Words & Stuff


(Last change to this page: 9 February 1997.)

Some of us take great delight in words: in playing with them, examining their histories, listening to their sounds; turning them backwards, inside out, or upside-down; rhyming them, meaning two things at once with them, taking them apart and putting them together. Have you ever laughed at a headline that didn't say quite what its writer intended? Have you ever wondered which words look the same upside-down as right-side-up? Have you ever used a word without knowing what it meant, just because you liked the sound of it? If so, this column is for you.

Ever since I discovered them during high school, Willard Espy's An Almanac of Words at Play and Another Almanac of Words at Play have been incessant sources of amusement, wonder, and quotations for me. In each of these volumes, Espy provides a word-related entry for each day of the year. His topics range from parlor games to Mary Ann Madden's marvelous New York Magazine contests, from light verse to lists of amusing headlines, from Tom Swifties to rebuses. I strongly recommend these books to all logophiles; you can often find them in bargain bins in used bookstores. I've seen many similar books, such as Brandreth's The joy of lex and Lederer's lists of word oddities, but don't like any of them nearly as much.

Unfortunately, the most recent of Espy's Almanacs was published about ten years ago. Sometime around June of '96, it occurred to me that he'd left a niche to be filled. I compiled an extensive list of topics, and eventually got around to actually writing a few columns. So each week from now on, until I get bored or run out of material, I'll post a new column, roughly 300 to 900 words in length, discussing some topic relating to words or wordplay.

My column is loosely modeled after Espy's almanac entries, but with some slight shifts in focus. I'll provide Espy-like fare of word games, light verse, etymological tidbits, occasional puzzles, and anything else having to do with words; I'll also include witty tidbits from friends (taking a page from Franklin ("F.P.A.") Adams' column during the heyday of the Algonquin Round Table). Finally, putting my computational linguistics background to use, I'll also issue occasional tracts on issues relating to technology and language.

The column's name is "Words & Stuff." The column's name is called "Logophilia Weekly." The title of the column varies from week to week.

I'm always happy to hear from readers; feel free to send me comments, questions, suggestions, and expansions on themes. I can't pay for submissions, but I will certainly credit anything I use. If you send me something to be used in the column, please let me know whether you wrote it or not.

Jed Hartman <logophilia@kith.org>