Read “Lederer on Language” every Saturday in the San Diego Union Tribune and on this site.
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.

I recently helped raise funds for two music-loving groups in our town — the Grossmont Music Scholarship Council and the La Jolla Symphony & Chorus, which starts its 60th season this evening. So today is a good day to face the music. Many actors experience a touch of stage fright at the moment of going onstage. But, looking out across the orchestra pit, each performer must “face the music,” as I now ask you to do.

William Shakespeare began his comedy “Twelfth Night” with the line “If music be the food of love, play on!” About a century later, the playwright William Congreve penned the equally famous line “Music has charms to soothe a savage breast” (often misquoted as “the savage beast”).

Music is also the food of language. Music has charms that teem our tongues, course through our pens and luminesce up on our computer screens.

I am often asked to be a keynote speaker. I don’t speak around to trumpet my accomplishments or blow my own horn or drum up business. Rather, I strive to strike the proper key and the proper note and to strike a responsive chord.

A keynote speaker delivers a keynote address in which he or she develops the underlying theme of a gathering. The term keynote began as the practice of playing a note before a group, such as a cappella or barbershop, started singing. The note sounded determines the key in which the song will be performed, thus the term keynote.

Keynote is one word in a symphony of musical metaphors that sing throughout our everyday vocabulary. Here’s a chorus of others:

You may feel that I’m writing a soap opera and giving you a song and dance and all that jazz. You may accuse me of filling my prose with too much sax and violins so that it sounds like a soap opera at fever pitch. You may think me a jazzed up Johnny-one-note who doesn’t know his brass from his oboe.

But all I can say to that is “Fiddlesticks! Pipe down! I’ve got an upbeat attitude, and I’m in tune with the times. I’m feeling fit as a fiddle, and I don’t fiddle around or play second fiddle to anybody.”

I march to the beat of a different drummer, so I’m not going to give you a second-string performance or play it by ear. Rather, I, your unsung hero, am going to pull out all the stops and not soft-pedal any aspect of our glorious, uproarious, notorious, outrageous, contagious, courageous, tremendous, stupendous, end-over-endous English language.

Second-string originally meant a set of violin strings kept on hand in case the strings in the instrument broke. When we talk or write about someone “soft-pedaling” something, we are referring to the pedal on a piano that is used to mute tone. When we “soft-pedal” an idea, we moderate and play it down. If, on the other hand, we do the opposite and “pull out all the stops,” we are like an organist who pulls out all the stops, or knobs, in the organ to bring all the pipes into play.

Now it’s time for me to waltz out of here without missing a beat — not on a sour note but on a high note. Please remember that I’m not whistling Dixie, and I don’t mean to chime in on your life and harp on the subject to beat the band. Rather, I’m trying to orchestrate an overture to you so that you can ring in a harmonious relationship and hop on my bandwagon. Then you’ll sing a different tune, and we can make beautiful music together.

If music be the food of love and music has charms to soothe a savage breast, we’ve got singing, we’ve got rhythm, we’ve got music. Who could ask for anything more?

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