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.

Readers’ Questions

 

Celebrating Remember Me Thursday last week, I invited you to share memories of your pets. A billowy mailbag of love came my way. Here’s a representative response by A. B. Rubin, of Carlsbad:

I found this dog online. He was exactly what I had spent months searching for in shelters and rescues: a mixed-breed, male, under a year old, healthy, good with kids, 35-50 pounds and house-trained. So I called.

“He’s no longer available,” I was told. So, dejectedly I trudged back to square one. And then the rescue called me back. “We have a similar dog that may interest you. Just a couple of minor differences. Instead of a mixed-breed male, Xena is a pure-bred Boxer. And she’s three years old, not good with kids and weighs in at 70 pounds. And, oh yeah, she’s had cancer. Twice. But she is house-trained.”

“Well, I responded,” one out of seven. Close enough. I’ll take a look.”

And, if you are reading this, you fully understand dog-love at first sight.

I had expected some challenges when we got home. Xena had been in a loving home for three years so I anticipated she would be out of sorts for a few weeks and acting out her unease. Instead, when we went into the house, she seemed to look at me and say, “Hey, nice place. Where do I put my stuff?” It couldn’t have been easier.

My wife had been somewhat ambivalent about adding a dog to the family; after about 15 minutes you’d have thought she had birthed Xena. Xena didn’t just win our hearts; she invaded them, set up a Chamber of Commerce and took total control. And then she proceeded to do the same with our adult children.

I’m retired and Xena was unemployed. We became inseparable, our routine set in stone. Up at 5 a.m. (or a big, square muzzle in my face at 5:01), with three meals and four walks every day. It didn’t take long before she became the queen of the neighborhood and ruler of the small park where we walked and met up with her dog friends. We were together 24/7, a win/win match of man and dog.

The problem with dogs is you have to say goodbye before you are ready. Xena survived several bouts of illness, but a tumor on her heart proved the final straw shortly after her tenth birthday. I was convinced I could never find another dog to fill the void.

After a few months of that empty feeling that fills the house when you lose a dog, I decided to visit the shelter — you know, “just to take a look.” And that’s when I realized just how Xena was a game-changer for me. I had thought my love for her had spoiled me for all other dogs. In fact, it had opened me up to caring about all other dogs in a way I had not felt before.

As I write this. I realize how much I miss the game-changer. But at my side is Lacey, a Boxer/Rottweiler mix who, along with my wife and me, is the beneficiary of what Xena gave to us.

***

This past month, the Merriam-Webster dictionaries accepted they and themself as pronouns to refer to a single person whose gender identity is nonbinary. While this decision by the most venerable American dictionary company may cause you to raise an eyebrow, break the point off your pencil or swallow your chewing gum, I beseech you to read on:

You’re sitting at a table, and after a long period of time elapses, someone finally brings the food. Why are they called the “waiter”?

I’ve used this quip dozens of times in my talks and asked the audience if anyone has been offended by any grammatical atrocity I have uttered. Almost no one raises their hand.

Take another look at the previous two paragraphs and note that, in each one, I’ve used a form of they to refer to a singular pronoun — someone, anyone and no one. Why is this usage ubiquitous? Well, one reason is that we have been doing it for centuries, all the way back to Middle English. It’s been more than 600 years (1387) since the poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote, in The Canterbury Tales, “And whoso findeth hym out of swich blame,/They wol come up . . . ” They as a third-person-singular pronoun abounds in the works of other estimable authors, such as William Shakespeare, William Makepeace Thackeray and Jane Austen.