August 13: Americanisms from 1950s Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

Today is the anniversary of an article published in the show-business magazine Variety that featured a new word. The article published on August 13, 1950 used the term disc jockey for the first time, reporting the phenomenon of New York radio hosts selecting and playing phonograph records for an eager audience of young fans of popular music. The term stuck, sometimes abbreviated as DJ or deejay. DJ is an example of an Americanism, an English word or expression that is born in the U.S.A. and that is used in the writing and speech of Americans.

The book America in So Many Words by David K. Barnhart and Allan A. Metcalf documents Americanisms from the 1600s to the end of the 20th century. For each year, the authors select a single representative Americanism that was “newly coined or newly prominent.” Looking at the words and the background of each is a reminder that every English word is like a fossil or an archeological artifact that reveals the attitudes and trends of the age in which it was coined.

The below list of Americanisms from 1949 to 1960, for example, gives interesting insights into the characteristics of post-war America; the list also foreshadows several political, cultural, social, and economic trends that would emerge in the second half of the 20th century.

1949 cool

1950 DJ

1951 rock and roll

1952 Ms.

1953 UFO

1954 Fast Food

1955 hotline

1956 brinkmanship

1957 role model

1958 Murphy’s Law

1959 software

1960 sit-in (1)

If English is the global language of the 21st century, then it is certainly American English which is the most influential variety of English. Whereas the English language of the British Empire dominated and propagated English around the world in the first half of the 20th century, American English, since the end of World War II, has exported English even farther than the Brits, via satellite and computer technology.

As early as 1780, John Adams envisioned this linguistic American Revolution:

English is destined to be in the next and succeeding centuries more generally the language of the world than Latin was in the last or French is in the present age. The reason of this is obvious, because the increasing population in America, and their universal connection and correspondence with all nations will, aided by the influence of England in the world, whether great or small, force their language into general use.

One aspect that characterizes the American variety of English is its brevity. Americanisms are typically single syllable words or at least single syllable compounds. Americanisms include a variety of classifications that produce words that are short and sweet: Americanisms are clipped words (such as fan from fanatic), blends(such as motel from motor + hotel), abbreviations (such as Ms. from mistress), initialisms (such as UFO from Unidentified Flying Object), and acronyms (such as AWOL from absent without leave).

In fact, even the word acronym is an Americanism that emerged from the government and military build-up of World War II to give Americans a way to compress multiple-word expressions into easy-to-communicate small packages. This Americanism uses Greek roots: acro- meaning top, peak, or initial and -nym meaning name. Using the initial letters of words, acronyms condense names, titles, or phrases into single words, such as radar for radio detection and ranging.

Born in the U.S.A.

Given the number of letters and a brief definition, see if you can identify the Americanisms below. None are more than four letters long:

  1. Three-letter word in response to someone stating to obvious.
  1. A three-letter clipped word that emerged from rap music and its performers’ desire for respect.
  1. Two-letter initialism that reflects the American faith in the ability to measure anything, including the quality of a person’s gray matter.
  1. A three-letter clipped word that refers to any liquid, especially a sticky one.
  1. A frequently used two-letter initialism with two different meanings. The first came out of the world of technology; the second meaning came out of the multicultural movement.
  1. A two-letter initialism that refers to American soldiers.
  1. A four-letter acronym that evolved from the Civil War to refer to soldiers who fled the battlefield or their assigned posts.
  1. A three-letter initialism that reflects the American tendency to live life at a fast pace and to get things done in a hurry.

Today’s Challenge:  Yankee Doodle Lexicon
Based on your best guesses, what are some examples of words or expressions that are Americanisms, that is words or expressions that emerged from American English and the culture and history of the Unites States?  Select a single word or phrase, and do some research to verify whether or not it is an Americanism.  Once you have identified one, do some research to determine the etymology of the word or phrase.  Write an extended definition of the word that includes its definition, evolution, and history. (Common Core Writing 2)

The following are some examples:

bottom line

workaholic

Watergate

soundbite

stealth

gridlock

wannabe

yuppie

soccer mom

millennium bug

Quote of the Day: Thus the American, on his linguistic side, likes to make his language as he goes along, and not all the hard work of his grammar teachers can hold the business back. A novelty loses nothing by the fact that it is a novelty; it rather gains something, and particularly if it meets the national fancy for the terse, the vivid, and, above all, the bold and imaginative. —H. L. Mencken

Answers:

  1. duh (1963) 2. dis (1986) 3. IQ (1916) [intelligence quotient] 4. goo (1902) 5. PC (1990) [personal computer; politically correct] 6. GI (1917) [See Word Daze June 22 GI Day 7. AWOL [absent without leave] (1863) 8. P.D.Q [Pretty Darn Quick] (1875)

1- Barnhart, David K. and Alla A. Metcalf. America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

2 – Algeo, John. “Americans are Ruining English.” Language Myth #21. Do You Speek American? PBS.

http://www.pbs.org/speak/words/sezwho/ruining/

 

August 12:  Mythology Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

Today is the birthday of Edith Hamilton whose writings on ancient civilization and mythology have been read by generations of students.

File:Edith Hamilton.jpgBorn in Dresden, Germany in 1867, Hamilton immigrated to the United States with her family as a child. At the age of seven, she began studying Latin and committing biblical passages to memory. She completed her education in classics at Bryn Mawr College in Baltimore where she later became headmistress. She gained a reputation as an excellent teacher, storyteller, translator, and interpreter of Greek tragedies. Encouraged by her friends to write, she published her first book, The Greek Way (1930), in her 60s.

Hamilton continued writing into her 90s, publishing a total of nine books. Although she wrote about ancient Rome and Israel, the civilization she seemed to admire the most was ancient Greece:

The fundamental fact about the Greek was that he had to use his mind. The ancient priests had said, “Thus far and no farther. We set the limits of thought.” The Greek said, “All things are to be examined and called into question. There are no limits set on thought.”

Hamilton’s best known and most widely read book is Mythology (1942), which she wrote as an overview of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology. This book is known by generations of middle school and high school students who read it as a primer on the myths.

Prior to her death in 1963 at the age of 96, Hamilton received several honorary degrees in the U.S. and was also honored internationally as an official citizen of Athens, Greece in 1957 (1).

Words from the Gods

Many common English words spring from the stories that Hamilton told of the ancient Greek and Roman gods. Given the eight clues below, see if you can name the words.

  1. This word for any grain, such as wheat or oats comes from the name of the Roman goddess of agriculture.
  1. This word for a repeating sound comes from the name of a nymph who loved Narcissus.
  1. This word for maintaining health and preventing disease comes from the name of the Greek goddess of health.
  1. This word for psychically induced sleep comes from the name for the Greek god of sleep.
  1. This word for being full of happiness and playfulness comes from the name of the most powerful Roman god.
  1. This word for being changeable or volatile comes from the name for the Roman messenger of the gods.
  1. This word for sudden fear comes from the name of the Greek god of fields, forests, and wild animals.
  1. This word, used to refer to something that induces sleep, comes from the name of the Roman god of sleep.

In addition to being embedded in the etymology of English words, the characters from mythology and their stories are frequently alluded to by many writers.  The works of Edith Hamilton are one the best ways for students to become familiar with these fascinating stories as well as to become familiar with allusions – indirect or passing references – to these characters that are made throughout our culture, both past and present.

Here is a list of a few prominent figures from Greek Mythology:

Achilles

Ariadne

Hercules

Odysseus

Oedipus

Orpheus

Pandora

Paris

Persephone

Prometheus

Theseus

Today’s Challenge:
What characters and stories from mythology to you think are the most captivating?  Brainstorm a list of characters from mythology that come to mind. Identify which one character you think has the most captivating and fascinating story.  Then, tell the story of that character and explain what makes it such a captivating story. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3)

Today’s Quote: It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought — that is to be educated. –Edith Hamilton

Answers: 1. cereal 2. echo 3. hygiene 4. hypnosis 5. jovial 6. mercurial 7. panic 8. somniferous

 

1 – Sicherman, Barbara. “Edith Hamilton.” The Reader’s Companion to American History, Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors, published by Houghton Mifflin Company

 

August 11:  Presidential Gaffe Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this date in 1984, President Ronald Reagan, known as the “great communicator,” made one of the rare gaffes of his political career. While warming up for a radio address, Reagan said:

My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.

At the time Reagan was running for re-election against Democratic nominee Walter Mondale, and the President’s faux pas resulted in a temporary dip in his poll numbers. However, Reagan won the November election and went on to continue his get-tough policy towards Russia. Ironically one of Reagan defining moments came in later comments about Russia; in 1987 he visited the Berlin Wall where he famously commanded: “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” (1).

Some might argue that the most glaring faux pas in presidential history was committed by President William Henry Harrison at his inauguration on March 4, 1841. Ignoring advisers who told him to wrap up against the cold, he proceeded to give the longest ever inaugural address (one hour and forty-five minutes) and died from the resulting chill one month later of pneumonia.

The focus here, however, is on verbal faux pas (French for “false step). Based on this criteria, Harrison’s gaffe doesn’t quite qualify; his speech was long (10,000 words), but today no one quotes any of his slips of the tongue. One gaffe that does qualify, however, was one by President George W. Bush.  When making his successful run for president in 2000, he said:

Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning? (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Foot in Mouth Faux Pas
What is the best way to recover from a verbal gaffe? What advice would you give a public figure or anyone who has said something that they wish they hadn’t?   In an age of social media and online communications everyone, not just presidents or other public figures, is more susceptible than ever to verbal or written gaffes.  Write a brief Public Service Announcement (PSA) that gives clear, concise advice on what should be done in the event of a gaffe. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: When a great many people are unable to find work, unemployment results. -President Calvin Coolidge

 

1 – This Day In History – Presidential – August 11. The History Channel

 

2 – List of U.S. presidential faux-pas, gaffes, and unfortunate incidents

 

 

August 6:  Interjection Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

aha

bravo

check

definitely

eureka

far-out

gadzooks

hi

I declare

jeepers

knock-knock

la-di-da

my bad

no soap

O.K.

please

quiet

rats

sorry

thanks

uff-da

very well

way to go

yadda-yadda

zounds (1)

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

August 3:  Idiot Letter Day


WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Cat Lovers,

Continue reading →

July 31:  Harry Potter Day

Today is the birthday of the literary character Harry Potter and Harry’s creator, J.K. (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Book Cover.jpgThe British author was born on July 31, 1965. The idea of a story about boy wizard came to Rowling one day on a long train ride from Manchester to London in the Summer of 1990.

At her website, Rowling recounts the day Harry was born in her imagination:

. . . I was travelling back to London on my own on a crowded train, and the idea for Harry Potter simply fell into my head.

I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one…

I did not have a functioning pen with me, but I do think that this was probably a good thing. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.

Perhaps, if I had slowed down the ideas to capture them on paper, I might have stifled some of them (although sometimes I do wonder, idly, how much of what I imagined on that journey I had forgotten by the time I actually got my hands on a pen). I began to write ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ that very evening, although those first few pages bear no resemblance to anything in the finished book. (1)

It took seven years for Rowling to bring Harry Potter to life in a published book. After rejections from several publishers, Bloomsbury Children’s Books published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in June 1997.

After the publication of Philosopher’s Stone, success and awards came fast for Rowling. She sold the American rights to her books to Scholastic Books, and quit her job teaching French to write full time.  When published in the United States, the title was changed from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because publishers felt that Sorcerer’s Stone would be more suggestive of magic, whereas Philosopher’s Stone was more suggestive of togas.

Sales of the seven books in the series have reached unprecedented numbers with  more than 400 million copies sold.

In 2003, Rowling achieved the rare distinction of having one of her coined words added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) — a very rare achievement for a living author.

The word is muggle, defined as:

A person who possesses no magical powers. Hence in allusive and extended uses: a person who lacks a particular skill or skills, or who is regarded as inferior in some way.

The editors of the OED had little choice but to include the word in the dictionary after considering the seemingly universal popularity of Rowling’s books and the fact that the word was being used everyday by people all over the world. A similar feat was accomplished by J.R.R. Tolkien when the OED included his word “hobbit” in the 1976 edition of the OED. Tolkien, however, had died before seeing his word in the dictionary (2).

Seven Spellbinding Roots

The made-up language of spells in J. K. Rowling’s books is not a totally random creation. Hidden in the spells are word parts that resemble familiar Latin and Greek roots:

  1. Wingardium Leviosa!  Root: LEV – To Raise Up Common Words: lever, elevator, levee, elevate
  1. Locomotor Mortis!  Root: LOCO – Place Common Words: locomotive, locate, dislocate, allocate
  1. Expelliarmus!  Root: PEL To Push – Common Words: propel, expel, repel, compel
  1. Lumos!  Root: LUM – Light  Common Words: illuminate, lucid, bioluminescence, elucidate
  1. Fidelus! Root: FID -Trust  Common Words: confide, confidence, fidelity, infidel
  1. Expecto Patronus!  Root: PATR – Father Common Words: paternal, patron, patronize, patriot
  1. Finite incantatem!  Root: FIN – End or Limit Common Words: infinite, define, affinity, infinitesimal (3)

Today’s Challenge: I Put a Spell on You

What fictional character do you think special enough to warrant a birthday celebration?  What makes this character so special, and what kind of things might be done to truly honor his or her birth and fictional life?  Brainstorm a list of fictional characters that are so distinctive that although they are fictional they seem to be as real as any person who ever lived.  Select the one you like the best and write a proclamation honoring the character’s “birth” and “life” as well as suggesting what kind of unique activities might be appropriate to celebrate the character’s birthday. (Common Core Writing 2)

Quote of the Day: The book is really about the power of the imagination. What Harry is learning to do is to develop his full potential. Wizardry is just the analogy I use. –J. K. Rowling

 

1-http://www.jkrowling.com/en_GB/#/timeline/it-all-started/

2 – ‘Muggle’ Goes Into Oxford English Dictionary. BBC Newsround 24 March 2003.

3 – Resource Room: Free-spirited Structured Multisensory Learning. Reading Comprehension. Vocabulary words parts index (Greek and Latin Roots)

 

 

 

July 9:  Litany of Questions Day

On this day in 1962, Bob Dylan recorded the song “Blowin’ in the Wind” for his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.  Of all the memorable protest songs that came out of the turbulent 1960s, “Blowin’ in the Wind” is the best known.  Its success lies in its anthem-like quality as well as its universal and timeless themes of war, peace, and freedom.  But perhaps its most powerful feature is its presentation of a litany of rhetorical questions, questions which perfectly balance the general and the specific in such a way that the questions remain relevant more than fifty years after they were written:

How many roads must a man walk down

Before you call him a man?

How many seas must a white dove sail

Before she sleeps in the sand?

Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly

Before they’re forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind

“Blowin’ in the Wind” is Bob Dylan’s most covered song.  The most successful version was recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary.  Their cover version reached number two on the Billboard pop chart in April 1963 (1).

As Bob Dylan reminds us, a question is like a magnifying glass that allows us to more closely examine ideas.  They also allow us to expand our thinking broadly, limited only by the size of our own imagination.

Today’s Challenge:  Interrogate a Topic
What is a topic that you care about — a topic that you are curious about?  What are some questions you have about the topic?  Select a topic that you care about.  Use your passion for the topic to generate a list of at least 10 legitimate questions that you do not know the answer to.  Use these questions as springboards for future writing. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  You can hear in this a yearning and a hope and a possibility and a sadness and sometimes a triumphal proclamation of determination. The answer is blowin’ in the wind means we will find the answer. So it’s a matter of interpretation and, frankly, I think Bobby was probably right and legitimate in not giving a specific interpretation. -Peter Yarrow

1-Songfacts.com

 

July 7:  Utopia Day

On this date in 1535, Sir Thomas More, English statesman and author, was executed for treason.

More was caught in the middle of religious and governmental conflict when Henry VIII established the Church of England, separating from the Catholic Church.  Because More disagreed with the King’s decision, he resigned his office in the English Parliament and refused to take a loyalty oath. As a result, he was imprisoned and eventually beheaded.

The 1966 film A Man for All Seasons portrays the events surrounding More’s execution.

More is best known for his 1516 satirical novel Utopia, in which he envisioned a perfect island state with universal education, common land ownership, religious tolerance, and shared labor (1).

Because of the sharp contrast between the less than perfect island of England and More’s idyllic island of Utopia, the satirical aspect of the novel was clear to 16th century readers. Today utopia and utopian have become a part of the English lexicon, describing any ideal or perfect condition or place. Of course this is an idea that exists purely in the imagination since establishing any perfect society is impossible. More certainly understood this, since he used Greek roots to generate a name for his island that translates literally as “no place,” [ou, not + topos, place].

More is not the first writer to envision an idyllic place in literature. The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions has an entire chapter devoted to these utopias:

Albion:  In Arthurian legend, this was the place to which Arthur was conveyed after his death.

Arcadia:  An idealized region in classical poetry found in the mountainous district in the Peloponnese of southern Greece.

Avalon:  In poetry and literature this name is sometimes used to refer to Britain as a green paradise.

Eden:  The garden home of Adam and Eve where the Tree of Knowledge was found.

El Dorado: The fabled city of gold sought in the 16th century by Spanish conquistadors.

Shangri-la:  A Tibetan utopia depicted in James Hilton’s novel ‘Lost Horizon.’

Valhalla:  A great banqueting hall from Norse mythology where heroes, slain in battle, feasted with Odin eternally.  

Xanadu:  The name of a dreamlike place of beauty and luxury in Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan” (2).

Today’s Challenge: Go To Your Happy Place
What is the most idyllic place you have ever been? Describe it so that your reader can experience it vicariously.  Try to capture its idyllic nature in both your tone and your imagery. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Literature is my Utopia. Here I am not disenfranchised. No barrier of the senses shuts me out from the sweet, gracious, discourses of my book friends. They talk to me without embarrassment or awkwardness. -Helen Keller

1 – Raftery, Miriam. 100 Books That Shaped World History. San Mateo, CA: Bluewood Books, 2002.

2 – Delahunty, Andrew, Sheila Dignen, and Penny Stock (Editors). The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

 

July 6: Lake Wobegon Day

Today is the anniversary of the first broadcast of the radio show the Prairie Home Companion. The show was conceived by Garrison Keillor, who hosted the variety show modeled after the Grand Ole Opry since its premier in 1974. Keillor’s show was broadcast on over 580 public radio stations until its final broadcast on July 3, 2016.

In addition to music and commercials for imaginary products, each week’s show featured a monologue by Keillor about his mythical hometown Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. Each monologue began the same: “It’s been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon,” but the stories that Keillor told about the Lake Wobegon residents were always different. Keillor’s colorful descriptions, humor, and realistic insights into the human condition brought his characters to life and brought listeners back each week.

In addition to using the same opening, Keillor also used a stock concluding line each week for his monologue: “That’s the news for Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above-average.”

It’s the last part of Keillor’s concluding line, “all the children are above-average,” that has captured the imagination of sociologists who have adopted Keillor’s fictional town in what they call the Lake Wobegon Effect. The Lake Wobegon Effect is the tendency for groups of people to overestimate their achievements and competence in relation to other groups.

The term entered the lexicon in 1987 when Dr. John Cannel published a study that revealed that every state claimed that their students’ test scores were above the national average. This humorous and absurd finding became publicized as the Lake Wobegon Effect. The fictional town in Minnesota became a metaphor of a nationwide phenomenon.

Often we think of metaphor as the exclusive tool of poets. The fact is, however, every good communicator understands and uses metaphor to connect the known to the unknown. Scientists, business people, psychologists, sociologists, and doctors all turn to metaphor to communicate their ideas, theories, and discoveries.

This is done so frequently that there is an entire book of these metaphors called The Babinski Reflex. The author, Phillip Goldberg, calls them metaffects:

“. . . a recognized effect, law, or principle whose official meaning can be transferred to another context. The Babinski Reflex, for example, is a term describing an automatic response in the foot of an infant, thought to be a vestige of our primate ancestry. As such, it resonates metaphorically with certain forms of adult behavior that might be considered primitive or infantile . . . .” (1).

Today’s Challenge: Cause for the Effect
What is an example of an effect that happens frequently enough to be named? Research one of the effects below or create your own based on your experience and/or observation.  Write a definition of the effect as well as some background details on its cause and when, where, and why it occurs.

Cocktail Party Effect

Eureka Effect

Butterfly Effect

The False Consensus Effect

Hawthorne Effect

Boomerang Effect

Bandwagon Effect

Barnum Effect

Dunning–Kruger Effect

Pygmalion Effect

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: One reads books in order to gain the privilege of living more than one life. People who don’t read are trapped in a mine shaft, even if they think the sun is shining.  –Garrison Keillor

1 – Goldberg, Phillip. The Babinski Reflex: and 70 Other Useful and Amusing Metaphors from Science, Psychology, Business, Sports … and Everyday Life. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, Inc., 1990.

July 5:  Toponym Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1946 debut of a garment that sent shock waves across the world of fashion: the garment was the bikini. Paris fashion designer Louis Reard took the name for his design from a remote Pacific Ocean Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where the United States military was conducting the first peacetime detonations of nuclear bombs. So explosive was Reard’s skimpy design that it didn’t really catch on as acceptable beachwear until the 1960s.

The 1960 hit song “Itsy-Bitsy-Teenie-Weenie-Yellow-Polka-Dot Bikini,” along with many beach movies that targeted the youth audience, made the two piece bathing suit ubiquitous (1).

The word bikini is a classic example of a toponym:  a word that began as a geographical place name and evolved a new meaning based on something associated with that place.  The following are some examples of toponyms:

afghan

bourbon

angora

cashmere

cologne

denim

dollar

hamburger

jeans

marathon

mayonnaise

tuxedo

venetian blind

Today’s Challenge:  Wide World of Words
What are some examples of toponyms, and what are the stories behind their transformation from capitalized proper noun to lowercase common noun?
Research the definition and origin of a toponym, one listed above or some other one that you are curious about.  Write a brief report on its general meaning as a noun as well as the geographical source of its origin.
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Bikini, we might argue, should have become a word to sum up the devastation that a nuclear weapon can cause; instead it became a word for a skimpy piece of beach attire. –Henry Hitchings

 

1 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

2 – Funk, Wilfred. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. New York: Gosset & Dunlap, 1950.