Stephen G. Bloom

Prozac for PMS

Q: Why don't men have PMS?

A: What's the point? They act that way all the time.

Q: What does PMS stand for?

A: Putting up with Men's Shit.

Lighten up, girls. The news that the FDA earlier this month approved the use of Prozac to treat severe symptoms of PMS struck me as one of the great leaps of modern medicine, right up there with penicillin and Dramamine. Premenstrual syndrome has been the bane of women (and men) since Cleopatra. How else to explain the queen's wild rants and mood swings, going from the world's hottest seductress to the baddest bitch west of the Nile?

Is it any wonder that the fiercest female pro-wrestling tag team in the WWF goes by the name PMS? The two wannabe Xena warrior princesses seem to symbolize their PMS-afflicted sisters everywhere. When interviewed by TV announcer Michael Cole, Terri teasingly began to disrobe Cole, then Jackie kicked him in the groin.

Prozac is a wonder drug. If it can do for PMS what it is supposed to do for depression, then bring it on, baby!

But what about gender equality? If a woman gets cranky, she can always blame PMS. When a guy gets moody, it's evil testosterone surges or his macho-flawed personality. Now, women get to take a pill, leave the dishes in the sink, say hasta la vista to Jason and Jennifer arguing over who's going to get voted off the island on "Survivor," and then soak in an herbal bubble bath while inhaling scents from citrus, rose-petal and almond candles.

Maybe it's a way to get back for Viagra.

As anyone over 16 should know, PMS can be characterized by extreme, often irrational behavior that includes eating binges, sudden anger, irritability, impulsive behavior and the desire to punch somebody (anybody) out. Many men report a snapping, snarling nature that seems to take over their usually simpatica mates for anywhere from one to two weeks before the monthly onset of menstruation. Wise husbands and boyfriends know never to assume -- or at least, never to say -- that PMS is the cause of their partners' rank moods. It is not a good idea to ask in the middle of an argument, "Hey, what gives? You got PMS again?"

To help cope, there used to be Midol. (A no-brainer: Midol was a subliminal message to mean "My Doll.") But that was ineffective for anything but mild cramps.

Several years ago, husband-and-wife scientists at MIT came up with a powder drink they trademarked as PMS Escape. The potion contains carbohydrates and vitamins that its makers said helps PMS sufferers cope with the carbo cravings and precipitous plunge in brain serotonin levels that many women experience during the weeks before menstruation.

Then came Prozac.

The first randomized, double-blind, controlled trials of Prozac on women with PMS were done at eight Canadian hospitals in the early 1990s, and reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1995. The results were staggering: The 313 women who took Prozac showed four to six times more improvement than those who took placebos. In other clinical trials, 75 percent of women showed improvement with Prozac or similar drugs.

Since then, many physicians have prescribed Prozac (and other antidepressants) off-label for women with severe PMS. All that was missing was the Food and Drug Administration's formal approval so that Prozac's manufacturer, Eli Lilly and Co., could niche-market the world's top-selling antidepressant directly to premenstrual women. That approval came July 6, when the FDA formally cleared Prozac as a recognized PMS treatment.

So that it can jump-start sales and distinguish the PMS therapy from the antidepressant, Lilly will not call the PMS product Prozac, but rename the identical compound Sarafem.

How's that for feminine-sounding? I can see the TV ads: earth tones, Martha Stewart-style scenery, close-up of doting but obviously preoccupied mother (Joan Lunden lookalike) with child (girl) in designer kitchen (sub-zero refrigerator, Corian countertops, GE Profile stovetop), voice-over of caring doctor (female) gently hawking Sarafem ("for those times of the month when women need something extra") and a fade to twin smiles while kneeling and removing steaming cake from oven.

To complete the makeover, the new PMS drug will not come in Prozac's signature capsule of lettuce-green and cream colors, but in dreamy, comforting lilac-and-blue. Sarafem should be in pharmacies next month, says Lilly spokeswoman (of course) Laura Miller.

The road to Sarafem has been marked with potholes. Even though doctors in the fourth century B.C. identified symptoms of PMS, it took until 1931 before New York gynecologist Robert T. Frank officially brought it to the attention of the medical establishment. He called the condition "premenstrual tension." In 1953, two English physicians, Katarina Dalton and Raymond Greene, labeled the condition "premenstrual syndrome," when the British Medical Journal published the first paper on the subject.

PMS gained fame (and became a great topic for Johnny Carson jokes) in 1980 in a widely reported trial in which the sentence of a British woman accused of murder was reduced because she claimed she was suffering from PMS. In 1994, a Virginia woman argued in court that when police arrested her for erratic driving, it was not due to alcohol but to PMS. She was acquitted of DWI.

(Note to myself: Figure out whom, or what, I can blame next time I rear-end the Dodge minivan in front of me while I'm rocking out, listening to the Dead on my car radio, and my foot slips off the brake.)

In 1997, the same husband-and-wife research team that concocted PMS Escape, Richard and Judith Wurtman, were granted by the FDA a method-of-use patent on Prozac to treat symptoms associated with PMS. Through a sublicensing arrangement with a company the Wurtmans founded, Interneuron Pharmaceuticals, Lilly today retains rights to manufacture Prozac as a PMS treatment.

The usual dose for PMS relief is 20 milligrams a day, the same maintenance dose that most Prozac users take. PMS sufferers report the effects can be felt within 48 hours, while it can take as long as a month for Prozac and similar drugs to work against depression. Women who take the drug for PMS often can limit their intake just to the days when PMS hits the hardest, say the researchers.

Prozac (along with Zoloft, Paxil, Luvox, Effexor and Celexa) belongs to a pharmacological family called SSRIs, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Serotonin is like mind candy produced by the brain (and it's legal): the more serotonin, the greater the sense of well-being. SSRIs allow the brain's receptor nerve cells to continue to bathe in this soothing nectar.

There's a price to be paid for such bliss. Side effects hit as many as 75 percent (depending on whose statistics you believe) of those who take the drug. They include agitation, insomnia, nausea, headaches and a marked drop in libido. But going without sex may be a small price to pay for being rescued from PMS hell. And how many women in the clutches of PMS want to have sex anyway? And how many (non-masochistic) men would want to have sex with them?

Judith Wurtman, the MIT cognitive-brain scientist, puts it this way. Referring to studies of women with severe PMS, she said: "Serotonin gives a sense of vigor. It took away apathy, that blah feeling. It took away agitation, anxiety. It took away impulsivity and carbohydrate-eating binges. Women in the study could now recall things such as where they put their keys, whether they turned off the computer. It raised their self-confidence."

Like anyone else in the workplace, Wurtman easily recognizes the PMS-strafed woman aka bitch on wheels. "A female boss who praises her workers three weeks out of the month, then berates them when she has PMS, takes a tremendous toll on everyone in that workplace."

And at home. "A mother who is sometimes placid and sometimes a raving maniac makes a child wonder about the stability of his world," says Wurtman.

Personally, I am very glad Wurtman is not a man, saying all these horrible things about women.

The extreme form of PMS is called premenstrual dysphoric disorder. In up to 8 percent of premenopausal women, the condition is serious enough to rupture their lives and their families. Women between the ages of 25 to 34 are more than twice as likely to experience PMS than women 35 to 44. Menstrual cramps, by the way, are not considered part of PMS.

The federal judiciary has cleared the way for PMS to be classified as a disability, and (as such) a condition potentially protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Barbara Cavuoto, a payroll manager at Oxford Health Plans Inc., said she was excluded from senior management meetings at the Trumbull, Conn., company because of severe PMS, a condition about which her supervisor was aware. A federal district judge in Connecticut on June 22 ruled that a jury could determine whether Cavuoto's employers broke the law.

It is probably no surprise that Prozac has been approved for sale as PMS therapy. Prozac and other SSRIs have become like utility infielders. In addition to depression and now PMS, physicians often prescribe the drugs for panic attacks, anxiety, binge-eating, bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), seasonal-affective disorder (SAD) and even something called CSD (compulsive-shopping disorder). The last "disorder" is not a lame stab at Rodney Dangerfield humor: Stanford University researchers are conducting a study of 24 shopaholics, all women, to see whether SSRIs can curb their wanton spending habits. The study is not being underwritten by the women's husbands.

Stephen G. Bloom teaches medical reporting at the University of Iowa and writes for Salon, where this article first appeared.

Baguettes and Big Macs: Tips for Traveling With Kids

Oh, no, the stroller broke!The rubber strap on our otherwise trusty MacLaren stroller snapped just as we arrived at Luxenbourg gardens one humid afternoon that set a heat record for Paris. Mikey's rubber-wheeled chariot had been our lifeline.Small wonder it broke. After 15 days of hauling the damn thing through dozens of turnstiles in the metro, up and down hundreds of steps, in and out of art museums, sidewalk cafes, open-air markets, the laws of physics finally prevailed."Ah, Paris in the summer." Before waxing rhapsodic, amend that redolent phrase to, "Ah, Paris in the summer with a three year old." Paris may be the city of lights, art, fashion, food, but it is not the city of kids. To survive in this cradle of sophistication with a young child takes nerve, moxie, and endurance.Without the stroller we were dead. Trying to circumnavigate the Parisian crowds would be like the salmon's heroic struggle upstream: We could do it, but once our vacation ended, we'd be dead -- at least, dead tired. Try carrying a napping 35-pound kid through crowded Paris. About the only one who'd approve would be the Marquis de Sade.Desperately seeking stroller first-aid, we ducked into a pharmacy on the Right Bank. A sympathetic clerk pulled out a roll of adhesive tape. But the tourniquet lasted just a few hours. In the middle of rush hour, Mikey's chariot collapsed again. We limped into the Chatelet Metro station, where an ingenious shoemaker scratched his head, punched three rivets in the stroller strap, and pronounced Mikey's single-seater fixed with a grand "Voila!"But our problems were far from over. Let's face it. Kids are not impressed with 17th Century architecture. The Power Rangers are more exciting than the Mona Lisa. A meal of pate, canard a la presse jardiniere, and salade nicoise just doesn't have the same sine qua non as a McDonald's Happy Meal. The aroma of freshly baked baguettes is likely to make a kid long for squishy Wonderbread.We were determined to spend a month in Paris with Mikey. When we told his grandmother about our plans, she was aghast. "What, are your crazy?" she said. "He's too young to appreciate it."But we replied that a trip to Paris would make a Francophile out of him. He'd make bons amis on the balancoire in Parisian playgrounds. Sitting at a choice table at La Coupole, we'd discuss Babar while sipping citrons presse.Staying in a hotel, of course, was out of the question. Nightly rates at moderate Paris hotels average more than $150, and few places offer discounts for extended stays. Surely, our friends at the International Herald Tribune could set us up in an apartment of someone on holiday. But they didn't have the faintest idea where we should stay. If they knew a reasonable place, they'd take it.We called several Paris apartment locators based in the states. These are agencies that rent furnished apartments in Paris, but the minimum weekly rentals were as high as $800. We got several publications that advertise Paris flats -- France USA Contacts, The Chronicle for Higher Education, New York Review of Books. One ad sounded promising: a one-bedroom apartment near the Place des Voges in the Marais for $600 a week, but when I mentioned that we had a three year old, there was an awkward pause, and then a click.We finally settled for a one-bedroom apartment just outside Paris, south of the city, in a suburb called Bourg-la-Reine. The apartment owner, an American who lives in Pennsylvania, glowed about the flat, saying it was located in "one of the finest residential neighborhoods, only a few minutes from the heart of Paris -- Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Champs Elysees." He used phases like "fabulously good fun" and "gracious living with exceptional convenience." The spiel would have shamed TV advertorial king Ron Papeil, the man behind hair-in-a-can. But it seemed like our only opportunity. When I mentioned Mikey, there was nary a grumble. "No problem," he said amiably. All the owner asked was that we use rubber sheets (not for us, for the boy). We agreed at $495 a week, including maid service.The flat turned out to be clean, spacious and airy, in a complex of 20-year-old, low-rise apartment buildings. The accommodations weren't the problem. Bourg-la-Reine was five stops outside of Paris on the RER railroad, which meant the "few minutes" to the heart of Paris actually was more like 45 minutes. To get to the train station we had a half-hour uphill hike. And that was after we clomped down four flights of stairs with the stroller.So, we weren't in the trendy 6th or the 16th arrondissment, -- hell, we weren't in any arrondissement -- but we were 10 kilometers from Paris, and how bad could that be?Our first night, Mikey and I ventured to the apartment playground, which was strictly BYOT: Bring your own toys. We sidled up to two neighborhood kids playing soccer. But just as we were about to take them on, two-on-two, the French kids' mother called them in for dinner.Walking back to our apartment, I promised Mikey I'd buy him a kick ball. "Yeah, Dad. I'll get a Paris ball, right? So the kids will ask me to play, right Dad?"The next day we found the perfect Paris ball, emblazoned with pictures of the French comic-strip character, TinTin and his dog wonder, Malou. Truth be told, the purchase was part of a gambit. We had planned that day to embark on some tricky business with a three year old: visiting the Louvre.The Berlitz travel guide suggests spending four days at the Louvre. With a three-year-old kid, try 20 minutes -- unless you have a daring plan. We were going to buy postcards at the Louvre gift shop. Once inside, Mikey's assignment would be to match the postcards with the paintings inside -- sort of like a haute treasure hunt.No way, the kid said. Trying to coax culture into Mikey had a price. The only way that Mikey would see the world's most famous art museum was with a bag of M&M's. All right, I said, but don't open it.But as we meandered through the Denon wing, looking at Etruscan pottery, sudden terror struck: Mikey dropped the opened M&M bag, and as the tiny colored pellets clicked and skidded like marbles on the 400-year-old stone floor, a phalanx of security guards charged us. I expected them to pull out .9-mm Beretta pistols, line us up between the Roman urns and Greek vases, blind-fold and shoot us.Whom were we trying to fool? Paris and kids go together like Bordeaux and Cheese Whiz. Enough of the adult stuff. L'affaire M&M told us that we desperately needed to find kid stuff.The next day, we headed to Paris' primo playground, Jardin du Luxenbourg. It must be one of the only places in the world where admission is more expensive for kids than for adults: six francs per adult ($1.20) and 12 francs per kid ($2.40). Parents congregate in metal chairs outside the playground's fence, and read the paper or talk over cafe au lait while their kids tear through the playground. The play area is covered with a spongy black cushion that makes the football field-size playground almost injury-proof. Two attractions stand out: a rope sculpture in the shape of a ship's mast that kids love to climb; and a monkey-bar slide that rewards daredevils with a fast-paced 50-foot ride.There are other kid magnets in Luxenbourg gardens, including model boats, go-karts, a merry-go-round, and guinol, the French equivalent of Punch and Judy. But beware of the 45-minute puppet shows: the cost per person is 21 francs ($4.20). Then the ushers stick out their palms and demand a tip. The bigger the tip, the better the seat.In our continuing quest to keep Mikey moving in the record-breaking Paris heat, we took the RER train to the Piscine de Plein Air du Parc du Sceaux, a complex of five modern pools, located in a 1,000-acre regional forest. It was packed by mid-morning. We peeled off our clothes, and the three of jumped into the blue water.Our pleasure was short-lived. A bronzed and beefy lifeguard rushed in my direction, blowing a silver whistle at an ear-drum-piercing level. He pointed at me accusingly, and said something that roughly translated to: "You, low-life, good-for-nothing derelict. Get out of the pool immediately!"Everyone stopped: the mothers who were breast feeding their infants, the topless girls playing Frisbee, the guys with the pumped pecs bouncing on the high board. Total silence. As I pulled myself out of the water and into the glare of notoriety, the guard pointed to my hip Gap-issue bathing jams, and sneered. Positively, no way were bathing trucks allowed; the only swim gear permitted for males were racing, Speedo-type, suits, said the swim Gestapo.Fortunately, we were able to roll up Mikey's trunks, and slip him undetected into the kiddie pool.But I was banished.After the first week, we had a daily routine. Everyday, we planned a single excursion, and each morning Mikey awakened us, asking, "Guys, what's our plan today?" That was my cue to trudge down the four flights to the neighborhood patisserie six blocks away to buy fresh croissants and brioches. Iris and I squeezed chairs onto our postage-stamp-sized balcony, sipped coffee and nibbled on our rolls while poring over our Michelin Blue map of Paris. Meanwhile, Mikey was a coach potato, imbibing French culture while slurping Yoplait and watching a TV show called Mini Keums, which featured dubbed versions of Casper the Friendly Ghost, and Denver the Dino-Dinosaur.A highlight for Mikey was our trip to the Eiffel Tower (miserable lines; if possible, try to go in the early morning or evening hours), To commemorate, we bought Mikey a bronze miniature, which he proudly placed next to his bed.Each day posed different culinary challenges. We did make several pilgrimages to McDonalds. Each visit proved to be disappointing for reasons other than the food. The lines were long; the restaurants were always packed; and since there was no air conditioning, the places were hotter than the French fries.We braved several "adult" restaurants with Mikey during our month's stay. Once we went to a Chinese restaurant near the Luxenbourg gardens and lived through haughty stares from both the waiter and the sole other diners, an elderly couple eating moo shoo pork. After the debacle inside the Louvre, we had a lovely afternoon of wine and cheese at Le Cafe Marly, a civilized brasserie that looks out onto the Pyramid and classic courtyard of the Louvre. Mikey napped nearby in his stroller.We sat for almost an hour at an outdoor table at Chez Jo Goldenberg, the well-known delicatessen in the Marais, before a waiter paid attention to us. We should have picked up the cue; the potato pancake and borsch were inedible, the potted chicken tasted as though it had been cooked in mud.When we poked our heads into a pizzeria near the Bourse (the stock market), the waiter hauled the stroller upstairs, next to the toilets, and we had the floor to ourselves. Actually, it was sort of nice.We had a large and proper lunch one day at Flo, La Coupole's spin-off on Boulevard Haussmann on the top floor of Le Printemps, Paris' largest department store. The restaurant, located under a stained-glass dome, is a good place to entertain your child as Parisian matrons pamper their pet poodles.Usually, though, instead of braving restaurants with Mikey, we packed a lunch and headed to playgrounds everyday. There are the landmark parks, but most are crowded and many are overrated: Le Jardin des Enfants aux Halles (new and innovative), the Tulleries (crass and commercial), Champs de Mars (avoid at all costs), Jardim d'Acclimation (a rip-off with costly rides like bumper cars and river boats, which are old and in disrepair), Bois de Boulogne (enormous but with little to attract a child under six). The most fun of the trip was discovering Paris' many pocket parks, some well-known, but most obscure.Words of advice: You might want to buy or pack an inflatable ball, a ballon in French, along with a toy shovel, bucket, and rake. The sandboxes are full of urban gardeners. Also, don't expect the playgrounds to be like their counterparts in the U.S. The French, especially Parisians, take a rather stern view of childhood. Parisian children are expected to grow into civilized little adults as soon as possible, and as such, can be rather prim and proper. Where could you go in America and see a little girl at a playground dressed in a neatly pressed white dress -- and never get a speck of dirt on it? When Mikey stretched out his arms and pretended to be a jet plane, other children stared at him like he was E.T.These neighborhood parks are tucked away between buildings, in squares, next to churches:* The Rodin Museum is set in a lush sculpture garden, which Mikey loved. It is an especially pleasant choice since there is an outdoor cafe adjacent to sculpted green hedges and a grassy courtyard, just a stone's throw away from The Thinker. Parents with children are admitted free to the grounds.* Place des Vosges is the oldest and certainly one of the most beautiful, squares in Paris. Thirty-six matching pavilions of red brick and stone facades surround this grassy area in the Marais, where a small but popular playground is located. The usual fare is here -- sandbox, swings, slides. What makes it such an ideal choice is how civilized the park is, located smack in the middle of some of the most perfect city planning on the planet. Chic women in Christian Lacoix sit beside Gitanes-smoking French philosophers reading Sartre.* The church at St.-Germain-des-Pres provides a respite from all the beautiful people making the scene at Cafe de Flore, Aux Deux Magots, and Brasserie Lipp across the street. Except for a bronze Picasso sculpture, the playground itself is nothing to write home about. It's shaded, with two swing sets, and your usual quotient of French pigeons. (We named an especially friendly pigeon, Walter.) As we left, walking onto Boulevard St. Germain, whom should we see stoking up a long stogie, but Jack Nicholson.* Near the Hotel des Invalides, there is a lovely plaza adjacent to the church of St. Francois Xavier. Mikey made friends with a French kid named Julien whose father is a chef. The two played hide-and-seek while Julien's mother, a New Jersey native, told us stories about her C-section.* Another neighborhood park is in the courtyard of the church St. Sulpice in the Latin Quarter. A boulangerie across the street makes this popular, well-situated playground a great lunch stop.* Square Boucicaut is wonderful playground across the street from the oldest, and arguably the best, Parisian department store, Au Bon Marche. First, go to Bon Marche's ground-floor epicerie, 2,800 square meters of food-to-go. Buy a box lunch and then sit on one of the benches while noshing as your child can take his pick of slides and swings. While riding on a see-saw, Mikey spotted a boy dressed in cowboy hat, chaps, boots, taking aim at him with a six-shooter. "Watch it, podner," the kid said. Mikey could hardly believe his ears. The cowboy was a New Yorker named Shepherd.* Jardim de Babylon, near the Sevres Babylon Metro, in a secluded courtyard that used to be a monastery. It is shaded, far away from traffic, and a wonderful place to struggle through the day's Le Monde.* Place du Pres de Xavier on the chic shopping strip Rue de Bac, near Rue de Commalle, is another postage-size park -- a perfect place to eat lunch.In between trips to playgrounds, we did visit other museums besides the Louvre. Mikey was not impressed by the impressive Musee d'Orsay, located in a huge, converted train station. However, he was wowed by the Monet water lilies in the downstairs circular room of the very manageable L'Orangerie, near the Place de la Concorde.At the Picasso Museum in the Marais, Mikey looked at a Picasso canvas and asked why the woman had two noses and three arms.The Pompidou Center was a treat for Mikey, not so much for what was inside, but the elevator ride outside. The newly opened Museum of Natural History in the Jardin des Plantes, near the Gare d'Austerlitz, is an enormous atrium that delights kids with computer games at each exhibit, as well as hundreds of taxidermic animals out in the open (not behind glass).A trip to le Cite des Science et de I'Industrie is as close to nirvana as any kid will get, certainly in Paris. Inside this huge complex is La Cite des Enfants, an ultra modernistic, hands-on kids discovery museum, divided into two sections: for kids three to five; and another, for kids five to 12. For crowd control, the museum allots 90-minute sessions throughout the day, where a set number of kids are allowed in at one time. Everything from how dams operate to how buildings are erected is there. While hauling fake bricks up a fake freight elevator, Mikey met a homesick California kid named Sam, who talked non-stop to Mikey for hours. The rest of the Cite has attractions for all: a three-dimensional movie, a planetarium, Argonaute (a beached submarine), monster slides, and a SuperMax cinema.A quick pick-me-up is a river ride on the Batobus. Granted, it's not your romantic boat ride down the Seine, but the trip from the Hotel de Ville to the Trocadero is enough to make most kids' jaws drop. (Beware, though, the short ride isn't cheap - $12 per person.)Realize, of course, that traveling with a three-year-old in Paris doesn't have too much to do with Paris. When we went to Versailles, we hopped onto a double-decker train, which Mikey thought was the most wonderful mode of transportation in the world. At Versailles, the dances of the fountain, the ornate gardens, the French provincial-to-the-max furnishings were a snooze for him. The only thing that kept him going was the prospect of our double-decker return trip.A vacation to Paris can appeal to young children. It requires planning and patience. If all fails, there's always a sure-fire way to please your homesick kid: Euro Disney, just 20 miles away. Once there, you may not feel you're still in France, but your kid will think he's got the coolest parents in the world.Traveling to Paris with a stroller will not recreate your honeymoon. Our trip wasn't an instant success. But like French wine, the trip has aged remarkably well. Mikey still talks about the playgrounds, the Eiffel Tower, and all his Parisian pals. His parents, meanwhile, talk about how crazy they must have been to take little Mikey to Paris.

Newspaper Lingo: Get Me Rewrite, Sweetheart!

Every profession has its own lingo -- meant as much to inform insiders as to exclude outsiders. But to green journalists (translation: those under 45) knowledge of such newspaper argot is woefully limited. Mention to a young reporter that your piece, skedded for the PI, was just killed, even though the hed, kicker, deck and jump have already been dummied for the bulldog, and he'll think you're talking about a private investigator and a drooling canine. Tell a newcomer you need a shooter for a cereal spitter, then you've got to leg a yarn for a walk-up, and who knows what she'll think.Newspaper talk today is all about unpleasant acronyms, like MBO (management by objective), TMP (total market penetration), or FTE (full-time equivalent employees).To recall journalism's rich sense of language is to mine a lode of newspaper lore. It's to celebrate the legacy of Liebling, Mencken, Hecht and MacArthur. Beware, though, this argot is perilously close to extinction.Herewith is your guide to talking like an old newspaper pro."30" signifies the end of a story (also the name of a forgettable 1959 newspaper movie, staring Jack Webb). When finishing a story, reporters always used to type "30," which would appear centered under their copy. A recent flurry of messages on the Internet came up with dozens of explanations of 30's origins. The closest plausible one has to do with Civil War telegraphers transmitting stories from reporters in the battlefield. At the end of each transmission, the telegraphers typed XXX, translated from Roman numerals, to 30.Other 30-explanations that have moved onto newspaper lore:* In the early days of The Newspaper Guild, reporters ended their stories with "30," to demand a living wage of $30 per week. Once met, the usage continued.* Telegraphers transmitted a continuing series of "30"s over the wire when they took a 30-minute lunch break.* A two-fingered reporter working alone in the newsroom one night at (fill in your favorite newspaper), while pounding away on his Royal, suddenly pitched forward, the victim of a heart attack. Colleagues noticed the dead man's left forefinger striking the 3, his right the 0. (Obituaries in newspaper trade journals often use the hed, "30.")* A bored reporter with plenty of time to kill wanted to see how far he could stretch his index and middle fingers on his right hand by typing "30." His city editor was suitably impressed. "30" became newspaper policy.* A variation of the "30" story is the usage of instead of "30" at the end of broadcast copy so rip-and-readers wouldn't try to pronounce .Here's an abbreviated list of other fast-fading newspaper lingo, with compelling, though not necessarily reliable, explanations of where each came from:* Lobster shift -- Overnight shift. Origin: Early mornings are the traditional time for lobster harvesting. Alternative origin: The lighting during the overnight shift was so bad and there was so much copy, editors' eyes turned blood-shot red, the color of fresh lobsters. Still another alternative origin, which may be questionable: The newspaper offices of William Randolph Hearst's (Citizen Kane) New York World used to located near Manhattan's lobster boat piers; both crews (the lobster men and the newsmen) arrived at work at the same time.* Bulldog -- Early Sunday edition. Origin: The paper was put to bed so early that typesetters could go home in the noon-day sun when "only mad dogs and English men go out." Alternative (less poetic) origin: First press run of the big Sunday paper came rolling off the presses, "fighting like a bulldog."* Stringer -- Part-time newspaper correspondent. Origin: Wanna-be reporters were paid by length of stories, measured by a string the editor kept in his desk drawer.* Spike -- To kill a story. Origin: The pointed metal object, on which Sharon Stone would subsequently catapult to fame, used to skewer rejected stories. At the end of the shift, the spike would be cleaned off shish-kabob style and filed in the trash can. Nowadays, spikes are outlawed in most newrooms. Blame it on OSHA.* PI, Lede, Hed, Graf, Folo, TK -- Front page (short for Page 1, get it?); top of story; headline; paragraph; follow-up story; [Copy] To Kum, or To Come. Origin: Short-hand instructions to typesetters, intentionally misspelled so the words weren't accidentally put into type. Alternate origin of lede: Some old-timers swear that "lede" simply was to distinguish it from lead, the stuff used to make type.* Wood -- Extra-large hed, usually in a tabloid. Origin: When the hed was so large and there were no stock, lead-alloy type, typesetters used hand-cut wood letters. The term resurfaced in the 1994 movie, The Paper, when city Editor Michael Keaton asks, "What's the wood?" Synonyms: Screamer, Slammer, Railroad hed, Hammer hed.* Cereal Spitter -- Gory photograph of death and/or mayhem. Origin: You have to ask? Modern-day spin-off: Reader-friendly shooters and editors at most newspapers today use what they call the "Wheaties" test to make sure photos are in good taste. Synonym: Spaghetti Shot.* Leggin a Yarn, Leg man -- When reporters didn't use E-mail, Voice-Mail, or Rolodexes, but pounded the pavement in search of the truth. Don't get the term confused with the number of columns on a news page, or the "legs" of a story. Leg men often were columnists' assistants who specialized in getting items (yarns) for columnists like Walter Winchell, Earl Wilson, Herb Caen. Most of them also appreciated ladies' gams, but that's a different story.* Thumb Sucker -- Long take-out that jumps from page to page; the kind of story USA Today says readers hate.* Slug -- Single word to identify a story, as in "Slug it SHOOT." Origin: The metal slug that fit into a slot on top of a galley of type.* Rim Rats -- Copy Editors. Origin: Sitting at the horseshoe-shaped copy desk, or rim, hour after hour, reading reams of copy, editors would mysteriously transform into rats. But why rats? Ask any reporter.-30-Stephen G. Bloom, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Dallas Morning News and Sacramento Bee, is a professor of journalism at the University of Iowa.

We All Sat Around Like Schlemiels

The bride was radiant, the groom suitably handsome. The ceremony at a local synagogue went off without a hitch. A rabbi wedded the two -- a graphic artist and a medical student -- citing all appropriate legend, law and lore. In a concession to modernity, both groom and bride stepped on the ceremonial glass. The assembled guests broke into applause with a round of mazol tovs thrown in for good measure.The bride was Jewish, the groom a fallen-away Christian who had gone to conversion classes and had enthusiastically become a reform Jew.The conversion apparently hadn't created problems for either family. At a rehearsal dinner, both families seem to get along famously. The bride and groom table-hopped -- all the time, mingling, smiling, laughing, hand-shaking, kissing, embracing relatives who wished them well. The message was clear: Here was a blended marriage that would work.At the wedding the next day, the bride's mother choked up with emotion. When the groom's father walked with his son down the aisle, he was beaming. Those up close, noticed a teardrop making its way from eye to cheek. As is customary, the wedding was a wonderful, joyous event.Until the groom's uncle gave the young couple a toast at the reception.And then all hell broke loose.I knew it was going to be a bumpy ride when the uncle, a jet-setter from Hong Kong and Monaco, opened by saying he wondered how long it would take his nephew to get over "this Jewish thing."Then the uncle proceeded to give a 20-minute-long anti-Semitic diatribe. He proudly showed off a gag gift to the groom -- a four-corner hat, and then had a sidekick toss balls to be caught in the hat, which the uncle announced was a variation of a yarmulke. "This is where all your balls will go," the uncle chortled.Then he talked about the groom's trip to a "Mexican butcher" for a botched circumcision, and how the bride could carry around in her purse the remnants of the accident.Then he talked about big noses, cheapness, henpecked husbands, bossy wives. I half hoped that the guy would start to slur his words and stumble, but this guy was not drunk. He was trying to be funny.Few in the audience of 200 could believe their ears. The bride's father -- a decent, hard working attorney who probably spent $25,000 for the whole affair -- was stunned, as were people on both sides of the room and families. It almost seemed that the redolent flowers at each table, the irises, roses, tiger lilies, all wilted on cue.I had flown in from rural Iowa, where a Jew is as rare as an egg cream, to the cosmopolitan East Coast, the axis of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, New York, Boston, the home of more than half of America's six million Jews. Almost everyone at the wedding was college-educated, affluent, well attired -- hardly the kind of people to take kindly to this message that the groom's uncle was spewing. A couple of people muttered, "Get the hook." A half dozen others left the room, shaking their heads. When the uncle finished, there was little applause, lots of groans, but mostly stone silence. This was Laura Z. Hobson's Gentleman's Agreement -- updated.What could anyone do?We were invited guests. It wasn't our role to shout down the anti-Semite. No one pulled the guy off center stage. If this had been the Oscars, they would have cut the speaker's microphone, the band would have gone into a rousing number, and then they'd segue to a commercial. But that's Hollywood. In this peculiar version of reality, a bully took the pulpit and waxed lunatic.Here was a perfect case of a group of erudite, cultured people who for a variety of reasons -- tact, discomfort, social pressure -- did nothing. We all sat around like schlemiels and did nothing. Why? For fear of offending someone? I doubt that was it.There are explanations, of course. Who knew the anti-Semite would talk so long. How would he have reacted if someone had stood up to him? He might have laughed it off, and stepped up his ugly harangue. Worse, he might have thrown a punch. The wedding could have turned into a brawl.I have no idea why the lout did what he did. If anyone in his family knew, no one was willing to share it with us. I'll leave the psychoanalysis of the anti-Semite to the therapists out there. One thing is clear, though. Here was a man who did not want his nephew to marry a Jew, and was not bashful about letting everyone knew where he stood.Like Don Imus at the Radio-TV Correspondents Dinner, there were some good-natured boos, but no hook. Something worse had happened. In this setting of decent people, a collective guilt descended on the crowd as soon as the uncle finished. A sense of shame, disgust and anger settled like a dark cloud. The band played one more tune, but there was really no need. The rain had come pelting down.Three hours after the wedding ended, the groom's father knocked on the newlyweds' hotel door, and apologized for his brother's rampage. The next day, he apologized to the bride's mother and father. The damage, though, had been done, and no amount of explaining would ever make the picture right again.In retrospect, the whole incident reminded me of the old Jewish joke. Two Jews are standing in front of a firing squad. They are going to die. The countdown begins -- 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5. When the number hits 4, one of the men starts wailing a Hebrew prayer. The other man turns in horror and shouts, "Shut up, you fool! You want to get us in trouble?"Certainly, the events at the wedding was the subject of scores of Monday morning discussions around the water cooler. Months later, the ugly moment still sticks in the craws of many of the guests. Few are ever likely to forget the incident -- and if there's any good that came out of the event, that maybe is it.