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.

Which dog has the upper paw?:

a. A clever dog knows its master.

b. A clever dog knows it’s master.

The answer is the dog in the second sentence because that dog knows that it is master.

To discover how a slight difference in wording can make a vast difference in meaning, examine each pair of sentences and choose the one that answers the question correctly. Answers repose at the end of this column.

1. Which baseball player has wings?

a. The batter flew out to left field.

b. The batter flied out to left field.

2. Which judge would you prefer?

a. At the trial, the judge was completely uninterested.

b. At the trial, the judge was completely disinterested.

3. Which students received a special exemption?

a. The draft board excepted all students.

b. The draft board accepted all students.

4. Which pair had met previously?

a. We were formally introduced.

b. We were formerly introduced.

5. Which Pat is a girl?

a. Pat was smarter than the boys in the class.

b. Pat was smarter than the other boys in the class.

6. Which request would parents more likely make to their children?

a. Bring the stray dog home.

b. Take the stray dog home.

7. Which runner put her foot down?

a. She hoped to reach the finish line.

b. She hopped to reach the finish line.

8. Which dog is definitely not a bloodhound?

a. The dog smelled badly.

b. The dog smelled bad.

9. Which Hood was careless?

a. In tense situations, Robin Hood would loose arrows.

b. In tense situations, Robin Hood would lose arrows.

10. Which camper can see the sky?

a.  The camper lay supine on the grass.

b. The camper lay prone on the grass.

11. Which child sticks out like a sore thumb in a crowd?

a. Mother went shopping with her tow-headed son.

b. Mother went shopping with her toe-headed son.

12. Which caveman liked the company of others?

a. Ug found a club.

b. Ug founded a club.

13. Which speaker is smarter?

a. In the room were four geniuses besides me.

b. In the room were four geniuses beside me.

14. Which twosome is playing doubles?

a. Juliet complemented Romeo’s tennis game.

b. Juliet complimented Romeo’s tennis game.

15. Which leader is more resourceful?

a. The mayor adapted her predecessor’s policies.

b. The mayor adopted her predecessor’s policies.

Answers 1. a 2. b 3. a 4. b 5. a 6. b 7. b 8. a 9. b 10. a 11. b 12. b 13. a 14. a 15. a