Horizon readers are clearly among civilization's most discriminating and thoughtful consumers of information. So when we asked folks on Nov. 10 to send us striking examples of illogical English usage -- along the lines of "why do we park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?" -- we naturally expected scores of unique responses.
But we also received numerous entries that were ancient gags when Methuselah was in diapers, such as: Why does your nose run and your feet smell? Several readers asked why ships carry cargo, but cars carry shipments and rightly demanded to know why "phonetic" isn't spelled the way it sounds.
A. Zamora of Bethesda and Arthi Srinivasan of Vienna asked why "price" and "worth" are synonyms but "priceless" and "worthless" are antonyms.
Sam Schildhaus of the District wondered how a slim chance and a fat chance could possibly mean the same thing, while wise man and wise guy are nearly opposite. Renee Gutierrez of the University of Virginia also cited those puzzling properties of chance. In the same vein, Rich Marcus of Gaithersburg noted that flammable and inflammable mean the same thing.
Many respondents inquired as to why we call it a building when it's already built. Matthew T. Michaelson of Woodridge went further, asking why we call them apartments when they're all built together. He also noted that "we call them a pair of pants, a pair of underwear and a pair of pajamas? But can you buy just one pant, one underwear or one pajama? Besides, we don't call it a pair of bras even though a bra holds two breasts."
Bob Cambridge of Arlington observed that it's perfectly logical, in English, to say "go ahead and back up," or "he is inclined to be upright."
Stephen Wolfsberger of Fairfax demanded to know why airplanes can use runways but can't fit in airways, as well as whether it is possible to be clearly misunderstood.
Jeff Powelson noted that we can act naturally, be found missing, consume synthetic natural gas or a 12-ounce pound cake and maybe even be terribly pleased while doing so. Like Frank W. Gayle of North Potomac, he also called attention to the universal phrase "pretty ugly."
Analogously, many readers were baffled as to how one can be legally drunk or, for that matter, why you need a driver's licence to buy alcohol when it's illegal to drink and drive.
Carly Gayle of Gaithersburg wanted to know why Greenland is so icy but Iceland is so green.
A few correspondents branched out a bit from the specific terms of the puzzle question into larger issues of logic, if not the meaning of existence. Betty Uhrig of Alexandria asked why, for example, there are interstate highways in Hawaii. There are, sort of: They have "H" prefixes instead of "I," though.
She also asked us to ponder this: If you tied buttered toast to the back of a cat and dropped both from a height, what would happen?
Finally, Rebecca Ruth of Baltimore asks four questions that border on the metaphysical. If you try to fail, but instead succeed, which have you done? If the No. 2 pencil is the most popular, why is it still No. 2? If quitters never win and winners never quit, why do they say, "Quit while you're ahead"? And this, our personal favorite: "If someone with multiple personalties tries to kill himself, is it a hostage situation?"
Note: Owing to the customary enormous mental stress of the holiday season, plus this year's associated Y2K mania, we will not burden Horizon readers with a puzzle this month.