The Gentleman Scholar Apologizes to the Woman Whose Boyfriend ID’d Her Letter, and Other 2013 Errata

Answers for modern men.
Dec. 26 2013 12:46 PM

The Year in Gentlemanly Advice 2013

Addenda, errata, and follow-ups, plus some advice about peeing in pay phones.

Please send your questions for publication to gentlemanscholarslate@gmail.com. (Questions may be edited.)

Recently I heard a young man justify his conduct by reference to the Gentleman Scholar. Is that proper? It seems, uh, gauche to cite authorities for one's actions. Shouldn't values rather than rules alone guide personal conduct? Of course, if you answer as I think you should, I will promptly cite you as authority for my view. Is this ungentlemanly or merely human?

Thank you for your flattering question.

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

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The argumentum ab auctoritate, eh? Fascinating device, that one. Aristotle didn’t consider it a logical fallacy, and the fact that it came to be regarded as such in the late 1800s has everything to do with the rise of empirical science. Nota bene: I don’t really know what I’m saying here because I’m relying totally on the expert testimony of the guy who wrote the book Appeal to Expert Opinion.

Yes, values should guide conduct. The only authorities one can always cite to clinch an argument are Hoyle and Queensberry and other fellows concerned with sports and games defined by black-and-white rules. The Gentleman Scholar tends to deal in greyer areas and hazier arenas, and it would require a society far more autocratic than ours to support his humble suggestions as absolute dictates. Emily Post, wise though she was, was not an empress. The last person to enjoy pure infallibility as a tastemaker was Petronius, who was the arbiter of elegance in the court of Nero, the probable author of the Satyricon, and all in all old Rome’s best source for all your orgy needs.

Besides, even Homer nods. Bart and Lisa, too. Looking back on the year now closing, it seems that the Gentleman Scholar committed a couple errors of fact and a few failed deliveries of the whole truth. Please accept the list below—a compendium of addenda and errata—as the postmodern, post-macho equivalent of the peacock vow, which was a Christmastime ritual of the chivalric tradition. Back in the day, a lady would bring a roasted fowl to the festive table, and a knight would rest his right hand upon the bird and swear to acquit himself honorably in the year ahead. In that spirit, I bid you a finger-licking 2014.

My advice was to administer half of a Flintstones chewable multivitamin each day. My mom wrote in to add that giving a kid “a range of choices (yogurt with fruit, yogurt with small chunks of walnuts, yogurt with granola, etc.) might give him a sense of autonomy without sacrificing his nutrition or his self-esteem.” Because the email was from my mom, it then went on for several more paragraphs.

Also, recent research indicates that “multivitamins don’t contain any proven health benefits,” so we hereby emend the original advice to suggest Flintstones Complete Gummies instead of the chewable kinds: They may have no proven health benefit, but at least they provide father and child cover for eating candy at breakfast.

The Gentleman Scholar regrets causing any trouble for the LW, who didn’t expect to see her first name attached to a semi-fond remembrance of an ex-boyfriend. On the day of publication, the LW emailed a follow-up: “What should you do if the new guy you are seeing reads a Slate column and concludes that you wrote a letter in which you admit to not being over your ex?” (Two-part answer: Admit nothingnever explain.)

Five months later, the LW delivered a further update: “It's summer break and that ex wants to hang out. What a predictable little shit. I'll probably agree to coffee.” (One-word answer: Men!)

The Gentleman Scholar happily notes that the LW left his war zone in one piece: “Good advice all around. And in good time: I have made it safely into MOB Bastion/Leatherneck, and am now waiting on flights back home tomorrow.”

Less happily, the GS notices that he squandered an opportunity for a fine segue: A second question in that week’s column regarded the cardigan sweater, a controversial garment named for its first widely celebrated slip-intoer, the Lord Cardigan who led “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”

The Gentleman Scholar was highly gratified to note the Oxford Dictionaries’ acknowledgement of selfie as its word of the year. In the course of complying with that publisher’s consequent request to snap a self-portrait, he further refined his theory explaining why guys do that “zany one-raised-eyebrow thing” in photographs. It’s not just that they are “trying to express a feeling about presenting themselves to scrutiny”: They are actively scrutinizing themselves, eyeing their images critically as they pose, and their expressions thus give the impression that they are lifting glances through feedback loupes.

The whims of the Gentleman Scholar were not all gratified by Slate’s art director, who ultimately vetoed his choice for a new head shot (a detail of a canted-angle Polaroid) in a ruling that leaves us with the picture above, which displeases at least one correspondent:

I really think your original photo for your column—the one with the wood paneling in the background and your somewhat startled expression—looks far better than the grey-background photo you have now. The old photo inspires more trust and exudes empathy. Right now you look like you're about to fire someone.

Editor’s note: The Gentleman Scholar’s gentleman editor disagrees and prefers this new photo, in which his writer appears serene and all-knowing.

Respectfully, was the short answer, a reply judged by Jezebel’s Lindy West to be “pretty good”—and yet she took it upon herself to advise men (and straw men) to shake hands with a woman “just like you would with a man.” But how does Ms. West presume to know how men shake hands with other men? To convert a useful term describing cross-gender condescension, this particular argument from ignorance ranks as womansplaining and no thinking person should stand for it.

The LW wrote back with a separate query: “Are there any rules for a taken man to follow when making new female acquaintances? Is getting someone's number or Facebook friend-ing over the line?” In light of this information, my initial answer demands revision: Yes, your flirty texts are too flirty in the way of a wannabe player.

Ween released The Mollusk in 1997, not 2001. The Gentleman Scholar apologizes to Dean Ween, Gene Ween, and the phylum Mollusca.

A reader writes:

In his column of September 25, "Gentlemen Don't Let Fellow Gentlemen Drive Drunk,” author Troy Patterson writes, "When a guest is three sheets to the wind, a host must exhaust all reasonable options to keep him off the road, lest the sheets be shrouds." The phrase "three sheets to the wind" refers to nautical sheets, which are ropes, not sails. Thus the comparison of a nautical sheet to a winding sheet does not correspond.

Point taken. But I've got a special endorsement on my poetic license allowing such maneuvers.

A correspondent believes it was misleading, in offering an original recipe for a cocktail inspired by bay rum, to strongly imply that Cardamaro and cardamom bitters share an interchangeable flavor. This correspondent is correct. But it doesn’t matter. The drink is completely delicious made either way, as evidenced by the experience of the original LW:

The Old-Spice Fashioned was a lovely and mind-erasing surprise. My lord and mixmaster made it for our dinner guests, who became brunch guests. I suggest you add two more ingredients to the recipe: spare beds and adequate linens.  
Cordially,
Lady S.

The Gentleman Scholar’s first venture into wrapping his persona around a microphone was regarded as “interesting” by some and Nabokovian by others—but only insofar as it recalled a line from the forward of VN’s Strong Opinions: “I write like a distinguished author, I speak like a child.”

For an engaging proper debate on the successes and failures of feminism, download the transcript of a superlatively entertaining 1994 Firing Line debate, Resolved: That the Women’s Movement Has Been Disastrous. Here Slate founder Michael Kinsley moderates a debate among the likes of William F. Buckley, Betty Friedan, Camille Paglia, and Arianna Huffington, all bringing high heat.

Meanwhile, for a taste of what I was dealing with in my conversation with Book of Jezebel editor Anna Holmes, consider that, a month after our chat went into the world, she scolded me for urging my child to say “Thank you.” To her. At Thanksgiving. She sounded very convincing doing so. And was wrong.

To answer the question: Although there is room for the gentleman in modern feminism, there is no excuse for a guy to say “I’m a feminist” simply because he subscribes to the principles of gender equality and thinks progressive thoughts. That’s like calling yourself an “environmental activist” just because you don’t litter.

The comments on this piece include the traumatic memories of those who’ve had negative experiences ordering ecdysiasts for home delivery. I might have taken care to be clear, when advising this practice as a relatively dignified and affordable alternative to going to a strip club, that it is imperative to vet the talent properly. (Ask a friend who works in high finance to check with his friends in low places.) If you make a bad decision when hiring a professional for this sort of house call, you do not get the harmless bachelor-party entertainment you’re looking for. Rather, you get a methhead hogging the bathroom and a groom who ends the weekend sobbing uncontrollably in his fiancée’s arms. Which I suppose has its upside.

The GS was remiss not to nod in the obvious direction of TMBG.

Further, he hastens to inform a baffled Raffi that his editor decided that it wasn’t worth mentioning that, while finishing the piece in a coffee shop hosting a singalong for Brooklyn brats, he kinda came around to “Baby Beluga.” The Gentleman Scholar apologizes to the order Cetacea with one obvious exception.

You are reminded that the Gentleman Scholar Explaining Football to Foreign People or American People Who Don’t Understand Football Clearly and Concisely Contest is still accepting entries through Dec. 31—and still wide-open. Though some of the hundred-odd readers who have already submitted answers demonstrate an impressive talent for elucidating the sport’s mythic power, too few have succinctly explained the nature of the legal forward pass.

The proprietor of Gentleman’s Gazette brings our attention to a post mulling over multiple theories—including and beyond the unbuttonable girth of Edward VII—for the origins of the open bottom button. The Gentleman Scholar feels very slightly sorry for all Homo sapiens who do not find this stuff totally fascinating. Life is in the details.

On Twitter, one Simon Maloy greeted the operative question—”Is it OK to use your phone at the urinal?”—with a sharp volley: “Is it OK to pee in a phone booth?”

Though I must presume that Mr. Maloy intended his retort to be strictly rhetorical, I nonetheless will seize this opportunity to address the man-on-the-go who really needs to go: A gentleman does not often urinate in public, but when he does, he sometimes pretends to chat on a hooded pay phone. To do so is to dial down the odds of making trouble while making water. (For more about hoods and gentlemen, please see our column of June 19.)

Troy Patterson is Slate's writer at large and writes the Gentleman Scholar column.

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