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.

Tomorrow more than 30,000 runners, energized by 40 live bands and Elysian weather, will roll through San Diego in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.

Why are such long-distance runs called marathons? Because a little more than two-and-a-half millennia ago, in ancient Greece, a small band of 10,000 Athenians defeated a host of 100,000 Persians at the battle of Marathon. Pheidippides, a courageous runner, brought the news of the glorious victory to Athens, which lay 26 miles away. When he reached Athens, Pheidippides exulted, “Joy to you, we’ve won!” And there and then he died, having uttered those victorious words.

Place names such as Marathon have enriched our English language with many common words, most of them appearing as uncapitalized nouns. Using the following descriptions, identify seven common words and put them in their places:

  1. Two-piece swimsuits are named after a Pacific atoll on which hydrogen bombs were detonated — a truly explosive and figurative word.

  2. The most popular of all humorous verse forms in English hails from a county in Ireland. One theory says that Irish mercenaries used to compose verses in that form about each other and then join in a chorus of “When we get back to town, ’twill be a glorious morning.”

  3. A word for smooth-sounding flattery derives from the name of a castle in County Cork, Ireland. An inscription on the wall of the castle proclaims that anyone brave enough to scale the wall and kiss a particular stone will be rewarded with the gift of influencing others through cajolery.

  4. Nineteenth-century sailors were sometimes drugged and then forced into service on ships plying the unpopular route from San Francisco to China. From the name of that Chinese port we get the verb that means “to secure someone’s services through force.”

  5. A contraction of “St. Mary’s of Bethlehem,” a 16th-century London hospital for the insane, has become a word for uproar or confusion.

  6. As an alternative to cumbersome tails on a formal full-dress dinner coat, a tailless dinner coat originated in an exclusive community about 40 miles north of New York City. This short evening coat was an immediate sensation during the Gay Nineties; it is still obligatory at many formal functions a century later.

  7. The inhabitants of an ancient Greek city were noted for their ability to say a lot in a few words. During a siege of their capital, a Roman general sent a note to this city’s commander warning that if the Romans captured the city, they would burn it to the ground. From within the city gates came back the terse reply “If!” The city’s name lives on in an adjective that describes spare speech.


1. bikini-Bikini 2. limerick-Limerick 3. blarney-Blarney 4. to shanghai-Shanghai 5. bedlam-Bethlehem 6. tuxedo-Tuxedo Park. 7. laconic-Laconia

Please send your questions and comments about language to richard.lederer@utsandiego.com