). Also like Webster, the name Roget is no longer
under trademark; therefore, just because a thesaurus is called Roget’s does not
mean it has any affiliation with the original work of the Roget family (1).
Generations of writers have turned to
Roget’s work to assist their writing. One example is American writer
Garrison Keillor, who praised Roget in a 2009 article called, “The Book That
Changed My Life”:
The book was Roget’s International
Thesaurus. It not only changed my life, but also transformed,
diversified, and modulated it by opening up the lavish treasure trove of
English, enabling me to dip my pen into glittering pools of vernacular, idiom,
lingo, jargon, argot, blather, colloquialisms, officialese, patois, and
phraseology of all sorts. I discovered Roget’s as a callow youth grazing
in the reference books. I opened it, and it became my guru, master,
oracle, mahatma, rabbi, mentor, and also my bible, and I clung to it and
consulted it constantly, feverishly, ever in search of the precise color and
gradation of words. Its effect on me was to transformed me from a plain
little nerd from Minnesota to a raconteur and swashbuckling boulevardier, sporting
man, pilgrim, loafer, sometimes a roughneck, sometimes a fire-eating visionary
. . . . Thank you, Peter Roget. Gracias and merci (2).
Not all writers or English teachers are
fans of the Thesaurus, however. Sometimes it’s a little too easy for a
student grab a thesaurus and insert a synonym that doesn’t quite work in
context. For example, a student once wrote the sentence:
Today I ate a really good donut.
Searching for a synonym for the word “good”
in his thesaurus, he revised, as follows:
Today I ate a really benevolent
It’s because of mishaps like this that the
Irish novelist Roddy Doyle gives the following advice:
Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the
back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or
effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine.
Because there are so many synonyms in
English, it’s important for writers to become students of the subtleties of
language. The best way to do this is to look at both the denotation of a
word and the connotation of a word. A word’s denotation is the
literal dictionary meaning of a word; connotation is the implied meaning of a
word along with the feelings associated with that word. Denotations can
be found easily in a dictionary, but connotations are bit harder to find.
The best way to learn about connotations is to study words in their
natural habitat — that is in the writing of professional writers.
Notice, for example, how the writer Charles
S. Brooks (1878-1934) explores the subtle differences between the words “wit”
and “humor” in the following excerpt:
Wit is a lean creature with sharp inquiring
nose, whereas humor has a kindly eye and comfortable girth. Wit, if it be
necessary, uses malice to score a point–like a cat it is quick to jump–but
humor keeps the peace in an easy chair. Wit has a better voice in a solo, but
humor comes into the chorus best. Wit is as sharp as a stroke of lightning,
whereas humor is diffuse like sunlight. Wit keeps the season’s fashions and is
precise in the phrases and judgments of the day, but humor is concerned with
homely eternal things. Wit wears silk, but humor in homespun endures the wind.
Wit sets a snare, whereas humor goes off whistling without a victim in its
mind. Wit is sharper company at table, but humor serves better in mischance and
in the rain. When it tumbles, wit is sour, but humor goes uncomplaining without
its dinner. Humor laughs at another’s jest and holds its sides, while wit sits
wrapped in study for a lively answer (3).
Today’s Challenge: Is a Rant the
Same as a Diatribe?
What are two words that — even though they
are synonyms — do not mean exactly the same thing? What are the subtle
differences in the words’ denotations and connotations? Using Charles S. Brooks’ paragraph as a
model, write a paragraph comparing the differences between one of the word
On this day in 1605, Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote. Cervantes’ novel, originally written in Spanish, remains one of the most influential, most reprinted, and most translated books ever written.
The novel’s plot begins with an ordinary
man named Alonso Quijano who voraciously reads romantic tales of chivalry. Alonso
becomes so obsessed with the stories of knights errant that he decides to
become one himself. Taking the new name Don Quixote de La Mancha, he
mounts his horse Rocinante and joins forces with his sidekick Sancho Panza to
battle the forces of evil and to defend the weak.
Deluded and clearly insane, Don Quixote attacks
windmills, thinking they are hulking giants. Ordinary inns to Quixote
become castles, and peasant girls become beautiful princesses.
Literary critics call Don Quixote the
first modern novel, and the critic Harold Bloom argued that only Shakespeare
approached the genius of Cervantes’ writing. William Faulkner read Don
Quixote every year, and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky proclaimed Don
Quixote his favorite literary character (1).
Often when an idea or a style originates
from a specific person, that idea or style takes on new meaning, not just as a
noun but as an adjective. There are many examples of these proper nouns
that become eponymous adjectives (sometimes called proper adjectives), such as:
Darwinian, Epicurean, or Kafkaesque. When proper
adjectives spring from literature, it’s usually the author’s name that
transforms from noun to adjective (as in Orwellian, Shakespearean, or Byronic),
but occasionally a character comes along who is so distinct and so unique that
the character’s name takes on a more general adjectival meaning.
Cervantes’ Don Quixote is such a character. Check any dictionary
and you will see that the adjective quixotic refers not just to
Cervantes’ famous knight, but also to anyone who is “exceedingly idealistic,
unrealistic, or impractical.”
Today’s Challenge: Autobiography
of an Adjective
What are some examples of adjectives that
derive from the name of a specific person, real or imaginary? Select one of the eponymous
adjectives below and research the etymology of the word, including the
biography of the person behind the word. Then, imagine the person behind
the word is telling the story of how he or she became so well known that his or
her name became an adjective. Also, have the person explain the meaning
of their adjective as it is used today and also what ideas or styles it
embodies? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: It is one thing to write
as poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about
things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must
write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding
or subtracting anything from the truth. –Miguel de Cervantes
Today we celebrate the birth of the word snowclone,
which happened precisely at 10:57 pm on this day in 2004. The creator of
the neologism, or new word, was Glen Whitman, an economics professor at
California State University, Northridge. Writing in his blog, Whitman was
looking for a snappy term to describe the increasingly popular practice,
especially in journalism, of adapting or slightly altering a cliché. For
example, folklore tells us that Eskimos have a large number words for snow.
This oft repeated factoid spawns spinoff phrases that fit the following
If Eskimos have N words for snow, X have Y
words for Z.
A quick Google search reveals the following
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow,
fibromyalgics should have them for pain.
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow,
the Nicaraguans have a hundred related to the machete.
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow,
Floridians should have at least as many for rain now.
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow,
we have let bloom a thousand words for fear.
Glen Whitman exudes pride when talking
about his lexicographical invention, the bouncing baby “snowclone”: “If I
can claim no other accomplishment when I die, at least I’ll have one neologism
to my name!” (1).
The word that was born in a blog is now
being catalogued by blogger Erin Stevenson O’Connor at his website snowclones.org.
The following are some of the additional members of the snowclone species
which have grown out of a variety of popular culture sources:
In X, no one can hear you Y from the tagline for the movie Alien:
“In Space, no one can hear you scream.”
I’m not an X, but I play one on TV from a 1986 cough syrup commercial:
“I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”
X is the new Y from the world of fashion: “Pink is
the new black.”
X and Y and Z, oh my! from The Wizard of Oz movie line:
“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
I X therefore I am from philosopher Rene Descartes’ famous
quotation: “I think, therefore I am.”
This is your brain on X from a famous anti-drug public service
announcement: “This is your brain on drugs.”
My kingdom for a(n) X! from a famous line from Shakespeare’s play
Richard III: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”
Today’s Challenge: Send in the
What familiar proverbs might you adapt into
your own snowclones? Use
the proverbs below along with the Snowclone Formulas to generate your own
ideas. Select your best snowclone, using it as the title of a paragraph.
In your paragraph, explain the wisdom behind your snowclone proverb.
bigger they are the harder they fall.
-The Xer they are the Yer they Z
speak louder than words.
-Xs speak louder than Ys
pen is mightier than the sword.
-The X is mightier than the Y.
count your chickens before they are hatched.
-Don’t count your X before they are Yed.
judge a book by its cover.
-Don’t judge a X by its Y.
is the mother of invention.
-X is the mother of Y.
many cooks spoil the broth.
-Too many Xs spoil the Y.
Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day:
“A multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or
misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of
different jokey variants by lazy journalists and writers” -Geoffre Pullman
Snowclone is the New Cliché. Spectrum.ieee.org. 1 Feb. 2008. http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/snowclone-is-the-new-clich.
On this day in 1919, writer and commentator
Andy Rooney was born in Albany, New York. Rooney worked for decades as a
journalist and writer-producer for television, but he is best known for his
weekly commentaries on the television show “60 Minutes.” Between 1978 and
2011, Rooney presented over 1,000 mini-essays sharing his unique and slightly
cranky insights on everyday topics, such as almanacs, eyebrows, jaywalking,
paint, and the English language. For 33 years, “A Few Minutes with Andy
Rooney” was must-see television.
The appeal of Rooney’s three-minute
monologues was his homespun insights on the mundane. But another part of
his appeal was his consistent curmudgeonly tone, like that of a cantankerous
uncle who is bothered by just about everything.
Because I write my scripts to read myself,
I dont spell “don’t” with an apostrophe. I spell it “dont.” We all know
the word and it seems foolish to put in an extraneous apostrophe.
Age is a defect which we never get over.
The only thing worse than having another birthday is not having another
I keep buying things that seem like the
answer to all my problems, but Im never any better off . . . . And this is
universal. Edison invented the lightbulb, but people dont read any more than
our grandparents did by candlelight.
On The Moon
Remember when the astronauts brought those
rocks back? They said it might be weeks before the scientists could analyze
them and give us their results. Do you ever remember hearing that rock
report? I think the scientists are embarrassed to tell us those rocks are
just like the ones we have on Earth.
The argument in the dictionary business is
whether to explain the proper use of English or whether to tell you how it’s
being used by the most people — often inaccurately. For instance, I
never say “If I were smart.” I always say “If I was smart.” I dont
like the subjunctive no matter what the dictionary likes. (1)
Today’s Challenge: Mini-Monologue
on a Mundane Matter
What are some pet peeves you have about
everyday objects, events, or ideas? What and why do these things
frustrate you? Write a
Rooney-esque monologue that expresses the reasoning behind one specific pet
peeve or frustration. Go beyond the obvious, by providing your unique
insights on what makes this thing so bad and how either it should be changed or
what it tells us about society. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: I don’t like food that’s
too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much
time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I’d buy a
1-Rooney, Andy. Years
of Minutes: The Best of Rooney from 60 Minutes. New York:
Public Affairs, 2003.
Legend has it that on this day in 1795, the U.S. Congress voted on a bill that would have established German as the official language of the United States. The legend continues by claiming that the bill failed by only a single vote, a vote surprisingly cast by a man of German heritage, the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg.
As is usually the case, the truth behind
the legend is much less astonishing. There was in fact a language bill
considered by Congress on January 13, 1795, but instead of giving the German
language any official status, it would have merely mandated the printing of
federal laws in both German and English. In the course of debating the
bill on January 13th there was a casting of ballots that failed by a single
vote, but that was merely a motion to adjourn, and there is no evidence that
even that vote was cast by Muhlenberg. The final vote on the translation
of the federal laws was rejected by Congress one month later, and there is no
record of the final vote numbers (1).
The whole truth is that the German language
never came within a hair’s breadth of becoming the official language of the
United States. Furthermore, although there have been attempts to make
English the official language of the United States, the truth is that the United
States has never had an official language.
Today’s Challenge: What’s the
What are some examples of language or
writing rules that you have been taught in school? Are the rules valid,
or are they merely myths? Like
the myth of the German Language Bill, various myths have been perpetuated
through the years regarding the use of the English language. Although
there may be some kernels of truth in each of these rules, a true investigation
will reveal that the rules themselves are fallacious. Investigate one of
the English language rules below, or one you have encountered from your own
experience, and research the validity of the rule. Write up your verdict
using evidence and examples that reveal the rule’s validity or falsehood.
Never begin a sentence with a conjunction.
Never use the passive voice.
Never split an infinitive.
Use the article “a” before words that begin
with consonants; use the article “an” before words that begin with vowels.
Never end a sentence with a preposition.
Only words in the dictionary are real
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Myths are public dreams, dreams
are private myths. -Joseph Campbell
1-Do You Speak American? Official
American. English Only. Pbs.org. http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/officialamerican/englishonly/#baron.
On this day in 1964, the Surgeon General of
the United States released the first report linking cigarette smoking with
cancer. The report was based on over 7,000 articles that correlated smoking
with disease. Acting on the report’s findings, Congress acted, passing
The Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965 which required
cigarette packages to carry the following Surgeon General’s Warning:
“Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Health” (1).
Just as that first Surgeon General’s report
on smoking caused Americans to consider the dangerous consequences of smoking,
another event that happened on this day in 1918 led generations of people to
apply prudent forethought when putting together a plan of action.
On January 11, 1918, Edward Aloysius
Murphy, Jr. was born, the man behind Murphy’s Law, which reminds us that, “Anything
that can go wrong will go wrong!”
A graduate of the United States Military
Academy at West Point, Murphy served as a pilot in World War II. After
the war, Murphy became an aerospace engineer, and in 1951 he was assisting U.S.
Air Force scientists in California’s Mojave Desert where they were conducting
tests to study the effects of the force of gravity on pilots. To simulate
the force of an airplane crash, the project team mounted a rocket sled on a
half-mile track. At first the tests were conducted using a dummy, which
was later replaced with a chimpanzee. Then a physician named Colonel John
Paul Stapp volunteered to ride the sled, nicknamed “Gee Whiz,” as it raced over
200 miles per hour across the desert floor and suddenly came to an abrupt stop.
Murphy’s contribution to the experiment
were sensors that were attached to Dr. Stapp to measure the G-force as the
rocket sled braked.
Although Murphy’s name became attached to
the law, the person credited with first uttering the law and spreading it was
Dr. Stapp. During a press conference after the tests, Stapp was asked how
the team avoided any serious injuries during its experiments. The doctor
responded by saying that they were able to anticipate mistakes by applying
Murphy’s Law: “If anything can go wrong, it will” (2).
What are some mistakes you have made, some
failures you have experienced, or some accidents you have been the victim of in
your life so far? What specific advice would you give others to help them avoid
these mistakes or accidents? Write
the text of a public service announcement (PSA) that focuses on a specific
danger that might be avoided by exercising caution or by applying Murphy’s Law.
Give details on what specifically might go wrong as well as detailed
steps on how to avoid it. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day:A thousand people will stop
smoking today. Their funerals will be held sometime in the next three or four
days. -Surgeon General C. Everett Koop
for Disease Control and Prevention. History
of the Surgeon General’s Reports on Smoking and Health.http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/history/.
Patricia. The Man Behind Murphy’s Law. Toronto Star. 11 Jan. 2009.
On this day in 49 BC, Julius Caesar made a
momentous decision that transformed a small Italian river into a powerful
Prior to 49 BC, Caesar served as conquering
Roman general, expanding the Roman Empire as far north as Britain. His
most notable conquest came in Gaul, the area of Europe that today includes
France, Belgium and Switzerland. By winning the Gallic wars, Caesar made
Gaul a Roman province and established himself as its governor.
Although Caesar expanded the territory of
the Roman republic, his rivals feared his ambition and envied his success.
Caesar’s most notable foe was a rival Roman general named Pompey.
In January 49 BC, Pompey convinced the Roman Senate to send a message to
Caesar, commanding him to leave his army and return to Rome.
This message is what led to Caesar’s
faithful decision to cross the Rubicon River. He knew that returning to
Rome alone without his army would surely lead to his demise, but to take his
army across the Rubicon and into Italy was against Roman law and was
essentially a proclamation of civil war. Knowing the consequences of his
actions and that there would be no turning back, Caesar boldly led his army
across the river as he uttered, “The die is cast!” — a gambling metaphor that
means once a player throws (casts) the dice (plural form of die),
he has reached a point of no return.
Caesar’s bold gamble paid off. He
defeated Pompey, and when Caesar eventually arrived at the gates of Rome, he
was proclaimed dictator for life (1). (For Part Two of Caesar’s story,
see March 15: Ides of March Day.)
Today, “Crossing the Rubicon” has become a
metaphor for any courageous commitment to moving in a bold, new direction for
which there is no turning back.
Today’s Challenge: Mapping
What are some examples of geographical
sites that evoke a universal theme, such as courage, failure, change, or
nonconformity? What is the story or history behind how this place
acquired its abstract meaning? Like
the Rubicon, other geographical sites have acquired meaning beyond just a name
on a map. The history of what happened in each of the places listed below
has made each site a metaphor for some abstract idea or universal theme.
Select one of the place names below, and research the story behind how it
acquired its metaphoric meaning. Write a paragraph explaining as clearly
as possible the location of your selected site and the story behind its meaning.
Waterloo, Watergate, Alcatraz, Agincourt,
Alamo, Bedlam Bohemia, Chappaquiddick, Damascus, Dunkirk, Fort Knox, The Bay of
Pigs, Siberia, My Lai
(Common Core Writing 2: Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Language is the Rubicon that
divides man from beast. -Max Muller
1-Eye Witness to History.com. Julius Caesar Crosses the Rubicon.
On this day in 1948, the movie The
Treasure of the Sierra Madre was released. Directed by John Huston and
starring Humphrey Bogart, the film is the story of four American men and their
desperate quest for gold in 1920s Mexico.
One particular scene in the film features
some famous dialogue between one of the Americans, Dobbs, and bandits posing as
are Federales… you know, the mounted police.”
you’re the police, where are your badges?”
We ain’t got no badges. We don’t need no badges! I don’t have to show you any
The last line of
dialogue concerning “Badges?” was chosen as number 36 on the American Film
Institute’s list of most memorable movie lines. In addition to being a
famous movie quote, the line “We don’t need no badges!” is an example of one of
the most infamous of grammar no nos: the double negative. Using two forms
of negation in the same sentence is considered non-standard English, primarily
because it confuses the reader, as in the following examples (1):
Double Negative Correct Version
I don’t have no time to eat. I don’t have any time to eat.
I can’t find my keys nowhere. I can’t find my keys anywhere.
I can’t get no satisfaction. I can’t get any satisfaction.
We don’t need no education. We don’t need any education.
sentences lucid and clear for the reader is a priority of every writer, double
negatives should be avoided.
Today’s Challenge: Turning Wrongs
If you were to teach a lesson in English
grammar, what common grammar mistakes would you consider explaining? Select one specific grammar faux pas to
address. Then, research and write the text of your lesson, including
examples of the error and corrections. The following are examples of some
classic no nos.
Today is the birthday of Umberto Eco (1932-2016), the Italian novelist, literary critic, philosopher and semiotician (one who studies signs and symbols). Although he is best known for his historical mystery novel The Name of the Rose, Eco’s most interesting work might just be a work of nonfiction that he published in 2009 called The Infinity of Lists. In his book, Eco collects and catalogs examples of lists from literature, music, and art, showing over and over how people have turned to lists in an attempt to bring order to chaos (1).
Some people are critical of lists as a
writing form. They see the ubiquitous internet listicles as a sign of the
apocalypse (See March 19: Listicle Day). Eco, however, views lists
The list doesn’t destroy culture; it
creates it. Wherever you look in cultural history, you will find lists. In
fact, there is a dizzying array: lists of saints, armies and medicinal plants,
or of treasures and book titles. Think of the nature collections of the 16th
century. My novels, by the way, are full of lists (2).
The following are some of the lists from
literature that Eco includes in his book:
-A list of the residents of Hades from
Virgil’s Aeneid, Book VI.
-A list of conditions for manhood from
Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If.”
-A list of items that Tom obtained from his
friends as payment for the privilege of whitewashing his fence, from Mark
Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
-A list of book categories from the
bookstore in Italo Calvino’s novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.
Lists fascinate us because they appeal to
our inherent need for organization. A list’s title gives the reader
immediate and easily categorized information, such as “The Ten Commandments” or
“Thirteen Signs You’re Addicted to Lip Balm.”
Lists are an essential tool that assist
writers to shovel up heaping helpings of savory details for the reader to
enjoy. Too often writers dwell too much on abstractions and generalities.
Lists remind the writer that the reader is hungry for concrete details.
Readers can be told things for only so long; they prefer, instead, to be
shown things, things that they can see, hear, taste, smell, and feel.
Today’s Challenge: Your Personal
Parade of Particulars
What are some titles of lists that you
would find interesting to enumerate and catalogue your life experiences? Generating your own lists is a great way to
practice generating specific, concrete details in your writing. Generate
at least three list titles of your own, or use some of the examples below.
Then, based on the three titles, generate three separate lists, each
containing at least seven items.
Things I’ve Found
Songs on My iPod
Jobs I’d Hate to Have
Things I Love to Hate
Things I Hope to Do by the Time I’m Fifty
Reasons I Get Up in the Morning
Important Numbers in My Life
Things I Can Rant About?
Things I Can Rave About?
Places I’d Like to Go Before I Die
Nicknames I’ve Had in My Life
Most Memorable People I’ve Met
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: How does one attempt to grasp the
incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in
museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries. There is an allure to
enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with . . . . We also have
completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are
also cultural achievements in their own right. -Umbeto Eco
The Infinity of Lists. New York: Rizzoli, 2009.
2-Beyer, Susanne and
Lothar Gorris. We Like Lists Because We
Don’t Want to Die. Spiegal.