Willard R. Espy

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Willard R. Espy
Willard R. Espy (1975).jpg
Born (1910-12-11)December 11, 1910
Olympia, Washington
Died February 20, 1999(1999-02-20) (aged 88)
New York City
Occupation Writer, poet
Nationality American
Genre light verse, local history
Notable works An Almanac of Words at Play, Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa's Village

Willard Richardson Espy (December 11, 1910 – February 20, 1999) was a US editor, philologist, writer, poet, and local historian. He was the best-known collector of and commentator on word play of his time,[1] and is also particularly remembered for his national bestseller Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa's Village.


Espy was born in Olympia, Washington in 1910 and raised in the coastal village of Oysterville which had been founded by his grandfather, R. H. Espy, in 1854. Espy graduated from the University of Redlands in 1930, after which he spent a year abroad, enrolling at the Sorbonne in Paris.[2][3] He was hired by Reader's Digest in 1941 and spent the next sixteen years working there in various positions, including as promotion director. His writing career took off in the late 1960s; he eventually authored fifteen books on language, and his poetry and articles regularly appeared in Punch, Reader's Digest, The Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, and Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics.[2][4] His light verse has been compared to that of Lewis Carroll, W. S. Gilbert, Ogden Nash and Cole Porter.[3]

Later in life he split his time between Manhattan and Oysterville, and wrote nationally bestselling books on local history, including Oysterville: Roads to Grandpa's Village (1977) and Skulduggery on Shoalwater Bay (1998).[2] Two of his books on wordplay, The Game of Words and An Almanac of Words at Play, were honored at the Governor's Writers Day Awards (now the Washington State Book Awards).[5]

Espy died aged 88 in a New York City hospital in 1999.[3] His daughter Freddy Medora Espy was the first wife of the writer and editor George Plimpton.



  1. ^ Nilsen, Alleen; Nilsen, Don (November 6, 2008). "Literature and humor". In Raskin, Victor. The Primer of Humor Research. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 243–280. ISBN 978-3-11-018616-1. 
  2. ^ a b c Willard R. Espy (1999). The Best of An Almanac of Words at Play. Merriam-Webster. 
  3. ^ a b c Thomas, Robert McG., Jr. (February 25, 1999). "Willard Espy, Who Delighted in Wordplay, Is Dead at 88". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ Eckler, A. Ross (2010). "Look back!". Word Ways: The Journal of Recreational Linguistics. 43 (3): 228–229. 
  5. ^ "Governor's Writers Day Awards at the Washington State Library, 1966–2000". WA State Library. Washington Secretary of State. Retrieved November 23, 2014. 

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