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

Week 968 — Grant us some funning, and a sack of Grossery Bag ideas

Good morning, Loserly ones. Thanks for the well-wishes from last weekend — I’m relieved to report that I was just about all better by this past Monday, after my head and stomach had militated against me with a vengeance most of the previous week.

This week’s contest lets you make fun both of stupid thinking — the two examples both involve mistaken cause-and-effect, but I’d think you might find other avenues as well — and of the writing style that pervades academia and other proposal-writing fields. The Washington area in general, and The Post in particular, and the Invite in particular-particular, attract a high proportion of seriously overeducated people (including plenty of scientists and grant writers). And so I hope our wonko-geekoid demographic will both enjoy the results and be inspired to enter this week.

A caveat about mocking academese and bureaucratese: Just as with the real thing, any more than a hint of it becomes boring very quickly. Don’t write some big long pseudo-technical thing that makes your eyes glaze over: Jokes don’t work if people won’t read them. You don’t have to stick to a strict format; use whatever makes your entry read best. And don’t write big long exegeses: They’re basically JOKES, not satirical essays.

Note also that the examples at the top of this week’s contest stop a bit short of pounding home the punchline; if the irony or stupidity of your “argument” becomes clear before you spell it all out, don’t spell it all out. Yes, it’s a challenge — not without risk — to reach that precise point at which the reader can get the joke himself with only a second or two of thought, and enjoy the joke all the more for not being told the punchline. But if you think there’s a chance that I’ll need some help getting the point of the entry — I’m probably not as educated as you are, and am sadly ignorant of most science and math concepts — go ahead and err on the side of overexplaining, and I can always cut back what I don’t think is really necessary.


I hope you like the Grossery Bag, our new prize option for the third- and fourth-place Losers every week. I’ll be putting in an order for 100 of them, which I figure will take us to mid- to late 2013, since lots of people will still ask for the Loser Mug and the remaining Loser T-shirts. After that, I’ll either use another Losing entry or put out a new contest. (This assumes that the bag will be popular, but why wouldn’t it be?)

I got a wide variety of suggestions from the Greater Loser Community for what the bag should say and/or look like. Many of you thought The Washington Post would be eager to display its masthead under a 12-by-8-inch cartoon of a homeless person, or of a big turd, or a joke about testicles. Others among you composed erudite limericks, or wrote slogans referring to Chris Doyle or Tom Witte, or suggested a drawing of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, but with the names of the top 100 Losers on it.

Don’t think so.

Our winner — “ALmost Valuable Player/ Runner-Up,” etc., by disturbingly successful rookie Loser Melissa Balmain — plays on the time-honored Invite self-deprecating humor of a runner-up as a loser. The elegantly clever slogan economically and subtly conveys the idea that the Invite is a contest involving both humor and wordplay. And it’s very easy for a reader — say, a fellow grocery shopper — to process quickly. I was surprised that Bob Staake chose not to draw some cartoonishly inept sports figure to illustrate the slogan, but instead went for something completely tasteful, just as he did with the current Loser Mug. I was wondering if Bob’s been hanging around The New Yorker’s offices a little too often, but then I saw this cartoon that Bob shared with his more than 4,000 Facebook friends. (If you’d like regular doses of brilliant-crazy-artist humor, you should definitely friend Staake.)

As I mentioned in the Invite, the bag won't be identical to the Photoshopped graphic we show today; for one thing, this version uses more than the budgeted maximum of two colors. And we haven’t made a final decision about the color of the bag, though I think the khaki looks pretty good (we have a choice of eight, and two of those are the totally no-way Pepto-Bismol pink and radioactive-zombie green). Also, the actual bag will feature our new, shorter URL,, rather than the space-eating I hope I’m able to put in the order by next Tuesday, and get the bags delivered to us about two weeks after that.

It’s already the third win in a mere 14-week-old Invite career for Melissa Balmain, who gets to choose either the bag or our new Inkin’ Memorial trophy. And in what I’m told is an exceedingly rare Invite occurrence, three of the four “above the fold” entries this week are by women: Nan Reiner’s “With parody for all” was the favorite of my predecessor, the Czar of The Style Invitational (though that might have been because I didn’t offer him the entry that labeled the bag “Loser’s Emergency Potty”); Kathye Hamilton’s “Well, /I/ thought it was funny” was Bob’s initial choice. Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford liked all the runners-up, though we agreed that Tom Witte’s “Whole Fools” wouldn’t work well in parts of the country (and world) that didn’t have Whole Foods markets.

The most common ideas: “The Style Invitational is my bag”; the thumb-and-forefinger L for Losers; “I worked like crazy and all I get is this bag” (Chris Doyle’s was the best of these); and “I did all this so I could save a nickel” (Stephen Dudzik’s wording was the best). The last idea assumes that everyone has a “bag tax,” the recent law enacted in the District of Columbia and Montgomery County, Md., that requires stores to charge 5 cents for each plastic grocery bag it uses, in an effort to cut down on the litter that the discarded bags create outdoors. It’s turned out to be a pretty effective law, but I don’t know how widespread it is. My county next door to those two jurisdictions doesn’t have the bag tax.


It’s getting mighty close to Saturday afternoon, May 12, and we’re still waiting to hear from some of you (“hear” = “get a check”) for the 17th annual Flushies award “banquet” and general revelry, this year at the Double Tree Hotel in the Annapolis suburbs. Ease the minds and stomachs of organizers Elden Carnahan and Dave Prevar by reserving your spot or spots ASAP. Here’s the link for more info and to contact the Flushers.

And now it’s time to return to the time-consuming but thoroughly rewarding task of judging the horse names contest of Week 965. While I’m judging blindly as usual, I did scroll through the version of the list with entrants’ names attached, so I could add new names to my weekly e-mail list — and there were at least 50 names to add, both brand-new people and ones whose names I hadn’t seen for a long time. That’s so exciting to me. Too bad most of them won’t get any ink. Life is so mean sometimes.

Yours truly,

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