January 12: Onomatopoeia Day

On this date in 1966, the TV series “Batman” premiered.  The success of the series can be traced to its appeals to a broad audience.  For kids the show was a must-watch action-adventure, following the exploits of Batman and Robin, the dynamic duo from the DC comic books.  For adults, the show was campy comedy.  Airing twice a week, Batman was wildly successful.  The show was also notable as one of the first to cash-in on merchandising.  Fans could buy a Batman lunch pail,  a Batman T-shirt, Batman trading cards, and even a Batman board game.

The show included a nod to the classics.  In Bruce Wayne’s private study, on a desk next to his red Batphone, sat a bust of William Shakespeare.  The bust was a vital prop, for beneath the hinged head of the Bard was a hidden button.  When Wayne pushed the button, a sliding bookcase opened revealing two Batpoles, giving Batman and Robin immediate access to the Batcave.

Batman ran for three seasons, and in each of its 120 episodes one plot element was inevitable:  Batman and Robin would confront one of their arch villains, along with his or her henchman, and engage in a climactic fistfight.   This is where the rhetoric device called onomatopoeia was employed for effect.  To remind viewers that these were comic book characters, each punch was punctuated by words superimposed in bright colors on the screen.  The words “POW!”, “BAM!”, and “ZONK!” entered pop culture (1).

Onomatopoeia is the use of words to imitate or suggest sound.  Imagery in language is largely about how words create vivid images, but we should not forget that we can also create imagery via sound effects like onomatopoeia.  For example, if we were to describe a car accident, we might say, “The two cars hit each other.”  This creates the image of two car coming together; however, notice how the image become more vivid when we add a verb that has a sound effect:  “The two cars smashed into each other.”

The results of a psychological study conducted in 1974, shows just how important vivid verbs can be. Subjects in the study were shown a film of a traffic accident and then were asked questions about the accident.  Some of the subjects were asked, “About how fast were the cars going when they hit each other?”  Others were asked,  “About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?”  The subjects who were asked the second question (smashed), gave a higher estimated speed than the subjects who were asked the first question (hit).  

When the subjects were brought back to the lab a week later and shown the film of the accident again, they were asked if they had seen any broken glass.  In reality there was no broken glass in the film, but several of the subjects reported seeing it.  Of those who were asked a week earlier how fast the cars were going when they hit each other, 14 percent said they saw glass; of those who were asked how fast the cars were going when they smashed into each other, 32 percent said they saw glass (2).

This experiment not only shows the fallibility of human memory and perception, it also shows how the right word, especially the right verb, can create a powerful impression on a reader.  That impression can be in the form of a vivid image, but it can also be auditory, as in “smashed” or “crashed.”  The lesson here is to select your verbs carefully, for their sense, but also for their sound — for their visual effect but also for their volume effect.

The following are some examples of volume verbs:

babble, beat, bellow, blare, blast, bubble, buzz, chatter, chug, cackle, click, crackle, crash, clang, cry, crush, drip, dribble, explode, fizzle, groan, growl, gurgle, hiss, hum, jingle, knock, moan, murmur, plink, plop, pop, purr, rasp, rattle, roar, rumble, rustle, scream screech shriek, shuffle, sing, sizzle, slurp, snap, splash, squawk, squeal, strike, sweep, swish, swoosh, thud, thunder, trumpet, wheeze, whisper, whistle

Today’s Challenge:  Turn Up the Volume

How can you use verbs to add sound effects to the imagery of sentences? Select three of the basic, boring sentences below, and breath life into them by revising them, adding volume verbs and other vivid, detailed imagery.  As you revise, read them aloud, listening for each sentence’s soundtrack.

For example:

Basic Sentence:  The teacher raised his voice.

Revised Sentence:  The teacher’s voice thundered through the classroom as he barked at the students to sit down.

The car was old.

The children played.

The rain fell heavily.

The new day dawned.

The cat looked friendly.

The children were excited.

The student worked busily.

The restaurant was packed.

The fireworks were displayed.

The student woke to his alarm clock.

(Common Core Language 3 – Knowledge of Language)

Quotation of the Day:  Listen to the sound of your language.  Read your words out loud.  Pay attention to their rhythm and cadence and flow.  Consider the way they reverberate in your head, how they stir your heart.  Ask how your reader would respond to ‘farewell’ as opposed to ‘goodbye,’ or to ‘mockingbird’ as opposed to ‘crow.’  -Stephen Wilbers in Mastering the Craft of Writing

1-http://www.cnn.com/2016/01/12/entertainment/batman-50-anniversary-burt-ward-feat/

2-http://www.simplypsychology.org/loftus-palmer.html

 

 

August 14: Macbeth Day

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1057 of the Scottish monarch Macbeth about whom Shakespeare wrote in his play The Tragedy of Macbeth. The facts of the historical Macbeth differ somewhat from the Macbeth of the Elizabethan stage, but like modern writers, Shakespeare was never one to let history get in the way of telling a good story.

Born in 1005, Macbeth rose to the throne of Scotland by election in place of King Duncan’s 14-year old son Malcolm. Duncan was not murdered at Macbeth’s home as in the play; instead, he was killed in battle. The Macbeth of history was a Christian king who ruled for 14 years until August 14, 1057 (some sources say August 15) when he met Malcolm man-to-man in a fight to the death in a stone circle near Lumphanan. Dunsinane and Birnam Wood, locations referred to in Shakespeare’s play, were actual locations of battles; however, these battles took place earlier than 1057. At Lumphanan, Malcolm was victorious, and it was he, not Macduff, who beheaded Macbeth (1).

Shakespeare adapts history in the Tragedy of Macbeth to examine the themes of free will, fate, ambition, betrayal, good, and evil. In his play, Macbeth transforms from war hero to serial killer after he hears the prophecies of the weird sisters. Although he is warned by his friend Banquo to disregard the witches’ words, Macbeth is unable to shake their spellbinding words. There is not a lot of subtlety or subplot in Macbeth. The action is swift and bloody. Even when the action on the stage is seemingly calm, the imagery of the dialogue is full of violent, grotesque images, such as in Lady Macbeth’s plea to her husband to keep his promise to kill Duncan even though the king has honored Macbeth with a promotion and has come to their home as a guest for the night:

I have given suck, and know

How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me;

I would, while it was smiling in my face,

Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums

And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you

Have done to this.(Act I, scene 7, lines 58-63)

It’s probably no accident that a play about a Scottish king was written by Shakespeare during the reign of King James, the first Scottish King of England and the king whose most famous act was the commissioning of the King James Translation of the Bible, completed in 1611.

The history of the play’s production, however, is full of accidents and superstition. From the very start Macbeth acquired a reputation as a cursed play. During its first production in 1606, the boy actor playing Lady Macbeth died backstage. It seems the dark and sinister events of the on-stage plot are echoed backstage. To this day superstitious actors refuse to identify the play by name, alluding to it only by the euphemism: “The Scottish Play” (2).

You’ll get very little argument if you claim that Shakespeare is the single greatest writer in  the history of the English language.  So if there are any words worth committing to memory, doesn’t it make sense to memorize some Shakespeare?  His words are fun to say, even if you don’t know what they mean exactly or if you don’t know the exact context of the words.  One thing you do know, however, is that the words are guaranteed to be brilliant, and once you do study the play and the character from which the words originate, you will discover that the words are well worth remembering and are well worth returning to again and again.  

Today’s Challenge:  Six From Shakespeare
What lines from a Shakespearean character would you say are most memorable?  Select a favorite character from Shakespeare and select a passage of at least six lines.  Commit those words to memory.  Write them down, read them carefully, and say them aloud over and over until they are a part of your long term memory.  Practice sharing them aloud with friends and family, and try to catch the right tone based on what you know about the character and what you know about the context of the words within the play. (Common Core – Speaking and Listening 4)

Below are three examples of six-line passages from the character Macbeth:

How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?

What hands are here? Hah! They pluck out mine eyes.

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red.

-Act 2, scene 2, lines 55-60


Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more!

Macbeth does murder sleep,’ the innocent sleep,

Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,

The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,

Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

-Act 2, scene 2, lines 46-51


Out, Out brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

-Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 23-28

Quotation of the Day:  [Shakespeare] is as a mountain, whose majesty and multitudinous beauty, meaning, and magnitude and impress, must be gotten by slow processes in journeying about it through many days. Who sits under its pines at noon, lies beside its streams for rest, walks under its lengthening shadows as under a cloud, and has listened to the voices of its waterfalls, thrilling the night and calling to the spacious firmament as if with intent to be heard “very far off,” has thus learned the mountain, vast of girth, kingly in altitude, perpetual in sovereignty. -William A. Quayle

 

1 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/macbeth.shtml

2-Epstein, Norrie. The Friendly Shakespeare. New York: Winokur/Boates, 1993.

 

July 11: Bowdlerize Day

Today is the birthday of Thomas Bowdler (1754-1825), a man who became infamous for censoring Shakespeare. An Englishman, Bowdler studied medicine at Edinburgh but never practiced; instead, he took his scalpel to the plays of Shakespeare. His mission, according to Nancy Caldwell Sorel in Word People, was “to render Shakespeare fit to be read aloud by a gentleman in the company of ladies.” His first edition of his ten-volume Family Shakespeare was published in 1818 (1).

After he finished with the Bard’s works, Bowdler devoted himself to Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

The Nerd Who Became a Verb

Bowdler’s work became so notorious that his name entered the language as a verb meaning “To expurgate prudishly.” Most eponyms — words derived from a person’s name — begin as proper nouns and evolve into common nouns, such as atlas, cardigan, and guillotine.  The word bowdlerize, however, went from a proper noun to a verb, describing “the process of censoring a work by deleting objectionable words or material.”

For example, Lady Macbeth’s “Out, damn’d spot!” became “Out, crimson spot!”

To learn more about eponymous verbs in English, you might explore — or should we say “flesh out” — the etymology of the following verbs.  Each has a real person as its source:

mesmerize
lynch
pasteurize
grangerize
mercerize
boycott
gerrymander
burke
galvanize (1)

Today’s Challenge:  The Flesh Became Word
A good English dictionary will list the names of the best known persons who ever lived; to have your name thus listed means you have achieved virtual universal notoriety.  However, to have your name go from an upper case proper noun to a lower case noun, adjective, or verb is another thing altogether.  Who is a person living today whose life is so distinctive, so influential, or so notorious, that his or her name might enter the dictionary some day as an eponym — a common noun derived from a person’s name? Make your case by writing a mini-biography of the person and by giving specific examples of what he or she has said or done, either good or bad, to merit being immortalized by lexicographers.

Quotation of the Day:  But the truth is, that when a library expels a book of mine and leaves an unexpurgated Bible lying around where unprotected youth and age can get hold of it, the deep unconscious irony of it delights me and doesn’t anger me. –Mark Twain

1 – Sorel, Nancy Caldwell. Word People: Being an Inquiry Into the Lives of Those Person Who Have Lent Their Names to the English Language. New York: American Heritage Press: 1970.

August 14: Macbeth Day

Today is the anniversary of the death in 1057 of the Scottish monarch Macbeth about whom Shakespeare wrote in his tragedy Macbeth. The facts of the historical Macbeth differ somewhat from the Macbeth of the Elizabethan stage, but like modern writers, Shakespeare was never one to let history get in the way of telling a good story.

Born in 1005, Macbeth rose to the thrown of Scotland by election in place of King Duncan’s 14-year old son Malcolm. Duncan was not murdered at Macbeth’s home as in the play; instead, he was killed in battle. The Macbeth of history was a Christian king who ruled for 14 years until August 14, 1057 (some sources say August 15) when he met Malcolm man-to-man in a fight to the death in a stone circle near Lumphanan. Dunsinane and Birnam Wood, locations refered to in Shakespeare’s play, were actual locations of battle; however, these battles took place earlier than 1057. At Lumphanan, Malcolm was victorious, and it was he, not Macduff, who beheaded Macbeth (1).

Shakespeare adapts history in the Tragedy of Macbeth to examine the themes of free will, fate, ambition, betrayal, good, and evil. In his play, Macbeth is transformed from war hero to serial killer after he hears the prophecies of the weird sisters. Although he is warned by his friend Banquo to disregard the witches’ words, Macbeth is unable to shake their spellbinding words. There is not a lot of subtely or subplot in Macbeth. The action is swift and bloody. Even when the action on the stage is seemingly calm, the imagery of the dialogue is full of violent, grotesque images, such as in Lady Macbeth’s plee to her husband to keep his promise to kill Duncan even though the king has honored Macbeth with a promotion and has come to their home as a guest for the night:

I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me;
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you
Have done to this.

(Act I, scene 7, lines 58-63)

It’s probably no accident that a play about a Scottish king was written by Shakespeare during the reign of King James, the first Scottish King of England and the king whose most famous act was the commissioning of the King James Translation of the Bible, completed in 1611.

The history of the play’s production, however, is full of accidents and superstition. From the very start Macbeth aquired a reputation as a cursed play. During the first production of the play in 1606, the boy actor playing Lady Macbeth died backstage. It seems the dark and sinister events of the on-stage plot are echoed backstage. To this day superstitious actors refuse to identify the play by name, alluding to it only by the euphemism: “The Scottish Play.” (2)

Today’s Challenge: Macquotes
Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most read and performed plays. See if you can identify the speaker of each of the quotes below. Here are the names of the key players to refresh your memory: Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, King Duncan, Macduff, Banquo, The Porter, The Witches

1. Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood
Clean from my hand?
No, this my hand will rather
The multitudinous seas incarnadine,
Making the green one red.

2. Fair is foul and foul is fair.

3. And oftentimes, to win us to our harm,The instruments of darkness tell us truths…

4. There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face…

5. Is this a dagger I see before me,
The handle toward my hand?

6. Here’s a knocking, indeed! If a man were porter of hell-gate he should have old turning the key. Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there, i’ the name of Beelzebub?

7. He has no children. All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?

8. Out, damned spot! Out, I say!

Quote of the Day:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

–Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 19-28: Macbeth to himself

Answers: 1. Macbeth 2. The Witches 3. Banquo 4. King Duncan 5. Macbeth 6. The Porter
7. Macduff 8. Lady Macbeth

1 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/macbeth.shtml

2 – Epstein, Norrie. The Friendly Shakespeare. New York: Winokur/Boates, 1993.