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American Trivia Quizzes

Read “Lederer on Language” every Saturday in the San Diego Union Tribune and on this site. Dr. Lederer and Caroline McCullagh’s American Trivia quizzes currently appear on page 2 every day.

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Welcome to the website woven for wordaholics, logolepts, and verbivores. Carnivores eat meat; herbivores eat plants and vegetables; verbivores devour words. If you are heels over head (as well as head over heels) in love with words, tarry here a while to graze or, perhaps, feast on the English language. Ours is the only language in which you drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and your nose can run and your feet can smell.

On Saturday, Dec. 21, our Chargers took on the San Francisco 49ers. The disappointing 49ers were out of the playoff picture, while our boys still had a chance. Before the game, future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates remarked, “Just because they’re not in contention anymore, we can’t go there thinking they’re going to lie down.”

Bravo, Antonio! I hereby induct you into the Grammar Hall of Fame. While most Americans would have said, “lay down,” you got it right. Lay means “to put,” while lie means “to rest.”

Antonio Gates’s exemplary grammar inspires me to confer Good Grammy awards upon other local luminaries, the staffers at the U-T. That choice may strike you as nepotistic, but I assure you that I am not a U-T employee. I’m simply an independent contractor, so my judgment is not clouded, and I do not live in the U-T’s pocket.

Under the pressure of unremitting deadlines, fluffs and flubs and goofs and gaffes and blunders, botches, boo-boos, boners and bloopers will inevitably pop up in these pages. But bear in mind that a daily newspaper is a miracle — a brain-bogglingly complicated product that has to be manufactured anew every single day. It’s a logistical triumph that such a vehicle rolls off the assembly line marred by so few dings.

I start by conferring a Good Grammy on sports columnist Kevin Acee, or perhaps it’s his headline writer. A column of Kevin’s trumpeting a clash of our San Diego Chargers against the Denver Broncos sported the headline

CHARGERS CHAMPING AT THE BIT

FOR ANOTHER SHOT AT MANNING

Way to ace that headline, Acee! What we have here is a horse metaphor. Straight from the horse’s mouth, horses champ (“show impatience or restraint”) at the bits in their mouths. They don’t chomp (“take a bite out of”), although that would be a good source of minerals.

Another Good Grammy goes to the headline for a U-T article about the benefits of prefabricated housing:

LESS WASTE, FEWER DELAYS

Write on, you levelheaded headlinotypist! Less refers to things that are uncountable and means “not so much,” while fewer designates things that we can count and means “not so many”: Not so much waste, not so many delays.

I also award a Grammy to Fred Dickey, my U-T colleague in columny. One of his “The Way We Are” profiles spotlighted local theater treasure Jonathan McMurtry, of whom Fred wrote, “His range is broad and eclectic, from comedies to intense dramas. He’s a trouper; give him a script and tell him when to show up.” Take a bow, Fred, for correctly spelling the word trouper, in this case a member of an acting troupe. Most of us would write trooper, a soldier, but not a thespian.

Exulting in a recent biotech breakthrough by a team at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, reporter Bradley J. Fikes wrote, “Floyd Romesberg, Denis Malyshev and their colleagues … did so with the bacterium E. coli, which they replicated successfully.” I register multiple likes for Fikes and his use of bacterium, not bacteria, as a singular noun.

A tip of the Grammarian’s Hat to Steve Breen, the U-T’s visionary cartoonist. In Steve’s daily comic strip, Grand Avenue, the twin Gabby says, “I wish I were a dog. I could just lie around all day.” How impressive that an adolescent can correctly cast the verb were in the subjunctive mood (rather than the indicative was) and accurately use the verb lie (“to rest”), rather than lay (“to put”). Dogs don’t lay around the house; they lie around. It’s worth offering a second lesson, even in the same column, about these confusable words.

Richard Lederer will be appearing at the U-T Successful Living Expo on Jan. 24 at the Town & Country convention center. He’ll be speaking at 3 p.m. Please send your questions and comments about language to richardhlederer@gmail.com