October 16:  Dictionary Day

Writing in the Boston Globe in 2009, lexicographer Erin McKean presented the following imaginative and idealistic vision for Dictionary Day, the day that celebrates the birthday of the one man synonymous with the dictionary, Noah Webster (1758-1843):

. . . small children placed their dictionary stands by the hearthstone, hoping that Noah himself would magically come down the chimney and leave them a shiny new dictionary (left open to the word “dictionary,” of course). In some places, Dictionary Day is celebrated with bonfires of the past years’ dictionaries, the baking of the traditional aardvark-shaped cookies, and the singing of etymology carols (1).

Noah Webster was born in Hartford, Connecticut on October 16, 1758. He went on to graduate from Yale and to work as a lawyer. His most noteworthy work, however, came as a school teacher. Unhappy with the curriculum materials he was given to teach, he created his own uniquely American curriculum: A three-part Grammatical Institute of the English Language. It included a spelling book, a grammar book, and a reader.

Webster served in the student militia at Yale during the Revolutionary War. He never saw combat, but while he never fought in the literal battle for independence from Britain, he was a key player in the battle to make American English independent from British English.

His spelling book, known as the “Blue-Backed Speller,” became one of the most popular and influential works in American history. Only the Bible sold more copies.  According Bill Bryson in his book The Mother Tongue, Noah’s spelling book went through at least 300 editions and sold more than sixty million copies. Because of the wide use of his spelling book and his dictionary published in 1828, Webster had a significant impact on the spelling and pronunciation of American English. His dictionary contained more than 70,000 words, and it was the most complete dictionary of its time (2).

Many of the distinctive differences in spelling and pronunciation of British words versus English words can be traced back to Webster. For example:

Change of -our to –or as in colour and color, honour and honor, labour and labor.

Change of –re to er as in centre and center, metre and meter, theatre and theater

Change of –ce to se as in defence and defense, licence and license, offence and offense

The change of the British double-L in travelled and traveller to the American traveled, traveler.

Not all of Webster’s spelling changes stuck, however. David Grambs, in his book Death by Spelling, lists the following as examples of words that were retracted in later editions of Webster’s Dictionary: iz, relm, mashine, yeer, bilt, tung, breth, helth, beleeve, and wimmen (3).

After Webster’s death in 1843, the rights to his dictionaries were purchased by Charles and George Merriam. The first volume of their dictionary, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary was published in 1847.

After purchasing the rights for use of the Webster name, the Merriam brothers lost a legal battle to use the name exclusively. As a result, today other dictionaries use the name Webster even though they have no connection to Webster or his original work. Because of this Merriam-Webster includes the following assurance of quality for its dictionaries:

Not just Webster. Merriam-Webster.™

Other publishers may use the name Webster, but only Merriam-Webster products are backed by 150 years of accumulated knowledge and experience. The Merriam-Webster name is your assurance that a reference work carries the quality and authority of a company that has been publishing since 1831 (4).

The following are examples of other spelling changes made by Webster. They, in a large part, account for the differences in spelling that exist today in British English versus American English:

cheque to check

draught to draft

manoeuvre to maneuver

moustache to mustache

plough to plow

skilful to skillful

mediaeval to medieval

mould to mold (2)

Today’s Challenge: Dictionary Day Decalogue

What is your favorite word in the English language?  What kind of information can you find in a dictionary besides just the correct spellings and definitions of words?  Dictionaries tell us much more than just spelling and definitions. To celebrate Dictionary Day brainstorm a list of your favorite words.  Then, grab a good dictionary, and make a list of at least “Ten Things You Can Find in a Dictionary Besides Spelling and Definitions.”  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day:  So we should expand our thinking about dictionaries. Language is power – we understand that words can move us to tears or laughter, inspire us to great deeds or urge us to mob action. Dictionaries are the democratization of that power, and the more words they contain, the more democratic they are. The dictionary is a gigantic armory and toolbox combined, accessible to all. It reflects our preoccupations, collects our cultural knowledge, and gives us adorable pictures of aardvarks, to boot. And it does all this one word at a time. -Erin McKean

1 – http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/ideas/articles/2009/10/18/the_word_the_case_for_dictionary_day/

2- Bryson, Bill. The Mother Tongue. New York: Perennial, 1990.

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

4 – Grambs, David. Death by Spelling: A Compendium of Tests, Super Tests, and Killer Bees. New York: Harper & Row, 1989: 27.

4-http://www.m-w.com/info/webster.htm

 

October 6:  Xerox Day

On this date in 1942 Chester F. Carlson (1906-1968) received a patent for his invention, electrophotography.  His discovery was a giant leap in the history of publishing.  For centuries making a copy of single document was arduous and time-consuming.  Electrophotography, or xerography as it came to be called, made this process fast and easy.

Unlike previous wet copy processes, Carlson’s process was “dry.”  First an electrostatic image of the original document was created on a rotating metal drum; then, with the help of toner – powdered ink – a copy was transferred to a piece of paper and the print was sealed in place by heat (1).

To differentiate the name of his invention – electrophotography –  from print photography, Carlson searched for new term.  He settled first on the word xerography from the Greek xeros (meaning “dry”) and graphein (meaning “writing”).   Xerography later became xerox because of Carlson’s admiration for the name Kodak, the iconic American photography company.  Carlson especially liked the fact that the name Kodak was nearly a palindrome (a word that is spelled the same frontwards and backwards).  Adding an “x” at the end of his invention’s name, Carlson reasoned, would give it the same memorable ring.  Thus, xerox, the word that would become synonymous with copy duplication, was born (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Copywork, Not Copy Cat
Long before Xerox, copying by hand – or copywork – was a popular method of teaching writing in America.  As children we learn to talk, at least in part, by imitating others, so the rationale behind copywork is that we can also learn to write by imitating others.  

In their article on copywork’s historic roots, Brett and Kate McKay trace how many great American writers like Robert Louis Stevenson, Benjamin Franklin, and Jack London used copywork to learn their craft.  They explained London’s process as follows:

. . . London most admired the style of Rudyard Kipling. For hours at a time, and days on end, he would make it his assignment to copy page after page of Kipling’s works in longhand. Through such feverish effort, he hoped to absorb his hero’s rhythmic musicality and energetic cadence, along with the master’s ability to produce what one contemporary critic called “throat-grabbing phrase” (3).

By zeroing in and copying the words, phrases, and clauses of a single exemplary model, you discover elements of style you wouldn’t otherwise notice.  Like a cook who samples and dissects the dishes of a master chef, you become both inspired to produce your own recipes and equipped to combine the ingredients more artfully.  What is a short passage of published writing that you admire for its rhetorical craft, the kind of passage that might be held up as an exemplary model for writers?  Select a published passage of at least six sentences, and, following the principles of copywork, reproduce the writing verbatim — that’s Latin for “word for word.”  Make sure to write the author’s name and title of the work your passage is from at the top of your paper.  The purpose here is not to plagiarize; rather, it’s to use our pens to help us better pay better attention as we read and write. (Common Core Reading 1 – Close Reading).

Quotation of the Day:  The oldest copier invented by people is language, the device by which an idea of yours becomes an idea of mine. We are distinct from chimpanzees because speech, through its irrepressible power of reproduction, multiplied our thoughts into thinking.  The second great copying machine was writing. When the Sumerians transposed spoken words into stylus marks on clay tablets, they exponentially extended the human network that language had created. Writing freed copying from the chain of living contact. It made thinking permanent, portable, and endlessly reproducible. -David Owen

 

1- http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/duplication-nation-3D-printing-rise-180954332/?no-ist

2- Owen, David. Copies in Seconds:  How a Lone Inventor and an Unknown Company Created the Biggest Communication Breakthrough Since Gutenberg.  New York:  Simon and Shuster, 2008:  146.

3-http://www.artofmanliness.com/2014/03/26/want-to-become-a-better-writer-copy-the-work-of-others/

September 17:  Short Poem Day

William Carlos Williams passport photograph 1921.jpgToday is the birthday of American poet William Carlos Williams (1883-1963).  William was born and lived most of his life in Rutherford, New Jersey.  He grew up in a bilingual home; his father was English and his mother was Puerto Rican.  In addition to being an accomplished poet, Williams was also a practicing physician.  His most famous poem is “The Red Wheelbarrow,” which was published in his book Spring and All published in 1923.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

upon

a red wheel

barrow

glazed with rain

water

beside the white

chickens.

William’s poem typifies the imagism, an early 20th century movement in which poets strove to use common language and clear, precise imagery.

Today’s Challenge:  Poetry 100

Find a short published poem (50 words or fewer) by William Carlos William or some other poet.  Memorize and recite the poem, noticing how the poet uses economy of language to make meaning.  Then, compose your own short poem of 50 words or less.

Today’s Quotation:  “Brevity is the soul of wit.”  –William Shakespeare

 

September 3:  Postcard Poem Day

On this date William Wordsworth (1770-1850) wrote his sonnet Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802.  Instead of taking a photo or painting a picture, he crafted an image made of words, vividly describing the city of London and the Thames River.  Like a postcard, his poem is permanently postmarked by its title, providing both the time and place it was composed.

Westminster Bridge and Palace of Westminster.jpgThe original manuscript of the poem bears a note that provides more details on the circumstances surrounding its composition:  “Composed on the roof of a coach, on my way to France” (1).

Unlike the typical bucolic scenes of his romantic verse, in this poem Wordsworth describes an urban scene:

This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;  (lines 4-10)

Today’s Challenge:  Vivid Views in Verse
Follow Wordsworth’s model by painting your own picture in words.  What are the most unforgettable scenes that you can remember witnessing? What made them worth capturing in descriptive words?  Select your single most vivid, memorable scene to immortalize.  Then, craft your description of the scene in a postcard poem. Select from your rhetorical palette the best devices to paint your scene:  metaphors, similes, sensory imagery, and concrete diction.  Strive to show rather than tell.  Try to evoke the scene in your reader’s imagination, and postmark it with your title:  the place and time of composition. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  . . . imagery does not occur on the writer’s page; it occurs in the reader’s mind.  To describe everything is to supply a photograph in words; to indicate the points which seem the most vivid and important to you, the writer, is to allow the reader to flesh out your sketch into a portrait.   -Stephen King

1- http://www.bl.uk/collection-items/manuscript-of-composed-upon-westminster-bridge-september-3-1802-by-william-wordsworth#sthash.0iX28xHH.dpuf

 

August 28:  Anaphora Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his unforgettable I Have a Dream speech to the 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:

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free (2).

King went on to cite 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 abell, 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 . . . 

King also chose one of these examples of anaphora as the title of his speech. The repeated clause I have a dream comes at the climactic moment in the speech which is probably why it is the most frequently quoted part:

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together (1).

Today’s Challenge:  
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, some on serious topics like civil rights and others on 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:

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.   

Quotation of the Day: Have no unreasonable fear of repetition. . . . The story is told of a feature writer who was doing a piece on the United Fruit Company. He spoke of bananas once; he spoke of bananas twice; he spoke of bananas yet a third time, and now he was desperate. “The world’s leading shippers of the elongated yellow fruit,” he wrote. A fourth banana would have been better. -James J. Kilpatrick

1 – http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1951-/martin-luther-kings-i-have-a-dream-speech-august-28-1963.php

 

 

August 27:  Superlative Day

On this date in 1955, the first edition of the Guinness Book of World Records was published in the United Kingdom.

Guinness World Records logo.svgThe idea for the book began on November 10, 1951 when Sir Hugh Beaver, Chairman of the Guinness Brewery, was bird hunting in Ireland.  After missing a shot at a golden plover, Beaver wondered if the plover was the fastest game bird in Europe. Sir Hugh was unable to get his answer, however, because he could not find a reference book that answered his question.

In 1954 Sir Hugh commissioned twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter to make his idea a reality. Today the Guinness World Records reference book is published annually in 20 different languages in over 100 countries.  In fact, the book holds a world record of its own, being the best-selling copyrighted book of all time (1).

A Superlative Achievement

The Guinness Book of World Records could not have been written without superlative adjectives.  When using adjectives to make comparisons, think of three forms:  positive adjectives, comparative adjectives, and superlative adjectives.

Positive:  I am tall.

Comparative:  Sam is taller than I am.

Superlative:  Bill is the tallest one in the class.

As you can see by the examples above, the superlative form is the highest degree of comparison, as in tallest, greatest, fastest, richest, or highest.

When an adjective is three syllables or more, add the word more to the comparative form and the word most to the superlative form.

Examples:

Comparative:  more beautiful or more memorable

Superlative:  most beautiful or most memorable

Today’s Challenge:  Speaking in Superlatives
Write a review of something, some place, or someone you consider to be the worthy of superlatives.  Explain what makes your topic the greatest. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  It’s very important that people know that I really enjoy everything that has happened to me. And I tell my kids… you’re not going to be the tallest, fastest, prettiest, the best track runner, but you can be the nicest human being that someone has ever met in their life. And I just want to leave that legacy that being nice is a true treasure. –George Foreman

 

1-http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/publication-guinness-book-world-records

August 23:  Invictus Day

On this day in 1849, poet, critic, and editor William Ernest Hendley was born. Suffering from tuberculosis since he was 12, Henley was frequently hospitalized.  In 1875 his leg was amputated due to complications from the disease.  That same year as he recovered from his surgery, he wrote his best known poem Invictus (Latin for “unconquerable”) (1).

The poem’s brilliance revolves around its expression of the indomitable human spirit.  Also, the poem’s generalized statements of human anguish –“bludgeonings of chance,” “fell clutch of circumstance” — make it applicable to all manner of human struggles.

One example of the poem’s influence comes from the life of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013).  While imprisoned in South Africa for 27 years, Mandela frequently recited the poem to buoy the spirits of his fellow prisoners.  

Invictus

Out of the night that covers me,   
 Black as the Pit from pole to pole,   
I thank whatever gods may be   
 For my unconquerable soul.   
  
In the fell clutch of circumstance
 I have not winced nor cried aloud.   
Under the bludgeonings of chance   
 My head is bloody, but unbowed.   
  
Beyond this place of wrath and tears   
 Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years   
 Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.   
  
It matters not how strait the gate,   
 How charged with punishments the scroll,   
I am the master of my fate:
 I am the captain of my soul.

A short poem like Invictus is perfect for memorization.  As Mandela demonstrated, it is the kind of poem that can lift your spirits or the spirits of your compatriots when courage is needed to face what Shakespeare called “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

In his essay “Why We Should Memorize,” Novelist and poet Brad Leithauer talks about a bygone era (from 1875 to 1950) when the memorization and recitation of poetry was a staple of the curriculums of both Britain and the United States:

The rationales for verse recitation were many and sometimes mutually contradictory: to foster a lifelong love of literature; to preserve the finest accomplishments in the language down the generations; to boost self-confidence through a mastery of elocution; to help purge the idioms and accents of lower-class speech; to strengthen the brain through exercise; and so forth.

Leithaurer hopes for a revival of memorization, a process where students literally learn poems “by heart”:

The best argument for verse memorization may be that it provides us with knowledge of a qualitatively and physiologically different variety: you take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen. [N.Y.U Professor Catherine] Robson puts the point succinctly: “If we do not learn by heart, the heart does not feel the rhythms of poetry as echoes or variations of its own insistent beat.” (2)

Today’s Challenge:  I Am the Master of the Poem
What are the keys to effective memorization and recitation of poetry?  What process would you use to learn a poem by heart?  Begin the process of memorizing Invictus.  Read and reread the poem.  Read it aloud.  Write the poem down.  Break the poem down into smaller parts.  Then, memorize it line by line and stanza by stanza.  Decide what key words you want to emphasize and experiment with reciting it using different tones.  Finally, use the words of the poem to inspire your goal of memorizing the poem.  Don’t give up!

Quotation of the Day:  Sure I am this day we are masters of our fate, that the task which has been set before us is not above our strength; that its pangs and toils are not beyond our endurance. As long as we have faith in our own cause and an unconquerable will to win, victory will not be denied us. -Winston Churchill

 

1-http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/william-ernest-henley

2- Leithauer, Brad.  “Why We Should Memorize.”  The New Yorker.  25 Jan. 2013.

August 20:  Going Postal Day

On this date in 1986, Patrick Henry Sherrill, a disgruntled postal worker, opened fire on his co-workers at a post office in Oklahoma City. Before he committed suicide, he killed 14 people. This terrible incident along with a string of such incidents involving postal workers over the next seven years, led to coinage of the phrase to go postal.

The U.S. Postal Service was understandably unhappy when this usage began gaining currency in the language. In response to this public relations nightmare they created an independent commission to assess workplace violence in 1998. The Associated Press reported its findings:

The commission found that postal workers were no more likely to resort to workplace violence than workers in other jobs. It found 0.26 workplace homicides per 100,000 postal workers from 1992 to 1998. By comparison the rate was 2.10 per 100,000 for retail workers, 1.66 in public administration, 1.32 for transportation and 0.50 for private delivery services (2).

It seems that the final fifteen years of the millennium could be called “The Age of Rage.” As chronicled in the book Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture, the phrase road rage, meaning “extreme anger exhibited by a motorist in response to perceived injustices committed by other drivers,” began to appear in a few media stories in 1988. In the years that followed, the phrase became more and more common. The statistics below show the number of stories containing the phrase road rage that appeared each year:

1988-1993: 4

1994: 10

1995: 200

1996: 900

1997: 2,000 (1)

Expressions relating to angry, crazed behavior are nothing new in English. The expression to go berserk entered the language in the 19th century, but its roots go back much farther. Berserk is from Old Norse meaning “bear shirt.” It describes the Viking tactic of putting on bearskins and attacking and pillaging the enemy in a furious, crazed rage. British author Sir Walter Scott introduced the word into English in his 1822 novel The Pirate, and by 1940 it was being used in its present form to describe “crackpot behavior” (3).

Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Millennium

Besides going postal and road rage, other forms of rage have made it into print, according to Paul McFedries in his book Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture. All the examples below appeared in the 1990s, where rage was clearly all the rage. Given a clue, see if you can identify the specific rage:

  1. Rage that resulted when proper etiquette was not followed, especially on greens and fairways.
  1. Rage at 20,000 feet.
  1. Rage directed at noisy audience members at a musical performance.
  1. Rage directed at doctors, nurses, and HMOs.
  1. Rage directed at pedestrians or cyclists.
  1. Rage at sporting events, directed at other fans or the coaches or players of the opposing team.
  1. Rage caused by the perceived commercialization of the Internet.
  1. Rage directed at colleagues or bosses.

Today’s Challenge:  Write A Rant
Writing is a great way to work out your problems and to blow off steam.  It also allows you to express your passion while working through and thinking about what’s bothering you.  What are things that you think are worth complaining about, the hassles of life that frustrate you?  Brainstorm a long list of things to complain about.  Then, pick one complaint you feel passionately about.  Write your rant, expressing your passion but also explaining the reasons behind your frustrations in concrete terms so that you audience can understand them. Don’t just tell what frustrates you; show it. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day: Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae. –Kurt Vonnegut

Answers: 1. golf rage 2. air rage 3. concert rage 4. patient rage 5. sidewalk rage 6. sports rage or sideline rage 7. dot.com rage 8. work rage (or desk rage)

1 – Paul McFedries. Word Spy: The Word Lover’s Guide to Modern Culture. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.

2 – Talley, Tim. 20 years later, survivors recall terror of US postal massacre.

Associated Press. 19 August 2006.

3 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

August 16:  Mononym Day

Today is the anniversary of the death of rock and roll icon Elvis Presley, who died at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee in 1977. Only 42 years old, Elvis died of a heart attack brought on by his addiction to prescription drugs.

Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935. His family was poor, and at 19 he paid four dollars to record some songs for his mother at a Memphis recording studio. The owner of the studio, Sam Phillips, was impressed by Elvis’ singing, and in 1954, he released Elvis’ first single “That’s All Right” on his Sun Records label.

Album cover with photograph of Presley singing—head thrown back, eyes closed, mouth wide open—and about to strike a chord on his acoustic guitar. Another musician is behind him to the right, his instrument obscured. The word "Elvis" in bold pink letters descends from the upper left corner; below, the word "Presley" in bold green letters runs horizontally.From that point on Elvis’ popularity exploded to the point that the single name Elvis became synonymous with rock and roll. Whether you love or hate his music, there is no denying his impact on the music and culture of the 1950s. He brought rock into the mainstream, made it an art form, and showed that it could produce millions of dollars in revenue (1).

In 1958, the same year that Elvis entered the U.S. Army for a two-years stint, a child by the name of Madonna Louise Ciccone was born to a Catholic family in Bay City, Michigan. When Madonna was five years old, her mother died of breast cancer, and her father was left with six children to raise. Encouraged by her father to take piano lessons, Madonna tried music for a few months but eventually persuaded her father to pay for ballet lessons instead.

Her pursuit of a dance career took her to New York in 1977, the same year Elvis died. With only $35 dollars in her pocket, she struggled to earn a living and to perfect her dancing craft. She returned to music in 1979, forming a rock band and performing disco and dance songs in New York dance clubs. It’s at this point that she gained the attention of Sire Records, signing a deal paying her $5,000 per song. With the release of her first album Madonna in 1983, “The Material Girl” achieved the kind of international fame and success that would make her a pop icon and the most successful female artist in history. Some might even argue that what Elvis did for rock and roll in the 1950s, Madonna did for pop music in the 1980s (2).

What’s in a Mononym?
Besides the fact that both Elvis and Madonna dominated the music scene in their respective eras, they also share the rare distinction of being instantly and unambiguously recognized based on the invocation of just their first names.  In other words, they have become mononymous, that is becoming so well known that they are known by a single name or mononym.

The word is from the Greek:  mono = one + nym = word or name.

To achieve such a high degree of first name recognition is rare even among some of history’s most revered icons. Of course, it does help to have a distinctive first name. If you refer to William Shakespeare, for example, as just William, your audience might not know if you are referring to The Bard of Avon — William Shakespeare — or William Shatner.

Certainly there is a difference between using a one-name moniker and truly achieving the kind of across-the-board name recognition of an Elvis or a Madonna. The names on the following list, for example, are recognizable today by the vast majority of the population. But will they be 10, 50, or 100 years from now?

Plato

Socrates

Twiggy

Shaq

Sting

Oprah

Bono

Cher

Say My Name

Examples of men and women whose notoriety has withstood the test of time can be found in the book 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium.

This book features 1,000 mini-biographies that are models of concise and clear prose. Using set criteria to score each personality, the authors rate Johannes Gutenberg number one and Andy Warhol number 1,000. However, between #1 and #1,000 there are only a few examples of individuals who have achieved the kind of notoriety to be called “First Name Icons.” Given each person’s ranking from 1,000 Years, 1,000 People and a few biographical details, see if you can come up with the first name, or, in some cases, the only known single name.

  1. #4 He built the first telescope and challenged the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe.
  1. #9 He painted the Mona Lisa.
  1. #13 He sculpted the Pieta and David.
  1. #16 He proclaimed himself emperor of France.
  1. #30 He was the author of The Divine Comedy.
  1. #36 He was the author of Candide.
  1. #46 He was the Dutch master who painted “The Nightwatch.”
  1. #50 He ruled Communist China for 37 years.
  1. #91 Her name is synonymous with 19th century Britain.
  1. #112 He was Italian and a master of lyric poetry and the sonnet (3).

Today’s Challenge:  Mononym-mania
What are some examples of people who are known by a single name, a mononym?  Who is your Mount Rushmore or Final Four of mononyms, and which single person would take the championship? Generate a list of mononyms.  To help, you might use a dictionary; to make it into the dictionary a person must be virtually universally known, and these are they types of people who tend to have mononyms.  Decide on your Mount Rushmore/Final Four mononyms. Then, write an explanation of who would win each of the three “face-offs” in your four-names bracket. (Common Core Writing 1)

Quotation of the Day:  The parade of mononyms on the pop chart is getting monotonous: Beyoncé, Pink, Adele, Rihanna, Duffy, Akon, Usher, Mims, Eminem, Seal, Brandy, Joe et al. –Jon Bream

Answers:1. Galileo 2. Leonardo 3. Michelangelo 4. Napoleon 5. Dante 6. Voltaire 7. Rembrandt 8. Mao 9. Victoria 10. Petrarch

 

1 – This Day in History – General Interest. Elvis Presley Dies: August 16, 1977. The History Channel.

2 – Madonna (entertainer)Wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madonna_%28entertainer%29

3 – Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, and Brent Bowers. 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. New York: Kodansha International, 1998.

August 13: Americanisms from 1950s Day

Today is the anniversary of an article published in the show-business magazine Variety that featured a new word. The article published on August 13, 1950 used the term disc jockey for the first time, reporting the phenomenon of New York radio hosts selecting and playing phonograph records for an eager audience of young fans of popular music. The term stuck, sometimes abbreviated as DJ or deejay. DJ is an example of an Americanism, an English word or expression that is born in the U.S.A. and that is used in the writing and speech of Americans.

The book America in So Many Words by David K. Barnhart and Allan A. Metcalf documents Americanisms from the 1600s to the end of the 20th century. For each year, the authors select a single representative Americanism that was “newly coined or newly prominent.” Looking at the words and the background of each is a reminder that every English word is like a fossil or an archeological artifact that reveals the attitudes and trends of the age in which it was coined.

The below list of Americanisms from 1949 to 1960, for example, gives interesting insights into the characteristics of post-war America; the list also foreshadows several political, cultural, social, and economic trends that would emerge in the second half of the 20th century.

1949 cool

1950 DJ

1951 rock and roll

1952 Ms.

1953 UFO

1954 Fast Food

1955 hotline

1956 brinkmanship

1957 role model

1958 Murphy’s Law

1959 software

1960 sit-in (1)

If English is the global language of the 21st century, then it is certainly American English which is the most influential variety of English. Whereas the English language of the British Empire dominated and propagated English around the world in the first half of the 20th century, American English, since the end of World War II, has exported English even farther than the Brits, via satellite and computer technology.

As early as 1780, John Adams envisioned this linguistic American Revolution:

English is destined to be in the next and succeeding centuries more generally the language of the world than Latin was in the last or French is in the present age. The reason of this is obvious, because the increasing population in America, and their universal connection and correspondence with all nations will, aided by the influence of England in the world, whether great or small, force their language into general use.

One aspect that characterizes the American variety of English is its brevity. Americanisms are typically single syllable words or at least single syllable compounds. Americanisms include a variety of classifications that produce words that are short and sweet: Americanisms are clipped words (such as fan from fanatic), blends(such as motel from motor + hotel), abbreviations (such as Ms. from mistress), initialisms (such as UFO from Unidentified Flying Object), and acronyms (such as AWOL from absent without leave).

In fact, even the word acronym is an Americanism that emerged from the government and military build-up of World War II to give Americans a way to compress multiple-word expressions into easy-to-communicate small packages. This Americanism uses Greek roots: acro- meaning top, peak, or initial and -nym meaning name. Using the initial letters of words, acronyms condense names, titles, or phrases into single words, such as radar for radio detection and ranging.

Born in the U.S.A.

Given the number of letters and a brief definition, see if you can identify the Americanisms below. None are more than four letters long:

  1. Three-letter word in response to someone stating to obvious.
  1. A three-letter clipped word that emerged from rap music and its performers’ desire for respect.
  1. Two-letter initialism that reflects the American faith in the ability to measure anything, including the quality of a person’s gray matter.
  1. A three-letter clipped word that refers to any liquid, especially a sticky one.
  1. A frequently used two-letter initialism with two different meanings. The first came out of the world of technology; the second meaning came out of the multicultural movement.
  1. A two-letter initialism that refers to American soldiers.
  1. A four-letter acronym that evolved from the Civil War to refer to soldiers who fled the battlefield or their assigned posts.
  1. A three-letter initialism that reflects the American tendency to live life at a fast pace and to get things done in a hurry.

Today’s Challenge:  Yankee Doodle Lexicon
Based on your best guesses, what are some examples of words or expressions that are Americanisms, that is words or expressions that emerged from American English and the culture and history of the Unites States?  Select a single word or phrase, and do some research to verify whether or not it is an Americanism.  Once you have identified one, do some research to determine the etymology of the word or phrase.  Write an extended definition of the word that includes its definition, evolution, and history. (Common Core Writing 2)

The following are some examples:

bottom line

workaholic

Watergate

soundbite

stealth

gridlock

wannabe

yuppie

soccer mom

millennium bug

Quote of the Day: Thus the American, on his linguistic side, likes to make his language as he goes along, and not all the hard work of his grammar teachers can hold the business back. A novelty loses nothing by the fact that it is a novelty; it rather gains something, and particularly if it meets the national fancy for the terse, the vivid, and, above all, the bold and imaginative. —H. L. Mencken

Answers:

  1. duh (1963) 2. dis (1986) 3. IQ (1916) [intelligence quotient] 4. goo (1902) 5. PC (1990) [personal computer; politically correct] 6. GI (1917) [See Word Daze June 22 GI Day 7. AWOL [absent without leave] (1863) 8. P.D.Q [Pretty Darn Quick] (1875)

1- Barnhart, David K. and Alla A. Metcalf. America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

2 – Algeo, John. “Americans are Ruining English.” Language Myth #21. Do You Speek American? PBS.

http://www.pbs.org/speak/words/sezwho/ruining/