Chatological Humor* (UPDATED 6.2.06)

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 30, 2006; 12:00 PM

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

Daily Updates: 5.31.06 | 6.1.06 | 6.2.06

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 .

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ .

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Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

This will be a comparatively short intro, because Chatwoman just assassinated the lengthy, serious intro I had prepared. It was on the subject of virtual child pornography -- e.g, images created digitally, through PhotoShop, with no exploitation of children.

This issue was raised in last week's chat update, when a reader asked if I felt there was anything "wrong" with it. After a lengthy consultation with my soul, taking into account issues of free speech and the sanctity of private thought, I concluded, reluctantly, that there was nothing wrong with it. Many readers disagreed.

Well, last week I further researched this topic at disgusting length, including visits to some unnerving chats, and was prepared to issue a final report. I showed my report to Liz, who killed it for what I believe was the correct reason: It would have opened this chat up to a very skeevy clientele, and you all would have had to take showers immediately afterwards, and that might cause a problem, say, in the Rayburn House Office Building.

To cut to the chase: In 2002, the Supreme Court actually addressed this issue, holding that the federal government could not outlaw the making and distribution of virtual child porn; that it amounted to free speech; that there is no evidence it whets the appetites of perverts for actual abuse, or encourages illegal acts. Even Clarence Thomas concurred, and Scalia in part. Nuff said.

Bad subject.

Brian Midson asks if it is too early to make fun of NPR's Cheryl Corley for un-ironically describing the New Orleans situation as a "morass." No, Brian, it is fine.

Please take today's poll. It will not surprise you that I wrote this poll last week in a self-righteous froth, with no research required. You guys are showing yourselves to be waaay too lenient.

This was an interesting comics week. I must direct your attention to Saturday's Curtis, which underscores one reason I have come to like this strip. Refreshingly, it breaks so many taboos: The daddy smokes. There is wenching and lusting and hating. And check out this one for mean-spiritedness and violence.

The CPOW goes to Pearls Before Swine -- the other grand repository of mean-spirited humor -- in particular for this sequence: May 25 | May 26. First runner up is Zits, for its rather touching and funny treatment of the impending breakup of Jeremy and Sara, culminating perfectly today.

Honorables: Monday's Mother Goose and Grimm, Saturday's Blondie, Saturday's Garfield, and Saturday's Sally Forth, for a very nice in-joke.

Can ANYONE explain Sunday's FBOFW?

Okay, let's go.

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Falls Church, Va.: You left out one of my favorite annoying phrases: "Where's the pen at?" "Where's Steve at?"

What's wrong with the usage of "hopefully"

washingtonpost.com: Where's your question mark at?

Gene Weingarten: You've all figured out by now that Chatwoman is far funnier than I am, right?

As far as hopefully, you are hopeless: "Hopefully" is an adverb. It modifies a verb. One does something "hopefully," meaning one does it with hope. "Hopefully, he applied for the job."

"Hopefully, it will not rain" means absolutely nothing. It doesn't mean "I hope it will not rain."

This may be the single most common misuse of English, other than the "anyone"..."their" construction.

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Washington, D.C.: You know what a double dactile poem is, right? Would you please write one concerning some item of current events? Please do it very quickly to impress us.

Gene Weingarten: Hang on.

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15th and L NW: He came into the office that day somewhat tired, after a long, but entertaining, Memorial Day holiday weekend crammed full of activities, including barbecues, sex, relaxing on the beach, drinking, bars and parties, and settled into his drab gray newsroom cubicle to write yet another 50,000-word feature story for either Style or the A section, and he pondered just how long to make his lead paragraph for the first three hours of that post-holiday, neo-workday, ur-zeitgeist day at the office.

"Hmmm," he said over his third cup of newsroom coffee of the morning. "How do make a story about the declining interest in reading newspapers attractive to our demographic audience? Maybe I'll write this story from my point of view, as an Ivy League-educated, upper-middle-class yuppie who has never know financial hardship. That will reel our readers in!"

He began his story with the two paragraphs above, figuring that the long lead and first-person point-of-view would be vastly entertaining to today's newspaper audience.

Meanwhile, The Washington Post and nearly every other newspaper recently reported circulation declines and declining profits.

Gene Weingarten: Verrrry good. This is in reference to question 3 a, in the poll, and it is clearly written by a pro. Lessee. I am guessing Von Drehle, but it could be Ahrens. Care to identify yourself?

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Seattle, Wash.: Well. Heck. I've spent my entire life in the word business, and I have never heard anybody gripe about the word "husband." And 30 percent of people find it insulting?

I bet this problem never occurred to half the folks who specified it in the poll until you gave 'em that choice.

Gene Weingarten: You're reading the answer wrong. Just about nobody is bothered by "husband," apparently except me and Tamar Lewin, my friend at the New York Times. At least, she was. For at least a time after her marriage she would grudgingly introduce Robert Krulwich as "my huzzzzzzzzzband."

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Like what?: Hi Gene, Your poll made me think of something. I am guilty of occasionally interjecting "like" into a sentence. But mostly I use it when telling a story: "I was like, '...' And he was like, '...'" I don't want to say "I said" because I don't remember my (or especially someone else's) exact wording, and I don't want my paraphrase (and embellishment to convey the tone :) of what someone said to be misconstrued as an exact quote. But at the same time, I am aware that it sounds very high school. So do you have a suggestion of a phrase that's succinct to get across the same idea as "His words coupled with his demeanor left me with the impression that he meant, '...'"?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, "I was like" is appalling. And it really marks a person as being pretty young and callow. So MANY young people are saying it, however, that it may well survive into adulthood. Someday I may be sentenced by a judge who says, "I was like, omigod, I can't believe you did that."

How about: "He indicated..."

Or even better, "he said." No one presumes a direct quote. One presumes paraphrase.

Gene Weingarten: There's an egregious corollary to "I was like." It is:

"And then she goes ..."

We're simply in hell discussing these things.

Gene Weingarten: There's an egregious corollary to "I was like." It is:

"And then she goes ..."

We're simply in hell discussing these things.

Gene Weingarten: I'd say it a third time, but you probably have gotten it by now.

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My Fantasies: I found last week's poll about people and their sexual thoughts to be extremely interesting, but something bothered me about it initially. I didn't put my finger on it until later Tuesday evening when I was out for dinner with some friends. As a single, straight woman in her early 20s, I found myself looking at guys in the restaurant and judging them not based on how sexually attractive they were to me, but instead whether I thought each looked like a man I could spend the rest of my life with. I mean, seriously, it seems like I can sometimes look at a man and know what we would look like walking down the street holding hands, whether that is someone I can bring home to meet my parents, what he would look like in a tuxedo at the front of a church during our wedding, and how he would look and feel after we had our first child. These are my fantasies; I don't tend to have wild sexual thoughts about men I see in restaurants or on the street. Is this normal? Any thoughts?

Gene Weingarten: Well, I don't want to get pounded by women here for stereotyping, but Darwinians would argue that your attitude is predictable: As a woman, you are seeking a man not just for sex, but to be a provider and a protector and a father. You, being the biologically chosen caregiver and nurturer, seek a man who will not only impregnate you but stick around afterwards to help raise the child. Whereas men, biologically, are looking to spread their seed as indiscriminately as possible. It is that argument that tends to excuse philandering. Men like that argument, though it is obviously bogus in a sophisticated, civilized society.

I will observe this: I find handholding a silly, childish, unromantic, unsatisfying thing. I much prefer to walk with my arm around my wife's shoulders, and I think she likes it when I do this -- even after I pointed out to her that her shoulder socket felt perfect in my hand or armpit, inasmuch as it almost perfectly replicates the dimensions of a Major Leage baseball. She is small.

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She used his false teeth as a "cookie cutter": Not funny, but straight-forward.

Gene Weingarten: But there is no evidence for that! You don't see the teeth. You don't see her returning the teeth.

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Like, Hopefully: I am a former English major and a professional writer, and I'd like to stand up for the use of the word "hopefully." I take it as shorthand for "Speaking hopefully." It's an idiom. It does a job. What are we supposed to say, "It is to be hoped?" Yecch.

Also, while "like" as a place filler is, like, annoying, it works when used to mean "sort of" or "approximately." "There were, like, 300 people in and out of the party in the first hour."

Gene Weingarten: That's a pretty major elision you are requiring, no? I would think I could make almost any grammatical error seem okay by presupposing another word or two. Is Pthep around?

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Explicati, ON: Hi Gene -- a new poetry issue driving me nuts (ha ha).

The great poem "Mending Wall" is being abused in the separation of powers debate. They keep implying that Frost was promoting the sentiment that "Good fences make good neighbors".

But he states, "Something there is that doesn't like a wall". That something is FROST, i.e. the poet himself. He doesn't really think fences are so hot. So don't use the poem to promote the Good Fences doctrine, dammit!

Separation of powers is great, as is the wall between church & state, but this abouse of Robert Frost really gets under my skin.

Thanks.

Gene Weingarten: Agreed, and true. It is like idiots who wave flags when Springsteen sings Born in the USA, or conversely, when people think The Ugly American is about how bad Americans are.

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Alexandria, Va.: It was Leibovich who sent that in, taunting you with his fancy new job at the Times.

Gene Weingarten: Was it? Can we confirm that?

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, the double dactyl:

Higgledy piggledy

House Representatives,

Privacy threatened, are

All in a boil.

They're outraged and angry

Jurisprudentially --

But not shamed by cash in

Aluminum foil?

_______________________

Looking at the sun: I would love to see a frank and honest exchange of ideas on the following question -- cleavage. Especially from your female readers. I, a male reader, would love some guidance and enlightenment.

Is it just my fervid middle-aged (approximately the same vintage as Gene) imagination, or are more women showing more cleavage than ever before? I would like an honest response -- How do women expect men to react to this display?

Okay, we understand, it is not nice to stare, ever. But do they really expect us not to look at all? Do they expect us not to see or take notice? Or do they want us to look, and know, "This is as close as you're ever gonna get to these, sucka!"

I suppose there might be as many responses as there are women out there who heart Gene. (By the way, I'm a guy who loves women, especially the one I'm married to, who has beautiful cleavage. She rarely shows it off in the current fashion however, so this isn't something I can ask her.)

Gene Weingarten: I wrote a column, with Gina, on a corollary to this very subject: the short skirt on an escalator. Liz, can we find it?

washingtonpost.com: Peek Experiences , ( Post Magazine, Aug 1, 2004 )

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FBOW: "But there is no evidence for that! You don't see the teeth. You don't see her returning the teeth."

There IS evidence. Look at the shape of the cut marks in the clay!

Gene Weingarten: They're NOT teeth marks.

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British English: So, I'm as pc as the next person, and yet I hate typing things that require a his or hers line. I read once that British English was adopting using "their" in that circumstance, although it would mean a singular subject and yet plural "their." Of course I cannot come up with a single example of what I mean.

Anyway, presuming you know what I mean, what do you think of that use of their instead of his or hers?

Gene Weingarten: I hate it, but I am a purist. Pthep, I think, does not hate it, and she is a purist, too. So I dunno.

There is a stupid movement to create a word. I think it is zir. The members of this movement can go f--- zirselfs.

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CPOW: How could you possible overlook Sunday's Doonesbury listing the names of American KIAs in Iraq since April 2005? Many of these names were Marines who Trudeau called "losers" in his Sunday strip two weeks ago. A laff riot!

washingtonpost.com: Doonesbury , ( May 28 )

Gene Weingarten: He did not call them losers. That is a willful misreading of what he did. Liz, can we find that strip?

Mr. Trudeau is not unsympathetic to the plight of service men and women. He is almost awed by their sacrifice.

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Poll...: What about irregardless? That's the worst!

Gene Weingarten: They're ALL bad.

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Laurel, Md.: But at what point (PtheP there?) does a grammatical error simply become an idiom through common usage. Phrases like "I haven't the slightest" would be pretty lame-sounding if many people didn't use them.

The use of "their" to avoid sexist language is another grammatical-error-turned-idiom. As is, in my opinion, "hopefully."

Gene Weingarten: You know another awful one: "I could care less."

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Maryland: "Significant Other" is stilted, but at least it is accurate. My MIL, long divorced from my FIL, began to date a long-time friend, also divorced. The two had a long and happy relationship, eventually moving in together, but never married. I think both had enough of the instutition of marriage. I always struggled what to call MIL's signifcant other. Boyfriend? He's 70! Lover? Not a mental picture I want. Husband? Accurate in all but name, but no. Partner? Companion? Those work, but are most used for homosexual relationships.

Significant other works. That's good enough for me and I can live with the awkwardness. In his obituary, they referred to my MIL as "companion", which also works.

Which do you prefer?

Gene Weingarten: Probably husband, in that case.

I mean, who cares. Or "friend."

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Providence, R.I.: The thing that bothers me most in spoken language is the misue of the word "literally," when people are literally speaking figuratively, i.e. "the candidate is literally flying under the radar, or, "she literally counted her chickens before she hatched." Aargh.

Gene Weingarten: Right. Agreed.

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washingtonpost.com: Doonesbury , ( May 7 )

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FBOFW: Ok, so is Lynn J. going to get Elizabeth and Anthony together after all? I thought by introducing "Mr. Wright" she was closing that door. But the latest storyline doesn't back that up.

Plus, does anyone else get the feeling that Mr. Wonderful is a little bit controlling? I don't know if she wanted to make him seem romantic, but the way he talked from the beginning kind of skeeved me out.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, she has tipped her hand this week, big time.

Yes, Liz will find Anthony.

This was kind of apparent from the start, because it doesn't make much sense, plotwise, for Liz to remain in Mtigwaki, or whatever it is.

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Canyousee, ME: Proof that National Geographic has a sense of humor.

Click on the "photo" on the left side.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice!

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Washington, D.C.: So I was thinking about when you said the other week that you once got busted when you passed a woman and turned to check her out. I think the reason you were so embarassed was not because you felt bad for checking her out, but because you felt bad for getting busted. If you felt bad for checking her out, you would never look. But all men feel that they are so skilled that they never get noticed, and so constantly look, when I suspect the opposite is true.

That being said, my wife once paid me the highest compliment a husband could receive: She noted that I never check out other women when she's around. Which obviously means I am VERY skilled.

Gene Weingarten: I am not that skilled. I solve this problem by not checking other women out when I am with my wife. I just don't. For one thing, I have someone else to look at; but more important, I would never risk the penalty. It's not worth it.

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Maryland: If I'm showing cleavage, it's because I want to show it. I know it's there and I picked a top that shows 'em off. A quick appreciative look is fine. A long look of lust is not.

If you want to see some clevage pop, go to a Renn fest. Bodices naturally push everything up, but some women are so precariously perched in their bodices that I expect a sneeze would result in nipplage. Her cups runneth over.

Gene Weingarten: Nipplage! A nice term. Practically a Renaissance term.

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Rockville, Md.: Cleavage is seen more often because it's more socially acceptable to flash cleavage. My somewhat staid college roomie asked me the other day to "give an excuse to wear a cleavage-baring tubetop." I told her cleavage is a gift to the world, and as such, should be shown as much as possible.

Of course, I have a skewed view of things. I'm a stripper.

washingtonpost.com: We have strippers in the audience.

Cool.

Gene Weingarten: I am an ecdysiast enthusiast.

Okay, I am not really, but I had to say it.

Welcome, sister.

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Adverbs don't just modify verbs: They also modify adjectives, adverbs -- and most pertinently for our discussion, entire clauses. For example, "Regrettably, the game was rained out," and "Thankfully, I made it to the airport on time." These are both perfectly correct uses of adverbs. Note that in the second, the phrase can be elided as "I am thankful that I made it to the airport on time" -- an exact analogy to your supposedly incorrect use of "hopefully."

Gene Weingarten: I believe neither of those is right. I still await Pat. Certainly, "thankfully" is wrong.

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Salt Lake City, Utah: So, with your views on virtual child porn, pornagraphy in general, hate crimes, and any number of other issues brought up in your chat, you seem to be saying that you don't think that thinking at length about an action makes you more likely to do that action. Is this a correct take on your opinion? And if so, what do you think motivates people to do things?

Gene Weingarten: I don't think the existence of porn makes a person think any more about sexual things. I think it just alters the nature of the thinking.

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Gramm AR: Many of the grammar points in the chat are very unique.

Gene Weingarten: Aaaargh.

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Springfield, Va.: You said it.

You wrote it.

Please explain it.

In your column in today's Post magazine you wrote, "Let us begin with, quote unquote, getting a job."

Why is it "quote unquote, getting a job"

and not "quote getting a job unquote"

I have probably used the marks wrong - but you get the idea. Why is the idiom

"quote, unquote, fillinthisspaceplease?"

Why doesn't the spoken idiom match the places where we put the written quote marks?

Bev

My husband sees challenges. I see PROBLEMS.

Giganitic, difficult, depressing problems.

Not surprisingly, he is the optimist in this marriage.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: Bad News , ( Post Magazine, May 28 )

Gene Weingarten: Because that is the spoken idiom. That is how people say it, so that is how it is recognizable.

It is wrong, but real.

The advantage is that it is presented with irony. Much as "Significant Other" is presented with irony, which leads us directly to the poll analysis.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, the poll. I don't have much more to say. Obviously, it was just a rant, and almost everything bothers me, equally. I am disappointed mostly in your willingness to tolerate the cliches. These things hugely offend me, all of them. I hate cliches like there's no tomorrow. I avoid them like the plague.

There are only two things in the poll that don't bother me much. The first is the term "Significant Other," because I believe it can only be spoken with irony. No one really uses that term seriously - to use it is to joke about its silliness.

The second is that sports imperfect subjunctive. I kind of find it charming, and distinctive, and it lacks nothing in clarity.

And last, let me share with you this refrain from Dave Barry's excellent song "Proofreading Woman"

I'm in love with a proofreading woman,

Gonna love her 'til the day I die

She got a big dictionary

Real good grammar

She never says "between you and I".

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Enlighten, ME: So what's the Ugly American about?

I confess I am an Ignorant American. At least I'm asking a question.

Gene Weingarten: It's about 450 pages.

By Eugene Burdick, right?

It's about Americans doing good work in foreign lands, and taking crap for it, as I recall. But it's been 40 years. Can anyone assist?

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Pretentious Boss : HI Gene,

I just came from an eye-rolling meeting from the office of my super-pretentious boss. He should just start yelling "I have money" because everything he does/wears/says illustrates that.

But I was staring around his office during the meeting and noticed his fancy grandfather clock has Roman Numerals I, II, III, and IIII. It made me smile to think he probably shelled out a ton of money for an incorrectly marked clock.

Wanted to share but didn't know of anyone else who might find it amusing.

Gene Weingarten: It is not incorrect! All Roman numeraled clocks use the IIII and that is so it balances the VIII on the other side. Otherwise, they would look imbalanced,with two symbols on one side and four on the other.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: Re the use of "hopefully" to mean "it is to be hoped that":

I consider this an extremely minor sin, precisely because, as the reader noted, it is an elegant and economical way to say "it is to be hoped." Also, no one I know has any problem with, say, using "fortunately" to mean "it is fortunate that." If you say "Fortunately, the bear was killed before eating any more children," who's going to argue that it wasn't fortunate for the bear?

I would NEVER edit "it is to be hoped" into someone's writing. I wouldn't mind at all if that meaning of "hopefully" were proclaimed standard English. She said hopefully.

Using "their" with a singular noun is something I try very hard to avoid. There are some singular-noun/plural-verb constructions, however, that are truly impossible to write around without causing comical damage.

Gene Weingarten: This is it for our relationship, Pat. I cannot BELIEVE you are a defender of hopefully.

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Washington, DC: Gene:

So, as the great arbiter of humor, can you tell me if that new Miller Lite commercial is funny or just offensive? (Yes, I realize those things aren't always mutually exclusive.)

The ad has a bunch of men debating over the practice of sticking your finger in the opening of a beer bottle to carry it, and they all come to agreement that "if you poke it, you own it." (They actually repeat this line several times, to make sure you don't miss it.) This is declared a new "Man Law"--you poke it, you own it.

Am I an utterly humorless feminist? I get that it's supposed to be funny. I think it misses. What say you?

Gene Weingarten: Well, I never saw the ad, and I'm laffin'.

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RE: Cleavage question: I am an early-30's female. And, yes, women are, as a whole, showing more cleavage. Clothing styles are designed with lower necklines, even t-shirts for women now are generally v-necked rather than short scoop necked. For one, I find this incredibly frustrating, due to my general shape. I'm five-foot-nothing, weigh around 100-105, and have a very large bust. I mean very. I mean I probably qualify for reduction surgery for health reasons. If I wear loose-fitting clothes, because of the short span between my chest and waist, I look pregnant. If I wear more form-fitting clothes, coupled with the new trend downward in necklines, I look like a prostitute or porn star. What's a gal to do?

Gene Weingarten: Hm. So the remainder of your body, excluding bazooms, weighs about 65 pounds?

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Rockville, Md., Stripper: Interestingly enough, I've noticed the men at my club don't seem to care too much about the size or shape of the boob, but rather the fact that there IS a boob. I doubt they look closely anyway.

I think men like the public display of cleavage of all women. They probably don't care if it's big or small, as Wonderbras are the great equalizer. They just like the idea that women are showing 'em off.

I say, rock on sisters!

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

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Soon to be Capitol Hill: I am about to move to Capitol Hill. Please rank the three best restaurants. More important, warn me away from the worst ones.

Gene Weingarten: Capitol Hill has a plethora of restaurants, most of which range from mediocre to pretty decent. There are very, very few truly good ones.

The best is Montmartre, on 7th St. Superior French food at reasonable prices in a nice atmosphere with excellent service. One slightly odd and mildly disturbing factor about Montmarte is that their outdoor tables are right next to the outdoor tables of Ben and Jerry's. So you are eating your $25 duck confit next to someone sucking on fudge sundaeas. We tend to eat inside.

The Park Cafe, at the East end of Lincoln Park, is also good French-continental, but at less reasonable prices and with more frequent failures, and sometimes tectonic service.

The Pacific Cafe, on Penn. Ave, is very good Vietnamese food at very modest prices. Old Siam on 8th Street is a rapidly improving, great-ambiance Thai place. Also on Eighth street: Belga Cafe, pricey but quite inventive Belgian Euro-fusion food, a little too trendy; the tables for two are too close together, which is a recurrent sin in popular restaurants; you are closer to the person next to you than to your companion across from you.

Also on Eighth: Starfish, a worthy upscale seafood restaurant. And Sonoma, on Pennsylvania Ave, is a snooty wine bar restaurant with very good food but a somewhat disagreeable yupster meat-market feel.

After those is a vast sea of ordinary. You plunge lower and lower through okay Turkish, tepid Chinese, yawn-inducing burgers, unimaginative Mexican, etc., all the way down to the worst restaurant in Capitol Hill, which would be the Greek Taverna on Pennsylvania Ave. Lizzie, can you link to my review of Taverna that appeared in Sietsema's column a couple years back? I wrote in.

washingtonpost.com: Scroll down in Ask Tom , ( Live Online, Aug. 25, 2004 )

Gene Weingarten: (search for my name)

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New York, N.Y.: How does a self-winding watch work? Does the mechanism that winds the watch ever wear down? My self-winder watch has been stopping lately, and I can't seem to diagnose the problem.

Gene Weingarten: It works through a rotating disc on a central shaft that winds the watch when you move your wrist. It might just need lubrication. But bring it to someone who knows what he is doing.

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Maybe He's Hor, NY: Here's a quote from Congressman Cliff Stearns last week, ostensibly discussing an auto repair bill:

"Whether it's installing new brake pads, upgrading flash memory, or tuning our favorite pocket rocket to get that extra 50 horsepower, new vehicles require new, expensive tools and expertise..."

This of course raises several questions: What's a Congressman doing with a pocket rocket? Since he referenced his "favorite," does he have more than one?

And most important, can a pocket rocket really get 50 horsepower? If that's true, then men -- and the human race -- are screwed (or not screwed, as it were).

Gene Weingarten: A quick Google search suggests many conflicting definitions of this term. It's a type of motor scooter. It's a kids' toy, and yeah, it's a dildo. I'm not sure I can think of another term so versatile.

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Washington, D.C. : My weekend too was filled with, "barbecues, sex, relaxing on the beach, drinking, bars and parties..." Can I work for the Post too? I promise to show cleavage.

Gene Weingarten: A much more enticing prospect than Leibovich showing cleavage.

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NPR meets Tom Swift: I just heard this on the radio, in a news feature about pollution in the L.A. area:

"The ships were visible only fleetingly."

Gene Weingarten: Very nice. It's as good as NPR's morass.

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Heading for the dermatologist in Burke: I have a doctor's appointment during today's chat, and I'm obsessively distressed about this. I won't be able to participate live. You're going to talk about me while I'm gone, aren't you?

Gene Weingarten: We won't be talking about you, so much as about the boils on your arse.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: I always seem to get to these chats later, in transcript form, browsing online as I work an overnight job that includes a fair amount of down time. Anyway, a recent chat included discussion of phrases that are fun to say, so I feel compelled to mention the phrase "edited it". Or, if you're a linguist like I am, you might be familiar with the eminent phonetician Peter Ladefoged's example, "Deadheaded Ed had edited it". Seriously, say it out loud.

Gene Weingarten: That's nice.

Gene Weingarten: There are some very short phrases that just sound nice, too. My daughter and I favor when something is "due tomorrow." Dootamara.

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Seattle, Wash.: So you are a student of the ritual of routine (I guess a Catholic seminarian would be a student of the routine of ritual) touching on how we dress, eat and relieve ourselves. You have explored the topic of sleep in terms of snoring and sleeping attire, or lack thereof. But you have not, so far as I recall, dealt with how we turn the mind off and get to sleep, now a multi-million dollar enterprise for the pharmaceutical industry. Those of us not relying on sleep aids (we may now be adding a Kennedy to our rolls) have to find some way to banish the cares and concerns, the frets and turmoils of our lives long enough to get to sleep. I believe for many men (non-golfers, they just replay shots they should have made) this may involve a form of mental masturbation, the construction of soft core porn fantasies involving wives, girlfriends, co-workers or all three. My belief, though, is premised on anecdote and conjecture. You have the resources to examine this subject with the same objective scientific approach you have brought to lesser topics.

Gene Weingarten: Noted. But I don't really empathize. I usually am not an insomniac. I go to sleep by clearing my mind of everything, trying to enter into what is, essentially, a trance. I sometimes can do this within a minute or two.

Others?

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Suburbia, Va.: I can't believe that you would bring up the point "Stories that take forever to get to the point" just after your "friend" Joel Achenbach published his first serious article in the Magazine. You should be more supportive.

washingtonpost.com: The Tempest

Gene Weingarten: That wasn't your first serious article, Joel.

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Pajama Diaries: I would assume I am in the target market for Pajama Diaries. I am a stay-at-home mom who opted to stay home with the kids rather than continue to work as an electrical engineer.

Can I say that I find this strip to be dumb?

Maybe I am not the right target, since I don't assail others for continuing to work, nor do I think I am doing anything particularly noble. I stay home because it makes me happier, which is, in a way, selfish when you think about it.

Baby Blues is better than this strip.

Gene Weingarten: I am unimpressed so far, though I like the retro 50-ish art.

Gene Weingarten: Chatwoman, can we link to today's somewhat contentious offering?

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Doonesbury: The chatter pointing out a discrepancy between the May 7 and May 29 D'bury's is totally off the mark. One is satire, "trenchant wit, irony, or sarcasm used to expose and discredit vice or folly;" the other, a touching, somber recognition of real lives sacrificed, one which makes me cry even to think about it.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, obviously.

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New York, N.Y.: When I shake my wrist, the watch emits a whirring noise then a short "crick" noise. Is the watch winding during the "whirring" part or the "cricking" part?

Gene Weingarten: Clearly, your watch was made in China.

Yes, the actual winding is the click.

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Laurel: Thank you, Pat.

Now can we pin you down on whether you object to "Everyone has to put ___ name on the sign-in sheet to get credit for the course."

Assuming 10 males and 10 females are in the class, what are acceptable missing words?

their

his

her

his or her

her or his

Gene Weingarten: His or her. Because her or his just sounds patronizing. And everything else is wrong.

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Capitol Hill: You forgot Bistro Bis, on the other side of Capitol Hill. And that good Tandoori Place on Eighth Street, S.E.

I think Montmartre is wildly overrated.

Gene Weingarten: I am prejudiced against Indian food; can't judge the tandoori place.

I don't consider Union Station to be capitol hill. Bis is excellent.

Montmarte, if anything, is underrated.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: In FBOFW you can see the pink denture plates (but not the teeth themselves) in an earlier frame -- it's just not clear until the final frame what little Meredith was stamping the clay with.

Did you notice the spelling of "modelling" clay in the last frame? Lynn Johnston insists on preserving the Canadian spelling even in American papers. Isn't that quaint?

Gene Weingarten: Really? Lemme check.

No, They don't look anything like dentures!

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Doonesbury: Tell your nitwit poster that the first strip is not Trudeau making fun of the Marines, it's an Army guy making fun of the Marines -- a time-honored tradition (as is vice versa).

Gene Weingarten: No one who reads Trudeau regularly can possibly think he is being disrespectful to servicemen and women. The poster either doesn't know Doonesbury or has a major political axe to grind.

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Washington, D.C.: I think you've been right about a lot of things, like Bob Dylan, Abraham Lincoln, George W. Bush, and the best comic actors, but how can you say that Polk was a "near great" president? I suspect you would not consider presiding over an aggressive war as a "near-great" deed. So what's there to like?

Gene Weingarten: Among historians, Polk is generally regarded to be either 9th, tenth or eleventh best president, which is pretty good company. He remains the only president in American history who entered with a clear, delineated agenda, and accomplished everything he promised. Among his promises was to serve only one term. He is universally regarded to be the greatest one-term president, with no one even a close second. The job literally killed him; he died shortly afterward, of ... diarrhea.

He saved the economy, created the federal treasury as we know it, added huge amounts of territories, including, I think, Oregon.

He won the Mexican War; you can argue that it was an unprincipled war, and it definitely was an expansionist war, but you'll get a lot of pushback from historians about whether it was an unjustified war. It was probably an inevitable war: Mexico wanted to retake Texas and hold onto California. Plus, Polk prosecuted it intelligently and quickly, and the treaty was hugely favorable to us.

You're wrong.

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Capitol Hill Restaurants, D.C.: My problem with Starfish is it smells like you're in the sea. I know it's a seafood restaurant, but the musty watery smell in the back of the restaurant must be remedied! Now the real question is - what's the best deli? So far none have impressed and I've lived on the hill for 5 years. Please assist.

Gene Weingarten: There are no good delis anywhere outside of New York. Sorry. Spare me your nominees.

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washingtonpost.com: Apologies, but the Pajama Diaries referenced by Gene is not available online. Or, if it is, I can't find it.

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Gene Weingarten: But this does remind me: Mama Lucia's pizza in downtown Bethesda: REAL BRONX PIZZA.

I had a slice, went up to the kitchen and said, "The owner is from the Bronx."

A cheer went up.

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Washington, D.C. : So while we're on the topic...what's your opinion on falsies. Hubby, who prefers well-endowed women, insists that most men do not like implants. Of course, his motivation is to be able to touch my real ones, so I consider him biased. I have read articles that say the same thing - real, no matter how large/small, is better. But I have also read articles that boobies are boobies, and since men are mostly fascinated they don't discriminate. Can you provide insight?

Gene Weingarten: Real is better, period. No qualifications. Real is better with EVERYTHING, but hooters especially.

However, "Tits and Ass," from A Chorus Line, is a great song.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: This Bob Levey column is from September 1982, a couple of months before I started working at The Post. I was writing a monthly column for a small-newspaper trade publication. The Levey column appeared out of nowhere; I didn't know about it till I read it in the paper:

"In this corner, we never drop our guard, even on national holidays. So I lace up my gloves and prepare to take on Patricia Myers, columnist for Publishers' Auxiliary, a newspaper published here by the National Newspaper Association.

"Patricia rises in defense of the misuse of "hopefully." It is hoped that I can make her see the light.

"Patricia doesn't argue that wrong is right. In the sentence, "Hopefully, the rain will end soon," there is a clear wrong, and Patricia admits it. The word "hopefully" modifies rain, when the speaker really wants it to describe the mood of the person gazing at the sky. Rendered more carefully, Patricia points out that the sentence should read, "I hope that the rain will end soon."

"However, several cousins of "hopefully" are misused every day, and few people so much as twitch, says Patricia. Take, for example, the phrase, "Luckily, the bear was killed before he attacked the little boy." As Patricia notes, you hardly mean that the bear was lucky.

"But to Patricia, the more compelling argument is this: the popularity of "misused hopefully" has earned it a place in literate circles.

"We don't have another word that means the same thing," she writes. "Almost everyone uses it, it's understandable in its context and it's no more intrinsically illogical" than misuses of "fortunately," "happily" and "luckily." Therefore, open your arms and embrace it, citizenry.

Not this kid.

I don't believe a grammar book is a bible, setting forth immutable rules for all time. Words are born and die. Idioms wax and wane. Rules are forever being adjusted according to popular demand.

But to condone the misuse of "hopefully" is to condone imprecision. In "Hopefully, the rain will end soon," I'm pretty sure I know what the speaker or writer is trying to say. But I'm not as sure as I would be if the sentence was: "I hope that the rain will end soon."

Isn't the whole idea to communicate as clearly as we can? If a writer or speaker leaves unnecessary ambiguities, he'll soon find there's no one reading or listening.

Patricia is right in one respect. We don't have another word that means the same thing as the "incorrect" usage of "hopefully." But do we have to restrict the hunt for clarity to individual words? We have any number of phrases that would get across our wish that it would stop raining. Are we in such a hurry that only single words will do?

Finally, I'm unimpressed with the comparison of "hopefully" to the misuses of "fortunately," "happily" and "luckily." Reminds me of Richard Nixon's staff during Watergate. Remember how they defended the behavior of the White House "plumbers" by arguing that every administration bent or broke the rules? That didn't make it right, and it doesn't make the misuse of "hopefully" right.

----

Y'all see the dangling participle in this fine essay with with Gene no doubt agrees in its entirety?

Gene Weingarten: Oh. My. God.

I... just. Don't know what to say.

I will get you for this, Patricia.

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Io, WA: "I had a slice, went up to the kitchen and said, "The owner is from the Bronx."

A cheer went up."

What kind of cheer was it?

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.

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Huh?: So what DOES Ugly American mean?

Gene Weingarten: It's used ironically, in the book.

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Washington, D.C.: I once heard of a method of going to sleep that's supposed to be 100% successful: as you lie down to go to sleep, imagine a blackboard that instantly bears a description of anything that crosses your mind (e.g., "I've got to take the dog to the vet tomorrow"). Use a fictitious, mental "eraser" to erase it. If you can keep the blackboard blank for 10 seconds, you're guaranteed to go to sleep.

Works for me, when I choose to use it.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: As a 39-year-old woman who hearts Gene, I LOVE it when men take a peek. If you don't, then why are you putting them out there to be seen? I think the problem arises when men begin to talk to them, instead of to you.

Gene Weingarten: Well, but lady: Aren't you sort of inviting that?

I do not practice that. I do not condone that. But c'mon.

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Starfish: As a diver, I can tell you that when you see starfish, the water is polluted (or in bad shape).

Great name for a seafood place.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha. That's great. It's true?

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Birmingham, Ala.: I've decided to pose this question to you rather than Carolyn Hax. I am official mentor to a young intern in my office, selected because I am old enough to appear wise (about your age) and experienced. Here's my dilemma: Said intern has a college degree, but is from a tiny, rural area and uses improper grammar regularly. My opinion is that this could impend her career, and I'd like to talk about it. Should I do so, and if I do, what should I say? Based on today's poll, I know that these issues matter to you as much as they matter to me.

Gene Weingarten: Since you are her mentor, I not only think you should talk to her about it, but that you are professionally and ethically obliged to talk to her about it.

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MEAT Market or MEET Market?: I thought it was MEAT market forever, as in, men peruse around looking for women as if they were meat? But read from the GoG's it's MEET market, as in singles going out in droves to meet others? You just used MEAT! For the same reason I thought it was MEAT? Which is it, MEAT or MEET Market?

Gene Weingarten: Well, I don't know. Meat, I thought. With the other meaning implied. Perhaps it is Meet, with the other meaning implied.

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Powers of observati, ON: Re: Roman numerals on clocks - So I'm sitting here reading this, thinking, no way, the clock downstairs, which we have had prominently displayed in our living room for the past 20 years, which I consult multiple times per day, which I wind twice a week, uses IV, not IIII. I am absolutely positive about this; so positive that I have no need to go down and check. But in the interests of objectivity and verification, I do.

Turns out, the clock has Arabic numerals.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, now I am really laughing. That was excellent use of humor: We all expected one thing, and you delivered something entirely unexpected.

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Alexandria, Va.: So how do you feel about ending a sentence with a preposition? (You said "a cheer went up" about your Bronx pizza encounter.) I tend to think that if it can be neatly avoided, go for it, but if it sounds silly to switch it around, leave it.

Gene Weingarten: I don't mind ending a sentence a preposition with.

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Washington, D.C.: Capitol Hill food: Thoughts about Two Quail on Massachusetts? Tom thinks it's terrible, I've never heard a good thing about it, and the outdoor patio never seems to have too many people.

The person moving to the Hill must go to Market Lunch at Eastern Market, particularly for Saturday breakfast.

Gene Weingarten: Two Quail is dreadful. But it is also Union Station, not really cap hill.

The German place next to it is much better.

Eastern Market Saturday morning is stupid: You want to wait in line for an hour for a fish sandwich?

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To Alabama Mentor: Have your trainee read this chat! Saves her face and you don't come off as pompous.

Gene Weingarten: Nope. People who speak with bad English don't know they are doing it.

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Boston Mass.: I am in need of your expertise on a matter of baseball etiquette. Last night my wife and I were watching a news report about the guy who caught Barry Bond's record breaking HR. My wife's reaction was "why didn't he give the ball back to the guy who hit it?" I argued that it was part of the tradition of the sport, that for a hundred years people who have gone to a game have had the right to keep whatever the catch, whether it is a foul ball by an average player in a nondescript game, or whether it is a record breaking home run. I also pointed out that the guy who hit the home run makes a whole lot of money and if he really wanted the ball he could buy it back from the guy. My wife insisted that it was wrong and the guy who hit the ball should be entitled to keep the ball. So who, morally speaking, has the right to that ball?

Regardless of whether the HR will end up with an asterisk next to it or not in the record books.

Gene Weingarten: The guy who caught McGwire's 62nd gave it back to him. I remember thinking at the time: What a dork.

Here's the thing: Baseball is a giant moneymaking industry, and they hype these moments hugely. There is a long custom of what happens to balls that go into the stands: They are the property of the catcher of the ball, who then negotiates a sale to the launcher of the ball, who then negotiates a sale (or gift) to the hall of fame.

There's nothing wrong with that.

I seem to remember that the guy who caught Maris's 61, Sal Durante, got $2,000 or something. Which in '61 wasn't bad. Yes, I remembered the name. Yes, I was a Maris geek.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I think I was one of the very first people to post a dog to the Web site for your book. Unfortunately, your book was just a little bit too late for her. She died in her sleep this weekend while I was away for the holiday. I found out by cell phone while sitting at the gate in LAX Monday morning. I can't say that it was unexpected, given that she was 14. But I'm just crushed that I wasn't with her. By the time I got home, all that was left for me to hold onto was the little harness she wore when we went for walks. I guess I don't really have a question or anything. I just want everyone to know that Dumpling was the best friend I could have asked for, and I loved her.

washingtonpost.com: Dumpling (scroll down to fifth dog)

Gene Weingarten: Awww. I am sorry. She looks like a sweetie. We are starting to contact owners this week, and Dumpling was on the list.

This is a major peril of this book, and we understand that.

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Sage Advice Need, ED: Hi Gene,

I just got dumped. And I am feeling defective and I just need some advice on how to get over a break-up. I feel like my life is over and that I am destined to spinsterhood and that I am never going to get off the rollercoaster of being hurt, sad, angry, relieved and back to hurt again.

I know you are known for humor (deservedly so) but I know you have great wisdom and a special love for all women, even pathetic dumpees. So lay it on me.

And I knew he wasn't right for me because he didn't get you or why I read the chat at work and he didn't get my stupid control freak joke (it was in a Hax chat so I don't want to be redundant). AND he didn't like Dave Barry.

So I am better off without him, right?

Gene Weingarten: I like a woman who will call herself a "pathetic dumpee."

That's it, actually. I like you.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Is today's Baldo about your daughter or what?

washingtonpost.com: Baldo , ( May 30 )

Gene Weingarten: It is. Sadly, it is also not particularly funny.

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Maputo, Mozambiques: I'm temporarily living in Mozambique and have discovered a new version of poop shame: poop shame by proxy. I've been looking for an apartment so I've become familiar with the particular social customs associated with the design of floor plans. For example, there is usually a separate entrance for the kitchen since this is where "the help" would enter a house -- not the front door. The kitchens are usually closed off from the rest of the house since, theoretically, the owner of the house would spend little time in the kitchen due to the affordability of domestic help.

Additionally there is always a separate maid's bathroom. Apparently the only thing more shameful than pooping is having your maid poop in the same place as you. I think this is a new frontier in poop shame.

You might also be interested to know that Mozambique has excellent cashews. I've eaten my body weight in cashews since arriving one month ago.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you for sharing this, but you are not describing poop shame, you are describing old fashioned, poisonous cultural elitism as relates to body contact. It's a segregated pool; it's segregated water fountain; it's a shoe store that won't let people of color try 'em on.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Gene, you gotta watch your boy in action. Joel Achenbach did the last one and he is a unique man: Blogging Heads

Gene Weingarten: I am assured by Chatwoman that this is very funny. I haven't looked yet.

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For the mentor: Review her WRITTEN work (assuming its good). Then make a point of saying "You know, you should try to talk more like you write. You'd sound better/more experienced/more professional"

Gene Weingarten: Actually, thats not bad, but you STILL might need to be specific.

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"Pocket Rocket": A "pocket rocket" also refers to small cars with high performance (like a VW GTI or a souped-up Honda Civic). This should not be confused with the term "crotch rocket," which refers to motorcycles designed for speed/ego inflation.

Also, Just to let you know, the Pentagon recently issued a directive prohibiting the use of the term "jarheads" to refer to Marines. This term has been deemed inappropriate, since one can keep things in jars.

(an Army vet -- can't wait to see how the devil dogs respond!)

Gene Weingarten: Devil dogs?

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Indianapolis, Ind.: My Fantasies: When I see a man I think is attractive, I think about sex. With him. I don't care how he would look in a tux. However, these men always strongly resemble my husband. Does that make me still a predictable, Darwinian, typical woman looking for a care-taker?

Gene Weingarten: Actually, yes.

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Bowie, Md.: RE: Kunkel's verbal gaffe -- I can match it! True story, saw and heard with my own eyes while working for the group that sponsored a debate about between then House Maj. Ldr. Dick Armey and then Rep. Billy Tauzin in Tauzin's hometown of Baton Rouge in 1997. In part of his intro schtick, Tauzin meant to say, "I'm so glad to be up here tonight playing around with my FRIEND Dick..." What he said was this sentence but without the word "friend." On live Louisiana public TV. In front of an audience of about 250 people, including wife, inlaws, donors and other L.A. and D.C. muckety-mucks. The pin-dropping silence gave way to embarassed tittering (great word) then outright guffawing and disbelief in the audience ("Holy sh--! Did he just say what I think he said?!"). Tauzin looked like he was about to die. Armey looked like he about to die laughing and Tauzin's main aide immediately set off to get a hold of the videotape. I believe that tape did make it back to DC (maybe even played at a closed-door Rep caucus meeting) but I'm sure it's been destroyed by now. This story alone made working for our idiotic employer worth it! Felt really bad for Tauzin though, how embarassing. To his credit, he continued on with the debate without too much fluster.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice.

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Word geek question: Online dictionary, or the old-fashioned variety? I find that I use the computer for many things, but I cannot break the habit of reaching for my hardcover American Heritage when I need it.

And which dictionary do you like? My loyalty to American Heritage was fixed from the moment, as a child, I discovered it was full of naughty words.

Gene Weingarten: I don't have a preference for dictionaries, and I find that online dics have improved so dramatically in the last couple of years, they do the job.

However, when you are talking Thesauruses, there is a gargantuan difference. Online Thesauri are weak, largely because they are organized like dictionaries. Many book Thesauruses do this, too. They are completely useless; a tool for idiots or children.

The only Thesauri worth using are Roget's, with indexes. I feel about the dictionary types the way I feel about automatic transmissions. Let's grow up.

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College Park, Md.: You're poll has highlighted one of the many reasons that my English degree (I just graduated from UMd, go me!) has doomed me to a dismal existence. People don't know how to use language. However, I find the cliche "burst into tears" to be the most horrifying. Everytime I read it I picture people's faces exploding. Unfortunately, I double majored in history, so I also know the horrible, demeaning etymology of many of our words.

In Hebrew, the word for husband is "ba'al," which means master. As in the head of the Babylonian pantheon, Ba'al. Talk about male ego.

washingtonpost.com: English degree, you say?

Gene Weingarten: One of the more annoying cliches is "burst out laughing," because there is almost no other way of saying it. I've tried.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: "Up" in "a cheer went up" is not a preposition anyway. It's an adverb, and even the pedants who are bothered by phrases ending in prepositions would not object to that phrase.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I don't object.

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12:55, A,OK: Gene:

I am typing this at 12:55. Think it will get into the chat?

Gene Weingarten: You just made it! Because you had so much to say.

Thank you all. A good chat. I'll be updating at whatnot.

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Re: Falsies: I'm against falsies and implants as a matter of principle, as well as a matter of preference. Implants are like Mount Rushmore, a work of human craftsmanship, while real ones are like the Grand Tetons, works of natural majesty. Humans can imitate nature but never duplicate it.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I particularly hate breasts with faces carved on them.

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UPDATED 5.31.06

Sunday, Page A2: Is this funny:

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled that police use of laxatives to recover swallowed baggies of drugs does not violate the person's constitutional rights.

I laughed when I read it, but upon looking up "constitutional", found that it has a more general definition that I thought.

Gene Weingarten: But did it violate their constipational rights?

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Gotahigh, IQ: SAT scores -- don't they only come in round numbers like -- oh, let's say, just for an example -- 790 English and 770 math? At least they seemed to in '70s. How did you get a 1468? Were the tests that much more precise once? Or did you get a few extra points for creativity?

Also, note that according to the folks who put together the SAT, pre-1996 scores should be adjusted upward to match today's standards. (Like here) Which means there are a lot of us walking around who can now claim to have gotten perfect 800/800 scores, adjusted for inflation. And you know we're just nerdy enough to do it, too.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I've seen this conversion chart before, but forgot about it.

This is just a little shout-out to my good friend Rachel Manteuffel, a recent graduate of William and Mary. After I disclosed my score last week (yes, back in the Pleistocene Era, points were not rounded up or down) Rachel e-mailed me to politely GLOAT that she had gotten a 1500.

Back atcha, Rachel.

For point of easy reference, my specific grades were 744 math and 724 English. Do the math, babe. Assuming you know how.

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Visions of Johan, NA: Hey Gene,

Just thought I'd give one of my favorite Bob Dylan verses from the Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll, a local song for us D.C. and Marylanders. I love how he rhymes table with table three times, then with level, followed by two and a half lines with great internal rhymes. Did you know that William Zanzinger (really Zantzinger) went to Sidwell Friends?

Robert Allen Zimmerman said:

"Hattie Carroll was a maid of the kitchen.
She was fifty-one years old and gave birth to ten children
Who carried the dishes and took out the garbage
And never sat once at the head of the table
And didn't even talk to the people at the table
Who just cleaned up all the food from the table
And emptied the ashtrays on a whole other level,
Got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane
That sailed through the air and came down through the room,
Doomed and determined to destroy all the gentle.
And she never done nothing to William Zanzinger."

The Chat's resident 25 y/o Dylan expert,

Ali G.

Gene Weingarten: Hey, Ali. Yes, this song is sheer poetry, and the story of William Zantzinger was told absolutely brilliantly by my friend and colleague Peter Carlson in THIS STORY he wrote several years ago.

It is fascinating that this song, while clearly a masterpiece, is also a web of little imprecisions. Hattie was not "slain by a cane," really. Zantzinger -- a major piece of work and thoroughly revolting individual, as you will see -- did hit her in the shoulder with a toy cane. But Hattie, who had hardening of the arteries, died the next day of a stroke, probably induced by the stress of having been treated so terribly. She had no mark of a cane on her body. Connecting her death to her mistreatment at the hands of Zantzinger was not unreasonable, but also no slam dunk.

When you consider this fact, a six-month sentence doesn't seem quite as outrageously lenient as Dylan snarled and sneered.

Another friend of mine, David Simon, once wrote a piece for the Balmer Sun in which he found a local law enforcement officer who had been telephoned by Dylan AFTER THE SONG WAS ALREADY A HIT, attempting to get details of the case, to confirm what he had writ. Apparently young Bobby Z. had not been much of a reporter in his fact-gathering for this song.

He wasn't so fabulous with "Hurricane" either, as I recall.

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Charlotte, N.C.: Did you catch the woman shooting her car in Sunday's Opus at Mauldin Gas? How many baby boomers would get that reference? I read my dad's copies of Bill Mauldin's books and loved them.

Gene Weingarten: Not that many. I have this in a book of Mauldin's, but had totally forgotten about this. Good for Berkeley. A great inside joke for the 31 old coots who remembered, and also read Opus.

washingtonpost.com: Opus (May 28)

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New York, N.Y.: Re: Sunday's BTB

So, essentially, you got paid twice for one article. Nice gig, if you can get it.

Gene Weingarten: You apparently think colleges pay for their commencement speakers.

Well, I guess SOME colleges pay. The University of Pennsylvania probably paid Desmond Tutu the year Molly graduated. Well do I remember it. Desmond and Molly, together.

HAHAHAHAHAHA. Desmond and Molly! Listen folks, I am a professional. Don't be upset that you can't perform this sort of humor magic.

I should have been paid, gosh darn it.

_______________________

UPDATED 6.1.06

Gene Weingarten: Thanks to Amy H. for reminding me of something.

In this Sunday's New York Times crossword puzzle, there was a clue that made me laugh out loud. At one point I arrived at the following:

Fifty-eight down was a three-letter word beginning with "C." And the clue was: "Ejaculate."

Eventually, I figured out the answer: "Cry."

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Washington, D.C.: I do not like Anthony from FBOFW. I had to say it. Am I alone here? I think it would be a huge mistake to put Liz and Anthony together. What a dweeb. Sigh.

Gene Weingarten: Anthony is a schlep. A loser. A doormat. Possibly some woman will say I am wrong here, but I don't believe a hot, interesting, energetic, intelligent, engaged young woman like Elizabeth is ever going to want to spend a life with him.

Am I wrong here?

Women often make mistakes, but it is usually in going for the guy with the cigarette pack in his t-shirt sleeve, and the one light out on his Camaro. No?

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Washington, D.C.: Eastern Market person again: On Saturdays I make sure I'm there for my pancakes or french toast by 8:30. I'm stuck in line only when others come along who don't want to get there that early.

Yep, strategic planning just for pancakes.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I sort of inadvertently slandered the Eastern Market breakfast. They serve a terrific breakfast there -- great grits, sausage, fried fish in humongous portions -- dispensed by some of the toughest take-no-crap ladies you will ever meet.

I do it from time to time, but only on a weekday morning. On Saturdays, as you point out, people start lining up at 8:30, and by 9 the line winds halfway around the block. It's insane to wait for that.

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Con grammer: Most sentences end in parole.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

I simply have to repeat the greatest lead from a newspaper story, ever. It appeared in the Chicago Daily News some sixty years ago after Richard Loeb, the intellectual Leopold-Loeb murderer, died. Loeb was knifed to death in the prison showers after he unwisely made a sexual advance at another inmate. The story was written by Ed Lahey:

"Richard Loeb, despite his erudition, today ended his sentence with a proposition."

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Questionforhaxbutyoull, DO: G,

My 'girlfriend' (yeah, we're 'grownups', but still...) and I were best friends before we started dating two years ago, and therefore had already gone through some of the more annoying parts of courtship involving openness and honesty. However, our 'between the sheets' time has been limited to about twice a month (it's always been like this) due to an assault she suffered when she was a tween.

She's tried counselling and talking with friends, and when we CAN do 'the deed', it's very lovely and satisfying. The problem I have is this: I have found myself thinking about other women. Not celebrities, which I think every guy daydreams about, but rather friends of mine or hers, which are much more tangible in everyday life.

I would never cheat on my girlfriend. I love her very much and would like to marry her one day. However, should I tell her about my fantasies about others? We tell each other everything! She'd be jealous and even more insecure if I told her about this, right?

Though I'd never act on these impulses (unless a long conversation occurred where both my gf AND this other girl could be there... and they were both 'into it'... at which point... well, sweet.), I feel guilty even thinking them. What should I do?

-- J

Gene Weingarten: You should not tell your girlfriend. What good would it do, other than vastly increase her anxiety. Plus, it would feel like extortion. Do you MEAN it as extortion? If not, why would you even think of telling her?

I'm sorry, that was not fair, but I am not following your logic; it is not openness to gratuitously hurt someone you love. These fantasies are your business; they are guilt inducing; good. Maybe you will slow up on em. You know, there is nothing wrong with fantasizing about one's own wife or girlfriend, in her absence. It's kinda sweet and reassuring.

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New York, N.Y.: I was surprised to see this joke in the New York Times, in an article from their dining section, of all things.

Why don't Southern girls like group sex?
Too many thank-you notes.

Would this joke make it past the censors at The Post?

Gene Weingarten: No, probably not. But it might make it past the fearless editrix of washingtonpost.com.

washingtonpost.com: Who am I to censor this important example of the difference between The Post and our competitor to the north?

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UPDATED 6.2.06

Gene Weingarten: I'm still getting a few questions on the difference between spoken and written humor, as related to my Sunday column. There is one other difference I neglected to mention: You can get away with more when you are not delivering something in The Washington Post.

Case in point: My line in this column about Anderson Cooper originally did not end with "Can't we put HIM in jail?" In the version I delivered, it ended with "Screw him." Couldn't say this in The Post. CAN say this in washingtonpost.com. I actually wanted to drop the F-bomb in the speech, but Dean Kunkel asked me not to.

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Bowie, Md.: Obviously, the most overused word in the English language is "obviously."

Gene Weingarten: Virtually everyone contends that, but they are wrong.

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Old Dogs and Sandwiches: So you can citicize Dean Young for plugging his sandwich shops in Dagwood while shamelessly promoting your Sweet Old Doggies picture book here in your chat? Will you at least refrain from also using your weekly syndicated column for for free advertising?

Gene Weingarten: Ouch. Not a terrible point, but I think there is a fundamental difference. Now listen carefully here, because if my logic fails, I have committed an ethical blunder. And I take the ethics of my profession pretty seriously.

Dean Young is trying to drive business to his sandwich shops, by using his strip as free advertising. So his mission is compromised -- he is no longer just trying to entertain people, he is also, subtly, subversively, trying to increase clientele to a commercial enterprise.

By using my chat to get you guys to submit doggie pix, I am not making any money; we've been paid for the book. We will fill the book with dogs, whether we find 'em at the Web site or not. In short, I am using the chat journalistically, to help do research. Plus, it is a service to all of you with dogs who might get 'em immortalized.

I don't see a parallel. Am I wrong?

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Brisbane, OZ: This morning two (hot) colleagues arrived wearing knee-lengths and calf boots. As a result my productivity dropped to, in round figures, zero, and the busting threat level was dramatically elevated.

Damn you, sir, damn you and your chat to the depths of hell.

Anyway, I'm not sure if place names can be aptonyms, but in case they are I direct your attention to the Philippines Open golf tournament, currently under way at the Wack Wack Golf and Country Club near Manila.

Gene Weingarten: You needed ME to INFORM you how hot that look is? What kind of a man are you?

Meanwhile, I suspect Wack Wack is not an aptonym. Aptonyms must be inadvertent. I mean, you would not call a mini golf course named Putt Putt to be an aptonym, would you?

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Fanta, SY: I've long been under the impression that indulging in fantasizing about one's fantasies reinforces those fantasies. Not so?

And too, one very seldom does things that fall outside of societal norms without first fantasizing to excess first.

None of this is to say that I think you're absolutely wrong to suppose that pedophiliac porn might keep pedos from indulging outside of fantasy.

But isn't this the whole arguement about Doom vs. Columbine?

I'm 34, three kids, a gamer, not hardcore, and not even oldschool, but middleschool for sure, and I would be hardcore if I didn't have a wife who patiently drags me away from the computer every few days. I don't think the violent video games I play will result in me shooting up the computer store I work in.

But I wonder. Is there anything you can add to my ongoing question to understand how fantasizing affects me?

Gene Weingarten: It is the old issue of Doom v. Columbine, and I think that has been pretty well discredited.

My kids love Grand Theft Auto, which is a savage bloodbath. One of these kids is Molly, who is a vegan bunny hugger. So, please.

My son, of course, is a serial killer. But that doesn't prove anything.

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Headca, SE: I am faced with a very serious dilemma. I recently purchased 40 pillowcases in various colors. Now I have to return them. There is nothing wrong with the pillowcases, there was just a change in plans and they are no longer needed. That said, I am a little apprehensive about what I'm going to say when asked for "reason for return". I mean, what kind of nut job purchases 40 pillowcases and then returns them? I see an opportunity for humor, but as I'm too close to the situation I'm not thinking clearly. Any help?

Gene Weingarten: "I'd been planning to use them to store body parts in the freezer, but something came up and I changed my plans."

They won't ask any questions.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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