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Irreverent Barbara Grabs the Brass Ring

by Bob Levey

She is a writer who specializes in the arts. But she says she likes "irreverent pieces. I think irreverence is the greatest quality anyone can have."

It'll win you Levey's neologism contest, that's for sure. And for Barbara Rich, of Charlottesville, it just did.

Barbara was one of about 3,000 wordsmiths who took a swing at the August version of our monthly make-up-a-word contest. The challenge was:

That sharp ping that a tennis racket makes when it strikes a tennis ball is called...

Barbara's winning answer:


That's a neat merger of "thwack" and "racket" – and the "racket" piece is a nice pun. It's racket as in what you hit a tennis ball with, and racket as in sound. Barbara's neologism hit my ear with a sharp ping, as winning neologisms always do. Some months, I stew and stew before choosing a winner. This month, I pounced.

It was a good thing that Barbara Rich did the same. The same entry was submitted by eight other contestants (Lisa Harvey, former champ Ruth Ruskin, Michael Gips, Jean Stewart, Roger Gilkeson, Edie Huffman, Nick Flokos and Adele Leff). But Barbara's entry reached my desk first. Under our rules, that gives her the brass ring.

Our winner is the theater critic for a Charlottesville newspaper. She has published short stories in three magazines, and she says she likes to do political interviews (they test – and hone – her irreverence, she reports).

Originally from a city in Maryland called "Ball-ee-more" (that's how she still pronounces it), Barbara has lived and worked in Charlottesville for 33 years.

Congratulations to her for her victory, and for her persistence. Neither of us could remember exactly how long Barbara has been entering these contests. But this neologism derby has been around for nearly 18 years, and Barbara has been entering since shortly after it began.

Barbara and I agreed to delay her victory lunch either until she's up here or I'm down there. In the meantime, I can say to her without my mouth being full of food: Irreverence forever, and well done.

These were the Almosts and Nearlies for the August contest:

Cracket (and similar forms): Donna Brand, Joyce Small, of Herndon, Albert P. Toner, of Arlington, former champ Marlene B. Cohen, of Columbia, former champ Scott Burroughs, of Wake Forest, N.C., and Raffi Melkonian, of Kingdom of Fife, Scotland.

Whacket (and similar forms): June E. Dorothy, of Adelphi, former champ Jayne Townend, Marilyn Goldhammer, Michael Forcinito, of Rockville, Alan D. Lichtman, of North Bethesda, Wendy Jordan, Michael Gips again and Amy Small.

Tennistinnabulation (and similar forms): Jamey Lee West, of Gaithersburg, Debbie Fulmer, of Bethlehem, Pa., Roberta Richardson, of Bethesda, and former champ Tom Witte, of Gaithersburg.

Crushendo: Greg Dobbins, of Arlington.

Gut Reaction: Karen E. Holt, of Charlottesville, Va.

Ballop: Ron Pytel.

Ballzooka: John Held, of Fairfax.

Tenpany: Kathy White.

Thwackhand: Jon Argaman.

Rackochet: Gina Haldeman, of Alexandria.

Vollop: Dianne Konz, of Vienna, and Sam Mecum, of Lancaster, Pa.

Wimbletone: Ben Llewellyn, of Falls Church, first, then 13 more just like his.

Wimbledin: Hank Wallace, of Northwest Washington, Phil Frankenfeld, of Northwest Washington, and Peter Rosenquist, of Winston-Salem, N.C.

Rackhit: Wendy Jordan again.

Racketearing: Tamara R. Slaughter, of Alexandria, and Eric Pargament.

And for dessert, a wince-inducer – Billie Jean Ping: Bill Strider, of Gaithersburg.

After that display, I won't ask, "Tennis, anyone?" You contestants don't need exercise. You need more food for thought. So here goes with the September challenge:

Once upon a time, the Lindy Hop was hot. So was the Hula-Hoop. So was the pet rock. But we live in a world of quickly changing tastes, so all these products and pastimes that were once so hot are now cold, dead history. These former cultural kings are called... (Click to see winning entries)

First prize will not be your very own poodle skirt or a pair of khakis with a buckle in the back. But the winner does get a free lunch, at a restaurant of his or her choice, in Washington or close enough not to annoy the Big Bosses.

Contest rules: You may enter as often as you like, on one piece of paper or several. Joint entries are welcome. So are entries submitted by fax (202-334-5150) or e-mail ( Entries must bear day and evening phone numbers, including area code(s). All entries become my property. Entries will not be accepted by phone or returned. In case of duplicate winning entries, I'll choose the one I receive first.

Please mail entries to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071. Entries for the September contest must be received by Sept. 30.

© 1999 Bob Levey (
This article is reproduced with the kind permission of the author.

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