Chatological Humor: What Rhymes with 'Hartford'? (UPDATED 5.8.09)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 5, 2009; 12:00 PM

Daily Updates: WED | THURS | FRI

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, Weingarten 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.

Submit your questions, comments and other detritus before or during the discussion.

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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 and "Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs" with photographer Michael Williamson.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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


Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

Today Chatological Humor continues its relentless assault on the depraved and fraudulent trope known as "Today's Horoscope" in the hope - nay, with certitude - that our campaign will in due course persuade newspapers nationwide to discontinue the feature.

Persons who celebrated a birthday yesterday were told: "Your humor lights up the world this year." These May 4 birthday celebrants include... George F. Will.

Today's Horoscope is even better.

People with May 5 birthdays are having "great success in work and play," a group of people that includes the recently indicted Chris Brown, savage assaulter of Rihanna.

All Cancers today (June 22 - July 22) are informed that their "star is on the rise," and are advised to "keep doing what you are doing." These people include Lindsay Lohan (July 2) and David Hasselhoff. (July 17).


I am in receipt of a disturbing correspondence from an alert young reader:

"I have noticed a confusing phenomenon that I feel you should be aware of. You wrote in your Jan. 20, 2008 column "The Fame Threshold" that the phrase "she moaned" returned over 2 million Google hits, and, as such, became the threshold of comparison to decide who is truly famous. As of this email, 'she moaned' returns merely 515,000.

"If 'she moaned" has decreased in Google hits, then how will anyone know who is truly famous? I am deeply troubled."


Leyla Karaosmanoglu


I am troubled, too, Leyla, and thank you for bringing this important matter to my attention. Your question raises fascinating semiotic, epistemological and even ontological issues. It reminds me of a lengthy conversation I once had with Joel Achenbach, in which we resolved, through philosophical debate, this question: "If, suddenly, the better-looking fifty percent of people on Earth died, would the rather plain people in the former fifty-first percentile instantly become beautiful?" (Answer: yes.)

Leyla, your question is not so easy to answer; there are no glib short cuts here. A quick check shows there are not correspondingly steep plummets in the number of Googlehits for various famous people; it is as though sanity itself has just shuddered to a stop. The parallels to the economic meltdown are unmistakable; we seem no longer anchored, as a society, with no reliable way to measure self-worth. I welcome a robust discussion of this.


Here's the Clip of Day, as subtle and brilliant a takedown of Marketing as you'll ever see, from The Whitest Kids You Know.


The Great New Chatological Humor Feature Element, re-captioned comic strips, has resulted in a hemorrhage of five entries. Fortunately, one of them was THIS, by Horace LaBadie.

I look for more offerings this week. Best offering next week will win the keys to a new car. Just the keys -- I found them on the street.


Finally, please take TODAY's POLL. We'll be discussing it in detail, but to me the most interesting issue, so far, is the proportion of women who would be particularly troubled by a woman who chose implants to go from a B to a DD cup. It reminds me of the recent heated discussion over Miss California's decision to have implants, and whether this by any stretch of logic indicates a character flaw that will permit liberals to charge her with hypocrisy, which is itself hypocritical because we're just looking for a way to attack her because she is a nitwit opponent of gay marriage.

Let's go.


Somewhere in the South: Wow, a lot of people are judging someone's job worthiness by their romantic life. It's the cat lady that is creepy and weird. First, because 14 cats are just unsanitary. Also, cat hoarding (and other animal hoarding) is a sign of mental illness.

You can be a complete relationship idiot and still do your job. Believe me I work with 3 divorcees under the age of 30.

Gene Weingarten: See next post.


This person lives alone with 14 cats?: I am single (male, Academic, PhD), and have lived alone, in the woods, with more than 20 cats.

What would bother me would be if this person had not attempted to have those cats spayed or neutered, as I did.

Gene Weingarten: I make no judgments. You two need to fight it out.


Alexandria, Va.: Every now and then, I read the comments attached to a Post story. Sometimes I find an illuminating viewpoint from a reader, but more often than not, especially for any story with a political topic, there are multiple postings from crackpots, regular posters who seem to rant about conspiracy theories. My proposal to make the Post profitable: charge anyone who leaves more than one comment a day, with an extra charge for any comment that includes a link to a website. There should be a sliding scale for multiple comments--progressively higher fees. These folks are accessing a world-wide forum, and should pay for the privilege. I am happy to pay for daily Post delivery, and I think these folks should pay for a daily forum.

Gene Weingarten: Horace LaBadie came up with a brilliant term for irate comments in newspaper stories. It deserves its own line:

Choler Commentary.


Sex-chan, GE: "Three years ago, this person had a sex-change operation. He or she now identifies as a homosexual in his or her new gender."

Homosexuality is fine. Gender reassignment is fine. Combining the two just strikes me as someone with poor decision making skills. I mean, really, really poor.

Am I missing something here?

Gene Weingarten: It's not that uncommon, I'm told!


Rockville, MD: Your dog is one of the most beautiful dogs I have ever seen.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. You're just trolling for pixels, but what the hell? Liz, can you link to the pic of Murphy with Sunday's column?


Google-ville: Something to note about returning Google hits - the phrase ["she moaned"] with quotes returns in the neighborhood of 500,000 hits while the phrase [she moaned] without quotes still returns in excess of 2,000,000. This is an important distinction, and one that upon briefly re-skimming your earlier article mentioned in the introduction did not clarify.

This is an artifact of the communication medium, and something we chat denizens should standardize for the good of humanity.

Yes, I'm one of the people who intentionally uses the new dictionary "definition" of infer as a synonym for imply to assess the word snobbery of those I'm dealing with. And then I get to launch into the spiel about dictionaries describing language and bemoan the downfall of society. I'm not skilled with language, but I recognize the value of precise language and punctuation to convey complex ideas.

Gene Weingarten: I would argue that the original column made it clear it was in quotes. The phrase is "she moaned." How else would you search for that phrase?


Savannah, Ga.: I promised someone I'd write a limerick that starts with "There was an insurance man from Hartford." Having never written a limmerick before, I knew I had to turn to you for help. What are the rules of contruction? Please advise.

Gene Weingarten: Whenever I am writing a limerick, I rehearse the most famous one about Nantucket, because the rhyme and meter are perfect. Unfortunately for you, "There was an insurance man from Hartford" destroys the meter instantly.

"An insurance adjustor from Hartford..." works well. There is no rule that you have to start with There once was...

Chatwoman has prohibited me from reproducing the Nantucket limerick, even with xxxx s for the key words. You can find it.

_______________________ The Murphy pic is available in the linked column in the intro.


Horace LaBadie: Does he exist in a flesh and blood form separate from you? I always thought that he was someone you made up, much like an alter ego.

Gene Weingarten: It is actually a name Dave Barry would have made up, like "Duane LaPoot." But, improbably -- as with Gina Barreca -- Horace exists. He is a good friend of mine, even though we have never met.


Choler Commentary: Very clever neologism.

As for charging those who post multiple comments, I propose going a step further: run comments through some sort of spellcheck/grammar check, and impose a surcharge for misspellings, misuse of words, and other grammatical errors. A single post from some of the idiots out there could solve the Post's financial problems.

Gene Weingarten: Ah, but this is the very center of the monetizing crisis. How do you collect the fee?


Invisible car: Did you see this?????

Gene Weingarten: This is absolutely great.


Silver Spring, Md.: Who's Yehudi clip -- How come it's reverse-imaged? It seems possible, though unlikely, that the guitarist was left-handed and had a left-handed guitar, but not the bass and piano, too.

Gene Weingarten: This is a reference to a pretty fascinating video clip from last week's updates.

This is a 1942 "soundie" nickelodeon dime-a-drop film made by an otherwise unheralded hottie singer named Lane Truesdale and a band called "Lefty Louie and the Southpaws." It's notable mostly for its unsubtle antisemitism: Check out the stereotypical Jew on the wall, leering at the swinging shiksa butt. (Warning: Major ear-worm potential here. It's a catchy tune.)

"Who's Yehudi" began as a funny on-air radio reference to violinist Yehudi Menuhin, but a pair of composers turned it into this song, and this arrangement turned it into "Who's the Jew in our midst?"

I am kidding about Lefty Louie and the Southpaws. This video does seem to have been flopped, doesn't it? But are you implying there is a left-handed piano?


Portland, OR: I'm sure a million other people are going to jump on the comment by "Sex-chan, GE," but here's what it boils down to: Sexuality and gender are not the same thing, doofus.

Gene Weingarten: And a million people are!


Big Letdown: Gene - could you comment briefly n the journalistic ethics of including in a Web story the hyperlinked words "topless photos" and then linking them only to a STORY ABOUT topless photos, as Chatwoman did recently in her column thingy about Ms. California's enhancements. Thanks.

Gene Weingarten: I think it is extremely ethical. It is pope-like in its propriety.


Limericks: Does anything rhyme with Hartford?

Gene Weingarten: It's gonna be tough. It will require wordplay.


Gender attraction: Sexuality is subtle and complicated; sexual orientation and gender identity are two completely different things. Their sexual attractor similarities notwithstanding, there are enormous differences between lesbians and straight men physically and psychologically. Someone who is unhappy being in a man's body but is attracted to women will not be happy until the man's body has been changed into a woman's body.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Horrorscope: Famous people with my birthday: Jerry Garcia and Dom DeLuise. Both dead. Now it's just me and the woman who played Vanessa on "The Cosby Show".

Gene Weingarten: I am Groucho Marx and Mahatma Gandhi. These are the only impressive things about me.


Limmerick: How about: There once was an insurer from Hartford.

Gene Weingarten: You have no ear.


RIP : Dom de Louise. Mel Brooks' stable of comedians is dwindling; already lost Madelaine Kahn and Harvey Korman from the Blazing Saddles cast.

Gene Weingarten: Very underrated comic. He could make me laugh without saying a word.


This time, it's personnel: For the last two poll questions, I replied "equally troubling," though what I meant was "equally untroubling." People get to have and express nutty beliefs (in fact, they do it all the time -- these were just somewhat outside the nutty mainstream). I was basing this on your generic description of the job as "important." If the person would be in a position to decide about hiring and firing and promotions and raises, then I'd have concerns about someone who openly expressed prejudices against any group (including the poll respondents who wouldn't hire the transgender applicant), both because I'd think it was wrong to act on those prejudices and because the law says it's wrong, and I'd be opening the company to major liability. But if the position does not involve them acting out their prejudices on others, they're irrelevant. If the person begins hanging up "God is Dead" posters or harassing female employees, then that's a situation to be dealt with, but you shouldn't assume up front it will happen.

As for being a cat lady, a former fattie, Elizabeth Taylor, or Octomom, it's none of your business, no matter how much you may want to judge a person harshly. If they can do the job they're supposed to do, their personal life is irrelevant. What is, in your opinion, bad judgment in one area does not necessarily translate into bad judgment in another.

The only one I'd have concern about (enough to explore further, not to base a decision on with the current information) would be the lawsuits, because if she's lawsuit-happy it might be costly for the company. But if she was in fact harassed and stood up for herself, good for her. I'm willing to forgive the resume fudging, with appropriate contriteness, as a youthful error. In the absence of more information, I think you'd be morally and legally bound to consider the accused wife beater innocent.

Gene Weingarten: A lot of people wrote something similar to this. I feel differently, but mostly it's a matter of definition. Except for some of the poisonous thoughts in the last two questions, nothing in this poll would cause me to eliminate any candidate, but virtually all of it would give me some concerns, to be weighed against other qualities the the candidate shows, good and bad. Filling a job vacancy is an important thing, and I think every impression you get is important, all information is potentially valuable if judged with the proper sense of proportion.

In the final set of answers, the only one that wouldn't really bother me is the ardent Communist; he's silly but harmless. The ones that would bother me a lot would be answers suggesting this person could make trouble for my company: Someone willing to discriminate by gender, for example.

Gene Weingarten: I'd also be kinda worried about the serial litigator, actually.


Double Dutch Dactylates, NJ: Higgledy Piggledy

Weingarten postulates:

Numb limbs in the morning,

Possibly due to


Hypoconstriction, but

Bad sleeping posture could

Also be true, too.

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Okay, this has a certain elan, and the final rhyme is aggressive, if wince-inducing. But...

There are rules, sir or madam. There is dactylic meter required. Ears must be made of flesh and bone, not tin and rock. Humor is helpful.

Higgledy piggledy

Weingarten (columnist)

Argues that numbness is

Caused by bad circ.


Thoughts notwithstanding,

It also might be 'cause you

Slept like a jerk.


Compositi, ON: Liz, there are unusual typographic characters in Gene's opening monologue. Is this because he does not read your instructions to turn off smart quotes in MSWord? It's possible, but would be due to my working on a confounded PC today because my Mac is in the hospital.

Gene Weingarten: Having just bought a Mac, I don't like that Liz's is in a hospital.


Swingtown, USA: I noted with great interest your closing comment to the added comments last Thursday about "Where's Yehudi?"

Last week, the lindy hop community lost our beloved Frankie Manning, one month short of what would have been his 95th birthday. I could go on and on about this remarkable man, but I would digress.

One of the nation's biggest lindy hop message boards is The took the name from Cab Calloway's version of "Where's Yehoodi?" and I don't believe there was ever any mention of why after that or any discussion of the possible origins of "yehoodi."

I've seen the "soundie" you've talked about. Soundies were not shy about showing the most exaggerated characteristics of any ethnic, racial or religious group. And that's not counting the sexual stereotypes. The plots were thin and the production was cheap. They were throwaway films for black and mixed-race audiences. Swing afficcionados peruse them for snippets of music and dancing.

If I judged "soundies" from the 1930's and 40's by today's standards, I'd go crazy. What about the music from that era? Are we going to condemn Ella Fitzgerald for recording "Chop Chop Charlie Chan" or "Sing Song Swing?" And I won't even start with all the jump blues songs that rationalize spousal abuse.

Perhaps I'm naive, but I believe "Where's Yehoodi?" is more coincidental to what was going on elsewhere in the world at the time than it was reflective of it. Jews played an integral role in the development of Jazz. You can here that plainly in the opening strains of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" and Shaw's "Begin the Beguine." But you can also hear the klezmer inflence when you listen to Cab Calloway sing "Hi De Ho."

Gene Weingarten: Well, you are more knowledgeable than I am on this subject. I do not see antisemitism around every corner, though, and it is hard for me to see this benignly.

Interestingly, there is another youtube version of this song, ostensibly featuring college-aged kids. Even in that one, much subtler, the notion of Yehooti being "The Jew" is suggested. Liz, can you link to this? It's the version featuring Martha someone.

Note which singer identifies as Yehooti at the end -- the one with the olive skin, kinky hair, and long nose. Who's Yehouti by the Varsity Vanities.


The, 80's: Gene, you were in Toto? AHAHAHAHA.

Gene Weingarten: Me 20 years ago.


Washington, DC: I'm actually more amazed that more women consider getting breast implants to be more of a moral defect than a man beating his wife. I am a woman and I'm tired of the constant judging of other women. I realize that our society places such a ridiculous standard of beauty on us that it is almost impossible to resist the "oh she's so ugly" put downs. But jeez, thinking inflating your boobs is worse than assaulting the woman you claim to love is just pathetic. Also, I agree that Ms. California is a hypocrit. These women always claim that "we should love ourselves as we are" while they go under the knife. What's worse is that she had the California state beauty agency pay for it! What message are they sending? It's women like Miss California and beauty pageants like Miss USA that reinforce that we have to condemn other women to lower status in society and let the man beating his wife off the hook.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think she was a hypocrite for getting implants. She's in a business of winning a beauty pageant. I disagree with her nitwit position, of course, but I think she's being unfairly attacked, basically.

Whether the pageant should be paying for boob jobs is a different issue, altogether.


ethnically offensive: Please stop using the term "shiksa." The term is pejorative, although many non-Jews aren't aware of this... possibly because many white American Protestants are clueless that there could ever exist any social ladder at which they are not automatically at the top. I am a blond Protestant woman and I really do not like hearing this offensive word.

And yes, I know if this comment goes up you'll get a ton of others saying "I'm a shiksa and I don't mind!!!!!! :-)" Speak for yourself, shiksa.

Gene Weingarten: No offense intended, but it really depends on the meaning, as used. I call my wife a shiksa. I use it in no way but affectionately.


Rears with rhymes for Hartford: with a rather large firm he had partnered?

from his buttocks a ginormous fart poured?

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

I shall have to take up this challenge for the update. Clearly no one here is up to it.


Towel Wads: Since you are the undisputed expert on all things related to the bathroom, can you explain what is going through the minds of those people who use a clump of paper towels to pull open the men's room door, and just leave it there? What is wrong with these people? They're obviously too prissy to risk touching something as deadly as a door handle, yet they feel no compunction about leaving their crumpled, sodden mess for the rest of the world to deal with. If they absolutely must have a barrier between their hands and the door, why can't they use a paper towel and then TAKE IT WITH THEM and dispose of it properly?

Are these the same inconsiderate jerks who toss gum and (where it's still possible) cigarette butts into the urinals, so that after they spend hours getting soaked, some poor slob making minimum wage has to come pick them out? Such people should burn in hell.

Gene Weingarten: My "burn in Hell" threshold is a little higher than yours, but point taken.


Nether Scaggsville, Md.: The prayer test for your knees would never have worked, for two reasons:

1) More people than just us wise-asses read your chat. Many people who believe in the power of prayer would have been troubled by the test, and would have prayed for your left knee alone, just to queer the results.

2) You could have been unconsciously influenced to favor one knee or the other during the test, with an effect on recovery time.

Gene Weingarten: This was from last week's updates. A poster suggested that I missed a great opportunity to test the power of prayer: Right after my surgery, I should have asked people of faith to have prayed for the recovery of my right knee only.


Hartford: An insurance salesman from Hartford Was leery of saying the fart word. He'd stammer and blush Then blurt in a rush

and that's all I got. Completing this limerick is left as an exercise for the Humorologist.

Gene Weingarten: I applaud this, but "fart word" and "Hartford" do not remotely rhyme. It's not even slant rhyme.


Sacramento, Calif.: Update here from the woman who posted that she was afraid she and her 6 month old son might have swine flu.

You were right! I have bronchitis, and my son has RSV (baby bronchitis). I'm wondering how you were so sure we didn't have the flu.

Also, on another note related to asinine, incompetent ultrasound technicians. Last year, when I was three months pregnant, I had an ultrasound. I had the last appointment of the day. The tech told me at the end of the exam that my fetus had abnormalities. Now, since all the physicians' offices were closed at this point, I had to go home, hysterical, and wait until the next morning to reach my OB.

Turns out it was nothing.

I wanted that tech fired like I've never wanted anything before. Ultrasound techs, while serving an important purpose, are NOT medical personnel, and should NEVER EVER give an opinion on what's wrong with someone. EVER.

Gene Weingarten: I knew you didn't have swine flu because no on has swine flu, basically. The proportion of people with swine flu in the U.S. right now, compared to the proportion of people who have some other form of respiratory distress, is so minuscule as to approach zero.

I have two med tech stories similar to yours, only not so dire. The first was when my son Dan was about one, in the hospital with some set of symptoms I forget. A tech came in and clamped a little box to his arm. I knew what that box was: It was part of a "sweat test" for cystic fibrosis. After a short time she removed the box and did a chemical test, and then started to leave the room. I knew the test, I knew it was simple, a yes-no, up-down result based on the percentage of salt in the sweat.

"Was it positive?" I asked? She said, stiffly, "I'm not allowed to diagnose." For a half hour I lived with the certitude Dan had cystic fibrosis, until the doctor came in and said, no, no CF, and why do you look so pale?

I also had a funny tech once, when I was getting an ultrasound of my liver before being diagnosed with Hep C. All we knew at the time was that my liver was pumping out bad enzymes. We didn't know why; could be anything.

The tech, a young woman, was rolling that greasy ball on my belly, and looking at the monitor, and both of us could very clearly see a dark mass right in the middle of my liver. It was huge and elongated and obvious.

"Do you see that shape?" I asked her.

"I do," she said.

"Do you know what that is?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I am not allowed to diagnose," she said.

I was silent a second, needing to frame the question just right.

"If you were doing this test on your father, and you saw that mass, would you be concerned?"

"Yes, I would . . . " she said.

Denial! Anger! Bargaining! Depression! Acceptance!

"... because my father had his gallbladder out, so I would be concerned if he grew a new one."


Yehouti: I must be really dense. In both clips, but especially in the second one, I don't see the antisemitism. Yehouti seems like an undeniably Yiddish name- with no other info I'd put money on it. Much the same way I put $$ on D'Antwan being African American, Marjoe being French, or Muffy being a blonde WASP. Not that it's without stereotyping, but it's stereotyping based on language rather than a perceived negative view of the person/race/religion. Am I totally off the mark?

Gene Weingarten: The stereotyping in the first one is in the bearded, Nazi-poster version of a bent old Jew, and the fact that he is slavering at the shimmying butt of the blonde singer. It is like Nazi propaganda.

The other one is much subtler. I don't find it objectionable, though I do they they were having fun with the Jew undertone.


Vermont: Gene Weingarten: Ah, but this is the very center of the monetizing crisis. How do you collect the fee?

Why is it that porn sites have no problem figuring out how to charge people for content, but newspapers are mystified???

Whatever you guys come up with, would you PLEASE DO IT FAST????????

Gene Weingarten: Here is why: Because newspapers are not permitted, by law, to collude financially with each other. Everyone's afraid to be the first to do it.


Miss Opposite, America: I could not care less what Carrie Prejean, breast implants or no, has to say about marriage equality. (Her statement, by the way, is one of the most inarticulate testaments to stupidity since that person on Who Wants to Be a Fifth Grader couldn't decide if France was a country.) But I'm struck, in the link you provided, that Maggie Gallagher doesn't seem capable of making any sort of statement that doesn't include a couple of questionable assumptions and at least one outright lie. In this case, it's the statement that Miss California "turned down a tiara." She did no such thing. She blurted out a bumbling response to a question and it may have cost her one judge's vote.

If Carrie Prejean is the best spokesman for continued marriage discrimination Gallagher can find, she should just hang it up right now.

Gene Weingarten: All true.


Numb Arms: I have come out of sleep with a numb arm enough times, that while it could not be described as frequent, it in no way surprises me. You are right that it is a little disconcerting. The arm is reduced to nothing more than a large bony sausage hanging off of your shoulder. It is amazing how much it seems to weigh when it is not assisting with movement.

On more than one occasion I have fallen asleep face down with my arms crossed in front of my chest, hands near my shoulders. I then wake up to find both arms numb with no ability to move on their own. Try rolling over from this position without any help from you arms. It doesn't work well.

Gene Weingarten: I've gotten about 30 emails from people to whom this sausage thing happens. It really is an eye-opening mini-sample of what quadriplegia would be like. Very disturbing.


Hartford, CT: part nerd? shart word? art nerd? fart heard? part turd?

Gene Weingarten: Alas, the only rhyme for Hartford must end with ART-ferd sound. there are no shortcuts here. Gonna be a challenge.


Rockville: I am tired of explaining to you how horoscopes can be the vehicle for some education and philosophy. Why so determined to ignore all that you do not agree with? Or did you see it and discount the idea? I don't mind disagreement so much, but you ought to pay attention.

Gene Weingarten: And I am tired of hearing from people who defend the indefensible.


Horace LaBadie: Everytime you type his name I think to myself, "That is a really cool name." If I ever turn pirate I want to be known as Horace LaBadie.

Gene Weingarten: It is a good pirate name!


Nantucket, MA: You said the meter of that limerick was perfect, but I've heard the penultimate line rendered as both "while wiping" and "as he wiped off." Which is correct?

Gene Weingarten: He said with a grin,

As he wiped off his chin...


Miss California: Why is it a nitwit position?

I may not agree with it either, but it's a fair position, informed (apparently) by her upbringing, faith, and life experiences

Gene Weingarten: Because it is unelaborated. I just feel it's that way, and that's that.

That is not an answer, though it's the answer most pols give. Because to elaborate requires -- REQUIRES -- a confession of bigotry.


Another O, NE:: Higgledy Piggledy Octomom Suleman Got a tattoo on a Shoulder she bared.

Having been altered, she's, Dermatologically, More Angelina-like, Making me scared.

Gene Weingarten: SOMEONE HAS AN EAR!!!!!!



Chatwoman has prohibited me from reproducing...: Please please let him. I can't really search for it at work because who knows what it might return. And I've always wondered what the rest of the Limerick is, everyone always just says the first line.

Please chatwoman, you're awesome! I am always at both of your chats and look for the Dueling Anaysis on Thursdays as soon as I get into work until it's posted. No can do. But thanks for the love.

Gene Weingarten: It's about a very well endowed man who can do something interesting, and if his ear were an orifice he was interested in, as opposed to just an ear, he could do something to that, too.


SO: So I've noticed more and more people are starting their sentences with So. I see this on SO SO many wapo discussions and even in the workplace in emails! How do I shame and humiliate these people?

Gene Weingarten: So, what are you gonna do?


Washington, DC: Did you see Marion Barry's response to a religious group about the fact that DC is going to recognize other states' same-sex marriages? He says he won't support same-sex couples because he is "moral." How does this man continue to speak without laughing at the absurdity of pretty much everything that he says?

Gene Weingarten: I firmly believe that he is aware of exactly how he sounds.


Glastonbury, CT: Gene Weingarten: Alas, the only rhyme for Hartford must end with ART-ferd sound.

I'm from just outside Hartford and I'd say that it must end with AHT-fid sound.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I will consider that.


WRONG: Shiksa is not an insult. It is Yiddish for non-Jewish female. Stop being so defensive. Oy.

Gene Weingarten: Well, it can be used insultingly, as in DON'T EVERY MARRY A SHIKSA,


(this is bad)

Shiksas are for practice.


"fart word" and "Hartford" do not remotely rhyme.: In what weird American dialect do they not rhyme? You don't pronounced the city "hart-FORD," do you?

Gene Weingarten: A rhyme exists from the last stressed syllable onward. The last stressed syllable is HART. The "ferd" sound must remain intact, with the f.

Sorry. Rules are rules.


Someone with an ear: Gene,

Your pronouncement of my double dactyl as "excellent" is a much needed ray of sunshine into an otherwise [expletive] day and a compliment that I will cherish forever...please accept virtual panties from a hott 50-something ably wasting time at her desk.

Gene Weingarten: Dactyls are hard. Very punishing. Only I, Caitlin Gibson and The Empress are adept at them. Now, you.

Hey, speaking of Gibson. Check out this story from the Health Section today. It's beautifully done, and heartbreaking.

Liz, please link.


Miss California: OK - the breast implants, defender of "opposite marriage"... and now the nude-ish photos, which she claims were taken when she was a teen (though some people say recently, after breast implants) and released to attack her faith. The "attack her faith" part makes no sense, but I feel like there must be hypocrisy in there, somewhere. Right? Something about the sanctity of your body and your relationship with God and all that.

Gene Weingarten: It's a stretch.



Charging for I am also baffled by this idea that newspaper websites do not know how they could charge for readers/subscribers. The Washington website has an amazing amount of material within it. Would it be that hard to have two versions of the information behind the front page? One version would require a paid subscription and have no ads. The other would not require a subscription, but would contain ads. Then you just sit back and see which version makes more money. This would be an interesting pole as well - would you pay to not have to look at all these stupid pictures of "the one simple rule for weight loss"? I think a lot of people would.

Gene Weingarten: Hm.

This is not completely idiotic, possibly.


Arlington, Va.: Could I please extend a grateful "Happy National Cartoonists' Day" to all of the brilliant artists who have appeared in the Washington Post -- especially Richard Thompson and Bob Staake?

Gene Weingarten: Yes.


Rockville, Md.: Tomorrow I fly home to marry the man I met three years ago on weingartenchatters. Thank you!!!

Gene Weingarten: Whoa! Please email me details at weingarten(at)


Cure for Insomn, IA: Remember how we were chatting a few weeks ago about how Trudeau has an absurd number of characters in Doonesbury and can respond to pretty much any current event? A few nights after that chat I woke up at 3:00 a.m., which is not unusual, fretting about work and ailing parents and such. I tried to find something to distract myself from myself, so I started counting Doonesbury characters. It was great! It was just absorbing enough that it took all my attention, but it was so pleasant and free- associative that my mind could relax. I'm too young to have read the early ones in real time, but I've read enough collections to remember Phred, Jenny Thudpucker (Jimmy's wife), Dick Davenport (saint to birdwatchers everywhere), and Zonker's parents ("You're never too old for nuts and berries"). Each new character reminded me of a strip that had made me smile. I've tried it several times and keep coming up with different numbers. My 72 last night was a personal best, but I was pretty wound up. It's like counting amusing, wise, quirky, lovable sheep. Anyhow, thought some of the chatters would enjoy this public health announcement.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I commend you for this exercise, but I'd like a listing of your 72, because according to this particular accounting, which seems fanatically complete to me, there have been "only" 63.


The Movies: Just wondering if you saw "The Soloist" and, if so, what did you think of it? It was hard for me to watch and not picture you working on the Joshua Bell story or the Great Zucchini story. Disappointing, as I would really rather see Robert Downey, Jr. than imagine you in his place. To what degree would you get personally involved with the subject of a story? Is the desire to improve someone's situation something you have to suppress, or is it something you can indulge? Have you remained friends with any story subjects, as the men from the movie appear to have done?

Gene Weingarten: I haven't seen the movie yet.

To me, a writer's obligation to his subject begins and ends with the story: Do it fairly, accurately, and, if warrented, with compassion. Tell the truth, not a wished-for truth.

I have tended not to remain in close contact with people I've written in depth about, with the single exception of Garry Trudeau. Haven't seen Josh Bell except once after the story. The Great Zucchini, only once, too. Haven't been back to see Lyn Balfour or the Harrisons, from my most recent story about babies who die in cars.

It's not so much that I try to stay away; it's as though we've a strong, but limited, partnership, and it's over. In all of these cases, of course, the subjects are not in need of my help.

The one exception I can think of to this last point is Ted Prus, the nonvoter I wrote about in 2004. I located him last Election Day, and interviewed him for the chat. He was not doing well. Liz, can we link to this?

Your post reminds me: Gonna re-connect with Ted, if I can.

Gene Weingarten: The original article: None of the Above, (Oct. 31, 2004)

The Ted Prus update

from the November election.


Google is your Frie, ND: To the curious: Google

nantucket limerick

The first hit is a wikipedia page, with a section titled "obscene versions".

Gene Weingarten: Apparently, Cwoman believes I can do this.

_______________________ Caitlin's story: Sarah's Death at 19 Left Her Family Struggling to Understand the Power of an Eating Disorder


Bawlmer: Sorry to beat a dead horse, but...if you see a horoscope as entertainment, why is it so bad? I think astrology is like reality TV and issues of OK! magazine- trashy, fun filler (what my mother calls "chewing gum for the mind"). It's true that some people take it way too seriously, but you could claim the same for almost any diversion. I guess I'm not getting why this is so personally offensive to you./shrug

Gene Weingarten: Here's why:

Because they're bad. They're boring and stupid and not funny and not original and bad. And because they don't HAVE to be good because they are pretending to be knowledgeable. By lying.


The Empress of The Style Invitational: Re rhymes: Though I am known as an extreme stickler for "perfect rhyme," I will occasionally permit, for a humorous poem, two lines where the penultimate syllables rhyme, and then the final syllables also rhyme but are not identical. Especially if it's a semi-accented syllable like the -ford in Hartford, rather than a syllable like -ly.

Gene Weingarten: Please elaborate with an example, ma'am. This is inscrutable.


Phila PA: An insurance man based out of Hartford Though reknowned for his grasp of the smart words once caused a commotion when imbibing potion all the way to Bridgeport was the fart heard

Gene Weingarten: Okay, you people are really not grasping the elements of rhyme. . .


Dallas, Tex.: A friend was at a local restaurant over the weekend and learned that George W. Bush also was dining there. When George and Laura emerged from their private dining room, the restaurant erupted in shouts of "welcome home!" and a standing ovation. My Obama-voting friend leapt to his feet too and even shook George's hand. Wuss. I need to know the etiquette for future reference. Are former presidents always greeted with a standing ovation, no matter how disastrous their presidency? Or can I keep my hindquarters firmly planted in my seat? Must I smile graciously or can I give him my best drop-dead stare?

Gene Weingarten: I think George needs to see more and more people remain in their seats; scenes like this one allow him to glide too effortlessly through the remainder of his life without doubt and shame.

When a person is president he is to be treated in a way consistent with the dignity of the office. He is now just a guy who screwed up at his last job, big time.


Fairfax: I'm sure you've heard this from HR professionals, but many of the things you mention in your poll are unrealistic. How would you know if someone had many marriages or a breast enhancement if they're new? You're not allowed to ask questions about marriage, age, or personal history in many states. I never did when I was hiring people. If they offer the information, okay. But you can't just ask, "How many kids do you have?" in an interview.

Gene Weingarten: Understood, but the poll sort of assumed omniscience.

Is it actually illegal to ask an applicant if he or she has kids?


Rockville, Md: "WRONG: Shiksa is not an insult. It is Yiddish for non-Jewish female. Stop being so defensive. Oy."

Then please call a black person the Yiddish word for a black person and see if he/she finds it an insult. I'll visit you in the hospital, I promise.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.

You know, this is all about intent.

The word is "schwartzer," which (at least years ago) was definitely used derogatorily. But the fact is, literally, it means "black person."


Additional Doonesburians: Two off the top of my head: Jenny Thudpucker, as mentioned by the previous poster; Jeremy Cavendish, who maintains the fiction that he is Lacey's late-in-life boyfriend.

Gene Weingarten: That site missed Jeremy?


untrasound technici, an: Here's a great tech stroy. When I was miscarrying my first pregnancy, my OB sent me for an ultrasound. My husband was there holding my hand as the tech (he may have been a very young radiologist) was examining my abdomen. Then, just as he was inserting the probe into my vagina, he said (and I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP) "it's a nice sunny day. is it hot outside?" Despite the gravity of the situation, I actually laughed.

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.


Serial Litigator: What if she's smokin' hot? Then it's entirely plausible, to me, that she's had to file harassment lawsuits. Men are pigs, after all.

Gene Weingarten: Here is an interesting and disturbing point, which I'll end on.

Imagine that you are a woman who is sexually harassed at work, and you are forced to sue. And, like many such cases, the result is ambiguous, but you had to do it because the situation was intolerable.

Then imagine you are at another job, and you are, again, intolerably harassed. You probably can't sue. You can't afford the stigma of being a serial litigator.

It's bad.

Next week, same time. See you in the updates.

Hey, as became apparent this week -- if you don't check in with the updates, you should. Stuff often happens there.


UPDATED 5.6.09

Gene Weingarten: If you will recall, a chatter attempted to begin a limerick about an insurance agent in Hartford, and failed wretchedly. I invited other efforts, and ridiculed you all for your tin ears. I went on at some length about the need for expertise in the writing of doggerel, and the fatuousness of it being attempted by amateurs. I promised to deliver the requisite limerick during the updates. I shall now do so.

Warning: DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS AT HOME. The limerick below was crafted by a highly skilled professional, in consultation with other highly skilled professionals. It took a great deal of time. I calculate The Washington Post paid me about $400 for it. Midway through, desperate for a final line, I sent the The Empress of The Style Invitational an instant message that began, "I have never needed you more." Simultaneously, I conducted an IM conversation with Rachel Manteuffel, in which she and I batted lines back and forth endlessly. At least two dozen prospective rhymes were considered and rejected by the three of us. Structural concepts were debated; entire theories of wordplay were raised, ridiculed, discarded. The eventual poem bears the imprint of all of us. When the history of the limerick is written many years from now, we should all receive credit. Thank you.

An insurance adjustor from Hartford

Likes keeping her own ladypart furred.

"I'm well covered," she laughs,

As she shaves both her calves,

"As for waxing, I don't give a fart fer't.'


Gene Weingarten: This is horrifying. I am not sure how you can not fire this 911 operator. I don't know how you build a case this his behavior doesn't warrant dismisal.


Washington, D.C.: Just watched the replay of the Kentucky Derby (I had been at the race, and hadn't seen the video until now), and I'm willing to give announcer Tom Durkin a break. When the horses were on the backstretch -- the only opportunity he had to call all 19 horses in order -- Mine That Bird was so far behind the rest of the field that Durkin initially thought he had called them all, and then noticed Mine That Bird was far back. In the stretch, he was focusing on the horses that were on the lead or moving up on the outside, while the move that Mine That Bird had made on the rail was so sudden and unexpected, it would have confused any announcer -- especially since the only other time he had seen the horse, he was at least 10 lengths behind the next to last horse. So, he must have thought he was seeing things when this horse was suddenly six lengths in front. Durkin is still one of the best.

Gene Weingarten: This is a reference to The Gene Pool on Monday, where I gave Durkin a hard time. All this is true. However, watch the race again. There are about 15 seconds near the end where Mine That Bird has slingshotted across the field, caught the rail and surged at least 20 feet into the lead, and the announcer has not noticed. I assure you, Tom Durkin would like to get those last 30 seconds back.

Trivia question: There is a minor bumbler named Durkin as a recurring figure in a certain form of mid-20th century genre fiction. Anyone know who?


Why Denzel doesn't harrass women: So listen, you've had a couple exchanges about whether it's not harrassment if the guy is good-loking, but dealing with a current situation at work I think I've figured it out.

In a normal social interchange, there are cues - you progressively get flirtatious, or you cool down. Two people participating in this end up at the same place - so when one of them suggests an overnight, it's because they've both been ramping up the volume. Typically this is the Denzel situation... there's an escalation, and no, it's not harrassment because there are two participants. So we talk about it being OK if he's good-looking, but really it's OK because the other person has participated in the interaction to that point (sure, possibly BECAUSE he's good looking, but still....)

This is different from the case when one person misreads or ignores the cues and out of the blue starts talking sex. That's dehumanizing and scary.

Would be interested in what your other chatters think.

Gene Weingarten: I think this is true, and I think it doesn't just apply to romantic situations. I have five close friends who are women, with whom I regularly correspond in a fashion that would get me fired instantly, if they were strangers or casual colleagues. It's all about context and expectations. Like the debate over "shiksa." See next post.


Ellicott City, Md.: Shiksa is most definitely offensive.

Just because the word originates with another minority group with a history of being discrimination does not give it any special pass.

Gene Weingarten: Traditional dictionaries define "shiksa" as derogatory, pointing out that it is a corruption of a word meaning "unclean." But the Urban Dic, which I have come to love and respect, says this:

Shiksa: A Gentile girl or woman, especially one who has attracted a Jewish man. The term derives from the Hebrew word "sheketz", meaning the flesh of an animal deemed taboo by the Torah. Since a Jewish man marrying a non-Jewish woman is taboo also, this word applies to her.

Traditionally this is a derogatory term, though in modern times it has also been used more light-heartedly. For example, Seinfeld once did an episode about Elaine's "shiksa appeal".

The ideal shiksa is a blonde WASP who look like the opposite of a stereotypical Jew, but in reality, many shiksas are brunettes who might pass for Jewish themselves.


UPDATED 5.7.09

Gene Weingarten: It grieves me to report that yesterday's limerick met with some challenges, which will will dispense with here. By way of review:

An insurance adjustor from Hartford

Likes keeping her own ladypart furred.

"I'm well covered," she laughs,

As she shaves both her calves,

"As for waxing, I don't give a fart fer't.'

Objection number one, which we dispense with quickly and with prejudice, is that the poem is inadequate because it does not make use of the insurance adjustor's occupation in any meaningful way. This person has missed the cleverness and double-entendre in the line "I'm well covered." This person shall receive no more attention here.

Objection number two is that the rhyme "fart fer't" is imprecise. A reasonable, but erroneous contention. The rhyme relies on an understanding that "Hartford" is not pronounced "Heart Ford," but elided and truncated by the American tongue into what can best be summarized as "Heart-ferdt." Both rhymes in this poem are more than adequate.

A more tenable objection is that "laughs" and "calves" do not rhyme. This depends on how you choose to pronounce the muscle in the lower leg. Dictionaries permit both "calfs" and "calves." I prefer the former, for the same reason the plural of a computer "mouse" is not "mice." It is helpful to create a linguistic distinction between the human and animal kingdoms, when one can.

"Calfs" is actually an accepted spelling for the plural of the anatomical formation created by the human gastrocnemius and soleus muscles, so I would accept changing it to that spelling, but my friend Tom Scocca has proposed a more dramatic change that eliminates any confusion at all. Hence:

An insurance adjustor from Hartford

Likes keeping her own ladypart furred.

"I'm well covered," she grins,

As she shaves both her shins,

"As for waxing, I don't give a fart fer't.'


We may now consider the matter closed.


Gene Weingarten: Meanwhile, speaking of the animal kingdon, a story in today's New York Times reports on a heifer who escaped from a slaughterhouse in New York, and was rescued by city officials and sent to a vegan farm to live out her life happily. She has been named Molly. It was a heartwarming story. The main rescuer is "Richard Gentles."


Alexandria, Va.: My mother once had a dog (a fox terrier/hound mutt) that ate an entire sewing basket; pins, needles, pin cushions, spools of thread with no apparent ill effect. All she left behind was the basket's wicker handle. The same dog gnawed the corner off her oak desk.

Gene Weingarten: Clementine, a chocolate Lab I once had, ate everything. She ate aquarium gravel, underpants, Brillo pads. She once ate all the lead from an ankle weight. I asked the vet if the lead might hurt her. He said, "well, with lead there is always a chance of mental retardation."

I asked: "How would I know?"


Two outta three: The serial lawsuit person and the wifebeater are totally unacceptable - but I believe it's possible to lie, get caught, repent, and never do it again.

There are a crazy number of people who come out of school thinking that lying is okay, and they have to get burned pretty bad. But they CAN learn. They just didn't learn it at age five, when a responsible parent would have paddled their ass for lying.

You didn't have a 2/3 option, though.

Gene Weingarten: I agree, on lying. I had good parents, but creative embellishment was tolerated in my house. Pretty soon after beginning a career in journalism, at 21, I discovered the danger and folly of this.


Hartford Rhy, ME: Word, bird, herd, nerd, curd, absurd, blurred, incurred, demurred...

Gene Weingarten: Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

Please, people, read some rhyming poetry. Your assumptions here are are so lame.

Words need to rhyme more deeply back into the word than you understand. None of these words rhymes with Hartford, no more than "duh" rhymes with "pneumonia". You know what rhymes with "pneumonia?" "Phone ya." "Bone ya."

Here's the rule: Find the last accented syllable in the word, and rhyme from there.

The last accented syllable in "perspiCAcious" is "CA." The rhyme must rhyme with AY-shus. Therefore, "gracious" is a rhyme for perspicacious, but "bus" is not.


Got it?

No, I didn't think so.


Nantucket limerick, clean version: My grandmother taught me this many, many years ago: There once was a man from Nantucket Who kept all his cash in a bucket. His daughter, named Nan, Ran away with a man And as for the bucket...Nantucket.

Pa followed the pair to Pawtucket Nan and the man and the bucket. Said he to the man, "You can have Nan." But as for the bucket...Pawtucket.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice!


UPDATED 5.8.09

Double Dactyl, IA: Higgledy Piggledy Outfielder Crawford just Stole half a dozen in One freakin' game.

Only in baseball is Kleptomaniacal Conduct rewarded with Money and fame.

Gene Weingarten: Very, very fine. An ear.

At the risk of sounding pedantic, if you want to learn how to write a double dactyl, here is your model.

Stacked correctly:

Higgledy Piggledy

Outfielder Crawford just

Stole a half dozen in

One freakin' game.

Only in baseball is


Conduct rewarded with

Money and fame.


Fairfax, Va.: I have been told by a usually reliable source that "Soundies" were printed backwards because they were typically viewed via a mirror projection system.

Gene Weingarten: This is correct. It's why it is backwards.


Adolesce, NT: Report from yesterday's 8th grade:

Ya know how in the old days, they said the U.S. would have a black president if pigs fly?

Well....swine flu!

Gene Weingarten: Also nice!


Insomn,IA, again: Oh, yeah, that Wikipedia page is missing a lot of characters. Let's see, the kid in the hoodie in BD's support group; the receptionist at the VA hospital who so gracefully turned down BD's advances; Josh Lyman, who worked with Joanie at Justice in the Clinton administration; the vet (Megan?) who was sexually assaulted and has PTSD; her shrink; Toggle's mom; Kim's adoptive parents; Alex's film professor; actually, a lot of other professors; the Dean who is President King's sidekick... It's a really pleasant exercise when you're trying to squelch anxiety in the middle of the night. Not to rack up the numbers, but to drift from one character to another through a chain of relationships, remembering funny or sweet (or sometimes sad or scary) strips all the way. Also, I'm 40 and I'm pretty sure most of what I know about the 60s and early 70s comes from reading Doonesbury.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, you win!


Word snobbery: Okay, how about grammar snobbery? 'Google-ville' said "Yes, I'm one of the people who intentionally uses the new dictionary "definition" of infer as a synonym for imply to assess the word snobbery of those I'm dealing with." and DELIBERATELY ended his sentence with a preposition to weed out grammar snobbery. How about assessing the word snobbery OF THOSE WITH WHOM YOU'RE DEALING? Of course, that would take us to the joke about the two women on a plane - one from Boston, one from Charleston...

Gene Weingarten: Not to mention this:

I lately lost a preposition,

It hid, I thought, beneath my chair.

Angrily, I cried, "Perdition! --

Come up from out of in under there!"

Now, correctness is my vade mecum,

And straggling phrases I abhor,

And so I wondered what should it

Come up from out of in under for?


Anonymous: I would like to explain how I just took the poll: First few questions, no problem. Got to the questions reminding me that I have to choose what bothered me LEAST- I registered this information, which then got me thinking about how, as a teacher, I have to make these sorts of qualifications ALL the time, because high school students don't listen. Then I thought about how sad it is that you, Gene, had to do it as well, because clearly we don't listen any better as adults. I had a mental sigh. So, then I answered the poll questions, confidently, took a look at the results....and I'm sure we all see where this is going... couldn't figure out why everyone cared so much about communism before realizing.....oh Dear God, I'm one of those people. I DIDN'T FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. My students would be so proud of me.

Gene Weingarten: Haha.


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