Thursday, September 20, 2007

September 20: Recitation Day

Today is the birthday of Donald Hall, American poet and the 14th U.S. Poet Laureate. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1928, and when he was only sixteen, he attended the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. In his 50-year career as a writer, Hall has published poems, essays, letters, children's books, and literary criticism (1).

In 1985 Hall wrote a short essay for Newsweek's "My Turn" column entitled "Bring Back the Out-Loud Culture" where he challenged readers to return to reading and reciting aloud:

Good readers hear what they read even though they read in silence: speed reading is barbaric. When we read well, in silence, we imagine how the words would sound if they were said aloud. Hearing print words in the inward ear, we understand their tone. If we see the sentence "Mr. Armstrong shook his head," the inner voice needs to understand whether Mr. Armstrong disapproved or was outraged -- before the inner voice knows how to speak the words.

If when we read silently we do not hear a text, we slide past words passively, without making decisions, without knowing or caring about Mr. Armstrong's mood. We might as well be watching haircuts or "Conan the Barbarian." In the old Out-Loud Culture, print was always potential speech; even silent readers, too shy to read aloud, inwardly heard the sound of words. Everyone's ability to read was enhanced by recitation. Then we read aggressively; then we demanded sense (2).

Although written in 1985, Hall's words are as true today as ever.

Today's Challenge: Out-Loud Renaissance
Read something aloud today: quality poem or a passage from a good book. Challenge yourself this week to commit a favorite poem or passage to memory. See if it helps you pay more attention to the written word.

Quote of the Day: We must encourage our children to memorize and recite. As children speak poems and stories aloud, by the pitch and muscle of their voices they will discover drama, humor, passion, and intelligence in print. In order to become a nation of readers, we must again become a nation of reciters. -- Donald Hall


1 -

2 - Hall, Donald. "Bring Back the Out-Loud Culture." Newsweek 15 April 1985: 12.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

September 19: Emoticon Day

On this date in 1982 at 11:44 a.m., Professor Scott E. Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University posted a historic message on an electronic bulletin board. The message read: "I propose the following sequence for joke markers: :-)." Fahlman claims he is the first to use the "smiley face," saying "I've never seen any hard evidence that the :-) sequence was in use before my original post, and I've never run into anyone who actually claims to have invented it before I did" (1).

To learn more about the history of the emoticon visit the Carnegie Mellon site.

Today's Challenge: Sideways Smiley Synthesis
With normal English words, you can turn to the known entities found in the dictionary, or you can coin your own. The same is true with emoticons. Visit MSN Messenger and Yahoo Messenger to see lists of the many emoticons that have evolved in the past 25 years. Then, use your own creativity to construct your own emoticon.

Quote of the Day: I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile — some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question. --Vladimir Nabokov when asked, "How do you rank yourself among writers (living) and of the immediate past?


1- Lovering, Daniel. "Emonticons, It's Your Silver Anniversary." The Seattle Times 19 Sept. 2007: C-1.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

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 -

Monday, September 17, 2007

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.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

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 highest 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

Thursday, September 13, 2007

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 -

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

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.

Monday, September 10, 2007

September 10: Sibboleth 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 -

Sunday, September 09, 2007

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 influential: 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 the frenetic patter that was 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?

Saturday, September 08, 2007

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 06, 2007

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.

September 6: Words Borrowed 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 -

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

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.


September 6: Words Borrowed 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 04, 2007

September 4: Light Bulb Joke Day

Today is the anniversary of the opening of the first commercial electric power station. On September 4, 1882 Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) pulled the switch that lit the streets of New York City (one square mile) for the first time.

Edison held over one thousand patents, but his best known invention is the one he invented in 1879: the light bulb or the "electric lamb" as it was known in those days. But the light bulb is just one component in a much larger system that was perfected by Edison. We take electricity for granted today, but before any single bulb can be lit, an entire power network must be set up and made operational. As explained by Edison biographer Neil Baldwin, lighting the streets of New York took much more than just screwing in a light bulb:

You have to think of the dynamo that generates the electricity, the wire that goes under the streets, the wire that goes from the streets to the actual apartment or factory, the fuses, the measuring system for the meters, the filaments of the bulb.

No one before or after Edison had demonstrated such a capacity for innovative thinking. He generated an amazing quantity of new ideas and transformed those ideas into practical inventions that change the lives of every man, woman, and child in America. In addition to the light bulb, the phonograph, motion picture camera, telegraph, telephone, and typewriter are just a few examples of the innovations he either developed or improved. Not only were his ideas numerous, they were also practical. His Menlo Park laboratory laid the foundation for the modern research laboratory -- companies like General Electric that bring teams of people together to research, test, and manufacture the latest technology. Edison had a seemingly boundless reservoir of energy -- he was known for working for one hundred nights in a row in his lab -- but he also knew how to collaborate with others to multiply his efforts.

Speaking of working alone versus working with groups, one offshoot of Edison's invention -- one that he most likely did not invent -- was the light bulb joke. These jokes are an example of a genre of jokes, like "Knock, knock jokes" or "Why did the chicken cross the road jokes," that have endless variations, covering just about any group of people imaginable: religious, professional, cultural, or special interest group. The set-up question is always the same: How many (name of group) does it take to change a light bulb?

The answer to the question is the punch line, which inevitably pokes fun at the target group.

Today's Challenge: The Bulbs They Are A-Changin'
Joke writing, like any genre of writing, requires creative thinking and attention to structure. Below are ten sample light bulb jokes from Energy Quest, the energy education website of the California Energy Commission. Read the jokes, and then take a your own "turn" at writing some of your own light bulb jokes.

1. How many telemarketers does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but they have to do it while you're eating dinner.

2. How many Valley Girls does it take to change a light bulb? "Oh my GOD! Like, manual labor? Gag me with a spoon! For sure."

3. How many reference librarians does it take to change a light bulb? I don't know; I'll have to check on that and get back to you.

4. How many science fiction writers does it take to change a light bulb? Two, but it's actually the same person doing it. He went back in time and met himself in the doorway and then the first one sat on the other one's shoulder so that they were able to reach it. Then a major time paradox occurred and the entire room, light bulb, changer and all was blown out of existence.

5. How many paranoids does it take to change a light bulb? WHO WANTS TO KNOW?

6. How many procrastinators does it take to screw in a light bulb? One, but he has to wait until the light is better.

7. How many mystery writers does it take to change a light bulb? Two. One to screw the bulb almost all the way in, and one to give a surprising twist at the end.

8. How many dull people does it take to change a light bulb? One.

9. How many fiction writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
"It was late, and the room was dark. Something was wrong..." (2)

Quote of the Day: Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. --Thomas Edison

1 - Baldwin, Neil. "Thomas Edison." Booknotes Life Stories. Ed. Brian Lamb. New York: Times Books, 1999.

2 - Energy Quest. California Energy Commission.

Monday, September 03, 2007

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 be 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.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

September 2: The 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 2nd 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.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

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 world's 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

Friday, August 31, 2007

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 guarantee 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

Thursday, August 30, 2007

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 talk show 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. Constitution

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.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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 -

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

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 -