September Seventeenth:  Univocalic Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

A univocalic is a piece of writing where the writer uses only a single vowel. Because September Seventeenth contains only the vowel ‘e,’ it’s the perfect day to celebrate this rare but interesting writing form.

One classic example of a univocalic was written by C.C. Bombaugh in 1890.  He used just the vowel ‘O’:

No cool monsoons blow soft on Oxford dons,

Orthodox, jog-trot, book-worm Solomons

The following are some examples of some fairly common words in English that are Univocalic:

Only A:  craftsman, awkward, paragraph, papal, saga, maharajah, bacchanal, Taj Mahal, lasagna

Only E:  sentences, cleverness, eschew, precedents, vehement, resentment, Greece, legends, sleeplessness, cheerlessness

Only I:  writing, criticism, bikini, nihilistic, dimwits, diminish, twilight, intrinsic, Viking, siblings

Only O:  bookshop, proctor, how-to book, rococo, bookworms, protocol, orthodox, Woodstock, voodoo

Only U:  untruth, numbskull, succubus, hummus, murmur, humdrum, humbug, dumbstruck, ruckus, guru

Today’s Challenge: One Vowel Howl

How many words can you list that contain only a single vowel, as in ‘September,’ ‘bookworm,’ or ‘Mississippi’?  Pick a single vowel, and make a list of words that contain only that vowel. Then, use your list of words as ideas for a univocalic composition, such as a haiku, the first sentence of a short story, or a newspaper headline.  Hold a Univocalic Day contest or reading so you can share your creations. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

September 12:  Croissants and Cappuccino Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this day in 1683, a vast Ottoman army of 250,000 troops was defeated in its attempt to take Vienna, Austria.  The Austrian army was assisted by Polish forces, led by King John Sobieski, who came at the request of Pope Alexander VIII. After a battle that lasted fifteen hours, the Turks retreated, leaving behind weapons, stores of food, and thousands of their dead. After his victory, the Polish King sent a dispatch to the Pope that read, “I came, I saw, God conquered” (See July 13:  I Came, I Saw, I Conquered Day).

Battle of Vienna 1683 11.PNGTo celebrate the victory, Vienna’s bakers cooked up a new culinary creation, a crescent-shaped roll that mimicked the crescent moon on the Turkish flag.  Later, in 1770, the new roll was introduced to France when Marie Antoinette, originally of Austria, married the future Louis XVI.  Only then did the roll become the croissant, French for crescent.

A second culinary creation resulted from the large quantities of coffee left behind by the Turkish army as they fled.  Finding the coffee bitter, the Christian soldiers added milk and honey to make it more palatable.  For the name of this new concoction, they turned to a Capuchin monk named Marco d’Aviano, who had been sent by the Pope as emissary to assist the commanders of the Christian army.  The tasty drink was named Cappuccino in honor of friar Marco d’Aviano’s order, Capuchin (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Classic Culinary Combos

What food combination would you argue is most worth celebrating?  Make your case for what makes your menu items so great and so complementary, and include some details from research on the history of the menu items.  Go beyond the obvious to give your reader some details about the food that goes beyond common knowledge.  Instead of baloney, serve up the best caviar to your audience. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Marsh, W.B. and Bruce Carrick.  365:  Your Date with History.  Cambridge, UK:  Totem Books, 2004.

 

September 10:  Notorious Eponym Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this day in 1945, Vidkun Quisling was convicted of high treason for his collaboration with the Germans during World War II.  A Norwegian politician, Quisling met with Hitler in April 1940, just prior to the Nazi invasion of Norway, and he was appointed Minister-President during the Nazi occupation of Norway.  After the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945, Quisling was arrested and put on trial for his treasonous activities during the war and for his collaboration with the Nazis.  After his conviction, he was executed by firing squad on October 24, 1945.  Since that time his name has been synonymous with anyone who collaborates with the enemy (1).

The word quisling is a classic example of an eponym, a word derived from a real or imaginary person. For example, the word shrapnel evolved from Henry Shrapnel, an English artillery officer who developed an exploding shell that sent out bits of metal. Most often the capitalized proper noun that refers to the specific person becomes lowercase as it is transformed into a general noun, adjective, or verb.

Today’s Challenge:  Name Hall of Shame

Who is a person so notorious that his or her name is synonymous with despicable behavior?  Most eponyms have fairly positive, or at least neutral, connotations, such as sandwich, sideburns, and sequoia.  The list of eponyms below, however, have entered the language with decidedly negative connotations. Select one, and do a bit of etymological research to see if you can discover the person and the story behind the word. Write a brief speech that defines the word and explains why it deserves a spot in the Name Hall of Shame.

bowdlerize, chauvinism, draconian, gerrymander, lynch, narcissism, procrustean  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- History in an Hour.com. Vidkun Quisling, the Norweigian Nazi. 24 Oct. 2010. .

September 8:  International Literacy Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

Today is International Literacy Day sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). First observed in 1966, International Literacy Day calls attention to the need to promote literacy and education around the world as an antidote to poverty and as an agent for empowerment and global progress (1).

Education and literacy are central to the stability, prosperity, and well-being of any country. As explained by Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General:

Literacy is not merely a cognitive skill of reading, writing and arithmetic, for literacy helps in the acquisition of learning and life skills that, when strengthened by usage and application throughout people’s lives, lead to forms of individual, community and societal development that are sustainable.

While literacy rates are on the rise around the world, there are still millions of people who are unable to read and write.  The goal of International Literacy Day is to both celebrate literacy and to promote ideas for stamping out illiteracy.

Today’s Challenge: Read All About It

What can people do to celebrate and promote literacy? Research some quotations on the topic of literacy.  Reflect on these quotations and then, write the text of a Public Service Announcement (PSA) to promote literacy and International Literacy Day.  Incorporate at least one of the quotations you found on literacy into your PSA.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1- UNESCO. International Literacy Day 2017. https://en.unesco.org/themes/literacy-all/literacy-day

September 7:  Words Chiseled in Granite Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this day in 1914, the main post office building in New York City opened its doors.  The building’s main claim to fame is the inscription chiseled in gray granite on its enormous façade, which reads:

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

Although many will recognize these words as the motto of the United States Postal Service, officials are quick to point out that there is no official U.S.P.S. motto.  Nevertheless, it would be difficult to find another building in the world that more effectively uses the words engraved on its outside walls to capture and to motivate the mission that is fulfilled inside.

The words of the inscription originate from the Greek historian Herodotus and refer to Persian mounted postal couriers who served faithfully in the wars between the Greeks and the Persians (500-449 B.C.).

In 1982, New York’s main post office building was officially designated The James A. Farley Building, in memory of the nation’s 53rd Postmaster General.  The building’s ZIP code designation is 10001 (1).

When you think of mottos, think of “motivation.”  Mottos are intended to prime the populous for positive action.  A motto is a phrase or sentence that sums up the motivation, purpose, or guiding principles of a group, organization, or institution.  Whether a family motto, school motto, state motto, or company motto, they are always clear, concise, and constructive. It’s appropriate to think of a motto as something you might chisel in stone because unlike slogans, which are usually spoken, mottos are written, such as the state mottos (See September 9:  State Motto Day) you see on license plates or a national motto you see on coins or paper money (The official motto of the United States is “In God We Trust.”).  Because mottos date back to ancient times, you will often see them written in other languages, such as the motto of the United States Marine Corps, the Latin Semper Fidelis (“Always Faithful”).

Today’s Challenge:  Words Worth Setting in Stone

What words do you think are important enough to chisel in stone? What motto would you etch on the outside of your school or your place of business?  Hold a contest to determine the best motto. Either research a quotation by another person to use as your motto, or write your own using your own original words. Remember that a motto must be pithy and must express a rule to guide the behavior of persons who inhabit the building. (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

1- United States Postal Service. Postal Service Mission and Motto. Oct. 1999.

September 6:  Reduplicative Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this day in 1916, Piggly Wiggly, the first self-service grocery store, opened in Memphis, Tennessee.  The store pioneered several of the features that we take for granted when grocery shopping today, such as individually priced items, checkout stands, and shopping carts.

In addition to its unique in-store features, the store also had a unique name.  The store’s founder, Clarence Saunders (1881-1953) never explained how he came upon the rhyme “Piggly Wiggly,” but there is little doubt that the unusual name contributed to making his store memorable (1).

Many words in English feature this supersonic, sing-song sound effect.  There are so many, in fact, that this class of words has its own name:  reduplicatives.

Piggly Wiggly logoThese words come in three basic varieties:  rhyming reduplicatives, like hocus-pocus, fuddy-duddy, and helter-skelter; vowel shift reduplicatives, like flip-flop, Ping-Pong, and zig zag; and repetitive reduplicatives (also known as tautonyms), like can-can, never-never, and yo-yo (2).

There are over two thousand reduplicatives in English.  Here is an alphabetically arranged list of examples:  

bye-bye, chitchat, dilly-dally, flim-flam, flip-flop, fuddy-duddy, hoity-toity, higgledy-piggledy, hanky-panky, hokey-pokey, hob-nob, heebie-jeebiesy, hocus-pocus, hugger-mugger, hurly-burly, hodge-podge, hurdy-gurdy, hubbub, hullabaloo, harumscarum, hurry-scurry, hooley-dooley, Humpty Dumpty, mishmash, nitty-gritty, riffraff, seesaw, shilly-shally, so-so, super-duper, teeny-weeny, willy-nilly, wishy-washy

Today’s Challenge:  Words Heard by Word Nerds

What’s your favorite reduplicative?  Write an extended definition that provides the word’s meaning, examples of how the word is used, and an explanation of how the word’s sound relates to its memorability and uniqueness. (Common Core Writing 1 – Expository)

1- Pigglywiggly.com. About Us.

2- Steinmetz, Sol and Barbara Ann Kipfer.  The Life of Language. New York:  Random House, 2006:  282-290.

August 29:  Akeelah and the Bee Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

Today marks the anniversary of the DVD release of the film Akeelah and the Bee. This 2006 film is a drama about 11 year-old Akeelah Anderson (played by Keke Palmer) who overcomes personal struggles to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Directed by Doug Atchison, the film stars Laurence Fishburne as Dr. Larabee, an English professor who coaches Akeelah.

The film is an offshoot of the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary and surprise hit Spellbound, which profiled a number of the competitors in the National Spelling Bee. After the success of Spellbound, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast on network television for the first time in May 2005. The growing popularity of spelling has even entered the adult world with spelling competitions in bars around the country and a senior national spelling bee sponsored by the AARP.

Akeelah and the Bee film.jpgIn addition, in 2005 the film Bee Season was released, and spelling even hit Broadway with the 2005 musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Below are the eight winning words for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee for the years 1998-2005:

chiaroscurist: 1998 – a painter who cares for and studies light and shade rather than color

logorrhea: 1999 – pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking

demarche: 2000 – a move or step or maneuver in political or diplomatic affairs.

succedaneum: 2001 – (medicine) something that can be used as a substitute (especially any medicine that may be taken in place of another.

prospicience: 2002 – prevision: seeing ahead; knowing in advance; foreseeing.

pococurante: 2003 – Indifferent; apathetic.

autochthonous:  2004 – of rocks, deposits, etc.; found where they and their constituents were formed.

appoggiatura: 2005 – grace note: an embellishing note usually written in smaller size.  (1).

Today’s Challenge:  To Bee or Not to Bee

Should schools still hold spelling bees?  What are the arguments for holding bees and for eliminating them?  Imagine that an elementary school in your city or region is considering eliminating the annual elementary school spelling bee; make your argument either against or in support of this action.  In the course of your argument, address the relative importance or unimportance of spelling in the education of young people today. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1 – Simon, Johnny. The Champions and Winning Words from the Last 20 Years of Spelling Bees. Quartz.com. 1 June 2018. https://qz.com/1294814/the-2018-spelling-bee-champion-winning-word-and-winners-from-past-20-years/.

 

August 27:  Superlative Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

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

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

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

A Superlative Achievement

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

Positive:  I am tall.

Comparative:  Sam is taller than I am.

Superlative:  Bill is the tallest one in the class.

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

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

Examples:

Comparative:  more beautiful or more memorable

Superlative:  most beautiful or most memorable

Today’s Challenge:  Speaking in Superlatives

What are ten things that you think are worthy of superlatives — things, places, or people that you think are the greatest?  Write a review of something, someplace, or someone you consider to be worthy of superlatives.  Explain what makes your topic the greatest. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Cavendish, Richard. Publication of the Guinness Book of World Records. History Today.com 8 Aug. 2005. http://www.historytoday.com/richard-cavendish/publication-guinness-book-world-records.

August 24:  Meteorological Metaphors Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

Today is the anniversary of an editorial by Charles Dudley Warner published in the Hartford Courant in 1897. The subject of the editorial is long forgotten, but one line from the article lives on as a famous quotation: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

Although many credit Warner with the funny line, some argue that it really should be credited to Mark Twain, who was a friend and collaborator with Charles Dudley Warner. Ralph Keyes, the author of The Quote Verifier, comes down on Twain’s side, saying that the wording of the editorial reveals that Warner got the quote from Twain: “A well-known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it” (1).

Riders45.jpgWeather or not Twain said it (pun intended), there is no doubt that weather has rained down on the English lexicon. Many of our everyday idioms are weather related, and some of our common words have meteorological origins:

Astonish: Being struck by thunder would certainly be an astonishing experience. This word comes to English via the French estoner which in turn was derived from Latin ex = out + tonare = to thunder. Thus the literal translation of astonish is thunderstruck.

Window: This word comes from the Norse vindauge which comes from vindr = wind + auga = eye. Thus a window is the “wind’s eye.”

Lunatic: For centuries people have considered the effects of the moon on the weather and the varying moods of earthlings. Because the moon does affect ocean tides, it does have an indirect impact on the weather. There is less evidence, however, to prove the moon’s relationship to the human psyche. Nevertheless, the word lunatic is derived from Luna the moon goddess, who in myth would sometimes toy with the sanity of mortals (2).

Here are a few examples of weather idioms, where the weather is used as a metaphor for some aspect of human experience:

A port in storm, Chase rainbows , Cloud nine , Cloud of suspicion , Fair-weather friend , Head in the clouds , Greased lightning, Shoot the breeze , A snow job , Steal someone’s thunder, Tempest in a teapot , Under the weather

Today’s Challenge: “Over the Rainbow”

What are some songs that talk about the weather, either literally or figuratively?  What would you argue is the single best weather-related song?  Brainstorm a list of songs that deal with weather, and select your favorite.   Make your argument by explaining what makes the song great and by explaining how the lyrics reflect the weather, either literally or figuratively.

For example, in The Beatles song “Good Day Sunshine,” the sunny weather parallels the sunny disposition of the singer who is happily in love.  In contrast, The Beatles song “Rain” uses the weather to reflect philosophically on the capricious nature of humanity. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

1 – Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2006.

2 – Funk, Wilfred. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1950.

August 20:  Going Postal Day

WORD DAYS is now available for the first time in paperback!

On this day 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 (1).

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 the commission’s finding that postal workers were not more prone to workplace violence than other works. Other categories of workers, such as retail workers, transportation workers, and public administration workers, were found to have significantly higher incidences of violence than postal workers (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 (3)

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” (4).

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 your audience can understand them. Don’t just tell what frustrates you; show it. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

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 – Applebome, Peter.  Mail Carrier Kills 14 in Post Office, Then Himself.  The New York Times 21 Aug. 1986. https://www.nytimes.com/1986/08/21/us/mail-carrier-kills-14-in-post-office-then-himself.html.

2 – ABC News.  Commission: ‘Going Postal’ Is a Myth. 31 Aug. 2000. https://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=95958&page=1.

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

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