Style Conversational Week 1037: Be funny! Be clever! Just don’t be boring.

September 5, 2013

Hello, everyone, and happy 5774 both to members of the tribe and to anyone else who’d like to have a brand-spanking-new year four months ahead of the dropping ball. I’m just back from an evening, morning and afternoon doing Rosh Hashanah things, and so for once, I won’t drone on so. (The Royal Consort: “Yeah, you say that every week.”)

I wasn’t able to attend the “town hall” Q&A meeting Wednesday afternoon in which Jeff Bezos introduced himself to hundreds of people on The Post’s newsroom staff. But from all accounts, “El Jeffe,” as the staff has started calling him, said lots of encouraging things about how it doesn’t make sense to keep cutting The Post’s budget, because “we know where that ends.” And perhaps just as important for us here in Loserland, he seemed to have a hearty sense of humor, maintaining “a genial, inquisitive manner punctuated by occasional outbursts of laughter” when he sat in on the Tuesday afternoon story conference to decide what would run on Page 1 the next day.

I concede, however, that it’s possible that said outbursts of laughter didn’t come from sneaking peeks at the page proofs of the results of the Week 1033 limerick contest. But I figure that at least he’s not going to be the kind of owner who’d say, “What is this word ‘crap’doing in my $250 million newspaper?”

Don’t bother noting that the Style Invitational is not an invitational: Week 1037

I hope people don’t think I’m saying it’s silly to complain about the Redskins’ name — no, I think it’s a terrible name! I don’t doubt that the name was intended to be complimentary rather than mocking — it was surely supposed to connote skill, bravery and a warrior spirit. But intentions are irrelevant if a large proportion of the group that it’s “honoring” consider the name a racial slur.

While it’s been only in the last couple of years that a whole lot of people are on board to change the name — some publications, like Slate, won’t even use it in articles, and even D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray seems to avoid saying it — the Style Invitational has been behind a change from the start — and I mean the start: Week 1 of the Invite was a contest to give the team a new name.

As the Invite debuted in a box on Page F1 of the Style section on Sunday, March 7, 1993 (PDFs for this and many other early weeks are newly posted on Loser Elden Carnahan’s Master Contest List), an unidentified “we” argued that “there are two valid sides to this issue.

“Side One: Tradition. The name is venerable. If you change it, much plastic and polyester merchandise instantly would become obsolete.

“Side Two: Race libel. The name is brutishly demeaning to an ethnic group that has been indiscriminately plundered for centuries. It defines a proud and accomplished people by the single characteristic of the pigmentation of their skin.

“Being typical pandering journalists, we take no position ourselves. We merely suspect the Redskin name is doomed, and when that occurs, we wish to be ready with an alternative.”

Two weeks later, the results were published in the Invitational’s new home on Page F2 of Sunday Style (still with no mention of a Czar running things). The list is short enough to run in toto right here:

Let us first note that the single best new name we received, a name so hip and clever that it should be the new name for the Redskins, is “The Washington Clout,” submitted by Hank Wallace of Washington. Let us also note that Mr. Wallace did not win our contest. He does not get the elegant Timex Triathlon digital watch, nor does he get the coveted runner-up “Loser” T-shirt. He gets squat. Sorry, Hank. We wanted “funny,” and you gave us “good.” We trust you will not make that mistake again. This contest is satire. Good is not good enough.

Most hackneyed entries: The Washington Monuments, followed closely by the Gridlocks, the Cookies (get it?), the Red Inks, the Red Tapes, the Pigskins and the PAC-men. Roughly a quarter of the 346 entries came up with one of these gems.

Now here’s an original idea: Keep the name Redskins, but change the logo from an Indian to a potato! You were proud of that concept, all 23 of you who thought of it.

Best proposal to keep the “Skins” nickname: The Washington Rumpelstiltskins, by Edwin J.Hughes, Laurel.

Classiest entry: “The Washington L’Enfant Terribles,” by Bonnie Tyler, of Washington.

Best idea requiring elaborate explanation: “The Washington (your name here).” The name would change yearly, depending on which ego- diseased free agent the team is courting. This year, it would be “The Washington Reggies.” John P. Gudas, Annapolis.

AND NOW, THE WINNERS:

Fifth Runner-Up: “The Washington Homicide Capitols,” by Karin Schmerler, Washington.

Fourth Runner-Up: “The Washington Embittered Food-Service Workers,” by Bradley Fisher, Rockville.

Third Runners-Up: “The Washington Senior Officials” and “The Washington Kickbacks,” Dan Creel, Rockville.

Second Runner-Up: “The Washington Unindicted Co-Conspirators,” by Charles Dean Layman, Silver Spring.

First Runner-Up: “The Washington Irvings,” by E. Stanley Murphy, Charlottesville.

AND THE WINNER OF THE WATCH:

“The Baltimore Redskins” (No, don’t move the team, just change the name. Let Baltimore worry about it). Douglas R. Miller, Arlington.

And that’s why I have declined to do this contest a second time.

For this week, the point, of course, is that your outrage about a name should be silly. I think it’s a pretty straightforward contest; my only warning is not to get into Emily Litella-style complaints based on hearing the name incorrectly (“What’s all this stuff I keep hearing about violins on television?”). I don’t want to absolutely forbid it, so I’ll just say that such a complaint would have to be in­cred­ibly funny to get ink.

Fa -ha-ha! The Week 1033 limericks

Ah, so much fun. This year’s sliver of the dictionary that we featured in our annual Limerixicon contest — words and names beginning with “fa-” — proved especially favorable, fabulous, fantastic, fallacious, falafel . . . And I ended up giving ink to just one limerick for “fart.”

While there was the usual complement of entries that reflected a total misunderstanding of what a limerick should be (obviously, someone didn’t read my “hickory-dickory-dock” guide at wapo.st/limrules), more and more Losers are sending in not only mechanically sound verses, but especially clever ones as well, often with a punning punch line in Line 5. (Sometimes the punch lines were significantly more wonderful than the rest of the limerick, alas; I especially liked the one about “Queen Faraday.”)

Washington is, as towns go, a pretty wonky one, and so I figure I can count on our print-edition readers to get Matt Monitto’s triple-pun-punchline limerick that gets him this week’s Inkin’ Memorial (online readers get an explanatory link). What Matt also managed, and a number of other punners didn’t, was to set up the two levels of the pun in the first four lines, getting in comedy, math, and spreadsheets for the pun along with physics — for the original term that the pun played on. (By wonky I mean “being familiar with a concept taught to most high school students.”) Matt, who’s just returned to Elon University after a summer internship in Washington, is one of our most remarkable wordsmiths of recent years, especially in song parodies; it’s nice to see him get the big limerink as well. It’s Matt’s third first-place win and sixth blot of ink “above the fold,” for 47 in all after beginning in just Week 902 a couple of years ago.

Our runners-up this week are Invite fixtures as well: Brendan Beary and Mae Scanlan are both renowned writers of limericks as well as other light verse, both for the Invite and for poetry journals such as Lighten Up Online (see both their work in this issue) and the newly online Light, whose editor, Melissa Balmain, is a 38-time Loser herself (and gets ink today).

And the top four are very closely followed in quality and laughs by the rest of the 30-plus limericks I could run this week (I think 19 in the print paper); there’s lots of topical humor, ingenious wordplay, just plain laughs, and of course a nice dose of the bawdiness associated with the limerick genre and, well, us. I was delighted to discover several First Offenders as well as the venerable recidivists, and hope the newbies stick around.

A few of the limericks deliberately broke form as part of the joke; Robert Schechter gets ink for one near the end of the list today — his limerick on “failure” was the favorite this week of Sunday Style Editor David Malitz. And Mae Scanlan just decided to keep going and going — running like the wind, you might say — in the middle of this one:

Ours is a planet of farters;
Let me recite some take-parters:
Chaucer, Descartes,
Buzz Aldrin, Bret Harte,
Cher, Norman Mailer,
And Popeye the Sailor,
Saul, Mona Lisa
And Mother Teresa,
George Santayana
And Princess Diana,
N. Vincent Peale
And Eugene O’Neill,
Einstein and Newton
And Vladimir Putin,
Beggars and choosers,
The Empress, the Losers,
And those, friends, are only for starters.

I can’t promise now, since I’ll start judging them tomorrow, but if the short form of the Week 1034 “I like my A the way I like my B” jokes leaves us with enough space, I'll feature some more limericks next week. Feel free to share them now, though.

Too limerisqué even for us: The unprintables*

(Thanks to Jeff Contompasis for the subhead suggestion)

Especially in the online ’Vite, there’s already lots to tsk-tsk about, but I drew the line (a blue one) at these: — yes, I know they’re not that much past the one about Weiner and especially the one about the Australian official ...

There’s the court-martial of Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, brought to us by Nan Reiner:
General Sinclair is having to face
A court-martial, and General disgrace,
‘Cause he got his flanks wrapped in
A fawning young captain,
With privates not kept in their place.

Now, if this limerick by Craig Dykstra had joked about incest OR necrophilia -- but no, it had to have both:
A family whose kids were inbred
Sat their son down one evening and said:
“We think incest is fine
But we must draw the line –
Since that cousin yer boinkin’ is dead.”

But the Scarlet Letter for a really excellent though unprintable limerick must go this week to Chris Doyle:
A Zen master’s roused from his napping,
Goes to check on a curious rapping,
And discovers a monk
Contemplating his junk
And the sound of a single hand fapping.


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