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Style Conversational Week 1515: We har the world

The Empress of The Style Invitational on this week’s ‘sister cities of Europe’ contest and ‘air quotes’ results

Losers in sickness and in health: This week's Clowning Achievement winner for “RSV"P, Rivka Liss-Levinson; husband Ben Aronin (who got ink with another entry); and Sylvie Aurora Aronin, who'll be 8 months old this weekend. (Family photo)
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Awwww, it’s Our Little Vector! It turns out that sweet Sylvie Aurora Aronin, 7-month-old daughter of Dual Losers Rivka Liss-Levinson and Ben Aronin — 125 blots of ink between them — inspired the winning “air quote” in Week 1511 of The Style Invitational (full results here).

It turns out that Sylvie, who’s just started her freshman year at day care in Northwest Washington, is still a bit young to bring home finger paintings and pipe cleaner crafts, but she did a great job at bringing home the season’s trendiest disease: respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. Which — as all the cool tots are doing — she promptly gave it to Rivka and Ben. That was after the covid and before — as in this week — the flu.

Hence Rivka’s winning “air quotes” entry for Week 1511: “RSV”P: Yes, we’d be delighted! And we’ll be bringing little Makayla — don’t worry, her virus is almost all better.”

The Clowner is Rivka’s first “grand” prize in the Invite, and her 14th blot of ink in all. Spouse Ben, who’s been Inviting for many years longer, also got ink this week; his honorable mention for the also close-to-home “In“flu”encer: An anti-vaxxer who makes you go viral” is his 113th blot.

(Fun fact for Seder-goers: Have you ever seen, in an older haggadah, a parody of “Clementine” paraphrasing the passage about the Four Sons? That’s by … Ben Aronin! But it’s from 1948, and by Ben’s uncle. Between you and me, Our Ben is better with the parodies.)

The Losers’ Circle is filled out this week by veteran Ann Martin, whose “Marve‘lous e’vening!” gets the “100 Pooping Puppies” jigsaw puzzle (I’m pretty sure that it’s just squatting puppies and no actual product depicted), Transformative Rookie Karen Lambert (Fist“ICU”ffs) — three blots today give her 59 inks in 39 weeks — and a just-about-newbie: Al Lubran, who gets just his second blot of ink for an entry (he’s suggested contests and donated a prize) for S“ex”ting, how you lost your wife. Al has already joined the Loser community at two Loser events: the brunch honoring Elden Carnahan and last weekend’s festivities at TopGolf.

Once again, Air Quotes is the contest that keeps on giving; I think this is the eighth time running this contest in virtually the same way. Like Rivka with RSV, many Losers took advantage of topical names, such as Ye and Xi and Oz and Metaverse, and of course lots of current references in their descriptions — the dried-up Missis"sip"ppi, Trump’s Save A"me"rica PAC. All 47 inking entries this week fit onto the print page as well, and there were no editorial objections to any of them.

What didn’t work as well? A few problems I noted among the 1,500 entries (I didn’t look up who wrote any of these):

Misspelling the quoted word: Qu“err”ulous and A “cape”lla (something about a superhero) were among them. The entries wouldn’t have worked as qu“er”ulous or A “cappe”lla.

Referring to the wrong part of speech: If the main word is a noun, the description should be of a noun, not of the parenthetical word. Contrast with this one: Lot“har”io: Typical reaction to a wannabe seducer. Clever idea, but the definition should refer instead to that laughable seducer. Similarly: “Garb”ageman: A reflective safety vest.

Too many: Lots of people sent in something like “Meh”met Oz: He doesn’t seem to be thrilling enough voters. Right, I know, how can you know what other people are going to send? That’s why you get 25 chances.

No irony: If the inside word actually means what the main one does, that doesn’t work. Summa cum “laud”e: When parents gush about their child’s academic achievements. Another was a headline idea for S’ick’ Humor.

Not said in a funny way, or makes no witty or amusing point or observation: Em“ploy”er: A boss who uses guile to keep the wages of his employees low. “Prior”y: Former residence of ousted cleric.

No real-life meaning; it’s just to work for this contest: “Oat”h Keepers: Insurrectionists who demand organic granola when incarcerated. [Update! I misspoke here: Author Judy Freed notes that the “Shaman” Oath Keeper had demanded organic food in jail. It would have tipped readers off better had it referred to “that insurrectionist who ...”]

Too specific and localized: “Spit On Y’s” Pizza: Tip big — or get a free extra topping! The entrant did explain that there’s a Spitony’s Pizza way out in rural Warrenton, Va.

Too complicated; no one would read it: “p“i““r““a”t””e””” [“a” within “rat” within “rate” within “irate” within “pirate”]: The kind of jerk who steals your cable and so raises prices for the whole neighborhood, making you angry.

We used it in earlier contests: Jesse Frankovich got ink in 2019 with “Spur”ious: What certain draft deferments were. I saw that at least once this time around, though not as well worded. Remember that you can see (and search for) All The Invite Ever Written; just call up the All Invitational Text page at, the Losers’ own website (wait a few seconds for it to load).

Meanwhile …

No air: The unprintables: Clever but no:

C"hardon"nay: Who says alcohol interferes with male performance? (Jonathan Jensen)

Clea"vag”e: An appetizer that gets you thinking about the main course. (Tom Witte)

Washington “POS”t: A crappy newspaper everyone should cancel their subscription to. (D.T., Mar-a-Lago)

Oh mappy day! (Part 2) This week’s contest, Week 1515

Given that we did the same contest 10 weeks ago, with cities in the United States and Canada, it should be pretty clear how to do Week 1515, in which we take on Europe/Eurasia (i.e., including Russia, Turkey and some former S.S.R.s like Armenia).

Here’s the announcement for Week 1505.

And the results.

Once again, here’s the link to the 51-country list we’re using for eligible countries — and you can use towns from anywhere in the country, even the Asian part.

And if you want to think of jokes and then find towns for them, (click on “Cities”) will be a big help, though there are still towns to be found on Google that didn’t show here; Bob Staake found Lost, Germany by Googling even though it didn’t show up in Geotargit. Thanks again to Randy Lee for sharing this li’l helper.

Some differences from last time:

— Foreign towns present more pronunciation issues than U.S. ones do. As I said in the Invite, I’m not demanding totally authentic pronunciations, especially if the town isn’t well known. For a pretty well known city like Nice, France, I’m vacillating, but I probably won’t end up choosing ones that require us to pronounce it like the English word “nice” rather than “neece” — we don’t want to look ignorant.

— I don’t want this to turn into another head-scratcher of long strings of names. If you have such a string, have someone read it out loud to you and explain, with no hint, what you’re trying to say. (Next January: “Joint Legislation.” We’ll see about the name strings then.)

— Moscow or Moskva? With famous cities, I’d keep it to the English versions for the joke to be more accessible, but the other could work as well. I won’t rule them out. (Don’t use the non-PC Russian names for Ukrainian cities, please!) If the spelling is the same, don’t use the foreign pronunciation; if you’re using Paris, don’t expect for the reader to think “Paree.”

— Put the names of the countries at the end of the entry, but this time don’t use abbreviations; The Post doesn’t abbreviate foreign countries, and the audio version of the Invite (click on the “listen” icon just under the cartoon) really screwed up the state names.

NEW ENTRY FORM! Starting this very week, I’m writing the contest entry form through Google Forms rather than The Post’s own, but soon-to-be-retired, Sub Platform. I worked it up pretty much on my own, basically copying the old one into the Form’s various fields.

The shortened URL,[this week’s week number], will be the same, and as before, it’s not subject to The Post’s paywall; you don’t have to subscribe to see it.

As before, there’s just an open box (it might just look like a line) for you to put all your entries. You now should be able to use boldface and italics. Please continue to use the one-line format (don’t push Enter in the middle of the entry) for regular entries, and regular poetry form for poems and songs. It does look as if space between your entries won’t disappear, as it’s been doing on Sub lately — so that’s good!

It looks as if I can preserve the blind judging. I’m supposed to be able to download all the entries onto a spreadsheet, then copy out only the field with the text of the entries, to sort and edit them. So your names will be totally invisible to me until the end of the process.

The whole Washington Post is converting to Google Forms and Microsoft Forms, so we’ll all be learning about ways to refine the forms. For example, for now I’m asking you to just type in your name and address; there’s no way to use auto-fill.

Let me know about your experiences with this form, and feel free to ask about features I might be able to add. Fingers crossed for this week’s!

Speaking of printability …

One inking entry last week — the contest was for poems using only one vowel — brought two outraged complaints from readers; it’s a good illustration of why some of our humor works better online than in the print paper. The poem was all of three little lines, 17 syllables: an only-E’s haiku by Chris Doyle, in the wake of the antisemitic rant and tweets by Kanye West, who now goes by Ye.

West’s ever newsy,
Sez, “Every Jew screws me.” The
Less Ye, the better.

I had had to convince an editor that the Invite has used the term “screw” many times, especially in a nonsexual sense. But that wasn’t the complaint.

The first one, after the print edition arrived on Sunday:

“Ms. Myers,

Please pull the Invitational or the part about Kanye West.

I am beyond furious.

No person on the planet should be thinking about him in a context other than anti-semitism. And there is NO reason to joke about him.


The second one:

“This is very anti-semetic-. My family is very upset. “Every Jew screws me.” Apology needed for all from POST and Pat Myers & Chris Doyle.” [wife and husband’s names] “LONG time subscribers.”

As I always do to people who write in — which is, to clarify, almost never — I wrote back politely, explaining that The Style Invitational was condemning Kanye West, not celebrating him, that we have condemned nasty people from Osama bin Laden to Vladimir Putin to Pol Pot. And then I realized what the confusion must have been: These readers didn’t recognize “Ye” in the third line as referring to Kanye West — so to them, the poem just let him rant and never got the last word.

Most people who still get the print Post are well over age 50. Chris Doyle himself is well well well over age 50, but he stays current. It should have occurred to me that some older people might not get Chris’s point, and I should have run it only online, perhaps with a link on the “Ye.”

Haven’t heard back from either of the letter-writers.

A Wednesday Invite next week!

As we do every Thanksgiving week, we’ll put the Invite up online next Wednesday morning (maybe a little later than the usual 10 or 10:15 a.m.), since the Sunday section will be typeset that afternoon. Because this means I have to finish the week’s work 24 hours earlier — Bob is also going on vacation and needs his work earlier — I’ll probably be pooped by Wednesday and unlikely to do the Conversational.

So wishing you the happiest and Loseriest of Thanksgivings — remember that always fun pastime of family-generated Invite entries.