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.

2021

 

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: When and why did our language develop the habit of appending so many verbs with the word up? Here’s my little-more-than a partial list:

Act, amp, bang, beat, blow, board, bottle, break, bring, brush, buck, buckle, build, burn, call, clam, clean, clog, close, cloud, clutter, come, conjure, cooped, crack, crank, creep, cuddle, cut, dig, dish, divvy, doll, dope, double, dream, dredge, dress, drink, drive, drum, dust, eat, end, fed, fess, fill, flair, fold, follow, gang, gobble, grow, hang, hold, kiss, knock, lawyer, let, lift, light, lighten, link, make, mark, meet, mix, mock, open, pack, pass, pick, pin, pull, pump, put, rack, rise, roll, run, send, settle, show, shut, sit, sneak, speak, stack, step, stick, stock, straighten, string, sum, take, talk, team, tear, throw, tie, toss, total, turn, type, wall, walk, wash, wind, work. Then come foul up, goof up, gum up, mess up, muck up, screw up and synonymous unprintables.

Isn’t it strange just how “uppity” English has become? –Jean Graham, Serra Mesa

Thank you, Jean, for helping us to bone up, brush up and catch up on up, the omnipresent two-letter word that possesses so many meanings and, at times, no meaning at all. Like you, I wonder why we warm ourselves up, why we speak up, why we shower up, why a topic comes up and why we crack up at a joke.

Let’s face up to the problem: We’re all mixed up about up. Usually the tiny word is totally unnecessary. Why do we light up a cigar, lock up the house, polish up the silverware and fix up the car when we can more concisely light, lock, polish and fix them?

At times, verbs with up attached mess up our minds with bewildering versatility. To look up a chimney means one thing, to look up a friend another, to look up a word something else. We can make up a bed, a story, a test, our face, our mind, and a missed appointment, and each usage has a completely different meaning.

At other times, up- verbs are unabashedly ambiguous. When we wind up our watch, we start it; when we wind up a meeting, we stop it. When we hold up our tennis partners, are we supporting or hindering them? How, pray tell, can we walk up and down the aisle at the same time and slow up and slow down at the same time?

What bollixes up our language is that up can be downright misleading. A house doesn’t really burn up; it burns down. We don’t really throw up; we throw out and down. We don’t pull up a chair; we pull it along. Most of us don’t add up a column of figures; we add them down.

And why do we first chop down a tree, and then we chop it up?

Maybe it’s time to give up on the uppity up.

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DEAR RICHARD: I was solving the crossword puzzle this morning, and one of the answers was rhythm. That got me wondering if there are there other words that include syllables with no vowels. I did some online research. One article said all syllables must have a vowel, with one exception, the thm in rhythm or algorithm. Another offered a list of words that included no vowels but used y, which, of course, can itself act as a vowel. There were also onomatopoeic words like tsk tsk, brrrr, mmm, shhh and pffft, which I don’t count. Is it true, then, that, other than thm words, no other legitimate words contain a syllable without a vowel? -Bill Goddard, Clairemont

There exist more vowelless syllables than are dreamt of in your philosophies, Bill. Let’s start with words that end in -ism, such as fascism, patriotism and prism, and words that end in -asm, such as chasm, spasm and sarcasm. And what about dirndl, fjord, x-ray, subtly, massacring, knish and Edinburgh, each containing fewer vowels than syllables?

Saving the best for last, nth, as in “to the nth degree,” is a single-syllable word that doesn’t include any vowel at all!

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On March 14, at 2 am, daylight saving time will kick in. Notice that I didn’t write daylight savings time. Think about it: We’re not talking about a savings bank here; we’re talking about saving daylight (even though daylight saving time doesn’t actually save any daylight).