December 17: Page 99 Test Day


Today is the birthday of British novelist and critic Ford Madox Ford (1873-1939).

Ford is best known for his 1915 novel The Good Soldier, a novel which routinely turns up on lists of the greatest novels ever written.  The novel chronicles the lives of two seemingly perfect couples, one American and one British, who become acquainted at a German spa.  

The novel’s famous opening line, “This is the saddest story I have ever heard” is a more accurate indicator of its plot than is its title.  As events unfold, the reader discovers that the lives of these couples are not as happy as they appear.  Ford’s original title was The Saddest Story, but Ford’s publisher John Lane thought the title was a bit too dour, especially since World War I was raging in Europe at the time.  Ford, who himself had enlisted in the army, was too preoccupied to concern himself with the title.  He later recounted how his novel came to have a somewhat incongruous title:

One day, when I was on parade, I received a final wire of appeal from Mr Lane, and the telegraph being reply-paid I seized the reply form and wrote in hasty irony: ‘Dear Lane, Why not The Good Soldier?’

In addition to being a novelist, Ford was a well-known critic, and he left us with a handy method for judging a book.  The method is not to judge the book by its cover or by its opening line; instead, Ford suggested to judge a book by the quality of its writing on one specific page:

Open the book to page ninety-nine and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Putting Ford’s Test to the Test

What are the qualities you look for when judging a book?  Select a book that you have not read, and open it to page 99.  Read the page carefully, and then write a Page 99 Review based on what you have read on that page.  What do you notice about the quality of the writing?  Based on what you see on page 99, explain your verdict as to whether or not you think the book is worth reading. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-The 100 Best Novels: No. 41 – The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. The Guardian 30 Jun. 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/30/good-soldier-ford-madox-ford-100-best-novels.

December 15: Trivia Day


On this day in 1979, the game Trivial Pursuit was born.  Two Canadian journalists Chris Haney and Scott Abbott were playing Scrabble when they discovered that some of the game’s pieces were missing.  Undeterred, they decided to create their own game.  It took two years to develop and market the game, but when it was released in 1981, it became wildly popular.  In 1984 more than 20 million games were sold.

The object of Trivial Pursuit is to acquire six wedge-shaped colored pieces by correctly answering trivia questions in six different categories.  Since the game’s release, dozens of different editions of the game have been added, including theme-based versions, based on Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, The Beatles, and Disney.  All versions of the game follow the same pattern which is based on moving around a wheel-shaped game board and answering trivia questions in six separate categories.

In 2003 Trivial Pursuit was named to the “Games Hall of Fame” by Gamesmagazine, and in 2008 Hasbro bought the full rights to the game for $80 million(1).

The word trivia has its origins in Latin, from trivialis, meaning three (tri) roads (via) or“crossroads.”  This probably explains the aspect of trivia being common or ordinary information, the kind of things that people would talk about when they met at the crossroads.  A related word trivium has a more academic history.  In Medieval education the trivium was the term used to represent the “three roads” or “three ways” to acquiring the first level of a classical education at university through the study of rhetoric, grammar, and logic.  The trivium would then be followed by the quadrivium (“four ways”):  arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. The fact that the trivium made up the basic level of education and the quadrivium the advanced, is further explanation for the modern meaning of trivia as “less important matters” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  All Roads Lead to Trivia

The original Trivial Pursuit game, the“Genus” edition, classifies knowledge into the following six categories: Geography, Entertainment, History, Literature, Science & Nature, and Sports & Leisure.  What topic do you know so well that you could create a Trivial Pursuit game based on that topic? What six categories would you use todivide the knowledge about that topic?  Select a single topic that you know well:  a book, a movie, a television show, a sport, an author, or other general category.  Then, divide the topic into six distinctive categories. Give each category a title, and create at least one trivia question for each of the six categories.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Bellis, Mary. The History of Trivial Pursuit. About.com 29 Aug. 2017. http://inventors.about.com/library/inventors/bl_trivia_pursuit.htm.

2 –The Word Detective. My Turn. 22 May 2006. http://www.word-detective.com/052206B.html#trivia.

December 14: Eulogy Day


On this day in 1799, George Washington died at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia.  Funeral memorials were held in major U.S. cities, and throughout the world people were saddened by Washington’s death.  In France, for example, Napoleon Bonaparte orderedten days of mourning for America’s great leader and Founding Father.

Following Washington’s death, the Sixth Congress commissioned Henry Lee, the father of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee, to write a eulogy.  Having served under Washington as a major general in the Continental Army, Lee was a logical choice (1).

Written in the elaborate and elevated prose characteristic of the 18th century, Lee demonstrates mastery of parallelism as he praises his comrade in arms:

First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and enduring scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. To his equals he was condescending, to his inferiors kind, and to the dear object of his affections exemplarilytender; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue alwaysfelt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence tohis public virtues. His last scene comported with the whole tenor of hislife—although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and withundisturbed serenity he closed his well spent life. Such was the man Americahas lost—such was the man for whom our nation mourns (2).

Today’s Challenge:  A Word of Praise Before You Go

The word eulogy is from Greek meaning “praise.”  Although we normally associate eulogies with funerals, eulogies can also praise a person who is still alive.  Who is someonewho is alive today that you think deserves sincere praise?  Write a eulogy for a living person.  Identify specifically the positive traits of this person with specific examples of what makes the person so special. Whether or not the person is someone you have met, make it clear to the audience why this person means so much to you. (Common Core Writing 2 -Expository)

1-Hughes, Hillary. First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen. Washington Library. Center for DigitalHistory. http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/first-in-war-first-in-peace-and-first-in-the-hearts-of-his-countrymen/.

2-Lee, Robert E. Funeral Oration on the Death of General Washington. Dec. 28, 1799. Public Domain. George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/first-in-war-first-in-peace-and-first-in-the-hearts-of-his-countrymen/.

December 8: Sesquipedalian Day

Today is the birthday in 65 BC of Roman lyrical poet and satirist Horace. On this day we express our gratitude to Horace for a single word — sesquipedalian, which means “a long word” or“a person known for using long words.”

Horace penned his verse in Latin.  In his Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry), he wrote the following: Proicit ampullas et sesquipedalia verba, which translates, “He throws aside his paint pots and his words that are a foot and a half long.” Combining the Latin roots sesqu(one and a half) and ped (a foot), this adjective provides the perfect slightly exaggerated image for words that are wide.  Like many English words derived from Latin, especially many of thelonger ones, sesquipedalian was borrowed in the seventeenth century (1).

George Orwell gave good advice to writers in his famous essay “Politics and the English Language” when he said, “Never use a long word when a short one will do.”  However, sometimes a long word is the best word, especially when it has precise meaning.  Polysyllabic words may be long, but they also can pack a lot of meaning into a small space. In his book 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, Gary Provost calls these polysyllabic words “dense words” (2).  Dense words allow a writer to say in one word what would normally require many words.  For example, notice how in the sentence below, ten words can be swapped out for a single word:

Original:  The politician was guilty of being evasive, using many words when fewer were called for.

Revision:  The politician was guilty of circumlocution.

Today’s Challenge:  World of Wide and Weighty Words

What are some examples of words that are at least 10 letters long, words that pack a lot meaning into a single word?  Using a good dictionary, identify atleast 8 words that are each at least 10 letters long.  Record your list ofwords along with a definition of each one.  Also record the number ofwords in the definition.  Then, write your verdict of whether or not eachword is a dense word.  To judge each word, ask and answer the followingquestions:  Does the word crowd enough meaning into a small enoughspace to be declared dense?  Is it truly a heavyweight word?

Below are some examples of dense words:

Anthropomorphic, Bacchanalian, Circumlocution, Doctrinaire, Extemporaneous, Hemidemisemiquaver, Infrastructure, Jurisprudence(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-World Wide Words. Sesquipedalian. http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-ses1.htm.

2-Provost, Gary.  100 Ways to Improve Your Writing. New York:  New American Library, 1985.

December 4:  Pascal’s Apology Day

On this day in 1656, French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote a letter in which he expressed one of the central paradoxes of writing:  it’s faster and easier to write a long composition than to write a short one.

Blaise Pascal Versailles.JPGPascal expressed the paradox as an apology to his reader:  “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter” (1).

According to Ralph Keyes in his book The Quote Verifier, Pascal’s quotation has been falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Johnson, Henry Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and Voltaire (2).  The popularity of Pascal’s sentiment reveals both how much writers value brevity and how difficult it can be to obtain.  Being clear, concise, and cogent is hard work.

Another illustration of the “less is more” writing philosophy comes from an anecdote about Mark Twain, who received the following telegram from his publisher:

NEED 2-PAGE SHORT STORY TWO DAYS.

He responded:

NO CAN DO 2 PAGES TWO DAYS. CAN DO 30 PAGES 2 DAYS. NEED 30 DAYS TO DO 2 PAGES

Perhaps the best explanation of the value of concision in writing is by William Strunk in Elements of Style.  Instead of an anecdote, Strunk uses an analogy:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. (3)

When you write, consider another analogy:

Imagine each word you write is an employee of the company you own. Each word needs a job to do.  You can’t afford to pay a salary to words or employees who do nothing.  Your job, therefore, as the writer is to keep your workforce — your “wordforce” — at a size no larger than what it takes to get the job done.

Today’s Challenge:   Exactly 25 Words – No More, No Fewer

How would you summarize an article in just 25 words? One excellent way to practice revision and to practice economy in writing is to write 25-word summaries.  Select an article of at least 200 words, and read it carefully to determine the writer’s main point.  Then, write a brief summary that captures the main point in your own words.  Don’t waste words saying things like:  “This article is about . . .” or “The author argues that . . .”  Instead, just state the article’s main ideas.  Don’t worry about the number of words until you have finished your first draft.  Next, count the number of words and revise as necessary to write the most clear, concise, and correct summary of EXACTLY 25 words.  Read your revised draft aloud to make sure that it is clear, that the sentences are complete, and that there are no wasted words.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Pascal, Blaise. Letter XVI To the Reverend Fathers, the Jesuits. 4 Dec. 1656. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pascal/provincial.xviii.html.

2-Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier. New York:  St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006: 120.

3- Struck, William Elements of Style. York, PA: 1920. Public Domain. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/37134/37134-h/37134-h.htm.

 

December 2:  Two-Word Allusion Day

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Two speeches given by American presidents on this date in the 1800s launched key ideas that would influence the growth and influence of the United States.

The first speech, given on December 2, 1823 by President James Monroe, launched the Monroe Doctrine. In his State of the Union Address, Monroe announced that the United States would frown upon any further interference or colonization of the Americas by foreign powers.

The second speech, given on December 2, 1845, by President James Polk, launched the term Manifest Destiny. In his State of the Union Address, Polk made it clear that he was committed to the expansion of the United States through the annexation of Texas, the acquisition of the Oregon territory, and the purchase of California from Mexico. Although he did not use the term Manifest Destiny in his speech, the term, originally coined by journalist John L. O’Sullivan, became the operative term to describe the expansion of the young nation, which happened to be the primary subject of Polk’s speech.

Today’s Challenge: Two Words – American History

What are some examples of allusions from American History that you think everyone should know?  Manifest Destiny and Monroe Doctrine are just two examples of several two-word appellations for key events or ideas in American history. Below are several examples of two-word allusions from American history.  Each of these references represents a key story involving real people and real events that influenced the course of American history:

Boston Massacre, Burr-Hamilton Duel, Constitutional Convention, Dred Scott, Emancipation Proclamation, First Amendment, Great Society, Homestead Act, Mason-Dixon Line, Mayflower Compact, Mexican War, Missouri Compromise, New Deal, Northwest Passage, Oregon Trail, Plymouth Rock, Stamp Act, Teapot Dome, Underground Railroad, Whiskey Rebellion, Wounded Knee, Scopes Trial, XYZ Affair

Select one of the two-word allusions above, and research the story behind it.  Write a brief report explaining what happened, who was involved, and why these two words are an important part of the story of the Uniteds States. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

November 29:  Compulsory Education Day

On this day in 1870, the British government announced its plan to make education compulsory.  The Elementary Education Act of 1870 required that education be provided to children up to age 10.  The act was also commonly known as the Forster’s Education Act, named for William Edward Forster, a member of the House of Commons who crusaded for universal education and who drew up the act.

One nation that adopted compulsory education before Britain was Prussia.  A decree by Frederick the Great in 1763 provided an education for all girls and boys until age 13.  Under this plan, teachers were paid by the citizens of the municipalities in which they taught; however, the teachers — many of whom were former soldiers — were asked to supplement their income by cultivating silkworms.

In the United States, Mississippi became that last state to pass a compulsory education law in 1918.

In 2012, best-selling young adult fiction author John Green published a YouTube post on compulsory education entitled “An Open Letter to Students Returning to School.”  In his letter, Green challenged students to not take their education for granted and to see “compulsory” schooling as an opportunity to contribute something to society (2).

Today’s Challenge:  A Compulsion for Education

If you were the Secretary of Education, what class would you make mandatory for all students?  Why?  Imagine that you have been appointed to design a specific class that will be required by all students before they graduate high school.  What would you call your class, and what would be the make-up of the class’s curriculum?  In addition to describing the class, provide a rationale for why the content of the class is essential for students. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Elementary Education Act of 1870. https://archive.org/details/elementaryeducat00greauoft.

2-Green, John. An Open Letter to Students Returning to School. YouTube 7 Aug. 2012. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x78PnPd-V-A.

 

November 28:  Haiku Day

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On this day in 1694, Japanese Haiku master Basho died.  Born Matsuo Kinsaku in Kyoto, Japan, the poet began to write under the pseudonym Basho in 1680 after one of his students presented him with a gift of basho (banana) trees.  Clearly this was an appropriate gift for a writer known for his close observation of the natural world.

Basho adapted the haiku from a longer form called haikai no renga, which opened with a hokku, or “startling verse,” made up of three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables.

 

In the cicada’s cry

There’s no sign that can foretell

How soon it must die.

 

Temple bells die out.

The fragrant blossoms remain.

A perfect evening!

Today’s Challenge:  Seventeen Syllables of Insight

What are the key elements of writing a haiku?

-The focus of haiku is sensory imagery that describes your observation of nature

-You don’t have to name a specific season, but you should use a “season word” (In Japanese it’s called a kigo) that gives a clue to the season you are writing about.

-Also, since you are trying to capture a moment in time — the now — write in present tense and don’t worry about writing a title. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Poetry Foundation. Basho. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/basho.

November 27:  Sonnet Day

On this day in 1582, William Shakespeare married Anne Hathaway. We know little about Shakespeare’s personal life, but based on marriage records, we do know that he was 18-years old when he married, and Anne was 26.  Six months after the wedding, Will and Anne’s first child, Susanna, was born. Two years later, Anne gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl named Hamnet and Judith.  Soon after the birth of the twins, Shakespeare left his family in Stratford upon Avon and traveled to London where he began his career as an actor and playwright.  When Shakespeare retired from the theater in 1610, he returned to Stratford, where he lived with Anne until his death in 1616.  Anne died seven years after her husband in 1623. The couple is buried next to each other in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford (1).

In Shakespeare’s plays there are many memorable marriages as well as memorable married couples.  In Romeo and Juliet, for example, we have one of the most memorable and hasty marriages in literary history.  The young lovers meet at the end of Act I and are married by the end of Act II.  And of course there are the many marriage ceremonies that bring closure to the plots of Shakespeare’s comedies.

But when it comes to the topics of love and marriage and Shakespeare, what probably comes first to mind are his sonnets.

Shakespeare did not invent the sonnet form, but he certainly perfected it.  Among his 154 sonnets we have not only the greatest examples of the form, we also have some of the greatest poetry in the English language.

Notice, for example, Sonnet 116.  It follows the usual form of the Shakespearean sonnet, fourteen lines consisting of three quatrains and a final couplet.  The rhyme scheme is ABAB CDCD EFEF GG. The basic structure and form of these immortal love notes may be the same, but like flowers, each features its own unique combination of images, argument, diction, and pathos:

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove:

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken;

It is the star to every wandering bark,

Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.

Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks

Within his bending sickle’s compass come:

Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,

But bears it out even to the edge of doom.

If this be error and upon me proved,

I never writ, nor no man ever loved. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Not Just Another Thank You Note

Who are some people you care enough about to write a heartfelt note expressing your love, affection, and/or thanks?  In addition to commemorating Shakespeare’s marriage and verse on this day, we might also remember that it is the anniversary of the very first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which took place in New York City in 1924.

Write a prose sonnet, a 14-line heartfelt note, addressed to an individual you care about, expressing your love, affection, and/or thanks.  It does not need to be a romantic note, but it should provide specific details that show the addressee why he or she is special to you and why you are thankful for this person. Carefully craft each sentence to balance your reasons and your emotions.  If you’re feeling ambitious, you can try to write it as a Shakespearean sonnet.  If you write in prose, make sure you have 14 lines, but don’t go just for word count; instead, like Shakespeare did when he wrote in either prose or poetry, make each word count. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Pressley, J. M. Mrs. Shakespeare: Anne Hathaway.  Shakespeare Resource Center. http://www.bardweb.net/content/ac/hathaway.html.

2-Shakespeare, William (1564-1616). Sonnet 116. Public Domain.

November 26:  Abecedarian of Awesome Day

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On this day in 1789, Thanksgiving was celebrated for the first time under the new U.S. Constitution based on a proclamation signed by President George Washington.  However, it took over 150 years for Thanksgiving to be recognized as an official Federal holiday.  On December 26, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a Congressional resolution establishing the fourth Thursday in November as the Federal Thanksgiving Day holiday.

In June 2000, Neil Pasricha started a blog called 1000 Awesome Things as a reminder that although there is plenty of bad news every day, there are also a lot of things to be thankful for, things that Pasricha characterizes as “the free, easy little joys that make life sweet.”  At Pasricha’s blog each “Awesome Thing” is numbered. Below is a small sample of numbers 498 to 492:

#498 Long comfortable silences between really close friends

#497 The moment after the show ends and before the applause begins

#496 Seeing way worse weather on TV somewhere else

#495 When it suddenly just clicks

#494 Cutting your sandwich into triangles

#493 When that zit growing on your forehead suddenly just disappears

#492 The first text message between new friends

Each numbered item is linked to a detailed entry, describing in vivid detail what makes the thing truly awesome (1).

Today’s Challenge:  26 Awesome Things to Be Thankful For

What are 26 things you are thankful for?  Brainstorm a list of at least 26 awesome things to be thankful for, one for each letter of the alphabet, such as, Accordions, The Beatles, Canned Food, Donuts, etc.  Once you have your A to Z list, select one item on your list and write a detailed description that shows and tells why that one item is so awesome.

1-1000 Awesome Things. http://1000awesomethings.com/.