Monday, September 18, 2006

September 18: Newspaper Motto Day

Today is the anniversary of the first issue of the New York Times published in 1851. Originally called the New-York Daily Times, the paper was founded by Henry Jarvis Raymond and George Jones.

In 1857, the paper lost its hyphen and the word "daily" to become The New York Times. In 1896, the paper was acquired by Adolph S. Ochs, who sponsored a contest to create a motto for the newspaper. Ochs didn't like any of the entries, however, and chose one of his own creation: "All the News That's Fit to Print." The motto first appeared on the editorial page, but was moved to Page 1 on February 10, 1897.

Nicknamed the "Grey Lady" because of its consistent, straight-forward layout, The New York Times is also known as the nation's "newspaper of record" because of its large circulation across the country, its definitive record of current events, and its many awards for journalism, which includes a record number of Pulitzer Prizes (Ninety-four as of this writing) (1).

The New York Times' motto All the News That's Fit to Print is the most famous newspaper motto, but it's certainly not the only one. A newspaper's motto serves as a kind of mission statement -- a statement the paper's principles.

The website of Dr. Larry Lorenz, a journalism professor at Loyola University, features a collection of newspaper mottos from papers across the United States, including the following:

Haec olim meminisse juvabit [It will profit us to remember these things in the future. Virgil.]
--Niles' Weekly Register

The Oldest Daily Newspaper In The United States--Founded 1771 / An Independent Newspaper For All The People
--The Philadelphia Inquirer

The only good sacred cow is medium rare with fries.
--The Putnam Pit (Cookeville, Putnam County, Tennessee)

Today's Challenge: From the Front Page
A newspaper's motto, like it's writing, must be clear, concise, and captivating. See if you can match up each of the newspapers listed below with its motto.

The Atlanta Journal
Chicago Tribune
(New Orleans) Daily Truth
The New York Sun
Tombstone (Ariz.) Epitaph
(New Orleans)Evening Chronicle

1. 116 Years In the Town Too Tough To Die/No Tombstone Is Complete Without Its Epitaph

2. It Shines For All

3. Covers Dixie Like The Dew

4. World's Greatest Newspaper

5. The Truth is Always Fair

6. The Best Paper, the Brightest Paper, the Cheapest Paper

Quote of the Day: Trying to be a first-rate reporter on the average American newspaper is like trying to play Bach's "St. Matthew's Passion" on a ukulele. --Ben Hecht

1. Tombstone (Ariz.) Epitaph 2. The New York Sun 3. The Atlanta Journal 4. Chicago Tribune 5. (New Orleans) Daily Truth 6. (New Orleans)Evening Chronicle

1 - New York Times Company

2 -

Sunday, September 17, 2006

September 17: Constitution Day

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787 at Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The 55 delegates began their work in May 1787, and they worked through the summer to forge a document that laid the foundation for American democracy, including the three branches of government and its system of checks and balances (1).

In his book Made in America, Bill Bryson explains that the delegates selected a Committee of Detail to polish the final draft of the Constitution and put it on paper. It was one of these committee members, John Rutledge, who influenced the opening words of the Constitution's Preamble. As Bryson explains:

[Rutledge] was an admirer of the Iroquois and recommended that the committee familiarize itself with the treaty of 1520 that had created the Iroquois Confederacy. It begins: "We, the people, to form a union . . . ." (Bryson).

It was, in fact, these words that were chosen as the introduction for what has become the single most influential document in history:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Today's Challenge: A More Perfect Union
Celebrate the miracle of the Constitution by reading each of the quotes below that mention the Constitution. See if you can identify the speaker of each quote.

1. I also wish that the Pledge of Allegiance were directed at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, as it is when the President takes his oath of office, rather than to the flag and the nation.

2. The U. S. Constitution doesn't guarantee happiness, only the pursuit of it. You have to catch up with it yourself.

3. The constitution vests the power of declaring war in Congress; therefore no offensive expedition of importance can be undertaken until after they shall have deliberated upon the subject and authorized such a measure.

4. The American constitutions were to liberty, what a grammar is to language: they define its parts of speech, and practically construct them into syntax.

5. The Constitution is not neutral. It was designated to take the government off the backs of the people.

6. To live under the American Constitution is the greatest political
privilege that was ever accorded to the human race.

7. The United States Constitution has proven itself the most marvelously elastic compilation of rules of government ever written.

Quote of the Day: Some events define and shape history with the force of plate tectonics, moving the world onto a new path. On September 17, 1787, just such an event occurred when the Constitution of the United States was signed. --Robert Byrd

Answers: 1. Carl Sagan 2. Benjamin Franklin 3. George Washington 4. Thomas Paine 5. William O. Douglas 6. Calvin Coolidge 7. Franklin D. Roosevelt

1 -

2 - Bryson, Bill. Made in America: An Informal History of the English Language in the United States. New York: Perennial, 1994.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

September 16: Eponymous Adage Day

Today is the birthday of Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), the author of the book The Peter Principle. Peter was an education professor at the University of Southern California and the University of British Columbia, but he became famous in the field of business when he published The Peter Principle in 1969. The book is full of case histories that illustrate why every organization seems to fall short of reaching maximum productivity and profit. His explanation relates to the corporate mentality that promotes productive workers upward until they achieve positions beyond their ability to perform competently.

Peter's insights into the organizational structures of businesses were so well-received that The Peter Principle has gone well beyond just the title of a popular book; it has entered the language as an adage, immortalizing its creator. The American Heritage Dictionary records the following definition of the Peter Principle:

The theory that employees within an organization will advance to their hightest level of competence and then be promoted to and remain at a level at which they are incompetent (1).

Laurence Peter is not alone in the world of eponymous adages (a proverbial insight that is named for a person). If you've ever been a victim of Murphy's Law, for example, you know that certain rules for living have the signature of the person who first identified them.

Today's Challenge: An Adage by Any Other Name

See if you can match up each of the eponymous adages listed below with its correct definition:

Dilbert Principle
Parkinson's Law
Murphy's Law
Amara's Law
Hofstadter's Law
Stigler's Law of Eponymy
Ockham's Razor

1. Explanations should never multiply causes without necessity. When two explanations are offered for a phenomenon, the simplest full explanation is preferable.

2. If anything can go wrong, it will.

3. The most ineffective workers are systematically moved to the place where they can do the least damage: management.

4. It [a task] always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter's Law.

5. Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.

6. We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

7. No scientific discovery, not even Stigler's law, is named after its original discoverer (2).

Quote of the Day: A pessimist is a man who looks both ways before crossing a one-way street. --Laurence J. Peter

Answers: 1. Ockham's Razor 2. Murphy's Law, ascribed to Major Edward A. Murphy, Jr. 3. Dilbert Principle, coined by Scott Adams, author of the comic strip Dilbert. 4. Hofstadter's Law, named after Douglas Hofstadter. 5. Parkinson's Law, coined by C. Northcote Parkinson. 6. Amara's Law, proposed by Roy Amara. 7. Stigler's law of eponymy

1 - American Heritage Dictionary

2 - List of adages named after people

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

September 13: New Words For People Day

Today is the anniversary of the appearance of a new word in a letter to the editor in The Tampa Tribune on September 13, 1995. The word is gater, meaning a person who lives in a gated community, is an example of one of many neologisms that pop up each year to describe people in new situations in the ever-changing world in which we live.

The website Word Spy, founded by Paul McFedries, searches out all kinds of new words and phrases that have appeared in print but not yet in the dictionary. McFedries site documents hundreds of the neologisms, several of which are defined beginning with: "A person who . . . ." Here are a few examples:

-mucus trooper (MYOO.kus troo.pur) n. An employee with a cold or the flu who insists on showing up for work.

-salad dodger (SAL.ud daw.jur) n. An overweight person; a person who shuns healthy foods.

-thresholder (THRESH.hohl.dur) n. A young person on the threshold of adulthood, especially one who is anxious or depressed about leaving home or taking on adult responsibilities.

-zinester (ZEEN.stur) n. A person who writes, edits, and publishes a zine; a person who reads only zines (1).

Today's Challenge: A Visit to the -er
The words below are all examples of neologisms that refer to different types of people. See if you can match up each word with the definitions below.


1. A person who donates five percent of their income to charity and/or spends five hours per week doing volunteer work.

2. The person for whom a ghostwriter writes a book.

3. A fastidious, detail-oriented person.

4. An adult son or daughter, particularly one aged 30 or more, who still lives with his or her parents. From kids in parents' pockets eroding retirement savings.

5. A person who uses phrases or quotes that were coined by other people.

6. A person who uses a wireless Internet connection without permission.

7. A chess player of limited skill.

8. A person who registers one or more Internet domain names based on the most common typographical errors that a user might commit when entering a company's registered trademark name (e.g., (1).

Quote of the Day: One company, Amsterdam-based, has a global network of more than 7,000 "springspotters" who troll their own neighborhoods and report back which trends, products and behaviors are brewing. --Shawna Vanness

Answers: 1. fiver 2. fleshwriter 3. i-dotter 4. kipper 5. phrasemoner 6. piggybacker 7. woodpusher 8. typosquatter

1 -

Monday, September 11, 2006

September 11: Words from 9/11 Day

The simple mention of the term 9/11 immediately evokes images of smoke rising from the Twin Towers. On this day we remember the attack of 2001 and the 2,752 lives that were lost.

Just as the date and the images associated with it have changed us, the events of 9/11 and the post-9/11 world have also changed our language.

Not since December 7, 1941 and Pearl Harbor, has a term so quickly entered the English lexicon. And 9/11 was not a term that would disappear soon; it was voted "Most Likely to Succeed" by the American Dialect Society in 2001, meaning lexicographers predict that the term will be used long past its origin. (1).

In addition other terms have entered the common lexicon since 9/11, such as:

Axis of Evil
Shock and awe
WMD (2).

Today's Challenge: New World - New Words
The definitions below are for two-word expressions that have become a part of our everyday vocabulary since 9/11. Some are new -- others were around before 9/11, but have taken on added meaning since the attacks on September 11, 2001 and the events that followed it.

1. The United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.

2. Site of the destroyed World Trade Center.

3. Plainclothes law-enforcement officers on airplanes.

4. Alternative name for French fries promoted when France resisted military force against Iraq.

5. British national Richard Reid tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic airplane in December 2001 with explosives in his shoes.

6. The prison noted for mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by U.S. forces.

7. A conventional bomb that disperses radioactive material.

8. Massive collecting of information that is then sifted for specific information.

Quote of the Day: America is not like a blanket -- one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt -- many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes, all woven and held together by a common thread. --Henry M. Jackson

Answers. 1. Patriot Act 2. Ground Zero 3. Air marshal 4. Freedom fries 5. Shoe bomber 6. Abu Ghraib 7. Dirty Bomb 8. Data mining

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

2 - Latazio, George. "New World Requires New Vocabulary." The Seattle Times. 10 Sept. 2006, A15.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

September 10: Shibboleth Day

On this date in the year 2000, the television show The West Wing won nine Emmys, including outstanding drama. In doing so, the show broke the record for most Emmys earned for a show in its first season -- the record was previously held by "ER" and "Hill Street Blues." The West Wing continued its successful run for six more seasons, ending in May 2006. In each of its seven seasons it received an Emmy nomination for outstanding drama, winning a total of four times.

One West Wing episode in particular is of special interest to language lovers. It was called "Shibboleth" and appeared in the show's second season.

In the episode President Bartlett (Martin Sheen) must determine whether a group of Chinese stowaways should be given asylum in the U.S. or be returned to China. One key to his decision is determining whether their claim to be Christians is true or just a ploy to stay in the U.S. When President Bartlett tells his staff that he will find out the truth by employing a shibboleth, everyone in the room is puzzled (1).

A shibboleth is a kind of linguistic password, where a person's pronunciation or language usage indicates his or her background. It originates in a story from the Old Testament in the Book of Judges, Chapter 12. In the story two tribes, the Ephraimite and the Gileadites, are at war. The Gileadites use the word shibboleth (which means "ear of corn") as a password to tell friend from foe. In ancient Hebrew dialects some groups pronounced it with an 'sh' sound while others pronounced it with an 's.' Using the shibboleth, the Gileadites where able to identify and kill the Ephraimites, who did not have an 'sh' sound in their language.

President Barlett's use of a shibboleth is probably more cultural than linguistic. In his interrogation of the Chinese Christian representative, he asks questions about the group's religious practices and knowledge of the Bible. He comes to the realization that the Chinese are true Christians when they turn the tables on him, saying that faith, not knowledge, is the true test of the Christian faith: "Faith is the only Shibboleth."

Shibboleths used in these kind of life or death circumstances are rare today; however, pronunciation and word choice can be an especially telling marker of a person's background. The writers of The Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE) attempt to document the varieties of American English in the different regions of the U.S. Because "standard" English is most common in written language, the bulk of regional differences are found in oral language.

The following are some of the regional terms recorded by DARE:

-While most people recognize poached eggs, dropped eggs is a regional term used for these eggs in New England.

-The game of hopscotch is sometimes referred to as Sky Blue in Chicago, Illinois.

In the Gulf States and Texas, a chill or shiver is known as a rigor (3).

Today's Challenge: From Shibboleth to Shining Shibboleth
Visit the website for PBS's series Do You Speak American? and take their quiz on regional terms for food, health, and recreational terms used throughout the U.S. Are there any special regional words or expressions that characterize the people who live in your region of the country?

Quote of the Day: In small things as in large [the American] exercises continually an incomparable capacity for projecting hidden and often fantastic relationships into arresting parts of speech. Such a term as rubberneck is almost a complete treatise on American psychology; it reveals the national habit of mind more clearly than any labored inquiry could ever reveal it. It has in it precisely the boldness and contempt for ordered forms that are so characteristically American, and it has too the grotesque humor of the country, and the delight in devastating opprobriums, and the acute feeling for the succinct and savory. —H. L. Mencken

1 -

2 -

3 -

Saturday, September 09, 2006

September 9: Val Speak Day

Today is the anniversary of California's admission as the 31st state of the Union. The discovery of gold in California in 1848 caused its population to explode, and in 1849 settlers applied for admission to the Union after drafting a state constitution that prohibited slavery. Because making California a state would upset the balance of free and slave states, statehood was delayed until September 9, 1850, when the Compromise of 1850 opened the door for California statehood.

In addition to a state constitution, Californians adopted a state seal in 1849 with the motto "Eureka," (The Greek word for "I Have Found It.") an appropriate interjection for a state whose reputation was made on gold strikes (1).

Today many things make California distinctive and influencial: the influence of Silicon Valley and Hollywood to name two huge influences on the culture of American and the world. Another influence comes under the category of language. Val Speak, the speech pattern of the California "Valley Girl" has captured the imagination of linguists and lexicographers and has crept into the lingo of people who speak English all over the world.

In 1982, Moon Unit Zappa, daughter of Frank Zappa, recorded the hit "Valley Girl" with lyrics that mock frenetic patter that waf first used by California surfers and gradually moved inland to the California's suburban shopping malls:

So like I go into this like salon place, y'know
And I wanted like to get my toenails done
And the lady like goes, oh my god, your toenails
Are like so grody
It was like really embarrassing
She's like oh my god, like bag those toenails
I'm like sure...
She goes, uh, I don't know if I can handle this, y'know...
I was like really embarrassed... (2)

Certainly some of the lyrics of Valley Girl are a exaggerated for effect and humor, but there is no denying the fact that Val Speak is having an impact on American English, especially among people below the age of forty.

The website for the recent PBS series Do You Speak American reports that one interesting target for linguists is the speech of young white Californians, particularly their use of the discourse marker "I'm like." Known as a quotative, "like" is used to report quoted speech, such as: He was like, "Where do you wanna go?" Unlike the word "said," "like" allows the speaker to paraphrase what was stated instead of making a literal, exact rendering.

"Like" is the offspring of an earlier quotative "goes" that appeared in the 1940s: He goes, "Do you know the make and model of your phone?"

The like quotative was once the exclusive jargon of young Californians, but in the short span of the last twenty-five years it has so rapidly spread throughout American and beyond that sociolinguist William Labov has called it a linguistic "tsunami." But whether or not it is here to stay is uncertain; just as "like" replaced "goes," it appears that the word "all" may replace "like" as the hip quotative, used in sentences like this: Then, after a while, I was all, “See you later, good luck!” (3).

Today's Challenge: Like, Gag Me With Youth Speak
The words below are from the "Track That Word!" section of the Do You Speak American website under the category of Teen/Youth words and expressions. See if you can match up each of the ten words/expressions below with its correct definition.



Chop it up








1. Major preoccupation, concern, obsession
2. Worrying.
3. To Steal
4. Talking with friends with great interest, enthusiasm
5. Strong, solid, loyal
6. Twenty, pertaining to twenty dollars
7. Old, wrecked automobile
8. Confusion
9. Shoes
10. Everything is going well (4).

Quote of the Day: Nothing is wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn't cure. --Ross MacDonald

Answers. 1. Drama 2. Buggin' 3. Chalk 4. Chop it up 5. Firme 6. Dubs 7. Hooptie 8. Jargon
9. Kicks 10. Jake

1 -

2 -

3 - Singler, John. "Like, Quote Me." Do You Speak American?

4. Track That Word - Do You Speak American?

Friday, September 08, 2006

September 8: International Literacy Day

Today is International Literacy Day sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). First observed in 1967, International Literacy Day calls attention to the need to promote literacy and education around the world as an antidote to poverty.

According the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, more than 100 million girls and boys never enroll in school. At the minimum 860 million adults worldwide are illiterate.

Education and literacy are central to the stability, prosperity, and well-being of any country. As explained by Koichiro Matsuura, UNESCO Director-General:

Literacy is not merely a cognitive skill of reading, writing and arithmetic, for literacy helps in the acquisition of learning and life skills that, when strengthened by usage and application throughout people’s lives, lead to forms of individual, community and societal development that are sustainable.

According to UNESCO figures, 32 countries have literacy rates smaller than 50%. These include Bangladesh 35.3, Afghanistan 29.4, Somalia 24.1, and Nepal 20.1 (1).

Today's Challenge: Read All About It
The eight quotes below each say something important about literacy. See if you can match up each quote with its speaker.

John F. Kennedy
E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
Carl Sagan
Alvin Tofler

Abraham Lincoln
Isaac Asimov
Thomas Jefferson
Kofi Annan

1. Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people may be engaged in. That everyone may receive at least a moderate education appears to be an objective of vital importance.

2. Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education. The human mind is our fundamental resource.

3. Bigotry is the disease of ignorance, of morbid minds; enthusiasm of the free and buoyant. Education and free discussion are the antidotes of both.

4. We have ignored cultural literacy in thinking about education. We ignore the air we breathe until it is thin or foul. Cultural literacy is the oxygen of social intercourse.

5. One of the greatest gifts adults can give -- to their offspring and to their society -- is to read to children.

6. The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.

7. Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development.

8. True literacy is becoming an arcane art and the United States is steadily dumbing down.

Quote of the Day: Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. --Kofi Annan

Answers. 1. Abraham Lincoln 2. John F. Kennedy 3. Thomas Jefferson 4. E. D. Hirsch, Jr. 5. Carl Sagan 6. Alvin Tofler 7. Kofi Annan 8. Isaac Asimov

1 - UNESCO - Education - Literacy Day -

2 -

Thursday, September 07, 2006

September Seventh: Univocalic Day

September seventh is Univocalic Day. A univocalic is a piece of writing where the writer may use only a single vowel. Because September Seventh has nothing but the vowel 'e', it's the perfect day to celebrate this rare but interesting writing form.

As Richard Lederer points out in his book The Word Circus, some of the longest common univocalic words use the vowel 'e':




Lederer also cites a univocalic translation of "Mary Had a Little Lamb" by Paul Hellweg from Word Ways magazine:

Meg kept the wee sheep,
The sheep's fleece resembled sleet;
Then wherever Meg went
The sheep went there next;

He went where she needed her texts,
The precedent he neglected;
The pre-teen felt deep cheer
When the sheep entered there.

But 'e' is not the only vowel for constructing univocalics. Dave Morice in his book Alphabet Avenue quotes a univocalic haiku by Howard Bergerson that uses only the vowel 'i':

The Haiku of Eyes

In twilight this spring
Girls with miniskirts will swim
In string bikinis (2).

Today's Challenge: One Vowel Howl
Pick a vowel and make a list of words that contain only that vowel.
Then, put those words together in a sentence or a Haiku in which you only use a single vowel. Here's a famous example concerning the Ten Commandments:

Preserve these perfect tenets, men;
Ever keep these precepts ten.

Quote of the Day: Always end the name of your child with a vowel, so that when you yell the name will carry. --Bill Cosby

1 - Lederer, Richard. The Word Circus. Springfield, Massachusetts, Meriam-Webster, Incorporated, 1998.

2 - Morice, Dave. Alphabet Avenue: Wordplay in the Fast Lane. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 1997.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

September 6: Borrowed Words From French Day

Today is the birthday of Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), the French general and aristocrat who played a significant role in both the American Revolution and the French Revolution.

Lafayette argued on behalf of the American colonists, persuading King Louis XVI of France to send French troops to aid the colonists' struggle for independence from Britain. George Washington gave him command of an army at Virginia, and he fought valiantly on the American side at both Valley Forge and Yorktown.

Lafayette returned to France in 1782. Clearly influenced by his experience in the American Revolution, he became active in French politics drafting the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen" which was adopted by the National Assembly in 1789. During the French Revolution he protected the royal family from attack at Versailles, but he lost popularity in his homeland when his soldiers fired on a crown of demonstrators who were demanding that King Louis XVI abdicate his throne. During the tumultuous revolution, he fled to Austria but returned later when Napoleon Bonaparte rose to power.

President George W. Bush, on July 24, 2002, made Lafayette an honorary citizen of the United States, making him only the sixth person ever to receive such an honor (1).

Just as the United States benefited from borrowing Lafayette from the French, so too has the English language benefited from its liberal borrowing from the French language. With the invasion of Britain in 1066, the French language took a prominent role, especially in the language of government, law, and the military. Since that time and under more peaceful circumstances, English has continued to borrow hundreds of words from French.

Below are some examples of common English words that have their origins in French:

faux pas
hors d'oeuvre
zigzag (2).

Today's Challenge: Be a Borrower and a Lender
The ten words below are more examples of common English words borrowed from French. See if you can match each work up with its correct definition.




1. Effortless
2. Extraordinary insight or perception
3. Optical illusion
4. A collection of animals
5. Lighthearted and carefree
6. A trite, overused saying
7. Poise, self-assurance
8. Curt, abrupt in manner
9. Satire
10. Reminiscence; a personal record

Quote of the Day: I stand and listen to people speaking French in the stores and in the street. It's such a pert, crisp language, elegant as ruffling taffeta. --Belva Plain

Answers: 1. facile 2. clairvoyance 3. mirage 4. menagerie 5. jaunty 6. cliche 7. aplomb 8. brusque 9. lampoon 10. memoir

1 - The Teacher's Calendar of Famous Birthdays (The Editors of McGraw Hill). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.

2 -

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

September 5: BookCrossing Day

Today is the anniversary of the launch of the American spacecraft Voyager One in 1977. Its mission was to reach Jupiter and then continue to the farthest limits of our solar system and, if possible, beyond. On board Voyager is a gold-plated disc with a recorded message from planet Earth. The disc begins with a brief message that is translated into fifty-five different languages; however, the message that follows, from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, is relayed in a single language: English (1).

Travelling farther away from Earth than any other human-made object, Voyager is the ultimate message in a bottle, carrying the 12-inch golden record that contains recorded sound and pictures. Someday this recording might just be the first glimpse an alien race gets of life and culture on planet Earth. For more details on Voyager and the contents of the Golden Record, visit the NASA's Voyager web site.

Back on Earth another message in a bottle project has been going on since April 2001 when Ron Hornbaker founded Taking the idea of, a site that tracks disposable cameras, and, which tracks U.S. currency, Hornbaker had the idea of creating a site where readers could register a book and then deposit it in some public place: a park bench, a laundromat, or a coffee shop. The website provides an ID number for each book and a registration card that can be attached to the inside cover of the book. The card briefly explains the BookCrossing mission and directs finders of books to the online journal page of the website where they can document where and how they found the book and, if they read it, what they thought of the book.

To date nearly half a million people have become bookcrossers. The practice has become so popular that it has been added as a word in the August 2004 edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary:

bookcrossing n. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.

Below is the list of the current top five most registered titles:

1. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
2. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
3. The Lovely Bones: A Novel by Alice Sebold
4. A Painted House by John Grisham
5. The Pelican Brief by John Grisham (2).

Today's Challenge: If You Love Your Book, Let Them Go!
Write your own literary message in a bottle. If you were to select on book title that you would consider releasing to the world, which book would it be? And what brief note would you write inside the book to entice the reader to take the time to read it?

Quote of the Day: A book is not only a friend, it makes friends for you. When you have possessed a book with mind and spirit, you are enriched. But when you pass it on you are enriched threefold. --Henry Miller

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


Sunday, September 03, 2006

September 3: Treaty of Paris Day

Today is the anniversary of the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris which ended the Revolutionary War. The treaty document was signed at the Hotel de York by David Hartley, the British Representative, and John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay, representing the colonies. In what was entitled "The Definitive Treaty of Peace between his Britannic Majesty and the United States of America," Britain recognized the thirteen colonies as free and independent states for the first time (1).

The document began as follows:

In the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.

It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts of the most serene and most potent Prince George the Third, by the grace of God, king of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, defender of the faith, duke of Brunswick and Lunebourg, arch- treasurer and prince elector of the Holy Roman Empire etc., and of the United States of America, to forget all past misunderstandings and differences that have unhappily interrupted the good correspondence and friendship which they mutually wish to restore, and to establish such a beneficial and satisfactory intercourse , between the two countries upon the ground of reciprocal advantages and mutual convenience as may promote and secure to both perpetual peace and harmony . . . . (2).

From the beginning of the Revolutionary War until the end, from the Declaration of Independence to the Treaty of Paris, two synonymous words were paramount in the Americans' struggle against the British: freedom and liberty. Since the French served as midwife for American independence, it's appropriate that one of these words is of French origin: liberty is from Old French via Latin. Freedom is of Anglo-Saxon origin.

The dictionary definitions from the American Heritage Dictionary are so similar as to practically indistinguishable:

Freedom: The condition of being free of restraints.

Liberty: The condition of being free from restriction or control.

Today's Challenge: Freedom's Just Another Name for . . . Liberty

Memorable quotes don't resonate with the reader by accident. They are crafted using stylistic devices (also known as rhetorical techniques) that make them stand out like italicized passages. The eight quotes below all refer to either freedom or liberty. Each quote also features one of the seven rhetorical techniques defined below. From the three options given for each quote, see if you can identify the most prominent rhetorical technique.

Allusion: A passing reference to a proper noun from history, the Bible, mythology, or literature.

Antithesis: Contrasting ideas used in a parallel structure in the same line or same sentence.

Irony: Saying the opposite of what is meant or expected.

Metaphor: A comparison of two unrelated nouns.

Parallelism: Repetition of grammatical structures in writing.

Personification: Using human attributes to describe things.

Simile: A comparison of two unrelated nouns using "like" or "as."

1. Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth. --George Washington

Metaphor, Allusion, Parallelism

2. Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed -- else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die. --Dwight D. Eisenhower

Irony, Allusion, Simile

3. Another thing: What has liberty done for us? Nothing in particular that I know of. What have we done for her? Everything. We've given her a home, and a good home, too. And if she knows anything, she knows it's the first time she every struck that novelty. --Mark Twain

Parallelism, Allusion, Personification

4. Liberty, n. One of Imagination's most precious possessions. --Ambrose Bierce

Irony, Allusion, Parallelism

5. We Americans are the peculiar, chosen people--the Israel of our time; we bear the ark of the liberties of the world. --Herman Melville

Irony, Allusion, Parallelism

6. We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. --Thomas Jefferson
Irony, Personification, Parallelism

7. Nothing brings more Pain than too much Pleasure; nothing more bondage than too much Liberty --Benjamin Franklin

Metaphor, Antithesis, Allusion

8. As long as men are free to ask what they must, free to say what they think, free to think what they will, freedom can never be lost, and science can never regress. --John F. Kennedy

Metaphor, Parallelism, Antithesis (3).

Quote of the Day: What other liberty is there worth having, if we have not freedom and peace in our minds -- if our inmost and most private man is but a sour and turbid pool? --Henry David Thoreau

1. Metaphor 2. Metaphor 3. personification 4. irony 5. allusion 6. parallelism 7. antithesis 8. Parallelism


2 - Klos, Stanley L. Treaty of Paris.

3 - The Book of American Values and Virtues (Edited by Erik A. Bruun and Robin Getzen). New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 1996.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

September 2: Great Fire of London Day

Today is the anniversary of the start of the Great Fire of London in the year 1666. The fire broke out in the king's bakery in Pudding Lane on the morning of September 2 and quickly spread throughout the city, raging for four days and nights (1).

Samuel Pepys, a naval administrator and Member of Parliament, kept an extensive diary from 1660-1669. In the following excerpt from his September 2, 1666 entry, he recount events during the early hours of the fire:

Some of our maids sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast today, Jane called up about three in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose, and slipped on my night-gown and went to her window, and thought it to be on the back side of Mark Lane at the farthest; but, being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off, and so went to bed again, and to sleep. . . . By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down tonight by the fire we saw, and that it is now burning down all Fish Street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently, and walked to the Tower; and there got up upon one of the high places, . . .and there I did see the houses at the end of the bridge all on fire, and an infinite great fire on this and the other side . . . of the bridge. . . . (2).

In the 17th century there were no fire brigades in London, a city that had one year previously been devastated by the Great Plague. The best hope for containing the fire was to pull down houses in the fire's path to create firebreaks. Despite the lord mayor's orders to do so, many property owners refused to sacrifice their homes. By the time the fire finally died out it had claimed 13,000 houses, 87 churches including St. Paul's Cathedral. There were only five documented deaths; however, nearly 200,000 people were left homeless (1).

Today's Challenge: Idioms on Fire
Many English expressions (idioms) feature fire. Given the number of words in the expression and the literal translation of the idiom from The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, see if you can identify the expression.

1. 2 words: To start to talk or ask questions.

2. 5 words: To worsen an already bad situation, as by increasing anger, hostility, or passion.

3. 2 words To become inflamed with enthusiasm.

4. 4 words: To combat evil or negative circumstances by reacting in kind.

5 3 words: A severe ordeal or test, especially an initial one.

6. 6 words: To pressure someone to consent to or undertake something.

7. 3 words: To take part in a dangerous undertaking.

8. 4 word: To function very well (3)

Quote of the Day: If the Almighty were to rebuild the world and asked me for advice, I would have English Channels round every country. And the atmosphere would be such that anything which attempted to fly would be set on fire. Winston Churchill

1. fire away
2. add fuel to the fire
3. catch fire
4. fight fire with fire
5. baptism of fire
6. hold someone's feet to the fire
7. play with fire
8. fire on all cylinders

1 -

2 - Samuel Pepys Diary. 1665-55. Bibliomania.

3 - Ammer, Christine. The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.