Tuesdays with Moron: Chatological Humor Update

May 17, 2011

Every Tuesday, Gene publishes weekly updates to his chats.

He is online to take your questions and abuse once a month. This month, that day will be Tuesday, May 31 at Noon ET.

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Recent chats and updates:

Chatological Humor: April 26

Update: May 3

Update: May 10

Important, secret note to readers: The management of The Washington Post apparently does not know this chat exists, or it would have been shut down long ago. Please do not tell them. Thank you.

Weingarten is also the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death," co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca and "Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs," with photographer Michael S. Williamson.

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Ed's Note: If composing your questions in Microsoft Word please turn off the Smart Quotes functionality or use WordPad. I haven't the time to edit them.

Hello, update readers.   Today you will learn many entertaining facts.  This will be a pedagogic chat update.   Sit back, eyes to the front, and no talking. There will be a quiz.   


Fact:  On this day 86 years ago, John Scopes was formally arraigned on charges of  teaching evolution in Tennessee.   This is not that noteworthy except inasmuch as it caused me to do some research on The Monkey Trial – nonspecific curiosity is a adaptive trait of the human species --  which is where I learned for the first time that the prosecutors in that trial were Herbert Hicks and his brother, Sue.


Yes, that would be a man named Sue.  Specifically, a lawyer named Sue, which is aptonymically brilliant if not quite this great.


Anyway, this knowledge of a man named Sue stunned me, but I got more stunned to learn that Sue Hicks – named after his mother who died in childbirth – was actually the inspiration for the Shel Silverstein / Johnny Cash song,  A Boy Named Sue.” 





Rich Stevenson notes that a Tennessee lawyer named Sue Hicks is actually a world-class aptonym.  It is.

Fact: The loyal readers of this chat have come to expect from us the most comprehensive and accurate information on Shandas For the Goyim, those rare but horrifying examples of Jews Misbehaving In Ways that Give Gentiles Reason To Point and Say, “See How Bad Jews Are?”   In the past, in this space, by mutual agreement, we have elevated to the universal Shanda Hall of Shame Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Judas Iscariot, Jack Abramoff, Daniel Snyder, and, finally, Bernard Madoff, whom most of you believe to be the greatest Shanda for the Goyim in history.   I concur.


[Producer's note: Here's a reprint of Gene's definitive "Shanda" post from March of 2009.]


We have a new candidate for the pantheon.  Mr. Dominique Strauss-Kahn,  the naked ape.   He doesn’t really qualify in the sense that his transgressions do not reinforce a negative Jewish stereotype – my people are not notorious as sexual predators – but I’m giving him a pass on this because he is (or was) The World’s Most Influential Moneylender!   Yay!  Welcome to Shandaland, Dominique.  We are SO not proud of you.


Now, I know what you are thinking.  You are thinking that I am making too much of Dominique's Jewishness.   No one thinks that way anymore, you are thinking.   And, see, that's where you are wrong.    Go to Google,and enter "Domique Strauss-Kahn" and look what appears on the drop-down bar as the number two hit, based on people's searches to date. 


I am delighted to see that after about 24 hours of this, the media stopped referring to DSK as a “womanizer,” which seems like an unacceptably mild term for a recidivist attempted rapist and serial creep.  It would be like calling Hitler “rude.”

Fact: My column on Sunday got a lot of attention, especially from trademark lawyers, who wrote to me in large numbers.  They weren’t exactly defending the Stetson® company, but they wanted to put the issue in a slightly different perspective.    They pointed out that Stetson® is not really expecting me to apologize, or change my behavior, or to get newspapers to start printing little ® signs.  What they are doing is more complicated and dorkier than that.


It turns out that it is possible for a company to lose its trademark if it doesn’t seem to care whether people genericize their product.  This famously happened in the case of the Otis Elevator company, which first developed moving stairs and named them Escalators.  Eventually they lost the trademark  because courts determined that among the public the term had become generic.  This process is called “genericide,” because it usually happens because a company ALLOWS it to happen – either deliberately or inadvertently.   


Here are some products that once were trademarks and no longer are:  aspirin, butterscotch, heroin, zipper, Phillips head screw, yo-yo, pogo stick, thermos.


Here are some companies that have successfully held on to their trademarks by aggressively doing what Stetson is doing:  Kleenex®, Band-Aid®, Plexiglas®, Velcro®, LEGO®, and Xerox®. 


So what is Stetson really doing here with their pissy little letter to me?  It turns out it’s not for me at all, really.   It was a letter for their files.   It’s so that years from now, if some other company tries to market a cowboy hat and call it a Stetson®, they will be able to show that they had not been indifferent to this, and had taken steps to preserve their trademark. 


In that sense, my column trashing their product was probably the very best thing I could have done for them.  Years from now they can show that they were so determined to protect their trademark that they sent a stupid letter to a satirist, leading with their chin, resulting in his writing “Stetson® hats suck!”  Not once but twice.  Three times, actually.   Stetson® hats suck.



In the informative spirit of today’s Chat Update, I should point out that genericide is a form of the twinned literary term “synecdoche” and “metonymy,”  which are pronounced “sin-ECK-doh-key” and “meh-TOHN-o-me.”   They refer, respectively, to the use of a part of a something as a descriptor for its entirety (as in a “hand” for a farm worker) and/or referring to the name of something by substituting a term intimately associated it, as in calling the government of the United States “The White House,” as in “The White House had no official response to news that the head of the IMF had been official declared a Shanda for the Goyim.”  Similarly, “escalator” for “moving stairs” or “Stetson®” for “doofusy cowboy hat.”


This allows me to end today’s Chat Update by remembering one of my finest moments on Earth.  It came a few years ago when a chat reader wrote in to say he wanted to enter an online contest and needed my help.   The contest was to come up with a limerick using these three almost-rhymes:  synecdoche, Schenectady, and vasectomy.   The deadline was in minutes.    I wrote one and it won.   Here it is:


A vulgar old gent from Schenectady
Made unfortunate use of synecdoche.
When he called a young doctor
The c-word (He mocked her.),
She gave him a penknife vasectomy.



I promised a quiz.   Here it is:  Can anyone tell me the Yiddish term for a bossy woman?  Hint:  It is one of the greatest accidentally funny  transliterations in the entire history of language. (Submit your answers here.)

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Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten is the humor writer for The Washington Post. His column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in the Post's Sunday magazine since July 2000 and has been distributed nationwide on The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2008 and 2010.

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