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.

Buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo is a possible sentence, and it raises the question why buffalo has become a verb denoting “to confuse, frustrate, intimidate.” The answer is that, despite the slaughter of tens of millions in the United States, the animal is hard to kill individually. Buffalo are swift, tough and belligerent. The vogue meaning of buff as “well built, muscular, hunky” reflects buffalo, an image of rugged strength.

Products made from buffalo were plentiful in the 19th century, including strips of buffalo hide that were used to bring metals such as silver to a high polish. That’s where we get the verb to buff. Firemen wore buffalo robes as their winter gear. Because these buffcoats were the color of human Caucasian skin, in the buff arose as a synonym for “naked.”

Dandies who had nothing better to do than to rush to fires and watch the burning emulated the firefighters by donning the same buffcoats, as they were called. These men became known as buffs, and, by extension, a buff is anyone avidly devoted to a pursuit or hobby.

Buffalo is one of more than 50 animal names that can function as a verb. Because people like to compare themselves to fauna, many animal names have become verbs that describe human behavior. Choosing from the exhibit below, identify each beastly verb, as in “to confuse, intimidate: to buffalo”:

ape, badger, bird, bird dog, bitch, buck, bug, bull, carp, chicken (out), clam (up), cow, crane, crow, dog, duck, eagle, fawn, ferret fish,flounder, (out) fox, (leap)frog, goose, grouse, gull, hawk, hog, horse (around), hound, lion(ize), louse (up), monkey (with), parrot, pig (out), pigeon(hole), pony (up), quail, ram, rat (out), rook, skunk, snake, snipe (at), sponge, squirrel (away), toady, weasel (out of), wolf, worm (out of)

1. to brag about an accomplishment: to _____
2. stretch the neck for a better view: to _____
3. to imitate another’s actions: to _____
4. to repeat another’s words: to _____
5. to try to attract compliments: to _____
6. to lower the head quickly: to _____
7. to take more than one deserves: to _____
8. to betray by spilling the beans: to _____
9. to intimidate: to _____
10. to annoy: to _____
11. to annoy: to _____
12. to cower: to _____
13. to run into violently: to _____
14. to eat a lot: to _____
15. to eat quickly: to _____
16. to struggle clumsily: to _____
17. to complain: to _____
18. to complain: to _____
19. to complain: to _____
20. to complain: to _____
21. to pursue relentlessly: to _____
22. to pursue relentlessly: to _____
23. to seek favor through flattery: to _____
24. to cheat: to _____
25. to resist: to _____
26. to live off others: to _____
27. to dupe: to _____
28. to defeat soundly: to _____
29. to try to win over another’s date: to _____
30. to sell: to _____
31. to poke with the finger: to _____
32. to wind one’s way: to _____
33. to outsmart: to out_____
34. to score two below par on a hole in golf: to _____
35. to score one below par on a hole in golf: to _____
36. to save: to _____ away
37. to flatter obsequiously: to _____y
38. to lose nerve: to _____ out
39. to become silent: to _____ up
40. to fool around: to _____ around
41. to search for: to _____ out
42. to tamper with: to _____ with
43. to make a mistake: to _____ up
44. to force one’s way: to _____ through
45. to escape from a situation: to _______ out of
46. to escape from a situation: to _____ out of
47. to aim a snide attack: to _____ at
48. to categorize: to _____hole
49. to idolize: to _____ize
50. to jump over: to leap_____

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Answers 1. crow 2. crane 3. ape 4. parrot 5. fish 6. duck 7. hog 8. rat 9. cow 10. badger 11. bug 12. quail 13. ram 14. pig 15. wolf 16. flounder 17. bitch 18. carp 19. crab 20. grouse 21. dog 22. hound 23. fawn 24. rook 25. buck 26. sponge 27. gull 28. skunk 29. bird dog 30. hawk 31. goose 32. snake 33. fox 34. eagle 35. bird 36. squirrel 37. toad 38. chicken 39. clam 40. horse 41. ferret 42. monkey 43. louse 44. bull 45. weasel 46. worm 47. snipe 48. pigeon 49. lion 50. frog