Jewish World Review March 6, 2003 / 2 Adar II, 5763

Richard Lederer

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The Word Circus: The Barker | Once upon a time, when the sky was made of canvas and the ground was made of sawdust, elephants in tutus danced on their toes and cradled showgirls in their trunks.
Once upon a time, fountains of red hair spouted from high white foreheads, and saggy, baggy clowns spilled into our laughter.

Once upon a time, when we were young and full of wonder, acrobats in spangled tights flew through the air like birds, and plumed horses pranced to the music of steam calliopes.
Once upon a time, there was magic in our land, and that magic was the circus.


Ladies and gentlemen and children of all ages!
Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!
Step right up and into a ring-a-ding circus of words!
Inside you'll ooh and aah at tremendous, stupendous, end-over-endous words swinging from tent-tops!
words teetering on tightropes!
words swallowing swords and breathing fire!
words jumping through flaming hoopla!
words leaping onto the backs of galloping coursers!
(all the while maintaining their equine-imity!)
words thrusting their heads into the jaws of lions!
bestial words -- from Noah's aardvark to on beyond zebra!
high-caliber words shot out of the canon of letter fun!

You'll laugh at
juggler words somersaulting, heels over head!
words sporting, cavorting in billowy, pillowy clown suits!
words pedaling their unisyllables!
words perched high on stilts! midget words!
elephantine words! toy poodle words!
sideshow words with shapes beyond the arena of ordinary life!
words going for the juggler!

From alpha to omega,
You can bet the alphabet,
Like a painting done by Degas,
Will leap and pirouette.

See dancing words, entrancing words,
Sterling words unfurling.
Watch prancing words, enhancing words,
Whirling, twirling, swirling.


Honored patrons and matrons, now is the time to face the fact that you've been playing with letters for almost your whole lives. You've enjoyed juggling and snuggling letters in word searches, crossword puzzles, Scrabble, and jumble word challenges. Unless you've been a hermit, or, if you're a guy, a hismit, you have probably heard the likes of:

  • The difference between a champ and a chump is u.
  • The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work.
  • What word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?
  • From what can you take the whole and still have some left over?
  • Why is the letter D like a naughty child?
    Because it makes ma mad.
  • What starts with T, ends with T, and is full of T?
    A teapot.
  • It occurs once in every minute, twice in every moment, and yet never in one hundred thousand years. What is it?
    The letter m.
  • A pastor put up a sign that read THIS IS A CH--CH. WHAT IS MISSING?
    The answer is UR.
  • Smiles is the longest word in the English language because there's a mile between its first and last letters.
Your smile will indeed be a mile wide when you come to see that words stand ready to wreathe your face with grins, to soften the wrinkles of sorrow and the frowns of unalloyed reality. Words are objects of art. Words are entertainment.
Come one! Come all! The Word Circus is in town. Hurry! Hurry! Scurry! Here you'll discover fun for the whole family -- words you read and write and hear and speak each day. For the most part, the performers will be non-technical words and uncapitalized words -- words that you live with every hour of your waking day. The Collide-O-Scope of Letters is the most democratic of all entertainments, available to everybody in all walks of life.

So run! Don't walk! You've already paid for your ticket to the bar-none Barnum and Ballyhoo letter-perfect circus, the colossus of all amusements, the Palace in Wonderland that runs Ringlings around all the others. Now take your seat in the biggest of tops, the sawdust stage of words.

All the humor is guaranteed to be in tents.

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Adapted from "The Word Circus: A Letter-Perfect Book." (Sales help fund JWR.)

JWR contributor Richard Lederer is a language maven. More than a million of his books, which have been Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild alternate selections, are in print. He is the host of "A Way With Words," on KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, and a regular guest on weekend "All Things Considered." He was awarded the Golden Gavel for 2002 by Toastmasters International. Comment by clicking here.


02/27/03: Ana Gram, the Juggler
02/20/03: Spook etymology on the Internet
02/06/03: What's in a President's Name?
01/30/03: Twice in a Blue Moon
01/23/03: Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire
01/16/03: Retro-active words
12/19/02: Why I deserve welfare --- actual letters
12/05/02: English for -- make that "by" -- foreigners
11/21/02: Humorously Inclined Informational Products
11/14/02: Disorder in the Court: a Collection of 'Transquips'
10/31/02: Oxymoronology
10/24/02: The Bandwagon
10/17/02: Is life a movie? We all speak their lines
10/03/02: Brave New Words
09/26/02: English is a Crazy Language!
09/12/02: How wise is proverbial wisdom?
09/05/02: A celebration of presidential prose
08/29/02: Food for thought
08/22/02: Jest for the pun of it
08/08/02: Hop up to the kangaroo words
08/01/02: A pouchful of synonyms
07/11/02: Poli-Tickle Speeches
06/27/02: Suppository questions
06/20/02: George Orwell is looking at you
06/06/02: Jest for the health of it
05/30/02: It is truly astonishing what havoc students can wreak on the chronicles of the human race
05/16/02: A bilingual pun is twice the fun!
05/09/02: What's in a president's name?
05/03/02: Slang as it is slung
04/25/02: Abstemious words
04/19/02: This Riddle Isn't Letter-Perfect

© 2003, Richard Lederer