November 18:  Idioms from History Day

Today marks the anniversary of a tragic event that gave birth to the expression “drinking the Kool-Aid.”  People use this idiomatic expression today to negatively characterize someone who they feel is blindly and unthinkingly following a person or ideology.  As with many idiomatic expressions or dead metaphors (expressions that mean something different from the literal meaning of the individual words), most have forgotten the ghastly historical events that led to the phrase.

On November 18, 1978, 900 members of the Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church, formerly located in California, committed mass suicide at their Jonestown settlement in Guyana, South America.  Under the direction of their leader Reverend Jim Jones, the congregation, which included 300 children, drank a powdered soft drink laced with cyanide.  This tragic display of blind obedience to a cult leader was sparked by the visit of U.S Congressman Leo Ryan, who was investigating allegations of human rights abuses at Jonestown.  After ordering his gunmen to kill Ryan and a group of journalists who accompanied the congressman on the trip, Jones embarked on his final desperate act, ordering his followers to ingest the poison. Jones, himself, was found dead the next day of a self-inflicted gunshot wound (1).

Usually the exploration of the history or etymology of an idiomatic expression does not yield a specific known origin, much less a specific date as in “drink the Kool-Aid.”  Often an idiom’s origin derives from myth, folklore, literature, or legend, and often there are a number of competing stories behind the phrase’s origin.  For example, one idiom “the whole nine yards,” has several possible origins according to The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms:

the amount of cloth required to make a complete suit of clothes; the fully set sails of three-masted ship where each mast carries three yards, that is, spars, to support the sails; or the amount of cement (in cubic yards) contained in a cement mixer . . . . (2)

Today’s Challenge:  What’s the Story?

What origins of idiomatic expressions have you heard about, or what origins have you wondered about?  The list of expressions below all have their origins in a specific historical time period. select one, and do some research to find the story behind the idiom.  You may not be able to find a specific date, but you should be able to find a general time period from which the expression came.  Based on your research, write the story behind the expression as well as a brief explanation of the expression’s meaning as it is used today.

cross the Rubicon, jump the shark, push the envelope, a Pyrrhic victory, read the riot act, red tape, turn a blind eye, voted off the island (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

1-Higgins, Chris. The 35th Anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre. Mental Floss.com 8 Nov. 2012. http://mentalfloss.com/article/13015/jonestown-massacre-terrifying-origin-drinking-kool-aid.

2-Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms.

New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003: 713.

November 17:  Animal Metaphor Day

On this day in 1970, a patent was issued for the first computer mouse.

The invention of the mouse is credited to Douglas Engelbart, who created what he called an “X-Y position indicator for a display system” in 1964 while working for the Stanford Research Institute. His invention, a wooden shell with two metal wheels, was called a “mouse” while it was being developed in the lab because its cord resembled a mouse’s tail. In 1970, a decade before personal computers went on the market, there was little application for such a device.  It would be ten more years before someone stepped up to take the mouse to the big time.

In early 1980 Apple co-founder Steve Jobs visited Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) where he saw a computer called the Alto. The Alto operated with a graphical user interface that used icons and a handheld input device called a mouse.  The problem, however, was that the Alto’s mouse was primitive and would cost $400 to manufacture.  To solve this problem, Jobs turned to an industrial design firm called Hovey-Kelley Design and challenged them to not only improve the durability and efficiency of the Xerox mouse, but also to reduce the cost from $400 to $35.  Hovey-Kelley took the challenge, and miraculously they succeeded.  In 1983, the Apple Lisa, the first personal computer to offer a graphic user interface, appeared on the market.

At a price of almost $10,000, the Lisa was not a commercial success, but Apple rebounded one year later with the Macintosh 128K. Like the Lisa, the Macintosh had a single-button mouse. The Macintosh and its graphic user interface revolutionized personal computing.

With the popularity of Microsoft Windows in the 1990s, the mouse became what it is today: ubiquitous (1).

Something else that is ubiquitous is the use of animals as metaphors in our language, terms like “computer mouse” that feature animal names but that have no literal connection to the animal that is named.

Today’s Challenge:  Waiter, There’s a Fly in My Dictionary

Can you name some two-word phrases in English that use animals as metaphors?  Brainstorm a list of ideas, and see if you can add to the list below:

black sheep, white elephant, dog days, cash cow, cold turkey, copycat, crocodile tears, cry wolf, dark horse, eat crow, guinea pig, hornet’s nest, kangaroo court, lame duck, lion’s share, loan shark, monkey business, night owl, paper tiger, play possum, rat race, red herring, road hog, sitting duck, snail mail, spring chicken, stool pigeon, top dog

Select a single two-word metaphor, and write a definition of the phrase, explaining its literal definition as well as the story behind the phrase’s origin.  Imagine you are writing to a reader for whom English is a second language.  Make your explanation clear by using some specific examples to illustrate how and in what contexts the metaphor might be used? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Pang, Alex Soojung-Kim. Mighty Mouse. Stanford Alumni March/April 2002. https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/magazine/article/?article_id=37694.

November 11:  Words from War Day

Today is the anniversary of the end of fighting in World War I. The “war to end all wars” had begun in Europe in 1914, and it raged on until November 11, 1918, when the fighting ended on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. The official end of the war came seven months later on June 28, 1919, when the Treaty of Versailles was signed.

The first official Armistice Day was proclaimed by President Woodrow Wilson on November 11, 1919, the first anniversary of the end of World War I, but the day didn’t become a legal holiday in the Unites States until 1938.  After World War II, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued a proclamation that changed the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, making it a day to honor all veterans (1).

The war in Europe popularized a number of words and expressions, many of which we use today without realizing that they emerged from the muddy trenches of Belgium and France.

Today’s Challenge:  Them’s Fighin’ Words!

What are some English words that you think might trace their origin to warfare?  World War I was not the only war to contribute significantly to the English lexicon. In her book Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers, lexicographer Christine Ammer traces a huge number of words and phrases that have their origins in warfare.  The ten words below are just a small sample of the many words and phrases that entered the language from warfare.  Select one of the words, or one of your own, and do a bit of research to trace its etymology.  Write an explanation of the word’s history, including how its origin relates to warfare as well as the modern meaning of the word.

antebellum, brainwashing, Catch-22, deadline, echelon, flak, gung-ho, hawks and doves, incommunicado, Jingoism, khaki, logistics, magazine, no man’s land, old guard, panoply, quisling, rendezvous, sabotage, trophy, underground, vandalism, zealot (2) (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Office of Public Affairs – “History of Veterans Day”

http://www.va.gov/opa/vetsday/vetdayhistory.asp.

2-Ammer, Christine.  Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers.  New York:  Paragon House, 1989.

 

November 10:  From Headlines to Lyrics Day

On this day in 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a bulk freighter, sank in a storm on Lake Superior.  The entire crew of the Fitzgerald, 29 men, were lost.  Approximately two weeks after the tragedy, singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot read a short Newsweek magazine article on the ship’s sinking.  The first lines of the article read:

According to a legend of the Chippewa tribe, the lake they once called Gitche Gumee ‘never gives up her dead.’ (1)

Inspired by the article and the plight of the Fitzgerald and its crew, Lightfoot began writing what was to become one of popular music’s most recognizable ballads, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”  The opening lines of the song’s lyrics, clearly show the influence of the Newsweek article:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down

Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee

The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead

When the skies of November turn gloomy

Almost one year to the day of the appearance of the article in Newsweek, the song became a number one hit in Lightfoot’s native Canada; the song peaked at number 2 on the U.S. Billboard charts (2).

Gordon Lightfoot is certainly not the only songwriter to mine newspapers and magazines for ideas:

-The lyrics of 1967 Beatles song “A Day in the Life” were inspired by two separate stories that John Lennon read in London newspapers: One about a fatal car accident and the second about a road survey that revealed 4,000 pot holes in the roads of Blackburn, Lancashire.  The song’s opening line is: “I read the news today, oh boy.”

-Janis Ian’s 1975 song “At Seventeen” was inspired by a New York Times article about a debutante.  The article’s opening line was “I learned the truth at 18”; the opening line of Ian’s song is “I learned the truth at 17.”  She changed the number because 18 didn’t scan.

-Alicia Keys’ 2012 song “Girl on Fire” was inspired by a magazine article that Keys read about herself.  The article’s writer Jeannine Amber used the phrase “girl on fire” to describe the singer.  The phrase had such an impact on Keys that she used it not only for inspiration for a song, but also as the title of her fifth studio album.

-The 1956 Elvis song “Heartbreak Hotel” was inspired by a newspaper story about a suicide note.  The man who killed himself left a note that said, “I walk a lonely street.”  This inspired the song’s opening lines, written by Tommy Durden: Well, since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell.  It’s down at the end of lonely street at Heartbreak Hotel.

-The 1973 Tony Orlando and Dawn hit “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round That Old Oak Tree” was inspired by a 1971 story in the The New York Post about a convict returning from prison.  In the story a white handkerchief was tied around the tree. Songwriters Irwin Levine and Larry Brown made the change to a yellow ribbon because they felt it made for a better song. Interestingly, the song went on to inspire a national movement in the 1980s when yellow ribbons became the symbol of American hostages held in Iran.  Fifty-two hostages were held captive for 444 days. (3)

Today’s Challenge:  I Read the News Today

What recent news story might serve as inspiration for a song or a poem?  Look through a recent newspaper or magazine for stories — local, national, or international — that might serve as inspiration for the lyrics of a song or poem.  Use your poetic license as needed to transform the people, places, and events in the news into your own creative work. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1- Gains, James R. and Jon Lowell.  “Great Lakes: The Cruelest Month.”  Newsweek magazine 24 Nov. 1975.

2-Gordon Lightfoot.com. Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. http://gordonlightfoot.com/wreckoftheedmundfitzgerald.shtml.

3-Songfacts.com. Songs Inspired by Newspaper or Magazine Articles. http://www.songfacts.com/category songs_inspired_by_newspaper_or_magazine_articles.php.

 

November 9:  Cold War Day

On this day in 1989, the East German Communist Party opened the Berlin Wall, allowing citizens of East Berlin to freely cross the border that had separated East and West Berlin since the wall went up in 1961.  That night, crowds swarmed the wall and some, armed with picks and hammers, began to dismantle the wall, which had stood as the most powerful symbol of the Cold War.

In 1989 several eastern European nations of the Soviet Union carried out successful anti-Communist revolutions, winning greater autonomy and the right to hold multiparty elections. By December 1991 the Soviet Union ceased to exist and the Cold War was officially over (1).

The term “Cold War” was coined on April 16, 1947, when Bernard Baruch, advisor to presidents on economic and foreign policy, used the term in an address he gave to the South Carolina House of Representatives. Invited to speak in his home state, Baruch selected the topic of the struggle between the two post-World War II superpowers — the United States and the Soviet Union:

Let us not be deceived, we are today in the midst of a cold war. Our enemies are to be found abroad and at home. Let us never forget this: Our unrest is the heart of their success. The peace of the world is the hope and the goal of our political system.; it is the despair and defeat of those who stand against us. We can depend only on ourselves. (2)

Baruch’s term stuck as an apt description of the hostilities between the West and the East that spawned a nuclear arms race but fell short of armed conflict. Below are other words and terms that became a part of the Cold War lexicon, according to the book Twentieth Century Words (3):

Atom Bomb (1945)

fall out (1950)

N.A.T.O. (1950)

deterrent (1954)

conventional weapons (1955)

ICBM (1955)

unilateralism (1955)

Warsaw Pact (1955)

mushroom cloud (1958)

nuke (1959)

Hot and Cold Running Idioms

Below are descriptions of expressions that contain either the word hot or cold. Given the number of words in each expression along with a description, see if you can name the phrase:

  1. Four words: Newly printed; sensational and exciting.
  2. Two words: Immediate, complete withdrawal from something, especially an addictive substance.
  3. Two words: Trouble or difficulty.
  4. Two words: Retreat from an undertaking; lose one’s nerve.
  5. Two words: Deliberate disregard, slight, or snub.
  6. Four words: Extremely angry.
  7. Four words: In a position of extreme stress, as when subjected to harsh criticism.
  8. Five words: To cause one to shiver from fright or horror. (4)

Today’s Challenge:  Hot Potatoes and Cold Turkey

What words, phrases, or titles come to mind when you hear the word “hot” or “cold”?  Brainstorm a list of words, phrases, or titles (songs, movies, or books) that you associate with either “hot” or “cold.” 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 “hot” or “cold” in your title. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3 – Expository and Narrative)

Answers: 1. Hot off the presses 2. Cold turkey 3. Hot water 4. Cold feet 5. cold shoulder 6. Hot under the collar 7. In the hot seat 8. Make one’s blood run cold.

1-Atomic Archive.com. Cold War: A Brief History 2015. http://www.atomicarchive.com/History/coldwar/page22.shtml.

2-History.com. Bernard Baruch Coins the Term ‘Cold War.’ http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bernard-baruch-coins-the-term-cold-war.

3- Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

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

 

November 8:  Backronym Day

On this day in 1983, retired Navy commander Meredith G. Williams (1924-2012) won a “create a new word” contest run by the Washington Post.  Williams’ winning neologism was “backronym” which he defined as the “same as an acronym, except that the words were chosen to fit the letters.”

An example of a backronym is the Apgar score, a rating scale used to evaluate the health of newborn babies.  The test was named for its creator, Virginia Apgar.  Then, years later it became the backronym APGAR, a mnemonic device to help its users remember the test’s key variables:  Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration (APGAR) (1).

So instead of beginning with the letters of already-existing words and phrases and making them into a word, as in the acronym RADAR (“Radio Detection and Ranging”), the creator of a backronym begins with a word and then creates a phrase to match the word’s letters.  For example, the backronym AMBER from the AMBER alert system was named for Amber Hagerman, who was abducted in Texas in 1996.  The official translation for AMBER was invented to fit the name: “America’s Missing:  Broadcast Emergency Response.”

Another example is the USA PATRIOT Act which was signed into law by President George W. Bush on October 26, 2001. The complete translation of the act is  Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct  Terrorism Act of 2001.

Often backronyms are generated for humorous purposes, such as the Microsoft search engine Bing which some called the backronym “Because It’s Not Google,” or the automobile company Ford, which some claimed stood for “Fix Or Repair Daily.”

In 2010 NASA, an acronym for National Aeronautics and Space Administration, created a backronym for the treadmill it uses on the International Space Station.  In honor of comedian Stephen Colbert, the T-2 treadmill became the COLBERT: Combined Operational Load-Bearing External Resistance Treadmill (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Bring Home the Backronyms

What backronym would you create for a proper noun — the name of a company, a geographic place name, or the last name of a person?  Just as Meredith G. Williams participated in a neologism contest, hold your own backronym contest.  Use existing names of people, places, or companies to create backronyms that are funny or serious. (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

1- Dickson, Paul.  Authorisms:  Words Wrought by Writers.  New York:  Bloomsbury, 2014:  26.

2-NASA. Colbert Ready for Serious Exercise. 5 May 2009. http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/behindscenes/colberttreadmill.html.

November 6:  Punctuation Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this day in 2003, one of the all-time bestselling 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:

ES&L.pngA 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, characterized 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.

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 punctuation.  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.  She draws an analogy between musical notation and punctuation; just as musical notes show musicians how to play, punctuation shows readers how to read (1).

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 punctuation (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)

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 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.

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.

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)

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.

Laika went from obscurity to fame as the first cosmonaut; just a week before the launch she was a stray living on the streets of Moscow.  Unfortunately, there never was a plan to return Laika to earth, so the Russian canine was forced to sacrifice her life for the benefit of humanity.  Laika most likely died from overheating within hours of takeoff.  Sputnik 2 continued to orbit the Earth for several months before it burned up in April 1958 upon reentering the atmosphere.

A Chicago newspaper tried to lighten Laika’s passing with a pun:

The Russian sputpup isn’t the first dog in the sky. That honor belongs to the dog star. But we’re getting too Sirius (1).

The launches of the two Sputnik satellites led 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 “dog” 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 cut throat: “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)

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

1-Latson, Jennifer.  “The Sad Story of Laika, the First Dog Launched Into Orbit.”  Time 3 Nov. 2014.   http://time.com/3546215/laika-1957/.

October 26:  Four Word Film Review Day

On this day in 1999, a web developer named Benj Clews had a brief but ingenious idea.  Clews wanted to create a website for movie reviews, but he wanted it to be different.  His idea was to limit the movie reviews to four words or fewer.  That same year he created the website Four Word Film Review, which in the internet tradition of crowdsourcing, invites readers to submit their reviews.  Most of the reviews at www.fwfr.com are not so much reviews as they are new titles, but the fun comes in the wonderful wordplay that results. Puns, alliteration, and adaptations of other film titles are all a part of the creative writing game of making every word count.

For example, here are seven examples of reviews for the film Jaws:

Gulp fiction

Shaw shark retention

Jurassic shark

Shooting barrel in fish

Gil against island

Diet: fish and ships

Amity’s vile horror (1)

Reading four-word movie reviews is fun in itself, but there is also something to be learned here. Shakespeare said that ‘Brevity is the soul of wit.’ In other words, the essence of good writing is economy. As you read four word reviews and begin to write your own, you’ll learn that wordplay can be hard work, but the rewards are satisfying for both you, the writer, and your readers. Also read newspaper headlines and notice how headline writers work with the same kind of wordplay to attract the reader’s attention. A good title is vital, so when you write an essay, take some time to write a short, but sweet, title of four words or fewer.

Today’s Challenge:  Four Word – Fantastic Flair

What are some classic movies or books that you could write four word reviews for?  Create your own four-word film reviews. But don’t stop with movies. Write a four-word review of your favorite book. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1-Clews, Benj and Michael Onesi.  Four Word Film Reviews.  Massachusetts:  Adams Media, 2010.