Richard Lederer (born May 26, 1938) is an American author, speaker, and teacher. He is best known for his books on the English language and on word play such as puns, oxymorons, and anagrams. He refers to himself as "the Wizard of Idiom," "Attila the Pun," and "Conan the Grammarian." His weekly column, "Looking at Language", is syndicated in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States.
Early life and education
Lederer was the youngest of five children born to a Jewish mother from Poland and a Jewish father from Bavaria. He was raised in West Philadelphia. He graduated from Haverford College as a pre-med student. He attended Harvard Law School for one year, then switched to the Master of Arts in Teaching Program at Harvard University. He taught English and media at the St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire for 27 years until 1989, where he served as the first Jewish head of a department. He later earned a PhD in Linguistics from the University of New Hampshire.
He has written more than 30 books, including Anguished English (1987), Get Thee to a Punnery (1988), Crazy English (1989), A Man of My Words (2003), The Word Circus (1998), The Miracle of Language (1992), The Cunning Linguist (2001), Word Wizard (2006), and Presidential Trivia (2007). Known as a "verbivore", a word he coined in the early 1980s, Lederer's interests include uncovering word origins, pointing out common grammatical errors and fallacies, and exploring palindromes, anagrams, and other forms of recreational wordplay. His ventures into cinematography met with less success; 1977's Exorcist II: The Heretic, of which he served as co-executive producer, is widely considered one of the worst films of all time. Lederer wrote the foreword to Words at Play: Quips, Quirks and Oddities, by O.V. Michaelsen (Sterling Publishing Company, New York, 1998), and to Weather Facts and Fun (2009), a children's book on weather, co-written by Josh Judge and Kathe Cussen and published by SciArt Media. He was elected International Punster of the Year in 1989 and was the 2002 recipient of the Golden Gavel of Toastmasters International.
In 1998, he and Charles Harrington Elster became founding co-hosts of the weekly radio show, A Way with Words, produced by KPBS, San Diego Public Radio, and broadcast by multiple stations throughout the United States. In October 2006, Lederer retired from A Way with Words. He continues broadcasting through regular guest appearances on several major market public and Clear-Channel commercial radio stations.
Lederer has been married twice. He had three children with his first wife, Rhoda Spagenburg, an advertising manager for The Village Voice in New York: Howard Lederer and Annie Duke, both world-renowned poker players, and Katy Lederer, an author and poet. In 1992, he married Simone van Egeren, whom he met at a Mensa gathering. They live in San Diego, California.
Although he did not raise his children Jewish and neither of his wives is Jewish, he is proud of his heritage. Lederer states "I consider myself a serving Jew with a Jewish identity...The way we have respect for learning and knowledge; that is so important. Also, the love of language and the love of people we have as Jews. I'm not big on the afterlife. I'm more about what we can do here and now. That is what I am trying to do as a teacher. A rabbi is a teacher. And a teacher is a compulsive sharer, which is what I do."
Lederer served as the 2007 commencement speaker at Case Western Reserve University.
- "About Richard Lederer". verbivore.com. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
- San Diego Jewish Journal: "Hungry for Words" by Karen Pearlman June 2010
- Berthel, Ron (October 29, 1989). "Richard Lederer has fun with our crazy language". AP (The Nevada Daily Mail). Retrieved April 6, 2014.
- "O.Henry Pun-Off World Championships". punoff.com. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
- "Past Golden Gavel recipients". Toastmasters International. Retrieved April 6, 2014.
- New York Times: "Anne LaBarr Lederer Is Married To Benjamin B. Duke in Connecticut" April 26, 1992