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.

etymology

 

The source of that tingly sensation you feel when you strike your arm is the knob on the end of the bone running from the shoulder to the elbow. The medical name for that bone is the humerus. Back in 1840, some clever wag seized upon the homophonic similarity of humerus and humorous and dubbed the humerus the funny bone, a learned pun that has become part of our language. Since then, we’ve found out that if you boil your funny bone, it becomes a humerus laughing stock.

To thrive in life, you need three bones: a wish bone, a back bone and a funny bone. I’ve designed this column to tickle your humerus during these treacherous times.

Why do we drive in a parkway and park in a driveway and play at a recital and recite at a play? Why does a man get a hernia and a woman a hysterectomy? Why do we ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Why can your nose run and your feet smell?

Because language is naturally playful, we human beings love to make jokes about words. Here are some of my favorite linguistic tours de farce:

  • I used to correct my friends’ grammar, but I stopped. That’s because I decided it’s better to have friends than to always be right.
  • Technically, Moses was the first man in history to download data from the cloud to his tablet.
  • My three favorite things are eating my family and not using commas.
  • A minister, a priest and a rabbit walk into a blood bank to donate blood. A nurse asks each of them to provide their blood type. Says the rabbit: “I’m pretty sure I’m a Type O.”
  • Zyxst, zyxt, zyzzyva – Noah Webster’s last words
  • I bought the world’s worst thesaurus yesterday. “How bad is it?” you ask. Not only is it awful. It’s awful.
  • I hate it when people use big words just to make themselves sound perspicacious.
  • There’s no “i” in denial.
  • Recently, Al Kaline, the great right fielder for the Detroit Tigers, passed away at the age of 84. He was the youngest major league baseball player ever to win the batting championship and also the athlete with the highest pH content ever in his name. Why? Because he was Alkaline.

* * *

On February 11, in Geneva, the head of the World Health Organization unveiled the name of a new disease, COVID-19. A little more than a month later, COVID-19 landed in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, the fastest journey from conception to formal recognition in the company’s nearly 200-year history.

The past three months, most of the top searched-for definitions on the Merriam-Webster website have been COVID-19-related. Too, the pandemic has generated a growing lexicon of new words, including social distancing (I contend that physical distancing is a more accurate description), covidiot, “a person who behaves recklessly during the pandemic,” zoom bombing, “an intrusion into a video conference,” and quaranstreaming.

Following those viral facts, I’ll close with some viral humor:

  • Twenty years ago we had Steve Jobs, Johnny Cash and Bob Hope. Now we have no jobs, no cash and no hope. Please don’t let Meat Loaf, Kevin Bacon and Jon Hamm die.
  • Recently, John Travolta was hospitalized for suspected COVID-19. But doctors found that it was just a Saturday Night Fever, so he’s Staying Alive.
  • A famous film director is making a documentary about the stay-at-home lockdown in New Jersey. His name is Trenton Quarantino.
  • Flash! Israel has developed a vaccine for the coronavirus. The antibody converts the virus to Judaism and then bar mitzvahs it. After the bar mitzvah, the virus never comes back.
  • Prediction: There will be a minor baby boom in nine months. Then, in 2033, we shall witness the rise of the quaranteens.
  • The Spanish king has been quarantined primarily on his private jet. So the rein in Spain stays mainly in his plane.
  • What does the 19 stand for in COVID-19? The number of pounds you’ll put on during your sheltering in place.