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/

 

August 6:  Interjection Day

Today is the anniversary of the British release of the Beatles album Help!, the soundtrack of their second film by the same title.

The title song, like most Beatles songs, is credited to the Lennon-McCartney songwriting team, but it was primarily a Lennon composition. John Lennon explained that the song was written during the height of Beatlemania and was a literal cry for help.

The Beatles, standing in a row and wearing blue jackets, with their arms positioned as if to spell out a word in flag semaphoreThe covers of both the British and the American albums show the Fab Four standing with their arms outstretched to signal semaphore letters. Strangely the letters do not spell out H – E – L -P; instead, they spell N – V – U – J.

The Beatles second film, a James Bond spoof, was not as well received as their critically acclaimed first film A Hard Day’s Night. The music of the film, however, revealed the Beatles maturing songwriting talent with such songs as “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” “Ticket to Ride,” “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away,” and “Yesterday.” The varied tempos of the songs and the lyrics, more sophisticated than those on previous albums, showed that the Beatles were moving beyond “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah.”

The words help and yeah are both interjections: words or phrases that express emotion but have no grammatical connection to the rest of a sentence. One of the most overlooked and underrated parts of speech, interjections are an important part of the way we communicate.  Interjections are the one part of speech that is definitely a significant part of our everyday speech.  One example is the simple phone greeting hello.  Today we take it for granted, but when phones first appeared there was no standard greeting.  In fact, the phone’s inventor Alexander Graham Bell advocated the nautical Ahoy!  Another famous inventor, Thomas Edison lobbied for hello.  Bell got final credit for inventing the phone, but Edison’s choice of interjection prevailed.

The book ZOUNDS! A Brower’s Dictionary of Interjections is a catalog of over 500 interjections, their definitions and origins. Where else can you learn that there are a total of 109 two-letter words allowable for Scrabble, and that 23 of those two-letter words are interjections:

ah, aw, ay, bo, eh, er, fy, ha, hi, ho, io, lo,

my, oh, oi, ow, sh, st, ta, um, ur, ou, yo

The book, written by Mark Dunn and illustrated by Sergio Aragones, gives fascinating and funny background explanations for each interjection.

Here is a small A-Z sample of some of the interjections featured. You can also watch the unforgettable School House Rock video.

aha

bravo

check

definitely

eureka

far-out

gadzooks

hi

I declare

jeepers

knock-knock

la-di-da

my bad

no soap

O.K.

please

quiet

rats

sorry

thanks

uff-da

very well

way to go

yadda-yadda

zounds (1)

Read each of the famous interjections below and see if you can identify the name of the person or character who made it famous.

  1. “Eureka!”
  1. “Badabing-badaboom”
  1. “Stuff and nonsense!”
  1. “Bah! Humbug!”
  1. “Fiddle-dee-dee !”
  1. Leapin’ lizards!”
  1. “Nanoo, nanoo”
  1. “Dyn-O-Mite!”
  1. “Bully!” (1)

Today’s Challenge: Wow! The Interjection Hall of Fame!
What are your favorite interjections — exclamatory blurt-outs or quips?  Brainstorm a list of interjections you use or ones that have been used by others.  They may be famous (cowabunga!), familiar (yeah, right!), or original to you.  Select the one interjection you like the best, and write an explanation of what it is, how it is used, and what makes it so special. (Common Core Writing 2)

Quote of the Day:  If language were some beautiful, intricately woven rug, interjections might be those end tassels that knot and mat and collect all the cat hair. -Mark Dunn

Answers: 1. Archimedes 2. Tony Soprano 3. Alice, in Alice in Wonderland 4. Scrooge 5. Scarlet O’Hara 6. Little Orphan Anne 7. Mork, from “Mork & Mindy” 8. Jimmy Walker from “Good Times” 9. President Theodore Roosevelt

 

1 – Dunn, Mark and Sergio Aragones. Zounds!: A Browser’s Dictionary of Interjections. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2005.

August 4:  Top 100 Day

Today is the anniversary of the introduction of Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart. The first number one song on the chart was Ricky Nelson’s “Poor Little Fool.”

Prior to August 4, 1958, Billboard had separate charts for Most Played By Jockeys, Best Sellers in Stores, and Most Played in Juke Boxes. The new Hot 100 list combined the Best Sellers and the Most Played By Jockeys lists into a single chart. Because Jukeboxes were becoming less popular, their numbers were not included (1).

The linguistic equivalent of Billboard’s Hot 100 would have to be Word Spy’s Top 100 Words . Created by technical writer Paul McFedries, Word Spy is a website devoted to neologisms. Neologisms are new words — words that have appeared in print multiple times, but that are not in the dictionary.

Word Spy gives the armchair linguist a peek behind the lexical curtain. Visiting this web site is a little like watching a preseason football practice: you get to see all the players (words) on the field, but you’re not sure which ones will make the final cut. In the case of neologisms, the final cut is making it into the dictionary. The lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary do their work behind the scenes, and most neologisms have the life span of the common house fly. In contrast, Word Spy makes lexicography democratic: you get to see all the words, it’s free, and McFedries even accepts reader submissions.

Here are a couple of examples for neologisms from Word Spy:

aireoke (air.ee.OH.kee) n. Playing air guitar and singing to prerecorded music; playing air guitar in a public performance. Also: air-eoke. [Blend of air guitar and karaoke.]

Manilow method n. The discouragement of loitering in public places by broadcasting music that is offensive to young people, particularly the songs of singer Barry Manilow.

In addition to words and definitions, Word Spy also provides pronunciations, citations, and notes on each word. WARNING: Reading this site can become addictive! (2)

Brave New Words

See if you can match up the 8 neologisms from Word Spy with the 8 definitions numbered below.

freegan

buzzword bingo

godcasting

NOPE

Google bombing

Drink the Kool-Aid

fauxhawk

male answer syndrome

  1. n. A person or attitude that opposes all real estate development or other projects that would harm the environment or reduce property values.
  1. n. A hairstyle in which a strip of hair across the top of the head is longer and higher than the hair on the remainder of the head.
  1. n. A person, usually a vegan, who consumes only food that is obtained by foraging, most often in the garbage of restaurants, grocery stores, and other retailers.
  1. v. To become a firm believer in something; to accept an argument or philosophy wholeheartedly or blindly.
  1. n. Setting up a large number of Web pages with links that point to a specific Web site so that the site will appear near the top of a Google search when users enter the link text.
  1. n. The tendency for some men to answer a question even when they don’t know the answer.
  1. n. A word game played during corporate meetings. Players are issued bingo-like cards with lists of buzzwords such as paradigm and proactive. Players check off these words as they come up in the meeting, and the first to fill in a “line” of words is the winner.
  1. pp. Podcasting an audio feed with a religious message (2).

Today’s Challenge:  One Hundred on One
What is your favorite word?  What makes your word so interesting, distinctive, and special?  Brainstorm a list of your favorite words.  Select the single word you would rate as your favorite, and write 100 words on why your word is so special and what specifically makes it your favorite.  Do a bit of research to get some details on the etymology or history of your word so that you can give your reader some details that go beyond just the obvious. (Common Core Writing 1)

Quotation of the Day: The genius of democracies is seen not only in the great number of new words introduced but even more in the new ideas they express. –Alexis de Tocqueville

Answers: 1. NOPE: (Not On Planet Earth) 2. fauxhawk 3. freegan 4. Drink the Kool-Aid 5. Google bombing 6. male answer syndrome 7. buzzword bingo 8. godcasting

 

1 – Hot 100 Billboard

  1. wordspy.com

 

July 27: SMOG Day

Today is the anniversary of the coinage of the word smog. On July 27, 1905 the London Globe reported: “At a meeting of the Public Health Congress Dr. Des Voeux did a public service in coining a new word for the London fog, which was referred to as smog, a compound of smoke and fog” (1). Smog is just one example of a class of English words know as blends (a.k.a. portmanteau words), such as spork (spoon + fork), or brunch (breakfast + lunch).

The London fog of Dickens and Hollywood was certainly less romantic than it appeared. The major culprit of the city’s dark fog was burning coal; it seems appropriate that a physician would be the one to appear on the scene to name the culprit and to try to clear it up.

When it comes to writing, there is another kind of SMOG know as the Simple Measure Of Gobbledygook. This type of SMOG, an acronym, is a test of a text’s readability, based on a formula devised by reading researcher G. Harry McLaughlin. McLaughlin says he designed his formula in 1969 BC [Before Computers], to give educators an easy method of calculating the grade level of a given text.

The readability formula works like this: First, select three, 10-sentence samples from the text. Second, count the words in the text that are 3 or more syllables. Third, estimate the count’s square root, and add 3. The resulting number will correspond to the estimated grade-level of the text.

Today, in the age of computers, you can use the SMOG Formula online by simply cutting and pasting your text. This passage, for example, comes in at 11.02 on the SMOG Index.

The final word in the SMOG acronym, gobbledygook refers to more than just multisyllabic words. It means unintelligible language, especially jargon or bureaucratese.

The word was coined by Texas lawyer and Democratic Congressman Maury Maverick. He created the word in 1944 when referring to the obscure, smoggy language used by his colleagues. To craft his metaphor, Maverick turned to the turkey since the bird is “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity.”

It should be noted that word origins ran in the Maverick family. Maury’s grandfather was Samuel Maverick, the Texas rancher who became famous and eponymous for his unconventional practice of not branding his cattle. Of course today a maverick is anyone who stands outside the crowd, or herd, defying the status quo (3).

One organization defying SMOG is the Plain English Campaign based in New Mills, Derbyshire, England. Their stated mission is to fight “for crystal-clear language and against jargon, gobbledygook and other confusing language.”

Each year the Plain English Campaign presents The Golden Bull Awards for the year’s worst examples of gobbledygook. Here is one example of a 2004 winner:

British Airways for terms and conditions

CHARGES FOR CHANGES AND CANCELLATIONS NOTE – CANCELLATIONS – BEFORE DEPARTURE FARE IS REFUNDABLE. IF COMBINING A NON-REFUNDABLE FARE WITH A REFUNDABLE FARE ONLY THE Y/C/J-CLASS HALF RETURN AMOUNT CAN BE REFUNDED. AFTER DEPARTURE FARE IS REFUNDABLE. IF COMBINING A NON-REFUNDABLE FARE WITH A REFUNDABLE FARE REFUND THE DIFFERENCE /IF ANY/BETWEEN THE FARE PAID AND THE APPLICABLE NORMAL BA ONEWAY FARE. CHANGES/UPGRADES- PERMITTED ANYTIME (4).

Below are examples given by the Plain English Campaign of sentences containing gobbledygook. Each of the three sentences is followed by a clear, concise version.  Study each sentence noticing how the three bad versions cloud meaning with gobbledygook:

  1. High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.

-Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

  1. If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.

-If you have any questions, please ring.

  1. It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information detailed opposite then complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior to its immediate return to the Council by way of the envelope provided.

-Please read the notes opposite before you fill in the form. Then send it back to us as soon as possible in the envelope provided.

Today’s Challenge:  SMOG Alert

Why do some writers write sentences clogged by gobbledygook, and more importantly, what can they do to prevent writing this way?  Write a PSA in clear, simple, forceful language that provides the audience with a clear warning against using gobbledygook as well as some specific tips on how to avoid it. (Common Core Writing 1)

Quotation of the Day: The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. -George Orwell

 

1 – Funk, Charles Earle. Thereby Hangs a Tale: Stories of Curious Word Origins. New York: HarperPerennial, 1950.

2 – McLaughlin, G. Harry. SMOG: Simple Measure of Gobbledygook.

3 – Quinion, Michael. “GOBBLEDYGOOK OR GOBBLEDEGOOK.” World Wide Words.  

4 – http://www.plainenglish.co.uk/index.html

 

 

 

July 23:  Grand Slam Day

Today is the anniversary of Tiger Woods’ victory at the 2000 British Open. Woods won by shooting a record 19 under par at the course in St. Andrews, Scotland. Certainly winning a major professional golf tournament in record fashion is noteworthy, but what made Woods’ victory extraordinary was the fact that it made him, at 24 years-old, the youngest golfer ever to win all four of golf’s major championships: the British, the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the PGA.

Later when Woods won the 2001 Masters, he became the only player to win consecutive titles in all four major championships. Because he did not win all four titles in the same year, however, his accomplishment was dubbed The Tiger Slam. No player has ever won all four of the major tournaments in the same year (1).

Your first guess as to the origin of grand slam might take you to the baseball term for a bases loaded home run that scores four runs. While this is probably the most common use of the term, it actually originated in card games, bridge for example, where one side wins all thirteen tricks. It is also a prominent term in tennis, referring to the four national championships: the Australian Open, Wimbledon, the French Open, and the U.S. Open (2).

Wherever the term grand slam is used, it usually relates to superlative achievements in high stakes competition. Also, at least in the modern sense, it has come to be associated with things that come in fours. Maybe there is something magical about the number four; after all, it is the only number in the English language which when spelled out has the same number of letters as the number it represents. Look at the groups of four below, and see if you can identify the category into which all four fit.

Example: hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds. Answer: the four card suits.

  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
  2. John, Paul, George, and Ringo
  3. Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, Thing
  4. simple, complex, compound, compound-complex
  5. from want, from fear, of speech, and of worship
  6. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph
  7. Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde
  8. index, middle, ring, little
  9. fire, air, water, earth
  10. war, famine, plague, death
  11. meat, dairy, grains, fruits and vegetables
  12. Boreas, Eurus, Zephyrus, Notus
  13. Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Indian

Today’s Challenge:  Your Fantastic Four for Success

How would you complete the following?:  There are four things you need for a successful _______________ : 1) _______________, 2) ______________, 3) ______________, and 4)______________. Brainstorm several topics first.

Below are ten to get you started:

camping trip or vacation

freshman year in high school or college

job search or car purchase

basketball team or football coach

marriage or friendship

website or blog

birthday party or retirement party

career in real estate or career in

interview or resume

essay or speech

Then, identify the four ingredients of success that you want to explore.  Make sure that your four things are laid out in a parallel fashion.  For example:

Four things you need for a successful freshman year are 1) a plan to fight procrastination, 2) a focus on your long term goals, 3) a willingness to work hard, and 4) an ability to evaluate your own learning.

Notice how each of the four ingredients begins in the same way, making the four elements parallel and coherent for the reader.  Once you have this basic thesis sentence formed, explain each of the four things in detail, one at a time, using evidence and examples for each.

Quotation of the Day:  Newspapers should come in four sections: Truth, Probability, Possibility, and Lies. -Thomas Jefferson

Answers: 1. the four gospels 2. the four Beatles 3. the four members of the Fantastic Four 4. four types of sentences 5. the Four Freedoms (from F.D.R.’s famous speech) 6. the four patriarchs 7. the four ghosts in Pac-Man 8. the four fingers 9. the four ancient elements 10. the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse 11. the four food groups 12. the four winds 13 the four oceans

 

1 – Tiger Woods Wins British Open. Aired July 23, 2000 CNN Transcripts

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0007/23/sun.04.html

2 – Ammer, Christine. Southpaws and Sunday Punches and Other Sports Expressions. New York: Plum___oe Books, 1993.

 

July 19:  Push the Envelope Day

Today is the anniversary of the first true space flight in 1962. Air Force pilot Bob White took the experimental aircraft the X-15 to a record altitude of 314,750 feet, pushing the envelope and breaking the 50 mile boundary separating the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. White’s flight established a world record that still stands for altitude achieved in a winged aircraft. For his feat of daring, Walker became the first pilot to earn astronaut wings (1).

Black rocket aircraft with stubby wings and short vertical stabilizers above and below tail unitThe word astronaut comes from Greek: astron, “star” + nautes, “sailor.” The Russian equivalent is cosmonaut, which is also from Greek: kosmos, “universe” + nautes, “sailor.”

Today we hear the expression push the envelope in a variety of contexts relating to attempts to “exceed the limits of what is normally done”; in other words, attempts to be innovative, as in: The computer company is trying to get its software engineers to push the envelope in developing a new approach to computing. The three-word idiom comes from the field of aviation and was originally used to describe the exploits of pilots like Bob White who attempted, but did not always succeed, in pushing the limits of a plane’s capabilities either in speed or altitude. Within the envelope, the pilot was safe; beyond it, there was uncertainty and risk (2).

Push the envelope is just one of many three-word idioms (expressions that don’t make sense when translated literally) in English that follow the pattern: verb + “the” + noun, as in “bite the bullet.” Here are five more examples, all beginning with the verb “take”:

take the plunge

take the heat

take the Fifth

take the fall

take the rap

Given the first letter of the verb and the noun in each idiom, see if you can complete the three-word idioms below:

  1. w_______ the s_________
  1. r________ the g________
  1. p________ the t________
  1. b________ the h _______
  1. c________ the f _______
  1. c________ the m _______
  1. h________ the c _______
  1. p________ the f _______
  1. s________ the c _______
  1. s________ the f _______

Today’s Challenge: Take the Proverbial Plunge

What are some examples of figurative expressions or familiar idiomatic phrases that follow the pattern Verb + “the” + Noun, as in “take the plunge” or “push the envelope”?  Brainstorm as many as you can; then, select one and use it as the title of short poem or paragraph.  For more examples of three-word phrases see the list below today’s Quotation of the Day.  Play around with your expression’s meaning, both literal and figurative, as well as considering the action as expressed in the verb.  Compose your poem or paragraph, and use your three-word idiom as its title.

Quote of the Day: Before you push the envelope, open it up and see what’s inside.  –L’ Architecte Karp

break the bank, clear the air, cross the Rubicon, draw the line, drink the Kool-Aid, fly the coop, foot the bill, hit the deck, hit the hay, hit the road, hit the jackpot, hit the roof, hit the spot, hold the fort, hold the line, hold the phone, kick the habit, kick the bucket, make the grade, take the Fifth, take the rap, turn the tables

Answers: 1. weather the storm 2. run the gamut or run the gauntlet 3. pass the torch 4. bury the hatchet 5. chew the fat 6. cut the mustard 7. hit the ceiling 8. press the flesh 9. stay the course 10. straddle the fence.

 

1 – Wolverton, Mark. The Airplane That Flew Into Space. American Heritage Summer 2001 Volume 17, Issue 1

2 – Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Miffline Company, 1997.

June 29:  Blend Day

On this day in 1995, Diane White, writing in The Boston Globe, coined the blended word bridezilla (bride + Godzilla) to describe “brides who are particularly difficult and obnoxious” (1).  White’s neologism follows a trend that began in the 20th century of combining two words to form a single new word. These combined blended words are also called portmanteau words.

Portmanteau comes to us from the English poet Lewis Carroll who used the portmanteau — a suitcase with two compartments that folds into one — as a metaphor to describe the word blending that happens in the poem “Jabberwocky.” Examples from the poem are chortle (chuckle + snort) and galumph (gallop + triumph). The popularity of Carroll’s work not only added these new words to the English lexicon, it also seems to have encouraged others to try their hand at word blending (2).

In his book A Bawdy Language, Howard Richler traces the history of various blended words that preceded and followed Carroll’s Jabberwocky, which was published in Through the Looking Glass in 1871.

1823 anecdotage – The tendency for elderly people to tell stories, from anecdote + dotage.

1843 squirl – Handwriting with great flourishes, from squiggle + whirl.

1889 electrocute – Death by electricity, from electricity + execute.

1896 brunch – breakfast + lunch.

1925 motel – motor + hotel (3).

Blended words should not be confused with compound words, another popular method of adapting old words to create new ones. Unlike compound words, the two words that come together don’t just latch onto each other; instead, at least one of the words, and often both, must lose some of themselves in the merger, as in the following more contemporary examples

Reaganomics – Ronald Reagan + economics

Spanglish – Spanish + English

motorcade – motor + cavalcade

telecast – television + broadcast

tangelo – tangerine + pomelo

moped – motor + pedestrian

hazmat – hazardous + material

agribusiness – agriculture + business

blog – web + log

The Internet and technology are probably the most prolific source of new word blends these days. One interesting example is the term blook, which combines book with blog. USA Today featured an article on blooks on April 3, 2006, documenting the phenomenon of popular blogs morphing into books.

Today’s Challenge: Grab Your Blender
What two words might you blend to create a new blend?  In the tradition of Lewis Carroll, try your own hand at coining some new blended words. Take two existing words and blend them into something new. Include a definition that makes the logical connection between the two words and explains the word’s meaning and relevance. (Common Core Language – 3)

Quotation of the Day: It seems you can’t open a paper or laptop these days without being ambushed by a new portmanteau word. They cover every walk of life: smirting and gaydar, guesstimate and Chunnel, metrosexual, stagflation, glamping, frappuccino and Buffyverse. . . . We have, I think it’s fair to say, reached peakmanteau. –Andy Bodle

 

1- Word Spy  http://wordspy.com/index.php?word=bridezilla

2 – Nunberg, Geoffrey. The Way We Talk Now. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.

3 – Richler, Howard. A Bawdy Language: How a Second-Rate Language Slept Its Way to the Top. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1999.

 

June 25:  Dead Metaphor Day

Today is the birthday of British journalist, essayist, and novelist George Orwell (1903-1950). His birth name was Eric Arthur Blair, and he was born in Motihari, India, where his father was serving as an official in the British colonial government. Orwell left India to get his education in British schools, but he returned to Asia in 1922 to work with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. He decided to devote himself to writing full time in 1928, and in 1933 he published his first novel Down and Out in Paris and London and adopted his pen name, George Orwell.

PoliticsandtheEnglishLanguage.jpgOrwell’s best known and most widely read novels are Animal Farm and 1984. Both novels are potent warnings against big government, totalitarianism, and fascism.

In Animal Farm, a political allegory, Mr. Jones’ animals take over his farm, and in events that parallel the Russian Revolution, they learn that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Nineteen Eighty-Four tells the story of a future dystopia called Oceania. The one-party government is in a perpetual state of war and is led by the all-seeing but unseen leader called Big Brother. From the very beginning of the book, the novel’s main character, a party work named Winston Smith, is doing something that is both radical and unlawful: he is questioning his government, and he is writing his thoughts in a journal.

Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948 (reversing the numbers 4 and 8), but he probably should have called it 2084 since questions about big government, privacy, and the role of technology make this novel even more relevant in the 21st century than it was in the 20th.

Two words created by Orwell in 1984, doublethink and newspeak have been melded in our modern lexicon to become doublespeak, meaning language that is deliberately constructed to disguise rather than clarify meaning. William Lunz, author of the 1989 book Doublespeak, keeps Orwell’s memory alive in his annual Doublespeak Awards, which call attention to language from government, business, and the military that is “grossly deceptive, evasive and euphemistic.”

Orwell’s use of the suffix -speak in 1984, for words such as newspeak, duckspeak, and oldspeak, popularized the use of the suffix -speak to refer to any particular variety of spoken English, such as Haigspeak, Bushspeak, or soccer-speak.

The 1946 essay Politics and the English Language is George Orwell’s plea for writing that is clear, concise, and thoughtful. In a famous example, he presents the following passage from Ecclesiastes as a model of clarity:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

He then translates the passage into modern gobbledygook:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Also in Politics and the English Language, Orwell practices what he preaches when he presents the following concise list of rules for writers:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive [voice] where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous. (2)

In order to elaborate on his first rule, Orwell discusses dead metaphors, which are figures of speech that once evoked images, but because they have been used and recycled so often by writers, they have lost their luster.  Today the most common term for a trite and overused figure of speech is cliche.  Orwell’s goal is to get writers to eschew cliches and instead create fresh figures of speech that will bring their writing to life.  

In the following 170 words, Orwell explains the writing process meticulously, showing how fresh figures bridge the gap between the abstract and the concrete and how good writing must be intentional and thoughtful:

When you think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualising you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one’s meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations. Afterward one can choose — not simply accept — the phrases that will best cover the meaning, and then switch round and decide what impressions one’s words are likely to make on another person. This last effort of the mind cuts out all stale or mixed images, all prefabricated phrases, needless repetitions, and humbug and vagueness generally.

Today’s Challenge:  Five Fresh Figures
What are some examples of abstract words – ideas or concepts that live in the mind but that are not tangible?  Brainstorm a list of abstract words, such as truth, beauty, or justice.  Select five of the words from your list, and practice Orwell’s advice on crafting fresh figures of speech.  Use figurative language (metaphors, similes, or personification) to define or explain each of your abstract ideas.  Before you begin drafting your own, read the following fresh figures for inspiration.  Each is from Dr. Mardy Grothe’s book Metaphors Be With You:

Curiosity:  Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning. -William Arthur Ward

Fear:  Fear is a pair of handcuffs on your soul. -Faye Dunaway

Language:  Language is the apparel in which your thoughts parade before the public.  Never clothe them in vulgar or shoddy attire. -George W. Crane

Learning:  There is no royal road to learning; no short cut to the acquirement of any art. -Anthony Trollope

Memory:  Memory is the personal journalism of the soul. -Richard Schickel

Power:  The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing. -John Adams (3)

Quotation of the Day:  Effective metaphor does more than shed light on the two things being compared. It actually brings to the mind’s eye something that has never before been seen. It’s not just the marriage ceremony linking two things; it’s the child born from the union. An original and imaginative metaphor brings something fresh into the world. -Rebecca McClanahan

1 – Lunz, William. Doublespeak. New York: Random House, 1989.

2 – Politics and the English Language

3 – Grothe, Mardy.  Metaphors Be With You.  New York:  HarperCollins, 2016.