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Three Wise Guys

By Joe Heim, Justin Rude and Dan Zak
Sunday, December 9, 2007

Have a question only the Three Wise Guys can answer? Send it towiseguys@washpost.com and await their words of wise-dom.

Dear Wise Guys:

What happened to the word "alot"? No spell checker recognizes it. When I was a boy, "alot" was a large number. "A lot" was a parcel of ground. Yet many people from different geographies use that spelling. Can you explain?

-- Keith

Dan: Nothing "happened" to "alot" because it's not a word. It never existed. Now go have your own personal Bruce-Willis-at-the-end-of-"The Sixth Sense" moment. I'll be over here in my tent made out of bedsheets, shivering and hoping that chick who pukes doesn't show up.

Dear Wise Guys:

I have noticed that a lot [Editor's note: See, Keith, that's the proper use of "a lot."] of fruit and vegetables are coated with a filmlike substance that appears to be wax. I presume it is to keep the item fresh. I have asked people at the supermarket what it is, and no one seems to have an authoritative answer. My questions are: What is this film? Is it a potential health hazard? How can it be removed other than by peeling it off?

-- Robert

Justin: Are you sure you haven't just been sampling from the basket of fake fruit in your mother-in-law's foyer? If not, the thin coating you have correctly identified as wax comes from one of two places: It's either a natural film created by many fruits and vegetables, most prominently apples, that serves to conserve moisture and protect against various microbial menaces, or it's wax applied to replace the natural coating that is often removed by post-harvest washing.

The waxy replacement is most likely Brazilian carnauba wax, which is FDA-friendly. And though none of the Wise Guys has ever bothered removing it, various home solutions call for a quick wash with specific types of vinegar or alcohol.

Given the circumstance, I recommend one of the great American spirits, applejack.

Dear Wise Guys:

It is my understanding that the airwaves belong to the people and that stations obtain licenses for their use. Is there no limit to the time they are allowed to devote to commercials? What can be done to lessen these?

-- Lila

Dan: The airwaves do belong to the people, and broadcasters pay to use them, but the only restriction on commercials is for programs targeting children 12 and younger (10.5 minutes of commercials per hour on the weekends, 12 on weekdays).

The best time to note your grievance is when a broadcaster's license goes up for renewal every eight years. Prod your congressional representative or the Federal Communications Commission.

But might I suggest sticking to a diet of public broadcasting? Both National Public Radio and PBS are exquisitely programmed and mostly free of commercials. (Except when they have those membership drives, which get irritating after you exhaust their usefulness by pledging your way to a Nina Totenbag. You need only one of those babies.)

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