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.

Much in the news these days is the spirited debate about nativism vs. “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free — the advantages and threats of surging immigration around the world. I try never to use this space to take sides in political controversies. Today I’ll simply shed some light on language immigration.

The emergence of England and then the United States as economic, military and scientific superpowers has, of course, contributed to the phenomenal spread of the English language. But the essential reason for the ascendancy of English lies in the internationality of its words.

English boasts by far the largest number of words of all languages, 616,500 officially enshrined in the Oxford English Dictionary. In fact, according to the Global Language Monitor, and supported by the analysis Google’s Corpus, English passed the one-million-word mark in the middle of 2009. That’s almost four times the vocabulary size of its nearest competitor, German; five times the size of Russian, in third place, and six times the size of Spanish and French, tied for fourth. As a result, English possesses a plethora of synonyms that allow greater nuances of meaning than are available in other tongues.

One reason English has accumulated such a vast word treasury is that it is the most hospitable and democratic language that has ever existed. English has never rejected a word because of its race, creed or national origin. Having welcomed into its vocabulary words from a multitude of other languages and dialects, ancient and modern, far and near, English is unique in the number and variety of its borrowed words. As the poet Carl Sandburg once said, “The English language hasn’t got where it is by being pure.”

Joseph Bellafiore has described the English language as “the lagoon of nations” because “in it there are hundreds of miscellaneous words floating like ships from foreign ports freighted with messages for us.” The three largest of those galleons are Latin (from which we derive the likes of circus), Greek (drama) and French (garage). Although the Anglo-Saxon word-stock is the foundation of the English language, more than 70 percent of our words are immigrants who have traveled to our shores from other lands.

Did you know that you speak 300 languages? Well, you do because you are reading this column, and it’s written in English. And if you speak English, you speak 300 languages. To appreciate how cosmopolitan is the word-bearing fleet docked in the wide lagoon of English, examine the following list of 50 familiar English words, along with the languages from which they descend:

Afrikaans: aardvark Algonquian: moose Arabic: alcohol Arauncanian: poncho Australian: boomerang Bantu: zebra Basque: anchovy Bengali: bungalow Cantonese typhoon Carib: hurricane

      Cree: Eskimo Czech: polka Dakota: teepee Danish: skill Dutch: boss Egyptian: oasis Finnish: sauna German: kindergarten Guarani: jaguar Gullah: jukebox

      Haitian Creole: canoe Hawaiian: ukulele  Hebrew: camel Hungarian saber Irish: banshee Italian: opera Japanese: tycoon Javanese: batik Lapp: tundra Malagasy bantam

      Malay: ketchup Maori: kiwi Mexican Indian: coyote Norwegian: shingle Ojibwa: wigwam Persian: bazaar Polish: mazurka Portuguese: molasses Romany: pal Russian: vodka

Sanskrit: sugar Spanish: rodeo Swedish: smorgasbord Tagalog: boondocks Tahitian: tattoo Tibetan: polo Turkish:  jackal Welsh: flannel Icelandic: whisk Yiddish: glitch

      No wonder Ralph Waldo Emerson waxed ecstatic about “English speech, the sea which receives tributaries from every region under heaven” and  Dorothy Thompson, employing a more prosaic metaphor, referred to “that glorious and imperial mongrel, the English language.” With its liberal borrowing policy English is easy to learn because it has a familiar look to speakers of other languages. And, by taking in and completely assimilating so many foreign words, English has accumulated the most versatile of all vocabularies.

Sir Philip Sidney, the quintessential Elizabethan at once poet, courtier and soldier celebrated this word wealth: “But for the uttering sweetly and properly the conceite of the minde, which is the ende of thought. English hath it equally with any other tongue in the world.” Sidney saw how the abundance of synonyms and near synonyms in our language offers wondrous possibilities for the precise expression of diverse shades of meaning.

We English speakers never met a word we didn’t like. We absorb words from every patch of ground around the world. We invite them into our daily parlance. They teem our tongues and populate what we hear and speak and read and write. The ever-expanding diversity of our word hoard has helped to make English the most universal language in human history.