On this date in 1683 a vast Ottoman army of 250,000 troops was defeated in its attempt to take Vienna, Austria. The Austrian army was assisted by Polish forces, led by King John Sobieski, who came at the request of Pope Alexander VIII. After a battle that lasted fifteen hours, the Turks retreated, leaving behind weapons, stores of food, and thousands of their dead. After his victory, the Polish King sent a dispatch to the Pope that read, “I came, I saw, God conquered.”
To celebrate the victory, Vienna’s bakers cooked up a new culinary creation, a crescent shaped roll that mimicked the crescent moon on the Turkish flag. Later, in 1770, the new roll was introduced to France when Marie Antoinette, originally of Austria, married the future Louis XVI. Only then did the roll become the croissant, French for crescent.
A second culinary creation resulted from the large quantities of coffee left behind by the Turkish army as they fled. Finding the coffee bitter, the Christian soldiers added milk and honey to make it more palatable. For the name of this new concoction, they turned to a Capuchin monk named Marco d’Aviano, who had been sent by the Pope as emissary to assist the commanders of the Christian army. The tasty drink was named Cappuccino in honor of friar Marco d’Aviano’s order, Capuchin (1).
Today’s Challenge: Classic Culinary Combos What food combination would you argue is most worth celebrating? Make your case for what makes your menu items so great and so complementary, and include some details from research on the history of the menu item. Go beyond the obvious to give your reader some details about the food that goes beyond common knowledge. Instead of baloney, serve up the best caviar to your audience. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Someone who drank too much coffee decided on the spelling of the word Coffee. -Jim Gaffigan
On this day in 1945, Vidkun Quisling was convicted of high treason for his collaboration with the Germans during during World War II. A Norwegian politician, Quisling met with Hitler in April 1940, just prior to the Nazi invasion of Norway, and he was appointed Minister-President during the Nazi occupation of Norway. After the unconditional surrender of Germany in May 1945, Quisling was arrested and put on trial for his treasonist activities during the war and for his collaboration with the Nazis. After his conviction, he was executed by firing squad on October 24, 1945. Since that time his name has been synonymous with anyone who collaborates with the enemy (1).
The word quisling is a classic example of an eponym, a word derived from a real or imaginary person. For example, the word shrapnel evolved from Henry Shrapnel, an English artillery officer who developed an exploding shell that sent out bits of metal. Most often the capitalized proper noun that refers to the specific person becomes lowercase as it is transformed into a general noun, adjective, or verb.
Today’s Challenge: Name Hall of Shame Who is a person so notorious that his or her name is synonymous with despicable behavior? Most eponyms have fairly positive, or at least neutral, connotations, such as sandwich, sideburns, and sequoia. The list of eponyms below, however, have entered the language with decidedly negative connotations. Select one, and do a bit of etymological research to see if you can discover the person and the story behind the word. Write a brief speech that defines the word and explains why it deserves a spot in the Name Hall of Shame. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: There are still people in my party who believe in consensus politics. I regard them as Quislings, as traitors. –Margaret Thatcher
Today is the anniversary of California’s admission as the 31st state of the Union. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 caused its population to explode, and in 1849 settlers applied for admission to the Union after drafting a state constitution that prohibited slavery. Because making California a state would upset the balance of free and slave states, statehood was delayed until September 9, 1850, when the Compromise of 1850 opened the door for California statehood.
In addition to a state constitution, Californians adopted a state seal in 1849 with the motto “Eureka,” — The Greek word for “I Have Found It” — an appropriate interjection for a state whose reputation was made on gold strikes (1).
California is not the only state with a motto in a tongue other than English. In fact, ‘English Only’ proponents might be surprised to learn that more than half of states in the union have mottos in other languages.
Here are the statistics on the polyglot mottos:
Native American – Chinook: 1
Six states feature one-word mottos. Only one state, Vermont, has its state’s name in its motto, and Florida is the only state with the same motto as the United States of America: “In God We Trust.”
Today’s Challenge: Motto Mania What’s your idea for a new state motto? Generate some possible new state mottos for your home state or the other 49 states. Host a state motto contest. The mottos may be funny or serious, but they should all be memorable; after all, they may someday be emblazoned on a license plate. (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)
Quotation of the Day:The Philosopher’s Motto: I came, I saw, I pondered! –Greg Curtis
On this day in 1914, the main post office building in New York City opened its doors. The building’s main claim to fame is the inscription chiseled in gray granite on its enormous facade which reads:
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.
Although many will recognize these words as the motto of the United States Postal Service, officials are quick to point out that there is no official U.S.P.S motto. Nevertheless, it would be difficult to find another building in the world that more effectively uses the words engraved on its outside walls to capture and to motivate the mission that is fulfilled inside.
The words of the inscription originate from the Greek historian Herodotus and refer to Persian mounted postal couriers who served faithfully in the wars between the Greeks and the Persians (500-449 B.C.).
In 1982, New York’s main post office building was officially designated The James A. Farley Building, in memory of the nation’s 53rd Postmaster General. The building’s ZIP code designation is 10001 (1).
Today’s Challenge: Words Worth Setting in Stone What words do you think are important enough to chisel in stone? What motto would you etch on the outside of your school or your place of business? Hold a contest to determine the best motto. Either research a quotation by another person to use as your motto, or write your own using your own original words. Remember that a motto must be pithy and must express a rule to guide the behavior of persons who inhabit the building. (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)
Quotation of the Day: I was a drum major for justice, peace, and righteousness. -Words chiseled on the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C.
On this date in 1916, Piggly Wiggly, the first self-service grocery store, opened in Memphis, Tennessee. The store pioneered several of the features that we take for granted when grocery shopping today, such as individually priced items, checkout stands, and shopping carts.
In addition to its unique in-store features, the store also had a unique name. The store’s founder, Clarence Saunders (1881-1953) never explained how he came upon the rhyme “Piggly Wiggly,” but there is little doubt that the unusual name contributed to making his store memorable (1).
Many words in English feature this supersonic, sing-song sound effect. There are so many, in fact, that this class of words has its own name: reduplicatives. These words come in three basic varieties: rhyming reduplicatives, like hocus-pocus, fuddy-duddy, and helter-skelter; vowel shift reduplicatives, like flip-flop, Ping-Pong, and zig zag; and repetitive reduplicatives (also know as tautonyms), like can-can, never-never, and yo-yo.
There are over two thousand reduplicatives in English. Here is an alphabetically arranged list of examples:
Today’s Challenge: Words Heard by Word Nerds What’s your favorite reduplicative? Write an extended definition that provides the word’s meaning, examples of the how the word is used, and an explanation of how the word’s sound relates to its memorability and uniqueness. (Common Core Writing 1 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: “Flip-flop has sound symbolism: we can hear in the fl- clusters the sound of flipping in one direction and flopping in another. It is also visually suggestive, evoking the image of things that flip and flop, as a pair of sandals flip-flopping in sand on the beach. But perhaps most importantly, the word is compelling because of its emphatic doubling of the syllable fl-. This doubling of a syllable or word element to strengthen or emphasize meaning is called by linguists reduplication.” -Sol Steinmetz and Barbara Ann Kipfer
On this day in 1998, two Ph.D. students from Stanford University, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, formally incorporated their new company Google. Page and Brin’s search engine began as a research project in 1995. Today, Google is the world’s most popular search engine.
The story of the word Google, however, long pre-dates the internet. In 1938, while on a walk with his nephew in the New Jersey Palisades, mathematician Edward Kasner challenged the nine-year-old, Milton Sirotta, to come up with a name for a 1 followed by 100 zeroes. Milton’s ready response was “googol.” Kasner liked the word so much he introduced it to the world in 1940 in his book Mathematics and the Imagination (1).
The change of the word’s spelling from googol to Google happened more than fifty years later. Page and Brin originally called their search technology “BackRub”; however, in September 1997 they had a meeting to brainstorm ideas for a new name. The story goes that at that meeting the name googol came up, but when it was typed into a computer to search for available domain names, it was misspelled as google. The name was available and was purchased before the misspelling was discovered, so Google stuck.
Another change happened on June 15, 2006 when the Oxford English Dictionary added the lower-case word “google” as a verb, meaning “To use any search engine.”
Today’s Challenge: Brand Name Hall of Fame The paradox of the trademarked names of companies, products, and services is that the most successful ones become generic, losing their distinctiveness as an exclusive brand name. For example, the words aspirin, band-aid, cornflakes, escalator, and zipper were at one time capitalized, legally protected brand names. What currently capitalized trademarked brand name of a company, product, or service would nominate for the Brand Name Hall of Fame? Make your case based on the name’s distinctive sound, its clever derivation, its metaphoric meaning, and/or its memorability. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day: The deeper power of the name Apple comes from our everyday experiences with actual apples. They are, in a sense, the perfect consumer commodity: they’re ubiquitous and inexpensive, you grasp them in your hand and literally consume them, and they’re delicious. For almost everyone, they’re old childhood friends: cut into little pieces and cooked into sauce for babies, put into school lunch boxes and toted around, and baked into pies. It’s these deeply rooted sensory memories of apples that make Apple a great name. Nothing is more familiar, more accessible, or less intimidating than an apple. –Christopher Johnson in Microstyle (2)
Today marks the DVD release of the film Akeelah and the Bee. This 2006 film is a drama about 11 year-old Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) who overcomes personal struggles to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Directed by Doug Atchison, the film stars Laurence Fishburn as Dr. Larabee, an English professor who coaches Akeelah.
The film is an off-shoot of the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary and surprise hit Spellbound, which profiled a number of the competitors in the National Spelling Bee. After the success of Spellbound, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast on network television for the first time in May 2005. The growing popularity of spelling has even entered the adult world with spelling competitions in bars around the country and a senior national spelling bee sponsored by the AARP.
In addition, in 2005 the film Bee Season was released, and spelling even hit Broadway with the 2005 musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.
Prize Winning Bees
Below are eight of winning word for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee for the years 1998-2005:
chiaroscurist: 1998 – a painter who cares for and studies light and shade rather than color
logorrhea: 1999 – pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking
demarche: 2000 – a move or step or maneuver in political or diplomatic affairs
succedaneum: 2001 – (medicine) something that can be used as a substitute (especially any medicine that may be taken in place of another
prospicience: 2002 – prevision: seeing ahead; knowing in advance; foreseeing.
pococurante: 2003 – Indifferent; apathetic
autochthonous: 2004 – of rocks, deposits, etc.; found where they and their constituents were formed
appoggiatura: 2005 – grace note: an embellishing note usually written in smaller size. (1, 2)
Today’s Challenge: To Bee or Not to Bee Should schools still hold spelling bees? What are the arguments for holding bees and for eliminating them? Imagine that an elementary school in your city or region is considering eliminating the annual elementary school spelling bee; make your argument either against or in support of this action. In the course of your argument address the relative importance or unimportance of spelling in the education of young people today. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day:Spelling Bees are useless and unnecessary competitions. Before Microsoft Word and Google, Spelling Bees had value, but now they are all superflewus. -Jarod Kintz
On this date in 1955, the first edition of the Guinness Book of World Records was published in the United Kingdom.
The idea for the book began on November 10, 1951 when Sir Hugh Beaver, Chairman of the Guinness Brewery, was bird hunting in Ireland. After missing a shot at a golden plover, Beaver wondered if the plover was the fastest game bird in Europe. Sir Hugh was unable to get his answer, however, because he could not find a reference book that answered his question.
In 1954 Sir Hugh commissioned twin brothers Norris and Ross McWhirter to make his idea a reality. Today the Guinness World Records reference book is published annually in 20 different languages in over 100 countries. In fact, the book holds a world record of its own, being the best-selling copyrighted book of all time (1).
A Superlative Achievement
The Guinness Book of World Records could not have been written without superlative adjectives. When using adjectives to make comparisons, think of three forms: positive adjectives, comparative adjectives, and superlative adjectives.
Positive: I am tall.
Comparative: Sam is taller than I am.
Superlative: Bill is the tallest one in the class.
As you can see by the examples above, the superlative form is the highest degree of comparison, as in tallest, greatest, fastest, richest, or highest.
When an adjective is three syllables or more, add the word more to the comparative form and the word most to the superlative form.
Comparative: more beautiful or more memorable
Superlative: most beautiful or most memorable
Today’s Challenge: Speaking in Superlatives Write a review of something, some place, or someone you consider to be the worthy of superlatives. Explain what makes your topic the greatest. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day:It’s very important that people know that I really enjoy everything that has happened to me. And I tell my kids… you’re not going to be the tallest, fastest, prettiest, the best track runner, but you can be the nicest human being that someone has ever met in their life. And I just want to leave that legacy that being nice is a true treasure. –George Foreman
On this date in 1873, the first public school kindergarten in the United States was established by the St. Louis, Missouri board of education. The word kindergarten can be traced back to Germany, where Friedrick Froebel opened a preschool in 1840. Froebel invented the term Kinder-Garten (‘children’s garden’) to describe the experience of cultivating young minds through creativity and play(1).
Some say that we learn everything we need to know in kindergarten, but there is certainly one lesson that is vital to every kindergartner. In fact, instead of kindergartner we might call these children abecedarians. An abecedarian is a ‘student of the alphabet.’ The word comes from the letters A B C D.
After we have mastered the ABCs and learned to read, we take the alphabet for granted. What we don’t realize, however, is how fundamental it is to our literacy. We also sometimes forget that the alphabet, reading, and writing are all human inventions.
We don’t know who the inventor was, but we do know that around 2000 BC the idea of using letters instead of pictures to represent sounds and words began to take root. As a result, communication in writing became much more efficient and easier to learn. Instead of learning hundreds of symbols, the student now need only learn less than thirty letters. Today kindergartners, or abecedarians, who learn the 26 letters of the alphabet have a foundation to begin mastering the language for reading and writing. The word alphabet is from the first two letters of the Greek alphabet: Alpha and Beta. The Greeks didn’t invent the alphabet, but they did perfect it; one of their most important adaptations was the addition of vowels.
You’ve probably mastered the alphabet by now, but there are other ways of returning to your abecedarian roots. Below is a list of 26 vocabulary words spanning all 26 letters of the alphabet. How many do you know? How many familiar roots do you recognize? Pick up a good dictionary and look up any unfamiliar words.
Today’s Challenge: Advanced Abecedarian Can you generate a list 26 challenging and interesting words, one for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet? Create your own unique abecedarian collection of words. Use a dictionary as a resource. Share your list with others, and be prepared to define the words on the list and explain what you find interesting about each one. (Common Core Language 3)
Quotation of the Day:Of all the achievements of the human mind, the birth of the alphabet is the most momentous. -Frederic Goudy
1 – Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.
Today is the anniversary of an editorial by Charles Dudley Warner published in the Hartford Courant in 1897. The subject of the editorial is long forgotten, but one line from the article lives on as a famous quote: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
Although many credit Warner with the funny line, some argue that it really should be credited to Mark Twain, who was a friend and collaborator with Charles Dudley Warner. Ralph Keyes, the author of The Quote Verifier, comes down on Twain’s side, saying that the wording of the editorial reveals that Warner got the quote from Twain: “A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it” (1).
Weather or not Twain said it (pun intended), there is no doubt that weather has rained down on the English lexicon. Many of our everyday idioms are weather related, and some of our common words have meteorological origins:
Astonish: Being struck by thunder would certainly be an astonishing experience. This word comes to English via the French estoner which in turn was derived from Latin ex = out + tonare = to thunder. Thus the literal translation of astonish is thunderstruck.
Window: This word comes from the Norse vindauge which comes from vindr = wind + auga = eye. Thus a window is the “wind’s eye.”
Lunatic: For centuries people have considered the effects of the moon on the weather and the varying moods of earthlings. Because the moon does affect ocean tides, it does have an indirect impact on the weather. There is less evidence, however, to prove the moon’s relationship to the human psyche. Nevertheless the word lunatic is derived from Luna the moon goddess, who in myth would sometimes toy with the sanity of mortals.
Here are a few example of weather idioms, where weather is used as a metaphor for some aspect of human experience:
A port in storm
Cloud of suspicion
Head in the clouds
Shoot the breeze
A snow job
Steal someone’s thunder
Tempest in a teapot
Under the weather
Forecast Calls for Neologisms The nouns below probably do not look familiar. They are all neologisms, new words that have appeared in print but that are not yet in the dictionary. See if you can match up the words with their definitions below. For more details on each word visit Word Spy, a site devoted to neologisms.
Earlier spring weather and other gradual seasonal shifts, particularly those caused by global climate change.
A person whose vacation consists of tracking down and observing tornadoes, hurricanes, and other severe weather phenomena.
A massive and powerful storm that develops quickly and without warning.
One or more mobile homes or trailers, especially when located in or near a tornado zone.
A massive lightning flash that extends from the top of a thundercloud up to the ionosphere.
Electrical storms generated when the solar wind emitted by the sun interacts with the Earth’s magnetic field.
A large chunk of ice that forms in the atmosphere and falls to the ground.
The study of past earthquakes, volcanoes, and other geological events that combines the analysis of both physical evidence and the myths and legends related to the events.
Today’s Challenge: “Over the Rainbow” What are some songs that talk about weather either literally or figuratively? What would you argue is the single best weather-related song? Brainstorm a list of songs that deal with weather, and select your favorite. Make your argument by explaining what makes the song great and by explaining how the lyrics reflect the weather, either literally or figuratively. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
For example, in the Beatles song “Good Day Sunshine” the sunny weather parallels the sunny disposition of the singer who is happily in love:
Good day sunshine, good day sunshine, good day sunshine
I need to laugh and when the sun is out
I’ve got something I can laugh about
I feel good in a special way
I’m in love and it’s a sunny day
Quotation of the Day: Weather forecast for tonight: dark. -George Carlin