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No Joke Tags Here

I just got a note from a reader:

"I am moved to write because of the item in your blog today saying that j.d. salinger is posting at arianna huffington's blog. after 15 minutes of searching in vain for such posts, i returned to
your blog pretty steamed. i finally checked the "comments" for that item and see a number of other readers figuratively scratching their heads about it, and concluding that it was a joke.

"oh . . . ha ha.

"my humble suggestion is that when you're joking, make it clear it's a joke. you can even use the joke tag. what's a joke tag? you know . . . insert possibly funny text here

"otherwise you run the risk of being misunderstood, which is not the best thing for a journalist. hey, maybe that's what happened with newsweek and the koran down the toilet item. it was just a joke that no one got."

Dear sir: This blog will no sooner employ a "joke tag" than it will convert to a Cyrillic alphabet. Just ain't gonna happen.

It is certainly true that there are moments when my attempts at humor have been misconstrued. Years ago, in the Why Things Are column, I posed the following question:

Q. Why is it that there's prune juice but no plum juice, even though there's grape juice but no raisin juice?

And then started the answer with the following:

"A raisin, as any schoolkid can tell you, is a very young prune. The relationship between a grape and a plum is less clear but we think the grape is basically a plum in the larval stage."

Got SO much grief for that. Outraged letters. People insisting that a grape is not a larval plum and a raisin is not a baby prune. I had to wonder: Why do I find it amusing to write things that are wrong? Obviously it is a questionable instinct for a journalist. If you had to hire a reporter you would not think, "Let's get a guy who makes things up for his own personal entertainment." That said, if a journalist WERE to imagine the most preposterous candidate for a new blog, seems to me that J.D. Salinger would be a good candidate. Not that I'm saying he's NOT blogging at the Huffington Post. I am not retracting my assertion that Salinger has a blog. Nor will I apologize for it. Not until the White House apologizes for the WMD mistake, and Isikoff confesses to his central role in Iran-Contra.

For the record, here is the rest of the prune-raisin WTA:

"The California Prune Board tells us that there is, in fact, plum juice. It's sold in tiny cans to Japanese, who also drink plum wine. "It tastes excellent," says Rich Peterson, the Prune Board director. He says Americans have never developed much demand for plum juice, because it's so expensive to make. It's expensive because the sorting of plums, picking the juicy ones, isn't automated, and has to be done by hand, which, as you know, is absurdly expensive, since hands are usually attached to human beings, who often want to be paid $4 or even $5 an hour.

"Prunes, however, can be sorted mechanically. They're dried over an 18-hour period in a 200-degree tunnel and then immersed in boiling water and cooked. That, in turn, is blended and leached and turned into prune juice. There also is raisin juice, we're told. It is turned into raisin paste, and used for baking, to give foods a fruity, sweet taste with little added fat. But again, there's no market for raisin juice as a
beverage. Maybe it just doesn't taste very good, says Charles Huxsoll of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of course, that didn't stop prune juice, but prune juice has other another quality that people greatly appreciate. (Right. Great mixer for cocktails.)"

By Joel Achenbach  |  May 18, 2005; 3:07 PM ET
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