February 21, 2008

#01-075: Presidents' Day

portraits of George Washington (left) and Abraham Lincoln (right)
The two presidents of February: George Washington and Abraham Lincoln
(Wikipedia: George, Abe)

Note: Everybody loves a day off, and when I was a kid we got TWO in February, thanks to the birthdays of a couple of presidents. Sadly, today they're combined into one holiday: Presidents' Day.

Get Ready: What sorts of holidays do you get every year?

When I was a school kid, we loved February. Although we never got a day off for Valentine's Day, there were two "day off" holidays: President Abraham Lincoln's birthday on February 12, and President George Washington's, on the 22nd.

Alas, school kids today don't have it so good in February: the two holidays are combined into one "Presidents' Day" on the third Monday of February. (But kids today have the third Monday in January for Martin Luther King's birthday, so I guess it's OK.)

Abraham Lincoln has contributed quite a lot to American English. His famous speech, the "Gettysburg Address," is often quoted. You might know its opening words: "Four score and seven years ago..." A "score" is twenty years; so Lincoln was just saying "87 years ago" in a fancy way.

Lincoln also took old expressions and turned them around. It was commonly said that "might makes right"--that is, the stronger person or group will always get their way. Lincoln said, "Right makes might"--that the person or group that behaved ethically would prevail.

He was known for his great sense of humor. He often joked about himself being ugly, and told this story: As a young man, he was on a train when an old woman remarked that he was the ugliest man she had ever seen. "I can't help that," Lincoln said. "Yes," said the woman, "but you could stay home!"

And in another well-known remark, he told a group of people as he spoke from the back of a train car, "I have stepped out upon this platform that I may see you and that you may see me, and in the arrangement I have the best of the bargain."

In contrast to "Honest Abe," no one remembers any funny sayings from the man my uncle always called "George-a Wash," with an Italian accent. But one comedian asked, "When people asked George Washington for a picture ID, did he just show them a dollar bill?" (This is funny because the first dollar bill wasn't made until 1862--before that there were only coins--and Washington's picture wasn't put on the dollar until 1869. Washington died in 1799.)

As our first president, Washington is often called "The Father of Our Country." Comedian George Carlin suggested that, if that were true, then "George Washington's brother, Lawrence, was the Uncle of Our Country."

Perhaps the most famous story about Washington is a legend about his honesty. It was said that as a boy, Washington had chopped down a cherry tree. When his father saw the damage and asked young George who had done it, he replied, "I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet."

In any case, when scholars evaluate the American presidents, Lincoln and Washington almost always come in at the top. It is safe to say, then, that these two were two of America's greatest presidents.


Read more: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washington%27s_Birthday

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. alas
  2. bargain
  3. chopped down
  4. comedian
  5. ethically
  6. hatchet
  7. ID
  8. legend
  9. prevail
  10. scholars

  1. win; succeed
  2. a person who tells jokes or funny stories for a living
  3. a small axe
  4. an exclamation expressing pity
  5. in a moral way; with good behavior
  6. deal; arrangement; agreement
  7. cut completely
  8. story based on a real person, meant to show something about his or her character
  9. people who study things
  10. identification card

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 21, 2008

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. f; 3. g; 4. b; 5. e; 6. c; 7. j; 8. h; 9. a; 10. i