Word people are everywhere (obviously). There’s you, there’s me and there are myriad others, both well known and unknown, who are just like us. So, without wasting any more words, I’m going to dive right in and take a look at a few of them worth knowing more about.

First up is New York’s Ellen Jovin, whose nom de plume is Grammar Lady. Cofounder of Syntaxis, a communications skills training company, Jovin has written four books, three of which are about writing and grammar for business.

One day in 2018, she decided to set up a Grammar Table by an express subway stop outside her Manhattan apartment. Questions about commas, apostrophes, participles, prepositions and even spousal disputes began immediately and haven’t stopped. (Fun fact: Research indicates that when male/female couples disagree about a word fact, the woman is usually right.)

In her latest book, “Rebel With a Clause: Tales and Tips from a Roving Grammarian,” Jovin recounts stories from a cross-country trip during which she set up her Grammar Table on various city sidewalks in 47 states and doled out grammatical advice to curious passersby.

And then there’s Richard Lederer. Lederer has been called the Wizard of Idiom (which is a take-off of the comic strip The Wizard of Id, which was created by Johnny Hart and is itself a play on “The Wizard of Oz” and the Freudian term “id”). Lederer is also known as Conan the Grammarian and Attila the Pun.

Some of his musings about the English language that can be found on his website, verbivor.com, include: “Why is ‘phonetic’ not spelled phonetically? Why is it so hard to remember how to spell ‘mnemonic?’ Why doesn’t ‘onomatopoeia’ sound like what it is? Why does the word ‘monosyllabic’ consist of five syllables? Why is there no synonym for ‘synonym’ or ‘thesaurus’?”


The Dogged Determination Award has got to go to San Jose, California, computer engineer Brian Henderson who, according to CBS News, once spent four years changing the 16,000 incorrect uses of “comprised of” in Wikipedia to the correct “composed of.”

(“Comprise” is a verb that means “to consist of,” as in “The pie comprises eight slices. “Compose,” on the other hand, means “to be a part of,” as in “The pie is composed of eight slices.”)

Neil Krieger, a dad in Boston who died last year from COVID, coined the verb “orbisculate” hoping to get it into the dictionary after his children, Jonathan and Hilary, thought there should be a word for “accidentally squirting juice or pulp into one’s eye from a grapefruit when using a spoon to scoop out a section for eating.”

Interestingly, Rich Hall’s 1984 book “Sniglets: (snig’lit) Any word that doesn’t appear in the dictionary, but should,” defines such a squirt as a “spirtle.”

And finally, back in March a local news station ran a story about Alissa Wetherbee of Ellsworth, Maine, who thinks (correctly, in my opinion) the word “lumberjill” should appear in the dictionary right next to “lumberjack,” where it’s currently conspicuous in its absence.

Use of the word “lumberjill,” says Wetherbee, dates back to the 1940s when the Women’s Timber Corps was formed as part of the British Land Army. She encourages people to use “lumberjill” as much as possible, noting that the more a word is used, the more likely Merriam-Webster editors are to acknowledge it and put it in the dictionary.

So I’ll conclude this time by cautioning you to be careful to not orbisculate your local lumberjill. I do what I can.

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 jlwitherell19@gmail.com.

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