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.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus has just rolled into our town to work its magic for a week. When that big show departs, it will leave behind a three-ring circus of words. Actually, when you say or write a three-ring circus, you are repeating yourself because circus echoes kirkos, the Greek word for “ring, circle.”

“Hey, First-of-May! Tell the butcher in the backyard to stay away from the bulls, humps, stripes and painted ponies. We have some cherry pie for him before doors and spec.”

Sound like doubletalk? Actually, it’s circus talk — or, more technically, circus argot, argot being a specialized vocabulary used by a particular group for mutual bonding and private communication.

During a fund drive for WNYC public radio, I fielded questions from New York’s finest listeners. At some point, host Leonard Lopate pitched this line: “It costs this station almost $700,000 a year to buy all the national programs you hear each weekend. That’s a really big nut to make.”

Sure enough, a listener called in to ask the origin of making the nut. I explained that when a circus came to town, the sheriff would often remove the nut from a wheel of the main wagon. Because in bygone days these nuts were elaborate and individually crafted, they were well nigh impossible to replace. Thus, the circus couldn’t leave town until the costs of land and utilities rental, easements, and security were paid. It’s but a short metaphorical leap to the modern meaning of making the nut, “meeting one’s expenses.”

Communities are most likely to develop a colorful argot when they have limited contact with the world outside of their group. The circus community is a perfect example of the almost monastic self-containment in which argot flourishes. Big-top people travel in very close quarters, and because they usually go into a town, set up, do a show, tear down and leave, they have little contact with the locals.

First-of-May designates anyone who is brand-new to circus work. That’s because circuses used to start their tours around the first day in May. A candy butcher is a concessionaire who sells cotton candy (floss) and other food, along with drinks and souvenirs, to the audience during the show. The backyard is the place just behind the circus entrance where performers wait to do their acts.

A bull is a circus elephant, even though most of them are female. Among other circus beasts, humps, stripes and painted ponies are, respectively, camels, tigers and zebras. Cherry pie is extra work, probably from chairy pie, the setting up of extra chairs around the arena. Doors! is the cry that tells circus folk that the audience is coming in to take their seats, and spec is short for spectacle, the big parade of all the performers.

Trust me: This topic ain’t no dog and pony show — the designation for a small circus with just a few animals and acts, also known as a mud show.

What we call the toilet circus folk call the donniker, the hot dog or grill concession trailer where the circus can snag a snack is a grease joint, and a circus performer is a kinker. The townspeople are towners or rubes. In the old days, when large groups of towners who believed (sometimes accurately) that they had been fleeced by dishonest circus people, they would come back in a mob to seek retribution. The cry “Hey rube!” went out, and everyone knew that the fight was on.

A full house is called a straw house from the days when straw would be laid down in front of the seats to accommodate more people than the seats could hold. Distances between engagements were called jumps. Thus, an old circus toast rings out: “May your lots be grassy, your jumps short and your houses straw.”

May all your days be circuses.

Please send your questions and comments about language to richard.lederer@utsandiego.com