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

Week 981: Testing, testing — and the march of the news in the Week 978 ‘framed couplets’

By the E, Pat Myers

Just a few notes today — really this time.

I’d been thinking for a long time about running a test-themed contest, but hadn’t figured out a good way — I think I was focusing on the SAT, and bogged down in the multiple-choice structure. But I think this idea from 64-time Loser Mike Gips should work well.

The format for Week 981 is pretty wide open (except that a single entry shouldn’t take up a ridiculous amount of space). As I note in the introduction, you can take either of two basic tacks: Supply a question and a funny answer, or just the question itself could contain a full joke. I don’t think it will be too jarring to include both types of joke in the same list of results.

One could probably dig up an old Invite contest with some similarity to this week’s. But searching on Elden Carnahan’s Master Contest List for “test” stops you at every mention of “contest” for the past 980 weeks. And “exam” takes you to the many mentions of “example.” In any case, I don’t think we’ve done a contest like this one in at least several years.

1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-5? 1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and-5! THE RESULTS OF WEEK 978

Believe me, if you’d read 1,500 couplets in that meter, you’d be marching around like that, too.

Actually, they weren’t all in that meter: A remarkable number of entrants to this contest either didn’t read the directions or just decided not to follow them. Obviously, if the form is called “framed couplets,” the “framed” part of it — an accented syllable at both the beginning and the end of each line — was essential to the contest, even if that produces a less lyrical result than the classic iambic pentameter, which starts with a “weak” syllable on each line. Nevertheless, quite a few entrants (at least some of them regular Losers) blithely went to straight iambic pentameter, while others didn’t even use the two-beat (ba-DAH, ba-DAH) rhythm of iambs, and instead sent in lines that had the cantering three-beat rhythm of limericks.

To be sure, the framed-couplet form has almost a laughable number of rules for a poem that could be as short as two little lines. But — and this surprised me not at all — some of our Bards of Bad took right to the form, sending in long lists of clever, readable verses on current events.

One of them was the amazing Nan Reiner, whose full complement of the permitted 25 entries encompassed a wide variety of news topics, including sports and local politics (I’m sure she sent the only entry of the week that concerned the D.C. Council). Her first Inkin’ Memorial winner expressed good-natured exasperation with both presidential campaigns and their constant name-calling while the economy isn’t much more lively than Lonesome George, the tortoise Beverley Sharp wrote about. Nan, the Losers’ most recent Rookie of the Year, already had two specimens of our previous trophy, the Inker along with almost 80 blots of ink. (In true Loserly fashion, however, she’ll have to wait a bit for her Bob-o-Linc — our four-years’-worth order of our new bobblehead is currently on a boat somewhere, and our initial stash of 15 has been sent out. Kevin Dopart, last week’s winner, also must be patient. They’re telling me probably two more weeks.)

Another Invite rookie phenom, Robert Schechter, submitted “only” 10 verses or so for Week 978, and once again finds himself “above the fold.” We hope that either Robert’s young son or, who knows, Bob himself enjoys the literary wonders of this week’s second prize, “Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder: Bubble in the Bathtub.”

The sole two-line poem among this week’s four top finishers (though most of the ink did go to the solo couplets) comes from another master junk-winner, Christopher Lamora. And fourth place — along with a whoppin’ four honorable mentions — goes to the superlative Beverley Sharp, who like Nan sent 25 poems; almost getting ink in addition to her others were verses about gentler drill sergeants, perfume bans, and DNA tests for identifying dog-doo.

One of the things I most enjoyed in Beverley’s runner-up poem was its clever rhyming at the beginning of the lines. Although the rules required that just the first SYLLABLES of the two lines rhyme — one poem’s “mighty”/”fighting” was perfectly acceptable, for example — Beverley rhymed “bigger tortoise” with “rigor mortis.” Yes!

And I have a feeling that it will be the Week 978 contestants themselves who’ll most appreciate how smoothly and naturally these verses read — they’ll know best how hard it is to approximate natural voice and syntax within the strict meter and constant nine-syllable lines. But you’ll see that there are very few dropped articles or iffily accented words. After reading literally hundreds of entries that required puzzling out what they were even saying, I was delighted to come across these verses amid my 100 pages of printouts.

On the opposite end of the readability spectrum (especially out loud, if you didn’t have a spit rag), not to mention it had “of” as an accented syllable and “stuff’s” as an unaccented one, was this couplet:
Trace tail of stuff’s staff! Higgs Boson seen!
Base scale found! We witness itness! Keen!

Its writer is welcome to step forward and take credit for the clever phrase “witness itness,” however.

Sunday Style Editor Lynn Medford dedicates her weekly HAW to Robert Schechter’s dig at CNN’s botching its report about the health care verdict. However, she notes, “pride goeth before a fall, so I’m fearful of saying so!” Sorry, Lynn, you were on the record. We do not submit quotes back to our sources for review.

I don’t recall seeing many entries this week that were both unprintable but otherwise inkworthy. There was this gem from Chris Doyle, however, one of numerous couplets that played on John Roberts’ description of his job as being an umpire:
Gotta love Chief Justice Roberts’ calls:
Lotta strikes, and what a pair of balls!


I hope you’ll join me at the Losers’ table on Sunday at 10 a.m. — I think this is a new, earlier hour — at Cafe Deluxe, on Wisconsin Avenue NW across the street from Washington National Cathedral. It’s a pleasant, sunny spot with a typical breakfast/ brunch menu, but of course the real draw is the opportunity to spill your water glass on a Genuine Style Invitational Loser. Afterward, just-back-from-Greece Kevin Dopart has offered a walking tour of his neighborhood. RSVP Elden Carnahan at — or show up before 10 — so we’ll have an idea of how big a table we should ask for; we’re getting there as soon as the restaurant opens because it's no longer taking reservations.

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