Wednesday, July 16, 2014


2014 TBR Reading Challenge: Word Wizard by Richard Lederer


As part of Wendy Crutcher's 2014 TBR Challenge, here are my brief comments on Word Wizard: Super Bloopers, Rich Reflections, and Other Acts of Word Magic by Richard Lederer.

Lederer enjoys setting language issues to verse to better illustrate his point. "In letter play, beheadment is the lopping off of the initial letter of a word."

     The prelate did relate a tale
     Meant to elate both you and me.
     We stayed up late and ate our meal,
     Te Deum sang in key of e.

This is sheer brilliance, and there are many instances of brilliance throughout the book. Sidney Sheldon calls Lederer "The True King of Language Comedy." And I concur. I have been a long-term fan of his Anguished English books. So a few years ago, when the opportunity arose to attend a talk by him, I jumped to it with alacrity. Turned out, he was just as funny in person as in his books. Sometimes people are good in one forum (speaking or writing), but rarely in both.

He charmed the entire room with his anecdotes, witty replies to questions, and his hilarious dramatization of the difference between lay and lie. Then in a funny "contradiction" to his demonstration, he recited his poem, titled Take the Money Enron:
     The difference between lay and lie
     Has fallen into deep decay.
     But now we know from Enron's shame
     That Lay and Lie are just the same.

He was the consummate showman that day with the urge to teach and to explain. That persona also comes through in this book Word Wizard as well. The book is a collection of his best and most popular pieces. Here are some highlights.

Bloopers: Lederer considers himself a watcher of word-botchers. Lederer says, "These masterpieces of mangled messages are far funnier than anything I could fabricate from whole cloth, even cloth with a lunatic fringe." For example, this is a headline in a small-town newspaper: "Grandmother of eight makes hole in one"—would this be a murdering grandmother or a golfer? Another example from a student essay: "The equator is an imaginary lion that runs around the world forever." Gray Davis, governor of CA once famously said, "My vision is to make the most diverse state on earth, and we have people from every planet on the earth in this state." Lederer chastises him, "Oh, how the mighty have fallen—usually on their mouths." One last example from a student essay: "Romeo's last wish was to be laid by Juliet."

Verb Tenses: English is fraught with some of the most irregular verb tenses of any language. For example, a woman asked a Boston cab driver where she could get scrod. "I didn't know that the verb had that past tense," muttered the cabbie. Another example from A Tense Time with Verbs:
     The verbs in English are a fright.
     How can we learn to read and write?
     Today we speak, but first we spoke;
     Some faucets leak, but never loke.
     Today we write, but first we wrote;
     We bite our tongues, but never bote.

Lederer believes that "When a reader performs aerobics of the mind and push-ups of the brain to explore a linguistic concept, language play becomes language power." So here are some word patterns to add to your vocabulary.

Kangaroo Words: smaller, sub words that are synonyms to the main word and with letters in the same order. For example, diminutive and minute, flourishing and lush, blossom and bloom.

Spoonerisms: oops, slips of the tongue that occur in conversation. For example, loving shepherd and shoving leopard, punny phony and funny pony, speeding rider and reading spider.
     See a clever, heeding rabbit
     Who's acquired a reading habit
     Sitting on his money bags
     Reading many bunny mags.

Homonyms: clusters of words that are spelled differently but sound exactly the same. For example, a naked grizzly is a bare bear, a pony with a sore throat is a hoarse horse.
     One night a knight on a hoarse horse
     Rode out upon a road.
     This male wore mail for war and would
     Explore a wood that glowed.

Anagrams: a new word created out of the same letters of another word. For example, I, a magnate gateman who patrols these portals with your kind permission, have the impression that you brand me a blabbing, babbling funfair ruffian, a has-been banshee, a tearing ingrate, infield infidel, and errant ranter.

Trigrams: three anagrams of the same word. For example, alerting, altering, and relating; do you observe the obverse of the very verbose?; he will be busy mastering emigrants streaming into the tent.

Making the case for Lost Words, "the winking out of words of our youth." For example, "Back in the olden days, life was a real gas, a doozy, a dilly, and a pip; flipsville, endsville, the bee's knees, the cat's whiskers, the cat's meow, and the cat's pajamas; far-out, nifty, neat, groovy, ducky; beautiful, fabulous, super, terrif, sweet, and copacetic. We'd cut a rug in some juke joint and then go necking and petting and smooching and spooning and billing and cooing and pitch woo in flivvers, tin lizzies, roadsters, hot rods, and jalopies in some passion pit or lovers' lane."

Lederer's love of reading blossomed at a very early age and since then, through books, he has conversed with "thousands of people, ancient and contemporary, learned and light, who have set their humanity to paper and crafted language into literature." He considers himself privileged to have had access to all of this knowledge, for as Ben Franklin once said at a dinner party in Paris, "A lonesome man on a rainy day is one who does not know how to read."


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