August 31:  Short Letter Day

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Today is the anniversary of a short letter that became the opening salvo in a chain of events that changed television history. The letter, dated August 31, 1988, was sent to NBC President Brandon Tartikoff by George Shapiro, agent for comedian Jerry Seinfeld. This brief letter of recommendation led to a meeting between Seinfeld and NBC executives, and an eventual pilot called The Seinfeld Chronicles. That pilot then became one of television’s most successful sitcoms Seinfeld running from 1990 to 1998.

With the popularity and longevity of Seinfeld, you might think that success was assured for Jerry Seinfeld, but few people know that he was dropped from an earlier sitcom Benson in 1980 after appearing in three episodes (1).

Looking back at the text of Shapiro’s letter — only three sentences long — it’s hard to believe it was the spark that set off a powder keg of comedy that dominated American TV ratings from nearly ten years.

When Seinfeld ended in 1998, it was still at the top of the ratings, and Jerry Seinfeld made it into The Guinness Book of World Records under the category “Most Money Refused” when he turned down an offer of $5 million dollars per episode to continue the show. In addition to ratings success, the sitcom also made an impact on American vernacular with catchphrases such as “Yada, Yada, Yada.”

Seinfeld’s Agent George Shapiro, who later became one of the show’s executive producers, had the gift for writing a short but strong letter of recommendation for his client (2).

Unlike an email, a short letter is likely to get the attention of your audience. If you want something done or you want an answer to a question, a short letter is a great way to guarantee a response. However, unlike the sitcom Seinfeld you can’t write a letter about nothing; you need a specific subject and purpose for your letter.

Today’s Challenge:  Short, Simple, Strong, Sincere Snail Mail

What is something that you would recommend right now, something that is overlooked or underappreciated?  Just as George Shapiro wrote a letter of recommendation for Jerry Seinfeld, your job is to write a short letter of recommendation. Your letter, however, should not recommend a person, rather it should recommend an object or an experience.  This idea comes from a weekly feature of The New York Times Magazine called “Letter of Recommendation,” where various writers recommend an object or experience that has been overlooked or underappreciated.  Past topics featured have been:  egg shakers, summer Fridays, The Oxford English Dictionary, Skiing, Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk, and alternative search engines.

Brainstorm a list of ideas.  Then, select the topic you feel most passionately about.  Your purpose is to share your passion with a general audience, telling and showing them why your object or experience is worth holding in higher esteem. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1– Jerry Seinfeld Biography.  Biography.com.

http://www.biography.com/people/jerry-seinfeld-9542107.

2 – Grunwald, Lisa and Stephan J. Adler (Editors). Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999. New York: The Dial Press, 1999.

August 30:  Top 10 Day

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Today is the anniversary of the debut of The Late Show with David Letterman, which premiered on CBS on August 30, 1993, and ended on May 20, 2015. Letterman had previously spent eleven years as the host of Late Night with David Letterman, but after he was passed over as the host of The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson retired, he signed a multi-million dollar deal to move to CBS. This put him in direct competition with Jay Leno, who took over for Johnny on The Tonight Show.

Many aspects of Letterman’s show followed the basic pattern of the late night talk show genre, established and perfected by Johnny Carson. Letterman added a few new wrinkles of his own that became staples of his show and focus points for his fans.

One of Letterman’s trademarks was “found comedy” — people, places, and things found on the streets of the city that became the subject of Letterman’s ironic wit. These consist of actual items found in the newspaper, viewer mail, “stupid pet and human tricks” performed on the show, esoteric videos, and person-on-the-street interviews (1).

Letterman’s best-known feature is one that is originally “found” in the Old Testament, a list of ten — sometimes called a “Decalogue.”  This list of ten is best known as The Ten Commandments.  The Book of Exodus records Moses bringing the commandments, which are carved on two stone tablets, down from Mount Sinai and delivering them to the people of Israel.

Of course, Letterman’s Top Ten lists are meant not to deliver the law but to deliver laughs. Based on a topic from current events, each list counts down ten hilariously warped responses.

Today’s Challenge: TOP TEN TOP TENS

What would be the topic of your Top Ten list? First, brainstorm some titles of lists, such as Top Ten Reasons . . . , Top Ten Things . . ., Top Ten Ways . . . Then, when you find a title you like, complete your 10 items.

Here are ten possible top ten list titles:

  1. Top Ten Alternative Uses for a Paperclip
  2. Top Ten Ways to Save Time on Your Homework
  3. Top Ten Reasons to Attend College
  4. Top Ten Rejected Prom Themes
  5. Top Ten Songs to Have With You on a Deserted Island
  6. Top Ten Reasons to Quit Social Media
  7. Top Ten Tenets of Effective Writing
  8. Top Ten Reasons to Read a Book Rather Than Watch TV
  9. Top Ten Habits of Successful Students
  10. Top Ten Topics for a Top Ten List

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1 – Late Night With David Letterman. The Museum of Broadcast Communications

http://www.museum.tv/eotv/latenightwi.htm.

August 25:  Encyclopedia Day

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On this day in A.D. 79, Pliny the Elder died, a casualty of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius.  Based on his thirty-seven volume work called Natural History, Pliny is known as the father of the encyclopedia.

Born in Italy in A.D. 23, Pliny was educated in Rome and served as a commander in the Roman army.  He is best known, however, for his prodigious efforts to catalog the knowledge of his age in his Natural History.  Using a plain, non-dogmatic style, Pliny covered cosmology, astronomy, zoology, botany, agriculture, medicine, and minerals.  Not only was the comprehensive coverage of his multi-volume work unprecedented, but also his citation of over 100 sources set the standard for the modern encyclopedia.  His work truly lived up to the meaning of the word encyclopedia, which means an “all-around education.”  The root cyclo is from the Greek for “circle” and paideia is from the Greek for “education.”

On the day of his death in 79 A.D., Pliny was serving as a fleet commander in the Bay of Naples.  This was the same day that the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.  Pliny might have survived; however, he went ashore to assist citizens in need and was overcome by toxic fumes from Vesuvius’ eruption (1).

Today we experience an encyclopedia format that has evolved from book form, to compact disk form, to online form. Whatever the form, however, it still is a format that attempts to encircle all that is known from A to Z.  One fascinating adaptation made to the encyclopedia was published in 2005 by Amy Krouse Rosenthal in her book Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  Departing from the traditional objective tone of general knowledge, Rosenthal adapted the encyclopedia template to reflect subjectively on the topics that have made up her life so far.  Part memoir, part autobiography, Rosenthal’s book presents her humorous, wry insights on an array of topics.

Here’s a small sample of some of the topics:

Anxious, things that make me, Birthmark, Childhood Memories, Deli Trays, Escalator, Folding Chairs, Groceries, Humbling, Infinity, Lucky (Versus Smart), Marshmallows, Napkins, Office Depot, Parking Ticket, Q-Tip, Running Into Someone, Sandwiches

The topics Rosenthal covers are diverse.  Some are abstract and others are concrete, but each of her insights, though personal, seem to touch on something universal.  For example, Rosenthal shares her personal insight on the topic “Palindrome”:  “I am overly enamored with the palindrome: Won Ton, Not Now.”

On “Pie” she says, “There are few gestures kinder than a friend baking you a pie” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Encycloautobiography

What would be the topics from A to Z that you would include in the encyclopedia of your life?  Brainstorm a list of at least 26 topics; use a dictionary if you get stuck for ideas.  Then, take one of your topics and write at least 6 sentences about it, providing personal insights and/or personal experience to bring the topic alive and to help the reader see it in a new way. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-”Pliny the Elder”  Britannica Online Encyclopedia

http://www.britannica.com/biography/Pliny-the-Elder.

2-Rosenthal, Amy Krouse.  Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press, 2005.

August 19:  Post-it Note Day

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Today is the birthday of Arthur Fry, the inventor of the Post-it note.  Fry was born in Minnesota on this day in 1931.

Fry’s idea for the Post-it note was born in 1973.  At his job as a new product developer at 3M, Fry attended a presentation by a colleague named Spencer Silver.  Silver’s talk was on a weak adhesive he had developed, a seemingly useless invention — a glue that didn’t stick.

Later when Fry was singing in his church choir, he had the epiphany that brought the Post-it note to life.  To mark the pages of his hymnbook, Fry used slips of paper.  When he opened the hymnbook to a marked page and the bookmark fell out, he got his million-dollar idea.  Applying some of Silver’s adhesive to the bookmark, Fry discovered that not only did the bookmark stay in place, it also could be removed without damaging the pages of the hymnal.

Later, when he wrote some notes to his boss on his new invention, Fry realized it had more uses than just as a bookmark.

Post-it notes went on the market for the first time in 1980, and today Post-it notes and Post-it related products are sold in over 100 countries worldwide (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Post-it Pitch

What are some possible uses for a Post-it note?  Brainstorm as many ideas as you can, trying for a wide range of ideas.  Follow Fry’s example by thinking out of the box. Where others saw just a glue that wouldn’t stick, Fry saw useful innovation.  After you have generated at least twenty ideas, select your best single idea and write your pitch on one or more Post-it notes. If you’re working with others, have a contest to see which ideas are the best. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Horne, Richard and Tracey Turner.  101 Things You Wish You’d Invented …and Some You Wish No One Had.  New York:  Walker & Company, 2008.

 

August 8:  Dollar and Cents Day

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Today is the anniversary of the Continental Congress’ establishment of the monetary system of the United States. The year was 1786, and the ordinance called for U.S. coins with the following names: mill, cent, dime, dollar, and eagle.

According to Bill Bryson in Made in America, bankers and businessmen wished to maintain the English system based on pounds and shillings, but Thomas Jefferson devised a distinctly new system based on dollars and cents.

The name dollar comes from a town in Bohemia called Joachimstal. A coin made there in the 1500s, the Joachimstaler, spread throughout Europe evolving from the taler, to the thaler, to the daler, and finally into the dollar.

The name dime comes from the French dixieme, which means tenth. It was originally spelled disme and pronounced as deem.

The name cent comes from the Latin centum which means one hundred. The unofficial name penny comes from the Latin term pannus, which means “a piece of cloth”; at one time these pieces of cloth were used for money.

The name mill comes from the Latin millesimus which means thousandth. A mill would have represented 1/1000 of a dollar; however, the federal government never minted the mill coin. The lowest denomination of coin ever created was a 1/2 cent piece.

The eagle was a $10 coin.

The missing coin from the 1786 ordinance, common today, is the denomination that represents 1/20 of a dollar: the nickel, named for the metal from which is was made (nickels never were made of wood) (1).

Dollars and cents are certainly important in America, so important that many expressions contain references to money, such as fast buck, more bang for the buck, and pass the buck. The term buck has been slang for dollar since the mid-1800s, according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms.

See if you can find the English idioms that fit in the sentences below; they all have to do with dollars, dimes, or cents. The literal definition of each expression is also given as a clue.

  1. A virtual certainty: It’s _____ _____ _____ that the team will make the playoffs.
  2. To be absolutely sure: You can _____ _____ _____ _____ that he will be at the party.
  3. Unexpected good fortune. I didn’t think I would get a $500 rebate on my new car. When I got the check, it was _____ _____ _____.
  4. Stingy about small expenditures and extravagant with large ones. Dean clips all the coupons for supermarket bargains but insists on going to the best restaurants; he’s ______ _____ _____ _____ _____.
  5. So plentiful as to be valueless. Don’t bother to buy one of these — they’re a _____ _____ _____.
  6. To inform on or betray someone. No one can cheat in this class — someone’s bound to _____ _____ _____ and tell the teacher.
  7. Take action and end delay. It’s time this administration _____ _____ _____ _____ and came up with a viable budget (2)

Today’s Challenge: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

What is a story that you could tell that relates to the theme “money”?  Below are ten idioms containing the word money. Using a money-related idiom as your title and as a spark for your memory or your imagination, tell a money-related anecdote. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Money is no object, Money talks, Hush money, A run for your money, Time is money, A fool and his money are soon parted, Money to burn, Pocket money, Easy money, Not for love or money (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: There’s no money in poetry, but then there’s no poetry in money, either. -Robert Graves

Answers: 1. dollars to doughnuts 2. bet your bottom dollar 3. pennies from heaven 4. penny wise and pound foolish 5. dime a dozen 6. drop a dime 7. got off the dime

1 – Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: Perennial, 1994.

2 – Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

January 26: Isms Day

On this date in 1564, Pope Pius IV signed a letter certifying the decisions made by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent.  This act by the Pope in effect sealed the official split of the Christian Church between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism.

The 16th century was a tumultuous time for Christianity. Beginning with Martin Luther’s nailing of his 99 theses to the church door in Wittenberg in 1517 (See October 31:  Thesis Day), individuals began challenging the authority and doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church.  In 1533, the influential French theologian John Calvin broke from the church, and in that same year, King Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church, making himself the head of the Church of England.  This act of defiance came about when the Pope refused Henry’s request to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

The Council of Trent was, therefore, an attempt by the leadership of the Catholic Church to craft an official response to calls for reform.  The council met 25 times between 1545 and 1563 in the northern Italian town of Trent, discussing issues such as the requirements for salvation, the role of the Latin as the exclusive language for prayer, the celibacy of priests, and the veneration of relics and saints.  The council also authorized the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, a list of books forbidden by the church.  Although the Council did create some reforms in church doctrine, it ultimately failed to unify Christianity resulting in the divide that is still present today between Catholicism and Protestantism (1).

When it comes to ideas, the suffix -ism is the go-to word-ending for words that relate to ideas or ideologies, as in philosophies, systems, practices, or movements.  As we see with Catholicism and Protestantism, each -ism has its own unique and distinct history.  These words are also noteworthy in that each one attempts to wrap up a multitude of ideas into a single word.  As a result, each one, whether long (antidisestablishmentarianism) or short (cubism), is packed with dense meaning.

Today’s Challenge:  This-ism and That-ism

What is an -ism that you would be interested in exploring to better understand its meaning and history?  The list below reflects an A to Z sample of -isms from history, politics, philosophy, art, science, economics and religion.  Select one of the -isms from the list or another one that you’re interested in. Research it for both its history and meaning.  Then, write a brief report in which you explain as clearly as possible the ideas and history that are encompassed in the single word.

Aristotelianism, Behaviorism, Capitalism, Dystopianism, Existentialism, Federalism, Goldwynism, Hinduism, Imagism, Jingoism, Keynesianism, Libertarianism, Malapropism, Naturalism, Objectivism, Pragmatism, Quietism, Romanticism, Stoicism, Totalitarianism, Utilitarianism, Victorianism, Wilsonianism, eXpressionism, Yankeeism, Zoroastrianism

Quotation of the Day:  Ev’rybody’s talking about Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism  -John Lennon in the song Give Peace a Chance

1- Marsh W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  366: A Leap Year of Great Stories From History. Icon Books, 2007.

December 29: Greeting Card Day

Today is the birthday of Joyce C. Hall (1891-1982), the founder of Hallmark Cards.  Joyce grew up in Nebraska, and his first job was selling perfume door-to door.  At 16, he and his two brothers pooled their money to open the Norfolk Post Card Company.  Later in 1910, seeking better business opportunities, he moved to Kansas City, Missouri, where he opened a card and gift shop.  When fire destroyed his entire inventory in 1915, he transformed tragedy into opportunity by taking out a loan and buying an engraving firm.  This set the stage for the creation of his first original greeting card designs.  

Still based in Kansas City, Joyce built Hallmark into a national company, pioneering the card-plus-envelope greeting cards we see today, which replaced postcards.  He also pioneered the way cards were merchandised in stores by taking them out of drawers and placing them in eye-catching displays.  To further promote his company and make Hallmark the most recognizable name in the industry, Joyce began sponsoring television programs, beginning with a live Christmas Eve production of Amahl and the Night Visitors in 1951.  That first program set the stage for the long running primetime television series, the Hallmark Hall of Fame.

Today’s Challenge:  Word Play for a Word Day

What would be your choice for the best Word Day to celebrate with a greeting card?  What ideas do you have for crafting a clever card?  Select a single Word Day and create a clever greeting card to promote and celebrate that day.  Think about what words and art you will put both inside the card and on the front of the card.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Hallmark.com.  J.C. Hall. http://corporate.hallmark.com/Company/JC-Hall.

December 15: Trivia Day


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

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

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

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

Today’s Challenge:  All Roads Lead to Trivia

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

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

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

December 5:  Disney Day

Today is the birthday of Walt Disney, who was born in Chicago in 1901.  In 1928 he introduced the world to Mickey Mouse in the animated feature Steamboat Willie.  Disney revolutionized animation, mixing sound and color to produce full-length feature films based on classic children’s stories like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.  For Disney, fantasy on the big screen was not enough.  He also pioneered the fantasy-themed family vacation when he opened Disneyland in California in 1955 (1).

Disney was a man who paid attention to details, and he knew that the appearance of his characters as well as their names mattered.  In the 1930s, for example, when Disney was adapting the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White, he made a list of 47 potential names for the dwarfs, which included Awful, Baldy, Dirty, and Hoppy (2).  In case you can’t remember the names that made the final cut, they are Bashful, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, and Doc.

As a film producer, Disney won 22 Academy Awards, far more than anyone else.  Disney died in 1966, but his name lives on. The Walt Disney Company, the small animation company he founded on October 16, 1923, has grown into the world’s second largest media conglomerate.

Today’s Challenge   Escape to Cartoon Mountain

Who would you argue should be on the Mount Rushmore of Cartoon Characters?  Brainstorm a list of cartoon characters. Don’t limit yourself to just Disney characters.  Select your final four, the four that that you think are the most influential, most important, or just most entertaining.  List the names of each character along with a rationale for each character’s selection. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, and Brent Bowers. 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. New York: Kodansha International, 1998.

2-The 47 DwarfsLists of Note 23 March 2012. http://www.listsofnote.com/2012/03/47-dwarfs.html.

December 1: Most Influential Person Who Never Lived Day  

On this day in 1976, Leo Burnett (1891-1971) gave a speech to the gathered executives of his advertising agency, Leo Burnett Worldwide.  In his talk, which has become known as “The When to Take My Name Off the Door Speech,” Burnett challenged his employees to never forget that advertising is not just about making a buck; it’s about the creative process (1).

In his illustrious career, Burnett created some of the most influential characters in the history of advertising, including the Marlboro Man, Tony the Tiger, Charlie the Tuna, and the Maytag Repairman.

Burnett opened his ad agency in the middle of the Great Depression, and on the day it opened, he famously put a bowl of apples in the reception area.  His brash move of opening a business in the middle of the Depression caused some to say that it wouldn’t be long before he was selling those apples on the street.  Instead, the company thrived, and by the end of the 1950s, it was earning over 100 million dollars annually.

The book The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived ranks fictional characters from literature, fable, myth, and popular culture.  The writers, Allan Lazar, Dan Karlan, and Jeremy Salter, got the idea to write the book after reading Michael Hart’s book The 100:  A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History.

The fictional character ranked as the number one most influential is Leo Burnett’s creation, The Marlboro Man.  The burly cowboy was the symbol of Marlboro Cigarettes beginning in 1955.  By 1972, Marlboro was the top cigarette brand in the world, and by 2000 it owned a 35 percent market share of U.S. cigarette sales (2).

The following are other influential characters, each born in the imagination of a creative individual and brought to life on a page or a screen:

Hamlet, Oedipus, Dracula, Atticus Finch, Hester Prynne, Mickey Mouse, Barbie, Big Brother, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, Prometheus, King Arthur, Sherlock Holmes, Uncle Sam, Ebenezer Scrooge

Today’s Challenge:  Unforgettable Favorite from Fiction

What fictional characters would make your list of the most influential?  What makes them so special?  Write a short speech making your case for the single character that you think should receive the award for most influential.  Make sure to provide enough detailed evidence to show what makes this character so important, not just to you, but to society at large. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Daye, Derrick. Great Moments in Advertising:  Leo Burnett’s Speech. Brand Strategy Insider 28 Oct. 2007. http://www.brandingstrategyinsider.com/2007/10/great-moments-3-2.html#.V3xid-srLnB.

2-Lazar, Allan, Dan Karlan, and Jeremy Salter.  The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived: How Characters of Fiction, Myth, Legends, Television, and Movies Have Shaped Our Society, Changed Our Behavior, and Set the Course of History.  New York:  HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.