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DEAR READER: The joy of knowing stuff, and then using it to have fun

Friday, September 16, 2011 | 2:30 p.m. CDT; updated 8:22 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 17, 2011

COLUMBIA — Did you know the English alphabet once had 27 letters? The now defunct character was the ampersand. 

According to "What character was removed from the alphabet but is still used every day?" on hotword.dictionary. com: "The shape of the character (&) predates the word 'ampersand' by more than 1,500 years. In the first century, Roman scribes wrote in cursive, so when they wrote the Latin word 'et', which means 'and', they linked the e and t. Over time the combined letters came to signify the word 'and' in English as well. Certain versions of the ampersand, like that in the font Caslon, clearly reveal the origin of the shape.

"The word 'ampersand' came many years later when '&' was actually part of the English alphabet. In the early 1800s, school children reciting their ABC's concluded the alphabet with the &. It would have been confusing to say 'X, Y, Z, and.' Rather, the students said, 'and per se and.' 'Per se' means 'by itself,' so the students were essentially saying, 'X, Y, Z, and by itself and.' Over time, 'and per se and' was slurred together into the word we use today: ampersand. When a word comes about from a mistaken pronunciation, it’s called a mondegreen. ..."

Apparently other letters have come and gone, too, as languages morph and change and adjust to cultural movements.

It's fascinating stuff to a word junkie, but it's also a rich addition to the trivia trove used — probably delusionally — to impress family and friends.

But, such is the profession of journalism. For trivia junkies, the information you gather in a day's work is enormous. I often tell students that copy editing will make them more fun at parties as they will have a greater variety of topics to introduce and then talk about succinctly.

As proof, I offer this summer's experience of traveling with two former college roommates and now practicing journalists — one on a newspaper staff and the other a journalism professor — and our triumphant win at a Buffalo Wild Wings' trivia contest, where I learned BW3 — or B-dubs — is the nickname for the franchise.

Which led me to investigate further, so, in case you don't know, here's a bit of history: "Originally called Buffalo Wild Wings & Weck ...  the original name and acronym, BW3, was intentionally reminiscent of the acronym TW3 popularly used in referring to the television show 'That Was The Week That Was,' a show of which co-founder James Disbrow was a fan. The company later changed its name to Buffalo Wild Wings but still uses the short name BW3 on occasion due to the common usage by patrons."

Which led me to another fun fact from the company's history that should give you an edge in a trivia contest: "Buffalo Wild Wings was founded in 1982 by two longtime friends, Jim Disbrow and Scott Lowery. Disbrow was born in Kentucky and had moved to Cincinnati at the age of 11 to live with figure skating coaches David and Rita Lowery, who later became his legal guardians. ... Disbrow was a talented skater and was named an alternate to the 1968 U.S. Olympic team, later touring with the show Holiday on Ice."

And, then, from the company's website, there is "What the Heck is a Weck? A Weck is short for kimmelweck, a Kaiser roll seasoned with special toppings. These tasty rolls are popular on the East Coast and were served at our restaurants when we first opened. In 1998, we officially changed our name to Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar to better describe our restaurants." 

(Another website spelled the roll as kummelweck.)

So, you see how it goes. One thing leads to another and to another, and before you know it, you've spent an hour or more reading through website after website, gleaning more and more trivia, when you only intended to find out how BW3 or B-dubs might be spelled.

Apparently, that's true also for my former roommates. Our annual outings usually involve historic sites and tours, sprinkled with fabulous food, trials and tribulations and much nonstop conversation about journalism — both teaching it and practicing it.

Our trio won the trivia contest by not only getting the most correct answers to questions in various categories, but also because of our unique team name: Dingbats Stet. (Dingbats is a type font, and stet is an editing mark that means "let it stand.")

It was the mental collection of trivia that helped us win the contest. Joan whipped out names of movies and stars, as well as country western singers and songs; Deb rocked on U.S. history; and I managed to come up with all five actors who played "Batman."

Deb's students were the beneficiaries of our fun as we donated our winnings of 36 free wings to a class outing.

The same thrill we enjoyed in the trivia contest is what I imagine it's like for participants in the Show Me the Errors contest at ColumbiaMissourian.com.

For the August contest, there were 99 corrections submitted, with Jim Terry again leading the way with 69 entries. In second place was Adam Wooldridge with eight entries. 

You, too, can join the fun and try to win the Show Me the Errors contest's prizes — a Missourian T-shirt and a hardcover copy of Roy Peter Clark’s book "The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English." The submission box is at the bottom of every article posted on ColumbiaMissourian.com.

Maggie Walter is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and an interactive night news editor at ColumbiaMissourian.com. She is frequently appalled at the overuse of exclamation points and has always had a fondness for dashes.


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