Style Conversational Week 1516: Minding those A’s and Q’s



I know, I promised I wouldn’t be here today with the Convo, since — as I do every Thanksgiving week — I was publishing this week’s Style Invitational, Week 1516, on Wednesday, a day early. But I wanted to give our newer members of the Loser Community a better idea of how we do the Questionable Journalism contest, one the Invite has been presenting regularly since Week 254 in 1998, but not since Week 1433, a year and a half ago.

And I wanted to share some interesting non-inking entries from Week 1512, whose results run today — especially some of the many 26-word/26-starting-letter passages concerning The Style Invitational and its imperious little showrunner.

Q-shticks*: This week’s contest

*Headline by Kevin Dopart from the results of Week 1324 in 2019

Our recurring Questionable Journalism contest is like our even more persistent Ask Backwards in that the “answer” goes first, followed by your “question”; my predecessor, the Czar, first used the title “Double Jeopardy.” In the early, pre-Internet days, you had to limit your search to that day’s (Sunday) Washington Post, which presumably you had in your hands, and which, in the super-flush-for-newspapers late 1990s, was the size of a hippopotamus, thanks to all that ad revenue we just don’t have anymore.

These days you get to use any dated publication, print or online, and the date can be from today, Nov. 23, all the way to the contest deadline, Dec. 5. No, Invite Obsessives, you do not need to examine every page in every paper of the next 12 days — yes, some Losers have complained about this “requirement.” An enterprising Loser could find 20 QJ-useful sentences in today’s Washington Post. But it’s also a good reason to pick up a copy of your local print paper, if your town still has one; no one else will be using your sentence!

The examples the Czar offered were from that day’s Ann Landers column (with his own questions, duh):

Answer: “She is now in jail, charged with aggravated battery and domestic battery.” Question: What happened to the woman who mugged the Energizer Bunny?

Answer: “A handkerchief edged in lace, resembling women’s panties, to put in a man’s breast pocket.” Question: What would be a bad birthday present to get President Clinton?

My question: What the heck was that second Ann Landers quote about?! (My question answered.)

And that actually brings up a useful tip: It’s better to use a sentence whose real context is clear — that way, the reader gets right away how you’re turning the meaning around. To me, the “battery” example is the funnier one. I could explain the context after the sentence (and occasionally do) but at the risk of spoiling the humor.

What do I mean when I say you can use “the major part of a sentence” rather than the whole thing? As I noted in a previous Conversational: “You can drop a few nonessential words from the sentence, for example ‘Smith said,’ and you can use two short sentences. But try not to use very long sentences, since your entry might be the one most easily trimmed for space. Also, not deleting those extra words is one way to show some cleverness.” (Boldface mine this time, because those long sentences do get cut first.)

Don’t, on the other hand, cut the sentence so its meaning is already changed from the original; don’t change “The teacher passed out the exams” to “The teacher passed out.”

Q. Where can I find literally hundreds and hundreds of inking Questionable Journalism entries from over the years, without any paywall?

Glad you asked! You need only check out the Losers’ own New ’n’ Improved Master Contest List, created by Elden Carnahan and recently updated by Gary Crockett at Click on the drop-down menu at the top and select “Questions”; then click on the links (results are in the right column) to the Questionable Journalisms and others that fit the description. They’re text files, but much more readable now.

How about if I just want to see, oh, five representative entries?

2017, runner-up: A. We cannot acknowledge every submission. Q. Hey, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, why don’t you tally how often legislators kowtow to the president? (Mark Raffman)

2016: A. Let me be honest here. Q. What does a politician say before lying? (Jon Gearhart)

2015: A. “In the past I would laboriously pare off the hard skin with a vegetable peeler (difficult on a curved surface) or slice it off with a big knife.” Q. What did Julia Child say as a testimonial for Oil of Olay? (Frank Osen)

2010: A. “Whether I win or lose, I’ve got to look at myself in the mirror the next day, and a word that’s important to me is integrity.” Q. Why on earth did you get “integrity” tattooed backward on your forehead? (Russell Beland)

2007: A. This is the place that made me who I am. Q. What’s so special about the back seat of your parents’ SUV? (Jay Shuck)

A note about the formatting: I won’t be shuffling the entries this week, so you don’t have to do anything special. See the note on this week’s entry form. I haven’t had time to run tests with our new entry form on whether you can start embedding links right into your entries. So for now, just include the URLs for your online sentences after each sentence, or even at the bottom of the group of entries.

AlpHAbet soup*: The results of Week 1512

*Non-inking headline by Chris Doyle

Much like our recent Scrabblegrams contest — in which you had to rearrange all 100 Scrabble tiles into some entertaining bit of writing — our Week 1512 contest was what I call a “stunt”: You had to write 26 words, all of which began with different letters. It was suggested by Loser Al Lubran after he saw the results of a similar contest in Marilyn vos Savant’s column in Parade (which just ran its final print edition); those results weren’t exactly thrilling, but I was sure the Losers could do way better.

And they certainly did. This week’s 25 inking entries, 22 of them in print, didn’t just satisfy the parameters of the contest: They told jokes. They were fun to read. Their words made sense in context. And, as I’d predicted, some Loserbards managed to work those words into verse, even into something as fixed-form as a limerick (Coleman Glenn, in fact, sent in a whole page of them).

Winner Yet Again Chris Doyle parlayed knowing the name of the Washington National Zoo’s newest panda, Xiao Qi Ji, into the most organic use of X-, Q- and J-words, with a local angle to boot. Jonathan Jensen fit “xylophone” totally sensibly into a hilarious rant by an orchestra conductor — he surely has heard many from his seat among the bassists in the Baltimore Symphony. Leif Picoult supplied a funny, relatable punchline to the description of a horror movie, and Karen Lambert offered my favorite among several good A-to-Z entries with her tale of the “boastful cad.”

Karen also got ink, along with Jesse Frankovich, with an “and last” entry about The Style Invitational. There were lots of other amazingly good ones as well, but it seemed wrong to fill up the whole column with inside stuff … when I can put them right here. I’ll start with theirs, which I know to be valid (26 words starting with different letters or with an “eX” for the X); the others I didn’t check, but who cares?

And Last: God knows regular quipping’s not very challenging, but making you use eXactly twenty-six words, each one having a different first letter, is just plain zany. (Jesse Frankovich)

And Even Laster: Before entering the Invitational, always first question yourself honestly: Does my joke responsibly eXhibit wisdom, underscore legitimate knowledge or zealously promote virtue? No? Great — click submit! (Karen Lambert)

[If I’d run three of these, this would have been the third: ] The Style Invitational: Quirky contest! Judge: Empress with absolute power. No opinion matters eXcept hers! Bribes? Useless! Really likes zingers; (doesn’t go for yucky, kinky videos …). (Beverley Sharp)

[Another good A-to-Z]: After banishing Czar, dastardly Empress foments gauche humorists, inanely joking, kibitzing, laughing, making new obscene puns, quirkily rambunctious, salacious, tasteless, uncouth, very weird, xenophilic yuk-zingers. (Marty Gold)

Quintessential evidence of fanatical Invite zealotry? Spending hours not gainfully working, but designing prose using twenty-six letters, knowing an eXtremely juvenile, valueless magnet constitutes your reward. (Also by Karen Lambert)

Alphabet-related contests mean zero ink for nearly everybody, you know. EXpect one veteran Loser (Duncan? Jesse?) to win. How? By quickly generating untold sidesplitting passages. (Chris Doyle, who made this entry unusable by winning the contest!)

Any boob can devise entries for getting honorable ink. Just know, losers: Many not only prove quite raunchy; some tout unprintable vengeful wit. EXorcise Your Zeal! (Rob Cohen)

Empress: Write passages that repeat no starting letters. Quickly, zealously … verbiage just “magically” forms. Knowing eXpansive options and good usage helps. Can it be done? Yes. (Louise Dodenhoff Hauser, who indeed got ink with another entry)

Finding Le Mot Juste begets obsession: anagrams, eXpletives, humorous quotes, neologisms, puns, zingers — even gobbledygook delights kooky ink slingers. Unfortunately, relishing wordplay can yield verbose tommyrot. (Kathy El-Assal)

You know, this zany quest our Empress gave us was proposed by Al Lubran — he just discovered it from reading Marilyn vos Savant’s eXcellent newspaper column. (Jesse Frankovich, who has a true gift for making anagrams as well as other stunt-writing like this sound totally natural)

Every week, I zealously click one specific URL, kneeling, praying for leXical redemption, nay, veritable justice. Then, despair: lifelong goals quashed by yet another honorable mention. (Brian Cohen — well, we prevented THAT disappointment!)

Mail! Whoa Nelly, examining various bizarre junk here — kitsch! Farting zebras! Glowing eXcreta! Yellow clothes! Questionable rarities! Think a Loser dumped Style Invitational prizes on us. (Duncan Stevens)

Invite hopefuls (undeniably zany), recovering from eXcruciating Scrabblegrams, knowingly decide on punishing themselves again by wackily juxtaposing every letter. Certifiable? Yes. Grief? Very much. Quit? Never! (Karen Lambert)

We Losers, to be eXtremely funny, publish hilarious new Quips, make you Readers chuckle, and gather up zero-value kitschy Junk, Do enter our Style Invitational! (Jesse Frankovich, with his own odd capitalization)

This just in — save the date!

The Losers’ Post-Holiday Party will be Saturday evening, Jan. 28, in Metro-friendly Crystal City, Va. More on this next week.

Happy Thanksgiving to all — and start looking over your past year’s entries for next month’s do-over contests.

The following non-inking entries from Week 1512 go from mildly risque to very. If that kind of thing doesn’t appeal to you, please stop reading now.

No my ABCs*: The unprintables (*Non-inking subhead by Jon Gearhart)

This very clever one didn’t pass muster with the Taste Police: An X-rated holiday feast: Our Jennie-O wasn’t dressed! Everyone in Charlotte’s kitchen quickly peeled! Guests nibbled breasts, thighs, legs — very yummy! Sadly, my zucchini remained untouched. (Jon Carter)

Certainly in the tradition of bawdy limericks, and expertly crafted: This old vibrator’s firm, not so bendable,/ Plus, unlike jointed kinds, quite extendible./ It’s had grueling abuse, / Welcomed zealous reuse: / You cannot employ lads more dependable. (Byron Miller)

You see, being eXtra cautious during quarantine, when attending remote gatherings on Zoom, I naturally kept my long erect penis hidden from view, unlike Jeffrey Toobin. (The ever-modest Jesse Frankovich)

And a local one about the trouncing of far-right-winger Dan Cox in the recent election: Young, urban female voters quite obviously killed Republicans’ zany nominee in Maryland’s gubernatorial election. Exasperated party bosses had to acknowledge: Some women just don’t like Cox. (Jon Ketzner)

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