By Pat Myers, The E
Greetings, everyone. This week’s contest, suggested by Jeff Contompasis, was inspired not by the Periodic Table contest we did back in 1997 (results here) but by a line from Jon Stewart, who described “foxygen” as a “heady mix of partisan hackery, character assassination and manufactured outrage.” I was a bit surprised to see Jeff quoting Stewart, since Jeff first made a name for himself, Invitewise, with an honorable mention in the 2004 contest seeking right-leaning humor (“What’s the difference between a conservative commentator and a liberal commentator? One is called a conservative commentator; the other is called a commentator”). But he promptly fair-and-balanced things out with a dig at the “Daily Show” host in his Carpin’ Jonoxide example.
This time we’re broadening the pool to allow other scientific-sounding terms as well as elements. While the Loser Community would overlap significantly with the Overeducated Nerd Community in a Venn diagram, it’s still important not to base the humor in your joke on some arcane fact or concept. It’s one thing to mention einsteinium and make a joke about Einstein, another to allude to the fact that its chemistry is typical of the late actinides, with a preponderance of the +3 oxidation state. (I lifted that from Wikipedia, duh; I spent my entire year in 11th-grade chemistry cowering behind the 6-foot-3 boy in the desk in front of me, hoping not to be called on.)
THIRTEENEOLOGISMS: THE RESULTS OF WEEK 919
I wonder if it’s something unique to the English language, like spelling bees and “English language,” but our lexicon certainly seems able to expand with ease, encompassing words that we still needed a word for (and a lot we didn’t). And lo, once again Losers old and, occasionally, new (including the Inker winner) submitted lots of creative and funny plays on 13-letter words, names and terms. There was no entry limit, and I received a total of at least 2,500 entries; many people sent long lists — some of them double-spaced, some by Drew Bennett and Brad Alexander. Neologistical Wizard Tom Witte sent 120. A number of people came up with exactly 13 entries — wow, how about that! My first cut ran to about 150 entries.
I was glad we allowed both the starting term and the result to be multi-word terms or names; it turns out to be a slog to read a long list of 13-letter words — especially when you have to scrutinize them to figure out what the missing letter, or extra letter, or substituted letter, or transposed letter, was. So I was glad to mix them up with the entries consisting of a series of short words.
Those who were overwhelmed by puns in the grandfoal results of Week 918 — such as Loser-in-Remission Dion Black, who complained of pun fatigue in a Facebook post in the Style Invitational Devotees group this week — get no respite in the results of Week 919. But plays on similar-SOUNDING words, which is the classic definition of puns, routinely seem to be the wordplays that work best for the reader, that seem funniest. (In fact, the lack of similar sounds definitely hurt some of the entries to this week’s contest: When reading “miniature gold,” for example, I just didn’t think of the original term, “miniature golf.”)
No such problems with this week’s winners (to my ear, at least; I’m sure I’ll hear dissenting views, especially now with a new, easier complaint venue; see below*). In a week in which, oh, a few people noted that there are 13 letters in “Osama bin Laden,” newcomer David Ballard too k a different angle entirely. While the phrase “doom with a view” has been used in a number of other settings, such as horror novels, it seemed especially suitable to Chez Osama. As far as I can tell, not only is this David’s first ink — yes, he gets the Rolling Badge o’ Pride, the FirStink, along with his Inker — but it’s just the second time he sent in an entry. I expect that it’s not the last.
Even if Ward Kay did consciously play to the Empress’s own proclivities with “typochondriac,” it’s still a great word, with real-world possibilties, er, possibilities. With it Ward gets his 21st ink, with an impressive six of them “above the fold.” (And his Ink No. 22, down there near the bottom of the list, is another of my favorites this week.) Another Loser with disproportionate top-level ink, Sylvia Betts of our Western Canada bureau, adds a mug or shirt to the Inker and previous runner-up prize out of a total of just eight blots of ink — so far. And Tom Witte, No. 3 Loser of all time, adds four more inks for a total of 1138, and, sheez, 139 above the fold. (Something like a hundred of those inks are Revised Titles and honorable-mention names, which after all are often neologisms as well. Tom, by the way, continues to accept all the T-shirts and mugs. I have no idea what he does with them.)
The bar was high this week; some very apt words ended up inkless. In addition to those whose source wasn’t easy to tell, some perfectly fitting words didn’t have enough joke to them. “Generation map: Family tree” (Chris Doyle) and “Meltalmorphosis: Alchemy” (pretty-new-comer John McCooey) fell into this category. Compare those with Chris’s vomit joke “Seventh heave” (a clear exception to the gotta-sound-like-it guideline) and John’s “Gruel, to be kind” dig at airline food. Another problem cropped up when the word being changed had a negative prefix: When you read “kinsignificant,” you’ll be thinking about the word “insignificant,” but it’s not there in the word. So you run into problems with either a definition about important relatives or one about unimportant ones. And then there was the humor-deflating tack (as in a push pin in the Great Ha-Ha Bubble) of starting off with an obscure word; this week’s most extreme example: “Entocuneiform to Intocuneiform: what an Egyptologist lists as a hobby.”
Gene Weingarten’s second try at entering the Invite (he skipped Week 918) again panned out, with two of his seven entries garnering honorable mentions. This time Gene asked Almost Hall of Fame Loser Elden Carnahan to send most of Gene’s entries under his name. And he also sent one from a totally made-up name (based on his mother’s first name and the last name of a childhood crush).
Gene no doubt will be outraged that his other five entries got stiffed. Here they are:
1. Jewry Seinfeld: “Seinfeld,” basically. (I disagreed with the premise and just didn’t find it clever.)
2. Cowflagration: Filet mignon, well done. (Made my short list, but “conflagration” is about big flaming fires, not just unfortunate burning.)
3. Yonflagration : The fire next time. (Clever, not funny.)
4. Dr. Strangeglove: Michael Jackson. (Used a couple of months ago for the movie-names contest.)
5. Maledictorian: “And, in conclusion, you can all go f--” (Submitted, more printably, by several others.)
Yes, it was a coincidence that Gene ran his column May 27 about what he called “the Hive” and others call “the Cloud” — the idea that the universe of contributing readers will very likely improve on whatever any single person can do. (Of course, it’s the basis for the Invite itself.) After inviting readers to improve on any single line in his column, Gene readily admitted in his online chat to being bested by Invite Losers Michael Reinemer, Howard Walderman, Jeff Contompasis and Barry Koch, among a few others.
13-LETTER FOUR-LETTER WORDS: THE SCARLET LETTERS
A number of clever but unprintable entries this week — and that’s not counting the relatively tame entries (in a week of Weiner stories) that got ink over some objection in the newsroom, like Tom Witte’s “foolhardness.” NOTE: If you have any good taste, please skip this whole section and go on to the Facebook plug in the next section.
Water s--- down: Clean up my father’s wisecracks. (Ann Martin)
Fuxtaposition: What’s depicted in the Kama Sutra. (Tom Witte, who routinely submits entirely unprintable entries)
Southwatering: Attractive to a woman (Witte. Ditto.).
Valedicktorian: unpopular egghead (several people).
Pubic zirconia: Diamond in the muff. (Chris Doyle)
And then there was one from Lois Douthitt that I can’t even run here: Suffice to say it’s a play on ”counterfeiter,” losing one letter, and the definition is “When Harry Became Sally.” This wins Lois the Scarlet Letter and an exceedingly rare Blind T-Shirt.
*REALLY, THE TALKING IS BETTER OVER THERE
The recently revived Facebook group Style Invitational Devotees is up to more than 170 members, and the back-and-forth has been lively and fascinating. It’s way easier than posting here (for one thing, you can revise and re-submit your posts if you make a mistake), and the format lends itself to banter. In the past week we’ve had a long discussion about the grandfoal winners of Week 918 (some people didn’t get the winner, “DNA Ross”) and some talk about the meter of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” among other subjects. I will continue to check in here on the Conversational every day or so to read and respond to comments and questions, but the Facebook posts will reach me faster. If you’d like to join in, sign up at Facebook.com and type “Style Invitational Devotees” in the search bar, then click on “Join this group” and I or co-administrator Randy Lee will sign you up. And then we can help you adjust your Facebook settings so that you’re not deluged with e-mail notifications, as well as other tips on using the whole site.
(Feel free to post comments or questions below by clicking on the link to this week’s thread that appears below this note -- you need to register with washingtonpost.com, but it’s free and you can be anonymous (though once you out yourself as the particular Loser behind Studmuffin 8, then of course we’re free to remember who you are. Also, if your pseudonym is, say, an anagram of your name, we’re not going to consider that a secret). To see all the comments, be sure to click on “All Posts” rather than “Top Posts” on the bar above where the comments start. Almost all the posts are Top -- it’s a little bit of Lake Wobegon here at The Style Conversational -- but for some reason the automated “bot” will occasionally deem one otherwise.)