Petri Dishes: Bad news for James Buchanan

Aug 04, 2020

Good morning, all! I hope your respective weeks and Augusts are off to good starts. Let’s converse! 

I recently completed an NYTimes mini crossword that delighted me so much I deleted all my answers so my husband could have the joy of filling it out as well. When he finished he said "I don't get it." Argh!  Why can't he share my love of clever crosswords?!  Several of the words ended with 'car' or 'cars', and therefore one of the clues was "parts of this puzzle's 'traffic jam'".  Because the words with 'car' in them all intersected!

Oh, that is nifty! I appreciate it!  Look, not everyone can love everything! I have been getting very into the word-finding Bee thing lately, but so far I have not managed to identify every possibility yet and I share everyone’s frustration that many very word-sounding words are not in fact acceptable to this Bee. 

Years ago my daughters and I wondered why dancers wear lee-oh-tards but the zoo houses lep-ards. So her stuffed animal was renamed "Lee-oh-pard" as were the animals in the zoo. They're both in their 20's and that's still what we call them.

I think leopards are improved by this pronunciation. Certainly leotards could not go the way of leopard. Now to figure out what to do about Leonards.

I I buy masks made by Hanes, does that mean I'm wearing my underwear on my head?

Just in case my answer will make you more or less likely to wear them, then, uh, no, you are wearing a completely distinct Hanes product as a favor to yourself and your community! Thank you for your service! Or, alternatively, “Absolutely! Finally, it’s socially acceptable!” 

I don't know if it's just a social media thing, but it seems like everyone is having better demon sex in their sleep than I am. Any advice?

This is a real difficulty that everyone faces more and more! I guess the question to ask yourself is whether you are taking your demons for granted. If the demons feel that they are putting in all the effort and you are reaping all of the benefits, they may stop trying so hard. Remember, demon sex is a two-way street. 

The other day, somebody at my workplace asked me what I do here, and I replied, "I'm a psychologist." I later realized that represented what I am, not what I do. I could've said I do psychotherapy, but the bulk of my work is not actually psychotherapy. So, to more accurately address his question, should I have said "psychologistics," or simply the topic line of this post?

I think one of the idiomatic answers to “What do you do?” is to say what you are. If it was more of a “What are you doing here?” then “psychology stuff” might have been a more specific answer but it also depends on the level of information of the person talking to you. Does “psychologistics” mean the same as the title of the post? To me, everything you have said is a revelation! Someone in your workplace might have a better idea of what and how much is going on, and wonder specifically whether psychotherapy were the bulk of your work or not, and then you could just say that. 

Does the Post Style Guide suggest that words like "data" and "media" be treated as singular? I've seen many articles reporting such things as "The data suggests that..." or "The media has reported..." Am I one of a very small population that realizes these words are plural forms of datum and medium? What is the guidance for nouns that refer to multiple people? I've lately noticed such phrases as "The Simpson family are..." and "The group Heart are..." These abuses make my skin crawl.

I am with you on family and Heart! I am less sure about the data/media guidance, other than that we are in favor of both. 

It appears my area didn't get much of the impact of the tropical storm. In fact, I was surprised that it has largely already passed. How are the rest of you faring?

Lot of rain (and just when I was taking out the trash!) but not much other impact for me! Anyone get caught in the belly of the storm? 

During an online yoga class, while lying on my back focused on breathing, I fell asleep. I awoke because I heard the instructor repeating my name. An hour had passed by. Her smiling face filled the screen. This is a new world. Now people talk to me from my computer screen. Should I have hidden under the bed?

Wow! I am honestly pleased that such opportunities for embarrassing social interactions still exist remotely. I miss my daily chances to really goof up in front of strangers in low-stakes ways. I would say either hide under the bed or cherish this beautiful moment! 

Most people are now wearing masks. Most of them wear the masks around their chins. I understand. We all need a kiss. Should I offer to kiss them if they pull the mask up afterward?

Oh my gosh, I know. I will never until my final days forget the shape of the nose that protruded cheerily above the mask of the man slowly mailing his mail ahead of me in the UPS Store. It was a perfectly fine, I suppose shapely nose, a Peter Pan nose, and the mere thought of it now fills me with unspeakable fury. Someday I hope to again encounter that nose in some neutral context and then I will — I know not what, but I am reading the Count of Monte Christo right now and I am sure it will have suggestions. 

I live in Lancaster PA, the home of James Buchanan, generally viewed as the worst President we've ever had. Trump looks like he will outdo Buchanan. How will we cope when we are the home of the second-worst. Certainly, I don't go to parties and say 'Hey Baby want to go see the statue of the worst President'. Obviously that would be lame. But, if he is just the second-worst will they still clean the pigeon crap off his balding head.

Maybe there’s a way of incorporating the pigeon crap into the design? 

What a spectacular additional reason for not wanting the Trump presidency to be worse! “Because if any president is worse than Buchanan, Lancaster will suffer!” I love this motivation. I now also have an additional reason to root for things to improve! 

After years of meeting all sorts of people and sharing in their warmth, public toilets now find themselves alone. Should I seek them out, talk to them, share the love, tell them we'll be back soon?

As long as you keep the lid down. 

I was absolutely ecstatic to be able to purchase two canisters of Clorox disinfecting wipes at my grocery store recently. It made my day. I’ve got to get a life. ...Whoops. Maybe not.

That’s huge! Two canisters? Wow! Congrats. 

I'm in the belly of a whale that has floated ashore during the storm. Please send out the Post's best rescue team.

Jonah! Isais? Whoever you are, stay put! We will have our whale extractors get right on it. I’m glad we have kept them on retainer for years; many grumbled at the cost, but I always knew it would be worthwhile someday. 

My sister called elephants "umphs" and my daughter called them Barbars after the elephant in the story books.

Umphs and Barbars! These are both great and very Winnie the Pooh, even though one is explicitly the name of another book protagonist. 

My proudest moment was immediately seeing the pangram for the puzzle: auxiliary. Something to look back on with fondness.

Oh, good job! I have yet to find today’s, although I have just achieved Great-ness. Don’t tell me, I want it to be a surprise! 

I tell people that "I'm a librarian, which means that I yell at computers so you don't have to."

As little as possible?

Report from Jersey Shore: Currently under six separate weather warnings. Winds gusting above 50 mph. Rain mostly west of here. Please send piri-piri.

I think Lancaster needs to start working on a Plan B, because even if Trump became positively Lincolnian overnight, I think he's already secured the Worst President Ever title.

Plan B! B for Buchanan! 

Hmm, that’s all I have.

Marshall Rosenberg (of Nonviolent Communication fame) never put it quite that way, but the phrase sums up his view that humans are defined by their actions, not static conditions or titles like "psychologist" or "parent." The view allows him to argue there's no such thing as a "good parent" or "bad parent" (or insert the noun of your choice). Instead, one can focus on individual actions, their consequences, and how they affect others. It's a liberating practice--yet linguistically difficult to do consistently. I end up using "serves as" and "works as" quite a bit. The OP doing psychologistics might say, "I work as a psychologist."

The OP's town can still have the claim to fame of being home to the worst president to ever win the popular vote. Or the worst president not to be impeached.

I share your fury about those who won't wear masks or who wear them incorrectly. Yesterday I read about the mask slackers (NYT) during the 1918 flu epidemic. The historical photos were great. People surely need to learn history, science, and critical thinking skills. On a slightly more positive note, while I was in a waiting room for a medical visit, the woman next to me had her mask below her nose. When I said that I thought the mask should also cover her nose, she promptly thanked me and raised the mask to its appropriate position.

Oh, that’s good! I’m glad that happened.

You realize, of course, that few public toilets actually have lids. The best you can do is keep the seat down, for use by the upcoming sitter, if they ever come.

Pfft. I was in my local Costco a few weeks back and snagged a FIVE pack of Clorox wipes. The way people were running back to the pallet at the back of the warehouse, you'd think they were handing out free money. I have them on the mantel above the fireplace, so we can sit and bask at their disinfecting power.

This made me laugh. I like the idea of basking in the reflected glory of a pack of Clorox wipes a lot. 

Maybe it is Pinocchio, who also seems to be on the WaPo payroll, because barely a day goes by without something being labeled with Four Pinocchios.

Isaias has ripped three holes in my roof! Or the leaks may be from my own lack of regular roof maintenance, but that would make me the bad guy and I want to blame the hurricane. Curse you Isaias! I wish I knew how to pronounce you but I get all my news from print sources!

Oh no! I’m sorry about your roof! 

Andrew Jackson was the worst president. Buchanan is ranked merely as the least effective. Jackson presided over the Trail of Tears. So you know, of course he's Trump's favorite president.

It is hard to argue against Jackson for the very reason you state. And usually this news would come as a relief but now I worry that at this rate Buchanan will be fifth-worst by the time the chat ends. 

"In these trying times, don't you want some certainty? Well, you can't be sure Trump is the worst until you see how bad our guy was!"

I am no longer a church-goer, but I learned the pronunciation of Isaias as a child. Eye-ZAY-ah (yes, even with the S on the end instead of the H).

I was about to ask about that S! It fills me with uncertainty! 

True story from the early days of the pandemic: After washing it thoroughly, I repurposed a worn-out pair of colorful, skimpy men's briefs to two masks (from the front and the back). Their provenance is not obvious. I think.

If it is, I’ll let you know! I hope it will be you I’m letting know and not some stranger! 

Speaking of spelling bee, why are they called bees, and why is nothing else called a bee? E.g. why isn't the Super Bowl the Super Bee? Is it like the nog of contests? Like how there's only egg nog, but no other kind of nog (aside from the fictional corn nog that appeared in an old Simpsons episode).

There are also quilting bees! Those bees have great fine motor control! 

Thomas Dewey was our worst President. His defeat of Truman was followed by one bungle after another.

I love that I've found fellow Spelling Bee fans! It has been getting me through my day. The other day I got all of the answers except for "kola," and today I am at 232 points. Why is it so fun? Why so addictive?

I don’t know, and until I find out I am going to keep at it! 

In that recent interview with Axios, Trump said his response to the pandemic was "incredible." I have to say I finally agree with him on something. Incredible is an apt word to describe his handling of the pandemic.

It is pronounced the Spanish way, people. Thank you.

I seem to write frequently about fruit here, but I would just like to take this time to say that peaches are the best. Last summer I gave nectarines a slight edge over peaches, but this summer peaches have climbed back into the top spot. I bought six peaches and six nectarines for myself over the weekend. They'll last me about a week. (Is that a lot? Perhaps. But I have to get it the good stuff while the getting is good. I'll miss them in the fall. And the winter.) One notable side effect: Because peaches and nectarines ripen quickly and have to be consumed pretty soon after purchase, I haven't bought bananas in a while. (Bananas also ripen quickly.) So no bananas have been separated!

I appreciate this fruit update, but now it is making me crave lunch! For me, apricots and plums are the fruits that can give peaches runs for their money. But the trouble with apricots is that the pit:fruit ratio is off! 

Oh no no no - the earlier chatter told us how to pronounce Isaiah (Eye-ZAY-ah). The hurricane is Isaias and is pronounced ees-ah-EE-ahs. Here's an article with the pronunciation both written and in audio: https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/01/weather/hurricane-isaias-how-to-pronounce-trnd/index.html

Hey, why does Lancaster get to claim Buchanan? I grew up in Franklin County, Pennsylvania, where Buchanan was born. It is the site of Buchanan's Birthplace State Park, with the lamest presidential memorial ever. See photo on Wikipedia: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buchanan%27s_Birthplace_State_Park

I look forward to finding out the answer to this one next week! In the interim, see you on the blog and on Twitter! Stay safe and dry! 

Dewey never found his way to the White House, so Truman just stuck around.

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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.
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