Ralph Hoar of Southeast knows how much I love Ruination-of-the-Language tales. So he called the other day with news of a sign he encountered in the cafeteria of the Federal Aviation Administration.
"Recipe Contest," it announced. Then followed an explanation of how patrons could submit low-calorie lunch ideas to the cafeteria's management. The winning recipe would be served for a week, and the winning recipe writer would get free meal privileges for himself and a guest for a month.
So far, so innocent. But the crusher lurked in the fine print.
"Entries will be judged," it said, "on the basis of appearance, taste, practicality and uniquity."
"Yes, uniquity," said Logan Dowler, vice president of Guest Services Inc., the company that operates most cafeterias in federal office buildings. "It means the same thing as 'uniqueness.' And I think it slips more smoothly off the tongue."
But Webster says 'uniqueness' is common and 'uniquity' is rare. Why not go with the flow, as the kids would say?
"Because people ask questions about 'uniquity,' " Dowler said. "Maybe it does sound a little like 'iniquity,' but it's attracted a lot of attention. And you can't run a successful contest unless you attract attention."
Maybe not, Logan. But attention is one thing and using a 10-dollar word in a 49-cent situation is another.
When Webster wrote "rare" after "uniquity," he had his reasons. Your ears can tell you what they were.
And While We're At It . . . . A tip of the grammatical hat to Mary Fawcett of Boyds, Md., who has noticed my fatal attraction for the word "gotten" rather than the more economical "got." She rapped my knuckles with a cute yarn:
A man went on a business trip to New York City and was lucky enough to obtain tickets to a play he and his wife had longed to see. So he sent her the following telegram:
HAVE GOTTEN TICKETS TO CAMELOT STOP MEET YOU FOUR THIRTY TRAIN.
"Naturally," Mary writes, "she arrived with eight friends."
Never again, Mary. I've gotten the message.
But Gordon Peterson evidently hasn't. . . . Keith Snider of Waynesboro, Pa., says he caught The Amiable Anchorman doing a story the other night about Virginia's drug laws. Came time to utter the word "paraphernalia," and Peterson left out the second "r."
Knowing Peterson, I suspect he'll blame it on his Boston accent. Pure baked beans, Gordon. But at least you have lots of company.
Elsewhere on the mispronunciation front . . . . Syd Kasper of Silver Spring says he has never heard a local sportscaster tackle "Gallaudet" (as in College) without fumbling. As Syd notes, it's Gal-oh-det, boys, not Gal-you-det.
And from the Hunt Country comes a bleat of Hey-What-About-Us, courtesy of Mickey Gordon. It isn't just "Washington" that gets shredded by people who insist on saying War-shington. Same goes for Warrenton, just up the road from Mickey's home in Fort Defiance, Va. The ear-insulting rendition Mickey keeps hearing: Warrington.
Meanwhile, out in Chevy Chase, Vincent Fitzpatrick is still trying to figure out a real estate ad he saw on WRC-TV. The announcer referred to the company's "extraordinary service." Only the guy pronounced it "extra ordinary." Vince wonders -- as do I -- how being additionally usual is a selling point.
And Albert P. Toner of Arlington says his ears are ringing from a TV news account of a summit conference. A joint communique was issued at the finish. The announcer pronounced it "commu-neek."
But for inventing words that grate, we must all give way to the junior senator from Minnesota, Rudy Boschwitz.
He came up with two of the worst graters in memory during the Aug. 2 tax-cut bill debate on the Senate floor. The source is the Congressional Record. The italics are mine.
"Certainly no one could . . . reasonably maintain that the conference would go beyond a conferenceable item or that it would get into the nether-nether land of anything goes in this tax bill," Boschwitz said.