Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron (November)

Dec 01, 2015

Gene Weingarten held his monthly chat with readers.

About this chat:
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Good afternoon. 

I recently entered old age.  It happened at noon thirty on November 22, which was exactly 52 years, roughly to the minute, after JFK was gunned down in Dallas.  (That’s not a salient fact, just an interesting one.)

In my case, it also happened with a loud “crack,” when I bit down on a raw carrot.   The crack reverberated in my head, though my cranium remained intact.  (End of tasteless JFK references.)

A quick look into my mouth revealed nothing untoward, at least immediately, but further exploration produced a nugget of tooth that had sheared completely away from the rest of itself.  (For those who wish to diagram this for future reference, we are talking, anatomically speaking, about the lower left first bicuspid, which is the fourth tooth from the front.)  It was now half a tooth.  It is as high as a tooth, but only half as deep.  The root and base is intact; the tooth fractured about a millimeter above the gum line.  You notice it — it’s slightly funky looking — but only if you are pretty observant.  I waited for the pain to set in, but there was none. 

You with me so far?  Good.

Actually, that was not the precise moment that I entered old age.  I entered old age about six minutes afterwards when I decided the following:

Assuming my dentist clears this medically, I am not going to have it fixed.  It’s still functional as a tooth, and fixing it would be a costly matter (my dental insurance is terrible) and there is a cost in time and trouble as well.  But that is not really what this is about.  I have decided to shed vanity and embrace this small imperfection gracefully as the first inevitability of death.  I imagine the rest of my life will be other, increasingly significant accommodations leading up to the ultimate accommodation.    I’m at peace  with that.  

Tom the Butcher rejected this whole thing as a subject for a column, declaring that saying he finds my decision “pathologically idiosyncratic, instead of universal.”    I contend he feels this way only because he is 62, not 64, as I am.   He’ll get where I am, by and by.  We all do. 

Last night, I was out walking Murphy when we came upon this enormous seasonal decoration, which takes up the entirety of a neighbor’s front lawn.   It is an inflatable, and it is breathtakingly garish.  Neither Murphy nor I had ever seen anything like it.  Murphy sniffed and sniffed. 

Something was wrong, however, and it needed to be addressed. Murphy and I went up and knocked on the door. 

“Hi,” said my neighbor, whom I had not met before.

“Hi,” I said.  “Where the hell are Dasher and Donder?”

He came out, looked.   Hm.   This question had apparently not come up before. 

He said “hang on a minute,” and went back into the house to consult earnestly with family.  A minute passed.  Things got a little loud and animated in there.  Finally, he came back out and pointed to the night sky.

“They are still up in the air,” he said.

Now, you probably have some observations, and one of them is to inform me it is “Donner,” like the cannibal party, and not “Donder,” which is not a name but just a meaningless sound, like “Elantra.”  But you would be wrong.   The original 1823 version of “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” a poem by either Clement Moore or Henry Livingston Jr. (the authorship is disputed) first names the reindeer.  They are Comet, Cupid, Dancer, Dasher, Prancer, and Vixen.  The final two are “Dunder” and “Blixem,” the Dutch words for thunder and lightning.   In subsequent 19th century printings, Dunder became Donder, and Blixem became Blitzen, better to rhyme with Vixen.  This is the best source material.   The egregious “Donner”  did not arrive until 1949 when Gene Autry recorded the egregious  “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  

Now, this brings up a question involving reindeer psychology.   Here we have a situation where all the other reindeer had contempt for the dillweed Rudolph, and laughed at him and called him names, and didn’t let him play in all their reindeer games (probably a euphemism sexual intercourse — reindeer are notoriously concupiscent.)   Next thing you know, Rudolph saves one foggy Christmas and leads the sleigh with his shiny nose.  He becomes Santa's favorite for an achievement of historical proportions.   All good, so far.  But next we are to believe the other reindeer LOVED him?  That’s absurd.  They would have been hugely pissed to have the nerd reindeer suddenly be a hero.  There is not a species of animal, including man, with the moral character to emerge from that experience with anything other than sullen envy.   They might even have plotted Rudolph’s death.



Some ruminations on words:

My column from two weeks ago, which was about how I use variant spellings and pronunciations, brought several emails pointing out other unexpected pronunciations of seemingly familiar things.   Here are the two best:

Tom Nail nailed it when he observed that we butcher the pronunciation of “Anne Arundel County” in Maryland. (Uh-RUN-dell is our thuggish version.)  It is named after a 17th century British noblewoman who married into the Calvert family.  They pronounced their name “AARON-dale,” which is far prettier.

And Bob Hammarberg pointed out that the Brits managed to mangle another one all by themselves.  They named Mount Everest after George Everest, a famous surveyor, but for reasons lost to history changed his pronunciation from EAVE-rest to the way we know it now.

This reminds me of a favorite joke from my childhood.   After years of distant friendship, an old man from the United States goes to visit his long-time pen pal in England, Mr. Cholmondelay.   It is only when he arrives that he discovers his friend’s name is pronounced “Chumley.”

Things only get worse for him.   In short order he learns that the English sauce he loves, which he has always pronounced “Wohr-chester-shire,” is pronounced “Wooster.”   Further, that “Leicester” was “Lester.”    This rankled him for months after his trip.  Eventually Mr. Cholmondelay came to visit the old man in the United States.   Asked if there was any particular place he’d like to go, the Brit said he’d always fancied visiting Niagara Falls.    The old man wagged a finger and said, “It’s pronounced ‘Niffles.’ “

What is the difference between a pot and a pan?

You think you know, you smug sumbitch.  You think that a pot is like a pan, only deeper, right?   Well, no.   As it turns out, the two words are interchangeable, which is why recipes will tell you to cook soup in a “saucepan.”   They are talking about what we typically think of as a pot.  You can look it up.

So “pots and pans” is a weirdly redundant phrase.  Now you know.

And finally, at the age of 64, an old man AND a professional writer and all that, I discovered just yesterday that there is no such word as “seldomly.”  “Seldom” is already an adverb, so adding -ly is a redundancy.     “I do it only seldomly” is an illiteracy.   It must be “I do it only rarely” or “I seldom do it.”     Fine, you knew this.   WELL I DID NOT.

Take the polls.  The answers, so far, are fascinating.   I am going to deconstruct them very shortly. 

We start at noon, sharp. 


Poll #1: Sins
- Female version
- Male version

Poll #2: Punishments
- Take the poll (no split)

Oh, yeah? Well, Truman didn't postpone the bombing of Hiroshima. Didja ever think about that? So I am postponing submitting any questions until you acknowledge the importance of punctuality.

This is a reference to the fact that this chat was postponed a week, and to this recent column of mine about Dan Snyder's trademark battle to hang on to the exclusive rights to "Redskins." 

Here's my answer to you: 

You claim to be concerned about punctuality, and yet you are silent on the fact that it took Canada 90 years to apologize to the Chinese Canadians for having charged their ancestors a fee to enter their country?  I won't respond do your hypocrisy.  


What the bleep is going on in the world? Between Trump-stoked fears of Muslims and blacks in the US, the refugee crisis in Europe, the ongoing threat posed by ISIS, and climate change, I feel like we're hurtling toward entropy. Not to be overly dramatic about it, or anything, but seriously---how worried should we be?

I will not answer this until you have all seen the exchange between the Muslim architect and the pinhead at the town hall meeting. 

Gene, I know Woodrow Wilson has been a topic on this chat many times. What do you think about the movement to strip his name from Princeton's institutions? For the man who led us through World War I and was a co-founder of the League of Nations, you just can't remove his name from the Wilson School of Public Affairs and International Studies.

Well, I agree with you. 

Wilson's legacy is one of the most complicated, of all the presidents.   In terms of complexity, he is up there with Andrew Jackson (a transformational figure AND a genocidal maniac) and Lyndon Johnson (a true civil rights giant AND arguably a war criminal.)

I know something of Wilson, having written this piece about the sex scandal that never surfaced.

Wilson was the statesman we needed at the time of World War I.   He inserted us into that conflict at exactly the right time, so our losses were minimized (at least in contrast to others) but we could still be a post-war architect.   He was also a shocking racist.   He showed "Birth of a Nation" in the White House and (this is the biggie)  re-segregated the federal workplace.   That last thing set the civil rights movement back 20 years.   He wasn't just racist, he was viscerally racist: Wouldn't shake hands with a black person unless he was wearing gloves.

Woodrow Wilson was a great, flawed man.  I think the answer to the Woodrow Wilson problem is to present him honestly, in all the complexity.  I don't think it is to scrub him from history, as it were.  Sounds Soviet.

Also, I don't like the whining, entitled babies on campus.  But that's just visceral, too.


I don't get the poll results thus far. People are skewing towards harsher punishments for the crimes of passion and moments of really bad judgement, versus the premeditated, planned out crimes.

Yes, exactly.  It will not surprise regulars of this chat to learn that I disagree with the majority in EVERY SINGLE CASE. 

I welcome a robust discussion of this, but to me, intent is a very big deal.   The closest call for me was the domestic violence one -- it is a serious crime and the public needs to know it will be significantly punished -- but still.  It's a first known offense, it arrived in a moment of passion and it (likely) led to remorse.   There are complications, and they may be mitigating.  Burglary is a cold, cold crime, with planning aforethought and significant harm -- victims of burglars often don't feel safe in their own homes.

I also disagree with the majority on the first one, though it's not a cold v passion calculus.  Both are planned and cold, but, to me,  it's also about intent.   Both serious crimes, but I find myself more sympathetic to the man with the unloaded gun.  He's made it unlikely that he is going to injure anyone.  


Here's why I would prosecute the embezzlement more severely: being a small business owner, I know that the systematic theft of $250K over two years is more devastating because that could literally put me under. Inability to pay invoices leads to bad commercial credit, which leads to even worse cash flow problems, and so on. The mugging is horrible, but the *actual* damage is pretty small and not livelihood-threatening.


I think you missed an opportunity by not breaking your punishment poll down by gender. I suspect that women would have punished person-on-person crimes more severely, since we are more viscerally aware of the danger that another person can pose to us. Men, in my experience, assume that they could either overpower an attacker or wouldn't put themselves in a situation to be attacked, and would likely apply logic to which crime did more actual harm. (For this same reason I've discovered that women are more afraid of homicidal maniac-type horror movies, while men are more scared of the supernatural). That said, I'm a woman and, unlike the majority of poll-takers, I said that the burglary should be punished more harshly than the domestic violence. I can forgive a ONE-TIME violent lash-out in a moment of anger, but the idea of a stranger being in my space makes me feel deeply uneasy and violated.

All interesting, and you are probably right about the male-female split.   Which brings us to the other poll, which did have a male-female split.  

I think the results might have been predictable, though I didn't predict 'em.   Women are guilty about eating.  Men about lusting.   Everyone feels, on some measure, like a lazy, slothful slob.  

My own answers in general mirrored the majority -- I am a sinner, no question --  except in one sense, which fascinates me.    I didn't expect so many people cheating in games!   This is something I have never even thought of doing, not because I am such a great person but because it seems pointless and counterproductive.

If I play tennis with Tom the Butcher, and win, it is a moment of elation that I'd feel down to the bone.  If I play tennis with Tom the Butcher, and keep calling balls out that I know are in, and I win, there would be no true elation.  A totally hollow feeling.

Can some game-cheaters explain?

How could there be seven deadly sins, but intemperance isn't one of them? Is that covered by gluttony? Or have I just been given a pass for my Bacchanalian ways?

I think it's covered by gluttony.  Gluttony, to me, is about appetite.

I am a mere whippersnapper of 44, which is why I was disconcerted to read the following in a New Yorker article about Nick Bostrom, a 42-year-old philosopher who studies the future of humanity: "Bostrom, in his forties, must soon contend with physical decline, and he spoke with annoyance of the first glimmers of mortality." So if you have entered old age at 64, when did you first realize you were headed there?

When I was roughly 21. 

are the German for the Dutch Dunder and Blixem. Your tortured explanation is both silly and wrong.

No, my explanation is exactly right.  So are you.   But it wasn't "Donner" until 1949.   Why use that version?  The original is the way to go.

Citation on the pot/pan thing, please? I have many thoughts on this (pots are for boiling, pans are for frying or baking--so a saucepan is in fact a pot) but am willing to wait on your evidence. If, however, you are asserting this with no evidence, then I'm afraid this particular attempt to control your readers' language has gone to (wait for it...) pot.

Any dictionary gives "pan" as a synonym for "pot."   A "saucepan" is exactly what we think of as a pot.

I am a regular morning gym goer, and this past summer I dealt with a gym-stalker situation. The guy would leave the gym at the same time as me almost every time I was there. He'd randomly approach me in the secluded parking lot, hang around outside the gym until I was done running errands, etc. For several months I chalked it up to him being a young, socially awkward kid who had weird crush. He was not physically threatening (he was pretty short/lean, and the police confirmed that he was in his early 20s). I didn't feel threatened until toward the end when he was always hanging around. It ended with him following me home in his car and completely freaking me out. I got the police involved, and apparently another girl at my gym had complained about him to management. Due to this pattern, the police advised him to quit my gym (and I had the right to file for a harassment order if I saw him again). It's been 3+ months and I haven't bumped into him again. I recently decided that it is time to upgrade to a better/more convenient gym. I went in yesterday to talk about rates, and it occurred to me that I should ask the manager to search their member database for his name. And yes-- he's a new member at the gym, having joined right after the police talked to him. What should I do? I have many reasons that I WANT to switch to this gym. The police officer on my case told me that he thought this dude was just a socially awkward guy, but I don't necessarily think that means he's harmless. I don't want to put myself into a bad situation for no good reason. On the flip side, if I tell the morning management at the new gym about my situation... ? What do you think I should do?


I am going to throw this out to the masses here, after giving my opinion, which I do not confidently stand behind. 

You could complain to the new gym, and they'd probably consult the cops and revoke his membership, but that would be confrontational, and kinda risk riling him.  I think I would hold off doing that unless and until he does the same thing again.  Then, nail him hard. 





I've been dating someone casually for a short period of time, but I am starting to lean toward the position of "this isn't who I want to be with longterm." Unfortunately, there's nothing I can put my finger on in terms of why. He's nice, he wants to spend time with me, he's good in bed, he seems like a hard worker.... but....? I'm guessing that what I feel is a lack of spark/excitement. This being the case: how do I break it off? He's asked me to his family's holiday party, and I think I should be fair and call it off before things get more serious. I was previously in a long-term relationship, so I don't know what's considered appropriate for a 1-month dating time period that started hot-and-heavy. Text? Over the phone? Do I have to do it in person (*cringe*)? I don't want to be a jerk. I also feel like I need to provide some sort of reasoning, since it will be coming out of left field. (Also, I should add that I'm a female in my early 30's and he's about 4 years younger.)

Again, I will open this up to the floor, but I am sort of horrified that you'd ask if you can break up by text, which is the quintessential example of what unfeeling, jackass males do.   Why do you cringe at doing it in person? 


Gene, I have wondered for a while about a phrase in news articles that seems to have become the norm. It surrounds the use of the word 'immediately', as in "a call to the senator's office was not immediately returned", or "information on the impacted parties was not immediately available." I have always assumed this means "as of press deadline", but the use of the word immediately seems out of place. I mean, if a call wasn't immediately returned, maybe give them some more time - they are probably busy. What are your thoughts on this phrase?

I have wondered this! 

I understand what it is supposed to do: It is supposed to say, we're writing this on deadline, and we called him (note: not "reached out to," called) and we haven't yet heard from him, but it was only a little time ago, so maybe you shouldn't draw a conclusion that he is ducking us. 

Unfortunately, it comes off as: " We called him and he didn't get back to us fast enough, because we expect an immediate response since we are The Washington Effing Post," so screw him."

Interesting!  Can anyone propose an alternative concise wording that gets the point across without the negative connotation? 


You have previously opined on the best/worst presidents in U.S. history. Where do you rank Wilson as president, given the recent protests and his approval in re-segregating the federal workforce?

I periodically, as a mental exercise, rank the ten best and ten worst presidents.    Wilson usually comes in at 9 or 10.   And that's considering the racism.

The man pushed himself so hard on the League of Nations that it killed him.

Female here, single, late 40s -- I answered "once" to the poll question about cheating in a romantic relationship. For clarity's sake, I'd like to note that I did not mean physically -- what I did was something I know you find abhorrent: I talked (complained) about my boyfriend to others, which I know contributed to a corrosive atmosphere between us. (We're no longer together.) I have not cheated on anyone physically, or even mentally/emotionally.

Well, as you know I agree with you that was cheating, but I suspect very few others would.  Whereas there might be some things others would regard as cheating that I would not.

My dad just turned 70 and needs two root canals (he avoided the dentist for the last 15 years, so two root canals is actually not such a bad outcome). His dentist told us that at 75 years old you can stop investing in dental care, before that it's still worth it.

My dentist just called me back.    He advised me to get a crown, at a cost of $2,200, but when pressed, he admitted that doing nothing until / unless there is pain is a solution he can't really argue against.   I'm doing nothing. 

Leo Kottke did the voice-overs for the Post's ads for a while. When I first heard his ads, I knew the voice was familiar, but it took some time before I recognized it. I thought that was cool that the Post got him. They should go for Tom Waits next.

I have been to two Leo Kottke concerts, and in neither did he open his mouth to sing.   When those ads came out, I was surprised he HAD a voice.

Your dentist will likely say that this opens up a wide door through which bacteria can march and destroy the rest of the tooth. Tooth decay is a bacterial infection-- if you let them in, damage is irreversible, setting you up for lots of pain and more dental care down the road. Even if it doesn't hurt, and even if it's still hard enough to chew, bacteria can get in. Please take care of this. Point to your first gray hair as the mark of entering old age instead!

He didn't.   He admitted that this might work without further damage, though he emphasized that OFFICIALLY he was recommending a crown.

Should I invest money I really sort of might need for retirement on a program which may or may not improve my chances at becoming what I've alway wanted to be, now that I'm 59 and have failed (or succeeded only slightly- enough to whet my appetitite but not satisfy it) in every other effort to become that which I would like to be?


I say that because of your brutal assessment of your life to date.  You are in anguish.

So if it's all basically anonymous, why would anyone lie on one of the answers?

And yet some did.  What I was really hoping to accomplish with that last question was a last-minute re-thinking of the answers.

Is betrayal of trust by an employee that you work with everyday. It is an on-going calculated theft from people that trust you. It shows lack of moral character every day over a long time period and ruthless disregard for the well being of the business owners.


I've cheated as an adult in games. Every time there is no real risk/reward so it seems harmless. These are purely entertainment-based games I'm talking about. The only thing gained is maybe a small ego boost.

To me, it would be the opposite of an ego boost!  I'd feel small.

I'm actually surprised that I ended up in the minority on each and every question. The only one I was really torn on was the first one. I felt strongly that they should both be punished equally there.

But the poll was forcing a decision.  

The other day, a WaPo reporter who posted about cleaning out his desk was asked on Twitter whether he was getting fired, and he answered "Yup!" As a casual reader, how the heck are we supposed to tell the difference between a joke and the truth? My spouse and I thought he was serious and were disappointed as we enjoy his writing. As it turns out, he has posted on WaPo since that Twitter update, so I'm guessing he isn't fired. I see this happen a lot - somehow we are supposed to figure out when someone is joking or isn't, even when it isn't obvious.

I think the reporter was counting on the fact that y'all kind of knew The Post is relocating from one building to another.  It's happening next week. 

Regarding a lack of an immediate response -- why not just say, "The call was not returned by deadline." It's about the same amount of word space, and it gives the actual reason why a quote from the concerned party isn't included.

That'll work.

I'm ashamed to say I've done this a few times, but only with my pre-teen/teenage kids, and only when I'm sure they won't notice. It's not about the elation of winning. It's about not feeling like a dope for losing against my kid. Rationally, I know that sounds ridiculous, but in the moment, my ego takes over. FWIW, I have little to no ego about most other things in my life.

Interesting.  My big fight with myself was never cheating to LOSE to my kids.  I never did that, because when they beat me I wanted them to know it was real.

The male/female response differences for the sins question are fascinating.

They are! 

Do you bake a pie in a pot? Do you cook a casserole in a pot? Methinks they are not 100% interchangeable.

Yeah, interchangeable is probably not the right word.  But it is acceptable to say "pan" to mean "saucepan" which means "pot."

My favorite British mispronunciations are of French names brought to England by the Normans--"Belvoir" is pronounced "beaver" and "Beauchamp" became "Beecham." The story is that the native Anglo-Saxon population was either unable or unwilling to pronounce the foreign words and anglicized them. I don't know how much truth there is to that, but it was so drilled into me during my time in England that I now routinely mispronounce the last name of one of my daughter's friends.

Belvoir is pronounced beaver?  It is Fort Beaver?

Thank you for acknowledging Henry Livingston's unjustly overlooked claim to fame. But my question is about the double "is". I've been hearing this for about ten years now. Instead of saying, for example, "The problem is that...", people will say, "The problem is, is that...". Do you have any knowledge of when and where and why this mutation crept into our speech?

I have never heard this.

But I hate "the exact same"

Pat The Perfect does not.

It is the only thing upon which we disagree.

Sorry, I am back.  computer crash.

Your poll has brought up something that has always bothered me. I live in Chicago. One of the major newspapers here regularly features a mug shots on the home page of their website. Usually charges like drunk driving, burglary. But most mugshots are taken right after arrest, before someone has been determined to be guilty or not guilty. Yes, they have this disclaimer that says that, but I still find this practice very distasteful and a violation of one's privacy. Not everyone who is arrested is guilty, but that mugshot lives forever on the internet.

It bothers me a lot and always has.  It is prosecution by shaming, and as you point out, it's shaming prior to proof. 


There are cities that combat prostitution -- very effectively -- by periodically arresting johns and getting cooperative news outfits to publish names and pictures.  

Now, whatever you think of prostitution, and johns, how do you feel about law enforcement stepping so mightily into families, and destroying them?  It makes me uncomfortable. 

Gene -- If you haven’t already done so, I hope you will read a book called, “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed,” by British journalist Jon Ronson. In fact, I wish everyone responding to your poll on 11/3 had read the book first -- or, at least, the condensed version that appeared in The New York Times Magazine in February. Here's a link.  Ronson discusses several prominent incidents in which online criticism of an individual for some conduct or statement has gone viral, sometimes with serious consequences. There was the woman in New York who was flying to South Africa, and before she got on the plane, she tweeted, "Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m white!" This was a woman with 170 Twitter followers – but by the time her flight landed 11 hours later, and she turned her phone back on, it was filled with texts from friends and acquaintances expressing condolences for what was happening to her. It turned out that her tweet had spread around the world, re-tweeted by thousands upon thousands of people denouncing her as a racist. There was even a guy waiting for her at the airport to take her picture, so that he could tweet THAT. She lost her job. She couldn’t walk the streets. She was hated worldwide, although just hours earlier she was completely unknown. And for what? A stupid remark. A likely attempt not to be racist, but to comment on white privilege. Done very badly. But that’s the nature of Twitter, and Facebook, and social media in general. We post our every thought, right away, without taking the time to edit it, reconsider it, look at it from the point of view of the reader and see how it might be perceived. And for that, this woman became a pariah. Ronson also told the story about a couple of guys at a technology conference, who were listening to a speech in which the word “dongle” was mentioned. One of them turned to the other and made some lame joke about a “big dongle.” Ha ha. Another stupid remark that led to consequences he never could have imagined. A woman who was sitting behind him, and who had heard the remark, took his picture. And tweeted it, as an example of the sexist and hostile environment faced by women at the conference, and in the industry in general. The guy lost his job, as his name and picture spread around the world and he became the latest target of online outrage. But it didn’t end there. The woman who took his picture and posted it online then became the target of a backlash by those who objected to what happened to the guy in the picture. SHE lost HER job. And she became the subject of tweets suggesting that she should be violently, sexually assaulted to pay for what she did. Really ugly threats. Social media, as the judge, jury and executioner. But unlike in an actual court of law, there’s no due process. No right to face your accuser. No right to offer a defense. No presumption of innocence. In fact, in the Feifer piece you linked to, he was fine with concluding that the guy's payment of a settlement was a "tacit admission of guilt." And the penalty in the online court can be as bad, or worse, than the one imposed by a court of law. A court can send you to jail. The Internet can sentence you to house arrest, since you are no longer able to walk the streets. A court can impose a fine. The Internet can cost you your job, and any way of making a living in the future. This online shaming is scary stuff. It’s mob justice. Anyone can pick out a person he or she perceives as someone deserving of punishment, and can issue the verdict with a tap of a keyboard. Is the allegation against the person even correct? There’s no way for the people responding to it to know, if they even care. I recently found a photo that had been making the rounds on Facebook – a picture of a car, with license plate visible, along with a post from someone who said he had seen the driver of this car abandon a dog along a highway. Who wouldn’t be outraged by that? But no, it turned out that this was someone who, as other witnesses and police later confirmed, had stopped his car to TRY TO HELP the dog that had been abandoned there. Oops. Oh well, no harm done. Except for subjecting some innocent person to worldwide condemnation, and possible retaliation, for something he hadn’t done. Now, in the piece you linked to, the guy who is being shamed isn’t being targeted for some offhand remark, or some ill-advised tweet. He’d been sued by the U.S. government for some alleged scam. And no one would suggest that there should be no online discussion about such cases. But the shamer is operating here under the same principles, or lack of principles, as the others cited by Ronson. He himself is making it his mission to mete out his own version of justice, wherever he sees fit, with no regard for the consequences or whether they are justified. And he has the power to do so -- as, it turns out, we all do.

Okay, I let this go on and on because each and every element was interesting. 

I won't add to the length.   

I can tell you aren't from around here. It's "Uh-RUN-dl". No "dell". That would be too pretty. We truncate the last syllable down to the mishmash of the d and the l. If we don't swallow the middle syllable, we get rid of the last. Or add an R, randomly, in a place that makes no kind of sense. The express purpose of this is to annoy Virginians.


The questioner writes: "The mugging is horrible, but the *actual* damage is pretty small and not livelihood-threatening." But the mugging is LIFE-threatening.

Well, you THINK it is life threatening.  As it happens, it was not.  But still: A big deal.

You want to join the new fancy gym, but you don't need to-- and I'll bet you want your safety/privacy/peace of mind even more. Find another gym and take solace that the guy did as he was told to by the police. Don't put yourself in his sights again. (And I think it's ethical and responsible to anonymously tip off the gym management that, "Hey, complaints were made against this dude at another gym" so they can be watchful. You don't need to be incendiary or ask them to terminate him-- and you shouldn't give them the option of trading his membership for yours. Hence the anonymous tip-off.)

Sensible answer, I think.   But why should she suffer because of this jerk?   Why SHOULDN'T she have a membership where she wants?

Following you home is not being socially awkward. Trying to chat you up in the parking lot and not taking a hint that you aren't interested is socially awkward. Following you home is threatening. I wouldn't switch gyms. I would just thank my lucky stars he's out of my life and do everything I could to keep it that way.

Okay, a second vote for this.

True Marylanders (Murliners) pronounce it AnnyRUN'l Canny.

I remember when I first got to the area I was floored that a county had a first and last name.  Of course, locals never even thought about it.   When you think about it, I suppose it is logical.   Had it been Arundel County, everyone would assume it was the hubby.

If you leave your gym to join the one he joined, wouldn't it look like you're stalking HIM? The police might think you're purposely putting yourself in "danger" to get attention.

I think this might be a bit paranoiac. 

I still cannot get over the correct pronunciation of this name! And as the mother of two young boys, I say it a lot. But what do I do with this new knowledge? Pronounce it correctly, looking like an idiot, or continue pronouncing it incorrectly like everyone else, but knowing better? I must say, I like it a heckuva lot more as "soyce." It just seems to fit better.

This is in reference to my recent column.

You can pronounce it Sooce.   In the end, he just gave up and stopped correcting people, and even pronounced it that way himself.

I have always thought that a pan is relatively shallow and has a long handle and a pot is relatively deep and has two small loops as handles. No?

Me, too.  Nope.

And what would be worng with that? Why should "a socially awkward guy" not be confronted and told that his behavior is unacceptable? Nail him now. Who knows how many gym memberships the guy actually has?

I had not thought of this before, but for obvious reasons, gyms must be prime stalker terrain.

I hear this all the time, and it makes me nuts. I think it's because a sentence like "What he is, is stupid" is perfectly correct. So people think "The problem is, is he's stupid" is fine too.

I got nothing for ya.

I spent the weekend clearing out old rose bushes from my garden. My face and arms have some obvious scratches. When people at work asked what happened, I almost jokingly responded "no means no" but then I thought this might be a fireable offense. Was it? Thanks.

Not firable or punishable but maybe inappropriate, depending on whether you are male or female.  No problem if you are a woman.  

Every couple of weeks an article in Post sets off bells and whistles like a slot machine spewing a jackpot. I go straight for the comments. If you don’t pause them, you can’t read them because they arrive so fast and furiously. As soon as the first comment with “idiot” shows up, then comes feeble, racist, princess, masturbate, and so on. They are entertaining for about for about five minutes, but like being at a really loud cocktail party, you soon have to duck out and leave. I live in Asia so I often read articles just as things get rolling. Sometimes when I check back, there are over 5,000 comments. Like selfies and pictures of meals you about to eat, I expect most comments are seen by about zero other humans. The Times and the Post have very different approaches to comments. What do you and your colleagues think about these free-for-alls?

I think increasingly news outlets are going to have to figure out a better way to edit/curate/ mitigate comments.   As you point out, when there are thousands of comments, virtually none will be read. 

Ideally, you'd need intelligent people monitoring comments constantly, not merely looking to weed out inappropriateness, but to ruthlessly delete-edit what gets published in cases of thousands of comments.    I think some places have a comment limit (say, no more than 200 for each story) but that descriminates against people in the West or people like you. 

The problem, I'm sure, is financial.  News organizations are suffering, and it would mean adding full-time positions for people who aren't producing "content." 

I wonder if a super-reader volunteer program would work.  You'd need to reward these people, say with free subscriptions, but also supervise them so they are working at specific hours.    You'd have to apply for this "job" and be carefully vetted.   

Hmmm... well, I nearly died of glee when I saw your reply to my English class question in the September chat. Then, after I finished dying, I began to speculate that your answer was an elaborate ruse by the Illuminati, but in the end I emailed you the annotations and am now nervously awaiting a response.

Whoa.  You may need to re-send this.  I don't remember receiving it. 



Will be answering shortly.

I have a highly intelligent, very stubborn, soon to be college-aged daughter myself and I couldn't agree with you more. I will feel I've failed as a parent if my daughter becomes infected by this infantilizing nonsense. But the protests are not new except in their intensity. When I was in college the phenomenon of speakers being shouted down for daring to say something the audience didn't like was already taking hold, at the University of California of all places! What seems to have changed is the rationalization of the speakers. They no longer perceive themselves as the privileged, shouting down the oppressors on behalf of the oppressed in some kind of misguided noblesse oblige. Now, they see themselves as the oppressed. It is jaw-dropping and really depressing. I hope the Yale Master and his wife stick it out, and that Yale stands up for them, so that I can use this as a teachable moment at home.

This is in reference to this article which told the story of a campus foofaraw at Yale over a very gentle email by the professor wife of a dorm master questioning whether it was a good thing that the school was urging political correctness in Hallowe'en costumes.  It was an intelligent, well-thought out argument against repression of creative expression, and in favor of allowing young adults to learn from their mistakes.  It was met with vitriol from the student body, and calls for the professor's firing.  Embedded in this story is a nauseating three-minute video confrontation between a student and the dorm master.  The student berates him and calls him "disgusting."   She is comically overwrought and downright rude.  In the chat update, I said that if that were my daughter, I would feel shame.  

Whew.  We are up to speed.  You make a really good point.  I am a half generation older than you, and I, too, remember  students treating speakers with contempt.   As you say, these were speakers daring to defend the rights of, say, the company that made Agent Orange, or (I remember this specifically) one who spoke of having no problems with Jews or Israelis, but being against Zionists.    At NYU, this guy got treated rudely because we all understood that in the lexicon of 1970s antisemites, "Zionist" was a dog-whistle term for Jews.

Yes, we were being rude, arguably indefensibly so, but we were being rude on behalf of the oppressed and marginalized and other victims of The Man.   These kids are being rude on behalf of themselves, and their Hurt Feelings. 

I don't like generational chauvinism, and it's usually a mistake to extrapolate from a few incidents to tar a whole generation.   With that said, this sort of crap seems to be all around us on college campuses, such as Smith, where protesters barred reporters from covering their protests unless they were in solidarity. 





DO NOT break up by either text or phone. The latter happened to me more than 15 years ago (while I was at *work*) and I can still recall the punched-in-the-gut feeling, and the bitchy mood I was in for the rest of the day. It's cowardly. Do it in person, and don't "ghost," either.

I forger the ghost reference.   Ghosting?

As a younger man there were a couple of times when I got frustrated by my sucking and cheated. And then afterwards I felt like an idiot. And a cheater! As I got older I realized what a silly - and ugly - thing it is to be an adult who cheats at games. So I don't do it and haven't for years. But your question was pretty strict. "Ever" is a long time. WHEN OH WHEN WILL GENE WEINGARTEN STOP JUDGING ME???

You are cleared now.  Sin no more.

My parents retired to the Dayton, OH, area, and watching the local news there is insanity. They have a town nearby spelled "Bellefontaine" but pronounced "Bellfountain", along with a town spelled "Russia" but pronounce "Rooshy". Bizarre.

In NY, don't EVER pronounce Houston St. like the Texas city when asking for directions.

The woman at the gym who talked about the stalker in his 20s ... I read that assuming she was older, in her 40s or 50s. So when she suddenly mentioned a "girl" who was a fellow gym member, it threw me. "Girls" are under age 18. They don't vote or own homes, they rarely hold full-time jobs or attend college, and they don't sit next to you on Metro with a Nook and a briefcase and a frantic look.

I just let that pass.

I have heard "girls" from adult feminists.   I think it's like black people being licensed to use the n-word without penalty.

'Prelude' is properly pronounced "prel yood" not "pray lewd".

It is?

Were you floored that a county had a title? Prince George's, Prince William, etc.

Nope.  But can you think of another county with a first and last name?  There must be some, right?

Does it change your opinion at all if I clarify that these are dice base Role Playing Games that I'm referring to? And fudging a dice roll means your character does something really cool in the process?


Analogous to poor Dr Seuss being unable to convince people of the correct pronunciation of his name, is Charles Schultz's inability to have his strip called anything other than "Peanuts".

Or having his name spelled correctly?

I think the difference in opinion can likely be traced to gender. Sure, she SHOULD be able to switch to a better gym. It isn't her fault he's a creep. But he could still harm her, and that is something we ladies deal with all the time. My first date with my boyfriend, I gave my roommate his name and number, just in case since he was driving. I hesitated before letting him pick me up, and met him in the parking lot instead of letting him know which apartment was mine. When is the last time you heard of a guy doing that? Similarly, women SHOULD be able to get drunk at a party and not worry that someone is going to violate her, take video of it, and pass it around to everyone. Men don't worry about that. Women do.

I understand.  My question was rhetorical, really. 

How are your knees, a few years after you had them both replaced? I ask, because you were walking Murphy...

I walk fine.  I cannot run.  The operation was not a complete success, but it wasn't botched enough for me to go through the ordeal again.  Actually, I guess that is also a sign of old age.

When I was 44, I decided to have the rearmost tooth on each side of my upper jaw yanked. My gums were eroding and I surely would have lost those teeth, but getting bone transplants or calcium phosphate implants weren't worth the trouble as I could eat just fine without those teeth (and no-one sees them anyway). I am now 49 and way ahead of you in old age, you young whippersnapper.

Understood.   However, in your case, there was no cosmetic consideration.  Mine has a small one.

Saw the movie last weekend and really liked it. Wondering if you have seen it yet, and if so what you thought. To me they made the investigative process interesting yet ordinary. And the Catholic church quite menacing, in a quiet way.

I thought it was a superb movie that admirably resisted the temptation to hype things.  I saw it with five other journos: Stuever, Zak, Mantueffel, Gibson and Hesse, and all of us were impressed by that.  Plus, the actor completely nailed Marty Baron.  

Will we ever be able to stop referring to it as the n-word and actually print it?

I agree with Louis CK -- "the n-word" is a terrible invention.   Either use the real word or don't, and use very good judgment about that.

Georgia, sadly, has a Jeff Davis County.

Ah, yes.

Hey Washington has a Jeff Davis Highway.

Deaf Smith County, Texas


.... So, when I first reported the gym stalker, the police all told ME to switch gyms. I got very angry and confrontational (with everyone involved) and basically forced the issue on the police giving this guy a talking to. The problem is, I had been thinking about switching gyms (for non-stalker issues) for a long time, and the gym where I want to be going is just all around much better for me (minus the stalker now being a member). My three top reasons are: 1) I live in Boston and I could walk to this gym if we got another 9 feet of snow. 2) they have 6am group fitness classes and I really want to go to those. 3) There isn't a secluded parking lot anywhere near this gym. The manager told me that I should email and see what they could work out (I think he was sort of insinuating that they'd keep a close eye on him/me if I were to join.) Everyone is saying I'm crazy to make the switch, but if I HADN'T thought to ask for his name search, I would have been a member by now.

This has proven even more complex than I thought.


Newark, NJ, is pronounced "Nork" (at least if you're from there), but Newark, DE, is pronounced "New-ark".

And locally, Philadelphia is Fluffia.

Definitely a good idea to do it before the holidays. It'll cause more pain than normal, but LESS pain than if you go with him to his family gathering and do it after -- or if you beg off and then do it after. Lots of relationships start off hot and heavy and then taper off. That's because sex is good. Once you get past the "oh yeah, I'm having sex with a new person!" rush, that's when you get into the "okay, is this person for me?" And you've found out that no, he is not. So just tell him that. "I've enjoyed getting to know you, but you're just not the right guy for me and I need to find him. I hope you find the right girl for you, too."

Okay. Noted.

Everything else you can rationalize away.

That hasn't happened to me, yet.  But everything else has.   I was going to say "except hair loss," but I don't think that's an indicator of age anymore.

I am surprised at your answer to question 1. Embezzlement is serious, sure, but a mugging at gunpoint would be a terrifying, potentially traumatic experience for the victim. It should be met with severe punishment because it will lead to the public being in fear of walking down the street. Threatening someone with violence seems to me to be a much more serious transgression. The amount of money stolen is immaterial.

Well, I said it was close.  It is.

is real. He beat me to it.

Who or what was Deaf Smith?

This happens all over the U.S. Pompeii MI is "POMP-ee-eye." "Byoona Vista" is spelled Buena Vista. It's not unique to Ohio.

Pomp-ee-eye?  Wow.  

I've never understood La Jolla.

This is what is making me insane, the fact that women have to do all the work in this situation and the police are probably still talking behind her back about that pushy broad who doesn't understand that some guys are just awkward. It makes me realize why some people hate police.

You know, I think I have a million-dollar idea.

All-female gyms.   Women would flock to this, no? 

They are basically useless, between the spam bots (really, I can make $57,930 a week?), the racists and political nuts (yes, it's all Obama's fault and Bush's too), and the people who generally seem like someone just introduced them to the 21st century, there is very little opportunity for anything resembling a meaningful discussion. If you really want to punish your sense of hopefulness for the human race, go check out the comments section of pretty much anything on Yahoo! Wow.

I can tell you that as a writer, I appreciate comments.  With my own pieces, I learn from them. 

I found a YouTube of my favorite song yesterday (song starts at the 14 second mark)!  

I believe, too.   You no doubt remember the story I did on this jingle?   It's a little longer than a column.  This is from before I HAD a column.  

Here is an original Firestone jingle, the greatest jingle of all time.

And here is something else I found, when searching for the Firestone jingle.  It is inexplicable, but completely wonderful and you are most welcome to it.   I think it's in Portuguese, right?

Root of humor is telling the truth, which so surprises us that we react with a laugh like a startled baby. Your thoughts?

I think that is the root of some humor.   I don't think you can universalize it, because many moments of humor can't be deconstructed that way.   "My dog has no nose."  "How does he smell?"  "Terrible!" 

A more universal definition, which is a broader variant of your idea, is that humor involves conflicting frames of reference.  You think it's about one thing, then -- wham -- it's about something entirely different, as with the joke above or the famous Sherlock and Watson camping joke.

I've been catching up on chats so this topic is ancient, but a few chats ago you were discussing a "default driver" situation where a man and a woman would be driving to work together, and even though they were going to the man's office first, he would drive and then they would switch drivers so that the woman could continue to her destination. It seemed really outdated and sexist. Well, I'm here to tell you that it's not because of sexism, men being better drivers, or even that men are the "default drivers" in relationships. It's because the woman is saving herself 5 minutes in the morning by applying her makeup in the car while her husband drives. Speaking from experience.

Maybe.  But I think it is that by and large, men are more likely to be control freaks. 

Last month, the (New York) Times did a feature story wherein the reporter wrote a biography of a recently deceased New Yorker who had died intestate, without friends or family to take care of his estate. The person was apparently chosen at random, and part of the story was to detail how the government apparatus set up to deal with these situations works. It was fascinating and very sad. I was so overwhelmed that I could not finish the article. It reminded me of your project to select a day at random and write a history of it. Initially, I thought that was not an interesting idea, but after reading the NYT story, I think differently. How is you project coming?

My project, about Dec. 28, 1986,  is taking forever.  It is destroying me.  But thanks for asking!

Every few weeks in my AP Language class I have to choose one of your articles to annotate and write an essay about certain rhetorical strategies you may or may not use. I really enjoy your stories, but I want to know: do you intend for your irony/sarcasm to have any deeper meaning or do you just write to write and make people laugh? I just want to know if my teacher is making me do rhetorical analysis when there's no rhetoric to analyze or if she knows something about columnists' writing I don't.

What a coincidence!  Every few weeks, I get an email from a high school student asking me to elaborate on my rhetorical strategies! 

Many years ago, I answered one of those students in a column.  Here it is.    Many of the references are out of date, but in a way, that makes it more universal.  You can plug in the names of your own favorite stupid people. 

To answer your question succinctly: Yes, I just try to write funny.   Any rhetorical strategies I might have are pretty intuitive, and I suspect that if I ever stopped to ask myself, hm, which rhetorical strategy should I use here?, I would burst out crying because I would realize I am just another uncreative hack mechanically manipulating words according to formulas as old as the Incas.   Self-deception is an important tool of humor. 



Gene? Can a building be an aptonym? Here's a link to a list of public high schools with the best food. (For the record, I work in a school that is not on this list. I always bring my lunch.) 

This is a very nice situational aptonym.   

"Aluminium" is certainly the correct name for the element; it is really only North America that prefers "Aluminum". However your comparison to "Helium" and "Helum" is invalid: before it was called aluminium, chemist Humphry Davy first named it "alumium", then changed his mind and went with "aluminum", then later somebody else proposed aluminium". North America never quite caught up. Whereas Helium was not previously called "helum". And other element names do end in "num", e.g., platinum. So your choice is correct, but your reasoning isn't. But do you think it a coincidence that the name Humphry also has an alternative spelling that is more popular? And Davy also has a variation, Davey?

This is about my column on being a contrarian. 

I would argue that the direction is clear and that we are clearly moving toward "platinium." And molibdynium.



Hi Gene, grammar question here: I have noticed, recently, certain writers using the term "worse" where normally one might use "worst" - so I don't mean, like, "taking a turn for the worse," but rather (for example) from this recent WaPo article : "On Wednesday afternoon, the worst average speeds were 15 mph below free-flowing conditions, with the worse of it between 3 and 4 p.m..." Maybe that's a bad (worse?) example because the authors already used "worst" in the sentence, but shouldn't the "worse" also be "worst"? As another example, a writer at Fangraphs does this all the time, for instance when he described Mark Reynolds as "one of the worse overall defensive players in baseball." True, Reynolds may not literally be THE worst, but most writers would still say "one of the worst"...right? Is this a new thing (I have only noticed it in the past couple of years)? Is "worse" really acceptable and/or technically correct? Or is this a case where it's better not to know how the, er, wurst is made? For some reason this usage of "worse" bothers me, and I'd love to get your official ruling. 

In each of the cases you mentioned, it should be "worst."   If you are saying "one of the" you are already qualifying it appropriately. 

You don't "understand" La Jolla? Do you "understand" tortilla? Pancho Villa?

Where does the H sound come from?   Isn't the J in spanish a W sound?

Tried a lot, always fail.

Oooh.  Why? 

Do women WANT men at the gym?

Curves is sort of this and was not very awesome for my significant other. Female and low-impact are unnecessarily conflated.

I don't understand.  Why would women want men at the gym?  

is pronounced "Ver-SAILS" and Nevada, Missouri, is pronounced "Nuh-VAY-duh". Also, supposedly it's "Mi-ZOO-ree" north of the Missouri River and "Mi-ZOO-ruh" south of the Missouri River.


Way off base Gene. The lady should NOT join the new gym. He did what he was told, switch gyms. Now she wants to have him removed from the new gym? No. Find another or stick with the one you've got.

I am generously persuaded I was wrong.

To leave a party (or a relationship) without saying goodbye. Just evaporate.

Wow.  That is bad.  I wouldn't do that to a one-night stand.  If I'd ever had one. 

Isn't that what Curves is? The idea that women would prefer to exercise without men around?

Yes, apparently.  But several chatters say that it's not very popular. 

I don't cheat at games so that I can win (for the same reasons you outlined). I cheat at games so as not to lose by large, embarrassing amounts.

The engine is the same.  You cheat!

So, Gene, what can you tell us about the new creator of the crossword puzzles in the magazine?

Evan Birnholz is very, very good.  The puzzles are filled with personality. 

You might fight a slight (but only slight) rise in the difficulty level and a slight (but only slight) decrease in playfulness.  

Why don't you ask Jose what sound the J makes? I think he's in Jimenez, eating jalapenos.

I see.  Jokay, jew win. 

I am laughing my head off. In no language that I can think of is J a W sound.

Juan, Juarez.

Okay, I'm outta here.   Thanks all.   We'll meet in the updates.

In This Chat
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 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

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.

His most recent book, "The Fiddler In The Subway," is a collection of his full-length stories. He is working on a new book, called "One Day," about the events of December 28, 1986, a date chosen at random by drawing numbers from a hat.

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