November 2:  Cheerleading Day

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

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

Today’s Challenge:  Pep Talk

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

1-Being a Cheerleader – History of Cheerleading. Varsity.com. 20 Oct. 2014. http://www.varsity.com/event/1261/being-a-cheerleader-history.

October 31:  Thesis Day

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

Today is Halloween, but the most famous individual to approach a door on this date was not dressed in a costume. The year was 1517, and the man approaching the door was a 34-year-old Augustinian monk named Martin Luther.  The door he approached was not a residence; rather, it was a church door in Wittenberg, German.  Instead of knocking on the door, Luther nailed a list of 95 theses to the church door.   It was this single act by one man that sparked a religious revolution called the Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther by Cranach-restoration.tifIn the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church was the dominant church in Europe.  Since Christianity had become the official religion of the Roman Empire in 325 AD, the church had grown in both political and spiritual power.  In 1513 Leo X became Pope and began plans to rebuild St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome, the headquarters of the Catholic Church.  To raise funds for this major project, the decision was made to sell indulgences, the church’s promise that an individual could escape God’s judgment in the afterlife in exchange for money in this one.

It was the act of selling indulgences as well as other corruption in the church, that sparked Martin Luther’s act of nailing his 95 theses.  As a monk lecturing at the University of Wittenberg in Germany, Luther believed that forgiveness of sins could only come from God, and that unchecked power had caused the church to lose sight of it biblical foundation.

Luther’s 95 theses, written in Latin, challenged the authority of the Pope, calling for an end to indulgences, corruption, and decadence — and a return a proper spiritual focus.

For his act, Luther was charged with heresy and was excommunicated from the church.  Luther’s cause did not die, however.  Aided by the printing press, which had been invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1439, copies of Luther’s theses were circulated throughout Europe.  The “protest” movement that resulted became the Protestant Reformation, which spawned numerous Christian sects that rejected the authority of the Roman Church (1).

Just as Martin Luther stated what he believed in his 95 theses, an essay’s thesis must clearly sum up what the essay’s author believes, the writer’s core argument.

Margaret Heffernan, in her 2012 TED Talk entitled “Dare to Disagree,” emphasizes the importance of knowing what you believe and being prepared to defend and debate it.  In her talk Heffernan also alludes to students at the University of Delft, The Netherlands, who must “submit five statements that they’re prepared to defend” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Thesis Under Construction

What is a thesis — a debatable statement of what you believe — that you believe in strongly enough to defend?  Brainstorm some topics that you believe in strongly.  Then, craft five thesis statements that you would be prepared to defend.  To help you craft your theses, read the “Three Things a Thesis Does” below and make sure that each of your theses do those three things.

Three Things A Thesis Does:

  1. States a debatable claim (an opinion) – “What you believe”
  2. Provides reasoning to support the claim – “Why you believe it”
  3. Combines the “What” and the “Why” into at least one clear, complete sentence.

Examples:  

Gun control laws should be further tightened because guns do not deter crime.

Gun control laws should not be further tightened because gun control laws punish only law-abiding citizens.

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Marsh, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  365:  Your Date with History.  Cambridge, UK:  Totem Books, 2004.

2-Heffernan, Margaret. Dare To Disagree. TED 2012. http://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_dare_to_disagree/transcript?language=en#t-614227.

October 5:  Epistrophe Day

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

On this day in 1988, a candidate for the United States vice-president made one of the more memorable and rhetorically nuanced retorts in political history.  The Democratic candidate was Lloyd Bentsen.  His opponent was Republican candidate Dan Quayle, a younger and much less experience candidate than Bentsen.  It was inevitable that Quayle’s lack of experience would come up in the debate.  When it did, Quayle made a historical comparison, saying he had as much experience as did John F. Kennedy before he was elected president. Bentsen seemed to anticipate the comparison and pounced:

Senator, I served with Jack Kennedy. I knew Jack Kennedy. Jack Kennedy was a friend of mine. Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.

Bentsen’s response was not only the most memorable line in the entire debate, it was also the most memorable line ever from any vice-presidential debate.  Even more, it might just be the most memorable line ever from a political debate.

It’s not just the repetition of “Jack Kennedy” that gives the quip its force; it’s also the placement of the name. Notice that of the four times “Jack Kennedy” is repeated, three of them are at the end of a clause.  Each time Bentsen repeats the name, it echoes, like the sound of gavel pounding on a judge’s bench.

This rhetorical repeater is called epistrophe (eh-PIS-tro-fee), and it’s simply defined as repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive phrases or clauses.  It’s the exact opposite of anaphora, repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases or clauses (See August 28: Anaphora Day)(1).

If you want to write well, learn to use epistrophe.  If you want your sentences to resonate with your reader, learn to use epistrophe.  If you want to add a pleasing rhythm to your sentences — punctuating them with a key idea — learn to use epistrophe.

Great writers and great speakers use epistrophe to make their sentences more rhythmic and more dramatic.

Here are two examples:

. . . that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.  -Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (1863)

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing his hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”  -Jacob Marley’s ghost in Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (1843)

Today’s Challenge:  Save the Best for Last

Epistrophe is especially effective when you want to emphasize and drum home a concept or idea.  What is a basic concept that all children should be taught, either in school or out of school, such as manners, creativity, patience, or dental hygiene? Brainstorm a list of possible concepts.  Then, write a catchy, but brief, Public Service Announcement (PSA) on the one concept you think is most important and why you think it is most important.  Use epistrophe to make you PSA unforgettable and to leave your concept echoing in the mind of your audience long after they have listened to it. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1-Farnsworth, Ward.  Farnsworth’s Classical English Rhetoric.  Boston:  David R. Godine, 2011:  32.

 

September 26:  Debate Day

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

On this day in 1960, the first-ever televised presidential debate was held in Chicago.  Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy and Republican candidate Richard M. Nixon squared off before an audience of more than 65 million viewers.

This debate revealed the power of television as a modern medium for politics.  Radio listeners awarded the debate to Nixon, but the much larger television audience gave the prize to Kennedy.  In contrast to Kennedy’s relaxed, confident appearance, Nixon looked glum and sweaty.  In addition to a more youthful, vigorous appearance, Kennedy also seemed more at ease with the new medium, looking at the TV camera to address the American viewers.  Nixon, however, instead of looking into the TV camera, turned to Kennedy, addressing his comments solely to his opponent.

It’s these small factors that probably gave Kennedy the edge, not only in the debates, but also in the election.  He won the presidency in November 1960 by one of the smallest margins in U.S. presidential history (1).  Nixon ran for president again, winning the 1968 and 1972 elections for president.  In both of these winning campaigns, Nixon declined all invitations to debate his opponent.

Today’s Challenge:   Abecedarian Debate Topics

Abecedarian is an adjective meaning “of or related to the alphabet.”  On this 26th day of the month, it’s appropriate to turn to the alphabet, covering your subject from A to Z.  What are the best topics for a debate — timely or timeless topics that are controversial enough to spark a two-sided argument?  Your challenge is to generate at least 26 different possible debate topics, one topic for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.

September 23:  Pathos Day

On this day, two emotionally charged speeches about dogs were given more than 50 years apart.

The first was a closing argument from a trial in 1870.  Attorney George Graham Vest was representing a client whose hunting dog, Old Drum, had been killed by a neighboring sheep farmer. Instead of addressing the specific facts of the case, Vest took another approach, an emotional appeal to the faithful nature not just of Old Drum, but all dogs:

Gentlemen of the jury: A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world.

Vest won the case and Old Drum’s owner was awarded $50. Today a statue of the dog and a plaque with Vest’s speech are located in front of the courthouse in Warrensburg, Missouri (1).

The second canine-themed talk was a nationally televised speech by vice-presidential candidate Richard Nixon in 1952. As the running mate for Dwight D. Eisenhower on the Republican ticket, Nixon faced a challenge when a story broke that he had taken money from a secret fund set up by a group of millionaires from his home state, California.  Nixon’s reputation and his political future were on the line, so on September 23, 1952, he went on national TV, a relatively new medium at the time, to deny the accusations.  One major tactic Nixon used in his speech was to appeal to his audience’s sympathies by talking about his humble background, his modest income, and most importantly, his family dog:

A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog, and, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore, saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?

It was a little cocker spaniel dog, in a crate that he had sent all the way from Texas, black and white, spotted, and our little girl Tricia, the six year old, named it Checkers.

And you know, the kids, like all kids, loved the dog, and I just want to say this, right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we are going to keep it. (2)

Nixon’s speech was a great success.  Letters and telegrams of support poured in, and Eisenhower decided to keep him on the presidential ticket, a ticket that six weeks later won in a landslide. Today, Nixon’s speech is known as “The Checkers Speech.”

Both of these speeches — coincidentally presented on September 23rd — exemplify the power of pathos in writing. The Greek philosopher Aristotle wrote about three key components of persuasive rhetoric:  ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is the writer’s credibility, and logos is the writer’s reasoning.  The third, and perhaps most important component, is pathos, the writer’s appeal to emotion.  Both Nixon and Vest knew that to persuade their audience they needed more than just reasonable arguments and facts; in addition,  they needed to move their audience’s emotions by tugging at their heart strings.  By using their words to create moving and specific images, and to tell specific, personal anecdotes, Vest and Nixon crafted cogent and convincing cases.

Today’s Challenge:  Pathos-Powered PSA

What is something specific that can be done today by you or by anyone to make the world a better place?  Write a Public Service Announcement (PSA) making your case.  Craft it as a logical argument, but also pour on the pathos by thinking about not just your audience’s head, but also its heart.  Use specific imagery, figurative language, anecdotes, and personal insight to make a connection and to move your audience to act. (Common Core Writing 2 – Argument)

1- Vest, George Graham. Tribute to a Dog. 1855. Public Domain. History Place.com. http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/vest.htm.

2- Nixon, Richard. Checkers Speech. Public Domain. History Place.com. http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/nixon-checkers.htm.

3 – Gallow, Carmine.  Talk Like TED:  The 9 Public-Speaking Secrets of the World’s Top Minds.  New York:  St. Martin’s Press, 2014.

September 19:  Balloon Debate Day

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

On this day in 1783, the first hot air balloon was sent aloft in Annonay, France.  The balloon was engineered by two brothers, Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier. This first flight, however, was not a manned flight.  Because of the unknown effects of high altitude on humans, the brothers decided to experiment with animals.  The first passengers in the basket suspended below the balloon, therefore, were a sheep, a duck, and a rooster.  The 8-minute flight traveled about two miles and was witnessed by a crowd of 130,000, which included King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (1).

Today’s Challenge:  More Than Just Hot Air

Today is the perfect day to hold a balloon debate, a debate where at the end of each round, the audience votes on one or more speakers to eliminate.  In this debate, the audience is asked to imagine that the speakers are traveling in a hot air balloon.  The balloon is sinking, so in order to save everyone, one or more of the speakers must be “thrown out.”

Who would you argue is the most important or influential person in history?  You may hold a balloon debate on any topic, but traditionally a balloon debate revolves around each speaker arguing the case of a famous person from history.  Each speaker, then, attempts to persuade the audience why his or her individual is the most important and, therefore, the least likely candidate for elimination.  Precede the debate by holding a draft, where each participant selects an individual to research and to argue for.  Their task then is to write a speech that answers the following question:  Why is this person the most important and influential person in history? (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- Sharp, Tim. The First Hot-Air Balloon. Space.com 16 Jul. 2012. http://m.space.com/16595-montgolfiers-first-balloon-flight.html.

September 15:  Opposing Argument Day

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

On this day in 1982, USA Today, the American daily newspaper, was first published.  Besides the fact that it was launched to be the newspaper for the entire nation — not just one city — several other characteristics made it unique.  Its news stories were written to be short and easy-to-read.  Each section featured extensive use of color, including an eye-catching infographic in the lower left-hand corner called a “Snapshot.” Critics derided the paper, dubbing it “McPaper.” Today, however, USA Today is still published five days a week and has one of the widest circulations of any newspaper in the United States.

Another unique feature pioneered by USA Today is its “Our View”/”Opposing View” editorials.  In addition to presenting the USA Today Editorial Board’s position on an issue (“Our View”), the paper presents an additional editorial on the same issue that argues an alternative point of view, written by a guest writer and expert in the field.  One example of this is on the issue of Testing for U.S. Citizenship.  The Our View editorial headline read, “Make Schoolkids Pass the Same Test As New Citizens,” while the “Opposing View” headline read, “Good Citizenship Transcends a Test.”

Today’s Challenge:  Seeing Both Sides

What are the opposing arguments on an issue that you care about?  One of the best ways to truly understand an issue is to look at it from the opposing point of view and consider the arguments made from the other side.  Doing this will help you see the issue from a broader perspective and will help you avoid narrow mindedness or groupthink.  Looking at contrary arguments will also help you solidify your own thinking, equipping you to anticipate objections, counter with strong rebuttals, and even concede certain arguments if necessary. This does not come naturally to most people, but if you practice, it will help you craft arguments that are more forceful, more cogent, and more credible.

Write an editorial that summaries the opposing argument on an issue you care about.  Begin by thinking about your actual position on the issue; then, anticipate the strongest objections to your argument that would be made by the opposing side. Make a real effort to climb into the shoes of your opposition and to argue the issue fairly and respectfully from that point of view. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

 

September 11: Motivational Movie Monologue Day

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

On this day in the year 1297, the Scottish defeated the English in The Battle of Stirling Bridge.  Heavily outnumbered by English infantry and cavalry, the Scottish army led by William Wallace and Andrew de Moray nevertheless won the battle (1).

In the film Braveheart, William Wallace, portrayed by Mel Gibson, gives a rousing speech to the Scottish troops.  With the odds clearly against them, the Scottish troops are at first reluctant to fight.  Wallace challenges their reticence, asking them to think ahead to the future when they will regret that they did not fight for their freedom. They will wish for the chance to return to this spot and fight their enemy. After listening to Wallace’s succinct, clear, and forceful speech, they storm into battle.

Although the film is based on actual historical events surrounding the battle, the speech itself is fictional.

Today’s Challenge:  Moving Them with a Moving Monologue

How do you motivate people to do something they may not want to do?  Write your own rousing fictional monologue based on a character who is in a situation where he or she needs to motivate an audience to act.  Begin by brainstorming some speakers and some situations, such as a son trying to persuade his father to raise his allowance, a door to door salesperson trying to persuade a homeowner to buy a security system, or a teacher trying to persuade her students to do their homework. Then, write your speech from the point of view of the speaker you have chosen, combining logic and passion to move the audience to action. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

1- Hickman, Kennedy. Scottish Independence: Battle of Stirling Bridgehttps://www.thoughtco.com/scottish-independence-battle-of-stirling-bridge-2360736. Thoughtco.com. 22 Mar. 2018.

September 2:  Presidential Proverb Day

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

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 28:  Anaphora Day

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

Today is the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his unforgettable I Have a Dream speech to a crowd of roughly 250,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.

Early in his speech, King invokes Lincoln and the unfulfilled promise of the Emancipation Proclamation. King cites two other vital American documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Using the metaphor of a bad check, King argued that the United States would not be a truly free nation until it fulfilled these promissory notes for all of its citizens, ending segregation, “withering injustice,” and the persecution of black Americans.

An ordained Baptist minister and a doctor of theology, King knew how to craft a sermon and how to deliver a speech. His choice of nonviolent protest meant that his words and his rhetoric would determine the success or failure of his civil rights mission. King was up to the task. There is probably no more telling example of the power of words to persuade, motivate, and change the course of history than the speech King delivered on August 28, 1963.

Rhetoric is the use of language to persuade. Aristotle defined it as “the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion.” Martin Luther King, Jr. used many of these “means of persuasion” (also known as rhetorical devices) to persuade his audience. He used metaphor:  beacon of hope and manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. He used alliteration:  dark and desolate, sweltering summer, and Jews and Gentiles. He used antithesis: will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

But more than any other device, King used repetition and anaphora, the repetition of one or more words at the beginning of a phrase or clause.

Certain words echo throughout his speech. Unlike redundancy, this repetition is intentional. These words ring like a bell, repeatedly reminding the listener of key themes. In the I Have a Dream speech, the words justice and dream both ring out eleven times. But one word is repeated far more than any other; the word freedom tolls 20 times. In King’s dream there is no crack in the Liberty Bell; instead, it rings out loudly and clearly, a triumphant declaration that America has finally lived up to its potential.

Anaphora comes from the Greek meaning “I repeat.” It’s the kind of repetition at the beginning of a line or a sentence that you see in the Psalms or in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

(Matthew 3:3-6 King James Version)

King uses anaphora for six different phrases that echo throughout his speech:

One hundred years later . . .

We refuse to believe . . .

Now is the time . . .

With this faith . . .

I have a dream . . .

Let freedom ring . . .  (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Repeat After Me
What is something that you think is underrated?  What makes this topic so underrated, and why should people hold the topic in higher esteem?  Certainly, the purpose of Martin Luther King’s speech was to help the nation to not overlook the importance of civil rights for black Americans.  His speech succeeded in changing the course of the movement, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Brainstorm some topics that you think are underrated?  Try for a variety of topics, including some serious topics as well as some not so serious topics. Select the one topic you feel is most underrated, and construct an argument where you explain why the topic should be held in higher esteem.  In addition to specific evidence and commentary, use anaphora to make your case.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Example:  Positively Peripatetic

Walking is underrated.  It benefits the body, the mind, and the pocketbook.  If everyone in the U.S. were to walk briskly for just thirty minutes per day, we would cut the incidences of chronic diseases dramatically.  Walking reduces the risk of heart disease, the risk of diabetes, the risk of arthritis, and the risk of cancer. It’s also good for the mind since studies show that walking reduces the likelihood of clinical depression.  Smart seniors know the psychological value of staying active, breathing fresh air, and saving their hard-earned dollars by paying less for gas.  Instead of venerating our motor vehicle obsessed society, we should celebrate citizens who stroll along the sidewalks of suburbia. More walkers mean less traffic, less pollution, and less wasted gas money.  With so many potential positives, no one should view walking as a pain anymore.   

1-The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute. Stanford University. I Have a Dream Address. https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu/king-papers/documents/i-have-dream-address-delivered-march-washington-jobs-and-freedom.