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

 

For much of this year we have been jubilantly celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. We particularly rejoice at the feat of the feet of astronauts (Latin astro, “star” + naut, “space sailor”) Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, the first human beings to walk on the face of the moon.

This is a good time, then, to soar up, up, and away to moonstruck words.

Have you ever been curious about why the words lunatic and lunar begin with the same four letters? Etymology supplies the answer. Lunatic derives from luna, Latin for “moon,” which when it is full, is said to render us daft — moonstruck or loony.

Former Governor Jerry Brown was labeled “Governor Moonbeam” because of his starry-eyed vision of solar and wind power, a dream that is rapidly becoming a reality.

We keep time with the moon. Monday began as Old English for “moon day,” and month, again from Old English, is the duration between full moons, the time it takes our lunar satellite to complete its voyage around our planet. The ancients customarily drank mead, or honey wine, for the first 30 days of marriage, bequeathing us honeymoon, which coalesces honey, figuratively “love, sweetness” and moon, a synonym for “month.”

The opportunity to attend a Paul McCartney concert comes along once in a blue moon, when pigs fly and hell freezes over. Among these metaphors for very rare occurrences, blue moon is the most colorful, as indicated by this 1528 couplet:

Yf they say the moon is blue,
You must believe that it is true.

A blue moon is the second full moon in a single month, a phenomenon that occurs, well, once in a blue moon. The expression has nothing to do with the actual color of the moon, but whenever certain natural conditions align, such as volcanic eruptions or titanic fires sending particles into the atmosphere, the moon can actually appear to be tinged with blue.  These bonus full moons present themselves on average once every 2.7 years. The next blue moon won’t glow in the sky until October 31, 2020.

A mooncalf is a simpleton. Some of us distill, drink or consume moonshine (“illegal liquor”) or babble moonshine (“nonsense”). Some of us moonlight with a second job that we perform at night. Others of us moon about or over a desired lover. Then there’s that other verb to moon, which I won’t explicate in this family newspaper and will leave you to figure out how the act got its name.

Moving right along to another body part, that whitish crescent at the base of each of your fingernails actually has a name — lunule or lunula, French/Latin for “little moon.”

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Bill Collins, of Tierrasanta, writes, “I am a woodworker with time and a sense of humor to spare.” Bill was kind enough to wing me some of his creations “from one verbaphile (word lover) to another.” Why to me? Because each of his exhibits is a pun, and Bill knows that I am an incorrigible punster, and he wishes to incorrige me.

In his punderful package Bill included a green-roofed park protection area with thumb tacks inside. The pun is tax shelter. Next I extracted two elongated wooden cylinders with animal markings on them. The solution: Spotted dowels (spotted owls). Finally, in Bill’s magic package reposed a miniature three-legged stool inside a clear jar with a white lid. That turned out to be a stool sample.

Bill also included a photograph of two household products to indicate that his wooden handiwork was his Pride and Joy.

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DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: Thanks for your column on Noah Webster, whose contribution to our American dialect is often overlooked or forgotten. Having grown up in Dearborn, Michigan, my awareness of his monumental work stems from visiting his New Haven home and workshop in Greenfield Village, an outdoor history museum and National Historic Landmark in suburban Detroit.

You may not be aware that the Webster home and workshop would have been demolished if the Ford family had not purchased, dismantled and moved it from New Haven, Conn., to Greenfield Village in 1936.

Check it out. And thanks again for reminding us of Webster’s extraordinary legacy. –Emery Cummins, Pacific Beach