March 6:  How to Day

On this day in 1965, the musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” closed on Broadway after 1,415 performances.  

The musical was inspired by the bestselling nonfiction book of the same title, published by Shepherd Mead in 1952.  The book satirized American office life in the guise of a self-help manual. In 1961, Frank Loesser adapted Mead’s book into a musical.  The protagonist of the play is a window washer named J. Pierrepont Finch. Within one week of being hired to work in the mailroom of World Wide Wickets, Finch becomes chairman of the board.

Opening in October 1961, the play’s run on Broadway spanned five years, winning eight Tony Awards and the 1962 Pulitzer Prize in Drama.

Of course, it is hard to truly succeed at anything “without really trying.”  One thing that does make success easier, however, is if someone with experience takes the time to explain to you the steps needed to achieve success in a specific endeavor.  This type of expository writing is called “how to” or “process” writing.

When you write a “how to” speech or when you try to teach someone something, beware the Curse of Knowledge — the principle that says that once we know something, it is hard to remember what it was like when we didn’t know it.  

The reality of the Curse of Knowledge was demonstrated in a 1990 study by Elizabeth Newton, a Stanford University graduate student in psychology.  Newton created a game where the players were given one of two roles: “tappers” or “listeners.” The tappers were given a well-known song, such as “Happy Birthday,” and were instructed to tap out the rhythm of the song on a table.  The listeners were then asked to guess the song.

When asked to predict how successful the listeners would be in identifying their songs, the tappers predicted 50%.  This prediction wasn’t close. Of the 120 songs tapped out, the listeners guessed only three, a 2.5% success rate. The Curse of Knowledge explains the large disparity between the tappers prediction and their actual success rate.  As they tapped out their tunes, they could not avoid hearing the song in their head; the listeners, however, only heard the taps. The tappers were “cursed” by their knowledge of the songs’ melodies and were unable to imagine what it was like for the listeners to hear only the tapping.

Today’s Challenge:  Recipe for Success

What are some topics that you know well enough to give someone else advice on?  Select one of the topics you know well, and write a speech on “How to Succeed in _________.”  Use a recipe as an analogy for your speech. Give your audience an idea of the basic ingredients that they will need, along with specific steps that they will need to follow in an orderly chronological sequence.  Remember to account for the Curse of Knowledge by putting yourself in the shoes of your reader.

How to Succeed:

-In being a good student

-In balancing school and work

-In balancing sports and school

-In getting into a good college

-In getting a good job

-In winning at . . .

-In learning to play an instrument

-In persuading your parents

-In learning a second language

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Success will never be a big step in the future; success is a small step taken just now. -Jonatan Martensson  



February 28: Essay Day

On this date in 1571 in Bordeaux, France, a nobleman named Michel de Montaigne sat down to write.  It was his 38th birthday, and he had just retired from public life where he held a seat in the Bordeaux parliament.  What Montaigne wrote that day and what he would write for the next twenty years influenced countless future writers of prose.

Michel de Montaigne 1.jpgMontaigne wrote essays, but he wasn’t just writing essays, he was inventing the genre.  He called his compositions “essais” from the French verb “essayer” meaning “to try.”  An essai, therefore, is an “attempt” or a “trial” where the writer attempts to address a question and figure it out (1).  Unlike the concept we have today of beginning an essay with a thesis – a statement of belief – the original idea of the essay was instead to begin with a question.  The attempt to answer this question in writing then becomes the  process by which a writer explores his or her thinking, getting ideas down on paper so that they can be examined.  The act of writing, then, becomes the act of forming ideas and the exploring those ideas so that the writer knows what he or she really thinks.  In this sense the essay becomes a form of metacognition, or thinking about your own thinking.  The abstract thoughts of a writer are transformed into visible words on paper.  This allows writers to see what they know and what they don’t know.  By further rumination, examination, and revision of those thoughts, they can crystallize their thoughts, making them more clear to themselves and to an audience.

Montaigne’s essay were intensely personal.  He wrote about sleep, smells, idleness, anger, repentance, and thumbs, but his main subject was always himself.  By expressing and exploring ideas about himself in writing, he discovered that he not only understood himself better, but also understood his own thoughts and his own thoughts about the world.

For example, in the following excerpt from his essay entitled “On the Inconstancy of Our Actions,” notice how Montaigne explores the idea of inconsistent human behavior by honestly confronting his own character and actions:

For my part, the puff of every accident not only carries me along with it according to its own proclivity, but moreover I discompose and trouble myself by the instability of my own posture; and whoever will look narrowly into his own bosom, will hardly find himself twice in the same condition. I give to my soul sometimes one face and sometimes another, according to the side I turn her to. If I speak variously of myself, it is because I consider myself variously; all the contrarieties are there to be found in one corner or another; after one fashion or another: bashful, insolent; chaste, lustful; prating, silent; laborious, delicate; ingenious, heavy; melancholic, pleasant; lying, true; knowing, ignorant; liberal, covetous, and prodigal: I find all this in myself, more or less, according as I turn myself about; and whoever will sift himself to the bottom, will find in himself, and even in his own judgment, this volubility and discordance. I have nothing to say of myself entirely, simply, and solidly without mixture and confusion. (2)

Montaigne reminds us of the power of writing not just as a way of expressing what we know, but also of discovering what we know by getting our thinking down on paper.  When we write, therefore, we aren’t just learning how to write, we are writing to learn.

Read the four quotations below, noting how each of the writers vividly illustrates the connection between thinking and writing:

Writers take thoughts from the invisible mind and make them visible on paper.  They can then contemplate this objectified thought and revise it until it becomes the best thinking of which they are capable.  -R.D. Walshe

Writing is a way of freezing our thinking, of slowing down the thoughts that pass through our consciousness at lightning speed, so that we can examine our views and alter them if appropriate.  Writing enables us to note inconsistencies, logical flaws, and areas that would benefit from additional clarity. -Dennis Sparks

Writing enables us to find out what we know — and what we don’t know — about whatever we’re trying to learn.  Putting an idea into written words is like defrosting the windshield:  the idea, so vague out there in the murk, slowly begins to gather itself into shape. -William Zinsser

Just as inviting people over forces you to clean up your apartment, writing something that other people will read forces you to think well. So it does matter to have an audience. The things I’ve written just for myself are no good. They tend to peter out. When I run into difficulties, I find I conclude with a few vague questions and then drift off to get a cup of tea.  -Paul Graham

Today’s Challenge:  Thinking in Ink

What is a question that you have about some aspect of universal human experience, such as anger, happiness, love, lying, or marriage?  Select a universal human theme and form a question about that theme that you do not have a definitive answer to.  Explore that question in a personal essay by writing about different ways the question might be answered and by answering it based on your own memory, observations, and experiences. Don’t commit yourself to supporting a single thesis; instead, try to truly explore your own ideas in writing to see what new thinking emerges.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The true alchemists do not change lead into gold; they change the world into words.”  –William H. Gass




February 25: Bunk Day

On this date in 1820, Felix Walker, a congressman representing Buncombe County, North Carolina, delivered a speech that eventually lead to the creation of a new English word.

The 16th Congress was debating the issue of statehood for the territory of Missouri.  The key conflict in the debate was the issue of slavery and whether or not Missouri should be admitted as a free state or a slave state.  In the midst of the debate, Congressman Walker rose to speak.  However, instead of presenting remarks that were germane to the issue of slavery, Walker instead began to ramble about topics totally unrelated to the issue at hand.  As he continued to drone on with his irrelevant speech, his colleagues attempted stifle him.  Walker resisted, saying that he had been sent to Washington to deliver a speech, and he would, therefore, continue to address the constituents who elected him in North Carolina.  Walker specific words were:  “I shall not be speaking to the House but to Buncombe.”

Walker’s speech was not forgotten — not because of its great content, but because it became synonymous with the type of insincere, bombastic nonsense that some politicians are known for.  The Americanism that emerged from the Walker incident took that name of the Congressman’s county Buncombe, spelling it as bunkum.  Today we recognize the clipped form bunk, meaning “empty, pretentious nonsense.”

Later in 1923, novelist and biographer William E. Woodward wrote a novel called Bunk.  In the novel, Woodward introduced the verb debunk, meaning “the act of exposing false claims” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Debunk A Myth

What is a statement made by some people that you think is not true?  How would you go about debunking this myth?  Identify a statement that people sometimes make as if it is absolute truth, such as the examples below of statements that people make about language.  Research the issue, and then write a paragraph explaining why specifically that statement is not true.  Cite your sources.

-A word is only a word if it is in the dictionary.

-Lexicographers make up the words that go in the dictionary.

-English is the official language of the United States.

-The meanings of words always remains the same.

-Slang is ruining the English language.

-There is only one English language.

-You should never end a sentence with a preposition.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Science and technology revolutionize our lives, but memory, tradition and myth frame our response. –Arthur M. Schlesinger

1-Chrysti the Wordsmith.  Verbivore’s Feast Second Course.  Helena, Montana, Farcountry Press, 2006: 43.

2- Dickson, Paul  Authorisms: Words Wrought by Writers.  New York:  Bloomsbury, 2014:  53.


February 24:  Two Things Day

On this date in 2012 The Guardian newspaper published a column entitled, “This Column Will Change Your Life:  The Two Things.”

The column begins with an anecdote about the economist Glen Whitman.  In 2002 Whitman was sitting in a bar and struck up a conversation with a stranger.  Upon discovering that Whitman was an economist, the stranger asked, “So, what are the Two Things about economics?”  Whitman wasn’t sure what he meant by “Two Things” so he asked for clarification.  The stranger replied:  “You know, the Two Things. For every subject, there are only two things you need to know. Everything else is the application of those two things, or just not important.”

Getting the picture, Whitman thought for a moment and replied with his Two Things about economics:  “One: incentives matter. Two: there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

That brief conversation in a bar in 2002 began Whitman’s quest for other Two Things from other fields, such as philosophy, marketing, finance, and computer science.  The idea behind the Two Things game is to distill and to simplify.  To do this experts must re-examine what they know and go back to basics.  This helps them see their field with new eyes.   Experts within a single field seldom agree on their Two Things; nevertheless, what they come up with is always interesting and illuminating, both to insiders and to outsiders.

At his website Whitman has collected numerous examples by posing the Two Things question.  Here are a few examples of the answers he’s gotten from various fields and areas of expertise:

The Two Other Things about Marketing:

  1. Find out who is buying your product.
  2. Find more buyers like them.

The Two Things about Advertising:

  1.  Get people’s attention
  2.  Overwhelm them with charm.

Two Things about Trial Lawyering:

  1.  90% is just showing up (borrowed from Woody Allen’s philosophy of life).
  2.  When you are winning, keep your mouth shut.

The Two Things about Neuroscience:

  1. Neurons strengthen or weaken signal strength between connected synapses.
  2. If you think you’ve found the part of the brain that controls _________, you’re probably wrong.

The Two Things about Writing:

  1.  Include what’s necessary.
  2.  Leave everything else out.

The Two Things about Editing:

  1.  Know the rules.
  2.  Pay attention. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Two Things Game

What would you say is the area or field in which you have the most expertise?  What are the two things that people need to know about that area or field?  Select an academic discipline, an area of interest (such as a hobby, sport, or pastime), a profession, a specific person, place, thing, or idea that you know well.  Then determine what the Two Things are that everyone needs to know about it.  Assume that your audience knows little about your topic, and write an explanation that goes with each of your two things. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe. -Albert Einstein


2-The Two Things by Glen Whitman


February 21:  Boom’s Taxonomy Day

Today is the birthday of American psychologist Benjamin Bloom who was born in 1913.  In 1956 Bloom created what has become the most influential model of how people learn and how people think.  Bloom’s Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, which was created over sixty years ago, remains one of the most useful tools for teachers and students to articulate the ways in which the brain processes learning, beginning with foundational learning and moving to higher levels of critical thinking.

The idea behind Bloom’s Taxonomy is to help teachers and students advance their thinking and learning beyond superficial levels.  By classifying thinking into six categories, the model makes the thinking and learning process less abstract, showing how students can process their learning in different ways and at different levels.  

  1. Knowledge – Remember: This is the most fundamental level of learning something.  It is the recall level where students memorize a fact, a definition, or a concept.  If, for example, you were studying the concept of cognitive dissonance, you might write down and memorize the definition.
  1. Comprehension – Understand:  This is where students move beyond just memorization by explaining what they know in their own words, by summarizing main ideas, and by illustrating what they know with examples.  This also involves comparing, contrasting, classifying, inferring, and predicting.  Engaging with the learning in this way, moves the learning from short term memory to long term memory, making it more likely that the learner will be able to master what they are learning.  If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might demonstrate your understanding of the term by explaining what cognitive dissonance is in your own words and by giving a specific example to illustrate it.
  1. Application – Apply: This where students use what they have learned by applying it to a new situation or context.  Using the knowledge takes it from the theoretical level to the practical application level, making the learning both more meaningful.  If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might apply your knowledge of it by explaining how cognitive dissonance might relate to a situation in which a person buys a new car.
  1. Analysis – Analyze: This is where students examine and break information into parts or classifications.  It involves looking at causes and effects, making inferences, and supporting generalizations with evidence.   If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might analyse it by identifying the specific causes and effects that make it happen.
  1. Evaluation – Evaluate: This is where students form and defend opinions about what they are learning.  It involves making judgements based on criteria and supporting those judgements with valid evidence.   If, for example, you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might evaluate it by discussing whether or not the overall effects of cognitive dissonance on individuals is positive or negative.
  1. Synthesis – Create:  This is where students use their knowledge and learning to create something new and original.  It involves combining elements into new patterns or generating alternative ideas or solutions.  For example, if you were studying cognitive dissonance, you might write a research report on the term where you use evidence from two or three difference sources to explain your position on why it is an important concept.  You might also develop your own graphic to illustrate the cause and effect relationships related to the idea.

Notice that each of the six different levels of the taxonomy requires the learner to engage at deeper and deeper levels with the learning, integrating that knowledge in different ways, ways that are successively more  challenging, ways that require more and more cognitive engagement which then leads to higher order thinking and higher levels of mastery.

Today’s Challenge:  Learning in Bloom

How might you create a lesson that teaches a basic abstract concept in a way that students truly learn it?  Take an abstract concept that you know well, such as capitalism, photosynthesis, or rhetoric, and write a lesson plan that involves six different activities that students will do — at each of the six levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy.  The goal is to help students move from basic understanding to higher order thinking. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Creativity follows mastery, so mastery of skills is the first priority for young talent. -Benjamin Bloom


February 20: Four Freedoms Day

On this date in 1943, American artist Norman Rockwell published the first of his four prints depicting “The Four Freedoms.”  The prints were designed to illustrate “The Four Freedoms” that President Franklin D. Roosevelt articulated in his January 6, 1941 State of the Union address:  freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.

At the time of Roosevelt’s speech the United States had not yet entered World War II, but Roosevelt saw the dark clouds of war approaching.  His speech was a call for preparedness for war and a call to provide aid to allies fighting against anti-democratic forces around the world. For Roosevelt, the four freedoms were not just American values, they were values that needed to be preserved everywhere in the world:

In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world. (1)

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, 12 months after Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech, the United States ended its isolationism and entered the war.

After hearing Roosevelt’s speech and after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Norman Rockwell was inspired to do his part by trying to capture and illustrate the abstract ideas of the Four Freedoms in concrete, human terms.  The first print, for example, depicts a scene of a local town meeting where a man wearing a plaid shirt and suede jacket stands among his fellow citizens to express his position.  Rockwell based the scene on an actual town meeting that he had attended where citizens gathered to discuss plans to build a new school in their town.  At the meeting, a lone dissenter named Jim Edgerton, a young blue-collar worker, stood to voice his opposition.  Rockwell remembered the scene vividly because although no one at the meeting agreed with Edgerton, they still listened to him respectfully.  

Each of Rockwell’s four prints appeared in the weekly magazine The Saturday Evening Post.  The prints proved so popular that the United States Department of the Treasury used them to promote the sale of war bonds.  The Four Freedoms Tour, which displayed the paintings around the country, raised over $130,000,000 (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Your Four

What is an abstract idea that you could classify into four types or four varieties?  Just as Roosevelt wrote about four types of freedoms, take an idea that you know something about and classify the idea in four distinct different types, such as four types of crime, shoppers, success, study habits, leaders, or bosses.  Make sure to use a single ruling principle for classification.  For example, if your topic was “English Classes” and you classified them as hard, challenging, and easy, your ruling principle for classification would be “level of difficulty.”  Based on this ruling principle, it would be illogical to add a classification called “homework.”  Instead create another category that fits the “level of difficulty” principle, such as “impossible.”  Once you have created your four classifications based on a single ruling principle, write a definition of each one, along with specific illustrating examples that show what makes each type distinctive from the others. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend to remember. -George Orwell




February 17: Two Sources Day

On this date in 1942, the Voice of America (VOA), the United States’ government-funded multimedia news source, made its first radio broadcast.  With the world at war, the mission of the VOA was to combat Nazi propaganda, to promote American policies, and to boost the morale of its allies around the world.   

VOAlogo.pngAt the end of World War II and with the beginning of the Cold War, VOA began its first Russian-language broadcasts into the Soviet Union in 1947.  These broadcasts included news, human-interest stories, and music.  The stated purpose of the VOA at this time was to give listeners in the USSR a picture of what life was like on the other side of the iron curtain (1).

Congress did not enact an official charter for the Voice of America until 1976.  The charter, which was signed by President Gerald Ford, requires VOA to “serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news” (2).

Today the VOA provides programming through the internet, mobile and social media, radio, and television in more than 40 languages.  Located in Washington, D.C., VOA serves an estimated weekly global audience of 187.7 million people (3).

From its first broadcast in 1942, the VOA made the following promise:  “The news may be good.  The news may be bad.  We shall tell the truth.”  One principle that assists its quest for accurate reporting is its “two-source rule,” which it instituted in 1981.  The two-source rule stipulates that the VOA will not report a news story until it has two independently corroborating sources or an eyewitness report from a correspondent.   It’s this principle that prevents the VOA from making mistakes in its reporting.  It also promotes the VOA’s reputation as a trusted, credible source for news.

Today’s Challenge:  Two Sources to Truth

What are some questions that you have, questions that you are truly curious about and that you do not know the answer to?  Select a question that you are curious about and research it.  Find at least two separate sources, and write a paragraph answering your question.  If the two sources do not corroborate a clear, single answer to your question, continue your research until you have at least two separate sources that corroborate your answer.  Use direct quotations, and cite your sources. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  It was very hard to get any records, so the only source for us to really hear what was happening was listening to the Voice of America. We would be taping all the broadcast and then sharing the tapes and talking about it.  -Jan Hammer



3-VOA History

February 16: Sports Quotations Day

Today is the birthday of tennis great John McEnroe. He was born in 1959 in Germany where his father was serving in the U.S. Army.  McEnroe is remembered not only for his masterful play as a singles champion, but also for his many victories in doubles and mixed doubles. His most memorable matches came at Wimbledon in the 1980s where he battled Bjorn Borg.

Although he won many major tennis titles and spent several years as the number one ranked tennis player in the world, John McEnroe is best remembered for his words and antics on the tennis court. Smashing tennis rackets and challenging umpire decisions, McEnroe became one of the most volatile and boisterous athletes ever.

Perhaps his best known line was one shouted in the direction of an umpire at Wimbledon in 1981: “You cannot be serious!” This line became so often associated with McEnroe, that he used it for the title of his 2002 autobiography (1).

Although McEnroe’s famous line might be one of the most emphatic sports quotations of all time, it certainly is not one of the most profound.  The following sports quotations have much more rhetorical flair.  As you read them, notice the variety of rhetorical devices used, such as alliteration, metaphor, simile, parallelism, chiasmus, antithesis, and anaphora

Football is like life — it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority. -Vince Lombardi

Discipline of others isn’t punishment.  You discipline to help, to improve, to correct, to prevent, not to punish, humiliate, or retaliate. -John Wooden

Players don’t care how much I know until they know how much I care. -Frosty Westering

You are either green and growing, or ripe and rotting. -Frosty Westering

The Six W’s:  Work will win when wishing won’t. -Todd Blackledge

Spectacular achievements are always preceded by unspectacular preparation. -Roger Staubach

Don’t tell me how rough the waters are.  Just bring the ship in. -Chuck Knox

Don’t let winning make you soft.  Don’t let losing make you quit.  Don’t let your teammates down in any situation. – Larry Bird

Work like a dog. Eat like a horse. Think like a fox.  And play like a rabbit. -George Allen

Today’s Challenge: The Sports Section

What is the best thing ever said by a sports personality?  Research a quotation by a sports personality that you think shows true insight, either about sports or about life in general.  Write an explanation of what makes the quotation so compelling to you.  Talk not only about what the quotation says, but also how the writer says it — the rhetorical devices use to make the quotation memorable. (Common Core 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  If a woman has to choose between catching a fly ball and saving an infant’s life, she will choose to save the infant’s life without even considering if there is a man on base. – Dave Barry

1 – The Biography Channel “John McEnroe.”


February 12:  Pros and Cons Day

Today is the birthday of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the Victorian naturalist known for the theory of evolution.  From 1831-1836 Darwin sailed aboard the HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands and the coast of South America.  Based on the observations he made on this five year trip, Darwin published, in 1859, the single most influential book of the nineteenth century, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life.  Darwin’s work not only revolutionized science, especially the fields of biology and anthropology, but it also sparked furious philosophical, religious, and ethical debates–debates which continue even today.

Head and shoulders portrait, increasingly bald with rather uneven bushy white eyebrows and beard, his wrinkled forehead suggesting a puzzled frownAfter his five-year voyage, Darwin returned home to an intense internal debate, not about issues of science but issues of matrimony.  Having fallen in love with his first cousin Emma Wedgwood, Darwin contemplated whether or not to pop the question.  Being a scientist, he approached the matter in a rational and methodical manner, sitting down and writing out a list of pros and cons.

Under the heading “Marry” some of the notable arguments for having a wife were “Constant companion . . . better than a dog” and “someone to take care of house.”  As for the cons, under the “Not Marry” heading, he listed, “Less money for books” and “cannot read in the evenings.”  Despite the fact the Darwin’s “Not Marry” column included more reasons than his “Marry” column, we know that in the end he decided to marry.  He and Emma were married on January 29, 1839.  They had ten children and remained married until Charles died in 1882 (1).

Of course Darwin was not the first to use the pros and cons method of decision making.  It dates back to Roman times.  Pros and cons is derived from the Latin pro et contra, which translates into English as “for and against.”  Another noted man of science who advocated the pro et contra method was Benjamin Franklin.  He wrote a letter to a friend on September 19, 1772 in which he praised this rational method of putting your thoughts on paper:

And tho’ the Weight of Reasons cannot be taken with the Precision of Algebraic Quantities, yet when each is thus considered separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less likely to take a rash Step; and in fact I have found great Advantage from this kind of Equation, in what may be called Moral or Prudential Algebra. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Decisions, Decisions

What are some of life’s majors decisions that require the kind of careful thought and deliberation that require a pros and cons list?  Create your own pros and cons list based on an important life decision that you might make in the future.  Force yourself to go beyond your own biases by trying to create a list that has a balanced proportion of pros and cons.  With Valentine’s Day drawing near, for example, you might consider whether or not to pursue a relationship with a significant other.  Below are some other examples of crucial life decisions:

Marry/Don’t Marry

Go to College/Don’t Go to College

Own a Pet/Don’t Own a Pet

Buy a Home/Rent a Home or Apartment

Buy a New Car/Lease or Buy a Used Car

Have Children/Don’t Have Children


Work for a Company/Be Self-Employed

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Quick decisions are unsafe decisions. -Sophocles




February 11:  Gerrymander Day

On this date in 1811, Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts signed a bill that readjusted the political map of Massachusetts.  The new map was redrawn to favor the incumbent Democratic-Republican Party and weaken the electoral prospects of the Federalist party.

Under normal circumstances Gerry’s action might have become a lost footnote in history; however, due to a brief conversation between a Boston newspaper editor and an artist, a new word was born.

After the bill was passed, Gilbert Stuart, a political cartoonist for the Boston Gazette, was looking at a map of the new Essex County voting district.  Struck by the district’s convoluted contours he took out his pencil and added a few lines, including a head, wings, and claws.  He then turned to Benjamin Russell, the paper’s editor, and said, “There, that will do for a Salamander.” Russell responded with a pun, “Salamander? Call it a Gerrymander!”  At that moment a new word and new political epithet was born.  

On March 26, 1812 the word went public when Stuart used “Gerry-mander” as the title for his cartoon drawing of the redrawn boundaries of the voting district.

Ever since Governor Gerry has been the namesake of this notorious political practice by which incumbent politicians and political parties attempt to maintain power.  It should be noted, however, that the historical record of Elbridge Gerry is not entirely tainted.  He was an original signer of both the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation.  He also became the 5th Vice President of the United States in 1813, serving under President James Madison (1).

Gerrymander is just one example of the deep, layered meaning found in the language of politics.  With political words it is especially important to remember that to understand words we need to go beyond just their denotations – their dictionary definitions.  Instead, we need to consider their connotations – the feelings, associations, and emotions that words evoke.

The following collection of words is just a small A to Z sample of words that have distinctive meaning when used in political contexts:

activist, bipartisan, carpetbagger, demagogue, entitlement, fascist, grassroots, hegemony, ideology, jingoism, kingmaker, lobby, mainstream, NIMBY, oversight, progressive, quagmire, reform, spin, terrorism, unilateral, veto, whistleblower, extremist, yahoo, zinger

Today’s Challenge: The Words of Political Prose and Politics

What are some English words that you would categorize as distinctly political words – that is words that are associated with government and power?  Brainstorm a list of political words.  Take one word that you find interesting, and research that word’s etymology, its meaning, and some historical examples of how it has been used as well as how it might be used today.  Write a report including all of your findings.  Your mission is to help the reader understand the word’s denotation as well as its connotations.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. -George Orwell in Politics and the English Language

1-Safire, William.  Safire’s Political Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2008: 275-6.