Monthly Archives: July 2007

Why does ‘mensa’ mean ‘dull’?

We used to have names for people in our youth who made a bad impression. Any girl, doomed to never having a second date, who 1) dipped her straw into the guy’s malt or tied a knot in his straw, 2) expected the guy to pay for her meal, or 3) (in later, more affluent times) ordered the most expensive item on the menu, got relegated to the lowest rung of huwomanity. She became a “mensa.”

We’d dismiss these junior high and high school schoolmates with much derision, even though those about whom we’d say, “Es una mensa” more likely wouldn’t have dreamed of a second date with us anyway.

My English/Spanish dictionary defines mensa or menso as someone who’s dull and witless. It’s a coincidence, then, that Mensa (with a capital “M”) is also Latin for “table” and is the name of a prestigious organization of bright people, those whose intelligence is verified through a tough series of tests.

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Dad got offer he couldn’t refuse

In an incident that happens only in movies, one day my father received a windfall — literally, some 20 years ago, while in his 80s, as he spent time in his garden.Mostly, he cleaned, scooping up dead leaves. It was early spring. As he bent over to scoop up a pile, he noticed some faded currency, which he took to be a dollar bill. Look again, J.D. — that’s a hundred dollar bill.

In those days, when a C-note would feed a family for a month, that was quite a windfall. But not wanting the loser to suffer, he tried to locate the owner, without necessarily stopping strangers on the street and asking if they’d lost a large bill. Instead, Dad went next door, where Mel Martinez, a CPA, performed income tax services.

Dad said he’d thought: “It’s income tax time; maybe a gust of wind blew the bill out of a client’s billfold into my yard.” Dad said Martinez was not aware of anyone losing money. So Dad got to keep the loot.


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‘Done with the Mind’ is a classic

A game/contest on National Public Radio, which I find addictive, asks participants to guess the title of a book, movie, poem, etc. on the basis of various verbal clues. The catch is that one letter in one word in the answer will have been changed.For example, the person who is “it” gets told that this movie concerns Russell Crowe, as Prof. John Forbes Nash, who is pondering the loveliness of a chocolate confection. How much time lapses before the guesser comes up with “A Beautiful Mint”?

Because of my addiction, I played this game with family members on a long car trip. I’d carefully prepared a number of them (appearing below), expecting to stump my family, but in the case of Heather, my daughter-in-law, she came forth with the answer before I’d even finished providing the circumlocutious clues.

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We face typo gremlins daily

The world of deadline journalism presents challenges. On countless occasions, I’ve explained to a critical reader — or an even more critical reading public — that we at the Optic didn’t make the errors; rather, the typos resulted from something else.Like the kid who swears, “Gee, Mom, I was just playing, and all of a sudden, the vase fell all by itself — honest,” we’d like to hear from readers who say, “Out of the 20,000 words you printed today, 19,998 were correct.” But we seldom hear about correct spelling or punctuation.

Without seeming like members of the Nixon or Bush administration, whose mantra is and was “mistakes were made,” rather than “I blew it,” let me acquaint you with gremlins that infest newspaper copy, usually after we’ve put the paper to bed, and quite often after a power failure, of which we’ve had our share.

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