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.

 

Mark Twain called it a good walk spoiled, and Oscar Wilde defined it as a man fanning a ball with a stick.

The activity, of course, is golf.

Personally, I don’t play the sport for two linguistic reasons: First, the word golf is, appropriately, flog spelled backward. Second, I have dedicated my life to being above par and don’t wish to flog myself trying to be subpar.

Playing at the Bellerive Country Club suburban St. Louis the PGA Championship is being contested for the 100th time. Despite what the Internet may tell you, the word golf is not an acronym for “gentlemen only, ladies forbidden.” In truth, golf is derived either from the German kolbe, which like the Dutch colf and French chole, means “stick, club,” or from the Scottish gowf, “to strike.”

In Old and Middle English the word for a young girl was brid, from which we get bride. By a semantic shift known as metathesis, the i and the r became transposed, and in the late 18th century, bird resulted. Crossing the ocean in the mid 19th century, bird became American slang for a person or thing of excellence. In the early 1920s, the popular word attached itself to golf, in the diminutive form of birdie, to signify one stroke under par.

The eagle, the king of birds, is often a symbol of excellence. Eagle Scout is the loftiest of Boy Scout ranks, and the eagle is an emblem of high military rank. It is no surprise, then, that a score of two below par in golf is an eagle, even better than a birdie.

In Great Britain in the early 1890s, a bogey was a ghost or specter. That word gives us both the bogeyman that causes little children to scurry to their beds in fright and the golf term bogey, one stroke over par. The operative metaphor here is that the fixed ground score became like a monstrous opponent, hence, a frightening bogey.

According to legend, Mary, Queen of Scots, was the first female golfer. When she returned to Scotland from France in 1560, several French youths accompanied her to serve as pages and porters. These young men were likened to cadets, “young soldiers,” and a golf club porter came to be known as a caddy.

Fore, the traditional vocal warning to golfers playing ahead that a ball is about to be struck or is in flight, derives from the Old English preposition that means “in front,” as in forecast and forehead.

A mulligan is a free shot to compensate for a mishit ball, sometimes permitted in a casual game. No one can say for sure how this word came into golf in 1949, but here’s my best guess: In family-type saloons there was always a bottle called Mulligan on the bar. The basic ingredients of this sauce were hot pepper seeds and water. If you were crazy enough to swish a few drops of this concoction into your beer, it ate out your liver, stomach, bladder and finally your heart. In the psychological sense, this is precisely what happens on the course when you accumulate too many mulligans.

An alternate theory asserts that the word eponymously derives from the name of Canadian golfer David Mulligan. Each week, Mulligan provided transportation to the St. Lambert Country Club near Montreal for his regular foursome. One day in the late 1920s, he mishit his drive off the first tee with hands still numb from driving over rough roads and a bumpy bridge at the course entrance. In appreciation for Mulligan’s driving (of his automobile), his friends gave him a second ball.

A stymie was originally a situation in which a player’s ball rests between the cup and another ball, obstructing its path. Some suggest that stymie issues from the Gaelic stigh mi, meaning “inside me,” while others point to the Dutch stuit mij, meaning “it stops me.” Now that players mark their balls and remove the impediment, the word has soared off the fairway of golfing parlance and into general use as a verb to mean “to frustrate, thwart, block in reaching a goal.”

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A palindrome is a word or words that reads the same forward and backward, such as taco cat. Today, 8/11/18, is what I call a calindrome, a date that reads the same both ways. Coming up: 8/18/18.

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On Saturday, August 25, 6-10 pm, I’ll be appearing at the inaugural East County Fest in Mission Trails Regional Park Visitor Center. For information, check out www.eastcountymagazine.org or call 619 698 7617.