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Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten
(Illustration by Richard Thompson)
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Funny? You Should Ask
Hosted by Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday, June 10, 2003; Noon ET

Gene Weingarten's controversial humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in the Washington Post Magazine, generating more mail than Santa gets at Christmas. Not all of it is wildly condemnatory. Some of it is only mildly annoyed. Weingarten came to the Post in 1990 after being chased out of Miami at midnight by farmers with pitchforks and burning torches. He is also reputed to be close to persons thought to be familiar with individuals claiming to be authoritative spokesmen for the mysterious and reclusive Czar of The Style Invitational.

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

He'll chat about anything. The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Gene Weingarten: To those who contend the chat oeuvre is without dignity or sophistication, I respond thus: Blow it out your piehole.

Kidding, kidding. Today this chat engages in sophisticated etymology, in which we revisit and philosophically reevaluate certain positions taken last week: To wit, the subject of the impendency of marriage.

Last week, I took a position opposed to the use of the word "fiancee," inasmuch as it was French and therefore pretentious, and that unlike, say "bouquet" -- there were perfect acceptable substitute expressions. After the chat I was assailed by several persons who politely disagreed, respectfully pointing out that I am an imbecile. There really is no other simple term for such a person, they said, other than the even-more-pretentious "my betrothed." Fiancee is fine, they said. Interestingly, all of these people happened to be practicing gyno-Americans. They were a formidable group, including both Gina AND Pat The Perfect, two of the four females who hold disproportionate sway over my emotions and conduct.

This caused me to reassess my opinion.

I am still opposed to the use of the word fiancee, but I recognize I was not expressing my opposition fully. I object to the use of the word fiancee because:

1) It is French and therefore sounds pretentious and affected in casual conversation.

2) It must either be pronounced incorrectly, in which the speaker sounds like a doltish ugly American, or it must be pronounced as one would speak it in French, which is to say requiring an elaborate nasalism which refer you back to point 1), only more so; and

3) (This is the key) It is a term that need not, and should not, exist. I contend that in the absence of children, marriage itself is a rather silly and unnecessary convention certifying a promise of love and fealty that is really a private matter -- and that should not require certification by some assistant secretary of public records, or whatever. Given that fact, the existence of a special word that means "the person I am planning, at some point in the future, to promise to remain loyal to until such time as we decide to end this relationship, as most people eventually do," is TOTALLY absurd. Who CARES?

"Hi. This is Cindy." Perfectly good and dignified introduction of one's "fiancee."

Yeah, women tend to disagree with this. Sorry.

The comic pick of the week was clearly Richard Thompson's masterpiece in Sunday Style, but, in a criminal oversight, the Post doesn't archive that feature; so instead, the number two comic pick of the week is the June 5 Speed Bump.

Questions? Comments?


washingtonpost.com: Speed Bump, (June 5)


Gene Weingarten: Oh, by the way, let's all welcome Lisa, guest-facilitatressing for Liz. Whenever Lisa does this, I get all nervous. She signs my paychecks.


washingtonpost.com: Hi y'all. -- Lisa.


Washington, D.C.: Speaking of Jason Blair, have you ever behaved unethically, journalistically?

Gene Weingarten: Depends what you mean by unethical. The most ethically suspect thing I ever did as a journalist occurred in 1974 or 75, and it got me on page one of the New York Times. Not in a GOOD way. I was 24 years old, covering state politics for a newspaper in Albany, N.Y. The Speaker of the state assembly had been indicted and the majority party was meeting in closed session to decide what to do about this embarrassment. The debate promised to be absolutely fabulous -- in which ethics would be tested against
power politics. I sneaked into the room five hours early and hid behind a curtain, to eavesdrop.

The reason I got onto page one of The Times is that someone ELSE -- a radio reporter -- had also hidden behind a curtain. I discovered this, as did everyone in the room, when his foot fell asleep and punched through the curtain. At which point, all the curtains were pulled. We were ejected from the meeting.

Was this unethical? Depends whom you ask. The executive editor of my newspaper approved it in advance, so my butt was covered. The Washington Post would never permit this, and if I did it on my own, today, I would be fired. It made for a terrific story.


Towson, Md.: Ever have lunch with Mr. Funny Paper?

Gene Weingarten: I did. It was fascinating, but a little geeky to anyone not immersed in the comics art. The conversation went like this:

"You know the one with that thing?"

"Who draws that thing with the hands?"

"Yeah. Back in '76..."

"I know. Martin."

"Right. And with the balloons with the stuff."

"Yeah. That was great."


Byte, ME: While it may not be the best of the week, yesterday's "Speed Bump" may have raised the bar for meta-"strip"ping.

Whaddaya think?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, this has become a wild trend. It is getting out of control. This is funny, though. Actually, they have ALL been funny.


In the Big House: GW:
Since Martha Stewart is behind bars (and your wife apparent resemblance to her), have things gotten a bit more spicy between you and Mrs. GW?

Not that I'm prying or anything like that

Gene Weingarten: Interesting question. Has anyone noticed how, um, puffy and, y'know, dishabille Ms. Stewart looks in those perp walk pictures?

One of my colleagues here imagines her cheerfully demonstrating new recipes for freezing vodka in ice cubes, 151-proof baba au rhum, etc.


Arlington, Va.: Why are children required to validate the concept of marriage, according to your view? What difference does it make? Isn't "legitimacy" as outdated a concept as "marriage"?

Gene Weingarten: Children do not validate the concept of a marriage -- they make the legality of marriage necessary. Suddenly, two people are responsible for the wellbeing of a third, an innocent, and that is the point at which I see the need for signatures on documents. Am I alone here?


Vienna, Va.: Reid Weingarten is Bernie Ebbers' attorney. "After spending tens of millions of dollars and nearly a year investigating this matter, the reports of investigation released today do not point to a single piece of paper or any witness demonstrating that Bernie Ebbers participated in or knew about any purported fraud at WorldCom," Ebbers's attorney, Reid H. Weingarten, said in a statement released yesterday.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, indeedy. As I said, Reid represents very many very wealthy persons accused of crimes. I should also point out, because it is fair and true, that he also does a lot of charitable work. He does.


Arlington, Va.: Gene,

I am a woman -- who is married -- and I agree with your position on the word "fiancee." I also agree with your position about marriage -- it is a private, personal thing. To that end, I agreed to get married "for the sake of our future children." Well, now 10 years, two kids, two dogs, two fish, and a mortgage later, I find out that I am not "legally" married (please don't tell the IRS, we have been filing jointly for 10 years!). So, my husband and I are getting married again this summer "for the sake of our children." I guess to some that makes me a fiancee again or still!

Gene Weingarten: Oooh, this is good. WHY AREN'T YOU LEGALLY MARRIED? This sounds like a story.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Hell no Gene, you're not alone in your belief regarding marriage. I'm with you all the way.

Gene Weingarten: Are you a boy or a girl?


Another option for the term fiancee: Scent marking. Pee on her leg before introducing her to your comrades. This allows you to convey your intentions to potential rivals without appearing pretentious.

Gene Weingarten: The revolting analogy aside, I don't see why, "Hi, this is Ginny. Note how I have my arm around her shoulder" does not accomplish the same territorial thing.


Isee, France: First, isn't it "deshabille"?

And second, why doesn't that word fall under the "fiancee" rule?

Gene Weingarten: No, it is dishabille, and it DOES fall under the fiancee rule. However I am using it ironically. So it is perfect.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Gene -- I'm the person with the sleeptalking boyfriend. The nightly chatter continues -- the other night he said, "Oh, gosh, drunk children!" Earlier, he jerked around mightily and seemed to be praying loudly in tongues. In order to garner some good out of this, I am thinking about collecting his nocturnal wisdom and publishing it in a book. Do you think this could sell? After all, there is a book on the market now on the "poetry of Donald Rumsfeld."

Gene Weingarten: It would sell if your boyfriend is Donald Rumsfeld.


# 4: I assume your wife is one of the four women who influence you. Who is the fourth?

Gene Weingarten: My daughter.


Marriage=Procreation: That's very Catholic of you, Gene.

Gene Weingarten: It is the only issue that I, and the Catholic Church, agree on. I have researched this. Oh, wait. Also the "thou shalt not kill" thing.

I Do blaspheme.


Intercourse, Pa.: Maybe I'm morbid, but this from the Post's Web site struck me as rather funny: "Art Cooper, who edited Gentlemen's Quarterly for 20 glorious years, collapsed from stroke Thursday at the Four Seasons in New York, while having lunch with the editor of Men's Health."

If he had been with the editor of Road & Track, would he have been run over by a car?

Gene Weingarten: It is a little odd, but it nowhere approaches the ironic death of Jim Fixx, the jogging guru who died of a heart attack while jogging. And that death does not approach
the Most Ironic Death of All Time, a distinction earned by J.I. Rodale. Rodale was the publisher of health and fitness books, and Prevention Magazine. He was a guest on Dick Cavett's show on June 7, 1971, and was proclaiming how healthy he was. "I expect to live forever," he said, and then pitched forward and died. The show never aired. It was considered too tasteless.


Movin', ON: I heartily concur that both "fiance" and "fiancee" are stupid words. (My sisters and I tend to substitute "financier" as equally pointless and pretentious.) But I disagree with your assessment of the validity of the concept of marriage, speaking as a happily married, currently childless, female person.

Gene Weingarten: Would your relationship be ANY different, in ANY way, if you had not actually gotten married? Does the piece of paper mean something?


Gambrills, Md.: In your search for the funniest cartoons of the week, are editorial cartoons off limits?

I'm thinking of the Wasserman cartoon that ran on Saturday in the Post.

(I found it on the Web at:

It was the May 30 archived cartoon).

Gene Weingarten: I liked this, too. One of my favorite editorial cartoons of all time was by Wasserman in the Boston Globe in 1988. Gary Hart was announcing that he was planning to get back into the political world, after his scandal. The cartoon showed a woman donkey, in a negligee, in bed, and a very very eager Gary Hart, in pajamas, leaping into bed next to her. And the donkey has this look of weariness and horror on her face, and she is thinking ... "Again???" A triumph of simplicity.


Alright Then...: Gene,
So do you frown upon the idea of being a voluntarily single parent?

Gene Weingarten: Well, no. That's an entirely different question. I also don't have any problem with unmarried people having children. It's about love. I am just saying that if there IS any justification for the state of being married, it is the presence of children.


Bored on L: Was this really you on Hax's chat Friday?

"Wandering, IN: Hi Carolyn. I am a heterosexual male in my mid- to late 20s. I am in a wonderful, loving relationship with a girl I've been seeing since high school. My problem is that I have a HUGE crush on Gene Weingarten. Do you think you could set something up between us? Thanks in advance. Love the column.

Gene Weingarten: IT WAS NOT! Carolyn thought it was. She dissed me in her response!

I think the same person is trying to get on this chat, but I ain't posting the question.


New York, N.Y.: I thought the most ironic death of all time was the civil war general who was admonishing his troops for taking cover from enemy fire, claiming how they were too far away to get hit, and then got shot in the chest.

Gene Weingarten: That was the second most ironic. It was General John Sedgwick, and his last words were "Come, come, they couldn't hit an elephant at this dis..."

Actually, you are right. That may beat Rodale.


Amosand, ND: Glad you've been so darned journalistically ethical. Have you ever done anything journalistically irresponsible? I mean besides the Bald Mountain bit.

Gene Weingarten: I do a LOT of irresponsible things. I just finished one of the most irresponsible columns I ever did! Look for it soon.


New York, N.Y.: Is this the same Lisa from the Hax chats? If so, what is the difference between Gene's and Carolyn's chats, in three words or fewer?

washingtonpost.com: Yep. I can tell you in one word: Pants. -- Lisa.

Gene Weingarten: I couldn't have said it better.


Greenbelt, Md.: Gene,

Was there no chat last week? I was on vacation and cannot find last week's transcript on the site anywhere.

washingtonpost.com: An oversight. We will fix. But here's the transcript from June 3. -- Lisa.

Gene Weingarten: Ah. Noted.


Rockford, Ill.: Hi Gene --

Just found your chat a couple of weeks ago; great fun. I will swear on the Bible, the Torah, the Koran and the Gita that this story is true.

When I was in college (Marquette U, '75) I knew a guy named Everhard Morningwood. He said his father was a macho, posturing practical joker who took great pride in having accomplished this little joke. On the other hand, Everhard said his mother was shy and naive and didn't even get the joke until some of her relatives got up the nerve to tell her when Everhard was already six months old; too late to do anything about it. By the way, in spite of his name, Everhard was no lady killer. He did however have the best blotter in town.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, now I REALLY want this to be true, but I am doubting it. I cannot find this person on Google.

I am posting it because I am praying someone can confirm it.


The Bronx: How about them Yankees? Who is Steinbrenner going to fire, do you think?

Gene Weingarten: The ONLY joy I am getting out of this is watching Steinbrenner fume. But clearly it is time to buy us some new guys.


Washington, D.C.: Gene,

Do you really think that the gender explains as much of our behavior as you imply? It is pretty well documented that masculine and feminine behavior are culturally driven (different things exert masculinity in different cultures), not because men and women are hard-wired differently.

Gene Weingarten: Listen buddy, I have just finished writing a 250-page book arguing that the hard-wiring is different. So please shut up.


Capersandno, Va.: I was in Santa Barbara last week. The local paper has five comic strips. If memory serves, four of them were "Classic Peanuts," "Family Circus," "Beetle Bailey," and "Mark Trail." Could they have selected five worse ones?

Gene Weingarten: Yes. Unfortunately, they could.


Bethsaida Aptonym: Gene,
Love the chats!
Here in Bethesda, we've got a well-named security guard we affectionately call Mo.
His real name: "Morris Vigilance."

Gene Weingarten: Superior.


Brooklyn, N.Y.: So I just started reading The New Yorker, because it seems like the thing that a fellow in his late-20s with designs on being literary should read. The one problem I have with it so far: what the hell is with using an umlaut over a repeated vowel in a word? For example, re-election with no hyphen but an umlaut over the second e. Is that grounded in real grammar or just a suitably pretentious style thing?

Gene Weingarten: I have noticed this, too. I'd like the answer, too. Patricia?


New York, N.Y.: So, what are the five worst cartoons?

Gene Weingarten: I've mentioned them from time to time. My current hatred are the strips that exist only to fit some perceived ethnic marketing niche. Baldo and Curtis.


"Thou Shalt Not Kill": Actually, that line was translated incorrectly. As we all know, the original line wasn't written in English. In its original Hebrew, it actually says "Thou shalt not commit murder."

Big difference. Big big big difference. And our elected representatives in Texas and Virginia and Florida are WELL AWARE of the difference.

Gene Weingarten: Hm. True? Interesting.


Casa, NoVa: Gene: You rule.

When can we buy your book? Do you think we can pre-order it on Amazon?

Gene Weingarten: I doubt it. The last time anyone checked, it was still called "Untitled On Relationships."

The actual title is "I'm With Stupid."

And you rule, too.


Phil's Pocket Pets, Villa Park, (very) Ill.: Monkeypox -- funny or not funny?

On the plus side: Vectored by prairie dogs, who may have picked it up from Gambian giant rats.

On the minus side: Well, y'know, sickness, chance of death, all that.

Your verdict?

Gene Weingarten: Funny. This is not really debatable.


Ivy, Va.: In light of the Jayson Blair story, how can I be sure that the New York Times didn't fabricate the Jayson Blair story?

Gene Weingarten: The Post is working on this angle. Apparently that picture of Jayson Blair was fabricated, too, by that same L.A. Times photographer who produced that composite picture from Iraq.


Mer, DE: Okay. Turns out deshabille (with various slanty marks) is the French word, and dishabille is what we've done to it. So, now that it's been Americanized, it shouldn't fall under the "fiancee" rule, right?

Gene Weingarten: Nah, it's still too frou frou for common usage.


Best political cartoon ever: You have to love Tom Tommorow's This Modern World. The most scathing political cartoons around. This was one of my favorites:


Gene Weingarten: The guy is very good. This is not one of his best, IMHO.


Amaz, ON: Just checked. Your joint book is not yet listed, although Miss Gina has some rather racy stuff available. Phew!

Gene Weingarten: Oh, Gina is quite the vixen.


Guess who's the Birthday Girl, ME: Hey Gene,

Today I turn the ripe old age of 25. What's funny about 25? Any way I look at it, it's a kind of boring age.

Maturing in Manassas

Gene Weingarten: Grow up. At your age I was hiding behind curtains and getting my name in the New York Times.


GarfieLSD: I am astounded by how bad Garfield can be. Not just heard-that-before bad but what-was-he-thinking bad. It is shocking that Mr. Davis can read his own strip and say, "Hey that's pretty darn good."

Would it be possible to bring back Alf just long enough to take care of this little problem?

Gene Weingarten: Garfield really sucks. Mister Jim Davis makes more money in one week than you do in five years. It is a cruel, cruel world.


Gene Weingarten: By the way, apropos of nothing, I hate the fact that the Web is totally unreliable. Search for "Adolph Hitler." Check out the number of hits. The average person is entitled to believe this is right, no?


Om Pah, PA: The most famous Weingarten:

In 1975, in NLRB v. WEINGARTEN, INC., 420 U.S. 251 (1975), the U.S. Supreme Court announced the rights of employees in the presence of union representatives during investigatory interviews. Since that case involved a clerk being investigated by the Weingarten Company, these rights have become known as Weingarten rights.

See Weingarten Rights

Gene Weingarten: Right. I did a whole column on Weingarten Rights almost two years ago. Lisa, think you can find this one? It made a LOT of people mad. Union leaders fumed, even at The Post.


Pat the Perfect, ME: What the New Yorker uses is technically called not an umlaut, but a dieresis (pronounced diERisis). It's an archaic way to show the start of a new syllable, so that cooperate isn't pronounced coop-erate.
It was replaced long ago in modern language by the hyphen, and now is dropped altogether in lots of words.
Why pretentious people think that it's more impressive to pretend that they're 147 years old is beyond me.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks, Pthep. See how sophisticated this chat can be?



Pittsburgh, Pa.: Gene,

My husband has started obsessing over public vs private schools for our daughter (now mind you, right now she is only 16 months old, but other than rolling my eyes at him, I let him obsess). What's your view?

Gene Weingarten: I like public schools. But you might have to move. We did. We lived for 10 years in a place we really didn't like all that much, for the public schools.

I see many sides to this issue.


Gene Weingarten: Actually, it might give you the perfect opportunity to move out of Pittsburgh. DO IT FOR THE CHILDREN.


Gene Weingarten: Hey, to the person who wrote in about suddenly discovering you weren't married -- I mean it, you might be a funny story for The Post. If this interests you, please send your contact info to Ms. Lisa.


washingtonpost.com: On Weingarten Rights: Turn of the Screw Up (Post, Sept. 17, 2000)


De Nile: So Gene, were you the one submitting bogus questions to Hax about daytime fantasies involving yourself? And how come Hax said "[to] go bug Levey," when you deny that there are any issues between you and any other staffer?

Though someone in a chat (Lloyd? Hax? Can't remember) seems to think there's only one person trying to stir things up between you and others. I think you, Gene, do a much better job of that than the peanuts.. (I think it'd be great if you also wrote a story about Jordan's departure from the Wizards, since that topic gets Wilbon's panties in a bunch. Coming from a non-sportsman, all the better)


I didn't. I never said that. So don't anybody suggest to Wilbon that I said he is a panty-wearer. Because if you do, he might well overreact.

Boy, did you see how he overreacted in yesterday's chat to the excellent Michael Leahy story in the mag? Ol' Wilbo seems to resent anyone on his turf.



Amuse, ME: Two hours! Two hours! We want two hours.

washingtonpost.com: grumble

Gene Weingarten: Won't happen. And you know WHY it won't happen? Because Lisa DOESN'T HAVE THE COJONES.


Okay, folks. Next week, same time. Thanks for the great questions.


Arlington, Va.: I don't think Gene missed me enough. I may not be back next week! -- Liz

Gene Weingarten: Please come back, darlin.'


washingtonpost.com: I'll take you on any time, Weingarten, and I'll take you down. -- Lisa.



That wraps up today's show. Thanks to everyone who joined the discussion.

© Copyright 2003 The Washington Post Company