December 23:  Parts of Speech Day

Today is the birthday of Leonard B. Stern (1923-2011), American screenwriter, producer, and director.  Stern will probably be best remembered, however, as the co-creator of the game Mad Libs, the classic game where players insert randomly generated words into a passage based on the words’ parts of speech. (Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Speaking of parts of speech, the story of the creation of Mad Libs begins in 1953 with two simple adjectives:  “clumsy” and “naked.”  At the time Stern was working on a television script for Jackie Gleason’s pioneering television show The Honeymooners. One day Stern was sitting at his typewriter, searching his mind for a precise adjective to describe the nose of one of his characters.  When Stern’s best friend and fellow word-lover Roger Price showed up, Stern asked him for help, and as Stern explains, the rest is history:

I said, “I need an adjective that –” and before I could further define my need, Roger said, “Clumsy and naked.”  I laughed out loud.  Roger asked, “What’s so funny?”  I told him, thanks for his suggestions, [my character now had] a clumsy nose  — or, if you will, a naked nose.  Roger seldom laughed, but he did that time, confirming we were onto something–but what it was, we didn’t know.  “Clumsy” and “naked” were appropriately inappropriate adjectives that had led us to an incorrect but intriguing, slightly bizarre juxtaposing of words.

The name of the game and its publication didn’t happen until five years later.  Sitting in a New York restaurant one morning in 1958, Stern and Price overheard a conversation between an actor and his agent.  The actor said he wanted to “ad-lib” an interview; the agent responded, saying that he would be “mad” to do it.  Stern and Price now had a name, Mad Libs, but no publisher.  Unable to find anyone to print their game, they decided to do it themselves, paying to have fourteen thousand copies printed.  To publicize the game, the creators arranged for it to be used for introducing guests on Steve Allen’s Sunday night television show.  Within three days of the game’s appearance on television, stores were sold out.  Soon Stern and Price joined forces with their friend Larry Sloan to form a publishing company called Price Stern Sloan (or PSS!).  Before long Mad Libs became a bestseller, and PSS! became the largest publisher on the West Coast (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Oh What Fun It Is to Eat an Angry Open Bucket

What is your favorite Christmas song or holiday-related story or poem?  To celebrate the holidays and the creation of Mad Libs, select a familiar Christmas carol or holiday story or poem.  Take the text of your selected passage, and cross out 15-20 words — adjectives, nouns, and verbs.  As you cross out the words, create a list in order of the part of speech of each word you crossed out.  If a noun is plural make sure to note that on your list; likewise, note the tense of verbs.  Next, using your list of parts of speech, have a friend generate a random list of words to match the parts of speech on your list.  Finally, insert these words into the text of your original text and read it aloud.  Be prepared to laugh.

(Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  The creation of Mad Libs is directly linked to my inability to spell “hyperbole” in a seventh-grade spelling bee.  Humiliated and embarrassed beyond words, I ran home to take refuge in the family dictionary, determined to learn the correct spelling and exact meaning of as many words as humanly possible.  The dictionary became my constant companion — my roommate. -Leonard Stern

1-Price, Roger and Leonard Stern.  The Best of Mad Libs:  50 Years of Mad Libs.  New York:  Price Stern Sloan, 2008.