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.

U-T Columns

 

I often sport a bow tie at formal events. I like bow ties because I think they look good, and even I can’t inflict food stains a bow tie.

I order all my bow ties from a Vermont company named Beau Ties. The double word play in the name attracted me. The homophonic pun is obvious: Beau yields “man,” as well as “a short necktie in the shape of a bow.” Less obvious is that Beau Ties = Beauties.

Recently, Beau Ties sent out an advertisement that read “Think about acquiring a pocket square to compliment your outfit.” This verb compliment conjured up images of the pocket square saying, “Hey, shirt. You’re looking fabulous today!” “Yo, trousers. You’re perfectly creased today!”

Because compliment and complement sound alike, they cannot be misused in speaking. They are, however, often confused in writing. Compliment, as a noun or verb, involves an expression of admiration. Complement, as a noun or verb, involves something that completes. A helpful mnemonic device is to visualize complement as comple(te)ment:

I immediately called Beau Ties and pointed out that the verb should have been complement, “to complete,” as in this short quiz:

Which twosome is playing doubles?:

(a) Ellen complimented Frank’s tennis game.

(b) Ellen complemented Frank’s tennis game.

The answer is (b). Ellen completed Frank’s tennis game.

Beau Ties immediately corrected the error.

***

There are these disconcerting moments from time to time, instances where you walk into a new situation and find it oddly familiar despite never having experienced it before. This is a common phenomenon that we call déjà vu, French for “already seen.”

At its opposite, though, lies a slightly rarer phenomenon — jamais vu, which translates to “never seen” in French. It takes place when you’re in a familiar situation but suddenly feel as if you’re experiencing it for the first time. This could happen with a certain place or even a person. Your sense of relation disappears in spite of recognizing it has occurred before.

***

Word is an autological word, one that expresses a property that it also possesses. That is, word is itself a word. Oxymoron is another autological word because it’s composed of two Greek word parts that mean “a sharp dullness.” An oxymoron is a figure of speech in which two contradictory terms are yoked, and “a sharp dullness” is an oxymoron.

Most words aren’t what they signify. For example, book isn’t a book, and there isn’t anything especially happy about happy. Preposition isn’t a preposition, and sentence isn’t a sentence. Words such as big and monosyllabic turn out to be the opposite of what they mean. Big isn’t big at all, and, although monosyllabic refers to words of but a single syllable, monosyllabic is composed of five syllables.

Here’s a line-up of 20 more autological words. Can you identify why each one is self-referential?:

adjectival boldface CAPITALIZED English
esoteric four italics grandiloquent
lowercased mellifluous noun pentasyllabic
polysyllabic pronounceable print sesquipedalian
trochee typeset unhyphenated wee

***

For my first 59 years I lived primarily in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Concord, New Hampshire. For more than 20 years, Simone and I have been proud residents of San Diego and envy anyone who arrived here before us.

When we moved here in 1997, we trekked from a seaboard to a coast. There’s a logical reason why the U.S. eastern shoreline is usually referred to as the “Atlantic seaboard” while the Pacific side is called “the Coast.” The East was settled early by the English, and seaboard is an English mariners’ term. The West Coast drew much of its nomenclature from the Spanish, and coast, from costa, is a Spanish word.

Living on the West Coast, have you noticed that in the words Pacific Ocean the three c‘s are each pronounced differently? Similarly, in the words electric, electricity and electrician, the three c‘s are also pronounced differently.