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.

The publishers of Oxford dictionaries have recently identified 20 words that are especially difficult to spell. Here they are alphabetically, but in their commonly misspelled forms. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to spell each defective word correctly. Answers follow.

1. acommodate 2. artic 3, Carribean 4. cemetary 5. conscence 6. deductable 7. ecstacy 8. embarass 9. hankerchief 10. harrass 11. indite 12. liason 13. millenium14. occured 15. pharoah 16. playwrite 17. pronounciation 18. reccomend 19. rhythym 20. supercede


1. accommodate 2. arctic 3. Caribbean 4. cemetery 5. conscience 6. deductible 7. ecstasy 8. embarrass 9. handkerchief 10. harass 11. indict 12. liaison 13. millennium14. occurred 15. pharaoh 16. playwright 17. pronunciation 18. recommend 19. rhythm 20. supersede


At a fundraiser I recently performed at the First Unitarian-Universalist Church in Hillcrest, a gentleman in the audience asked me to explain the origin of the word cakewalk. I expostulated that the cakewalk was originally a 19th-century dance invented by African Americans in the antebellum South. It was intended to satirize the stiff ballroom promenades of white plantation owners, who favored the rigidly formal dances of European high society.

Cakewalking slaves lampooned these stuffy moves by accentuating their high kicks, bows and imaginary hat doffings, mixing the cartoonish gestures together with traditional African steps. Likely unaware of the dance’s derisive roots, the whites often invited their slaves to participate in Sunday contests to determine which dancers were most elegant and inventive. The winners would receive a piece of cake, a prize that became the dance’s familiar name. Doesn’t that just take the cake?

After Emancipation, the contest tradition continued in black communities. The Oxford English Dictionary dates the widespread adoption of cakewalk to the late 1870s. It was around this time that cakewalk came to mean “easy” — not because the dance was particularly simple to do but because of its languid pace and association with weekend leisure.        


Some of you chronologically endowed readers will remember Pig Latin, in which you relocate the first letter or letters of a word from the front to the back and add the sound ay. What do some folks empty into their trash? Their ashtray, which turns out to be Pig Latin for trash. Other Pig Latin favorites of mine include beast/East Bay, devil/evil day, lover/overlay and true/outré.


This coming Monday we celebrate Presidents’ Day, which honors the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both born in February. On Presidents’ Day we reflect on the lives and legacies of all our 44 American presidents.

Wait a minute, you command. Isn’t Donald Trump our 45th president? Yes he is, but some number-challenged functionary in the late 19th century counted Grover Cleveland, who served nonsequentially, as both our 22nd and 24th president, irremediably messing up our system of counting chief executives.

Note that I have spelled the name of this federal holiday Presidents’ Day, not President’s Day. Why? Because the day salutes more than one president.


When people misuse words in an illiterate but humorous manner, we call the result a malapropism.The word echoes the name of Mrs. Malaprop (from the French mal a propos, “not appropriate”), a character who first strode the stage in 1775, in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s comedy The Rivals.

The giddy ghost of Mrs. Malaprop continues to haunt us: At our beckon call, Mrs. Malaprop walks into a bar, looking, for all intensive purposes, like a wolf in cheap clothing muttering epitaphs about our doggy dog world and taking it for granite that she will nip her latest verbal atrocities in the butt.

The correct words and phrases are beck and call, for all intents and purposes, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, epithets, dog-eat-dog world, taking it for granted and nip in the bud.           


David Ross, editor of The Valley Roadrunner in Valley Center, has been in the newspaper business for 40 years, both editing and writing. David explains, “I can handle big news and little news. And if there’s no news, I’ll go out and bite a dog.”