Explainer gets lots of questions about the workings of the inner sanctum of Slate (see "Explainer Mailbag: Slate's Intern Scandal"). Here are a few of the latest. (If you prefer your magazine with a dose of mystery, stop reading now.)
"Slate's manners/advice columnist uses a pseudonym," writes one reader. "I'm sure that she would agree that it is important to consider the source for any advice. Who writes 'Prudie' and how is 'she' qualified?"
Dear Prudence is the nom de plume of Margo Howard, who has written for newspapers and magazines for 30 years. (She became Dear Prudence three years ago, after the first Prudie, the late Herbert Stein, retired from the advice business.) In addition to Slate, Howard has written for the Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Daily News, TV Guide, People, The Nation, the New Republic, and other publications.
According to a recent profile in the Chicago Tribune, Prudie fancies herself as both a "Jewish geisha" and a "diva." The only child of Eppie Lederer, aka Ann Landers, Prudie wrote Eppie: The Story of Ann Landers, in 1982. Her description of the column and her qualifications: "This was meant to be a column offering off-the-top answers to questions from an experienced old bag who is opinionated and has been around." Explainer thinks the bland description at the top of Prudie's column, "Advice on manners and morals," should be replaced with Prudie's more colorful summary.
Explainer has already told readers why Slate says Osama and the FBI says Usama, but that wasn't enough to satisfy some Slate readers. "You should have also explained why the Slate stylebook uses 'Bin Laden,' but most other publications use 'bin Laden,' " wrote one. Slate is not alone, of course. The Los Angeles Times, for example, uses "Osama bin Laden" on first reference and "Bin Laden" on second reference. But here's the answer, straight from the mouth of Slate's copy chief and Solid Gold dancer, June Thomas:
No particular answer. My philosophy of Romanization is that it's all a bit random, but to minimize randomness you should follow the style of someone who should know better than you. We started to use Bin Laden because one of the English-language Arab papers used that style. Once we'd used it a few times, it seemed silly to change to bin Laden just because other American papers did so.
As for the Qaida/Qaeda debate that Joe Cobb and other readers mentioned, Thomas replies, "Romanization is a bee-ach." Cobb wants to know what the Associated Press style for the word is. The answer: "al-Qaida."
One more inside baseball question: A reader wants to know what will become of Enron Field, where the Houston Astros play ball. Explainer doesn't know the answer yet, but the Wall Street Journal listed two terrific suggestions in a story this week: "Creditors' Committee Stadium" and "Enron Folds."
Next question (but please don't ask why Explainer is qualified to answer any question under the sun)?