On this day in 1954, Ernest Hemingway received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Because of illness, Hemingway was unable to attend the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, Sweden to receive his award in person. He did, however, prepare a brief speech which was read by John C. Cabot, United States Ambassador to Sweden.
In addition to expressing his appreciation to the Nobel administrators, Hemingway’s speech provided some insights on the writer’s life:
Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writers palliate the writer’s loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day (1).
Characteristic of Hemingway’s writing, all four sentences in the paragraph above are declarative, that is they are sentences in which the subject precedes the verb, and they are sentences that make direct statements. Unlike interrogative sentences, they do not ask questions (Why is writing a lonely life?). Unlike imperative sentences, they do not make commands (Write everyday no matter what.) And unlike exclamatory sentences, they do not express strong emotion (Writing is hard work!).
Hemingway believed that it was the writer’s job to declare the truth, and as he explained in his memoir A Moveable Feast there’s no better way to declare the truth than in declarative sentences:
All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know. So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut the scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.
Today’s Challenge: The Title is Also Declarative
What is a declarative sentence that would serve as a good title for a personal anecdote? As Hemingway did with his novel The Sun Also Rises, try coming up with a good title in the form of one complete declarative sentence. Then write an anecdote, either fact or fiction, that matches the title. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)
Quotation of the Day: Courage is grace under pressure. -Ernest Hemingway
Today is the birthday in 65 BC of Roman lyrical poet and satirist Horace. On this day we express our gratitude to Horace for a single word — sesquipedalian, which means “a long word” or “a person known for using long words.”
Horace penned his verse in Latin. In his Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry) he wrote the following: Proicit ampullas et sesquipedalia verba, which translates, “He throws aside his paint pots and his words that are a foot and a half long.” Combining the Latin roots sesqu- (one and a half) and ped (a foot), this adjective provides the perfect slightly exaggerated image for words that are wide. Like many English words derived from Latin, especially many of the longer ones, sesquipedalian was borrowed in the seventeenth century (1).
George Orwell gave good advice to writers in his famous essay “Politics and the English Language” when he said, “Never use a long word when a short one will do.” However, sometimes a long word is the best word, especially when it has precise meaning. Polysyllabic words may be long, but they also can pack a lot of meaning into a small space. In his book 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing, Gary Provost calls these polysyllabic words “dense words”(2). Dense words allow a writer to say in one word what would normally require many words. For example, notice how in the sentence below, ten words can be swapped out for a single word:
Original: The politician was guilty of being evasive, using many words when fewer were called for.
Revision: The politician was guilty of circumlocution.
Today’s Challenge: World of Wide and Weighty Words
What are some examples of words that are at least 10 letters long, words that pack a lot meaning into a single word? Using a good dictionary, identify at least 8 words that are each at least 10 letters long. Record your list of words along with a definition of each one. Also record the number of words in the definition. Then, write your verdict of whether or not each word is a dense word. To judge each word, ask and answer the following questions: Does the word crowd enough meaning into a small enough space to be declared dense? Is it truly a heavyweight word?
Below are some examples of dense words:
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.
Today is the birthday of Walt Disney, who was born in Chicago in 1901. In 1928 he introduced the world to Mickey Mouse in the animated feature Steamboat Willie. Disney revolutionized animation, mixing sound and color to produce full-length feature films based on classic children’s stories like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. For Disney, fantasy on the big screen was not enough. He also pioneered the fantasy-themed family vacation when he opened Disneyland in California in 1955 (1).
Disney was a man who paid attention to details, and he knew that the appearance of his characters as well as their names mattered. In the 1930s, for example, when Disney was adapting the Brothers Grimm’s Snow White, he made a list of 47 potential names for the dwarfs, which included Awful, Baldy, Dirty, and Hoppy (2). In case you can’t remember the names that made the final cut, they are Bashful, Dopey, Grumpy, Happy, Sleepy, Sneezy, and Doc.
As a film producer, Disney won 22 Academy Awards, far more than anyone else. Disney died in 1966, but his name lives on. The Walt Disney Company, the small animation company he founded on October 16, 1923, has grown into the world’s second largest media conglomerate.
Today’s Challenge: Escape to Cartoon Mountain Who would you argue should be on the Mount Rushmore of Cartoon Characters? Brainstorm a list of cartoon characters. Don’t limit yourself to just Disney characters. Select your final four, the four that that you think are the most influential, most important, or just most entertaining. List the names of each character along with a rationale for each character’s selection. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day: First, think. Second, believe. Third, dream. And finally, dream. -Walt Disney
On this day in 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, a bulk freighter, sank in a storm on Lake Superior. The entire crew of the Fitzgerald, 29 men, were lost. Approximately two weeks after the tragedy, singer songwriter Gordon Lightfoot read a short Newsweek magazine article on the ship’s sinking. The first lines of the article read:
According to a legend of the Chippewa tribe, the lake they once called Gitche Gumee ‘never gives up her dead.’ (1)
Inspired by the article and the plight of the Fitzgerald and its crew, Lightfoot began writing what was to become one of popular music’s most recognizable ballads, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” The opening lines of the song’s lyrics, clearly show the influence of the Newsweek article:
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy
Almost one year to the day of the appearance of the article in Newsweek, the song became a number one hit in Lightfoot’s native Canada; the song peaked at number 2 on the U.S. Billboard charts (2).
Gordon Lightfoot is certainly not the only songwriter to mine newspapers and magazines for ideas:
-The lyrics of the Beatles song “A Day in the Life” were inspired by two separate stories that John Lennon read in London newspapers. One about a fatal car accident and the second about a road survey that revealed 4,000 pot holes in the roads of Blackburn, Lancashire. The song’s opening line is: “I read the news today, oh boy.”
-Janis Ian’s song “At Seventeen” was inspired by a New York Times article about a debutante. The article’s opening line was “I learned the truth at 18”; the opening line of Ian’s song is “I learned the truth at 17.” She changed the number because 18 didn’t scan.
-Alicia Keys’ song “Girl on Fire” was inspired by a magazine article that Keys read about herself. The article’s writer Jeannine Amber used the phrase “girl on fire” to describe the singer. The phrase had such an impact on Keys that she used it not only for inspiration for a song, but also as the title of her fifth studio album.
-The Elvis song “Heartbreak Hotel” was inspired by a newspaper story about a suicide note. The man who killed himself left a note that said, “I walk a lonely street.” This inspired the song’s opening lines, written by Tommy Durden: Well, since my baby left me, I found a new place to dwell. It’s down at the end of lonely street at Heartbreak Hotel.
-The 1973 Tony Orlando and Dawn hit “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round That Old Oak Tree” was inspired by a 1971 story in the The New York Post about a convict returning from prison. In the story a white handkerchief was tied around the tree. Songwriters Irwin Levine and Larry Brown made the change to a yellow ribbon because they felt it made for a better song. Interestingly, the song went on to inspire a national movement in the 1980s when yellow ribbons became the symbol of American hostages held in Iran. Fifty-two hostages were held captive for 444 days.
Today’s Challenge: I Read the News Today What recent news story might serve as inspiration for a song or a poem? Look through a recent newspaper or magazine for stories — local, national, or international — that might serve as inspiration for the lyrics of a song or poem. Use your poetic license as needed to transform the people, places, and events in the news into your own creative work.
Quotation of the Day: One merit of poetry few persons will deny: it says more and in fewer words than prose. -Voltaire
1 Gains, James R. and Jon Lowell. “Great Lakes: The Cruelest Month.” Newsweek magazine 24 Nov. 1975.
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
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
Today 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
a red wheel
glazed with rain
beside the white
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
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.
The 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
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)
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