Category Archives: Holidays

No, It’s Called “Dressing”: 3 Thanksgiving Vocabulary Arguments You Can Win This Year

On the last fourth Thursday of every November,* American families gather together to half-watch football, complain about airports, and eat foods covered in baby marshmallows. Most people’s goal, apart from stuffing themselves silly, is to avoid conflict. But there are a few brave individuals out there who will risk getting sent to their old childhood bedroom with no pumpkin pie: sticklers.

These foolhardy souls are more concerned with being right than being popular. They hear a term used incorrectly, and they just can’t stop themselves from piping up about it, damn the social consequences. It is for this group of impolitic pedants that I present the answers to three common Thanksgiving vocabulary arguments. Correct at your own risk.

1. Sweet Potatoes vs. Yams

The sweet potato, Ipomoea batatas, originated in Latin America. It shares a genus with the morning glory and is distantly related to actual potatoes.

The yam, a name for numerous species in the Dioscorea genus, originated in Africa and Asia. The most common species, Dioscorea rotundata (a.k.a. white yam), is a staple food in West Africa.

The two foods have a similar look, but yams are starchier and sweet potatoes are sweeter. The Thanksgiving food is sweet potatoes.

2. Cranberry Jelly vs. Cranberry Sauce

There are two options for your canned cranberry side dish: the sliceable kind and the chunky kind. Ocean Spray, the leading brand, calls them Jellied Cranberry Sauce and Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce, but that’s too wordy to catch on.

“Could you please pass the whole berry cranberry sauce?”
“What is wrong with you?”

The easy way to get someone to pass you the right kind is to call it “cranberry jelly” when it’s slices of gelatinized juice on a platter and “cranberry sauce” when it’s gooey berries in a bowl.

3. Stuffing vs. Dressing

The mix of crumbled bread and spices that is one of Thanksgiving’s most important side dishes has a bit of an identity crisis. Is it called “stuffing” or “dressing”? That depends on where you’re from.

To make a sweeping generalization, in the South, the dish is usually made with cornbread, and it’s called “stuffing” when it’s cooked inside the turkey and “dressing” when it’s cooked separately. In most of the rest of the country, stuffing is stuffing, regardless of whether it’s actually stuffing the bird or not, and it’s usually made with wheat bread.

The regional differences are not exact, though, as you can see from this handy guide to where each term is more common:

This argument can be a tricky one to win because it depends on location and tradition. If you see that the dish is made with cornbread, go ahead and smugly make the distinction between stuffing and dressing. If it’s made with wheat bread, you can try to argue that the portion cooked in the Pyrex is called “dressing,” but you’re not likely to make any converts.

I hope this guide wins you many debates. Please remember to take a long enough break from patting yourself on the back to enjoy some pie. Happy Thanksgiving.

* This post has been updated to reflect the fact that . Hat tip to my friend Shane, a true Thanksgiving pedant, for correcting me on this one.

Required Wikimedia Commons attributions:

Turkey: By Jamain (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Sweet potatoes: “Ipomoea batatas 006” by Llez – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons –

Top 10 Punny Halloween Costumes—Animal Edition

Long live the pumpking! Maybe next year I’ll do an all-gourd edition.

Regular readers may have noticed that I have a deep, abiding love for both puns and Halloween. Celebrating the combination of the two is becoming an annual tradition around here; see Top 10 Punny Halloween Costumes and 10 More Punny Halloween Costumes if you missed them the first time around (and especially if you need a last-minute costume idea).

But you know what I like better than puns or Halloween costumes? Animals. And you know what I like better than animals? Animals in punny Halloween costumes, of course. Why, they’re pawsitively purrfect!

If you’re a pun/Halloween/animal lover like me, these costumes will leave you ast-hound-ed and a-mew-sed.

10. Rufferee

Always calls a foul for unnecessary ruffness.

9. Pool Shark

I think Paul Mewman won an Oscar for this one.

8. Baked Pugtato

Pairs nicely with a pugkin spice latte, obvi.

7. Santa Claws

You better watch out … because Santa Claws will scratch your face off for making him wear this humiliating costume.

6. Sheep Dog / Corn Dog / Watch Dog / Hot Dog

That’s a mutt-load of dog puns!

5. I Dream of Weenie

Your wish is her command. Because she’s a dog, and that’s the deal they make with humans.

4. Harry Trotter

He spends the last two books looking for Lord Voldemort’s Horse-cruxes.

3. Muttley Cyrus

She came in like a rrrrrrrecking ball.

2. Bunny Bee

Or maybe it’s a rab-bee-t?

1. Slow Cooker

Slow and steady wins the punny Halloween costume countdown.

10 More Punny Halloween Costumes

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are turning, the air is nipping, and food is being pumpkin spiced. But most importantly, people are creating their pun-based Halloween costumes.

Last year I celebrated the season with the Top 10 Punny Halloween Costumes. This year I found ten more punderful costumes that you can use to show how clever/broke/last-minute you are. Enjoy!

10. A Salt and Battery

The defendants are being charged with felony wordplay.

9. Cap-Sized Ship

Not to get nitpicky, but I think this is slightly larger than cap-sized. Still, good work with the cardboard.

8. Cereal Killer

She’s homicidal for Cocoa Puffs.

7. A Brush with Death

Who knew the Grim Reaper was so concerned with oral hygiene?

6. The Diction-Fairy

She has the magical power of reading.

5. A Bag of Eminems

Hi, my name is (what) my name is (who) my name is (chicka-chicka) Slim Bag-Lady.

4. God’s Gift to Women

This one’s for all the literalists out there.

3. Dunkin’ Donuts

America runs, dribbles, jumps, shoots, and scores on Dunkin’.

2. Iron Man

This suit doesn’t fly, but it does eliminate wrinkles. Your move, Tony Stark.

1. Bud Light-Year

I’ve set my lasers from stun to swill.

Presidents Day? President’s Day? Presidents’ Day? How Do You Spell the Upcoming Holiday?

We’re all counting down to the upcoming three-day weekend, but many of us don’t know how to write the name of the holiday on Monday correctly. Is it Presidents Day? How about President’s Day? Presidents’ Day? Well, it all depends on whom you ask.

Most dictionaries and The Chicago Manual of Style favor Presidents’ Day. The apostrophe at the end of the word indicates a plural possessive: It’s a day that belongs to multiple presidents. But the AP Stylebook—perhaps taking its cue from Veterans Day—favors Presidents Day, as in a day of more than one president. You could maybe make an argument for President’s Day, but no official reference book will back you up on that. Why are there two “correct” ways to spell the holiday? Believe it or not, Presidents’ Day (which, as a Chicago Manual enthusiast, I will choose to spell with an apostrophe at the end) is not an official holiday.

The federal holiday is called Washington’s Birthday; the term Presidents’ Day was popularized by marketers seizing on an occasion for a sale. The presidents it refers to are George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, who both had birthdays in February.

Washington was born on either February 11, 1731, or February 22, 1732, depending on whether you use the Julian calendar or the Gregorian calendar (both were in use at the time; we use the Gregorian calendar now). Many states started celebrating his birthday on February 22, 1832, in honor of the centennial of his birth. It was made a federal holiday in 1879.

Lincoln was born on February 12, 1809. Since 1922, it’s been a tradition to lay a ceremonial wreath at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial on his birthday, and many states celebrate it as an official holiday. But it has never been a federal holiday.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act, enacted in 1971, moved several holidays to designated Mondays to give citizens fixed three-day weekends. Washington’s Birthday was moved to the third Monday in February, ironically ensuring that it would never fall on his actual birthday. Since it was now within a week or so of Lincoln’s birthday, many businesses squashed the holidays together. And that’s why we’ll be enjoying Presidents’ Day, plural possessive, or Presidents Day, with no apostrophe, on Monday.

Is It Correct to Call Christmas “Xmas”?

The word Xmas, like fruitcake, is one of those holiday traditions that everyone knows of but no one quite understands. Is it proper English to shorten Christmas to Xmas? Is it offensive? No one seems quite sure. So my Xmas gift to you is a quick clarification.

Contrary to popular belief, Xmas is neither an error nor an attempt to take the Christ out of Christmas. The X comes from the Greek letter chi, which is the beginning of Khristos, the Greek word for Christ. In Greek, the word looks like this:

The Oxford English Dictionary dates the use of X to mean Christ back to 1021 AD and the use of Xmas back to 1551 AD, so if you choose to write the word, you have a long history of legitimate usage backing you up.

However, you should be warned that style guides frown on the use of Xmas. The AP Stylebook admonishes, “Never abbreviate Christmas to Xmas or any other form.” The New York Times Manual of Style and Usage agrees about Xmas, commanding, “Do not use; spell out Christmas.”

And keep in mind that if you use it, you also risk offending Christians who aren’t aware of the word’s origin.

So when can you use Xmas? I thought of four scenarios:

  • If you’re making your own holiday cards, and you want the letters to fit on the page easily
  • If you’re writing a tweet, and the extra five characters in Christmas would put you over the 140-character limit
  • If you’re sending a text message on a flip phone, and typing Christmas will take significantly longer than typing Xmas
  • If you’re a natural contrarian, and you enjoy explaining to people that using Xmas is not actually wrong

Don’t do that last one if you work for a newspaper. Can you think of any other occasions to use Xmas? Leave them in the comments.

And have a very merry Xmas.

Top 10 Punny Halloween Costumes

Okay, it’s not really a costume, but hey: steam punkin!

Over on the , I’ve been counting down the days to the best holiday, Halloween, with a celebration of pun-based costumes. Just in case you missed the countdown, here are the highlights:

10. Pugkin Spice Latte

Adorable and seasonal.

9. 50 Shades of Grey

The SFW version.

8. Fantasy Football

The best defense is a good Gandalf.

7a. Reigning Cats and Dogs

7b. A Coat of Arms

The writers on New Girl clearly love a good pun. Not pictured: Bee Arthur.

6. Cleocatra

This is possibly the only costume a cat would be proud to wear. She still looks a little embarrassed, though.

5. Spelling Bees

Combining three of LJBC’s favorite things: spelling, puns, and cuteness.

4. Chicken Cord on Blue

Still scrambling to put something together? This is probably the easiest last-minute costume on this list.

3. Heisenburger

Feeling sad about the end of Breaking Bad? This will cheer you up.

2. French Kiss

Rock ‘n’ rolling all night fills them with such ennui, no?

1. Stegatortoise

Cutest costume ever. This seriously makes me want to take up crochet. And reptile ownership.

Samuel Johnson famously claimed that puns were the lowest form of humor, but I think this post proves that a good pun is its own reword. Happy Halloween, everyone!