'Yes, my husband does it all the time," admitted Grace Dembitz ruefully, somewhere in the middle of her second Duke Zeibert's crab cake.
"But he's also the reason I won the contest. We were sitting at home, and I described the question, and he said, 'I know I always do it. But it's silly. To check your wife's arithmetic is silly.' "
It surely is. But just as surely, Grace Dembitz of Northwest, better half of Lewis, is the winner of our November neologism contest. And "silly" is at the heart of her blue ribbon entry.
The November challenge was:
You're approaching a toll plaza on a highway. You ask your front-seat passenger to hand you exact change so you can use the exact change lane. He or she does. But as you're pulling up to the booth, you glance at the coins so you can see with your own eyes that what the passenger handed you is correct.
What do you call this annoying habit? Grace's word:
"Elegant, crisp and clever," said this juror to himself, when he read Grace's submission. It takes the notion of "again," the notion of coins and the notion of ridiculousness. Then it blends them together, and fries them to the same golden brown as Grace's crab cakes. Hard to hate. Easy to like.
The same might be said of our winner, and hereby is. She's a French teacher at the Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda who owns a crinkly smile and a winsome set of habits. She likes Masterpiece Theater, crossword puzzles and young students of Francais, not necessarily in that order.
Meanwhile, she has just endured life's most difficult task: moving from one residence to another. How she found time to read Levey in the midst of all that disruption, I'll never understand. But I'm glad she did, and if you're a lover of language, I think you now are, too.
More than 1,000 other linguists tried their hands at this month's challenge. The entries were notable for several reasons.
First, I have never before read such a deluge of howls from women whose husbands do what Grace's does -- and who are furious about it.
"I have endured this at exact change lanes for 25 years," wrote "Frustrated Frederica" from Lexington Park, Md., "and when you're married to a military man, you can't tell him anything."
"When my husband does this, it makes me so mad I could scream," wrote another woman, from Chevy Chase. Just so I'd be sure to get the point, the first 12 words of that sentence were written in black ink. For the 13th, "scream," my correspondent shifted to red.
The message: let's mind our manners, fellas. And yes, I do mean "our," not "your." No one has been guiltier of this tollhouse sin than the miserable, misbegotten male who's typing these words.
But the contest has induced me to mend my ways. Cross my heart and hope to die. If your ways could still stand a few strokes with a needle and thread, the hint is there for the taking.
Second, this month's entries repeated themselves more than any previous set. Fully half the entries were for Coinfirmation, Toll House Lookie or Toll House Kookie.
Wonderful wordsmanship, to be sure. But as vast as my expense account is, it couldn't have accommodated a free lunch for 437 people. Sorry, folks. Perhaps another try this month?
Third, one entry produced a supremely funny tale of what can happen when drivers don't check their passengers' arithmetic.
As Jon Curtis of Annandale was leaving the Massachusetts Turnpike, his wife Lori handed him the exact change: $1.55. Jon hadn't asked how much the toll was, and didn't check to see how much Lori had given him. So he handed the money to the tollbooth attendant and held his palm out for the change he assumed he was owed.
The attendant reached out and "gave him five." Jon has never been so startled -- and Lori says she's never been so amused.
I wasn't exactly sobbing when I read these almost-winning entries. Good ones, all.
Extra-cents-sorry phenomenon (Michelle Dally, Michelle Rice, Wilfred Rodie and Jay Schifferli).
Miscoinduct (Barbara J. Ackerman).
Change Reaction (Kathy Keefer of Woodbridge).
Tolltotaltarianism (Michael Salkind Jr. of Arlington).
Nickeloglin' (Forest C. Deal Jr. of Catonsville, Md.).
Obsessive-Coinpulsive (Brownie Anderson).
Hand-eye Coinsternation (Merril Hirsh of Woodley Park).
Toll-House Counter of the Worst Kind (Charles R. Mann).
Close-In Counter of the Second Time (Florence F. Thompson of Greenbelt).
Unchanged Malady (Margaret Male of Laurel).
Eyeballing the Jack (Albert P. Toner of Arlington and Lucille Casteel of Rockville).
Monday Morning Quartertracking (Mike Giannotto of Northwest).
Hiwaycarobberating (John Paulman of Reston).
And finally, in tribute to that warmhearted humanitarian who leads Iran . . . .
Eye-a-toll-a-her-money (Nan Terpak of Fairfax).
Great gobs of gratitude to all who entered. As for December, the season of gift-buying, what better challenge than one that involves spending money?
You pay the tab at a restaurant with a credit card. But you forget (as usual) to yank out your copy of the three-part credit voucher. So the waiter does it for you. But in addition to handing you the slip, he hands you the always-limp, always-useless piece of carbon paper that used to live directly between "Establishment Copy" and "Customer Copy." That piece of carbon paper is called . . . .
The prize will be what the prize has always been: a free lunch, at a restaurant you choose, with a certain columnist (yes, he'll pay by credit card). Entries by Dec. 31, please, to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.