Today's dateline is Seattle, where a women's salon advertised its services last March in a local weekly, the Queen Anne News. There would be a skin-scanning event. "You will be enlightened on how you can change the texture and youthfulness of your face and decolatte."
Your "decolatte"? Reader Flora Ninelles' first thought was that the salon was promoting an especially robust coffee, i.e., a Deco Latte, served with petals of gardenia and rose. On further contemplation, "decolatte" appeared to relate to that portion of a woman's anatomy between the chin and the bosom, generally identified as the neck.
Could "decolatte" be a first cousin of the verb "to decollate"? A gruesome thought. If one is decollated, one is beheaded. The verb dates from the 1400s and was memorably employed for the decollating of Anne Boleyn in 1536. She was young and a knockout. It appeared again in news accounts of the decollating of Marie Antoinette in 1793. She was then 37 years old and beginning to look a little crepey, as in the crape (or crepe) myrtle, Lagerstroemia indica, an Asian shrub of the aristocratic loosestrife family of Charleston, S.C. I digress.
Audrey Erickson of Bellevue, Wash., asks for comment on an obituary notice that appeared last month in Alaska magazine. The item briefly recorded the death of Ruth Smith, 79, of Anchorage: "Well-known for her smoked salmon, she enjoyed bingo."
In that conjunction of lapidary elements, the editor provided a memorable insight. If the item did not convey a fully developed image of the deceased pioneer, it offered the kind of factual reporting that distinguishes the best postmortem coverage. We see this almost octogenarian lady in her element -- congenial, relaxed -- the very embodiment of Alaskan sociability. Her bingo board is before her, the smoked salmon at its side. What a way to go!
Bob La Torre of Stanwood, Wash., raises a question about baseball statistics. He cites a report that Jim Thome of the Chicago White Sox "was hitting .333 with a .539 on-base percentage." The average baseball fan, he suggests, doesn't realize that batting averages are not calculated per 100 times at bat but rather per 1,000. "Because no player is likely ever to come to bat a thousand times in a season, wouldn't it be more informative to report simply that Thome was hitting 33 percent with a 53 percent on-base record?"
Would baseball fans cheerfully accept percentages instead of permillages? Fergit it! Just as armies live upon their rations, baseball lives upon its box scores. No other sport is reported in such statistical depth. It is a mystical realm in which lives are lived to the right of a decimal point. In 2004 the Mariners' Ichiro Suzuki led the American League with 262 hits in 704 at-bats for an average of .372 or, more precisely, .372159. When the bat stats were made officially final, it was stop-the-presses time at the Times. Did you know that Ken Griffey Jr. led the league in home runs four times between 1994 and 1999? Seattle claims records for more than just rainy days.
Marshall N. Brown of Seattle writes to complain, justifiably, of "very unique." Properly speaking, "unique" admits no intensification. A thing may be "almost unique." But only a slovenly writer will describe an aspidistra as "very unique" or "quite unique" or "the most unique aspidistra of them all."
Dave Evans of Bellingham, Wash., writes to protest the misuse of "disinterested" when the intended meaning is "uninterested." And vice versa. This is a tough one, for the distinction is subtle, and the editors at Merriam-Webster wrote their usage note with a pen dipped in sludge. My advice is to use "disinterested" in the sense of "unbiased" and to save "uninterested" for not giving a damn, for instance, about who was Rookie of the Year in 2001. It was Suzuki. Goes without saying ...
(Readers are invited to send dated citations of usage to Mr. Kilpatrick in care of this newspaper. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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