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

 

In the second half of the 19th century, America was flooded with new immigrants, “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” These fresh arrivals, especially the millions fleeing the Irish potato famine, helped popularize the celebration of Halloween nationally.

A hundred years ago, in 1920, Anoka, Minnesota, celebrated the first city-wide Halloween with a costumed parade followed by treats for the revelers. The celebration was innovated by several civic organizations in an effort to divert the local youth from Halloween pranks, such as turning cows loose, soaping windows and toppling outhouses. After that, it didn’t take long for Halloween to go nationwide. New York started observing Halloween in 1923 and Los Angeles in 1925.

Halloween is the year’s spookiest holiday, especially today, when a full moon will shine. It’s the second full moon of the month, so it’s also a blue moon.

On October 31, we carve glowering faces on pumpkins, put on scary costumes, take our children trick-or-treating, and devour mouth-watering, calorie-packed goodies, which always go to waist. Only on Halloween do parents encourage their kids to trespass on someone’s property, make a nonnegotiable demand and take candy from strangers. One quarter of all the candy sold annually in the United States is purchased for Halloween. Chocolate, which in itself is a major food group, is by far the most popular confection, followed by candy corn.

Americans fork out $9 billion, second only to Christmas in consumer spending. Despite Covid-19 wrapping its tentacles around our planet, Americans will shell out at least that sum this year. One indication of that spending is that 20 percent of American dog owners buy costumes for their pets. In fact, I have a friend who dressed up his dog as a cat for Halloween. Now my friend can’t get his dog to come when he calls her.

One of our oldest holidays, Halloween finds its roots in ancient Ireland in the 5th century BCE. The observance signaled the end of the Celtic year and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. The Celts were farmers who worshipped nature. On this day, they observed Samhain, a festival that celebrated the final harvest and the storing of food for the winter ahead. People lit huge bonfires and donned costumes to ward off ghosts. In time, the Roman Empire conquered the Celts and took over some of their beliefs as well. This included Samhain, which the Romans combined with their own festivals.

Over the centuries, the holiday evolved from its pagan Irish origins, but the people did not forget the early customs. In the 8th century CE, Pope Gregory III introduced All Saints’ Day to replace the older festivals honoring the dead. The holiday, celebrated on November 1, was also known as All Hallows’ Day, a hallow being a saint or holy person. The preceding night was named All Hallows’ Eve, which has been shortened to Hallowe’en, and then to Halloween.

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DEAR RICHARD: With all of the coverage of military veterans and with Veterans Day falling on November 11 this year, people still do not know how to say the word. It is vet-er-an, not vet-ran. Many media, political and public figures constantly mispronounce it. –Alexis Torrey, University Heights

The omission of a syllable in the middle of a word is labeled syncope, as in vet-er-an/vet-ran, in-ter-est-ing/in-trest-ing, tem-per-a-ture/tem-pra-ture, se-ver-al/sev-ral, veg-e-tab-le/veg-tab-le, fa-mi-ly/fam-ly, di-a-per/di-per, choc-o-late/choc-late, car-a-mel/car-mel, va-cu-um/vac-ume, fed-e-ral/ fed-ral, em-e-rald/em-rald — you get the idea.

In the 20th century, most speakers started deleting (syncopating) the middle syllables in these words, but both the sounding of all syllables (vet-ter-an) and the syncopated versions (vet-ran) are currently acceptable.

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The Union-Tribune’s first virtual Successful Aging Expo continues on line until November 23. My performance of “Fascinating Facts About Our Presidents” will be up on demand in the seminar gallery 24/7, including my speaking and taking questions on Saturday, November 7, 4 pm. Admission is free and worth every penny.