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.

This evening, Hal Holbrook will present his legendary one-man show, “Mark Twain Tonight!” at the Balboa Theater.

Twain held strong opinions about a passel of subjects, and he possessed the gift of being able to state these views in memorable ways: “It’s better to keep your mouth shut and appear stupid than to open it and remove all doubt.” “Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint.” “If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. That is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” He also had a lot to say about style, literature and the American language that he, more than any other writer, helped to shape:

On American English, compared with British English. The property has gone into the hands of a joint stock company, and we own the bulk of the shares.

On dialects. I have traveled more than anyone else, and I have noticed that even the angels speak English with an accent.

On choosing words. The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter— ‘tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.

More on word choice. A powerful agent is the right word: it lights the reader’s way and makes it plain. A close approximation to it will answer, and much traveling is done in a well-enough fashion by its help, but we do not welcome it and rejoice in it as we do when the right word blazes out at us. Whenever we come upon of these intensely right words in book or a newspaper, the resulting effect is physical as well as spiritual, and electrically prompt. It tingles exquisitely around through the walls of the mouth and tastes as tart and crisp and good as the autumn butter that creams the sumac berry.

On style (in a letter to a 12-year-old boy). I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words, and brief sentences. That is the way to write Englishit is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; and don’t let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them–then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.

On using short words. I never write metropolis for seven cents when I get the same for city. I never write policeman because I can get the same for cop.

On the first-person-plural pronoun. Only presidents, editors and people with tapeworms ought to have the right to use the editorial we.

On clichés. Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before him,

On grammar. Perfect grammar — persistent, continuous, sustained — is the fourth dimension, so to speak. Many have sought it, but none has found it.

On spelling reform. Simplified spelling is all right, but, like chastity, you can carry it too far.

On literature. A classic is something that everyone wants to have read, but nobody wants to  read.

On reading. The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.

On dictionaries. A dictionary is the most awe-inspiring of all books; it knows so much. . . . It has gone around the sun, and spied out everything and lit it up.

On speaking. It usually takes more than three weeks to prepare a good impromptu speech.

On writing humor. There are several kinds of stories but only one difficult kind — the humorous.


Please send your questions and comments about language to richard.lederer@utsandiego.com website: www.verbivore.com.