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 Zeigler’s Aztecs basketball story in a late-March Union-Tribune was headlined SDSU TAKES CARE OF GEORGIA TECH, HEADS TO NIT SEMIS IN BIG APPLE. The first paragraph read, “There might be some bruises on the apple, but it’s an apple. A Big Apple,” which raises the question (not “begs the question”!) whence cometh the phrase Big Apple, referring to New York?

The first print citation shows up in 1921 in a regular racing column in the New York Morning Telegraph by one John FitzGerald, in which he used “big apple” to refer to the race tracks of New York. By 1924, FitzGerald had broadened the phrase to identify the city itself: “The Big Apple, the dream of every lad that ever threw a leg over a thoroughbred, There’s only one Big Apple. That’s New York.” The columnist wrote that he had first heard the phrase from two black stable hands in New Orleans in 1920, for whom “the big apple” was their name for the New York racetracks – the big time, “the goal of every aspiring jockey and trainer.”

Some linguists theorize that the debt for creating the nickname the “Big Apple” has been paid back to the two stable hands because, in the late 1960s, the city of New Orleans capitalized on the “Big Apple” success and started calling itself “The Big Easy.”

This past May, when the Golden State Warriors rebounded from a 3-1 deficit against the Oklahoma City Thunder to repeat as NBA Western Conference champions, the Union-Tribune ran the punderful headline STEALING THUNDER. Here’s the origin of the phrase to steal one’s thunder, meaning “to rob someone of his or her deserved glory”:

The English critic and playwright John Dennis is best known for first sneering, “A pun is the lowest form of wit.” In 1709, Dennis’s tragedy, “Appius and Virginia,” turned out to be a tragic failure among critics and playgoers alike. The play bombed even though Dennis had invented for it a device that generated the roaring of thunder as part of the staging.

Shortly after the premature closing of Dennis’s play, Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” came to London. Dennis attended an early performance, where, after he heard his own thunder machine roar during the three witches’ opening scene on the heath. The upstaged Dennis exclaimed, “My God! The villains will not play my play, but they will steal my thunder!”

Earlier this month, Serena Williams captured her seventh Wimbledon tennis championship and her 22nd grand-slam singles title. Right after her historic win, Williams danced around centre court holding up two fingers on each hand to indicate both victory and “catch-22.” The connection between that phrase and Serena was that she had just caught up to Steffi Graf’s record of 22 tennis grand-slam singles trophies in the open era.

Catch-22 is also a reference to Joseph Heller’s novel about the mindlessness of war. The working title for that modern classic was “Catch-18,” a reference to a military regulation that keeps the pilots in the story flying one suicidal mission after another. The only way to be excused from such missions is to be declared insane, but asking to be excused is proof of a rational mind and bars exemption.

Shortly before the appearance of Heller’s book in 1961, Leon Uris’s “Mila 18” was published. To avoid confusion with the title of Uris’s war novel, Heller and his editor decided to change “Catch-18” to “Catch-22.” That was a fortuitous choice because the 22 more rhythmically and symbolically captures the double duplicity of both the military regulation itself and the bizarre world that Heller shapes in his novel. (“That’s some catch, that Catch-22,” observes Yossarian. “It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agrees.)

During the more-than-five decades since its literary birth, catch-22, generally lower-cased, has come to mean any predicament in which we are caught coming and going and in which the very nature of the problem defies its solution. So succinctly does catch-22 embody the push-me-pull-you absurdity of modern life that the phrase has become the most frequently employed and deeply embedded allusion from all of American literature.

Next Saturday, July 30, at 2 p.m., I will be performing “Fascinating Facts About Our Presidents” at the newly remodeled Dove Library, 1775 Dove Lane, in Carlsbad. Admission is free.