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. recently announced its fourth annual list of the Most Well-Read Cities in America. The ranking is based on sales of all books, magazines and newspapers in both print and Kindle formats from April 2013 to April 2014.

On a per-capita basis in cities with more than 100,000 residents, Alexandria, Va., tops the list for the third year in a row, followed by Miami and Knoxville, Tenn.

Turning to cities with more than 1 million residents, has named San Diego as the best-read metropolis in the U.S. of A. “Our annual Most Well-Read Cities list shows that reading continues to be a passion for people from coast to coast,” said Sara Nelson, editorial director of print and Kindle books at

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The world was recently mesmerized by the spectacle of World Cup soccer in Brazil. A greater percentage of San Diegans than any other U.S. city except Washington, D.C., watched the final match between Germany and Argentina on TV.

The word soccer derives from “association football.” In the late 19th century, the front and the back of association were clipped, the terminal c hardened and the slangy –er suffix appended: soc + er = soccer. The nickname rugger, from rugby, was formed the same way, and bummer and “to take a header” show the same suffix.

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Our San Diego Aviators enjoyed a terrific season in the Team Tennis League, until the playoffs. But the cleverest name of any team in the league is the Boston Lobsters. A lobster is a New England culinary indulgence and also “one who lobs.”

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Eight days ago, U-T film critic Anders Wright wrote a glowing review of the new “A Most Wanted Man,” which features the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final leading role as detective Gunter Bachmann. In his critique, Wright wrote, “There’s Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright), a representative of the U.S. government, who seems to be dangling both a carrot and a stick in Bachmann’s direction.”

That statement may have befuddled readers who picture a carrot dangling on a string hanging on a stick that is placed in front of a horse or donkey. These readers might well wonder how can there be a carrot without a stick from which to dangle it.

Turns out that Anders Wright got it right.

The first known citation of the carrot and stick metaphor is the film “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), in which Sidney Greenstreet offers a deal to Humphrey Bogart:

Bogart: Why should I do this?

Greenstreet: For the same reason a donkey with a carrot in front and a stick in the back goes forward instead of backward.

Bogart (after a pause): Tell me about the carrot.

In other words, the carrot represents positive reinforcement and the stick negative reinforcement. One can use a carrot with no accompanying stick. This interpretation is reinforced by a statement by Winston Churchill at a news conference on May 25, 1943: “We shall continue to operate on the Italian donkey at both ends, with a carrot and a stick.

In a paper published in late 2013, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in the Netherlands analyzed a word that is more universal in form than almost all other universal words such as mama, papa and no.

The word is huh?


You heard me correctly. Internationally, there are many more variations of mama, papa and no than there are for huh? That is, huh? sounds like huh? across languages whose phonetic patterns otherwise vary greatly, from Dutch to Icelandic to Mandarin Chinese to West African Siwu to the Australian aboriginal Murrinh-Patha.

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An English professor wrote up on the board: “Woman without her man is nothing” and instructed his students to punctuate it.

The men in the class wrote: “Woman, without her man, is nothing.”

The women wrote: “Woman! Without her, man is nothing.”

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