Do You Use "Echelon," "Chevron," "Penultimate," and "Pulchritudinous" Correctly?
Take today’s Tip and about $7.95 plus tax to your local Starbucks to get one grande-double-hazelnut-caramel-combo-non-fat-extra-foam macchiato, absolutely free. Then take your grande-double-hazelnut-caramel-combo-non-fat-extra-foam-absolutely-free macchiato outside and listen for the sound of geese overhead. (Geese on the street or the parking lot behind the Starbucks will not work for this opportunity to show everyone how smart you are; the geese must be in the air.) Also, make sure you see a whole bunch of geese, not just one devoted couple. In Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and the Carolinas, maybe Virginia, pelicans will do.
When you hear the geese honking (or the pelicans barking like Chihuahuas), look up, shade your eyes, and say loud enough for everyone to hear, “Looks like the gaggle’s flying in an echelon.” Everyone else will assume they’re flying in a chevron, but you know that if it's staggered--each bird flying just a little to the left or a little to the right of the bird in front of it--then it has to be an echelon, like tanks in a blitzkrieg or an armada at sea; whereas a chevron is an uninterrupted line shaped like an upside down "V," similar to the stripes on the upper arm of the sergeant about to put her fist between your face and your macchiato for being such an effete, self-righteous prig. (Some states recognize the sergeant's act as Justifiable Assault and Battery. If you’re the sergeant, please check first with your lawyer, whom everyone should have on speed dial for just such special occasions.)
What do you do if everyone still ignores you? If you are the sort who spits in the eye of danger, point to the sky and declare loudly, “The penultimate goose has a gimp leg!” All eyes will go straight to the lead goose; but the lead goose is not the penultimate goose: the penultimate goose is the goose next to last. I kid you not, but who knew? All these years we spent assuming that penultimate meant the ultimate ultimate!
If even that fails to get their attention, here’s your coup de grâce: Wipe the foam off your upper lip, approach the sergeant, and with furrowed brow and your best Cary Grant say, “You’re looking rather pulchritudinous today, Sergeant.”
When the police arrive, unclip your iPhone X and show them. They will spring back in disbelief faster than a whiplash: “How come just about the ugliest-sounding word in the English language means beautiful?” For your exit, belt the last sip of your macchiato, crush the cup in your bare hand, sink it in the recycle bin from ten feet away, and glance at the sergeant. “Somewhere in there lies a moral.”
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