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.

 

A massive bronze sculpture of Rex the Lion now prowls the entrance of our world-famous zoo.

As the story goes, our unsurpassed zoo started literally with a roar. On a warm September 16 in 1916, Dr. Harry Milton Wegeforth, a local physician, was driving back to his office with his brother, Paul, after performing surgery. As they drove past Balboa Park, Dr. Harry heard the roaring of a male lion named Rex, one of the animals left behind in cages from a small zoo exhibit in the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition, which had closed earlier that year.

Dr. Harry had always loved animals, and he wondered whether San Diego might someday have a zoo. In the bold and impetuous spirit that he would become known for, he turned to his brother and said, half jokingly and half wishfully: “Wouldn’t it be splendid if San Diego had a zoo! You know, I think I’ll start one.”

So he did.

The best-known English phrase that includes a lion is “the lion’s share.” Here’s the familiar Aesop’s fable:

A fox, a jackal and a wolf went hunting with a lion and they took down a deer. When it came time to share in their catch, the lion proclaimed, “The first share is mine for my part in the chase. The second share is mine because I am King of the Beasts. The third share is mine because I am stronger than you. And, as for the fourth quarter, I should like to see which of you will lay a paw upon it.” Thus it was that the lion alone devoured the deer.

That story sparks forth the origin of the expression “the lion’s share,” which has changed meaning since its first telling. In the original tale “the lion’s share” meant the whole shebang, ball of wax, enchilada, nine yards and shootin’ match. To us today the phrase means “the largest portion.”

Then there’s the word dandelion. The English used to call the yellow, shaggy weed a “lion’s tooth” because the jagged, pointed leaves resemble a lion’s snarly grin. During the early 14th century, the lion’s-tooth plant took on a French flavor and became dent-de-lion, “tooth-of-the-lion.” Then it acquired an English accent: dandelion.

In the early 1800s lions were great attractions in Europe, and that’s when the verb lionize, meaning “to treat a person as very important,” roared into our language.

Another leonine (“lion-like”) metaphor is lion-hearted, “to show great courageous.” This sobriquet was applied to King Richard I of England, Couer de Lion.

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Turning to another animal, llama, from Spanish, is the only common English word that begins with a double consonant:

A one-L lama lives to pray.
A two-L lama pulls a dray.
A three-L ama’s kind of dire.
A four-L ama’s one big fire!

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I powerfully recommend that you watch the current Genius series on the National Geographic channel. Last year’s genius was Albert Einstein, this year’s Pablo Picasso, played by Antonio Banderas.

In Paris in 1905, the visionary Spanish artist asked Gertrude Stein, the American expatriate, if she would sit for a portrait. She agreed, and the result was dark, brooding, primitive and shaped by angular distortions.

Stein is said to have said, “But, Pablo, I don’t look a thing like that painting,” to which Picasso is said to have replied, “You will, Gertrude. You will.”

Less imaginatively, the exchange could have gone like this: Stein: “But, Pablo, that painting doesn’t look a thing like me.” Picasso: “It will, Gertrude, It will,” meaning that we learn to appreciate avant garde art, to see that it really does represent us.

But more profound is the version I offered two paragraphs above because it asserts that not only does our art come to resemble us. We come to look like our art. Art not only imitates life. Life imitates art.

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The Union-Tribune is celebrating its 150th year of service to San Diego, making 2018 the sesquicentennial year, a word formed from sesqui, Latin for “one and a half,” and centennial, from the Latin centum, “hundred” + English, ennial.