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What’s the most annoying form of humor? April 11, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben believes that humor is the most individual form of taste, or enjoyment, if you will. What makes you burst out in a deep belly-laugh or uncontrollable snickering may make your colleague a few cubicles over writhe in discomfort, and the guy across the aisle may not even get the joke. This doesn’t make you right and them wrong; it simply adds to the rounding out of who you are, it paints a unique portrait of you.

I do think, however, that some forms of humor are generally considered more offensive or annoying than others. Here’s my list of top ten annoying forms of humor, and how I feel about them:

1. Clowns. I absolutely hate clowns. I think they’re creepy, and can’t see any humor in them. Alice Cooper’s song “Can’t Sleep, the Clowns Will Eat Me” says it all as far as I’m concerned. Clowns originated in mediaeval Europe to terrorize the populace into abandoning sin and falling in line with Church teachings; to me, they’re every bit as scary now as they were then.

2. Mimes. If anything, I hate mimes more than clowns. Besides not being funny, they seem to cloak themselves in an aura of self-righteousness. Watching mimes be self-righteously rude to people who are minding their own business in public squares, train stations and the like makes me sick. If I behaved that obnoxiously to my fellow travellers, I’d be detained. But mimes? Hey, this is performance art! Give me Groucho over Harpo any day.

3. Lame cartoons. It can’t be easy to be a cartoonist and come up with a funny strip every day. But some strips are never funny, and yet there they are, day after day after day. Why do papers insist on publishing “Peanuts,” “Mutts,” “Doonesbury,” and their ilk? Why is “Peanuts,” one of the most boring strips in cartoon history, revered? Even “Blondie” is occasionally funny, and “Mark Trail” sometimes has interesting nature facts. But, much as we might long for the days of “The Far Side” and “Calvin and Hobbes,” there are good contemporary cartoons like “Get Fuzzy,” “Pickles,” “Jump Start,” “Pearls Before Swine,” and “Brewster Rockit” we could be enjoying in the space taken up by those lame ducks. All I can say is, thank God for “Dilbert.”

4. Puns. A pun is a play on words that can range from clever to extremely clunky and painful, especially when used clumsily or overused, as punsters seem prone to do. (Example: A colleague mentions the episode in “Game of Thrones” where Brienne is forced to fight a bear. The punster immediately chimes in with “What a shocking scene! I could barely bear to watch it!”) Ouch. Our friend Ben once had a boss who insisted on reciting a pun-riddled version of “Cinderella” at each and every corporate Christmas party. Trust me, fighting a bear would have seemed like a party by comparison.

5. Slapstick. Our friend Ben knows many people who can’t stand slapstick. But generally speaking, I love slapstick; it makes me laugh out loud. If I want to be cheered up, I watch a clip of Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) from the Pink Panther series; his interplay with Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau is simply marvelous to me, combining verbal wit with physical faux pas. Groucho Marx was also a master of this art, the ability to combine razor wit and physical incompetence. Charlie Chaplin performed the most brilliant slapstick I’ve ever seen, his legs seemed like rubber. I’ve still never seen a Chaplin film, but I saw the clips of him at the end of the bioflick where he was played by the brilliant Robert Downey Jr. To this day, I wonder how he managed to pull this off.

6. Sadistic humor. I list this one here because in essence it’s a form of slapstick, one epitomized by the Three Stooges. It’s physical humor, like slapstick, but in this case, you have bullies like Mo poking innocents like Larry and Curly in the eye and slapping them around. What’s funny about that? Nothing that I can imagine. Apparently the damage Mo inflicted on his siblings and fellow actors was so great that the actor who played Curly Joe forced him to sign a contract promising not to actually hurt him. Ha, ha, ha! What a laugh riot.

7. Sarcasm. Sarcasm is another form of sadism, but this time, it’s verbal. Nonetheless, the point (pun intended) is to stab your target with the sharpened blades of your wit, scoring points at their expense. Our friend Ben’s mother always maintained that sarcasm was the lowest form of humor and should not be indulged in by any respectable person, since it targeted people who were weak and unable to defend themselves. Nastiness disguised as humor is still nastiness, and sarcasm is just mockery unter another name. Mockery is just another form of bullying, and like all forms of bullying, is unworthy.

8. Vulgarity. Comedians like the late George Carlin and Richard Pryor apparently felt that the shock factor of vulgarity equalled humor, and millions of fans apparently agreed with them. Fans of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Borat” and Russell Brand’s and Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up comedy also agree. Vulgar or not, stand-up comedy is a dead bore to our friend Ben. The only time I’ve ever enjoyed it was in Gabriel Byrne’s send-up in the TV movie “Trigger Happy” (aka “Mad Dog Time”). Coupled with Paul Anka’s send-up of himself, it was a performance to remember.

9. Late-night shows. Why do people watch these shows? Who really wants to see Kim Kardashian being interviewed by David Letterman? We have friends who grew up watching Johnny Carson and the like with Grandma, but sheesh. What could possibly be funny about an interminable late-night talk show?! We wish Stephen Colbert all the best, but please. We could use our sleep.

10. Verbal swordplay. Like slapstick, our friend Ben loves the sharpened tongue, the ability of the underdog to humorously defeat his enemies when they don’t even know what hit them. Groucho Marx, W.C. Fields, Lord Tyrion Lannister of “Game of Thrones,” and Sherlock Holmes are all experts at this art. (A close read of the Holmes canon will reveal the humor that is so often hidden in the film versions.) A brain is as good as a sword when it comes to defeating brawny but moronic enemies.

So what are your most-hated forms of humor? Let us hear from you!

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Why, why, horrid fly?!! April 23, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Oh, please. As if the return of stinkbugs to the house, with their horrid lurking, dive-bombing, stealthy ways wasn’t bad enough. Now, with the arrival of spring, we have houseflies getting in here, too.

How, I ask myself over and over, do they manage to get into the house (and greenhouse, for that matter)? I don’t have a clue. It’s not like we put out a big sign that says “Housefly Bed & Breakfast” and then leave all the doors and windows open. But somehow, there they are.

One particularly repulsive large black housefly has been terrorizing me as I’ve been working on the computer all morning. Like an especially annoying automated toy in the hands of an extremely focused kid, it’s been flying from window to window, over and over and over and [endless loop], crashing into each window in turn, and then starting again at the beginning. “Bzzzzz… BOOM! Bzzzzz… BOOM!!!” Aaaarrgghhhh!!!!

Yes, we do have a fly swatter here at Hawk’s Haven. Yes, I suppose I could get it and use it. But then I’d have made myself a murderer. Too bad the stinkbugs and flies don’t just take each other out.

Bzzzzz… BOOM!!!

Ah, happy spring.

          ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

Cats in space, or what we do at 2 a.m. April 18, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in pets, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. You wouldn’t think so to look at it, but Hawk’s Haven, the cottage home our friend Ben and I share in the precise middle of nowhere, Pennsylvania, is actually a hub for space exploration and home to a major racetrack as well. We think the reason this is not more widely known is that both these activities only take place under cover of darkness.

Our cat Athena likes to crawl onto my shoulder when I’m trying to sleep, snuggle down, and go to sleep herself. Normally, I don’t mind this unless a) I get too hot or b) she tries to lick my face. Both these events are cause for instant eviction. But as you can imagine, removing a cat from one’s shoulder is a risky business at best. To deal with the problem, our friend Ben established FASA (the Feline Aeronautical and Space Administration), with Athena as catmonaut-in-chief. 

Here’s how it works: First, we have liftoff, when the bold catmonaut heads into space (supported by OFB’s enormous hand). She orbits the bed, occasionally losing altitude so I can rub her belly, then finally blasts off with a rocket roar of loud purring. Given our ongoing attempts to restore poor Pluto’s planetary status after its disgraceful downsizing, most FASA flights send our catmonauts off to orbit the lonely little planet on a fact-finding mission before returning to Mission Control for debriefing.

I’m happy to report that FASA’s space program is an unqualified success, with as many as three launches occurring every night. However, we must ask you to disregard any disturbing rumors that all our catmonauts bear an uncanny resemblance to one another: red Maine coon cats with green eyes. FASA categorically denies that any cloning is occurring at this facility. All feline volunteers will be accepted into our space program.

It’s not all rocket science here at Hawk’s Haven. Our little cottage is also home to a NASCAT racetrack. Each night, celebrity drivers Linus and his sister Layla roar around the track, which twists and turns through the entire house. It would seem to defy the laws of physics that such relatively small vehicles could produce such a tremendous amount of noise, but the thunderous uproar increases with each successive lap, as the excitement builds to near-intolerable fever pitch.

Despite the fact that NASCAT racing only occurs between 2 and 3 a.m., each race is well attended (by us, our golden retriever Molly, parrot Plutarch, and parakeets Taco, Belle and Laredo): It’s impossible to sleep through it. Athena is usually too busy preparing for her next space mission to pay much attention, but on her nights off, she’s been known to join Linus and Layla for a lap or two. We’re sorry to have to disclose that there have been several crashes in the course of the NASCAT races, but so far, Linus and Layla have emerged unscathed from the wreckage.

FASA. NASCAT. Did somebody say nighttime was the time for sleeping? Obviously, they’ve never lived with cats.

             ‘Til next time,

                        Silence

Easter Peeps. April 12, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. When our friend Ben and I first moved to Pennsylvania from Nashville, we had never heard of peeps. Or Peeps. “Peeps” is apparently the local term for chicks. Peeps, on the other hand, are garishly colored marshmallow renditions of same produced by nearbly Bethlehem, PA’s Just Born Co. In this area, the chrome-yellow, pink, blue, green, and purple marshmallow creations, and an assortment of marshmallow bunnies in the same color palette, are an essential part of Easter.

Not ours, though. Even our friend Ben, who has something of a sweet tooth, can’t bring himself to try one. In fact, we didn’t even know they came in flavors until reading a recent article in our local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, which said that Just Born was releasing special chocolate mousse-flavored Peeps for 2009. The article went on to say that local candymakers were predicting a big year for candy sales, and that the Neilsen Co. had proclaimed candy to be “recession-proof.” Yow, that’s quite a comment on our societal priorities!

However, what really made us sit up and take notice of Peeps this year (besides the appearance of a “Peepmobile,” with gigantic replicas of the marshmallow creations displayed on top, cruising around the area) was a contest the Morning Call held. It invited readers to send in photos of Peeps they had dressed in costume, selected finalists from the entries received, and then asked readers to vote for their favorite. Over 34,000 readers sent in their votes.

The thought of people—160 people submitted entries—spending hours creating costumes and whole tableaux for 2-inch-tall marshmallow candies is mind-boggling, but like watching a train wreck, our friend Ben and I couldn’t look away from subsequent newspaper updates. Our hands-down favorite of the ten finalists was “Disco Peep, Circa 1979,” which sported sequins, Go-Go boots, a gold chain, and very big hair. (Admittedly, until we saw the title, we thought it was Elvis.) Other entries included “Yellow Brick Road,” with Peeps as all the characters, “Peeps Knitting Circle,” “Japanese Tea Ceremony,” with Geisha Peeps and a bonsai, and “College Peeps Hanging Out in Cancun for Spring Break.” The Geisha Peeps, which looked to our possibly jaundiced eyes more like Jabba the Huts with really bad toupees, were priceless.

Unfortunately, our usual fate befell us, which probably explains why poor OFB has still not received a MacArthur Fellowship and neither of us has yet emerged as the author of the next Harry Potter series. A paltry 4% of voters loved Disco Elvis as we did, and the same sorry number went for the Geisha/Jabbas. Instead, a whopping 59% of the vote—more than 20,000 readers—selected “Peeps Playing Poker” as their favorite.

“Peeps Playing Poker” was patterned after a painting our friend Ben and I loathe and have been subjected to far, far too many times, “Dogs Playing Poker,” actually a whole series of paintings made by C.M. Coolidge in the early 1900s. While we doubt that C.M. Coolidge was actually “Silent Cal” Coolidge, we wish the painter had followed our president’s example and remained silent as far as his artistic genius was concerned. If we never, ever saw or heard of this painting again, we would be ecstatic. But here it was again, transformed into marshmallow candies.

Our friend Ben and I have been forced to recognize over the years that humor is the most individual of all human traits, and being subjected to everything from “A Fish Called Wanda” to “The Blues Brothers” has convinced us that most people’s sense of humor is not ours. We generally like slapstick, but not if it’s cruel: Marx Brothers yes, Three Stooges no. Good-humored, not whiny: Pink Panther yes (but the originals, not the sorry remake), Seinfeld no. Chevy Chase, Dan Ackroyd, Dana Carvey yes; Bill Murray, Steve Martin, Mike Myers no. Wryness a la Dilbert, yes; foulmouthed bitterness and anger masquerading as humor, no. Jim Belushi yes, John Belushi no.

Humor comes in many forms and serves many purposes. Some humor is designed to teach us a lesson, to show us our weaknesses and get us to take ourselves less seriously: This is the purpose of the Hopi mudheads, as it was the purpose of the kings’ fools and jesters, and was the original purpose of clowns (which, like Alice Cooper, I find scary, not funny)*. In fact, I find all humor like this scary, not funny: To me, it’s mockery, humiliation, public ridicule dressed up as comedy. A holdover from a time when the purpose of humor was to strip away our dignity and show us the worms we really were, to display to all that the emperor had no clothes. I agree that nobody should take himself or herself too seriously. But in a crowded world, where there are so many of us that most of us feel more like Dilbert than, say, Charlemagne or Ghengis Khan, I think we need fewer reminders of how cosmically small and unimportant we are. We really, really get that already. 

Then there’s bitterness disguised as humor, most often in the form of sarcasm. My mother told me that sarcasm was a weak man’s refuge and never to descend to it, and I’ve tried to live by that. Irony, understatement, on the other hand, I can’t help but appreciate. I’ve always hated watching performances where you can see an actor heroically struggling to create a role rather than simply becoming the role. I find it so distracting I can’t relax into the film or play. I remember hearing about an American actor who was frantically method-acting, trying to research his part so he could be authentic to the last detail. A British actor cast in the same performance watched the American struggling and struggling, and finally said something to the effect of, “Have you ever considered acting?” Ha!!!

But boy, have I strayed far from our topic of Peeps. Sorry about that! Yikes!!! Self-editing, where art thou?!! Anyway: If you’d enjoy seeing these Peeps-in-costume, go to www.mcall.com and search for “Peeps.” You’ll find the whole story. Let me know which of the finalists you liked best! And if Peeps play a part in your Easter celebrations.

                ‘Til next time,

                            Silence

*Oops, I should clarify that what I meant was that I agree with Alice Cooper’s deathless song, “Can’t Sleep, the Clowns Will Eat Me,” not that I find Alice himself scary.

Peanut butter 1, groundhog 0 April 11, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben couldn’t resist sharing this story with you. Our local paper, the Allentown PA Morning Call, published a report by Don Fisher yesterday that began as follows: “A hungry groundhog couldn’t see its shadow—or much of anything else—after it got its head stuck in a peanut butter jar in Allentown on Thursday afternoon.”

The story goes on to reveal a happy ending, when a volunteer wearing protective gloves moved the groundhog to a nearby garden, freed it from the peanut butter jar, and watched, with cheering bystanders, as it scampered to safety. Our friend Ben of course wonders if the garden’s owner was equally thrilled by the denouement.

Whatever the case, the photos are priceless. Being a Luddite, our friend Ben has no clue how to link to them from here, much less import them. But if you Google www.mcall.com, then, once the site comes up, search for “hungry groundhog,” you’ll get them. (It appears to be a jar of Skippy, in case you’re wondering what brand groundhogs, aka woodchucks, prefer.) A good reason for cleaning your jars before recycling them!

And of course, our friend Ben loves the final sentence of the article: “No one, or the animal, was hurt.” But I’ll bet it was really thirsty.

Ben Picks Ten: Signs That You’re Over the Edge March 30, 2009

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Deadline pressure has been known to drive normally sane people like our friend Ben and Silence Dogood a little, shall we say, into Far Side—or even Twilight Zone—territory. Both of us are on deadline as I write, so we collaborated to come up with ten warning signs for this post. If you’re feeling a bit pressured, maybe you can relate. And if you don’t realize you’re feeling pressured, maybe you’d better check these out:

1. The Chef Boyardee ravioli in your dog’s dish is starting to actually look good. 

2. You get one of those group e-mails that includes the phrase “Who lit the fuse on your tampon?” and really wish you had said that.

3. Your #1 fantasy is working in a factory making widgets, getting a regular paycheck, and never thinking about work, even when you’re working.

4. You start feeling really, really jealous of your cat, because every time you see him, he’s either eating or sleeping.

5. You stop answering phone calls. Those people are just out to get you, anyway.

6. You check the fridge; maybe you didn’t give the dog the whole can of ravioli after all.

7. You forgot why he calls himself Chef “Boyardee.” (You can’t believe you’re actually thinking about this.)

8. You get into an argument about whether Dolley Madison is a brand of cupcakes or ice cream. Several hours later, you discover that your partner was actually suggesting that the real Dolley Madison introduced ice cream to White House functions, not that Dolley Madison ice cream is a brand. At which point you get into another argument because you think Thomas Jefferson introduced ice cream to the White House.

9. Your partner has brought a rubber duck home from his travels and introduced it into your bathroom. The two of you previously acquired a rubber duck at the same motel and have set it up in the shower as an emblem of a happy vacation. Suddenly, the usurper duck is in the shower and the original duck is exiled to the back of the toilet. You restore the original duck to the shower and take a photo of the usurper duck as it circles the toilet en route to being flushed into the septic tank. You then tuck the photo into the dossier in your partner’s briefcase that he’s taking to show to his committee.

10. After talking things over, you and your partner decide that it’s high time you went out for supper. Booking a table at a high-end restaurant, you proceed to order ravioli, then place a somewhat battered rubber duck beside your plate.

Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon? March 25, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon? This was the question that led not one but two people to our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, early today. We have gotten a lot of curious enquiries over the year we’ve been blogging, but frankly, this one takes the cake. How can we resist wondering what led to such a question:

* Someone carefully dressed a salad with extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar and set a little plate outside for the raccoon. But wait, is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?

* Someone carelessly left a bottle of homemade apple cider vinegar out on the deck. The next day, the empty, uncorked bottle was lying on the deck… Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?

* Oops, that bottle of red wine “vinegar” migrated out the back door and, well, you know how it is, I guess some critter must’ve drunk it. Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?

* I read that a vinegar rinse was good for adding red highlights to dark hair. But, oh, dear, I didn’t really mean to practice on that raccoon…

* I’ve been swigging down a shot of vinegar ever’ day since I heard it’d cure whatever ailed you. I aim to live to be a hunnert! But, dang it, thet raccoon up and drunk my shot. Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?

* I read that predator urine would scare critters away from the veggie garden, but I didn’t have any, so I dumped a bottle of vinegar around the garden bed instead. Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?

* A vinegar rinse is supposed to get your sheets and underwear whiter than white, right? But last time I saw my sheet, a raccoon had taken it off the clothesline and was carting it away. Is vinegar harmful to a raccoon?

* I read a tip online that vinegar and newsprint would give your windows a shiny sparkle. I was outside washing the windows when I saw this raccoon…

Raccoons are omnivores like us, and dextrous omnivores at that. Our friend Ben suspects that vinegar is just as good, bad, or indifferent to raccoons as it is to us. And given our dog’s, parrots’, and chickens’ preference for dressed salads, I think a raccoon would love some mixed greens dressed with a tasty vinaigrette. Maybe with a few water-garden goldfish as fresh sushi topping.

Whatever the case, we’d love to know what prompted this question. And as always, we’re grateful to our alert readers for giving us something to laugh about!

What the bleep were they thinking?!! March 24, 2009

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Silence Dogood here. Reading our friend Ben’s post (“Spam! What is it good for?”) this morning reminded me that someone had mysteriously managed to link to our blog under the heading “Decorating Your Dining Room with Glamour and Style.” Hopefully, this wasn’t actually spam, but clearly these people had never seen our “dining room.”

Mind you, I have in my day seen a dining room decorated with “glamour and style”—in OFB’s parents’ Colonial home in Nashville. OFB’s Mama’s (genuine) Colonial furnishings in that vast, glittering room would put any bazillionaire’s dining room to shame. It’s an elegant, gracious, sophisticated, welcoming room.

Unlike ours. Let me take you on a little tour of the Hawk’s Haven “dining room”: First of all, there isn’t one. Like our predecessors in this house, we have a little round oak table at the back of the big kitchen. It’s situated under a vintage flea-market light fixture in front of the deck door, so we can enjoy the view of the deck, outdoor cats, birdfeeders, stream, backyard, and farm fields while we eat. The table is so small only two people can really eat there, though we’ve managed to occasionally squeeze (“squeeze” being the operative word) as many as four in there if we absolutely had to.

And that’s just the beginning. To give our birds the best light and view of the outdoors, we have their cages lined up between our standing pantry and the wall so they all face the deck door. We think they find the view entertaining, but this means that they’re on one side of our table, contributing a nonstop, raucous commentary and the occasional spray of birdseed to our dining experience.

Our dining table has also been known to host the occasional cat explorer (Layla is most notorious for this, once even turning the table over), though not when we’re actually eating. And despite my feeble protests that it wouldn’t happen again this year, a number of houseplants have somehow managed to creep onto the table and establish themselves in permanent residence, reducing both visibility and dining space.

Those are the good parts. On the seat of my antique chair at the table are two ancient but still serviceable towels that we use to dry off our golden retriever, Molly, if she has to go outside in inclement weather, as well as the even more ancient coat I wear to head outside with her when it’s cold so I won’t freeze. Between the table and deck door are a grocery bag full of recyclable paper products destined for our fire pit, a bag of recyclables for the recycling bin, a cat carrier in case we need to take someone to the vet, a stack of newspapers waiting for the paper shredder and/or a perennially lagging OFB to read them, Molly’s leash, and a cardboard box that holds the bags of treats for the chickens. Often, our under-sink composting bucket joins the melee, at least when it’s full and it’s time for OFB to trek out to the compost bins and dump it. Oops, I forgot the two water jugs for the chickens and plants and the boot caddy with our Muck Shoes and snow boots. And did I mention the bookcase crammed with cookbooks or the cabinet full of CDs?

Mercy, have you ever heard of such glamour and style? Bet you can’t wait to redecorate your own dining room a la Hawk’s Haven. And by the way, please forgive us if we don’t invite you over for dinner: We’d love to, but we don’t know where we’d put you. Unless you happen to like birds.

          ‘Til next time,

                      Silence

Eeeww, stink bug stew. February 6, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in critters, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Yesterday, someone came on our blog, Poor Richard’s Almanac, searching for, and I quote, “what do stink bugs taste like.” Well, we don’t know what stink bugs taste like. We don’t want to know what stink bugs taste like. We don’t want to know people who want to know what stink bugs taste like. Just thinking about it gave me a bad night.

But this morning, I began to see the whole stink bug-eating business in a new light. Even as I write, a stink bug is lurking on top of the paper in my printer, waving its antennae at me as if to say (in a high, squeaky, but somehow still ominous voice) “You’re going to forget about me. And the second you do, I’m going to blast off—BZZZZTTTT!!!—and land on the front of your tee-shirt. This time, I’ll succeed in killing you off.” After all, I can only survive so many tests of my cardiac fitness.

So I’m thinking, why not turn the tables (or in this case, possibly, table)? I could go outside right now and put up a big sign at the road:

                 STINK BUGS! All You Can Eat!

                           (Takeout Only)

Would-be stink bug gourmets could stop by and scoop up as many as they could find. I’d even give them a nice plastic bag and some dip at no extra charge.

Eeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwww.

          ‘Til next time,

                   Silence

The curious case of the gruntled calendar. January 9, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood acquired a free Berks County Community Development Office 2009 Calendar yesterday from our local library in nearby Kutztown, Pennsylvania. We were in hopes that it would highlight local activities that we might be unaware of, but as our friend Ben flipped through the pages, I began to see that it featured a number of rather curious “holidays” instead. Intrigued, I took a tally to see just what the calendar compilers were up to.

Now, National Hotdog Day, Donald Duck Day, Fasnacht Day (known elsewhere as Mardi Gras), National Grammar Day, PA Fish for Free Day, National Checkers Day, National Garage Sale Day, and even Daniel Boone’s Birthday ((November 1st, 1734) may not strike you all as particularly quirky, though (fond as I am of Daniel Boone) they were almost too much for our friend Ben. But how about National Single Tasking Day, National Blah Blah Blah Day, National Honesty Day, Juneteenth, National 21st Amendment Day (our friend Ben had to look up the 21st Amendment to learn that it was the one that repealed Prohibition), National Bad Poetry Day, Dogs in Politics Day, Sweetest Day (October 17th, for reasons unknown to our friend Ben; it seems to me that Hallowe’en might have been more appropriate), National Buy Nothing Day, National Cat Herders Day, Festivus for the Rest of Us, and—our friend Ben’s favorite—National No Socks Day (celebrated on May 8th)? Not to mention National Win with Civility Month (August) and—let’s all celebrate!!!—National Chicken Month (September). (Oops, Silence points out that this may refer to eating chicken rather than raising chickens, but let’s hope it’s a celebration of the joys of backyard chickens instead.)

The back of the calendar is taken up by a list of “Frequently Called County Numbers,” beginning with the number for Adult Probation (our friend Ben trusts that this was just an alphabetical coincidence). The list also features a phone number for a title one doesn’t encounter every day, Prothonotary. Not being in the legal profession, our friend Ben’s acquaintance with this word had formerly been limited to the prothonotary warbler, whose name, it turns out, does not refer to the bird’s legalistic tendencies but rather to the supposed resemblance of its plumage to the prothonotary’s traditional yellow hood. (A quick check of my faithful Webster’s New World College Dictionary reveals that a prothonotary is “a chief clerk in some law courts” or, in the Catholic Church, “any of the seven members of the College of Prothonotaries Apostolic, who record important pontifical events,” in case you’re wondering.) 

All of this was enough to cause the bemused Ben to wonder if someone had been celebrating National 21st Amendment Day a bit too enthusiastically when the calendar was being composed. But it was one day on the calendar, July 13th, National Gruntled Workers Day, that inspired me to write this post and share the hilarity with all of you.

Gruntled. How many times have you used or heard this word? Disgruntled, yes. Gruntled, no. It made our friend Ben think about how many other words were used only the negative rather than both the negative and positive forms. In Britain, I gather that people talk about clement weather. In the U.S., we might say the weather was inclement, but Clement is reserved for a proper name, one you’re grateful your parents didn’t bestow on you. (We have nice weather instead.) We refer to untoward occurrences but not to toward events.

Words that begin with “dis-” often fall in this category. We may call an act or comment disingenuous if we believe its perpetrator is playing the innocent to deceive us, but would never say that a knowing act or comment was ingenuous. We are distressed but not tressed; disgusted but not gusted; dismayed but not mayed; disturbed but not turbed. Distraught but not traught, disputatious but not putatious, distracted but not tracted, discomfited but not comfited, discombobulated but not combobulated, and on and on. (Though this is not a rule of thumb by any means. We discredit and credit, disclaim and claim, disconnect and connect, feel discomfort and comfort, are discontented and contented, etc.)

English is a difficult and curious language, to say the least. (Most bizarre to our friend Ben are cases where a word and its apparent opposite actually mean the same thing, as in flammable and inflammable. But I digress.) Our friend Ben is certain that many, many instances of a negative term being in common use without a positive equivalent have slipped my mind here. So please, if any spring to mind, share them with us!