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.

pronunciation

 

DEAR RICHARD: Congratulations on your wonderful “Tense Time with Verbs” poem and its eminently well-deserved display at the Planet Word Museum. I’m glad visitors to the museum will get to enjoy it. The verb tenses in your poem make me reflect that the English language is just impenetrable for anyone not born to it! -Judith Leggett, Escondido

The English language gains its reputation for difficulty largely from its spelling inconsistencies. For example, manslaugter and man’s laughter, each containing the same letters in the same order, are pronounced very differently. In “A foul ghoul soul loves good blood food,” the spellings of –oul and –ood each yield three different soundings.

And the ear-rinsing letter cluster –ough plagues us with a dozen different soundings: bough, dough, enough, cough, hiccough, lough (ock, och), through, trough (awth), thorough (uh), Hough (ahf) and Colclough (ee)!

People often tell me that English must be a very arduous and intimidating language for foreigners to master. How difficult can it be, I answer, when of the more than one billion speakers of English around the globe, only 378 million speak English as a first language while 793 million are non-native speakers. The vast bulk of English speakers worldwide did not hear English as babies and grow up speaking it as children. That’s right. A towering majority of English speakers are second, third or fourth language speakers; and that group is increasing faster than the cluster of first-language speakers.

One of these come-latelies to English, Hungarian-born Stephen Baker, speaks of his love for his adopted language:

“No doubt, English was invented in heaven. It must be the lingua franca of the angels. No other language is like it Nothing comes even close to it in sound, eloquence and just plain common sense — and this from someone who spoke nary a word of it before reaching age 25, save for Coke, OK and drugstore.

“You will be surprised to hear me say this: English is probably among the easiest languages to learn — because grammatically it makes sense. Anyone who tells you it isn’t should take a trip around the world and listen to tongues wagging. He’ll be happy to come home again.”

Writer Michael Arlen calls English “the great Wurlitzer of language, the most perfect all-purpose instrument.” But, as elaborate as its keyboard is, it is a relatively easy instrument to learn how to play. Turns out that English possesses a fairly simple, stripped-down apparatus of grammar unencumbered by complex noun and adjective inflections and gender markers.

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On January 20, Amanda Gorman, 22 years of age, became the youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history when she delivered her kinetic poem, “The Hill We Climb,” at President Joe Biden’s and Vice President Kamala Harris’s inauguration. Having overcome a severe speech impediment as a child, she is our first U.S. National Youth Poet Laureate.

In “The Hill We Climb,” Gorman illuminated the power we have to seize the “dawn” before us and to rejuvenate our democracy. She did not cast her poem in traditional rhyme and meter. Rather, she fused free verse with rap rhymes, near rhymes and hip-hop musicality. Hers was performance poetry, as all the while she gestured expressively with every word she shared.

John F. Kennedy‘s 1961 inauguration marked the first time a poet, Robert Frost, participated in such an event. Bill Clinton followed suit by featuring Maya Angelou at his first inauguration and Miller Williams at his second. Barack Obama included Elizabeth Alexander in his first inauguration and Richard Blanco in his second. And now Amanda Gorman has joined these literary luminaries in creating and voicing words that will echo through the minds of Americans for years to come.

On February 6, Amanda again made history when she became the first poet to perform at a Super Bowl, a clash that was punderfully billed as the GOAT (Tom Brady, “Greatest of All Time,” 43 years old) vs. the Kid (Patrick Mahomes, 25 years old). In her poem “Chorus of the Captains,” among the three honorary game captains that Gorman praised was Trimaine Davis, 37, former SDSU basketball player:

“Trimaine is an educator who works nonstop, providing his community with hot spots, laptops and tech workshops so his students have all the tools they need to succeed in life and in schools.”