Jewish World Review March 6, 2003 / 2 Adar II, 5763
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.
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
- What word becomes shorter when you add two letters to it?
- From what can you take the whole and still have some left
- 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?
- 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
The answer is UR.
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.
- Smiles is the longest word in the English language because
there's a mile between its first and last letters.
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.
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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
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
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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