Petri Dishes: Cat bites head

Jun 02, 2020

Humor columnist Alexandra Petri will be online every Tuesday at 11 a.m. Eastern for Petri Dishes, where she'll offer a lighter take on the news of the day. Submit your comments on her columns and any other questions you might have.

Read Alexandra Petri's columns or catch up on past chats.

Follow Alexandra Petri on Twitter here.

Hello, everyone! Hope you are holding up, as the nowadays text says. Let's chat, shall we?

And my only solace is to come here to your live chat, and ask if anyone has watched the director's commentary on Rise of Skywalker, because I have not. I don't even know if there is one. Oh, and the cats are a comfort too... even the one who wants to bite my head.

Ah yes, the dubiously comforting cat head bite. I am sorry you are distraught! That is an understandable feeling. I have not watched the director's commentary-- is there one? I hope it is a protracted apology. 

Why do you make fun of your last name? Petri Dish is a useful diagnostic tool to check for nasty bacteria that may kill us!! Dr Raman

That's true! 

I love Rousseau's Confessions! and other autobiographies of the aggrieved. (I recommend De Chirico's). Less unhappy but as lovably confident in his own opinion is Montaigne, have you tried him? Tucked between the essays 'On not pretending to be ill' and 'On cowardice, the mother of cruelty' is 'On thumbs': "Tacitus relates that it was the custom among certain Barbarian kings to make a treaty by pressing their right hands together and interlocking their thumbs until they had squeezed blood to their tips, whereupon they lightly pricked them with a needle and sucked each other's blood. "Doctors say that our thumb is our master-finger and that our French word for it, pouce, derives from the Latin verb pollere [to excel in strength]..." and so on.

I have read a little Montaigne, but not systematically! Your excerpt makes it sounds like a self-effacing collection of fun facts, which would be lovely. 

Hi there, just to let you know I enjoy your column. Thanks!

Thanks yourself!! I appreciate it.

I had an English teacher who loved to make puns when giving out vocabulary assignments. However, her puns were not only bad but they made it more difficult to memorize the definitions. I remember when we had the word truculent. She said “Truculent. Here is the truck you lent me.” Then when it came time for the test I’d remember the stupid pun, but not the definition because it had nothing to do with the definition. What is the opposite of a mnemonic device, because she perfected it.

Wow, truly incredible! Did she at least say "here is the truck you lent me" in a combative tone? Or did she just leave you entirely out to dry? 

I have always had mixed feelings about my first name: Susan. It is very boring, but at the same time, not many people in my generation have it, so I don't often get confused with other people. I wonder how other people feel. The ones named Betty.

I think one of the naming sub-goals is to get one of the names where people don't instantly assume your personality upon hearing the name. Which is an area in which it seems as though you succeeded but Betty did not. 

Rhyming is supposed to help you remember poems. Unless you are Ogden Nash.

I shoot the hippopotamus with bullets made of platinum

Because if I use leaden ones his hide is sure to flatten 'em,

is a line of his that springs to mind, but then I looked it up and it turned out it was Hilaire Belloc, so I am not sure where that leaves us.

Perhaps a better response would have been using a word that rhymes with truck, and saying in the angry voice "F*** you Len."

I like that a lot! I think I'm going to remember it now.

I'm lucky in that my name is unusual, for a name, but also a common phrase used in google searches, resulting in me being almost un-google-able.

Nice to meet you, How To Clear Browser History!

I wonder how the OP feels about being called Sue, which is a bit more exciting because it's also a verb regarding litigation. And there's also that great Johnny Cash song A Boy Named Sue.

"Which is a bit more exciting because it's also a verb regarding litigation" is a turn of phrase that made me smile. 

I got to talk to my nephew yesterday on the occasion of his 11th birthday. I gave him some squishy panda stress toys that he really wanted and an archery set that his mom thought he would like. Amazon got it to him a day earlier than scheduled which was on his actual birthday. We had a lovely conversation about summer activities which does not involve going to camp this year. Anyway, he is becoming an interesting conversationalist after being kind of shy on the phone for a long time.

That's exciting! I could use a squishy stress panda myself. He sounds like a person of good taste. 

Did you ever listen to the great Click & Clack, otherwise Tom & Ray Magliozzi? They would tease any Donna who called in, asking if she was blonde and drove a Thunderbird.

I mostly missed it, alas! But I heard good things. I wonder if this led to more or fewer calls from Donnas. I bet more!

Man enters bookstore in London, asks for latest book by HIL-ah-ree BELL-lock. Clerk, "Ah yes, ee-LAIR be-LOCK. We have it right here." Man asks that it be put on his account and sent to his home. "Yes, and your name, sir?" "HIL-ah-ree BELL-lock."

To be teased by Toahmmy & Ray was one of my life's ambitions.

Through the wizardry of Kindle (the Washington Post is owned by Jeff Bezos), your new book magically appeared overnight. I am so happy to have reading material which will not make me want to hide in a closet.

I hope you will enjoy it!

Priest meets a Mrs. Hummock, decides to remember her name by rhyming it with "stomach." Next time he meets her: "How are you, Mrs. Kelly?"


Not having children of elementary school age, does the advent of Squishy Panda Stress Toys mean that Fidget Spinners are soooooooooo last year? What next?

Fidget spinners! *stares into the distance* now that's a name I've not heard in a long time, a long time. 

I'm a Melissa. There were lots of girls being named that when I was in my 20's but before that I automatically would say "one L, two S's" because no one knew how to spell it. And my Inorganic Chemistry professor in college always called me Malissa. But I liked him so I forgave him. My daughter on the other hand got really steamed about always being called Louis by people reading her name because we gave her the simple family name of Lois. You'd think no one had ever heard of Lois Lane. Oh, and luckily I got to check my college diploma before it was printed because my middle name on it was Louis, not Lois.

"Alice! One L, one S." Hm, wait. 

Or Hi and Lois! I am glad you checked the diploma! 

Not unlike someone who hailed Tim Apple?

Loved the names of the Car Talk "staff": Russian Chauffeur Picov Andropov, Sales Motivation Coach Norman Vincent Pealeout, Rental Property Manager Ulysses Up, Puzzler Tester Otis S. Hard, etc.

Otis S. Hard is especially good!

They are a little less scary when preserved in a jar.

I like the moles' blunt assessment "Let’s be honest, when moles are alive they are not loved."

I believe the opposite of "a mnemonic device" would be "a shot glass."


I think Elon takes the cake for single google hit first names? Go Falcon 9 BTW.

And while we are on the subject of names, Falcon 9's Bob and Doug! 

I can't believe you know Belloc. One of my favorites as a kid was "The Vulture."

For the curious, here is a link! I had no idea that that was the lesson of vultures! 

The Panther by Ogden Nash The panther is like a leopard. Except it hasn't been peppered. Should you behold a panther crouch, Prepare to say Ouch! Better yet, if called by a panther, Don't anther.

Ogden Nash I think said he'd rather be a great bad poet than a bad good poet, and that panther/anther rhyme just shows you that he got his wish! 

As a teen, I hated being called Sue or Suzy because I felt they were infantilizing, like calling a grown man Timmy. Incidentally, my husband's name is Tim and I got upset when I met his high school friends and they referred to him as Timmy. Now I have a daughter named Evangeline, and when she was born I had people say "but what will you really call her?".

"Vangelis, naturally." 

Donna drove a Camaro not a Tbird. These things are important.

It was a regular practice at Cornell. And the lady I did it with said that her son had the opposite happen. He was Louis and his diploma was going to say Lois. But back then there were still younger people named Lois.

I guess another, worse alternative would be that you could set up some sort of misspelled diploma swap system. 

Could be worse. Could be Karen.

Try being a "Karen" right now. - Karen

Wait, does these mean we sent the McKenzie brothers from SCTV into space? Well, ka looka looka looka lou and Goo'day. Hope they have plenty of smokes...and beers on the space station.

To me, the names Bob and Doug will always refer to the McKenzie brothers from SCTV. How's it going, eh?

I believe it was about 25 years ago that the school at Annapolis had to have all its diplomas recalled and reprinted because they referred to the Navel Academy. This really happened.

I long thought the word meant slow and begrudging: "He was a truculent volunteer". It's not a very aggressive sounding name.

I think that's because it sounds like someone hit 'reluctant' with a hammer and reassembled it! Or there is also another word that is similar that isn't coming to mind!

If you like Rousseau, I think you would like Lettres Persanes, Persian Letters, by Montesquieu. It's an epistolary novel about a Persian visitor to the French court. He is obsessed with his newest wife back home, Roxane, and thinks her distaste for him is really her modesty. By the end of the novel though, Roxane leads a revolt against. him. Roxane is a great name.

That one's good for a belly laugh.

I would have kept mine. A collector's item. Put it on the wall and stare at it.

Ah, omphaloskepsis! 

Could the word you were trying to think of be "recalcitrant"?

How did you get your job? I have stumbled upon your pieces quite by accident and I find myself sorry that I did not find you sooner. I myself am in a similar role for my graduate class of future physician assistants where I write dark and dire homages to Tuesdays (which have long since been the worst day of the week for us) and I am very encouraged to see that this could one day be a job! Whether or not I ever have the honor of standing in shoes similar to yours, just know that I have found immense joy in your writing and have told my family that I wish we were friends.

I love the sound of these dark and dire homages to Tuesdays! I got my start as the editorial intern for the Post for two summers and then they kept letting me stay on and write things under my own name and people kept being nice enough to read them and now... here I still am! So luck was an immense part of it. I wish you the same! 

I am an Alice. It's amazing how many times I have to say "No - Alice. The one in Wonderland." That usually works. On another note, my favorite "hey husband, the kids are out for the night. let's go have a cocktail and some raw oysters at the bar for dinner" place is closing. It's such a small thing given the dumpster fire that is *waves arms* everything. But it's still a small sad thing for us and, I imagine, a big sad thing for the restaurateurs and the staff. So I'm sad about it.

Oh, I'm sorry! That is a shame! I bet if you dropped them a note just saying good luck and thanks for all the oysters that wouldn't be a bad thing to hear, even after the fact. 

Many years ago, I worked for the Canadian government. After 25 years, you got a plaque from the Prime Minister. One of my colleagues got one with the colleague's name misspelled. The Admin officer said she would send it back and get a new one but he said he's keep it as it represented the quality of the then Prime Minister.

Another Melissa. I was able to keep track of which list was responsible for junk mail by checking the spelling of my name. My "favorite" was Milisia. And then there was the Malica I met--the c was meant to have the French cedille on it to make the 'c' an 's' sound, but it almost never got printed that way.

Milisia sounds like either a complaint or a newfangled prescription recently invented to address that complaint! 

Many years ago, I worked for the Canadian government. A colleage had been hired on a six-month contract after the Korean War. When his contract expired, he didn't have a new job so he just kept coming to work and they just kept paying him. He retired after 35 years. Another colleageue said he went to his boss when his three-month contract ended, to shake hands and say goodbye. The boss asked what he was doing and said to stop being silly and get back to work.

I had to look it up. Complacent self-absorption. I was so surprised that I spat out my coulibiac....

It literally means navel-gazing! Not to be confused with staring at a battleship. 

And Steve Martin's film "Roxane" is a great movie. One of his best. "What am I scared of? It's not like she's a rocket scientist." "Well, actually, she is."

Would be a good name for a place that specializes in either belly button rings or contemplation.

There was a young lady named Tuck, Who had the most terrible luck; She went out in a punt, and fell over the front, And was bit in the leg by a duck.

That was a nail-biter! 

Last spring just as performances of your new play began, all the theaters in DC shut down. Since your new book is being published today should we fear for the future of the book publishing industry?

I hope not! But as you say, so far my timing has been impeccable. 

President Carter diagnosed America with "malaise". I think we have ratcheted it up a few notches.

Milisia could also be the dreaded poorly-regulated militia that is unnecessary to anyone's security. 

My actual name is Peter. What I get frequently is “Steve?” I say “no, Peter.” Blank looks. I don’t understand it, at all.

Fascinating! Have you tried recording yourself? I have no idea what's going on here!

But didn't you write the first week of Homebound? We LOVED the potato!

I did! And the saga continues: check out this week's

Made me look :(

And on that note, so long, everyone! And yes, my book is out today, if that is of interest to you! And I'm conversing about it tonight at 7, courtesy of Politics and Prose, if you are not already conversed out.

Please take care and good luck in the week ahead! And, as usual, I'll be on Twitter and the blog

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri is a Washington Post columnist offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day. She is the author of "A Field Guide to Awkward Silences." She joined The Post as an intern in 2010, after graduating from Harvard College.
Recent Chats
  • Next: