October 7: Gender-neutral Pronoun Day

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Today is the birthday of C.C. Converse (1832-1918), an American attorney and composer of church music who is perhaps best known for his attempt to fix a glitch in the English language:  its absence of a gender-neutral singular pronoun (1).

The glitch that Converse was attempting to repair can be seen in the following sentences.  Which one sentence would you select as correct?

  1. When a person arrives at work, he should check his phone messages.
  2. When a person arrives at work, she should check her phone messages.
  3. When a person arrives at work, he or she should check his or her phone messages
  4. When a person arrives at work, s/he should check his/er phone messages.
  5. When a person arrives at work, they should check their phone messages.

This is a bit of trick question because each sentence has its own problems.

Sentence A uses the pronoun he, assuming the gender of a person is male.  Although some in the past have argued that the masculine pronoun should become the default generic pronoun, most people today see this as an unacceptably sexist usage.

Sentence B has the same problem as Sentence A.  Some writers will randomly alternate the use of the masculine and feminine pronouns to avoid charges of sexism, but this can be confusing and distracting to the reader.

Sentence C, while attempting to avoid exclusive use of either one or the other pronoun, adds an element of clunkiness by adding the conjunction “or,” especially when used repeatedly.

Sentence D is just plain awkward.

Sentence E creates an ungrammatical situation in which the antecedent of the singular noun person is the plural they and their.

In an attempt to solve the problem, Converse coined the word thon in 1858, blending the two words “that one.”   If we apply Converse’s coinage to our sentence it becomes:

When a person arrives at work, thon should check thons phone messages.

Obviously Converse’s new pronoun didn’t stick; instead, it joined the pool of other pathetic, failed pronouns of the past, such as:  ne, co, xie, per, en, hi, le, hiser, ip.  However, credit is due Converse in that thon is the most successful attempt at a solution to date.  Thon made it into two dictionaries and was actually adopted by some writers, as we can see by this example from a psychology textbook published in 1895 by Henry Graham Williams:

Every student should acquaint thonself with some method by which thon can positively correlate the facts of thons knowledge (1).

As of today we are still stuck without a solution to our pronoun glitch. So, when a person comes upon this thorny thicket in his/her/his or her/their writing, he/she/he or she/they remain without many good options.

Today’s Challenge: Playing with Pronouns & Points of View

When creating a fictional narrative, authors must consider point of view, the lens through which the reader sees and hears the story.  Point of view in fiction correlates to the grammatical point of view of pronouns:

First Person – I:  In the first person point of view, a character in the story is the narrator, which allows the reader to see and experience the plot intimately.  However, just as in our own lives, this can be limiting since we are only privy to the thoughts, experience, and perspective of that single character.

Second Person – You:  In the second person point of view, a character directly addresses “you” the reader, as if the story is a letter.  Like a letter, the effect is a feeling of intimacy, of being talked to directly by the narrator.  The limitation, however, is that you only see and hear what that narrator reveals.

Third Person – He or She:  The third person point of view involves a narrator outside the story who reveals either the thoughts of a single character (3rd person limited) or the thoughts of more than one character (3rd person omniscient). With third person, the voice of the narrator becomes a vital element of revealing a story’s setting and the thoughts of its characters.

If you were to write a story, from what narrative point of view would you tell the story?

Read the Aesop Fable below called “The Cat and the Fox”; then, rewrite it from three different points of view:

1:  First Person – The Cat as narrator.

2:  Second Person – The Cat speaking to the Fox’s family

3:  Third Person Omniscient – A narrator that reveals both the thoughts of the Cat and the Fox.

The Cat and the Fox

A Fox was boasting to a Cat of its clever devices for escaping its enemies. “I have a whole bag of tricks,” he said, “which contains a hundred ways of escaping my enemies.”

“I have only one,” said the Cat; “but I can generally manage with that.” Just at that moment they heard the cry of a pack of hounds coming towards them, and the Cat immediately scampered up a tree and hid herself in the boughs. “This is my plan,” said the Cat. “What are you going to do?” The Fox thought first of one way, then of another, and while he was debating the hounds came nearer and nearer, and at last the Fox in his confusion was caught up by the hounds and soon killed by the huntsmen. Miss Puss, who had been looking on, said:

“Better one safe way than a hundred on which you cannot reckon.” (2)

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1- Dickson, Paul.  Authorisms:  Words Wrought by Writers.  New York:  Bloomsbury, 2014:  166.

2-Aesop Fables. The Harvard Classics 1909-14. Bartleby.com.  Public Domain. https://www.bartleby.com/17/1/38.html.

September 16:  Eponymous Law Day

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Today is the birthday of Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), the author of the book The Peter Principle. Peter was an education professor at the University of Southern California and the University of British Columbia, but he became famous in the field of business when he published The Peter Principle in 1969. The book is full of case histories that illustrate why every organization seems to fall short of reaching maximum productivity and profit. His explanation relates to the corporate mentality that promotes productive workers upward until they achieve positions beyond their ability to perform competently.

Peter’s insights into the organizational structures of businesses were so well-received that The Peter Principle has gone well beyond just the title of a popular book; it has entered the language as an adage, immortalizing its creator. The American Heritage Dictionary records the following definition of the Peter Principle:

The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their highest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent (1).

Laurence Peter is not alone in the world of eponymous lawsa principle or general rule that named for a person.  Below are some examples of other eponymous laws or principles:

Ockham’s Razor

Murphy’s Law

The Dilbert Principle

Hofstadter’s Law 

Parkinson’s Law

Amara’s Law

Stigler’s Law of Eponymy .

Today’s Challenge:  Laying Down the Law

What are some general rules or principles that you have noticed based on your experience of living in the real world?  Attach your name to the one that you think is the most original and most insightful.  Then, explain and define your law, and give examples of when and where the law comes into play and how it can assist people in living better lives. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Example:

Backman’s Law of Student Speeches:   The likelihood of a sudden, unexpected, and unexplainable attack of laryngitis increases the closer a student approaches the period or time when he or she is required to give a speech.

This law helps one anticipate the strange phenomenon which renders students incapable of giving their assigned speeches. Debilitated by the sudden onset of speechlessness, a student will hobble into class and approach the teacher.  Pointing to his throat and frowning pathetically, the student will then bravely make an attempt to utter a single sentence.  Risking further throat injury, the student will whisper, “I don’t think I’m going to be able -cough! cough! – to go today.” The student will then turn and limp to his seat.  The bout of laryngitis usually ends at the tolling of the class’s final bell, miraculously disappearing just as suddenly as it appeared sixty minutes earlier. Multiple medical studies by reputable research centers have failed to determine a reasonable cause for this debilitating yet temporary affliction; however, a team of research scientists at John Hopkins is currently conducting a study that promises to produce some breakthrough findings.

1 – American Heritage Dictionary. Peter Principle. 5th Edition 2018. https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=Peter+principle&submit.x=0&submit.y=0.

September 14: Anthem Day

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On this day, “by the dawn’s light,” Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics to the United States’ national anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.”  The inspiration for Key’s great words was the British fleet’s shelling of Fort McHenry, which guarded the harbor of Baltimore, Maryland.  The year was 1814, and the war was the War of 1812.  Key watched the bombardment from an odd perspective.  An American lawyer, Key had boarded a British ship prior to the battle to negotiate the release of another American being held by the British.  Once on the ship, Key was detained by the British until the battle ended the next morning. Key’s vantage point was from the enemy’s side, where the British fleet aimed its guns at the flag flying over the American fort, a flag that at that time had 15 stars and 15 stripes.

A few days after Key wrote his poem, it was published in American newspapers.  Soon people began singing the poem’s words to the tune of an English drinking song, “To Anacreon in Heaven.”  The song did not become the national anthem immediately, however.  More than one hundred years later, in 1931, the U.S. Congress made it the official anthem (1).

Key’s words are so familiar that we seldom examine the remarkable picture he illuminates with his imagery.  Read them again, paying special attention to how he evokes both pictures and sounds:

O say can you see by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,

Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;

O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave? (2)

Today’s Challenge:  An A+ Alternative Anthem

An anthem is a rousing, reverential song of devotion or loyalty to a group, a school, or a nation.  While the “Star-Spangled Banner” is certainly reverential, many have criticized it as a song that is too difficult to sing. What would you argue would be a good alternative national anthem?  Identify the specific song, its composer, and your specific reasoning for making this song the alternative national anthem. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Bennet, William and John Cribb.  The American Patriot’s Almanac. New York:  Thomas Nelson, 2008: 350.

2- Key, Francis Scott, 1779-1843. “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Public Domain.

September 2:  Presidential Proverb Day

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On this day in 1901, Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech at the Minnesota State Fair where he used a line that was to become famously associated with him:  “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Roosevelt was Vice President at the time, but he became the youngest president ever just eight days later when President William McKinley died from an assassin’s bullet.

In his speech, Roosevelt did not claim that his metaphor was original, but he did extend the metaphor to illustrate how it applied to foreign policy:

A good many of you are probably acquainted with the old proverb, “Speak softly and carry a big stick – you will go far.” If a man continually blusters, if he lacks civility, a big stick will not save him from trouble, and neither will speaking softly avail, if back of the softness there does not lie strength, power. In private life there are few beings more obnoxious than the man who is always loudly boasting, and if the boaster is not prepared to back up his words, his position becomes absolutely contemptible. So it is with the nation. (1)

As President, Roosevelt practiced what he preached, “speaking softly” by negotiating peacefully with other nations while wielding the “big stick” of a strong military.  One clear example of this was “The Great White Fleet,” an armada of sixteen battleships that circumnavigated the globe to demonstrate the Unites States’ military might. More than just a masterful politician, Roosevelt was a historian, biographer, and author of more than 25 books (2).

Roosevelt is not the only president to practice his powers of rhetoric. Below are a few other vivid examples:

Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.

-Abraham Lincoln

What counts is not necessarily the size of the dog in the fight – it’s the size of the fight in the dog.  -Dwight D. Eisenhower

Old minds are like old horses; you must exercise them if you wish to keep them in working order.  -John Adams

If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you’ll make progress. -Barack Obama

Today’s Challenge:  Wisdom from the Whitehouse

What would you argue is the smartest thing ever said by a United States president?  Argue for one of the quotations on this page, or research another one on your own.  Make your case by explaining your reasoning.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Roosevelt, Theodore. Address at Minnesota State Fair, Sept. 2, 1901. Public Domain.

2-Welter, Ben. Sept. 3, 1901: Roosevelt ‘Big Stick’ Speech at State Fair. Star Tribune 3 Sep. 2014.

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.

June 26:  Personal Pronoun Day

On this day in 1963, John Lennon and Paul McCartney began composing the song “She Loves You.”  They began on their tour bus, continued work in their hotel room in Newcastle, and finished the following day at the home of Paul’s father in Liverpool.

When they finished the song, John and Paul played it for Paul’s father, Jim McCartney.  His response was: “That’s very nice son, but there’s enough of these Americanisms around. Couldn’t you sing ‘She loves you, yes, yes, yes!’?”  (1).

In his biography of Paul McCartney entitled Many Years From Now, Barry Miles quotes Paul, discussing the song’s grammar:

“It was again a she, you, me, I, personal preposition song. I suppose the most interesting thing about it was that it was a message song, it was someone bringing a message. It wasn’t us any more, it was moving off the ‘I love you, girl’ or ‘Love me do’, it was a third person, which was a shift away. ‘I saw her, and she said to me, to tell you, that she loves you, so there’s a little distance we managed to put in it which was quite interesting.”

Of course, Paul should have said personal pronoun, not preposition.

When it comes to rock songs and pronouns, who can forget the Grammar Rock Pronoun song?  It tells just about everything you need to know about pronouns and why we use them.

Today’s Challenge:  Grammar Rock

What are some examples of your favorite songs that have pronouns in their titles?  Create a list of your top 5 favorite songs with pronouns in their titles.  Include the artist and a brief explanation of why you like the song. If you are a Beatles fan you might list the following examples:  “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I, Me, Mine,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.  -Lyrics from I Am the Walrus

1 – http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/she-loves-you/

-For more on the Beatles and pronouns, check out the following article:  I Me Mine:  The Beatles and Their Pronouns.

 

June 9:  Horse Racing Metaphor Day

On this day in 1973, something happened that had not happened in over two decades: a horse won racing’s Triple Crown. The name of the horse was Secretariat, and he didn’t just win the Belmont Stakes, he annihilated the competition, winning by an amazing 31 lengths. Other horses have won the Triple Crown since, but never has there been such a dominant performance on horse racing’s main stage.

After the race, Secretariat’s jockey Ron Turcotte was as surprised as anyone at his horse’s amazing performance, saying “I know this sounds crazy, but the horse did it by himself. I was along for the ride” (1).

You might say that Secretariat won “hands down.” If you did, you would be using an idiom that means “with no trouble, easily,” and it would be an especially appropriate idiom because the expression originates with horse racing. A jockey who is ahead of the other horses will relax his grip on the reins and drop his hands.

Many other idioms (expressions that mean something different from the literal meaning of the individual words) in English relate to horses and horse racing, such as:

Horse sense, Beat a dead horse, Darkhorse, Hold your horses, A horse of a different color, On your high horse, Straight from the horse’s mouth, Horse around

In addition to horses, English features a whole menagerie of beastly idioms.

Examples:  

As the crow flies, bee in your bonnet, bird’s eye view, can of worms, cold turkey, dog and pony show, dog eat dog, the early bird catches the worm, eat crow, the elephant in the room, fish or cut bait, a fish out of water, a fly in the ointment, hornets’ nest, kangaroo court, lame duck, lone wolf, monkey business, night owl, spring chicken, one-trick pony, puppy love, putting the cart before the horse, rat race, red herring, sacred cow, sitting duck, topdog, ugly duckling, water off a duck’s back, white elephant, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink

Today’s Challenge:  Your Best Beastly Bet to Win, Place, or Show

What are some examples of idioms in English that feature animals?  In horse racing, the terms win, place, and show are betting terms.  If you bet on a horse to “win,” the horse must place first; if you bet on a horse to “show,” the horse must place first or second; and if you bet on a horse to “show,” the horse must finish first, second, or third.  Select your top three animal-related metaphors. Imagine you were writing to a person for whom English is a second language, and write an explanation of the meaning of each idiom. Also, give examples of how each might be used in a sentence. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Horse sense is a good judgment which keeps horses from betting on people. -W.C. Fields

1 – http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016464.html

2- Ammer, Christine. Southpaws & Sunday Punches:  And Other Sporting Expressions.

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.