Chatological Humor* (UPDATED 9.29.06)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 26, 2006; 12:00 PM

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

DAILY UPDATES: 9.27.06 | 9.28.06 | 9.29.06

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...

PLEASE TAKE BOTH POLLS -- That is, one from each set below.

Last week's poll (Posted 9/18/06): Door 1: If you grew up in NYC or Boston | Door 2: If you did not .

NEW POLL (Posted 9/25/06): Door 1: Most of my first 20 years were spent in a city of 500,000 pop. or more | Door 2: Most of my first 20 years were spent in a city or town smaller than 500,000 pop .

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.

I've been a long time gone; it's good to be back. I apologize for the tease with last week's chat. I'll explain what that was about at the end of the chat.

Of all the columns of mine that have run since we last spoke, the one that got the most mail was this one , in which I was speculating about whether George W. Bush might be the worst president in American history. Of the 400-plus e-mails, most were teeth-gnashingly negative, which I expected. The common theme, other than that I am an idiot lefty tool of the treasonous pinko media, was that George Bush is not only not a BAD president, but a GREAT president. Some actually compared him favorably to Lincoln and FDR.

(A common sub-theme was that I showed my true colors by not including the Democrat Jimmy Carter as one of the worst presidents.)

I have to admit that this stalwart support for the man surprised me. Many of these readers were not stupid people, and though they may well be ideologues-on-the-defensive, they seemed sincere and not just contrarian.

I spent many days contemplating what it meant, and decided it was an example of the boiling frog paradox. As the story goes (it is almost certainly apocryphal), if you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will immediately leap out, recognizing the environment to be lethal. But if you put a frog in tepid water that you then slowly bring to a boil, the frog will not notice the gradual temperature change, and boil to death.

I think that is what is going on with Bush stalwarts. I think the dreadful events of the last five years have so gradually lowered our expectations that people simply do not realize what a catastrophically horrible and inept presidency we are suffering through. What if, on September 12, 2001, we had all been informed that in the space of the next five years, our government would have:

-- Completely squandered all the goodwill and sympathy and moral authority we earned on 9/11, to the point where we are almost universally hated and mistrusted.

-- Failed to capture or kill Osama bin Laden! Five years!

-- Argued seriously for the right to torture prisoners.

-- Carried out an invasion of a foreign country for a single stated reason that proved completely wrong.

-- Did not, as people were told to expect, march into Iraq as liberators in a short war that would pay for itself. Instead, got mired in an obviously unwinnable, seemingly endless conflict allegedly to liberate a country that patently does not want us there and will collapse in civil war the instant we leave if not before, a war that has spread us so thin we cannot actually pursue terrorists effectively worldwide...

-- Hellishly burdened our economy for years to come on this misbegotten adventure.

-- And so forth and so on.

But too much time has passed. Too much of a constant diet of small failures, so that, like the frog, we have simply lost track of what we once expected of this administration. We're boiling to death, and don't know it.

Okay, then! Wasn't that fun?

Regarding my column Sunday about being a glass bowl, several people wrote in with their own personal glass bowl stories. My favorite was from Dorothy Skinner, who has fumed when the person in line ahead of her at the supermarket not only pays with a check, but then stands there balancing her checkbook. (In my experience, this is always a woman. Men do not pay with checks.)

Thanks also to Dave George, the standup comic, who found this unforgettable line in an article in The Post:

"Pee was found in front of a building on the 3400 block of 13th Place SE..."

It turns out that Mr. Pee was a murder victim, so we must regard this with appropriate solemnity. But still.

And thanks to Chris McKay for pointing out one of the most disturbing situational aptonyms ever submitted to this chat. In Detroit, a man was charged with raping and murdering seven prostitutes. The police chief who announced his arrest was "Ella Bully-Cummings."

And this from Sarah Gabler, of Arlington: "I just got back from a family reunion in Kentucky. I had already heard for years about my mother's great aunt Bessie, who married a Dr. Butt. The family always referred to him as Bessie's Butt. But this trip I learned they had a daughter named Martha, who married a man named Cheek. Martha Butt-Cheek.

We also note with pleasure the results of the Democratic primary for Circuit Court Judge in Talbot County, Md., and congratulate the winner, "Jo Ann Asparagus."

Please take today's two polls (linked above). I'll be explaining the results midway through.

The Comic Pick of the Week is Sunday's Sherman's Lagoon . First Runner Up, Saturday's Frazz . Honorables: Sunday's Gene Pool , Sunday's Rhymes with Orange (scroll back to Sunday).

But most important: Check out the ONLINE version of Sept. 23 Gene Pool, as compared to the version you might have read in The Washington Post. In the Post, the final panel was altered. It was an excess of tastefulness, destroying a great punchline. In the Post, the last line read: Dear Mr. Big, A diamond is FOREVER.

Okay, but not nearly as good. The first, had The Post readers seen it, would have been the CPOW.

Okay, let's go.

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Saint Paul, Minn.: Hey Gene, "mirror" of course rhymes with "beer", but the vowel sounds in "beer" and "in" also rhyme! How am I supposed to take this poll? (grew up outside the east - by the way, "beer" also rhymes with "bier")

Gene Weingarten: Good grief. Does anyone else find that the vowel sounds of "beer" and "in" rhyme?

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Saint Paul, Minn.: Gene, a while back (but I think after your most recent chat), Wilbon had the following exchange in HIS chat. I found it remarkable. Is it possible he had no idea that you were joking? Who are these "prominant Washingtonians" who apparently have the critical reading skills of a doorknob? Does Wilbon really think Farhi had an agenda? And finally, why don't you guys stop picking on the poor, wittle, much-more-talented-than-you sportswriters?

Leesburg, Va.: So what was Tony's reaction to Gene Weingarten's article from last week? I loved the "review". The only thing funnier then the satirical article was the reaction of the people who didn't get the joke. Joe Thiesman made a comment that he would no longer be friends with anyone who write an article like that about him. I think Joe needs to get a sense of humor. I hope Tony found the article funny, but I'm worried that enough people didn't get the joke, and that would bother him.

Michael Wilbon: I haven't talked to Tony about any more of those pieces. I know this for sure: most people weren't certain if it was satire. I read the piece not knowing for sure until the agate type at the end...and that day (Tuesday of last week) I ran into a bunch of prominent Washingtonians who are faithful readers of the newspaper (we're talking senior partners in law firms and one noted politician) who said to me they didn't know for sure what to think, whether it was satire...Everybody's sense humor, and this should be underscored, ain't the same. Anyway, we know what Weingarten was trying to do and to some it was successful. I think Tony, who has taken millions of hard shots over 30 years, has to suck it up, be a big boy, and live with criticism. Don't throw the rock if you're not willing to take one on the forehead.

Having said that, the first critique in Style I found mean and agenda-driven. When you work in a sports section all your life, even one as prestigious as The Post's, there are always jerks in features and news sections insulting sports writers and I, for one, come out swinging. Way too many of them think they're superior in talent when they're not. The definition of "deadline" for too many of them is " a week from tomorrow." They wouldn't know how to write on deadline if their lives depended on it, in some cases. They make far, far, far less money in a lot of cases and hate that. There's a jealousy factor involved and directed at sportswriters, just the way sportswriters have directed bad behavior at TV sports people for years and years...So, when the first piece ran I said some rather harsh things about the writer, which I neither regret nor take back even though I have rather enjoyed his work, lots of it.

Gene Weingarten: I found this entire thing by Wilbon completely bizarre.

It does underscore how difficult it is to recognize obvious satire when you are inside it.

I talked to Tony after my piece came out, and even TONY, a practitioner of satire, was unsure how to react to it. He said that some people told him it was mean, but that his wife and son told him it was affectionate,and funny, and he didn't know what to think.

Liz, can we link to that piece? It was either two or three Tuesdays ago, by me, about Tony.

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Blood sug, AR: My wife thinks she is diabetic because this morning there were ants crawling in her underwear. Ever heard about this? How soon is she going to die?

Gene Weingarten: Well, it's interesting.

As I recall, Pasteur discovered diabetes in a similar fashion, though not specifically involving your wife's panties. He was doing an experiment to try to figure out what was wrong with some dogs who showed certain symptoms: Excessive thirst, lethargy, etc. He had a cage of the sick dogs, and a cage of normal dogs. What he noticed was that flies were swarming all over the urine of the sick dogs. Bingo, he thought: Sugar.

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Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.: Gene,

On Devils And Camels:

As a diplomat with extensive service in Latin America, I would like to set the record straight about the nuances of the Venezuelan president's remarks at the U.N. last week. As we all know, broadcast and cable networks all featured Hugo Chavez with his remarks about President Bush, compairing Bush to Satan. You may also recall where he said that Bush had "cloven hooves." What he really meant was "camel toe." Neither Chavez' paltry English nor his rough-hewn Spanish was up to the linguistic task of properly describing the phenomenon. Thanks. It feels good to get that off my chest.

Gene Weingarten: Is it possible for a man to have camel toe? It is not. He would have something else. Can anyone suggest what the male equivalent of cameltoe is?

If you do not know what cameltoe is, um, image Google it.

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Middlebury, Vt.: What's up with the online "Boondocks" recently? Are they reruns or have Huey, Riley, and Jazmin switched schools or something?

Gene Weingarten: Haha. Boy is "La Cucaracha" randomly bad.

It looks as though "Boondox" is not coming back. That was the news out of comicdom yesterday, in a very strange communique to newspapers from Lee Salem, head of universal press syndicate. Summarizing: They doubt that Boondox is coming back, on account of they haven't heard anything from their cartoonist, one way or the other! McGruder just crapped out on them.

He did that to me, once, too. He seems to be a crapper outer.

Boondocks was a very important strip, historically. He proved a black strip didn't have to be "safe." A very smart guy who doesn't get play and get along well with others.

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washingtonpost.com: Yo, Tony! I'm Talkin' About You! , ( Post, Aug. 22 )

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Time Warp?: What's the deal with Red and Rover? Granted, it's one of the worst comics in the Post, but when were the strips written?

In the past couple of weeks, there have been gags about:

Jeanne Dixon

Marcia Brady

Marlon Brando

Star Trek

Gilligan

What gives?

Gene Weingarten: Are you serious? It is set in the 1970s.

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Embarrassed: Hi, Gene - I just wanted to apologize. For my dad. He recently sent you and (I assume?) the editors at The Post an e-mail about why he was cancelling his subscription due to The Post's biased coverage of Catholocism. I'm sure you get these all the time, but he specifically referred to you as a "bozo."

So many things were racing through my head as I read that e-mail: I'm the original "I heart Gene" fan! (which I promise not to use anymore because it bugs you, but hey, I have to take credit) My dad is one of those people that Gene makes fun of! And lastly, ugh. My poor dad. He really means well, and actually does have a great sense of humor - he has several Dave Barry books in his bathroom at all times - but just not when it comes to the Church. He's a nut about it, which is one of the main reasons that I am wholeheartedly NOT. I just wanted to let you know that the crazy nutjobs you get e-mails from aren't always crazy nutjobs. No hard feelings, OK?

Gene Weingarten: I AM a bozo.

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Naming Cats: I'm sorry to hear of your family situation that cancelled the show. Whatever it is, I hope it ends well.

I'd like your opinion on kitty names. We captured two stray kittens this weekend. We're going to try to socialize them in the hopes of keeping them. A lot depends on how well they socialize to humans and how well our existing pets accept them. The boy kitten is a gray tabby with white feet and he is full of vim and vinegar. We've named him Mr. Twister. But we are stuck on the girl's name! She's a fluffy light gray and white cute kitten. She's shy and keeps trying to hide herself under the cage bedding. She's smaller than her brother, with eyes that seem to be bigger than her head. We can't seem to find an appropriate name for her that matches her brother's. So far, we've come up with Whisper, Noodle (with umlauts), Tater, Toki, Digdug, Indy, and Tsunami. She's really a Misty, but I used to have a cat named that and I refuse to duplicate names. I suspect we'll have picked a name for her by the time of your next chat, but I'd still like to hear your opinion.

Thanks, and I hope everything went well.

Gene Weingarten: Osama.

I am not a cat person.

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Gene's pool: Hmmm, maybe the Style Invitational can write a better ending as a contest.

Gene Weingarten: There can be no better ending than the one on the web.

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Alameda, Calif.: A serious debate is going on in Congress about if it's ok to torture people and the White House is upset that some think that the answer is no, is it time to consider leaving the USA because I don't love it the way I used to.

Gene Weingarten: I, too, am embarrassed by and for us. I have been for about, oh, five years. But the answer is not to leave. The answer is to make sure nothing like this happens again, anytime soon.

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As long as we're speculating: What if all of the things you've listed about the last five years are true... but are still better than the alternative scenario if we had not done them?

Gene Weingarten: It's a bogus "what if." I won't even answer it.

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Monkey County: I voted for Bush twice, but it was very reluctant each time. Take that perspective into account when you read this. In time, history will regard Pres. George W. Bush as either one of the worst or among the best, though not as high as our greatests (i.e. Washington, Lincoln, etc). It's just virtually impossible to top them. The key is that he has taken action during a very important time in our history. The only question will be if the action turned out to be favorable or not. He definetly won't run in the middle of the pack. We should be able to tell in about 50 years.

I suspect it'll be the worst, but I wouldn't bet on it. This ought to tell you how bad I thought Gore and Kerry would have been!

Gene Weingarten: I agree you cannot seriously rank a president for at least a generation after he leaves office.

But there is a point at which you have to say, "Ok! Seen enough! Thanks!"

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Fo, MA: Since Aldo from "Mary Worth" died in a car crash and Grandpa Jim in "For Better or For Worse" is about to kick the bucket, what comics page character will or should fill out the death pool trifecta?

Gene Weingarten: CATHY! PLEASE! Or Zoogie, in Gene Pool, who should die from auto-asphyxiation while self-pleasuring.

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Religion: Do you know what urks the hell out of me? All these Muslim people protesting that an image of Muhammad must neven be shown. Pictures and drawings of other gods are always shown (with great pride I might add). Why are Muslims so secretive about her image?

washingtonpost.com: urk urk.

Gene Weingarten: Her?

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Germantown, Md.: Hey, Gene, I'm one of those seven really mellow people who say, "what's the rush?" What strikes me most about the responses is not the lack of consideration impatient people have for those of us who meander through our days, rather, it is the lack of consideration they have for themselves. Stress is stressful. Aggravation is aggravating. Why do these people care so very little about their ouw well-being to ruin their moods because life is happening.

Gene Weingarten: It ain't your binness to teach us.

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Ants in Underwear: Wow! I've felt too ashamed to ever tell anybody, but when I was traveling in India several years past, I found TONS of tiny little ants just lovin' my used underwear. Twenty-two years old at the time, not diabetic... I related it to something that must have been in my diet at the time... either lots of honey or fenugreek. Seriously. But, uh, it kind of made me think I should try to figure it out and eat more of it all the time, if you know what I mean.

Gene Weingarten: I do know what you mean! Thank you!

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Dover DE: Posting early because I woke up, had nothing else to do and thought everyone should know that. A few weeks, you said you had something like 50 sexual thoughts a day from looking at women. In a later chat, you said you felt nothing when hugging a woman. How is this possible?

Gene Weingarten: Good question.

When one is ogling a woman (respectfully, of course) one is performing a seditious act of voyeurism. There is a certain little-boy thrill to it.

A friendly hug from a woman is invited. She is telling you, this is a non-sexual moment. There is no sedition. A certain trust is implied. That trust means something to me. A man becomes the equivalent of a gynecologist at that moment. He is being trusted. He behaves.

Gene Weingarten: Er, also, as I have said many times before, I am not a rack man. But that's incidental to the explanation above, which is the controlling authority.

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Y'AR!: Be ye forewarned, says I -- ye best be celebratin' Talk Like a Pirate Day by showin' off all yer piratitude. Today be the day to steal some booty, drink bottles of rum, and make traitors walk the plank!

And to that scurvy wench Chatwoman, I say: Prepare to be boarded -- yarrrrrrrrr!

washingtonpost.com: Whatever, Sinbad.

Gene Weingarten: See next post.

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McLean, VA: Speaking of chatological humor, my friend, Geoff, suffers from irritable bowel syndrome and tells a legendary story about having an "accident" while roller blading. The double dactyl below is an attempt to help secure its place in the anals, er, the annals of history.

A Midsummer Night's Cream

Plippity, Ploppity

Geoffrey C. Peabody

Pumping his calf muscles

Skates through the town.

When, quite surprisingly

Gastrointestinal

Problems transpire, his

Blue jeans turn brown.

Gene Weingarten: Very old but very excellent joke:

A ship in the Caribbean in the 1800s realizes it is being pursued by a pirate ship. The captain calls to the first mate: "Bring me my red shirt." The mate does, the capn' dons it, and leads the ship into battle. They defeat the pirates.

Next day, same scenario, only TWO pirate ships approach. Same request. The red shirt is put on. Same result -- the pirates are defeated.

That night, a young bos'n's mate (I liked typing that. Bos'n's. Also good is "I'd've") approaches the first mate and asks what that was all about. "Well, the cap'n wants to wear red so that if he is injured, we won't see the blood, and we'll continue to fight with spirit and confidence."

The young bos'n's mate is deeply impressed with the valor and courage of his cap'n. The very next day, the ship is at sea when it finds itself completely surrounded by SIX pirate ships.

The cap'n turns to his first mate and says, "Bring me my brown pants."

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Fantastic Inaptonym: One of America's best young sommeliers, as named by a major magazine in the field: Joseph Sauerwein.

Prosit!

Gene Weingarten: Excellent.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Gene --

You like your job, and I'll bet a lot of people who read your chat like their jobs, too. I'm a good guy. And at 31 years old, I have never had a good job -- not since college. I promise I'm not passing the buck here, but I keep getting stuck with lousy bosses. Just awful. My last job, we all went to see "The Devil Wears Prada" as an office outing (the way normal offices go to happy hours). Needless to say, we didn't invite the boss.

Help me out, Gene. Find me a place where I can be happy and make the world a better place.

Gene Weingarten: I have never understood this attitude. You act as though you have no control over where you work -- that one's career is some sort of random falling into one job or another, and that if you fail to be fulfilled it is anyone's fault but your own.

Take a chance. Do it differently. Decide what sort of work you really want to do, find that job, and get it. Passion helps, you know.

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Yo, Gene!: I'm amazed that anybody could have doubted that your column on Kornheiser was satire. It was clear to me from the opening paragraph, where you discussed Tony's lack of success in "physically resembling a gentile." Do those idiot readers actually think you would have said such a thing in a serious review? Sheesh.

Gene Weingarten: It is completely mystifying.

But, I'm tellin' ya, even TONY claimed not to be sure. It's different from the inside. I am glad I called him.

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Washington, D.C.: Any Worst Presidents list must include Woodrow Wilson.

Someday, before I leave D.C., I plan to spit on that man's grave.

Gene Weingarten: Wilson is, in my opinion, unrankable.

He helped give us the dreadful treaty of Versailles, and he set racial relations back 30 years by re-segregating the military. But he also was an important international figure when we needed a giant. He (with Roosevelt) created the world-player, imperial presidency. It was a big deal, at an important time. Can't call him the worst.

Also, he was right about the League of nations.

Another unrankable, with strong positives and strong negatives? LBJ.

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Washington, D.C.: Check page A2 of the Post. In a graphic column demonstrating Americans' lack of geography skills, the paper has mislabelled Sudan as Egypt. Any chance it was an intentional joke?

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha. Great.

Liz, can we link to this graphic?

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Tailgate City, Fla.: Dear Maj. Medical Guy, sir:

How will the removal of Chris Simms' spleen affect the Harris-Nelson senatorial race, sir?

Affectionately,

Donask Dontell

Gene Weingarten: "Dontell Donask" would be a better name.

Simms is a lefty. A great outpouring of sympathy in Florida for a lefty will help Nelson more than Harris, who is CERTAINLY not left of center.

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Religion what?: Every religion has idiosyncracies that differentiate it from every other religion. That's why we don't all worship the same god in the same way, or worship one at all. It makes perfect sense to me that people would not want there to be any sort of rendering of their particular God. It's up to them, isn't it? Hindus don't eat beef. Catholic priests don't take wives. What's your point? Does it really bother you that much?

Gene Weingarten: Huh?

I am not inimical to the Catholic Church. I do tend to mistrust most religions, though. I don't think the world needs MORE religious certitude right now, if you see what I mean.

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Crying Uncle: Okay, I give up...what is a "sliding pond" ???

Gene Weingarten: A sliding pond is known to virtually anyone over 45 who grew up in NYC, and to virtually no one else. You know it as a "slide," the playground equipment.

It appears to be a NYC corruption of "Slide-Upon," which was the name of one of the original manufacturers.

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Princeton, N.J.: Hy Giene,

Welcome back!

I've been thinking about something for the last week or so. Is there anything funny about these, besides just being "funny city names"?

-Hit, Iraq

-Bam, Iran

-Split, Former Yugoslavia

Thanks man.

--H

Gene Weingarten: Indeed, there is.

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Fairfax, Va.: You outed the Empress!!

Gene Weingarten: I most certainly did not! Patricia works closely with the Empress; she has never denied this. The Empress relies on her judgment as a backstop, much as the Czar did with me.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: Say What? , ( Post Magazine, Sept. 17 )

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washingtonpost.com: Working on that graphic link...

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Thank you and good night: Gene, between your Bush column and the diatribe above, I can only say that you match up perfectly to the late comic Genius Lenny Bruce. Both of you were funny once, and then demonstrated a terminal inability to shut up about topics that weren't funny (Bruce on the First Amendment, you on foreign policy, Dylan lyrics, etc.).

Long ago, this chat used to be about humor. If I want to argue politics, I'll go to the Post's daily Politics discussion. But I refuse to have any more of my lunchtimes wasted on chronic unfunniness. If I change my mind, I can read the Post's comics on the Metro at my liesure.

Gene Weingarten: This chat was never entirely about humor.

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Wheaton, Md.: Marry, Merry, Mary -- no way any of these rhyme, people! Marry rhymes with carry and tarry. Merry rhymes with cherry and berry. Mary rhymes with dairy and scary. What gives?

Gene Weingarten: This is completely correct. Now we shall analyze the polls.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, the polls. These are kind of interesting.

In poll #1, we may never have had a more dramatic split-result than for the question asking about the pronunciation of Mary, merry and marry. NYC people hear them as three different sounds. Elsewhere, there is a happy commingling of sounds until they sound the same.

Now, the gentleman in me would like to say that everyone is correct; we live in a big ol' comfy world and we are all diverse, and pronunciations are regional, and yadda yadda. Alas, I cannot do that. It is a lazy tongue and a lazier ear that has permitted the egregious homogenization of these three differently spelled words of different meaning. I decry it. Even if one of my favorite people, Spike the copyeditor, is a practitioner.

As to poll #2, I am surprised that impatience crosses urban-suburban lines so dramatically. But delighted. Because people should just get a move on. Slowest common denominator, indeed.

As far as the most annoying single behavior, it has GOT to be the extra-question asker in the boring meeting. That's the only one that is beyond your power to overcome. No?

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Hugs?: OK, if hugs are non-sexual why do men hug women but eschew hugging other men? This does not apply to gay men, who seem to be much more flexible than straight men -- they don't appear to mind hugging or kissing members of either sex.

Gene Weingarten: Because hetero men are completely hung up about this. Obviously.

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Red and Rover: No way is it set in the 70's. He occasionally references the Internet, etc. I hate that strip.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think so. Nosir. No internet. I know the editor of this strip, and she would not allow an anachronism like that.

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New York, N.Y.: About religious certitude: Doesn't it look like religion is the great conflicts of the 21st century the way nationalism shaped the conflicts of the last century? That scares me. A lot.

Gene Weingarten: It is scary, isn't it? And neither adheres to any logic except its own.

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Ahhh: Berry, Scary and Tarry RHYME.

Gene Weingarten: Exactly.

I am so sorry for all of you. Can you actually hear tonal differences in MUSIC?

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Religion and you: If you had to pick any religion to join, what would it be?

Gene Weingarten: The one with the least amount of dogma, and one not requiring a presumption of a deity. Buddhism, maybe?

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Washington, D.C.: I am 26 years old (grew up in Queens) and I still refer to them as sliding ponds. Confuses the heck out of my godson.

Gene Weingarten: Ah. Interesting. I didn't know that phrase persisted.

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Inarticulate o, NE: Gene, are these homonyms:

Bury and berry

Poor and pour

Chance and chants

Gene Weingarten: The first and the third are homonyms.

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Portland, Ore.: Hi Gene. Just want to update you on my life since your last chat.

I packed up my D.C. apartment, selling and tossing out tons of unnecessary items.

I stuffed the car to a point of near danger complete with items tied on the roof.

I visited my in-laws in New England.

I attended a wedding and behaved well.

I slept in hotels in Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Montana without being asked to leave one of them, even the one with the overtly racist biker dudes.

I bought a bigger bed.

I bought and finished real wood furniture that was not from IKEA or Target.

I started my graduate studies.

Since your last chat I have taken giant steps along the path to maturity. While it is fully within your power, please try not to bring me back to my previous state of irresponsibility for more than an hour; I need to do well in my program.

Gene Weingarten: Could someone explain to me -- you, perhaps -- why one would get a postgraduate degree in anything other than medicine, law, veterinary medicine, or dentistry -- fields where you are learning a very specific set of skills necessary to perform a certain task?

I am probably opening a huge, wriggling can of worms here -- really bad ones, like tapeworms or those little ones that migrate across your eyeball -- but I don't get it. Isn't there a point at which it is time to get out of academia and, y'know, actually DO something that is not moot?

I am prejudiced in this regard, and not only because I, personally, do not even have an UNDERGRADUATE degree. I am prejudiced to this extent: A few months ago, I spoke at the graduation of the journalism school of the University of Maryland. There were two kinds of kids graduating: Undergrads, who were going out into the world to begin careers as journalists, learning stuff the quick, hard, smart, make-your-mistakes-early-and-get-em-out-of-the-way way, and those graduating from the GRADUATE program of journalism. These seemed to me to be a lesser group! People fearful of getting jobs. People who needed more coddling. Because there ain's squat you learn in grad school that is anywhere as valuable as what you learn DOING stuff.

Now, don't tell me you need a graduate degree to get higher pay or more respect in your specific field. Booshwah. Fight the system. It's all about DOING, not learning. Rage, rage against the dying of the light of reason.

Thank you.

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Arlington, Va.: I was not sure which poll to answer since I grew up on Long Island. But hurrah for the marry-mary-merry question! Imagine my shock when I learned that they are all pronounced the same in Virginia (where I went to college). Three different vowel sounds in New York, for sure. Also dumb -- when people ask "do you mean a boy or girl?" when they hear the name Erin/Aaron. Or pronouncing the names Carrie and Keri the same. Silly southerners...

Gene Weingarten: It's not just southerners, as the poll shows. This is an extremely disturbing thing, as I will explain. It is a lassitudinification of the language.

Gene Weingarten: Er, as I DID explain.

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washingtonpost.com: The graphic

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Springsteen's "I'm On Fire": ..is without a doubt one of the top three sexiest songs of all time. Due far more to his tone of voice than to the lyrics; very different than most of his others. Up there with Chris Isaak and Barry White. "Wildfire" makes me gag. (I'm female, if you can't tell)

washingtonpost.com: You, lady, are an idiot (but you don't mind, cause I'm saying it in the same tone of voice as Springsteen).

Gene Weingarten: WRONG! But Chatwoman won't mind, because I am saying it in the tone of Dana Carvey imitating John McLaughlin of the McLaughlin Group.

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Not just NYC: Gene, I grew up in PtheP's home town, Philly (pronounced "fully" by natives), and I also think "marry," "merry," and "Mary" are pronounced three different ways. So you see, Philly pronunciations are not all bad.

Gene Weingarten: Pat also refers to a "beggle" and cream cheese.

I think the football team is also the Iggles, but I am not sure.

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Red and Rover: Brian Whathisname, the RandR cartoonist, said in an interview that he deliberately mixes up the references in his strip to make it timeless. It might be 1965 or 2005.

Gene Weingarten: Really? Hm. Okay, then I stand correct and am appalled.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it really stupid that the frog boiling analogy at the beginning of the chat really upset me? I can't stop thinking about it. You know someone had to try slow-boiling a live frog in order to figure that out.

Gene Weingarten: Nah. I think it is simply a myth. Because it wouldn't work.

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New York City: Re: Marry, Merry, Mary

I'm from Virginia and live in NYC. I used to work with a man from the Bronx named Don, who was married to a woman named Dawn. I cracked up at this, telling him how he and his wife had the same name. Of course he thought I was nuts and said they sound nothing alike. He said he was "Dahn" and she was "Dwan."

Gene Weingarten: No, she was DAWN. He is Dohn.

I also laugh when people pronounce Aaron and Erin the same.

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Intro Time Warp: In the intro you say, "What if, on September 12, 1991...?" You meant 2001, no?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I did. Sorry.

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Bahstin: Gene,

First, hope everything's ok with Clan Weingarten. It will be tough to go another week without your live erudition.

The poll brings to mind a story from a childhood friend who spent the first five years of her life in NYC, then moved to my hometown south of Boston. She was given a kindergarten homework assignment to look at pictures in one column on a page and circle the item in the adjoining row that rhymed with the item in the first column.

First column had a dog. Adjoining row had, among other things, a log. She couldn't figure it out and asked her mother for help. Mom was also stumped, as "dawg" and "lahg" didn't rhyme. They had to call a neighbor who was an elementary school teacher.

Gene Weingarten: The girl was right. There IS no. rhyme. That would be like rhyming cough and scoff. They are entirely different sounds, to my ear. And I cannot get out of my mind SNL'S "Cawfy Tawk" right now.

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New York, N.Y.: Does Pat drink the wudder that comes out of the tap?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, she does!

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Washington, D.C.: Religion is the spawn the devil.

Gene Weingarten: Haha.

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Bewildered, Confusion: The Post writes this in a 9/20 story:

After announcing that troop levels in Iraq will remain steady, Gen. Abizaid was asked "point-blank" if the U.S. is winning, The Post writes. His response: "Given unlimited time and unlimited support, we're winning the war."

What does that quote by Abizaid mean? What does it mean grammatically, I mean. I'd understand "If we had been given unlimited support, we would be winning the war" and "If we were given unlimited time and support, then we would/will win the war" but I don't understand "If something that is not the case, then we are winning (present tense)."

Gene Weingarten: It is incredibly weaselly is what it is. But fortunately I am an expert in translating obfuscatory officialspeak into Plain English, so I will do so now. What the general actually answered was:

"No."

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Whoa, there: Gene, are you really positing that people from NYC and Boston pronounce things correctly ?

And furthermore, the reason you cite is because there is accent comingling elsewhere? To misuse an adverb: Seriously?

Wow, you're so incredibly wrong about this. So wrong that I might have to consider throwing my support behind Bush.

Gene Weingarten: If you have three words spelled differently, with hugely different meaning, and one dialect distinguishes them clearly in pronunciation, that dialect is preferable.

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Brooklyn Baby: Two part question for you Gene. 1. Is Geroge Allen ashamed of his Jewish heritage? 2. Are you ashamed of his Jewish heritage? I don't really want him on our team.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, he is a shanda for the goyim. A classic shanda for the goyim.

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Alameda, Calif.: Best Western religion to join by choice is no contest - the Unitarian/Universalist church. Accepts gays. Don't have to believe in the divinity of Christ. Closes for the summer because "God trusts Unitarians" (ok, it really was for the growing season, but it sounds good.)

Gene Weingarten: Sounds pretty good. Almost like atheism.

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LBJ: Dear Gene,

I think LBJ is only unrankable if you are white. If you aren't, then his success in forcing a huge raft of civil rights reforms down the throat of this rather stubborn country is nothing short of remarkable. This transcends his personal vulgarities and bigotries.

Gene Weingarten: Totally agreed. A huge positive. But you simply cannot ignore his huge negative. Unrankable.

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New England accents: I am from Rhode Island (but I don't have a Rhode Island accent). When I was growing up, my grandparents, who had strong Yankee accents, had friends named the Clocks. For years my sister and I thought their name was Clark, pronounced with a New England accent, until we saw their name written down somewhere, and it really was Clock.

Gene Weingarten: I like that!

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J-school: What about those of us who got an undergrad unrelated to what we want to do? If I decide I want to be a journalist, no newspaper is going to hire me without experience. So, j-school is the answer. And yes, I've tried to get a job for a small town newspaper. I even applied to a small town WEEKLY newspaper. Experience needed.

Gene Weingarten: Start writing freelance for them.

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Pronunciati, ON: So - you are positing that those of you born and raised in New York City have a better innate sense of pronunciation than the rest of the country?

One is inclined to ask why you all don't employ it more often, then.

Gene Weingarten: Only in certain ways.

Our pronunciation of "coffee" is awful.

Likewise, the dropping of ends of words: "Tha's nice." Bad.

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Washington, D.C.: Forget pay, you can't get a job in academia or the sciences (well, maybe in the sciences as a lab tech) without a graduate degree. There are no jobs in those fields where they won't just throw your resume away if all you have is an undergrad degree.

Gene Weingarten: We must change these fields, or eliminate them!

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Hoosier in Exile: "Piano" is pronounced "Pee-an-oh."

And "creek" is pronounced "crick" & "Washington," "Warsh-in-ton."

Gene Weingarten: This is funny. Everyone agrees with you! Pee-an-oh. It's just that people are hearing completely different sounds in their head when they read "an."

That's why there is that answer in the poll suggesting that "bat" and "stare" have the same vowel sound. To some flat-a heartlanders like my personal copy editor, Spike, they do.

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Working Mom: Gene, you've mentioned in the past that your wife kept working when the kids were small. My husband and I are starting to plan a family and I know in my heart that I cannot be a stay-at-home mom. I'm already starting to wrestle with the logistics (and some guilt) of having someone else care for my child during the day.

Wisdom? Guidance? What daycare arrangements did you try? What worked really well for you?

And welcome back.

Gene Weingarten: My wife spent a lot of time looking for a daycare center that was really good. She got one that was close to both of our work, so we one of us could have lunch with Molly and Dan every day.

I prefer daycare to in-home care. I think daycare is terrific for the socialization of kids.

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Nine, Va.: You are SOOOO right about graduate degrees. Some of the dimmest people I have met in the civil engineering field are people who spent years in the lab books instead of at the construction site. I won't hire them unless they show that they have gone outside to see how things are built in real life. Then, they are paid just about the same as one who has a B.S.

Gene Weingarten: I do have to say this is the first note of agreement I've received.

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Boring extra-question-asker: It certainly CAN be annoying, if you're paying any attention, but why pay attention? Granted, it's easier as a woman, since I would already have spent the entire boring meeting indulging in elaborate fantasies of the sort that men can't entertain in public without embarrassing themselves -- so the extra questions just give me a little more time in my happy place. One more reason it's better to be a girl.

Gene Weingarten: We can do that, too, so long as the meeting doesn't end SUDDENLY.

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Serious Question: As New Yorkers, can you address something about which I still don't completely understand your point of view?

Putting aside all of the "big" answers, would you and yours be willing to accept another 9/11-sized attack in exchange for the repeal of the Patriot Act, and treating captured terrorists as though they were POW's, and so on?

This question isn't making the point that all of the things the government is trying to do are guaranteed to prevent another attack, and I'm not interested in the "that's not the way we are supposed to be" answers.

I'm asking whether you would be willing to accept another attack, say for example the recent thwarted plot in London, in exchange for much stronger limits on the government.

Gene Weingarten: It's a bogus choice.

I could put it back to you: If it is in fact true that our war in Iraq is creating a new generation of terrorists who hate us and want to kill us, would you accept that your children and grandchildren will have to deal with this, so long as we don't have do deal with another attack now?

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Frederick, Md.: Verbatim headline from a Christian Public Relations site - WDC Media ("PR With A Higher Purpose")

" Found Guilty Evangelical Christian Navy Chaplain Says Hell Appeal "

And the purpose of the headline is what?

Gene Weingarten: Haha. The Penis Mightier than the Sword.

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Prenat, AL: Gene, I just found out that I am expecting my second son. We used the only male name we could agree on (Henry, after a close family member) with our first. Since you have expressed so well the feelings we share for the Madisons and Mackenzies, can you or a reader help us with another boy's name?

Thanks!

Gene Weingarten: Anything but Antowayne or Antwan or DeWayne or Micheal or Mykal or Kristofer. Nothing that looks like a misspelling. Nothing precious like Spencer or Dakota. Avoid names that really don't go with your surname. Sean Rosenblatt is bad.

Go simple and old. Daniel. Luke. Jonas. Sam.

You know what name I like? Darby. For girl or boy.

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What???: Your column on pronouncing the word "what: is the first genuinely dumb thing I've seen from you. I'm just appalled. I know, you've got this "I'm that irritating guy who has an opinion about everything but still manages to be charming" persona. But with this one, you've fallen off the tightrope. A COMMON WORD LIKE 'WHAT' CANNOT BE MISPRONOUNCED. Yikes.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: Say What? , ( Post Magazine, Sept. 17 )

Gene Weingarten: So if you pronounced it, say, "whizz," that would not be a mispronunciation?

You are dumb. You are so dumb you probably don't even realize that "what" contains a "schwa."

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Middle of Nowhere, Md.: Ok, if we're going to talk about accents and pronunciation, I have to throw my two cents in. My husband is from West Yorkshire, U.K., and after nearly three years of marriage, I still can't understand him half the time. When I can understand him, I have to translate for my family. My in-laws have even sent me two Yorkshire-English dictionaries.

Gene Weingarten: I have particular trouble with Geordies, from northern England. My first wife's dad was one. Geordies tend to divide syllables with a glottal stop, so the division is sharp. His pronunciation of "country" was problematic.

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One more: I will play my Pie-an-ah when I find me some gold in them thar hills. Nuggits as big as your fists!!!!

Gene Weingarten: You can celebrate by going to the thee-AY-ter.

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Religion?: "The one with the least amount of dogma, and one not requiring a presumption of a deity. Buddhism, maybe?"

What, so Unitarian Universalists aren't a religion? They are defined by no dogma and no presumption of a deity.

You'd be in good company there at the Post-- lots of UU writers there.

Gene Weingarten: Sounds like a religion for people who don't want to announce they are atheists. Like the "deism" of many of our Founding Fathers.

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Washington, D.C.: Did you/the rib have lunch with both your kids every single day? I am not visiting today and didn't yesterday, and I feel terrible (not your fault).

Gene Weingarten: Most every day, one of us did. Usually the rib, but when she couldn't, I did.

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College Park, Md.: Um... you don't see the purpose of a Ph.D? I agree there are some dumb master's programs, but even though you didn't finish college would you really have wanted somebody with an undergraduate biology degree working as a biology professor?

You didn't think that one out, champ.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I would. I have seen firsthand the ridiculous hoops a PhD has to go through to get his or her degree. The absurd kowtowing to academese.

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I'd like to marry merry Mary: For actual hard data and intelligent, rational explanations on these pronunciation differences google "William Labov", linguist at UPenn and globally acknowledged expert on dialect and micro-dialect differences in the U.S. He's been rigorously studying this stuff for four decades and published a book called the Atlas of North American English.

Or you could just let Gene's uninformed, provincial ramblings be your source of knowledge on the subject.

Gene Weingarten: I say, stick with me.

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Confused about ants in the panties: "But, uh, it kind of made me think I should try to figure it out and eat more of it all the time, if you know what I mean."

Why would you want to eat more of whatever was causing the ants to be attracted to your panties?

Gene Weingarten: Think about it.

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Boys names: You cannot sing the blues if you are named Dakota or Sequoia, I don't care how many men you killed in Memphis.

Gene Weingarten: Very, very very true.

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First Wife?: You don't believe in marriage and yet you have managed to do it twice?1?!

Gene Weingarten: Yes. The second, however, happened only when we decided to have kids. I believe in marriage for that.

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Silver Spring, Md.: "Sounds like a religion for people who don't want to announce they are atheists. Like the "deism" of many of our Founding Fathers."

Yeah, that's pretty much my deal, although I usually say I'm a backsliding Unitarian. And many of our Founding Fathers were, in fact, Unitarians.

Gene Weingarten: A backsliding Unitarian is a hilarious concept.

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Gene Weingarten:

Okay, thanks, all. I'll be updating through the rest of the week, as usual.

I withheld this till the end, because, had I not, every single post would have begun "My condolences for ." regardless of whether the rest of the post went on to discuss the mechanics and protocols of toilet-wiping. That would have been tedious for everyone. So,I offer a preemptive thank you to all.

On the morning of what was to be last week's chat, my father died. He was 92, and had been in very poor health for several months. His death came as no surprise and as a relief to those of us who knew him well, and knew how he lived and how he would have wished to die.

He was in some ways, an unremarkable man - a career mid-level civil servant, content to make no waves. He lived a quiet life of honest work and love of family. But he also had a certain quality I deeply admired, and even more deeply envied. More than anyone I have ever known, he had made peace with the fact that life is short, capricious, unpredictable, and fatal; he'd decided that the best way to deal with that is to take what comes, improve what you can, accept what you can't, be patient, be generous, and find joy in everything. I don't know if it was a certain sort of genius, or just the inevitable conclusion of a very practical man, but it is the way to live. I'm trying, with mixed success.

One moment in his life stands out more than the rest, for what it says about the man. When I was about ten years old, my father came home in the middle of a workday - an unprecedented event. He looked ashen-faced. He walked straight to the radio, and turned it on to WINS, the all-news station. I suddenly heard a bunch of familiar names - I recognized them as the names of my father's coworkers, people he'd talked about at dinner. He was a supervisor for the Internal Revenue Service. The news was that all these men had been arrested and charged with serially accepting $20 or $25 bribes from accountants to go easy on the tax returns of their clients. It was an enormous scandal. It had been the result of a sting - an FBI agent had infiltrated the office, posing as an auditor. There had also been accountants who had turned state's evidence, and were wearing wires. As I recall, there were six section chiefs in my father's office. Five of them were arrested. My father was the sixth.

Years later, when I better understood what this had been all about, I asked him whether he had ever been approached for a bribe. "Never," he said.

There was a brief pause. " See, if they did, I just didn't understand what they were talking about, so I can honestly say I was never approached." Then, a big smile. "Those people couldn't BELIEVE how stupid I was."

I may be writing about my father one more time, but for the moment, I'm asking Liz to link to two pieces I wrote about him in the last few years. The first is from 2002, the second appeared on Election Day 2004.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway , ( Post Magazine, Dec. 29, 2002 )

My Father's Vision, (Post, Nov. 2, 2004)

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UPDATED 9.27.06

Gene Weingarten: To my enormous shame and embarrassement, I realize that in my column about the pronunciation of the word "What," in the part about my editor, Tom the Butcher, I neglected to mention the most salient fact.

Tom is the man who grew up in the Land of the Lost syllables. As I wrote, he says "vetinarian" and "meer." Here is what I forgot to mention. He says "cran."

You probably don't even know what this word is SUPPOSED to be, do you?

Crayon.

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Male equivalent of cameltoe: I think someone commissioned a poll to determine what the male equivalent was, and the winner was "Almond Joy."

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahahahahaha.

Okay, I now have myself together here.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

That is an inspired term. There is a terrific photo on the Web of the vice president's Almond Joy. No, we durst not link to it.

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Another reason Bush is bad....: ...setting back science and medical research decades with his paleozoic, overpoliticized directives about funding and research. It's very, very sad. If the people only knew.

Gene Weingarten: Yes.

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House of Mirth: Gene,

I would be a great service to us outside the Empire State if you could provide phonetic spelling for how you pronounce the difference between merry, Mary and marry. I can't comprehend a difference in my lazy-ear, lazy-tongued head. Perhaps if I saw it written out I could understand and mend my ways.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I will try. It's hard, because if you don't hear it, you don't hear it, and as many, many readers have said, all our distinguishing rhymes sound the same to them.

Mary is pronounced the way you guys pronounce all three of the words. So we have that one out of the way. To you, Mary rhymes with marry and merry. Okay, now hang on.

The vowel sound in "merry" rhymes with the vowel sounds in "meh" or the letter "eff." Find whichever of those seems most different to you from the way you pronounced the e in "merry," and you will have it.

The vowel sound in "marry" is the hardest. It rhymes with the vowel sound in "gaaaack" but you won't get that. I may not be able to do this one, since you'll turn almost anything into your insipid one-note. I fear your ears cannot hear this sound. WAIT. I KNOW HOW. Imitate a Bostoner saying "Pahk the Cah In Hahvahd Yahd." THAT's the vowel sound for "marry."

You're welcome.

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Stop being Silly: Sean Rosenblatt is perfectly appropriate for a kid with one Irish parent and one jewish one. Ever met one of those Irish Mexicans? Names like Jesus MacDonald, and you'd swear they'd speak with a thick Irish brogue until they open their mouths and say "Hola."

I agree that Dakota is a lame name.

Gene Weingarten: No, a stupid thing to do. Siobhan Rosenblatt is just a terrible thing to do to a child. Do what the rib and I did. She is largely Irish Catholic by birth; I am Jewish. We took two names that work in both ethnicities. Molly (Malone, Goldberg) and Danny (Boy and Lion's Den.)

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Speaking of cat names....: My husband wants to name our future child the same name as our 13-year-old cat. (It's a good name.) At first I laughed at him, of course. Then I started seriously considering it. Does this make me a freak?

Gene Weingarten: Molly was named after a Labrador retriever, still living at the time of her birth.

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UPDATED 9.28.06

Gene Weingarten: Thanks to Arthur Rodriguez, for pointing me to this.

Jonathan Alter says what I said in yesterday's introduction, only a lot better.

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Washington, D.C.: Because of something you said recently my wife and I combined all of our bank accounts -- we had been using separate accounts more out of habit from the time when we were cohabiting and unmarried. But now I'm kinda stumped... if we're both pulling from the same pool of money, how the heck do we buy gifts for each other (ie. birthday, holidays) when we're not really using our "own" money to buy the gifts? I have thoughts on this, but wonder what you and the chatters think about it.

Gene Weingarten: Here's how we do it. We pretend not to notice. We cherish the gift, and pretend that it's not all out of one big pot. It's the way you pretend not to listen to the personal conversation at the next cubicle. Or what goes on in the next stall.

Humans LIVE through self-delusion and denial. There is honor in this.

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Gene Weingarten: A little childish, but worth a few minutes: George Allen Insult Generator

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Springfield, Va.: What do you mean by "bogus question?"

A question designed to force one answer, or make the answerer look stupid? Not unlike a forced pick in a magician's card trick?

A hypothetical question with no value?

A question that isn't really asking for a thoughtful answer?

A question fulll of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

Seriously.

Gene Weingarten: A bogus question is a false-choice question, which is the type of question this administration is terrific at. "Are you with us, or for the terrorists?" is the perfect false-choice question.

"Would you trade another terrorist attack for not torturing prisoners?" is another one. Bush would love that one.

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Transplanted Brooklynite: Your poll makes me think of a New Yorker's definition of a nanosecond: the elapsed time after the light turns green and the person behind you honks their horn.

Thanks for validating my sliding pond! I was beginning to think I'd lost my mind. Now should we put up water while we wait on line?

Gene Weingarten: "Put up water!" I haven't heard that in 30 years. Thanks.

I STILL stand on lines. But I write it "in lines," cause I know Spike'll change it if I don't, anyways.

washingtonpost.com: The above description of a nanosecond was first introduced to me as a Neopolitan's definition when I was a wee girlie living in Naples, Italy. New York honkers ain't got nuthin on the cacophony emanating from southern Italy.

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Not from Plains, Ga.: I'm not surprised that conservatives, especially younger ones, detest Jimmy Carter. From what I can tell, that emotion is driven mostly by their memories of the Iran hostage crisis. They regard Carter as a (five-letter word for cat) who allowed a bunch of fanatics to push America around. Do you believe they are right? I'm a middle-roader and I always regarded Carter as a decent, well-intentioned leader who was in over his head. A better ex-president than a president.

Gene Weingarten: Carter was a pretty terrible president. Bad economy, national pessimism, malaise, etc. He gets major points for the Camp David Accords, which maybe brought us closer to a mideast peace than any president before or after. He doesn't belong with the very worst, if for no other reason than that the stakes weren't huge when he was screwing up.

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Herndon, Va.: Mr. W: Please, please correct your comments on President Wilson. He didn't 're-segregate" the Armed Forces, they remained segregated until after WWII. He did act, however, to institute segregation of white and black federal workers, and remained a full-fledged "southerner" in that respect for his entire life. (Some sources say he thought "Birth of the Nation" was great history - but there's some disagreement among historians as to how true that is)

Gene Weingarten: Correct. Sorry. It was the federal workforce he segretated. He was a racist. As I recall, he would not shake a black person's hands unless he was wearing gloves.

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Paying with Checks: I am a man. That I am proud of. I used to pay with checks often. That I am not proud of. But when fresh out of college and living paycheck to paycheck, and I needed to go buy beer, cigarettes, chicken nuggets, cheese, and Doritos, and there was only $4 to my name until I got paid two days later, paying with a check was the only answer. I am very thankful that my quality of life has significantly improved over the past 10 years (a very gradual process).

Gene Weingarten: I grant you dispensation. This is the only valid excuse.

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UPDATED 9.29.06

Gene Weingarten: There's one other observation I would like to make about Wilbon's chat comments, which I reproduce, again, below:

Leesburg, Va.: So what was Tony's reaction to Gene Weingarten's article from last week? I loved the "review". The only thing funnier then the satirical article was the reaction of the people who didn't get the joke. Joe Thiesman made a comment that he would no longer be friends with anyone who write an article like that about him. I think Joe needs to get a sense of humor. I hope Tony found the article funny, but I'm worried that enough people didn't get the joke, and that would bother him.

Michael Wilbon: I haven't talked to Tony about any more of those pieces. I know this for sure: most people weren't certain if it was satire. I read the piece not knowing for sure until the agate type at the end...and that day (Tuesday of last week) I ran into a bunch of prominent Washingtonians who are faithful readers of the newspaper (we're talking senior partners in law firms and one noted politician) who said to me they didn't know for sure what to think, whether it was satire...Everybody's sense humor, and this should be underscored, ain't the same. Anyway, we know what Weingarten was trying to do and to some it was successful. I think Tony, who has taken millions of hard shots over 30 years, has to suck it up, be a big boy, and live with criticism. Don't throw the rock if you're not willing to take one on the forehead.

Having said that, the first critique in Style I found mean and agenda-driven. When you work in a sports section all your life, even one as prestigious as The Post's, there are always jerks in features and news sections insulting sports writers and I, for one, come out swinging. Way too many of them think they're superior in talent when they're not. The definition of "deadline" for too many of them is " a week from tomorrow." They wouldn't know how to write on deadline if their lives depended on it, in some cases. They make far, far, far less money in a lot of cases and hate that. There's a jealousy factor involved and directed at sportswriters, just the way sportswriters have directed bad behavior at TV sports people for years and years...So, when the first piece ran I said some rather harsh things about the writer, which I neither regret nor take back even though I have rather enjoyed his work, lots of it.

Gene Weingarten: So, first, he unfairly smeared Farhi. Paul had a no-win task -- critiquing a colleague's work. If you are complimentary, you look like a suck-up apologist, and if you are negative, you risk causing great internecine warfare. The only thing to do is to be honest with yourself, and call it like you see it, and that is what Paul did. Whether he was right or wrong in his assessment is simply a matter of opinion. He is the only person utterly blameless in the whole silly affair.

Kornheiser's skin is too thin, but he also took a little too much heat for his reaction. His attacks on Farhi were delivered (mostly) on radio, where it was pretty obvious he was going over the top, for comedic effect. I'm sure he kind of meant it, but when the comments were printed, they seemed meaner than they were. The Ombudsman did not really pick up on this.

But Wilbon -- he is just being ridiculous. He is wrong on all points, most particularly in savaging Farhi for having some sort of agenda. But he is also wrong on his accusation that everyone is jealous of sports writers because they make more than anyone else. I've heard no such jealousy in the newsroom; we all know that sportswriters work very hard, on rolling deadlines, and we have some of the best sportswriters in the country.

I also find it amusing that Wilbon seems to put so much value on the ability to write on deadline. It's a fine talent, but just one of many talents that good journalists need. Some writers, for example, would never use tired old knee-jerk cliches such as "if their lives depended on it."

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Gene Weingarten: Emergency update -- In response to many readers who asked, in NYC parlance "to put up water" means "to put a pot of water up to boil."

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"I'm On Fire" sexy?: If it was really a sexy song could Robin Williams made a career of singing it in the voice of Elmer Fudd.

Gene Weingarten: Different song, but funny, anyway.

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To Germantown, Md.: You know, it's incredibly self-centered, arrogant, and narcissistic of you to think that you, of all the teeming masses, know the one proper way to live, and that it's your duty and responsibility to teach that way to others. Spare me the trite truisms such as, stress is stressful. Blah blah blah. Did you ever consider that being held up by meandering idiots like you is stressful, and that by doing thing such as holding up lines with your inane chatter, you are the one failing to demonstrate consideration for others? Probably not, because you're self-centered, arrogant, narcissistic.

Oh, and as far as your question "what's the rush", the rush is that I know that I have a limited amount of time in my days/life, and there are roughly 1 trillion things I would rather do than stand in line behind a nitwit like you.

Germantown, Md.: Hey, Gene, I'm one of those seven really mellow people who say, "what's the rush?" What strikes me most about the responses is not the lack of consideration impatient people have for those of us who meander through our days, rather, it is the lack of consideration they have for themselves. Stress is stressful. Aggravation is aggravating. Why do these people care so very little about their ouw well-being to ruin their moods because life is happening.

Gene Weingarten: Someone needs either his meds or a hug, whichever can get to him first.

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Frog boiling myth: The "critical thermal maxima" of many species of frogs have been determined by several investigators. In this procedure, the water in which a frog is submerged is heated gradually at about two degrees Fahrenheit per minute. As the temperature of the water is gradually increased, the frog will eventually become more and more active in attempts to escape the heated water. If the container size and opening allow the frog to jump out, it will do so.

It's from an .edu so it must be true.

Gene Weingarten: Good. Thank you.

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Ton, AL: I speak an East Asian language (and have grown up with several others spoken in the house) where differences in pitch, inflections, and accents completely change the meaning of words. In addition, as an accomplished musician, I can hear when the third trumpet enters a fraction of a second late or when the 5th chair second violin in an orchestra is playing with the wrong bowing. Mary, merry, and marry rhyme.

Gene Weingarten: What can I SAY to this person? Scroll down to the first day of the updates, and see if you can get it. You should. Someone with perfect pitch should get this.

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Washington, D.C.: I know some people who say they are atheist, but I find it very difficult to believe in atheism. Doesn't being an atheist really take a certain amount of faith? The faith that they KNOW God doesn't exist? I can't take that leap.

I don't believe in organized religion, but if you've ever grown a garden it's hard not to believe in some sort of higher power.

Sorry this wasn't funny.

Gene Weingarten: Yep, being an atheist requires a certain amount of faith. It is faith in logic over feeling; faith in facts over a sense of the spiritual. It is head versus heart.

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