November 6:  Punctuation Day

On this date in 2003, one of the all time best selling books on writing was published by British columnist and radio personality Lynne Truss.  The book was entitled Eats, Shoots & Leaves:  The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation.  

As her book’s title indicates, Truss takes punctuation quite seriously.  After all, in the old joke about the panda, one comma made all the difference:

A panda walks into a cafe, sits down, and orders a sandwich. After he finishes eating the sandwich, the panda pulls out a gun and shoots the waiter, and then stands up to go.

“Hey!” shouts the manager. “Where are you going? You just shot my waiter and you didn’t pay for your sandwich!”

The panda yells back at the manager, “Hey man, I am a PANDA! Look it up!”

The manager opens his dictionary and sees the following definition: “Panda. A tree-dwelling marsupial of Asian origin, characterised by distinct black and white coloring. Eats shoots and leaves.”

For Truss and other sticklers like her, one missing or one misplaced comma, semicolon, or apostrophe can be a matter of life or death:

To those who care about punctuation, a sentence such as “Thank God its Friday” (without the apostrophe) rouses feelings not only of despair but of violence.  The confusion of [its and it’s] is an unequivocal signal of illiteracy and sets off a simple Pavlovian “kill” response in the average stickler.

Clearly Truss is serious about punctuation.  In the course of the 200-plus pages of her book, she reviews the history and the rules of punctuations.  She also provides egregious examples of the errors she has found in ads, signs, and newspapers.  

Two of the heroes of Eats, Shoots & Leaves are the historical figures Aristophanes of Byzantium and Aldus Manutius the Elder (1450-1515).

Aristophanes, a librarian at Alexandria around 200 BC, is the father of punctuation.  He was the first to use a three-part system of dots to assist actors in the recitation of verse.  Aristophanes’ dots are the ancestors of our modern commas, periods, colons, and semicolons.  

With the advent of printing in the 14th and 15th century, a more standard system of punctuation was required.  Aldus Manutius, a Venetian printer, was the man of the hour, inventing not only the italic typeface but also the semicolon.

Although the history of punctuation is interesting, Truss’s real concern is punctuation use and misuse today.  For writers, words matter.  But, as Truss argues, punctuation is just as important:

The reason to stand up for punctuation is that without it there is no reliable way of communicating meaning. Punctuation herds words together, keeps others apart.  Punctuation directs you how to read, in the way musical notation directs a musician how to play.

A Love Letter to Punctuation

To illustrate just how important punctuation is, Truss presents two “Dear Jack” letters with the exact same words but with different punctuation.  One of the letters reveals Jill’s undying love for Jack, while the second letter, with different punctuation but the exact same words, reveals Jill’s disdain for Jack.  Given the two letters below, see if you can, by adding only commas and periods and without changing any of the words, make the first letter a love letter and the second a break-up letter:

Version A:  Jill Loves Jack

Dear Jack,

I want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind and thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men I yearn for you I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart I can be forever happy will you let me be yours

Jill

Version B:  Jill Dislikes Jack

Dear Jack,

I want a man who knows what love is all about you are generous kind and thoughtful people who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior you have ruined me for other men I yearn for you I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart I can be forever happy will you let me be yours

Jill

Today’s Challenge:  Abused or Confused

What is a punctuation rule that you either hate to see abused or that you are continually confused by?  Brainstorm some of the different rules for using different punctuation marks.  Then, select one error that you think is significant, either because you hate to see it broken, or because you are unclear about how to apply it.  Do a bit of research to specify the rule and to gather examples of its correct and incorrect application.  Then, write a brief Public Service Announcement (PSA) that states the rule along with correct and incorrect examples.  To give your rule added relevance, find actual examples/pictures of where you have seen it used correctly and incorrectly on signs or advertisements. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The rule is:  don’t use commas like a stupid person.  I mean it.  More than any other mark, the comma requires the writer to use intelligent discretion and to be simply alert to potential ambiguity. -Lynne Truss

Answers:

Version A:  Dear John,

I want a man who knows what love is all about.  You are generous, kind, and thoughtful.  People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior.  You have ruined me for other men.  I yearn for you.  I have no feelings whatsoever when we’re apart.  I can be forever happy.  Will you let me be yours?

Jill

Version B:  Dear Jack,

I want a man who knows what live is.  All about you are generous, kind, and thoughtful people, who are not like you.  Admit to being useless and inferior.  You have ruined me.  For other men I yearn!  For you I have no feelings whatsoever.  When we’re apart I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?

Yours,

Jill

1-Truss, Lynne.  Eats, Shoots & Leaves:  The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. New York: Gotham Books, 2003.

 

November 5:  Guy Fawkes Day

Today is the anniversary of a foiled plot to blow up the British Parliament. On the night before the ceremonial opening of Parliament on November 5, 1605, 36 barrels of gunpowder were discovered in the basement of the House of Lords. The perpetrators of the plot, 13 Catholics who hoped to topple the Protestant King, James I, were arrested, prosecuted, and hanged.

Black-and-white drawingAlthough he was not the ring leader of the plot, Guy Fawkes became the “face” of the Gunpowder Plot.  This is probably because he was the one man caught red handed, with matches in his pocket, skulking in the basement of the House of Lords waiting to light the fuse.  Once capture, Fawkes was tortured and signed a confession.  He also implicated his fellow conspirators who were hanged with him on January 31, 1606.

Ever since that fateful night in 1605, November 5th has been a night of thanksgiving and revelry. Celebrants of the failed coup light bonfires, set off fireworks, and burn effigies, called “guys,” of the notorious rebel Guy Fawkes (1, 2).

On Guy Fawkes Night, or as it is also known “Bonfire Night,” British children collect wood for their fires or solicit money for their “guys” as they chant or sing:

   Remember, remember!

   The fifth of November,

   The Gunpowder treason and plot;

   I know of no reason

   Why the Gunpowder treason

   Should ever be forgot!

   Guy Fawkes and his companions

   Did the scheme contrive,

   To blow the King and Parliament

   All up alive.

   Threescore barrels, laid below,

   To prove old England’s overthrow.

   But, by God’s providence, him they catch,

   With a dark lantern, lighting a match!

Frequently in English the famous and infamous become enshrined in the language when their last names become common, lower case nouns or verbs (called eponyms). In rare cases, however, a first name becomes a part of the lexicon.  Guy Fawkes not only became the subject of burned effigies, but also his first name became synonymous with anyone of odd appearance. Across the Atlantic, the name is used in American English to refer to any male, either bad or good. It is also a handy word used in its plural form to refer to any group of people (2).

Guy Fawkes, himself, has undergone a makeover, transforming from villian to rebel hero and freedom fighter.  This is due mainly to the graphic novel and movie V for Vendetta.  Set in a dystopian Britain, the book and film feature a hero who wears a Guy Fawkes mask and who battles the future fascist government of Britain.

Today’s Challenge:  Remember, Remember the Date

What hero or villain, who is not already honored with a day on the calendar, should be recognized with his or her own specific day?  What makes this person influential or notorious enough to rate having a dedicated day on the calendar, and what kind of activities would you suggest to appropriately mark the day?  Brainstorm a list of important figures and events from history.   Select the one person you would honor and write a proclamation which explains who the person is and what specific date will be set aside to recognize the person.  Include some background on what the person did and why the person is important.  Finally, include some details on the kinds of activities that will accompany the person’s special day. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Voilà! In view, a humble vaudevillian veteran, cast vicariously as both victim and villain by the vicissitudes of Fate. This visage, no mere veneer of vanity, is a vestige of the vox populi, now vacant, vanished. However, this valorous visitation of a by-gone vexation, stands vivified and has vowed to vanquish these venal and virulent vermin vanguarding vice and vouchsafing the violently vicious and voracious violation of volition.  The only verdict is vengeance; a vendetta, held as a votive, not in vain, for the value and veracity of such shall one day vindicate the vigilant and the virtuous. Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that it’s my very good honor to meet you and you may call me V.  -The Vigilante “V” from V for Vendetta

1 – . . . Fawkes and Bonfire Night.http://www.bonefire.org/guy/gunpowder.php

2 – Word History and Mysteries. (by the editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries). Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004.

November 4:  Fumblerules Day

On this day in 1979, New York Times columnist William Safire (1929-2009) published an article on the “Fumblerules of Grammar.”  Each of Safire’s fumblerules states a rule while at the same time breaking it, such as:

Never use prepositions to end sentences with.

President Bush presents William Safire the 2006 President Medal of Freedom.jpgSafire never claimed that his list was original, but as he explained in the column’s opening paragraph, he did boast the world’s largest collection of fumblerules:

Not long ago, I advertised for perverse rules of grammar, along the lines of “Remember to never split an infinitive” and “The passive voice should never be used.” The notion of making a mistake while laying down rules (“Thimk,” “We Never Make Misteaks”) is highly unoriginal, and it turns out that English teachers have been circulating lists of fumblerules for years. As owner of the world’s largest collection, and with thanks to scores of readers, let me pass along a bunch of these never-say-neverisms.

Several years after Safire’s column appeared, he wrote a book based on his collection of fumblerules called How Not to Write:  The Essential Misrules of Grammar.  In the book Safire includes 50 chapters, one for each of his fumblerules.  After stating each “misrule,” he provides a brief essay with examples and explanations of the right way to write.  For example, on ending sentences with prepositions, Safire says:

Sometimes invincible idiom dictates the preposition (“That’s what little girls are mad of”); in that case, relax and enjoy it.  Other times, awkwardness can be avoided with a quick fix:  “Bankruptcy, my dear fellow, is what we’re looking at”  can be switched to “We’re looking at bankruptcy, you idiot.”

In the first ten chapters of the book, Safire features the following essential fumblerules:

  1. No sentence fragments.
  2. Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.
  3. A writer must not shift your point of view.
  4. Do not put statements in the negative form.
  5. Don’t use contractions in formal writing.
  6. The adverb always follows the verb.
  7. Make an all out effort to hyphenate when necessary but not when un-necessary.
  8. Don’t use Capital letters without good REASON.
  9. It behooves us to avoid archaisms.
  10. Reserve the apostrophe for it’s proper use and omit it when its not needed. (1)

Today’s Challenge:  Recover the Fumblerule
What is your favorite fumblerule — a writing or grammar rule that states a rule while at the same time breaking it?  Select your single favorite fumblerule, and write an explanation of how it relates to effective writing.  Use the fumblerule as your title, followed by a paragraph where you explain how the rule relates to legitimate writing.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  I escape disaster by writing a poem with a joke in it:

The past, present, and future walk into a bar—it was tense. -Kelli Russell

 

1- Safire, William.  How Not to Write:  The Essential Misrules of Grammar.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1990.

 

November 3:  Dogs in Space Day

On this day in 1957, the USSR launched the satellite Sputnik 2 into orbit. Aboard the spacecraft was the first ever living being launched into space, a female terrier named Laika.  Just four weeks earlier the Russians had shocked the world by launching the first-ever satellite, Sputnik I on October 3, 1957.

The launches of the two Sputnik satellites lead to a crisis in the United States as leaders feared Soviet domination of space.  In July 1958, President Dwight D. Eisenhower formed the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), and in September 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, which poured billions of dollars into the U.S. education system.

Russia was successful in launching the first human, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin,  into space on April 12, 1961; however, the United States proclaimed victory in the Space Race when NASA’s Apollo program landed a man on the Moon on July 20, 1969 (see July 20:  Antithesis Day).

Going to the Dogs

English is replete with idioms (expressions that don’t make sense when taken literally) related to dogs. And it is interesting to note that despite the dog’s reputation for being “man’s best friend,” most of the expressions use dogs in the negative sense. For example, they are used as scapegoats for missing homework: “My dog ate my homework.” They are associated with sickness: “Sick as a dog.” And they are even used to characterize life in general as harsh and cutthroat: “It’s a dog eat dog world.”

Use the clues below to identify the eight dog-related idioms. For each idiom, you are given the number of words in the expression and a brief literal translation of the meaning of the idiom as it might be used in everyday speech.

  1. Five words: Don’t make something unimportant the most important thing.
  2. Five words: You’re searching in the wrong place.
  3. Four words: My feet are very tired.
  4. Four words: My wife is very mad at me.
  5. Seven words: He’s not really as mean as he seems.
  6. Eight words: Some people will never change.
  7. Four words: Don’t remind him of your past conflicts.
  8. Five words: Every person is successful at something at some point in his/her life.

Today’s Challenge:  Giving the Dog His Day
What words, phrases, or titles come to mind when you hear the word “dog”?What is your favorite dog-based writing topic, either literal or figurative? Brainstorm a list of words, phrases, or titles that you associate with dogs.  Try to generate at least 20 ideas.  Then, select the one idea that sparks a writing idea, and write a poem, story, or essay on your idea.  Use the word “dog” in your title. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3 – Expository and Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: Fall in love with a dog, and in many ways you enter a new orbit, a universe that features not just new colors but new rituals, new rules, a new way of experiencing attachment. -Caroline Knapp

 

Answers: 1. The tail wagging the dog 2. Barking up the wrong tree. 3. My dogs are barking  4. In the dog house 5. His bark is worse than his bite 6. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks. 7. Let sleeping dogs lie. 8. Every dog has its day

 

November 2:  Cheerleading Day

On this day in 1898 a medical student at the University of Minnesota became the first cheerleader.  College teams had pep clubs and fight songs prior to 1898, but after his school’s football team had suffered a three-game losing streak, Johnny Campbell took the radical step of grabbing a megaphone and running down onto the field.  Once there, he turned to the crowd and led them in a rousing cheer: “Rah, Rah, Rah! Ski-U-Mah! Hoo-Rah! Hoo-Rah! Varsity! Varsity! Minn-e-so-ta!”   Minnesota won the game, and thus began the tradition of on-field cheerleading.

Interestingly cheerleading remained primarily a male endeavor until the 1940s. As college students, U.S. Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and George W. Bush led cheers at their  respective schools.  Only when the male student body became depleted because of World War II did cheerleading squads become primarily female (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Pep Talk
What single motivational quotation do you find the most uplifting and encouraging?  Why is the quotation so motivating?  Just as cheerleaders use pre-packaged cheers to motivate the crowd, writers often integrate quotations from other writers into their work.  Write a brief pep talk based on the motivational quotation that you find the most uplifting and encouraging.  Go beyond just the writer’s quotation by explaining why you find it so motivational and how you are encouraged by the quotation. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up. -Mark Twain

1-http://www.varsity.com/event/1261/being-a-cheerleader-history

 

October 30: All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Day

On this date in 1989, Robert Fulghum published his book All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.  The book, which stayed on the New York Times bestseller lists for almost two years, is a collection of short essays, subtitled “Uncommon Thoughts on Common Things.”

Robert Fulghum - All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.jpgFulghum grew up in Waco, Texas, and before he began writing full time, he was a Unitarian minister and an art and philosophy teacher.

The first essay in Fulghum’s book, called “Credo,” explains the origin of his book’s title.  Fulghum explains that each spring throughout his life he would sit down and write a personal credo, a list of  statements of personal belief.  This list evolved over the years with statements that were sometimes comical, sometime bland, sometimes cynical, and sometimes over-complicated.  The final version of his credo came to him, however, when he realized that true meaning in life did not need to be complicated.  In fact, he already knew what he needed to know; he had learned it a long time ago in kindergarten, and he could state it in clear, simple terms:

-Share everything.

-Play fair.

-Don’t hit people.

-Put things back where you found them.

-Clean up your own mess.

-Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

-Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

-Wash your hands before you eat.

-Flush.

-Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

-Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

-Take a nap every afternoon.

-When you go out in the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.

-Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: the roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

-Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten has spawned numerous imitations, spinoffs, and parodies based on television shows, movies, books, etc.  These imitations adopt Fulghum’s title and list as their template, beginning with “All I Really Need to Know I Learned From ______,” followed by a list of principles based on the source of inspiration.  

For example:

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from My Dog

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Fairy Tales

A further adaptation narrows the learning a bit to a single specific area, as in:

All I Really Need to Know about ___________ I Learned from ___________

One example of this kind of spinoff is a book, published in 2014 by Paul Oyer, Everything I Ever Needed to Know about Economics I Learned from Online Dating.

Today’s Challenge:  Create Your Credo

How would you finish the following titles, and what principles would you include in your personal credo?  

“All I Really Need to Know I Learned in/from ______.”

“All I Really Need to Know about ___________ I Learned in/from ___________.”

Create your own spin off of Fulghum’s credo.  Brainstorm some ideas based on books, movies, television shows, the internet, or some other aspect of life that you know well.  Once you have selected a single focus, generate a list of principles that spring from your selected area.  Your list may contain serious insights or humorous insights. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. No, not at all. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be. -Robert Fulghum

 

October 29: Rules for Correspondence Day

On this date in 1890, Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), English writer and mathematician, published an essay entitled “Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing.” Best known for his works Alice in Wonderland and “Jabberwocky,” Lewis Carroll’s essay on letter writing was included as a booklet in the “Wonderland” Postage-Stamp-Case, a product designed to help letter writers organize their postage and correspondence.

tinted monochrome 3/4-length photo portrait of seated Dodgson holding a bookIn his essay, Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson, offered letter writing tips on opening a letter, closing a letter, and on keeping a registry of correspondence. The main focus of the essay, however, is the section entitled “How to go on with a Letter” in which he provides his key considerations for the body of a letter. The nine rules are summarized below:

Rule 1: Write legibly.
Rule 2: Begin with remarks about your reader or your reader’s last letter rather than about yourself or about your apologies for not having written sooner.
Rule 3: Don’t repeat yourself.
Rule 4: If you think your letter might irritate your friend, set it aside for a day and re-read it again. Then, re-write the letter, if necessary, to make it less offensive. Also, keep a copy of the letter so that you’ll have a record of what you actually said.
Rule 5: If your friend makes a severe remark in his or her letter, either ignore it or respond in a less severe way.
Rule 6: Don’t try to have the last word.
Rule 7: Watch out for sarcasm and humor. If you write in jest, make sure that it is obvious.
Rule 8: If you write in your letter that you have enclosed something, stop writing for a moment and get the item for enclosure and put it into the envelope immediately.
Rule 9: If you get to the end of the note-sheet and you have more to say, take out another piece of paper instead of cross-writing. (Cross writing was a paper-saving practice of writing vertically over the horizontal lines of a letter).

What seems to unify Carroll’s rules is the consideration for the reader. Carroll reminds writers to avoid egocentricity and to craft every sentence with the reader in mind. Even though letter writing today is certainly less popular than in Carroll’s time, his emphasis on this universal writing principle — “Put the reader first” — makes his rules applicable to just about any form of writing.

American humorist Will Rogers stated the rule using an apt metaphor: “When you go fishing you bait the hook, not with what you like, but with what the fish likes.”

Today’s Challenge: Rules for Email
What are your rules for crafting an effective email? Brainstorm some rules that effective writers and communicators should consider when writing an email, either for personal or professional purposes. State at least three rules, and follow each rule with an explanation and rationale, using specific examples where appropriate. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: . . . when you have written a letter that you feel may possibly irritate your friend . . . put it aside till the next day. Then read it over again, and fancy it addressed to yourself. This will often lead to your writing it all over again, taking out a lot of the vinegar and pepper, and putting in honey instead, and thus making a much more palatable dish of it! -Lewis Carroll

October 27:  The Federalist Papers Day

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper 1 was published in the Independent Journal of New York..  

Today Americans take the Constitutional form of government for granted.  But in 1787, shortly after the young, ragtag nation had thrown off the British monarchy and won its independence, a constitution was not a given.  The questions at that time were — would  there be a central federal government at all, and if there were, what would be its powers?  The original basis for the united thirteen states was the Articles of Confederation, but this gave the federal government little power:  no power to levy taxes, to regulate trade, or to enforce laws.  The Constitution, which offered a plan for a federal government based on checks and balances, was drafted in September of 1787, but it still needed to be ratified by at least nine states.  

In October 1787, therefore, federalists began their debate with the anti-federalists.  One of the chief proponents of the Constitution was Alexander Hamilton, the chief aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War and an elected representative from New York state to the Congress of the Confederation.  Hamilton knew that New York would be a key swing state in the debate, so he hatched a plan to write essays that would be published in New York newspapers to promote and explain the new Constitution.  To help him, Hamilton enlisted James Madison, who had served in the Continental Congress, and John Jay, a lawyer and diplomat.  

Between October 1787 and May 1788, the trio wrote a total of 85 essays, totalling more than 175,000 words.  Each essay was published anonymously under the pen name “Publius,” an allusion to Publius Valerius Publicola, a supporter of the Roman Republic.

The Federalist Papers served as a kind of user’s guide to the Constitution, explaining how the people, not a king, would govern and how a federal government was needed to increase efficiency and to prevent the risk of another monarchy.  The papers also explained the separation of powers between the branches of government, and how government should operate to maintain individual liberty without anarchy.

In the end, the federalists won.  All thirteen states ratified the U.S. Constitution.

Today we have all 85 Federalist Papers intact as testimony to the work of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.  Reading them, however, is not easy.  They are written in dense 18th century prose.  With careful focus and attention, however, they can be understood.

It is this kind of careful close reading that the College Board had in mind when it redesigned its Scholastic Aptitude Test, which will take effect in 2016.  One specific area of emphasis in the redesign of the SAT Reading test is U.S. founding documents.  The College Board explains the importance of passages like The Federalist Papers as follows:

Over the centuries, the founding documents — a body of works that includes the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers — have moved, influenced, and inspired countless individuals and groups at home and abroad. The vital issues central to these documents — freedom, justice, and human dignity among them — have also motivated numerous people in the United States and around the globe to take up the pen to engage in an ongoing dialogue on these and similar matters.  (2)

Today’s Challenge:  Federalist Paper in a Nutshell

What are the keys to writing a good summary?

Read Federalist Paper 1, or one of the other papers, and write a one-paragraph summary.  Read and re-read the passage until you understand its main ideas.  Before you write your summary consider the following “Six Summary Secrets”:

  1. Open with a topic sentence that identifies the author and title of the work being summarized.
  2. Make sure your summary is clear to someone who has not read the original.
  3. Focus on the main points rather than the details.
  4. Paraphrase by using your own words without quoting words directly from the original passage.
  5. Be objective, by reporting the ideas in the passage without stating your own opinions or ideas regarding the passage or its author.
  6. Use concise, clear language.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  It has been frequently remarked, that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country to decide, by their conduct and example, the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not, of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend, for their political constitutions, on accident and force. -Alexander Hamilton, Federalist Paper 1

 

1- Beck, Glenn with Joshua Charles.  The Original Argument:  The Federalists’ Case for the Constitution, Adapted for the 21st Century.   New York:  Threshold Editions, 2011:  xxi-xxxi.

 

2- The College Board.  The Redesigned SAT  “Founding Documents and the Great Global Conversation”

https://www.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/founding_documents_and_the_great_global_conversation.pdf

 

October 21: Nobel Day

On this date in 1833 Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden. When he was nine years old he moved with his family to St. Petersburg, Russia where his father worked as an engineer manufacturing explosives. In Russia, Nobel studied chemistry and became fluent in English, French, German, Russian. Later the family moved back to Sweden, and Alfred worked for his father in his factory experimenting with explosives. Tragedy struck in 1864 when an explosion in the Nobel factory killed five people, including Alfred’s younger brother Emil. Resolved to invent a safer explosive, Nobel went to work and in 1867 he patented his invention which he called “Nobel’s Safety Powder.” The new explosive was indeed more safe, combining nitroglycerin and an absorbent sand, but it needed a more catchy name. To solve this problem, Nobel turned to a Greek root for “power” and coined the world dynamite. Dynamite did in fact make the work of miners safer; however, its use in warfare also made killing more efficient.

In 1888, a French newspaper mistakenly published an obituary of Alfred, stating, “The merchant of death is dead.” Although the reports of his death were greatly exaggerated, the obituary still caused Alfred to reflect on his legacy. He immediately changed his will, setting aside his fortune to establish the Nobel Prizes, awarded each year in Sweden for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and for contributions towards peace. A prize for economics was added in 1968.

Today’s Challenge: Dynamite Inventions
What would you argue is the greatest single invention of all time? What do you know about its inventor and how it was invented? Brainstorm a list of inventions. Then, select the one that you think is deserving of being recognized for its genius. Write an explanation of why you think the invention is so special. Include some details from research on its inventor and where, when, and how the invention came to be. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. -Thomas Edison

1-http://www.biography.com/people/alfred-nobel-9424195#an-invention-and-a-legacy

October 16:  Dictionary Day

Writing in the Boston Globe in 2009, lexicographer Erin McKean presented the following imaginative and idealistic vision for Dictionary Day, the day that celebrates the birthday of the one man synonymous with the dictionary, Noah Webster (1758-1843):

. . . small children placed their dictionary stands by the hearthstone, hoping that Noah himself would magically come down the chimney and leave them a shiny new dictionary (left open to the word “dictionary,” of course). In some places, Dictionary Day is celebrated with bonfires of the past years’ dictionaries, the baking of the traditional aardvark-shaped cookies, and the singing of etymology carols (1).

Noah Webster was born in Hartford, Connecticut on October 16, 1758. He went on to graduate from Yale and to work as a lawyer. His most noteworthy work, however, came as a school teacher. Unhappy with the curriculum materials he was given to teach, he created his own uniquely American curriculum: A three-part Grammatical Institute of the English Language. It included a spelling book, a grammar book, and a reader.

Webster served in the student militia at Yale during the Revolutionary War. He never saw combat, but while he never fought in the literal battle for independence from Britain, he was a key player in the battle to make American English independent from British English.

His spelling book, known as the “Blue-Backed Speller,” became one of the most popular and influential works in American history. Only the Bible sold more copies.  According Bill Bryson in his book The Mother Tongue, Noah’s spelling book went through at least 300 editions and sold more than sixty million copies. Because of the wide use of his spelling book and his dictionary published in 1828, Webster had a significant impact on the spelling and pronunciation of American English. His dictionary contained more than 70,000 words, and it was the most complete dictionary of its time (2).

Many of the distinctive differences in spelling and pronunciation of British words versus English words can be traced back to Webster. For example:

Change of -our to –or as in colour and color, honour and honor, labour and labor.

Change of –re to er as in centre and center, metre and meter, theatre and theater

Change of –ce to se as in defence and defense, licence and license, offence and offense

The change of the British double-L in travelled and traveller to the American traveled, traveler.

Not all of Webster’s spelling changes stuck, however. David Grambs, in his book Death by Spelling, lists the following as examples of words that were retracted in later editions of Webster’s Dictionary: iz, relm, mashine, yeer, bilt, tung, breth, helth, beleeve, and wimmen (3).

After Webster’s death in 1843, the rights to his dictionaries were purchased by Charles and George Merriam. The first volume of their dictionary, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary was published in 1847.

After purchasing the rights for use of the Webster name, the Merriam brothers lost a legal battle to use the name exclusively. As a result, today other dictionaries use the name Webster even though they have no connection to Webster or his original work. Because of this Merriam-Webster includes the following assurance of quality for its dictionaries:

Not just Webster. Merriam-Webster.™

Other publishers may use the name Webster, but only Merriam-Webster products are backed by 150 years of accumulated knowledge and experience. The Merriam-Webster name is your assurance that a reference work carries the quality and authority of a company that has been publishing since 1831 (4).

The following are examples of other spelling changes made by Webster. They, in a large part, account for the differences in spelling that exist today in British English versus American English:

cheque to check

draught to draft

manoeuvre to maneuver

moustache to mustache

plough to plow

skilful to skillful

mediaeval to medieval

mould to mold (2)

Today’s Challenge: Dictionary Day Decalogue

What is your favorite word in the English language?  What kind of information can you find in a dictionary besides just the correct spellings and definitions of words?  Dictionaries tell us much more than just spelling and definitions. To celebrate Dictionary Day brainstorm a list of your favorite words.  Then, grab a good dictionary, and make a list of at least “Ten Things You Can Find in a Dictionary Besides Spelling and Definitions.”  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day:  So we should expand our thinking about dictionaries. Language is power – we understand that words can move us to tears or laughter, inspire us to great deeds or urge us to mob action. Dictionaries are the democratization of that power, and the more words they contain, the more democratic they are. The dictionary is a gigantic armory and toolbox combined, accessible to all. It reflects our preoccupations, collects our cultural knowledge, and gives us adorable pictures of aardvarks, to boot. And it does all this one word at a time. -Erin McKean

1 – http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/10/18/the_word_the_case_for_dictionary_day/

2- Bryson, Bill. The Mother Tongue. New York: Perennial, 1990.

3 –Reader’s Digest Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language. New York: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1983.

4 – Grambs, David. Death by Spelling: A Compendium of Tests, Super Tests, and Killer Bees. New York: Harper & Row, 1989: 27.

4-http://www.m-w.com/info/webster.htm