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.

Over the centuries, some lucky people have been granted a measure of immortality by having had their names transformed into common English words. One way to achieve such posthumous fame is to become so closely identified with an idea that your name becomes an ism.

Thusly, the names of philosophers Plato and Karl Marx are enshrined in the words Platonism and Marxism. French soldier Nicholas Chauvin pursued his patriotism with such excessive zeal that his name is, to this day, preserved in the concept of chauvinism.

The Rev. William Archibald Spooner occasionally and unintentionally interchanged initial consonant sounds in his statements: “Three cheers for our queer old dean!” and “Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?” Such switcheroos are now dubbed spoonerisms.

The life and writings of the Marquis de Sade extolled the pleasures of inflicting pain, while the fictional characters of novelist Leopold Sacher-Masoch enjoyed receiving pain. Today the surnames of these two men live on in the words sadism and masochism. (As the story goes, the masochist pleads, “Beat me, beat me!” and the masochist sneers, “No!”)

This past Tuesday, Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, one of the most beautiful lives in Major League Baseball, retired from the great stadium of life at the age of 90. The legendary Yankee catcher played in 14 World Series, 10 of them won by his New York Yankees, and caught Don Larsen’s perfect game in the 1956 World Series. Berra later exulted about that feat, “It’s never happened in World Series competition, and it still hasn’t.”

The man transcended baseball by creating such mind-boggling flights of linguistic non sequiturs and intuitive wisdom that Yogiisms and Berraisms have become part of our language and culture. As fellow catcher Joe Garagiola sagely observed, “Yogi Berra says things funny. He says things that are a split second off the hinges.”

Here are my 10 favorite verbal screwballs that the 18-time All Star and Hall of Fame catcher has pitched over the years:

  • It ain’t over till it’s over.
  • You can observe a lot by watching.
  • It’s like déjà vu all over again.
  • If you come to a fork in the road, take it.
  • No wonder nobody comes there anymore. It’s too crowded.
  • A nickel ain’t worth a dime anymore.
  • Half the lies they tell me ain’t true.
  • Ninety percent of this game is mental. The other half is physical.
  • If people don’t want to come to the ballpark, you can’t stop them.
  • I didn’t really say everything I said.

I received a mailbox of reader responses to my recent column on “The Case for Short Words.” Here’s another and classic approach to the concept:

In promulgating your esoteric cogitations or articulating your superficial sentimentalities and amicable philosophical or psychological observations, beware of platitudinous ponderosity.

Let your conversational communications possess a compacted conciseness, a clarified comprehensibility, a coalescent cogency and a concatenated consistency. Eschew obfuscation and all conglomerations of flatulent garrulity, jejune babblement and asinine affectations.

Let your extemporaneous descants and unpremeditated expatiations possess intelligibility and voracious vivacity without rodomontade or thrasonical bombast. Sedulously avoid all vapid verbosity, polysyllabic profundity, pompous prolificacy. salacious suspiration and pestiferous profanity.

That is, say what you mean and mean what you say. Be brief and don’t use big words!