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.

2019

 

This past Sunday, on the U-T editorial page, Pulitzer Prize-winning artist Steve Breen presented one of his signature political cartoons. On the left, labeled whistle-blower, was a whistle  and above it the wordSound.” On the right was a caricature of an apoplectic Donald Trump yelling, “. . . and fury signifying nothing.”

Steve has created an allusion to a speech near the end of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, in which Scottish king expresses his darkening vision of life: “It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,/Signifying nothing.”

Centuries later, William Faulkner purloined a phrase from that speech for his novel The Sound and the Fury, which is indeed told by an idiot, Benjy Compson.

William Shakespeare was a busy and prolific writer who, in 25 years, turned out 37 long plays and co-authored several others, yet he still found time to provide titles for their books to generations of authors who return again and again to the well of his felicitous phrasing.

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This is the bicentennial year of the birth of American poet Walt Whitman, who, on May 31, 1819, entered the earthly stage on a farm at West Hills, Long Island. In 1855, he published the first edition (of six) of his collected poems titled Leaves of Grass.

“Simplicity is the glory of expression” and “The best writing has no lace on its sleeves,” Whitman proclaimed, so he demolished the status quo of formal poetry. He freed his verse from the constraints of strict meter and rhyme and uttered his “barbaric yawp” in free verse — meterless, rhymeless, but bursting with rhythmic energy. He is considered to be the father of free verse.

As Daniel Thomas Moran explains, “Poetry in those days still assumed the upper floor in the ivory tower of literature, and Whitman effectively took it out into the street.” He celebrated not only himself but the roiling urban America that was flexing its muscles in the mid-19th century: “I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear, / Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong, / The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank and beam” — and on and on to the mason, the boatman, the shoemaker and the wood-cutter.

Born two centuries ago, Walt Whitman was our nation’s first modern poet. He created poetry the likes of which had never before been written and read. He gave America a voice to sing of itself.

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The recent release of Celia Watson’s book Semicolon has generated some buzz about that increasingly rare mark of punctuation that looks like a comma with a period floating above it.

A number of writers, often American, find the semicolon repugnant, repulsive and revolting. “The most pusillanimous, sissified, utterly useless mark of punctuation ever invented,” the grammarian James J. Kilpatrick declared. “All they do is show you’ve been to college,” smirked novelist Kurt Vonnegut. “Ugly as a tick on a dog’s belly,” sneered novelist Donald Barthelme.

Au contraire. I find the semicolon to be useful mark to represent a stop whose strength registers between that of a comma and a period — between a pause and a hard stop. Take one example: “Mary won the beauty contest; her uncle was one of the judges.” Here the semicolon, more than the alternative period, suggests a connection between the two statements.

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This past weekend I spoke at Who Con, a convention in Mission Valley for fans of Doctor Who, hero of the perennial British television series. Ooops. I should have written Whom Con, since the name of the convention is the object of spoke at.

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Many of you will recognize the For Dummies series of instructional books, including Investing for Dummies and Sudoku for Dummies. I’m pleased to report that I have written three books to that franchise — Ventriloquism for Dummies, Crash Testing for Dummies and Mensa for Dummies.

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Quote of the month: “We’ve heard that a million monkeys banging on a million typewriters will eventually produce a masterpiece. Now, thanks to the internet, we know that this is not true.” –Eyler Coates