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.

2017

We citizens of America’s Finest City were stunned and saddened last week by the sudden passing, at 82, of Dick Enberg, America’s finest sportscaster.

As U-T columnist Nick Canepa wrote, “The sporting world suddenly has gone hoarse, losing its consummate voice.” Dodgers announcer Vin Scully dubbed Dick “the greatest all-around sportscaster who ever lived and will never be emulated.”

The accolades have been pouring in about Dick Enberg’s versatility. He is one of only two American broadcasters (along with Curt Gowdy) to have been selected for induction as a broadcaster into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Basketball Hall of Fame and National Baseball Hall of Fame. The man covered 10 Super Bowls eight NCAA basketball titles games and 25 Wimbledon tennis tournaments, finishing his stellar career as the voice of our Padres.

Most telling and enduring, everyone remembers Dick Enberg as the consummate gentleman. A U-T editorial put it this way: “If there were a hall of fame for being a great human being, he would get in on the first ballot.” A line from Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem “Richard Cory” echoes what has been said again and again about Dick: “He was a gentleman from soul to crown.”

It comes as no surprise that Dick was also a lover of language. I first became aware that he was a loyal reader of “Lederer on Language” when he sent me an e-mail responding to “The Way We Word,” my column about the words and phrases of our youth that have all but vanished.

Dick wrote, “All the words and phrases in your column are part of my Michigan farm youth. It was almost as if my Mother and Father were in the room with me this morning, as we had ‘archaic and ate it, too.’ As you know, I have not totally excused all the ‘swell’ expressions of yesteryear. I have found the time and place for an occasional ‘Oh my!’ and ‘Hubba hubba’ in our Padres telecasts. Keep up the good word. I hope to meet you sometime during 2015, perhaps at Petco.”

Dick and I did meet at Petco Park the next year in the broadcast booth during a Brewers-Padres baseball game. There Dick, his color sidekick Mark Grant and I bantered about baseball and the English language for about 20 minutes.

When a Brewers foul ball landed in the seats just out of reach of two Padres players, I remarked, “Well, that certainly wasn’t a can of corn.” Dick and Mark immediately asked me to explain that term.Grocers of bygone days used a long pole or mechanical grabber (invented by Benjamin Franklin, by the way) to tip a can on a high shelf or at the top of the pile,” I expostulated. “The can would tumble into the grocer’s waiting hands or open apron, just as a soft fly ball settles easily into a fielder’s glove.” And on and on it went, from bullpen through southpaw.

The two announcers asked me if any baseball metaphors had migrated into our everyday conversations and writing. “Well,” I responded, “you two certainly run a major-league operation here. There’s nothing bush league about it. You two always go to bat for the Padres. You’re anything but screwballs. In fact, you hit a home run every time, and nobody can pinch hit for you guys!”

Dick graciously closed the interview with “Fascinating. I love it!”

After Dick retired, he started podcasting, and I had the honor of being one of his first guests. Shortly after our wide-ranging interplay, Dick e-mailed me asking if I could share some of my best chicken puns for him to use in his upcoming interview with the San Diego Chicken.

How could I refuse? Here are the fowl examples of poultry in motion I inflicted on Dick for his show:

  • Why did the San Diego Chicken take the job? His wife egged him on.
  • What do you say to the San Diego Chicken before each performance? “Break an egg!”
  • Why is Superman always able to catch the San Diego Chicken? Because Superman is faster than a speeding pullet.
  • Who is the San Diego Chicken’s favorite comedian? Henny Youngman.
  • What is the San Diego Chicken’s favorite magazine? Peep-le.

Dick responded, “Thanks, Rich. Your chicken two-liners deserve a Pullet Surprise!”