June 28:  War and Peace Day

On this day we remember two specific dates, one that marking the outbreak of war and the other establishing peace.

The first event took place on June 28, 1914 in Sarajevo. On that day Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by a Serbian nationalist.

Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was visiting Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina to inspect the imperial armed forces.  The provinces of Bosnia-Herzegovina had been annexed by Austria-Hungary a few years earlier to the opposition of neighboring Serbia.

Traveling in a motorcade in a car with its convertible top folded down, the Archduke passed Serbian nationalist Nedjelko Cabrinovic, who tossed a bomb in the direction of Ferdinand’s car.  The bomb did not land in the car, however.  Instead it hit the back of the car and bounced underneath a trailing vehicle.  The explosion injured two army officers and several bystanders.  Continuing in his motorcade unharmed, Ferdinand arrived at Sarajevo’s city hall where he presented a speech.  After his speech Ferdinand insisted he be taken to visit the injured officers.  As Ferdinand’s car raced through the Sarajevo streets to the hospital, his driver took a wrong turn.  While slowing down to turn around, the car, by coincidence, passed near one of Cabrinovic’s co-conspirators, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip.  Seizing this chance meeting, Princip pointed his .38 Browning pistol at Ferdinand, shooting twice at point blank range and killing both Ferdinand and his wife.

The assassination of Ferdinand was the spark that ignited the powder keg of World War I.  Within one month Austria-Hungary, backed by Germany, declared war on Serbia  Soon Russia, France, Belgium, Great Britain, and eventually the United States were drawn into the escalating conflict that eventually claimed the lives of ten million soldiers (1).

While June 28 marks the beginning of World War I, it is also the date that marks the official end of the war five years later in 1919.  While fighting ended in the war with the declared armistice of November 11, 1918, the specific terms of peace had to be written up and signed.   To create the treaty, three major players converged at Versailles, near Paris.  The key players — David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Woodrow Wilson of the United States — met behind closed doors to hammer out the terms of what became the Treaty of Versailles.

The treaty laid out brutal terms for Germany, requiring them to pay millions in reparations, to forfeit thousands of acres of their land holdings, to plead guilty for starting the war, and to massively reduce the size and strength of their army. Reluctantly Germany signed the treaty on June 28, 1919.  

Although the Treaty of Versaille brought temporary peace, its harsh terms laid the foundation for future conflicts in the 20th and 21st Centuries, most notable of which was World War II, where a World War I German corporal named Adolf Hitler rose to power, seeking revenge for the unjust terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

Today’s Challenge:  Opposite Day
What are some pairs of antonyms — words that are opposites — that you could use to make a claim that contrasts the two ideas?  Select a topic based on a pair of antonyms, such as:

parents/children, success/failure, truth/falsehood, logic/creativity, speaking/listening, victory/defeat, yesterday/today, reading/writing

Next, write an opening sentence that makes a claim based on differences in the two topics, such as:

Logic teaches us about the world; creativity teaches us about ourselves.

Notice that the sentence above is balanced, meaning both of its independent clauses are parallel.  Also notice that it features the rhetorical device called antithesis, which frames contrasting ideas in a parallel form.  This is a classic device used by speakers and writers to craft memorable lines.  For example, you probably remember this famous example by Neil Armstrong:

That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.

Once you have crafted your claim, write a paragraph that supports your claim, using contrast, details, examples, and evidence. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Nobody is mad enough to choose war whilst there is peace. During times of peace, the sons bury their fathers, but in war it is the fathers who send their sons to the grave. -Herodotus

1-http://www.history.com/news/the-assassination-of-archduke-franz-ferdinand-100-years-ago

December 30:  Subordinating Conjunction Day

Today is the birthday of Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), England’s master storyteller and poet.  Kipling was British, but he lived many years in India where he was born.  Known especially for his short stories and popular work of fiction The Jungle Book (1894), Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 when he was just 42 years old.  He was the first English language writer to win the prize, and he was also the youngest ever to win the prize

Rudyard Kipling (portrait).jpgIn addition to his well known fiction, Kipling was also a poet.  In 1910, he published the poem “If,” which remains today one of the best known poems ever written in English.  

Written in the voice of a father giving advice to his son, the four-stanzas of the poem make up a single 283-word sentence.  More specifically, the single sentence is a complex sentence constructed in the form of a periodic sentence, a sentence that begins with subordinate phrases or clauses, and ends with the main clause.  In the case of Kipling’s poem “If,” he crafts twelve subordinate clauses, each beginning with the subordinating conjunction “if,” and ends with an independent clause.  Each of the “if” clauses provides conditions or prerequisites for manhood.  The speaker in the poem, the father, concludes with a statement, saying in effect, by making the choice to do these things, you will be a man and the world will be yours.

The structure of Kipling’s poem demonstrates the power of the periodic sentence.  Certainly no one is writing 200-word sentences these days; however, using a periodic structure that begins with a string of subordinate ideas is a nice technique for drawing your reader in and building dramatic tension.  The periodic structure also allows a writer to capitalize on the rhythm created by parallel structure and the anticipation created by compounding details (1).

Subordination is a fundamental aspect of writing that is used for more than just periodic sentences.  Subordination in syntax relates to a method of constructing sentences where some of the ideas in a sentence are dependent on other parts.

For example, take the following two sentences:

Bill loves to read.  Bill is always carrying a book.

To show a logical relationship between these two ideas and combine them into a single sentence, we can use a subordinating conjunction (because) to make one idea subordinate to the other:

Because he loves to read, Bill is always carrying a book.

Instead of two simple sentences, we now have a single complex sentence, a sentence with one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.  In the sentence about Bill, the clause “Because he loves to read” is dependent because it cannot stand alone; it needs the independent clause “Bill is always carrying a book” in order to form a complete thought.

Because subordination is such an effective method for logically combining ideas, it makes sense for writers to recognize subordinating conjunctions, the words that signal the logical connections between ideas.  Use the mnemonic “A WHITE BUS” to remember the major subordinate conjunctions:

A White Bus

After, although, as

WHen, which, who, where, while

If, in order that

That, though

Even though

Before, because

Until, unless

Since, so that

Subordinating conjunctions signal four basic logical relationships.  Read the examples below to see the different ways that subordinating conjunctions connect ideas:

-Cause and Effect (or Reasons): because, since, so that

Because he loves to read, Bill is always carrying a book.

-Contrast (or Concession): although, even though, though, while, whereas

Although he loves to write, Bill’s favorite pastime is reading.

-Time: before, after, as, once, since, while, when, whenever

After Bill gets home from school, he sits down and reads the newspaper.

-Condition:  if, once, unless

If Bill gets money for his birthday, he plans to buy some new books.

Today’s Challenge:  WIIFM

What is a specific skill you have or an activity you participate in that you would be willing to promote for the general public?  What makes this skill or activity so worthwhile?  Use subordination to write the introduction to a “how to” speech that provides direction on how to achieve something desirable.  Begin with “if” clauses that give your audience the WIIFM, or “What’s in it for me.”  Structure your subordinate clauses using parallel structure to give your sentence clarity and rhythm.  Crafting a periodic sentences using this structure will build your audience’s interest and anticipation to learn more about your topic.

Possible Topics:

-Join a specific organization or club

-Learn a specific skill or enhance a talent, such as singing, dancing, or barbecuing

-Take a specific class or course of study

-Participate in a new type of pastime, such as hang gliding, stamp collecting, or origami

-Achieve a lifelong goal, such as graduating college, climbing a mountain, or running a marathon

-Practice a good habit that will improve your life, such as avoiding procrastination, practicing meditation, or eating right

Notice how the 83-word sentence below uses parallelism and the “if-then” structure to build audience anticipation:

If you want to be the life of the party, if you want to impress strangers on the street and make money while you’re doing it, if you want to learn a life-long skill that will keep you active and provide you with mental stimulation, if you want to challenge your ability to persevere and improve your hand-eye coordination, and if you want a form of mediation that won’t allow you to fall asleep, then learning to juggle is the way to go.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The trick of the periodic sentence is that, until you’ve got to the end, until you’ve found that clause or verb that completes the syntax, until you’ve finally got the period of the period, you can’t stop. -Mark Forsyth

 

1-Forsyth, Mark.  The Elements of Eloquence.  London:  Icon Books, 2013:  47.

2-http://www.americandialect.org/woty

 

December 14:  Eulogy Day

On this day in 1799 George Washington died at his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia.  Funeral memorials were held in major U.S. cities , and throughout the world people were saddened by Washington’s death.  In France, for example, Napoleon Bonaparte ordered ten days of mourning for America’s great leader and Founding Father.

Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpgFollowing Washington’s death, the Sixth Congress commissioned Henry Lee, the father of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee, to write a eulogy.  Having served under Washington as a major general in the Continental Army, Lee was a logical choice (1).

Written in the elaborate and elevated prose characteristic of the 18th century, Lee demonstrates mastery of parallelism as he praises his comrade in arms:

First in war—first in peace—and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and enduring scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. To his equals he was condescending, to his inferiors kind, and to the dear object of his affections exemplarily tender; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. His last scene comported with the whole tenor of his life—although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and with undisturbed serenity he closed his well spent life. Such was the man America has lost—such was the man for whom our nation mourns (2).

Today’s Challenge:  A Word of Praise Before You Go

The word eulogy is from Greek meaning “praise.”  Although we normally associate eulogies with funerals, eulogies can also praise a person who is still alive.  Who is someone who is alive today that you think deserves sincere praise?  Write a eulogy for a living person.  Identify specifically the positive traits of this person with specific examples of what makes the person so special.  Whether or not the person is someone you have met, make it clear to the audience why this person means so much to you. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The promulgation of his fixed resolution stopped the anxious wishes of an affectionate people from adding a third unanimous testimonial of their unabated confidence in the man so long enthroned in their hearts. When before was affection like this exhibited on earth? Turn over the records of ancient Greece ; review the annals of mighty Rome ; examine the volumes of modern Europe – you search in vain. America and her Washington only afford the dignified exemplification. -Henry Lee on Washington

1-http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/first-in-war-first-in-peace-and-first-in-the-hearts-of-his-countrymen/

2-Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997: 169.

 

July 23:  Grand Slam Day

Today is the anniversary of Tiger Woods’ victory at the 2000 British Open. Woods won by shooting a record 19 under par at the course in St. Andrews, Scotland. Certainly winning a major professional golf tournament in record fashion is noteworthy, but what made Woods’ victory extraordinary was the fact that it made him, at 24 years-old, the youngest golfer ever to win all four of golf’s major championships: the British, the Masters, the U.S. Open, and the PGA.

Later when Woods won the 2001 Masters, he became the only player to win consecutive titles in all four major championships. Because he did not win all four titles in the same year, however, his accomplishment was dubbed The Tiger Slam. No player has ever won all four of the major tournaments in the same year (1).

Your first guess as to the origin of grand slam might take you to the baseball term for a bases loaded home run that scores four runs. While this is probably the most common use of the term, it actually originated in card games, bridge for example, where one side wins all thirteen tricks. It is also a prominent term in tennis, referring to the four national championships: the Australian Open, Wimbledon, the French Open, and the U.S. Open (2).

Wherever the term grand slam is used, it usually relates to superlative achievements in high stakes competition. Also, at least in the modern sense, it has come to be associated with things that come in fours. Maybe there is something magical about the number four; after all, it is the only number in the English language which when spelled out has the same number of letters as the number it represents. Look at the groups of four below, and see if you can identify the category into which all four fit.

Example: hearts, clubs, spades, diamonds. Answer: the four card suits.

  1. Matthew, Mark, Luke, John
  2. John, Paul, George, and Ringo
  3. Mr. Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch, Thing
  4. simple, complex, compound, compound-complex
  5. from want, from fear, of speech, and of worship
  6. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph
  7. Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde
  8. index, middle, ring, little
  9. fire, air, water, earth
  10. war, famine, plague, death
  11. meat, dairy, grains, fruits and vegetables
  12. Boreas, Eurus, Zephyrus, Notus
  13. Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Indian

Today’s Challenge:  Your Fantastic Four for Success

How would you complete the following?:  There are four things you need for a successful _______________ : 1) _______________, 2) ______________, 3) ______________, and 4)______________. Brainstorm several topics first.

Below are ten to get you started:

camping trip or vacation

freshman year in high school or college

job search or car purchase

basketball team or football coach

marriage or friendship

website or blog

birthday party or retirement party

career in real estate or career in

interview or resume

essay or speech

Then, identify the four ingredients of success that you want to explore.  Make sure that your four things are laid out in a parallel fashion.  For example:

Four things you need for a successful freshman year are 1) a plan to fight procrastination, 2) a focus on your long term goals, 3) a willingness to work hard, and 4) an ability to evaluate your own learning.

Notice how each of the four ingredients begins in the same way, making the four elements parallel and coherent for the reader.  Once you have this basic thesis sentence formed, explain each of the four things in detail, one at a time, using evidence and examples for each.

Quotation of the Day:  Newspapers should come in four sections: Truth, Probability, Possibility, and Lies. -Thomas Jefferson

Answers: 1. the four gospels 2. the four Beatles 3. the four members of the Fantastic Four 4. four types of sentences 5. the Four Freedoms (from F.D.R.’s famous speech) 6. the four patriarchs 7. the four ghosts in Pac-Man 8. the four fingers 9. the four ancient elements 10. the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse 11. the four food groups 12. the four winds 13 the four oceans

 

1 – Tiger Woods Wins British Open. Aired July 23, 2000 CNN Transcripts

http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0007/23/sun.04.html

2 – Ammer, Christine. Southpaws and Sunday Punches and Other Sports Expressions. New York: Plum___oe Books, 1993.

 

July 13:  I Came, I Saw, I Conquered Day

Today is the birth date in 100 BC of Julius Caesar — Roman general, statesman, and dictator.

In his Life of Caesar, Plutarch tells a story that reveals the unique character of Caesar. It relates to an incident where the young Julius was kidnapped by pirates:

To begin with, then, when the pirates demanded twenty talents for his ransom, he laughed at them for not knowing who their captive was, and of his own accord agreed to give them fifty . . . . For eight and thirty days, as if the men were not his watchers, but his royal body-guard, he shared in their sports and exercises with great unconcern. He also wrote poems and sundry speeches which he read aloud to them, and those who did not admire these he would call to their faces illiterate Barbarians, and often laughingly threatened to hang them all. The pirates were delighted at this, and attributed his boldness of speech to a certain simplicity and boyish mirth (1).

Caesar made good on his threat.  After he was released, he pursued the pirates with his fleet, captured them, and executed them.

Julius’ place in history is probably best attributed to his combined powers as a tactician, a statesman, and an orator.  After leading his Roman army to one particularly decisive victory in 46 BC, he famously wrote the Roman Senate to report:

Veni, vidi, vici

or

I came, I saw, I conquered.

A student of rhetoric and oratory, Caesar knew the power of the tricolon, the use of three parallel words, phrases, or clauses to generate sentences with rhythm, clarity, and  panache.

There is something special, perhaps even magical, about the number three, and when combined with the power of rhythm and repetition, what results is an unforgettable recipe for rhetorical resonance.

We see it in the Declaration of Independence:  “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  We see it in religion:  “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  We see it in films and television: “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and “It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Superman!”  And we see it advertising:  “The few, the proud, the Marines” (2).

Balance and rhythm with two elements is good.  This is called isocolon, as in “Roses are red, violets are blue.”  And four works too.  It’s called tetracolon, as when Winston Churchill told the British people that he nothing to offer but “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”  But you just can’t beat the rule of three; it’s the most ubiquitous, the most memorable, and the most magical of them all.  No wonder newly reelected President Barack Obama used 21 tricolons in his 2008 victory speech (3).

Today’s Challenge:  Tricolon Trailers
What are examples of things that come in threes — familiar phrases, titles, or trios?  Write the text of a voice-over for a movie trailer of your favorite film or book.  Use at least one tricolon to add some rhythm and resonance.  Here’s an example for Hamlet, Prince of Denmark:

Mourning his dead father, berating his clueless mother, and continually contemplating the murder of his remorseless, treacherous, and lecherous uncle, Hamlet is not having a good day!  Something, indeed, is rotten in the state of Denmark, and it’s not just the fish from last week’s dinner that’s been festering in the corner of the Castle Elsinore’s Kitchen.

Quotation of the Day: Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. -attributed to Benjamin Franklin

1- Plutarch.  “Life of Caesar”

2- Backman, Brian.  Thinking in Threes:  The Power of Three in Writing. Austin, Texas:  Prufrock Press, 2005.

Forsyth, Mark.  The Elements of Eloquence:  How to Turn the Perfect English Phrase.  London:  Icon Books, 2013: 84-88.

3- Zelinsky, Aaron.  “What We Will Remember”

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aaron-zelinsky/what-we-will-remember-oba_b_141397.html