Read “Lederer on Language” every Saturday in the San Diego Union Tribune and on this site.
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.

As part of my monthly series honoring the centennial of our world-famous San Diego Zoo, here’s a chance to test your knowledge of our fellow creatures that run and crawl and creep and gallop and swim and fly and hop around our planet.

The Canary Islands in the Atlantic got their name from what creature?

“Canaries, of course!” you chirp.

Wrong.

The answer is dogs. The Latin name was Canaria Insula, “Isle of the Dogs.” Canaries got their name from the islands, not the other way around.

In our crazy English vocabulary, we discover that cat gut is actually sheep and horse intestines and that camel’s hair brushes are made from squirrel fur.

A ladybug is a beetle – and they’re not all female. A lightning bug is a beetle. And a firefly is actually a lightning bug, which, as you now know, is a beetle.

In fact, a whole menagerie of animals are not what their names indicate. Take the hedgehog. Light verse master Bob McKenty explains the truth about spiny insectivores:

No matter what their name alleges,

Hedgehogs aren’t hogs or hedges,

Like kindred quadrupeds with spines

Who aren’t porks and aren’t pines.

The koala bear is a marsupial, not a bear. The guinea pig is a South American rodent. It is neither a pig nor from Guinea. A prairie dog is not a dog. It too is a rodent. The horned toad is a lizard, not a toad, while a silkworm is not a worm; it’s a caterpillar.

A titmouse is neither mammal nor mammaried; it’s a bird, while a crawfish is not a fish. It’s a spiny lobster. A jackrabbit is a hare, not a rabbit. Blindworms are actually legless lizards, and, of course, they can see. A mosquito bite isn’t a bite. It’s a puncture.

How many peacocks does it take to lay a dozen eggs? None, because peacocks don’t lay eggs; peahens do. The blackbird hen is brown, purple finches are distinctly crimson, and many greyhounds come in colors other than gray.

I’ll be visiting, with my friends at Vi Living, the exhibition of William Shakespeare’s First Folio at the Central Library. The First Folio Tour will include all 50 states and Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Co-sponsored by our library and the Old Globe, this is the only California stop for the exhibit. Up to July 7 you have the opportunity to view “the book that gave us Shakespeare.”

In 1623, seven years after Shakespeare shuffled off his mortal coil (translation: died), John Heminge and Henry Cordell, his friends and colleagues in the King’s Men acting company, collected almost all his plays in a folio edition. A folio is a large book in which printed sheets are folded in half, creating two double-sided leaves, or four pages.

The First Folio preserves 18 of Shakespeare’s plays that had never been printed before, groups the plays for the first time into comedies, histories and tragedies, presents them in a single edition and includes the Droeshout portrait of Shakespeare. That image is almost certainly authentic because it was approved by those who knew the Bard.

So hie thee hence! Get thee to the Library!

The opportunity to view the First Folio comes along once in a blue moon, when pigs fly and hell freezes over. Among these metaphors for very rare occurrences, blue moon is the most colorful, as indicated by this 1528 couplet:

Yf they say the moon is blue,

You must believe that it is true.

A blue moon is the second full moon in a single month, a phenomenon that occurs, well, once in a blue moon. The expression has nothing to do with the actual color of the moon, but whenever certain natural conditions align, such as volcanic eruptions or titanic fires sending particles into the atmosphere, the moon can actually appear to be tinged with blue. We experienced a blue moon this past May 21. The next blue moon won’t glow until January 2018.

A headline in a recent Union-Tribune read RESEARCHERS HOMING IN ON RISK OF ZIKA BIRTH DEFECT. Kudos to the U-T for getting the verb right. Many speakers and writers use hone in on something when they mean home in, “proceed toward a source.” Hone means “to sharpen,” so one can’t hone in on anything. You can hone your writing skills by homing in on confusing word pairs.