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.

Celebrating the centennial of our world-famous zoo, I offer a timely exhibition of political animals: Thomas Nast, perhaps the most famous political cartoonist in our history, was responsible for the popularity of two party animals. During the election of 1828, opponents of President Andrew Jackson labeled him a “jackass” for his populist beliefs. Entertained by the notion, Jackson ended up using it to his advantage on his campaign posters.

Nast made Jackson’s donkey the recognized symbol of the Democratic Party through one of his cartoons that appeared in Harper’s Weekly in 1870. Four years later, also in Harper’s Weekly, Nast drew a donkey clothed in lion’s skin, scaring away all the animals at the zoo. One of those animals, the elephant, was labeled “The Republican Vote.” That’s all it took for the elephant to become associated with Republicans.


Stuffed bears were popular before Theodore Roosevelt, our 26th and youngest president, came along, but no one called them teddy bears.

Not until November 1902, when the president went on a bear hunt in Smedes, Miss. Roosevelt was settling a border dispute between Louisiana and Mississippi. On Nov. 14, during a break in the negotiations, he was invited by Southern friends to go bear hunting. Roosevelt accepted, feeling he could consolidate his supporters in the South by appearing among them in the relaxed atmosphere of a hunting party.

During the hunt, Roosevelt’s friends cornered a bear cub, and a guide roped it to a tree for the president to shoot.

But Roosevelt declined to kill the cub, believing such an act to be beneath his dignity as a hunter and as a man: “If I shot that little fellow, I wouldn’t be able to look my boys in the face again.”

That Sunday’s Washington Post carried a cartoon, drawn by Clifford Berryman, of President Theodore Roosevelt. T.R. stood in hunting gear and with rifle in hand with his back turned toward the cowering cub. The caption read, “Drawing the line in Mississippi!” referring both to the border dispute and the ethical issue of animal cruelty.

Now the story switches to the wilds of Brooklyn and Morris and Rose Michtom ( rhymes with victim), Russian immigrants who owned a candy store where they sold handmade stuffed animals. Inspired by Berryman’s cartoon, Rose Michtom made a toy bear and displayed it in the shop window. The bear proved enormously popular with the public, and the Michtoms began turning out stuffed cubs labeled Teddy’s Bear, in honor of our 26th president. As the demand increased, the family hired extra seamstresses and rented a warehouse. Their operation eventually became the Ideal Novelty and Toy Corporation.

When the Michtoms wrote President Roosevelt for permission to confer linguistic immortality upon him, T.R. replied, “I don’t know what my name may mean to the bear business but you’re welcome to use it.” Clifford Berryman himself could have made a million dollars had he chosen to sell his idea to a toy manufacturer, but he refused: “I have made thousands of children happy. That is enough for me.”


Horses and horse racing are dominant animal metaphors that gallop through political life. One of the earliest of equine metaphors is “dark horse.” The figure refers to a political candidate who is nominated unexpectedly, usually as a result of compromise between two factions in a party. Dark horse candidates who became president include James Polk in 1844, Franklin Pierce in 1852, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, James Garfield in 1880 and Warren G. Harding in 1920.

Presidents always have running mates. This too is a horse racing term and derives from the practice of one owner or one stable running two horses in a race, the slower one, or “running mate,” being put in there to pace the star. The phrase had been around for more than a century, but its use to define a vice president was coined by, of all non-practitioners of slang, the most scholarly and ecclesiastical of presidents, W oodrow Wilson. At the Democratic Convention in 1912 the presidential nomination went to Wilson on the 46th ballot after a terrific brawl. Gov. Wilson of New Jersey announced that his vice presidential choice would be another governor, Thomas Marshall, commenting, “And I feel honored by having him as my running mate.” Wilson’s turn of phrase brought down the house, the only squeak of humor those assembled had ever heard out of Woodrow Wilson.