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 29:  Blend Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

1896 brunch – breakfast + lunch.

1925 motel – motor + hotel (3).

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

Reaganomics – Ronald Reagan + economics

Spanglish – Spanish + English

motorcade – motor + cavalcade

telecast – television + broadcast

tangelo – tangerine + pomelo

moped – motor + pedestrian

hazmat – hazardous + material

agribusiness – agriculture + business

blog – web + log

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

Today’s Challenge: Grab Your Blender

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

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

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

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

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

June 23:  Pangram Day

Today is the anniversary of the patent for the first QWERTY typewriter.

Around 1860, Christopher Latham Sholes, a journalist for the Milwaukee News, began his quest to create a machine that could write words both legibly and quickly on paper. Sholes’ design was not the first attempt at creating a writing machine, but it was the fastest and most efficient model available when he filed for his patent in 1868.

Sholes’ great innovation was the QWERTY system (named for the arrangement of the first six letters on the first row of letters on the keyboard). As explained in Great Inventions, Sholes’ design, coupled with the QWERTY letter arrangement, made his typewriter faster than a pen:

The secret of its speed lay in the keyboard design, which paradoxically slowed the typist down. Sholes arranged the letters in the now familiar qwerty sequence: this forces typists to move their fingers further than was really necessary to type common letter sequences but it gave the keys time to fall back into place after typing (1).

The name type-writer was coined by Sholes, who sold his machine to E. Remington & Sons in 1873. In 1874, the Remington typewriter hit the market at a price of $125. One of the first buyers was Mark Twain who completed the manuscript for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on his new machine, becoming the first writer ever to present a publisher with a typed manuscript (2).

Even today, in an era where metal keys have been replaced by electronic word processing, the QWERTY system remains the standard keyboard layout.

Wordplay enthusiasts have an entire category of words related to typewriter order. For example, the word typewriter can be written using just the letters on the top row of the keyboard.

Chris Cole’s book Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities lists the following additional examples:

-Other common words that can be written using just the top row: repertoire, proprietor, perpetuity.

-Longest common word that can be typed using only letters from the middle row: alfalfa.

-Longest common words using letters in typewriter order: weigh, quips, quash, quaff, quill.

-Longest common words using letters in reverse typewriter order: soiree, sirree.

-Longest common words using just the left hand on the typewriter: aftereffects, stewardesses, reverberated, desegregated.

-Longest common words using just the right hand on the typewriter: polyphony, homophony.

-Longest common word using alternating hands: dismantlement.

-Longest common word using one finger: deeded.

-Longest word from adjacent keys: assessed, reseeded (3).

A less esoteric type of typewriter wordplay is called the pangram. Common to students who are learning the keyboard, a pangram is a single sentence that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet at least once, such as: The quick brown fox, jumps over the lazy dogs. A common competition among hardcore word-buffs is to create pangrams with the fewest possible letters. It is possible to create a 26-letter pangram, but it is hard to do without resorting to obscure words and strained syntax; for example, try to decipher this 26-letter pangram: Cwm, fjord-bank glyphs quiz vext.

Here are some other examples of pangrams that use more common words:

How quickly daft jumping zebras vex.

The five boxing wizards jump quickly.

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs (3).

Today’s Challenge: Pangrams With a Purpose

How would you revise the title of your favorite book or movie using every letter of the alphabet? Imagine that a new Equal Usage Amendment for letters has been passed which states that every book and movie must be renamed so that every letter of the alphabet appears in its title.  Try writing a panagramic title for your favorite book or movie.

The following are some examples:

The Sometimes Quixotic, Other Times Joyless Prince Who Lost his Zest For Life, Yearned For His Adulterous Mother, and Killed His Boisterous, Vile, and Godless Uncle. (Hamlet, The Tragedy of the Prince of Denmark)

An Extremely Vocal Wolf’s Huffing and Puffing Quickly Jumbles Zany Pigs’ Houses (The Three Little Pigs)

(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day: If the monkey could type one keystroke every nanosecond, the expected waiting time until the monkey types out ‘Hamlet’ is so long that the estimated age of the universe is insignificant by comparison … this is not a practical method for writing plays.  -Gian-Carlo Rota

1 – Dyson, James and Robert Uhlig. Great Inventions. New York: Barnes & Nobles Books, 2001.

2 – Baron, Naomi S. Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It’s Heading. London: Routledge, 2000.

3 – Cole, Chris. Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1999.

 

JUNE 22:  G.I. Day

Today is the anniversary of one of the most significant pieces of legislation in American history. On this day, 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 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 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 uppercase 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

  1. PX
  2. 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 abbreviations 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 20:  Hot and Cold Running Idioms Day

Today is the anniversary of an important date in the history of communications. On this day in 1963 in Geneva, Switzerland, the United States and the Soviet Union signed what was called the “Hot Line Agreement,” which established a direct communication link between the two superpowers.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, it became abundantly clear that without prompt, direct communication between the heads of state in the East and the West, tragic miscommunication leading to nuclear war might result. During the 1962 exercise in brinkmanship, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev were forced to use intermediaries in their communications.

The Hot Line Agreement was the first bilateral agreement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and the first step in recognizing that cooler heads should prevail when it comes to the Cold War maneuvering of the nuclear powers (1).

It was the Soviet Union that first proposed the hot line in 1954. The word hot line first appeared in print in 1955, and the word brinkmanship, meaning the art of advancing to the very brink of war but not engaging in it, first appeared in 1956 (2).

Probably the most famous demonstration of the red phone comes to us via Hollywood rather than the history books. In the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, President Merkin Muffley, played by Peter Sellers, struggles to tell Soviet Premier Kissoff that an insane American general has ordered a nuclear bombing mission on Russia:

President Merkin Muffley: . . . Now then, Dmitri, you know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb… The Bomb, Dmitri… The hydrogen bomb!… Well now, what happened is… ah… one of our base commanders, he had a sort of… well, he went a little funny in the head… you know… just a little… funny. And, ah… he went and did a silly thing… Well, I’ll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes… to attack your country… Ah… Well, let me finish, Dmitri… Let me finish, Dmitri… Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?… Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dmitri?… Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello?… Of course I like to speak to you!… Of course I like to say hello!… Not now, but anytime, Dmitri. I’m just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened… It’s a friendly call. Of course it’s a friendly call… Listen, if it wasn’t friendly… you probably wouldn’t have even got it . . . .

Today’s Challenge: Hot ‘N’ Cold

Below are descriptions of expressions that contain either the word hot or cold. Given the number of words in each expression along with a description, see if you can name the phrase:

  1. Four words: Newly printed; sensational and exciting.
  2. Two words: Immediate, complete withdrawal from something, especially an addictive substance.
  3. Two words: Trouble or difficulty.
  4. Two words: Retreat from an undertaking; lose one’s nerve.
  5. Two words: Deliberate disregard, slight, or snub.
  6. Four words: Extremely angry.
  7. Four words: In a position of extreme stress, as when subjected to harsh criticism.
  8. Five words: To cause one to shiver from fright or horror.

What are more examples of common expression or idioms in English that feature the words “hot” or “cold”?  Use one of these expressions as a launching pad for an original composition.  Use the idiom as your title, and write at least 250 words. (Common Core Writing 2/3 Expository/Narrative)

Quote of the Day: Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything. -Billy Graham

Answers: 1. Hot off the presses 2. Cold turkey 3. Hot water 4. Cold feet 5. Cold shoulder 6. Hot under the collar 7. In the hot seat 8. Make one’s blood run cold.

1 – United States Department of State. Memorandum of Understanding Between The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communication Link

http://www.state.gov/t/isn/4785.htm

2- Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

3 – Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

June 14:  Pledge Day

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

The 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 historic 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 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 Promise

1- Burrell, Brian. The Words We Live By: The Creeds, Mottoes, and Pledges That Have Shaped America. New York: The Free Press, 1997.

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

June 13:  Miranda Day

Today is the anniversary of a landmark U. S. Supreme Court case Miranda vs. Arizona, decided in 1966. The case involved a man convicted of rape and armed robbery, Ernesto Miranda. His case was appealed, and his lawyers argued that he had not been advised of his rights before he signed a confession. Miranda’s attorneys won the case by a narrow 5 to 4 vote.

The Miranda case changed the way police operate when taking a suspect into custody, compelling them to advise the accused of his or her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

The paragraph that police read to the accused has added a new verb to the English language: Mirandize. The familiar words of the warning read:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk with a lawyer and have the lawyer present with you during any questioning. And if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning, if you so desire.

In the book The Words We Live, Brian Burrell begins by citing the Miranda warning as an example of a paradox that he has noticed – that some of the best know words and passages like the Miranda warning are so well known that people disregard them. As a result of this paradox, the vast majority of accused people don’t “remain silent”; instead, they try to persuade the authorities of their innocence. Burrell’s book reexamines these “Words We Live By”: the pledges, rules, mottoes, oaths, and creeds that we hear almost every day and too often take for granted (1).

I’ve Heard that Somewhere

Read the examples below of “Words We Live By” from the various different categories in Brian Burrell’s book. See if you can identify them.

  1. Principle: In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.
  2. Advice: Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
  3. Creed: I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
  4. Preamble: We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common Defense ….
  5. Address: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
  6. Inscription: ….Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …
  7. Motto: All the News That’s Fit to Print
  8. Oath: I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.
  9. Code: I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life . . . .

Today’s Challenge:   Court Decision – Verdict

What is an example of a specific Supreme Court decision?  What was the case about and what was the verdict?  Research a specific Supreme Court decision, and write an explanation of what Constitutional issues the case addressed.  Also explain the impact of the verdict. Below are some examples of the most influential cases in American history.

Marbury v. Madison, 1803; McCulloch v. Maryland 1819; Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857; Plessy V. Ferguson, 1896; Korematsu v. United States, 1944; Brown v. Board of Education, 1954; Gideon v. Wainwright, 1963; New York Times v. Sullivan, 1964; Loving v. Virginia, 1967; Roe v. Wade, 1973; United States v Nixon, 1974; Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, 1978; Bush v. Gore, 2000

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day: I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights. -Bishop Desmond Tutu

Answers: 1. Peter Principle 2. Advice from Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac 3. The Apostles’ Creed 4. Preamble to the Constitution 5. The Gettysburg Address 6. Inscription on a plaque mounted in the Statue of Liberty Museum. 7. Motto of the New York Times 8. The Presidential Oath 9. Code of Conduct for Members of the Armed Forces of the United States.

1- Burrell, Brian. The Words We Live By: The Creeds, Mottoes, and Pledges That Have Shaped America. New York: The Free Press: 1997.