Sunday, August 29, 2010

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

Write: Should spelling count when you write essay in school? Make your case.

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

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Friday, August 27, 2010

August 28: New Words from the Workplace Day

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

Flexplace is just one example of the many neologisms, new words, that emerge and continue to emerge from the constantly evolving workplace. Flexplace is the offspring of an earlier neologism flextime (also flexitime) which appeared in print in 1972 to describe working conditions in which employees could vary their starting and finishing times as long as they worked the contracted number of hours in a week. As early as 1974 Economist magazine forcasted the technological explosion that would allow office staff to work from home. The word used here was telecommute: "As there is no logical reason why the cost of telecommunications should vary with distance, quite a lot of people by the late 1980s will telecommute daily to their London offices while living on a Pacific island if they want" (2).

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

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

Today's Challenge: Words at Work

The 8 words below are workplace neologisms being watched by Word Spy. See if you can match up the term with its definition.

modem cowboy/cowgirl

hot desk

corporate concierge


touchdown center

virtual manager

to office


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Word of the Day: funemployment - Check out the definition at

Write: What is the newest word you have heard or read? What does it mean, and how does it's creation reflect our changing world?

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


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

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

Thursday, August 26, 2010

August 26: Women's Suffrage Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. mankind

2. man's achievements

3. man-made

4. the common man

5. man the stockroom

6. nine man-hours

7. businessman

8. fireman

9. steward or stewardess

10. congressman

Word of the Day: disinfranchise (verb) - deprived of the rights of citizenship especially the right to vote

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

Write: If you were to make a change to the U.S. Constitution, what would it be? Explain your reasoning.

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

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