Style Conversational Week 1496: The Empress discusses this week’s Style Invitational

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I linked to this clip in this week’s Style Invitational, but just take 90 seconds to watch 14-year-old Harini Logan of San Antonio rattle off, with seemingly utter calmness, the spellings of 26 words — some of which would take you a few seconds to read — in the 90-second spell-off tiebreaker, the first (and surely a keeper) in this year’s National Spelling Bee. She got four of them wrong (the judges went back and listened carefully, probably with the recording slowed down, to determine this) but it was more than enough to take home the trophy.

Harini can now retire from spelling thousands of words that get no Google hits other than dictionary definitions, and direct toward something relevant and consequential her extraordinary powers of absorbing and recalling material. But before relevance and consequence, there’s The Style Invitational! And we’ll give you two whole minutes per poem!

Once again, in Week 1494, we challenge you to write something funny and clever that includes a word from the year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee. I’ve invited you to choose any word from Round 4 or higher at spellingbee.com; click on a number at the top, and you’ll see a list of the words from that round. Or you can use one of the 20 pretty much random words I listed and nutshell-defined at the bottom of the online Invite. And don’t do what we in The Post’s Style section did one fateful year in the 1980s or ’90s: We inadvertently worked from a list of spellings the kids used — and they were, of course, often wrong. On this year’s webpages, you want the first spelling in each row; the second one is from the kid. (Also, another year, in one of my Most Embarrassingly Ironic Moments Ever, I personally misspelled the name of the winner in a headline.)

Note that I magnanimously extended the deadline a day to July 5, even though you don’t have to get back to the office to fax your entry, the way the Losers used to. I am such a softy these days — I’m almost down to corundum on the Mohs scale.

There are — particularly in Round 9, a vocabulary round — a few actually common words in the list. I’m not saying you can’t use “rattan” or “bastille,” but the spirit of the contest is for obscure words. So your common-word poem would have to be Especially Funny And Clever if it used an everyday word.

A cursory search through the Invite archives didn’t yield to me any poems using this year’s words (the bee does reuse them over the years), but for guidance, inspiration and, if not a belly laugh, then maybe a little gas bubble, here’s some ink from yore:



Affliction by leeches — hirudiniasis:


Bloody disgusting, however you spin it.

They trigger our deep-seated hygienic biases:

But worst is that one of them’s born every minute.

(Mark Eckenwiler, 2007)

Strepitous (STREP-itous): noisy, boisterous: :


Here’s why geezers aren’t strepitous: :


They are, simply too decrepitous.

(the late Mae Scanlan, 2016)

Grognard, an old soldier:

I worked for seven years inside a home for Jewish vets,

Grognards who moaned and kvetched all day while venting their regrets.


None bought the farm while I was there, so I am proud to say


That /my /old soldiers never died; they just oy-veyed away.


(Chris Doyle, Week 1283, 2018)

Trophallactic, sharing regurgitated food, as ants and bees do:


Met her on a dating website,


Hoped she’d fill my lusty thirst,


Thinking we should meet in person;


Fortunately, she asked first.


“Won’t you come and share a meal?”


So I rushed over, rang her bell;


Turned out she was trophallactic


And the date did not go well.


(Rob Cohen, 2021)

Argentous, containing silver:


Second place! An achievement momentous!


A feather this puts in my cap!


But instead of a medal argentous,


Pat sent me some lame piece of crap.


(Jesse Frankovich, 2021 – and of course it placed second; I sent him a squeeze-toy “stress reliever” in the shape of a bathroom scale)

Song sung news: The parodies of Week 1490

Have you sung along with the 21 songs in the results of Week 1490? Watched those videos? Not yet? Then I don’t want to keep you very long; enjoy the wordplay, the zingers, the musicality and visuals of the recordings. It’s a lot to see, but heck, they’re so good. And it was all I could do not to double that list with equally good ones from the hundreds of songs submitted.

The Clowning Achievement this week goes to an almost brand-new Loser: Michael Stein learned about the Invitational in the past year from a friend who’d seen his years-old Gilbert and Sullivan parody “When Trump Was a Lad,” and got his first ink two months ago with a related neologism: “Bozanna: A shout of worshipful praise for an orange-haired clown.” And he introduced himself to the Loser Community in a big way at the Flushies award picnic in May with an inside-baseball song — turning “The Heart of the Appaloosa” into “The Heart of the WaPo Loser” — that seemed as if he’d been Inviting forever.

And for Week 1490 he made a very long entry worth the space with an ingenious threefer: a full song each from Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (“If I Only Had a Brain”), Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (“… a Heart) and Sen. Lindsey The Toady Graham (“… the Nerve”), matching to the beat — Michael’s a semiprofessional cellist — Howard Arlen and Yip Harburg’s three-part song from “The Wizard of Oz.” The only improvement would have been to see the GOP Three in Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion costumes. Anyone up to make that video?

Speaking of videos: While none of this year’s inking (or whatever you call it) videos didn’t include the lavish production values and ambitious scope of Sophie Crafts’s “Two Darn Shots” of a year ago, they were all clever and fun and eminently watchable — and all of them helped by on-screen titles for the lyrics; even the clearest singer benefits from them (Right, Randy Rainbow?). Two First Offenders provided videos this week: Dave Scheiber — and a band including some family members — channeled Billy Joel for more MTG digs, and fellow Floridian Sam Gold provided a lively slide show of clips and photos of that irrepressible Rep. Madison Cawthorn in “Dumb Dumb Dum” (as in “Fun Fun Fun”). Go watch them!

I noted in the lead-in to Beverley Sharp’s parody of the 1950 standard “Mona Lisa” that it was one of two very fine takes — with the same song — on the recent stunt by a climate change activist to smear the Louvre’s Mona Lisa — actually its totally protective bulletproof-glass covering — with a “cakelike substance.” I really couldn’t decide which one to use, and they weren’t soooo different that I should run both. So in what I’m pretty sure was an unprecedented move, yesterday I posted (anonymously) both songs in the Style Invitational Devotees group on Facebook, and asked for votes. Beverley’s won out, 20 to 19 — but had Chris Doyle voted for his own song, it would have been an even 20-20. Here are both: Chris’s sublime wordplay and incorporation of the climate change theme, Beverley’s lighter take.

Chris Doyle:
Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa, someone smeared you,
Slathered layer cake to hide your mystic smile.
But it’s only ’cause this troubled man revered you
That he chose your famous visage to defile.
Mother Earth’s the thing he fears for, Mona Lisa.
What will come if mankind has no change of heart?
Fossil fuels—coal and oil—we’re still burning
Ever faster bode disaster.
Once we’re gone, can’t you see, Mona Lisa,
How you will be a truly lonely work of art?

Beverley Sharp:
Mona Lisa, look alert! He tried to smash you;
So precautions it’s imperative to take!
Someone nuts just had the guts to try to trash you
With a hammer and a large amount of cake.
Did you smile and drive him crazy, Mona Lisa?
Are you sorry that he failed in his attack?
Do you hunger at times, Mona Lisa?
Does your tongue ache
For that cream cake?
Do you live, do you breathe, Mona Lisa?
Then (after all these years!) you prob’ly need a snack!

There were many other super-clever entries that didn’t get ink this week. At least I’ll have some room in the Invitational at the end of July when, because there won’t be a new contest next week (though we’ll have a column of results), I’ll fill the page with extra entries from this and other contests. First time in three years!

The headline “Bee — our jest” was Tom Witte’s head for the results of an earlier contest.

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