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The Style Invitational Empress on this week’s contest and results - The Washington Post


Bob Staake's first draft to illustrate the neologism “gymgerly,” referring to the abundance of caution used by people returning to the newly reopened gym.

By Pat Myers

Pat Myers

Editor and judge of The Style Invitational since December 2003

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July 2 at 5:08 PM

It was certainly eye-catching, drawing the reader into the picture.

I’d sent The Style Invitational’s almost-forever illustrator, Bob Staake, the three neologisms that Loser Duncan Stevens had supplied for the contest he suggested and became Week 1391, for neologisms without a C, O, V, I or D (though Duncan had slyly defined all three in terms of the pandemic). It seemed to me that “gymgerly” — how one handles the equipment at the newly reopened Planet Fitness — lent itself most to a cartoon, and Bob agreed, sending me the sketch above.

I loved Bob’s funny ideas on how one would act gymgerly — bench-pressing a giant barbell with your gloves fingertips; lofting yourself with a balloon to avoid contact with the treadmill. But I didn’t like the woman, even if her butt crack were covered (no way would The Post have printed it otherwise). For one thing, she wasn’t doing anything gymgerly; in fact, she was dragging a towel and seemed to be barefoot. And for another, face it, she was drawn to be exaggeratedly curvaceous in the hipsies, which faced the reader below a waist that would make Barbie look like Rosie O’Donnell.

Bob explained that the woman was there not to be a third person acting gymgerly, but as a storytelling device to draw attention to the other two others. Bob explained that she’s “on the way to her Zumba class as she notices a guy who can bench-press 600 with his index fingers alone. … Having her pass by is both done to provide story line for the reader to fill in (what we good illustrators try to do in our work) as well as aesthetically fill an otherwise dead area from top to bottom.”

Meanwhile, after Bob produced the revised sketch, I showed the first one to my predecessor, the Czar of The Style Invitational. “He’s right,” the Czar said of the inclusion of Zumba Woman. “Just lose the butt crack and you are fine.” So had he still been wielding the Scepter of Invite, you might well have seen the cartoon above atop your trusty Week 1391.


A happy solution: Bob's final, with both characters acting “gymgerly." (For The Washington Post)

Bob and I have been working together virtually every week for the past 16 1/2 years, he always figures out a way to produce a creative and effective solution to address whatever concerns I had, even when he disagrees with them. My suggestion had been to have the woman wear a giant shield, big gloves, etc., but Bob knew that would be crowded and confusing in the small dimensions of the cartoon on the print page. Instead he ended up dropping the “story line” woman, and instead put the woman on the treadmill (with an extra balloon, for emphasis).

Now let’s just hope that barbell keeps bouncing off the guy’s fingers.

Selected shortened subjects*: The results of Week 1387

*Non-inking headline by Kevin Dopart

Week 1387 was another Duncan Stevens suggestion guaranteed to bring good results. The challenge was to “delete one or more letters (they must be consecutive) from the middle of a movie title, and describe the resulting new movie,” and the response was enormous: I counted 2,350 entries from 276 people.

It was the kind of contest that benefited from sorting the entries alphabetically: That way I could look at all the plays on, say, “Gone With the Wind” at once. I also saved time by not looking at the hundred or so entries that began with a parenthesis, marking the deletion of first letters or words of the title; could “from the middle of a movie title” possibly be understood as including beginning of the movie title? Hint: no. So scratch all those. As well as the entries that dropped the last letters (sorry, this otherwise good one: “HUG(o): From the people who brought you Nightmare on Elm Street, a pandemic horror flick,” (Bill O’Brien) and those that ignored the direction “they must be consecutive.”

I’m relieved that I asked for the full name of the movie, with the deleted letters set off by parentheses; most of the time it would have been clear without it, but not in the case of FECES, “F (ive easy pi) ECES” (Brendan Beary), or perhaps ROY’S BABY, “RO (osemary) Y’S BABY” (Jesse Frankovich), or THE CAN QUEEN, “THE (afri) CAN QUEEN” (as in the Kim Kardashian story, by First Offender Mark Nocera). I think the all-caps bold contrasting with lowercase lightface works in both the sans serif font in the print paper and the serif one (Georgia, I believe) online. I used parentheses around the deleted letters because brackets looked too much like lowercase L’s in sans serif.

My “shortlist” ran on and on this week; I’d marked about a dozen entries as my very favorite, then left more than a hundred inkworthy entries in the dust as I filled the print page with 31 entries, then added a dozen others online.

It’s the seventh Invite win for Sue Lin Chong, for THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD (st) ILL: Prequel of “The Three Months and Counting When the Earth Stood Ill,” but it was her first since all the way back in 2006. Sue Lin was one of the big stars of the Czarist era — she has close to 200 blots of ink — but took a long leave from the Invite until just recently. I’m thrilled she’s back.

Another Star From Way Back — in fact, one of the few Losers to have scored Invite ink in every one of our 28 years — is Hall of Famer Stephen Dudzik in second place (FOUR (wed) DINGS AND A FUNERAL: A cautionary tale of what happens when you’re not careful with the mob boss’s car). Steve also, as far as I know, is the only Loser to have invited a tableful of fellow Losers to his wedding; it was just before my time, but I’ve visited Steve and the lovely Lequan several times when they’ve hosted Loser holiday parties out in Olney, Md.

And one more Old Days veteran in this week’s Losers Circle: Fourth place goes to Frank Mullen III (of Ill.), who’s blotted up 49 inks since his debut way back in Week 438. Which makes third-place finisher Frank Mann, who’s been Losing for almost a decade now, a virtual greenhorn.

On the other hand, I was jazzed to see last week’s First Offender Jeff Rackow back with more ink, and fellow noob Hannah Seidel, a runner-up last week, finally earning a magnet after a Fir Stink and a Loser Mug. I’ll continue sending out our 2019-20 honorable-mention magnets, “Too-Weak Notice” and “Certificate of (de) Merit,” until they run out. Then we should be good to go with the new “Punderachiever” and “No ‘Bility”; those of you regular Losers who’ve been forgoing the magnets and snail mail during the pandemic, thanks again — I’ll make sure you eventually get both new magnets for your future ink.

What Doug Doug: Ace Copy Editor Doug Norwood once again liked all four of the top winners (we worked together for many years on the Style section copy desk, and usually were on the same wavelength) and also singled out Mr. Sith Goes to Washington (Andrew Wells-Dang), No Count Old Men (Gary Crockett), Petty Woman (Jerry Birchmore) and “Ro (semar) y’s Baby (Jesse Frankovich using Eternal Fodder Judge Moore) made me laugh.”

Missed the I-Rating — Unprintables from Week 1387: A few that wouldn’t have made it past the Invitational Taste Police.

L (awrence of ar) ABIA: A British lieutenant helps the desert tribes tend to the toes of their camels. (Brendan Beary, my favorite of half a dozen with the same title)

THE (40) 0 BLOWS: A young Parisian struggles with an unsuccessful love life. (Duncan Stevens, in a Convo-Only-designated entry)

Also from Duncan: DEEP (Thr) OAT: A woman finds intense pleasure in swallowing breakfast cereal.

And a Convo-only from Tom Witte: MARY POP(pin) S: A spinster is determined to lose her virginity.

Hey, how about this week’s contest?

If you’ve read even a few Style Invitational columns, you’ll have a feel for our neologism contests. Usually the new term is a pun on an existing word or name, with as clever an funny a definition as you can make. It’s a plus if the word could be used in the real world, and it’s great if you include the word in a funny sentence.

If you’re new to the Invite, please take a few minutes to see some of the literally thousands of words we’ve added to the Loser Lexicon over our 27-plus years. One way (no paywall) to do that is to look at the “Words” page of the Master Contest List at NRARS.org, the Losers’ own website, then click on some of the links to the results on the right column of the chart. Not all the dozens of contests there are neologisms, but they’re easy to find in the descriptions. Then lay ‘em on me — but remember: No C’s, O’s, V’s, I’s or D’s.