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Foreign-Language Food Labels, Confusing Family Ties, an Ode to Grouchy Models

By Joe Heim, Justin Rude and Dan Zak
Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dear Wise Guys:

When I go to the (regular) grocery store I see lots of foods with just Spanish labeling (or in another foreign language). It looks interesting, and I might want to buy it, but I can't tell what in the hell it is. Or if I am going to break out in hives or put on 10 pounds from it. Or how long before it expires. Is that legal? Shouldn't all food labels be in English as well?

Donna

Jose: Una pregunta muy interesante, Donna. Me puse en contacto con la Administracion de Comidas y Drogas [or: la FDA] y me dijeron.

Justin: I think it's probably better if you answer this in English.

Joe: Oh, right. Okay, well, we checked with the Food and Drug Administration, and spokesman Michael Herndon e-mailed this response: "All food sold in the U.S. has to be labeled in English (only food sold in Puerto Rico may be in Spanish only). Manufacturers can use a foreign language on the label, but all mandatory language must be in that language and English." So check to see if there isn't English as well as Spanish on the label. If not, you can notify the FDA.

Justin: Or Homeland Security.

Dan: Or the Minutemen.

Jose: Minutohombres.

Dear Wise Guys:

I often hear people refer to someone as their cousin twice removed or third aunt, and I was wondering what does that mean? How can someone be removed? Or a second or third?

Maryanne

Joe: I have a number of cousins once or twice removed, and they're all in jail. I think it means the number of times they've been incarcerated.

Justin: It works differently outside Joe's home town of Philadelphia. The system of removes and degrees (first, second, third, etc.) applies only to cousins. Removes designate the generational difference between two cousins. Degrees are determined by the closest shared ancestor (say, a grandparent). For example, your (first) cousin's child would be your first cousin once removed. If you had a child, those two kids would be second cousins, and they wouldn't be at all removed because (stay with me here) they would be on the same generational plane.

Therefore, the great-grandchild of my granduncle is my second cousin once removed.

Dan: I'm cross-eyed. Genealogy should be taught between geometry and trig.

A few weeks ago we explained why runway models always have such pained expressions on their faces. (Our answer: They're trying not to fall! And they're hungry!) That prompted reader Marion Gurfein of Arlington to send along a poem she wrote "in 1937 when I was 17!" We liked it so much, we're reprinting it here and proclaiming Ms. Gurfein the official poet laureate of Three Wise Guys. Love ya, Marion, and thanks for reading:

Ode to a Mannequin

As out of the pages

Of Vogue you stare,

With your haughty demeanor

And frigid air,

I sometimes find

I am forced to think

As I see you swathed

In luxurious mink

With your snowy ermine

And Suzy labels

And shapely chin

Sunk in sumptuous sables,

With your perfectly tailored

Impeccable tweeds

And new Schiaparelli

Embellished with beads,

With your glorified coiffure

And shimmering gems,

And coy Paris sandals

'Neath fluttering hems,

Just why in the midst

Of this glory appeased

Must you, dearest model,

Look so darned displeased?

Read This!

The Wise Guys are working on a special column in honor of their one-year anniversary, or man iversary. Please send extra-special questions, ideas and congratulations to wiseguys@washpost.com. Also, because e-mail is too difficult for some, we have established a Three Wise Guys Hotline at 202-334-4232. Call 24 hours a day with your questions or concerns. The hotline will be casually staffed weekdays from 3 to 3:15 p.m. Other times, leave a message.

* This week's motto was submitted by Catherine Howell of Arlington.

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