July 16:  Mushroom Cloud Day

Today is the anniversary of the birth of the nuclear age. On July 16, 1945 at 5:29 a.m., a mushroom cloud rose into the sky above the New Mexico desert, the first ever detonation of a nuclear weapon.

Trinity Test Fireball 16ms.jpgRobert Oppenheimer, head of the Manhattan Project, named the test “Trinity” based on John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14, whose first four lines read:

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you

As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend ;

That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend

Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

The test, which took place in total secrecy, resulted in a blast equivalent to 21,000 tons of TNT, more than two times what was predicted by Los Alamos scientists. The blast completely vaporized the 100-foot steel tower the bomb was placed on before the test. The bomb’s mushroom cloud rose seven and a half miles into the sky, and the bomb’s shockwave was felt 100 miles away.

The 260 witnesses to the test were each sworn to secrecy. The official press release attributed the explosion to an ammunitions dump accident. On August 6, 1945, the world learned the truth when the atomic bomb, codenamed “Little Boy,” was dropped on Hiroshima, killing an estimated 140,000 people.  Three days later another atomic bomb, called “Fat Man,” was dropped on Nagasaki.  The Japanese surrendered on August 15, 1945, ending World War II.

Before the test J. Robert Oppenheimer used religious imagery to name the Trinity Test, and he turned again to a religious text after the test, quoting a line from the Hindu Bhagavad Gita:

I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

Describing the atomic bomb’s explosion as a mushroom cloud is not the first time that English speakers have turned to food items as metaphors.  When it comes to metaphors, you might say that our cup runneth over.  You might even say that the English language features a smorgasbord of tantalizing turns of phrase.  Here are just a few examples for you to chew on:

Adam’s apple

gravy train

peanut gallery

butter fingers

bean counter

cold turkey

cherry picking

drink the Kool-Aid

carrot and stick

in a nutshell

Because many of the metaphors we use are familiar, we forget that they’re metaphors at all.  When a metaphor loses its freshness and enters the language as a staple menu item, we call it an idiom, “an expression that doesn’t make sense when translated literally but that is nevertheless almost universally understood.”  For example, imagine someone learning English as a second language who runs into the phrase “couch potato.”  A direct translation of the two words makes little literal sense in any language; nevertheless, most English speakers know the figurative meaning of the idiom — “a lazy person” — because it’s a stock phrase that they have heard or read before.

This is the magic of language.  Metaphors season our language, enhancing its flavors and making everything more tasty.  Author Bernard Malamud (1914-1986) said it best:

I love metaphor. It provides two loaves where there seems to be one. Sometimes it throws in a load of fish.

There is a miraculous side to metaphors, but as George Orwell reminds us, an old metaphor sometimes become stale.  Instead of trying to resurrect these “dead metaphors” as Orwell calls them, it’s best to let them rest in peace:

A newly invented metaphor assists thought by evoking a visual image, while on the other hand a metaphor which is technically ‘dead’ (e. g. iron resolution) has in effect reverted to being an ordinary word and can generally be used without loss of vividness. But in between these two classes there is a huge dump of worn-out metaphors which have lost all evocative power and are merely used because they save people the trouble of inventing phrases for themselves (2).

Returning to the miraculous side of metaphor, writer and linguist Michael Erard served up a banquet of mouth-watering metaphors in his 2013 essay
“A Pledge to My Readers:  A Year in the Artisanal Language Movement.”  Read this excerpt as an appetizer:

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.

. . . . For nouns, I’m going to a nearby family-owned farm, where Anglo-Saxon and Latinate varieties are raised free-range, grass-fed, and entirely hormone-free. The farmers will regularly replenish my stocks with deliveries by bicycle, ensuring that these words ripen on the page, not in a cargo hold in the middle of the Pacific.

Getting fresh, organic verbs used to pose a challenge, because of the unusual way they propagate. Yet once I began searching out indigenous varieties of words, I was surprised to find all sorts that aren’t known outside the local area. There’s a small, family-run verb operation that conjugates them in small batches, the old-fashioned way. I also stumbled across a number of hard-to-find heirloom verbs that haven’t been seen in urban markets for 100 years, because their flesh bruises too easily, and because they don’t fit the cosmetic ideal. Let’s face it: An English verb grown in Chile may look perfectly connoted, but its pulpy taste can’t compete with the pungent verve of a local specimen, and who cares if it won’t win beauty contests? (3)

Today’s Challenge:  Food For Thought and Rumination

What are some examples of expressions or familiar phrases used in English that refer to specific foods in a figurative manner rather than a literal manner, such as – “butter fingers,” “smart cookie,” or “peanut gallery”?  Is there one particular one you like?  Why?  Brainstorm a list of food idioms.  Then, select one to write about.  Write as though you are speaking to a student who is learning English as a second language, explaining the figurative meaning of the idiom and providing vivid specific examples of how it might be use.  You might also explore the origin, or etymology, of the idiom.

Quotation of the Day:  Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor. -Truman Capote

 

1 – The Manhattan Project, An Interactive History. U.S. Department of Energy, Office of History & Heritage Resources.

2- Orwell, George.  “Politics and the English Language.”

3- Erard, Michael. “A Pledge to My Readers:  A Year in the Artisanal Language Movement.”

July 14:  Bastille Day

Today is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, the Paris prison fortress of King Louis XVI. In 1789, 13 years after the American colonists had rebelled against the British monarchy, the citizens of France rose up against the despotism of King Louis, releasing prisoners from the Bastille and raiding its arms and ammunition.

Prise de la Bastille.jpgLouis and his wife, Marie Antoinette, were arrested at their residence in Versailles, the entire royal family was eventually executed by guillotine, and the Bastille was razed.

Among the climate of chaos and anarchy, the National Assembly established the French Republic. Although true democracy did not result from the French Revolution, the absolute monarchy in France was permanently abolished (1).

Something that may never be abolished is the relationship between the French and the English languages.

This relationship began in 1066 with the Norman Invasion, led by William the Conqueror. With a Norman king of England, French became the language of the government. Though the Anglo-Saxon tongue became a second-class language in England, it still remained alive and well as the language of the common people. In fact, there were fewer French words absorbed into English during the Norman reign (approximately 1,000 words) than after an English king regained the throne. Between 1250 and 1500, more than 9,000 French words were absorbed into English.

English is a Germanic language. Its most frequently used words are Anglo-Saxon — grammar words, such as pronouns, prepositions, and conjunctions. However, a higher percentage of English vocabulary words comes from other languages, principally the Romance languages — the descendants of Latin, such as French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian.

Next to Latin, more of these vocabulary words were absorbed from French than any other language. The following words are a small sample of common English words that have French origins:

liberty

revenue

crime

justice

ticket

essay

religion

connoisseur

ridicule

dentist (2)

Today’s Challenge:  A Tour of Your ‘Tour de Force’ Structure
What are examples of man-made structures (such as buildings, bridges, statues, etc.) you would put on your list of most iconic structures ever constructed by human hands?  Which one would you argue is the most iconic of them all?

Although the Bastille no longer stands, it remains in our memory as a historic and iconic man-made structure.  It is the rare structure whose name alone evokes both images and feelings, whether good or bad.  One test of such a structure’s iconic status is whether or not its geographic location is common knowledge.  Peruse the list of iconic structures below to see if you can identify where in the world each is located.  Also consider what pictures and feelings, if any, you associate with each one:

The Colosseum

The Great Wall

Stonehenge

The Statue of Liberty

Fallingwater

The Twin Towers

The Panama Canal

The Space Needle

The Golden Gate Bridge

The Grand Coulee Dam

Saint Peter’s Basilica

The White House

The Taj Mahal

Select the single man-made structure from your list that you think is most iconic.  Make your case by stating your reasons, and do a bit of research to give your audience some impressive details and evidence that go beyond the obvious.

Quotation of the Day: The thing that’s wrong with the French is that they don’t have a word for entrepreneur. -George W. Bush

 

1 – Yenne, Bill. 100 Events that Shaped World History. San Francisco: Bluewood Books, 1993.

2 – Reader’s Digest Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1983.

July 11: Bowdlerize Day

Today is the birthday of Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), a man who became infamous for censoring Shakespeare. An Englishman, Bowdler studied medicine at Edinburgh but never practiced; instead, he took his scalpel to the plays of Shakespeare. His mission, according to Nancy Caldwell Sorel in Word People, was “to render Shakespeare fit to be read aloud by a gentleman in the company of ladies.” His first edition of his ten-volume Family Shakespeare was published in 1818 (1).

After he finished with the Bard’s works, Bowdler devoted himself to Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

The Nerd Who Became a Verb

Bowdler’s work became so notorious that his name entered the language as a verb meaning “To expurgate prudishly.” Most eponyms — words derived from a person’s name — begin as proper nouns and evolve into common nouns, such as atlas, cardigan, and guillotine.  The word bowdlerize, however, went from a proper noun to a verb, describing “the process of censoring a work by deleting objectionable words or material.”

For example, Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damn’d spot!” became “Out, crimson spot!”

To learn more about eponymous verbs in English, you might explore — or should we say “flesh out” — the etymology of the following verbs.  Each has a real person as its source:

mesmerize
lynch
pasteurize
grangerize
mercerize
boycott
gerrymander
burke
galvanize (1)

Today’s Challenge:  The Flesh Became Word
A good English dictionary will list the names of the best known persons who ever lived; to have your name thus listed means you have achieved virtual universal notoriety.  However, to have your name go from an upper case proper noun to a lower case noun, adjective, or verb is another thing altogether.  Who is a person living today whose life is so distinctive, so influential, or so notorious, that his or her name might enter the dictionary some day as an eponym — a common noun derived from a person’s name? Make your case by writing a mini-biography of the person and by giving specific examples of what he or she has said or done, either good or bad, to merit being immortalized by lexicographers.

Quotation of the Day:  But the truth is, that when a library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me. –Mark Twain

1 – Sorel, Nancy Caldwell. Word People: Being an Inquiry Into the Lives of Those Person Who Have Lent Their Names to the English Language. New York: American Heritage Press: 1970.

July 5:  Toponym Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1946 debut of a garment that sent shock waves across the world of fashion: the garment was the bikini. Paris fashion designer Louis Reard took the name for his design from a remote Pacific Ocean Atoll in the Marshall Islands, where the United States military was conducting the first peacetime detonations of nuclear bombs. So explosive was Reard’s skimpy design that it didn’t really catch on as acceptable beachwear until the 1960s.

The 1960 hit song “Itsy-Bitsy-Teenie-Weenie-Yellow-Polka-Dot Bikini,” along with many beach movies that targeted the youth audience, made the two piece bathing suit ubiquitous (1).

The word bikini is a classic example of a toponym:  a word that began as a geographical place name and evolved a new meaning based on something associated with that place.  The following are some examples of toponyms:

afghan

bourbon

angora

cashmere

cologne

denim

dollar

hamburger

jeans

marathon

mayonnaise

tuxedo

venetian blind

Today’s Challenge:  Wide World of Words
What are some examples of toponyms, and what are the stories behind their transformation from capitalized proper noun to lowercase common noun?
Research the definition and origin of a toponym, one listed above or some other one that you are curious about.  Write a brief report on its general meaning as a noun as well as the geographical source of its origin.
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: Bikini, we might argue, should have become a word to sum up the devastation that a nuclear weapon can cause; instead it became a word for a skimpy piece of beach attire. –Henry Hitchings

 

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

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

 

July 3:  Dog Day

Today is the first day of what is known as the Dog Days of Summer. The association of summer with “man’s best friend” comes to our language via ancient astronomy. During the period from July 3 through August 11, the Dog Star, Sirius, rises in conjunction with the Sun. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky and is part of the constellation Canis Major, Latin for the Greater Dog.

Some ancient Romans believed that the sultry heat of the Dog Days was explained by the combined heat of Sirius and the sun; however, even in the days before the telescope, this belief was more prominent among the superstitious than serious students of the stars (1).

English is replete with idioms (expressions that don’t make sense when taken literally) related to dogs. And it is interesting to note that despite the dog’s reputation for being “man’s best friend,” most of the expressions use dog in the negative sense. For example, they are used as scapegoats for missing homework: “My dog ate my homework.” They are associated with sickness: “Sick as a dog.” And they are even used to characterize life in general as harsh and cut throat: “It’s a dog eat dog world.”

Today’s Challenge: Dog Daze
What idioms, compound words, titles, quotations come to mind that contain the word “dog”?  First, brainstorm a list of at least ten words and phrases that contain the word dog, such as the following:

-Dog tired
-Hot dog
-Every dog has his day
-You Ain’t Nothin But a Hound Dog
-Dogtown and the Z-Boys
-“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” –Groucho Marx

Second, use your list of ideas as a springboard for a topic that you can write about — any form or genre is okay, as long as your writing is interesting: speech, argument, memoir, poetry, fiction, dramatic monologue, open letter, personal essay, description, anecdote

Third, begin writing.  Use the brainstorm idea that sparked your topic as your title. Make sure that the word “dog” is in your title. Write at least 200 words. (Common Core Writing 1, 2, or 3)

Quotation of the Day: To his dog, every man is Napoleon; hence the constant popularity of dogs. –Aldous Huxley

1 – http://www.space.com/8946-dog-days-summer-celestial-origin.html

2- Claiborne, Robert. Loose Cannons and Red Herrings: A Book of Lost Metaphors. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.

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.