January 1:  Exordium Day

On New Year’s Day our head is on a swivel; we look backward, reflecting on the year just passed, and forward, anticipating the new year ahead.

This swivel-headedness is reflected in the etymology – the word history – of the word “January.” The month’s name comes to us from the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings, endings, gateways, and doorways.  Janus was depicted as a two-faced god, one face looking backwards to the past and the other looking forward to the future.  

Like Janus, on this New Year’s Day, we look forward as we begin a new year. It’s an appropriate day to spend some time considering methods for getting off on the right foot, whether writing an essay or a speech.  

In classical rhetoric the introduction or beginning of a speech was called the exordium.  In Latin it means “to urge forward,” and it is the ancestor of the English verb exhort, which means “to urge earnestly.”  Any good exordium introduces the speaker’s topic and purpose, but the exordium is also important to establish the speaker’s ethos, or credibility, by showing the audience that the speaker is intelligent, reliable, and trustworthy.  The exordium provides the writer’s first impression, so it is important to give your introduction careful thought (1).

Whatever you do, it is important to establish why your topic matters and why it is relevant to your audience.  The best way to do this is not by telling the audience; instead, show the audience using specific concrete language.  Use a captivating story or relevant anecdote that shows how real people, like your reader, are impacted by your topic.

Today’s Challenge:  New Year’s Introduction

What issues do you believe will be or will continue to be important in the coming year?  Brainstorm some issues and your specific position on those issues.  Then select one specific claim that you feel you can defend.  Imagine that you are presenting a speech on your issue, and write your exordium.  Before stating your claim, show the reader why the topic is relevant.  Look at the issue for your audience’s perspective, and explain why this issue matters today and why it will still matter tomorrow. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The beginning is the most important part of the work. -Plato

1- Crowley, Sharon and Debra Hawhee.  Ancient Rhetorics For Contemporary Students (Third Edition).  New York:  Pearson, Longman, 2004.


July 29:  Defeat of the Spanish Armada Day

Today is the anniversary of Britain’s victorious sea battle against Spain’s “Invincible Armada” in 1588. At the time England was a small, insignificant island nation while Spain was the richest, most powerful empire in the world.

The conflict between the two countries was political as well as religious. Elizabeth, the Protestant Queen of England, had encouraged the activities of British pirates who plundered Spanish ships returning from the New World. The Catholic king of Spain, Phillip II, had had enough of the Protestant upstarts of England and dispatched his fleet of more than 100 ships to invade the British.

On July 29, 1588 the Armada reached sight of the English shore and confronted the much smaller British fleet. Sea battles raged on and off until August. Although the English were the smaller force, they used superior tactics to outmaneuver the Spanish; in addition, terrible rain and wind prevented the Spanish from reaching the English shore. By the time the Armada turned around to return to Spain, nearly half of its ships had been destroyed (1).

Before the British victory over the Spanish Armada had been sealed, Elizabeth courageously left her palace in London to travel to Tilbury in Essex, England to address her assembled troops. Her tenacious refusal to be defeated by the Spanish foreshadows Winston Churchill’s similar refusal to yield to the Germans more than 350 years later.  Her speech was short but powerful.  Notice how in the opening lines of the speech she switches quickly from the royal “we” to the first person “I.”

My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit ourselves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear, I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust. I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm; to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people (2)

The astonishing and decisive victory by the British over the Spanish Armada is one of the key turning points in history. It prevented the extinction of Protestantism in England and also prevented the end of the Reformation in Europe. It gave birth to the nationalism of the British Empire and opened the door to British exploration of the world, especially North America. Linguistically it meant that English, not Spanish, would survive on the British Isles and eventually become the global language it is today (3).

Imagine how different it would have been if Shakespeare, who began writing his plays in London in 1589, would have written in Spanish rather than English.

Today’s Challenge:  The Queen’s Speech
How do effective speakers combine reason, emotion, and credibility to make their point and motivate their audience?  Carefully read Elizabeth’s famous speech at Tilbury, and write an analysis in which you identify what makes it effective.  Consider important elements such as the speaker, the subject, the audience, the purpose, and the occasion.  Also consider her use of logos (logic), pathos (emotion), and pathos (credibility). (Common Core Speaking and Listening 3)

Quotation of the Day: Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win. –Sun-tzu


1 – Coffin, Judith G., Robert C. Stacey, Robert E. Lerner, and Standish Meacham. Western Civilization, Volume 2. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2002.

2 – The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 6th Edition. Vol 1, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1993. ISBN. 0393962873

3 – http://www.microsoft.com/uk/homepc/articles/battles.asp

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