The Style Conversational
The Style Conversational
Loser-friendly discussion with The Empress of The Style Invitational

A look at Week 928 — Questionable Cinema — and those history fictoids of Week 924

By the E, Pat Myers

Good morning, everyone. (Hey, did everyone see that comma in the previous sentence? Just when did it become some archaic device to separate what you’re saying in a sentence from the person or people you’re saying it to? The omitted comma in this construction is a pet peeve of mine; I do heavy petting on this peeve. Okay, sorry, venting. Over now. Ahem.)

As I managed to fit into this week’s actual column, this week’s contest is yet another Invite One-Hit Wonder we’re bringing back for a return engagement. As you can see from the results of the fortuitously named Week XXX , there are lots of funny entries. And while at least a half-dozen Losers who got ink that week are likely to come back for more, not one of those entries refers to a movie made in the past decade.

So you have plenty to work with in this Invite Movie Classic. The movie you use doesn’t have to be recent, and it can even be one of the ones used in Week XXX. Just make sure your joke is significantly different. It’s not as important as for some contests that the movie be well known, though I do think jokes are funnier if the reader is familiar with the names. In general.


Why should today’s politicians have all the fun revising history to suit their purposes? You can do it better, and a couple dozen of you even get some crap sent to your house for your efforts (Not counting the steaming pile that your irate neighbor left on your doorstep in the plastic bag; that’s your own problem.) This week’s inking fictoids were drawn from somewhere around 1,200 entries, many of which actually concerned something that didn’t really happen in the past. (The best of those that didn’t fit the contest: The daylight from daylight-saving time is being stored by the government in a secret location in Nevada. — Edmund Conti)

Most people seemed to know what we were looking for in a contest like this, perhaps from reading the results of the more general unreal-facts contest we did earlier. Basically, it’s a spoof on trivia lists, and the inking entries tend to mimic the tone of these lists, often pointing out a historical irony — and even their content: this week’s winners, for example, allude twice to George Washington’s wooden false teeth (many trivia items note that earlier generations’ trivia about the dentures wasn’t true), and we also got in a bit about Thomas Crapper not being the real inventor of the toilet; unsurprisingly it was the entry submitted by the commodious Gene Weingarten.

What didn’t work for this contest were untrue statements that weren’t any discernible joke, such as “Slavery was legal in Albania until 1977.” Also, some people submitted groaner puns on historical themes, and while they were clever as groaner puns (“Until the invention of the belt and suspenders, it was not uncommon to see London britches falling down” — Mae Scanlan), they didn’t work well juxtaposed with the trivia-spoof jokes.

Still, there’s a wide variety among the entries in both subject matter and writing style in this week’s results, so I don’t expect to hear the griping about sameness among last week’s chemical-joke winners, most of which defined new elements ending in “-um.”

Another interesting tack was using bogus trivia to make a point about current events. We had a bunch of such entries, many of them interesting and imaginative, but sometimes just a bit too unwieldy, such as two separate ones about the Underground Railroad that alluded to the controversy about whether to have an aboveground or underground Metro station at Dulles Airport.

And no fewer than half a dozen Losers submitted entries about some long-ago personage who was caught up in a scandal after sending an inappropriate picture to a young woman, by some archaic medium. Larry Yungk’s entry on the Chinese emperor’s “royal junk” got the ink, but the others were a lot of fun as well, including:

— In 1796, Antoine Oeiner, a French representative of the Conseil des Cinq-Cents, was exiled after sending an oil painting to his mistress depicting his /partes privées/. (Jeff Contompasis)
— Woodrow Wilson was an amateur photographer who courted his second wife by sending her a monochrome photograph he took of himself in his union suit. (Amanda Yanovitch)
— Vasco da Gama was originally supposed to command the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria; but a scandal, involving etchings of his codpiece that he sent to a young lady, forced the queen to send him on an alternate voyage. (Jason Russo)
— Badminton was born of scandal in Victorian England, when a Lord Anthony sent off-color packages to fair maidens by carrier pigeon. Today the shuttlecock, also known as a birdie, bears scant resemblance to its original form. (Jonathan Hardis)
— The first recorded instance of a politician “tweeting his junk” was a lewd parchment George Washington sent to Betsy Ross by carrier pigeon. (Anne Paris)

None of this week’s top winners is a First Offender, but neither is any of them yet up there in the ranks of the three-digit scorers. It’s the second Inker for Judy Blanchard, who serves as the Invitational’s Metro Detroit bureau and regularly sends entries about how pathetic Michigan is these days. Judy didn’t find the Invite until week 831 but immediately made her mark; since then she’s blotted up 61 inks, six of them “above the fold.”

It’s only Ink No. 6, and the first big-deal score, for Kathye Hamilton of Northern Virginia, who happened to get her first honorable mention all the way back in 2001 – and aha! it was jointly with Jason Russo, who also gets ink this week! – and then another one in 2002. But she didn’t resurface Invite-wise until a few weeks ago, when she was mistakenly labeled a First Offender (sorry, Kathye; you’ll be getting a genuine Loser magnet along with your second-place prize of that weird card game with the photos).

Edward Gordon, now of Austin, previously of Virginia and Florida, has been entering since Week 422 and now has 35 inks, three of them above the fold. Though I now judge the entries without seeing the names of who wrote them, it’s pretty easy to figure out which are Ed’s in any but the shortest-form contests: The man always uses commas instead of periods, his sentences read like this, it drives me crazy, you really ought to use periods to indicate that your voice is falling instead of rising, Ed, what’s wrong with periods?

And Mike Turniansky’s funny take on the George’s-teeth trope makes it the third top winner and the 31st ink for the Baltimore-area Loser, who’s been entering on and off since Week 726.


Since Oog of France chose Cave Painting No. 2 rather than 1, 3 or 5 in the Lascaux Post Juried Art Show, others have jumped to object that the judge picked the wrong winner, which obviously should have been the other entry over there. And so it is that the choices of the Empress, and before her the Czar, have been regularly assailed, or at least disputed.

But the assailants tend to have highly varied views about which entry so obviously should have won. The Czar demonstrated this a decade ago with a neat stunt: After choosing among the entries as usual in a contest for nasty putdowns, he printed 25 entries but didn’t announce the winner and four runners-up. Then he invited readers to vote on their choices for those spots (although of course the Czar’s choices would be the ones that counted). Sure enough, 24 of the 25 entries received at least one first-place vote (entrants couldn’t vote for their own). And only two of the readers’ choices overlapped with the Czar’s. Later, take a look at the entries here; the results are at the bottom of the list. (As a postscript: I showed the Czar last night the 25 entries, and he picked five winners again: ALL FIVE were the same ones he chose 10 years ago.)

Anyway, I was thinking we could repeat the experiment every week here on the Conversational — if you disagree with my choices among this week’s fictoids (or even if you agree with them), post a comment below to say which published entry you thought should have won. (Do not vote for your own entry unless you say it’s your own.) Keep your comments civil; don’t say nasty things about the other entries or entrants. Those proving popular will get glory; it’s my choices that get the prizes — when it comes to the Invite, I’m an Empress, not some democrat. (To post a comment, scroll down and click on the Week 828 link, and a comment box should come up if you’re registered on the site. You don’t need to use your real name, but don’t vote for your own anonymously.) The first vote comes as usual from the weekly “HAW” e-mail from Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford: She agrees that Judy’s Susan B. Anthony entry deserved to win, but says a close second would be John Shea’s about Dr. Livingstone.


Scheduling a Loser brunch doesn’t tend to bring out a huge crowd, and doing so in the summer is even riskier. And so this weekend’s planned outing to the restaurant at the Baltimore Museum of Art isn’t happening after all. And as of now, the next brunch isn’t until Sunday, Aug. 28, but it’ll be a special one — it’s a day trip to Gettysburg: After dining at a local inn, the Losers will be treated to a tour of the Civil War battlefield (complete with a whole new visitor center) courtesy of Gettysburgers Marty McCullen and Roger Dalrymple, both longtime Losers themselves. Last time the Losers did this, carpools were organized. Details will go up soon at

And then, two weeks after that, will be the Flushies awards picnic on Saturday, Sept. 10. Loser Phil Frankenfeld tells me that he’s composing an original song for the occasion.

Thanks for bearing with the length of this missive. But heck, it’s a Friday in July; it’s not as if you’re going to do any work anyway. And after you weigh in about the fictoids, hike on over to the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook — as of last night, there was lots of talk about what a Loser calendar would feature, which dates to highlight, what pictures to use. Join the discussion; post your photo. See you over there!

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