May 20:  Phonetic Alphabet Day

Today is the anniversary of the first Armed Forces Day, established by President Harry S. Truman in 1950. The new holiday stemmed from the unification of the Army, Navy, and Air Force under the Department of Defense, which was activated in 1947 and is still headquartered at the Pentagon.

In his Presidential Proclamation establishing Armed Forces Day, President Truman said the following:

Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America’s defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.

In addition to expressing the unification of the armed forces, this holiday was intended to be an opportunity to educate civilians as to the role of the military, to show off the hardware of the military, and to honor the men and women serving in the armed forces.

The goal of the establishment of the Department of Defense was improved cooperation and communication between the armed services. One element of this cooperation, and especially this communication, is the NATO Phonetic Alphabet (1).

Although the alphabet we use today helps children achieve literacy, the 26 letters of the alphabet are not a full representation of all the sounds in English. A quick glance at any dictionary’s pronunciation chart will reveal 45-50 different pronunciations of English letters and letter combinations. In fact, even the 26 letters are not truly phonetic representations. For example, try writing out each of the letters: Aye, Bee, Sea, Dee, Eee, Ef, Gee, Aych . . . . As you can see, the letter C begins with an “S” sound and the letter F, begins with an “E” sound.

As a result of the non-phonetic nature of the English alphabet, verbal communication that is not face-to-face can be a problem. To improve verbal communication over telephone and radio, the armed forces adopted the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. In this alphabet, each letter is assigned a standard code word so that, if necessary, words can be spelled out clearly and unambiguously regardless of individual accent or communication interference.

Alpha

Bravo

Charlie

Delta

Echo

Foxtrot

Golf

Hotel

India

Juliet

Kilo

Mike

November

Oscar

Papa

Quebec

Romeo

Sierra

Tango

Uniform

Victor

Whiskey

X-ray

Yankee

Zulu

Today’s Challenge: Put (PAPA-UNIFORM-TANGO) Your Initials on the Alphabet

What words would you use for each of the 26 letters in your own phonetic alphabet?  The NATO Phonetic Alphabet we have today has evolved over time. For example, in World War II, the joint Army/Navy alphabet looked like this:

Alfa Bravo Coca Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliett Kilo Lima Metro Nectar Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Union Victor Whisky Extra Yankee Zulu

In celebration of Armed Forces Day and in celebration of clear communication, create your own phonetic alphabet. Make each word memorable, but also try to make sure that each word you pick clearly corresponds to the pronunciation of each letter.

Quotation of the Day: Whoever said the pen is mightier than the sword obviously never encountered automatic weapons. -General Douglas MacArthur

1- United States Department of Defense:http://www.defenselink.mil/afd/

May 4: Variety of English Day

On this day in 1976, Australia adopted “Waltzing Matilda” as its national anthem(1).

Original Waltzing Matilda manuscript.jpgAccording to the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the official national anthem became “Advance Australia Fair” in 1984 and at various times in Australian history the nation adopted the British anthem “God Save the Queen.” However, whether or not it is the official anthem, few would argue that at the very least “Waltzing Matilda” is the unofficial anthem.

The lyrics were written by Banjo Paterson in1895. However, like many folk songs, it’s virtually impossible to document the time or place of the tune’s origin.

The song is a reflection of the unique variety of Australian English that springs from three main sources: borrowed words from the Aborigines, archaic British words, and finally words that have evolved out of the unique geography and history of the Aussies.

The British first established a penal colony at Botany Bay in 1788.  Additional British colonies were established up to 1901, when the colonies voted to unite into a single nation, independent of Britain.  In both World Wars, Australia fought on the British side. Since World War II, Australia and the United States have been strong allies.

Unlike the lyrics to the U.S. national anthem, the words to “Waltzing Matilda” are not exactly clear.  In fact, for someone unfamiliar with Australian English, the lyrics of “Waltzing Matilda” read like “Jabberwocky.” With the glossary of key terms listed below, from the National Library of Australia, you can begin to make sense of the song’s story.

Waltzing Matilda

Once a jolly swagman camped by a billabong,

Under the shade of a coolibah tree,

And he sang as he watched and waited ’til his billy boiled

“Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda

Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me

And he sang as he watched and waited ’til his billy boiled,”

Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?”

Along came a jumbuck to drink at the billabong,

Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee,

And he sang as he stowed that jumbuck in his tucker bag,

“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”.

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda

Who’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me

And he sang as he stowed that jumbuck in his tucker bag,

“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me?”.

Up rode the squatter, mounted on his thoroughbred,

Down came the troopers, one, two, three,

“Whose is that jumbuck you’ve got in your tucker bag?”

“You’ll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me”.

WALTZING MATILDA: The act of carrying the ‘swag’ (an alternate colloquial term is ‘humping the bluey’).

BILLABONG:  A blind channel or meander leading out from a river.

COOLIBAH:  Sometimes spelled coolabah: a species of gum or eucalyptus tree.

SWAGMAN:  An Australian tramp, so called on account of the ‘swag’, usually a chaff bag, containing his ‘billy’, provisions and blankets.

BILLY:  An open topped tin can, with a wire carrying handle, used as a kettle for boiling water into which tea was thrown.

TUCKER BAG:  A bag for ‘tucker’ or food; part of the ‘swag’.

JUMBUCK:  A sheep. The term is a corruption of ‘jump up’ (Macquarie Dictionary, 3rd rev. ed. Sydney: Macquarie, 2001)

SQUATTER:  A grazier, or station (ranch) owner. Note that the meaning of the word changed later in the twentieth century to mean a person who occupied or resided at a property illegally. (2)

Today’s Challenge: Variety is the Spice of Language

What are some examples of the subcategories or dialects of the English language?  The English language has grown to become the dominant world language through two historical movements.  First, there was the expansion of the British Empire in the 19th century. Second, there was the expansion of the United States as a world economic power in the 20th century.   Although there are more native speakers of the Chinese language than native English speakers (982 million for Chinese versus 375 million for English), there are more total speakers of the English language than any other language (1,500 million).  The next closest for total speakers is Chinese with 1,100 total speakers (2).

David Crystal’s Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, identifies eight distinct varieties (or dialects) of World Standard English:

American English

British and Irish English

Canadian English

Australian, New Zealand, and South Pacific English

East Asian English

South Asian English

West, East, and South African English

Caribbean English (3)

Research one of these varieties of English and write a brief report on what makes this variety distinctive from other forms of English.  Include some details on the variety’s historical influence and evolution as an English dialect, as well as some examples of specific words from the dialect. (Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Viewed freely, the English language is the accretion and growth of every dialect, race, and range of time, and is both the free and compacted composition of all. -Walt Whitman

1 – Frewin, Anthony. The Book of Days. London: Collins, 1979.

2-https://www.statista.com/statistics/266808/the-most-spoken-languages-worldwide/

3-Crystal, David. Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language, 1995.

 

April 22 – Earth Idiom Day

April 22nd has been recognized as Earth Day ever since 1970, the same year that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was established. On a day where many people are focused on preserving green space and maintaining clean drinking water, we will look at the relationship between the Big Blue Marble and our language.

Earth Day Flag.pngLet’s begin by looking at some ‘roots.’

The Latin root for earth is terra, as in terra firma = “firm ground.” It’s the root found in words like subterranean, terrestrial, extraterrestrial, and terrarium.

The Greek root for earth is geo, as in geography, geology, and geopolitics.

On Earth Day, each of us becomes an Antaeus. Do you remember him from Greek mythology? He was the son of Gaia (Mother Earth) and Poseidon (god of the sea). Antaeus was an undefeated wrestler until he met up with Hercules, who was able to figure out his weakness. Even Hercules had trouble defeating the great wrestler until he lifted Antaeus’ legs from the earth. When he did this, Antaeus became powerless. As a result, Antaeus is a powerful metaphor for those who realize that their strength and very survival depends on Mother Earth.

Our daily conversations are well ‘grounded’ in earth metaphors. A number of idioms (expressions of two or more words that mean something different from the literal meaning of the individual words) use the earth as a metaphor. Below are a few examples using the words “earth” and “ground” from The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms (1).

EARTH

down to earth, four corners of the earth, move heaven and earth, not have an earthly chance, salt of the earth, heaven on earth, hell on earth, ends of the earth, wipe off the face of the earth

GROUND

both feet on the ground, break ground, common ground, ear to the ground, from the ground up, gain ground, hit the ground running, happy hunting ground, run into the ground, stand one’s ground, worship the ground, someone walks on

Today’s Challenge: Clear as Mud

What are some examples of English idioms containing the words mud, grass, dust, dirt, trees, or water? Celebrate Earth Day by mining the language for expressions (idioms) containing the words listed below. Try to come up with as many as you can for each word:

mud, grass, dust, dirt, trees, water

Brainstorm a number of Earth-related idioms.  Identify three idioms that you think would be particularly curious for someone for whom English is a second language.  Write your three idioms, along with explanations of their meaning. Also, give an example sentence of each, showing how it might be used by a native English speaker. (Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Imperious Caesar. dead and turn’d to clay, Might stop a hole to keep the wind away: O, that that earth, which kept the world in awe, Should patch a wall to expel the winter’s flaw! –William Shakespeare in Hamlet: Act V, Scene 1

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

March 21:  Serial Comma Day

Today is the birthday of American editor and writer Teresa Nielsen Hayden, who was born in Mesa, Arizona in 1956.

Hayden is credited with one of the most famous examples cited in the serial comma debate, a debate about whether to use or omit the comma that comes before the final conjunction in a list.  For example, should you write, “I bought some apples, oranges and bananas,” or should you write, “I bought some apple, oranges, and bananas”? To exemplify her case for using the serial comma, Hayden presents the following exhibit, a hypothetical book dedication:  

“To my parents, Ayn Rand and God.”  

As proponents of the serial comma argue, the omission of the comma before the conjunction results in ambiguity.  As illustrated in Hayden’s example, a reader might misinterpret the “Ayn Rand and God” as an appositive, identifying the writer’s parents.

Those who argue for eschewing the serial comma — also known as the Oxford comma or the Harvard comma — claim that the presence of the final conjunction makes the use of the comma superfluous.  Most proponents of the serial comma will concede that in most cases omission of the comma does not create ambiguity; however, they promote consistent use in order to avoid the unintended confusion and hilarity that can sometimes occur when it is left out.  To illustrate this Teresa Nielsen Hayden cites another example she found in a newspaper article reviewing a documentary about Merle Haggard. The article stated, “Among those interviewed were his two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson and Robert Duvall” (1).

Another argument for the consistent use of the serial comma comes from a 2017 court case in Maine.  The delivery drivers for the Oakhurst Dairy contended that the law regarding overtime pay was ambiguous.  The law stated that overtime rules did not apply to:  “The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution.”

The drivers argued that the omission of the final comma indicated that the phrase addressed only the packing of the goods “for shipment or distribution,” not the actual distribution of the goods by truck.  Their conclusion, therefore, was that the omission of this single comma made them eligible for overtime compensation. In its 29-page court decision, the United States Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the delivery drivers, awarding them their overtime compensation.  For lack of a single comma, the Maine dairy was forced to pay out nearly $10 million (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Think in Threes – Ready, Set, Go!

What are some examples of things that come in threes?  The most frequent use of the serial comma is for lists of three.  Brainstorm some examples of well-known trios, trilogies, or triads.  Consider people, places, things, or ideas. Once you have generated a good list, select and rank your top three threes.  You might say your gold, silver, and bronze medal trios. Identify and define each of your trios, and explain why each is worthy of three cheers. (Common Core 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again. -Oscar Wilde

1-http://nielsenhayden.com/makinglight/archives/012652.html

2-https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/us/oxford-comma-lawsuit.html?_r=2

 

February 27: Irony Day

On this date in 1996, singer songwriter Alanis Morissette released her song “Ironic,” a song from her album Jagged Little Pill.  Although the song was a hit, reaching number 4 on the Billboard Top 100, the song’s title “Ironic” is a misnomer.  As you can see by the lyrics of  the song’s chorus, for example, the situations described may be unfortunate, but they are not ironic:

A woman in silhouette singing and bending down with the microphone. The silhouette background is filled with red lights and shadows, and the words "Alanis", "Morissette" and "Ironic" are written in white cursive letters at the bottom half of the image.It’s like rain on your wedding day

It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid

It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take

Who would’ve thought, it figures

To understand the concept of irony, it’s necessary to understand its various forms, forms that relate to spoken language (Verbal Irony), to real life situations (Situational Irony), and to literary situations (Dramatic Irony):

Verbal Irony:  A type of figurative language where someone intentionally says one thing while meaning another thing, usually the exact opposite.  This usually involves the use of overstatement or understatement, as in “I can’t wait to get home and get to work on my 10 hours of homework” or “Yeah, Michael Jordan is pretty good basketball player.”  One specific subclass of verbal irony is sarcasm, which is irony that is used to insult or to cause harm.

Situational Irony:  Irony that involves a situation in which actions have an effect that is opposite from what was intended or when there is a discrepancy between what is expected to happen and what actually happens.  For example, rain on your wedding day is not ironic but a fire station that burns down is.

Dramatic Irony:  This type of irony occurs in fiction and involves events in a story where the audience is aware of something that the characters in the story are not.  For example, in Romeo and Juliet this occurs when Juliet’s father and mother are planning her wedding to Paris.  The audience knows that Juliet is already married to Romeo, but the Capulets are clueless.

Based on these definitions we can conclude that the only thing ironic about Morissette’s song is that a song that is entitled “Ironic” contains nothing ironic.

Probably the best thing about Morissette’s song is that it spawned a website devoted entirely to the topic of irony called IsItIronic.com.  Founded by Paul Lowton in 2006, the mission of IsItIronic.com is to provide a writer’s resource for definitions and examples of irony.  At the site, readers can submit their own questions, such as “Is it ironic that there was a hotdog eating contest to raise money for obesity awareness?”  Readers at the website are also invited to calibrate their own sense of true irony by voting on the questions submitted.  

The following are irony questions submitted by readers.  Each is followed by the percentage of readers who answered, “Yes, it is ironic.”:

Is it ironic if you have a phobia of long words you have to tell people that you have hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliophobia?  (91%)

Is it ironic that: It takes sadness to know what happiness is.. It takes noise to appreciate silence, and absence to value presence”? (63%)

Is it ironic that a student spells every word on a spelling test wrong except for the word illiterate? (85%)

Is it ironic that I cut myself on a first aid box? (84%)

Is it ironic that a tree dedicated to George Harrison has been killed by Beetles? (65%)

Today’s Challenge:  A Tale That’s Dripping With Irony

What is a story you have heard or a personal experience you have had that involves real irony?  Tell a story that contains one of the three forms of irony.  It may be a true story based on your experiences, a story you have heard second hand, or a fictional anecdote you create.

Quotation of the Day:  The supreme irony of life is that hardly anyone gets out of it alive. -Robert A. Heinlein

1-http://www.isitironic.com/alanis-morissette.htm

February 25: Bunk Day

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

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

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

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

Today’s Challenge:  Debunk A Myth

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

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

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

-English is the official language of the United States.

-The meanings of words always remains the same.

-Slang is ruining the English language.

-There is only one English language.

-You should never end a sentence with a preposition.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

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

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

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

 

February 22:  Homophone Day

Today is a day of triple 2s:  2/22.  It’s a day we might think of those words in English that are pronounced alike but that are spelled differently, such as two, to, and too.  Homophones are a double edged sword.  On one side they add an enormous level of difficulty to English spelling.  For example, even if you have the spelling of a word “write,” you still have to check to make sure you have the “right” homophone.  On the other side, however, they also allot writers a lot of opportunities to create puns.  For example, you might have heard the old joke:

Why did the father who willed his three boys his cattle ranch demand that they name it “Focus”?

Because it was where the “sons raise meat” (sun’s rays meet).

Most homophones come in pairs (as in knew and new), but like to, two, and too, there are several triple homophones.  Here is a sample list:

aisle, I’ll, isle

aye, eye, I

bole, boll, bowl

cent, scent, sent

cite, sight, site

dew, do, due

for, fore, four

gnu, knew, new

idle, idol, idyll

meat, meet, mete

pare, pair, pear

peak, peek, pique

poor, pore, pour

raise, rays, raze

their, there, they’re

vane, vain, vein

way, weigh, whey

write, right, rite

Today’s Challenge:  Triple Word Play

What are some examples of triple homophones that vex writers, and how can you explain the correct usage of each word?  Select a trio of homophones and research the correct usages of each.  Then, write a clear explanation that explains clearly how each different spelling matches up with the correct meaning and usage of each word.  Below is an example that explains the homophones to, too, and two.

To:  To is a preposition, as in “Today I went to the store.”  It is also frequently used before a verb to form the infinitive, as in Today I hope to buy some new shoes.

Too:  Too can be used as a synonym for “also” as in I’m planning to go to college, too.  Too is also used to indicate excessiveness, as in My teacher gave me too much homework last night.

Two:  Two is used to spell out the number 2, as in, We bought two lobsters for dinner last night.

Use each of the three words correctly in a single sentence looks like this:

I wanted to eat two peppers, but I couldn’t because they were too spicy.

Quotation of the Day: I’m the Whether Man, not the Weather Man, for after all it’s more important to know whether there will be weather than what the weather will be. -Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

 

February 16: Sports Quotations Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Challenge: The Sports Section

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

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

1 – The Biography Channel “John McEnroe.”http://www.thebiographychannel.co.uk/biography_story/141:459/1/John_McEnroe.htm

 

February 13:  Poetic Definition Day

On this date in 1890, the English writer Samuel Butler (1835-1902) presented a lecture in London entitled “Thought and Language.”  Butler was a novelist, a satirist, and a translator.  In 1898 and 1900 respectively, he translated both the Iliad and the Odyssey from the original Greek into English prose.  

Samuel Butler by Charles Gogin.jpgIn his 1890 lecture, Butler addressed age-old questions about the evolution of human language and whether or not language and reason are exclusive to the human species, as opposed to other animals.  In the course of his discussion of language, he presented a metaphorical definition of the word definition, presenting the reader with a fascinating figurative image:

Definitions . . . are like steps cut in a steep slope of ice, or shells thrown onto a greasy pavement; they give us foothold, and enable us to advance, but when we are at our journey’s end we want them no longer (2).

Another poetic definition – again of the word definition – is found in Butler’s Note-Books, which were published posthumously in 1912:

A definition is the enclosing a wilderness of ideas within a wall of words.

Butler’s poetic definitions remind us of the power of figurative language to help us to understand new ideas based on comparisons to old, familiar things, as well as its power to help us to see old ideas in new ways based on fresh comparisons.  Certainly the literal, textbook definitions of words are helpful, allowing us to grasp new ideas in objective black and white.  But metaphor, simile, analogy, and personification provide such powerful subjective imagery that it is as if a spotlight is shining down, illuminating ideas so that they stand out in vivid color.

Today’s Challenge:  A Lexicographer Walked Into a Bard

What are some aspects of language that might be defined using figurative language, such as words, language, speech, writing, reading, dictionaries, the alphabet, specific parts of speech, grammar, syntax, etc?  Read the poetic definitions below, noticing how each writer uses different types of figurative language to define different aspects of language.  Then, craft your own poetic definition using metaphor, simile, analogy, or personification.

Language is the amber in which a thousand precious and subtle thoughts have been safely embedded and preserved. -Richard Chenevix Trench

The etymologists finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture.  Language is fossil poetry. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Language is a city to the building of which every human being brought a stone. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ideas are enclosed and almost bound in words like precious stones in a ring. -Giacomo Leopardi

Speech is the messenger of the heart. -Hebrew Proverb

Human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap out tunes that can make bears dance, when we would move the stars. -Gustave Flaubert

Geometry is to sculpture what grammar is to the art of the writer. -Guillaume Apollinaire

The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech.  -Clifton Fadiman

Dictionaries are like watches:  the worst is better than none, and the best cannot be expected to go quite true. -Samuel Johnson

Writing enables us to find out what we know — and what we don’t know — about whatever we’re trying to learn.  Putting an idea into written words is like defrosting the windshield:  the idea, so vague out there in the murk, slowly begins to gather itself into shape. –William Zinsser (3)

(Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Life is like music, it must be composed by ear, feeling and instinct, not by rule. -Samuel Butler

1-http://www.victorianweb.org/science/butler.html

2-http://www.authorama.com/essays-on-life-art-and-science-9.html

3- Crystal, David and Hilary Crystal:  Words on Words:  Quotations About Language and Languages.

February 11:  Gerrymander Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

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

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