Friday, September 12, 2008

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).

Word of the Day: neologism
A neologism is a new word that comes into use. In the age of the internet and ever-evolving technologies, neologisms are more prevalent than at anytime in history.

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 -

September 12: Suffix Day

On this day in 1896 the first Olympic marathon was run in Athens, Greece. The origin of the word marathon comes from Greek legend. According to the story, a Greek foot-soldier Pheidippides was sent as a messenger from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce the Greek victory over the Persian army. As he approached Athens, having run a distance of nearly 25 miles, Pheidippides collapsed and died. He did not die, however, without completing his mission; with his last gasp he uttered “niki,” the Greek word for victory.

Incidentally, the word niki is derived from the name of the Greek goddess of victory: Nike – a name that would later become the trademark of a running shoe manufacturer in Oregon.

The word marathon evolved over time to mean more than just a long distance race. Beginning in the 1920s, dance marathons became a fad. The term dance marathon then became blended to become dancethon. Later –thon became a popular suffix for describing a variety of activities that people do for long periods. According to Geoffrey Nunberg in The Way We Talk Now, the first telethon was held in 1949. Milton Berle spent 16 hours on air, and one of his guests was a young comedian who would raise the telethon to an art form, Jerry Lewis. Telethons were followed by pledgeathons, callathons, bikeathons, bowlathons, walkathons, and swimathons (1).

Word of the Day: Toponym
Marathon is an example of a toponym: a word that began as a specific place name (a proper noun) and evolved into a common noun. Like the word marathon, many words we use in English have attachments to specific places and events from the past, such as afghan, bikini, bourbon, and angora.

Quote of the Day: The starting line of the New York City marathon is kind of a giant time bomb behind you about to go off. It is the most spectacular start in sport. –Bill Rogers

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

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.

Word of the Day: asymmetrical warfare
This noun is a neologism, which according to Word Spy means, “Warfare in which the combatants have markedly different military capabilities and the weaker side uses non-standard tactics such as terrorism.”

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.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

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?

Word of the Day: opprobrium
This word, which originates from Latin, is a noun that means “disgrace arising from exceedingly shameful conduct; ignominy.” Notice how H.L. Mencken uses it in context in the quote below.

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 -

Monday, September 08, 2008

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 in regard to the culture of both American and the world. Two huge examples of this influence are Silicon Valley and Hollywood. 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).

Word of the Day: Slang
Language that is non-standard, informal, and – depending on who you talk to – either novel and vivid, or coarse and vulgar. The word originally referred to the “special vocabulary of tramps and thieves,” and later evolved to include the “jargon of a particular profession” (5).

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?

5 – Online Etymology Dictionary

Sunday, September 07, 2008

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.

Word of the Day: Peruse
This word, originally from Middle English, once meant “to use or to wear out.” Today it means “to read carefully.” Some people mistakenly use it to mean “to skim-read” or “to glance over" (3).

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 -

3- Online Etymology Dictionary

Saturday, September 06, 2008

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.

Word of the Day: effervescent
This univocalic adjective derives from Latin. An effervescent liquid is bubbling. An effervescent person is lively and vivacious.

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.

Friday, September 05, 2008

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

Word of the Day: faux pas
This word, which means “an embarrassing social blunder,” has its origins in French. Literally translated, it means “false step.”

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 -

Thursday, September 04, 2008

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.

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 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. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown
2. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
3. Angels & Demons by Dan Brown
4. The Lovely Bones: A Novel by Alice Sebold
5. Deception Point by Dan Brown (2).

Today's Challenge: If You Love Your Book, Let It Go!
Write your own literary message in a bottle. If you were to select a book to release 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?

Word of the Day: Serendipity
Meaning an accidental but fortunate discovery, “serendipity” is the perfect word to describe the finding of a book. The word was coined by Horace Walpole who got if from a Persian fairy tale entitled “The Three Princes of Seredip.” In the story the princes never found what they were looking for on their quests; however, in the process for looking for one thing, they found something else just as wonderful (3).

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.


3 – Online Etymology Dictionary

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

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 changed 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 eight 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. (2)

Word of the Day: elucidate
To make clear, as in explaining or clarifying something that is unclear. Originates from Latin lucidus meaning “light, bright, clear” that same root as the adjective “lucid” (3).

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.

3 – Online Etymology Dictionary

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

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).

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 colonists’ 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, 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 figurative comparison of two unrelated nouns.

Parallelism: Repetition of grammatical structures in writing.

Personification: Using human attributes to describe things.

Simile: A figurative 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).

Word of the Day: Revolution
This word, originally from French, emerged in the 14th century as an astronomy term referring to the movement of celestial bodies. It did not acquire a political meaning until the 1600s, where it was used to describe turnarounds in power as well as in planets. The word took on new connotations in 1987 when the song Revolution became the first Beatles song ever to be featured in a television commercial. The ad prompted Paul McCartney to say, “Songs like Revolution don’t mean a pair of sneakers, they mean Revolution” (4).

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

Answers: 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.
4 – Online Etymology Dictionary

Monday, September 01, 2008

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).

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 and 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 idioms (expressions of two or more words that mean something different from the literal meaning of the individual words) 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 (2).

Word of the Day: Curfew
While today this word refers to laws which require people to be off the streets and in their homes by a designated time, the word’s definition once included the nightly ringing of a bell as a signal to inhabitants to cover their fires before going to sleep. Curfew originates from the Anglo-French coeverfu (1285) meaning “Cover fire” (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

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

3 – Online Etymology Dictionary