April 13:  Triskaidekaphobia Day

On this day in 1970, Apollo 13, NASA’s third lunar mission, experienced an oxygen tank malfunction that caused the mission to be aborted. The famous words from the 1987 movie Apollo 13 were “Houston we have a problem.” The actual quote was “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” The Apollo 13 mission also gave us the oxymoron “successful failure,” meaning that although the ultimate mission of reaching the moon was a failure, the secondary mission of returning the astronauts to earth safely was a success. (See October 12:  Oxymoron Day)

Apollo 13-insignia.pngAlthough no one died on the mission, Apollo 13 provided no solace for those with triskaidekaphobia: the fear of the number 13. After all, not only was the mission given the number 13, but other number 13s pop up when you look at the statistics related to the mission:

-The problem occurred on the 13th of April.

-The mission was launched on 4/11/70. 4 + 11 + 70 = 85 and 8+5= 13!

-The mission was launched at 13:13 Central Standard Time (1).

Even if you have no fear of the number 13, or any other numbers, there are plenty of other phobias to concern yourself with. The suffix -phobia is Greek for fear. And even if you have no chronic fears, exploring the world of phobias provides good practice for checking your knowledge of Greek and Latin roots. For example, claustrophobia is the fear of being in narrow or enclosed spaces. Claustrum is Latin for enclosed place.

The Sum of All Fears

The following list of phobias is from O.V. Michaelsen’s book Words at Play. See if you can match up each of the phobias with its correct definition.

  1. Agoraphobia
  2. Euphophobia
  3. Lunaediesophobia
  4. Homilophobia
  5. Heliophobia
  6. Dextrophobia
  7. Carnophobia
  8. Sophophobia
  9. Hygrophobia
  10. Sinistrophobia

A. Fear of dampness or liquids

B. Fear of good news

C. Fear of sunlight

D. Fear of things to the right

E. Fear of sermons

F. Fear of open or public places

G. Fear of meat

H. Fear of learning

I. Fear of Mondays

J. Fear of things to the left.

Answers

  1. F, 2. B, 3. I, 4. E, 5. C, 6. D, 7. G, 8. H, 9. A, 10. J

Today’s Challenge:  Say Farewell to Your Phobia

What are some common fears that people have, and how can those fears be overcome?  Triskaidekaphobia Day is the perfect day to look your fears in the face.  Brainstorm and research some common fears, such as fear of flying, public speaking, intimacy, spiders, failure, heights, or death.  Select one, and write a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that provides your audience with common sense ways to confront the fear and overcome it. (Common Core Writing 2)

Quotation of the Day: Fear is an insidious virus. Given a breeding place in our minds … it will eat away our spirit and block the forward path of our endeavors. -James F. Bell

1 – Kennedy Space Center

http://science.ksc.nasa.gov/history/apollo/apollo-13/apollo-13.html

2 – O. V. Michaelsen, O.V. Words at Play (Sterling Publishing Co., Inc, 1997)

 

April 1: Invention of Punctuation Day

Today we celebrate the life of Kohmar Pehriad (544-493 BC), an ancient writer known not so much for his words as for his punctuation.  In the pre-Christian era in which Pehriad lived, written language was continuous, without any sentence or paragraph breaks. Pehriad’s reform, which today we take for granted, was the revolutionary idea of placing a single, small round dot to signal the end of a complete thought.  Pehriad’s invention did not end with the period, however. Concerned with a method for signaling pauses within a sentence, Kohmar devised the comma. For more than thirty years, Pehriad traveled throughout the ancient world — to Greece, Rome, Persia, North Africa, and Asia — to lobby for the use and acceptance of his creations.  Today, most have forgotten Kohmar Pehriad’s work, but his reward is that his name is immortalized in the anglicized names we use today for his two inventions: the comma (Kohmar) and the period (Pehriad).

It should also be noted that Pehriad’s son Apos-Trophe Pehriad followed in his father’s footsteps by creating another widely used form of punctuation.  His invention was a single mark that served double duty, either to signify possession at the end of a word or to denote the abbreviation of a word. Like his father’s inventions, the punctuation mark we know today as the apostrophe was named after Apos-Trophe Pehriad.

If some or all of the above historical information strains credulity, there is a reason.  None of it is true. What is true, however, is that on this day (April Fool’s Day) in 1956, The Saturday Review published an article by K. Jason Sitewell entitled “The Invention of the Period.”  In the article, Sitewell created a biography of a mythical inventor named Kohmar Pehriad, who, according to Sitewell, was born on April 1, 544 BC (1).

Today’s Challenge:  The Eponyms of April

It is true that many English words are derived from actual people who lived and walked the earth; it is also true that some are named for fictional persons.  These words are so numerous that they have a name: eponyms. Examples are cardigan, diesel, chauvinist, braille, boycott, atlas, and tantalize.  What are some interesting words that might make for good storytelling? Brainstorm some words.  Then, select one and write a fictional biography of a person behind the word. Connect the details from your biography to the meaning of the word in order to make it more believable. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year.  -Mark Twain

March 29:  Allusions From War Day

On this day in 1975, the last American soldiers left Vietnam, ending a ten-year period in which the United States dropped more bombs than during all of World War II. The many soldiers who fought in Vietnam returned with both metals and scars, but they also returned with new words that reflected their intense experience in Southeast Asia.

In the book I Hear America Talking, Stuart Berg Flexner defines some of the key terms that came out of the Vietnam War:

Charlie: The term Viet Cong (short for Vietnamese Communist) was shortened by soldiers to V.C. Since the international phonetic alphabet used for communication designated the letter C as Charlie, and V for Victor, the enemy from North Vietnam was frequently designated Charlie.

Click: Military term for kilometer, possibly reflecting the sound of the letter K, the abbreviation for kilometer, or the clicking of a gun sight being adjusted for distance.

Defoliate: The spraying of chemicals or the use of bombs on enemy territory to destroy trees or crops, depriving the enemy of concealment or food.

Domino Theory: The belief that if Vietnam fell to the Communists, its neighbors in Southeast Asia would fall one by one, as in a row of dominoes.

Escalation: As the U.S. presence in Vietnam grew under the leadership of President Johnson, this term was used to describe the increase in troop levels. It is derived from escalator, a trademark name for a “moving staircase.”

Firefight: This term to describe a short engagement replaced the common word skirmish.

Fragging: This term is derived from a commonly used weapon of the war, the fragmentation grenade. It became a verb to describe the killing of an officer by use of a grenade or any other means.

Just as the Vietnam War added new words to the English lexicon, it also added new allusions — indirect references to people, places, and events from Vietnam that entered the cultural consciousness.  Today, for example, when we hear or read the names Westmoreland, Viet Cong, Khe Sanh, the Tet Offensive, or the Ho Chi Minh Trail, it is hard not to think of the war in Vietnam.  

In fact, the long history of warfare has added a huge stock of cultural references to the language.  For example, when we read Carl Sandburg’s short poem “Grass,” we understand it is a war poem, not because it mentions war, soldiers, or fighting explicitly, but because the poem makes several allusions to battlefields around the world where soldiers fought and died:

Grass

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.

Shovel them under and let me work—

                                         I am the grass; I cover all.

And pile them high at Gettysburg

And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.

Shovel them under and let me work.

Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:

                                         What place is this?

                                         Where are we now?

Today’s Challenge: “I Love the Smell of Allusions in the Morning”

What are some examples of allusions that evoke people, places, and events from military history?  Brainstorm some proper nouns that evoke specific people, places, or events from the history of warfare.  Select three proper nouns, research them, and write a brief report that explains the backstory of how each proper noun fits into the timeline of the history of warfare.

The following are some examples of allusions you might research:

Alamo, Achilles, Appomattox, Auschwitz, The Bastille, The Battle of the Bulge, Catch-22, The Cold War, The Cuban Missile Crisis, D-Day, Dunkirk, The Charge of the Light Brigade, Eisenhower, Fort Sumter, The Geneva Convention, The Gettysburg Address, The G.I. Bill, Grant, Hannibal, Hiroshima, Lexington and Concord, Marathon, Minutemen, NATO, Odysseus, Patton, Rough Riders, Stalin, Tripoli, Thucydides, U-boats, V-J Day, Wounded Knee, Yankee Doodle

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.  -Max Weinreich

1- Flexner, Stuart Berg.  I Hear America Talking.

 

March 24:  Mash-up Day

According to Newsweek, the word “mash-up” was coined in 2001 by DJ Freelance Hellraiser who used Christina Aguilera’s vocals from the song ‘Genie in a Bottle’ and “recorded [them] over the instrumentals from ‘Hard to Explain.’” Mash-up is not just a musical term, however. A mash-up applies to any combination of two or more forms of media: music, film, television, computer program, etc.

So what does March 24 have to do with this strange new term? Well, on this date in 1973, Pink Floyd released its groundbreaking Dark Side of the Moon album. Later — no one really knows when – someone came up with the crazy idea of combining, or ‘mashing,’ the Pink Floyd album with the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The fans of this mash-up claim over a 100 different moments where Pink Floyd’s music and lyrics oddly coincide with events and actions in the film. For example, when Mrs. Gulch first appears riding her bicycle, the bells and chimes at the beginning of the song “Time” begin to sound.

WIZARD OF OZ ORIGINAL POSTER 1939.jpg“Mash-up” is just one example of a neologism, a new word that is created to describe some kind of phenomenon, concept, or invention. Some of these words have the lifespan of a common housefly, but others, if they are used enough, eventually are cataloged and included in the English lexicon (1).

Wordsmiths at the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, have the “rule of five” to guide their decision about whether or not to publish a neologism in the dictionary. According to the rule, the word must be published in at least five different sources over a five-year period. As a result, lexicographers are always reading, searching for potential new additions to the dictionary.

A prism refracting white light into a rainbow on a black backgroundIf you want to be ahead of the curve on new words, check out the website Wordspy.com. The site is maintained by Paul McFedries, a technical writer with an obvious love of language. Here is the description of his site in his own words: Wordspy “is devoted to lexpionage, the sleuthing of new words and phrases. These aren’t ‘stunt words’ or ‘sniglets,’ but new terms that have appeared multiple times in newspapers, magazines, books, websites, and other recorded sources” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  The Old Man and the Dictionary

What are some examples of words that fit the following categories:  abstract noun, plural noun, common noun, possessive noun, adjective?  Make a list of at least three words in each category.  Then, use words from your list to complete the titles below.  By doing this, you’ll slightly alter the title of a classic work by mashing it up your new words.  Select one of your titles and image it is a novel you have written. Write the blurb for the novel, a brief description of the story’s plot that you would place on the back cover of the book to attract and interest readers in the story.

Lord of the Flies

Lord of the __________ (plural noun)

War and Peace

War and __________ (abstract noun)

The Strange Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

The __________ (adjective) Incident of the _________ (noun) in the Nighttime

Lord of the Rings

Lord of the ___________ (plural noun)

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet ___________ (noun)

The Grapes of Wrath

The __________ (plural noun) of Wrath

A Farewell to Arms

A Farewell to ___________ (plural noun)

Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on __________ (plural noun)

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Zen and the Art of _____________ (noun) Maintenance

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

The Call of the ___________ (adjective)

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

One Flew Over the ____________  (possessive noun) ____________(noun)

The Old Man and the Sea by  Ernest Hemingway

The __________ (adjective) Man and the __________ (noun)

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Words – so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. -Nathaniel Hawthorne

1-http://www.newsweek.com/technology-time-your-mashup-106345

http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/movies/greatest-moments-dark-side-rainbow-article-1.2752178

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

March 13:  Anachronism Day

On this day in 2012, The New York Times announced that the Encyclopedia Britannica would no longer produce its print edition.

First published in 1768, the Encyclopedia Britannica became the most recognized and authoritative reference work ever published in English.  Its more than 4,000 contributors included Nobel Prize winners and American presidents.

In the 1950s, the Britannica was sold door-to-door, and many American families invested in the multi-volume repository of knowledge, paying in monthly installments.  The last print edition, produced in 2010, consisted of 32 volumes and weighed 129 pounds. Its price tag was $1,395.

Before the internet, generations of students spent countless hours immersed in the pages of print encyclopedias.  The advent of the digital age, however, changed the way everyone accesses knowledge. The launch of Wikipedia — the online, open-source encyclopedia — on January 15, 2001 began the trend of internet-based reference sources.  

After 244 years in print, Britannica clearly saw the handwriting on the wall and shifted its focus to its online dictionary (1).

Today the multi-volume encyclopedia is an anachronism, something that belongs to another era or something that is conspicuously old-fashioned, such as a telephone booth or an 8-track tape.

Today’s Challenge:  Old School’s in Session

What are some things from the past that no longer exist or are near extinction (such as drive-in movies, VHS tapes, handkerchiefs, boom boxes, chalkboards)?  Brainstorm a list of things you remember warmly from the past, things that are no longer around today or things that are near extinction.  Select one item from your list that you have nostalgic feelings about. Write about why you have such fond memories about it. A note on the word nostalgia:  The word nostalgia comes to English from Greek, combining nostos (‘return home’) and algos (‘pain’).  When the word entered English in the 18th century it meant “homesickness,” but today it refers to “a sentimental longing for the past.”  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.  -Marcel Proust

1-https://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/after-244-years-encyclopaedia-britannica-stops-the-presses/

https://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2012/03/14/britannica-define-outdated

 

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

 

January 3:  Latin Phrase Day

Today is Memento Mori, a day to remember our mortality.  In Latin memento mori translates, “remember that you must die.”  The Latin phrase was put to use in ancient Rome to prevent leaders from falling prey to hubris.  When a Roman general was paraded through the streets after a victorious battle, a slave was strategically placed behind the general in his chariot.  As the general basked in the cheers of the crowd, the slave’s job was to whisper in the general’s ear:  “Memento mori” or “Someday you will die” (1).

Memento Mori is not just for Roman generals, however.  After he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2003, Apple Founder Steve Jobs gave a moving commencement address at Stanford University, reminding graduates that facing our mortality is no morbid exercise; instead, it is motivating:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.  (2)

As Steve Jobs reminds us, people may die but their words live on; the same is true of languages, especially the Latin language.

Because of the great influence of the Roman Empire, Latin was the primary language of education in the West from the Middle Ages until the mid-20th Century.  The major works of science, law, history, religion, and philosophy were all written in Latin; therefore, for over a thousand years, proficiency in Latin was a must for any classically educated person.  

Today the English language has replaced Latin as the lingua franca, and many view Latin as just another dead language.  Nevertheless, the residue of Latin’s past influence is very much alive in English words with Latin roots as well as many legal, literary, and scientific terms.  For example, common words like dictionary, vocabulary, description, and civilization all derive from Latin.

Today’s Challenge:  Latin’s Not Dead Yet

What Latin phrase, expression, or motto might you use as the central focus of a commencement address?  Research the English translations of the Latin expressions listed below.  Select one, and like Steve Jobs did with memento mori, use the expression as a central theme for a brief motivational commencement address.

faber est suae quisque fortunae

astra inclinant, sed non obligant

aut viam inveniam aut faciam

bono malum superate

docendo disco, scribendo cogito

fortes fortuna adiuvat

honor virtutis praemium

magna est vis consuetudinis

nulla tenaci invia est via

omne trium perfectum

praemonitus praemunitus (3)

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Science is only a Latin word for knowledge.  -Carl Sagan

1-http://wealthmanagement.com/commentary/memento-mori-ancient-roman-cure-overconfidence

2-http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2011/oct/06/steve-jobs-pancreas-cancer

3-http://www.artofmanliness.com/2013/07/25/latin-words-and-phrases-every-man-should-know/

 

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