Monday, July 01, 2013

July 1: Strunk and White Day

July 1:  Strunk and White Day

Today is the birthday of William Strunk, Jr.(1869-1946), the principal author of The Elements of Style.  This book, also known as Strunk and White, is without a doubt one of the most influential style guides of all time, selling over ten million copies.  Strunk originally published the book as an instructional pamphlet for his students at Cornell University in 1918.  The book gained its great notoriety after it was revised and published by Strunk’s former student E. B. White in 1959.

The 11 Principles of Composition below are just a sample of the advice for writers found in The Elements of Style.

1.      Choose a suitable design and stick to it.

2.      Make the paragraph the unit of composition.

3.      Use the active voice.

4.      Put statements in positive form.

5.      Use definite, specific, concrete language.

6.      Omit needless words.

7.      Avoid a succession of loose sentences.

8.      Express coordinate ideas in similar form.

9.      Keep related words together.

10.  In summaries, keep to one tense.

11.  Place the emphatic words of a sentence at the end.

Assignment 1:  Select one of the principles in the list above and explain why it is either good advice or bad advice for writers.  

Assignment 2:  What is your single most important Principle of Composition?  In other words what do you think is the most important piece of advice that a writer can follow?  State your advice as a rule; then, explain it in detail with showing examples where appropriate.
Quote of the Day:  Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.  –William Strunk, Jr.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

June 30: One Book Author Day

On this date in 1936, the novel Gone with the Wind was published by Margaret Mitchell.  The website Goodreads has a list of over 60 authors who wrote a single novel.  Notable titles include To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye.

For a fascinating examination of this topic, check out the documentary The Stone Reader.  The film traces one man's quest to find one book author Dow Mossman who published The Stones of Summer in 1976.

Today's Quote:  After all, tomorrow is another day.  --Last line of Gone with the Wind

Saturday, June 29, 2013

June 29: Blended Words Day

On this date in 1995, Diane White, writing in The Boston Globe, coined the blended word bridezilla (bride + Godzilla) to describe "brides who are particularly difficult and obnoxious."  White's neologism follows a trend that began in the 20th century of combining two words to form a single new word.   Blends are also called portmanteau words, portmanteau being the French term for a suitcase with two compartments.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

June 27: The Lottery Day

The short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson takes place on June 27th.  The story was published in the New Yorker on June 26, 1948.

June 27th on the Roman calendar is Initium Aestasis, the beginning of summer.

Listen to the story and a brief discussion of the story on the New Yorker Podcast.

Or watch a brief film version:

William Brennan, a writer for Slate's culture blog provides some insights on Jackson's writing process.

Today's Challenge:  Today in Fiction
If you were to write a story set on a single day, what specific date would you choose?  Why?

Quote of the Day:  I frankly confess to being completely baffled by Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery.’ Will you please send us a brief explanation before my husband and I scratch right through our scalps trying to fathom it?  --Miriam Friend in a letter to the editor of The New Yorker.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

June 26: Personal Pronoun Day

On this date in 1963, John Lennon and Paul McCartney began composing the song "She Loves You."  They began on their tour bus, continued work in their hotel room in Newcastle, and finished the following day at the home of Paul's father in Liverpool.

When they finished the song, John and Paul played it for Paul's father Jim McCartney.  His response was:  "That's very nice son, but there's enough of these Americanisms around. Couldn't you sing 'She loves you, yes, yes, yes!'?"  (1).

In his biography of Paul McCartney entitled Many Years From Now, Barry Miles quotes Paul, discussing the song's grammar:

"It was again a she, you, me, I, personal preposition song. I suppose the most interesting thing about it was that it was a message song, it was someone bringing a message. It wasn't us any more, it was moving off the 'I love you, girl' or 'Love me do', it was a third person, which was a shift away. 'I saw her, and she said to me, to tell you, that she loves you, so there's a little distance we managed to put in it which was quite interesting."

Of course, Paul should have said personal pronoun, not preposition.

For more on the Beatles and Pronouns, check out the following article:  I Me Mine:  The Beatles and Their Pronouns.

When it comes to rock songs and pronouns, who can forget the Grammar Rock Pronoun song?  It tells just about everything you need to know about pronouns and why we use them:

Today's Challenge:  The Beatles Pronoun Challenge
Can you name twenty titles of Beatles songs that contain at least one pronoun?  For extra-credit include some that have more than one.  True Beatles fans should be able to identify one song title consisting entirely of pronouns.

Quote of the Day:  I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.  --Lyrics from I Am the Walrus

1 -

Sample Titles:  I Me Mine, From Me to You, I Saw Her Standing There, I Want to Hold Your Hand

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

June 25: George Orwell Day

Today is the birthday of British journalist, essayist, and novelist George Orwell (1903-1950). His birth name was Eric Arthur Blair, and he was born in Motihari, India, where his father was serving as an official in the British colonial government. Orwell left India to get his education in British schools, but he returned to Asia in 1922 to work with the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. He decided to devote himself to writing full time in 1928, and in 1933 he published his first novel Down and Out in Paris and London and adopted his pen name, George Orwell.

Orwell's best known and most widely read novels are Animal Farm and 1984. Both novels are potent warnings against big government, totalitarianism, and fascism.

In Animal Farm, a political allegory, Mr. Jones' animals take over his farm, and in events that parallel the Russian Revolution, they learn that "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Nineteen Eighty-Four tells the story of a future dystopia called Oceania. The one-party government is in a perpetual state of war and is led by the all-seeing but unseen leader called Big Brother. From the very beginning of the book, the novel's main character, a party work named Winston Smith, is doing something that is both radical and unlawful: he is questioning his government, and he is writing his thoughts in a journal.

Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948 (reversing the numbers 4 and 8), but he probably should have called it 2084 since questions about big government, privacy, and the role of technology make this novel even more relevant in the 21st century than it was in the 20th.

Two words created by Orwell in 1984, doublethink and newspeak have been melded in our modern lexicon to become doublespeak, meaning language that is deliberately constructed to disguise rather than clarify meaning. William Lunz, author of the 1989 book Doublespeak, keeps Orwell's memory alive in his annual Doublespeak Awards, which call attention to language from government, business, and the military that is "grossly deceptive, evasive and euphemistic."

Orwell's use of the suffix -speak in 1984, for words such as newspeak, duckspeak, and oldspeak, popularized the use of the suffix -speak to refer to any particular variety of spoken English, such as Haigspeak, Bushspeak, or soccer-speak.

The 1946 essay Politics and the English Language is George Orwell's plea for writing that is clear, concise, and thoughtful. In a famous example, he presents the following passage from Ecclesiastes as a model of clarity:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

He then translates the passage into modern gobbledygook:

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

Also in Politics and the English Language, Orwell practices what he preaches when he presents the following concise list of rules for writers:

1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

4. Never use the passive [voice] where you can use the active.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

7. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Today's Challenge: Big Brother Is Not Eschewing Obfuscation
Below are several examples of doublespeak from William Lunz. See if you can wipe the fog off the language window and translate each phrase into its plain English equivalent:

1. genuine imitation leather
2. collateral damage
3. water landing
4. radiation enhancement devices
5. predawn vertical insertion
6. human remains pouches
7. previously thawed poultry
8. involuntarily terminated
9. immediate permanent incapacitation
10. high-velocity, multipurpose air circulators (1)

Quote of the Day: Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. Nathaniel Hawthorne Words—so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become, in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. --Nathaniel Hawthorne

Answers: 1. fake leather 2. civilian casualties 3. airplane crash in the ocean 4. nuclear weapons
5. attack by paratroopers 6. body bags 7. frozen chicken 8. fired 9. death 10. electric fan

1 - Lunz, William. Doublespeak. New York: Random House, 1989.

Monday, June 24, 2013

June 24: Devil's Dictionary Day

Today is the birthday of Ambrose Bierce, American journalist and short-story writer. He was born in Ohio in 1842, and after serving in the Civil War he travelled west. He rose to prominence as a journalist in San Francisco. His best known work of fiction is a short story called An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, a war story about the last thoughts of man before his execution.

Bierce's best know work though is his Devil's Dictionary, a satirical work featuring definitions that display Bierce's sardonic, piercing wit. Bierce began publishing his definitions as a part of his newspaper column in 1875 and continued until 1906. A complete collection of words and definitions was first published in 1911.

Here are some samples of the definitions:

Bigot: n. One who is obstinately and zealously attached to an opinion that you do not entertain.

Cynic: n. A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they ought to be. Hence the custom among the Scythians of plucking out a cynic's eyes to improve his vision.

Dictionary: n. A malevolent literary device for cramping the growth of a language and making it hard and inelastic. This dictionary, however, is a most useful work (1).

Today's Challenge: The Devil Made Me Define It
Given the definitions below from Bierces' Devil's Dictionary, see if you can come up with the appropriate word.

1. n. An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.

2. Adj. Able to pick with equal skill a right-hand pocket or a left.

3. n. The salt with which the American humorist spoils his intellectual cookery by leaving it out.

4. n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage . . . .

5. n. One to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.

6. n. A place where the wicked cease from troubling you with talk of their personal affairs, and the good listen with attention while you expound your own.

7. n. A rich thief.

8. n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.

9. n. A prestidigitator who, putting metal into your mouth, pulls coins out of your pocket.

10. n. A despot whom the wise ridicule and obey (1).

Quote of the Day: Year, n. A period of three hundred and sixty-five disappointments. --Ambrose Bierce

Answers: 1. telephone 2. ambidextrous 3. wit 4. love 5. patriot 6. heaven 7. kleptomaniac 8. peace 9. dentist 10. fashion

1 - Bierce, Ambrose. The Devil's Dictionary. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

June 23: Pangram Day

Today is the anniversary of the patent for the first QWERTY typewriter.

Around 1860 Christopher Latham Sholes, a journalist for the Milwaukee News, began his quest to create a machine that could write words both legibly and quickly on paper. Sholes' design was not the first attempt at creating a writing machine, but it was the fastest and most efficient model available when he filed for his patent in 1868.

Shoes great innovation was the QWERTY system (named for the arrangement of the first six letters on the first row of letters on the keyboard). As explained in Great Inventions, Sholes' design, coupled with the QWERTY letter arrangement, made his typewriter faster than a pen:

The secret of its speed lay in the keyboard design, which paradoxically slowed the typist down. Sholes arranged the letters in the now familiar qwerty sequence: this forces typists to move their fingers further than was really necessary to type common letter sequences but it gave the keys time to fall back into place after typing (1).

The name type-writer was coined by Sholes, who sold his machine to E. Remington & Sons in 1873. In 1874 the Remington typewriter hit the market at a price of $125. One of the first buyers was Mark Twain who completed the manuscript for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on his new machine, becoming the first writer ever to present a publisher with a typed manuscript (2).

Even today, in an era where metal keys have been replaced by electronic word processing, the QWERTY system remains the standard keyboard layout.

Wordplay enthusiasts have an entire category of words related to typewriter order. For example, the word typewriter can be written using just the letters on the top row of the keyboard.

Chris Cole's book Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities lists the following additional examples:

-Other common words that can be written using just the top row: repertoire, proprietor, perpetuity.

-Longest common word that can be typed using only letters from the middle row: alfalfa.

-Longest common words using letters in typewriter order: weigh, quips, quash, quaff, quill.

-Longest common words using letters in reverse typewriter order: soiree, sirree.

-Longest common words using just the left hand on the typewriter: aftereffects, stewardesses, reverberated, desegregated.

-Longest common words using just the right hand on the typewriter: polyphony, homophony.

-Longest common word using alternating hands: dismantlement.

-Longest common word using one finger: deeded.

-Longest word from adjacent keys: assessed, reseeded (3).

A less esoteric type of typewriter wordplay is called the pangram. Common to students who are learning the keyboard, a pangram is a single sentence that contains all 26 letters of the alphabet at least once, such as: The quick brown fox, jumps over the lazy dogs. A common competition among hardcore word-buffs is to create pangrams with the fewest possible errors. It is possible to create a 26-letter pangram, but it is hard to do without resorting to obscure words and strained syntax; for example, try to decifer this 26-letter pangram: Cwm, fjord-bank glyphs quiz vext.
Here are some other examples of pangrams that use more common words:

How quickly daft jumping zebras vex.

The five boxing wizards jump quickly.

Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs (3).

Today's Challenge: Pangrams with a Purpose
Writing: Try writing a review/summary of your favorite book or movie in the form of a one-sentence pangram. Don't worry about the number of letters you use; instead, just make sure you include all 26 letter.

Reading: As you do your summer reading, look for a pangrammatic window: "a sequence of letters in a work of literature that contains all of the letters of the alphabet" (3). In English, all 26 letters appear on average in a random passage of 1,000 letters, but see if you can find a shorter example.

Quote of the Day: If the monkey could type one keystroke every nanosecond, the expected waiting time until the monkey types out 'Hamlet' is so long that the estimated age of the universe is insignificant by comparison ... this is not a practical method for writing plays.
--Gian-Carlo Rota

1 - Dyson, James and Robert Uhlig. Great Inventions. New York: Barnes & Nobles Books, 2001.

2 - Baron, Naomi S. Alphabet to Email: How Written English Evolved and Where It's Heading. London: Routledge, 2000.

3 - Cole, Chris. Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities. New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1999.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

June 22: G. I. Day

Today is the anniversary of one of the most significant pieces of legislation in American history. On this date, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed into law the Service Members' Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill. Between 1944 and 1956 more than 7.8 million World War II veterans participated in the educational or training program.

Prior to the GI Bill, a college education was primarily an option only for the rich. Likewise, home ownership was out of the financial reach of most Americans. The GI Bill, however, fueled the American Dreams of millions of returning GIs. Almost half took advantage of the education and training aspects of the programs, while nearly 2.4 million took out home loans backed by the Veterans Administration.

With the end of World War II in sight, the GI Bill was a proactive step to prevent the problems that occurred in after World War I. Thousands of returning American soldiers at that time were given just $60 and a train ticket home. There was little thought of helping these doughboys with the transition from military to civilian life. During the Great Depression, thousands of veterans marched on Washington, D.C. in 1932 demanding payment of a promised bonus. Instead of money, the veterans received an order to disperse. President Herbert Hoover called up active duty soldiers, led by General Douglas MacArthur, to clear out the Bonus Marchers' camps using tear gas, bayonets, and rifles.

Soldiers returning from World War II thankfully had the GI Bill to ease them back into civilian life. Instead of unrest at the nation's capital, an unprecedented post-war boom across the nation resulted after World War II.

In 1984 the GI Bill was revamped under the leadership of Mississippi Congressman Gillespie V. "Sonny" Montgomery. Known as the Montgomery GI Bill, it features VA home loan guarantees as well as education programs just like the original GI Bill (1).

The abbreviation G.I. originates from the a U.S. Army designation for galvanized iron, the kind of iron used for heavy garbage cans. The term, through misinterpretation of the initials, came to mean government-issue or general-issue in the 1930s, referring to items issued to soldiers upon induction into the armed forces -- items such as uniforms, boots, or soap. The term GI first appeared in print referring to an enlisted man in 1939. In 1942 a comic strip for the Army weekly Yank used the term GI Joe, further popularizing the term (2).

In the armed forces shorthand language, such as abbreviations and acronyms, is used with a high frequency, so much so that the Army, for example, has an entire regulation devoted to the subject. It's called Army Regulation 25-52: Authorized Abbreviations, Brevity Codes, and Acronyms (ABCA).

The three different classes of shortened forms are defined in the regulation as follows:

Abbreviation: An abbreviation is a shortened form of a word or phrase. For example, appt - appointment, assgd - assigned, or PA - Pennsylvania.
Acronym: An acronym is a word formed from the initial letters of a name or parts of a series of words. For example, ACTS means Army Criteria Tracking System; ARIMS means Army Records Information Management System; and ASAP means as soon as possible.
Brevity Code: A brevity code is the shortened form of a frequently used phrase, sentence, or group of sentences, normally consisting entirely of upper case letters; for example, COMSEC means communications security, REFRAD means release from active duty, and SIGINT means signals intelligence.

Today's Challenge: The Army's ABCs
Below is a list of common U. S. Army abbreviations, brevity codes, and acronyms. See if you can identify what each stands for.

1. BDU


3. IED

4. IRR

5. HMMWV (Humvee)

6. MRE

7. NBC


9. RPG


11. PX

12. SOP

Quote of the Day: Neither a wise nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him. --Dwight D. Eisenhower

Answers: 1. Battle Dress Uniform 2. Continental United States 3. Improvised Explosive Device 4. Individual Ready Reserve 5. High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle 6. Meals Ready to Eat 7. Nuclear, Biological, Chemical 8. Reserve Officer Training Corps 9. Rocket Propelled Grenade 10. Physical Training 11. Post Exchange 12. Standard Operating Procedure

1- United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

2 - Ayto, John. 20th Century Words. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

3 - Army Regulation 25-52.

Friday, June 21, 2013

June 21: Buy A Book Day

On this date in 2003, 16-year old Emerson Spartz traveled nearly 4,000 miles, from Chicago to London, to buy a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Spartz could have stayed in the United States since the American release of the book was on the same day as the British release, but Spartz said that he wanted to be "where the story began" and to "feel the weight of that book" (1). The fifth installment in the Harry Potter series, Order of the Phoenix weighed in at 768 pages.

Almost ten years earlier the New York Times featured an article called The End of Books that speculated whether or not books and other print-based media were on their way out, being superceded by computer technology, principally hypertext. This is certainly not the first time that anyone prematurely declared books dead. As early as 1894 Scriberner's Magazine had an article entitled The End of Books relaying the predictions of Arthur Blackcross, who claimed that inventions like the photograph and the Kinetoscope, the first silent movie projector, would replace the antiquated written page.

John H. Lienhard, Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering and History at the University of Houston, makes an interesting analogy, challenging the conventional wisdom that says that new technologies replace old ones:

So, are paper books doomed? Oddly enough, they're not. Think about pianos. Pianos evolved from harpsichord improvements. But soon they were something wholly different. You still need a harpsichord for harpsichord music. In this century, cars replaced horses. But cars aren't much use in rough, roadless country (2).

Lienhard continues to argue in the article that books do something for us that no other media can. Instead of just supplying us images and sounds in a passive manner, books allow us to participated in the creation of images as we read actively and interact imaginatively with the text. Perhaps that's why readers like Emerson Spartz are willing to travel to distant cities to feel the weight of a book in their own hands.

And speaking of distant cities --the Greek word for book biblos originates from the name of a Phonecian city, Byblos, renowned for its manufacturing of paper from the Egyptian papyrus plant. It's the same root from which we get the word Bible, meaning book of books.

Today's Challenge: A Stack of Book Words
A book for all book lovers,(sometimes called bibliophiles) is A Passion for Books, a treasury of stories, essays, and lists all related to books. In a chapter called Bibliolexicon, it lists a number of words with the biblio root. See if you can match up each word with its correct definition. When you finish, go to your local bookstore and buy a book.

1. Bibliobibule
2. Biblioclast
3. Bibliodemon
4. Biblioklept
5. Bibliolater
6. Bibliophage
7. Bibliophobe
8. Biblioriptos
9. Bibliosopher
10. Bibliotaphe

A. One who steals books
B. One who buries or hides books
C. One who worships books
D. One who tears pages from or otherwise destroys books
E. A book fiend or demon
F. One who eats or devours books
G. One who reads too much
H. One who fears books
I. One who throws books around
J. One who gains wisdom from books (3)

Quote of the Day:
For books are more than books, they are the life
The very heart and core of ages past,
The reason why men lived and worked and died,
The essence and quintessence of their lives.
--Amy Lowell

Answers: 1. G 2. D 3. E 4. A 5. C 6. F 7. H 8. I 9. J 10. B

1 - Grobman, Paul. Vital Statistics: An Amazing Compendium of Factoids, Minutiae, and Random Bits of Wisdom. New York: Plume Books, 2005.

2 - Lienhard, John H. Engines of Ingenuity Episode No. 2009: "The End of Books: 1894"

3 - Rabinowitz, Harold and Rob Kaplan (Editors). Passion for Books: A Book Lover's Treasury. New York: Times Books, 1999.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

June 20: Hot Line, Cold War Day

Today is the anniversary of an important date in the history of communications. On this date in 1963 at Geneva, the United States and the Soviet Union signed what was called the "Hot Line Agreement," which established a direct communication link between the two superpowers.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, it became abundantly clear that without prompt, direct communication between the heads of state in the East and the West, tragic miscommunication leading to nuclear war might result. During the 1962 exercise in brinkmanship, President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev were forced to use intermediaries in their communications.

The Hot Line Agreement was the first bilateral agreement between the U.S. and the Soviet Union and the first step in recognizing that cooler heads should prevail when it comes the Cold War maneuvering of the nuclear powers (1).

It was the Soviet Union that first proposed the hot line in 1954. The word hot line first appeared in print in 1955, and the word brinkmanship, meaning the art of advancing to the very brink of war but not engaging in it, first appeared in 1956 (2).

Probably the most famous demonstration of the red phone comes to us via Hollywood rather than the history books. In the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, President Merkin Muffley, played by Peter Sellers, struggles to tell Soviet Premier Kissoff that an insane American general has ordered a nuclear bombing mission on Russia.

President Merkin Muffley: . . . Now then, Dmitri, you know how we've always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the Bomb... The Bomb, Dmitri... The hydrogen bomb!... Well now, what happened is... ah... one of our base commanders, he had a sort of... well, he went a little funny in the head... you know... just a little... funny. And, ah... he went and did a silly thing... Well, I'll tell you what he did. He ordered his planes... to attack your country... Ah... Well, let me finish, Dmitri... Let me finish, Dmitri... Well listen, how do you think I feel about it?... Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dmitri?... Why do you think I'm calling you? Just to say hello?... Of course I like to speak to you!... Of course I like to say hello!... Not now, but anytime, Dmitri. I'm just calling up to tell you something terrible has happened... It's a friendly call. Of course it's a friendly call... Listen, if it wasn't friendly... you probably wouldn't have even got it . . . .

Today's Challenge: Hot and Cold Running IdiomsBelow are descriptions of expressions that contain either the word hot or cold. Given the number of words in each expression along with a description, see if you can name the phrase:

1. Four words: Newly printed; sensational and exciting.

2. Two words: Immediate, complete withdrawal from something, especially an addictive substance.

3. Two words: Trouble or difficulty.

4. Two words: Retreat from an undertaking; lose one's nerve.

5. Two words: Deliberate disregard, slight, or snub.

6. Four words: Extremely angry.

7. Four words: In a position of extreme stress, as when subjected to harsh criticism.

8. Five words: To cause one to shiver from fright or horror.

Quote of the Day: Hot heads and cold hearts never solved anything. --Billy Graham

Answers: 1. Hot off the presses 2. Cold turkey 3. Hot water 4. Cold feet 5. cold shoulder 6. Hot under the collar 7. In the hot seat 8. Make one's blood run cold.

1 - United States Department of State. Memorandum of Understanding Between The U.S. and the U.S.S.R. Regarding the Establishment of a Direct Communication Link

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

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

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

June 19: Create A Monster Day

Today marks the anniversary of one history's most remarkable meeting of literary minds. On the night of June 19, 1816, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley, and Byron's doctor and travel companion Dr. John Polidori met in a villa on the shores of Lake Geneva, Switzerland.
Inspired no doubt by the unseasonably stormy weather of that summer, caused by the eruption of Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, the group gathered to read aloud from a collection of German ghost stories, called The Fantasmagoriana. These stories inspired Lord Byron to challenge each person in the group to compose a ghost story (1).

One might guess that the two established poets Byron and Shelley would battle for first place in the contest; however, it was the two members of the party without literary reputation who rose to the challenge, each creating a monster that would change literature forever.

The English Doctor, John Polidori, wrote what has come to be called the first vampire tale, a short story called "The Vampyre," published in 1819. Although his story is not widely read today, it predates other stories in the vampire genre and is seen as the inspiration of the masters of the form: Sheridan le Fanu, Edgar Allen Poe, and, of course, Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula (2).

As far as the overall winner of the contest, based on the criteria of both influence and creativity, the award must go to Mary Shelley, whose contribution to the contest later became her novel Frankenstein (1818). In her introduction to Frankenstein, Mary credits a conversation between Byron and her husband, Shelley, as the inspiration for her story. She listened attentively as the two poets discussed Darwin's discoveries and as they speculated about whether or not the secret of life could be found and whether or not a human corpse could be reanimated.

That evening the seeds of the poets' conversation germinated in Mary's mind, producing a vivid nightmare that gave her the story that would captivate readers and moviegoers for generations. In her introduction to Frankenstein, Mary Shelley describes what she saw in her nightmare:

I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be, for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to make the stupendous mechanism of the Creator of the world. His success would terrify the artist; he would rush away from his odious handiwork, horror-stricken. He would hope that, left to itself, the slight spark of life which he had communicated would fade, that this thing which had received such imperfect animation would subside into dead matter, and he might sleep in the belief that the silence of the grave would quench forever the transient existence of the hideous corpse which he had looked upon as the cradle of life. He sleeps; but he is awakened; he opens his eyes; behold, the horrid thing stands at his bedside, opening his curtains and looking on him with yellow, watery, but speculative eyes.

As a result of Byron's contest, on this one faithful day, two unique literary monsters were born.

Today's Challenge: Famous Monsters of Book Land
Long before Shelley and Polidori created their monsters, other monsters filled the pages of ancient myth. See if you can match up each monster below with its appropriate description. Then, challenge your family or a group of friends to create their own horror stories and monsters.

1. Grendal

2. Cyclopes

3. Minotaur

4. Cerberus

5. Hydra

6. Sphinx

7. Harpies

8. Medusa

A. The many-headed snake that Hercules defeated in one of his labors.

B. The monster that Beowulf fought and killed in the Old English epic.

C. The creature with a bull's head and a man's body that was confined in the Labyrinth until it was killed by Theseus.

D. The Gorgon who had snakes for hair and turned anyone who looked at her into stone. She was killed by Perseus.

E. The monster with the wings and claws of a vulture and the head and body of a woman.

F. The winged monster with a woman's head and a lion's body. It challenged travellers with a riddle and killed them when they failed to solve it. It killed itself when Oedipus finally solved its riddle.

G. The three-headed dog who guards the entrance to Hades.

H. The race of one-eyed giants who made thunderbolts for Zeus.

Quote of the Day: Everyone thinks I'm a horrible person, but I'm really not. In fact, I have the heart of a child, and I keep it in a jar on my desk. --Stephen King

Answer: 1. B 2. H 3. C 4. G 5. A 6. F 7. E 8. D

1 - Woodbridge, Kim. "The Summer of 1816."

2 - John Polidori & The Vampyre Byron

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

June 18: Dr. Johnson's Dictionary Day

On this date in 1746 Dr. Samuel Johnson, poet and critic, signed a contract with bookseller Robert Dodsley to write the first comprehensive dictionary of the English language. Johnson thought he would complete the project in three years, but the dictionary was not completed and published until April 15, 1755.

Although it took six years longer than he first estimated, it was worth the wait. The dictionary contained 40,000 words and definitions, along with 114,000 supporting quotations, and is written with precision, clarity, and wit. Johnson did for English in nine years what it had taken 40 French lexicographers 40 years to complete for the French language (1).

Here are few examples of words and definition from Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language:

Amulet: An appended remedy, or preservative: a thing hung about the neck, or any other part of the body, for preventing or curing some particular diseases.

Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge, that busies himself in tracing the original and detailing the signification of words.

Microscope: An optick instrument, contrived various ways to give to the eye a large appearance of many objects which could not otherwise be seen.
Zootomy: Dissection of the bodies of beasts.
In his Preface, Johnson talks about the challenges he faced in trying to harness the recalcitrant words of English:

When I took the first survey of my undertaking, I found our speech copious without order, and energetick without rules: wherever I turned my view, there was perplexity to be disentangled, and confusion to be regulated; choice was to be made out of boundless variety, without any established principle of selection; adulterations were to be detected, without a settled test of purity, and modes of expression to be rejected or received, without the suffrages of any writers of classical reputation or acknowledged authority.

Having therefore no assistance but from general grammar, I applied myself to the perusal of our writers; and noting whatever might be of use to ascertain or illustrate any word or phrase, accumulated in time the materials of a dictionary, which, by degrees, I reduced to method, establishing to myself, in the progress of the work, such rules as experience and analogy suggested to me; experience, which practice and observation were continually increasing; and analogy, which, though in some words obscure, was evident in others.

Johnson's Dictionary of the English Language set the standard for future dictionaries. Unlike other languages like French and Italian that established academies to fix the language and prescribe how words should be used, Johnson's approach was not to prescribe but to describe the language. In this way, instead of fixing the language Johnson registered the English language by basing his definitions not solely upon his own whims, but upon the written record of centuries of writers in English. In the words of Simon Winchester, Johnson's method created "a whole new way of dictionary making, and an entirely new intellectual approach to the language, had been inaugurated" (2).

Johnson's process inspired the writers of the Oxford English Dictionary, whose 10 volumes were completed in 1928. And still today English lexicographers take the descriptive approach to dictionary writing by reading all kinds of published words and recording how the meaning of words are changing and what new words are appearing.

Today's Challenge: The Only Constant is Change
New editions of dictionaries in English are published every year because the language is constantly changing. Because of this change, some of the words from Johnson's Dictionary have very different definitions today than they did in 1755. See if you can match up the eight definitions and eight words below from Johnson's dictionary (3).

1. A hog dressed whole, in the West Indian manner.
2. Something yet unpublished; secret history.
3. The stone in the bladder.
4. Goods in the wife's disposal.
5. A medical prescription.
6. The refuse of any thing.
7. Splendid; magnificent; grand.
8. A small cup.

A. Anecdote
B. Barbecue
C. Calculus
D. Cruise
E. Paraphernalia
F. Pompous
G. Recipe
H. Riffraff

1. B 2. A 3. C 4. E 5. G 6. H 7. F 8. D

Quote of the Day: At painful times, when composition is impossible and reading is not enough, grammars and dictionaries are excellent for distraction. --Elizabeth Barrett Browning

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

2 -Winchester, Simon. The Meaning of Everything: The Story of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

3 - Hitchings, Henry. Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005.

Monday, June 17, 2013

June 17: Watergate Day

Today is the anniversary of the 1972 Watergate break-in, the event that lead ultimately to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The third-rate burglary of the Democratic Headquarters was not a significant event at the time, but two inexperienced reporters for the Washington Post, William Woodward and Carl Berstein, followed the story and the many people involved until it led them to the White House and into the Oval Office.

In their book All the President's Men (1974), Woodard and Berstein tell the story of how it all started:

June 17, 1972. Nine o'clock Saturday morning. Early for the telephone. Woodward fumbled for the receiver and snapped awake. The city editor of the Washington Post was on the line. Five men had been arrested earlier that morning in a burglary at Democratic headquarters, carrying photographic equipment and electronic gear. Could he come in?

The Democratic Party headquarters was located at the Watergate, a complex of buildings along the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. that contains hotel rooms, apartments, and office space. The burglars at Watergate on June 17 were trying to bug the offices of the Democratic headquarters. Woodward and Berstein were able to trace the burglars and the money they were paid to President Nixon's Committee for the Re-election of the President (CREEP).

Since the 1970s, the word Watergate and the suffix -gate have become synonymous with political scandal. Like the word marathon (see Word Daze April 10th), Watergate is an example of a toponym: a word that began as a specific place name (a proper noun) and evolved into a common noun. After Watergate, other scandals involving both Republican and Democrat politicians took on the -gate suffix:

Koreagate (1976)
Floodgate (1978)
Iraqgate (1989)
Travelgate (1993)
Filegate (1996)
Whitewatergate (1994)
Zippergate (1998) (1)

The 1976 film All the Presidents Men portrays Woodward and Bernstein's (played by Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman) journalistic pursuit of the Watergate story. The film, like the book, begins at the Watergate complex with the break-in and ends with the announcement of Nixon's resignation on August 8, 1974. Some of the most dramatic scenes involve the secret meetings between Bob Woodward and Deep Throat, whose true identity was kept secret until 2005 when the world learned his real name was W. Mark Felt, one-time Associate Director of the FBI. The film won four Oscars, including the Best Supporting Actor award for Jason Robards' portrayal of Washington Post Editor Ben Bradlee.

Today's Challenge: "Follow the Money."
Long before the famous movie line "Show me the Money!" there was a famous line delivered by Deep Throat (played by Hal Holbrook) to Woodward in one of their secret meetings. He told Woodward that the key to solving the puzzle of Watergate was to "Follow the Money." Below are six additional quotes from the film All the President's Men followed by descriptions of the speaker and the situation. See if you can match them up.

1. All non-denial denials. They doubt our ancestry, but they don't say the story isn't accurate.

2. I was at a party once, and, uh, Liddy put his hand over a candle, and he kept it there. He kept it right in the flame until his flesh was burned. Somebody said, "What's the trick?" And Liddy said, "The trick is not minding."
3. I don't mind what you did. I mind how you did it.
4. We're under a lot of pressure, you know, and you put us there. Nothing's riding on this except the, uh, first amendment to the Constitution, freedom of the press, and maybe the future of the country.

5. Look, there are two thousand reporters in this town, are there five on Watergate? When did the Washington Post suddenly get the monopoly on wisdom? Why would the republicans do it? McGovern's self-destructed just like Humphries, Muskie, the bunch of them. I don't believe this story. It doesn't make sense.
6. Boy, that woman was paranoid! At one point I - I suddenly wondered how high up this thing goes, and her paranoia finally got to me, and I thought what we had was so hot that any minute CBS or NBC were going to come in through the windows and take the story away.

A. Woodward repremanding Berstein after Woodward edited one of his stories without his approval.

B. Editor Ben Bradlee talking about the White House's reactions to the stories about Watergate written by Woodward and Berstein.

C. Scott, the Foreign Editor expressing his doubts about the importance of the Watergate story.

D. Deep Throat telling Woodward about one of the key figures involved in Watergate.

E. Editor Ben Bradlee talking to Woodward and Bertein about the importance of their work.

F. Carl Bertein expressing his surprise after a conversation with a source.

Quote of the Day: The most effective means of ensuring the government's accountability to the people is an aggressive, free, challenging, untrusting press. -- Colin Powell

Answers: 1. B 2. D 3. A 4. E 5. C 6. F

1 - Flexner, Stuart Berg and Anne H. Soukhanov. Speaking Freely: A Guided Tour of American English. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

June 16: Bloomsday

Today is the anniversary of one of the most important dates in the history of fiction. James Joyce's novel Ulysses, one of the 20th century's most important and most controversial novels, takes place on one day: June 16, 1904. The novel tracks the day in the life of three characters, Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus, as they walk the streets of Dublin, Ireland.

Although the book is set in Dublin, the characters and events parallel Homer's Greek epic the Odyssey. But Ulysses is not written in verse nor a traditional prose style; instead, Joyce's novel employs "stream of consciousness" narration, where instead of moving in a linear fashion, the story flows from the impressions, random thoughts, sensations, and associations of the characters. In an attempt to imitate the natural flow of the characters' thoughts and dialogue, Joyce omitted conventional punctuation. This, along with the novel's many allusions to history and literature, make the novel notoriously hard to read.

Here is a brief excerpt of the opening of the novel:

STATELY, PLUMP BUCK MULLIGAN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently-behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:--

Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

-- Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful jesuit.

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

Even before Ulysses was published it stirred up controversy because of its sexual passages. And the book was banned in the United States until 1933, when a New York judge ruled that the book was not obscene.

Born in Dublin in 1882, Joyce attended Catholic schools in Ireland and earned a degree in Latin. This probably explains his selection of the name of Ulysses for his protagonist, since Ulysses is the Roman name for the main character in Homer's epic poem, while Odysseus is the Greek name (1).

June 16 is a date where fans of Joyce hold public readings of Ulysses, and in Dublin, fans retrace the steps of the book's characters.

One resource traces 365 days of "events that did not really happen." It's called The Book of Fictional Days by Bob Gordon. Gordon's book ties each day of the year to events from fiction and film.

Today's Challenge: What and When It Didn't HappenMatch each of the events below from The Book of Fictional Days with the appropriate day and month (2).

1. Billy Joe McAllister jumps off the Tallahachee Bridge.

2. James Leer shoots Poe (Professor Grady Tripp's lover's husband's dog).

3. HAL 9000 becomes operational in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

4. Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf return to Rivendell and the house of Elrond in The Hobbit.

5. Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee arrives in Camelot (1528).

6. Horton the elephant hears a small noise in Horton Hears a Who.

7. Willy Wonka gives a tour of his chocolate factory.

8. Sam Baldwin and Annie Reed meet at the Empire State Building in Sleepless in Seattle.

A. January 12
B. February 1
C. February 14
D. February 26
E. May 1
F. May 15
G. June 3
H. June 19

Quote of the Day: Mistakes are the portals of discovery. --James Joyce

Answers: 1. G 2. D 3. A 4. E 5. H 6. F 7. B 8. C

1 - Raftery, Miriam. 100 Books That Shaped World History. San Mateo, CA: Bluewood Books, 2002.

2 - Gordon, Bob. The Book of Fictional Days: A Collection of Events That Did Not Really Happen. Korea: Tide-mark Press Ltd., 2003.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

June 15: Benjamin Franklin Day

Today is the anniversary of one of the most famous science experiments ever conducted (no pun intended). In 1752, Benjamin Franklin flew a kite in a thunderstorm, proving that lightening is electricity. With the help of his son William, Franklin attached an iron rod to a silk kite and tied a metal key to the kite's string. After drawing lightening from a cloud, he touched the key with his knuckle which generated an electric spark.

Franklin's experiment on June 15 led to his development of the lightning rod. In 1753 he published an explanation of this new device along with instructions on how to use it on buildings and on ships (1).

In addition to practical applications, Franklin's experiments contributed to the known theories about electricity. According to U.S.,

Franklin's work became the basis for the "single fluid" theory. When something is being charged, such as a car battery, electricity flows from a positive body, that with an excess charge, to a negative body, that with a negative charge. Indeed, a car battery has plus and minus signs on its terminals.

Franklin was at a loss for known terms to describe his discoveries; as a result, he developed his own words, many of which still remain in the lexicon of electricity:

armature (2)

A Renaissance man in every sense of the term, Franklin's lifetime contributions went well beyond science. He aided Jefferson in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, persuaded the French to aid the rebel colonies in their fight with England, negotiated the peace with England after the war, and helped in the framing of the U. S. Constitution.

Perhaps Franklin is best known for his writings in Poor Richard's Almanack, published between 1733 and 1758. Full of proverbs, wit, and advice, Poor Richard's Almanack made Franklin an eminently quotable figure even though Franklin freely admitted that less than 10 percent of the sayings were original.

Today's Challenge: Franklin Never Said, "Go Fly A Kite!"
Ralph Keyes in the book The Quote Verifier traces the history of hundreds of quotes and misquotes, including several famous quotations attributed correctly or incorrectly to Benjamin Franklin. See if you can identify which of the quotes below originated with Franklin:

1. For want of a nail the shoe is lost, for want of a shoe the horse is lost, for want of a horse the rider is lost.

2. Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.

3. Love your neighbor, yet pull not down your hedge.

4. Whose house is of glass, must not throw stones at another.

5. Fish and guests in three days are stale.

6. Things as certain as death and taxes. . . . (3).

Quote of the Day: The immortal axiom-builder, who used to sit up nights reducing the rankest old threadbare platitudes to crisp and snappy maxims that had a nice, varnished, original look . . . --Mark Twain about Benjamin Franklin

Answers: None of the quotes originated with Franklin. Instead, as Twain explains above, he adapted them all from other writers, making them often more clear and concise.

1. George Herbert
2. Ralph Waldo Emerson
3. George Herbert
4. George Herbert
5. Plautus
6. Daniel Defoe

1 - The Editors of The Old Farmer's Almanac. Ben Franklin's Almanac: Wit, Wisdom, and Practical Advice. New York: Yankee Publishing Inc., 2003.

2 -

3 - Keyes, Ralph. The Quote Verifier: Who Said What, Where, and When. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2006.

Friday, June 14, 2013

June 14: Flag Day

Today is Flag Day, established by President Eisenhower in 1954.

The first Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis M. Bellamy, a writer for The Youth’s Companion magazine. It was officially unveiled on October 19, 1892, the opening day of the World’s Columbian Exposition. On that day teachers across the nation read a proclamation by President McKinley and children practiced the pledge, putting their right hands over their hearts with their palms facing down.

The original pledge read as follows:

I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the Republic for which it stands one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

On Flag Day in 1923, the pledge was revised by the National Flag Code Committee, eliminating the words "my flag" and replacing them with the words "the flag of the United States."

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States and to the Republic for which it stands one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Another change in the pledge was made for Flag Day in 1924 when the committee added the words "of America."

The final change was made on the same day in 1954 when President Eisenhower established Flag Day. On that day the words "under God" were added.

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

There are subtle differences between the words pledge, oath, and vow. The three definitions below are from the American Heritage College Dictionary:

Pledge: A solemn binding promise to do, give, or refrain from doing something.

Oath: A solemn formal declaration or promise, often calling on God or a sacred object as witness.

Vow: An earnest promise to perform a specified act or behave in a certain manner, especially a promise to live by the rules of a religious order.

Today’s Challenge: Pledge, Oath, or Vow?
Read the excerpts below from historical pledges, oaths, and vows. See if you can identify any.

1. I swear by Apollo, the Physician, and Aesulapius and Hygieia and Panacea and all the Gods and Goddesses that, according to my ability and judgment, I will keep this oath and covenant . . . .

2. I hereby solemnly promise, God helping me, to abstain from all distilled, fermented and malt liquors, including wine, beer and cider . . . .

3. In the name of all competitors I promise that we will take part in these Olympic Games, respecting and abiding by the rules that govern them ….

4. I, _____, do acknowledge the UNITED STATES of America, to be Free, Independent and Sovereign States, and declare the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience to George the Third . . . .

5. I hereby declare, an oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have Heretofore been a subject or citizen.

6. On my honor I will try to serve God an my country, to help people at all times . . . .

Quote of the Day: 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. –Carl Sagan

1. The original Hippocratic Oath
2. Woman’s Christian Temperance Union Pledge
3. The Olympic Oath
4. Continental Army Loyalty Oath (1778)
5. Oath Taken by Naturalized Citizens of the United States
6. The Girl Scout Promise

1- Burrell, Brian. The Words We Live By: The Creeds, Mottoes, and Pledges That Have Shaped America. New York: The Free Press: 1997.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

June 13: Miranda Day

Today is the anniversary of a landmark U. S. Supreme Court case Miranda vs. Arizona, decided in 1966. The case involved a man convicted of rape and armed robbery, Ernesto Miranda. His case was appealed, and his lawyers argued that he had not been advised of his rights before he signed a confession. Miranda’s attorneys won the case by a narrow 5 to 4 vote.

The Miranda case changed the way police operate when taking a suspect into custody, compelling the to advise the accused of his or her Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

The paragraph that police read to the accused has added a new verb to the English language: Mirandize. The familiar words of the warning read:

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to talk with a lawyer and have the lawyer present with you during any questioning. And if you cannot afford to hire a lawyer, one will be appointed to represent you before any questioning, if you so desire.

In the book The Words We Live By, Brian Burrell begins by citing the Miranda warning as an example of a paradox that he has noticed – that some of the best know words and passages like the Miranda warning are so well known that people disregard them. As a result of this paradox, the vast majority of accused people don’t "remain silent"; instead, they try to persuade the authorities of their innocence. Burrell’s book reexamines these "Words We Live By": the pledges, rules, mottoes, oaths, and creeds that we hear almost ever day and too often take for granted (1).

Today’s Challenge: I’ve Heard that SomewhereRead the examples below of "Words We Live By" from the various different categories in Brian Burrell’s book. See if you can identify them.

1. Principle: In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

2. Advice: Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

3. Creed: I believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

4. Preamble: 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 ....

5. Address: Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

6. Inscription: ….Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …

7. Motto: All the News That’s Fit to Print

8. Oath: I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will, to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

9. Code: I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life . . . .

Quote of the Day: I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights. --Bishop Desmond Tutu

Answers: 1. Peter Principle 2. Advice from Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac 3. The Apostles’ Creed 4. Preamble to the Constitution 5. The Gettysburg Address 6. Inscription on a plaque mounted in the Statue of Liberty Museum. 7. Motto of the New York Times 8. The Presidential Oath 9. Code of Conduct for Members of the Armed Forces of the United States.

1- Burrell, Brian. The Words We Live By: The Creeds, Mottoes, and Pledges That Have Shaped America. New York: The Free Press: 1997.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

June 12: Diary Day

Today is the birthday of Anne Frank, the German-Jewish girl who went into hiding with her family during World War II. She spent 25 months hiding in an annex above her father’s office in Amsterdam before she and her family were betrayed, arrested, and transported to Nazi concentration camps.

While Anne died of typhus in 1945 at the age of fifteen at Bergen-Belsen, the diary that she received for her thirteenth birthday in 1942 was saved and published by her father in 1947. Over five million Jews died in the Holocaust, but through her diary, one voice lives on to remind us that in times of humiliation, degradation, and even during the horrors of war, the human spirit can be triumphant.

In this diary Anne’s remarkable courage and vivid insights into the human condition live on. Anne’s diary has inspired millions of readers around the world and has been translated into 67 languages (1).

From the very beginning Anne wrote in her diary as if she were talking to an intimate friend; in fact, she even gave it a name, Kitty, and throughout her entries she addresses it by name.
In one of her last diary entries in July 1944, the maturity, wisdom, and honesty of Anne’s voice:

"For in its innermost depths youth is lonelier than old age." I read this saying in some book and I’ve always remembered it, and found it to be true. It is true then that grownups have a more difficult time here than we do? No. I know it isn’t. Older people have formed their opinions about everything, and don’t waver before they act. It’s twice as hard for us young ones to hold our ground, and maintain our opinions, in a time when all ideals are being shattered and destroyed, when people are showing their worst side, and do not know whether to believe in truth and right and God (2).

The word diary comes from Latin diarium, "daily allowance, daily journal" a derivation of dies, "day ."

Today’s Challenge: Today is the First Day of the Diary of Your Life
You don’t need to wait until your birthday to start a diary. At the end of your day today, take a moment and reflect back on what you did, what you said, and what you heard. Write down anything that you think might be worth remembering, what might be worth a second thought, or what might be noteworthy ten years from now.

Quote of the Day: How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world. –Anne Frank

1- Anne Frank Center, USA.

2- Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl. New York: Bantam Books, 1993.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

June 11: Elements of Style Day

Today is the birthday of E.B. White, the author of such classic children's stories as Charolette's Web (1952) and Stuart Little (1945). Elwyn Brooks White was born in 1899 in Mount Vernon, New York. He died in 1985.

White's most successful book is not a work of fiction, but a work about writing. It's the classic and concise volume he co-authored with William Strunk, Jr. : The Elements of Style.

What Woodward and Berstein did for journalism and Lennon and McCartney did for popular music, Strunk and White did for the struggling writer. Their Elements of Style has become the quintessential writer's guide, selling over ten million copies since its publication in 1959.

Nearly 40 years after he was Stunk's student and 11 years after Strunk's death, White was commissioned by Macmillian Publishing to revise Strunk's slim volume, the little book that White admired for its clarity and brevity. In White's introduction he says that the Elements of Style was Strunk's "attempt to cut the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size and write its rules and principles on the head of a pin."

Also in his introduction, White relays an anecdote that illustrates Strunk's passion for precise language:

"He despised the expression student body, which he termed gruesome, and made a special trip downtown to the Alumni News office one day to protest the expression and suggest that studentry be substituted -- a coinage of his own, which he felt was similar to citizenry. I am told that the News editor was so charmed by the visit, if not by the word, that he ordered the student body buried, never to rise again."

The four major parts of the book are the 11 Elementary Rules of Usage, 10 Elementary Principles of Composition, and 21 Approaches to Style. The result is a virtual Period Table of Elements for Writing.

Here for example are the eleven rules that begin the book:

Elementary Rules of Usage

1. Form the possessive singular of nouns with 's.

2. In a series of three or more terms with a single conjunction, use a comma after each term except the last.

3. Enclose parenthetical expressions between commas.

4. Place a comma before 'and' or 'but' introducing an independent clause.

5. Do not join independent clauses by a comma.

6. Do not break sentences in two.

7. Use a colon after an independent clause to introduce a list of particulars, an appositive, an amplification, or an illustrative quotation.

8. Use a dash to set off an abrupt break or interruption and to announce a long appositive or summary.

9. The number of the subject determines the number of the verb.

10. Use the proper case of pronoun.

11. A participial phrase at the beginning of a sentence must refer to the grammatical subject (1).

Today's Challenge: Rules Not Meant to Be Broken.
Each of the eleven sentences belows breaks one of the Rules of Usage listed above. See if you can match each sentence with the rule it breaks:

A. Bill always except on his wedding anniversary bowls on Friday night.

B. Bill always wears his green paisley shirt. The one that his wife got him for his birthday.

C. Bills bowling shoes stink.

D. Every good bowler needs three things a ball, a towel, and a comfortable pair of shoes.

E. In his last game, Bill had a strike a spare and a split.

F. Bill has had his ball a bright red ball with green polka dots since he was in high school.

G. After he bowls a strike Bill always claps his hands.

H. Bill's friends, who always call him to see if he needs a ride to the lanes, is some of the nicest people in town.

I. Walking into the bowling alley ten minutes after his team had started to bowl, the traffic caused Bill to be late.

J. Bill loves to bowl, he hates to golf.

K. Bill and me have a 188 average.

Quote of the Day: Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.
--William Strunk

Answers: A. 3 B. 6 C. 1 D. 7 E. 2 F. 8 G. 4 H. 9 I. 11 J. 5 K. 10

1- Strunk, William and E.B. White. The Elements of Style (Fourth Edition). London: Longman, 2000.

Monday, June 10, 2013

June 10: International Day of Redundancy Day

On this day in 1966 the Mamas and the Papas were awarded a gold record for their song "Monday, Monday." In an era where British bands were invading and dominating the American music scene, the Mamas and the Papas, an American band, held their own with a string of '60s hits. The group, made up of Cass Eliot, Michelle Phillips, John Phillips, and Denny Doherty, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 (1).

A song title like "Monday, Monday" brings to mind one aspect of writing that most writers try to avoid: redundancy. Of course the Mamas and the Papas use of redundancy was probably for emphasis, which is appropriate. Another appropriate use is irony, as in William Safire's advice for writers: "Never, ever use repetitive redundancies!" He might have rephrased it as, "Don't be redundant, repeat yourself, and say things over and over again."

Sometimes redundancy can be humorous as in the famous quote by Samuel Goldwyn: "Anyone who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined."

Despite these exceptions, it's a good idea for most writers to visit The Department of Redundancy Department for a refresher course on watching out for redundancy and tautology. Here is another example of irony since tautology is the Greek term for redundancy.

Careless repetition is a common error that produces wordy and awkward writing. Since one of the basic principles of good writing is to make every word count, eliminate any unnecessary words.

For example, notice the wordy, redundant phrases in the following sentence:

Past experience teaches us that if we continue to persevere our future plans will come true.

Eliminating the redundancies makes the sentence more clear and more concise:

Experience teaches us that if we persevere our plans will come true.

Below are examples of redundant expressions:
  1. absolute necessity
  2. add on to
  3. advanced planning
  4. basic fundamentals
  5. blue in color
  6. combine together
  7. complete stop
  8. few in number
  9. future plans
  10. join together
  11. meet up with
  12. merge together
  13. new innovation
  14. new recruit
  15. one and only
  16. orbit around
  17. pair of twins
  18. the reason is because
  19. surrounded on all sides
  20. visible to the eye
Today's Challenge: Join the Squad Squad and Eliminate Redundancies
Go through each redundant phrase above, and cross out any words that make it redundant.

Quote of the Day: It's deja vu all over again. --Yogi Berra

Answers (The words that should be remaining after you have crossed out the unnecessary words): 1. necessity 2. add 3. planning 4. basic 5. blue 6. combine 7. stop 8. few 9. plans 10. join 11. meet 12. merge 13. innovation 14. recruit 15. only 16. orbit 17. twins 18. because 19. surround 20. visible


Sunday, June 09, 2013

June 9: Horse Racing Metaphors Day

On this day in 1973 something happened that had not happened in over two decades: a horse won racing’s Triple Crown. The name of the horse was Secretariat, and he didn’t just win the Belmont Stakes, he annihilated the competition, winning by an amazing 31 lengths. Other horses have won the Triple Crown since, but never has there been such a dominant performance on horse racing's main stage.

After the race, Secretariat’s jockey Ron Turcotte was as surprised as anyone at his horse’s amazing performance, saying "I know this sounds crazy, but the horse did it by himself. I was along for the ride" (1).

You might say that Secretariat won "hands down." If you did, you would be using an idiom that means "with no trouble, easily," and it would be an especially appropriate idiom because the expression originates with horse racing. A jockey who is ahead, as was Turcotte on Secretariat, will relax his grip on the reins and drop his hands.

Many other idioms (expressions that mean something different from the literal meaning of the individual words) in English relate to horses and horse racing, such as:

Horse sense

Beat a dead horse

Hold your horses

A horse of a different color

On your high horse

Strait from the horses mouth

Horse around

Today’s Challenge: How’s Your Horse Sense?

Below are clues to horse racing idioms, common expressions in English that began as horse racing terms. Given the number of words in each expression, a definition, and some clues about the expressions' origins, see if you can come up with the appropriate idioms (1):

1. This four word expression refers to something that is last minute or at its end. It refers to the practice of extending a wire above the finish line in a horse race.

2. This two-word hyphenated phrase refers to a loser in any competition. In horse racing it refers to a horse that did not win, place, or show in the race.

3. This two-word expression a situation in which a little known political candidate achieves unexpected political success. It come from the term used in horse racing to describe a horse about whom little if anything is known.

4. This four-word expression means to maneuver for an advantage or favorable place. It comes from the attempt of a horse’s rider to position himself to win the race.

5. This three-word expression is used to refer to a close contest of any kind. It comes from the image of two horses racing along side each other in a close race.

6. This compound word refers to a final phase of an operation or undertaking. It comes from the British horse racing lingo where the last turn and the finish line are know as the "home run."

7. This two word expression refers to an advantageous position, as in a candidate who is ahead in the polls near election day. It comes from the advantageous position of a jockey who in on the inner part of the track with a shorter distance to run than the jockey who is in the outside position.

8. This three-word expression means to attain a maximum level of competence or achieve a steady effective pace. It comes from a horse in a race who has achieve a steady pace.

Quote of the Day: Horse sense is a good judgment which keeps horses from betting on people. ~W.C. Fields

Answers: 1. Down to the wire. 2. Also-ran 3. Dark horse 4. To jockey for position 5. Neck to neck 6. Homestretch 7. Inside track 8. Hit one’s stride

1 -

2- Ammer, Christine. Southpaws & Sunday Punches.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

June 8: Words from Norse Day

On this date in the year AD 793, the Viking invasions of England began when the Christian monastery at Lindisfarne was sacked.  Viking aggression threatened the extinction of English, replacing it with Norse.  A hero emerged, however, to save English. In 878, Alfred the Great defeated the Danes at Ethandune.  The subsequent treaty established the Danelaw and brought peace to Britain, allowing Norse settlement in the north and preserving the English-speaking Saxons in the south (1).

Although the Viking raids threatened English, in the long run English conducted raids of its own on the Norse language, absorbing hundreds of words -- many so common that we use them everyday.

Pronouns:  both, their, they, them

Verbs:  call, gasp, hit, lift, want

Nouns:  awe, cake, dregs, leg, scrap, sister, window

Adjectives:  happy, odd, rotten, ugly, wrong (2)

Today's Challenge:  On Loan from Norse
Grab a good dictionary and see if you can add to the list above by finding other English words with Norse etymologies.

Today's Quote:  We and our fathers have now lived in this fair land for nearly three hundred and fifty years, and never before has such a terror been seen in Britain as we have now suffered at the hands of a pagan people. Such a voyage was not thought possible. The church of St. Cuthbert is splattered with the blood of the priests of God.  --Alcuin of York on the Viking raid at Lindisfarne.

1- McCrum, Robert, Robert MacNeil, and William Cran.  The Story of English.  New York:  Penguin Books:  1986:  65-6.

2 - Reader's Digest Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language. Pleasantville, New York: The Reader's Digest Association, Inc., 1983:  472-3.

Friday, June 07, 2013

June 7: Palindrome Day

On this date in 1914, the first ship passed through the Panama Canal.  The massive construction project, linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, covered 51 miles (1).

On this date it's hard not to think of one of the more famous and memorable palindromes of all time:

A man, a plan, a canal:  Panama!

Just in case you have forgotten, palindromes are words, phrases, or sentences that read the same, either forwards or backwards.

Michael Donner has compiled an incomparable collection of palindromes in his book I Love Me, Vol. I:  S. Wordrow's Palindrome Encyclopedia.  His book includes the following spin offs of the original classic:

A dog, a pant, a panic in a Patna pagoda.

A man, a plan, a cat, a canal:  Panama!

A man, a plan, a cat, a ham, a yak, a yam, a hat, a canal: Panama! (2)

Today's Challenge:  Dictionary of Palindromes.
Grab a dictionary and see if you can create a list of word palindromes from A to Z.  You might begin with a word like anana:  a pineapple.

Today's Quote:  I have a fear of palindromes. Maybe because the only person to ever beat the hell out of me was a man named Bob.   --Jarod Kintz

1 - Marsh, W. B. and Bruce Carrick.  365 Your Date with History.  Cambridge:  Totem Books, 2004:  272.

2 - Donner, Michael.  I Love Me, Vol. I.  Chapel Hill, North Carolina:  Algonquin Books, 1996:  34-5.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

June 6: Double Negative Day

On this date in 1965 the Rolling Stones released the single (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction, which became their first number one hit in the United States.  Featuring a blatant double negative in its title and chorus, the song reminds us that although teachers of Standard English frown upon them, double negative can still pack a punch.

In The Columbia Guide to Standard American English, Kenneth G. Wilson provides a succinct explanation of double negatives:  "Most kinds of double negative are inappropriate in spoken and written Standard English except in jocular use . . .. This was not always so, however, and the double negative remains one of the best illustrations of what was once a perfectly acceptable locution being driven by the decisions of grammarians, not out of the language, but out of Standard use."
Quote of the Day:  In life two negatives don't make a positive. Double negatives turn positive only in math and formal logic. In life things just get worse and worse and worse.  --Robert McKee