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.

“Like me to write you a little essay on The Importance of Subject?” wrote Ernest Hemingway to F. Scott Fitzgerald.  “Well the reason you are so sore you missed the war is because war is the best subject of all. It groups the maximum of material and speeds up the action and brings out all sorts of stuff that normally you have to wait a lifetime to get.”

Fitzgerald was commissioned a second lieutenant in the U. S. Army Infantry in 1917, but never served abroad, while Hemingway was an American Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy during World War I. A number of other writers have had firsthand experience with that “best subject of all.”

Ambrose Bierce enlisted twice in the Ninth Indiana Infantry and heroically fought in many Civil War skirmishes and battles, including Philippi and Shiloh. Later he wrote some 25 short stories about his war experiences, among them “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and “Chickamauga.” In 1862 and 1863 Walt Whitman served as a copyist in the army paymaster’s office and spent his afternoons nursing the wounded in nearby military hospitals. He recorded his experiences and emotions in “Drum Taps.”

By far the best-known novel about the American Civil War is Stephen Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” So vividly realistic is Crane’s account of Henry Fleming’s discoveries of war and his own manhood that many readers believe the author must have fought in the war. In fact, a number of Civil War veterans swore up and down that Crane had fought next to them on the battlefield. But Crane never participated in the War Between the States, one convincing proof being the fact that he was not born until 1871.

The following works are grouped according to the wars they describe. Identify the war written about in each of the dozen entries. Answers repose at the end of this column.

  1. Howard Fast, “April Morning”; Esther Forbes, “Johnny Tremaine”; James Fenimore Cooper, “The Spy”
  2. Margaret Mitchell, “Gone with the Wind”; Stephen Vincent Benet, “John Brown’s Body”; MacKinlay Kantor, “Andersonville”
  3. Ernest Hemingway, “A Farewell to Arms”; Erich Marie Remarque, “All Quiet on the Western Front”
  4. Robin Moore, “The Green Berets”; Robert Stone, “Dog Soldiers”; Tim, O Brien, “Going after Cacciato”
  5. Joseph Heller, “Catch-22”; Norman Mailer, “The Naked and the Dead”; Kurt Vonnegut, “Slaughterhouse-Five”
  6. Homer, “Iliad”; Geoffrey Chaucer (also William Shakespeare), “Troilus and Criseyde”
  7. Ernest Hemingway, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”
  8. Charles Dickens, “A Tale of Two Cities”
  9. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace”
  10. James Michener, “The Bridges at Toko-Ri”
  11. James Fenimore Cooper, “The Last of the Mohicans”
  12. John Reed, “Ten Days That Shook the World”

***

The late bail bondsman George “King” Stahlman’s employed the slogan “It’s better to know me and not need me than to need me and not know me.” That’s not only a compelling statement and a commonsense truth. It’s an example of chiasmus — a reversal in the order of words for rhetorical or humorous effect.

Chiasmus shows up in some of the most clever, thought-provoking and memorable pronouncements in history:

  • One should eat to live, not live to eat.—Cicero
  • If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.— unofficial slogan of the NRA
  • Sorry, Charlie. StarKist wants tuna that taste good, not tuna with good taste. —TV commercial
  • Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.—John F. Kennedy

Quotations like these have been used for centuries by profound thinkers, leaders and entertainers — from Aristotle (“We should behave to our friends as we would wish our friends to behave to us”) to Abraham Lincoln (“We can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses”) to Mae West (“It’s not the men in my life that count; it’s the life in my men”).

Above all, remember: It’s better to leave the house and kiss your wife good-bye than to leave your wife and kiss the house good-bye.

The other day, I visited the Air & Space Museum in Balboa Park, but there was nothing inside . . . just space and air.

*****

Answers

1. American Revolutionary War.

2. American Civil War

3. World War I

4. The Vietnam War

5. World War II

6. Trojan War

7. Spanish War

8. French Revolution

9. Napoleonic Wars

10. Korean War

11. French and Indian War

12. Russian Revolution