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.

Recently I had the great pleasure of speaking about the centennial of our San Diego Zoo to the students and teachers at the Harry M. Wegeforth Elementary School, in Serra Mesa. Named after the outreaching, farsighted founder of the zoo, the school opened its doors in 1957 and was dedicated on February 9, 1959, with Doctor Harry’s wife, Rachel Granger Wegeforth, and family in attendance.

Commemorating our zoo’s centennial, I’m about to demonstrate that words of a feather flock together. I offer two exhibits — the crane and the duck. Even a birdbrain would have little trouble seeing how we derived the noun crane to describe a hoisting machine or the verb to crane to describe the act of stretching one’s neck to obtain a better view. But it takes an eagle eye to spot the cranes hiding in pedigree and cranberry. Pedigree gets its pedigree from the French phrase pied de grue, “foot of a crane.” Why? Because if you trace a pedigree on a genealogical table, you find that the lines of descent resemble a crane’s foot. Cranberries take their name from the Low German Kraanbere, “crane berry,” because cranes often inhabit the bogs where the berries flourish.

Don’t duck duck etymologies. The name of the fowl and the verb both derive from Old English duce, meaning “diver.” When you duck, you stoop or bend down suddenly in the manner of a diver.

Americans have recently been advised to use duct tape to provide protection against a terror attack. You may be surprised to find that the original name of the cloth-backed, waterproof adhesive product was duck tape, so called because it repels water.

Take a gander at the aviary below to come up with appropriate words and expressions to match the definitions that follow. Sometimes the name of a given bird can stand by itself; sometimes you will have to provide a suffix or a phrase that includes a given bird, as in “low pay: chickenfeed.” Don’t quail at or duck this challenge. Feather your nest with all the correct answers you can, and you’ll really have something to crow about.

Match these bird words with the definitions that follow:

       albatross bird buzzard canary catbird

       chicken cock coot crane crow

       cuckoo dodo dove duck eagle

        gander goose grouse gull hawk

       hen lark loon owl parrot

       pigeon quail turkey swan vulture

1. supporter of war 2. opponent of war 3. a coward 4. the wrong direction 5. a great burden    6. a parasitical person 7. a stupid person 8. a crazy person 9. a crazy person 10. an old person 11. an old person 12. dominated by one’s wife 13. a politician nearing end of term 14. one who stays up late 15. a position of advantage 16. aggressively confident 17. what humbled people eat 18. one who rats on others 19.one who rats on others 20. an escapade 21. look at 22. easily duped or cheated 23. having sharp sight 24. complain 25. suddenly, independently 26. repeat another’s words 27. one under par on a hole in golf 28. an item of heavy machinery 29. cower 30. a farewell appearance

As you can see, I’m a birdwatcher as well as a word botcher. So I close today’s installment with two avian limericks. One of the most quoted limericks of all time is this creation by Dixon Lanier Merritt, known as the dean of Tennessee newspapermen:

     

A wonderful bird is the pelican

His bill will hold more than his belican.

              He can take in his beak

               Enough food for a week,

But I’m damned if I see how the helican.

  

Equally ingenious is this limerick by George D. Vaill about the inglorious bustard:

The bustard’s an exquisite fowl

With minimal reason to growl:

              He escapes what would be

              Illegitimacy

By the grace of a fortunate vowel.

 

Answers

1. hawk 2. dove 3. chicken 4. wild goose chase 5. albatross 6. vulture 7. dodo 8. cuckoo 9. loon 10. buzzard  11. coot 12. henpecked 13. lame duck 14. night owl 15. in the catbird seat 16. cocky or cocksure 17. crow 18. canary 19. stool pigeon 20. lark 21. take a gander at 22. gullible 23. eagle-eyed 24. grouse 25. cold turkey 26. parrot 27. birdie 28. crane 29. quail 30. swan song