Read “Lederer on Language” every Saturday in the San Diego Union Tribune and on this site.
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.

These days, the face and body of our great nation is scarred with an outbreak of measles. Parents are urged to have their children vaccinated for their own safety and the safety of others.

For centuries, smallpox was a scourge of humanity, scarring and killing millions. Edward Jenner, a British doctor, noticed that milkmaids did not generally get smallpox and theorized that the pus in the blisters that these women developed from cowpox protected them from the more virulent smallpox. In 1796, Jenner found that inoculating people with a serum containing the lymph gland fluid of cows infected with cowpox virus prevented the similar smallpox. That’s why vaccine, vaccination and vaccinate contain the Latin name for “cow,” vacca.

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Incorrigible punster that I am (don’t incorrige me), I have noticed that certain words start with something that sounds like a first name and then comes an O. With St. Patrick’s Day coming this Tuesday, I ask if you’ve heard about …

• the Irish botanist Phil O’Dendron;

• the Irish theater owner Nick O’Lodeon;

• the Irish cigarette manufacturer Nick O’Teen;

• the Irish marksman Rick O’Shay;

• the Irish meteorologist Barry O’Metric;

• the Irish inventor of Halloween Jack O’Lantern;

• the Irish manufacturer of flooring Lynn O’Leum;

• the Irish printer Mimi O’Graph;

• the Irish playwright Mel O’Drama;

• the Irish poet Ann O’Nymous;

• the Irish linguist Phil O’Logical;

• the Irish singers Mary O’Lanza and Carrie O’Key;

• the Irish ornithologist Bob O’Link;

• the Irish pasta manufacturer Ravi O’Lee;

• the Irish sportsman Mark O’Polo;

• and the Irish designer for outdoor living Patty O’Furniture?

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Selfie, formed from self + ie (known as “the pet suffix,” as in auntie, kitty and nightie) was voted 2012 International Word of the Year by the Oxford English Dictionary staff, showing how technology can create a word that instantly launches a thousand lips. William Shakespeare foresaw the power of the word when he wrote in “Hamlet,” “To thine own selfie be true.”

Selfie sticks are in the news these days, the rods that help people to take selfies. One clever wag has suggested another name for them: narcissi-sticks.

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On April 5, Monsignor Robert McElroy will be installed as the sixth Roman Catholic bishop of San Diego. Another word for bishop is prelate. Here’s a little poem I wrote about a prelate. Note how, starting with prelate, I remove one letter at a time from the beginning of each italicized word:

The prelate

Did relate a tale

Meant to elate

Both you and me.

We stayed up late

And ate our meal,

Te Deum sang

In key of e.

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China’s top broadcast regulator, State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, recently banned the art and craft of wordplay. In the past, the authority has cracked down on shows that feature time travel (condemned for “lack of positive thoughts and meaning”), adultery and one-night stands. Now punning has gotten the ax, said to be “contradictory in spirit to the continuation and enhancement of outstanding traditional Chinese culture.”