June 26:  Personal Pronoun Day

On this date in 1963, John Lennon and Paul McCartney began composing the song “She Loves You.”  They began on their tour bus, continued work in their hotel room in Newcastle, and finished the following day at the home of Paul’s father in Liverpool.

First US release (Swan 4152)When they finished the song, John and Paul played it for Paul’s father Jim McCartney.  His response was:  “That’s very nice son, but there’s enough of these Americanisms around. Couldn’t you sing ‘She loves you, yes, yes, yes!’?”  (1).

In his biography of Paul McCartney entitled Many Years From Now, Barry Miles quotes Paul, discussing the song’s grammar:

“It was again a she, you, me, I, personal preposition song. I suppose the most interesting thing about it was that it was a message song, it was someone bringing a message. It wasn’t us any more, it was moving off the ‘I love you, girl’ or ‘Love me do’, it was a third person, which was a shift away. ‘I saw her, and she said to me, to tell you, that she loves you, so there’s a little distance we managed to put in it which was quite interesting.”

Of course, Paul should have said personal pronoun, not preposition.

For more on the Beatles and pronouns, check out the following article:  I Me Mine:  The Beatles and Their Pronouns.

When it comes to rock songs and pronouns, who can forget the Grammar Rock Pronoun song?  It tells just about everything you need to know about pronouns and why we use them:

Today’s Challenge:  Grammar Rock
What are some examples of your favorite songs that have pronouns in their titles?  Create a list of your top 5 favorite songs with pronouns in their titles.  Include the artist and a brief explanation of why you like the song.  If you are a Beatles fan you might list the following examples:  “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” “Don’t Let Me Down,” “I, Me, Mine,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.  –Lyrics from I Am the Walrus

Sources:

1 – http://www.beatlesbible.com/songs/she-loves-you/

 

JUNE 22:  G.I. Day

Today is the anniversary of one of the most significant pieces of legislation in American history. On this date, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Service Members’ Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill. Between 1944 and 1956 more than 7.8 million World War II veterans participated in the educational or training program.

Prior to the GI Bill, a college education was primarily an option only for the rich. Likewise, home ownership was out of the financial reach of most Americans. The GI Bill, however, fueled the American dreams of millions of returning GIs. Almost half took advantage of the education and training aspects of the programs, while nearly 2.4 million took out home loans backed by the Veterans Administration.

With the end of World War II in sight, the GI Bill was a proactive step to prevent the problems that occurred in after World War I. Thousands of returning American soldiers at that time were given just $60 and a train ticket home. There was little thought of helping these doughboys with the transition from military to civilian life. During the Great Depression, thousands of veterans marched on Washington, D.C. in 1932 demanding payment of a promised bonus. Instead of money, the veterans received an order to disperse. President Herbert Hoover called up active duty soldiers, led by General Douglas MacArthur, to clear out the Bonus Marchers’ camps using tear gas, bayonets, and rifles.

Soldiers returning from World War II thankfully had the GI Bill to ease them back into civilian life. Instead of unrest at the nation’s capital, an unprecedented post-war boom across the nation resulted after World War II.

In 1984 the GI Bill was revamped under the leadership of Mississippi Congressman Gillespie V. “Sonny” Montgomery. Known as the Montgomery GI Bill, it features VA home loan guarantees as well as education programs just like the original GI Bill (1).

The abbreviation G.I. originates from the a U.S. Army designation for galvanized iron, the kind of iron used for heavy garbage cans. The term, through misinterpretation of the initials, came to mean government-issue or general-issue in the 1930s, referring to items issued to soldiers upon induction into the armed forces — items such as uniforms, boots, or soap. The term GI first appeared in print referring to an enlisted man in 1939. In 1942 a comic strip for the Army weekly Yank used the term GI Joe, further popularizing the term (2).

In the armed forces shorthand language, such as abbreviations and acronyms, is used with a high frequency, so much so that the Army, for example, has an entire regulation devoted to the subject. It’s called Army Regulation 25-52: Authorized Abbreviations, Brevity Codes, and Acronyms (ABCA).

The three different classes of shortened forms are defined in the regulation as follows:

Abbreviation: An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase. For example, appt – appointment, assgd – assigned, or PA – Pennsylvania.

Acronym: An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of a name or parts of a series of words. For example, ACTS means Army Criteria Tracking System; ARIMS means Army Records Information Management System; and ASAP means as soon as possible.

Brevity Code: A brevity code is the shortened form of a frequently used phrase, sentence, or group of sentences, normally consisting entirely of upper case letters; for example, COMSEC means communications security, REFRAD means release from active duty, and SIGINT means signals intelligence.

The Army’s ABCs

Below is a list of common U. S. Army abbreviations, brevity codes, and acronyms. See if you can identify what each stands for.

  1. BDU
  2. CONUS
  3. IED
  4. IRR
  5. HMMWV (Humvee)
  6. MRE
  7. NBC
  8. ROTC
  9. RPG
  10. PT
  11. PX
  12. SOP

Today’s Challenge:  AM, BC, CD, DJ . . .
What are examples of two-letter abbreviations?  Using a good dictionary, find and define at least one two-letter abbreviation for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet. (Common Core Language 3)

Quotation of the Day: Neither a wise nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him. -Dwight D. Eisenhower

Answers: 1. Battle Dress Uniform 2. Continental United States 3. Improvised Explosive Device 4. Individual Ready Reserve 5. High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle 6. Meals Ready to Eat 7. Nuclear, Biological, Chemical 8. Reserve Officer Training Corps 9. Rocket Propelled Grenade 10. Physical Training 11. Post Exchange 12. Standard Operating Procedure

1- United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

http://www.gibill.va.gov/GI_Bill_Info/history.htm

2 – Ayto, John. 20th Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

3 – Army Regulation 25-52.

June 14:  Pledge Day

Today is Flag Day.  On this day in 1954 the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance.

US Flag Day poster 1917.jpgThe first Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis M. Bellamy, a writer for The Youth’s Companion magazine. It was officially unveiled on October 19, 1892, the opening day of the World’s Columbian Exposition. On that day teachers across the nation read a proclamation by President McKinley and children practiced the pledge, putting their right hands over their hearts with their palms facing down.

The original pledge read as follows:

I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

On Flag Day in 1923, the pledge was revised by the National Flag Code Committee, eliminating the words “my flag” and replacing them with the words “the flag of the United States.”

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the Republic for which it stands one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Another change in the pledge was made for Flag Day in 1924 when the committee added the words “of America.”

The final change was made on the same day in 1954 when President Eisenhower established Flag Day. On that day the words “under God” were added.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

There are subtle differences between the words pledge, oath, and vow. The three definitions below are from the American Heritage College Dictionary:

Pledge: A solemn binding promise to do, give, or refrain from doing something.

Oath: A solemn formal declaration or promise, often calling on God or a sacred object as witness.

Vow: An earnest promise to perform a specified act or behave in a certain manner, especially a promise to live by the rules of a religious order.

Pledge, Oath, or Vow?

Read the excerpts below from historical pledges, oaths, and vows. See if you can identify any.

  1. I swear by Apollo, the Physician, and Aesulapius and Hygieia and Panacea and all the Gods and Goddesses that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this oath and covenant . . . .
  2. I hereby solemnly promise, God helping me, to abstain from all distilled, fermented and malt liquors, including wine, beer and cider . . . .
  3. In the name of all competitors I promise that we will take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them ….
  4. I, _____, do acknowledge the UNITED STATES of America, to be Free, Independent and Sovereign States, and declare the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience to George the Third . . . .
  5. I hereby declare, an oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have Heretofore been a subject or citizen.
  6. On my honor I will try to serve God and my country, to help people at all times . . . .

Today’s Challenge:  What’s Your Pledge?
What is an activity or skill that you practice that you think is worth pledging yourself to?  What words would you put in a pledge for people who are practicing this activity or skill?  

In the 1987 edition of The English Journal, R. D. Walshe published a Learning Pledge for students of writing:

I PROMISE throughout this day’s learning to handle with respect and pleasure humanity’s greatest invention, language, and in particular, when I reach for a pen or sit at a computer, to remember that I am about to use humanity’s second greatest invention, writing, with which I will take language from the invisible mind and make it visible on paper where I can work on it with full attention until it becomes the best thinking, the best learning, of which I am capable (2).

Select a single activity or skill that you think is worth pledging your passion and devotion to.  Use the Walshe’s Learning Pledge as a model, and write the words of a pledge that might be recited by people who are devoting to participating in this activity or practicing this skill.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: I also wish that the Pledge of Allegiance were directed at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as it is when the President takes his oath of office, rather than to the flag and the nation. –Carl Sagan

Answers:

  1. The original Hippocratic Oath
  2. Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Pledge
  3. The Olympic Oath
  4. Continental Army Loyalty Oath (1778)
  5. Oath Taken by Naturalized Citizens of the United States
  6. The Girl Scout Promis

1- Burrell, Brian. The Words We Live By: The Creeds, Mottoes, and Pledges That Have Shaped America. New York: The Free Press

2-Walshe, R. D. The Learning Power of Writing.  The English Journal, Vol. 76, No. 6 (Oct., 1987), pp. 22-27.

June 9: Horse Racing Metaphor Day

On this day in 1973 something happened that had not happened in over two decades: a horse won racing’s Triple Crown. The name of the horse was Secretariat, and he didn’t just win the Belmont Stakes, he annihilated the competition, winning by an amazing 31 lengths. Other horses have won the Triple Crown since, but never has there been such a dominant performance on horse racing’s main stage.

After the race, Secretariat’s jockey Ron Turcotte was as surprised as anyone at his horse’s amazing performance, saying “I know this sounds crazy, but the horse did it by himself. I was along for the ride” (1).

You might say that Secretariat won “hands down.” If you did, you would be using an idiom that means “with no trouble, easily,” and it would be an especially appropriate idiom because the expression originates with horse racing. A jockey who is ahead of the other horses will relax his grip on the reins and drop his hands.

Many other idioms (expressions that mean something different from the literal meaning of the individual words) in English relate to horses and horse racing, such as:

Horse sense

Beat a dead horse

Dark horse

Hold your horses

A horse of a different color

On your high horse

Straight from the horse’s mouth

Horse around

In addition to horses, English features a whole menagerie of beastly idioms.

Examples:
As the crow flies, bee in your bonnet, bird’s eye view, can of worms, cold turkey, dog and pony show, dog eat dog, the early bird catches the worm, eat crow, the elephant in the room, fish or cut bait, a fish out of water, a fly in the ointment, hornets’ nest, kangaroo court, lame duck, lone wolf, monkey business, night owl, spring chicken, one-trick pony, puppy love, putting the cart before the horse, rat race, red herring, sacred cow, sitting duck, topdog, ugly duckling, water off a duck’s back, white elephant, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink

Today’s Challenge: Your Best Beastly Bet to Win, Place, or Show
What are some examples of idioms in English that feature animals? In horse racing the terms win, place, and show are betting terms. If you bet on a horse to “win,” the horse must place first; if you bet on a horse to “show,” the horse must place first or second; and if you bet on horse to “show,” the horse must finish first, second, or third. Select your top three animal related metaphors. Imagine you were writing to a person for whom English is a first language, and write an explanation of the meaning of each idiom. Also give examples of how each might be used in a sentence. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Horse sense is a good judgment which keeps horses from betting on people. -W.C. Fields

1 – http://espn.go.com/sportscentury/features/00016464.html

2- Ammer, Christine. Southpaws & Sunday Punches:  And Other Sporting Expressions.

June 7:  Quiz Day

On this day in 1955, the quiz show the $64,000 Question premiered on CBS. Today we take game shows for granted, but in the early days of television these “quiz shows” were high stakes dramas that mesmerized the television audience and posted record ratings. The $64,000 Question spawned a number of successful imitators: The Big Surprise, Dotto, Tic Tac Dough, and Twenty One.

QuizShowPoster.jpgThe success of the quiz shows ended, however, in 1958 when a scandal surfaced where evidence showed that the results of the shows were rigged. As a result, the quiz show craze died, and the networks stopped airing game shows (1). Game shows did not gain favor with the public again until the 1960s when shows like Jeopardy began to attract viewers (See Word Days March 30). In fact it is not until the ’60s that the term game show replaced quiz show.

It is interesting that tracking down the history of the word quiz has left lexicographers somewhat quizzical.

One story involves James Daly, a theater manager in Dublin. In 1791, Daly supposedly made a bet with a friend, saying he could introduce a new word into the language within a single day. He then created the nounce (or nonsense) word quiz and paid people to write the word in chalk on walls throughout the city. By the end of the day, the word was on everyone’s lips (2).

Although this is a good story, it probably is not true. Instead quiz is probably just a clipped version of the word inquisitive, an adjective meaning “unduly curious and inquiring.”

Today’s Challenge:  Pop Goes the Quiz Questions
What are some interesting facts that you have learned from previous Word Days’ entries?  For Quiz Day, the 7th of June, make a seven-question quiz made up of seven separate questions based on seven separate Word Days’ entries.  Make sure to record the answers to each of your questions. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  There is always a place I can take someone’s curiosity and land where they end up enlightened when we’re done. That’s my challenge as an educator. No one is dumb who is curious. The people who don’t ask questions remain clueless throughout their lives. –Neil deGrasse Tyson

1- The Museum of BroadcastCommunications:

http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/S/htmlS/$64000quest/$64000quest.htm

2- Manswer, Martin. The Guinness Book of Words (2nd Edition).Middlesex: Guinness Publishing Ltd., 1988.

June 2:  D-Day Crossword

Today is the anniversary of the publication of a crossword puzzle that might have altered the outcome of World War II. In the spring of 1944 plans were being drawn up for the Allied invasion of France. This highly secretive plan was dubbed Operation Overlord by Winston Churchill, and the invasion was set for June 5, 1944 by the commander of the operation General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

The element of surprise was vital for the success of the invasion, but in May of 1944, British intelligence officers discovered that one of the Daily Telegraph’s crossword puzzles contained two important code names for the beaches of Normandy: Utah and Omaha.

The military became even more concerned when on June 2, 1944, three days before the planned invasion, a crossword puzzle appeared with the name Overlord and NeptuneNeptune was the name of the secret naval operations plan. The author of the puzzle, a schoolmaster by the name of Leonard Dawe, was arrested and questioned. Investigators were unable, however, to determine any explanation, besides coincidence, for the presence of the words in the puzzle.

Forty years after D-Day the mystery was finally solved when National Geographic discovered that one of Leonard Dawe’s pupils had been eavesdropping on the conversations of Allied soldiers and had noted the words, not for malicious reasons, but simply because he thought the words were odd enough to work well in his teacher’s crossword puzzles (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Micro-Crossword Puzzles
What are some examples of related words that have an odd number of letters and that share the same middle letter?  The following are examples of Micro-Crossword Puzzles:  two related words that each have an odd number of letters and that share the same middle letter.  This shared middle letter allows the words to be crossed.

-What are two countries with five-letter country names with the middle letter I?  Answer:  China and Haiti.

-Who are two Nobel Prize-winning American authors with nine-letter last names with the same middle letter N?  Answer:  Steinbeck and Hemingway.

-Who are two American presidents with five-letter last names with the same middle letter A?  Answer:  Grant and Obama

Write at least three of your own Micro-Crossword Puzzles.  Begin selecting a category; then, brainstorm some words in that category.  Your words don’t have to have the same number of letters, but the two words do have to have an odd number of letters and they need to share the same middle letter.

Sample Categories:

Mythological Characters
U.S. Capitals
Literary Characters
Classic Movies
Grammar Terms
Poetry Terms
Computer Jargon
Rhetorical Devices
Holidays
Elements on the Periodic Table
(Common Core Language)

Quotation of the Day:  As human beings, we have a natural compulsion to fill empty spaces. -Will Shortz

1 – National Geographic

 

 

February 4:  Embarrassing Misspelling Day

Today is the birthday of former Vice President of the United States Dan Quayle.  Born in 1947 in Indianapolis, Quayle was elected to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, before he was selected by George H.W. Bush to join him on the Republican ticket in 1988.

Dan Quayle, official DoD photo.JPEGAs vice president, Quayle made official visits to 47 countries and served as the chairman of the National Space Council.  Unfortunately for Quayle his accomplishments while in office were overshadowed by a single embarrassing incident on June 15, 1992.  

While visiting a New Jersey elementary school, Quayle lent a hand by officiating a sixth-grade spelling bee.  As television news cameras rolled, a sixth-grader named William Figueroa approached the blackboard to spell the word, “potato.”  When Figueroa finished his correct spelling of the word, Quayle mistakenly asked him to add an “e” at the end of the word.  Despite the fact that he was relying on a card provided from the school for the “correct” spelling, the incident hurt Quayle’s credibility and added to the perception by some that he was not very smart.  In his memoir Standing Firm, Quayle acknowledged the enormity of his embarrassing moment:

It was more than a gaffe. It was a ‘defining moment’ of the worst imaginable kind. I can’t overstate how discouraging and exasperating the whole event was (1).

We might balance Dan Quayle’s moment of food-spelling infamy with a contrasting moment of food-spelling triumph. On June 4, 1970, at the 43rd Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C., 14-year-old Libby Childress of Mount Airy, North Carolina won the title of the nation’s best speller when she correctly spelled “croissant.” (see September 12:  Croissants and Cappuccino Day)

Taking on the study of food words like “potato,” reveals the English language’s tendency to borrow words from a smorgasbord of  languages, often without altering the spelling from the original language.  Like so many words in English, these food words reveal the huge gulf that exists between English spelling and English pronunciation.  You might remember, for example, the English playwright George Bernard Shaw who gave us the word GHOTI, which he pronounced “fish.” (See July 26:  Ghoti Day).

Shaw based his pronunciation on the “logic” of following existing words in English:

-The gh in ghoti was the f sound in enough.

-The o was from the i sound in women.

-The ti was from the sh sound in nation.

Today’s Challenge:  A Buffet of Baffling Spellings

What are some examples of food words that have challenging spellings?  Brainstorm a list of at least ten food words with challenging spellings.  Here are a few examples at to get you started:

Dessert, Sherbet, Barbecue/Barbeque, Mascarpone, Tomato, Omelet/Omelette, Espresso, Fettuccine, Cappuccino, Broccoli, Zucchini, Caramel, Gyro, Pho, Sriracha, Quesadilla

Using a good dictionary, look up each of your words.  Write down the correct spelling, the definition, and the language of origin of each food item.  Once you have completed your list, challenge a friend to correctly spell the words on your menu.

Quotation of the Day:  I’ve always written high-quality sentences, prepared with the finest grammatical ingredients. In the coming year, I’m raising the bar even higher: I’ll be offering only artisanal words, locally grown, hand-picked, minimally processed, organically prepared, and sustainably packaged. -Michael Erard

1-http://mentalfloss.com/article/64689/never-forget-time-dan-quayle-misspelled-potato

 

December 31:  Spam Day

On this day in the 1930s, Jay Hormel hosted a New Year’s Eve party where he challenged his guests to create a name for his latest invention, a canned pork product.

Spam can.pngOn that night not only was a new year born, but also one of the most successful and most recognizable brand names in history came into being: Spam. The winning name was formed from the contraction of

sp(iced h)am; the winner of the contest was awarded $100.

Thanks to a sketch and song from the British television show Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the word Spam lost its capital letter and became a lowercase common noun referring to unsolicited e-mail. In the sketch, which first appeared in 1970, a waitress recites a list of menu items, all including Spam. As the menu is being recited, a song begins where male voices chant the word Spam more than 100 times. It’s this seemingly endless, repetitive chant that inspired computer users to select spam as the appropriate appellation for unwanted, disruptive email in 1994 (1).

One organization that is especially interested in language and new words is The American Dialect Society (ADS), a non-profit organization that studies the varieties of English specific to North America.  Founded in 1889, the ADS publishes the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), a dictionary that attempts to document and map the varieties of spoken American English in the United States.

At its annual convention each January, members of the American Dialect Society vote on their “Word of the Year,” selecting the single word that was both popular in the previous year and that was demonstrably new.  Below are some examples of previous winners:

2015:  they

2014:  #blacklivesmatter

2013:  because

2012:  hashtag

2011:  occupy

2010:  app

2009 – Tweet

2008 – Bailout

2007 – Subprime

2006 – Plutoed

2005 – truthiness (2)

Today’s Challenge: New Year, New Words

What words or phrases do you think best typify the past year?  What individual words or individual phrases would best sum up your experiences this year?  Write an explanation for the word or phrase that you would submit as this year’s nominee for word of the year.  You may base your explanation either on the important influence the word has had on the broader culture, or you may base your explanation on the important influence the word has had on your personal experience this year.  

Use this writing exercise as an icebreaker at your New Year’s Eve party.  If you’re really ambitious, you might also challenge your guests to honor Spam Day by inventing a new year for the word ahead.  Award cans of Spam as the prize. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quote of the Day: If variety is the spice of life, marriage is the big can of leftover Spam. –Johnny Carson

1-Steinmetz, Sol and Barbara Ann Kipfer. The Life of Language. New York: Random House, 2006.

2-http://www.americandialect.org/woty/all-of-the-words-of-the-year-1990-to-present

 

 

December 8:  Sesquipedalian Day

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.”

Quintus Horatius Flaccus.jpgHorace 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:

Anthropomorphic

Bacchanalian

Circumlocution

Doctrinaire

Extemporaneous

Hemidemisemiquaver

Infrastructure

Jurisprudence

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Life grants nothing to us mortals without hard work.

-Horace

1- http://www.worldwidewords.org/weirdwords/ww-ses1.htm

2-Provost, Gary.  100 Ways to Improve Your Writing.

12/8 TAGS:  sesquipedalian, Horace, Ars Poetica, Orwell, George, Provost, Gary, dense words, definition,

 

December 4:  Pascal’s Apology Day

On this date in 1656, French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote a letter in which he expressed one of the central paradoxes of writing:  it’s faster and easier to write a long composition than to write a short one.  

Blaise Pascal Versailles.JPGPascal expressed the paradox as an apology to his reader:  “The present letter is a very long one, simply because I had no leisure to make it shorter” (1).

According to Ralph Keyes in his book The Quote Verifier, Pascal’s quotation has been falsely attributed to Thomas Jefferson, Samuel Johnson, Henry Thoreau, Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, and Voltaire (2).  The popularity of Pascal’s sentiment reveals both how much writers value brevity and how difficult it can be to obtain.  Being clear, concise, and cogent is hard work.

Another illustration of the “less is more” writing philosophy comes from an anecdote about Mark Twain, who received the following telegram from his publisher:

NEED 2-PAGE SHORT STORY TWO DAYS.

He responded:

NO CAN DO 2 PAGES TWO DAYS. CAN DO 30 PAGES 2 DAYS. NEED 30 DAYS TO DO 2 PAGES

Perhaps the best explanation of the value of concision in writing is by William Strunk in Elements of Style.  Instead of an anecdote, Struck uses an analogy:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.

When you write, consider another analogy:  

Imagine each word you write is an employee of the company you own.  Each word needs a job to do.  You can’t afford to pay a salary to words or employees who do nothing.  Your job, therefore, as the writer is to keep your workforce — your “wordforce” — at a size no larger than what it takes to get the job done.

Today’s Challenge:   Exactly 25 Words – No More, No Fewer
How would you summarize an article in just 25 words? One excellent way to practice revision and to practice economy in writing is to write 25-word summaries.  Select an article of at least 200 words, and read it carefully to determine the writer’s main point.  Then, write a brief summary that captures the main point in your own words.  Don’t waste words saying things like:  “This article is about . . .” or “The author argues that . . .”  Instead, just state the article’s main ideas.  Don’t worry about the number of words until you have finished your first draft.  Next, count the number of words and revise as necessary to write the most clear, concise, and correct summary of EXACTLY 25 words.  Read your revised draft aloud to make sure that it is clear, that the sentences are complete, and that there are no wasted words.  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Writing is 1 percent inspiration, and 99 percent elimination. -Louise Brooks

1-http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pascal/provincial.xviii.html

2-Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier, 120

12/4 TAGS: Pascal, Blaise, paradox, The Quote Verifier, Twain, Mark, Strunk, William, Elements of Style, analogy, summary, 25-word summary