Stupid Tuesday questions, Beau Brummel edition

I have a couple of garments that I love.

One of them is a white knit long-sleeved t-shirt from the Gap. Nothing fancy, but something easy to put on as part of a simple outfit. The other is a pair of white linen pants, which I bought at H&M years ago in anticipation of a trip I was taking to Greece with the Better Half. Something about swanning around Mykonos seemed to call for white linen pants. (Yes, yes. I realize that thinking along those lines is probably not something that straight dudes do a lot. Feel free to file this under Russell Talks Gay Again.) Not many occasions call for such trousers in my life as currently lived, but every so often I wear them to go out.

I refuse to wear either of them before Memorial Day.

Now, I will be the first to admit that the “wear white between Memorial Day and Labor Day ONLY” rule is idiotic, outmoded, and never made any sense. I know this. I freely concede this. Heaven help me, I want to have the strength to ignore moronic dictates like these.

And yet, my friends… and yet. I also cannot make myself split infinitives with carefree abandon, despite the rule against doing so being similarly outmoded and pointlessly devoted to Latin. I get all hung up on using the subjunctive mood wrong (an “error” I keep finding in the book I’m reading right now, which I insist on thinking is incorrect despite the fact that the bloody thing managed to win the Booker Prize).

I realize that this kind of adherence to pointless rules is not a sign that I am a Right-Thinking Person in All Things, but rather a Pedantic Martinet Who Probably Annoys People at Dinner Parties. And yet I cannot stop myself.

So out with it. Do any of you refuse to deviate from rules you know only make life more tedious and complicated? Which bright lines do you refuse to step over, despite the fact that on further inspection they’re actually pretty dim?

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117 thoughts on “Stupid Tuesday questions, Beau Brummel edition

  1. I have a pair of off-white jeans that I also wear during the summer only or usually. Though SF has an Indian Summer in September-Thanksgiving so I can and do wear them in the fall. I wouldn’t in New York though.

    I probably would only wear white bucks in the summer. If I owned a pair of white bucks.

    I still think that the only reason to wear gym clothing in public is if you are going to, from, or doing some kind of athletic activity. And I seemingly dislike wearing lounge clothing at home because it makes me feel lazy and kind of grungy. Yet this seems to be an age where people wear PJs and Sweats in public and put them on as soon as they come home.

    BTW I missed the Tuesday questions

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    • “I still think that the only reason to wear gym clothing in public is if you are going to, from, or doing some kind of athletic activity”

      I’m rarely in public while not satisfying this criterion.
      I go grocery shopping: Directly afterwards, I shall be hauling 50 lbs. of groceries around. You betcha i’m gonna have some shorts on, pal.

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      • I have friends who seemingly only own clothing that is appropriate for hiking/mountaineering. Lots of marmot.

        I wonder how much of this has to do with profession or whether we have a way of dressing that leans us towards certain professions/regions. Some of my NE friends who lived in Oregon reported being more dressed by simply wearing jeans or cords instead of hiking/RMS stuff. I work in a very casual office but still can’t bring myself to wear sneakers to work except on Friday’s sometime and more often than not I wear collared and button down shirts (long sleeve).

        Though I interestingly got into a debate with someone from Pittsburgh about whether you could wear a gray suit or pants with brown shoes. I said yes and the Pittsburgher said no. She also joked that she wasn’t sure GQ magazine existed in Pittsburgh.

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      • It’s really much of a visual identity thing for me – I just go everywhere by bicycle, so any clothes that aren’t fit for cycling in, I’d have to change into on arrival, then change back before going home. The only time cycling isn’t a consideration is when I’m going out of town and won’t have a bike available to me.

        I try to have things that are suitable for cycling but don’t look like ‘cycling clothes’ – jeans and dress pants that are narrow enough to stay out of the chain and stretchy enough not to be encumbering, shirts that can be unbuttoned to avoid overheating.

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      • Saul,
        Oh, yeah, I can totally see folks like that. (To me, a good set of hiking pants is way less casual than jeans — but I also think cop shorts look pretty professional for “about town, not actually at work”).

        Pittsburgh (particularly older Pittsburghers) has kind of an “anti-hip” mystique. Rustbelt city, more bars and pizza places per capita than any other major metro, we smoke a ton, and we are routinely mentioned on “best cities to wear a beard in.”

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  2. I am pretty anti-superstitious. I will ridicule people who are, and will often deliberately contravene superstitions.

    And yet.

    For some reason, on my audio devices that digitally-display volume as a number, I won’t set them intentionally at ’13’.

    ’12’ (even if too quiet) or ’14’ (even if too loud), it will have to be.

    (Obviously, ’11’ is ideal).

    I don’t really observe triskaidekaphobia in the rest of my life, so not sure why I do here. But I do, and can’t seem to stop.

    (I DO, however, like to reheat certain food items for exactly 6 minutes and 66 seconds, using the microwave’s timer, and this drives my wife bonkers).

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  3. “Feel free to file this under Russell Talks Gay Again.”

    Um, I was filing it under “Small things that Russell and I have in common.” As I suspect many of your female readers would do. (I have no sense of what straight men think about swanning around Mykonos, or even if they do think about it.)

    As for your question, the one I have trouble with is “Speak politely when you are spoken to.” Which is actually a pretty good guideline for life, but it’s a terrible rule when applied to every situation. That super creepy guy on the street corner asking me loudly if I will fish him? There are many good responses, but politeness usually does not serve me very well. It sounds absurd, but it took me years to drill “if someone is scary you can ignore them or scare them off” into my own head, and decades of customer service work really doesn’t help with remembering that. I do my best to drill it into the heads of my student workers, so they learn it quicker than I did.

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  4. “The reason for A is because B” drives me up the wall. It’s either “The reason for A is B” or “A because B” Not both. And don’t get me started in “If I would have done that” instead of “If I had done that”.

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  5. When I was a smoker, I always flipped one cigarette over when I opened the pack, the “lucky” cigarette, which had to be smoked last. I do not know why I did this. I didn’t believe it was actually lucky. I never smoked that “lucky” cigarette until I’d smoked all the others in the pack.

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    • I found that people didn’t mind taking another person’s last cigarette under certain circumstances (let’s say that there is a 7-11 nearby, etc) but they hesitated when it came to taking another’s “lucky” even under the same ones.

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      • Yes, and even if they did, they had to acknowledge that it was your “lucky” and that that fact made your giving it away an even greater act of generosity somehow.

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    • Yup I did that too back in my smoking days. I did have to explain it to a couple of Yugoslavian soldiers we met on a train and they proceded to flip the first cigarettes of their newly opened packs. I wonder if it stuck?

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  6. I refuse to wear gym clothes in public like Saul. The thing that I hated most about college is how people would show up to breakfast in pajamas and unwashed. It seemed really immature. Before I leave my apartment, I make sure I’m washed, brushed, and that I’m wearing appropriate clothing.

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  7. I wonder if no Christmas music before the day after Thanksgiving counts?

    If not, I probably have to go with eating any kind of breakfast dish for dinner. My family loves that, but they have to do it when I’m out of town because I just won’t do it.

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    • Breakfast for Dinner is one of the more reliable meals for the Critter when we’re out of ideas that will pass muster.

      But I am entirely with you on Christmas music before Thanksgiving, because for the love of GOD CHRISTMAS SEASON [which I love, within appropriate bounds] IS FRICKIN’ LONG ENOUGH AS IT IS!!

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    • In Canada it’s Halloween not Thanksgiving as the boundary of acceptability for Christmas music, our Thanksgiving being way too early. Too many stores try to skirt the prohibition with suggestively jingling bells and totally-generic-not-at-all-Christmas-y pine boughs in their flyers. It’s reprehensible.

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  8. Oh, I also put “The LAW SAYS no more than 4 cats per household within city limits!!!” in this category. Because, really? We could have 6 or 7 cats and no one would care. But we need that bright line, man, we really need it. (I think Jaybird already mentioned, but we’re back up to 4 again….)

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  9. if one must endure hot weather, linen is the way to endure it.

    dumb rule – i won’t go into anyone’s purse. i will hand her purse to my wife, but i will never go into it.

    i wouldn’t go into someone’s wallet either, but that comes up 0.0% of the time. the purse thing is rather often.

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  10. The number 6 has for a very long time bothered me, probably because of its relation to the number of the beast (which I find it very difficult to write). Perhaps it’s because of my quasi-evangelical upbringing, and while I really don’t believe number can be “bad,” I still avoid it. If, for example, I’m writing a report for work and need to make several points, and the points I need to make number one through six, I’ll try my hardest to come up with a seventh point.

    I also have the hangup about split infinitives. It’s not that I “can’t” or “don’t” use them, it’s that I’m always strongly tempted not to, even when doing so is the most elegant way to say something. I also try to use the subjunctive correctly and tsk-tsk to myself when I read it incorrectly or not used when called for. (Not that I always be using it correctly myself.)

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      • I agree. A friend of mine failed a college course for splitting too many infinitives.
        (He was an editor too. It was disgraceful, and he complained to the dean, who simply said “it said so on the syllabus, too many errors and you fail”).

        The general rule about writing is “write to be understood, first and foremost”. The secondary rule about writing is: “If you’re writing humor, write to be misunderstood and then comprehended.”

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    • I was getting fast-food the other day and the receipt had a three-digit order number on it. Yep. 666. The food (-like substance) ended up giving me heartburn. So, that happened…

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  11. I want to be a language descriptivist, but in my heart, I am a prim, bifocals-on-the-end-of-her-nose, hair-in-a-painfully-tight-bun prescriptivist. Therefore, the data show, not “shows”. You imply something, which I infer. And “irrespective” of what you would like, I will not “conversate” with you.

    Also, the “midwest” includes any state that borders a Great Lake but not the Atlantic Ocean. Oklahoma is *NOT* part of the midwest, and neither is Kansas.

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    • I never heard that definition of “midwest” before (not that I ever looked for a definition, so yours might very well be the standard). To me, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas are all midwest. I have no authority for that view, however, and would probably lose any argument.

      I, too, act like a prescriptivist sometimes. I did so mostly when I taught, based on the assumption that for educated speech, there was a prescriptive standard and students needed to learn it, even though it wasn’t “right” in any other sense.

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      • Oh, that’s a midwest definition I made up, based on entirely on my predjuces. Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa are Great Plains states. I’ve lived in Michigan and Oklahoma; they have virtually nothing in common with each other that they don’t have with every other U.S. state. My secondary definition is: what do you call flavored, sweetened, fizzy water? If it’s “pop”, you’re probably in the midwest. If you get yelled at across the room by 3 different people for throwing your pop can in the trash: you’re in Michigan.

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      • This is relevant to the whole midwest definition thing. Historically, I’ve thought of it similar to . I’ve since come to understand that most people have a different understanding, of course.

        But seriously, of course Kansas is the midwest. Clark Kent and his family are midwestern defined!

        Oklahoma is hard to categorize. I wouldn’t say South, but wouldn’t say midwest either.

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      • Also, my rule of thumb on the prescriptivist/descriptivist debate: language’s purpose is to convey meaning, which includes meanings you may not like based on the particular way you’ve chosen to communicate. That ain’t always fair, but it is always true.

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      • Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa are Great Plains states.


        US Census Bureau county-level definition of the Great Plains, less a handful of Colorado Front Range counties and four Texas counties centered on Austin. Those excluded counties are border cases with large populations and economies that have little or nothing to do with being part of the Great Plains (so don’t fit the narrative where I use this map). Iowa isn’t a Great Plains state, it’s a tall-grass prairie state, which is a very different, wetter, generally lower-altitude ecosystem.

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      • This map from the Illinois State Museum site shows the original extent of the short-, tall-, and intermediate-grass prairies. Of course, prairie is a very recent development. As best the experts can reconstruct, the area was forested until about 9,000 years ago. Then over a period of less than 1,000 years, a combination of factors led to a radical ecological shift to grasslands. Grass is well suited to surviving bison, fire, and the occasional drought; trees, not so much.

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    • I still use “data” as a plural noun, as you do. (More on that next week!)

      And I am with you 100% on “imply” and “infer.” To my mind, the distinction improves clarity of communication. But then, I’m a prescriptivist at heart.

      And Oklahoma is Southwest. I would include Kansas. I’m from Missouri, which does not border a Great Lake but is (at least as far as I’ve always been concerned) decidedly midwest.

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      • We won’t take Oklahoma, full stop.

        Thus has it been written.

        The Southwest is Southern California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. That’s it. We don’t include Northern California, that’s Northwest.

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      • Depends on which “Southwest” we’re talking about. If I’m talking about “southwest” I am not including California. I’d include Oklahoma in the southwest only if I’m referring to the southwest that includes Texas because they’re culturally appended to Texas (but not the “western” part of Texas).

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      • Oklahoma is weird, I’ll grant you- it *definitely* isn’t midwest, but it isn’t really southwest either. It’s kind of its own thing.

        Off topic- having gone to elementary school there, I still know a ridiculous amount of OK trivia and can name all five Civilized Tribes, which were drilled into us for some reason. (Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole, although the Seminole were an offshoot of the Creek). On further thought “Five Civilized Tribes” sounds very condescending. Wonder if they still use that terminology.

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      • One of the defining characteristics of the Southwest (and most of the West generally) is water, or more precisely, the lack thereof. Missouri is on the wrong side of the Great Plains, and gets far too much rainfall, to ever be considered either West or Southwest. One characteristic that all of the column of states from North Dakota down to Texas share is that the western part is dry high plains/desert West, and the eastern part is much wetter non-West.

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      • Missouri is one of the states I find hard to regionally classify, along with Arkansas and Oklahoma. They all seem to exist in a sort of in-between area, although not the same one. Missouri’s partly Midwestern, partly western (KC is the great in-between town, furthest west Midwestern town, furthest East Western town), and partly Arkansan, and Arkansas is simply Arkansas–it would fit in better with Appalachia, but it’s too far away. Oklahoma’s got some continuity with Northern Texas, but North Texas is just to OK what Southern MO is to Arkansas. A strange region, in a way.

        I shouldn’t say too much, though, or Michael Drew will fret about my preoccupation with geographic hostilities.

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      • Arkansas, Oklahoma, North Texas, and North Louisiana definitely give off a “New Appalachia” vibe. In Texas and Louisiana, getting more distinctly southern the futher south you go until you start running into South Louisiana (a different bird) and the more diverse/Hispanic of Texas.

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      • Following off of Michael Cain’s line of thought, I often think of the Midwest as being bounded on the west by the 100th Meridian, running from Kansas’ southern border (with Oklahoma) up through the middle of Nebraska and the Dakotas to the Canadian border (and, plausibly, north of that, but we’re concerned with the U.S. here), across the southern border of Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio (although the southern 50+ miles in each state are arguable), then up the eastern borders of Ohio and Michigan to Canada (and, again, plausibly into Canada).

        Western PA is not Midwest, imo. And while I’ve known of Oklahomans who staunchly believe they are the prototype of the Midwest, I just can’t buy it; not unless we designate a Midwest A and a Midwest B and agree that the two are very unlike.

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      • You characterize KC just right. (I lived there for six years, and was just there last week for a conference. It was disorienting to be in a place at once so familiar and yet so different from how I remembered it.) It’s a great combination of Western and Midwestern.

        And southern MO, on which my hometown just barely borders, feels more like Appalachia than the South to me. But I don’t know Arkansas to save my life, so maybe they’re more similar than I know.

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      • I think you and I have “spoken” about this before, , but Missouri thoroughly confounds me geographically. I think of St. Louis as being more or less an east coast city. But KC feels decidedly midwest. Not that I’ve ever been, mind you.

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      • One of the complicating factors in Texas/Oklahoma/Louisiana is this map. Much of the distinction between Midwest, South, and West was/is based on the types of agriculture that could be supported. SE Kansas, much of Oklahoma, the north end of the Texas Panhandle, the Permian Basin in West Texas and SE New Mexico, the Gulf Coast in Texas/Louisiana… it’s all about the “awl bidness”. Oil and natural gas create their own category. In the words of my Kansas BIL, “What’s the difference between a wealthy wheat farmer and a wheat farmer struggling to keep his head above water? The wealthy farmer had natural gas on his property.” The same distinction is starting to appear in western North Dakota — ND’s new crop of millionaires aren’t wheat farmers, they’re NG owners.

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      • I prefer “the empty quarter” to describe Oklahoma, etc.

        And Western PA is definitely Midwest (also Appalachia). A good chunk of WV is Midwest by language too.

        See, Pittsburgh historically got NOTHING from east of the state. Everything came upriver, and that’s what makes it Midwest. It’s “pop” and midwest pancakes (flat like crepes, far less eggy), and a general culture of niceness that is … very different from Philadelphia’s “boobirds” or Pennsyltucky.

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      • There was a Barney Miller where they had arrested a guy who was driven berserk by a particularly illogical ad. (“Save up to 40%. And more!”) He was fulminating about how advertising made people stupid, when Dietrich interrupted him with “Irregardless, …”

        Another show I wish were on Netflix.

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      • I saw a few episodes recently on a cable network that seems to specialize in stuff they can get for free. I’m assuming that their copyright had lapsed for some reason. What struck me is how theatrical it is; Hal Linden in particular seems to be playing to the cheap seats. But it was damned funny, with not one weak link in the cast. It’s odd that Steve Landesberg and Ron Glass seemed to disappear after it ended.

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  12. I struggle to think of a silly rule I follow because it bugs me not to. I’m not much of a rule follower, period. Not that that always works out so well.

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    • I’m on board with the “no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving”. I’m also on board with “if your whole neighborhood decorates for a season (for any season), you ought to at least make an attempt.”

      But the first one is just a matter of taste and the second is about being neighborly, which is different from being a good citizen.

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  13. I split infinitives.

    I will wear white pants in winter.

    I will wear brown shoes with blue jeans.

    I will go out in public without my face on. (Since I don’t wear makeup, I always go out in public without my face on.)

    I will use the plural ‘they’ as a singular when a non-gendered pronoun is required.

    I live in Maine, but I won’t eat seafood.

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  14. My rule is don’t talk in elevators. Good reason I started it, but now it’s bled over to innocuous conversations too. It’s kind of like the urinal, which a lot of guys won’t talk while using.

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  15. I will be dead before I call a lectern a podium. This caused difficulty at work recently when I was sent to a supply house to pick up what I knew was a damned lectern but everyone else insisted on calling a podium.

    Similarly, it’s just me and the New Yorker using diacresis at this point and nobody else spells it “perq” anymore. And I have often heard someone say further when they should have saud farther and corrected them in my head.

    As an addendum to Burt’s, when the elevator door opens, those inside exit and then those outside enter. Nothing else is acceptable.

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  16. Something that annoys me far more than it should is men who wear business shirts without a tie. If you don’t want to wear a tie, wear a more casual shirt.

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  17. Oooh! Here’s one that makes me really grumpy.

    According to APA style, “since” can only be used to indicate the passing of time and not a reason why. So all reason why “since”s should be replaced with “because”s, even at the beginning of a sentence.

    According to my mom and my gramma, it’s bad grammar to start a sentence with “because” for ANY REASON (they were fine with since).

    After 3 years of library school and writing APA papers, I have trained myself to automatically backspace over all my sinces and replace them with becauses, even in informal writing.

    And then I stare at the because for a minute and twitch. But I can’t bring myself to change it back OR to not be annoyed by it. And I’m too lazy to rewrite the sentence to be less awkward the way I should in the first place.

    Oh well. Neuroses aren’t dangerous, right? :D

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