There oughta be a law, as the old cartoon used to insist. But there isn't one. And Ralph Stines of Falls Church, among others, is puzzled.
While driving through Our Fair Burg the other day, Ralph stopped for a red light behind a cab and noticed its D.C. license plate.
It looked a little like the ceiling of a planetarium.
There, along the northern edge of the heavens, were the validation stickers for 1982 and 1981. A little lower down in the galaxy of colors and years were 1976 and 1979. About three solar systems to the left were 1977 and 1978. Stickers for other years were slapped on the face of the tag without rhyme or reason, some upside down, some backward.
Ralph's question: isn't there a law requiring motorists to superimpose each new year's sticker on top of those from previous years, and to group them all in a neat pile at the lower right hand corner of the tag?
Sorry, Ralph. According to Shirley Brown, of the D.C. Division of Motor Vehicles public inquiry office, there's no law governing the number of validation stickers on any one plate, and no requirement as to where they must be stuck.
Sgt. Walter Hollingsworth of the Metropolitan Police community relations division adds that the folks in blue have "no problem with" randomly stuck stickers "as long as the current year (sticker) is on there and on time."
Of course, Ralph wonders, as do I: How can a policeman tell?
Let's say you're a traffic cop, and you cruise up behind the cab that Ralph Stines spotted the other day. It might take your eyes half a minute to hunt and peck their way through the relics of yesteryear and find the one valid sticker on the face of the plate.
Since when does an effective system reward sloppiness and make the work of the traffic cop harder? And why should such a system continue?
Al Toner of Arlington has noticed another modern linguistic offense taking hold. Here's an example:
"I travel back and forth between Michigan quite a bit more than I like to."
Al asks: Why not "between Michigan and here"?
He also wonders what you call this kind of foreshortening. Maybe "the one-shoe drop"? Maybe "clapping with one hand"?
I suggest we call the form an "Implicit," Al. That'll mollify those who cry: "It's obvious what the writer means."
But you and I will know that "Implicit" is a combination of "implicated" and "illicit." Just what the new form deserves to be, and is, in that order.
Two more Headlines for the Ages, both from the same age: the 1940s.
Shirley Jones of Arlington remembers picking up a copy of The Post one night in 1946 outside the Ambassador Theater on Columbia Road NW. The biggest, boldest headline on page one read:
CHIEF JUSTICE STONE DEAD
A few years earlier, probably in 1940 or 1941, Bob McMillen of Lovettsville, Va., recalls a story in the Times-Herald about a robbery at a popular local restaurant. The irresistible headline:
HOT SHOPPE HELD UPPE
When I wrote about funny habits recently, I cited as one of the funniest the practice of lifting one's feet off both the brake and the gas while crossing a railroad track. Could there ever be a reason for such flakery?
Sure could, writes Marion Holland of Chevy Chase. By de-footing entirely, she says, "your tires are neither skidding and kicking up gravel as you apply the brakes, nor spinning and kicking up gravel as you pour on the gas."
Never thought of that, Marion. Thank you. And thanks, too, for sharing your own "closet funny."
"When chopping or slicing anything," Marion reveals, "I count. Not out loud, of course, just to myself.
"What does it matter, I think, whether this stalk of celery is chopped into 16 pieces, or 23? But even while I am thinking that, I go on counting automatically. Every time."