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.

Earlier this week, Random House Children’s Books released a shiny new Dr. Seuss book titled “Horton and the Kwuggerbug and More Lost Stories.” The collection features a quartet of Seuss short stories that were originally printed in the early 1950s in Redbook magazine.

Theodor Geisel, more famously known as Dr. Seuss, lived and wrote and illustrated in La Jolla for decades. The world’s largest collection of his work reposes in the Geisel Library at UC San Diego, and every holiday season “Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” cavorts across the Old Globe’s stage.

In addition to becoming one of the world’s most beloved creators of children’s books, Ted Geisel was a neologizer — a maker of new words.

We know, for example, that very first appearance of the word “nerd” in print occurs in 1950 in Seuss’ “If I Ran the Zoo.” Therein a boy named Gerald McGrew makes a great number of delightfully extravagant claims as to what he would do if he were in charge at the zoo. Among these fanciful schemes is:

And then just to show them,

I’ll sail to Ka-Troo

And bring back an IT-KUTCH,

A PREEP, and a PROO,


And a SEERSUCKER, too!

The accompanying illustration for NERD shows a grumpy Seuss creature wearing a black T-shirt and sporting unruly hair and sideburns — not terribly nerdlike. For whatever reasons, it-kutch, preep, proo and nerkle have never been enshrined in any dictionary.


This past Tuesday, I had the pleasure of appearing on KUSI-TV’s “Good Morning San Diego” to talk about the bicentennial of Francis Scott Key’s writing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” which is Sunday. After my interview with David Davis, co-host Brandi Williams told me this cute story:

“When I was in kindergarten, the teacher asked the class if anyone knew who wrote ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’ No one else raised a hand, so I hoisted mine enthusiastically. The teacher asked, ‘All right, Brandi, who wrote our national anthem?’

“I shouted out, ‘Aretha Franklin!’ ”


The movie “Mary Poppins” is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its release. The 34-letter word supercalifragilisticexpialidocious does not appear anywhere in the P.L. Travers book. It was invented for the film version and has become our best-known really, really big word.

Etymologically, this is not entirely a nonsense word: super: “above”; cali: “beauty”; fragilistic: “delicate”; expiali: “to atone”; docious: “educable.” Stitched together, supercalifragilisticexpialidocious means “atoning for extreme and delicate beauty [while being] highly educable.”

The word has also inspired what I believe to be the most bedazzling syllable-by-syllable set-up pun ever devised. One of the greatest men of the 20th century was the political leader and ascetic Mahatma Gandhi. His denial of the earthly pleasures included the fact that he walked barefoot everywhere. Moreover, he ate so little that he developed delicate health and very bad breath. Thus, he became known as a super callused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis!


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.

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