May 18:  Connotations Day

Today is the birthday of philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell who was born in Wales in 1872. Russell received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.

Russell’s writings are eminently quotable. Here are a few examples that demonstrate his genius for language that is both concise and profound:

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.

Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.

One particular quotation by Russell has helped a generation of English teachers to illustrate the subtleties of denotation and connotation in the English language. On a BBC radio program called Brain Trust, Russell said the following:

I am firm.

You are obstinate.

He is a pig-headed fool.

With this one quotation, Russell demonstrated how a writer’s word choice is colored by his or her point of view and how the plethora of synonyms in English is a double-edged sword: it allows for an amazing array of possibilities, choices, and variety, but it also requires the writer to be a discriminating student of not just a word’s meaning, but also its associations and appropriate context.

The denotation of a word is its dictionary definition, but its connotation is its implied meaning – the associations and emotions that are attached to the word. For example, when addressing 15-year old, you have a choice of addressing him as a: young adult, a young person, an adolescent, a teenager, a teen, a teeny-bopper, a juvenile, or even a whipper-snapper. Although each of these words has the same basic denotation, they certainly have a range of different connotations on a scale of positive to neutral to negative.

Writing Russellesque triads is an excellent way to exercise your verbal muscles and learn to discriminate between the subtle differences in the connotations of various synonyms. For example, there is a classic example of a student who was looking for a synonym for “good.” He picked up a thesaurus and looked down the list of synonyms. Making a selection of what he thought was an appropriate synonym, the student wrote the following sentence: “Today I ate a benevolent donut.”

Here are some examples of triads:

I am an erudite scholar.

You are an learned instructor.

He is a didactic pedagogue.

 

I’m a patriot.

You are a flag waver.

He is jingoistic.

 

My smoking is a vice.

Your smoking is a transgression.

His smoking is a sin.

 

My story was a fascinating narration.

Your story was an interesting anecdote.

His story was a strange yarn.

 

I am sagacious.

You are astute.

He is crafty.

 

I am a scholar.

You are a student.

He is a pupil.

 

I am a wordsmith.

You are a writer.

He is a hack.

 

I’m resting.

You’re lounging.

He’s a coach potato.

 

I’m frugal.

You’re cheap.

He’s a tightwad.

Today’s Challenge: Connotative Concoctions

What are some examples of words that come in a variety of connotations?  Celebrate Bertrand Russell’s birthday by doing your own triad of synonyms. Use the following guidelines as you write:

-Arrange your concoction in first, second, and third person points of view: I, You, and He.

-Begin in the first person with the word or phrase that has the most positive connotations. Continue by using words and/or phrases with ever-increasing negative connotations.

Example:

My bathroom has a fragrant aroma.

Your bathroom has an odd odor.

His bathroom has a strange stench.

(Common Core Language 4 – Knowledge of Language)

Quote of the Day: The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.-Mark Twain

 

May 1:  Paradox Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1961 publication of the Joseph Heller novel Catch-22. In the novel, the anti-hero Captain Yossarian serves in the United States Air Force on a Mediterranean island near Italy during World War II. In order to survive the war, Yossarian attempts to avoid flying on dangerous bombing missions. His efforts are thwarted, however, by the paradoxical rule called Catch-22:

Catch22.jpgThere was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. [Bomber pilot] Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

According to Twentieth Century Words, the expression catch-22 to refer to “a supposed law or regulation containing provisions which are mutually frustrating” began to gain widespread use after the release of a film version of the novel in 1970 (1). The fact that the title of a novel took on a life of its own and developed a generic meaning in the language is a unique occurrence. For example, even a person who has never heard of Yossarian or Heller’s novel might be aware of the expression. After a job interview, for example, a frustrated teenager might return home and tell his mother: “They won’t hire me unless I have experience, but how can I get experience if no one will hire me? I’m caught in a catch-22.”

A catch-22, then, is a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ type of situation. It’s a no-win situation; a chicken and egg problem that traps you in a double bind of circular logic wrapped around a conundrum. In other words, it’s a kind of paradox.

A paradox is a statement that seems to contradict itself, yet is true. In a paradox, truth and falsehood collide and synthesize into wisdom. Great quotes, great poetry, and great speeches of all kinds are full of paradox. The etymology of paradox is Greek paradoxon, meaning conflicting with expectation. An excellent anthology of paradoxes, is the book Oxymoronica: Paradoxical Wit and Wisdom from History’s Greatest Wordsmiths. In this book, Dr. Mardy Grothe has collected over one thousand examples of paradoxical quotes, including the following one from Joseph Heller: When I grow up I want to be a little boy.

Today’s Challenge:  True Lies

What are some examples of quotations that express paradoxical truth?  Do some research to find a paradoxical statement that you think shows great insight about a universal idea, such as the examples below.  Record the complete quotation and cite its author; then, explain what specifically you like about the paradox.

-Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s own ignorance. -Confucius

-When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other. -Eric Hoffer

-We are in bondage to the law in order that we may be free. -Cicero

-The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth. -Jean Cocteau

-Success is ninety-nine percent failure. -Soichiro Honda

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:   A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it. -Mark Twain

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

2-Grothe, Mardy. Oxymoronica: Paradoxical Wit and Wisdom from History’s Greatest Wordsmiths. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.

April 29: Hyperbole Day

On this day in 1962, President John F. Kennedy hosted a White House dinner honoring 49 Nobel Prize winners.  Addressing the gathered collection of extraordinary minds, Kennedy gave a brief speech, one sentence of which is one of the most memorable of presidential quotations (See September 2:  Presidential Proverb Day):

I think this is the most extraordinary collection of human talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House–with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.

Kennedy’s remark is a textbook example of hyperbole: a type of figurative language that exaggerates for effect or emphasis.

The etymology of hyperbole is from the Greek huper meaning beyond and ballein meaning to throw. So the image is of a pitcher over-throwing his mark. A modern slang derivative of hyperbole is hype, defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as “excessive publicity, or exaggerated or extravagant claims made, especially in advertising or promotional material.”

As Kennedy’s quotation demonstrates, the primary effect of hyperbole is humor, and it should be clear to both the writer and to the audience that the exaggeration is intentional.

Today’s Challenge: I’ve Told You a Million Times Not to Exaggerate

What are some examples of situations in which someone might use hyperbole in writing? Select one or more of the topics below, and celebrate Hyperbole Day by writing a short piece.

  1. Write a film review for your favorite movie, exaggerating its excellence.
  2. Write an advertisement exaggerating the fine qualities of a project.
  3. Write a note explaining, excusing, and exaggerating the circumstances surrounding your late homework.
  4. Write a tabloid article exaggerating the who, what, when, and where of a story.
  5. Write a love poem exaggerating your devotion to your significant other.
  6. Write a college essay exaggerating your fine qualities and qualifications for college.
  7. Write a tall tale or fish story, exaggerating the details of what happened.
  8. Write the text of a campaign commercial, exaggerating the qualities of a candidate.
  9. Write a monologue for a telephone solicitor, exaggerating the urgency of buying your product.
  10. Write a nostalgic memory, exaggerating the hardships you faced.

Quotation of the Day:  Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, this my hand will rather the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red. -William Shakespeare

1-http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=8623

 

April 12:  Oxymoron Day

At 4:30 am on this day in 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Forty-three confederate guns along the coast of Charleston, South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter. On the following morning, the Union commander of the fort, Major Robert Anderson, surrendered after 33 straight hours of bombardment. No one on either side was killed, but by the end of the war four years later, 600,000 of the 3,000,000 who fought were dead (1).

FortSumter2009.jpgThe term civil war is sometimes classified as an oxymoron. An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory words are juxtaposed – placed side by side — as in deafening silence. The word is from Greek and translates as “sharp or pointed” (oxus) and “dull or foolish” (moros).  Therefore, the word oxymoron is an oxymoron that means “a sharp dullness” or “pointed foolishness” (2).

Below are other examples of oxymora (Yes, as in some other words from Greek, the plural of oxymoron is irregular: oxymora):

jumbo shrimp, guest host, old news, dry ice, light heavyweight, original copy, festina lente (Latin for hurry slowly) (3)

In the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet, a play about contrasts — love and hate, young and old, darkness and light — Romeo presents an oxymoron-packet speech when he reacts to the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues:

Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!

O anything, of nothing first create!

O heavy lightness! Serious vanity!

Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!

Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

(Act I.i.176)

Some individual words we use today began as oxymora. For example, the word sophomore originated from the combination of two Greek words sophos, meaning “wise,” and moros, meaning “foolish, dull.”

Today’s Challenge:  Serious Fun With Oxymorons

What are some adjective-noun combinations that have contradictory meanings?  Try creating your own oxymora by juxtaposing words that have contrasting meanings.  You can try any contradictory combination, but the easiest combo to start with is an adjective and a noun, as in “serious fun” or “successful failure.”  Just begin with an adjective or noun that comes to mind; then, couple it with a noun or adjective that has a contradictory meaning. Once you have generated a list, select the one you like the best and use it for the title of a short poem, story, or piece of “poetic prose” that captures the contradictory theme of your oxymoron. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  I am a deeply superficial person. – Andy Warhol

1- civilwar.com

2 – Grothe, Mardy.  Oxymoronica:  Paradoxical Wit and Wisdom From History’s Greatest Wordsmiths.  New York: HarperCollins 2004.

3 – Holman, C. Hugh and William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature (6th Edition). Macmillan General Reference, 1992: 338.

April 9:  Comparison and Contrast Day

On this day in 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Ulysses S. Grant, general of the Union army, and Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederate army, met to negotiate the terms of surrender that would end the Civil War.  

General Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox Court House 1865.jpgThe meeting between the two highest ranking officers in their respective armies was a brief and cordial one.  Lee, wearing his full dress uniform, contrasted with Grant, who wore his muddy field uniform. Lee asked that the terms of his army’s surrender to be put down in writing, so Grant wrote them down.  The official terms of surrender pardoned all officers and enlisted men of the Confederate army and required the surrender of all equipment, including horses.

After reading the terms, Lee requested that his men be allowed to keep their horses since they would need them for late spring planting as they transitioned back to civilian life.  Grant did not change the written terms of the surrender, but he did promise Lee that any Confederate soldier who claimed a horse would be allowed to keep it. In addition, Confederate officers were allowed to keep their side arms.  Finally, Lee expressed his concern for his men who had been without food for days. Grant responded by arranging for rations to be sent to the hungry soldiers (1).

In one of the most frequently anthologized essays ever written, entitled “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts,” Civil War historian Bruce Catton (1899-1978) presents a detailed study of the two generals and their meeting on April 9, 1865.

While emphasizing the strength, dignity, and intelligence of the two West Point graduates, Catton’s major focus in his essay is the contrasting ways in which the two men personified the two opposing forces in the Civil War.  

Lee stood for the old world transplanted to the new.  He represented the aristocracy and the chivalric ideal of the South, which was based on land ownership.  As Catton described Lee, he “embodied the noblest elements of his aristocratic ideal. Through him, the landed nobility justified itself.”

Grant, in contrast, represented the new breed of Americans.  Born on the frontier, the son of a tanner, Grant embodied the spirit of the North:  toughness, self-reliance, and hard work. In Catton’s words, men like Grant “stood for democracy, not from any reasoned conclusion about the proper ordering of human society, but simply because they had grown up in the middle of democracy and know how it worked.  Their society might have privileges, but they would be privileges each man had won for himself” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Meeting of Minds

Who are some examples of pairs of individuals from the same profession that you might compare and contrast?  Brainstorm a list of pairs, such as, Grant and Lee (military), Dickinson and Plath (Poetry), Lennon and McCartney (music), Aristotle and Socrates (philosophy), Bird and Johnson (Basketball), or Lincoln and Washington (U.S. presidents).  Select one pair, and write a comparison and contrast composition, identifying specific areas of similarity and difference. Research the two individuals to find specific details that go beyond the obvious, and organize your details around a single central point.  For example, Catton’s comparison and contrast focused on those details that are relevant to how the two generals embodied the characteristics of their perspective sides. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Grant was the modern man emerging; beyond him, ready to come to the stage, was the great age of steel and machinery, of crowded cities and a restless, burgeoning vitality.  Lee might have ridden down from the old age of chivalry, lance in hand, silken banner fluttering over his head. –Bruce Catton

1-https://www.nps.gov/apco/the-meeting.htm

2-Catton, Bruce.  “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts.”

April 8:  Baseball Metaphor Day

On this day in 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s record that had stood for 47 years.

The figurative use of the term home run, meaning a great success, began to appear in English in the second half of the 20th century. Of all sports, baseball, America’s pastime, has been the most fertile ground for metaphors. In fact, you can list a virtual A-Z of baseball metaphors. Remember though, to qualify for the list, the word or phrase must originate with baseball but also must be used to refer to situations outside of baseball.

The following list is from Christine Ammer’s book Southpaws & Sunday Punches:

All-star, ballpark figure, big league, box score, bush league, catbird seat*, change-up, clean-up hitter, curve ball, doubleheader, extra-innings, foul ball, go for the fences, get to first base, go to bat for, hard ball, in the ballpark, inside baseball, left field, line-up, major league, MVP, no runs, no hits, no errors, off base, on deck, pitch hit, rain check, screwball, southpaw, Tinker’s chance, wait ’til next year, whole new ballgame (1)

Today Challenge:  Field Your Dream Team

What category of person or things might you divide up into a team, using the metaphor of baseball positions?  Brainstorm some different categories of people or things with at least nine members, such as U.S. Presidents, Great Inventors, Great Philosophers, Great Poets, Movie Genres, Architectural Styles, Academic Disciplines, Great Rock-n-roll Bands, Novels by Stephen King, or Great American Novels.  Then, select one category and identify your 9-player line-up.

For example, below is an example using the nine parts of speech:

Nouns – Catcher

Verb – Pitcher

Adjective – 1st Base

Adverb – 2nd Base

Preposition – 3rd Base

Pronouns – Short Stop

Article – Left Field

Conjunction – Center Field

Interjection – Right Field

Quotation of the Day:  Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is. -Bob Feller

*For an excellent short story, full of baseball metaphors, see James Thurber’s short story The Catbird Seat.

1-Ammer, Christine.  Southpaws & Sunday Punches.  New York:  Plume, 1992.

March 31:  Persuasive Appeals Day

On this day in 1621, English poet Andrew Marvell was born in Hull, England. Marvell was one of the metaphysical poets, a group of 17th-century poets whose verse is characterized by its sharp wit, passionate arguments, and intellectual elaborateness.  

Marvell’s best-known poem “To His Coy Mistress” is probably the single greatest argument in verse ever written.  The poem is a dramatic monologue in which the poet addresses a young woman who is slow to respond to his amorous advances.  

To win the mistress, the poet constructs an elaborate argument, making his case for why she should “act now” and agree to love him.  The poem’s three-part structure also is an excellent example of Aristotle’s three persuasive appeals by character (ethos), by logic (logos), and by emotion (pathos).

In the poem’s first stanza, the speaker begins with ethos, establishing his character and credibility with the mistress.  Here the speaker employs hyperbole, elaborately exaggerating the amount of time he would invest in admiring and cataloging the beauty of the mistress from afar if only time allowed:

Had we but world enough and time,

This coyness, lady, were no crime.

We would sit down, and think which way

To walk, and pass our long love’s day.

Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side

Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide

Of Humber would complain. I would

Love you ten years before the flood,

And you should, if you please, refuse

Till the conversion of the Jews.

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires and more slow;

An hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;

Two hundred to adore each breast,

But thirty thousand to the rest;

An age at least to every part,

And the last age should show your heart.

For, lady, you deserve this state,

Nor would I love at lower rate.

In the second stanza, the poet makes a sudden shift from the hypothetical to the harsh reality of the real world.  Signaling the transition with “But,” be begins to construct a case based on the logic their mortality. Devouring time will take his mistress’s beauty, and reason dictates that no one can cheat death.  

But at my back I always hear

Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;

And yonder all before us lie

Deserts of vast eternity.

Thy beauty shall no more be found;

Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound

My echoing song; then worms shall try

That long-preserved virginity,

And your quaint honour turn to dust,

And into ashes all my lust;

The grave’s a fine and private place,

But none, I think, do there embrace.

Having established his credibility and the logic of his case, the speaker concludes with a climactic appeal to emotion. Here the speaker makes his final pitch, urging the mistress to “act now,” presenting the image of mating birds of prey.  In the tradition of carpe diem – Latin for “seize the day” – the poet implores the mistress to join him; they cannot stop time, but they can make time fly by having fun.

 

Now therefore, while the youthful hue

Sits on thy skin like morning dew,

And while thy willing soul transpires

At every pore with instant fires,

Now let us sport us while we may,

And now, like amorous birds of prey,

Rather at once our time devour

Than languish in his slow-chapped power.

Let us roll all our strength and all

Our sweetness up into one ball,

And tear our pleasures with rough strife

Through the iron gates of life:

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Today’s Challenge:  Gut, Head, and Heart

What is an essential item that people need to have in their possession every day in order to be successful?  Brainstorm some essential physical products that people use and need every day.  Select one of the products, and write a sales pitch, persuading your audience to purchase the product. Use the argument structure employed by Marvell in “To His Coy Mistress.” Begin by thinking about our audience and how you can establish trust with them (ethos).  Next, shift to reason, by laying out your claims and evidence about the product (logos). Finally, make the sale by appealing to the emotions of your audience and by showing them, not just telling them, why they need the product (pathos).

Use the following three essential questions to assist you in constructing your pitch:

-Ethos:  How can I get my audience to believe that I am credible, and how can I make them trust me?

-Logos:  Is my argument reasonable, and how can I organize my points and my evidence so that it is clear and logical?

-Pathos:  How can I show, not just tell my point, and how can I get my audience fired up to feel something?

(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Logos, ethos, and pathos appeal to the brain, gut, and heart of your audience.  While our brain tries to sort the facts, our gut tells us whether we can trust the other person, and our heart makes us want to do something about it.  -Jay Heinrichs in Thank You for Arguing

 

March 27:  Similes for Life Day

On this day in 1995, the film Forrest Gump won best picture at the 99th Academy Awards.  The movie was based on the 1986 novel of the same name, written by Winston Groom.  

Film poster with a white background and a park bench (facing away from the viewer) near the bottom. A man wearing a white suit is sitting on the right side of the bench and is looking to his left while resting his hands on both sides of him on the bench. A suitcase is sitting on the ground, and the man is wearing tennis shoes. At the top left of the image is the film's tagline and title and at the bottom is the release date and production credits.Groom grew up in Alabama, and many of his books, including Forrest Gump, draw on his experiences in Vietnam, where he served in the U.S. Army from 1966-1967.  Before Winston’s novel was adapted for the big screen, it was not a big seller; however, after the film came out in 1994, the book became a bestseller.  Winston’s 1988 novel Gone The Sun won the Pulitzer Prize (1).

Winston’s best-known character is the slow-witted southerner Forrest Gump, who faces his life with childlike innocence and optimism.  Almost as memorable as the character himself is his iconic simile — a quotation that became one of the most famous lines in movie history:  “Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get.”

Today’s Challenge:  Life is Like a Writing Assignment . . . .

What concrete noun presents the best figurative comparison for life?  Notice how each of the similes for life below follow the same basic formula.  Like Forrest Gump’s simile, they begin with a simple comparison, using “like” and a concrete noun.  Each writer then follows the comparison with elaboration, explaining how or why life is like the concrete noun.

Life is like a ten-speed bicycle.  Most of us have gears we never use. -Charles M. Schulz

Life is like a play; it’s not the length, but the excellence of the acting that matters. -Seneca the Younger

Life is like a dog-sled team.  If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes. -Lewis Grizzard

Write your own simile for life by brainstorming some possible concrete nouns. Use the list below to get you started.

a sandwich, a sandbox, a symphony, a slug, a salad, a game of checkers, a battle, a bruised banana, a lunchbox, a race, a book, a fire, an alphabet, a cat, a hammer

Feel free to modify your nouns with other words that make them more specific; for example, life might be a “relay race,” “a sprinting race,” or “long-distance race.”

Use the following template to help you construct your simile:

Life is like [concrete noun] _______; [Explain how, why, or under what circumstances life is like this] ______________.

Quotation of the Day:  Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance you must keep moving. -Albert Einstein

1-http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-2527

March 25:  Toulmin Argument Day

Today is the birthday of British philosopher and educator Stephen Toulmin, who was born in London in 1922.

Stephen Toulmin.jpgIn 1958, Toulmin published a book entitled The Uses of Argument in which he explained his model of argumentation.  Toulmin’s objective was to give his readers a practical, real-world method for constructing or analyzing arguments.  Instead of the abstract, academic proofs written by logisticians, Toulmin proposed a method that could be understood and applied by ordinary people to everyday arguments.

The Toulmin’s model of argument is made up of six key parts:

The Claim is what you believe to be true, what the argument proves.

The Data is the facts, evidence and reasons that lead you to believe the claim is true.

The Warrant is an assumption that connects the data with your claim.  The warrant makes the thinking of the argument explicit, explaining both how and why the data support the claim.  

The Backing is any facts or details that support the warrant.

The Qualifier is limits of the claim, stating whether or not it is always true or in what cases it is true.

The Rebuttal is where the person writing the argument anticipates and answers possible objections to the claim by stating counterclaims and responding to them.

Toulmin’s model is an excellent way to analyze arguments made by others or to analyze your own.  It gives you a method for carefully thinking through each part and for troubleshooting the parts that don’t hold up under scrutiny.  In essence the model is a grammar for arguments. Just as grammar allows you to name the parts needed for crafting and revising clear sentences, Toulmin’s model gives you the nomenclature needed to construct and examine sound arguments (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Try Toulmin’s Toolbox

What are examples of five claims that you believe in fully?  Brainstorm some possible claims that you could confidently make.  Then, select one claim, and write a well-developed argument employing each element of the Toulmin model.

Before you begin writing your own argument, analyze the example argument below, identifying the claim, qualifier, data, warrant, backing, and rebuttal:

The best way to become a good writer, in most cases, is to read widely. Most good writers build up their experience and understanding of the different ways that words, sentences, and paragraphs work through reading. Furthermore, most writers don’t just express their own ideas, instead they build and test their own ideas by reading, responding and referring to other writers. One of the common things you will hear when listening to interviews of writers is their references to other writers as well as to what they have read or are reading.  In the words of Stephen King, ““If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” A writer might have great ideas, but without a lot of experience of analyzing the written word through careful reading, the writer is not going to be equipped to package his or her ideas in a way that they can be understood by an audience of readers.  Some may say that the best way to write is to just write; however, that’s a little like saying the best way to build a house is to just build a house. Just as home construction require knowledge of architecture, good writing requires a solid understanding of the architecture of prose. Construction workers read blueprints before they pick up a hammer; likewise, good writers read good books before they pick up a pen.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument. -Desmond Tutu

1-http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/11/education/11toulmin.html

March 18:  Reasoning Day

On this day in 1923, the New York Times published an article about the English mountaineer George Mallory (1886-1824) who was pursuing his goal of climbing Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain (29,029 feet).  When asked why he wanted to climb Mount Everest, Mallory famously answered, “Because it’s there.”

George Mallory 1915.jpgAt the time Mallory gave his answer, no expedition had ever successfully summited the world’s highest mountain.  Mallory, himself, had participated in two previous expeditions and was preparing for his third.

On the morning of June 8, 1924, Mallory and his climbing partner Andrew Irvine set out for the summit from their camp at 26,800 feet, but they never returned.  The disappearance of the two climbers was a mystery for 75 years, until Mallory’s body was found on the mountain in 1999. No one knows for sure whether or not Mallory and Irvine made it to the summit.

Twenty-nine years after the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first climbers to successfully reach the summit of Mount Everest on May 29, 1953 (1).

Mallory’s simple three-word answer, “Because it’s there,” became his epitaph and captured the imagination of generations of explorers and risk takers.  It also shows the power of giving a reason — any reason.

A psychological study completed in 1977 demonstrated the power of the word “because.”  People waiting in line to make copies were asked by someone behind them to skip ahead in line.  The people who gave a reason to skip, saying, “Excuse me, may I use the copy machine because I’m in a rush” were 30% more likely to be allowed to skip ahead in line than those who gave no reason.  This worked even for people who gave a nonsensical reason, saying “May I use the copy machine because I have to make copies.” Readers are more likely to accept your claims if you provide clear reasons that support them.  Appeal to your reader’s logical side by laying down the clear reasons behind your claims. For even better results, string your reasons together using parallelism to add rhythm, repetition, and resonance (2).

The persuasive nature of reasoning is nothing new.  In the fifth century, the philosopher Aristotle wrote the first textbook explaining the art of persuasion, On Rhetoric.  Aristotle made logical argument accessible through a device he called the enthymeme, a sentence that explicitly states a claim and a reason.  The additional essential element of an enthymeme is an assumption, which is implicit rather than stated.

For example, as an enthymeme, Mallory’s justification for attempting to climb Mount Everest might be stated as follows:

Claim:  I should climb Mount Everest.

Reason: because it exists.

Assumption:  The existence of a mountain is sufficient justification for climbing it.

With the enthymeme, Aristotle emphasized the role of logic (or logos) in making a sound argument.  He also emphasized, however, that effective persuasion takes more than just pure logic. Any successful writer or speaker must consider his or her audience and establish the audience’s trust (ethos).  Furthermore, the speaker or writer must not only make the audience think, he or she should also make the audience feel something (pathos).(3)

Today’s Challenge:  Unpack Your Enthymemes

What are some current issues that people are arguing about at the local, national, or international level? What are the core claims, reasons, and assumptions that make up a specific argument? Brainstorm some general issues of controversy and find a recently published editorial that addresses one of the issues. Read the editorial carefully and analyze the writer’s argument by identifying the claim, reasons, and assumptions.  Also identify how the writer appeals to the audience by establishing trust and credibility, as well as how the writer appeals to the emotions of the audience. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  We think, each of us, that we’re much more rational than we are. And we think that we make our decisions because we have good reasons to make them. Even when it’s the other way around. We believe in the reasons, because we’ve already made the decision. -Daniel Kahneman

1-https://www.britannica.com/biography/George-Mallory

2-http://jamesclear.com/copy-machine-study

3-https://www.theguardian.com/media/mind-your-language/2015/apr/09/enthymeme-or-are-you-th