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

Is To! Week 949 is to a fail-safe contest as ...

By Pat Myers, the E

I’ll say it right now: This contest is going to be a challenge. Not only does Week 949 ask you to come up with a logical and pointed and funny analogy, but this classic form — A:B - X:Y — requires you to make the relationship clear WITHOUT SAYING WHAT IT IS — it’s up to the reader to see the relationship, and then enjoy having figured it out to get the joke.

On top of that, we already have evidence that it’s a tall order. Both the 1995 results from our first go-round, Week 133, and the recent results from the humor site were rather mixed, and I have to admit that I didn’t figure out the actual analogies in some of our own Invite winners. (This was a Czar production; I didn’t take over until Week 536.)

So why risk trying it again? Because I’m convinced that the minds of today’s Greater Loser Community are up to it. If I’m not entirely optimistic, I’m at least very hopeful. And anyway, we’ll be coming off the yearly retrospective contest, Week 948 — I can always supplement it with worthies from that one.

By the way, please spell out “is to ... as ... is to,” rather than using the colon form. We don’t want to make this any more difficult for readers than it will be already.


On the other hand, rerunning the “Devil’s Dictionary” contest gave us not a moment’s pause — even after I realized too late that we’d done the same contest, under a different name, just last year. I flagged insightfully cynical entries on almost every page of the 168-page printout I used for most of the judging.

The only thing that concerned me was that I’d have too many entries using the same basic joke: defining a particular pejorative word as something you’re not, or something you don’t have; conversely a positive word would describe you or something you support. In fact, to highlight this theme of so many of the entries, I ended up combining three pithy ones by Melissa Balmain that all followed this model: “Scrawny: Thinner than you. Arrogant: Smarter than you. Greedy: Richer than you.”

But as you’ll see, the Losers came up with a wide variety of both cynical and just clever definitions for existing words, and even the ones following the model above managed to do it in a distinctively entertaining way. The succinctness of many of the entries let us get 30 of them, by 24 entrants, into the paper (I think there are 42 entries in total in the online version). I haven’t had a chance to go back and see how many of those short-listed but un-inking entries were by new entrants, but we ended up with just one First Offender in the bunch, and multiple ink from eight people. (If you’re new, I’m SURE that your entry alllllmost made it.)

We may have had just one First Offender, but the real story this week is a Second Offender: Melissa Balmain of Rochester, N.Y., got an honorable mention in Week 941, the first week she entered the Invite. Then she came up dry for a couple of contests, and then BOING. This week Melissa snags not only the Inker but three honorable mentions as well (unless the Keeper of the Stats, Elden Carnahan, deems her three-in-one HM mentioned above as three separate blots of ink — his call).

Melissa, it turns out, is definitely cut out for the Style Invitational: Formerly a writer with the Orange County Register in Southern California — she won the 1995 prize for humor from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists — Melissa is now at the University of Rochester, where she teaches a course in humor writing (she now plans to sic her students on the Invite, or vice versa). And though she’s new to the Invite (recruited recently by now-regular Loser Robert Schechter), Melissa has a previous Invitational connection: She once wrote a profile of our own Mae Scanlan for Light Quarterly, the light-verse magazine in which Mae has been published many times. (Unfortunately, LQ doesn’t publish online.)
And in a case of fortuitous timing, Melissa is going to be visiting her brother in the D.C. area the week after Christmas, and she’ll finally get to meet Mae in person. And I get to crash their lunch date.

The three runners-up are familiar names “above the fold,” and I won’t trot out their Loserly accomplishments once again except to note that I really loved their entries this week — I think all four top entries are Invite classics.

As for the noise from my boss — the weekly HAW from Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford — she was brimming over with faves this week. She especially liked the defs for “occupy” (Mike Caslin,) “tithe” (Kevin Dopart) and “pound” (Gary Crockett), but decided that her ultra-favorite was Chris Doyle’s “hajj.”


There actually weren’t many great but off-color entries this week. Chris Doyle’s clever Newt/eft definition got bumped from the print paper to the website, but it’s not remotely a shocker (probably the bigger problem with it is its strong politically partisan sentiment). But we do have a Scarlet Letter winner, discourtesy of Kevin Dopart: Life support: A vegetable preservative. Ewwww.


You can find me making multiple trips to the buffet table on Sunday, Dec. 18, at 11 a.m.: The second Loser brunch of the month will be at Kilroy’s, just off the Beltway in Springfield, Va. If you’ve never been to a Loser brunch, don’t expect flurries of sophisticated repartee; it’ll be more like flurries of waffle crumbs. It’s just a relaxing way to meet some new people and say hello to the old boring ones. RSVP to Elden Carnahan at

And everyone on the Invitational mailing list and the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook should have received Dion Black’s invitation to the annual Loser Choose-Your-Holiday Party, this year on Saturday, Jan. 14, at Dion and Jen Black’s house in Washington. It’s not sponsored by The Post (actually, even this year’s newsroom office parties aren’t being sponsored by The Post!), so it’ll be a potluck as usual. In the many years I’ve sneaked into the holiday parties (and even the time I hosted one), I’ve found them to be the best way to meet and chat with lots of different Losers, since you’re not stuck in one place at a dining table. If you didn’t get an invitation, e-mail me at myerspat [at-sign] gmail [dot] com.

Next week: We’re going to be on the cover of Sunday Style!

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