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Playing with words

“If at first you don’t succeed, maybe you are not doing it right.”— Mosby’s Rule of Doing Stuff.

After seeing two more mass shootings carried out by angry young white men using weapons of war which no member of the general public should even be able to buy and after the U.S. Department of Justice can’t keep the guy who just might be the most notorious creep in the entire penal system alive in his cell to face justice, but can manage to round up 700 poor Hispanics who are up to their elbows and knees in chicken guts all day at Mississippi processing plants, I decided just not to add to the depression quotient and instead write something light.

Sure, that’s a copout.  So sue me.

One of the reasons—just one, mind you—that the New York Times is generally considered to be this country’s paper of record — fans of the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal can argue, but only if they read all three — has always been the care it takes with and attention it pays to words.

The Associated Press’s Stylebook might be fine and dandy for everybody else, but the New York Times has its own, thank you very much.

The Times has always had more than a smattering of lexophiles (lovers of words) on its staff, perhaps none more so devoted than the late, great William Safire, author, journalist, columnist extraordinaire, with a little stint of speech writing for Richard Nixon thrown in for good measure. (He would later rather scathingly repent for the latter, after he found out that Nixon was spying on him, even as he did it.)

For many years, Safire wrote not only a conservative-leaning syndicated political column, but for the Times’ magazine, another, titled “On Language” which was not only a must read for all lovers of that subject, but which also served as a sort of in-house critic for any of his home paper’s bevy of writers who might have been foolish enough to play a little fast and loose with it.

And in what I have always thought might have been both a continuation and honoring of the standard Safire set there, the newspaper annually conducts a competition among its readers to see who can come up with the most clever and original plays on words.

This year’s finalists, I think you will agree, once again reaffirm the worth of the practice:

• I changed my iPods’s name to Titanic. Now it is synching.

• England has no kidney bank, but it does have a Liverpool.

• Haunted French pancakes give me the crepes.

• This girl today said she recognized me from the Vegetarians Club, but I’d swear I’ve never met herbivore.

• I know a guy who is addicted to brake fluid, but he says he can stop any time.

• The thief who stole a calendar got 12 months.

• When the smog lifts in Los Angeles, U.C.L.A.

• I got some batteries that were given out free of charge.

• A dentist and a manicurist married. They fought tooth and nail.

• A will is a dead giveaway.

• Did you hear about the fellow whose entire left side was cut off? He’s all right now.

• The guy who fell into an upholstery machine last week is now fully recovered.

• A bicycle cannot stand alone. It is just two tired.

• He had a photographic memory but it was never fully developed.

• When she saw her first strands of gray hair she thought she’d dye.

• Acupuncture is a jab well done. That’s the point of it.

• I didn’t like my beard at first. Then it grew on me.

• Did you hear about the cross-eyed teacher who lost her job because she couldn’t control her pupils?

• When you get a bladder infection, urine trouble.

• When chemists die, they barium.

• I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.

• I am reading a book about anti-gravity. I can’t put it down.

And finally, this year’s winning entry (wouldn’t have been my choice)—Those who get too big for their pants, will be totally exposed in the end.

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.