Tuesday, May 30, 2006

May 30: Memorial Day

Today is the anniversary of the celebration of the first Memorial Day in 1868. American General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, proclaimed May 30th a day "designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land." It wasn’t until after World War I that the holiday became a national day, honoring not just the Civil War dead, but also those who served in any war.

On this day of remembrance a few mnemonic devices might be helpful. No, you can’t buy them in stores. A mnemonic device is a method of remembering something that is difficult to remember by remembering something that is easy to remember.

The word mnemonic is from the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne.

In his book WASPLEG and Other Mnemonics, Bart Benne catalogs hundreds of mnemonic devices. To make things easy to remember, these mnemonic devices use different methods such as rhyme, acrostics, or acronyms. Another method is the nonsense sentence made up from the initial letters of what it is you are trying to remember. Here’s an example of a sentence that was created to remember the most important battles of Julius Caesar’s career:

Is Perpetual Zeal The Means?

I Ilerda
P Pharsalus
Z Zeta
T Thapsus
M Munda

Generations of school children have used the rhyme from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" to remember the start date of the American Revolution:

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

Rhyming couplets are helpful in remembering key dates in English history:

William the Conqueror, Ten Sixty-Six
Played on the Saxons oft-cruel tricks.

The Spanish Armada met its fate
In Fifteen Hundred and Eighty-Eight

The acronym "BIGOT" helps in remembering the Marine campaigns in the Pacific in World War II:

Iwo Jima

Another mnemonic device helps both soldiers and civilians remember the order of the major rank structures in the U.S. Army from lowest to highest ranking.

Privates Can’t Salute Without Learning Correct Military Command Grades:

Private, Corporal, Sergeant, Warrant Officer, Lieutenant, Captain, Major, Colonel, and General (2).

Today’s Challenge: Rhyme, Acrostics, and Acronyms Oh My!
Think of something you need to remember, or something that everyone should remember, and create your own mnemonic device.

1 -
2 - Benne, Bart. WASPLEG and Other Mnemonics. Dallas: Taylor Publishing Company, 1988.

Monday, May 29, 2006

May 29: Summit Day

Today is the anniversary of the first successful climb to the summit of the world’s tallest mountain. Just before noon on May 28, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay climbed to the top of Mount Everest, a height of 28,126 feet.

News of this great accomplishment reached London on June 2, 1953, the same day that Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne of England. This confluence of important events became an unprecedented day of celebration of everything British. New Zealander Edmund Hillary was later knighted by the queen, and virtually overnight he became one of the world’s most famous men. In India, Nepal, and Tibet, Tenzing Norgay became a national hero.

Several words in English denote both a literal high point as well as a high point that relates to human achievement.

For example, the word summit is from the Latin summus, meaning highest number. This relates to the Roman method of adding "up" a column of numbers and placing the highest number at the top instead of at the bottom of the column.

Pinnacle and Apex also come to English via Latin. Pinnacle is from pinna meaning "wing tip" (the same shape as a mountain peak) and apex means "highest point or tip."

Acme is from the Greek for "point or sharp edge."

Zenith is from Arabic for highest point, while the Arabic nadir means lowest point.

The book Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer tells the history of human achievement on Mount Everest, but the book’s primary focus is on one particular tragedy that occurred in May of 1996. Krakauer was a member of a 27-person team that took on Everest and left with 12 members of its party dead.

Today’s Challenge: Mountain Madness
All the words below are found in Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book Into Thin Air. See if you can match up each word with its definition:

1. audacious
2. castigate
3. taciturn
4. garrulous
5. peripatetic
6. apoplectic
7. fetid
8. augur
9. ostracize
10. hubris

A. Overbearing pride or arrogance.
B. Fearlessly, often recklessly daring.
C. Walking about or from place to place; traveling on foot.
D. Extremely angry, furious
E. Having an offensive odor
F. To predict, especially from signs and omens
G. To inflict severe punishment on
H Given to excessive and often trivial or rambling talk
I. Habitually untalkative
J. To exclude from a group.

Quote of the Day: It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves. –Sir Edmund Hillary

Answers: A. 10 B. 1 C. 5 D. 6 E. 7 F. 8 G. 2 H. 4 I. 3 J. 9

1 - Krakauer, Jon. Into Thin Air. New York: Anchor Books, 1997.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

May 28: Five Alive Day

Today is the birthday of the first quintuplets to survive infancy. Born in Ontario, Canada in 1934, the Dionne Quintuplets were born two months premature. The five identical sisters, Annette, Cecile, Yvonne, Marie, and Emile, achieved celebrity status as news of their miraclous survival inspired both Americans and Canadians raveged by the Great Depression.

Although the quintuplets survived, their lives were anything but perfect. The Ontario government took them from their parents and put them on display in a hospital known as Quintland. Between 1934 to 1943, millions of people visited Quintland to see the girls who were put on display for the general public (1).

The word quintuplet comes from the Latin word quint for 'five.' It's the same root from which we get the word for a 'group of five': quintet.

Quint is also the source of the noun quintessence and the adjective quintessential which relate to the "purest or mosty typical example of a thing," as in Hamlet's speech where he praises the potential of mankind, calling him the quintessence of dust:

What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? (Hamlet, Act II.ii)

The number five's relationship to the highest or most pure example of a thing has its roots in ancient and medieval philosopy, where there were thought to be four basic elements: earth, air, fire, and water. The fifth element, known as the quintessence, was "thought to be the substance of the heavenly bodies and latent in all things," according to the American Heritage College Dictionary.

The story behind quintessence might explain the traditional American grading system, based on five grades: A, B, C, D, and F. It might also explain the predominence of the number five in rating system of all kinds, including five-star restaurants, 5-star generals, and 5-star movies.

The Roman root for five is pent from which we get:

pentagon: A five-sided polygon.

pentathalon: An athletic contest with five events.

pentameter: A line of poetry consisting of five metrical feet.

Pentateuch: The first five books of the Old Testament.

pentagram: A five-pointed star.

Today's Challenge: Five Famous Fives

1. What is the name of the 1970 film where Jack Nicholson's character orders toast?

2. Huron, Ontario, Michigan, Erie, and Superior are known as what?

3. This term has its origin in the Spanish Civil War when one of Franco's generals announced that he would lead four columns, attacking Madrid, and that once he attacked a "una quinta columna" would join his troops from inside the city. The term evolved through later wars and conflicts to refer to any group of traitors. What is the term?

4. Sixties pop group who recorded the hits: "ABC" and "I'll Be There"?

5. Probably the most famous of all symphonies. It begins with three short notes followed by a long fourth note. What is the title?

Quote of the Day: Five Quotes about Five

If you call a tail a leg, how many legs has a dog? Five? No, calling a tail a leg don't make it a leg. --Abraham Lincoln

We should all be obliged to appear before a board every five years and justify our existence...on pain of liquidation. --George Bernard Shaw

Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire, no trust. --Zig Ziglar

Give me five minutes with a person's checkbook, and I will tell you where their heart is. --Billy Graham

The greatest gift of the garden is the restoration of the five senses. --Hanna Rion

Answers: 1. "Five Easy Pieces" 2. The five Great Lakes 3. The Fifth Column 4. The Jackson Five 5. Beethoven's Fifth

1 - CNN:

Saturday, May 27, 2006

May 27: Green Day

Today is the birthday of biologist Rachel Carson (1907-1964). Carson's book Silent Spring, published in 1962, is credited with launching the environmental movement. Carson became concerned with the increased use of pesiticides, especially D.D.T., after World War II. Her book brought to light the harmful effects of these chemicals on the chain of life.

Carson's book was not without its critics, but it did lead to a hightened public awareness of conservation issues, and it also lead to Congressional hearings into the impact of pesitcides on the environment and human health. Within 10 years of the publication of Silent Spring the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was founded, Earth Day was established, and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts had become law (1).

The words below are examples of words that emerged in the 20th Century to describe issues related to the environment. For example, Greenpeace, an international organization that campaigns for the protection of the environment, was founded in 1971. Its activities contributed a new definition to the adjective green: "relating to or supporting environmentalism, especially as a polictical issue."

conservation (1922)

D.D.T (1943)

eco- (1969)

ecofreak (1970)

green (1972)

environmentalism (1972)

global warming (1977)

eco-terrorist (1988)

eco-friendly (1989) (2)

Today's Challenge: It's Easy Being Green
Below are definitions of words and expressions containing the word "green" from the American Heritage College Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. See if you can identify each word or expression.

1. Permission to go ahead.

2. A knack for making plants grow well.

3. Full of desire for someone's possessions.

4. Jealousy.

5. Looking ill or nauseated.

6. A different situation always seems better than one's own.

7. A waiting room or lounge in a theater for performers off-stage.

8. An antitakeover maneuver in which the target firm purchases the raider's stock at a price that is above that available to other stockholders.

9. An inexperienced or immature person.

10. A note of U.S. currency.

Quote of the Day: If you would imitate Nature, you should take her simiplicity for your model. --Michael Sendivogius

Answers: 1. green light 2. green thumb 3. green with envy 4. green-eyed monster 5. green about the gills 6. The grass is always greener. 7. green room 8. greenmail 9. greenhorn 10. greenback

1 - Raftery, Miriam. 100 Books that Shaped World History. San Mateo, California: Bluewood Books, 2002.

2 - Ayto, John. 20th Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Friday, May 26, 2006

May 26: A to Z Reading Day

May is Get Caught Reading Month, and the 26th day of the month is a reminder that any list of good books runs the gamut of all 26 letters of the alphabet. It’s also a reminder that summer is near, and you need to put together your summer reading list.

Get Caught Reading month is sponsored by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). The goal of the program is to "spread the word about the joys of reading through an industry-supported literacy campaign." The program was launched in 1999 by former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder. For more details on the program, go

One great source for reading ideas is the book Great Books for Every Book Lover by Thomas Craughwell. Craughwell’s book provides over 2000 different titles divided into more than 50 categories. What follows is an A to Z list of suggested titles. Following each title is the name of the Category from Craughwell’s book.

The Alphabet Abecedarium: Some Notes on Letters

The Big Sleep
– Tough Guys

The Crucible – Classics of the Stage

Deliverance – First Time Out

Eyewitness to History – The Best Anthologies

Firedance – Sci-Fi Classics

Great Plains – Traveler’s Tales

High Fidelity – First-Class Fiction

Ivanhoe -- Epics

Jaws – Beach Books

Kiss the Girls -- Thrillers

License to Grill – Books to Savor: Food and Wine

Mary, Queen of Scots – Royal Lives

Nineteen Eighty-Four – British Classics

On the Road – American Classics

Paul Revere’s Ride – Children’s Classics

Queen Margot – Rediscovered Classics

Richard III – Shakespeare – In a Class by Himself

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – Worlds of Wonder

Things Fall Apart – An Author You Should Know

Undaunted Courage: Meriwether Lewis, Thomas Jefferson, and the Opening of the American West – The Best History

Vengeance of Orion – Great Adventures

Where the Sidewalk Ends – For Young Readers

The Year of Living Dangerously –The Book is Always Better than the Movie

Zeke and Ned – Hard Riding Western

Today’s Challenge: A Bibliophile’s A-Z File
A bibliophile is a lover or collector of books. The word is from the Greek: [bilio, book + phile, love]. Your mission today is to put together an A-Z list of your favorite books, or get a head start on your summer reading list; visit a bookstore or library and compile an A-Z list of books you haven’t read but want to.

Quote of the Day: Any kid who has two parents who are interested in him and a houseful of books isn't poor. --Sam Levenson

Thursday, May 25, 2006

May 25: Towel Day

Today fans of Douglas Adams, the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, honor his life and work by wearing or displaying towels. Why towels? Well, the explanation can be found in an excerpt from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with.

Adams was born in Cambridge, England in 1952. His publishing career began with a short story that was published in Eagle comic when he was 11 years old. His best known work, the comic sci-fi novel The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy began as a BBC Radio 4 series in 1978. The novel was published in 1979. The original novel spawned four sequels and a cult following that bought more than 15 million books. The Hitchhikers Guide was made into a movie in 2005.

Towel day was established in 2001 after Adam’s unexpected death of a heart attack on May 11, 2005. He was 49 at the time, living in California with his wife and daughter.

The following proclamation is from the official Towel Day website:

You sass that hoopy Douglas Adams? Now there's a frood who knew where his towel was. You are invited to join your fellow hitchhikers in mourning the loss of the late great one. Join in on towel day to show your appreciation for the humor and insight that Douglas Adams brought to all our lives.

Today’s Challenge: Author Adoration

What author of your favorite book or favorite series of books deserves his or her own holiday? Write a proclamation that honors the author as well as advises fellow fans on what to do on this day to demonstrate their devotion and admiration.

Quote of the Day: Art is the means we have of undoing the damage of haste. It's what everything else isn't. –Theodore Roethke

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

May 24: Telegram Day

Today is the anniversary of the first telegram sent on May 24, 1844 from the Capitol in Washington to Baltimore. The famous first message tapped out on morse code was "What hath God wrought?" a reference from the Old Testament, specifically Numbers 23:23.

Credit for inventing the electric telegraph and the code used for sending telegrams goes to American Samuel F. B. Morse (1791-1872). On a trip to Europe, Morse had seen the semaphoric telegraph set up by Claude Chappe in 1791. The Chappe system was made up of a network of 120 towers that could relay a message from Paris to the Mediterranean in less than an hour – that’s faster than any messenger can travel on horseback. Morse’s dream was to relay message via sound instead of sight, and his success revolutionized communication: for the first time two people could communicate instantly over long distances without seeing each other (1, 2).

Before the advent of inexpensive telephone service, telegrams were the primary way of relaying both good news and bad news. To get a sense of how telegrams worked, we’ll use a modern analogy: Imagine that in order to send email you had to go to a third party (called Western Union) and pay by the word for each word in your message. Punctuation cost more than words; as a result, the word "stop" was used at the end of a sentence instead of a period.

The advent of the information Age made telegrams an anachronism, but strangely they were not discontinued until after the beginning of the new millennium. Western Union discontinued its telegraph service on January 27, 2006.

Today’s Challenge: Historic Telegrams Stop
When Western Union discontinued its service, the New York Times did a retrospective on famous and infamous telegrams taken from the book Telegram! by Linda Rosendrantz. See if you can match up the description of each telegram with the correct message.

1. This message was sent by humorist Robert Benchley to his editor Harold Ross. It was his first visit to a major Italian city?

2. This message was sent by Mark Twain to his publisher.

3. This probably mythical telegraph was supposedly sent in 1897 by William Randolph Hearst to one of his photographers covering the Spanish-American War.

4. This telegram was sent by Edward Teller after the first hydrogen bomb detonation.

5. This telegram was sent by Mark Twain in 1897. Twain was traveling in Europe and heard that his obituary had been published in an American newspaper.

6. Oscar Wilde purportedly sent this telegram to his publisher, asking about sales of his new novel. The publisher responded with equally brief reply: "!"

7. Arthur Conan Doyle purportedly sent this telegram to a dozen prominent men, all of whom packed up and left town immediately.

8. This telegram was drafted but never sent in 1950 by President Harry Truman to Senator Joseph McCarthy after the senator claimed to "have in my possession the names of 57 communists who are in the state department at present."






F. ?



Quote of the Day: Genius is no more than childhood recaptured at will. --Charles Baudelaire

1. H 2. D 3. G 4. E. 5. C 6. F 7. A 8. B

1 – Baron, Naomi S. From Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It’s Heading. London: Routledge, 2000.

2 – Yenne, Bill. 100 Events that Shaped World History. San Francisco: Bluewood Books, 1993.

3 – Roberts, Sam "Dot-Dot-Dot, Dash-Dash-Dash, No More. New York Times. 12 Feb. 2006.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

May 23: Sleep-in Day

Today is the birthday of Austrian physician Franz Mesmer (1734-1815) who discovered animal magnetism and whose work influenced the development of hypnosis. Animal magnetism was the term used to describe the mysterious magnetic powers that Mesmer claimed he could control to cure ailments. He did several public demonstrations of his art, but was pressured to leave Vienna by the medical community. He moved to Paris to continue his work, but in 1784 a scientific panel examined his practices and proclaimed that they had no basis in science.

Mesmer died in Switzerland in 1815, but thirty years after his death Scottish physician James Braid adapted Mesmer’s ideas and invented the procedure known as hypnosis. Braid also coined the terms hypnotism, hypnotize, and hypnotist (1).

Although Franz Mesmer is hardly a household name, he has become a part of the English lexicon. The verb mesmerize, meaning to 'spellbind or enthrall,' comes from Mesmer, his experiments, and his public demonstrations of his art. Mesmerize is another example of an eponym, a word derived from the name of a real or imaginary person (See Word Daze, March 28: Eponym Day).

James Braid might have used Mesmer’s name to describe his work; but instead, Braid turned to Greek mythology to describe his practice of inducing sleep in his patients. In Greek Mythology Hypnos was the god of sleep and the son of Zeus and Nyx, the goddess who personified night.

The Roman equivalent of Hypnos is Somnus, the source of the adjectives somniferous (inducing sleep) and somnolent (drowsy; sleepy). The Roman god of sleep also inspired the verb somnambulate, meaning to sleep walk.

The common word "sleep" as you might have guessed is from Old English.

Because sleep is an activity that we spend roughly one third of our life engaged in, it has been a frequent theme in literature. Probably the most famous example is Shakespeare’s Scottish play, where Macbeth, after he has killed King Duncan, rhapsodizes on the importance of sleep:

Methought I heard a voice cry 'Sleep no more!
Macbeth does murder sleep' -- the innocent sleep,
Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care,
The death of each day's life, sore labor's bath,
Balm of hurt minds, great nature's second course,
Chief nourisher in life's feast.

(Act II.ii.47-52)

Today’s Challenge: I’m Only Sleeping
Below are descriptions of literary characters (and one place) that come under the category of ‘sleep’ in The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions. See if you can identify the name of each character (2).

1. In Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, he snoozed all through the tea party.

2. Washington Irving character who slept for twenty years before waking.

3. From the Bible, its east of Eden and the place where Cain was banished after he killed Abel.

4. A Shakespearean character who sleepwalks and is troubled by guilt after urging her husband to kill the king.

5. A princess from a fairy tale who has a spell put on her by a wicked fairy.

6. Another Shakespearean character, she was queen of the fairies. While she sleeps Oberon drops magic flower juice in her eyes.

7. The Roman god of dreams, son of Somnus.

8. A character from children’s stories who sprinkles a magical substance in their eyes to make them sleepy.

Quote of the Day: Good communication is a stimulating as black coffee, and just as hard to sleep after. –Ann Lindberg

1. The Dormouse 2. Rip Van Winkle 3. The Land of Nod 4. Lady Macbeth5. Sleeping Beauty 6. Titania 7. Morpheus 8. The Sandman

1 -

2 - Delahunty, Andrew, Sheila Dignen, and Penny Stock. The Oxford Dictionary of Allusions. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Monday, May 22, 2006

May 22: Maritime Metaphor Day

Today is National Maritime Day established in 1933 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The date was established as May 22nd based on the first successful transoceanic voyage under steam propulsion. The steamship The Savannah set sail from Savannah, Georgia, on May 22, 1819.

Many words we use today have their origins in the salty talk of sailors. Below are some examples from An Ocean of Words: A Dictionary of Nautical Words and Phrases.

Blowhard: Sailor’s slang for a wind-bag.

Debacle: Referred to the break-up of ice on a river or navigable channel.

Filibuster: Originally a term for a buccaneer, pirate, or other person who obtained plunder. It later evolved to refer to the use of obstructive tactics in the legislature.

Nausea: From the Greek nausia, meaning seasickness.

Vogue: From the French, voguer, 'to be carried forward on the water.' No doubt it comes from the figurative sense of being in fashion – that is being in the swim, going with the flow or current, or moving with the tide (1).

Today’s Challenge: A Net-Full of Metaphors
As we did on Earth Day (April 22) when we looked at metaphors and idioms that came to us from working the land, today we look at metaphors and idioms that come to us from working on the sea. These are expressions that are used on dry land today by landlubbers who probably don’t even realize that the expressions were born on the high seas. For example, if one of your co-workers is a "loose cannon," it means he or she does not conform to the rules and might say or do something at anytime that might hurt the company. Few people realize that this term originates from the actual heavy metal cannon that were tied and secured to a ships side. If a cannon became loose, it could cause a lot of damage to the ship and the crew.

Given the number of words in each expression and a definition, see if you can identify each of the sea metaphors. The definitions come from the web page of Alec Gill, a public speaker and university lecturer (2).

1. 4 Words: Everyone should gather together in their positions and be ready for action

2. 2 Words: Everything in perfect order

3. 3 Words: Let’s get going as fast as possible

4. 7 Words: Chance acquaintance

5. 3 Word: In serious difficulties

6. 2 Words: Honest and straightforward with nothing hidden

7. 4 Words: Conform to what the rest of the group is doing instead of stepping out of line and doing your own thing.

8. 6 Words: Everyone shares the same adverse conditions.

Quote of the Day: There is no frigate like a book to take us lands away. –Emily Dickinson

1. All hands on deck 2. Ship shape 3. Full steam ahead 4. Two ships that pass in the night 5. In deep water 6. Above board 7. Don’t rock the boat 8. We’re all in the same boat.

1- Jeans, Peter D. An Ocean of Words: A Dictionary of Nautical Words and Phrases. Secaucus, New Jersey: Birch Lane Press, 1993.

2 -

Sunday, May 21, 2006

May 21: Defenestration Day

It's not often that we can trace the precise day and year that a word was born, but one particularly interesting word was born on this day in 1618. The word word is defenestration which means: The act of throwing something or someone out the window.

Just before the beginning of The Thirty Years War, a war in which Roman Catholics and Protestants battled for political and religious power, Protestant nobles threw two members of the Roman Catholic royal council and their secretary from a window in Hradcany Castle in Prague. The good news concerning this momentous defenestration is that no one was hurt (1).

The word defenestration comes to us from Latin: de-, out + fenestra, window.

The word window comes to English via Old Norse vindauga: vindr, wind + auga, eye. Window is also a kenning, a figurative device used figurately in Old English and Old Norse where a compound expression is used in place of a noun. They are found frequently in poetic epics like Beowulf, but we also create them today. For example, here are some modern kennings: boob tube, fat pill, gas guzzler, and gut bomb.

One interesting new meaning of defenestration that has appeared recently on the Internet but not in the dictionary - yet - is: The act of removing a Windows operating system from a computer in order to install an alternative one (2).

Today's Challenge: A Verb of Your Own
Defenestrate is not a word you hear or read everyday, but it is an example of an action verb that relates to a very specific action, such as David Letterman defenstrating TVs, watermelons, or rotten eggs. Your task today is to create one or more new action verbs. Start by thinking of an action that we don't have a single verb for in English, such as "to sneeze quietly." You might also think of some type of action that is a reletively new activity, such as: to get stuck in a fast food drive through lane without enough money to pay for your meal. Once you have a definition, set your mind to coming up with one new verb to describe it.

Quote of the Day: Three-fourths of the people you will ever meet are hungering and thirsting for appreciation. Give it to them and they will love you. --Dale Carnegie

1 - Ammer, Christine. Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers. New York: Paragon House, 1989.

2 -

Saturday, May 20, 2006

May 20: Phonetic Alphabet Day

Today is the anniversary of the first Armed Forces Day established by President Harry S. Truman in 1950. The new holiday stemmed from the unification of the Army, Navy, and Air Force under the Department of Defense which was activated in 1947 and is still headquartered at the Pentagon.

In his Presidential Proclamation establishing Armed Forces Day, President Truman said the following:

Armed Forces Day, Saturday, May 20, 1950, marks the first combined demonstration by America's defense team of its progress, under the National Security Act, towards the goal of readiness for any eventuality. It is the first parade of preparedness by the unified forces of our land, sea, and air defense.

In addition to expressing the unification of the armed forces, this holiday was intended to be an opportunity to educate civilians as to the role of the military, to show off the hardware of the military, and to honor the men and women serving in the armed forces.

The goal of the establishment of the Department of Defense was improved cooperation and communication between the armed services. One element of this cooperation, and especially this communication, is the NATO Phonetic Alphabet (1).

Although the alphabet we use today is helps children achieve literacy, the 26 letters of the alphabet are not a full representation of all the sounds in English. A quick glance at any dictionary's pronunciation chart will reveal 45-50 different pronunciations of English letters and letter combinations. In fact, even the 26 letters are not truly phonetic representations. For example, try writing out each of the letters: Aye, Bee, Sea, Dee, Eee, Ef, Gee, Aych . . . . As you can see, the letter C begins with an "S" sound and the letter F, begins with an "E" sound.

As a result of the non-phonetic nature of the English alphabet, verbal communication that is not face-to-face can be a problem. To improve verbal communication over telephone and radio, the armed forces adopted the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. In this alphabet, each letter is assigned a standard code word so that, if necessary, words can be spelled out clearly and unambiguously regardless of individual accent or communication interference.


Today's Challenge: Put Your Initials on the Alphabet
The NATO Phonetic Alphabet we have today has evolved over time. For example, in World War II, the joint Army/Navy alphabet looked like this:

Alfa Bravo Coca Delta Echo Foxtrot Golf Hotel India Juliett Kilo Lima Metro Nectar Oscar Papa Quebec Romeo Sierra Tango Union Victor Whisky Extra Yankee Zulu

In celebration of Armed Forces Day and in celebration of clear communication, create your own phonetic alphabet. Make each word memorable, but also try to make sure that each word you pick clearly corresponds the pronunciation of each letter.

Quote of the Day: Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask and he will tell the truth. --Oscar Wilde

1- United States Department of Defense:

Friday, May 19, 2006

May 19: Get Caught Reading Day

Today is the birthday of Malcolm X, the fiery, vocal civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1965. He was born Malcolm Little in 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska. In 1946 he was convicted of burglary and sentenced to seven years in prison.

In prison, Malcolm became frustrated with his efforts to write letters. In order to find the words he couldn’t seem to muster, he turned to a dictionary. He studied it page by page and copied dictionary pages verbatim. Armed with an improved vocabulary, he began to turn to other books, becoming a voracious reader.

His voluminous reading made Malcolm literate, but it also set him free:

You couldn’t have gotten me out of books with a wedge . . . months passed without my even thinking about being imprisoned. In fact, up to then, I never had been so truly free in my life (1).

You don't have to be behind bars to learn about the freedom that reading and knowledge bring. The month of May is Get Caught Reading month, sponsored by the Association of American Publishers (AAP). The goal of the program is to "spread the word about the joys of reading through an industry-supported literacy campaign." The program was launched in 1999 by former Congresswoman Pat Schroeder. For more details on the program, go to:

Ironically, Malcomb X did not start reading until he was caught and incarcerated, and once he was in prison, he became so obsessed with the written word that he would stay up at night in his cell reading, trying to avoid getting caught reading by the night guards:

Each time I heard the approaching footsteps, I jumped into bed and feigned sleep. And as soon as the guard passed, I got back out of bed onto the floor area of that light glow, where I would read another fifty-eight minutes – until the guard approached again (1).

Today’s Challenge: X or M.J.K.?

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. were without a doubt the most prominent black leaders in the American civil rights movement. Both men were assassinated; however, they did not always agree on methods. King advocated non-violent protest while Malcolm was an advocate of equality by any means necessary. The quotes below are by both men. See if you can identify the four by Malcolm X and the four by Martin Luther King, Jr.

1. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

2. Without education, you're not going anywhere in this world.

3. I submit to you that if a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live.

4. You don't have to be a man to fight for freedom. All you have to do is to be an intelligent human being.

5. A race of people is like an individual man; until it uses its own talent, takes pride in its own history, expresses its own culture, affirms its own selfhood, it can never fulfill itself.

6. We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

7. As long as the mind is enslaved, the body can never be free.

8. You can’t separate peace from freedom because no one can be at peace unless he has his freedom.

Quote of the Day:
Keep going; never stoop; sit tight;
Read something luminous at night.
--Edmund Wilson

Answers: 1. King 2. X 3. King 4. X 5. X 6. King 7. King 8. X

1 - Malcolm X with Alex Haley. The Authobiography of Malcolm X. New York: Random House, 1965.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

May 18: Denotations and Connotations Day

Today is the birthday of philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell who was born in Wales in 1872. Russell received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950.

Russell’s writings are eminently quotable. Here are a few examples that demonstrate his genius for language that is both concise and profound:

The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

There are two motives for reading a book: one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.

The point of philosophy is to start with something so simple as not to seem worth stating, and to end with something so paradoxical that no one will believe it.

Many people would sooner die than think; in fact, they do so.

One particular quote by Russell has helped a generation of English teachers to illustrate the subtleties of denotation and connotation in the English language. On a BBC radio program called Brain Trust, Russell said the following:

I am firm.
You are obstinate.
He is a pig-headed fool.

With this one quote, Russell demonstrated how a writer’s word choice is colored by his or her point of view and how the plethora of synonyms in English is a double-edged sword: it allows for an amazing array of possibilities, choices, and variety, but it also requires the writer to be a discriminating student of not just a word’s meaning, but also its associations and appropriate context.

A denotation of a word is its dictionary definition, but its connotation is its implied meaning – the associations and emotions that are attached to the word. For example, when addressing 15-year old, you have a choice of addressing him as a: young adult, a young person, an adolescent, a teenager, a teen, a teeny-bopper, a juvenile, or even a whipper-snapper. Although each of these words has the same basic denotation, they certainly have a range of different connotations on a scale of positive to neutral to negative.

Writing Russellesque triads is an excellent way to exercise your verbal muscles and learn to discriminate between the subtle differences in the connotations of various synonyms. For example, there is a classic example of a student who was looking for a synonym for “good.” He picked up a thesaurus and looked down the list of synonyms. Making a selection of what he thought was an appropriate synonym, the student wrote the following sentence: “Today I ate a benevolent donut.”

Here are some examples of triads written by Word Daze’s resident wordsmith Edward Oz:

I am a learned scholar.
You are an educated instructor.
He is a didactic pedagogue.

I’m a patriot.
You are a flag waver.
He is jingoistic.

My smoking is a vice.
Your smoking is a transgression.
His smoking is a sin.

My story was a fascinating narration.
Your story was an interesting anecdote.
His story was a strange yarn.

I am sagacious.
You are astute.
He is crafty.

I am a scholar.
You are a student.
He is a pupil.

I am a wordsmith.
You are a writer.
He is a hack.

I’m resting.
You’re lounging.
He’s a coach potato.

I’m frugal.
You’re cheap.
He’s a tightwad.

Today’s Challenge: Connotative Concoctions:
Celebrate Bertrand Russell’s birthday by doing your own triad of synonyms. Use the following guidelines as you write.

-Arrange your concoction in first, second, and third person points of view: I, You, and He.

-Begin in the first person with the word or phrase that has the most positive connotations. Continue by using words and/or phrases with ever-increasing negative connotations.


My bathroom has a fragrant aroma.
Your bathroom has an odd odor.
His bathroom has a strange stench.

Quote of the Day: The difference between the right word and almost the right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. --Mark Twain

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

May 17: Collective Noun Day

Today is the anniversary of a landmark United States Supreme Court decision that changed American Education. On May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, announced its decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. The decision was to end the segregation of public schools and reverse the 1896 ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson that established the ‘separate but equal’ doctrine. In the Plessy case, an African American named Homer Plessy was tried for his refusal to sit in a separate railroad car. Plessy v. Ferguson segregated blacks and whites in many areas of common life from water fountains to the school house. The Court’s decision in Brown started the slow march toward desegregation of American schools by stating: "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" (1).

The word segregation and desegregation share the common Latin root greg which means flock, as in people coming together in a group. Below are other words that relate to people or things coming together or, in the case of egregious, things standing out outside of the flock.

Aggregate: A sum total or mixing together to constitute a whole (ag-, toward + greg, flock)

Congregate: To gather together into a crowd or group (con-, together + greg, flock)

Egregious: Extremely bad. Flagrant. Standing out from the group (e-, out + greg, flock)

Gregarious: Tending to live in flocks or herds; Sociable (greg, flock)

The word flock is a collective noun, which The American Heritage College Dictionary defines as, "A noun that denotes a collection of persons or things regarded as a unit."

You run into collective nouns most often when you are talking about groups of animals, as in a pride of lions or a school or shoal of fish. In an earlier age when hunting was more common, the knowledgeable sportsman could correctly identify not only individual species but also the appropriate collective noun. In 1486, Dame Juliana Berners complied a book of more than one hundred collective nouns called The Book of St Albans (1).

Here are some examples of collective nouns:

An array of hedgehogs

A brood of hens

A cloud of grasshoppers

A dray of squirrels

An exaltation of larks

A fall of woodcocks

A gaggle of geese (in flight: a skein of geese)

A herd of deer

A leap of leopards

A mumble of moles

A nye of pheasants

A parliament of owls

A rout of wolves

A shrewdness of apes

A tittering of magpies

An unkindness of ravens

A watch of nightingales

Today’s Challenge: A Daze of Collective Nouns
Think about any specific types of people or things, and create your own collective nouns. Hold your own collective noun contest at your school or workplace. Below are some examples:

A stretch of rubber bands
A squabble of siblings
A flush of toilets
A speedo of swimmers
A trip of klutzes
A ton of weightlifters
a chew of gummy worms
a keg of drunkards
a headache of homework
a crash of computers

Quote of the Day: You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of discussion. --Plato

1 – Crutchfield, Roger S. English Vocabulary Quick Reference. Leesburg, VA: LexaDyne Publishers, Inc., 1999.

2 – Manser, Martin. The Guinness Book of Words (2nd Edition). Middlesex: Guinness Publishing Ltd, 1988.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

May 16: Biographer's Day

Today is the anniversary of the first meeting between Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the author of the landmark Dictionary of the English Language, and his biographer James Boswell (1740-1795). The two men met in Davies’s London bookshop in 1763, and established a relationship that would allow Boswell to produce what is recognized as the greatest biography ever written: The Life of Samuel Johnson, published in 1791.

The word biography is Greek (bio = life + graph = writing)

A number of words feature the graph root as it relates to writing. Here are words and definitions from English Vocabulary Quick Reference by Roger S. Crutchfield (1):

Autobiography: The story of one’s life written by oneself (auto-, self)

Autograph: Written or made with one’s own hand, as a signature (auto- self)

Bibliography: A list of writings (biblio- book)

Cacography: Illegible handwriting (caco, poor)

Cryptography: The art or science of writing and deciphering secret codes (crypto, secret)

Dysgraphia: Impairment of the ability to write (dys-, impaired)

Hagiography: Biographies written about saints (hagio, holy)

Lexicography: The branch of linguistics dealing wit the writing or compiling of dictionaries (lex, word)

Orthography: Correct spelling (ortho, correct)

If you are a bit behind on your reading of biography, an excellent way to get caught up is to read the book 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. As the title suggests, this excellent book features 1,000 mini-biographies that are models of concise and clear prose. In addition, the authors created what they call the BioGraph System of ranking each of the 1,000 people. To lend some objectivity to their process, they created a list of five specific criteria and awarded points in each category. For example, number one on the list is Johannes Gutenberg with a score of 21,768 and number 1,000 is Andy Warhol with 1,000 points (2).

Criteria for Inclusion in the Top 1,000 People of the Millennium:

1. Lasting Influence 10,000

2. Effect on the sum total of wisdom and beauty in the world: 5,000

3. Influence on contemporaries: 5,000

4. Singularity of contribution: 3,000

5. Charisma: 2,000

Today’s Challenge: Biomania
Each name listed below has his or her biography in 1,000 Years, 1,000 People. Which one person in each of the pairs do you think is rated higher?

1. Ernest Hemingway or John Steinbeck?

2. Bob Dylan or T.S. Eliot?

3. Dwight D. Eisenhower or Winston Churchill?

4. Nicholas Copernicus or Galilieo Galilei?

5. William Shakespeare or Francis Bacon?

6. Charles Darwin or Isaac Newton?

7. Ludwig van Beethoven or Johann Sebastian Bach?

8. Leonardo Da Vinci or Pablo Picasso?

9. Albert Einstein or Thomas Alva Edison?

10. George Washington or Thomas Jefferson?

11. Karl Marx or Mohandas K. Gandhi?

12. Sigmund Freud or Carl Jung?

13. Adolph Hitler or Genghis Khan?

14. John Milton or Geoffrey Chaucer?

15. Marco Polo or Ferdinand Magellan?

16. John Calvin or Martin Luther?

17. Charles Dickens or Fyodor Dostoyevsky?

18. Alexander Graham Bell or Marie Curie?

19. Joseph Stalin or Niccolo Machiavelli?

20. Susan B. Anthony or Eleanor Roosevelt?

Quote of the Day: Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. –William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night.

1. Ernest Hemingway 388 or John Steinbeck 901
2. Bob Dylan 888 or T.S. Eliot 720
3. Dwight D. Eisenhower 374 or Winston Churchill 38
4. Nicholas Copernicus 18 or Galilieo Galilei 4
5. William Shakespeare 5 or Francis Bacon 412
6. Charles Darwin 7 or Isaac Newton 6
7. Ludwig van Beethoven 10 or Johann Sebastian Bach 35
8. Leonardo Da Vinci 9 or Pablo Picasso 149
9. Albert Einstein 17 or Thomas Alva Edison 28
10. George Washington 22 or Thomas Jefferson 64
11. Karl Marx 14 or Mohandas K. Gandhi 12
12. Sigmund Freud 17 or Carl Jung 146
13. Adolph Hitler 20 or Genghis Khan 43
14. John Milton 53 or Geoffrey Chaucer 62
15. Marco Polo 66 or Ferdinand Magellan 42
16. John Calvin 69 or Martin Luther 3
17. Charles Dickens 70 or Fyodor Dostoyevsky 77
18. Alexander Graham Bell 74 or Marie Curie 75
19. Joseph Stalin 82 or Niccolo Machiavelli 40
20. Susan B. Anthony 139 or Eleanor Roosevelt 141

1 – Crutchfield, Roger S. English Vocabulary Quick Reference. Leesburg, VA: LexaDyne Publishers, Inc., 1999.

2 - Gottlieb, Agnes Hooper, Henry Gottlieb, Barbara Bowers, and Brent Bowers. 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium. New York: Kodansha International, 1998.

Monday, May 15, 2006

May 15: Beatles Trivia Day

What do Jesus Christ, San Francisco, and a Russian spacecraft have in common? The answer is: The Beatles, who released their last album, Let It Be, in the United States on this date in 1970.

The story of this odd threesome begins with Jesus Christ’s Sermon on the Mount where he issued his Beatitudes (from Latin beatitudo for 'happiness'). These statements are found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and each begins with the word Blessed ( or Happy), as in "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the children of God."

San Francisco
Flash forward to the West Coast in the 1950s. A group of young writers and artists attempt to rattle the conventional cages of their elders. Through self-expression and social protest they make a name for themselves, and one of them, American writer Jack Kerouac, coins the term beat generation in 1952. As cited in Twentieth Century Words, Kerouac associated the word beat with beatitude: "Beat means beatitude, not beat up."

Five years later, the Russians shock the world with the launch of the first artificial earth satellite. They call their satellite Sputnik, meaning ‘traveling companion.’ When news of the satellite’s launch on October 4, 1957 hits the newspapers, this Russian word is instantly absorbed into the English lexicon.

In 1958, San Francisco columnist Herb Caen blends the ‘beat generation’ with ‘Sputnik’ to create beatnik, a catchy term to describe young bohemians like Jack Kerouac.

Two years later across the Atlantic, a fledging group of musicians from Liverpool, England settle on the name Beatles. Despite John Lennon’s claim that the name came to him in a vision of a man riding on a flaming pie, it appears more likely that the name was influenced by one of John’s favorite bands, Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Looking for something catchy, they originally used Beetles, but no doubt the pun value of ‘beat’ got the better of them, influencing them to become the Beatles with an A.

Unlike Sputnik, the British band’s name did not become an instant household word. Their launch had to wait until 1963 when Beatlemania became first a British epidemic and later, in 1964, an American and worldwide pandemic (1).

In 1970, however, the world mourned as the Beatles came crashing to earth. John, Paul, George, and Ringo dissolved what was without a doubt the most popular, successful, and influential band of all time.

Even though decades have passed since the breakup of the Beatles, there is no waning of the passion for their music; for example, in the year 2000, 30 years after their breakup, the Beatles’ greatest hits CD Beatles 1 hit number one on the Billboard Album Charts.

For Beatles fans, the term Beatles trivia is a contradiction in terms. For them reading about and listening to the Beatles is anything but a trivial pursuit. For the Beatle fan, knowledge about the Beatles is just as important as any other category of E.D. Hirsh’s Dictionary of Cultural Literacy.

The word trivia has an interesting history in its own right that relates to is roots. Originating from the Latin trivialis, it is made up of tri meaning three and via meaning roads. What do three roads have to do with the modern sense of ‘unimportant tidbits of information’? Where else than at the crossroads would common people meet to exchange weather reports, small talk, and gossip?

Today’s Challenge: Don’t Call It Trivia
See if you can answer the vital Beatles questions below.

1. What poet, read during his childhood, did John Lennon credit with his creative wordplay in such songs as "I Am the Walrus"?

2. What solo album by Paul McCartney got its title from John Lennon’s story about the vision that inspired the naming of the Beatles?

3. Although Let It Be was the last album release by the Beatles, it was not the last that they recorded; what was the last album they recorded together?

4. What Beatle catchphrase did Paul McCartney’s father object to because of its non-standard usage?

5. What is the name of the record label created by the Beatles that went to court to fight the dilution of its trademark against a computer company?

6. What Beatle song is the anthem for frustrated writers?

7. What was the title of the first book published by John Lennon in 1964?

8. Which Beatle said, "I am alive and well and concerned about the rumors of my death. But if I were dead, I would be the last to know"?

9. Which Beatle said, "I hardly ever alter anything because I'm selfish about what I write, or big-headed about it. Once I've written it, I like it. And the publisher sometimes says, 'Should we leave this out, or change that?' and I fight like mad, because once I've done it I like to keep it. But I always write it straight off. I might add things when I go over it before it's published, but I seldom take anything out. So it is spontaneous"?

10. What Beatles’ song and movie got its title from a Ringo Star malapropism?

Quote of the Day: Why tell me why did you not treat me right? Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight! -- from the Beatles’ song "I’m Looking Through You."

1. Lewis Carroll 2. Flaming Pie 3. Abbey Road 4. yeah, yeah, yeah 5. Apple Records 6. Paperback Writer 7. In His Own Write 8. Paul McCartney 9. John Lennon 10. A Hard Day's Night

1- Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

May 14: Native American Words Day

Today is the anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, the first English speaking settlement in the New World. Three ships arrived on May 14, 1607 at a wooded island island in the James River. Life was not easy for these English settlers, and they almost succumbed to the same fate as an earlier group of settlers at Roanoke. That group had landed off the coast of North Carolina in 1584 and by 1590 had vanished without a trace. The settlers at Jamestown were more lucky; in 1610 Lord De La Warr (Delaware) arrived in time to resupply the 35 remaining colonists (1, 2).

The natives peoples of what is now the United States spoke hundreds of different languages, and although English has never been declared the official language of the United States, it certainly has supplanted all native languages. There are, however, a few words from the native peoples that were adopted into English; most of these were adopted in the period of early colonization by settlers like those at Jamestown. For the most part these words are from the Algonquian dialects and reflect Indian names for plants and animals or unique artifacts and social practices of Indian life.

The word moose is one example to describe the very large northern deer. Another example is succotash which originates from the Algonquian word meaning 'cooked corn kernels.'

Today's Challenge: New World Words

Below are examples of native words in their original spellings. See if you can detect the modern English equivalents of these words.

1. isquoutersquash
2. ocheck
3. arathkon
4. segakw
5. pakan
6. pawcohiccora
7. aposum
8. mohkussin (3)

Quote of the Day: Power is sweet, it is a drug, the desire for which increases with habit. --Bertrand Russell

Answers: 1. squash 2. woodchuck 3. Raccoon 4. skunk 5. pecan 6. hickory 7. opossum 8. moccasin

1 - McCrum, Robert, William Cran, and Robert MacNeil. The Story of English. New York: Penguin Books, 1987.

2 - Flavell, Linda and Roger. The Chronology of Words and Phrases. London: Kyle Cathie Limited, 1999.

3 - Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language (Reader's Digest). Pleasantville: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1983.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

May 13 "Brand" New Words Day

Today is the anniversary of a registered trade mark that gave the world an alternative to zippers and buttons: Velcro.

One man’s annoyance can be another man’s eureka. When Swiss inventor George de Mestral returned with his dog from a walk, he noticed that he and his dog were covered with cockleburrs. Instead of being annoyed, he studied the burrs under a microscope where he noted their hook-like shape.

Engineering artificial fasteners that replicated the ones he found in nature took a few years, but Mestral was eventually successful in creating his easy to use hook and loop fastener. He registered his invention in 1958. For the name of his product, he blended two French terms: "vel" from velvet and "cro" from crochet (little hook).

Today the Velcro Industries is a successful international company, but like other successful companies, Velcro is challenged by a paradox: they want people to use their trademarked name as much as possible to promote their product; however, because the name is used so often and the product is so successful and so ubiquitous, the name of the product becomes a generic, non-capitalized word. As a result, companies like Velcro are in a constant battle to protect their trademark and in turn their bottom line. The lines are blurred even more when a word, like Google, becomes used so often that it becomes more than just a noun. No doubt the legal department at Google and the neologism department at the American Heritage Dictionary are both busy tracing the growth and development of this word.

The following statement from the Velcro website is an example of the kinds of reminders and warnings that companies put out to protect their brand names:

The goodwill and integrity which are reflective of the Velcro companies are ingrained in the VELCRO® trademark. This makes the trademark a very valuable asset to the company and to our customers who purchase the VELCRO® brand fasteners.

Many terms that we all use frequently in our everyday language were once trademarks …. All of these terms lost their distinction as trademarks because their owners allowed them to be misused by the public. That's why the Velcro companies pay close attention to how the VELCRO® trademark is used.

As stated by the Velcro website, there are several brand names that were once registered trademarks, but today they have lost their capital letter and entered the dictionary and the English lexicon as generic terms, such as cellophane, excalator, and the yo-yo.

Today's Challenge: The Law and the Language
See if you can identify which of the words below are registered trademarks and which are generic trademarks. All of the words below are from Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language, and all are capitalized to make your choice a little harder.

1. Q-Tips
2. Thermos
3. Nylon

4. Vaseline
5. Xerox
6. Zipper
7. Raisin Bran
8. Kool-Aid
9. Formica
10. Chap Stick (1)

Quote of the Day: There is nothing either good nor bad but thinking makes it so. William Shakespeare.

Answers: The generic terms are: 2. thermos 3. nylon 6. zipper 7. raisin bran

1 - Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language (Reader's Digest). Pleasantville: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1983.

Friday, May 12, 2006

May 12 Limerick Day

The English language is a maze
You can get lost in it for days
Exploring the mother tongue
Can be lots of fun
So, read today's post on Word Daze

Today is the birthday of Edward Lear, born in 1812 in London, England. Before he was a poet, he was a painter, illustrating birds for such noteworthy clients as Charles Darwin.

In 1832, while on an assignment to paint animals in the Earl of Darby's private zoo, Lear began composing humorous verse for the Earl's grandchildren. He put his poems together in his Book of Nonsense, published in 1846.

Lear is remembered for his famous poem "The Owl and the Pussycat," but his most noteworthy contribution to the literary world is the limerick.

Here are some limericks from Book of Nonsense.

There was an Old Man with a beard,
Who said, "It is just as I feared!--
Two Owls and a Hen,
Four Larks and a Wren,
Have all built their nests in my beard!"

There was an Old Man in a tree,
Who was horribly bored by a Bee;
When they said, "Does it buzz?"
He replied, "Yes, it does! "
It's a regular brute of a Bee!"

There was a Young Lady whose chin,
Resembled the point of a pin:
So she had it made sharp,
And purchased a harp,
And played several tunes with her chin.

The limerick is a universally popular verse form, popular with children as well as adults. Besides the fixed form of five lines, rhyming AABBA, the content of the Limerick is characteristically comical and nonsensical. The adult version frequently feature lewd content. One other common feature is the naming of a character and geographic location in the first line.

For more on Lear and the limerick see

Today's Challenge: Literary Limerick

On Limerick Day write lots of limericks. Write one as a love note and put it on the refrigerator or write it on your child's lunch sack. Write a limerick advertising a product that you think is worth buying. Write a limerick about your best friend, your pet, or your boss. Finally, select a favorite literary character and write a limerick about him or her.

Quote of the Day: One of the most responsible things you can do as an adult is become more of a child. --Wayne Dyer

Thursday, May 11, 2006

May 11: Classic Movie Lines Day

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) was founded on this day in 1927. The mission of this professional organization is the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures.

The AMPAS is best known for its annual ceremony the Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars. By the time of the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1928, movies had become a vital part of the culture.

Below are examples of movie-related words that entered the language as motion pictures evolved into a staple of modern life:

cinema (1909)

feature film (1911)

movie (1912)

talkie (1913)

movie house (1914)

movie theater (1915)

movie star (1914)

Hollywood (1926)

flick (1926)

Oscar (1936) (1)

In an essay entitle "Yadda Yadda Doo" from his book The Way We Talk Now, Geoffrey Nunberg compares the lifespan of movie lines to television catch phrases. According to Nunberg, television catch phrases come and go, like the shows from which they spawn. But movie lines have a longer life, and when they enter the language, they take on a life of their own; for example, "a lot of people use the line ‘We don’t need no stinkin’ badges,’ but not many of them could identify it as a quote, or actually a misquote, from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (2). Like dead metaphors, movie lines become imbedded in the cultural vocabulary of all of us.

Today’s Challenge: "We’ll Always Have the Movies."

The following classic movie lines are from the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 Movie Lines of All Time. See if you can identify the movie that goes with each line (3).

1. #11 What we've got here is failure to communicate.

2. #16 They call me Mister Tibbs!

3. #29 You can't handle the truth!

4. #32 Round up the usual suspects.

5. #50 Houston, we have a problem.

6. #64 Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!

7. #95 Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.

8. #100 I'm king of the world!

Quote of the Day: Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get. --Forrest Gump

Answers: 1. Cool Hand Luke 2. In the Head of the Night 3. A Few Good Men 4. Casablanca 5. Apollo 13 6. Dr. Strangelove 7. Dead Poets' Society 8. Titanic

1 Ayto, John. Twentieth Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press,1999.

2 Nunberg, Geoffrey. The Way We Talk Now. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.

3. American Film Institute

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

May 10: Words from Winston Churchill Day

On this day in 1940, Winston Churchill took the office of British Prime Minister, replacing Neville Chamberlain. On the same day Hitler began his Western offensive, storming into Holland and Belgium with 136 German divisions. By June 15, 1940, the Germans were in Paris, and the fate of the English speaking people and civilization itself was in the hands of Sir Winston Churchill.

Through his leadership, his optimistic voice, and, possibly most important, his words, Churchill helped the British to rally against the dark threat of Nazi Germany.

Three days after taking the helm of Prime Minister, Churchill entered the House of Commons to a lukewarm reception. In a brief speech, Churchill demonstrated the indomitable spirit that would continue to buoy the spirits of the British people as they faced the threat of Nazi domination.

Here is an excerpt from his address:

I say to the House as I said to ministers who have joined this government, I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many months of struggle and suffering.

You ask, what is our policy? I say it is to wage war by land, sea, and air. War with all our might and with all the strength God has given us, and to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.

You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word. It is victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terrors - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.

Let that be realized. No survival for the British Empire, no survival for all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge, the impulse of the ages, that mankind shall move forward toward his goal.

I take up my task in buoyancy and hope. I feel sure that our cause will not be suffered to fail among men. I feel entitled at this juncture, at this time, to claim the aid of all and to say, "Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength."

For the complete text of Churchill’s address, visit

According to Gretchen Ruben, author of Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, the Prime Minster’s greatest strength was his genius with words. Churchill clearly understood the power of words. He once said, "Words are the only things which last forever." In fact, his words live on; no other author, for example, has more quotations in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.

President John F. Kennedy said, "Churchill mobilized the English language and sent it into battle."

He had an expansive vocabulary, and although he sometimes used anachronistic words he knew the right time to employ the plain, short Anglo-Saxon lexicon; he said, "Short words are best, and the old words when short are best of all" (1).

In addition to his eloquence and excellent diction, Churchill also is memorable for his ability to use humor when appropriate. One classic example involves English grammar. When an editor objected to his ending a sentence with a preposition, Churchill wrote the following note in the margin: "This is the sort of pedantry up with which I will not put."

Today’s Challenge: Churchill: Man or Myth?
Read the following quotes below. Some are often attributed to Churchill, but in reality were never said by him. See if you can tell Churchill's true words from his false.

1. "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent."

2. "The only traditions of the Royal Navy are rum, sodomy and the lash."

3. "If you're not a liberal when you're 25, you have no heart. If you're not a conservative by the time you're 35, you have no brain."

4. "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few."

5. "All this contains much that is obviously true, and much that is relevant; unfortunately, what is obviously true is not relevant, and what is relevant is not obviously true."

6. "Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.''

7. "We shall fight on the beaches. We shall fight on the landing grounds. We shall fight in the fields, and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender!"

8. Lady Astor: "Winston, if I were your wife I'd put poison in your coffee."
Winston: "Nancy, if I were your husband I'd drink it."

Quote of the Day: A speech is like a symphony. It may have three movements but must have one dominant melody. –Winston Churchill

1. From a speech Churchill gave on March 5, 1946 Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri.
2. Not Churchill. Said by Churchill's assistant, Anthony Montague-Browne.
3. Not Churchill
4. Speech made in the House of Commons as the Battle Britain peaked on August 20, 1940.
5. Not Churchill
6. Churchill gave this extremely short speech at his old school, Harrow on October 29, 1941.
7. Churchill’s Speech about Dunkirk given in House of Commons June 4, 1940.
8. Vintage Winston Churchill

1 - Rubin, Gretchen. Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill. New York: Random House, 2003.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

May 9: Turn Off the TV Day

Today is the anniversary of a memorable speech by Newton Minow, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to the National Association of Broadcasters. The year was 1961, and Newton did not have many good things to say about commercial television. His speech, where he called television "a vast wasteland," sparked a national debate about the quality, or lack there of, of television programming.

Since Minow’s speech, television has been called the idiot box and the boob tube. Television viewers have become couch potatoes (1979), and the number of channels has grown to more than 500, but "nothing is on."

Here's an excerpt from Minow's indictment:

But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit and loss sheet or rating book to distract you -- and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland.

You will see a procession of game shows, violence, audience participation shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And, endlessly, commercials -- many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you will see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, try it.

To see the entire speech go to:

While Minow’s phrase "a vast wasteland" caught on, his speech certainly did not discourage the growth of television sets in American homes. In an age of reality television, satellite television, and 24-hour sports and cable new stations, television is more popular than ever.

One question that has been asked by educators since the advent of commercial television is: What is the relationship between television viewing and reading? One particularly interesting answer to this question was given by Norman Mailer in the January 23, 2005 edition of Parade Magazine. In the article Mailer says that the one thing that he would do to change America for the better would be to get rid of television commercials. Mailer argues that the constant interruptions of commercials disrupt our children’s ability to read effectively by denying them something that is necessary for reading: concentration.

Here is an excerpt from Mailer’s Parade essay:

Television is seen as the culprit, since the ability to read well is directly related to one’s ability to learn. If it is universally understood that the power to concentrate while reading is the royal road to knowledge, what may not be perceived as clearly is how much concentration itself is a species of psychic strength. It can be developed or it can go soft in much the manner that body muscle can be built up or allowed to go slack. The development of physical ability is in direct relation to use. Reading offers its analogy. When children become interested in an activity, their concentration is firm—until it is interrupted. Sixty years ago, children would read for hours. Their powers of concentration developed as naturally as breathing. Good readers became very good readers, even as men and women who go in for weight-lifting will bulk up. The connection between loving to read and doing well in school was no mystery to most students . . . .
On the major networks, the amount of time given to commercials and other promotional messages increased by 36 percent from 1991 to 2003. Each of the four major networks now offers 52 minutes of commercials in the three hours from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. every day. It is equal to saying that every seven, 10 or 12 minutes, our attention to what is happening on the tube is cut into by a commercial. It is as bad for most children’s shows. Soon enough, children develop a fail-safe. Since the child knows that any interesting story will soon be amputated by a kaleidoscope of toys, food, dolls, clowns, new colors and the clutter of six or seven wholly different products all following one another in 10-, 20- and 30-second spots all the way through a three-minute break, the child also comes to recognize that concentration is not one’s friend but is treacherous. For soon enough, attention will be turned inside out. The need to get up and move can become a frantic if routine response for highly keyed children. Other kids, stupefied by the onslaught of a quick series of ads that have nothing to do with each other, suffer a dire spiritual product—stagnation. They sit on the couch in a stupor, they eat and drink, and alarms are sounded through the nation. Our children are becoming obese.

To see the complete text of Mailer's article go to:

Today’s Challenge: Trivial TV Tidbits
It should be noted that no one on the Word Daze staff has owned a television since 1992. In fact nowhere in the palatial offices of Word Daze Plaza is there anything resembling an idiot box. Try your hand at the questions below, and congratulate yourself if you get none of them correct.

1. What word uttered repeatedly by Homer Simpson was included in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2001?

2. Who was on the cover of the first edition of TV Guide, published on April 3, 1953?

3. What is the most watched TV episode of all time?

4. What TV Theme song hit number one on the Billboard charts in 1976?

5. "I’ll see you all in the cafeteria." Is the final line of what TV series?

6. What country watches the most TV?

7. What was the first image shown on television?

8. What was the first TV series to broadcast a rerun?

9. What television series features a boat named after Newton Minow?

Quote of the Day: Television is a new medium. It's called a medium because nothing is well-done. --Fred Allen

Grobman, Paul. Vital Statistics: An Amazing Compendium of Factoids, Minutiae, and Random Bits of Wisdom. New York: Plume Books, 2005.

Answers: 1. "Doh" 2. Desi Arnez, Jr. 3. MASH 4. Welcome Back, Kotter 5. Seinfled 6. Japan (an average of 4 hours, 29 minutes) 7. A statue of Felix the Cat 8. Dick Tracy 9. Gilligan's Island (the S.S. Minow)

Monday, May 08, 2006

May 8: Words from World War II Day

Today is the anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. The celebration of the victory over the Nazi war machine took place all over the United States, England, and the formerly occupied nations of Europe. General Dwight Eisenhower signed the final documents of Germany’s unconditional surrender on the evening of May 7, and at that time declared that May 8 would be celebrated as the official V-E Day. In the USSR, a few pockets of German resistance remained, delaying the Russian celebrations until May 9 (1).

Someone once said: "A language is a dialect with an army and a navy." When the survivors of wars return from the battlefield, they bring with them military jargon and foreign expressions, as in Vietnam (see Word Daze March 29) and World War I (see Word Daze April 6). Probably more than any war though, World War II made a major dent in the English Lexicon. Below are examples of words from World War II from Christine Ammer’s book Fighting Words (2):

day of infamy

Today’s Challenge: Combative Compounds
The ten definitions below are for two-word expressions from World War II, according to Christine Ammer’s book Fighting Words (2). Given the definition, see if you can come up with the term:

1. Trivial, petty

2. Began to be used as verb in World War II, meaning to rig up a hidden hazard.

3. A group, often consisting of experts, that is formed to investigate or solve a particular problem.

4. This practice began in World War II, a period of shortages and rationing.

5. The termination of a romantic relationship.

6. Replaced shell shock from World War I to describe a disabling psychiatric disorder that results from the stress of active combat.

7. A routine trip.

8. Members of Hitler’s Nazi Party.

9. A pathetically inept person.

10. Exaggerated flattery used to cover up some real issue.

Quote of the Day: Sometime they'll give a war and nobody will show. --Carl Sandburg

1 -

2- Ammer, Christine. Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers. New York: Paragon House, 1989.

1. mickey mouse 2. booby trap 3. task force 4. car pool 5. dear John 6. battle fatigue 7. milk run 8. brown shirts 9. sad sack 10. snow job

Sunday, May 07, 2006

May 7: Dramatic Monologue Day

Today is the birthday of poet Robert Browning. Born in Camberwell, England in 1812, Browning was exposed to books at a young age. His father owned a collection of some 6,000 rare volumes, and Browning learned to share his father's passion for literature, reading books in Greek, Hebrew, Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish.

Browning wrote both poetry and drama, and his most influential innovation, the dramatic monologue, combined both. While some might argue that Browning pioneered the form, there is no doubt that he elevated it to such a point that the name Browning has become synonymous with dramatic monologues, like "My Last Duchess."

For more on Robert Browning visit

The dramatic monologue is characterized as a poem with a single speaker with an implied listener. A specific dramatic situation is important in a dramatic monologue, as well as a tone that captures an authentic, conversational voice. In the course of the monologue, the reader should gain insights into the character of the speaker. For a long example, see T.S. Eliots' "Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." Here's a short example by Randall Jarrell:

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

Today's Challenge:

Try your hand at writing your own dramatic monologue. You can try to write it in verse if you want, but more important is to try to capture the authentic voice of your narrator. In a dramatic monologue you can take on the voice of ANYONE, or anything, you desire. In other words you take on a persona, a mask, and use your poetic license to channel the voice of whomever you wish.

Before you begin writing, you'll need four things:

1. A dramatic situation
2. A specific character/narrator
3. An attitude the speaker has toward the situation
4. A listener or receiver of the monologue

Before you commit, do some brainstorming on possible combinations of the four elements. You can go for comedy or tragedy -- a really good dramatic monologue might have elements of both.

Here are some examples:

1. An angry teacher, complaining to her husband about her students' lack of enthusiasm.
2. A teenager pleading with his parents to allow him to pierce his tongue.
3. A desperate elderly salesman trying to persuade his boss not to fire him.
4. An enthusiastic teenager trying to persuade her grandmother to get an iPod.
5. A shocked postal worker calling the police to report a UFO sighting.
6. A concerned father advising his son on how to approach the challenges of life.

Below is another example based on #6, with apologies to Rudyard Kipling:


If you can keep your head about you when everybody's losing theirs
Step up to the starting line, and stare down your fears
Be ready for the gun as you start the race
Get out at a good strong pace

Don't let the pack box you in.
Run your own race to win.

Whether you win or lose the race my son,
It matters more how your race is run

Will you run your race to win?
And when your fall down will pick yourself back up again?
You gotta make your own breaks in this human race
Three fingers pointing back in your face

Fill each minute with sixty seconds run.
You can't stop the sun, but you can make him run.

Triumph and disaster are two imposters just the same,
Don't spend your time looking for someone to blame.
Because the rain comes down and the way gets hard,
And it seems like you haven't gotten very far
Push beyond the pain
Through the mud and rain

Whether you win or lose the race my son
It matters more how your race is run

Try to see the world in your neighbor's shoes
And whether you win or you lose
You're not the only one who has a race to run
Do all you can to lend a helping hand
Pray to God each day
That He'll light your way

Whether you win or lose the race my son
It matters more how your race is run

Brian Backman (2006)

Quote of the Day: Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp - or what's a heaven for? --Robert Browning

Saturday, May 06, 2006

May 6: Blended Word Day

Today is the anniversary of the opening of the Chunnel, the tunnel that runs under the English Channel connecting France and England. In 1994, the 31 mile Chunnel was formally opened in a ribbon cutting ceremony by France's President Mitterrand and the Queen of England.

It took eight years to complete the Chunnel, but its name is consistent with a linguistic phenomenon that raged throughout the 20th century, and it doesn't look like there is a light at the end of the tunnel this century. The phenomenon is blending words, as in taking two words: channel and tunnel, and blending them into a single word: Chunnel.

It's appropriate that on the anniversary of the completion of the Chunnel that we have both an English and a French term to describe this word-merging phenomenon. Blend is the English term and portmanteau is the French equivalent. Portmanteau comes to us from the English poet Lewis Carroll who used the portmanteau -- a suitcase with two compartments that folds into one -- as a metaphor to describe the word blending that happens in the poem "Jabberwocky." Examples from the poem are chortle (chuckle + snort) and galumph (gallop + triumph). The popularity of Carroll's work not only added these new words to the English lexicon, it also seems to have encouraged others to try their hand at word blending (1).

In his book A Bawdy Language, Howard Richler traces the history of various blended words that that preceeded and followed Carroll's Jabberwocky, which was published in Through the Looking Glass in 1871.

1823 anecdotage - The tendancy for elderly people to tell stories, from anecdote + dotage.

1843 squirl - Handwriting with great flourishes, from squiggle + whirl.

1889 electrocute - Death by electricity, from electricity + execute.

1896 brunch - breakfast + lunch.

1925 motel - motor + hotel (2).

Blended words should not be confused with compound words, another popular method of adapting old words to create new ones. Unlike compound words, the two words that come together don't just latch onto each other; instead, at least one of the words, and often both, must lose some of themselves in the merger, as in the following more contemporary examples:

Reagonomics - Ronald Reagan + economics

Spanglish - Spanish + English

motorcade - motor + cavalcade

telecast - television + broadcast

tangelo - tangerine + pomelo

moped - motor + pedestrian

hazmat - hazardous + material

agribuiness - agriculture + business

blog - web + log

The Internet and technology are probably the most prolific source of new word blends these days. One interesting example is the term blook, which combines book with blog. USA Today featured an article on blooks on April 3, 2006, documenting the phenomenon of popular blogs morphing into books. The appropriate new word: blooks.

Today's Challenge: Grab Your Blender

In the tradition of Lewis Carroll, try your own hand at coining some new blended words today. Take two existing words and blend them into something new. Include a definition that makes the logical connection between the two words.

Quote of the Day: Wisdom will never be noticed since it always resides in order, calmness, harmony and peace. --Eliphas Levi

1 - Nunberg, Geoffrey. The Way We Talk Now. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001.

2 - Richler, Howard. A Bawdy Language: How a Second-Rate Language Slept Its Way to the Top. Toronto: Stoddart Publishing, 1999.