Monday, October 02, 2006

"Giving Credit Where It’s Due" Dept.

One spirit which I've always found sadly missing from the Internet in general, from smaller, personal websites and pages to the e-mail output of the general populace, is of giving credit for things. Ever notice how few of those eternally popular e-mail collections of witticisms, the ones that thousands of people find just right and send around again and again, are absent any credit for authorship?

It's an odd psychology; I’ve always imagined it was the original senders fearfully thinking, 'If we take out the name of the person who wrote this, then we won't get caught for using it.' Not that this makes any sense, but why else?

So we've decided to start a series on the theme of Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due. (But don't worry, not in the common sense of, “Giving Credit Where We Reserve The Right To Jack Up The Rate Later.") The first subject:

The “Washington Post Style (not ‘Mensa’) Invitational”

No sooner had a friend reminded me recently of this highly witty collection of original words, which I remembered seeing a few years back, than a fresh copy of the same bit arrived from a family member. It was titled “The Washington Post Mensa Invitational,” where readers were invited to change just one letter of a word and supply a new meaning. Chances are you’ve seen these:

Intaxification: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize that it was your money to start with.”

Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly.”

Decafalon: The grueling event of getting through the day consuming only things that are good for you.”

Bozone: The substance surrounding slow-witted people that stops bright ideas from penetrating.”
But as funny as they were again, they were familiar; so since I’ve got the World’s Library plugged into my fingertips here, I got curious and decided to look into it a little further. Maybe I could find some editions from other years with more such clever nuggets. I did a search (I know, you’re supposed to say, “Googled it,” but do they really need any further endorsements?), and sure enough one of the first few entries noted some anomalies.

"The fact is, there is no such thing as a Washington Post Mensa Invitational. But a Factiva search shows that a few of these words appeared in a ‘Washington Post Style Invitational’ back in August 2, 1998,” some since-delinked commenter claimed. Further digging eventually revealed that this had indeed been one instalment in the regular Post feature, the Style Invitational (recent archives), which was begun and conducted at the time by one Gene Weingarten.

When I found this, I kept looking at his name, thinking it looked familiar. Well, sure enough, Gene used to be the editor of the Miami Herald’s Tropic Magazine, and as a former, unintentionally longtime Miami resident, I was very familiar with his name and photo.

It turns out that the Gene was the clever man, you might even say visionary, who got Dave Barry hired by the Herald, having discovered him "toiling in obscurity" for a small paper in an even smaller Pennsylvania town. (More twinned words: people never simply "work" in obscurity, they always "toil.")

Together, if I remember correctly, Weingarten, Barry and Tom Schroder also brainstormed and put on the Tropic Hunt, an annual scavenger hunt that savagely taxed the brains of the couple thousand people who would turn out every year, to spend a comical, frenzied afternoon racing around trying to interpret sheets of riddles for clues to a master puzzle. People would howl, with some mix of mock indignation and astonishment, when the unimaginably intricate solutions to each step were read out loud by Barry at the end.

So, Gene Weingarten, This Is Your Life (according to the Wikipedia). Thanks for facilitating all that fun, and glad to see you're still at it.

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