Annual Christmas ’Log Review



As we enter the holiday season, we thought you’d enjoy one of Tom Stern’s classic reviews of his Christmas catalogs.

Have you noticed that Christmas is in the air? I started noticing in October, when I received my first Christmas catalog eleven days before the start of the World Series.

New ones have been arriving ever since, filled with gift ideas so remarkable that I just can’t keep them to myself.

The Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, replete with high thread counts and decadent relaxation devices, is always on the technological cutting-edge—we’re living in the age of the voice-interactive coffee maker and the talking wristwatch. For the discreet creep, there are the “video camera pen” and the “video recording sunglasses.” Merry golfers will go for the “drink-dispensing golf club,” which pours an ounce of booze per second from a spout in the club head. After a few pops, the “golf ball locating glasses” may come in handy. These ungainly-looking goggles find that lost ball even as they identify anyone wearing them as a dork. The catalog is laden with pseudo-sophisticated phrases like “an ubiquitous ritual,” apparently written by someone who’s never said “ubiquitous.”

The Frontgate catalog got my attention with “100s of best-made gifts” instead of “hundreds” and “1,000s” instead of “thousands.” That just looks silly. Otherwise, a tasteful brochure, filled with good ideas. This isn’t one of them: a $500 treadmill—for pets. How will I ever get Rover to use his treadmill when mine was gathering dust six weeks after I bought it?

Among Gump’s tree ornaments is a comely reindeer wearing a chic cocktail gown. And what brightens up a Christmas tree more than an exquisite hand-blown … fried egg on toast?!?

Grandinroad has some interesting entries in the ornament sweepstakes, including blown-glass kitties in bow ties and terriers in tutus. But this year’s undisputed champion of all ornaments is Grandinroad’s kissing fish. The fish has big blue eyes with coquettish long lashes, and puckering, collagen-pillow lips ablaze with a garish smear of scarlet lipstick. A tank of famished piranhas might not be as festive but would certainly be less disturbing.

The catalog of the Smithsonian Institution devotes two pages to its Jacqueline Kennedy Collection, including the “Jackie Kennedy Sunglasses” and the “Dual Faux Pearl Floral Leaf Pierced Earrings.” Do we even want to know who out there still sports the Jackie look?

Finally, a holiday quiz. What do these words culled from Christmas catalogs refer to: carbide, cinder, daybreak, eclipse, fig, flag, fog, fossil, gargoyle, lava, lichen, lily pond, mallard, moonlight, muleskinner, Nero, oasis, picante, saddle, sprig, thunder, tobacco. Hint: they’re not rejected first names for Sarah Palin’s kids. They’re colors!?! … “Remember our first Christmas, darling? You were standing in my muleskinner foyer, your mallard hair perfectly matching your gargoyle dress. I wore tobacco slacks and a Nero tie with fossil stripes to complement the warm earth tones of my carbide cape.”

Tom Stern

Posted on Tuesday, December 6, 2016, at 5:46 pm

9 Comments on Annual Christmas ’Log Review

9 responses to “Annual Christmas ’Log Review”

  1. Helena Romero says:

    Mr. Stern:
    I cannot thank you enough for injecting a sense of humor into the newsletter. Your ability to not hit one over the head with your knowledge of the English language is so refreshing. I also enjoy not having to read about what highly-rated scholars of the English language have said over the long years as language has evolved. Keep surprising me with your wit and easy style, I find it one of the best ways in which to gain more knowledge.

  2. Ev R. says:

    I think you made an error…. :) I was under the impression that “ly” words should NEVER be hyphenated. I know that without the hyphen, it could be confusing. What are “looking goggles??” However, it would have been better to reword the phrase to avoid this problem. Here’s the paragraph:

    The Hammacher Schlemmer catalog, replete with high thread counts and decadent relaxation devices, is always on the technological cutting-edge—we’re living in the age of the voice-interactive coffee maker and the talking wristwatch. For the discreet creep, there are the “video camera pen” and the “video recording sunglasses.” Merry golfers will go for the “drink-dispensing golf club,” which pours an ounce of booze per second from a spout in the club head. After a few pops, the “golf ball locating glasses” may come in handy. These ungainly-looking goggles find that lost ball even as they identify anyone wearing them as a dork. The catalog is laden with pseudo-sophisticated phrases like “an ubiquitous ritual,” apparently written by someone who’s never said “ubiquitous.”

    • Unfortunately, you were under the wrong impression. The rule is that ly adverbs are not hyphenated. In the instance of “ungainly-looking goggles,” ungainly is an ly adjective, because we could say ungainly goggles, but we would not say looking goggles, as you pointed out. Therefore, ungainly-looking is a compound adjective and thus is hyphenated. Please see our blog Hyphenating Between Words.

  3. Robin H. says:

    Lol re the pirahnas!

    Do you think Jackie Kennedy ever wore anything “faux”? Warning: there’s a movie coming out starring Natalie Portman as Jackie; so get ready to see lots of people sporting the “Jackie look.”

  4. T. S. says:

    Thank you for this issue! Where might I find more from Tom Stern? There are definitely times when I am in need of that kind of wit to survive the holiday season!

    • Mr. Stern began writing monthly articles for our newsletters in September 2012, and then wrote each weekly newsletter from March 2013 until his death in October (see our weekly newsletter of October 12, 2016, Tom Stern, In Memoriam). You can view all of our newsletter articles under our Grammar Blog tab.

      Tom Stern indeed possessed a keen eye and a unique wit. We’re glad to hear how much you appreciated him. Thank you for writing.

  5. Ann N. says:

    I want to let you know that Tom Stern made a grammatical error in the December 7 article. In the last paragraph it reads ‘What do these words culled from Christmas catalogs refer to.’ It ought to read ‘To what do these words…’ Shame on you Tom. wink wink

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