“If ‘tomb’ is pronounced ‘toom’ and ‘womb’ is pronounced ‘woom,’ shouldn’t ‘bomb’ be pronounced ‘boom?’” — Richard Lederer

I finally found him! Somebody who thinks the same way I do – at least about words. OK, I imagine there are lots of you out there who think the same way I do (you know who you are), but I just discovered Mr. Lederer thanks to a brief article of his on page 20 of this month’s Mensa Bulletin.

In his piece he manages to be strange, insightful and entertaining all at the same time. For example, he wonders, “If the tomato is a fruit, is ketchup a smoothie?” right before he warns, “If at first you don’t succeed, don’t try skydiving.”

On his website, verbivore.com, Ledere points out that “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.”

He then claims to own the world’s worst thesaurus: “Not only is it awful. It’s awful,” he protests. And then somebody stole it. “To whoever did that, you made my day bad. I hope bad things happen to you. You’re a bad person. Now I have no words to describe how bad I feel.”

But even having an awful (and now missing) thesaurus didn’t deter Lederer from collecting jokes about the book, such as: “What do you call a dinosaur with a large vocabulary? A thesaurus,” and “I love my thesaurus because a mind is a terrible thing to garbage.”

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“It’s a matter of simple mathematics,” he says. “The more words you know, the more choices you can make. The more choices you can make, the more accurate, vivid and versatile your speaking and writing will be.”

And Lederer puts the words he knows to good use (or maybe misuse, bordering on abuse) as he pushes the limits of our esteemed language in his current “If-Then Logic” piece in which he wonders: “If ‘I am’ is the shortest sentence in English, is ‘I do’ the longest sentence?’ That probably depends on how well the couple gets along. And, he asks: “If a dentist and a manicurist get married, will they fight tooth and nail?”

His musings on the human condition continue with his wondering, “If clergymen are defrocked and lawyers are disbarred, are alcoholics delivered, hairdressers distressed, manicurists defiled, electricians delighted, cowboys deranged, models disposed, and songwriters decomposed?”

“If people get debunked, detested, and demoralized,” he ponders, “does that mean they were once bunked, tested and moralized?”

His need to ponder words of all ilks makes it seem that at times he can hardly contain himself. So it seems natural that he would conclude a column about “A Mass of Misleading Misnomers” with this piece of trivia about palindromes (words spelled the same way forward or backward):

“Here’s a recent crossword clue: ‘Palindromic hit from a palindromic band.’ Answer: ‘S.O.S.’ by ABBA.”

Finally, the 83-year-young word master, linguist, author and speaker — who has been referred to as “Attila the Pun” and “Conan the Grammarian” — addresses two questions that have bothered me for a long time:

  • “If ‘fridge’ is spelled with a ‘d,’ shouldn’t ‘refrigerator’ do the same?”
  • “If during deer season you can shoot deer and during duck season you can shoot ducks, what can you shoot during tourist season?” (Full disclosure: I would never advocate the use of violence on the visitors to our great state — no matter how some of them act.)

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at [email protected] 


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