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Mr. Alice, Sir:

I’ve never seen you or anybody else for that matter take on this situation. Maybe the answer is too obvious, but I don’t understand how. I like frequenting upscale bars and mingling with the women who are there. I have pretty good success and meet quite a few eligible dates that way. But one thing really bothers me. It seems that about half the time, maybe more, when I meet the woman the second time, she’s not anything like what I thought she was when I met her. She doesn’t look as good, she’s not as funny, engaging, whatever. It’s happened so often, I’m wondering what’s going on. This isn’t the usual kind of question you answer, but maybe you can come up with something. It really has me bothered.

— Anonymous, via email

Jeez, where have you been, Anon? Oh, yeah, that’s right. Upscale bars. Any of your highfalutin tootsies ever drop the term “beer goggles” within earshot? It’s pretty well known. Smash Mouth has a song about it. Bart Simpson even bought a pair of beer goggles in a gift shop and turned one of his dreadful aunts into Angelina Jolie. It’s a phenomenon that everybody knows is true; but recently scientists felt it was necessary to prove it with grants and statistics and lab rats and journal articles. The work was done in England and Scotland. So, Anon, we can definitively say you’re suffering from a chronic case of beer goggles. There’s no cure, limited treatment.

You’re on the slow end of the curve, so we’d better catch you up. “Beer goggles” is the popular term for what happens to your judgment when you’ve had a drink or two. Specifically, people look more attractive. Things look brighter and breezier. Bad jokes are funnier. But mostly, people look more attractive.

The Brit brain studiers got half their subjects a little tipsy, while the rest remained untipsy. Then they showed photos of random faces to both groups. Consistently, the drinkers rated the people in the photos as more alluring than did the sober group. This applied to both sexes — both men and women in the photos were rated as tastier by both male and female subjects. So you see, the dolly who looks dreamy after a mojito or two can turn into a little dog-o tomorrow.

And in a related bit of breaking news, scientists have proved that men make bad judgments while watching girls in bikinis. Really. This was studied by serious professors with tenure and everything. Seems guys get impatient and make snap decisions when surrounded by near-naked babes. And for how many decades has the auto industry draped bikinied lovelies across fenders at car shows? Another bit of science proving the well-known and obvious. And I hope this information enriches your already full life.


Why are there so many people with the surnames Green, Brown, White, and Black but no one with the surnames Yellow, Purple, Orange, or Red?

— Pat, via email

And why is there only one family named Alice? Don’t have an answer for that one, but I can enlighten you about why you don’t live next door to Howard and Edna Purple. If we hop in the wayback machine and set the dial for, oh, England in the year 1000 A.D., we find that people are beginning to adopt biblical given names, like John, Paul, Matthew, etc. Pretty soon, well, within a few centuries, in certain places, there were an awful lot of Johns and Pauls. As the population grew, confusion reigned. Candygrams meant for one John ended up going to some other John. Pizza delivery was chaos. So people started referring to some outstanding characteristic of the particular John they were talking about. “I borrowed this rake from John. Can you return it, please? John the brown-skinned man who lives near the piggery. John the brown. John Brown. Got it?” Or John the carpenter. John Carpenter. John the son of Robert. John Robertson. In addition to colors (of skin, hair, eyes), people were identified by where they lived (Hill, or Green if you lived near the village green), their stature (Short), and a ton of other identifiers.

In fact, there are surnames derived from red (probably hair color) — Reed, Reid, and Russell. (Remember that much of this is going on during the time of Middle English.) Blount is what you might have dubbed a blonde. Some common surnames come from foreign languages. Vaughn is Welsh for red. Lloyd is Welsh for gray. Alice isn’t Welsh for anything, I don’t think.


Is my favorite jacket a p-jacket, a pee jacket, or a pea jacket? I inherited one that I love, but I’ve never known how it’s really spelled.

— P, via email

You own a pea jacket. But a long time ago you would have owned a pee jacket. In England pee used to be a kind of heavy cloth for coats.

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Josh Board Sept. 4, 2008 @ 11:24 a.m.

This proves, without a doubt, that Mathew Alice is the funniest writer the Reader has. Awesome.


Fred Williams Sept. 4, 2008 @ noon

Czechs know how to don beer goggles, yet turn out beautiful women with family names like "Fialova", which could be a violet or a viola. The "ova" ending means she's female, and might be linguistically related to "egg", as in Latin "ovum". Her father is likely to be called Mr. Violet.

Likewise, Czech has family names like Rostomily, (cute) and Sikovny (clever-man, or "Sikovna" clever-woman).

Are the rules the wise and venerable Mr. Alice described for English naming evolution universal, or a special case of our village peasant heritage?

Spreading urine on cloth to aid in solar bleaching was widely practiced in the middle ages. Did "Pee" cloth come by its name through a distinctive color and odor?

The questions just multiply when I read Matthew Alice.


Matthew_Alice Sept. 8, 2008 @ 12:22 p.m.

It seems that surnames evolved in much the same way throughout Europe. This applies mostly to the middle classes. Names for the landed gentry evolved a little differently. -- Matthew Alice


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