August 15:  Understatement Day

On this day in 1945, after two atomic bombs had been dropped on his country, Emperor Hirohito of Japan addressed his nation in a radio broadcast.  The speech was notable not only because it was the first time that a Japanese emperor had addressed the common people, but also because of its understatement of the situation.

Hirohito in dress uniform.jpgIn announcing Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces, Emperor Hirohito attempted to soften the blow of defeat by understating its effect, saying:

the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage . . . .

Understatement is a rhetorical device use by speakers and writers to deliberately make something seem less serious than it actually is.  It may be used to soften serious matters as in the Emperor’s broadcast, or it can be used for humorous effect.  A classic example of this is in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  After confronting King Arthur and having both of his arms cut off, the Black Knight continues to taunt Arthur with the understatement, “It’s just a flesh wound!”

To be precise, Emperor Hirohito’s understatement is categorized as the rhetorical device called litotes, a form of understatement-by-negative (1). The Oxford English Dictionary defines litotes as “an ironical understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by the negative of its contrary.”  So, for example, imagine Michael Jordan has just hit a 30-foot shot to win the NBA Championship.  You might express your astonishment at the great play.  Or you might use litotes to intentionally understate the play –especially if you’re a fan of the opposing team — by saying, “That Jordan’s not a bad player.”

Today’s Challenge:  The Understatement of the Century
What is an example of a major news story that appeared within the last twenty years that you might intentionally understate?  Generate a list of bad news stories from the past twenty years.  Imagine a spokesperson trying to break the bad news utilizing understatement to soften the blow. (Common Core Writing 2)

Example:  Payton Manning speaking to Denver Bronco fans after losing Super Bowl XLVIII to the Seattle Seahawks by a score of 43-8:  “We got down early and just ran out of time to mount a comeback.  The Seahawks defense was not bad.”

Quotation of the Day:  I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain. -Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye.

 

1-Forsyth, Mark.  The Elements of Eloquence.  London:  Icon Books, 2013:  77.

 

August 10:  Show Me Day

On this date in 1821, Missouri was admitted to the union as the 24th state. Originally a part of the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, Missouri achieved statehood as a slave state. It was the Missouri Compromise of 1820 that settled the controversy about admitting Missouri as a slave state, by admitting Maine as a free state (1).

Known as the “Show Me” state, Missouri’s unofficial slogan is the stuff of legend. The story goes that Missouri’s U.S. Congressman Williard Duncan Vandiver coined the slogan at a 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia where he said:

I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me (2).

“Show Me” is only the unofficial motto of Missouri, however.  The official state motto is Latin: Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto (“Let the Welfare of the People Be the Supreme Law”). In fact, more than half of states in the union have mottoes in languages other than English (3).

When it comes to applying words to the page, all writers should think of Missouri and Vandiver’s demand to be shown rather than told.

Whether writing fiction or nonfiction, good writers craft their sentences with concrete details and imagery.  Like Vandiver’s “corn and cotton and cockleburs,” good writers watch out for focusing too much on abstract language by including plenty of concrete nouns and vivid verbs.

The two words “for example” are possibly the two most important words in a writer’s lexicon.  These two words remind writers to support the abstract with the concrete, to balance the general with the specific, and not just to tell the reader, but also to show the reader with specific, detailed examples.

The following are other transitional expressions you can use to signal the reader that you are going to show rather than just tell:

for instance

to illustrate

such as

to demonstrate

an example of this is

specifically

Notice how each of the following examples uses one of the previous signal expressions to connect the gap between general, telling statement and specific, showing examples:

Americans love their dogs.  For example, more than 80 percent of dog owners say that they would risk their life for their dog.

Computers have come a long way.  To illustrate, today’s musical greeting car is more powerful than the world’s most powerful computer was sixty years ago.

Today’s Challenge:  Tell Me, But Also Show Me
What examples would you give to support or refute the following generalization:  “Life today is much more hectic than it was fifty years ago”?Select one of the three general telling statements below and either support or refute it with specific showing examples, details and evidence:

Life today is much more hectic than it was fifty years ago.

Technology has made communications today much more effective than it was fifty years ago.

Hard work and diligent effort are often much more valuable than relying solely on good luck.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”–Anton Chekhov

 

1 – The Library of Congress. American Memory. “Today in History: August 10.” http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/aug10.html

2 – Missouri Secretary of State’s Officehttp://www.sos.mo.gov/archives/history/slogan.asp

3 – U.S. State Mottos –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._state_mottos

 

July 29:  Defeat of the Spanish Armada Day

Today is the anniversary of Britain’s victorious sea battle against Spain’s “Invincible Armada” in 1588. At the time England was a small, insignificant island nation while Spain was the richest, most powerful empire in the world.

The conflict between the two countries was political as well as religious. Elizabeth, the Protestant Queen of England, had encouraged the activities of British pirates who plundered Spanish ships returning from the New World. The Catholic king of Spain, Phillip II, had had enough of the Protestant upstarts of England and dispatched his fleet of more than 100 ships to invade the British.

On July 29, 1588 the Armada reached sight of the English shore and confronted the much smaller British fleet. Sea battles raged on and off until August. Although the English were the smaller force, they used superior tactics to outmaneuver the Spanish; in addition, terrible rain and wind prevented the Spanish from reaching the English shore. By the time the Armada turned around to return to Spain, nearly half of its ships had been destroyed (1).

Before the British victory over the Spanish Armada had been sealed, Elizabeth courageously left her palace in London to travel to Tilbury in Essex, England to address her assembled troops. Her tenacious refusal to be defeated by the Spanish foreshadows Winston Churchill’s similar refusal to yield to the Germans more than 350 years later.  Her speech was short but powerful.  Notice how in the opening lines of the speech she switches quickly from the royal “we” to the first person “I.”

My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people (2)

The astonishing and decisive victory by the British over the Spanish Armada is one of the key turning points in history. It prevented the extinction of Protestantism in England and also prevented the end of the Reformation in Europe. It gave birth to the nationalism of the British Empire and opened the door to British exploration of the world, especially North America. Linguistically it meant that English, not Spanish, would survive on the British Isles and eventually become the global language it is today (3).

Imagine how different it would have been if Shakespeare, who began writing his plays in London in 1589, would have written in Spanish rather than English.

Today’s Challenge:  The Queen’s Speech
How do effective speakers combine reason, emotion, and credibility to make their point and motivate their audience?  Carefully read Elizabeth’s famous speech at Tilbury, and write an analysis in which you identify what makes it effective.  Consider important elements such as the speaker, the subject, the audience, the purpose, and the occasion.  Also consider her use of logos (logic), pathos (emotion), and pathos (credibility). (Common Core Speaking and Listening 3)

Quotation of the Day: Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. –Sun-tzu

 

1 – Coffin, Judith G., Robert C. Stacey, Robert E. Lerner, and Standish Meacham. Western Civilization, Volume 2. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002.

2 – The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th Edition. Vol 1, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1993. ISBN. 0393962873

3 – http://www.microsoft.com/uk/homepc/articles/battles.asp

4 – Reader’s Digest Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1983.

 

 

July 20:  Antithesis Day

Today is the anniversary of what many consider the single greatest human achievement of all time: the successful Moon mission of Apollo 11. On July 20, 1969 at 4:17 p.m. (EDT), Neil A. Armstrong became the first human to stand on the Moon. Armstrong was soon joined by Buzz Aldrin, and the two astronauts spent 21 hours on the Moon collecting 46 pounds of moon rocks before returning to the Lunar Module (1).

Circular insignia: Eagle with wings outstretched holds olive branch on Moon with Earth in background, in blue and gold border.The race to the Moon that began with the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik on October 4, 1957 was over, and the first words from a human being on the Moon were in English:

That’s one small step for a man; one giant leap for mankind.

To mark mankind’s most remarkable technological achievement, Armstrong needed to craft a message in words worthy of the moment.  To do this he turned to tried and true trick dating back the classical orators of ancient Greece and Rome.

The specific rhetorical device he used is called antithesis. As a word antithesis means “the exact opposite,” as in Love is the antithesis of hate. But as a figure of speech, antithesis juxtaposes two contrasting ideas in a balanced, parallel manner, or — as in Armstrong’s case — a contrast of degrees: small step and giant leap, and man and mankind.

We live in a world of dichotomies:  hot and cold, light and dark, tragedy and comedy, love and hate.  Antithesis is the technique of juxtaposing these opposites.  Notice, for example, how the following quotations play with contrasts and parallelism to make concise, clear, and balanced sentences:

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read anyway. -Groucho Marx

Lives as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever. Mahatma Gandhi

To err is human, to forgive divine.  -Alexander Pope

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, . . . . -Charles Dickens ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

Using antithesis creates contrast but also brings balance, revealing the tone of someone who sees the world in all of its broad contrasts and particular opposites.  When writers use antithesis, the contrasts and opposition create a tension that keeps the reader interested.  When ideas clash, something is at stake, so there’s more reason for the reader to stick around.

Today’s Challenge:  Opposite Day

What are some examples of words that are opposites — antonyms such as ‘speak’ and ‘listen,’ ‘war’ and ‘peace,’ ‘present’ and ‘past’?  Brainstorm a list of opposites, and select one pair from your list or the list below to write about:

above/below

quantity/quality

victory/defeat 

actions/words

before/after

left/right

dark/light

fast/slow

order/chaos

freedom/slavery

good/evil

yesterday/today

Then, write an opening sentence featuring antitheses that makes a claim based on the differences in the two topics, such as:

Logic teach us about the world; creativity teaches us about ourselves.

Then write a short composition of at least 150 words in which you support the claim using contrast, details, examples, and evidence.

Example:

When we read, we travel to a world of imagination; when we write, we imagine a world of our own.  With reading, the words are fixed on the page for us, and although words evoke different pictures in the minds of different readers, we still are limited by the words that were selected for us by the author.  When Robert Frost, for example, describes the snow, he says, “The only sound is the sweep of easy wind and downy flake.”  Whoever reads this imagines falling snow.  When we write, however, we are in control of the words we choose and, therefore, the worlds – and the weather – we create.  We become omniscient and omnipotent.  If we choose, we can defy gravity, we can defy logic, we can defy nature.  If we choose we can create a snowstorm in August, a world where words grow on trees, where trees speak in Latin.  Reading exercises our imagination, opening our eyes to see more; writing challenges our imagination, forcing our minds to be more.

Quotation of the Day:  Hillary [Clinton] has soldiered on, damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t, like most powerful women, expected to be tough as nails and warm as toast at the same time. – Anna Quindlen (3)

 

1- Apollo 11. The 30th Anniversary

2- “Antithesis.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.

3-Anna Quindlin “Say Goodbye to the Virago.” Newsweek, June 16, 2003

July 18:  Ladder of Abstraction Day

Today is the birthday of S.I. Hayakawa, who was born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1906.

Professor Hayakawa was best known for his book Language in Thought and Action (1939). This book, now in its fifth edition, is one of the best known works on linguistics and specifically semantics: the study of the meaning of words and language.

Hayakawa taught English and Semantics at the University of Chicago and then at San Francisco State College, where he eventually became president in 1968.  That same year he disrupted a student anti-war demonstration, pulling the plug on an outdoor sound system. He was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Republican in 1976, and in 1981 he became the first politician to introduce a bill proposing that English become the official language of the United States.

SIHayakawa.jpgAfter leaving office, Hayakawa founded U.S English in 1983. U.S. English, Inc. lives on today. It’s mission, according to its web site, is “preserving the unifying role of the English in the United States” (1).

In his book Language in Thought and Action, Hayakawa popularized an amazing tool for writers.  Not a physical tool that can be bought in a hardware store, but a metaphorical tool to better understand how to use words more effectively.  It’s called the ladder of abstraction (2).

The ladder of abstraction is one way to visualize the range of language from the abstract to the concrete–from the general to the specific. On the top of the ladder are abstract ideas like success, education, or freedom; as we move down each rung of the ladder, the words become more specific and more concrete. When we reach the bottom rung of the ladder of abstraction, we should find something concrete that we can see, touch, hear, taste, or smell.

Rung 6:  Education

Rung 5:  High School

Rung 4:  Math Department

Rung 3:  Algebra

Rung 2:  Algebra 2

Rung 1:  Mr. Johnson’s 4th period Algebra 2 class

Notice, for example, the list above. Imagine that each is a rung of the ladder. On the 6th Rung is the abstract idea “Education.”  As we move down each rung, the words become more specific.  When we reach the bottom rung, we find a tangible and concrete phrase to represent the abstract idea.

Writers should use the ladder of abstraction as a mental model to remind themselves that good writing is grounded with a solid, concrete foundation. We certainly write about abstract ideas like love, education, and success all the time, but the best writing doesn’t just tell by remaining at the top or middle rungs of the ladder; instead, it climbs down to the bottom rung, to show the reader, using specific images, details, and examples (3).

A writer, for example, who is unfamiliar with the ladder of abstraction might write the following telling sentence:

My substitute teacher in 4th period today was a bit odd.

“Odd” is a subjective and abstract idea.  Using the ladder of abstraction allows the writer to craft a more showing description:

My substitute teacher in 4th period today began class by playing a medley of Beatles songs on his accordion, he demanded that we submit any questions we had in writing, and when I asked for permission to sharpen my pencil, he shouted, “I’m sick of your insane and insolent demands!!”  At the end of class, he wouldn’t dismiss us until the entire class sang the “Marine Corps Hymn.”

Today’s Challenge:  Lord of the Rungs
What concrete words come to your mind when you think of the abstract word “success”?  Select one of the abstract nouns listed below and brainstorm specific, showing details and examples of what the idea looks like, sounds like, or feels like in the real world.  Then breath life into the abstract idea by describing a specific scene that illustrates the word using concrete nouns at the bottom rung of the ladder of abstraction.  For a real challenge, try to not even use the abstract noun in your paragraph.  If you have done an effective job of showing rather than telling, your reader should be able to identify the abstract idea without being told.

curiosity, kindness, freedom, intelligence, stupidity, success, victory, defeat, bravery, diligence, creativity, education, loyalty

Quotation of the Day:  The ladder of abstraction. That name contains two nouns. The first is “ladder,” a specific tool you can see, hold in your hands, and climb. It involves the senses. You can do things with it. Put it against a tree to rescue your cat Voodoo. The bottom of the ladder rests on concrete language. Concrete is hard, which is why when you fall off the ladder from a high place you might break your leg.

The second word is “abstraction.” You can’t eat it or smell it or measure it. It is not easy to use as an example. It appeals not to the senses, but to the intellect. It is an idea that cries out for exemplification. -Roy Peter Clark (4)

1- U.S English, Inc.

2 -Hayakawa, S.I. Language in Thought and Action.

3-Backman, Brian.  Persuasion Points: 82 Strategic Exercises for Writing High-Scoring Persuasive Essays. Maupin House, 2010:  62.

4-Clark, Roy Peter. Writing Tool #13 Show and Tell

July 13:  I Came, I Saw, I Conquered Day

Today is the birth date in 100 BC of Julius Caesar — Roman general, statesman, and dictator.

In his Life of Caesar, Plutarch tells a story that reveals the unique character of Caesar. It relates to an incident where the young Julius was kidnapped by pirates:

To begin with, then, when the pirates demanded twenty talents for his ransom, he laughed at them for not knowing who their captive was, and of his own accord agreed to give them fifty . . . . For eight and thirty days, as if the men were not his watchers, but his royal body-guard, he shared in their sports and exercises with great unconcern. He also wrote poems and sundry speeches which he read aloud to them, and those who did not admire these he would call to their faces illiterate Barbarians, and often laughingly threatened to hang them all. The pirates were delighted at this, and attributed his boldness of speech to a certain simplicity and boyish mirth (1).

Caesar made good on his threat.  After he was released, he pursued the pirates with his fleet, captured them, and executed them.

Julius’ place in history is probably best attributed to his combined powers as a tactician, a statesman, and an orator.  After leading his Roman army to one particularly decisive victory in 46 BC, he famously wrote the Roman Senate to report:

Veni, vidi, vici

or

I came, I saw, I conquered.

A student of rhetoric and oratory, Caesar knew the power of the tricolon, the use of three parallel words, phrases, or clauses to generate sentences with rhythm, clarity, and  panache.

There is something special, perhaps even magical, about the number three, and when combined with the power of rhythm and repetition, what results is an unforgettable recipe for rhetorical resonance.

We see it in the Declaration of Independence:  “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  We see it in religion:  “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  We see it in films and television: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”  And we see it advertising:  “The few, the proud, the Marines” (2).

Balance and rhythm with two elements is good.  This is called isocolon, as in “Roses are red, violets are blue.”  And four works too.  It’s called tetracolon, as when Winston Churchill told the British people that he nothing to offer but “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”  But you just can’t beat the rule of three; it’s the most ubiquitous, the most memorable, and the most magical of them all.  No wonder newly reelected President Barack Obama used 21 tricolons in his 2008 victory speech (3).

Today’s Challenge:  Tricolon Trailers
What are examples of things that come in threes — familiar phrases, titles, or trios?  Write the text of a voice-over for a movie trailer of your favorite film or book.  Use at least one tricolon to add some rhythm and resonance.  Here’s an example for Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:

Mourning his dead father, berating his clueless mother, and continually contemplating the murder of his remorseless, treacherous, and lecherous uncle, Hamlet is not having a good day!  Something, indeed, is rotten in the state of Denmark, and it’s not just the fish from last week’s dinner that’s been festering in the corner of the Castle Elsinore’s Kitchen.

Quotation of the Day: Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. -attributed to Benjamin Franklin

1- Plutarch.  “Life of Caesar”

2- Backman, Brian.  Thinking in Threes:  The Power of Three in Writing. Austin, Texas:  Prufrock Press, 2005.

Forsyth, Mark.  The Elements of Eloquence:  How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase.  London:  Icon Books, 2013: 84-88.

3- Zelinsky, Aaron.  “What We Will Remember”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aaron-zelinsky/what-we-will-remember-oba_b_141397.html

 

July 9:  Litany of Questions Day

On this day in 1962, Bob Dylan recorded the song “Blowin’ in the Wind” for his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.  Of all the memorable protest songs that came out of the turbulent 1960s, “Blowin’ in the Wind” is the best known.  Its success lies in its anthem-like quality as well as its universal and timeless themes of war, peace, and freedom.  But perhaps its most powerful feature is its presentation of a litany of rhetorical questions, questions which perfectly balance the general and the specific in such a way that the questions remain relevant more than fifty years after they were written:

How many roads must a man walk down

Before you call him a man?

How many seas must a white dove sail

Before she sleeps in the sand?

Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly

Before they’re forever banned?

The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind

The answer is blowin’ in the wind

“Blowin’ in the Wind” is Bob Dylan’s most covered song.  The most successful version was recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary.  Their cover version reached number two on the Billboard pop chart in April 1963 (1).

As Bob Dylan reminds us, a question is like a magnifying glass that allows us to more closely examine ideas.  They also allow us to expand our thinking broadly, limited only by the size of our own imagination.

Today’s Challenge:  Interrogate a Topic
What is a topic that you care about — a topic that you are curious about?  What are some questions you have about the topic?  Select a topic that you care about.  Use your passion for the topic to generate a list of at least 10 legitimate questions that you do not know the answer to.  Use these questions as springboards for future writing. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  You can hear in this a yearning and a hope and a possibility and a sadness and sometimes a triumphal proclamation of determination. The answer is blowin’ in the wind means we will find the answer. So it’s a matter of interpretation and, frankly, I think Bobby was probably right and legitimate in not giving a specific interpretation. -Peter Yarrow

1-Songfacts.com

 

July 8:  Credo Day

On this day in 1941, John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960) gave a radio speech in which he presented ten principles that, according to him, “point the way to usefulness and happiness in life, to courage and peace in death.”  

John D. Rockefeller 1885.jpgRockefeller was the only son of oil baron John D. Rockefeller.  Unlike his father, he became better known for the money he gave away than for the money he made.  His philanthropy included the establishment of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg.  John’s son Nelson Rockefeller served as both the governor of New York and the 41st Vice President of the United States under President Gerald Ford (1).

Rockefeller’s 1941 speech is written as a credo, Latin for “I believe.”  As you read each of his ten statements of personal belief below, notice how he organizes each one in parallel fashion, using clear and concise language:

-I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

-I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty.

-I believe that the law was made for man and not man for the law; that government is the servant of the people and not their master.

-I believe in the dignity of labor, whether with head or hand; that the world owes no man a living but that it owes every man an opportunity to make a living.

-I believe that thrift is essential to well ordered living and that economy is a prime requisite of a sound financial structure, whether in government, business or personal affairs.

-I believe that truth and justice are fundamental to an enduring social order.

-I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character—not wealth or power or position—is of supreme worth.

-I believe that the rendering of useful service is the common duty of mankind and that only in the purifying fire of sacrifice is the dross of selfishness consumed and the greatness of the human soul set free.

-I believe in an all-wise and all-loving God, named by whatever name, and that the individual’s highest fulfillment, greatest happiness, and widest usefulness are to be found in living in harmony with His will.

-I believe that love is the greatest thing in the world; that it alone can overcome hate; that right can and will triumph over might.

Rockefeller’s credo is etched in granite at the entrance to the skating rink at Rockefeller Center in New York City (See September 7:  Words Chiseled in Granite Day).

Today’s Challenge:  Your PSB
What are some examples of the personal beliefs you live by? You have probably heard of a Public Service Announcement or PSA, but have you ever heard of a PSB?  A PSB is a Personal Statement of Beliefs, also known as a credo.  Crafting your own credo and periodically revising it is a nice way to identify and practice the beliefs that you feel are essential to live life to its fullest.  The writer Robert Fulghum, for example, would sit down each spring and write and revise his credo (See October 30: All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Kindergarten Day).  Write your own PSB with at least three statements.  Begin each one with “I believe . . .”  As you write and revise, ask yourself how you would explain and justify the importance of each of your statements. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  I believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge. That myth is more potent than history. That dreams are more powerful than facts. That hope always triumphs over experience. That laughter is the only cure for grief. And I believe that love is stronger than death. –Robert Fulghum

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

 

 

July 4: Twenty-Seven Reasons Day

Today we celebrate the Declaration of Independence of 1776. Thomas Jefferson, only 33 years old at the time, was chosen to write a draft of the Declaration. One of the masterworks of both literary and political prose, the Declaration opens with a 71-word sentence that although long is clearly and precisely worded:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation (1).

United States Declaration of Independence.jpgAlthough the preamble is Jefferson’s, a comparison of his drafts shows that he was influenced by others like English philosopher John Locke and an earlier Declaration of Rights written by the Virginian George Mason. Another clear influence was Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense, published in January 1776, used plain language to ignite revolutionary fervor in the colonists. In fact, Paine gave us the modern sense of the word “revolution” as change, as opposed to describing the movements of the planets.

In addition to being influenced by others, Jefferson got help with revisions. His document underwent 40 changes and 630 deleted words as drafts were presented to the Committee of Five and Congress. The date on the Declaration of Independence reads July 4, 1776, but a more accurate date is probably July 2nd when the actual proposal to declare independence was ratified. According to Bill Bryson in Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States, only two of the 57 signers of the Declaration did so on July 4th, Charles Thomson and John Hancock. Hancock’s large signature later became synonymous with signing your name.

The official signing did not take place until August 2nd and the names of the signers, for fear of retaliation, were not released until January 1777. Signing such a document was no small act. It was considered treason, and according to Bryson: “The penalty for treason was to be hanged, cut down while still alive, disemboweled and forced to watch your organs burned before your eyes, then beheaded and quartered” (2).

Stories of the Declaration of Independence being read in Philadelphia on July 4th to the ringing of the Liberty Bell are a myth since the first public reading was on July 8th, and “there is no record of any bells being rung. Indeed, though the Liberty Bell was there, it was not so called until 1847 . . . . “(2).

One year later, however, on July 4, 1777 there is a record of celebrations and parades on the first anniversary of independence. It is also on this date that a new word appeared: fireworks, which previously had been called rockets.

At the core of the Declaration is a list of 27 specific grievances that provide the rationale for revolution. American school children learn mainly about “taxation without representation” (#17), but as you can see by the parallel list below, American colonists had many more reasons to be unhappy with the British monarchy:

-He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
-He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
-He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
-He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
-He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
-He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
-He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
-He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
-He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
-He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
-He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
-He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
-He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
-For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
-For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
-For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
-For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
-For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
-For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
-For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
-For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
-For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
-He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
-He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
-He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
-He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
-He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

Today’s Challenge: 27 Reasons to Celebrate
What is something that you love so much that you could write 27 reasons to celebrate it? Select a person, place, or thing you feel passionate about and list your 27 reasons to celebrate it. For example, today might be a day to good day to write “Twenty-seven Reasons to Celebrate American Independence.” (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. –Thomas Jefferson

1 – Declaration of Independence. http://www.archives.gov/national-archives-experience/charters/declaration_transcript.html

2 – Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: William Morrow, 1995.

July 2:  Broadcast Day

Today is the anniversary of the first major sports broadcast. On July 2, 1921 in Jersey City, New Jersey, heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey met Georges Carpentier in what was billed as “The Battle of the Century.” Nearly one hundred thousand spectators witnessed the fight, and thousands more listened across the nation, including a crowd of ten thousand in New York’s Times Square.

The fight did not live up to its hype, ending in four rounds with Dempsey scoring a knockout, but the people who came to Times Square to listen to a fight, left wanting a radio of their own. According to Bill Bryson in his book Made in America, “The very notion of instant, long-distance verbal communication was so electrifying that soon people everywhere were clamoring to have a radio” (1).

The lone announcer that day was J. Andrew White, who probably never envisioned today’s sports fans who have access to sports broadcasts literally 24-hours a day. Today, in addition to a play-by-play announcer, who reports the who, what, when, and where, there are also color commentators, sometimes called color analysts, who give the listener or viewer the why and the how of what is happening in the ring or on the field. These expert analysts are especially important since the advent of instant replay, first used on December 7, 1963 during the CBS broadcast of the Army-Navy football game.

The relationship between the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator provides an interesting metaphor for writing. The play-by-play person provides what every good piece of writing needs: details, description, examples, facts, and statistics. The color commentator provides something else that good writing needs: the interpretation and analysis of the details. A good writer, therefore, must do both the job of the play-by-play announcer and the color commentator. This balance between the evidence provided to the reader (the proof) and the explanation of that evidence (the warrant) is a key to effective writing, especially argumentation.  So, as you write, ask yourself whether or not you are providing enough of both in your own essays, speeches, or broadcasts.

The word broadcast originated in the 18th century as an agricultural term to describe the wide swing of the hand as it throws, or “casts” seeds over a “broad” area.  With the advent of radio in the 1920s, the term was adopted as a metaphor to describe the dissemination of information over the air waves.

Today’s Challenge:  Broadcast Your Claim
What are some claims that you can make that you can support with detailed evidence and clear explanation?  Write a short editorial where you state a single clear claim.  Then, support your claim with both details and explanation. Use the broadcaster metaphor as a reminder to provide both play by play and color commentary that makes your case. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Any good broadcast, not just an Olympic broadcast, should have texture to it. It should have information, should have some history, should have something that’s offbeat, quirky, humorous, and where called for it, should have journalism, and judiciously it should also have commentary. That’s my ideal. -Bob Costas

1 – Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: Perennial, 1994.