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Now the VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories.

Every people has its own way of saying things, its own special expressions. These are the living speech of a people, and a story can be told about each of them.

The white swan with its long graceful neck is among the most beautiful of birds. The swan is mostly silent through its life. It floats quietly on the water, unable to sing sweet songs like most other birds.

In ancient times, however, people believe that the swan was given a special gift of song as the ended of its life. They believed a swan sings a most beautiful song just before it dies. The ancient Greece philosopher Socrates talked of this 2,300 years ago. Socrates explained that the swan was singing because it was happy. The bird was happy because it was going to serve the Greek God-Apollo. Swans were holy to Apollo-the God of poetry and song. The story of the swan's last song found place in the works of other writers, including the early English writers Chaucer and Shakespeare.

And the expression 'swan song' has long been a part of the English language. At first, swan song meant the last work of a poet, musician or writer. Now it means the final effort of any person. Someone's swan song usually is also considered that person's finest work. A political expression with the similar meaning is the last hurrah. The expression may be used to describe a politician’s last campaign, his final attempt to win the cheers and votes of the people. The last hurrah also can mean the last acts of a politician before his term in officer ends.

Writer Edwin O'corner made the expression popular in 1956. He wrote a book about the final years in the political life of a longtime major of Boston, Massachusetts. He called his book The Last Hurrah. Some language experts say the expression came from a name given to noisy supporters of Andrew Jackson, American's seventh president. They cheered hurrah so loudly for Andy Jackson during his presidential campaign that they became known as the hurrah boys. Jackson's hurrah boys also played a part in the election to choose the next president. Jackson's choice was his vice president Martin Van Buren. A newspaper of that time reported that Van Buren was elected president in his words, by the hurrah boys and those who knew just enough to shout hurrah for Jackson. So President Jackson really heard his last hurrahs in the campaign of another candidate, the man who would replaced him in the White House.

This VOA Special English program Words and Their Stories was written by Marilyn Christiana. Maurice Joyce was the narrator. I'm Shirley Griffith.
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