January 25: Burns Day

Today is the birthday of the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759-1796).  Born in Alloway, Scotland, on a tenant farm, Burns began writing poems at an early age.  Although he had little formal education, suffered much poverty and hardship, and died at just 37 years of age, his poetry and songs have made him one of the great poets, especially to the people of Scotland who recognize him as their national poet.

Even though he wrote his poetry in the Scottish dialect, today Burns’ poetry is read, remembered, and loved by people around the world.  One prime example is his song Auld Lang Syne, which is sung around the world each New Year’s Eve (1).

The philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson is just one of many Americans who recognized Burns’ genius.  On the centennial of Burns’ death in 1859, Emerson commemorated Burns at a gathering of admirers in Boston:

He grew up in a rural district, speaking a patois unintelligible to all but natives, and he has made the Lowland Scotch a Doric dialect of fame. It is the only example in history of a language made classic by the genius of a single man. But more than this. He had that secret of genius to draw from the bottom of society the strength of its speech, and astonish the ears of the polite with these artless words, better than art, and filtered of all offence through his beauty. It seemed odious to Luther that the devil should have all the best tunes; he would bring them into the churches; and Burns knew how to take from fairs and gypsies, blacksmiths and drovers, the speech of the market and street, and clothe it with melody. (2)

Beginning in 1801, five years after Burns’ death, his friends gathered at a dinner in Alloway to honor the Scottish Bard. Ever since, Burns’ admirers around the world have gathered on his birthday at Burns Suppers.  More than just a meal, the Burns Supper has evolved into an elaborate, scripted event involving the playing of bagpipes, the presentation of formal speeches and toasts, and the recitation and singing of Burns’ poetry and songs.

One vital menu item for every Burns Supper is haggis, Scotland’s national dish: a pudding made of sheep offal (the liver, heart, lungs), oatmeal, minced onion, all encased in a sheep’s stomach.  Pipes play as the haggis is presented to the dinner guests, and before anyone digs in, Burns’ poem Address to the Haggis is recited.

The highlight of the evening, however, is the keynote address called the “Immortal Memory,” presented by one of the attendees.  The purpose of this speech is revive the memory of Burns’ life and to express appreciation for his work.

Today’s Challenge:  Immortal Memory, Memorable Meal

What person, who is no longer living, was so important and influential that he or she should be immortalized with an annual birthday supper?  What would be the menu, and what would be the agenda of activities for honoring the person and symbolizing the person’s life and achievements?  Brainstorm some individuals that you would recognize as having made a significant contribution to the world.  Select one individual and write an explanation of why this person should be honored. Also, give a preview of the meal’s menu and festivities. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  I pick my favourite quotations and store them in my mind as ready armour, offensive or defensive, amid the struggle of this turbulent existence. -Robert Burns

1-The Poetry Foundation.  Robert Burns. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/robert-burns.

2-Bartleby.  Ralph Waldo Emerson.  The Complete Works. https://www.bartleby.com/90/1122.html.

January 24: Life Sentence Day

Today is the birthday of American writer Edith Wharton (1862-1937).  Although she lived in a time when women had limited opportunities for publishing their writing, she rose to become one of America’s greatest writers.  In 1921 she became the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Wharton is remembered mainly for her novels, The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth, but she wrote in a variety of genres and on a variety of topics, including architecture, interior design, and travel (1).

Wharton embraced life, and although much of her fiction explored its darker, more tragic sides, she was able to examine and capture life’s essence so well that her characters resonate with readers as real people.  In her 1903 novel Sanctuary, Wharton wrote a memorable sentence, capturing an insight about life and the role of experience:

. . . life is the only real counselor, . . . wisdom unfiltered through personal experience does not become a part of the moral tissues.

Later, writing in her journal on March 23, 1926, Wharton wrote an entry reflecting on life.  This time she juxtaposed two metaphors in an attempt to capture the best definition:

Life is always a tightrope or a featherbed.  Give me the tightrope.

Edith Wharton is obviously not the first to attempt to capture the essence of life in words.   Writers both past and present have attempted their definitions.  Wielding a virtual Swiss Army knife of rhetorical devices, these writers take the one thing that is common to each of us — life — and reframe it, describing it in uncommon terms that allow us to see it in new ways.

Read the examples below, and notice the different ways the writers define life, using images, juxtaposition, antithesis, metaphors, and personification.

Life is not a spectacle or a feast:  it is a predicament. -George Santayana

Life is not a problem to be solved, but a reality to be experienced. -Soren Kierkegaard

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

-Albert Einstein

Life is like playing a violin in public and learning the instrument as one goes on. -Samuel Butler

Life is all memory except for the one present moment that goes by so quick you can hardly catch it going. -Tennessee Williams

Life is not always a matter of holding good cards, but sometimes, playing a poor hand well. -Jack London

Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think. -Jean De La Bruyere

Today’s Challenge:  You’ve Been Assigned a Life Sentence

How would you complete the following in one or more sentences: Life is . . . ?  Take your own stab at defining life by beginning with “Life is . . . “  Try to define it in a way that goes beyond the obvious so that your reader can see it in a new way. Brainstorm some ideas using analogies, metaphors, personification, or some other rhetorical technique.  Then go with the one idea that you like the best and that seems the most insightful and original. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Life is hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid. -Michael Crichton

1-The Mount – Edith Wharton’s Home. http://www.edithwharton.org/discover/edith-wharton/.

January 23: Docendo Discimus Day

Today’s date when written numerically follows the basic sequence 1, 2, 3.  Therefore, today is a day for looking at basic process analysis: explaining step by step how something is done or how to do something.  When you explain the basic steps for how to do something — such as baking a chocolate cake or building a treehouse —  it’s called directive process analysis.  When you explain the basic steps for how something is done — such as how a bill becomes a law or how new words get into the dictionary — it’s called informative process analysis.



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Writing a process analysis composition is a great writing-to-learn activity. The best way to truly solidify your understanding of a process is to teach it to someone else.  The act of putting it down in writing, step by step, helps you clarify and cement your own understanding of the process.  This is not a new concept; in fact, it dates back to the first century AD.  The Latin term for it was docendo discimus, or “by teaching, we learn.”

To craft your own process, follow the following three steps:

Step One:  Determine a “how to” topic using a strong verb, and use it as your title.  Think of a process that you know well enough to explain clearly to a novice, and think about whether it is a directive, hands-on process or an informative, explanatory process.  Use the examples below to help spark some ideas:

How to AVOID

-How to avoid procrastination

-How to avoid going into debt

How to BUILD

-How to build a sandcastle

-How to build a budget

How to MAKE

-How to make meatloaf

-How to make your mother happy

How to SUCCEED

-How to succeed at studying

-How to succeed at breaking a bad habit

How to SURVIVE

-How to survive an earthquake

-How to survive Spanish class

How to STOP

-How to stop forgetting birthdays

-How to stop eating too much

How to WRITE

-How to write a love note

-How to write a valedictory address

Step Two:  Break the large task into three vital steps from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end.  Think in threes: What should be done first, second, and third?  Also, help your reader to see what might go wrong, by anticipating what should be avoided at each step.

Step Three:  Write your process out as at least one clear paragraph.  Begin by giving your audience a vision of what the process is and why this process is important to know.  As you write about each step, think about the process from your audience’s perspective, trying to remember what it was like when you did it for the first time.  Like giving driving directions to someone on how to get to your house, anticipate where they might take a wrong turn or where they might get lost.  

Today’s Challenge:  How to Write How To

What is a process that you know well enough to explain?  How would you divide the task into three key steps?  Use the three steps explained above and write a how to composition. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense. -Thomas Edison



January 22: Knowledge is Power Day

Today is the birthday of English philosopher, statesman, and scientist, Francis Bacon (1561-1626), known for the famous pronouncement, “Knowledge is power.”  In science, Bacon challenged the established deductive method of thinking, which was based on the classical writings of Aristotle and Plato.  Unlike deduction, which is based on the syllogism, Bacon’s inductive method is based on empirical evidence.  In Bacon’s method, the five senses become the basis of how we make sense of our world, by observation, data gathering, analysis, and experimentation.

While Bacon is known today for the development of the scientific method, his devotion to that method might have also led to his own demise.  The story goes that one snowy day in 1626 Bacon was travelling with a friend in his carriage.  The two men began arguing about Bacon’s recent hypothesis that fresh meat could be preserved if frozen.  Seeing an opportunity to do some on-the-spot experimentation, Bacon stopped his carriage and purchased a chicken from a peasant woman. After having the woman gut the chicken, Bacon proceeded to pack snow into the chicken’s carcass. He then put the chicken in a bag, packed more snow around the outside of its body, and buried it.  Unfortunately, in the process of gather his empirical evidence, Bacon caught a severe chill, which lead to his death by pneumonia.

In addition to his important work in science, Bacon is also known today for his writing, principally the English essay. Influence by Montaigne, the French writer who pioneered the essay, Bacon adopted and popularized the form in English as a method for exploring ideas in writing.

Bacon wrote on a wide range of topics, but preceded his essays’ titles with the preposition “of,” as in:  Of Truth, Of Death, Of Revenge, Of Love, Of Boldness, Of Ambition.  His essays are eminently quotable, for Bacon crafted his sentences carefully, making each one a profound package of pithiness — you might go so far as to call them “Bacon bits.”  As Bacon explained in his own words, aphorisms, those concise statements of general truth, were essential to his thinking:

Aphorisms, except they should be ridiculous, cannot be made but of the pith and heart of sciences; for discourse of illustration is cut off; recitals of examples are cut off; discourse of connection and order is cut off; descriptions of practice are cut off. So there remaineth nothing to fill the aphorisms but some good quantity of observation; and therefore no man can suffice, nor in reason will attempt, to write aphorisms, but he that is sound and grounded (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Everything is Better with Bacon

Why should an individual devote him or herself to study?  Is time put in toward the pursuit of knowledge worth it?  Read Bacon’s famous essay “Of Studies.”  Then, write a response to his ideas. Do you agree or disagree with Bacon?  What do you think is the purpose of study? (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Of Studies by Francis Bacon

STUDIES serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability. Their chief use for delight, is in privateness and retiring; for ornament, is in discourse; and for ability, is in the judgment, and disposition of business. For expert men can execute, and perhaps judge of particulars, one by one; but the general counsels, and the plots and marshalling of affairs, come best, from those that are learned. To spend too much time in studies is sloth; to use them too much for ornament, is affectation; to make judgment wholly by their rules, is the humor of a scholar. They perfect nature, and are perfected by experience: for natural abilities are like natural plants, that need proyning, by study; and studies themselves, do give forth directions too much at large, except they be bounded in by experience. Crafty men contemn studies, simple men admire them, and wise men use them; for they teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation. Read not to contradict and confute; nor to believe and take for granted; nor to find talk and discourse; but to weigh and consider. Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention. Some books also may be read by deputy, and extracts made of them by others; but that would be only in the less important arguments, and the meaner sort of books, else distilled books are like common distilled waters, flashy things. Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man. And therefore, if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit: and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know, that he doth not. Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtile; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend. Abeunt studia in mores. Nay, there is no stond or impediment in the wit, but may be wrought out by fit studies; like as diseases of the body, may have appropriate exercises. Bowling is good for the stone and reins; shooting for the lungs and breast; gentle walking for the stomach; riding for the head; and the like. So if a man’s wit be wandering, let him study the mathematics; for in demonstrations, if his wit be called away never so little, he must begin again. If his wit be not apt to distinguish or find differences, let him study the Schoolmen; for they are cymini sectores. If he be not apt to beat over matters, and to call up one thing to prove and illustrate another, let him study 197 the lawyers’ cases. So every defect of the mind, may have a special receipt. (2)

Quotation of the Day:  The duty and office of rhetoric is to apply reason to imagination for the better moving of the will. -Francis Bacon

1-Bacon, Francis.  The Advancement of Learning. 1605. http://www.philosophy-index.com/bacon/advancement-learning/ii-xvii.php.

2-Bacon, Francis. Of Studies. The Essays of Francis Bacon. Authorama.com. http://www.authorama.com/essays-of-francis-bacon-50.html.

January 19: Poe Toaster Day


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 “Poe.”).

Known for the tales of macabre and mystery he wrote during his life, one specific mystery became associated with Poe after his death.

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 “Nevermore” Forgotten

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 in 1909

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

January 18: Thesaurus Day

Print of a portrait of Peter Mark Roget, from Medical Portrait Gallery by Thomas Pettigrew
Peter Mark Roget

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 Composition.

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 donut.

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 pairs below:

mob/crowd, laugh/giggle, student/scholar, teen/juvenile, old/ancient, wealthy/rich, gregarious/social, frugal/cheap, watch/gaze, bright/smart, late/tardy, sleep/slumber, transform/change, proud/arrogant, wisdom/intelligence, confident/cocky, jail/prison

As you write, consider both the denotations and especially the connotations of the two words.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Today’s Quotation: Words too are known by the company they keep. -Joseph Shipley

1 – Crystal, David. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. Cambridge University Press, 1995.

2- Keillor, Garrison.  “The Book That Changed My Life.”  Best Life. March 2009: 46.

3-Brooks, Charles.  “On the Difference Between Wit and Humor.”

http://grammar.about.com/od/classicessays/a/brookswithumor.htm.

January 16: Eponymous Adjective Day

El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha.jpg
Title Page of the First Edition

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)

Arthurian, Byronic, Chauvinistic, Darwinian, Dickensian, Epicurean, Faustian, Hippocratic, Jeffersonian, Kafkaesque, Leninist, Lutheran, Marxist, Newtonian, Oedipal, Orwellian, Platonic, Pyrrhic, Reaganesque, Sisyphean, Stentorian, Trepsicordian, Victorian, Wilsonian, Zoroastrian

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

1- Bloom, Harold. The Knight in the MirrorThe Guardian. 12 Dec. 2003.

January 15: Snowclone Day

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 formula:

If Eskimos have N words for snow, X have Y words for Z.

A quick Google search reveals the following snowclones:

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 Snowclones

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.

Familiar Proverb                                                              

Snowclone Formula

The bigger they are the harder they fall.                   

-The Xer they are the Yer they Z

Actions speak louder than words.                                

-Xs speak louder than Ys

The pen is mightier than the sword.                           

-The X is mightier than the Y.

Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.                         

-Don’t count your X before they are Yed.                                                             

Don’t judge a book by its cover.                                    

-Don’t judge a X by its Y.

Necessity is the mother of invention.                         

-X is the mother of Y.

Too many cooks spoil the broth.                                  

-Too many Xs spoil the Y.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Snowclone: “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

1-McFedries, Paul.  Snowclone is the New Cliché.  Spectrum.ieee.org. 1 Feb. 2008. http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/snowclone-is-the-new-clich.

January 14: Curmudgeon Day 


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.

On Apostrophes

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.

On Birthdays

Age is a defect which we never get over.  The only thing worse than having another birthday is not having another one.

On Progress

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.

On Dictionaries

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 painting.  -Andy Rooney

1-Rooney, Andy.  Years of Minutes: The Best of Rooney from 60 Minutes.  New York:  Public Affairs, 2003.

January 13: Language Myth Day

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 Verdict?

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 words.

(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.