April 14:  Prepositional Phrase Day

On this date in 1965, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were executed by the state of Kansas for the murder of four members of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas.  The murderers and their crime were the subjects of Truman Capote’s (1924-1984) groundbreaking nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, published in 1966.

In Cold Blood-Truman Capote.jpgCapote read about the murders in the New York Times in 1959.  Intrigued by the story, he traveled to the small farming community of Holcomb with his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee, the author of To Kill A Mockingbird.

With the help of Lee, Capote spent six years researching and writing the book, which was finally published in 1966.

In Cold Blood is seen today as a pioneering work of the true crime genre.  The book fits into a larger literary genre of the non-fiction novel, a work that blends historical figures and actual events with fictitious dialogue and storytelling techniques.  The genre is sometimes referred to a “faction,” a blend of the words fact and fiction (1).

The title of Capote’s book is a prepositional phrase, a phrase that begins with a preposition (“in”) and ends with a noun (“blood”).  

Prepositional phrases are the most frequently used phrases in the English language.  They are never the subject of a sentence, but they always provide additional details.

Here are some other examples of prepositions used in other book titles:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Grapes of Wrath

Of Mice and Men

All Quiet on the Western Front

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Much Ado About Nothing

Today’s Challenge:  Prepositional Pitches

What are some examples of titles of great books or movies that do not contain propositions?  Brainstorm a list of at least 10 titles of books or films that do not contain prepositions.  Then, imagine you were going to re-title the book or movie. Create at least five new titles for five different works, and make sure that each title contains at least one preposition.

Examples:

Hamlet – Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark

Romeo and Juliet – Teenage Tragedy in Verona

Macbeth – Something Wicked in Scotland

Jaws – Summer of Sharks

Apocalypse Now – The Quest For Kurtz

Quotation of the Day: Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. -Truman Capote

1 -https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-fiction_novel

April 13:  Triskaidekaphobia Day

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

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

-The problem occurred on the 13th of April.

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

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

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

The Sum of All Fears

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

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

A. Fear of dampness or liquids

B. Fear of good news

C. Fear of sunlight

D. Fear of things to the right

E. Fear of sermons

F. Fear of open or public places

G. Fear of meat

H. Fear of learning

I. Fear of Mondays

J. Fear of things to the left.

Answers

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

Today’s Challenge:  Say Farewell to Your Phobia

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

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

1 – Kennedy Space Center

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

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

 

April 12:  Oxymoron Day

At 4:30 am on this day in 1861, the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Forty-three confederate guns along the coast of Charleston, South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter. On the following morning, the Union commander of the fort, Major Robert Anderson, surrendered after 33 straight hours of bombardment. No one on either side was killed, but by the end of the war four years later, 600,000 of the 3,000,000 who fought were dead (1).

FortSumter2009.jpgThe term civil war is sometimes classified as an oxymoron. An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory words are juxtaposed – placed side by side — as in deafening silence. The word is from Greek and translates as “sharp or pointed” (oxus) and “dull or foolish” (moros).  Therefore, the word oxymoron is an oxymoron that means “a sharp dullness” or “pointed foolishness” (2).

Below are other examples of oxymora (Yes, as in some other words from Greek, the plural of oxymoron is irregular: oxymora):

jumbo shrimp, guest host, old news, dry ice, light heavyweight, original copy, festina lente (Latin for hurry slowly) (3)

In the Shakespearean tragedy Romeo and Juliet, a play about contrasts — love and hate, young and old, darkness and light — Romeo presents an oxymoron-packet speech when he reacts to the conflict between the Capulets and the Montagues:

Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!

O anything, of nothing first create!

O heavy lightness! Serious vanity!

Misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms!

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!

Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is!

(Act I.i.176)

Some individual words we use today began as oxymora. For example, the word sophomore originated from the combination of two Greek words sophos, meaning “wise,” and moros, meaning “foolish, dull.”

Today’s Challenge:  Serious Fun With Oxymorons

What are some adjective-noun combinations that have contradictory meanings?  Try creating your own oxymora by juxtaposing words that have contrasting meanings.  You can try any contradictory combination, but the easiest combo to start with is an adjective and a noun, as in “serious fun” or “successful failure.”  Just begin with an adjective or noun that comes to mind; then, couple it with a noun or adjective that has a contradictory meaning. Once you have generated a list, select the one you like the best and use it for the title of a short poem, story, or piece of “poetic prose” that captures the contradictory theme of your oxymoron. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  I am a deeply superficial person. – Andy Warhol

1- civilwar.com

2 – Grothe, Mardy.  Oxymoronica:  Paradoxical Wit and Wisdom From History’s Greatest Wordsmiths.  New York: HarperCollins 2004.

3 – Holman, C. Hugh and William Harmon. A Handbook to Literature (6th Edition). Macmillan General Reference, 1992: 338.

April 11:  101 Day

In a typical non-leap year, April 11th is the 101st day of the year.

1984first.jpgIn George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Room 101 was the most feared room in the Ministry of Love. It was the room where Winston Smith was taken to be “rehabilitated” by O’Brien.

In the following passage from the novel, Winston learns what form of torture he will be facing:

‘You asked me once,’ said O’Brien, ‘what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. . . .’

‘The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.’

‘In your case,’ said O’Brien, ‘the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.’

The fate of everyone who enters Room 101 is to face his or her worst fear and to believe, in the end, in something that is not true. In Winston’s case, O’Brien makes him believe through torture that 2+2 = 5, and that he (Winston) loves Big Brother.

Interestingly enough, at the beginning of the 1999 film The Matrix, Neo lives in Room 101. This is probably not coincidental since later in the film Neo learns that his life and the entire known world inside the Matrix is a lie.

The world of books gave us the dark side of the number 101 from the mind of George Orwell, but it also gives us a much more positive side in the form of book titles.

A quick search on Amazon.com will yield an amazing variety of titles with the number 101. There are two main reasons this number is so prominent.

First, it refers to basic introductory material on any topic, as in basic introductory college courses like English 101 or Psychology 101.

Second, it refers to the number of options that will be provided on a topic, such as 101 Things to Do Before You Die.

A recent search on Amazon.com yielded more than 100,000 titles containing the number 101. Here are some examples from the first category – basic intro material:

Missed Fortune 101: A Starter Kit to Becoming a Millionaire

Leadership 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know

Triathlon 101: Essentials for Multisport Success

Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About the American Legal System

Anger Busting 101: The New ABCs for Angry Men & the Women Who Love Them

Hollywood 101: The Film Industry

Rick Steve’s Europe 101: History of Art for the Traveler

Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera

Life 101: Real World Skills for Graduating College Seniors

Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family’s History and Heritage

And here are 10 titles from the second category – 101 options:

101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged

101 Things to Do With a Slow Cooker

101 Great American Poems

101 Secrets a Cool Mom Knows

101 Useless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu

101 Ways to Bug Your Parents

101 Must-Know Blues Licks

101 Power Thoughts

101 French Idioms

101 Cost-Effective Ways to Increase the Value of Your Home

Today’s Challenge: Brainstorming 101 or Your 101 Course

Brainstorming 101: What brainstorming question can you generate that will yield at least 101 answers? On the 101st day of the year, brainstorm your own 101 options list. Create your own question, such as “What are 101 different ways to say ‘thank you’?” or “What are 101 reasons to procrastinate?”  or “What are 101 alternative uses for a paper clip?” Number each item on your list. If you run out of ideas, ask other people for ideas on how to answer the question, and use their ideas to generate more of your own.

Your 101 Course:  If you were to present a basic course for beginners, what would be your topic, and what would be the course’s content?  Create a title for your course, and write a course description that outlines the specific content of the course. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing. -Socrates in Plato’s Republic

April 10: Why Literature Matters Day

On this day in 2005, Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, published an editorial in the New York Times entitled “Why Literature Matters.”

The purpose of Gioia’s editorial was to sound the alarm concerning survey statistics showing declining interest among Americans in reading literature.  Furthermore, Gioia’s purpose was to explore the consequences of declining literacy and to argue for the residual benefits that increased literacy can foster.  More than just promoting the reading of literature, Gioia argues that good reading habits foster higher-order thinking skills, creativity, imagination and empathy:

Unlike the passive activities of watching television and DVDs or surfing the Web, reading is actually a highly active enterprise. Reading requires sustained and focused attention as well as active use of memory and imagination. Literary reading also enhances and enlarges our humility by helping us imagine and understand lives quite different from our own.

Gioia also argues that reading literature not only helps to form individual character but also contributes to the character of our nation:

Just as more ancient Greeks learned about moral and political conduct from the epics of Homer than from the dialogues of Plato, so the most important work in the abolitionist movement was the novel ”Uncle Tom’s Cabin” . . . . Today when people recall the Depression, the images that most come to mind are of the travails of John Steinbeck’s Joad family from ”The Grapes of Wrath.” Without a literary inheritance, the historical past is impoverished.

In essence, Gioia’s editorial argued that there are dire consequences to consider when a nation stops reading stories because, as she puts it:  “Literature is a catalyst for education and culture.” There was a time when reading was our national pastime. Today, there are so many other forms of media competing for our attention; nevertheless, we should all pause to consider why literature matters (1).

Today’s Challenge:  What’s The Matter

What are some examples of topics that you care about, things that you think really matter?  Brainstorm a list of topics that you are passionate about.  Select one topic and make your case for why it matters. For example, you might argue:  Why Baseball Matters, Why Punctuation Matters, Why Voting Matters, Why Dogs Matter, or Why Singing Matters.  Make sure to support your claim with specific reasoning and evidence.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become. -C. S. Lewis

1-http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/04/10/why_literature_matters?pg=full

April 9:  Comparison and Contrast Day

On this day in 1865 at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Ulysses S. Grant, general of the Union army, and Robert E. Lee, general of the Confederate army, met to negotiate the terms of surrender that would end the Civil War.  

General Robert E. Lee surrenders at Appomattox Court House 1865.jpgThe meeting between the two highest ranking officers in their respective armies was a brief and cordial one.  Lee, wearing his full dress uniform, contrasted with Grant, who wore his muddy field uniform. Lee asked that the terms of his army’s surrender to be put down in writing, so Grant wrote them down.  The official terms of surrender pardoned all officers and enlisted men of the Confederate army and required the surrender of all equipment, including horses.

After reading the terms, Lee requested that his men be allowed to keep their horses since they would need them for late spring planting as they transitioned back to civilian life.  Grant did not change the written terms of the surrender, but he did promise Lee that any Confederate soldier who claimed a horse would be allowed to keep it. In addition, Confederate officers were allowed to keep their side arms.  Finally, Lee expressed his concern for his men who had been without food for days. Grant responded by arranging for rations to be sent to the hungry soldiers (1).

In one of the most frequently anthologized essays ever written, entitled “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts,” Civil War historian Bruce Catton (1899-1978) presents a detailed study of the two generals and their meeting on April 9, 1865.

While emphasizing the strength, dignity, and intelligence of the two West Point graduates, Catton’s major focus in his essay is the contrasting ways in which the two men personified the two opposing forces in the Civil War.  

Lee stood for the old world transplanted to the new.  He represented the aristocracy and the chivalric ideal of the South, which was based on land ownership.  As Catton described Lee, he “embodied the noblest elements of his aristocratic ideal. Through him, the landed nobility justified itself.”

Grant, in contrast, represented the new breed of Americans.  Born on the frontier, the son of a tanner, Grant embodied the spirit of the North:  toughness, self-reliance, and hard work. In Catton’s words, men like Grant “stood for democracy, not from any reasoned conclusion about the proper ordering of human society, but simply because they had grown up in the middle of democracy and know how it worked.  Their society might have privileges, but they would be privileges each man had won for himself” (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Meeting of Minds

Who are some examples of pairs of individuals from the same profession that you might compare and contrast?  Brainstorm a list of pairs, such as, Grant and Lee (military), Dickinson and Plath (Poetry), Lennon and McCartney (music), Aristotle and Socrates (philosophy), Bird and Johnson (Basketball), or Lincoln and Washington (U.S. presidents).  Select one pair, and write a comparison and contrast composition, identifying specific areas of similarity and difference. Research the two individuals to find specific details that go beyond the obvious, and organize your details around a single central point.  For example, Catton’s comparison and contrast focused on those details that are relevant to how the two generals embodied the characteristics of their perspective sides. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  Grant was the modern man emerging; beyond him, ready to come to the stage, was the great age of steel and machinery, of crowded cities and a restless, burgeoning vitality.  Lee might have ridden down from the old age of chivalry, lance in hand, silken banner fluttering over his head. –Bruce Catton

1-https://www.nps.gov/apco/the-meeting.htm

2-Catton, Bruce.  “Grant and Lee: A Study in Contrasts.”

April 8:  Baseball Metaphor Day

On this day in 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run, eclipsing Babe Ruth’s record that had stood for 47 years.

The figurative use of the term home run, meaning a great success, began to appear in English in the second half of the 20th century. Of all sports, baseball, America’s pastime, has been the most fertile ground for metaphors. In fact, you can list a virtual A-Z of baseball metaphors. Remember though, to qualify for the list, the word or phrase must originate with baseball but also must be used to refer to situations outside of baseball.

The following list is from Christine Ammer’s book Southpaws & Sunday Punches:

All-star, ballpark figure, big league, box score, bush league, catbird seat*, change-up, clean-up hitter, curve ball, doubleheader, extra-innings, foul ball, go for the fences, get to first base, go to bat for, hard ball, in the ballpark, inside baseball, left field, line-up, major league, MVP, no runs, no hits, no errors, off base, on deck, pitch hit, rain check, screwball, southpaw, Tinker’s chance, wait ’til next year, whole new ballgame (1)

Today Challenge:  Field Your Dream Team

What category of person or things might you divide up into a team, using the metaphor of baseball positions?  Brainstorm some different categories of people or things with at least nine members, such as U.S. Presidents, Great Inventors, Great Philosophers, Great Poets, Movie Genres, Architectural Styles, Academic Disciplines, Great Rock-n-roll Bands, Novels by Stephen King, or Great American Novels.  Then, select one category and identify your 9-player line-up.

For example, below is an example using the nine parts of speech:

Nouns – Catcher

Verb – Pitcher

Adjective – 1st Base

Adverb – 2nd Base

Preposition – 3rd Base

Pronouns – Short Stop

Article – Left Field

Conjunction – Center Field

Interjection – Right Field

Quotation of the Day:  Every day is a new opportunity. You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again. That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is. -Bob Feller

*For an excellent short story, full of baseball metaphors, see James Thurber’s short story The Catbird Seat.

1-Ammer, Christine.  Southpaws & Sunday Punches.  New York:  Plume, 1992.

April 7:  Review Day

On this day in 1967, Roger Ebert wrote his first movie review in the Chicago Sun Times.

Roger Ebert cropped.jpgEbert was born in Urbana, Illinois in 1942.  While attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he was the editor of the college newspaper.  He began his professional career in journalism in 1966 as a reporter and feature writer at the Chicago Sun-Times.  It was only a short time, however, before he began writing about movies. In the spring of 1967, he took the position as the Sun-Times movie critic, replacing Eleanor Keane.  Ebert’s first review was of the film Galia (1966).

Even though Ebert became the first film critic to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1975, his real fame came when he began to review movies on television. Ebert teamed with Gene Siskel, movie critic for the Chicago Tribune, to broadcast a local television show reviewing movies.  

In 1982, the local show moved to a national audience.  The format was simple: Two movie reviewers sitting in a theater talking about movies.  After showing a movie clip, Siskel and Ebert would discuss the movie, giving it either a “thumbs-up” or “thumb-down” review.  When the two critics disagreed, sparks flew. When the two critics agreed, giving “Two Thumbs Up, the film became a must-see movie for millions (1).

Today’s Challenge:  All Thumbs Up or Down?

What are some specific works of art or design — a movie, album, television show, video game, or product — you know enough about to review?  Select something you feel strongly about — either good or bad — and write a detailed review, explaining what specifically you like or dislike.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  A bad review is like baking a cake with all the best ingredients and having someone sit on it. -Danielle Steel

1-http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/film-critic-roger-ebert-born  

April 6:  Pleasure of Books Day

On this day in 1933, William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943) — American educator, literary critic, and author — delivered a memorable radio address.  Phelps was a beloved professor of English literature at Yale University from 1901 to 1933. Much of Phelps’ teaching and writing was devoted to the examination of the English novel; it’s no surprise then that the topic he chose for his radio speech was the virtue of reading and collecting books (1).

Phelps begins his speech with an analogy to illustrate the virtue of owning books versus borrowing them; he then skillfully tacks on a simile, comparing a book to a forest:

The habit of reading is one of the greatest resources of mankind; and we enjoy reading books that belong to us much more than if they are borrowed. A borrowed book is like a guest in the house; it must be treated with punctiliousness, with a certain considerate formality. You must see that it sustains no damage; it must not suffer while under your roof. You cannot leave it carelessly, you cannot mark it, you cannot turn down the pages, you cannot use it familiarly. And then, someday, although this is seldom done, you really ought to return it.

But your own books belong to you; you treat them with that affectionate intimacy that annihilates formality. Books are for use, not for show; you should own no book that you are afraid to mark up, or afraid to place on the table, wide open and face down. A good reason for marking favorite passages in books is that this practice enables you to remember more easily the significant sayings, to refer to them quickly, and then in later years, it is like visiting a forest where you once blazed a trail. You have the pleasure of going over the old ground, and recalling both the intellectual scenery and your own earlier self.

For some, the charge of being a “bookworm” might be a put-down.  Not for Phelps. He makes the case that the habit of reading is anything but anti-social; instead, it offers us timeless, intimate access to the best of humanity:

Books are of the people, by the people, for the people. Literature is the immortal part of history; it is the best and most enduring part of personality. But book-friends have this advantage over living friends; you can enjoy the most truly aristocratic society in the world whenever you want it. The great dead are beyond our physical reach, and the great living are usually almost as inaccessible; as for our personal friends and acquaintances, we cannot always see them. Perchance they are asleep, or away on a journey. But in a private library, you can at any moment converse with Socrates or Shakespeare or Carlyle or Dumas or Dickens or Shaw or Barrie or Galsworthy. And there is no doubt that in these books you see these men at their best. They wrote for you. They “laid themselves out,” they did their ultimate best to entertain you, to make a favorable impression. You are necessary to them as an audience is to an actor; only instead of seeing them masked, you look into their innermost heart of heart. (2)

The truth of Phelps’ claim about the value of collecting and reading books might seem obvious.  However, a little over a month after Phelps’ address, German university students joined Nazi soldiers in Berlin to burn over 20,000 books.  (See May 10: Burned and Banned Books Day. On May 10, 1933, great works by authors such as Einstein, Freud, Hemingway, London, Proust, Marx, Wells, and Zola were heaped into piles and set afire (3).

Today’s Challenge:  Healthy Habits for Humanity

What are some examples of good habits that people can practice that will improve their lives?  You can probably think of a lot of bad habits that people struggle with, but as Phelps demonstrates, some habits can be beneficial.  Brainstorm a list of specific beneficial daily habits. Then, select one specific good habit, and write a short speech that makes the case for the importance of this good habit.  Provide your reasoning for the virtue of this habit and show your audience how this good habit with promote a more successful life. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Most of my indoor life is spent in a room containing six thousand books; and I have a stock answer to the invariable question that comes from strangers. “Have you read all of these books?”

“Some of them twice.” -William Lyons Phelps

1-http://www.phelpsfamilyhistory.com/bios/william_lyon_phelps.asp

2-http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/phelps.htm

3-http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/triumph/tr-bookburn.htm

April 5:  Veto Day

Today is the anniversary of the first veto in American presidential history. On this day in 1792, President George Washington was presented a bill that would apportion representatives among the states, and he vetoed it. The word veto has its roots in Latin, literally translated I forbid. It dates back to the days of the Roman Senate when the Roman tribunes had the power to unilaterally refuse Senate legislation.

For more than 2,000 years, English has borrowed liberally from Latin, the most important language in European history. Long before English was established as a language of note, let alone a global language, Latin was the language of the Roman Empire, and even after the fall of Rome, Latin survived, evolving into what we know today as the Romance Languages: Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Romanian. Until the 20th century, Latin was the prestige language of government, religion, and academia. No wonder when a new republic was established in America, it turned to Latin words for its legislative practices and to Latin mottoes for its currency.

As noted by Wilfred Funk in Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories, some Latin words were Anglicized as they were adopted into English, a Germanic tongue. Hundreds of other words, however, came into English with little to no changes in spelling, which is one of the reasons English spelling is so idiosyncratic. Here are some examples of Latin words adopted directly into English:  recipe, vim, memorandum, stimulus, vacuum, veto, via, item, exit, minimum, affidavit (1).

Another rich source of English vocabulary is Greek, without which we would not have words like politics, rhetoric, and democracy.

Today’s Challenge:  From Government Argot to Political Zingers

When you think of the word “politics” or “government,” what words come to mind?  Brainstorm a list of at least ten words you would associate with government and/or politics.  

In his Political Dictionary, William Safire explores the meaning and history of over 1800 words and phrases that, like veto, have distinctive meanings in the context of government and politics.  The following is a small A to Z sample:

abolitionist, bandwagon, campaign, deterrent, entitlement, fascist, gerrymander, hegemony, incumbent, jingoism, know-nothings, liberal, mandate, neoconservatism, oversight, platform, quagmire, rhetoric, socialism, terrorism, unilateralism, vox populi, whistleblower, yahoo, zinger (2).

Research one word from Safire’s list or from your own.  Define the word, giving examples of how it is used in government and politics, along with some specific examples.  Also, research the word’s etymology. Does it come from Greek or Latin, like so many other political words do? Or, does it have a different origin? (Common Core Language 4 – Vocabulary Acquisition and Use)

Quotation of the Day:  . . . one ought to recognise that the present political chaos is connected with the decay of language, and that one can probably bring about some improvement by starting at the verbal end. If you simplify your English, you are freed from the worst follies of orthodoxy. You cannot speak any of the necessary dialects, and when you make a stupid remark its stupidity will be obvious, even to yourself. Political language . . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. -George Orwell in “Politics and the English Language”

1-Wilfred Funk in Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. Grosset & Dunlap, 1950.

2- Safire, William.  Safire’s Political Dictionary. Oxford University Press, 2008.