July 20:  Antithesis Day

Today is the anniversary of what many consider the single greatest human achievement of all time: the successful Moon mission of Apollo 11. On July 20, 1969 at 4:17 p.m. (EDT), Neil A. Armstrong became the first human to stand on the Moon. Armstrong was soon joined by Buzz Aldrin, and the two astronauts spent 21 hours on the Moon collecting 46 pounds of moon rocks before returning to the Lunar Module (1).

Circular insignia: Eagle with wings outstretched holds olive branch on Moon with Earth in background, in blue and gold border.The race to the Moon that began with the launch of the Russian satellite Sputnik on October 4, 1957 was over, and the first words from a human being on the Moon were in English:

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

To mark mankind’s most remarkable technological achievement, Armstrong needed to craft a message in words worthy of the moment.  To do this he turned to tried and true trick dating back the classical orators of ancient Greece and Rome.

The specific rhetorical device he used is called antithesis. As a word antithesis means “the exact opposite,” as in Love is the antithesis of hate. But as a figure of speech, antithesis juxtaposes two contrasting ideas in a balanced, parallel manner, or — as in Armstrong’s case — a contrast of degrees: small step and giant leap, and man and mankind.

We live in a world of dichotomies:  hot and cold, light and dark, tragedy and comedy, love and hate.  Antithesis is the technique of juxtaposing these opposites.  Notice, for example, how the following quotations play with contrasts and parallelism to make concise, clear, and balanced sentences:

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend.  Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read anyway. -Groucho Marx

Lives as if you were to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you were to live forever. Mahatma Gandhi

To err is human, to forgive divine.  -Alexander Pope

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, . . . . -Charles Dickens ‘A Tale of Two Cities’

Using antithesis creates contrast but also brings balance, revealing the tone of someone who sees the world in all of its broad contrasts and particular opposites.  When writers use antithesis, the contrasts and opposition create a tension that keeps the reader interested.  When ideas clash, something is at stake, so there’s more reason for the reader to stick around.

Today’s Challenge:  Opposite Day

What are some examples of words that are opposites — antonyms such as ‘speak’ and ‘listen,’ ‘war’ and ‘peace,’ ‘present’ and ‘past’?  Brainstorm a list of opposites, and select one pair from your list or the list below to write about:

above/below

quantity/quality

victory/defeat 

actions/words

before/after

left/right

dark/light

fast/slow

order/chaos

freedom/slavery

good/evil

yesterday/today

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

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

Then write a short composition of at least 150 words in which you support the claim using contrast, details, examples, and evidence.

Example:

When we read, we travel to a world of imagination; when we write, we imagine a world of our own.  With reading, the words are fixed on the page for us, and although words evoke different pictures in the minds of different readers, we still are limited by the words that were selected for us by the author.  When Robert Frost, for example, describes the snow, he says, “The only sound is the sweep of easy wind and downy flake.”  Whoever reads this imagines falling snow.  When we write, however, we are in control of the words we choose and, therefore, the worlds – and the weather – we create.  We become omniscient and omnipotent.  If we choose, we can defy gravity, we can defy logic, we can defy nature.  If we choose we can create a snowstorm in August, a world where words grow on trees, where trees speak in Latin.  Reading exercises our imagination, opening our eyes to see more; writing challenges our imagination, forcing our minds to be more.

Quotation of the Day:  Hillary [Clinton] has soldiered on, damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t, like most powerful women, expected to be tough as nails and warm as toast at the same time. – Anna Quindlen (3)

 

1- Apollo 11. The 30th Anniversary

2- “Antithesis.” The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001-05.

3-Anna Quindlin “Say Goodbye to the Virago.” Newsweek, June 16, 2003

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

 

August 28: Anaphora Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his unforgettable I Have a Dream speech to the crowd of roughly 250,000 gathered at the Lincoln Memorial (1).

Early in his speech King invokes Lincoln and the unfulfilled promise of the Emancipation Proclamation:

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free (2).

King went on to cite two other vital American documents, the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Using the metaphor of a bad check, King argued that the United States would not be a truly free nation, until it fulfilled these promissory notes for all of its citizens, ending segregation, “withering injustice,” and the persecution of black Americans.

An ordained Baptist Minister and a doctor of theology, King knew how to craft a sermon and how to deliver a speech. His choice of nonviolent protest meant that his words and his rhetoric would determine the success of failure of his civil rights mission. King was up to the task. There is probably no more telling example of the power of words to persuade, to motivate, and to change the course of history than the speech King delivered on August 28, 1963.

Rhetoric is the use of language to persuade. Aristotle defined it as “the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion.” Martin Luther King, Jr. used many of these “means of persuasion” (also known as rhetorical devices) to persuade his audience. He used metaphor: beacon of hope and manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. He used alliteration:  dark and desolate, sweltering summer, and Jews and Gentiles. He used antithesis: will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

But more than any other device, King used repetition and anaphora, the repetition of one or more words at the beginning of a phrase or clause.

Certain words echo throughout his speech. Unlike redundancy, this repetition is intentional. These words ring like a bell, repeatedly reminding the listener of key themes. In the I Have a Dream speech the words justice and dream both ring out eleven times. But one word is repeated far more than any other; the word freedom tolls 20 times. In King’s dream there is no crack in the Liberty Bell; instead, it rings out loudly and clearly, a triumphant declaration that American has finally lived up to its potential.

Anaphora comes from the Greek meaning “I repeat.” It’s the kind of repetition at the beginning of a line or a sentence that you see in the Psalms or in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.

(Matthew 3:3-6 King James Version)

King uses anaphora for six different phrases that echo throughout his speech:

One hundred years later . . .

We refuse to believe . . . 

Now is the time . . . 

With this faith . . .

I have a dream . . .

Let freedom ring . . . (3)

King also chose one of these examples of anaphora as the title of his speech. The repeated clause I have a dream comes at the climactic moment in the speech which is probably why it is the most frequently quoted part:

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. 

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” 

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. 

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a desert state, sweltering with the heat of injustice and oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. 

I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. 

I have a dream today. 

I have a dream that one day the state of Alabama, whose governor’s lips are presently dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, will be transformed into a situation where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers. 

I have a dream today. 

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together (2).

Today’s Challenge: Three-Peat After Me
Sometimes writers repeat the same word in succession to get the reader’s attention. In each of the following quotes, the same word is repeated three times. See if you can guess each word.

1. There are three things which the public will always clamor for, sooner or later: namely, ________, _______, and _______. –Thomas Hood

2. Three things in human life are important. The first is to be _____. The second is to be _____. And the third is to be _____. — Henry James

3. To succeed as a conjurer, three things are essential — first, _______; second, _______, and once again _______. –Gian Giacomo Di Trivulzio

4. Dancing is just ________, ________, _______.

5. Three things make you a winner in business: _______, _______. And, of course, _______. –Harry Benson

6. The world rests on three things: _______, _______, and _______.

Quote of the Day: Have no unreasonable fear of repetition. . . . The story is told of a feature writer who was doing a piece on the United Fruit Company. He spoke of bananas once; he spoke of bananas twice; he spoke of bananas yet a third time, and now he was desperate. “The world’s leading shippers of the elongated yellow fruit,” he wrote. A fourth banana would have been better. –James J. Kilpatrick

Answers: 1. scandal 2. kind 3. courage 4. practice 5. sales 6. love

1 – Nammour, Chris. The March on Washington for Jobs and FreedomOnline Newshour Posted: 8/27/03
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/july-dec03/march_8-27.html

2 – King, Martin Luther, Jr. “I Have a Dream”
http://www.mecca.org/~crights/dream.html

3 – http://www.speaklikeapro.co.uk/MLK_dream.htm

August 15: Understatement Day

On this date in 1945, after two atomic bombs had been dropped on his country, Emperor Hirohito of Japan addressed his nation in a radio broadcast.  -The speech was notable not only because it was the first time that a Japanese emperor had addressed the common people, but also because of its understatement of the situation.
In announcing Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces, Hirohito attempted to soften the blow of defeat by understating its effect, saying:
“the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage . . . .” 

Understatement is a rhetorical device use by speakers and writers to deliberately make something seem less serious than it actually is.  It may be used to soften serious matters as in the Emperor’s broadcast, or it can be used for humorous effect.  A classic example of this is in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  After confronting King Arthur and having both of his arms cut off, the Black Knight continues to taunt Arthur with the understatement, “It’s just a flesh wound!”

Today’s Challenge:  The Understatement of the Century

Generate a list of bad news stories from the past ten years.  Imagine a spokesperson trying to break the bad news utilizing understatement to soften the blow.

Example:  Payton Manning speaking to Denver Bronco fans after losing Super Bowl XLVIII to the Seattle Seahawks by a score of 43-8:  “We got down early and just ran out of time to mount a comeback.”

Quotation of the Day:  I have to have this operation. It isn’t very serious. I have this tiny little tumor on the brain. –Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye.