Today is the anniversary of the publication
of the first novel in America, The Power of Sympathy: or, The Triumph of
Nature. When the book was first released in 1789, it was published
anonymously. Later, however, William Hill Brown, a 24 year-old Bostonian,
came forward to claim authorship.
Although the novel is not remembered today
for its literary excellence, it is characteristic of it time. Reflecting
a popular 18th century literary device, the novel was epistolary, that is, its
story is told via letters between characters. The novel involves an
illicit love triangle and is written as a cautionary tale. Some speculate
that Brown published his novel anonymously because the details of his plot were
based on actual events in the lives of his Boston neighbors.
Although there are certainly examples of
long fiction that might be called novels before the 1700s, it was the 18th
century that launched the popularity of this “new form” of extended narrative,
best exemplified by the works of English writers Daniel Defoe, Samuel
Richardson, and Henry Fielding.
Today’s Challenge: Blackjack
How can you captivate a reader by writing a
21-word opening sentence of a short story or novel? To celebrate America’s first novel
on 1/21, your task is to craft a novel first line for a story that is exactly
21 words. Think about a narrative hook that will grab your reader.
Here’s an example:
At 7:10 am that Monday morning, Bill awoke
to the choking sound of his cat, Hamlet, vomiting violently on his pillow.
There is nothing magical about 21 words,
but writing to an exact word count will force you to pay attention to the
impact of each word you write. It will also force you to pay careful attention
as you revise and edit. When you write the first draft of your sentence,
don’t worry about word count. Get some ideas and details down on paper
first. Then go back and revise, making every word count — up to exactly
21 (no more, no fewer).
The sentences below are some examples of
opening sentences from American novels. They are not 21 words, but they
will give you a flavor for the ways different novelists have opened their
You may now felicitate me — I have had an
interview with the charmer I informed you of. -William Hill Brown, The Power of
Sympathy: or, The Triumph of Nature. (1789)
I am an invisible man. —Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
Call me Ishmael. —Herman Melville, Moby-Dick (1851)
I had the story, bit by bit, from various
people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different
story. —Edith Wharton, Ethan
(Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)
Quotation of the Day: It is only a novel… or, in short,
only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which
the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its
varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world
in the best-chosen language. -Jane
Erin. 7 Fascinating Facts About the First
American Novel. Mental Floss.com. 21 Jan. 2016. http://mentalfloss.com/article/74019/7-fascinating-facts-about-first-american-novel.
On this day in 1961, John F. Kennedy was sworn in as the United States’ 34th president. From the text of his inaugural address, Kennedy uttered what has become probably the most famous sentence in political history: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Kennedy, who at 42 years of age was the
youngest president ever elected, exuded youth, enthusiasm, and idealism as he
proclaimed that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans . .
. .” The skillful use of rhythm, repetition, alliteration, antithesis and
parallelism make Kennedy’s inaugural address a rhetorical masterpiece.
The speech’s most memorable line, however, features a distinctive
rhetorical device called chiasmus.
Chiasmus, which is also known as antimetabole,
is the “all for one, one for all” device. It is a special brand of
parallel structure that involves a rhetorical criss-cross or flip-flop. What
makes chiasmus distinctive is that the words are not just repeated, rather they
are repeated in reverse order, as in, “When the going gets tough,
the tough get going.”
In order to see the power of Kennedy’s
chiasmus, contrast what Kennedy might have said with what he actually said:
Without chiasmus: “Do not be self-centered, thinking
only of yourself; instead; think of what you can do to contribute to your
With chiasmus: “Ask not what your country can do for you,
ask what you can do for your country.”
Notice how with chiasmus the reversal of
the words “you” and “country” causes the reader to reevaluate the relationship
between the two ideas. More than just a rhetorical flourish, this is one
of the central themes of Kennedy’s message.
Also notice that not only does chiasmus
make the sentence more memorable, but also the sentence’s simple, clear words
pack a punch. Of the sentence’s 17 words, all but two are single syllable
words. The only word of more than a single syllable is the key word “country,”
which is repeated twice for emphasis. Like Lincoln and Churchill before
him, Kennedy knew the power of clear, concise language.
Today’s Challenge: What Chiasmus
Can Do for You
As seen in Kennedy’s use of chiasmus, it is
an especially useful device for reversing an audience’s attitude or attempting
to correct or flip an audience’s thinking. What are some general
beliefs or attitudes held by many people that you think should be changed?
How might you employ chiasmus to state the change in belief or attitude
that you want to see?
Create a sentence using chiasmus that
states a change in a belief or attitude that you would like to see. For
“You don’t own your cellphone; your
cellphone owns you.”
Then write a short speech using that sentence
as your title. In your speech explain specifically the change you would
like to see and why you think this change would be an improvement.
If you can’t think of an original sentence,
create a spin-off chiasmus using Kennedy’s sentence or some of the other
Quitters never win and winners never quit.
If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.
Do things right, and do the right things.
One should work to live, not live to work.
Example spin-off: Don’t ask what your English
teacher can do for you, ask what you can do for your English teacher.
(Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)
Quotation of the Day:Try to learn something about
everything and everything about something. -Thomas Henry Huxley
Today is the birthday of American writer
and poet Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849).
Born into a family of traveling actors, Poe
was orphaned when he was just three years old. He was taken in and raised
by a Virginia family, the Allans.
Although Poe was an editor, literary
critic, poet, novelist, and writer of short stories, he constantly struggled
financially — a struggle that was no doubt fueled by his habits of drinking
and gambling. Not until after his death, at just forty years of age, was
his work recognized for its genius. His short stories “The Fall of the
House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Cask of Amontillado” have
become classics, and his poem “The Raven” is one of the most recognized and
recited poems in the English language. In fact, the poem is so well
recognized that when the city of Baltimore, the site of Poe’s death in 1849,
acquired its NFL franchise in 1996, they chose the Ravens as their name.
(The team’s three costumed raven mascots are named “Edgar,” “Allen,” and
Known for the tales of macabre and mystery
he wrote during his life, one specific mystery became associated with Poe after
For sixty years, beginning in 1949 (the
centennial of his death), an anonymous admirer visited Poe’s cenotaph — a
monument erected at the site of Poe’s original grave at Westminster Burial
Ground in Baltimore, Maryland. To commemorate Poe’s birthday each January
19th, this mysterious individual — known as the “Poe Toaster” — left three
roses, a bottle of French cognac, and occasionally a note. The
clandestine visits ended in 2009, the bicentennial of Poe’s birth (1).
Today’s Challenge: Gone but
What object would you leave at the grave of
an author or other famous person you admire, and what would you write in a note
to that person? Write
an explanation of what you would leave at the grave of a person you admire along
with an explanation of the object’s significance. Also, include the
contents of a note you would leave along with the object. (Common Core Writing
2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Where was the detective story until
Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”— Arthur Conan Doyle, at a Poe Centennial Celebration Dinner
1-Judkis, Maura. Edgar
Allan Poe Toaster Tradition Is No More. Washington Post 19 Jan. 2012. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/arts-post/post/edgar-allan-poe-toaster-tradition-is-no-more/2012/01/19/gIQAOQUBBQ_blog.html.
Quotation of the Day:Try to learn something about
everything and everything about something. -Thomas Henry Huxley
On this day in 1779, Peter Mark Roget was born in London. Roget is best known for his groundbreaking work, Roget’s Thesaurus, originally published in 1852. Roget’s work is a pioneer achievement in lexicography — the practice of compiling dictionaries. Instead of listing words alphabetically, as in a traditional dictionary, Roget classified words in groups based on six large classes of words: abstract relations, space, matter, intellect, volition, and affections. Each of these categories is then divided into subcategories, making up a total of 1,000 semantic categories under which synonyms are listed. Like a biologist creating a taxonomy of animal species, Roget attempted to bring a coherent organization to the English word-hoard.
In order to make the categories more
accessible, Roget’s son, John Lewis Roget developed an extensive index that was
published with the thesaurus in 1879. Roget’s grandson, Samuel Romilly Roget,
also worked to edit the thesaurus until 1952.
No one knows for certain how many words
there are in the English language, but because of its liberal tradition of
borrowing and adopting words from any language it rubs up against, there are
more words in English than in any other language. In fact, there are so many
more words in English that it is unlikely that the idea of a thesaurus would
even be conceived of for a language other than English.
Roget continued the English tradition of
borrowing words when he selected a Greek word for the title of his collection: thesauros
which means treasury or storehouse. Roget’s original title
for his work was The Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases Classified and
Arranged so as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary
Like the association of Webster with
dictionaries, Roget’s name has become synonymous with thesauri (the
irregular plural of thesaurus). Also like Webster, the name Roget is no longer
under trademark; therefore, just because a thesaurus is called Roget’s does not
mean it has any affiliation with the original work of the Roget family (1).
Generations of writers have turned to
Roget’s work to assist their writing. One example is American writer
Garrison Keillor, who praised Roget in a 2009 article called, “The Book That
Changed My Life”:
The book was Roget’s International
Thesaurus. It not only changed my life, but also transformed,
diversified, and modulated it by opening up the lavish treasure trove of
English, enabling me to dip my pen into glittering pools of vernacular, idiom,
lingo, jargon, argot, blather, colloquialisms, officialese, patois, and
phraseology of all sorts. I discovered Roget’s as a callow youth grazing
in the reference books. I opened it, and it became my guru, master,
oracle, mahatma, rabbi, mentor, and also my bible, and I clung to it and
consulted it constantly, feverishly, ever in search of the precise color and
gradation of words. Its effect on me was to transformed me from a plain
little nerd from Minnesota to a raconteur and swashbuckling boulevardier, sporting
man, pilgrim, loafer, sometimes a roughneck, sometimes a fire-eating visionary
. . . . Thank you, Peter Roget. Gracias and merci (2).
Not all writers or English teachers are
fans of the Thesaurus, however. Sometimes it’s a little too easy for a
student grab a thesaurus and insert a synonym that doesn’t quite work in
context. For example, a student once wrote the sentence:
Today I ate a really good donut.
Searching for a synonym for the word “good”
in his thesaurus, he revised, as follows:
Today I ate a really benevolent
It’s because of mishaps like this that the
Irish novelist Roddy Doyle gives the following advice:
Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the
back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or
effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine.
Because there are so many synonyms in
English, it’s important for writers to become students of the subtleties of
language. The best way to do this is to look at both the denotation of a
word and the connotation of a word. A word’s denotation is the
literal dictionary meaning of a word; connotation is the implied meaning of a
word along with the feelings associated with that word. Denotations can
be found easily in a dictionary, but connotations are bit harder to find.
The best way to learn about connotations is to study words in their
natural habitat — that is in the writing of professional writers.
Notice, for example, how the writer Charles
S. Brooks (1878-1934) explores the subtle differences between the words “wit”
and “humor” in the following excerpt:
Wit is a lean creature with sharp inquiring
nose, whereas humor has a kindly eye and comfortable girth. Wit, if it be
necessary, uses malice to score a point–like a cat it is quick to jump–but
humor keeps the peace in an easy chair. Wit has a better voice in a solo, but
humor comes into the chorus best. Wit is as sharp as a stroke of lightning,
whereas humor is diffuse like sunlight. Wit keeps the season’s fashions and is
precise in the phrases and judgments of the day, but humor is concerned with
homely eternal things. Wit wears silk, but humor in homespun endures the wind.
Wit sets a snare, whereas humor goes off whistling without a victim in its
mind. Wit is sharper company at table, but humor serves better in mischance and
in the rain. When it tumbles, wit is sour, but humor goes uncomplaining without
its dinner. Humor laughs at another’s jest and holds its sides, while wit sits
wrapped in study for a lively answer (3).
Today’s Challenge: Is a Rant the
Same as a Diatribe?
What are two words that — even though they
are synonyms — do not mean exactly the same thing? What are the subtle
differences in the words’ denotations and connotations? Using Charles S. Brooks’ paragraph as a
model, write a paragraph comparing the differences between one of the word
Today is the birthday of Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), writer, inventor, printer, and founding father.
Franklin was a Renaissance man in every
sense of the term. He aided Jefferson in the drafting of the Declaration
of Independence, persuaded the French to aid the rebel colonies in their
fight against England, negotiated the peace with England after the war, and
helped in the framing of the U. S. Constitution.
Perhaps Franklin is best known for his
writings in Poor Richard’s Almanack, published between 1733 and 1758.
Full of proverbs, wit, and advice, Poor Richard’s Almanack made Franklin
an eminently quotable figure even though Franklin freely admitted that fewer
than 10 percent of the sayings were original.
In his autobiography, which was published
in 1791, Franklin recounts one particularly interesting project he undertook
when he was only 20 years old. It was what he called a “bold and arduous
project of arriving at moral perfection.”
Franklin’s project began first as a writing
project, a list of the virtues that he felt were necessary to practice in order
to achieve his goal of moral perfection. As he explains,
I included under thirteen names of virtues
all that at that time occurr’d to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to
each a short precept, which fully express’d the extent I gave to its meaning.
The names of virtues, with their precepts,
1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink
not to elevation.
2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit
others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER. Let all your things have their
places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you
ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do
good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always
employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think
innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries,
or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear
resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness
in body, clothes, or habitation.
11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at
trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for
health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or
another’s peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Franklin arranged his list of virtues in strategic order from one to thirteen and created a calendar devoted to mastering one virtue each week. Practicing each virtue, he hoped, would lead to making each a habit, and his thirteen-week plan would culminate in his moral perfection.
Today’s Challenge: Tale of a Trait
What is the single most important virtue or
commendable trait that a person can practice, and what specific story
would you tell to illustrate its importance? The idea of identifying virtues and practicing virtuous
behavior did not begin with Franklin. Dating back to the fourth century
B.C., Plato identified in his Republic the four cardinal virtues of
prudence, justice, temperance, and courage. The noun virtue comes
from the Latin virtus, which was derived from the Latin vir,
meaning “man” (the same root that’s in the word virile). Thus, the
original sense of virtue related to manliness, and the qualities that were
associated with men of strong character, such as moral strength, goodness,
valor, bravery, and courage (1).
As Plato says in his Republic, youth
is a vital time for the forming of character, and the stories that are told to
youth should be chosen carefully based on the virtues they teach:
Anything received into the mind at that age
is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most
important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of
Write an argument for the one virtue you
would identify as the most important — one of Franklin’s virtues or another of
your choice. Present your case for why this virtue is so important, along
with a specific story or anecdote that illustrates the virtue’s benefits.
(Common Core Writing 1/3 – Argument and Narrative)
Quotation of the Day: Excellence is an art won by
training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence,
but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we
repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit. –Aristotle
On this day in 1605, Miguel de Cervantes published Don Quixote. Cervantes’ novel, originally written in Spanish, remains one of the most influential, most reprinted, and most translated books ever written.
The novel’s plot begins with an ordinary
man named Alonso Quijano who voraciously reads romantic tales of chivalry. Alonso
becomes so obsessed with the stories of knights errant that he decides to
become one himself. Taking the new name Don Quixote de La Mancha, he
mounts his horse Rocinante and joins forces with his sidekick Sancho Panza to
battle the forces of evil and to defend the weak.
Deluded and clearly insane, Don Quixote attacks
windmills, thinking they are hulking giants. Ordinary inns to Quixote
become castles, and peasant girls become beautiful princesses.
Literary critics call Don Quixote the
first modern novel, and the critic Harold Bloom argued that only Shakespeare
approached the genius of Cervantes’ writing. William Faulkner read Don
Quixote every year, and the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky proclaimed Don
Quixote his favorite literary character (1).
Often when an idea or a style originates
from a specific person, that idea or style takes on new meaning, not just as a
noun but as an adjective. There are many examples of these proper nouns
that become eponymous adjectives (sometimes called proper adjectives), such as:
Darwinian, Epicurean, or Kafkaesque. When proper
adjectives spring from literature, it’s usually the author’s name that
transforms from noun to adjective (as in Orwellian, Shakespearean, or Byronic),
but occasionally a character comes along who is so distinct and so unique that
the character’s name takes on a more general adjectival meaning.
Cervantes’ Don Quixote is such a character. Check any dictionary
and you will see that the adjective quixotic refers not just to
Cervantes’ famous knight, but also to anyone who is “exceedingly idealistic,
unrealistic, or impractical.”
Today’s Challenge: Autobiography
of an Adjective
What are some examples of adjectives that
derive from the name of a specific person, real or imaginary? Select one of the eponymous
adjectives below and research the etymology of the word, including the
biography of the person behind the word. Then, imagine the person behind
the word is telling the story of how he or she became so well known that his or
her name became an adjective. Also, have the person explain the meaning
of their adjective as it is used today and also what ideas or styles it
embodies? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: It is one thing to write
as poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about
things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must
write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding
or subtracting anything from the truth. –Miguel de Cervantes
Today we celebrate the birth of the word snowclone,
which happened precisely at 10:57 pm on this day in 2004. The creator of
the neologism, or new word, was Glen Whitman, an economics professor at
California State University, Northridge. Writing in his blog, Whitman was
looking for a snappy term to describe the increasingly popular practice,
especially in journalism, of adapting or slightly altering a cliché. For
example, folklore tells us that Eskimos have a large number words for snow.
This oft repeated factoid spawns spinoff phrases that fit the following
If Eskimos have N words for snow, X have Y
words for Z.
A quick Google search reveals the following
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow,
fibromyalgics should have them for pain.
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow,
the Nicaraguans have a hundred related to the machete.
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow,
Floridians should have at least as many for rain now.
If Eskimos have a hundred words for snow,
we have let bloom a thousand words for fear.
Glen Whitman exudes pride when talking
about his lexicographical invention, the bouncing baby “snowclone”: “If I
can claim no other accomplishment when I die, at least I’ll have one neologism
to my name!” (1).
The word that was born in a blog is now
being catalogued by blogger Erin Stevenson O’Connor at his website snowclones.org.
The following are some of the additional members of the snowclone species
which have grown out of a variety of popular culture sources:
In X, no one can hear you Y from the tagline for the movie Alien:
“In Space, no one can hear you scream.”
I’m not an X, but I play one on TV from a 1986 cough syrup commercial:
“I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.”
X is the new Y from the world of fashion: “Pink is
the new black.”
X and Y and Z, oh my! from The Wizard of Oz movie line:
“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”
I X therefore I am from philosopher Rene Descartes’ famous
quotation: “I think, therefore I am.”
This is your brain on X from a famous anti-drug public service
announcement: “This is your brain on drugs.”
My kingdom for a(n) X! from a famous line from Shakespeare’s play
Richard III: “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”
Today’s Challenge: Send in the
What familiar proverbs might you adapt into
your own snowclones? Use
the proverbs below along with the Snowclone Formulas to generate your own
ideas. Select your best snowclone, using it as the title of a paragraph.
In your paragraph, explain the wisdom behind your snowclone proverb.
bigger they are the harder they fall.
-The Xer they are the Yer they Z
speak louder than words.
-Xs speak louder than Ys
pen is mightier than the sword.
-The X is mightier than the Y.
count your chickens before they are hatched.
-Don’t count your X before they are Yed.
judge a book by its cover.
-Don’t judge a X by its Y.
is the mother of invention.
-X is the mother of Y.
many cooks spoil the broth.
-Too many Xs spoil the Y.
Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day:
“A multi-use, customizable, instantly recognizable, time-worn, quoted or
misquoted phrase or sentence that can be used in an entirely open array of
different jokey variants by lazy journalists and writers” -Geoffre Pullman
Snowclone is the New Cliché. Spectrum.ieee.org. 1 Feb. 2008. http://spectrum.ieee.org/at-work/education/snowclone-is-the-new-clich.
On this day in 1919, writer and commentator
Andy Rooney was born in Albany, New York. Rooney worked for decades as a
journalist and writer-producer for television, but he is best known for his
weekly commentaries on the television show “60 Minutes.” Between 1978 and
2011, Rooney presented over 1,000 mini-essays sharing his unique and slightly
cranky insights on everyday topics, such as almanacs, eyebrows, jaywalking,
paint, and the English language. For 33 years, “A Few Minutes with Andy
Rooney” was must-see television.
The appeal of Rooney’s three-minute
monologues was his homespun insights on the mundane. But another part of
his appeal was his consistent curmudgeonly tone, like that of a cantankerous
uncle who is bothered by just about everything.
Because I write my scripts to read myself,
I dont spell “don’t” with an apostrophe. I spell it “dont.” We all know
the word and it seems foolish to put in an extraneous apostrophe.
Age is a defect which we never get over.
The only thing worse than having another birthday is not having another
I keep buying things that seem like the
answer to all my problems, but Im never any better off . . . . And this is
universal. Edison invented the lightbulb, but people dont read any more than
our grandparents did by candlelight.
On The Moon
Remember when the astronauts brought those
rocks back? They said it might be weeks before the scientists could analyze
them and give us their results. Do you ever remember hearing that rock
report? I think the scientists are embarrassed to tell us those rocks are
just like the ones we have on Earth.
The argument in the dictionary business is
whether to explain the proper use of English or whether to tell you how it’s
being used by the most people — often inaccurately. For instance, I
never say “If I were smart.” I always say “If I was smart.” I dont
like the subjunctive no matter what the dictionary likes. (1)
Today’s Challenge: Mini-Monologue
on a Mundane Matter
What are some pet peeves you have about
everyday objects, events, or ideas? What and why do these things
frustrate you? Write a
Rooney-esque monologue that expresses the reasoning behind one specific pet
peeve or frustration. Go beyond the obvious, by providing your unique
insights on what makes this thing so bad and how either it should be changed or
what it tells us about society. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: I don’t like food that’s
too carefully arranged; it makes me think that the chef is spending too much
time arranging and not enough time cooking. If I wanted a picture I’d buy a
1-Rooney, Andy. Years
of Minutes: The Best of Rooney from 60 Minutes. New York:
Public Affairs, 2003.
Legend has it that on this day in 1795, the U.S. Congress voted on a bill that would have established German as the official language of the United States. The legend continues by claiming that the bill failed by only a single vote, a vote surprisingly cast by a man of German heritage, the first Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Frederick Augustus Muhlenberg.
As is usually the case, the truth behind
the legend is much less astonishing. There was in fact a language bill
considered by Congress on January 13, 1795, but instead of giving the German
language any official status, it would have merely mandated the printing of
federal laws in both German and English. In the course of debating the
bill on January 13th there was a casting of ballots that failed by a single
vote, but that was merely a motion to adjourn, and there is no evidence that
even that vote was cast by Muhlenberg. The final vote on the translation
of the federal laws was rejected by Congress one month later, and there is no
record of the final vote numbers (1).
The whole truth is that the German language
never came within a hair’s breadth of becoming the official language of the
United States. Furthermore, although there have been attempts to make
English the official language of the United States, the truth is that the United
States has never had an official language.
Today’s Challenge: What’s the
What are some examples of language or
writing rules that you have been taught in school? Are the rules valid,
or are they merely myths? Like
the myth of the German Language Bill, various myths have been perpetuated
through the years regarding the use of the English language. Although
there may be some kernels of truth in each of these rules, a true investigation
will reveal that the rules themselves are fallacious. Investigate one of
the English language rules below, or one you have encountered from your own
experience, and research the validity of the rule. Write up your verdict
using evidence and examples that reveal the rule’s validity or falsehood.
Never begin a sentence with a conjunction.
Never use the passive voice.
Never split an infinitive.
Use the article “a” before words that begin
with consonants; use the article “an” before words that begin with vowels.
Never end a sentence with a preposition.
Only words in the dictionary are real
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Myths are public dreams, dreams
are private myths. -Joseph Campbell
1-Do You Speak American? Official
American. English Only. Pbs.org. http://www.pbs.org/speak/seatosea/officialamerican/englishonly/#baron.
On this day in 1966, the TV series “Batman” premiered. The success of the series can be traced to its appeals to a broad audience. For kids, the show was a must-watch action-adventure, following the exploits of Batman and Robin, the dynamic duo from the DC comic books. For adults, the show was campy comedy. Airing twice a week, Batman was wildly successful. The show was also notable as one of the first to cash-in on merchandising. Fans could buy a Batman lunch pail, a Batman T-shirt, Batman trading cards, and even a Batman board game.
The show included a nod to the classics.
In Bruce Wayne’s private study, on a desk next to his red Batphone, sat a
bust of William Shakespeare. The bust was a vital prop, for beneath the
hinged head of the Bard was a hidden button. When Wayne pushed the
button, a sliding bookcase opened revealing two Batpoles, giving Batman and
Robin immediate access to the Batcave.
Batman ran for three seasons, and in each of its 120 episodes, one
plot element was inevitable: Batman and Robin would confront one of their
arch villains, along with his or her henchman, and engage in a climactic
fistfight. This is where the rhetoric device called onomatopoeia
was employed for effect. To remind viewers that these were comic book
characters, each punch was punctuated by words superimposed in bright colors on
the screen. The words “POW!,” “BAM!,” and “ZONK!” entered pop culture
Onomatopoeia is the use of words to imitate or suggest sound.
Imagery in language is largely about how words create vivid images, but we
should not forget that we can also create imagery via sound effects like
onomatopoeia. For example, if we were to describe a car accident, we
might say, “The two cars hit each other.” This creates the image
of two car coming together; however, notice how the image becomes more vivid
when we add a verb that has a sound effect: “The two cars smashed
into each other.”
The results of a psychological study
conducted in 1974, shows just how important vivid verbs can be. Subjects in the
study were shown a film of a traffic accident and then were asked questions
about the accident. Some of the subjects were asked, “About how fast were
the cars going when they hit each other?” Others were asked, “About
how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?”
The subjects who were asked the second question (smashed), gave a
higher estimated speed than the subjects who were asked the first question (hit).
When the subjects were brought back to the
lab a week later and shown the film of the accident again, they were asked if
they had seen any broken glass. In reality there was no broken glass in
the film, but several of the subjects reported seeing it. Of those who were
asked a week earlier how fast the cars were going when they hit each
other, 14 percent said they saw glass; of those who were asked how fast the
cars were going when they smashed into each other, 32 percent said they
saw glass (2).
This experiment not only shows the
fallibility of human memory and perception, it also shows how the right word,
especially the right verb, can create a powerful impression on a reader.
That impression can be in the form of a vivid image, but it can also be
auditory, as in “smashed” or “crashed.” The lesson here is to select your
verbs carefully, for their sense, but also for their sound — for their visual
effect, but also for their volume effect.
How can you use verbs to add sound effects
to the imagery of sentences? Select
three of the basic, boring sentences below, and breathe life into them by
revising them, adding volume verbs and other vivid, detailed imagery. As
you revise, read them aloud, listening for each sentence’s soundtrack.
Basic Sentence: The teacher raised his voice.
Revised Sentence: The teacher’s voice thundered
through the classroom as he barked at the students to sit down.
The car was old.
The children played.
The rain fell heavily.
The new day dawned.
The cat looked friendly.
The children were excited.
The student worked busily.
The restaurant was packed.
The fireworks were displayed.
The student woke to his alarm clock.
(Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of
Quotation of the Day: Listen to the sound of your language. Read your words out loud. Pay attention to their rhythm and cadence and flow. Consider the way they reverberate in your head, how they stir your heart. Ask how your reader would respond to ‘farewell’ as opposed to ‘goodbye,’ or to ‘mockingbird’ as opposed to ‘crow.’ -Stephen Wilbers in Mastering the Craft of Writing
1-Hanks, Henry. Holy Golden Anniversary, ‘Batman’! Classic TV
Show Turns 50. Cnn.com. 12 Jan. 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/12/entertainment/batman-50-anniversary-burt-ward-feat/.
2-McLeod, Saul. Loftus and Palmer. Simplysychology.org. 2010.