Chatological Humor: Gramatically Correct

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 28, 2008; 12:00 PM

Gene Weingarten's humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in The Washington Post magazine. It is syndicated nationally by the Washington Post Writers Group.

At one time or another, Below the Beltway has managed to offend persons of both sexes as well as individuals belonging to every religious, ethnic, regional, political and socioeconomic group. If you know of a group we have missed, please write in and the situation will be promptly rectified. "Rectified" is a funny word.

On Tuesdays at noon, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is updated regularly throughout the week, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

This Week's Poll.

Not chat day? Visit the Gene Pool.

Important, secret note to readers: The management of The Washington Post apparently does not know this chat exists, or it would have been shut down long ago. Please do not tell them. Thank you.

Weingarten is also the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death" and co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

P.S. If composing your questions in Microsoft Word please turn off the Smart Quotes functionality or use WordPad. I haven't the time to edit them out. -- Liz

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Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

I attended an Obama rally last week in Leesburg and then wrote a column about it. This column was for publication after the election. It was a resourceful and courageous bit of journalistic derring-do, making ironic use of the fact that the writer, but not the reader, would be ignorant of the results of the election. This sort of high-wire act would not be attempted by a lesser columnist. Alas, you will never read this column because my editor, Tom the Butcher, informed me that it was "stupid, unfunny, incomprehensible, juvenile and tasteless." The juvenile and tasteless part was because much of the column was about how I had been hiding out in the press section without proper credentials, meaning I could not risk visiting the secret-service-guarded media-only Port-a-Potty, something I biologically needed to do.

Also, not knowing who I was, the Obama campaign people had randomly chosen me to sit behind Obama in the grandstands, waving a placard and cheering on cue, something I would have loved to accept just for the silliness of it, had I been willing to be immediately fired afterwards.

However bad the column was, it did make some observations in this column that were entertaining, and I will share them now:

1. Tens of thousands of people showed up two hours before this event, clogging downtown Leesburg streets. These including a six-year-old child dressed head-to-toe in a bear costume, holding the hand of his ma, who looked just a little sheepish. I suspect this was the kid's drop-dead condition for attendance, and ma really wanted to go see Obama, so

2. While it is obviously an unfair cliche that all Obama supporters are Birkenstockian, peasent-frocked, back-to-the-earth, bunny-hugging greenie socialist hippies, and that an Obama cabinet will resemble a meeting of the Sierra Club circa 1977, I could not help but notice that when I arrived at the metal detectors, security personnel were seizing any objects that might be used as projectiles. Hundreds of these confiscated potential missiles were gathered in piles, and, bizarrely, they were all the same. Apples.

3. Vendors were doing a brisk, impromptu business selling from the tailgates of their cars campaign souvenirs, many of which I strongly suspected were unofficial and unauthorized, such as the ladies' underpants that read, "No More Bush."

4. "In America," Obama told the crowd, "our destiny is not written for us, it's written by us." As always, this line got a thunderous ovation even though -- I must point this out in the spirit of today's poll-- it is an illiteracy. "Destiny," if you believe in such a thing, is predetermined. We can no more write our own destiny as we can predetermine, 10 days before an election, who is going to win. (Oooh, see what I was doing there? Isn't it unspeakably clever? No, Tom the Butcher didn't think so, either. )

----

I had a dream last night in which I was taking the written driver's exam. It had a whole bunch of unusual questions, including "Does Barack Obama own The Onion?" (The answer, apparently, was yes.) Also, it asked me to grade the various shapes of human poop (This was clearly occasioned by an upcoming chat posting that I read yesterday), and also to identify 15 or 20 ladies hairstyles. This last question so terrified me, I woke up.

----

Some weeks ago, I was IMing with my friend Caitlin Gibson when the following occurred, verbatim.

Cast of characters: Cait is a writer, and the administrator in The Post's legal office. Marcus Brauchli is the brand-new Executive Editor of The Post, and a Very Important Potentially Scary Person.

Caitlin: S--- !

Caitlin: marcus brauchli just asked me for a notepad and i didn't have a new one so i just ripped the top sheet off one on my desk and gave it to him

Me: that is fine.

Caitlin: and i think

Me: that is resourceful.

Caitlin: i doodled cartoon ducks

Caitlin: on the back page of it

Me: hahahahahahaha.

Caitlin: S--- s--- s---.

me: hahahahahaha.

Caitlin: i am trying to find another pad that has the ducks

Caitlin: so i can know it wasn't the one i gave him

Caitlin: but i can't find the ducks

Caitlin: i think i gave him the ducks

Caitlin: one was wearing a party hat

Caitlin: this is what it looked like.

Caitlin: S---. I haven't said ten words to him yet and I give him a cartoon duck in a party hat.

Me: Wow. Can I use this in a chat?

Caitlin: I suppose so. If he has my ducks, and he sees this in the chat, maybe he will forgive me.

-----

Please take today's poll. So far, and I need to say this kindly, you guys are mostly sucking. The answers are very hard, though. I will explain 'em fairly early in the chat, but will reveal this now: The first question in the poll is what prompted me to ask Pat to write the rest of the poll. It is the verbatim first line of my column on Sunday. That is how it appeared in The Washington Post. Elsewhere in the country, in newspapers that are my clients for syndication, it read "Bob Woodward and I," not "Bob Woodward and me." Yes, there is an interesting story behind this.

---

Today we have a tandem CLOD, and they must be viewed in succession. Here they are: First this, then this.

The CPOW is Sunday's Doonesbury. The First Runner up is Thursday's Get Fuzzy. Honorables: Thursday's Prick City, Friday's Rhymes with Orange, Friday's Brewster Rockit, Friday's Speed Bump, and today's ... Baldo!

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Gene Weingarten: Oh, Redskin Chris Cooley has a blog, the same one in which he recently accidentally posted a photograph of his penis. This week, he decided to publish some of his own limericks. They were dreadful, but looked Shakespearean next to those that his readers submitted.

So I submitted two to the blog. Here they are:

Not one of you writes decent verse:

You can't rhyme, and your meter is worse.

Better stay football fans,

And just sit on your cans,

Swill beer, pick your wedgies, and curse.

--

In Britain, Chris, we're just agog

'Cause your fan base seems dumb as a log.

All in all, we would rather

Been been spared all that blather.

(Not the first time you've cocked up your blog.)

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Reston, Va.: Gene -- a friend was at the Obama rally in Leesburg last week and caught a picture of you! Can I send it in?

Gene Weingarten: Sure, but send to weingarten (at) washpost.com. I tend not to post pics of myself here, but will consider for an update.

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Rally for Oba, MA: Why would you have been fired? Does The Post really think you're an impartial political observer? Wouldn't you essentially be the equivalent of an Op-Ed contributor?

Gene Weingarten: Because I cannot literally let myself be used as a political backdrop. It would be the equivalent of contributing money to a campaign. Not allowed, for good reason.

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Ellicott City, Md.: Is "Rocking Chair" the best song by the Band?

Gene Weingarten: No, but you've got the right album. The Band's brown album is probably the best folk-rock album of all time, and it contains the five best songs ever by The Band, which are, in order: Across the Great Divide, Rag Mama Rag, Jemima Surrender, The Night They Drive Old Dixie Down, and Rocking Chair.

Gene Weingarten:"Unfaithful Servant" might be in the mix, too. An amazing album.

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Dude: Caitlin draws really good ducks.

Gene Weingarten: Her mommy is a really talented artist.

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Today's Poll: One great joy of graduating high school is I don't have to take grammar tests anymore. You described the answers as "very hard." Way to sell it, Gene. I'm guessing this poll will rank pretty low in participation. Do you keep records?

Gene Weingarten: It's doing fine.

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Washington, D.C.: My mother attended an Obama rally last weekend in Reno, Nev. She called me later with only one complaint about the event -- that they had confiscated her apple at the gate!

I think you are on to something here, Gene.

Gene Weingarten: It was completely bizarre. Huge piles of apples.

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Fairfax, Va.: Dear Gene,

My partner and I decided that you are the only person qualified to arbitrate on this question. Which is worse:

Opening your mouth in an enclosed space (read shower) just in time to inhale (actually, eat) the other person's fart (of the deadly variety)

or

being on the receiving end of a burp (also the deadly kind) during open-mouthed kissing.

Both of these happened recently (luckily, for balance's sake, to different receivers) and we've been back and forth trying to decide who was worse off. Thoughts?

Gene Weingarten: I am sitting here laughing.

Rib: Why are you laughing.

Me: The concept of "eating a fart."

Rib:

Me: Never mind.

So, that's worse. Simply by the way it is explained.

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Anonymous: I hate this poll more than any poll

Gene Weingarten: I have a dozen posts saying, essentially, "I love this poll more than any other poll."

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Dunn Loring, Va.: I've noticed an interesting phenomenon. As I drive around different neighborhoods, it's rare (I'd venture maybe 2 percent) that I see a house with both an Obama yard sign and an American flag. By comparison, around 10 percent of McCain supporters fly an American flag. Is there some unspoken rule that I missed?

Gene Weingarten: Clearly, people who support Obama hate America.

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Writing our Desti, NY: You may be the only professional author here, but don't get too jealous of the prerogatives that go with it. Obama's comment that we write our own destiny isn't an illiteracy any more than William Ernest Henley's line in Invictus, "I am the master of my fate." As long as these guys don't venture into humor, you should ease up and give them some license to be literary. They're not so bad at it.

Gene Weingarten: It's lazy, though. I don't like it. Sports people are particularly guilty of this, when they talk about controlling their own destiny.

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Reston Peas: So, a few weeks ago my mortgage sharing girlfriend and I decided to split up, and I found out I was getting laid off in the same day. Not one of my favorite days. I'm driving home, impatient, being an arse of sorts. This lady cuts me off, I get annoyed, practically do everything those radio commericals and metro bus ads say not to. Somewhere in there she gets the finger. (I would swear this up and down if I wasn't an atheist) I of course got the finger back. Except it wasn't the usual suspect, but the pointer accompanied by the thumb, calling into question the size of my manhood. Honestly, it made me laugh, thinking about the chat et. al, and realize what a Richard I was being. I took a deep breath and happily obliged (most) traffic laws the rest of my commute.

Gene Weingarten: OOOhh. Possibly it was a reader of these chats! I have advocated just such a move.

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Arlington, Va.: Speaking of The Band, which do you think works best? "I got me a date with a purty little girl from Greece" as Levon Helm sang it or "I got me a date with Boticelli's niece" as Dylan wrote it.

Gene Weingarten: Uh, Botticelli. Botticelli's niece is fabulous.

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ThePo, Ll: I loved today's poll, but my answers aren't in line with the majority. I'll assume it's because I'm right and everyone else is wrong. Agreed?

Gene Weingarten: Probably. He are the correct answers:

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, the poll.

Except for the first answer, which is in dispute, there is something wrong with ALL OF THEM.

1. On the first line, from my column: The confusion seems to have come from my use of "such as" for pompous-sounding effect, instead of "like," which would have been straightforward and carried a "me," not "I". With "such

as," an ambiguity arises and knowledgeable people could come down on either side of this issue. Pat would have gone with "I," because it sounds better, but invites other grammarians to dissent. I wrote "I" and a Post copy editor changed it. The Syndicate copy editor did not. We are not prepared to allege that either was "wrong."

2. The expressioIt is free rein, not free reign. A word usage problem. This is about loosening the reins on someone, not weakening their control of government.

3. In the Pulitzer prize sentence, there is a problem of parallelism. It is presented as a list, but in fact is not a list, because the third item is not parallel. It could be most simply fixed by adding an "and" before the second item in the list.

4. Word usage problem. The musical term "crescendo" is a gradual building, not an apex. You don't really "reach" a crescendo at all. Very common misuse.

5. This is clearly grammatical. The sirens and horns are not surrounded by glass. This is a dangling participle.

6. Who is the better person for the job, not whom.

7. Ooh, so many of you got this wrong. The prize will go to whoever can explain, the point being that 'whoever"

is the subject of "can explain," not the object of "go to."

8. Something can't be five times bigger than something else. It can be five times as big. "Bigger" allows only addition, nut multiplication as the modifying factor. "Five times bigger" is meaningless.

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Regarding Size and Shape of Poop: You published an email in your WED or THURS update regarding the size (width) of a person's poop. Bet you didn't know that there is actually a scale that doctors use to help determine your GI health by the shape of your stool. It is called the Bristol Scale. If you type "Bristol Stool Scale" into wikipedia, you will be greeted with a chart showing the Bristol Scale (with graphical representations).

Gene Weingarten: Liz, can we link to this?

I wonder if Sarah Palin knew about this? Probably not.

washingtonpost.com: Bristol Stool Scale| Bristol Palin

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Chris Cooley: OMG - I really like Chris Cooley and now I have to think that he is a moron. Really, blogging is a dangerous thing!

BYW - is the picture of his penis still on the blog? And why does anyone take a picture of his penis - unless he plans to send it to a doctor because of some really ugly rash?

Gene Weingarten: I mentioned this in the Gene Pool a couple of weeks ago. He blogs naked, and was taking a picture of the Redskins playbook on his lap, and, uh, forgot. He. Was. Naked.

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crescendo: Crescendo means the build-up, not the final state. Word usage.

Gene Weingarten: Correct.

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Washington, DC: Gene, have you ever posted something during a chat that you really shouldn't said? Would you go to the extreme as editing from the chat or do you go by the standard that if it has been posted, it stays there.

Gene Weingarten: The Post doesn't let us yank something unless it libelous or causes grave injury, or something.

I have written HUNDREDS of things that I regret. They're all still out there.

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Splitting Hai, RS: Let's get this straight, Gene:

1. Giving money to a campaign (and having your name posted as a contributor): bad.

2. Sitting on a stage for a compaign: bad.

3. Writing articles in the bloody newspaper itself that call Obama the Man of Destiny or McCane/Palin the Little Ducks with Party Hats: fine.

That's the sort of ethical hair-splitting up with which I will not put.

Gene Weingarten: These are not parallel. I think most people see why. As a columnist I am allowed to/supposed to have and express opinions. I am not allowed to materially help a campaign as a partisan, other than what I do openly and publically, in the course of my job.

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New York, NY: Metro to Randomly Search Riders' Bags: Your thoughts? I'm a die hard civil liberties fan, and find security theater of this sort offensive. I'm not sure you've ever given a position on privacy rights in this field.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I'm not sure. I don't object to it at a football game. This seems different, but I'm not sure why, if there is a perceived threat.

I don't like it, though.

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Ducky: Cait -- Would you really want to work for a guy who did anything other then smile if he saw your party duck? I think this is a good way to judge the man behind the job. If he smiles potential good guy.

Gene Weingarten: Truth is, he'd smile.

And if he's reading this chat, he'll REALLY smile.

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Poorgramm, AR: From Merriam-Webster:

Crescendo 1 a: a gradual increase ; specifically : a gradual increase in volume of a musical passage b: the peak of a gradual increase : climax

Gene Weingarten: Aaaaugggh.

I hate that, but even allowing that, in this sentence, it is not the peak of a gradual increase.

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Theba, ND: Don't forget that "Up On Cripple Creek," with its great lyrics and fun ending ("But deep down, I'm kinda tempted/To go and see my Bessie again") is on that album too.

Gene Weingarten: You're right. Gad, what an album. A monster album.

Hey, when we were both about 25, Rick Danko and I looked almost identical. Practically indistinguishable.

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HoCo, MD: I have an Obama sign, an ACLU membership, and an American flag. I know all the words to God Bless America, too.

I can't wait for this election to be over so I can start existing again.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

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Mud: I'm in Baghdad. I have to walk about a block-and-a-half to the toilet when I wake up to pee in the middle of the night and now that it's started to rain I have to walk that block-and-a-half in six inches of mud. On the bright side nobody's shooting at me. BTW, I voted for Barak Obama and so did everybody in my office.

Gene Weingarten: Based on similar reports about absentee balloting, my theory is that Obama has already won the election.

Come home safely.

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Arlington, Va.: Gene,

If elected, will Barack Obama be the first ever second-generation American President? It has been difficult to absolutely confirm on line, but it appears that both parents of all prior US Presidents were born in the US (or the 13 colonies).

To me, this seems even more remarkable than him being, you know, black. It means that, for all our immigration debate, we really are a land of opportunity.

As a Professional Journalist whose beat includes Presidential ancestry, can you help us out here?

Gene Weingarten: I can help, and you are wrong.

I am proud of myself here: I checked one name, and was right. There might be others.

Both of Andrew Jackson's parents were born in Carrickfergus, Ireland. The emigrated here two years before Andy was born in 1760-something.

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Hickeyville: Here's one for you , Gene --

I am a 34-year-old married female. I am in the process of looking for a new job. I'm a good interview, but I have one issue- I have a strawberry birthmark on my neck that looks like a hickey. It's definitely noticeable, and I have yet to find a cover up that completely conceals it. I am trying to figure out if it's a good idea to bring it up in the interview -- something like, "Oh, just an fyi, this is a birthmark on my neck, I know it looks rather like something else, just wanted to be upfront about it". Or something like that. Or should I not say anything at all and hope they don't notice? They totally will, though. On the first day of my current job, my manager told me that she didn't care what I did extracurricularly, but I had to look professional at work and then nodded at neck. This has happened a few times. Of course, when I tell them it's a birthmark, they're extremely apologetic. So I'm conflicted. What would you do in this situation?

Gene Weingarten: I would do nothing.

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New York, N.Y.: When they search you before entering an airport or a football game, you know ahead of time they will search you before you enter a private facility. You buy a ticket based on the idea that you must submit to the search to enter the property.

The random searches that the NYPD undertakes before allowing you to enter the PUBLIC mass transit system is something completely different and bothers the hell out of me. When it was new, I was shocked at how few people shared my view on this.

Gene Weingarten: Well, if they announce it as a program, you know ahead of time, right?

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WTF?: I've called my husband at work three times this month and have been told he and so and so were out to lunch. I ask him about his day when he gets home and he says he was so busy he didn't eat. I don't think there's any hanky panky happening, but why would he lie to me?

Gene Weingarten: If you don't think there is hanky panky, why are you asking us, and not him?

You think there is hanky panky.

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No Nookie-ville: Hi Gene. My boyfriend of five years has little to no sex-drive. I was always more interested in sex than he was, but over the past year or two, we have become all but celibate. Counseling is probably down the road, but first the plan is to rule out physical causes. There is a plan for a visit to an actual doctor, but as you are my window into the male brain and body... what could cause a 29-year-old male to lose interest in sex? FWIW his "equipment" still works; it's just that sex has just become as urgent as folding the laundry: it should be done, but it can be put off until later, like next month. I love this man. I want to marry him. But sometimes I am so depressed about our sex life I want to cry. Please, please, please lend me what insight you can.

Gene Weingarten: I have no explanation, but he should definitely seek counseling and medical advice. AT 29, this should not be the case. I'm not sure why you would want to marry someone and look at a lifetime of no sex.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Metro time waster. As someone pointed out in Dr. Gridlock's discussion: here is how the dance plays out.

Sir, you have been selected blah blah blah. No, I do not consent. You cannot ride metro and must leave. (you walk out of the station, wait a minute and simply re-enter)

Like I said, a time waster.

Gene Weingarten: Good point!

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Editor's note: I see that washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties. Are you a third party, Gene, since the paper Post and the e-Post are different entities?

And, if so, and if no one is responsible for your posting, may we discuss a certain hygiene/shaving issue that has been bubbling beneath the surface for months now?

washingtonpost.com: Allow me: No and no.

Gene Weingarten: And we know who calls the shots here.

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Washington, D.C.: My friends and I have been discussing: Is there any one book, movie, or TV show, that having as a favorite is an automatic deal breaker? What interests would prove to you that someone is totally unfunny, has a different worldview, and that this relationship would never work?

Some say "Da Vinci Code" as a favorite book is a deal breaker. The best example I've come up with is ruling out someone whose favorite television show is "Everybody Loves Raymond."

Gene Weingarten: Dan Quayle's favorite movie was, famously, "Ferris Beuller's Day Off."

I judge people by their taste in comic strips, where there are obvious and cliched deal breakers. But there are also subtle red flags. I'm worrying about someone who claims to like "Prickly City" or "Mallard Fillmore."

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Anonymous: As a male, I have a question that I never had the courage to ask, especially since I believe my source is something I heard Howard Stern say years ago. Is it true that in many breast enlargement surgeries that some women lose nipple feeling? In other words, the woman has decreased abilities for sensual pleasure, all in exchange for supposedly making herself more attractive to men? (Only to learn that, for a lot of men, that is not an issue?) If this is so, shouldn't there be greater warnings to women, or do they know this and proceed with the surgeries anyway?

Gene Weingarten: A quick Google search confirms this. Permanent loss of sensation is not uncommon. As you point out, the irony here is disturbing.

I don't get the whole breast enhancement thing, but I'm not a woman and don't pretend to understand the calculus behind it.

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Another Error: Succubus and Incubus should have been capitalized, as they are proper names, yes?

Gene Weingarten: No, they are not.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: Re: Crescendo. I'm not surprised that the meaning of "peak" has made it into Merriam-Webster, since it's often used that way and MW is a descriptive dictionary; i.e., it's describing what's said out there, not what OUGHT to be said. So is the dictionary that The Post uses, Webster's New World; our edition, however, still doesn't give that meaning, surprisingly.

What surprises me is that as a musical term meaning to grow louder, "crescendo" is learned by every child who ever studies a musical instrument, which must be a huge proportion of the population. So you'd think that a meaning that's so different from the original wouldn't catch on. I guess people either forgot or didn't like the alternatives, such as "climax."

I think using "crescendo" to mean peak is especially unfortunate if you're talking about music. But still, i think it's sloppy and that it prevents its use as a great word for its original meaning, a big swell of volume.

Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure that the percentage of kids learning music remains high, Pat.

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Strawberry mark: I would cover it up with a scarf or turtle neck for the interview. I had an informational interview with my friend's cousin the other day. He is highly qualified, has an impressive resume, and was recently laid off. He deserves a new job -- he is highly competent and experienced, pleasant, resourceful and is networking like mad. However, he has some sort of skin condition and has many, many (I'm talking hundreds, possibly) small cysts or warts on his face. There are so many that it is distracting -- for the first 20 minutes, I could barely concentrate on anything he was saying because I was so curious about his condition. You don't want your interviewers to be distracted or speculating about anything but your qualifications for the job and fit with the organization. Please cover it up.

Gene Weingarten: See next post.

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Birthmark on neck: Um, I've done a lot of recruiting, and believe me, the majority of people will not think it's a hickey. Even if it looks exactly like one. Most people will assume it's a birthmark or other sort of mark (what's that mark that violin players get on their necks?). Because, honestly, most recruiters are going to assume that most people are avoiding behavior that would engage in hickeys before a job interview.

Gene Weingarten: Getting many strong opinions on this. Who knew?

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Whoever vs. Whomever: I disagree and still think it is "whomever can explain". The "can explain..." part modifies the "whomever" (the sentence would make sense without it; it simply specifies the person to whom you are referring). "Whomever" is still the object of the "goes to". It is not the subject of the sentence as a whole.

Gene Weingarten: You are wrong.

This is not debatable. It's simple grammar.

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Capitol South, DC: Are you familiar with New Zealand's anti-speeding campaign, " Speeding. No one thinks big of you." I love that it's state sponsored.

Gene Weingarten: Yep. We've linked to this before. It's great.

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Leesburg, VA: You didn't give us the correct answer for #2 in the poll - the one about the hole-in-one and pants-vibrating fart.

You're #2 answer is actually for question #3 on the poll, etc.

Inquiring minds want to know!

Gene Weingarten: Oh, sorry. Many of you are wrong about that one. The verb is not singular, it is plural. One of the few who.... The subject is few, not "one."

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For Liz: Thank you, thank you for the link to the Ricky Gervais and Thandi Newton clip this morning. It is only moderately NSFW.

washingtonpost.com: You're welcome. For everyone else, here are Newton and Gervais reenacting a scene from the Sarah Palin-inspired porno flick.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice! Thandie does this WAAY better than she did Condi in W.

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The Gym: Gene,

I have a question which I believe you are uniquely qualified to answer. I recently joined a new gym in town - the membership an anniversary gift from my wonderful SO - and have been working out there every morning. I love to run, and because I'm a freak of nature, I will sometimes run on a treadmill for an hour and a half at a time while watching the news. I don't know, it's my therapy. Oh, I should also mention that I'm a 26-year-old woman, but look considerably younger. People assume my 21-year-old sister is older than me. So anyway, I'm running along yesterday, and a man in his late 60s, probably, approaches me. He says he admires that I've been running since he got there and he's showered and leaving now, and that I'm a very beautiful girl. That last bit makes me uncomfortable, but I decided being pleasant wouldn't kill me, and he walked away anyway. Then, this morning, same thing. He walks up to me while I'm running, carries on a semi-flirty conversation, harasses me because he thinks I forgot his name (I didn't), and leaves. I don't know why, but he makes me nervous. Is he, do you think -- harmless? Should I not worry about anything yet? Am I paranoid? If he makes a habit of commenting on my appearance, what do I do? I hate conflict but I also hate feeling leered at. You're my dad's age, but far less likely to drive 1,000 miles here to shoot someone, so I'm asking you. Thanks! Virtual panties, etc.

Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure what you're asking. Yes, he is hitting on you, but you already know that. Yes, it is starting to make you uncomfortable, so you have to stop it. And yes, you are going to have to do something uncharacteristic that makes you seem unfriendly and cold, which shouldn't have to be, but in many ways the world is unfair.

Next time stop, and tell him flatly, without a smile, that you're sorry, but you don't like to talk while exercising. He will go away and not come back unless he is a REAL jerk, which he probably isn't.

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Who is Pat the Perfect: As a relatively new chatter, can you give us a quick background on who Pat is?

Gene Weingarten: Her name is Pat Myers, and she is the world's funniest copy editor. She works at The Post and is a close friend of mine.

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Nether Scaggsville, Md.: Do you or your readers ever do this?

When it is my turn to be waited on in some retail transaction, I don't continue to wait patiently for the functionary to finish her conversation with her co-workers, her cousin on the cell phone, or even the departing customer before me. I neutrally and clearly state my order, with a "please", and that is usually enough to bring the person around. I'm sure they think I am rude, but I don't give a damn.

Of course if the functionary is attending to some critical personal or business need (unjamming the register tape, putting a call on hold, or concluding a sneeze), I do mildly wait it out. I am not a maniac. But as I am now in the late-afternoon tea-time of my life, I am not going to let anyone else waste my time.

Gene Weingarten: I do it wordlessly, through comically impatient body language. Must less honest. Liz, can you link to a column I did about this a couple of years ago? Search for me, stamps, and Louisiana Purchase.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, ( Post Magazine, Sept. 24, 2006)

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Pat the Perfect, ME: Re "The prize will go to whomever/whoever wins the race":

This is a tricky construction, because "whom" is an object and usually follows the preposition "to." But in this case, "whom" is replaced with the whole phrase "whoever wins the race" -- "who" must go with "wins." In old-fashioned English, one could say "to him who wins the race"; now we'd say "to whoever wins" or "to the person who wins."

Gene Weingarten: Exactly.

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TP Questi, ON: Do you know what average toilet paper usage is? This week on the PostSecret Web site (yeah, I know I have no life), someone sent a postcard saying "I strongly suspect that I use a LOT more TP than other people... but I have no way of knowing." This has left me really paranoid that I use more TP also. What if my roommates think I am some sort of excessive TP user?! I thought if anyone could help me out, it's you.

Gene Weingarten: I happen to know the answer, or part of the answer, based on a study I wrote about many years ago. There is almost an even divide among women, after peeing: Half use two squares and half use three squares. (Which is why squares are so small: To allow both options.

I do not believe quantity has been studied while pooping, though topology and morphology has: Half the people fold it, and half bunch it.

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Don't you remember: There was one thing you wrote in this chat that WAS removed, I believe, because it would have cut the panty-throwing by a significant amount....

Gene Weingarten: No, I don't. Neither does Liz. Do you wish to tell us?

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Indianapolis, Ind.: One sunny day in 2009 an old man approached the White House from across Pennsylvania Avenue, where he'd been sitting on a park bench.

He spoke to the U.S. Marine standing guard and said, "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush."

The Marine looked at the man and said, "Sir, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here."

The old man said, "Okay" and walked away.

The following day, the same man approached the White House and said to the same Marine, "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush."

The Marine again told the man, "Sir, as I said yesterday, Mr. Bush is no longer president and no longer resides here."

The man thanked him and, again, just walked away.

The third day, the same man approached the White House and spoke to the very same U. S. Marine, saying, "I would like to go in and meet with President Bush."

The Marine, understandably agitated at this point, looked at the man and said, "Sir, this is the third day in a row you have been here asking to speak to Mr. Bush. I've told you already that Mr. Bush is no longer the president and no longer resides here. Don't you understand?"

The old man looked at the Marine and said, "Oh, I understand. I just love hearing it."

The Marine snapped to attention, saluted, and said, "See you tomorrow."

Gene Weingarten: Nice.

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Assu, ME: I have often felt awkward about using "assume" vs. "presume" in a sentence. Because you are the new "Mr. Language Person," I hope that you can give me some guidance.

Sample sentence: "I presume that you are qualified to become Vice President of the United States." Is this correct?

Gene Weingarten: I had to look this up. I thought I wouldn't, but I did.

In the sense you are using the words -- meaning, to suppose, or take for granted that -- these words are essentially interchangeable. However some 80 years ago a very learned wordsmith noted a very minor difference between them: "Assume" tends to connote something taken on faith, or through belief, whereas "presume" suggests you suppose it based on more empirical fact and evidence. These are trifling differences, of interest mostly to persons like me and Ms. Perfect.

Your example, though, is appalling. When one is dealing with the potential vice president, one must not presume competence. One must demand proof.

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Hopes, MA: Hi Gene, I know you've been busy and all, but you forgot to mention Baby Hope's birthday the last two weeks! She turned three on October 15th, and let me tell you she would give you a run for your money.

Her new favorite joke is that when she goes in to use the potty she will pull down her pants and stand facing the toilet. Then she tells me that she wants to pee like a boy. I get increasingly nervous as this goes on, since I know that she still doesn't have a whole lot of control here. But she just looks at me sideways and giggles and won't sit down until she thinks she has "sneezed" (that means teased) me enough.

I emailed a photo to you and Liz if you want to share it.

Gene Weingarten: Ah, here we go:

washingtonpost.com: Baby Hope

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Name Ga, ME: Gene, as the wise arbiter of all things name-related, I need your help.

My husband and I are completely stuck on names for our soon-to-be-born son. He wants something really unique and based in old legends/mythology. I'm afraid that the child will be teased endlessly and be labeled with "weird." (The name my husband currently likes is Tyr - pronounced like tear as in teardrop).

What do we do? The middle name has already been chosen (passing on a family name) so unfortunately that's not an option for balancing out. I'm getting a bit stressed, although we still have a couple months to decide. I think this is one of the biggest decisions I've ever had to make and I'm afraid of screwing it up.

Gene Weingarten: The answer to this is simple. In choosing a name, each parent has total veto power and must not be bashful about using it. A veto need no be defended. It just is, and we move on.... This tends to militate toward safety (if not boredom), which is fine. Names should not be an exercise in ego for the parents.

Tyr is unconscionable, as you well know, so put your foot down. No. Next?

The Rib and I had a couple of vetos exercised; in a loving marriage, these should not be a strain, they are simply a valuable filtering device. I said Molly would not be Kate. I had my reasons but was not called upon to explain them. She said Molly's middle name could not be Eliza. Again, that was simply accepted.

We had named Dan six years before he was born, so that evoked no debate at all. Liz, can you link to the column I did about Dan's name? Search me and kamikaze and "have no scar"

washingtonpost.com: 5 for the Fourth, ( Post Magazine, July 1, 2001)

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Los Angeles, Calif.: How excited were you to find that Kathleen Parker wrote an entire serious-ish column last week that apparently used your column as its main source?

washingtonpost.com: Tragic Flaw, ( National Review Online, Oct. 24)

Gene Weingarten: Her MAIN point came not from the column, which mentioned the research study, but from the chat, where YOU guys first made the Palin connection.

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Jargonville, Mo.: Because you're so uptight about pronunciations, I thought I would ask how you pronounce "what."

Yes, that common word is correctly pronounced "hwhat," as in you sound out a breathy h first. (I believe Stewie in an episode of Family Guy keeps saying it that way). I did not believe my friends when they told me this until I checked the dictionary and realized, with much horror, they were right. The same rule actually applies to any word that starts with "wh." I've tried to be good and say it right, but I just can't stand it! Please, please tell me that even the pronunciation dictators will let me get by with saying good ol' "what."

Also, I have a suggestion for a new poll: words or phrases that most need to die a painful death. My candidate is interface.

I'm a reporter at Midwestern newspaper, and one of the local mayors I frequently have to interview loves to use this word in place of "speak," as in, "I will interface with the public on upcoming changes."

It's like nails on a chalkboard every time she says it. This is not her only sin - she loves anything that she thinks makes her sound more serious. But it is by far her most egregious and common one. Please, Gene, interface with us and tell us all hope is not lost.

Gene Weingarten: All hope is lost. Liz, can you link to my column on how I pronounce "what"?

(Search me and "Michael Agnes.")

Gene Weingarten: (Eventually, there will be no topic about which I haven't written a column.)

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, ( Post Magazine, Sept. 17, 2006)

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Eating a Fart: A friend of mine once got so upset with a U-Haul rental place that he angrily suggested that the gentleman "Suck a fart out of his a--"

Gene Weingarten: This reminds me of the best and most shocking line in the brilliant, tragically underrated movie "Citizen Ruth."

I cannot repeat it here, or even intelligibly allude to it.

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New York, N.Y.: Would talking the the gym management about that guy be wise?

Gene Weingarten: I don't think so because I don't think he has stepped over a line yet. He is being slightly rude and transparent.

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For the Female Gym Runner: Wear a wedding band to the gym. Doesn't have to be fancy or anything. Problem (hopefully) solved.

Gene Weingarten: That won't do it, even if he notices the band.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: Gene Weingarten: Oh, sorry. Many of you are wrong about that one. The verb is not singular, it is plural. One of the few who.... The subject is few, not "one."

Well, the subject is "Gene" and the verb is "is." But then we get to the second part of the sentence, "one of the few people who is/are capable of xxx." Gene is not one of the few people period; he's one of the FEW PEOPLE WHO ARE CAPABLE OF XXX. So the agreement isn't between "one" and "people." It's Gene IS ONE of -these few people]/

Gene responded to someone earlier that the answer was "simple grammar." It's not simple grammar. It's complicated grammar. But it's not a judgment call.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, ma'am. What you said.

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RE: Who is Pat the Perfect?: And you forgot -- she may or may not be sleeping with the Emperor Consort of the Post Style Invitational.

Gene Weingarten: That is a private matter between Pat, Mr. Perfect, the Empress, and the Emperor consort. It is not our business to make assumptions.

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Mountain View, Calif.: As I was doing the poll, it seemed to me that the sentence about the Arena Stage building was grammatically correct, although I'd prefer a semicolon to the dash for formal writing. What I can't figure out is how the sirens and car horns are going to get inside that thick glass wall surrounding Sixth and Maine. And do they enter by themselves, or are they accompanied by vehicles?

Gene Weingarten: Exactly.

Gene Weingarten: That wording -- or something very close to it -- is actually on the wall at Arena. They have yet to correct the error. It is a classic dangling participle.

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DowntheDrai, IN: Gene --

What was your reaction to Sunday's "Doonesbury?" I have trouble with this whole "attack Joe the Plumber" thing. For all you, I or Trudeau knows, Joe's a great plumber -- or maybe a terrible one -- but why should we care? The cartoon comes across as just a vicious personal attack on the guy for having the temerity to disagree with Obama.

So I figured there must be a deeper point being made -- some metaphor about the candidates -- but if Trudeau is trying to suggest that one of them will prove to be an inept bumbler who doesn't know what he's doing -- well, Obama's the one without the track record of accomplishment, but somehow I don't think that's where Trudeau was going.

Was this funny and I just missed it?

washingtonpost.com: Doonesbury, ( Oct. 26)

Gene Weingarten: Yes, it was funny and you just missed it. First off, you need to understand that because of Sunday comic deadlines, Trudeau must have punched this out in minutes, the day after the last debate, when it became manifest that Joe the Plumber was not a licensed plumber.

Is this fair satire? Yep. Why? Because Trudeau knows exactly as much about Joe the Plumber as McCain apparently did before he hauled him out to be the CENTERPIECE of his failing, desperate campaign. McCain had already created this ridiculous stalking horse, and Trudeau is doing exactly what his job is: Exposing the hypocrisy behind it.

It doesn't matter whether Joe is a competent, unlicensed plumber. He's a caricature, and McCain made him one.

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Washington, D.C.: Deal-breaker TV show: "Curb your Enthusiasm." It tells me that this person enjoys embarrassment humor, and I see that trait as a personality flaw.

washingtonpost.com: Man, I love that show. And the egg is usually on Larry David's own face, so I don't see the problem.

Gene Weingarten: All humor is embarrassment humor.

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Art, VPL and paparazzi: Gene, this is a long but interesting profile of Ron Galella, the "first true paparazzo" (though he seems to consider himself more of an artist; his work is in the MoMA and other "legit" places). I was amused to read that his views on VPL are bang on with yours:

"For me, it's the mystery. What's behind her clothes? What excites me is panty lines - and yet the women, they don't want no panty lines. To me, it's the sexiest thing."

We know your love for VPL, but have you ever discussed your views on the paparazzi? Do you think this guy's pictures are art? Some of them look just as invasive as today's pap shots, but some of them are kind of striking.

Gene Weingarten: I think Ron Gallela is an artist specifically BECAUSE he was first. He created an art form which has been imitated by many people far less skilled than he is.

He is saying EXACTLY what I have said about VPL, pointing out the irony of men liking it and women trying to hide it; an intriguing battleground oer the power of sex.

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Germantown, Md.: The Internet Movie Database has the quote from "Citizen Ruth". How did I miss that movie? Love Laura Dern and it sounds pretty good!

Gene Weingarten: It's better than pretty good. It's blindingly brilliant. I have no idea why it is not better known.

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Metro searching: It's more intrusive because people rely on Metro as a part of their daily life, in a way that sporting events and even flying is not. The article says the searches will "focus" on explosives, but doesn't exactly say what and what is not permitted. Do people have to worry about carrying perfectly legal, but potentially dangerous objects? Do I need to edit my bag to TSA standards? What happens if they find something they deem inappropriate? What is considered "explosive"? Firecrackers? Flammable liquids, such as lighter fluid for your bbq? What about something with which they are unfamiliar?

I'm not saying it's wrong, but clarification would be very helpful. The whole food police debacle a few years ago doesn't inspire confidence in the method in which they will implement this new program.

Gene Weingarten: The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced it's wrong, and pointless. A terrorist COULD decline to be searched, then come back in.

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Warshington: How many of the 15 Amazon reader reviews of "Old Dogs" did you personally write?

Gene Weingarten: Not a one. I have never reviewed my own book, though without my knowledge my kids once ananymously, hilariously reviewed my Hypochondria book. They were 17 and 14 at the time. They recommended the book, then noted that they had never before recommended a book to anyone, then noted that this fact is particularly odd because they are a librarian. This happened to be the first review of the book, and it is forever archived at Amazon.

I do think anonymous self-review is sadly legion in Amazon: If you look skeptically at many books with only a few reviews, you can often get a whiff of a suspicion of it. I think Amazon reviews should have to be signed.

They can also be annoying to a writer. The only less-than-good review of Old Dogs so far -- the reason it is four and a half stars, and not five stars -- is from some person who never bought the book, never read the book, never even LOOKED AT the book. She asked that a free page of it be sent to her Kindle reading machine, and was apparently disappointed that this page did not contain a photo of a dog.

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TP: No way do most women use 2 or 3 squares. Absolutely not. I am stingy with TP, to the point that I sometimes feel a trickle down my leg after I'm standing and zipping up my pants (darn it).

And I can tell you from being in the bathroom with my girlfriends that they use WAY MORE than two or three squares. In fact, I am appalled by how much they use. They will let the TP roll over 2-3 times' worth.

Gene Weingarten: Just for wee-wee?

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Speaking of Grammar...: Is it just me, or is anyone else bugged by the Obama ad where he talks about it being the responsibility of every parent to sit down and read to "their" child. I'm an Obama fan, but shouldn't someone have vetted that before they put it out there? You know the he knows that "their" isn't correct as it's used in the ad. Is he pandering to people who don't know good English? Or to those who think using proper English is elitist?

Gene Weingarten:"Their" in that circumstance has become acceptable. I used to hate it, but have become resigned to it because it is not an ignorance so much as it is an agreed-upon convenience. "His or her" is clumsy, and there is no less clumsy alternative. I don't hate it. Anymore. I've been beaten down by this one.

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Communist Arlington, Va.: Gene,

Have you seen this brilliant Web site yet?

Gene Weingarten: I am not as impressed with this as others are.

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Anonymous: Yesterday I was waiting for my order at a cafe. There was a mother with a young (perhaps 5-year-old) daughter, also waiting. With them was a man who appeared to be the mother's boy friend. At first he "play-punched" at the little girl, who screamed. Mother told him to cut it out. Then he did it again, and again, and again, each time coming closer to her. Eventually, she stopped crying. Then he took out a cigarette lighter, flicked it on, and pushed it toward her face (really fast). Again mom told him to cut it out (while the little girl cried and tried to hide). Again, he kept doing it and doing it and doing it, bringing the flame closer and closer to her face. I was absolutely horrified, but couldn't think of anything to do other than glaring at him across the room, (and yes, he saw me, and smirked) since the mother quit protesting pretty quickly. What would you have done?

Gene Weingarten: I hate question like this because they're so disturbing, and there's no good answer.

I don't think you do anything, except feel bad afterward. You're looking at bad parenting, but I don't think you're looking at anything tangible enough to intercede. I'd like to hear if someone has any better ideas.

Gene Weingarten: I was talking to a friend last night who recommended something interesting: Go up to the child and say something neutral, but friendly: "Hi, how you doing? I like your shoes!" Whatever. This does not directly confront the parents, but tells the child there is an adult there who considers her a human being and likes her and is concerned for her wellbeing. Might shame the adults into acting more in her interest.

I think this is good advice.

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McLean, Va.: I wish that elementary and high school English courses would bring back the old and arcane practice of diagramming sentences. Diagramming sentences helped me more with my grammar and word usage than any other activity in school. I wish I could find an old (i.e. pre-Chomsky) book of American English grammar.

Gene Weingarten: I believe Ms. Perfect, who is perfect, says she could never competently diagram sentences. I might be misremembering, and will be so informed forthwith.

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Citizen Ruth: I believe that the quote Gene is referencing is listed on the movie's IMDb memorable quotes page. Very easy to spot, even if out of context it does disturb one's lunch a bit.

Gene Weingarten: It is, apparently, but it must be seen in context to have its humor understood. It is uttered by citizen Ruth at a point when the people she is with have no reason to believe her to be anything but a lady. It comes as something of a major surprise.

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Costu, ME: I know you've taken the position before that there is no such thing as an offensive Halloween costume. However, what about this yard display? Is it wrong?

Gene Weingarten: There is a distinction between what costume is worn at a party -- where guests have to abandon their self-righteousness at the door -- and what is placed out in public view for passersby to see.

I was initially on the fence on this; I do see it as public art, and certainly as free speech. But I asked myself how I would regard it if it were an Obama effigy, and the answer is it would feel really, really wrong. If joking about lynching is wrong in one direction, it's wrong in the other direction. Decendy compels that this one come down.

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Hickey Birthmark: I have the same thing. Wear a scarf.

Gene Weingarten: Okay!

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Incorre, CT: No way do women only use two or three tp squares after urinating. It's far too few and it is likely their hands would get wet with urine. No doubt you were citing a study conducted by a man.

washingtonpost.com: Agreed. I use at least 8 - 15 depending on the thickness of the TP.

Gene Weingarten: Good lord.

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Old Dogs: As my dog ages (he's 13 now) he is more and more likely to perform a traveling poop, i.e. spanning many steps. Is this an old dog thing?

Gene Weingarten: Indeed, I even mention it in the book.

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Desti, NY: You're right that destiny is written for us. But I've always believed that someone who can write her own destiny is a go-getter, someone who is unwilling to accept what Fate has in store and goes out and creates a reality of her own making. In that spirit, it seems to make sense.

Gene Weingarten: Then you should say "write your own future."

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Leesburg: Me again suggesting, directly this time, you change the way the link to Prickly City has been spelled. The "ly" has been omitted!

Gene Weingarten: Not an error. It is how I refer to it.

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Misdirecti, ON: The answers in the poll result remove the apostrophe from the "It's" at the beginning of each option. As if "It's got" wasn't imprecise enough (in the poll), in the results it's grammatically incorrect as well.

I would inveigh more forcefully if I weren't somewhat suspicious that this might have been deliberate.

washingtonpost.com: Nope. The polling software either a) stripped them out because of some odd tech glitch or, b) is becoming self aware and having a joke at our expense.

Gene Weingarten: It ALWAYS does that. Drives me nuts.

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Tip or Not?: I get lunch from local restaurants. I order on the phone, show up, pay, and leave. Should I leave a tip?

Gene Weingarten: I do, but just a little. Someone had to bag up the food for you.

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Don't Treadmill on Me: If headphones and a ring don't work, try farting. Eat chili before you run and then, true or not, squeak one out and say "ooh boy, got the trots, I'm done for the day!"

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.

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Toled'OH: In response to the bathroom incident described in last Wednesday's update, I would like to hear somebody explain how anyone has ever dropped car keys in the toilet. Why would keys ever be anywhere other than in a pants pocket or a handbag while their possessor is engaged in bathroom activity?

Gene Weingarten: It's a fair question. I can't answer it, but I can tell you something that a man in a Verizon store once told me: Cell phones getting dropped in the toilet is so common it is basically an epidemic. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, it is caused when a man has his cell phone in his shirt pocket, and bends over to pull up his pants.

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Woman, going #1: I went to the bathroom mid-chat, and absentmindedly pulled off TP for my wee - then caught myself before I used it because I remembered the chat, so had a chance to count.

13 squares. And it's nice and fluffy, too.

Gene Weingarten: WOW.

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Speaking of baby names: In the newspaper from my childhood home, population approximately 600, in the middle of nowhere Oklahoma, there were two baby announcements this week. One named "Braydyn", and the other (completely unrelated) named "Tatym".

It's in middle-of-nowhere middle-America now. It can't be stopped.

Gene Weingarten: It is just so awful. The Kaitlyn phenomenon.

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Publically: Ew. Hate that variant. Ew.

Gene Weingarten: That is a variant? That is a mistake, no? Did I write that?

If I did, it is time for me to go.

I loved today's chat. Thank you all.

I am sorry there will be no updates this week. For the next month or two, updates will be sporadic. I will tell you when, during the chat. The Gene Pool will remain always active.

See you next week. Election Day. Excitement.

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