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.

Dear Mr. Lederer: I am writing to suggest that you review the meaning of RSVP with your readers. Recently I have received two invitations asking me to Please RSVP. I am also hearing this redundancy on radio and television. – Marilyn Riley

The word redundancy is a combination of the Latin undare, “to overflow,” and re, “back,” and literally means “to overflow again and again.” With the recent spread of initialisms and acronyms in English, we have new ways of saying the same thing twice.

Here’s a sampling of the most common letter-imperfect redundancies. I bet you readers can add some more – ABM missile, AC or DC current, ACT test, AM in the morning, BASIC code, CNN news network, DOS operating system, GMT time, GRE examination, HIV virus, HTML language, ICBM missile, ISBN number, LED diode, MAC card, OPEC country, PIN number, PM in the evening, ROM memory, SALT talks (or treaty), SAT test, SUV vehicle and VIN number.

In each of these initialisms, the last letter is piled on by a gratuitous noun. RSVP please is close kin to BYOB bottle. ATM machine turns out to be a double redundancy: machine repeats the M, and the M (“machine”) repeats the A (“automated”).

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Dear Mr. Lederer: Please mention in your column the almost universal misuse of the expression “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” “You can’t eat your cake and have it too” makes more sense to me, but people look at me strangely when I point out that if you eat the cake, you can no longer have it because it is gone. -Marc Rossi

“You can’t have your cake and eat it too” is a vintage hysteron proteron, a Greek figure of rhetoric that means “the latter earlier,” or more familiarly, “the cart before the horse.” As Marc Rossi points out, the old saw should logically read, “You can’t eat your cake and have it too.” In hysteron proteron the logical order of objects or events is reversed. If you bear this concept in mind, you’ll find examples all around:

You don’t go back and forth between places. You must go forth before you can go back.

You don’t put on your shoes and socks each morning. That is an exceedingly difficult maneuver. You put on your socks first, then your shoes.

You aren’t head over heels in love. You’re head over heels in love because when you flip, literally or metaphorically, your heels are over your head.

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Dear Mr. Lederer: I enjoyed reading your column about mnemonic devices. Here’s one I invented to help remember the order of the beach cities north of San Diego: Directors Should Carefully Employ Large Chamber Orchestras: Del Mar, Solana Beach, Cardiff, Encinitas, Leucadia, Carlsbad and Oceanside. – Roger Sorrell

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Dear Mr. Lederer: I’ve often wondered about the common expression brand new. Where does the brand come from? Can you help me? Paul Roger

Brand names spring from the practice of branding animals -and human beings – to indicate ownership. A product that is brand new is as fresh as a newly branded calf.

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Dear Mr. Lederer: I had a friend, now gone, long passed, beyond the blue, six feet under. When I had inquired how she was, her response was always “I’m fine.” Granted who wishes to listen to a litany of complaints? Aren’t these persons called “Pollyannas”? -Ruth Sewell

Pollyanna Whittier is the heroine of “Pollyanna,” a 1913 novel by one Eleanor H. Porter. The 11-year-old girl is so unrelentingly and unrealistically optimistic that Pollyanna has come to mean “one smitten with foolish optimism no matter how bad things get.”