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

Week 924: Let’s make history!

By Pat Myers, the E

It didn’t really take the Internet to establish that if you pronounce some “fact” in an authoritative tone, someone will believe it, and pass it on.

For instance, in one precursor to the reader comments on WebMD, we have the following debate — in which the commenters cite learned authorities — on the efficacy of various treatments for Verruca vulgaris:

“Aha! Talk about trying to cure warts with spunk-water such a blame fool way as that! Why, that ain’t a-going to do any good. You got to go all by yourself, to the middle of the woods, where you know there’s a spunk-water stump, and just as it’s midnight you back up against the stump and jam your hand in and say: ‘Barley-corn, barley-corn, injun-meal shorts, spunk-water, spunk-water, swaller these warts,’ and then walk away quick, eleven steps, with your eyes shut, and then turn around three times and walk home without speaking to anybody. Because if you speak the charm’s busted.”
“Well, that sounds like a good way; but that ain’t the way Bob Tanner done.”
”No, sir, you can bet he didn’t, becuz he’s the wartiest boy in this town; and he wouldn’t have a wart on him if he’d knowed how to work spunk-water. I’ve took off thousands of warts off of my hands that way, Huck. I play with frogs so much that I’ve always got considerable many warts. Sometimes I take ‘em off with a bean.”
Yes, bean’s good. I’ve done that.”
“Have you? What’s your way?”
“You take and split the bean, and cut the wart so as to get some blood, and then you put the blood on one piece of the bean and take and dig a hole and bury it ‘bout midnight at the crossroads in the dark of the moon, and then you burn up the rest of the bean. You see that piece that’s got the blood on it will keep drawing and drawing, trying to fetch the other piece to it, and so that helps the blood to draw the wart, and pretty soon off she comes.”
”Yes, that’s it, Huck -- that’s it; though when you’re burying it if you say ‘Down bean; off wart; come no more to bother me!’ it’s better. That’s the way Joe Harper does, and he’s been nearly to Coonville and most everywheres.”

But the Toms and Hucks of the 1800s still couldn’t spread their truths to millions of people around the globe in two seconds. You can. Why should Sarah Palin have all the fun?

The title of this week’s contest when we ran it more generally in 2007 was “Unreal Facts.” Suggested by Kevin Dopart, it was based on the little “Real Facts” that were printed inside the lids of Snapple bottles. We later did one for movie trivia. Part of the humor of the contest comes from spoofing well-known trivia topics, as well as from putting forth a statement that in the first split-second seems maybe plausible and only a second or two later clearly absurd.


My fairly new practice of judging the Invite without seeing entrants’ names certainly prevents me from — if I’ve ever done so — printing or rejecting entries because of who wrote them. But as this week’s results demonstrate, this new system doesn’t only ensure that I won’t be arranging to give ink to my biggest bribers, or that I won’t toss someone’s entry merely because she griped to me once in 2004. It also means that we can end up with one person getting 10 inks, out of 29 entries printed in all, in our Week 920 chiasmus/spoonerism contest.

And so perhaps in earlier days I would have (even consciously) chosen some pretty good entries from other Losers rather than the 7th-, 8th-, 9th-, 10th-best entry from Chris Doyle, who’d submitted 58 entries spread out over four e-mails. But as “the last pure meritocracy on Earth,” as my predecessor, the Czar, called it, the Invite aims above all else to deliver to Post readers the best humor the Losers send us. (The Czar added in a similar context in 2001: “Humor is our only criterion; we leave it to others to celebrate diversity. In short, we are neither arrogant nor elitist, and it is time you rabble understood that.“)

But it turns out that Chris, with all that ink, gets just a T-shirt or mug this week. The Inker ends up going to the wonderfully timely and zingy entry by John Shea about the Dominique Strauss-Kahn case. This is John’s second Inker in just four weeks — he also won the bank headline contest, Week 916. Now John will have four Inkers out of just 43 inks since he started playing way back in Week 476. Meanwhile, Beverley Sharp continues to clean up in all kinds of contests, this week reaping the CD of Gregorian-chanted rock music for her 21st ink above the fold (and 255th ink) since she started playing six years ago.

Really, Really Close to 1,500 Inks Russell Beland will definitely not decline a T-shirt or mug for his third-place finish, even though it marks his 158th “above-the-fold” ink. (Russell’s “The day the Earth still stood” — the day after the non-Rapture — was the fave this week of Sunday Style editor Lynn Medford.) And THEN we have Chris’s “jug of thine and wow” spoonerism, which gives him — you thought Russell’s shirt count was ridiculous — 164 winners or runners-up. And the big haul of honorable mentions puts Chris over the 1,300-ink mark, second only to Beland.

While Chris has been retired for some time from his hotshot Pentagon post as the chief actuary of the Defense Department, he was still in full swing in 2001 when he wrote a 100-word-max bio, containing one lie, that the Czar had requested of the Invite’s 25 top-scoring Losers so he could run them while being on some kind of leave:

“I grew up in Providence when it was the armpit of New England. With the economic renaissance, it’s moved up to become New England’s goiter. I’m a math geek -- in junior high I memorized pi to 100 places. That’s probably why I didn’t date till college. That’s probably why I flunked out of Brown. Twice. Got drafted in ’66, seeing action at NCO clubs in Jersey and Florida. Got out, went back to school on the GI Bill. Now I’m a Defense Department actuary computing GI Bill costs. What goes around comes around. Except for the digits of pi. (Chris Doyle, Burke)

I don’t know what the single lie was. Maybe he knew pi only to 96 places? I trust Chris will tell us here.

As broadly as we opened the contest this time — allowing the sound-switch of spoonerisms as well as the switched word placement of a chiasmus (given that our previous set of results for this contest also ended up including them) — there were still a bunch of entries that were interesting wordplays but not remotely fitting the contest, such as “The years flashed before the model’s eyes as she fell off the stage, the trip of a lifetime.”

And our very labeling of these inverted phrases as chiasmi brought clucking corrections from two Losers, each of whom offered a different term.

Scott Vanatter of Fairfax, Va., voiced his objection right in an entry: “Aunt Emma boldly told me, “It’s not chiasmus, but, antimetabole!” And sure enough, while several standard college dictionaries don’t even list that word, Wikipedia does have an entry for that term that describes just what we asked for in Week 920 — “the repetition of words in successive clauses, but in transposed grammatical order (e.g., ‘I know what I like, and I like what I know’).” The entry goes on to say: “It is similar to chiasmus although chiasmus does not use repetition of the same words or phrases.” Also, Webster’s New World’s definition for “chiasmus” includes the example “She went to Paris; to New York went he.” Scott is a religious scholar who includes on his blog an analysis of “Davidic Chiasmus and Parallelisms.” which of course observe the technical terminology.

However, under “chiasmus,” Wikipedia notes that the term is “often quoted by modern commentators” to mean antimetabole. So I guess we’re not the first to use the term loosely. If we ever do this contest again — we might as well headline it “A Merry Mess of Chris” — we might call it antimetabole. OR we might call it epanados, a word that also carries the definition of “repetition of words from earlier in a phrase or sentence in the reverse order.” Loser Lawrence McGuire quotes the book “Figures of Speech” by Arthur Quinn as defining as what we’re doing here as epanados, and a chiasmus as the same sort of thing but on the scale of a paragraph or an entire story. So maybe we’ll just call it “the thing where you switch the words.”

In our ongoing saga of Gene Weingarten Tries to Play With the Big Boys, Gene’s sole entry for the week — what do you know, it was about proctology — did score an honorable mention.

There was one entry that immediately cried out for this “honor”:
“He lapped her dew, then proceeded to do her lap.” It doesn’t make a lot of sense, really -- hadn’t he already done her lap? -- but I wasn’t surprised in the least to find out that it was by Tasteless Tom Witte.

While the Losers almost always get together on Sundays for their monthly brunches, we’re having next month’s on Saturday, July 2, in honor of the visit of decade-long Loser Dave Komornik, who’ll be in Washington that Friday, up from far-off Danville, Va., and has arranged to stay an extra day so he can meet some Losers. We’ll partake of the extensive buffet offered at Paradiso, on Franconia Road between Alexandria and Springfield. Starting time has been set at 11:30, but since the restaurant opens at 10 and doesn’t take reservations, we might want to make that earlier. RSVP to me by e-mail or, preferably, on the Style Invitational Devotees page on Facebook. That way if we do end up moving the time, we can let you know.


Speaking of unreal facts, have you seen The Style Invitational’s Wikipedia entry lately? It contains numerous errors, and some of the links are out of date, among other weirdnesses. But the entry had become even weirder recently, when according to postings on Losernet, the Losers’ own Yahoo e-mail group (I don’t belong) that were forwarded to me by new Loser Gregory Koch:
“Looks like someone by the alias JohnnyJorringer has been editing the Wiki entry for the SI, adding these silly items:
‘Brazillian [sic] rock star Ed Wilson also received an honorable mention in Week 361.’
‘Trevor Kerr, nephew of Olympian Errol Kerr is also a frequent, albeit new, member of the SI.’
‘Rarely issued “Worst of the Worst” prize’
‘Various “bad” prizes, ranging from “udder stink bomb” (which was in fact the ashes of a dead cow mixed with its feces) to “Tooth Decay” which turned out to be a bottle of soda.’ “

As far as I know, all of those additions are bogus; an Ed Wilson of Arlington did get an honorable mention in Week 361, but his job description seems a wee bit suspect; Errol Kerr is a skier who was born some years before Trevor Kerr; and I’ve never heard of a “Worst of the Worst” prize or of those two listed.

Gregory, who says he’s an experienced Wikipedia editor, deleted those entries yesterday — since, as long as you know how to do it, you can go ahead and change a Wikipedia entry yourself; that’s the whole wiki concept. But as an almost brand-new Loser, he probably doesn’t know, for example, that it’s incorrect to call The Uncle a “head judge,” or that Bob Staake has not been drawing Invite cartoons since 1993 (he took over in 1994), or that Loser Mark Eckenwiler also has won in “Jeopardy.” So if you see something wrong or missing from the entry — perhaps, contrary to the first line, that The Post’s nickname for the contest is “the Invite” rather than the “S.I.” — Gregory invites you to write him at gregory [dot] koch [at-sign] uconn [dot] edu, and he’ll work with you or take care of it. (Sorry, I just can’t take on one more Invite project.)

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