Confessions of a Verbivore

August 18, 2009

Musings of a Verbivore

Filed under: Verbivore — jargontalk @ 7:33 am

I am a verbivore. I’m someone who metaphorically eats words. I am a word-struck, word-fixated, word-obsessed, totally shameless verbivore

Carnivores eat meat; herbivores chomp through vegetables and plants; verbivores devour words. I’m just such a creature. I indulge myself words, ogling over their enticing textures, shapes, and colors. I enjoy dialogs with other wordaholics, lexicomaniacs, and verbivores, people who also eat their words.

The term "verbivore" was coined by author and speaker Richard Lederer in the early 1980s, a man best known for his books on word play and the English language and his use of oxymorons. Dr. Lederer is known for uncovering word origins, pointing out common grammatical errors and fallacies, and exploring palindromes, anagrams, and other forms of recreational wordplay. He has been profiled in magazines as diverse as The New Yorker, People, and the National Enquirer (go figure), and has appeared on radio as a commentator on language. He has written hundreds of articles and more than thirty books, such as Anguished English, a book that spawned an entire best-selling series.

Amongst his other offerings were such titles as Get Thee to a Punnery, Crazy English, A Man of My Words, The Word Circus, The Miracle of Language, The Cunning Linguist, and Word Wizard. His most recent offering was Presidential Trivia. And kids haven’t been forgotten. His offerings have been The Circus of Words (letter play for kids 9-14, for whom hardly anyone writes language fun and skill), and Word Play Crosswords, 50 original crossword puzzles, each with a language theme.

An accomplished speaker, Lederer was the 2002 recipient of the Golden Gavel of Toastmasters International. He also served as the 2007 commencement speaker at Case Western Reserve University. He is a member of American Mensa, and is often a featured speaker at its gatherings.

Dr. Lederer was once asked which of his works was his favorite, and the answer was The Miracle of Language, in which the reader is treated to a collection of fascinating and enlightening essays. Lederer celebrates language as "incomparably the finest of our achievements" and passes along some eloquent testimony on the emancipating power of language in the lives of such people as Helen Keller, Richard Wright, Malcolm X, Anne Frank.

The author identifies William Shakespeare as the most prolific word-maker who ever lived, a man who Shakespeare is credited with the first use of over 1,700 words, nearly eight percent of the different words that he used in his writing. Next is Samuel Johnson who, with his breakthrough dictionary, captured the majesty of English and gave it a dignity long overdue. Others include writers such as Ambrose Bierce, Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, T. S. Eliot, and George Orwell. There’s a chapter on the beauty of using short words, that rounds out this a delightful and edifying collection.

A large vocabulary is a great predictor of success, according to the Johnson O’Connor studies and others. I believe that it is also one sign of certain kind of intelligences. It’s a matter of simple math. The more words you have, the better you can describe and live in this world. As Holmes said, ‘Language is the skin of living thought.’
~ Richard Lederer

But this is also no dry author, for there’s an amazing amount of humor in many if his works. His interests include uncovering word origins, pointing out common grammatical errors and fallacies, and exploring palindromes, anagrams, and other forms of recreational wordplay. On top of that, he has been elected International Punster of the Year. A few year ago he wrote The Cunning Linguist, a book in which he shows us the naughtier side of wordplay, revealing hundreds of hilarious, ingenious, unabashed, and adults-only puns, jokes, limericks, one-liners, and other adventures in sexual humor. As the author says, this book is "300 pages of good, clean, dirty word play for appreciative punographers." I had to fully agree in my review of this book.

Also worthy of consideration is the author’s newer book, Word Wizard, an anthology an anthology of his best and most popular essays, published by St. Martin’s Press. In the opening pages, he states:

Some people are bird-watchers. I watch word-botchers. Over the years I’ve cobbled together five anthologies of fluffs and flubs, goofs and gaffes, blunders, boo-boos, botches, boners, and bloopers. They’re the fuel that runs the motor of my career as a fly-by-the-roof-of-the-mouth, word-struck, word-besotted, word-bethumped language guy.

If you like words, if you are a fellow verbivore, then any of these books would probably appeal to you.


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