Thursday, August 31, 2006

September 1: Author Rejection Day

Today is the birthday of Robert M. Pirsig, the author of the philosophical novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. He was born in Minneapolis in 1928.

From 1958 to 1960 he taught English at Montana State College and the University of Illinois, but in 1961 to 1963 he battled mental illness, spending time in mental institutions in Chicago and Minneapolis and undergoing Electro-Convulsive Shock Therapy (1).

In July 1968 Pirsig took a motorcycle trip from Minnesota to San Francisco with his 11-year-old son Chris. It's this trip that forms that basis of the novel's plot. From the very beginning of the novel the philosophical voice of the unnamed narrator captivates the reader:

I can see by my watch, without taking my hand from the left grip of the cycle, that it is eight-thirty in the morning. The wind, even at sixty miles an hour, is warm and humid. When it's this hot and muggy at eight-thirty, I'm wondering what it's going to be like in the afternoon.
In the wind are pungent odors from the marshes by the road. We are in an area of the Central Plains filled with thousands of duck hunting sloughs, heading northwest from Minneapolis toward the Dakotas. This highway is an old concrete two-laner that hasn't had much traffic since a four-laner went in parallel to it several years ago. When we pass a marsh the air suddenly becomes cooler. Then, when we are past, it suddenly warms up again.

I'm happy to be riding back into this country. It is a kind of nowhere, famous for nothing at all and has an appeal because of just that. Tensions disappear along old roads like this. We bump along the beat-up concrete between the cattails and stretches of meadow and then more cattails and marsh grass. Here and there is a stretch of open water and if you look closely you can see wild ducks at the edge of the cattails. And turtles. -- There's a red-winged blackbird.
I whack Chris's knee and point to it.

"What!" he hollers.


He says something I don't hear."What?" I holler back.

He grabs the back of my helmet and hollers up, "I've seen lots of those, Dad!"
"Oh!" I holler back. Then I nod. At age eleven you don't get very impressed with red-winged blackbirds . . . .

You see things vacationing on a motorcycle in a way that is completely different from any other. In a car you're always in a compartment, and because you're used to it you don't realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You're a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.

Pirsing wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in 1968 but it was not published until 1974. In fact, he holds the worlds record for rejections: 121 publishing houses rejected the book before William Morrow and Company agreed to publish it. Since its publication, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has achieved cult status and sold more than 4 million copies.

Here are some other examples of authors who did not let publisher rejections discourage them:

-Richard Bach's book Jonathan Livingston Seagull was rejected by 26 publishers before it was finally accepted. It sold 30 million copies worldwide.

-J.K. Rowling received 14 rejections for her first Harry Potter book.

-Stephen King received more than 30 rejections for his first novel Carrie.

-Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time received over 30 rejections.

Today's Challenge: Authors' Last Laughs
The book titles and authors below all received rejection slips along with uncomplimentary words about their writing. See if you can match up the rejection with the author/title.

Carrie by Stephen King

The Diary of Anne Frank

Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller

Crash by J G Ballard

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Lust for Life by Irving Stone

1. ‘The author of this book is beyond psychiatric help.'

2. ‘The girl doesn’t, it seems to me, have a special perception or feeling which would lift that book above the “curiosity” level.’

3. ‘ A long, dull novel about an artist.’

4. 'We are not interested in science fiction which deals with negative utopias. They do not sell.'

5. ‘I haven’t really the foggiest idea about what the man is trying to say… Apparently the author intends it to be funny – possibly even satire – but it is really not funny on any intellectual level … From your long publishing experience you will know that it is less disastrous to turn down a work of genius than to turn down talented mediocrities.’

6. ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA.’

1. Crash by J G Ballard
2. The Diary of Anne Frank
3. Lust for Life by Irving Stone
4. Carrie by Stephen King
5. Catch – 22 by Joseph Heller
6. Animal Farm by George Orwell

Quote of the Day: Metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a thirty thousand page menu, and no food. --Robert Pirsig

1- This Day in History - September 1 - Literary - The History Channel

2 - Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Online version

3- Rotten Rejections

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

August 31: Short Letter Day

Today is the anniversary of a short letter that became the opening salvo in a chain of events that changed television history. The letter, dated August 31, 1988, was sent to NBC President Brandon Tartikoff by George Shapiro, agent for Jerry Seinfeld. This brief letter of recommendation led to a meeting between Seinfeld and NBC executives, and an eventual pilot called The Seinfeld Chronicles. That pilot then became one of television's most successful sitcoms Seinfeld running from 1990 to 1998.

With the popularity and longevity of Seinfeld, you might think success was assured for Jerry Seinfeld, but few people know that he was dropped from an earlier sitcom Benson in 1980 after appearing in three episodes (1).

Looking back at the text of the Shapiro's letter -- only three sentences long -- it's hard to believe it was the spark that set of a powder keg of comedy that dominated American TV ratings from nearly ten years.

Call me a crazy guy, but I feel that Jerry Seinfeld will soon be doing a series on NBC, and I thought you'd like to see this article from the current issue of People Magazine.

Jerry will be appearing in concert in New York City at Town Hall on Saturday, September 10. If any of you will be in New York at that time I'll be happy to arrange tickets for you and your guests.

When the show ended in 1998, it was still at the top of the ratings, and Jerry Seinfeld made it into The Guinness Book of World Records under the category "Most Money Refused" when he turned down an offer of $5 million dollars per episode to continue the show. In addition to ratings success, the sitcom also made an impact on American vernacular with catchphrases such as "Yada, Yada, Yada."

Seinfeld's Agent George Shapiro, who later became on of the show's executive producers, had the gift for writing a short but strong letter of recommendation for his client (2).

Unlike an email, a short letter is likely to get the attention of your audience. If you want something done or you want an answer to a question, a short letter is a great way to guarentee a response. However, unlike the sitcom Sienfeld you can't write a letter about nothing; you need a specific subject and purpose for your letter. Below are four important guidelines for a successful letter.

The Four S's of Business Letters:

Keep it Short
Cut needless words, needless information, stale phrases, and redundant statements.

Keep it Simple
Use familiar words, short sentences and short paragraphs. Keep it simple, and use a conversational style.

Keep it Strong
Answer the reader's question in the first paragraph, and explain why. Use concrete words and examples, and stick to the subject.

Keep it Sincere
Answer promptly, be friendly in tone, and try to write as if you were talking to your reader (3).

Today's Challenge: Short, Simple, Strong, and Sincere Snail Mail

Write a short letter to a specific person about a specific question or request. For an example of a letter and the seven things you should include in the format, see Word Daze August 3.

Quote of the Day: The second button literally makes or breaks the shirt. Look at it. It's too high. It's in no-man's land. You look like you live with your mother. --First line from the first episode of Seinfeld and the last line from the last episode. In both cases Jerry is speaking to George.

1- Jerry Seinfeld.

2 - Grunwald, Lisa and Stephan J. Adler (Editors). Letters of the Century: America 1900-1999. New York: The Dial Press, 1999.

3. Business Letter Writing - Business Letter Writing Checklist

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

August 30: Top Ten Day

Today is the anniversary of the The Late Show with David Letterman which premiered on CBS on August 30, 1993. Letterman had previously spent eleven years as the host of Late Night with David Letterman, but after he was passed over as the host of the The Tonight Show when Johnny Carson retired, he signed a multi-million dollar deal to move to CBS. This put him in direct competition with Jay Leno, who took over for Johnny on The Tonight Show.

Many aspects of Letterman's show follow the basic pattern of the late night talkshow genre, established and perfected by Johnny Carson. Letterman has added a few new wrinkles of his own that have become staples of his show and focus points for his fans.

One of Letterman's trademarks is "found comedy": people, places, and things found on the streets of the city that become the subject of Letterman's ironic wit. These consist of actual items found in the newspaper, viewer mail, "stupid pet and human tricks" performed on the show, esoteric videos, or person on the street interviews (1).

But perhaps Letterman's best know feature is his nightly Top Ten List. Based on a topic from current events, each list counts down ten hilariously warped responses. The very first list, for example, featured TOP TEN WORDS THAT RHYME WITH "PEAS":

10. Heats
9. Rice
8. Moss
7. Ties
6. Needs
5. Lens
4. Ice
3. Nurse
2. Leaks
1. Meats

While this was probably not the funniest top ten list, it is interesting to note that the Top Ten began on a poetic note.

Today's Challenge: TOP TEN TOP TENS
Below are some of the list topics from David Letterman's first book of Top Ten Lists. Select one of the topics and try your hand at comedy writing. Visit the Top Ten List Archive for inspiration. You can also create your own topic and list, or visit The CBS Lateshow with David Letterman website and enter the weekly Top Ten List Contest.

1. Top Ten Ways Life Would Be Better If Dogs Ran The World
2. Top Ten Ways To Pronounce "Bologna"
3. Top Ten Unsafe Toys for Christmas
4. Top Ten Prom Themes
5. Top Ten Questions Science Cannot Answer
6. Top Ten Things We As Americans Can Be Proud Of
7. Top Ten Interview Questions Asked Miss America Contestants
8. Top Ten Reasons To Vote
9. Top Ten Reasons Why TV Is Better Than Books
10. Top Ten Rejected Provisions Of The U.S. Constituions

Quote of the Day: Based on what you know about him in history books, what do you think Abraham Lincoln would be doing if he were alive today?
1) Writing his memoirs of the Civil War.
2) Advising the President.
3) Desperately clawing at the inside of his coffin.
--David Letterman


2 - Letterman, David and the "Late Night with David Letterman Writers. The Late Night With David Letterman Book of Top Ten Lists. New York: Pocket Books, 1990.

August 29: Akeelah and the Bee Day

Today marks the DVD release of the film Akeelah and the Bee. This 2006 film is a drama about 11 year-old Akeelah Anderson (Keke Palmer) who overcomes personal struggles to compete in the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Directed by Doug Atchison, the film stars Laurence Fishburn as Dr. Larabee, an English professor who coaches Akeelah.

The film is an off-shoot of the 1999 Oscar-nominated documentary and surprise hit Spellbound, which profiled a number of the competitors in the National Spelling Bee. After the success of Spellbound, the Scripps National Spelling Bee was broadcast on network television for the first time in May 2005. The growing popularity of spelling has even entered the adult world with spelling competitions in bars around the country and even a senior national spelling bee sponsored by the AARP.

In addition, in 2005 the film Bee Season was released, and spelling even hit Broadway with the 2005 musical The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Today's Challenge: Prize Winning Bees
The eight words below are the winning words for the Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee for the years 1998-2005. See if you can match up each word with its definition.









1. 2005: grace note: an embellishing note usually written in smaller size.

2. 2004: of rocks, deposits, etc.; found where they and their constituents were formed.

3. 2003: Indifferent; apathetic.

4. 2002: prevision: seeing ahead; knowing in advance; foreseeing.

5. 2001: (medicine) something that can be used as a substitute (especially any medicine that may be taken in place of another.

6. 2000: a move or step or maneuver in political or diplomatic affairs.

7. 1999: pathologically excessive (and often incoherent) talking

8. 1998: a painter who cares for and studies light and shade rather than color (2, 3).

Quote of the Day: They spell it Vinci and pronounce it Vinchy; foreigners always spell better than they pronounce. --Mark Twain

Answers: 1. apoggiatura 2. autochthonous 3. pococurante 4. prospicience 5. succedaneum 6. demarche 7 logorrhea 8. chiaroscurist

1 -

2 -

3 -

Sunday, August 27, 2006

August 28: Anaphora Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Matthew 3:3-6 King James Version)

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

One hundred years later . . .

We refuse to believe . . .

Now is the time . . .

With this faith . . .

I have a dream . . .

Let freedom ring . . . (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have a dream today.

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

I have a dream today.

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

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

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

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

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

4. Dancing is just ________, ________, _______.

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

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

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

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

1 - Nammour, Chris. The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Online Newshour Posted: 8/27/03

2 - King, Martin Luther, Jr. "I Have a Dream"

3 -

Saturday, August 26, 2006

August 27: New Words from the Workplace Day

On this date in 1984 a new word appeared in an article entitled "The New Baby Boom" published in the Washington Post. The word was flexplace, meaning a company policy that enables employees to work either at the office or from home (1).

Flexplace is just one example of the many neologisms, new words, that emerged and continue to emerge from the constantly evolving workplace

Flexplace is the offspring of an earlier neologism flextime (also flexitime) which appeared in print in 1972 to describe working conditions in which employees could vary their starting and finishing times as long as they worked the contracted number of hours in a week.

As early as 1974 Economist magazine forcasted the technological explosion that would allow office staff to work from home. The word used here was telecommute:

As there is no logical reason why the cost of telecommunications should vary with distance, quite a lot of people by the late 1980s will telecommute daily to their London offices while living on a Pacific island if they want (2).

The radical changes in the workplace over the last thirty years have spawned all manner of neologisms. A prime source for tracking these changes is the book and website called Word Spy. Founded by Paul McFedries, Word Spy searches out new words and phrases that have appeared in published sources multiple times. These neologisms are candidates for the dictionary. They won't all make it; nevertheless, these linguistic new kids on the block have their moment in the sun, used by people trying to communicate with each other in clear and concise ways about emerging ideas and new trends.

In the book Word Spy, McFedries uses an excellent analogy to describe the volatile nature of the English language:

I view language not a solid mountain to be admired from afar, but rather an active volcano to be studied up close. This volcano is constantly spewing out new words and phrases; some of them are mere ash and smoke that are blown away by the winds; others are linguistic lava that slides down the volcano and eventually hardens as a permanent part of the language. But although volcanoes have periods of intense activity followed by periods of inactivity, word creation never stops (3).

Today's Challenge: Words at Work
The 8 words below are workplace neologisms being watched by Word Spy. See if you can match up the term with its definition.

modem cowboy/cowgirl

hot desk

corporate concierge


touchdown center

virtual manager

to office


1. noun. An employee whose job entails performing the personal tasks—such as making dinner reservations and taking in dry cleaning—of other employees who have no time to do these things themselves.

2. verb. To perform office-related tasks, such as photocopying and faxing.

3. present participle. An office setup in which mobile workers do not have permanent desks or cubicles and so must reserve a workspace when they come into the office.

4. noun. A person who lives and works out of a home located in the country.

5. noun. A desk that is not assigned to a particular employee, but rather is available for use and can be reserved in advance by a mobile worker whenever they are required to be in the office.

6. noun. A facility where business travelers can make calls, plug in their notebook computers, and connect to the Internet.

7. present participle. Designing a building or area to make it more attractive to and compatible with the people who use it.

8. noun A manager who directs employees from a remote location such as home or a central office.

Quote of the Day: The rapidity with which new verbs are made in the United States is really quite amazing. Two days after the first regulations of the Food Administration were announced, to hooverize appeared spontaneously in scores of newspapers, and a week later it was employed without any visible sense of its novelty in the debates of Congress. —H. L. Mencken

Answers: 1. corporate concierge 2. to office 3. hotelling 4. modem cowboy/cowgirl 5. hot desk
6. touchdown center 7. placemaking 8. virtual manager


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

3. Paul McFedries. Word Spy: The Word Lover's Guide to Modern Culture. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.

August 26: Women's Suffrage Day

Today is the anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Coming in the aftermath of World War I, women's suffrage was a result of the key role that women played in the war, their work in the factories and their active participation in the war effort. In September 1918, a speech by President Wilson revealed that he was behind the movement to give women the vote:

We have made partners of the women in this war. Shall we admit them only to a partnership of suffering and sacrifice and toil and not to a partnership of right?

In 1919 the House of Representatives passed a proposed amendment by a vote of 304 to 90. Then in June 1919, the U. S. Senate voted 56 to 25, sending the amendment to the states.

The fight for ratification was not easy. Thirty-six states had to vote yes before it became a full-fledged amendment, and there was substantial opposition to the amendment, especially in the South.

On August 18, 1920, in a close vote, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment. The 19th Amendment was then made official in Washington, D.C. on August 26, 1920:

Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Section 2: Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Today's Challenge: Puttin' It to the Man
The Online Writing Lab (OWL) of Purdue University has a number of guidelines for non-sexist language. One particularly sticky area is the generic use of MAN. For example, because many women deliver mail for the post office, using the term postman as a generic term for all workers is inappropriate; a better choice is postal worker or mail carrier. Given a number of terms below that contain the generic MAN, see if you can come up with a suitable alternative that is more inclusive.

1. mankind

2. man's achievements

3. man-made

4. the common man

5. man the stockroom

6. nine man-hours

7. businessman

8. fireman

9. steward or stewardess

10. congressman

Quote of the Day: Taught from infancy that beauty is woman's sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison. --Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)

Answers: 1. humanity, people, human beings 2. human achievements 3. synthetic, manufactured, machine-made 4. the average person, ordinary people 5. staff the stockroom 6. nine staff-hours 7. business executive 8. firefighter 9. flight attendant 10. congressional representative

1 -

2 -

Friday, August 25, 2006

August 26: Will Shortz Day

Today is the birthday of Will Shortz the crossword editor of The New York Times.

Shortz was born in 1952 in Indiana. He attended Indiana University, studying Enigmatology, the study of puzzles. To earn his degree, Shortz had to persuade his professors that puzzles were a legitimate course of study. Once he got the go ahead, he then designed his own curriculum. He successfully completed his degree in 1974 and is the only person in the world with a degree in the field.

He is the former editor of Games magazine and current director of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, which he founded in 1978. Shortz has been heard each week on National Public Radio stations since 1987, where he is known as the Puzzle-Master.

On June 16, 2006 a documentary called Wordplay profiles Shortz and his passion for crossword puzzles.

The following synopsis of the film is from the Wordplay movie site:

WORDPLAY focuses on the man most associated with crossword puzzles, New York Times puzzle editor and NPR puzzle-master Will Shortz. Director Patrick Creadon introduces us to this passionate hero, and to the inner workings of his brilliant and often hilarious contributors, including syndicated puzzle creator Merl Reagle.

Along the way, the film presents interviews with celebrity crossword puzzlers such as Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, Jon Stewart, Ken Burns, Mike Mussina and the Indigo Girls, who reveal their process, insight and the allure of the game. In addition to deconstructing this uniquely American institution, Wordplay takes us though the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament where almost five hundred competitors battled it out for the title “Crossword Champ” and showed their true colors along the way (1).

Today's Challenge: Crosswords Shortz-cuts
Below are definitions of words that commonly appear in crossword puzzles, but they are not necessarily common in everyday speech. Given the clues below, see if you can come up with the words.

1. 4 letters: A solo vocal piece with instrumental accompaniment, as in an opera.

2. 5 letters: The main trunk of the systemic arteries carrying blood from the left side of the heart to the arteries of all limbs and organs except the lungs.

3. 3 letters; A gradual decline or the outward flow of the tide.

4. 4 letters: A mild, yellow Dutch cheese, pressed into balls and usually covered with red wax.

5. 5 letters: Any of several large sea ducks especially of the genus Somateria of northern regions, having soft, commercially valuable down and predominantly black and white plumage in the male.

6. 3 letters: An indefinately long period of time; an age.

7. 4 letters: A fencing sword with a bowl-shaped guard and a long, narrow fluted blade that has no cutting edge or tapers to a blunted point.

8. 3 letters: A female sheep, especially when full grown.

9. 4 letters: A pitcher, especially a decorative one with a base, an oval body, and a flaring spout.

10. 4 letters: A very small amount; a bit. Jai-alai: A handball-like game of Spanish Basque origin.

11. 3 letters: Yen: A strong desire or inclination; a yearning or craving (1).

Quote of the Day: We try to do a Shakespeare play every year, because I feel that it provides the best tool for actor training. It's challenging in performance and language, physicality, analytical skills, and this particular one is along the serious lines, which seemed to fit the bill in terms of the kind of genre we wanted to explore. I call this the Sunday Times Crossword Puzzle for actors. --Jack Cirillo

Answers: 1. aria 2. aorta 3. ebb 4. edam 5. eider 6. eon 7. epee 8. ewe 9. ewer 10. iota 11. yen

1 -

Thursday, August 24, 2006

August 24: Weather Words Day

Today is the anniversary of an editorial by Charles Dudley Warner published in the Hartford Courant in 1897. The subject of the editorial is long forgotten, but one quote from the article lives on as a famous quote: Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

Although many credit Warner with the funny line, some argue that it really should be credited to Mark Twain, who was a friend and collaborator with Charles Dudley Warner. Ralph Keyes, the author of The Quote Verifier, comes down on Twain's side, saying that the wording of the editorial reveals that Warner got the quote from Twain: "A well known American writer said once that, while everybody talked about the weather, nobody seemed to do anything about it" (1).

Weather or not Twain said it (pun intended), there is no doubt that weather has rained down on the English lexicon. Many of our everyday idioms are weather related (see Word Daze March 23), and some of our common words have meteorological origins:

Astonish: Being struck by thunder would certainly be an astonishing experience. This word comes to English via the French estoner which in turn was derived from Latin ex = out + tonare = to thunder. Thus the literal translation of astonish is thunderstruck.

Window: This word comes from the Norse vindauge which comes from vindr = wind + auga = eye. Thus a window is an eye for the wind.

Lunatic: For centuries people have considered the effects of the moon on the weather and the varying moods of earthlings. Because the moon does affect ocean tides, it does have an indirect impact on the weather. There is less evidence, however, to prove the moon's relationship to the human psyche. Nevertheless the word lunatic is derived from Luna the moon goddess, who in myth would sometimes toy with the sanity of mortals.

Today's Challenge: Forcast Calls for Neologisms
The nouns below probably do not look familiar. They are all neologisms, new words that have appeared in print but that are not yet in the dictionary. See if you can match up the words with their definitions below. For more details on each word visit Word Spy, a site devoted to neologisms.


weather tourist

weather bomb


gigantic jet

tornado bait

space weather

season creep

1. Earlier spring weather and other gradual seasonal shifts, particularly those caused by global climate change.

2. A person whose vacation consists of tracking down and observing tornados, hurricanes, and other severe weather phenomena.

3. A massive and powerful storm that develops quickly and without warning.

4. One or more mobile homes or trailers, especially when located in or near a tornado zone.

5. A massive lightning flash that extends from the top of a thundercloud up to the ionosphere.

6. Electrical storms generated when the solar wind emitted by the sun interacts with the Earth's magnetic field. Also: space-weather.

7. A large chunk of ice that forms in the atmosphere and falls to the ground.

8. The study of past earthquakes, volcanoes, and other geological events that combines the analysis of both physical evidence and the myths and legends related to the events.

Quote of the Day: To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring. --George Santayana

Answers: 1. season creep 2. weather tourist 3. weather bomb 4. tornado bait 5. gigantic jet 6. space weather 7. megacryometeor 8. geomythology

1 - Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2006.

2 - Funk, Wilfred. Word Origins and Their Romantic Stories. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1950.

3 -

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

August 23: First Lady Day

Today is the anniversary of a letter sent by First Lady Dolley Madison (1768-1849) to her sister on August 23, 1814, the eve of the burning of the White House by invading British troops during the War of 1812. The letter is of particular interest to historians as it details First Lady Madison's efforts to save important presidential papers and a full-length portrait of George Washington, by artist Gilbert Stuart.

Some historians doubt the authenticity of the letter's date, saying is was probably written 20 years later; nevertheless, they do not dispute the facts of the letter, particularly First Lady Madison's intrepid efforts to save Washington's portrait:

Our kind friend, Mr. Carroll, has come to hasten my departure, and is in a very bad humor with me because I insist on waiting until the large picture of Gen. Washington is secured, and it requires to be unscrewed from the wall. This process was found too tedious for these perilous moments; I have ordered the frame to be broken, and the canvass taken out it is done, and the precious portrait placed in the hands of two gentlemen of New York, for safe keeping.

No original of the letter exists; however, the full text of the letter can be read at the web site of The White House Historical Association.

Dolley Madison first came to Washington, D.C., when her husband was appointed Secretary of State under President Jefferson. She gained a reputation as a charming hostess, frequently entertaining large gatherings at the White House. In fact, the night she left the White House, the dinner table was set for 40 guests.

The expansion of hostilities in the War of 1812 made it necessary for Dolley to finally flee the White House. The U.S. had declared war on Great Britain on June 18, 1812. The first years of the war were confined to Canada, the Great Lakes, and the high seas, but after Great Britain's victory over Napoleon in April 1814, the British focused more of their forces against the U.S. After defeating the Americans at Bladensburg, Maryland, the British advanced toward Washington.

The night after Madison had penned the letter to her sister and fled the White House to safety, the British arrived. After consuming the meal that had been prepared for American military and cabinet officers, the British soldiers looted and set fire to the White House.

The war continued for a few months until February 17, 1815 when the United States declared victory and ratified the Treaty of Ghent. President James Madison and his wife never lived in the White House again, but they did dedicate themselves to its reconstruction and the reconstruction of other governmental buildings destroyed in the war. in 1817 President James Monroe moved into a restored White House.

Today's Challenge: All the Presidents' Wives
Dolley Madison is not the only First Lady of note. Below are ten quotes by the wives of U.S. Presidents. See if you can identify the speaker of each quote.

1. Just say no to drugs!

2. I think, at a child's birth, if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to endow it with the most useful gift, that gift should be curiosity.

3. I may be the only mother in America who knows exactly what their child is up to all the time.

4. The power of a book lies in its power to turn a solitary act into a shared vision. As long as we have books, we are not alone.

5. The First Lady is an unpaid public servant elected by one person - her husband.

6. I have sacrificed everything in my life that I consider precious to advance the political career of my husband.

7. I'm not some Tammy Wynette standing by my man.

8. If you bungle raising your children, I don't think whatever else you do matters very much.

Quote of the Day: No one can make you feel inferior without your consent. --Eleanor Roosevelt

Answers: 1. Nancy Reagan 2. Eleanor Roosevelt 3. Barbara Bush 4. Laura Bush 5. Lady Bird Johnson 6. Pat Nixon 7. Hillary Clinton 8. Jackie Kennedy

1 - The White House Historical Association - Classroom

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

August 22: Ray Bradbury Day

Today is the birthday of Ray Bradbury, the American writer best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was born in Illinois in 1920 and later moved to Los Angeles where he graduated high school in 1938. After high school he educated himself, spending long hours roaming the stacks in the public library.

He began writing full time in 1943, publishing a number of short stories in various periodicals. His first success came in 1950 when he published The Martian Chronicles, a novel made up of a number of Bradbury's short stories about the human colonization of Mars (1).

In 1953, he published his most popular and critically acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451, a story about a dark future in which books are illegal, and instead of putting out fires, firemen answer calls to burn illegal caches of books. The main character is one of these firemen, Guy Montag. Instead of reading, the general public immerse themselves in pleasure, watching television screens that take up three of the four walls in their homes and listening to seashell radios that fit in their ears. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell's 1984, Guy Montag begins to question his job and the entire status quo of the society in which he lives. He begins to become curious about the books he's burning. However Montag's curiosity and his books betray him, and the firemen one day arrive to burn his home and his books.

Montag flees the city and comes upon a group of educated but homeless men who each memorize a great work of literature or philosophy. When the time comes to return to the city and rebuild civilization from the ashes of burned books, these men will be ready to play their part. Montag will join them with his book, Ecclesiastes.

Bradbury published over 30 books, almost 600 short stories, as well as a number of poems, essays, and plays. Along with Fahrenheit 451, his most read book, his short stores are published in numerous anthologies and textbooks.

Fahrenheit 451 began as a short story called "The Fireman" published in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine in 1950. Bradbury's publisher then asked him to expand the story into a novel in 1953. The first draft of the novel was completed in a typing room located in the basement of the University of California Library. The typewriter was on a timer connected to a change slot. For one dime Bradbury got thirty minutes of typing. (He spent $9.80 to complete the first draft).

When he wasn't typing furiously against the clock, Bradbury would go upstairs to explore the library:

There I strolled, lost in love, down the corridors, and through the stacks, touching books, pulling volumes out, turning pages, thrusting volumes back, drowning in all the good stuffs that are the essence of the libraries. What a place, don't you agree, to write a novel about burning books in the Future.

Bradbury had more than just a love affair with books. For him they are the backbone of civilization as illustrated by a statement he made in an interview published in the 50th Anniversary Edition of Fahrenheit 451:

Let's imagine there's an earthquake tomorrow in the average university town. If only two buildings remained intact at the end of the earthquake, what would they have to be in order to rebuild everything that had been lost? Number one would be the medical building, because you need that to help people survive, to heal injuries and sickness. The other building would be the library. All the other buildings are contained in that one. People could go into the library and get all the books they needed in literature or social economics or politics or engineering and take the books out on the lawn and sit down and read. Reading is at the center of our lives. The library is our brain. Without the library, you have no civilization (2).

It's no wonder that one of Bradbury's most famous quotes is: There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.

Today's Challenge: Words on Fire
Every love affair with books begins with a love affair with words. The list of 10 words below are all found in Fahrenheit 451. See if you can match each word with its correct definition.


1. To be full of things; to swarm.
2. Harsh, jarring sound; noise.
3. Related to the sense of touch.
4. Someone devoted to the study of literature.
5. The state of being forgotten.
6. Excess words.
7. Delicate, ornamental work made from twisted wire of gold or silver.
8. Rhythmic; expressive.
9. A bladed toll with a long bent handle, used for cutting or mowing.
10. Related to the sense of smell (3).

Quote of the Day: The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little. --Ray Bradbury

Answers: 1. teem 2. cacophony 3. tactile 4. litterateur 5. oblivion 6. verbiage 7. filigree 8. cadence 9. scythe 10. olfactory

1- About Ray Bradbury

2 - Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451. The 50th Anniversary Edition. New York: Random House.

3. Fahrenheit 451 Vocabulary List.

Monday, August 21, 2006

August 21: Hawaii 5-0 Day

Today is the anniversary of the date that Hawaii became the fiftieth state of the Union. President Dwight D. Eisenhower presided over a White House ceremony welcoming the Aloha State on August 21, 1959. The following is an excerpt from the New York Times story on Hawaii statehood:

Hawaii Becomes the 50th State; New Flag Shown

Washington, Aug. 21, 1959 -- Hawaii was officially proclaimed as the fiftieth state of the United States today by President Eisenhower at bipartisan White House ceremonies.

The Presidential action was followed immediately by the unfurling of a new fifty-star flag, which will not become official until next July 4. The thirteen alternate red and white stripes remain unchanged, but the stars on a field of blue are arranged in nine alternate staggered rows of six and five stars each.

The President welcomed the new state along with Alaska, admitted earlier this year. Not since 1912, when Arizona and New Mexico were added to the Union, had any new states been admitted (1).

Known as the Aloha State, Hawaii consists of a chain of 122 volcanic islands, but only seven are populated:

Hawaii (the Big Island)

Maui (the Valley Isle)

Lanai (the Pineapple Isle)

Molokai (the Friendly Isle)

Kauai (the Garden Isle)

Niihau (the Forbidden Island)

Oahu (the Gathering Place)

The state capital is Honolulu on the island of Oahu, which is also its largest city (2).

On the day when American reached 50, it seems appropriate to look at things that come in 50s. A search on the Internet yielded a variety of topics related to things that come in 50:

1. 50 States: A site that provides facts about all fifty states, such as state birds, state songs, and state flags.

2. 50 Things: A site started in 1998 that discusses things that are worth saving in the new millennium.

3. My50: Allows visitors to create a list of 50 things to achieve in their lifetime.

4. 50 Things Every Guy Should Know How to Do: Celebrity and Expert Advice on Living Large: A book on

5. Fifty Word Fiction: A blog devoted to stories that are only fifty words long.

6. 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover: The lyrics of the Paul Simon hit.

7. 50 Reasons to Oppose Flouridation: The Fluoride Action Network seeks to broaden public awareness about the toxicity of fluouride compounds.

8. Fifty Reasons that Golf is Better than Football and Baseball: A list by Rick Woodson of the Rochester Business Journal.

9. National Geographic Traveler's "50 Places of a Lifetime": A list of great places at a web site full of all kinds of different lists.

10. 50 Ways to Love Your Liver: Tips for maintaining a healthy liver.

Today's Challenges: Three for Fifty

Challenge 1: Write a 50-Word Abstract
Writing a summary to an exact word count is an excellent exercise in revision. Select a news or magazine article of interest, and write a summary of the article's key points in 48-50 words -- that's no less than 48 words and no more than 50! Don't try to go for an exact word count on your first draft; instead, wait until you have a draft to work with. Revise your draft so that every word counts. Use varied sentences and transitions to connect your ideas and sentences.

Challenge 2: List of 50
Look at the 10 links provided in this post that have to do with 50s. Use them for inspiration to create your own list of 50: 50 reasons, 50 ways, 50 best, 50 worst, 50 things, 50 anything.

Challenge 3: First 50
This is a creative writing exercise inspired by Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones. Pick a topic and start writing. Just write, don't judge, edit, or stop. Get at least 50 words down on paper before you look back at what you have written. You might do it with a friend or group of friends. Pick a common topic, write, and compare your compositions. If you are really ambitious, select one topic for each letter of the alphabet and create an Encyclopedia of Fifty-Word Topics. For more on this technique, see the First 50 Words website.

Quote of the Day: It is of interest to note that while some dolphins are reported to have learned English -- up to fifty words used in correct context - no human being has been reported to have learned dolphinese. --Carl Sagan

1 -

2 - Aloha State Day. Those Were the Days.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

August 20: Go Postal Day

On this date in 1986, Patrick Henry Sherrill, a disgruntled postal worker, opened fire on his co-workers at a post office in Oklahoma City. Before he committed suicide, he killed 14 people. This terrible incident along with a string of such incidents involving postal workers over the next seven years, led to coinage of the phrase to go postal.

The U.S. Postal Service was understandably unhappy when this usage began gaining currency in the language. In response to this public relations nightmare they created an independent commission to assess workplace violence in 1998. The Associated Press reported its findings:

The commission found that postal workers were no more likely to resort to workplace violence than workers in other jobs. It found 0.26 workplace homicides per 100,000 postal workers from 1992 to 1998. By comparison the rate was 2.10 per 100,000 for retail workers, 1.66 in public administration, 1.32 for transportation and 0.50 for private delivery services (2).

It seems that the final fifteen years of the millennium could be called "The Age of Rage." As chronicled in the book Word Spy: The Word Lover's Guide to Modern Culture, the phrase road rage, meaning "extreme anger exhibited by a motorist in response to perceived injustices committed by other drivers," began to appear in a few media stories in 1988. In the years that followed, the phrase became more and more common. The numbers below show the number of stories containing the phrase rode rage that appeared each year:

1988-1993: 4
1994: 10
1995: 200
1996: 900
1997: 2,000 (1)

Expressions relating to angry crazed behavior are nothing new in English. The expression to go berserk entered the language in the 19th century, but its roots go back much farther. Berserk is from Old Norse meaning "bear shirt." It describes the Viking tactic of putting on bearskins and attacking and pillaging the enemy in a furious, crazed rage. British author Sir Walter Scott introduced the word into English in his 1822 novel The Pirate, and by 1940 it was being used in its present form to describe "crackpot behavior" (3).

Today's Challenge: Rage, Rage Against the Dying of the Millennium

Besides going postal and road rage, other forms of rage have made it into print, according to Paul McFedries in his book Word Spy: The Word Lover's Guide to Modern Culture. All the examples below appeared in the 1990s, where rage was clearly all the rage. Given a clue, see if you can identify the specific rage:

1. Rage that resulted when proper etiquette was not followed, especially on greens and fairways.
2. Rage at 20,000 feet.

3. Rage directed at noisy audience members at a musical performance.

4. Rage directed at doctors, nurses, and HMOs.

5. Rage directed at pedestrians or cyclists.

6. Rage at sporting events, directed at other fans or the coaches or players of the opposing team.
7. Rage caused by the perceived commercialization of the Internet.

8. Rage directed at colleagues or bosses.

Quote of the Day: Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae. --Kurt Vonnegut

Answers: 1. golf rage 2. air rage 3. concert rage 4. patient rage 5. sidewalk rage 6. sports rage or sideline rage 7. rage 8. work rage (or desk rage)

1 - Paul McFedries. Word Spy: The Word Lover's Guide to Modern Culture. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.

2 - Talley, Tim. 20 years later, survivors recall terror of US postal massacre.
Associated Press. 19August 2006.

3 - Metcalf, Allan. The World in So Many Words. Boston, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

August 19: Letter of Complaint Day

Today is the anniversary of a letter sent in 1862 by Horace Greeley, the editor of the New York Tribune, to President Abraham Lincoln. The letter published in the Tribune with the title: "The Prayer of the Twenty Millions," was a direct challenge to the president. The final resolution of the Civil War was still very much in doubt in the summer of 1862; in fact, the Confederate armies of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson were on the rise. In addition, Lincoln had written a draft of the Emancipation Proclamation, but it would not be officially announced until September 1862.

Greeley's chief complaint with Lincoln in the letter was that he was not enforcing the Confiscation Act that authorized the confiscation of rebel property, including slaves who according to the law "shall be deemed captives of war and shall be forever free." Lincoln did not think that the law was well written, and his reticence to issue the Emancipation Proclamation revolved around his desire not to alienate still-loyal slaveholding border states.

To understand the weight of Greeley's letter, it is important to realize the importance of newspapers in 19th century America. In a time before radio and television, newspapers were the media, and in 1860 there were more than 2,500 -- that's more than were in the rest of the world combined. Greeley's New York Tribune was one of the most influential newspapers in the nation with a circulation in 1860 of 214,000. In addition, in the 19th century the reading of newspapers was a communal activity as illustrated from this passage from the book The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Own Words:

Many more people read newspapers than the paid subscribers. One copy was often read by several families. Numerous citizens heard editorials read aloud in an era that prized public reading. In countless general stores, neighbors gathered in the evening to listen to the reading of editorials from "Uncle Horace's Weekly Try-bune." As national issues heated up, people gathered by rural post offices to anticipate the stagecoach delivering their "newspaper Bible."

As a result of their influence on the masses, editors like Horace Greeley had a profound impact on the economy and the politics of the nation. Greeley's August 19th missive was not just a letter to the president, it was a letter to the president from a man who played a large role in his successful election to the presidency in November 1860.

From the very start of his letter, Greeley's tone is sober and assertive:

DEAR SIR: I do not intrude to tell you -- for you must know already -- that a great proportion of those who triumphed in your election, and of all who desire the unqualified suppression of the Rebellion now desolating our country, are sorely disappointed and deeply pained by the policy you seem to be pursuing with regard to the slaves of Rebels. I write only to set succinctly and unmistakably before you what we require, what we think we have a right to expect, and of what we complain.

In more than 2,200 words Greeley goes on to enumerate his complains against the president's leadership and apparent lack of resolve and direction.

In response to this public letter, Lincoln responded with a public letter of his own, published on August 23, 1862 in Washington's National Intelligencer. Terse compared to Greeley's letter, Lincoln wrote 370 words emphasizing his primary goal: not the freeing of slaves but the preservation of the "Union" -- a word he used nine times:

I would save the Union. I would save it the shortest way under the Constitution. The sooner the national authority can be restored; the nearer the Union will be "the Union as it was." If there be those who would not save the Union, unless they could at the same time save slavery, I do not agree with them. If there be those who would not save the Union unless they could at the same time destroy slavery, I do not agree with them. My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union; and what I forbear, I forbear because I do not believe it would help to save the Union.

Lincoln might have used his letter to announce his plans for the Emancipation Proclamation, a draft of which he had in his desk as he wrote to Greeley. However, Lincoln was not one to let someone else force his hand. He did things for his own reasons and in his own time.

Today's Challenge: Vocabulary by the Letter

The ten words listed below are from Horace Greeley's letter to President Lincoln published in the New York Tribune on August 19, 1862. Writing in the 19th century, Greeley uses a level of vocabulary you probably won't find in 21st century newspapers. Nevertheless, these are words that educated readers should know. You might begin by reading Greeley's entire letter. Then, see if you can match up each word with its correct definition.

imperative malignant credulous implacable phalanx

solicitude prescribe unequivocal deference remiss

1. courteous regard

2. Failing in what duty requires

3. requiring attention or action

4. to order or to issue commands

5. dangerous to health

6. a feeling of excessive concern

7. incapable of being pacified

8. disposed to believe on little evidence

9. a body of troops in close array

10. admitting of no doubt or misunderstanding

Quote of the Day: Always write angry letters to your enemies. Never mail them. --James Fallows

Answers: 1. deference 2. remiss 3. imperative 4 prescribe 5. malignant 6. solicitude 7. implacable 8. credulous 9. phalanx 10. unequivocal

1 - White, Ronald C. The Eloquent President: A Portrait of Lincoln Through His Words. New York: Random House, 2005.

Friday, August 18, 2006

August 18: Presidential Signature Phrases Day

Today is the anniversary of George Herbert Walker Bush's Nomination Acceptance Address at the 1988 Republican Convention. Bush had served as vice-president under Ronald Reagan for eight years. Prior to that he had served as a U.S. congressman, ambassador to the United Nations, and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In his speech to the Republican Convention, he quoted a famous line by a past president to argue that the presidency should stay with GOP:

In 1940, when I was barely more than a boy, Franklin Roosevelt said we shouldn't change horses in midstream.

My friends, these days the world moves even more quickly, and now, after two great terms, a switch will be made. But when you have to change horses in midstream, doesn't it make sense to switch to the one who's going the same way?

The speech also included some other memorable lines that will forever be associated with the first President Bush:

This is America . . . a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.

I want a kinder, gentler nation.

But the most memorable line of the speech was when he looked directly into the camera and said:

Read my lips: no new taxes!

Bush went on to win the presidency, defeating Democratic challenger Michael Dukakis, but his tough talk about taxes -- inspired by Dirty Harry, the snarling maverick cop played by Clint Eastwood -- came back to haunt him.

As president, Bush did not keep his promise. He raised taxes, and in 1992 he lost the presidency to Democrat Bill Clinton.

The millions of words spoken by a president during his tenure as chief executive are typically distilled down to just a few signature lines that typify that president's character and leadership. One famous anecdote about President Calvin Coolidge illustrate that he was a man of few words, but at least he had two memorable ones:

A young woman was sitting next to President Calvin Coolidge at a dinner party. The woman admitted to Coolidge that she had made a bet that she could get at least three words of conversation out of the him. Coolidge, without turning to look at her, replied, "You lose."

Today's Challenge: All the Presidents' Quotes
After spending years in the lime light as president, it would seem that more than a few signature phrases would remain. The fact is, however, Americans in general, remember little of what their presidents have said. There are, however, signature phrases that we use as markers to remember our presidents by. Given the quotes below, see if you can identify the president who made the line famous or infamous:

1. Mr. Gorbachav, tear down this wall!

2. That depends on what your definition of "is" is.

3. My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.

4. Bring it on!

5. I shall not seek, and I will not accept the nomination of my party for another term as your President.

6. Speak softly and carry a big stick.

7. . . . We must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex.

8. Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.

9. I am not a crook!

10. The buck stops here!

Quote of the Day: The president should not talk on the telephone. In the first place, you can't be sure it is private, and, besides, it isn't in keeping with the dignity of the office.
--Calvin Coolidge

Answers: 1. Ronald Reagan 2. Bill Clinton 3. Gerald Ford 4. George W. Bush 5. Lyndon Baines Johnson 6. Theodore Roosevelt 7. Dwight D. Eisenhower 8. John F. Kennedy 9. Richard Nixon 10. Harry S. Truman

1- George H. W. Bush. The White House

Thursday, August 17, 2006

August 17: Goldwynism Day

Today is the birthday of movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn. Born Schmuel Gelbfisz in Warsaw Poland in 1879, Goldwyn immigrated to Canada and then New York when he was 19 years old. He left his job as a glove seller in 1913 to start a business in the infant movie industry, forming a company with his brother-in-law. For his first film The Squaw Man, he hired then unknown Cecil B. DeMille to direct.

Throughout his career as a movie producer Goldwyn helped build some of the most influential Hollywood studios, including Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and United Artists. Despite the fact that he had a volitile temper and lacked formal education, Goldwyn had keen business instincts and is unquestionably one of the greatest geniuses in the history of film making.

In the realm of the English language, however, Goldwyn's name has become synonymous with malapropisms -- that is a ludicrous misuse of a word, especially by confusion with another word with a similar sound. Goldwyn is so notorious for his slips of the tongue, that an entire sub-category of malaprops are named for him: Goldwynisms. Wikipedia lists over 50 of these malaprops attributed to Goldwyn, such as one of the most famous: A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on (2). The reality is, however, that like Yogi Berra, Goldwyn did not say everything that people said he said. In fact during his lifetime studio screenwriters even went so far as to hold contests to create the best Goldwynisms. The winner reportedly was It rolls off my back like a duck (3).

Today's Challenge: "I Didn't Say Everything I Said"
To verify the true Goldwynisms from the pseudo-Goldwynisms, we turn to the book The Quote Verifier which devotes a special section to Samuel Goldwyn. Label the malaprops below as Yes, meaning Goldwyn said it; Maybe, meaning the evidence in inconclusive; or No, meaning he did not say it.

1. I was on the brink of an abscess.

2. I'll give you a definite maybe.

3. I had a monumental idea this morning, but I didn't like it.

4. I can answer you in two words: 'im possible.'

5. I read part of it all the way through.

6. I don't care if my pictures don't make a dime, so long as everyone comes to see them.

7. Let's have some new cliches.

8. A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.

9. In this business it's dog eat dog, and nobody's gonna eat me.

10. It's more than magnificent, it's mediocre.

Quote of the Day: Television has raised writing to a new low. --Attributed to Samuel Goldwyn (1879 -1974)

Answers: 1. Yes 2. Possibly 3. Yes 4. No 5. No 6. Yes 7 Maybe 8. No 9. Yes 10. Maybe

1 - Aberdeen, J. A. "Samuel Goldwyn, Hollywood's Lone Wolf." The Society of Independent Motion Picture Producers

2 -

3 - Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2006.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

August 16: First Name Icons Day

Today is the anniversary of the death of rock and roll icon Elvis Presley, who died at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, Tennessee in 1977. Only 42 years old, Elvis died of a heart attack brought on by his addiction to prescription drugs.

Elvis was born in Tupelo, Mississippi in 1935. His family was poor, and at 19 he paid $4 to record some songs for his mother at a Memphis recording studio. The owner of the studio, Sam Phillips was impressed by Elvis' singing, and in 1954, he released Elvis' first single "That's All Right" on his Sun Records label.

From that point on Elvis' popularity exploded to the point that the single name Elvis became synonymous with rock and roll. Whether you love or hate his music, there is no denying his impact on the music and culture of the 1950s. He brought rock into the mainstream, made it an art form, and showed that it could produce billions of dollars in revenue (1).

The same year that Elvis entered the U.S. Army for a two-years stint, a child by the name of Madonna Louise Ciccone was born to a Catholic family in Bay City, Michigan. When Madonna was five years old, her mother died of breast cancer, and her father was left with six children to raise. Encouraged by her father to take piano lessons, Madonna tried music for a few months but eventually persuaded her father to pay for ballet lessons instead.

Her pursuit of a dance career took her to New York in 1977, the same year Elvis died. With only $35 dollars in her pocket, she struggled to earn a living and to perfect her dancing craft. She returned to music in 1979, forming a rock band and performing disco and dance song in New York dance clubs. It's at this point that she gained the attention of Sire Records, signing a deal paying her $5,000 per song. With the release of her first album Madonna in 1983, "The Material Girl" achieved the kind of international fame and success that would make her a pop icon and the most successful female artist in history. Some might even argue that what Elvis did for rock and roll in the 1950s, Madonna did for pop music in the 1980s (2).

Besides the fact that both Elvis and Madonna dominated the music scene in their respective eras, they also share the rare distinction of being instantly and unambiguously recognized based on the invocation of just their first names. To achieve such a high degree of first name recognition is rare even among some of history's most revered icons. Of course, it does help to have a distinctive first name. If you refer to William Shakespeare, for example, as just William, your audience might not know if you are referring to The Bard of Avon, William Shakespeare, or William Shatner.

Certainly there is a difference between using a one-name moniker and truly achieving the kind of across the board name recognition of an Elvis or a Madonna. The names on the following list, for example, are recognizable today for the vast majority of the population, but will they be 10, 50, or 100 years from now?


Today's Challenge: Say My Name
Examples of men and women whose notoriety has withstood the test of time can be found in the book 1,000 Years, 1,000 People: Ranking the Men and Women Who Shaped the Millennium.
This book features 1,000 mini-biographies that are models of concise and clear prose. Using set criteria to score each personality, the authors rate Johannes Gutenberg number one and Andy Warhol number 1,000. However, between #1 and #1,000 there are only a few examples of individuals who have achieved the kind of notoriety to be called "First Name Icons." Given each person's ranking from 1,000 Years, 1,000 People and a few biographical details, see if you can come up with the first name, or, in some cases, the only known single name.

1. #4 He built the first telescope and challenged the idea that the earth was not the center of the universe.

2. #9 He painted the Mona Lisa.

3. #13 He sculpted the Pieta and David.

4. #16 He proclaimed himself emperor of France.

5. #30 He was the author of The Divine Comedy.

6. #36 He was the author of Candide.

7. #46 He was the Dutch master who painted The Nightwatch.

8. #50 He ruled Communist China for 37 years.

9. #91 Her name is synonymous with 19th century Britain.

10. #112 He was Italian and a master of lyric poetry and the sonnet (3).

Quote of the Day: Elvis Presley’s death deprives our country of a part of itself. He was unique, irreplaceable. More than twenty years ago, he burst upon the scene with an impact that was unprecedented and will probably never be equaled. His music and his personality, fusing the styles of white country and black rhythm and blues, permanently changed the face of American popular culture. His following was immense. And he was a symbol to people the world over of the vitality, rebelliousness and good humor of this country.
--President Jimmy Carter, 1977. His official statement following Elvis' death.

1. Galileo 2. Leonardo 3. Michelangelo 4. Napoleon 5. Dante 6. Voltaire 7. Rembrandt 8. Mao 9. Victoria 10. Petrarch

1 - This Day in History - General Interest. Elvis Presley Dies: August 16, 1977. The History Channel.

2 - Madonna (entertainer) Wikipedia

3 - 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.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

August 15: Words from India Day

Today is the anniversary India's independence from the British Empire in 1947.

The British began their influence in India in the 1600s with the British East India Company which set up trading posts throughout India. From 1757 to 1947 the Raj, the term used for British rule over India, commanded India. Despite periodic insurrections and mutinies, the British were able to maintain control of India until the emergence of Mahatma Gandhi as leader of the independence movement. Through Gandhi's policy of civil disobedience and the shrinking of the British Empire after World War II, India finally gained its independence. Prior to the official declaration, however, the British had to decide which of India's religious groups, the Hindus and the Muslims, would receive power. To ensure that chaos would not ensue when they left, the British decided to partition India by creating a Muslim nation, Pakistan, and an independent India ruled by Hindus.

Unfortunately chaos did result as 10 million people scrabbled to relocate, resulting in violence between Hindus and Muslims. Violence continued after independence between India and Pakistan as the two nations fought for control of the northern region of Kashmir (1).

Although the English left India in 1947, English has never left India. Originally the plan was to supplant English, the language of the oppressor, with Hindi, the language with the highest number of speakers in India. This plan failed, however, because although there were more speakers of Hindi, there were also at least 14 other competing languages spoken across India, not to mention over 200 dialects. As a result, English became a neutral, stabilizing language, and because it was already the language of government, the legal system, science, economics, and education, the Indian Parliament determined that it would maintain English as one of the co-official languages of India (2).

In the 21st century, India has clearly benefited from its decision to continue its relationship with the English language. It's burgeoning economy probably would not be possible without English, and in India today an education in English is a prerequisite for upward mobility.

Just as the nation of India has benefited from English, the English language has benefited from its exposure to Indian languages and culture. One example of a common English word borrowed from India is the word pariah. A low-ranking caste of southern India, the Pariahs served as drummers for religious festivals. The British mistakenly used their name in a general sense to refer to low castes throughout India, even the lowest castes of untouchables. As a result, the word today is used in English for any person who is rejected socially or politically (3).

Today's Challenge: Cheetahs, Nabobs, and Juggernauts
Given the clues below, see if you can identify the common English words borrowed from India

1. 10 letters - A broad sash worn with a tuxedo

2. 7 letters - to wash the scalp and hair with special soap.

3. 8 letters - A one-story house or cottage.

4. 4 letters - a strong-arm man hired to kill or beat up.

5. 7 letters - a sleeping suit.

6. 6 letters - a tropical rain forest.

7. 5 letters - a rich or powerful person.

8. 6 letters - a rowboat or sail sailboat.

Quote of the Day: Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will wake to life and freedom.
--Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India on the eve of Independence Day in India.

Answers: 1. cummerbund 2. shampoo 3. bungalow 4. thug 5. pajamas 6. jungle 7. mogul
8. dinghy

1 - Modern World History: Patterns of Interaction. New York: McDouglal Littell, 2005.

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

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

Monday, August 14, 2006

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 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 the Macbeth aquired a reputation as a curse 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 -

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

Sunday, August 13, 2006

August 13: Americanisms from the 1950s Day

Today is the anniversary of an article published in the show-business magazine Variety that featured a new word. The article published on August 13, 1950 used the term disc jockey for the first time in its reporting the phenomenon of New York radio hosts selecting and playing phonograph records for an eager audience of young fans of popular music. The term stuck, sometimes abbreviated as DJ or deejay. DJ is an example of an Americanism, an English word or expression that is born in the U.S.A. and that is used in the writing and speech of Americans.

The book America in So Many Words by David K. Barnhart and Allan A. Metcalf documents Americanisms from the 1600s to the end of the 20th century. For each year, the authors select a single representative Americanism that was "newly coined or newly prominent." Looking at the words and the background of each is a reminder that every English word is like a fossil or an archeological artifact that reveals the attitudes and trends of the age in which it was coined.

The below list of Americanisms from 1949 to 1960, for example, gives interesting insights into the characteristics of post-war America; the list also foreshadows several political, cultural, social, and economic trends that would emerge in the second half of the 20th century.

1949 cool

1950 DJ

1951 rock and roll

1952 Ms.

1953 UFO

1954 Fast Food

1955 hotline

1956 brinkmanship

1957 role model

1958 Murphy's Law

1959 software

1960 sit-in (1)

If English is the global language of the 21st century, then it is certainly American English which is the most influential variety of English. Whereas the English language of the British Empire dominated and propagated English around the world in the first half of the 20th century, American English, since the end of World War II, has exported English even farther than the Brits, via satellite and computer technology.

Even as early as 1780, John Adams envisioned this linguistic American Revolution:

English is destined to be in the next and succeeding centuries more generally the language of the world than Latin was in the last or French is in the present age. The reason of this is obvious, because the increasing population in America, and their universal connection and correspondence with all nations will, aided by the influence of England in the world, whether great or small, force their language into general use.

One aspect that characterizes the American variety of English is its brevity. Americanisms are typically single syllable words or at least single syllable compounds. Americanisms include a variety of classifications that produce words that are short and sweet: Americanisms are clipped words (such as fan from fanatic), blends (such as motel from motor + hotel), abbreviations (such as Ms. from mistress), initialisms (such as UFO from Unidentified Flying Object), and acronyms (such as AWOL from absent without leave).

In fact, even the word acronym is an Americanism that emerged from the government and military build-up of World War II to give Americans a way to compress multiple word expressions into easy-to-communicate small packages. This Americanism uses Greek roots: acro- meaning top, peak, or initial and -nym meaning name. Using the intial letters of words, acronyms condense names, titles, or phrases into single words, such as radar for radio detection and ranging.

Today's Challenge: Born in the U.S.A.
Given the number of letters and a brief definition, see if you can identify the Americanisms below. None are more than four letters long

1. Three-letter word in response to someone stating to obvious.

2. A three-letter clipped word that emerged from rap music and its performers' desire for respect.

3. Two-letter initialism that reflects the American faith in the ability to measure anything, including the quality of a person's gray matter.

4. A three-letter clipped word that refers to any liquid, especially a sticky one.

5. A frequently used two-letter initialism with two different meanings. The first came out of the world of technology; the second meaning came out of the multicultural movement.

6. A two-letter initialism that refers to American soldiers.

7. A four-letter acronym that evolved from the Civil War to refer to soldiers who fled the battlefield or their assigned posts.

8. A three-letter initialism that reflects the American tendency to live life at a fast pace and to get things done in a hurry.

Quote of the Day: Thus the American, on his linguistic side, likes to make his language as he goes along, and not all the hard work of his grammar teachers can hold the business back. A novelty loses nothing by the fact that it is a novelty; it rather gains something, and particularly if it meets the national fancy for the terse, the vivid, and, above all, the bold and imaginative. —H. L. Mencken

1. duh (1963) 2. dis (1986) 3. IQ (1916) [intelligence quotient] 4. goo (1902) 5. PC (1990) [personal computer; politically correct] 6. GI (1917) [See Word Daze June 22 GI Day 7. AWOL [absent without leave] (1863) 8. P.D.Q [Pretty Darn Quick] (1875)

1- Barnhart, David K. and Alla A. Metcalf. America in So Many Words: Words That Have Shaped America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

2 - Algeo, John. "Americans are Ruining English." Language Myth #21. Do You Speek American? PBS.