I’ve been a little anxious today ever since I posted this week’s Style Invitational contest, Week 1385: I was worried that some eagle-eyed Loser and Invite historian would pipe up, “You forgot Week ---!” But it’s been several hours now and my assertion seems to stand that of all the contests we’ve done that asked readers to change a name slightly, none of them had been specifically about place names.

But this contest is, as suggester Ken Gallant put it, “back to SI’s roots,” perhaps its stock in trade: to change a word or name by one letter, or similarly slightly, and define the result. Note that for this contest I didn’t insist on that single-letter change (to add a letter, delete a letter, substitute another letter, or transpose two letters); instead, I asked that you “change any place name slightly,” leaving room for you (and, more important, me) to decide what “slightly” is.

To me, it comes down to the new term’s recognizability: Just as with our neologism contests in general, the reader of your new word should realize what the original term was, or else there’s no joke. Sometimes the definition can hint at the original, but in general the most effective neologisms sound something like the words they’re playing on. The example I gave in the instruction is “Parts”; it’s just a one-letter change from “Paris,” but it sounds so different that the reader is easily lost. But if you said “Parts, France” and then made some further allusion in the definition, it might work.

Similarly, you can’t start with a place name that the reader isn’t likely to know. So if you change, say, Accokeek (small town in Maryland) to Quackokeek as a haven for shady doctors, the sound is fine, but if you don’t know from Accokeek, you’re not going to get the wordplay.

On the other hand, I’m not insisting that your description has to relate in some way to the original place. Almost all of our inking neologisms do, but it’s possible to be funny without that connection. In fact, the “Liffs” below draw their humor from being totally unrelated to the place names. We already have required that the changed word be another place name, so that’s some connection right there.

These questions popped up about Week 1385 this morning from the Style Invitational Devotees:

Can the place name be fictional? Sure, go ahead. Again, the reader needs to get the reference. (Explaining it to me in a long parenthetical after your entry, as some of y’all do, enlightens me but doesn’t make your joke better.)

Is a street name a place name? Nah. Let’s stick to geographical entities such as countries, regions, states, towns, I guess mountain ranges, rivers, etc., and not streets, buildings, institutions, etc.

And though the following inking entries will not work for this week’s contest, I figured it was a good enough opportunity to share some classic Invitiana on place names.

First, selected ink from two contests for “Liffs,” which repurpose actual place names into novel words. You can see the complete results here (1996) and here (2013).

Report from Week 147, in which you were asked to come up with Liffs, whimsical new definitions for cities, towns or other geographic locations. Yes, many, many people described “Peoria” as that ecstatic feeling one gets from relieving a full bladder.

Sixth Runner-Up: Anchorage — n. The often inane banter that takes place among talking heads on the evening news. (Michael J. Hammer, Washington) [Mike Hammer, a longtime horse racing buff, was the Loser who suggested our annual horse name “breeding” contest]

Fifth Runner-Up: Toronto — n. A Canadian Mountie’s faithful companion. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge; Bob Sarecky, Centreville)

Fourth Runner-Up: Altoona — n. The mythical place comic strip characters go when their creators retire. (Mark Jeantheau, Germantown)

Third Runner-Up: Bora Bora — n. A tiresome person who keeps repeating himself. (Paul Kondis, Alexandria)

Second Runner-Up: Manchester — n., usu. vulgar. A woman with a small bosom. (Tommy Litz, Bowie)

First Runner-Up: Assateague — n. The condition in which one tires of sitting in the same position for too long. (Bob Sarecky, Centreville)

And the winner of the Jim Bakker inspirational audio tape: Sacramento — n. A Communion wafer that purifies both the soul and the breath. (Dave Harstad, Arlington)

Selected honorable mentions:

Illinois — n. The ability of the chronically sick to get on one’s nerves. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

Babylonia — n. A spiel used by sleazy, fast-talking salesmen (Example: “He was giving me a line of Babylonia”). (Jennifer Hart, Arlington)

Eufala — n. The high experienced by bungee jumpers. (Tom Witte, Gaithersburg)

Pijijiapan (Mexico) — v. To clumsily type on a keyboard such that many letters are repeated. (Stephen Dudzik, Silver Spring)

Gorky — adj. Used to describe Russian nerds. (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

Bethesda — n. The sound nasal spray makes when you squeeze the bottle (Joyce Rains, Bethesda)

Waterloo — v. To pee in the pool. (Tommy Litz, Bowie)

And Last: Andalusia — The final honorable mention in a contest. (Joseph Romm, Washington)

And the redo in 2013:

The winner of the Inkin’ Memorial: Tarpon Springs: Serta’s most budget-priced mattress. (Joel Knanishu, Rock Island, Ill.)

2. Sheboygan: Pvt. Manning, reconsidering? (Brendan Beary, Great Mills, Md.)

3. Gabon: An unlimited calling plan. (Steven Alan Honley, Washington)

4. Nicaragua: A special water that helps you quit smoking. (David Bruskin, Woodland Hills, Calif., a First Offender)

Lowcales: Honorable mentions

Antietam: Picnic foods. (Beverley Sharp, Montgomery, Ala.; John McCooey, Rehoboth Beach, Del.)

Bogota: A buy-one, get-one promotion by a breast augmentation clinic. (Joel Knanishu)

Boise: Jay Z Jr. (Jeff Hazle, Woodbridge; Eric Ries, Bethesda)

Bolivia: Doghouse on the White House grounds. (Danielle Nowlin, Woodbridge)

Cameroon: A tourist oblivious to the dozen other people waiting to take the same picture. (Trevor Kerr, Chesapeake, Va.)

Cancun: Appalachian convenience food. (Mike Gips, Bethesda)

The Catskills: Little “presents” of mice on your doorstep. (Melissa Balmain, Rochester, N.Y.)

Chattanooga: To converse in Early Neanderthal. (John Glenn, Tyler, Tex.)

Chinook: The dimple at the bottom of Cary Grant’s face. (Dan O’Day, Alexandria)

Curaçao: Step 1 in making a football. (Beverley Sharp)

Dubai: A place where extravagant consumerism is the highest ideal, e.g., Dubai. (Mike Gips)

Grosse Pointe: Miley’s foam finger. (Jim Stiles, Rockville)

Jakarta: What nightclub owners ask the door staff when a 17-year-old girl tries to sneak in. (Elden Carnahan, Laurel)

Juneau: Not kosher. (Nan Reiner, Alexandria)

Kalamazoo: A place to see squid in their natural habitat. (Edmund Conti, Raleigh, N.C.)

Kyrgyzstan: A place to display your kyrgyz. (Danielle Nowlin)

And Last: Luzon: The heightened state of immature or scatological humor. “I’ve got nothing for Week 1040 — I gotta get my Luzon.” (Brendan Beary)


Another perennial contest theme is to combine two words or names — or long strings of them. One of my first contests was to combine two or more towns and describe their joint venture. Here are some highlights from Week 546 from 2004, which I headlined “A Nice Pair of Cities.” (Complete list here.) As opposed to a contest like this week’s, it didn’t much matter whether the town was well known.

Second runner-up: The Kissimmee (Fla.)-Ona (Ore.)-Butts (Mo.) Career Development Center (Jeff Nadler, New York)

First runner-up, the winner of the Gotta Go fake call-waiting sound machine: The Watton-Hellam-Ida-Ware (Mich., Pa., Okla., Mass.) “Dress for Success” Seminar (Brendan Beary, Great Mills)

And the winner of the Inker: The Pierce-Naples-Garner-Hurt-Lake-Kell-Venice-Yankton (Fla., Fla., N.C., Va., Miss., Ill., Calif., S.D.) Festival of Body Decoration (Dudley Thompson, Raleigh)

Honorable Mentions:

The Enid-Laredo-Yoder-Aldine (Okla., Tex., Wyo., Tex.) National Palindrome Competition (Chris Doyle)

The Mystic (Conn.)-Chickasaw (Ala.)-Helper (Utah) Magicians’ Assistants’ Conference (Seth Brown, North Adams, Mass.)

Islip (N.Y.), Crane Neck (N.Y.) & Sioux City (Iowa) Personal Injury Associates (Jeff Brechlin, Potomac Falls)

The Pray-Novice-Pilot-Cando-Landing (Mont., Tex., Va., N.D., N.J.) Air Phobia Support Group (Russell Beland, Springfield)

The Minnehaha (Wash.)-Van (W.Va.) Clown Car Factory (Bruce W. Alter, Fairfax Station)

The Tightwad-Bosses-Skidoo-Withee-Golden-Parachute (Mo., Va., Calif., Wash., Miss., Colo.) Commission on Executive Pay (Chris Doyle)

The Hartselle (Ala.)-Gypsum (Colo.) Convention of Used-Car Salesmen (Chuck Smith, Woodbridge)

The Whypo (N.M.)-Nott (Ky.)-Rich (Ky.) Conference on Income Inequities (Elden Carnahan)

The Quigley-Robbins-Tudor-Bat Cave (La., N.C., Calif., N.C.) Emergency Response Team (Dudley Thompson)

The Eighty-Four (Pa.)-Fifty-Six (Ark.)-Ninety Six (S.C.) Center for Obesity Studies (Brendan Beary)

Surely, slightly altered place names appear in many of the Invite’s neologism results. Searching through Elden Carnahan’s “All Invitational Text” master file on the Losers’ website, NRARS.org, I found that while there was no entry for “Wastington,” I’d offered it in 2013 in a list of neologism entries from earlier contests that needed better definitions. Four weeks later, I didn’t run any for “Wastington.” So maybe there’s still some blindingly good description that you could write for it.

Hoax springs eternal*: The springtime fictoids of Week 1381

*Non-inking headline by Jon Gearhart

Part 2 of our four-part Lies of the Season series of contests continued with a fun string of falsehoods about the vernal equinox and related events. A number of Losers had mentioned in the Facebook group that they’d had trouble with Week 1381 — and there were indeed a number of jokes in the pile that struggled mightily but in vain to be funny — but I’m happy with the 30 or so stalks of spring wheat that juddered out of the Empress’s thresher. Okay, some of them weren’t strictly about spring — e.g., Jon Ketzner’s was about the past tense of the verb “to spring” — but it’s springtime and the living is easy, at least given the uneasiness.

It’s the third Lose Cannon for Jonathan Jensen, who didn’t start Inviting till Week 1287. Jonathan’s entry was about the cancellation of this year’s White House Easter Egg Roll left the president with all these commemorative wooden eggs for the kiddies imprinted with “Impeachment is a HOAX.” Jonathan’s egg quote had initially continued, “Democrats have egg on their faces!” But I thought it worked better without the extra line, even at the cost of comically lame wordplay.

What Doug Dug: Ace Copy Editor Doug Norwood cited a string of faves this week, beginning with Danielle Nowlin’s runner-up noting that while days after the equinox usually increase by two minutes, starting in March 2020 the months increased by 45 days. The rest came from the honorable mentions this week: Bruce Alter’s “venal equinox” to open congressional bribery season; Kevin Dopart’s saying that the first signs of spring in Houston are stolen, as well of his March 3, April 4 and May 5 as being A-Day, B-Day and C-Day; Frank Mann having Trump “clarify” his “Happy Good Friday” tweet; Jeff Shirley’s definition of a zyrtec as a Polish word for sneezing jag; Mark Raffman’s take-you-a-sec fictoid that Freud celebrated Mother’s Day on Feb. 14; and Bill Dorner’s revelation that every spring, Jeff Bezos “molts his thick black lustrous hair.” If Bill’s next Amazon delivery is left in front of his car wheel, we’ll know why.

Some administrative good news

Last Friday a memo went out to Post staffers announcing that the downtown building would be essentially closed through Labor Day, and that while the lights and all were still on and the machines operating, they didn’t want us coming in without a very important reason. I assumed that mailing some Loser a mug was not a very important reason, and begged for patience from those who won some item that needed packaging. Thanks also to all of the recidivist winners who volunteered to forgo their magnets and receive their “prize letter” by email so I didn’t have to run my rinky-dink home printer into the ground.

But yesterday I was told by newsroom administrative honcho Tracy Grant that it would be fine for me to continue to come in once a month and do the accumulated mailings and printing, as long as I filled out a form, had my temperature checked by security workers, and wore a mask the whole time. So this Sunday or Monday afternoon, I plan to drive down to K Street and catch up on the Lose Cannons, second prizes and Loser Mugs that are desperately awaited by their winners. And while I’m at it, if you got ink last week in Week 1380 and you’re on the email list, I’ll mail you an actual dead-tree letter and a magnet. But not again for another month.

Sorry about my blabbering exuberance: At the end of last week’s Style Conversational, I mused that since the D.C. area was starting to reopen, maybe we could have that June 14 Flag Day Flushies picnic after all. Which alarmed, to put it mildly, Loser Sam Mertens, who was supposed to host it at his house. No! Yeah, no. Let’s see what we’re doing this fall.

And now it’s on to the foals — around 3,900 entries to Week 1382. Good thing I adore coffee.