W ant to make some money? March up to a smarty-pants friend and issue a spelling challenge.
"I'll bet you 10 bucks that you can't use 'effect' and 'affect' correctly in a sentence," you say.
That'll send about half of your friends to the sidelines and send you off in search of a nice lunch. Then, to the next friend/victim:
"I will bet you 10 bucks that you can't use 'site' and 'cite' correctly in a sentence."
Another ten-spot, another lunch.
But the most cashable bet of all is capital-capitol.
Here we sit, in the capital of the free world, where the U.S. Capitol shines down on us. Yet we fumble this one all the livelong day.
Capital is the seat of government. Capitol is the building. Baby stuff.
Yet people who've typed each word thousands of times still have to double-clutch to get them right. Yes, cynics, even in the newsie business.
I wish there were an easy mnemonic device to steer us out of the shoals. I've never met one.
Maybe this would work: Capitol has an O because so many who serve in Congress are zeroes.
If that does the trick for you, hey, you heard it here first. But I suspect double-clutching will not fade from the landscape, even so.
How did we get here? Why is capitol spelled with an O and capital with an A? Are the two words related? Were they separated at birth? Is there any logic to any of this?
Shaligram Shukla, a professor of linguistics at Georgetown University, said both words derive from the Latin word caput, which means "head." The capital is often seen as the head of the country, he noted, and the capitol is often seen as the head of the city. "There is a continuum there," he said.
We might have avoided some of the capital-capitol confusion if the Founding Fathers hadn't loved the Romans so much.
Until the 1790s, Capitol Hill was named Jenkins Hill. It was renamed Capitoline Hill by our early leaders, who wanted Roman grandeur there, according to Donald Richie, associate historian in the Senate Historical Office.
Capitoline Hill was the ancient Roman site of the Temple of Zeus. The Washington version was shortened to Capitol Hill soon after, although Don Richie is not sure why or when.
Obviously, we should have gone the other way. We should have named that big, round, white building the U.S. Jenkins. It would soon (and forever) have been known as The Jenk, as if it were a baseball stadium or a saloon.
You say it doesn't sound grand, or Roman? At least we'd all know how to spell it.
Welcome to the newest treasure on the D.C. landscape -- the City Museum. It opens officially this morning, at Mount Vernon Square.
What closes? Once and for all, the idea that Washington has no local history. It always did. Now you can see the proof for yourself.
I haven't visited yet, but that oversight will be corrected as soon as I have three free hours (2006 is a good bet).
In the meantime, a tip of the cap to a man who helped make the City Museum possible: Former mayor Walter E. Washington.
Many others helped raise the millions to launch the City Museum, most notably Austin H. Kiplinger. But no one threw himself at the task as staunchly as the city's first elected mayor of modern times.
This is a man who always "got it" about Washington as a home town. When he was mayor, he never auditioned for a higher job or cared more for embassy parties than for public housing. He understood that his job was to bring the city out of the political bulrushes and into an era of full representation on Capitol Hill.
He may not have succeeded, but neither have hundreds of others.
And they didn't serve in an era of rampant and divisive antiwar protests, widespread crime or indifference from a president named Richard Nixon.
Walter Washington could be spending his eighties complaining about the hand he was dealt, or sitting bitterly on the sidelines.
Instead, he made call after call on behalf of the City Museum. His enthusiasm was obvious, according to my spies. As of this morning, the results of it are, too.
Well done, W.E.W.
Thank you, Dallas Bolen, for discovering a great way to separate kids from oldies.
Dallas was motoring along the other day when she noticed a white Ford Explorer. Its tags read:
"It made perfect sense," Dallas wrote.
If you happen to be of a certain age. Which Dallas and I both are.
The tags refer to Whitey Ford, the great pitcher for the New York Yankees in the 1950s and 1960s.
Dallas doesn't say if the pilot of YT 4D was of that vintage. Regardless, the tags brought a smile to my crinkled face -- and fond memories of Yogi Berra's talented batterymate.
Thanks, Andrew S. Hoenig, for noticing a chuckle-inducer at the White Flint Metro station.
A sign was posted recently in the handicap parking lot there. It says additional handicap parking is available across Rockville Pike.
"We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for rinding Metro," the sign concludes.
According to Andrew, a freelance editor took a pen and wrote a comment next to "rinding:"
"SP. 5 points!" it says.