Chatological Humor* (Updated 7.29.05)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 26, 2005; 12:00 PM

* Formerly known as "Funny? You Should Ask."

DAILY UPDATES: 7.27.05 | 7.28.05 | 7.29.05

Gene Weingarten's controversial humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in The Washington Post Magazine. He aspires to someday become a National Treasure, but is currently more of a National Gag Novelty Item, like rubber dog poo.

He is online, at any rate, each Tuesday, to take your questions and abuse.

He'll chat about anything.

This week's Poll

Weingarten is the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death" and co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca. "Below the Beltway" is now syndicated nationally by The Washington Post Writers Group .

The transcript follows.


Gene Weingarten:

Good afternoon.

For complex reasons, and for a short time, my two adult children (24 and 21) are currently living with my wife and me. It is an interesting experience to see your former kids relating to each other, and to us, as adults. It is also eye-opening.

You learn things. For example, my wife and I recall with some pride the day we realized that Molly, at 14, was finally mature enough to babysit for her brother. We began confidently leaving Danny in the care of his older, wiser, sister, and our faith was justified since nothing bad ever happened.

We learned last week from the two of them that their favorite game, during these babysitting evenings, was for Molly to contrive to send Dan out of the house on some pretext, and then lock the door after him. Realizing he had been tricked again, he would frantically race from door to door, (we had three) trying to get in, only to be locked out at the last possible second by Molly, who had the advantage of shorter interior distances to run. Then she would mock his intelligence through the windows, using an expression I cannot reproduce here for fear of offending people. They even had a name for this game. It was "The [expression I cannot reproduce here for fear of offending people] Game." Sometimes, Molly would not let her brother in for HOURS, including during inclement weather.

In short, you learn things.

The other day, I was overhearing a conversation between the two. Dan did something Molly did not like, and she warned him she was going to sneak down into his bedroom at night and exact revenge in some diabolical way. To which Dan responded: "I sleep naked and with knives."

Some things do not change.

This brings me to the point at hand: Next week, I am giving over this chat to my two kids. They will handle it alone. No questions are out of bounds. Yes, I will probably regret this, but can't you see how mature they are. My wife and I are confident all will be well.


Usually when I get a lot of mail in response to a column, it is almost all either strongly positive or strongly negative. Sunday's column on the anti-flag burning amendment - and my alternative proposals for more important limits on free speech -- received a ton of emails, but they split 50-50.

Here are excerpts from one side:

"The flag reflects my beliefs, my dreams and most of all my home. Your thoughts represents those that would burn my home and destroy my way of life, Freedom of the press and speech gives you the right to express your views, but I never see your kind advocating leaving this fine country of ours and moving to another one. I would recommend any of those in the near east, say Palastine, Iraq, Yemen, etc."


"I have little hope that the Post will apologize for your disrespect and even less that it would hold you accountable. Requiring you to publish an

apology would be a start, since that would strike your selfish ego. Then, a couple of weeks without pay (not vacation -- without pay) would get to the

only thing you actually value -- material goods. A month in Iraq would be good, but let me know so I can send your comments about the flag they are

dying for. That would just be to ensure they have the opportunity to

express themselves also."


"For you to make such a ridiculous, insensitive, and ignorant remark such as that the American flag is just a piece of cloth is to show you for what you really are: an idiot."

And my favorite:

"Your garbage written in the paper today is so un-American it makes true Americans that love and stand up for our country sick. When we think of all the true American's that have given their lives for the likes of you so you have the freedom to write such awful stuff makes us feel like you do not respect our country in any way. Go to some other country and try your garbage. I just hope that maybe the likes of you will take a minute out of your poisoned minds and think of all our citizens over the years that have fought for our country and have come home in a flag draped coffin fighting for our country and flag. How anyone in our country would blow their nose on our beloved American flag is a sick person and should sit down and Thank God everyday for all the freedoms we have in our country and respect our country. (Of course the likes of you have no conscience) Maybe someday you will see the light and see how ridiculous your article on our Flag and Constitutional amendments is. May God Have Mercy on You. (Of course the likes of you doesn't believe in any kind of faith)."


Several of these people made the point that if you go to almost any foreign country, particularly in the mideast, burning the flag is a serious crime. And when I wrote back that that was PRECISELY my point, they did not seem to understand.

The other fifty percent of letter writers seemed to like the column, and the typical letter proposed addendums to my Proposed Amendment XXX, which outlawed idiot use of the English language. Here are the most popular additions:

"At this point in time."

"A whole nother."

"Nonplussed," used, as it often is, to mean the opposite of what it means.



and, of course, "nucular." (I avoided that because it was too easy.)

The best of the letters came from a guy who wants to remain anonymous. Here it is:

"Believe it or not, making flag burning illegal would actually be good for the economy:

1. Since it would clog the courts with prosecutions of flag burners, it would be a boon to the employment of police and attorneys

2. It would trigger a cottage industry of faux-flag manufacturers. Why? Let's assume that a constitutional amendment becomes law that bans flag burning. (Let's ignore whether one thinks this is a good idea or an indication that too many people in this country are Nazi sympathizers.) The U.S. flag has a certain number of stars and stripes, with a definite color pattern. A cottage industry would spring up that manufactures flags that LOOK like the U.S. flag, but actually are not. An indefinite number of reasonable facsimile flag options are possible: alter the number of stars, stripes, the color sequence, the colors, etc, etc.. Anyone burning such a faux flag would not be burning a real U.S. flag. Of course, that wouldn't stop the cops from arresting folks that burn faux flags. One can't expect the police to be able to tell the difference. This is another reason why the police and attorneys would get plenty of business. But it serves as a caution to any potential faux flag burners: Videotape your faux flag burning. You'll need it in court. "

Okay, take today's poll. You are showing terrible judgment, so far. So this will be exciting when I reveal the correct answers midway through.

The CPOW is Saturday's excellent NonSequitur, and the first runner up is Monday's excellent Mother Goose and Grimm. Also a nod to Sunday's Doonesbury, which still fearlessly rocks and rolls, almost forty years later.

The bodacious Katie McLeod is filling in for a vacationing Liz this week and next. Let's be nice to Katie. She is 14 years old or something.

Okay, let's go.


Comic Pick of the Week: Non Sequitur (July 23)

First Runner Up: Mother Goose and Grimm (July 25) *Note: Use the drop-down box located at the top right of the page to scroll down to July 25, 2005.

Honorable Mention: Doonesbury (July 24)

Sunday's Column: Constitutionally Unsound (Post Magazine, July 24)

Today's Poll : Please Answer Each Question. Thank you!


???: You need to add to Amendment XXXIV that no athlete can use the term "literally" since almost without fail they use that when they are actually speaking figuratively ("I hit him so hard that I literally killed him")

Gene Weingarten: Yes, good addition, except your example is plausible, as written. It's more like "I literally died laughing."


Brooklyn, N.Y.: I'm afraid that this is going to fall into the "rants" category of submissions, but here goes anyway. I was pretty annoyed by today's (7/22) For Better or Worse. Granted, Lynn Johnston has some need to make Therese utterly evil, but why do it by making her husband a stay-at-home dad? Why is it inherently selfish for a wife with a high- powered job and a husband who is able to work from home to agree that the father will be the primary caregiver? For Better or For Worse (July 22)

Gene Weingarten: You know, I don't like people who slam moms who work. My mom worked, my wife worked, and I support that choice. I think it can be healthy for both the mom AND the children. I am a zealot on this subject. When Caroline Hax expressed the opinion, in a column, that moms staying home is best, I flamed her. (We had a neat little personal exchange. No lasting enmities resulted.)

However, this strip doesn't bother me. I think the point here is that Therese (yes, too evil; even the name is evil) doesn't seem to LIKE her kids, and is trying to escape them.

Gene Weingarten: You know, I don't like people who slam moms who work. My mom worked, my wife worked, and I support that choice. I think it can be healthy for both the mom AND the children. I am a zealot on this subject. When Caroline Hax expressed the opinion, in a column, that moms staying home is best, I flamed her. (We had a neat little personal exchange. No lasting enmities resulted.)

However, this strip doesn't bother me. I think the point here is that Therese (yes, too evil; even the name is evil) doesn't seem to LIKE her kids, and is trying to escape them.


Oskaloosa, IA: Hi,Gene,

Is it just me, or has Blondie has "Married Irving" with this drawn out anniversary theme.

I'd Heart you, but I'm a guy.

Gene Weingarten: Yes. Good observation. With magnificent irony, Blondie has managed to Marry Irving in celebrating the fact that, in 75 years, it had not yet Married Irving.


McLean, Va.: Don't you think it's great that as of 11 a.m. today yours is the second-most-viewed chat and it doesn't even start until noon?

Gene Weingarten: REally? These figures exist? I love that.


Dictionary. COm: From

nauseouszss n. Usage Note: Traditional critics have insisted that nauseous is properly used only to mean "causing nausea" and that it is incorrect to use it to mean "affected with nausea," as in Roller coasters make me nauseous. In this example, nauseated is preferred by 72 percent of the Usage Panel. Curiously, though, 88 percent of the Panelists prefer using nauseating in the sentence The children looked a little green from too many candy apples and nauseating (not nauseous) rides. Since there is a lot of evidence to show that nauseous is widely used to mean "feeling sick," it appears that people use nauseous mainly in the sense in which it is considered incorrect. In its "correct" sense it is being supplanted by nauseating.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I know. Several people have pointed this out. I will add that the horrific Webster's New World College Dictionary (edited by the egregious Michael Agnes, whom I like despite his wickedness) now lists as an acceptable usage, "infer" meaning "imply."

These things do not make it right.

American lexicographers are joined in an unholy conspiracy to permit incorrect usage to infect the language. I have written about this in the past. (Katie, can you find an old column of mine on this subject? Search for my byline and "Michael Agnes.")

This is a subject worth debating: Supports of the dictionary guys point out that language is a living thing, and is forever evolving through usage, and that dictionaries MUST reflect changing usage. That the alternative is the French system, where the dictionaries are prissy policemen of the language; that our system is more anarchic and loose and American.

I agree, if for no reason other than to dis the French again. However, I would humbly suggest that we should be a LITTLE less eager to accept whatever ignorances and illiteracies the public spews. Show some resistance, until we are overwhelmed by the yeehaws,then give in.

As I say in my column, it is only a matter of time before the dics are going to start accepting the pronunciation "piz-ghetti."

Gene Weingarten: Here is the link: Below the Belway (Post, April 22, 2001)


Wonka's Factory: In the article from today's The Washington Post , " Mars Talks Up Cocoa's Medicinal Potential ," I offer you the following wonderful, wonderful aptonym, which I'm sure 9000 other chatsters are also offering. I just hope I get it to you first.

"This is about selling chocolate. Mars is only doing this because it wants people to eat more and more M&Ms," said Marion Nestle, a New York University professor of nutrition, food studies and public health, who dismissed the idea of cocoa-based medicines. She has no relation to the European chocolate maker of the same name.

Gene Weingarten: Wow.


Apto, NM: The chief financial officer of Allied Capital is named, for serious, Penni Roll. I just thought you should know.

Gene Weingarten: Also Wow.


Arlington, Va.: Gene, it's goiter man one last time. I thought I owed it to you to send you the final diagnosis. It's benign; basically, they think some capillaries broke, so that it filled with blood and swelled up. Once the blood is reabsorbed, it should shrink back down. So I'm not sick, but I have a blood-engorged tumescent organ sticking in my throat. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but I keep waiting for someone to ask me, "Is that a goiter on your neck or are you just glad to see me?"

Gene Weingarten: The only reason I am posting this is that Liz is on vacation, and Katie is too nice to yell at me.


Physic, AL: Why is it considered shallow to openly admit to choosing ones mates/S.O./wife based on physical attributes? While intelligence and personality are considered the "proper" attributes to chose from, physical attractiveness is (and always will be) on prime importance to who we are attracted sexually to. In fact, for most animals physical attractiveness is the ONLY thing that matters.

Gene Weingarten: Have I ever opined otherwise?


Washington, D.C.: I can't believe Mencken is leading the profound Chiasmi, his is practically a tautology. The inversion doesn't really say anything new.

Gene Weingarten: Correct correct correct! That is just one point I will be making later.


Washington, D.C.: Did you get to watch the space shuttle launch? It was beautiful. Video: Shuttle Lifts Off

Gene Weingarten: I didn't, but here it is.


Weddings, BIG: Hey, Gene,

I have a wedding etiquette question, and though neither you nor the group are particularly polite (and we like it that way), I thought someone might have an answer, or at least be willing to mock me.

I have been invited to former boyfriend's wedding, don't think it's appropriate for me to attend. I have received the save the date card but not the invitation. Should I RSVP now, to give them as much notice as possible, or wait for the invitation?

Thanks for any help.

Gene Weingarten: People send out "save the date" cards before invitations?

I would decline at the receipt of any "save the date" card.


Amendment, XXX: 1. Did any of the irate letter-writers read beyond the first paragraph? Jeez. 2. Incorrect usage of the word "utilize" must be added to Amendment XXX. All who use utilize incorrectly must utilize use from here on out.

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Actually, I didn't know there is a difference between the two. I just think utilize is a stupid word. What's the difference?


Chicago, Ill.: Greetings, I'm a corporate librarian. In order to reduce health care costs, our organization will be instituting a requirement that HMO participants check the internet with an eye to the adage "Patient Heal Thyself."

Do you have a list of bookmarks that you use when consulting readers in your role as hypochondriac-in-chief? For some of the more sensitive specialities, I'm hoping to be able to prevent the Web filters from kicking in to subvert the process by denying access. I'm guessing that you probably have the definitive set of bookmarks for such queries.


Gene Weingarten: Sorry, no. On these matters I seldom check the web. I check my own book, and a medical library I have at home.

Gene Weingarten: But your HMO thing is truly scary, if true. Are you serious?

The average person, with average Google skills, will drive himself crazy researching symptoms.


San Rafael, Calif.: Hey Gene,

I know FBOFW has gotten a lot like a preachy soap-opera lately (hmm, maybe Rick Santorum is involved), but where the heck is this thing with Elizabeth and Anthony going? Are we going to see Anthony leave his caricature of a nasty wife and bring his angelic self and baby to the Great White North, where upstanding do-gooder Elizabeth waits for him with open arms and a soon-to-be-jealous cat?!?

What the heck?!?

-p.s. I heart Gene and I'm a 24-year-old female who is MUCH more aware of VPL as a result of these chats. Thanks!]

Gene Weingarten: Yes, clearly Elizabeth is going to wind up with Anthony. This is telegraphed like Samuel F. B. Morse. But, tragically, it will take two years to get there. It is like a punch thrown in super slomo.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Instead of worrying about burning the flag, which is something that does not happen all that often, I wonder why politicians don't act against the real descrecration of the flag: the use of the American flag in political advertising? There is where a law is really needed.


You seem to be missing the point.

Congress. Shall. Make. No. Law. Abridging. Freedom. Of. Speech.


Columbia, Md.: More for PtP, but also know you would appreciate this based on your "enormity" amendment.

I was leaving Costco the other day, having my receipt checked and from out of nowhere I felt this overwhelming feeling of calm and well-being. I didn't understand it until I saw their sign that declared they check my receipt to "assure you receive everything your purchased." What a nice bonus from an unfeeling corporation.

Also, as an aside -- the poll from last week was good and disturbing. I have a theory that people would least give up what they use to escape. We all use something to escape, and none of us would be willing to give that up. I picked music since that is a great escape for me. And you picked, well...what you picked. What do you think?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I think you are on to something. I think everyone needs to lose control, and values that highly. I think it is an essential need. Sex is one means. Drugs/alcohol is another. Getting lost in music is another version of same. I think this is a pretty profound observation.

Drugs/alcohol was not the LAST thing I would have given up in that list, but I never considered it as FIRST.


just wonder, IN: Gene, I can't help but notice that you always refer to "right-wing nutcakes." Do you think that there are "left-wing nutcakes"? If so, why don't we ever read anything about them?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, there are definitely left-wing nutcakes. One of them is a woman named Cary Brief, who WRITES IN ALL CAPITALS AND whose spam dominates my inbasket. Watch for an upcoming column.


VPL on Oprah: Oprah had on Trinny and Susannah from the BBC show What Not to Wear and they discussed the concept of VPL. Their take on VPL (from a fashion and looks view) is that it makes someone with 2 cheeks look like they have 4 cheeks. Especially if the line cuts through the butt separating the bulge on each cheek into 2 distinct sections. So for those particularly proud of that region of their anatomy having 4 would always be preferable to 2; but for the rest of us - I'd say 2 is enough...

Of course that doesn't factor in some of the other less fashionable more teasing aspects of VPL.

Gene Weingarten: VPL is bad if your behind is too big, or your undies are too tight. We all agree with this. All of us. Male and female. That is not the point.


Downtown: All those letters you shared, scare me. Why are there so many scary people?



Linden, Va.: What's the difference between a duck?

One leg's twice the same.

Gene Weingarten: Incorrect punchline:

"It has one leg alike."


unreproducable expression : Is the strict definition of the word "to slow up especially by preventing or hindering advance or development"?

As in, "Stop drooling, you stupid -thing meant to slow up especially by preventing or hindering advance or development]!"

Gene Weingarten: Yes.


Washington, D.C.: After reading your column on Sunday I was driving behind a car with a bumper sticker that said 'My child got a hole-in-one at Joe's Putt-Putt' and immediately I figured the kid was worse that a nose-picker since that is the equivalent of an 'honors student'. How sad do your child's accomplishments need to be to have only the putt-putt to celebrate on your bumper?

Gene Weingarten: Au contraire. I find that sticker excellent. It is a thumb in the nose to the others.


Laurel, Md.: The really stupid thing about anti-flag burning laws is that burning is the appropriate way to discard an old flag that no longer functions because it's torn, faded, etc.

In other words, flag burning would only be banned when it IS speech.

Gene Weingarten: I know, I know.

EVERYTHING about the flag burning amendment is the really stupid thing.


Not U2!: In your Sunday column , you proposed a constitutional amendment through which "Men shall be prohibited from attempting to verbally communicate stall to stall ..." Presumably, you did not intend to bar stall-to-stall smoke signals, whistles, or the odd grunt. You intended, then, to proscribe -oral- communications, not -verbal- ones, the latter being communications using words. (Yes, I know that dictionaries lamentably now offer an alternate definition of "verbal" making it indistinguishable from "oral," but they are wrong to do so -- drawn to pollute the language by lazy newspaper writers who can't or won't police their own copy).

I expect more precision from a pedant so concerned about the correct useage of phrases such as "We can control our own destiny."

Stuff like this liertally makes my head explode. Poop.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, my eagle-eyed copyeditor friend, Susan Abe of the Portland Oregonian, made the same observation. I believe she accepted my explanation, which I shall repeat here.

I was well aware of the distinction between verbal and oral, however, in this instance, the two words are pretty synonymous; if we want to expand this to include passed notes, I am okay with that. I chose verbal, however, because the word "oral," in such circumstances, might have carried a connotation I did not intend. Capisce?


Periods and dashes: I found the telephone number article you posted very interesting. I've adopted this habit for awhile, and can't honestly say if it was because I lived in Europe for a few months in college, or because I'm in IT and type ip addresses all the time. I think a big part of it is just the extra convenience of typing "." instead of "-" which is waaaaaayyyyy at the top of the keyboard. The period is right here. Easy to find.

I started eating the "European" way for the same reason -- it's just easier and well, frankly, more elegant looking.

When I did live in Europe (France) I was with several other Americans. We spoke "Franglish" when we were together, which was simply a language that took the best word from either language. Because sometimes, well forgive me, le bon mot is in another language. Nice to have the choice.

And if it matters, I still think the French are incredibly irritating lately, even if I do write my phone number 410.555.1212.

Gene Weingarten: If you think the French are irritating lately, imagine how they were when I was there in May 2003, right after it had become clear there WERE no WMD.


Amendment XXXV: Seems you need to travel more--go beyond the beltway, my friend. In my area (SF Bay Area), the temperature range today is from 64 at the coast to 104 in the East Bay. It's 82 today at my house and 89 at my parents, who live 8 miles away. My pet peeve is stations who only announce San Francisco forecast temperature--it could be 2 or 20 degrees different than my home.

Gene Weingarten: Different FROM, not different THAN. See Amendment XXX.


McLeod Ni, NE: How does Katie McLeod pronounce her last name?

She is, btw, extemely hot. "Mic - Cloud" ... does that help?

Gene Weingarten: I have not met Ms. McLeod, but of COURSE she is hot.


Alexandria, Va.: A story with everything: an exploding portable toilets and a company with a name that defies people to hire it.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice. In both directions.


Amendment XXX: Gene, thank you for your excellent column last Sunday. The enormity of our vocabulary crisis makes me nauseous, so I appreciate your efforts as an erstwhile journalist to address the problem, and while I am not inferring that you are the only one out there working on it, I think it's clear that your prominence makes you the penultimate spokesperson for this important cause. You have the tools and resources to impact this problem and affect change in a positive way, irregardless of the magnanimity of the challenge. I am loathe to say any more - I stand on principal - but I would not be adverse to hearing what your other readers think about your proposal, if you would kindly appraise us of the other comments you're receiving.

p.s. It can't be a coincidence that you chose to address the issue of objectionable usage in Amendment XXX. Triple-X. They really are dirty words, aren't they? Constitutionally Unsound: Humble proposals for a less annoying America (Post, July 24)

Gene Weingarten: This HAS to be written by a professional copyeditor. Right?

Really, really well done.

Readers: There are at least 14 errors of grammar and word usage in this post. Can you find em all?


Boston, Mass.: Gene, I'm sitting at work, coding away, when my MP3 player set to random, honest to God, plays "Sloop John B" immediately followed by "Hang on Sloopy," out of 111 songs selected at the time. I Am Not Making This Up.

"Hang On Sloopy" sounds like it's about a guy trying to get laid by a woman with a really weird (nick?)name. Am I hearing this right?

I happen to like the music better in "Sloop John B." Good beat or not, the repetitiveness of "Hang On Sloopy" is artistically boring. Also, while I've never danced to "Hang On Sloopy," my marching band used to play it from the stands during high school football games. Good Point. The Beach Boys are NEVER repetitive.

Help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda. Help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda. Help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda. Help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda.

Gene Weingarten: Please bear with Chatwoman. She wrote this before disappearing on vacation. She really needed that vacation.


Southern Maryland: I wasn't surprised by the hate mail you received over Sunday's column . While I respect the intensity of their feelings, I also think it's sad that they don't recognize that there's a legitimate First Amendment issue here, one that you outlined brilliantly.

In my opinion, most protesters who burn flags don't intend to make a particular political point. They just want to provoke people unnecessarily. They seem to have a pathetic, unhealthy need for attention. When the flag-burning amendment's proponents get worked up like they did over your column, all that does is encourage the protesters to act out even more.

Gene Weingarten: I think there is no question that if the Constitution outlaws flag burning, everyone will be burning flags.


Washington, D.C.: Can Sun Tzu's quote be really considered a Chiasmi since the Chinese language is so different gramatically? Or does it count simply because it was translated as one?

Gene Weingarten: These are all chiasmi. The rules for a chiasmus are very loose. If it feels like one, it is one. The book even credits implied chiasmis, such as "time wounds all heels."


Utilize, USE: Use means to put to use. Utilize means that, but also to find a practical use for. AHED has a good way of explaining it:

"The sentence "The teachers were unable to use the new computers" might mean only that the teachers were unable to operate the computers, whereas "The teachers were unable to utilize the new computers" suggests that the teahcers could not find ways to employ the computers in instruction."

What we have here, then, is a useful (sorry) word being misused out of existence. Which ain't right!;

Gene Weingarten: Gotcha. Makes sense. Thanks.


Bethesda, MD: I completely forgot about the original topic of your column because I so totally agreed with your amendment banning weatherpeople from spending 2 minutes reporting the slight temperature variations between Rockville and Reston. When I watch the weather in the morning, I want to know three things:

1. The current approximate temperature

2. The approximate high/low for the day

3. Any possible precipitation

That's all. Don't spend 10 minutes giving me the weather at the 20 schools and whatnot around the region.

To sum up, I think of this column as "Gene bashes the weatherfolk." For which, of course, I heart you. (And yes, I am one of those women in their 20s.)

Gene Weingarten: There is a post in here from someone in San Francisco who says I am showing regional bias. That in Sanfran, it can be ten degrees apart ten miles apart. I am just saying...


Newwor, SD: The crux of the evolving language issue is whether the change adds something to the language, by making it richer or clearer (good), or takes something away, by making two words which used to be different the same (bad).

Gene Weingarten: Agreed. Dics should not reward laziness.


Iowa: Why has the flag-burning amendment gained such visceral importance now?; In the Vietnam/civil rights strife era, there were actual demonstrations involving such activities, but I don't recall hearing that current anti-Iraq wart groups have done much of this sort of thing?; Is this simply another right-wing McGuffin?;

Gene Weingarten: Yes.


Arlington, VA: Here are the errors I found, in order:









in a positive way







Who knows, there could be more.

Gene Weingarten: I think that nails it.


Arlington, VA: ?;?; Gene,

Can a comic be the best of the week if it has been recycled?; I know recycling is GREAT for the environment...but is it good for comics?; The comic you picked as best of the week was actually published around ten years ago (even though the drawing has been updated).

Gene Weingarten: Which was recycled?


Fairfax, Va.: Today's (7/22) Curtis freaked me out. The last two panels especially. What is Ray Billingsley doing? Is Curtis going to be on the next episode of "Cops" for domestic violence? Curtis (July 22)

Gene Weingarten: Run for you life if you can, little girl

Catch you with another man, that's the end.

Little girl.

Very bad stuff here. However, Curtis traffics in dysfunction, and it is frankly one of the strengths of this strange strip. Dad smokes like a fiend. A whole storyline recently explored whether dad was having an affair. This is an oddly emotional strip, and I give it some latitude.


Gene Weingarten: To the person who went into the deep archives, and caught me in a "mistake": Yes, it is true. I violated my rule there, and regretted it, and won't do it again. Especially here.


Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to weigh in on the bra discussion. I put a bra on by hooking it in front of me, then turning it around so that the hooks are now in the back. I then slide the bra up and put my arms through the straps. Nobody ever taught me how to put on a bra, so that's how I've always done it. Apparently, I've been doing it wrong for approximately 20 years. Why do other women fasten their bras by reaching behind their backs? Seems so inefficient.

Gene Weingarten: Do you take it off the same way?

Because, speaking as a male, I can say that a woman removing a bra from the back for some reason is a very appealing thing to see.

I think this is mostly a matter of esthetics and dance. Am I right, ladies.


Lyme, Conn.: Your last column was funny and great, both in humor and in its underlying message. If I may get serious for a moment (even though there is the wrong forum to get serious): if we cheer when Chinese dissidents stand up to their government, and if we cheer when Cuban dissidents stand up to their government, how can we then be hypocrites and then make it a Constitutional amendment to state that someone can't disagree with their own government here in America. I'm not saying I like burning the flag, indeed, I oppose it, but we have to lead by example. There is (was?) a country that allows the freedom of expression, and that freedom must be protected, whether it be someone who wishes to burn a flag or a comedian who wishes to tell an off-color joke. (P.S. Know any good off-color jokes you can share in this discussion?)

Gene Weingarten: I pretend to be pretty self-assured on most issues, but much of it is columnistswagger.

On this issue, I am without even teeny nagging doubts. And you know what? I am guessing that most pols who favor an anti flag burning amendment KNOW what hypocrites and demagogues and pandering schmucks they are being. They see it as a poltical game, to force the other side to take a position they can cynically exploit. I find it hard to believe that any intelligent person, understanding the constitution, comprehending the issues involved, can seriously think that AMENDING THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION TO PROHIBIT A VICTIMLESS CRIME THAT DOES NOT EXIST is a good idea. It's just inconceivable.

I am equally certain about the correctness of gay marriage. I would bet my house that gay marriage will be legal, nationwide, in fifty years, because it is simply Correct and Fair, and we as a society tend to proceed, fitfully, in that direction.


Since we're talking FBOFW: What bothers me about the Anthony storyline is that Johnston has done this already -- when Michael re-met Deanna, she was engaged to someone else.

So the family is pathologically attracted to "taken" individuals.

Gene Weingarten: True.


Lehigh Valley, PA: Gene,

It's great that you enjoy your adult kids living at home for a while, but I wonder how enjoyable it is for your kids.

A different scenario, but the one college summer I lived at home was the worst I can remember. Three females, as well as a female dog, under one roof.

My mother was going through menopause and my sister was a teenager.

One night my sister and mother had a fight that ended with my sister loudly crying in her room upstairs, my mother loudly crying in the family room and the dog and I standing in the hallway together wondering what the hell happened.

I swore I would never live at home again. Since my sister is still a teenager, I rarely visit.

Gene Weingarten: So far, things are great. I missed them, together. Weep weep.


Fort Belvoir: I enjoyed your article, but disagreed with the beginning. I served 20 years in the Navy and hold our flag with high regard. I remember our flag being one of the few memories I had of home while being in a foreign port. When someone burns our flag, I feel it is a personal slap in my face, saying my time spent in service of our country was wasted. I proudly fly the flag I received when I retired on national holidays. So, when I hear someone's freedom of speech being violated by burning our flag, I feel my freedom of speech is being violated when I try to save that flag by beating the crap of that flag-burner.

Gene Weingarten: See, I support both his right to burn the flag and your right to express your view of that action. Forcefully!


Weather, MN: We need to expand the amendment to include mandatory death sentences for weather reporters who cover hurricanes WHILE STANDING IN THE HURRICANE. They are too dumb to live.

Gene Weingarten: If it happens to be Anderson Cooper, he needs to be killed TWICE.


Naming a Baby: I am scheduled to have a child on Friday (our third). We are planning to name the child, if a boy, my maiden name as his first name.

I know in the past you have made comments about people naming children things like Madison (clearly a last name). How do you feel when it is the mother's maiden name?

Gene Weingarten: No problem whatsoever unless your maiden name is Ilikehitler or something.


Religi, ON: I was having a lovely discussion with a couple of colleagues about religion. I took one position, and they took the wrong one.

Should I even try to talk to people about their beliefs when they make no sense? If so, do you have any pointers? Keep in mind that I'll need to stay friends with these knuckleheads.

Gene Weingarten: I find it usually helps to inform people about how stupid they are. Generally, once you tell them this they will come around to your way of thinking.


New York, NY: Gene, do you think you could identify every comic in The Post blind? I have a challenge: instead of reading the comics one morning, have someone transcribe just the words (omitting giveaway names, etc), randomize the list, and present it to you as a quiz. Think you could get 'em all? Some would be pretty obvious...anything with "carpool" in it must be "Blondie," obviously, but others might prove quite tough.

Gene Weingarten: I really like this idea. I think I could get most of them. It would be hard distinguishing among the generic-gag ones like Mother Goose and Grimm, Frank and Ernest, BC.


Oakton, Va: Gene,

Here is another aptonuym for you courtesy of our least favorite Redskin quarterback.

Shuler was traveling on business yesterday and was unavailable to comment, campaign spokesman Randy Flack said.

Gene Weingarten: Nice. It is particularly good with "Randy."


Prickly City: Did you read Thursday's Prickly City? Is there a joke I'm missing, or does this one actually just advocate throwing NYT reporters in jail at random (presumably because they're supposed liberals)? I guess the 'joke' is that he doesn't really think all reporters should be thrown in jail, but he sort of does, and so it's funny to say it? Maybe there's some humor in the shock value? Why is the Post still running this strip? Prickly City (Post, July 21)

Gene Weingarten: I can't answer that last question.


Las Vegas, Nev.: Greetings from the gates of hell! While some of your readers may think I'm referring to "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas," unfortunately, this really refers to our whopper temperatures. We hit a record 117 degrees last week. You know what it's like when you open the oven to pull out whatever tasty dish you're cooking, and you accidentally get too close and you think you're going to melt your eyelashes? Well, that's what it feels like when I open my front door, only without the nice smell of fresh baked cookies (or whatever).

On to the subject at hand. While it certainly seems more pervasive today, I'm not sure the current generation is any more guilty of bestowing (awful) original monikers upon their children than those of a couple of generations ago. I work with a very nice 50ish woman named Delight. My grandmother's name was Marvel. She, unfortunately, fell in love with a handsome young man named Mervin. I think they reacted to a lifetime of living with those names by calling their children Bill, Jim and Shirley.

My daughter's kindergarten class sounded like the cast of a soap opera! And anyone who thinks they're being original by naming their son Hunter has another thing coming. She had three of those in her class alone! There were also children named Wolfie and Blaze!

It will be interesting to see what these children name their children 20 years from now. We may be back to Bobby and Susie, just as my grandparents chose more mainstream names for their children after 30 years of living with Mervin and Marvel.

My daughter's name, by the way, is Caroline Joy. She was named for both of her grandmothers (Carole and Joyce).

Love your chat -- it's the highlight of my Tuesday, though I have to read it in archive form during my lunch break. Poop.

Gene Weingarten: Another THINK coming. I should have put that into my Amendment XXX.

Otherwise, I agree with you. I think names like Hunter and Kelli and Destinee are a flash in the pan. They are names in honor of nothing except the parents' pride in their own "creativity."


Washington, D.C.: Is Wiley finally done with this Ordinary Basil nonsense in Sunday Non Sequitor ? I enjoyed the Homer the Reluctant Soul Sunday bits a few years back, the Obviousman strips are good, and although I think Danae and the New England people are lame, at least they attempt humor. These recent stories however, are way too wordy and seem to contain no jokes or political relevance, although I must admit that I haven't been able to slog through the whole story. Was I missing some deeper meaning these past few months, or has Wiley lost it?

Gene Weingarten: I wouldn't know if Wiley is done because I stopped reading it weeks ago. As did every other American.

Wiley's problem is that he has become a bloated egomaniac, I fear, who thinks that anything he does is great, and that he can demand anything of his adoring readers. Perhaps he will be brought down to earth again by the obvious grotesque failure of this little enterprise.

Wiley Miller is a brilliant cartoonist. He took a wrong turn, fell into an abyss, and dragged us all with him. When he climbs back out, we should give him a break because he has entertained us elegantly for a long time. Pretend this never happened. Treat him like PeeWee Herman after the Debacle.


Silver Spring, MD: Just shoot me.

OK, I'm so old that I don't get the "difference between a duck" joke. I'm an over-40 engineer, of course, which may explain it.

On the other hand, I did not go to the heavy metal celebration of Ozzfest this year. The arrival of Will Smith's wife as a heavy metal singer confirms my feelings after a lifetime of "classic rock." Maybe there's not much "there" there after all.

Gene Weingarten: It is an existential joke. Either you get it or you do not.


Denver, CO: Gene, my boyfriend actually uses the words "supposably" as well as "acrost" instead of across. Should I break up with him now?; I don't have the heart to correct him but I cringe whenever I hear him use those words.

Gene Weingarten: I am going to print this post and frame it. A woman who is reluctant to try to change her guy!!!


New York, NY: While I agree that the flag-burning amendment is pretty pointless, I'm curious if your first-amendment absolutism extends to the the belief that the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law is one of the most egregious anti-free-speech laws passed in recent memory.

Or is limiting that kind of speech okay?;

Gene Weingarten: Good question. That is one of those issues where my lefty instincts collide with my pragmatism. I want to limit it. Another such issue is gun control. I have no high horse on either.


Chias, MI: "If you fail to plan, you plan to fail"--every sales trainer everywhere, ever. (Hey, was that two chiasmis?;)

The Leibling quote sounds like you when you're doing these chats.

And I learned a new word, which doesn't happen every day because I have a huge...vocabulary.

Gene Weingarten: This reminds me of my deceased mother's chief language bugaboo. Pols in NY when I was growing up were fond of saying "I neither condemn nor condone that..." It drove mom crazy. If you do not condemn something, you condone it. I haven't heard this expression lately.


In another chat...: This was from a chat on Wednesday:

Washington, D.C.: I've noticed more and more of your online discussions show lengthy diatribes against the President. Gene Weingarten had a particularly long one the other day. Since The Post decides whether to display these or not, what is your editorial policy on this?

Phil Bennett: Our columnists are free to express their opinions, as long as they conform to our standards of taste. We don't censor them. Even Gene."

So is this official word that Mr. Bennett thinks this chat conforms to The Washington Post's standard of taste? Even our girl-on-girl kissing discussions? Why do I suddenly feel like I should work on my resume on my vacation?

Gene Weingarten: Actually, later in the chat someone (kindly) wrote in to correct the record, pointing out that the diatribe was not mine, and that it was a rebuttal to a previous conservative diatribe I had allowed to be posted.

But Chatwoman is correct to be worried. I have said before, and repeat now, that I feel (in these chats) I am always one Enter-keystroke away from being fired.

It is hard enough to avoid making a bad error in judgment when you are writing a column, but at this speed, with no editing....


Philadelphia, Pa.: Recently, a local newspaper carred a headline that Angelina Jolie is not pregnant. I am glad the press brings us the critical news stories of the day. Now, this news will allow me to sleep better at night. Yet, now I am finding it harder to sleep because I want to know: is Angelina Jolie still not pregnant? Maybe one of your readers (or Angelina herself, as I am certain she is a regular participant in these discussions) will provide us with an update on the status of this story.

Gene Weingarten: Boy are you behind the times. The new hot news is that Angelina Jolie is not lactose intolerant.


Community boobs: As a breastfeeding mom, I saw one small (or large) problem with the mom feeding the other mom's kid. Not because of any ew factor. Wet nurses have been a life saving fact of human history. I think it's wonderful that other moms can sustain other children.

But if someone else feeds my kid, my body will still produce the kid's meal and I'm gonna be in pain. Engorgement is one of the uglier words for the nursing mom. (Mastitis may be the ugliest.) And some moms need to keep to a strict schedule to keep their milk production on schedule. I know, it sounds like some freaky assembly line, but these are the facts of breast feeding.

Still, I can completely understand unconsciously feeding a kid who starts rooting. It's just a reflex.

Gene Weingarten: When Molly was an infant, and I was carrying her, she sometimes rooted on my nose. This was a clue it was time to find mom.


Arlington, VA: Re' Comic recycled:

The Non-sequitur was recycled. It was one of my favorites...due to how it sort-of-related to work I was doing at the time. I remember it VERY well.

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Interesting. It was a recycled Nonseq, then? Not thievery?


Gene Weingarten: Okay, explaining the poll:

Profound chiasmi:

The Peter De Vries quote is fatally sappy. It could be one of those inspirational signs in front of a church or on a wall at a halfway house. Nope.

What, exactly, attracted you to the Lao Tzu quote? Were you impressed by his erudiction? Please explain how, intuitively or otherwise, failure is lurking in success? I mean, it might be explicable in some sense, but as a great universal observation? Nah.

Mencken's quote is similarly imperfect. The two sides of the chiasmus are essentially saying the same thing.

Strip away your political prejudices. Liddy's quote is actually wonderfully concise, and true, and arse-kicking.

Relationship Chiasmi:

What on Earth, other than its familiarity, has hooked so many of you on Mae West's quote? It doesn't really even make sense. What does "It's not the men in my life" even MEAN? What is the question being raised that she answers with the second part of that chiasmus? This is nice and glib, and facile, but nothing special.

The eating one is too trivial to be the best. The anonymous quote is excellent, and correct, and would be a winner if it weren't for the last one, which is elegant, and true, and poetically stated.

Biting Chiasmi:

This is the best group. All are good. No answer is a mistake. My choice would be between the first (the most sophisticated) and the second (the funniest.) They are the yin-yang of quality. I am surprised there are so few votes for Olivier's quote. It is really quite devastating.

Miscellaneous Chiasmi:

Listen, I shouldn't have to explain this. One and only of these evokes a laugh out loud. How rare is that? It is not to be ignored, ever. The pickle one is clearly the best, and it even is making a good point. Backus is the first runner up, but it is no contest between them. (I suspect a gender-based prejudice toward this one, in your answers.) As a writer, I love Liebling's, and identify with it, but recognize my prejudice.


Wash, DC: Congress. Shall. Make. No. Law.

Look, I'm opposed to the Flag Burning amendment too. But it's an amendment, not a law. You make our cause look stupid when you don't acknowledge that they are following the constitutional process here. Constitutional amendments, tautologically, cannot be unconstitutional.

Gene Weingarten: I am not misunderstanding this at all. I am saying i am against the country amending the constitution to weaken one of its most hallowed protections.


Burke, VA: Does money = speech?; Is that what the anti McCain-Feingold guy is saying?;

Gene Weingarten: Yes, and the Supreme Court has agreed. Campaign donations are speech. I agree with that, in principle.


Iowa: If Molly and Dan are handling the chat next week, can we then wake up our slumbering college-age kids to ask age-appropriate questions?;

Gene Weingarten: Sure.


Helpmeron, DE: The very best part of my legal education involved an instructor, a former DJ who used rock-n-roll songs to illustrate legal issues (e.g., he used Teen Angel to illustrate principles of liability under agency law, using the premise that the car was borrowed). I aced every topic he taught.

He once pointed out that if you listen to Help Me Rhonda with a pencil in each hand and make a mark each time you hear the word "help" with one hand and a mark with the other hand each time you hear the word "Rhonda," you will get different results between the album and single versions of the song. This was, perhaps, the most important thing I ever learned in the law.

Gene Weingarten: Well, they do say "hep hep me Rhonda many times, so the numbers wouldn't be the same either way, right/


Ca, CA: Best Randy surname: Johnson?;

Gene Weingarten: Of course.


Another Think?: Gene, when did my first think come, if I've got another one coming?;

"I think that XXX is going to happen" - ie I'm thinking of one THING, but a different THING is going to be coming my way. Ergo, I have another thing coming.

Gene Weingarten: No. Just ... no. Right, Pat? You out there, Pat?


Warrenton, Va.: So, how would you and Gina answer the last question in Hax's column last Sunday ?

Gene Weingarten: Gina would answer that it is a serious transgression that needs to be discussed, fretted over, analyzed, promises need to be made and followed through on, counseling may be required, etc. Pretty much what Hax said, only more so.

I would say: No biggie.


Bras: Hello again,

I wrote in about this once before. To respond to the woman who thinks she may be putting on the bra backward: you are not. Those who are able to hook it without starting in front and looping around are those, um, who don't need to move any sizeable amount around once inserted. If that even makes sense. Taking it off is a different story, since they don't need to be placed properly.

Also, I will no longer be 20-something next year. I am concerned. Will I still be able to heart you?;

Gene Weingarten: I am honored to be hearted by 70 year olds.


University and Tremont!: You grew up in my current 'hood. Well, more accurately, the 'hood where I teach (PS 11 in Highbridge). This makes me feel happily connected. Where did you go to school? 396?

For what it's worth, I am in my mid-20s and I Too Would Heart Gene, except that you remind me way too much of my father and from what you say of your children, Molly reminds me of me and Dan reminds me of my brother. Hmm. Wait.


Gene Weingarten: This is eerie, in connection with the previous.

I went to P.S. 26, J.H.S. 82, and (sigh) The Bronx High School of Science.


Crouching Tiger: We have a long history of hovering in my family. My mother is extremely germ-o-phobic. When I was little, too little to hover, she actually had me stand on the seat and crouch down to pee. When I got tall enough I stood on the floor and hovered, and continued to do so well into my adulthood until I realized that I, in fact, was the problem. (I was a conscientious seat wiper but really, are germs afraid of toilet paper?) So a few years ago I made the leap and now sit down on the toilet like a normal person. Please don't tell my mom.

P.S. I don't use those paper seat thingies. I heard a respectable-sounding science guy say that you are more likely to pick up germs fiddling with those things because you might inadvertently touch the toilet seat.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you for sharing, sweetie.


Women's Bathroo,MS: Gene --

Cecil Adams of the Straight Dope newspaper column and Web site did a column some years ago about the relative cleanliness at the (biological level) of toilets vs. other things you'll find around the house. You might want to send this to your daughter, or anyone else who refuses to touch a toilet seat.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Leesburg, Va.: I enjoyed your column this Sunday and thought it crisply exposed the irrelevancy of a flag burning amendment. One criticism: the enormity of the right-wing's duplicity was best revealed in your penultimate paragraph; the rest was nauseous.

I do have a quick question for you: did the concept for this week's cartoon originate with you or Shansby? It was beautiful. An enlarged version would be suitable for framing.

Gene Weingarten: The concept originated with Joel Achenbach, in 1989. Seriously.

In 1989, when he was a mere child and I was editor of Tropic magazine at the Miami Herald, Joel wrote a cover story about the FIRST idiot campaign to outlaw flag burning. Bush senior was the demagogue in chief then. The headline on the cover said WHY AN ANTI FLAG BURNING AMENDMENT MIGHT NOT BE SUCH A HOT IDEA. The image was a copy of the Constitution, burning.

I remembered that when it came time to illustrate this column, and suggested it to Shansby. He added the elephant and the marshmallows.


Speechless: I never thought my first letter to you would be as un-funny as this, but I'm desperate for advice so I'm turning to you as the father of two great-sounding, funny, good kids.

My almost 8-year-old son asked me what sex is last night, and I'm having trouble figuring out how to explain it to him. It's not like I didn't know this would surface one day, but now I'm totally stumped. This is sort of a biggie, and i want to give him the best answer. What did you tell your kids? What are their attitudes now? Would you change anything?

I could go get a book or something on the subject, but I trust your opinion more. If it matters, he's really smart, great wit, and the only child of a single, mid-thirties mom (me).

Better yet, how 'bout if I just have you tell him, ok? That would be great. Thanks.

Gene Weingarten: Sex is the difference between men and women. Men have certain equipment (explain) and women have certain equipment (explain) and when two people get married they use the equipment to make babies (explain.)

That is the simple basic bare-bones explanation that will get you off the hook. Now, if you want to be a better parent, you go the route that is uncomfortable, and explain the single thing that parents over the millennia (mine included) have failed to explain, that the process is enjoyable. That it helps people love each other, and feels good to do. A pretty recent children;s books goes so far as to compare the orgasm to a sneeze, in the sense of a feeling of relief.

This should of course be followed by a dutiful, icky diatribe on how this sort of thing is meant only for people who love each other and plan to stay together forever and ever and respect each other and never fight and have kids, or whatever claptrap you find necessary.

You're welcome.


College Park, Md.: 'My friend Caitlin Gibson recently ran across a listing for a job at the Library of Congress that included the following as a requirement: "Ability to Communicated in Writing. ..." '

The first and only time I ever let an agency prepare my resume and other job search materials, I was applying for a position as a writer/editor. I was a little ticked when I found out they sent my information to about a hundred companies BEFORE giving me the chance to review the final product; I was a LOT ticked when I read through the cover letter they'd prepared and found the sentence, 'I would be very interested in arrange an interview...'. Maybe the Library of Congress would have hired me...

And, on a musical note, do you have any problems with Wilson Pickett's version of 'Sugar, Sugar'?

Gene Weingarten: This was your fault. Why would you let an agency prepare your resume?


RFK Stadium: Gene... I have the opposite luck as you when it comes to the Nationals homegames. I've been to 10 games at RFK (most recently last Tuesday evening when we beat Colorado 4-0) and I've never seen a loss. That's right... the Nats have won every game that I've attended. Don't you think that they should start paying me to attend every home game? I might even travel with them if they asked me to. As a gay man, I just have to note here in the chat that John Patterson is definitely the cutest player on the team.

Gene Weingarten: Maybe you and I should go to a game together, as a test of whose mojo is stronger. Write to me at weingarten(at)

And to the other person who suggested this to me: Thanks for the idea, but this guy's claim is stronger than yours.


Denver, CO: Gene, I'm behind you on the Madison thing. However, my grandfather's name was Hunter and if I ever have a boy I'd love to name him this. I keep hoping the trend will die down in the meantime but now I feel I need your permission to name him Hunter. thanks.

Gene Weingarten: So long as a name is not a monument to your adorable creativity, I am all for it. This is a tribute to someone.


Arlington, Va.: Found: A candidate for expulsion from the English-speaking world. After reading Sunday's column , I became paranoid that I was unknowingly among those in violation of proposed amendment XXX. A few quick google searches revealed that I can retain my right to speak, but one of the wesbites (some random blog) contained the following statement, which makes me want to bang my head in frustration:

There are some words that I can use fairly accurately without knowing exactly what they mean, and sometimes I even find the courage to correct others when they use them incorrectly. One of those words is "erstwhile," a favorite of magazine writers. I read of "erstwhile peace activists" or something like that, and I feel like I know what they're getting at -- one can only really be "erstwhile" about something good, I think, so that it makes little sense to call someone an "erstwhile pederast," and one cannot be "erstwhile" about one's primary vocation, so that no one ends up being called, for instance, an "erstwhile priest." Thus, without exhaustively knowing what the word means, I am nonetheless able to "get by" pretty reliably with using the word. But if someone were to misuse it, I could only tear down their use, tell them how they are wrong, not offer any clear-cut, positive rules.

Although "the erstwhile pederast" is a strangely catchy phrase, I don't think the author of this statement should be spared from severe punishment (perhaps a beating with an unabridged dictionary).

Gene Weingarten: Wow. This is HORRIBLE.


Arlington, VA: ooooh, the real Gene is revealed!; You can't play the dumb guy anymore!; Mentioning that you went to Bronx Science has made you a dork like the rest of us. I can't imagine that there were too many class clown types in HS.

Gene Weingarten: I know. It is as much of a clue as liking The Monkees.


Bra Zen: Am I putting my bra on the wrong way when I hook it first, then slip it on over head?; Also, I'm a guy.

Gene Weingarten: You're doing fine.


Wonka willies: I took my kids to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It's about a creepy guy with an odd skin color and androgynous haircut who's mistreated by his father. As an adult he uses his considerable wealth to create an insulated playland staffed with hundreds of minions to help him recapture what he lost in his childhood. He decides that it's lonely at the top and concocts a scheme to lure children into his world, where he plies them with intoxicating goodies and then picks the one who'll be his special friend.

Didn't this guy just go through a child molestation trial? Has he learned nothing from the experience?

Gene Weingarten: Some reviewer somewhere must have made this point, no?


"Mic - Cloud"?: Uh, Gene? Isn't it sad when one cannot even pronounce one's own name? How would you pronounce it? Mi-Cloud? Mik-Loud ... hmmmmm?

Gene Weingarten: I think the poster is suggesting "Mik-LLoyd."


Venomous Letter Writers: Those angry letters you received as a result of your column were scary in the same way you and some of the chatters write in about grammar. Different degree, but scary in the same manner.

Gene Weingarten: Understood.


Kensington, Md.: Mr. Weingarten, just wanted to respond to the person last week who had a problem swallowing, especially pills. I have that problem, and after many tests, was diagnosed with a simple esophageal spasm problem. But you were right, some of the things they tested for were quite scary (assorted cancers and such). Things that aggravate this problem go hand-in-hand: stress and the consumption of alcohol. I've worked it out. If I'm stressed, no beer or wine. Dinner may return to sender before it makes it down. But if I'm camping with friends, relaxed and my work stress is far away, I'll let myself indulge in a beer. Just one or two, though. Don't want to try my luck. And yes, I talk to a very nice lady once a week about wanting to do very bad things to my boss. KIDDING! Thanks for being my second form of stress relief each week.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks. I am hereby onpassing this to the sufferer.


Poll, US: Re: Mae West. You are obviously a guy or you'd get it. You've never been on a date with a guy that is deadly boring- or is not competent in the we-can't-discuss-graphically-or-you'll-get-fired department.

Gene Weingarten: You misunderstand my criticism. As a piece of logic, it falls flat. What is the "it" referring to? What is the antecedent. It is simply not crisp or clear.


Sermon on the, MT: OK, I've had enough. I became a believer a few years ago, and it's really helped my life. But I gotta say, I'm tired of the proselytizing on the comics page. We got the message, already. ENOUGH with the self-righteous preaching.

Really, you gotta have a talk with Mallett.

Gene Weingarten: You've lost me here. Even as proselytizing for bikes, this is harmless, and self-mocking.


Philadelphia, PA: Uh. How do you know this is a hetero couple?;

Denver, CO: Gene, my boyfriend actually uses the words "supposably" as well as "acrost" instead of across. Should I break up with him now?; I don't have the heart to correct him but I cringe whenever I hear him use those words.

Gene Weingarten: I am going to print this post and frame it. A woman who is reluctant to try to change her guy!;!;!;

Gene Weingarten: Well, I don't that would explain it, yes.


Alexandria, Va.: Gene,

I am also a member of the I Heart Gene club. My fiance and I have a rule when it comes time to name our children to avoid the Madison Syndrome. Would the name we choose work should our child be nominated to the Supreme Court? Somehow we can't picture Justice Katlyn "Kati" Smith or Justice Madison Jones sitting on the bench.

Gene Weingarten: Good point. An excellent test. Justice Tiffani Jones? Justice Wren McPherson?

I actually have a column on justice very subject coming out next week.

Justice very subject! I am a card.


Music, AL: My husband always says: "Have you heard "(insert band's name here)'s Greatest Hits?" I hear that's their best album."

Gene Weingarten: Well, The Monkees Greatest Hits is their ONLY good album. But it is really good.


Warrenton, Va.: I know how you feel about dark chocolate, but having attended several Valentine's Day wine tastings, I want to say that dark chocolate goes much better with a good merlot or cabernet than milk chocolate. And now this study: Good News for Dark Chocolate Lovers , ( Reuters, July 19 ).

Wow! Red wine and dark chocolate are both good for me. Life is good!

Gene Weingarten: And masturbating! Don't forget masturbating! That was one of the great medical studies of all time. Assuming you are a guy. No masturbational results have been reported, as yet, for women, who, tragically, lack a prostate gland.


Bethesda, Md.: Hey Gene

I was just wondering if you ever got the Guinness World Record for the shortest story.


Gene Weingarten: You know, I'm not sure. I never took any deliberate steps to make it happen.

This is in reference to a story I wrote several years ago, commemmorating the Guinness Book's fiftieth anniversary. The headline said something like "Guiness Book Celebrates 50 Years." and the story read, in its entirety:

By Gene Weingarten


I was hoping someone would submit it for the world's shortest bylined story.


Alexandr, IA: RE: nursing someone else's kid. Ew ew ew. I am a 34-year-old mother and I find this completely gross. It is a boundaries thing. Would you go up to your friend's husband and use your finger to wipe a crumb off the side of his mouth? Same deal. Boundaries, people.

Gene Weingarten: Many mom-type women weighed in here, mostly negatively, and this was one repeated theme. I have to say, personally, that I would not find it odd if, say, Joel Achenbach's wife, Mary, wiped a crumb off my mouth. Nor, I think, would my wife find that odd, or even unusual, given my penchant for acquiring mouth crumbs. This complaint seems rawther stiff to me, boundary-wise. This does not seem the equivalent of, say, Mary reaching in to my pants to adjust a wedgie. Not that she would. I presume.

The next response seems more on point.


Pittsburgh, Pa.: Regarding the 7/22 update where the woman breastfed her friend's baby. Now, I understand the concept of a wet nurse, but in this situation I say give the child back to its own mother and let her nurse her own child!

This was a BIG eewww for me. Another consideration -- whatever you injest, whether food, medications, etc., is passed to the child through breast milk. And I don't care if she is your best friend in the world, you don't know what she has been putting in her body -- what if she eats something that your child would be allergic to? Sorry, but this would have been a big no-no for me.


mother of a three-year-old

Gene Weingarten: This seems reasonable. But disappointing. Because I still find the idea, in the abstract, kind of beautiful and adorable.


Breast feeding other peoples' children: I have two friends from college who grew up together and attribute the longevity of their friendship to the fact that they were breast fed by the other's mother. Personally, I think it's great. I hope that when I have children I have women friends that I am close enough with that we would support each other in such an beautiful and intimate way.

BTW, I am 24 and hot and I (heart) you. But mostly because your remind me of my father so I (heart) you in a very paternal way (sorry, no panty throwing here.)

Gene Weingarten: This was the only dissenting opinion, and, though it fills me with joy and hope, it is not coming from a mom. And I don't mind being hearted as a dad. I kind of like it, though, as my kids will attest, I have not been a conventional dad. You probably fared better with yours.


New York, NY: You went to the Bronx High School of Science?;

What year?; Why are you not listed in the famous alumni website when people such as Jeff Greenfield are?;?;?;?;

A Weingarten fan, Class of 1996

Gene Weingarten: It's an outrage! 1968.


Washington, D.C.: Is Katie related to the Highlander? Perhaps by now -- does getting asked a question a certain number of times automatically make you related to someone?

Gene Weingarten: Nice riposte!


Cathedral Heights: OK, I am getting really tired of people slamming the lyrics to "Sloop John B." I, too, am in my 20s, and love that song. I like the intracy of the music and the lyrics, which do tell a story. The lyrics tell a story because it is a sea chanty. It is older than the beach boys, older than the Kingston Trio, who also did a version, older than pop music. It tells the story of a kid who is probably on his first journey on a nineteenth century sailing vessel, which provided back-breaking labor, little pay, and the threat of impressment into the British navy. I would be upset, too, if someone were depriving me of food under those circumstances. The intracy of your message about this chanty has convinced me. Of something.

Gene Weingarten: Especially grits. Someone takes a man's grits, he's gotta sing about it!


Alexandria, VA: Hopefully this will reach you in time. I just read the bit on "condemn and condone." A former co-worker of mine who was known for butchering the English language once said, "But I don't condone or disadone anything she does."

Gene Weingarten: See, he meant "methadone."

On that note, I depart. Next week, if things go according to plan, Molly and Dan Weingarten will handle these chores. I will probably be around, for purposes only of avoiding libel, loss of my job, etc.

Thanks. Next week.


UPDATED 7.27.05

Gene Weingarten: Here is an interesting oddity, just in. In "I'm with Stupid," when Gina and I are discussing the historical contributions of men versus women, I contend no comparison is meaningful, since, through the millennia, women were systematically denied the same opportunities as men. Then, like a reflex I cannot control, I blurt out this list: Aristotle, Beethoven, Confucius, Da Vinci, Einstein, Franklin, Gandhi, Hippocrates, Ibsen, Jesus, Kafka, Lincoln, Mandela, Newton, Orwell, Pericles, Quintillian, Roosevelt, Saladin, Tolstoy, Utrillo, Van Gogh, Washington, Xavier, Yeats, Zoroaster. Cathy Messina, who apparently has no job, no responsibilities, no sense of proportion, etc., wrote in to say that she had perpetrated an oppositional list: an alphabetical array of historical male villains. Here it is. It is quite excellent: Attila the Hun, J. Wilkes Booth, Caligula, Papa Doc Duvalier, Eichmann, Franco, Gotti, Hitler, Ivan the Terrible, Judas, Genghis Khan, Lucky Luciano, Ratko Mladic, Nero, Oswald, Pol Pot, Quisling, Rove, Stalin, Torquemada, Ujaama, Vlad the Impaler, John Walker, "Monsieur X", Yoo Young-Chul, the Zodiac Killer.


Gene Weingarten: I woke up last night at 3 a.m., with a thought that seemed important at the time. In all the discussions we've been having about bad songs, we'd missed the worse song of all time, bar none. Skip, skip, skip to my lou Skip, skip, skip to my lou, Skip, skip, skip to my lou, Skip to my lou my darling. Then, standing in the bathroom, it occurred to me that it would make more sense if it read "skip to my loo," considering all the buttermilk consumed, and everything. However, the song stands as written, and it is a bad, bad song. No contents, no meaning, and it carries the added sickness of actually being dance-able. So I just wanted to share.


Pat the Perfect, ME: Re "another think/g coming": The expression with "think" is an old one, and uses the word as a noun, which is archaic to us except in, say, "I'll have a good think and get back to you." Referring to a general situation as a "thing" is a modern, very informal usage, and so it fits right in with an informal expression like this one. So I can't get all exercised about "another thing coming." To me "another think" sounds like something someone says to show off. On the other hand, I always use "whom" correctly, even in the most informal constructions.

Gene Weingarten: Whom are you trying to kid, Patricia? I declare, with confidence, Pat the Perfect to be imperfect here. Please explain how "If you think I am going to accept your answer as correct, you've got another thing coming" makes any sense at all. Another THING? What thing? Only the word "think" makes any sense there, albeit in an archaic construction. You are wrong. Pthep is wrong. She erred. She is in error. She misspoke. This is one of the most exciting moments of my life.


Re: A woman who is reluctant to try to change her guy!!! : My favorite ONion headline of all time: Woman successfully changes man into someone she's not interested in.

Gene Weingarten: I love this.


Burke, Va.: The money = speech thing. I disagree, but accepting it here is how I'd argue: this is one part of the law where two ideals conflict; freedom of speech and equality of all. Limiting how much money one can give increases the equality. Otherwise the person who gives money, would be able to give enough to change the laws so they could give more money, and change the laws more. An analogy would be that guy in the corner at a party who keeps on talking louder till you can't hear anyone else.

Gene Weingarten: But... that guy has the right to do that.


Cincinnati, Oh: Gene said, "You misunderstand my criticism. As a piece of logic, it falls flat. What is the "it" referring to? What is the antecedent. It is simply not crisp or clear. " "It" can be replaced by "the problem." Any woman got this instantly.

Gene Weingarten: Okaaay, so let's now parse this. "The problem is not the men in my life, it's the life in my men." So she is saying that the problem is not with the men in her life, it's that the men in her life don't have life in them. So the problem IS the men in her life, isn't it? This is simply not a great chiasmus. Is it?


WHAAAAAAAAAAAAA????: You say "If you do not condemn something, you condone it" as if you mean it!!!! Did you write the Axis of Evil speech???

Gene Weingarten: This is correct. Condone means to tolerate something that is negative. To not object to it, even though it is negative. So if you don't object to it, you condone it.

_______________________ Next week's chat may well lose Gene his job, he says. Read next week's intro for details ...


UPDATED 7.28.05

Gene Weingarten: Several readers wrote in to note this unfortunate quote from a USA today story on the boy scout tragedy:

"Daum said several Boy Scouts were nearby at the time of the accident and saw the body of one victim who had been badly burned. "It's a tremendous shock for them," Daum said.


Carolyn Hax: Carolyn said that moms staying at home is best? Wow! Doesn't sound like her. Are you sure you didn't misinterpret? Can you link to this column?

Gene Weingarten: She did! She was quite evenhanded about it, saying all systems could work, but that the best was mom-at-home. She gave a list, as I recall, with mom-at-home atop. Good daycare was up there, but she expressed a distinct preference. I got pist. Katie, any possibility of finding this? Tell Me About It: Advice for the Under-30 Crowd (July 4, 1999)


Gramm, AR: Maybe I'm just an old fart, but I think you should have included split infinitives in Proposed Amendment XXX -- then turned yourself in (to verbally communicate). What would PtP say?

Gene Weingarten: Neither Pthep nor I object to intelligently splitting infinitives.


Bethesda, Md.: To circle back to your opening for today's chat, as fun as learning frightening things you didn't know from your kids, it is also great fun to bust them and tell them the things you knew that they thought they didn't know. For example, the time we came home early from a trip to notice that the neighborhood was awfully parked up, and someone must be having a party. Getting closer to the house we realized the party WAS AT OUR HOUSE. We calmly went out for a cup of coffee, called the house and said "Hi honey, we decided to come home early. Be there in a half hour." By the time we got there, no cars, no trash. Would have loved to have a video camera set up for that. We only recently admitted this to the adult kid and he was mortified.

Gene Weingarten: Excellent parenting. When I was a teen my parents found a little hashish in my room. They did not confront me, they just wrapped it in a note with the phone number of a drug counseling center. No, I didn't call. But it caught my attention. Also reasonable parenting. It communicated trust, but concern.  


Arlington, Va.: BTW, from today's B.C., it appears that Johnny Hart supports evolution.

Gene Weingarten: Incorrect. It is making the opposite point. Katie, can we link to Tuesday's B.C., about the fish? B.C. (July 26) Note: Use the dropdown box below the comic strip to get to Tuesday, July 26.


SF, CA: I want people to stop saying "assless chaps". All chaps are assless. If they weren't assless, they'd be pants.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. We'll get right on this.


Burnt up: Maybe you could use a burning flag to set fire to a copy of the Constitution which could then be used to ignite a movie theater. Maybe then you could shout "Fire!"

Gene Weingarten: Okay, you made me laugh.

_______________________ REMINDER: Tune in for next week's chat, which may well lose Gene his job, he says. Read next week's intro for details ...


UPDATED 7.29.05

Gene Weingarten: Many posters are chiding me for misremembering Carolyn Hax's thoughts on stay-at-home moms (and, uh, for calling her "Caroline.")

Sorry, but my memory was essentially correct. It is true that Carolyn did not limit her recommendations to moms (stay-at-home dads were included as choice number one for child-rearing.) But...

1) Get real. If you are going to state that it is preferable for a parent to stay at home, 9 times out of ten it is going to be ma who puts her career on hold; and

2) I was not concerned so much with gender discrimination as with bias over priorities of child-rearing. So, to make myself clearer:

I think staying at home is great. I also think working is great, and in many ways, better. It worked really well in my house.

I believe that my wife (more importarnt, she believes this, too) was a happier and BETTER mother because she did not have to feel she was choosing between her children and her career. Moreover, we very strongly believe that daycare (we spend a long time finding perfect daycare) helped our kids enormously. They became socialized very early, self-confident in social situations, incredibly resistant to colds, comfortable dealing with strangers, etc.

We would urge the same choice for our children.

Okay? I was mad at Carolyn because I thought she was not recognizing daycare as a legitimate, wise, and loving choice for parents to make.


Antho, NY: Gene--In FBOFW, I don't think Therese is evil, I just think that she's a sexually confused lesbian lacking maternal instincts who is angered by her own attraction to Elizabeth. In other words, her jealousy is for Liz, not for Anthony. She stays away on business, well, because she's just not that into men. If Lynn Johnston would spin the story that way, it would be a LOT more interesting-- especially if Elizabeth felt the same way!

Gene Weingarten: Then they could each hop onto a flying pig and disappear happily into the sunset!


Arlington, Va.: Gene, I (heart) you! So I risk heavy rejection by asking this question. However, I must know - is this funny? I think it is, once you get past the sickness, but no one else does. What's wrong with me?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, it is funny, primarily because of the existence of the facility in question. Why is it funny? Because it speaks to a deviancy that is apparently far more common than one would think. Humans are hilarious. Anyone here seen Albee's "The Goat"? A terrific play?


huh?: What is "eating European"? Please edumacate this unsophisticated American schmuck.

Gene Weingarten: Fork in left hand. Knife in right hand. Or vice versa. No switching or crossover. A superior system I never mastered.


Bali, HI: Friday's Close to Home was just unfunny. Does McPherson know that what he drew _actually happened_? Take a peek at This happened in Hawaii back in 1988.

Gene Weingarten: Well, that's not why it was unfunny. But that link picture, alas, is pretty funny.


Arlington, Va.: Apparently Webcomic author, DJ Coffman thinks Stephan Pastis has ripped him off.

What are your thoughts? Stephen has a long list of previous schemes by rat to distance himself from society.

Gene Weingarten: My guess is that Stephan has never seen this webcomic. He has had similar tropes before, probaby predating this brick of silence.


Combining two themes from this week's chat: What's the differnce between Mick Jagger and a Scotsman? Jagger says "Hey! You! Get offa my cloud!" The Scotsman says: "Hey! McLeod! Get offa my ewe!"

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.

_______________________ FINAL REMINDER: Tune in for next week's chat to find out why Gene says he may well lose his job. Read next week's intro for details ...


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