Pleading Is Fundamental

Pleading Is Fundamental

Pleading Is Fundamental

Testing your knowledge of what happened this week
Sept. 30 1998 3:30 AM

Pleading Is Fundamental

The daybed's folded, and Salman Rushdie's out of our basement.

No. 114: "Pleading Is Fundamental"

By Randy Cohen

Fill in the blank. Rejecting the notion that popular support for President Clinton makes impeachment proceedings undesirable, House Republican Whip Tom DeLay said on ABC's This Week, "I don't read the polls; I read ______________."


by noon ET Tuesday to e-mail your answer (

Responses to Thursday's question (No. 113)--"The Lift to the Loo":
The English call it "smacking." What do we call it? Why is it news?

"It's the quaint British custom of disciplining children before they murder other children. We call it 'smothering their self-expression.' "--Beth Sherman

"Realizing that we could have had a V-8. It's news because, until recently--and a suddenly fertile crop of cardoons--England did not have eight vegetables."--Meg Wolitzer

"We refer to it as 'having a drunken Frenchman drive you into a wall.' It's in the news because, contrary to expectations, Diana failed to rise from the dead on the anniversary of her smacking."--Tim Carvell

"They also call it 'dusting off the queen mum,' 'tweaking Prince Philip,' 'having tea on the beach at Normandy,' 'polishing the vicar,' 'flushing the future football champions,' 'twiddling the prime minister,' 'candle dipping,' 'picking MY dilly' and, my personal favorite, 'encouraging Mr. Steinbrenner.' It's news because Rupert Murdoch decided it was news."--Fred Graver

Click here for more responses.

Randy's Wrap-Up
You say "potato," the Gershwins say "po-tah-to," in 1937, for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in RKO's Shall We Dance , which they did, on roller skates, mocking snooty London pronunciation. Since then, we've made giant strides in modern misunderstanding. Beyond mere inflections, past any gas-petrol/Reagan-Thatcher equivalents, contemporary incomprehension runs more to "You say potato, I say Ohio; you say tomato, I have a migraine." There's your Samuel Beckett show tune--bleak and solitary, a love song that limns a mutual misunderstanding beyond the power of any vocabulary builders. But even at this stage of post-Romantic language, it's still darn fun to mock the English.

Conveniently Euphemistic Answer
The European Court of Human Rights ruled that Britain failed to protect a 9-year-old boy whose stepfather repeatedly beat him with a bamboo garden stake; the stepfather's lawyer argued that his client had applied "reasonable chastisement." Minister of Health Paul Boateng applauded the decision because it restrained but did not forbid "smacking." Ann Widdencombe, health secretary in the Tory shadow Cabinet, insisted, "Parents must be allowed to use reasonable punishment to discipline their children."
English law privatizes child-beating--sorry, "smacking"--forbidding it in schools but permitting it at home. The corporal punishment of children is banned in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Austria, Cyprus, Croatia, and Latvia. It is encouraged in the United States, as I read the law, where particularly naughty children may be trussed up in a sack and drowned in the river like puppies; it's God's way.

Weights and Measures Extra
Precision numerical humor for a math-hungry nation. Identify each of the following:
1) At 2 meters and 136 kilograms, this is the biggest one in Europe.
2) Fifteen years ago, it weighed 100 pounds; now you can hold it in your hand.
3) At 370 feet, it is not the longest, but it may be the most memorable.


Answers 1) The largest leader in Europe, Helmut Kohl, became the first postwar German chancellor to be voted out of office. He served 16 years.
2) Receivers for the Global Positioning System, introduced in 1984, are now small enough to fit into cell phones. You would require incredible strength to perform this stunt with Germany's mammoth former chancellor.
3) Mark McGwire's season finale 70th home run. Thanks to the incredibly accurate Global Positioning System, scientists can be certain that the ball traveled as far as 58 sad and defeated Helmut Kohls laid end to frighteningly oversized end.


Disclaimer: All submissions will become the property of Slate and will be published at Slate's discretion. Slate may publish your name on its site in connection with your submission.

Randy Cohen used to write Slate's "News Quiz." His most recent book—oh, like you don't know.