Friday, March 26, 2010

March 26: Metaphors for Life Day

Today is the birthday of American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963). Although he enrolled in college, Frost never earned a degree. He worked as a teacher, a cobbler, and an editor. Of course he is best known for his work as a poet, and, next to Shakespeare, he might just be the most quoted and anthologized poet of all time.

For more on the life of Frost, visit The Academy of American Poets at

Like all great poets, Frost explores the universal themes of humanity in his poems. For example, in The Road Not Taken he uses the metaphor of the road to explore the theme of choices made over a lifetime:


Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth.

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same.

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, andI--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
--Robert Frost

Today's Challenge -- Life is But a Dream:
In celebration of Frost's life, WLA challenges you to write your own metaphor for life. You can write your metaphor as a poem or write it in complete sentences. The key to a successful metaphor is to show a connection between two words that we normally don't associate with each other. For example, you might compare life to a game, a battle, a classroom, a banana, a building, a race, a book, a fire, an alphabet, or even a lunch box.

Here are two simple steps for writing a metaphor from the best book on poetry writing I know: Writing Poetry by Shelley Tucker (Goodyear Books 1992) :

How to Write a Metaphor

Definition: A metaphor is a comparison between to unrelated nouns.

Step 1. Write out your two unrelated nouns: Example: Life is a song.

Step 2: Expand and elaborate on your metaphor by asking yourself Who? What? When? Where? Why? or How?


Life is a song with a consistant melody, but constantly changing lyrics.

Life is a punk rock song -- sung acappella.

Life is a song that you write yourself but that you sing with others.

Quote of the Day: The game of life is not so much in holding a good hand as playing a poor hand well. --H.T. Leslie

Thursday, March 25, 2010

March 25: Celebration of Greek Roots Day

Today is Greek Independence Day. After rebelling against the imperial rule of the Ottoman Empire, the Greeks declaired their independence on March 25, 1821. Whether or not we have Greek ancestors, all of us are indepted to the Greeks for their contributions to civilization; democracy, tragedy, comedy, history, and philosophy are just a sampling Greek inventions that changed the world.

The English language is another area that owes a debt of graititude to the Greeks. While they did not invent the alphabet, the Greeks certainly adapted and perfected it after acquiring it from the Phonecians around 800 B.C. According to David Sacks excellent book, Language Visible: Untraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z, the Greeks' key adaptation was the addition of vowels: "The Greeks bequeathed to the West an alphabet that had been adapted to an Indo-European language (Greek) and was therefore accessible to other European tongues. Specifically, the Greeks had introduced vowel letters -- the equivalents of our A, E, I, O, and U -- where earlier, Semitic versions of the alphabet had contained none. Vowel letters brought the alphabet forward to a point where it could be fitted to most other languages." And of course one of those European tongues was English.

In addition to the "alphabet," the Greeks contributed several other key words used to describe language:

Words about Words and Writing
(Definitions from Success With Words: A Guide to The American Language. Published by Reader's Digest, 1983).

Alphabet: From the first two letters of the Greek alphabet, alpha and beta.

Dialect: The regional or social variety of a language.

Etymology: Word history.

Grammar: The structure of language.

Homonym: Words that have the same form but different meaning. Literally "same name."

Idiom: An expression that is traditionally correct but that does not necessarily follow general rules, from idios = private.

Poem: A composition written in meter or rhythm.

Rhetoric: The art of public speaking or the study of effective writing.

Synonym: A word that means the same thing as another.

Syntax: The branch of grammar dealing with the grouping and ordering of words.

Today's Challenge: It's Greek to Me

Grab a dictionary and search out words beginning with the Greek prefixes listed below. Try to find at least three examples for each prefix.

anti (against)
auto (self)
chrono (time)
geo (earth)
hemi (half)
hetero (different)
micro (small)
hydro (water)
philo (love)
phono (sound)
photo (light)
physio (nature)
poly (much, many)
psycho (mind)
tele (distance)

Quote of the Day: Give me a word, any word, and I show you that the root of that word is Greek. --Gus Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March 24: Mash-up Day

Today we look at a word that you will not find in the dictionary – yet! According to Newsweek, the word "mash-up" was coined in 2001 by DJ Freelance Hellraiser who used Christian Aguilera’s vocals from ‘Genie in a Bottle’ and "recorded [them] over the instrumentals from ‘Hard to Explain.’" Mash-up is not just a musical term, however. A mash-up applies to any combination of two or more forms of media: music, film, television, computer program, etc.

So what does March 24 have to do with this strange new term? Well, on this date in 1973, Pink Floyd released its groundbreaking Dark Side of the Moon album. Later -- no one really knows when – someone came up with the crazy idea of combining, or ‘mashing,’ the Pink Floyd album with the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz. The fans of this mash-up claim over a 100 different moments where Pink Floyd’s music and lyrics oddly coincide with events and actions in the film. For example, when Mrs. Gulch first appears riding her bicycle, the bells and chimes at the beginning of the song "Time" begin to sound.

To learn more, do a Google search of "Dark Side of the Rainbow." "Mash-up" is just one example of a neologism, a new word that is created to describe some kind of phenomenon, concept, or invention. Some of these words have the lifespan of a common housefly, but others, if they are used enough, eventually are catalogued and included in the English lexicon.

Wordsmiths at the Oxford English Dictionary, for example, have the "rule of five" to guide their decision about whether or not to publish a neologism in the dictionary. According to the rule, the word must be published in at least five different sources over a five-year period. As a result, lexicographers are always reading, searching for potential new additions to the dictionary.

If you want to be ahead of the curve on new words, check out the web site The site is maintained by Paul McFedries, a technical writer with an obvious love of language. Here is the description of his site in his own words: Wordspy "is devoted to lexpionage, the sleuthing of new words and phrases. These aren't 'stunt words' or 'sniglets,' but new terms that have appeared multiple times in newspapers, magazines, books, Web sites, and other recorded sources."

Challenge: Mother Tongue Lashing
Here is a lexical mash-up I call Mother Tongue Lashing. It takes advantage of the wealth of compound words and expressions in English. For each pair of words below, name a word that can follow the first word and precede the second one to complete a compound word or a familiar two-word phrase.

Jelly __________ Bag.

Bean - Jelly Bean, Bean Bag

1. Life __________ Travel
2. Punk __________ Candy
3. Green _________ Tack
4. Rest __________ Work
5. Light __________ Book
6. Rock __________ Dust
7. Spelling __________ Sting
8. Night __________ House

Create your own Mother Tongue Lashings. Use a dictionary to make sure that you have two-word expressions or compound words, not just two-word combinations.

Quote of the Day: A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks that others throw at him --Sidney Greenberg

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

March 23: Meteorological Metaphors Day

Today is World Meteorological Day, celebrating the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization founded in 1950. Weather is literally all around us, but it is also figuratively all around us and in us, especially in our everyday language.

Look at the expressions below:

A port in storm
Chase rainbows
Cloud nine
Cloud of suspicion
Fair-weather friend
Head in the clouds
Greased lightning
Shoot the breeze
A snow job
Steal someone’s thunder
Tempest in a teapot
Under the weather

Each expression refers to an aspect of weather; however, the actual meaning of each expression has nothing to do with literal weather. For example, a "snow job" is an attempted deception, not a task you need a snow shovel for.

On Metrological Metaphor Day, listen to the words people speak around you. Are they borrowing weather adjectives to describe the stormy mood of their boss or the sunny disposition of their best friend? What other adjectives might fit this category: inclement, icy, hazy . . . ? Can you think of more expressions or adjectives to add to the above list?

Challenge: "Over the Rainbow"
Weather might just be the most common metaphor for song writers. List song titles that use weather as a metaphor in the title or the lyrics. Here are the lyrics to a great Bruce Springsteen song to get you started:

Waitin' On A Sunny Day

It's rainin' but there ain't a cloud in the sky
Musta been a tear from your eye
Everything'll be okay
Funny thought I felt a sweet summer breeze
Musta been you sighin' so deep
Don't worry we're gonna find a way

I'm waitin', waitin' on a sunny day
Gonna chase the clouds away
Waitin' on a sunny day

Without you I'm workin' with the rain fallin' down
Half a party in a one dog town
I need you to chase the blues away
Without you I'm a drummer girl that can't keep a beat
And ice cream truck on a deserted street
I hope that you're coming to stay

I'm waitin', waitin' on a sunny day
Gonna chase the clouds away
Waitin' on a sunny day

Hard times baby, well they come to tell us all
Sure as the tickin' of the clock on the wall
Sure as the turnin' of the night into day
Your smile girl, brings the mornin' light to my eyes
Lifts away the blues when I rise
I hope that you're coming to stay

Quote of the Day: Time is a storm in which we are all lost. --William C. Williams