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

Week 962: Ask us about our news! And the winning wellerisms

By the E, Pat Myers

I didn’t have room in the print paper to share all my guidelines for this week’s contest — especially what constitutes a “major part” of a headline — so I invited everyone over here to our little Conversational Clubroom for the gory details (or, to many, the bory details). (Brand-new people: If the type is impossibly small for you on the screen, hold down the Ctrl key and then also push the +/= key over and over until it's a decent size.)

To the newly initiated: Every Friday morning, when I post the Invitational to the Web, I also post this not-a-blog, in which I discuss the week’s new contest and the week’s results; tell a bit about the top winners; and share various bits of news about notable people and events in the Greater Loser Community — including a brunch on March 31. AND PLEASE NOTE: I often list some entries from the week’s results that would never pass the taste criteria of The Washington Post; if you don’t want to see crude humor, please skip over the section below headed “The Unprintables.” They are decidedly not for you.

As I note in the introduction to Week 962, we’ve done the “Questionable Journalism” contest — to cite a sentence in The Post and compose a question that it might answer — at least nine times under various names. The first time, in 1998, it was called “Double Jeopardy,” and the results showed why the Czar and then the Empress were eager to drag it back out again and again. The top winners of Week 254:

Fifth Runner-Up: A: Great legs in a short skirt make me melt.
Q: Hey, Pillsbury Doughboy, why won’t you work with Tina Turner? (Jean Sorensen, Herndon)

Fourth Runner-Up: A: The Great Pleasantness is coming.
Q: How does Saddam Hussein insist on being announced? (Joseph Romm, Washington)

Third Runner-Up: A: Right here.
Q: What is the unofficial state motto of New Jersey? (Paul Kocak, Syracuse, N.Y.)

Second Runner-Up: A: “You are clearly not as intelligent as I am, you recognize that, don’t you?”
Q: What did President Clinton say to a certain part of his anatomy after the Lewinsky allegations became public? (Barry Blyveis, Columbia)

First Runner-Up: A: “Well, we’re glad to be here,” astronaut Bonnie Dunbar replied from the shuttle.
Q: Has President Clinton ever made inappropriate advances to female astronauts? (Dave Andrews, Williamsburg)

And the winner of the Super Bowl promotional crap:
A: “They do crafts, sing songs, play the Steinway in the lobby, dance, laugh and swap stories.”
Q: According to Saddam Hussein, what are Iraqi scientists really doing in those labs he doesn’t want us to see? (David Genser, Arlington)

Fourteen years later, the drill is pretty much the same — and even David Genser is back with us after a decade’s hiatus. These days, though, because so many Invite readers don’t have a print Washington Post to save and work with all week long, we let you use articles from the whole entry period — this time, March 9 through March 19 — rather than a single day’s paper. And now that we have that 25-entry limit, I won’t consequently receive hundreds of entries from the Truly Obsessed, as I used to when we went to the all-week paper pool.

The six examples above (as well as the one in the column) should give you an idea of what we’re looking for. Let me clarify, however, what I mean by “a major part” of the sentence.

First off, the part you use has to be a single chunk of it — no bits and pieces with an ellipsis in between.

And the part of the sentence you pull has to mean more or less what it meant in the original contest. If the sentence said, “The teacher told the students, ‘I’m passing out your test papers,’ ” you can’t use “I’m passing out.” Basically, you can lose the “XXXX said” attribution at the beginning or end of a sentence; you can lose an introductory and/or closing phrase; and you can lose a significant part of the sentence if the part you include is also significant — not just a few short words.

But take note: Remember, this is a humor contest, and sometimes it’s especially funny and clever to be able to work that attribution into your joke. Look at the space shuttle entry above, for example. SuperLoser Russell Beland, who calls this contest his favorite, prides himself on always using the entire sentence. And he's gotten a ton of ink. The last time we did this contest, Week 847, he got five inks, including this one:

“I get angry,” Debbie says.
I hear Debbie’s anniversary is coming up -- what does she usually get?

I’d like to verify that all the inking entries for Week 962 come from actual Post sentences, so I’m asking you to help me out by helping me find them. Giving me the page number from the print paper, or the URL — the long address in the search bar — from the Web story, will be very useful (often it’s impossible to locate a Web story two weeks later without that URL). If you misspell your entry, I’ll have reason to think that perhaps you weren’t perfectly careful in copying the correct words.

I’ll most likely run them in the format of the above entries: the sentence on one line, followed by your question. Don’t worry about fonts.

You may use a sentence fragment that stands on its own in a story (such as “Right here.” above), but you can’t use a headline or subhead. It has to be presented in an article or ad as regular text.

Note that while I’ll accept text in ads (or stories) from any part of the print paper, I don’t want online ads — they’re just too hard to track down and to connect to The Post.


After seeing, quite late in the game, how many wellerisms had been shared online on the popular word-nerd site A.Word.A.Day, I feared momentarily that there wouldn’t be enough material left to work with. I’m an inveterate fearer; you’d think I’d be over that by now.

I had at least a couple dozen more excellent entries than I could include even online for this contest (yes, of course, several of them were by you — sorry), even though I had many more utterly bad ones. Lots of people entered this contest, including dozens of new entrants, and we ended up with five First Offenders getting ink. (The Little Trees air freshener company will be delighted.)

There’s a good chance that you won’t get some of this week’s entries — even I didn’t get one of them until I was just about to ask its writer what it meant. It’s not that they’re obscure (like the non-inking one from British First Offender Andrew Ballard using the expression “stone the crows”); it’s just, I think, that the construction sometimes sort of hides the word that’s being played on; you might think it’s another word in the sentence. As we occasionally do, we invite you to ask for explanation either in the comments field below or on the Style Invitational Devotees Facebook page; we promise not to mock you.

It’s the first Inker — indeed, first “above-the-fold” ink — for Jason Russo of the D.C. area, who scores his 11th and 12th ink this week. When I chose his “God bless us every one” for the Inker, the Dickensian connection with the contest hadn’t even occurred to me (wellerisms are named for the colorful wordplayer Sam Weller of “The Pickwick Papers”). So much the better!

The reclusive Lawrence McGuire — one of the few high-scoring local Losers never to have shown up at a Loser event — gets the horse bobblebutt and his 107th ink with his “ballpark figure.” Current Loser of the Year Jeff Contompasis adds three entries (including a shirt or mug) to his 236 inks. And our only out-of-towner among the top four, rookie Dan Steinbrocker of Los Angeles, gets his second ink and first above the fold. Dan, keep the entries coming, and let me know if you’d rather have the Loser T-shirt or the Loser Mug.

After a few weeks when Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford kept agreeing with my choices, the stars are back in alignment. This week, after reading a proof of the Invitational, she reported: “Pollock was leading until the TV evangelist. BRILLIANT!!!! A double axel. That should be No. 1! “ So congratulations, Dixon Wragg and especially Susan Thompson. But sorry, I’m the one who Really Matters.


Clever but a bit lacking in the taste department:
— “He makes no bones about it,” she said, as she returned the negligee to the store. (Dixon Wragg)
— “Finally I’m getting Brownie points,” Sally enthused. But she couldn¹t wait until the day she¹d get Girl Scout bumps. (Dixon Wragg)
— “Santorum Gingrich,” he said, not referring to a possible Republican ticket but to what he’d like to do to Newt. (Robert Schechter)
— “You can undergo a sex change to male,” the surgeon predicted. (Newbie Ralph Nitkin)
— As the sated gentleman told his girlfriend during a menage a trois, “You have another thing coming!” (Robert Schechter)
— “It’s not surprising they call me the Comeback Kid,” said the gay-sex educator upon getting reinstated to his job. (Christopher Lamora)
— “Words can’t express how I longed for you while I was deployed,” declared the soldier with his discharge still in his hand. (Jeff Contompasis)

And for sheer brilliance in the service of sheer tastelessness:
“I’m considering giving him a shot at a leadership position,” said John Hinckley’s therapist.


Well, she’s just an expat, really. But anyway, the Invitational’s Berkshire bureau chief, Ann Martin, will be making her annual stateside visit in a few weeks, and we’re moving the March brunch to Saturday, March 31 (11 a.m.), to accommodate her. It’ll be the buffet at Paradiso, on Franconia Road between Alexandria and Springfield, Va. The Losers have gathered here many times and we’ve always enjoyed it — last time, when Dave Komornik came up from southern Virginia, some of us stayed three hours. I will certainly be there. Click here for more information and to RSVP to Keeper of the Stats Elden Carnahan.


The Loser site has the official invitation for the Losers’ 17th annual “award” banquet luncheon and Entertainment Ecchstravaganza. Click here and reserve your spot with your check. The room holds 70 people.


It’s not only those 1990s change-a-letter and bad-analogies contests that keep popping up uncredited or miscredited all over the Internet. This past week, a scanned photo of Jeff Brechlin’s famed Shakespearean-style Hokey Pokey poem, a winner in 2003 (Week CLXI, rewrite some banal instructions in the style of a famous writer), started appearing all over the social media, notably on the humor site If you see that someone’s posted it, you ought to leave a comment crediting Jeff and the Invite.

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