April 18:  Definition Day

On this day in 1864, President Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in Baltimore, Maryland.  In the midst of the Civil War, Maryland, a union state, was considering a new state constitution, which included a provision that would end slavery.  Lincoln, therefore, traveled to Baltimore to express his support for the constitutional change.

Bureau of Engraving and Printing engraved portrait of Lincoln as PresidentIn making his case, Lincoln focused on the idea of liberty and how the word was viewed and defined differently in the North and in the South (1).

The world has never had a good definition of the word liberty, and the American people, just now, are much in want of one. We all declare for liberty; but in using the same word we do not all mean the same thing. With some the word liberty may mean for each man to do as he pleases with himself, and the product of his labor; while with others the same word may mean for some men to do as they please with other men, and the product of other men’s labor. Here are two, not only different, but incompatible things, called by the same name—liberty. And it follows that each of the things is, by the respective parties, called by two different and incompatible names—liberty and tyranny.

After talking about liberty in general terms, Lincoln then shifted to a concrete, showing illustration of his definition of liberty, a definition that was consistent with the changes being considered in Maryland, but which contrasted significantly with the Confederate view of liberty.

The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep’s throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty, especially as the sheep was a black one. Plainly the sheep and the wolf are not agreed upon a definition of the word liberty; and precisely the same difference prevails to-day among us human creatures, even in the North, and all professing to love liberty. Hence we behold the processes by which thousands are daily passing from under the yoke of bondage, hailed by some as the advance of liberty, and bewailed by others as the destruction of all liberty. Recently, as it seems, the people of Maryland have been doing something to define liberty; and thanks to them that, in what they have done, the wolf’s dictionary, has been repudiated. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  The Word Became Flesh

What are some examples of abstract nouns — such as liberty, justice, success, or failure — that you could define using concrete examples and definitions?   Brainstorm a number of abstract words.  Then, pick one and write an extended definition of the word that gives more than just a dictionary definition.  Include, like Lincoln did with liberty, some specific, showing imagery as well as some examples that show how the word is defined by different people in different ways. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Today’s Quotation:  Perseverance is a great element of success.  If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1-http://www.lincolncottage.org/the-wolf-and-the-sheep/

2-http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/address-at-a-sanitary-fair/

 

April 13:  Triskaidekaphobia Day

On this day in 1970, Apollo 13, NASA’s third lunar mission, experienced an oxygen tank malfunction that caused the mission to be aborted. The famous words from the 1987 movie Apollo 13 were “Houston we have a problem.” The actual quote was “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” The Apollo 13 mission also gave us the oxymoron “successful failure,” meaning that although the ultimate mission of reaching the moon was a failure, the secondary mission of returning the astronauts to earth safely was a success. (See October 12:  Oxymoron Day)

Apollo 13-insignia.pngAlthough no one died on the mission, Apollo 13 provided no solace for those with triskaidekaphobia: the fear of the number 13. After all, not only was the mission given the number 13, but other number 13s pop up when you look at the statistics related to the mission:

-The problem occurred on the 13th of April.

-The mission was launched on 4/11/70. 4 + 11 + 70 = 85 and 8+5= 13!

-The mission was launched at 13:13 Central Standard Time (1).

Even if you have no fear of the number 13, or any other numbers, there are plenty of other phobias to concern yourself with. The suffix -phobia is Greek for fear. And even if you have no chronic fears, exploring the world of phobias provides good practice for checking your knowledge of Greek and Latin roots. For example, claustrophobia is the fear of being in narrow or enclosed spaces. Claustrum is Latin for enclosed place.

The Sum of All Fears

The following list of phobias is from O.V. Michaelsen’s book Words at Play. See if you can match up each of the phobias with its correct definition.

  1. Agoraphobia
  2. Euphophobia
  3. Lunaediesophobia
  4. Homilophobia
  5. Heliophobia
  6. Dextrophobia
  7. Carnophobia
  8. Sophophobia
  9. Hygrophobia
  10. Sinistrophobia

A. Fear of dampness or liquids

B. Fear of good news

C. Fear of sunlight

D. Fear of things to the right

E. Fear of sermons

F. Fear of open or public places

G. Fear of meat

H. Fear of learning

I. Fear of Mondays

J. Fear of things to the left.

Answers

  1. F, 2. B, 3. I, 4. E, 5. C, 6. D, 7. G, 8. H, 9. A, 10. J

Today’s Challenge:  Say Farewell to Your Phobia

What are some common fears that people have, and how can those fears be overcome?  Triskaidekaphobia Day is the perfect day to look your fears in the face.  Brainstorm and research some common fears, such as fear of flying, public speaking, intimacy, spiders, failure, heights, or death.  Select one, and write a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that provides your audience with common sense ways to confront the fear and overcome it. (Common Core Writing 2)

Quotation of the Day: Fear is an insidious virus. Given a breeding place in our minds … it will eat away our spirit and block the forward path of our endeavors. -James F. Bell

1 – Kennedy Space Center

http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/history/apollo/apollo-13/apollo-13.html

2 – O. V. Michaelsen, O.V. Words at Play (Sterling Publishing Co., Inc, 1997)

 

April 11:  101 Day

In a typical non-leap year, April 11th is the 101st day of the year.

1984first.jpgIn George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Room 101 was the most feared room in the Ministry of Love. It was the room where Winston Smith was taken to be “rehabilitated” by O’Brien.

In the following passage from the novel, Winston learns what form of torture he will be facing:

‘You asked me once,’ said O’Brien, ‘what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. . . .’

‘The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.’

‘In your case,’ said O’Brien, ‘the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.’

The fate of everyone who enters Room 101 is to face his or her worst fear and to believe, in the end, in something that is not true. In Winston’s case, O’Brien makes him believe through torture that 2+2 = 5, and that he (Winston) loves Big Brother.

Interestingly enough, at the beginning of the 1999 film The Matrix, Neo lives in Room 101. This is probably not coincidental since later in the film Neo learns that his life and the entire known world inside the Matrix is a lie.

The world of books gave us the dark side of the number 101 from the mind of George Orwell, but it also gives us a much more positive side in the form of book titles.

A quick search on Amazon.com will yield an amazing variety of titles with the number 101. There are two main reasons this number is so prominent.

First, it refers to basic introductory material on any topic, as in basic introductory college courses like English 101 or Psychology 101.

Second, it refers to the number of options that will be provided on a topic, such as 101 Things to Do Before You Die.

A recent search on Amazon.com yielded more than 100,000 titles containing the number 101. Here are some examples from the first category – basic intro material:

Missed Fortune 101: A Starter Kit to Becoming a Millionaire

Leadership 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know

Triathlon 101: Essentials for Multisport Success

Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About the American Legal System

Anger Busting 101: The New ABCs for Angry Men & the Women Who Love Them

Hollywood 101: The Film Industry

Rick Steve’s Europe 101: History of Art for the Traveler

Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera

Life 101: Real World Skills for Graduating College Seniors

Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family’s History and Heritage

And here are 10 titles from the second category – 101 options:

101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged

101 Things to Do With a Slow Cooker

101 Great American Poems

101 Secrets a Cool Mom Knows

101 Useless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu

101 Ways to Bug Your Parents

101 Must-Know Blues Licks

101 Power Thoughts

101 French Idioms

101 Cost-Effective Ways to Increase the Value of Your Home

Today’s Challenge: Brainstorming 101 or Your 101 Course

Brainstorming 101: What brainstorming question can you generate that will yield at least 101 answers? On the 101st day of the year, brainstorm your own 101 options list. Create your own question, such as “What are 101 different ways to say ‘thank you’?” or “What are 101 reasons to procrastinate?”  or “What are 101 alternative uses for a paper clip?” Number each item on your list. If you run out of ideas, ask other people for ideas on how to answer the question, and use their ideas to generate more of your own.

Your 101 Course:  If you were to present a basic course for beginners, what would be your topic, and what would be the course’s content?  Create a title for your course, and write a course description that outlines the specific content of the course. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing. -Socrates in Plato’s Republic

April 9:  Comparison and Contrast Day

On this day in 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Ulysses S. Grant, general of the Union army, and Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederate army, met to negotiate the terms of surrender that would end the Civil War.  

General Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox Court House 1865.jpgThe meeting between the two highest ranking officers in their respective armies was a brief and cordial one.  Lee, wearing his full dress uniform, contrasted with Grant, who wore his muddy field uniform. Lee asked that the terms of his army’s surrender to be put down in writing, so Grant wrote them down.  The official terms of surrender pardoned all officers and enlisted men of the Confederate army and required the surrender of all equipment, including horses.

After reading the terms, Lee requested that his men be allowed to keep their horses since they would need them for late spring planting as they transitioned back to civilian life.  Grant did not change the written terms of the surrender, but he did promise Lee that any Confederate soldier who claimed a horse would be allowed to keep it. In addition, Confederate officers were allowed to keep their side arms.  Finally, Lee expressed his concern for his men who had been without food for days. Grant responded by arranging for rations to be sent to the hungry soldiers (1).

In one of the most frequently anthologized essays ever written, entitled “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts,” Civil War historian Bruce Catton (1899-1978) presents a detailed study of the two generals and their meeting on April 9, 1865.

While emphasizing the strength, dignity, and intelligence of the two West Point graduates, Catton’s major focus in his essay is the contrasting ways in which the two men personified the two opposing forces in the Civil War.  

Lee stood for the old world transplanted to the new.  He represented the aristocracy and the chivalric ideal of the South, which was based on land ownership.  As Catton described Lee, he “embodied the noblest elements of his aristocratic ideal. Through him, the landed nobility justified itself.”

Grant, in contrast, represented the new breed of Americans.  Born on the frontier, the son of a tanner, Grant embodied the spirit of the North:  toughness, self-reliance, and hard work. In Catton’s words, men like Grant “stood for democracy, not from any reasoned conclusion about the proper ordering of human society, but simply because they had grown up in the middle of democracy and know how it worked.  Their society might have privileges, but they would be privileges each man had won for himself” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Meeting of Minds

Who are some examples of pairs of individuals from the same profession that you might compare and contrast?  Brainstorm a list of pairs, such as, Grant and Lee (military), Dickinson and Plath (Poetry), Lennon and McCartney (music), Aristotle and Socrates (philosophy), Bird and Johnson (Basketball), or Lincoln and Washington (U.S. presidents).  Select one pair, and write a comparison and contrast composition, identifying specific areas of similarity and difference. Research the two individuals to find specific details that go beyond the obvious, and organize your details around a single central point.  For example, Catton’s comparison and contrast focused on those details that are relevant to how the two generals embodied the characteristics of their perspective sides. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Grant was the modern man emerging; beyond him, ready to come to the stage, was the great age of steel and machinery, of crowded cities and a restless, burgeoning vitality.  Lee might have ridden down from the old age of chivalry, lance in hand, silken banner fluttering over his head. –Bruce Catton

1-https://www.nps.gov/apco/the-meeting.htm

2-Catton, Bruce.  “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts.”

April 8:  Baseball Metaphor Day

On this day in 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s record that had stood for 47 years.

The figurative use of the term home run, meaning a great success, began to appear in English in the second half of the 20th century. Of all sports, baseball, America’s pastime, has been the most fertile ground for metaphors. In fact, you can list a virtual A-Z of baseball metaphors. Remember though, to qualify for the list, the word or phrase must originate with baseball but also must be used to refer to situations outside of baseball.

The following list is from Christine Ammer’s book Southpaws & Sunday Punches:

All-star, ballpark figure, big league, box score, bush league, catbird seat*, change-up, clean-up hitter, curve ball, doubleheader, extra-innings, foul ball, go for the fences, get to first base, go to bat for, hard ball, in the ballpark, inside baseball, left field, line-up, major league, MVP, no runs, no hits, no errors, off base, on deck, pitch hit, rain check, screwball, southpaw, Tinker’s chance, wait ’til next year, whole new ballgame (1)

Today Challenge:  Field Your Dream Team

What category of person or things might you divide up into a team, using the metaphor of baseball positions?  Brainstorm some different categories of people or things with at least nine members, such as U.S. Presidents, Great Inventors, Great Philosophers, Great Poets, Movie Genres, Architectural Styles, Academic Disciplines, Great Rock-n-roll Bands, Novels by Stephen King, or Great American Novels.  Then, select one category and identify your 9-player line-up.

For example, below is an example using the nine parts of speech:

Nouns – Catcher

Verb – Pitcher

Adjective – 1st Base

Adverb – 2nd Base

Preposition – 3rd Base

Pronouns – Short Stop

Article – Left Field

Conjunction – Center Field

Interjection – Right Field

Quotation of the Day:  Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is. -Bob Feller

*For an excellent short story, full of baseball metaphors, see James Thurber’s short story The Catbird Seat.

1-Ammer, Christine.  Southpaws & Sunday Punches.  New York:  Plume, 1992.

March 30:  Pencil Day

On this day in 1858, a Philadelphia stationer named Hyman L. Lipman patented the first eraser-tipped pencil.  One common misnomer about pencils is that they contain “lead.” In reality, pencils contain a mineral called graphite.  Legend has it that in the 16th century a shiny black substance was discovered in England’s Lake District under a fallen tree.  The substance was first used by local shepherds to mark their sheep. Because the black material resembled lead, it was called plumbago (from the Latin word for lead, plumbus — the same root that gave us the word “plumber,” someone who works with lead pipes).

A pencil shortage in 18th century France resulted in the invention of another well-known writing implement.  While at war with England in 1794, Revolutionary France could not access the graphite needed to make pencils.  An engineer named Nicolas-Jacques Conte improvised, combining low-quality graphite with wet clay. Conte then molded the substance into rods and baked it.  This process produced “Crayons Conte” or what we know today as chalk.

Before he lived at Walden Pond, Henry David Thoreau made a significant contribution to the pencil’s evolution.  After graduating from Harvard College, Thoreau went to work at his family’s pencil-making business. Working with material from a New Hampshire graphite deposit, Thoreau developed his own process for making pencils.  He numbered his pencils from the softest to the hardest using a numbering system from 1 to 4. The No. 2 was the Goldilocks of pencils — not so soft that is smudged easily and not so hard that it would break easily.

The origin of the most common color for pencils is another story.  Pencils were commonly painted any number of colors, but in 1889 at the World’s Fair in Paris, a Czech manufacturer Hardtmuth debuted a yellow pencil.  Supposedly made of the finest graphite deposits, the pencil was named Koh-I-Noor, after one of the world’s largest diamonds. The distinct yellow of the Koh-I-Noor became the industry standard for quality, and soon other manufacturers began painting their pencils yellow.

The final key element in the evolution of the pencil came in the 1770s when British polymath Joseph Priestley discovered that a gum harvested from South American trees was effective for rubbing out pencil marks — appropriately he called this substance “rubber.”  Prior to Priestley’s discovery, the most common erasers used were lumps of old bread.

Priestley was also the author of an influential textbook called The Rudiments of English Grammar which was published in 1761 (1).

Today’s Challenge:

What are some examples inventions like the pencil that are everyday ordinary objects?  Brainstorm a list of some ordinary objects that you encounter every day.  Select one of these objects and do some research on its origin. Write a report providing details about the object’s origin and history.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  When you write down your ideas you automatically focus your full attention on them. Few if any of us can write one thought and think another at the same time. Thus a pencil and paper make excellent concentration tools. -Michael LeBoeuf

1-http://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2016/10/11/492999969/origin-of-pencil-lead

March 29:  Allusions From War Day

On this day in 1975, the last American soldiers left Vietnam, ending a ten-year period in which the United States dropped more bombs than during all of World War II. The many soldiers who fought in Vietnam returned with both metals and scars, but they also returned with new words that reflected their intense experience in Southeast Asia.

In the book I Hear America Talking, Stuart Berg Flexner defines some of the key terms that came out of the Vietnam War:

Charlie: The term Viet Cong (short for Vietnamese Communist) was shortened by soldiers to V.C. Since the international phonetic alphabet used for communication designated the letter C as Charlie, and V for Victor, the enemy from North Vietnam was frequently designated Charlie.

Click: Military term for kilometer, possibly reflecting the sound of the letter K, the abbreviation for kilometer, or the clicking of a gun sight being adjusted for distance.

Defoliate: The spraying of chemicals or the use of bombs on enemy territory to destroy trees or crops, depriving the enemy of concealment or food.

Domino Theory: The belief that if Vietnam fell to the Communists, its neighbors in Southeast Asia would fall one by one, as in a row of dominoes.

Escalation: As the U.S. presence in Vietnam grew under the leadership of President Johnson, this term was used to describe the increase in troop levels. It is derived from escalator, a trademark name for a “moving staircase.”

Firefight: This term to describe a short engagement replaced the common word skirmish.

Fragging: This term is derived from a commonly used weapon of the war, the fragmentation grenade. It became a verb to describe the killing of an officer by use of a grenade or any other means.

Just as the Vietnam War added new words to the English lexicon, it also added new allusions — indirect references to people, places, and events from Vietnam that entered the cultural consciousness.  Today, for example, when we hear or read the names Westmoreland, Viet Cong, Khe Sanh, the Tet Offensive, or the Ho Chi Minh Trail, it is hard not to think of the war in Vietnam.  

In fact, the long history of warfare has added a huge stock of cultural references to the language.  For example, when we read Carl Sandburg’s short poem “Grass,” we understand it is a war poem, not because it mentions war, soldiers, or fighting explicitly, but because the poem makes several allusions to battlefields around the world where soldiers fought and died:

Grass

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work—

                                         I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

                                         What place is this?

                                         Where are we now?

Today’s Challenge: “I Love the Smell of Allusions in the Morning”

What are some examples of allusions that evoke people, places, and events from military history?  Brainstorm some proper nouns that evoke specific people, places, or events from the history of warfare.  Select three proper nouns, research them, and write a brief report that explains the backstory of how each proper noun fits into the timeline of the history of warfare.

The following are some examples of allusions you might research:

Alamo, Achilles, Appomattox, Auschwitz, The Bastille, The Battle of the Bulge, Catch-22, The Cold War, The Cuban Missile Crisis, D-Day, Dunkirk, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Eisenhower, Fort Sumter, The Geneva Convention, The Gettysburg Address, The G.I. Bill, Grant, Hannibal, Hiroshima, Lexington and Concord, Marathon, Minutemen, NATO, Odysseus, Patton, Rough Riders, Stalin, Tripoli, Thucydides, U-boats, V-J Day, Wounded Knee, Yankee Doodle

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.  -Max Weinreich

1- Flexner, Stuart Berg.  I Hear America Talking.

 

March 28:  Thought Experiment Day

Today is the birthday of Daniel C. Dennett, American philosopher, writer, and cognitive scientist, who was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1942.

Dennett wearing a button-up shirt and a jacketIn 2013, Dennett published his book Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.  Dennett begins his book by acknowledging that thinking is hard work.  But just as a shovel makes it easier and more efficient for us to dig a ditch, thinking tools make cognition easier and more efficient.  

One specific category of thinking tools used frequently by philosophers is thought experiments.  Dennett calls them intuition pumps (a term he coined in 1980), the philosophical equivalent of Aesop’s fables.  These thought experiments present vivid vignettes, hypothetical situations that allow thinkers to explore and examine ideas.  Like parables, thought experiments are micro-narratives, making ideas more practical and easy to remember (1).

One ancient thought experiment comes from Plato’s The Republic:  

The Allegory of the Cave

Imagine three prisoners who have been chained in a cave their entire lives.  They are chained in such a way that all they can see is the wall of the cave in front of them.  Behind them, there is a fire and a raised walkway. As people walk along the walkway carrying things like books, animals, and plants, the prisoner sees nothing but the shadows of the people and the items they carry cast on the wall in front of them.  Because the prisoners see only the shadows, these shadows become their reality. When they see a shadow of a book, for example, they take the shadow as the real object, since it is all they know.

Imagine that one of the prisoners escapes his chains and leaves the cave.  Leaving the darkness of the cave, he is first blinded by the light. As his eyes slowly adjust and as he becomes more used to his new surroundings, he begins to realize that his former understanding of the world was wrong.  Returning to the cave, the enlightened prisoner tells the other prisoners what he has learned of the real world. The others, noticing that the returning prisoner is groping around in the darkness as his eyes readjust to the darkness, think he is insane. They can’t imagine any other reality but the shadows they see before them, and they threaten to murder anyone who would drag them out of the cave or annoy them with supposed insight into what a “real” book or a “real” tree actually looks like (2).

Plato’s Cave allows us to address and discuss the abstract ideas of knowledge versus ignorance and perception versus reality.  It doesn’t just tell us that philosophy will improve our lives; instead, it shows us: most of us live our life watching the shadows in the cave; philosophy and education, however, offer us a way out of the darkness and into the light of reason.

Today’s Challenge:  Pump Up Your Tired Thinking

What are some examples of philosophical questions that might be debated about universal topics, such as the nature of reality, of knowledge, of morality, of consciousness, of free will, or of government?  Research a specific thought experiment (see the list below).  Summarize the key elements of the thought experiment in your own words; then, discuss what specific philosophical ideas the thought experiment addresses.

The Whimsical Jailer, The Nefarious Neurosurgeon, Infinite Monkey Theorem, Buridan’s Ass, The Brain in a Vat, The Trolley Problem, Schrodinger’s Cat, Ship of Theseus, The Chinese Room, The Lady or the Tiger

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  You can’t do much carpentry with your bare hands and you can’t do much thinking with your bare brain. -Bo Dahlbom

1- Dennett, Daniel C.  Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.

2-Plato’s Republic.  http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/republic.1.introduction.html

 

March 26:  Dead Poet’s Day

On this day in 1892, American poet Walt Whitman died in his home in Camden, New Jersey.  Whitman was America’s first great poet, and today his poems live on, expressing one of the most distinctive and democratic of all American voices.   

Dead poets society.jpgWhitman was a pioneer of free verse, which abandons traditional poetic forms and meter.  Instead, free verse is inspired by the music, rhythm, and natural cadences of the human voice.  As Edward Hirsch puts it in his book A Poet’s Glossary, “The free-verse poem fits no mold; it has no pre-existent pattern.  The reader supplies the verbal speeds, intonations, emphasis.” (1)

Whitman published the first edition of his great work Leaves of Grass in 1855, and throughout his life he returned to the work editing poems in the collection and adding new ones.  When he lay dying at the age of 72, he received the final, ninth edition of Leaves of Grass.  Virtually every American poet of the 20th century, as well as many others around the world, was inspired by and influenced by Whitman’s poems.

In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society, the English teacher Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams) is also influenced by Whitman. In an inspirational short speech to his students, Mr. Keating explains why they read and study poetry:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race, and the human race is filled with passion. Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless — of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer.  That you are here — that life exists, and you may contribute a verse.

Mr. Keating also asks his students to refer to him as “O Captain, My Captain,” an allusion to the poem Walt Whitman wrote after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  The poem is an elegy, a funeral song or lament for death, and it is written as an extended metaphor where Lincoln is the ship captain who directed his ship of state safely through the stormy Civil War.

O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead. (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Dead Poet and Living Verse

Who are the greatest poets from the past?  Write an elegy or brief speech dedicated to the memory of a great poet from the past.  As you might expect, many such poets are referenced and quoted in the film Dead Poet Society, including Lord Byron, William Shakespeare, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Robert Frost — who, coincidentally, was born on this day in 1874. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  There is only one way to be prepared for death: to be sated. In the soul, in the heart, in the spirit, in the flesh. To the brim. -Henry De Montherlant

1-Hirsch, Edward.  A Poet’s Glossary.

2-The Academy of American Poets – Walt Whitman

 

March 24:  Mash-up Day

According to Newsweek, the word “mash-up” was coined in 2001 by DJ Freelance Hellraiser who used Christina Aguilera’s vocals from the song ‘Genie in a Bottle’ and “recorded [them] over the instrumentals from ‘Hard to Explain.’” Mash-up is not just a musical term, however. A mash-up applies to any combination of two or more forms of media: music, film, television, computer program, etc.

So what does March 24 have to do with this strange new term? Well, on this date in 1973, Pink Floyd released its groundbreaking Dark Side of the Moon album. Later — no one really knows when – someone came up with the crazy idea of combining, or ‘mashing,’ the Pink Floyd album with the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The fans of this mash-up claim over a 100 different moments where Pink Floyd’s music and lyrics oddly coincide with events and actions in the film. For example, when Mrs. Gulch first appears riding her bicycle, the bells and chimes at the beginning of the song “Time” begin to sound.

WIZARD OF OZ ORIGINAL POSTER 1939.jpg“Mash-up” is just one example of a neologism, a new word that is created to describe some kind of phenomenon, concept, or invention. Some of these words have the lifespan of a common housefly, but others, if they are used enough, eventually are cataloged and included in the English lexicon (1).

Wordsmiths at the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, have the “rule of five” to guide their decision about whether or not to publish a neologism in the dictionary. According to the rule, the word must be published in at least five different sources over a five-year period. As a result, lexicographers are always reading, searching for potential new additions to the dictionary.

A prism refracting white light into a rainbow on a black backgroundIf you want to be ahead of the curve on new words, check out the website Wordspy.com. The site is maintained by Paul McFedries, a technical writer with an obvious love of language. Here is the description of his site in his own words: Wordspy “is devoted to lexpionage, the sleuthing of new words and phrases. These aren’t ‘stunt words’ or ‘sniglets,’ but new terms that have appeared multiple times in newspapers, magazines, books, websites, and other recorded sources” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  The Old Man and the Dictionary

What are some examples of words that fit the following categories:  abstract noun, plural noun, common noun, possessive noun, adjective?  Make a list of at least three words in each category.  Then, use words from your list to complete the titles below.  By doing this, you’ll slightly alter the title of a classic work by mashing it up your new words.  Select one of your titles and image it is a novel you have written. Write the blurb for the novel, a brief description of the story’s plot that you would place on the back cover of the book to attract and interest readers in the story.

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the __________ (plural noun)

War and Peace

War and __________ (abstract noun)

The Strange Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

The __________ (adjective) Incident of the _________ (noun) in the Nighttime

Lord of the Rings

Lord of the ___________ (plural noun)

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet ___________ (noun)

The Grapes of Wrath

The __________ (plural noun) of Wrath

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to ___________ (plural noun)

Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on __________ (plural noun)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of _____________ (noun) Maintenance

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Call of the ___________ (adjective)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the ____________  (possessive noun) ____________(noun)

The Old Man and the Sea by  Ernest Hemingway

The __________ (adjective) Man and the __________ (noun)

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. -Nathaniel Hawthorne

1-http://www.newsweek.com/technology-time-your-mashup-106345

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/greatest-moments-dark-side-rainbow-article-1.2752178

2-Paul McFedries. Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.