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.

vocabulary

 

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: Regarding your recent column about language bias against women, I will be delighted when the Museum of Man is called something else! –Marilyn Riley

 Me too. After 70 years of service, the San Diego Museum of Man is looking for a new name. Through a survey the museum is asking people to express their opinions of these five names: The Museum of Humankind, The Human Experience, The Museum of Many, The We and ONE. Any of these inclusive names will better embody the museum’s “mission of inspiring human connections by exploring the human experience.”

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: Actor/Actress: To me a male is an actor, and a female is an actress. Actor can be used to refer to a mixed group. More and more, though, I am seeing females referred to as actors. -Dave Gillespie

I’m all for inclusive occupational names such as server for waiter/waitress, letter carrier for mailman/mailwoman, police officer for policeman/policewoman, firefighter for fireman/firewoman and chair for chairman/chairwoman. I’m additionally pleased that these days a flight attendant can make a pilot pregnant. But, like Dave Gillespie, when gender makes a crucial difference in a job, I believe that the distinction should be maintained, as in actor/actress.

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER:Spinster is a term used to refer to an unmarried woman who is older than what is perceived as the prime age range during which women should marry.” Has this become an archaic word? I don’t read or hear it being used anymore.-Rick Peterson

The suffix -ster often denotes “a woman who.” The last name Webber means “a man who weaves,” Webster “a woman who weaves.” Brewer signifies “a man who brews,” Brewster “a woman who brews.” Dyer is the surname of “a man who dyes cloth,” Dexter of “a woman who dyes cloth.” Baker, of course, is “a man who bakes,” while a Baxter is “a woman who bakes.”

Spinster began life meaning simply “a woman who spins.” Over time, the word came to suggest a rejected, dried-up “old maid,” so much so that some single women are driven to adopt the ludicrous labels bachelorette and bachelor girl to describe their status. That we no longer hear or read spinster is a sign of social and emotional progress. Good riddance to a bad word.

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: I enjoyed your column about the use of man in our language. I am a retired teacher (in Computer Science & Information Systems) and saw the effect of this language on girls and young women. I saw the tragic loss of potential as girls learned to underestimate their abilities. We in fact teach girls to underestimate their abilities with our use of man when we mean human. ~Kathleen Cudahy

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: When a woman is in a relationship with a married man who is financially supporting her, she is referred to as his mistress. How does one refer to a man who is in a relationship with a married woman who financially supports him? This came up at a get-together with my female friends, who offered several names that are not suitable for printing. I told them that I would ask the language guru. -Yolanda Remillard

 Beyond kept man, we don’t have much to choose from. Boy toy works only in cases where the man is much younger than the woman. Paramour and lover can apply to either partner, and gigolo indicates a brief pecuniary relationship, that is, prostitution.

DEAR RICHARD LEDERER: Your column reminded me of a lecture I used to give on bias that began, “At one time the worst possible condition for a person in the US was to be a left-handed black single woman.” I then proceeded to show how our language perpetuates prejudices against left-handed people (sinister, two left feet) and against blacks (enlighten = to make someone smarter, dark thoughts). The other two conditions need no further explanation. This was way back in the ’60s, when some people cared about civil rights. -Jerry Ford

 Thank you, sir. I’ll treat linguistic biases against lefthanders and black people in a future column.

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On Friday, September 21, 12 noon to 1 pm, I’ll be interviewed about my new book, The Joy of Names, which is being offered as a premium on KPBS Public Radio.