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.

grammar & usage

 

Language is like the air we breathe. It’s invisible, inescapable, and indispensable, and we take it for granted. But when we take the time to step back and listen to the sounds that escape from the holes in people’s faces and to explore the paradoxes and vagaries of English, we find that hot dogs can be cold, darkrooms can be lit, homework can be done in school and nightmares can take place in broad daylight while morning sickness and daydreaming can take place at night.

Most bathrooms don’t have any baths in them. In fact, a dog can go to the bathroom under a tree — no bath, no room; it’s still going to the bathroom. And doesn’t it seem a little bizarre that we go to the bathroom in order to go to the bathroom?

If adults commit adultery, do infants commit infantry? If olive oil is made from olives, corn oil from corn and vegetable oil from vegetables, what do they make baby oil from? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian consume? If a television is a TV, shouldn’t a telephone be a TP?

If a firefighter fights fire, what does a freedom fighter fight? If a person who plays the piano called a pianist, shouldn’t a person who drives a race car be called a racist? If a horsehair mat is made from the hair of horses, from what is a mohair coat made? If a pronoun replaces a noun, does a proverb replace a verb? If pro and con are opposites, is congress the opposite of progress?

If we get seasick on the sea, airsick in the air and carsick in a car, then why don’t we get homesick in our home? And speaking of the home, why aren’t homework and housework the same thing?

A writer is someone who writes, and a stinger is something that stings. But fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce, hammers don’t ham, humdingers don’t humding, ushers don’t ush and haberdashers do not haberdash.

A slim chance and a fat chance are the same, as are a caregiver and a caretaker, a bad licking and a good licking and “What’s going on?” and “What’s coming off?” But a wise man and a wise guy are opposites. How can sharp speech and blunt speech be the same and quite a lot and quite a few the same, while overlook and oversee are opposites? How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell the next?

If button and unbutton and tie and untie are opposites, why are loosen and unloosen and ravel and unravel the same? If bad is the opposite of good, hard the opposite of soft and up the opposite of down, why are badly and goodly, hardly and softly and upright and downright not opposing pairs?

If harmless actions are the opposite of harmful actions, why are shameful and shameless behavior the same? If appropriate and inappropriate remarks and passable and impassable mountain trails are opposites, why are flammable and inflammable materials, heritable and inheritable property and passive and impassive people the same?

If uplift is the same as lift up, why are upset and set up opposite in meaning? Why are pertinent and impertinent, canny and uncanny and famous and infamous neither opposites nor the same? How can valuable objects be less valuable than invaluable ones and pricey objects less expensive than priceless ones? How can raise and raze be opposites when the two words sound the same? Why is it that if you decide to be bad forever, you choose to be bad for good. And that if you choose to wear only your left shoe, then your left one is right and your right one is left? Right?

Why is it that when the sun or the moon or the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible; that when I clip a coupon from a newspaper, I separate it, but when I clip a coupon to a newspaper, I fasten it and that when I wind up my watch, I start it, but when I wind up this column, I end it?

 

Tomorrow, Sunday, at 2 pm, I’ll be speaking at the Georgina Cole Library in Carlsbad, celebrating the 50th anniversary of that temple of enlightenment. Admission is free and worth every penny. I’d love to meet you there.