Ask McArdle: Monograms and Irish Snakes

Sticking it to the office Dick

Illustration by Peter Arkle

Illustration by Peter Arkle

Where’s the best place for a monogram: pocket or sleeve?

Stitch it to your forearm like an embroidered tattoo—your mettle will never be questioned again. After all, a monogram says more about an individual than his initials. Introduced in the 17th century to ensure the linens of noble families were not stolen or misplaced during laundry, monograms remained largely unseen until a century ago, when men began appearing in public without jackets. Yet attention was still only called to them when needed. One story goes that President John F. Kennedy and his aide David Powers shared laundry services while travelling. “One time Jack told me, ‘Dave, you’ve got one of my shirts on,’” Powers recounted in Esquire. “I tried to bluff it, but he pointed to the pocket, and there it was—a blue J.F.K.” When he was noted a second time to be wearing a presidential shirt, Powers pled innocence and pointed to the bare pocket; in this instance the monogram was on the sleeve, about an inch above the cuff. As in matters of oratory and international relations, follow Kennedy’s lead: a monogram suggests a well-crafted shirt and a sophisticated wearer, but the air of refinement disappears when you place your logo in an ostentatious location, like the tip of your collar or the edge of your cuff. Instead, have it placed where it will be seen only when your jacket is removed. Options include: the upper quadrant of the breast pocket, above your cuff, on your shirttail or even a few inches above the waist. Of course, there are times when one does want to call some attention to one’s initials. Proudly emblazon them upon your luggage, golf bag or steamer trunk. The overstatement will be appreciated the next time you’re standing at the baggage carousel.

Do we have to let Richard into the basketball pool? Nobody likes Richard.

I do not wish to condone incivility, but I have worked with the occasional Richard—as well as a Dick or two—and I understand how repugnant they can be. So yes, when March Madness erupts, feel free to exclude any Richard in your workplace. It is an entirely legal course of action, says Nicholas Bala, a law professor at Queen’s University, “just like you can have a party and invite nine out of the 10 people in your office.” The rules of a basketball pool amount to a contract between private individuals, meaning it is not governed by human-rights legislation. So participants can not only be excluded for being a Richard, but also based on race or gender. A “girls’ only” basketball bet? Go ahead, although Bala notes such discrimination might be “reprehensible on a moral level.” If litigation does occur, it is usually because the rules of an office pool are unclear. It took two years for 19 Bell Canada employees to collect a $50-million lottery prize after co-workers, who had been contributors to a previous lottery scheme, claimed they were owed a share. To be safe, write out the rules of any office pool at its inception, covering items like what happens when participants are away, advises Bala. That way, you’re prepared when a Richard acts like a Dick.

Did Ireland have any snakes even before St. Patrick?

We owe St. Patrick for many things—he is, after all, the patron saint of paralegals—but ridding Ireland of snakes is not one of his accomplishments. Scientists suggest the island was, at least since the most recent ice age, simply too cold. But the Irish should not be too cocky about their serpent-free status. New Zealand and Iceland also lack snakes. And neither of those countries ruin perfectly good beer with food dye to celebrate it.

Other saints: Matthew the Apostle (accountants), Catherine of Alexandria (lawyers), Michael the Archangel (bankers), Julian the Hospitaller (carnies), Cajetan (unemployed)