ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Nov 19, 2013

Join us next Tuesday to laugh, cry, and dish about the moments that amused you, shocked you, or caused you to yell things that frightened the other people on the subway.

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Connect on Twitter: @PostLive | @petridishes

Whoops, and now we're live! Happy Tuesday! Congratulations to "selfie" on your selection as Word of the Year by the Oxford Dictionaries! And happy International Men's Day!

Given Oxford Dictionary's choice of "selfie" as Word of the Year, given your love of wordplay, do you agree with pick? I don't - I would've picked "bitcoin." Even "twerk" would be better, as we can imagine picking up a dictionary, reading "twerk" and wondering what the heck that was all about.

I like "twerk" if only because it wins the category of Misusing This One Makes You Sound A Whole New Level Of Oblivious. ("Miley, you're the twerk!") Er?

but can we make November the official "finish reorganizing your kitchen cabinets" month. I don't think I will manage to finish doing it, but my other options for claiming that November has been a success just don't work at all. I managed to send Hanukkah gifts to my niece and nephew this weekend, but it isn't usually a November activity. Traveling to visit my family for Thanksgiving is a very low bar to set as I could do that even when I was in college and barely managed to do laundry. There is no chance that I will get my DVR down to 80% full or less (so it stops reminding me my space is low) by the end of the month. Writing 50,000 words of a novel isn't even on the table. The kitchen cabinets I just MIGHT be able to manage. Maybe. If I can avoid going to the grocery store this weekend (outrageous crowds the weekend before T-day). Thank you for your consideration.

That sounds good! So far for me it has been Big Laundry Realignment Month, which is a real accomplishment if you saw my pile of laundry.

What say we dub this Complete A Routine Or Not So Routine Household Task, And The Compost Chat Will Congratulate You, Month?

Oh, joy! The Monty Python reunion is confirmed for a new show! Alexandra, I hope YOU are sent to London or wherever to cover opening night. Normally, that would go to WaPo's film / theater critics or an overseas reporter, but given your status as a playwright and comedienne, you should get first dibs. Also, a chance to really rack up expenses for the travel account (and to annoy the accountants).

Oh I want to go! In general, I get a kick out of 70 year-old men making jokes, but this in particular is bound to be one for the ages. I wonder if they'll add new material?

So was Van Gogh ...

Heh, I'm writing a piece on selfies as we speak (er, type) and most of it consists of Rembrandt making this duck face.

argh, can't we let twerking, both the word and the thing, die a quick natural death? Or even an unnatural one, although what that would be I can't imagine.

Probably involves twerking.

Since Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is a natural born Canadian, that means he can't ever become President of the United States! (Assuming Ahh-nold Schwarzenegger doesn't get our Constitution amended to permit it).

I wish I had something cogent to say about the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Mayor, but every time he does anything all that I can manage is "gaaah" and "all right I guess that happened" and "well, there goes another But Surely He Wouldn't Go So Far As To Do THIS concept."

Clean Out Your Fridge Day was last week, so this makes sense. I did not find any new life forms, but at some point my olives are going to organize a jailbreak.

Take out their pimentos. It saps their vigor.

I don't see how they can possibly top the one where Terry Gilliam knocked over and spilled the supposed ashes of Graham Chapman.

That is really the gold standard.

I still actually approve of "selfie" as the Word of the Year choice. I went to the White House garden tour a few weeks ago and that is about all that was happening all around me. And I found myself using "selfie" to describe what was going to others because it was an equally good way to communicate the concept of people taking "pictures of themselves" in front of the south portico of the White House or along the edge of the Rose Garden. I don't think I would have used that word last year. Isn't that sort of the definition of a Word of the Year?

I agree that the case to be made for selfie is strong. It is definitely a word of this year that people used. It'll age better than twerk, I think.

World Toilet Day, whatever that means.

There must be some hidden synergy there. Or, perhaps, not-so-hidden.

Who declares these things? And who that needs their fridge cleaned finds out about it and obeys?

Yeah, that is the trouble with International Days Of Things. Enforcement.

What accessories would she have? Do you still use grease pencils?

We barely use pencils, full stop.

In fact, who uses pencils? Do kids still? I have no idea. I have a list of Things To Write About For Later on the top of which I have noted "Find A Schoolchild" and this is one of the reasons why.

Was sockdologizing.

Well, I guess I know enough to turn you inside out, old gal — you sockdologizing old man-trap.

Sorry, but "selfie" sounds to me a lot like, um, er, uh, giving oneself physical "pleasure," if ya know what I mean.

Is this just you or do others concur?

To me it doesn't as much because the concomitant verb is "take," if that's a correct use of concomitant. "I took a selfie" sounds more like something that happens after you drink too much coffee.

The Pennsylvania newspaper that sniffed at the Gettysburg address has printed a retraction/homage:

Yes, I saw this! Happy anniversary of that as well, folks!

Thank you. Congratulations on your laundry realignment. Depending on the pile you have that can be a big accomplishment especially if that means you moved laundry from taking over a piece of furniture or exercise equipment to being in a hamper or laundry bag. If I finish with the cabinets, do you think I will find the coffee mug a college roommate once gave me that was covered in line drawings of cartoon elephants having an orgy? Also, let the chatters know if you get to do a Monty Python thing. I've met two of them (Idle and Palin). And I mean met them as in researched and wrote radio interviews with and spent some time with both of them (separately, not together). I have advice.

Anything you can share with the group? It sounds like you'd have great stories!

There's a Subway shop in eastern Prennsylvania that now accepts bitcoins, the first in the US to do so. It's drawing traffic too. I hope YOU go there to investigate for WaPo. Do you have any bitcoins generated for your account? What sub would you choose? My faves are the classic club and meatball, sometimes a BLT or the chicken parmesan when it's back on the menu as a special.

I enjoy the meatball but invariably the meatballs go shooting out of the sub as I bite into it like hot beefy projectiles. My favorite is the Sweet Onion Chicken Teriyaki because it is, in theory, healthy, and in practice it does not fling meatballs at your dining companions.

I'd be careful using voice translation software instead of pencils, thinking it will speed up typing work. It won't - if I used it, the resulting text would be filled with "uh's", coughing, stuttering, and profanity. Too much time would be wasted editing the text when I can just pick up a pencil or a marker and use a whiteboard.

Wait, but you just said "typing work" so it sounds like you have a keyboard you could also use for this. Is it too noisy?

Every time I hear a description of that day's events, it always mentions Edward Everett's two-hour speech. The problem is that whenever I read or hear Edward Everett's name, I think of Edward Everett Horton, which takes me to Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. That kind of ruins the solemnity of the day.

His speech itself wasn't bad, just long. I contend. Then again my editor at Outlook took one look at the Giant Swaths of Everett I was excerpting and gently suggested that it was better to just say his work had not stood the test of time for a reason rather than to print it and remove all doubt of what the reason was.

I also thought of it that way at first. As in "I took 15 minutes to go take a selfie and relieve some stress."

But "take" still bothers me as the operative verb there.

"Snapped a selfie" isn't any better though.

In research labs, we always used pencils in our lab notebooks because if a solvent spilled on the notebook, the ink would be washed out. This was in actual research labs, not just in labs that were part of classes.


I pencil things on my large hung-on-the-fridge calendar. I don't ink anything there unless it's someone's birthday or another unchangeable event. Also, lots of people print out PDFs and mark them up in pencil. And don't editors still blue-pencil? Assuming there are still editors?


You should read "Foucault's Pendulum," by Umberto Eco, in which three academics compete to make a conspiracy theory so outlandish that it cannot be supported by any facts -- and fail.

Unfortunately before I can read that I've been dragooned into reading a volume of Adorno essays by the guy who runs my local bookstore, which he insisted loudly "took a hammer to the frozen lake of my soul" and for which he is offering me a full refund if it fails to do likewise. I'm kind of frightened and really was just trying to buy some Nora Ephron, but I guess I have to take a sledgehammer to my frozen soul-lake if I ever want to return to browse the drama section in peace.

Because you can get it as a $5 footlong. Don't inspect the seafood too closely, though.

"Sensation" is one of those words that can be "Something Great I Experienced" or "A Weird Tingling," and I feel like that ambiguity makes it ill-suited to sandwiches.

I uses a stylus, but the wax tablet is always melting.

Heh heh heh +10

That happens with a lot of us, but presumably we will die out, unless a younger generation starts watching old black-&-white movies like "Arsenic and Old Lace."

And see whenever I hear "Edward Everett Horton" I think "Edward Everett Horton Hears A Who."

Apple uses them, of course.

Why is this an "of course"? I feel like I'm missing something obvious.

sounds positively painful. But I was trying to find a verb that would swing "selfie" towards enjoying one's own company immensely and can't pull it off.

"Indulged in a brief selfie"?

Or "Dave took selfies all over the restaurant so we had to leave" but again, that sounds like meaning number two, not the one OP suggested.

I have some planning tasks at work that I can only do with pencil and paper, because it's cost-prohibitive to build software to do it. Also, I use the pencil for crosswords and sudoku. (My late father did acrostics in ink, but he was smarter than I.) I recommend the Papermate Sharpwriter mechanical pencil -- durable, long-lasting, and inexpensive.

I always do crosswords in ink because hubris.

I think of Edward Everett Hale, but that's probably because my eighth-grade reader included "The Man Without a Country."

Wow, I guess there were more Edward Everetts running around than you could shake a stick at.

EE got a lot of play because he was a Harvard man. The current President of Harvard came out with a Lincoln appreciation this week. Harvard is a tad abashed that Lincoln didn't go there.

I thought he went to the extension school!

Dangit, I knew those  donation letters were unreliable.

Was drunkenly walking home when I saw a generally quite nice looking woman with plunging neckline that showed off a bunch of cleavage in a way that kind of reminded me of a buttcrack. I wanted to go up to her and say "HEY YOU HAVE A BUTT ON YOUR CHEST!" and run away giggling, and my wife (who was even drunker) encouraged it, but I decided not to because it might have been mistaken for salacious catcalling rather than the intended effect of childish japery. Do you think it would have? Should my wife have done it instead?

Wow um I'm really glad you didn't do that.

I think once you hit the legal drinking and marrying age you are no longer eligible for the childish japery pass, even when a few sheets to the wind. Even coming from an actual japing child, I sincerely doubt the recipient would have been gung ho about it. You made the right call.

trying to stay on topic: Would you post a selfie of the hammer being taken to the frozen lake of your soul? If not, then a selfie of getting a refund from the bookstore guy for Adorno not living up to the expectation.

I admire your valiant effort to keep us on topic. We'll see how the Adorno goes! If it shatters the lake, I'll try to selfie accordingly.

Just found 13 "goto"s in some code I'm updating.


The first thing that I had to remember was that I was writing an interview about something that WASN'T Python related. It was important to remember that because you were trying to get him to open up and being just like every other interviewer that only knew about Python was getting old for him. I found a copy of a great review of something he had done at a fringe festival while at Cambridge (it was in a book called "Life Before and After Monty Python) and it completely disarmed him. Got a good interview out of that about "The Road to Mars." Best thing to remember is that he might resent being so known for one thing that was a while ago, but he understands his audience. Of course, if you talk to him about a Python reunion, you have an excuse to concentrate on that, though he would probably respond well to questions about other things.

Ah, the One Obscure Passion Project trick of interviewing!


She would wear sensible shoes.

On those feet, she'd fall over anyway.

The comic "One Big Happy" had a woman lamenting about her late husband. "I can still remember his last words: 'How can anyone make money selling salmon for 29 cents a can?'"


I miss having One Big Happy in the Post. One Big Happy, Get Fuzzy, Mary Worth -- maybe there's something about titles with words ending in Y that they scorn.

count me as another for whom the word has an unwholesome ring. I think this is because my first exposure to the word was in reference to that photo Kim K took of herself after the baby and I was puzzled as to how that sort of thing could be shown on TV, even with black rectangles strategically placed. I didn't know the supposed real meaning of the new word until much later.

Actually, this is one of my favorite genres of confusion: the kind where you think the word in question is actually naughtier than it in fact turns out to be, as opposed to the awkward reverse where your grandmother texts that she is about to go "hook up with my girlfriends."

that's part of why it's the perfect word: isn't thinking a picture of oneself is the most important scene in the environement rather self worshiping?

Full circle!

I have a similar reaction to the word "Experience" as part of a band name (for instance, "The Marty Ford Experience"). I just want the songs, I don't want the whole experience.

Good point! The "experience" sounds exhausting!

because if I don't know a letter I can write a letter, cross it off, repeat until no-one can tell what it's supposed to be. Or not to be.


Always use a pencil to mark your score, if you are a musician, because you never know when the director is going to change his mind (sometimes three or four times in a single rehearsal - wait, I guess you do know). I think the verb that conveys the OP's alternate meaning would be "get" if another person were involved, but since by definition there isn't (except possibly spectating? hey, I don't judge), it would have to be "have". "He had a selfie before he went out." I'm a little sad that I've spent the last few minutes thinking about this.

I think you're right. Thank you for taking that one for the team.

I'd think they'd be more abashed that Abe's son didn't go to Harvard.

Meh, all Robert did was stand near people while they got assassinated.

(I'm sorry, Robert, I know you spent years battling that conclusion, I didn't mean to stir everything up again.)

Sweetheart from start to finish. He was at the radio station (New York's NPR station) for the companion book to Michael Palin's Hemingway Adventure. Interview wrote itself from the book. Don't even remember if Python came up. We also had the ladies who did the nude calendar to raise money for blood cancers that day and he was SO happy to meet them (they were tickled to meet him as well). Just a happy person as far as I could tell, and the Hemingway adventure book/tv show was no where near has hard a shoot as the around the world in 80 days one or the Pole to Pole one, so he was very relaxed. He was very uncomfortable with the bullfighting segment. Which is why I think they concentrated on the part of the training where it was just very young boys pretending to be bulls running at other young boys pretending to be the bull fighters. No animals involved. Very early part of the training process in the bull fighting schools.

Man, that's the life -- wandering around from spot to spot in the footsteps of Hemingway, and being compensated for it!

In theory, that should be how celebrity works -- once you make us sufficiently happy, you get to wander around doing things you have always wanted to do and we keep you from running out of money.

There's a commercial featuring a pencil on a desk, table, whatever, and the voiceover talks about how the object is so portable, useful, used by students, artists and other Expert People. Then a hand reaches behind the pencil, and it turns out the commercial is just about an iPad. Apparently pencils are still used in schools. At least, they still appear on Back-to-School supply lists.

Aha! Thanks for clarifying!

Hey! I love using pencils in meetings to take notes and stuff. Always a standard yellow #2. See then I can erase the doodles and mean thigns I have written, and my notetaking doesn't annoy people or attract attention with the keyboard clicking during the meeting.

That's a good point. The clicking is obnoxious until you cease to notice it. I'm always reminded of the Ray Bradbury description (not of typing, but still) from "Heavy Set" of a sound resembling "an enormous cricket." (If I'm remembering it right.)

Seems the review was for something in the actual Edinburgh Festival. Was there a fringe in 1963?

*exhales smoke* there's always a fringe, man...

especially to a woman alone at night. joking aside, that's not cool

Yes, this deserves reiterating.

How about pull? "I pulled a muscle while pulling a selfie, but man, was it worth it!"

Are we still talking about the same thing?

how did it get to be spelled that way rather than "selfy"?

(that's a variant spelling!)

But the former really does look better.

In an old "The Straight Dope" column, Cecil Adams said he does crosswords with a typewriter. Beat that!


Abe had a son named Tad.


*collapses, mortified*

Yes, definitely.

Yes, cricket. Not typewriter. Some kind of isotonic hand exerciser.

Yeah, the springs. Really creepy story.

Whenever anyone tries to get me to read more than a paragraph or so of Adorno, I politely inform them that the lake of my soul is ice-free.

Definitely doing that next time.

It's hard to top philately.

And on that note, I'm off, without further cunctation! Have a great week! Keep reading the Compost, and feel free but unobligated to join me on Twitter!

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost, a lighter take on the news and issues of the day, and she contributes to the Post editorial page. Her work has appeared in venues such as The Huffington Post, The Week,,, Collegehumor, and The Harvard Crimson. She has appeared on Jeopardy!, Showbiz Tonight and Canadian radio, and she has performed at Boston's Comedy Studio and Comedy Connection. She would love to be on your TV show, radio show, Daily Show, HBO special, or to be an honored guest (or regular guest) at your Bar Mitzvah. She is the author of two books (unpublished, but contact her!), two screenplays, three plays, one musical, and one memoir (Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.)
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