Seth Brown | The Pun Also Rises: The best of intentions

This past Sunday was Mother's Day, but of course it's silly to restrict your appreciation for your mother to just one day a year. I always try to appreciate my mother two days every year, because she likes me to say hello on her birthday too.

I realize of course that Mother's Day is a complicated topic for some people, since not everyone has a great relationship with their mother. Heck, not everyone has a great relationship with my mother. She has a tendency to sometimes say the wrong thing and cause people distress, a trait which I may have inherited.

Indeed, on one occasion some years ago, my girlfriend had just told me "I love you," and I wanted to reply with something sweet. Shockingly, romance is not my area of expertise. But I figured I could just copy what other people do. After analyzing the speech patterns of various romantically-entangled humans, I determined that calling your loved one by a nickname of food is a way to express love. People call their wives "muffin", their husbands "honey", their girlfriends "cupcake," their boyfriends "you noodlehead," etc.

This made some sense to me, because if there's one thing in the world that I have loved far longer than any woman, it is food. Most people love food! We spend our whole day looking forward to meals, talking about future meals, and reminiscing about past meals we've enjoyed. People love food, and so the best way to honor your loved ones is to compare them to food — as long as it's clear you don't plan to kill them and eat them.

But it struck me that simply calling my girlfriend "cupcake" would be cliche. I pride myself on being more creative than that, so I decided that I would give her a cute pet name based on the delicious pasta we had enjoyed earlier that evening. So I said to her, "I love you, puttanesca."

Some of you have already gleaned the problem. Others of you, like me, do not speak Italian. And so, like me, you may be surprised to learn that in addition to being the name of a delicious pasta dish, the word puttanesca also has a meaning in Italian, and that meaning is "whore." So in fact, what happened was that my girlfriend said, "I love you," and I replied, "I love you, whore."

I am still working on the romance thing.

Anyway, I don't think my mom has ever failed to that degree, but there have definitely been cases where she was a bit too honest and said things like "I don't understand why people waste their time and money on something as dumb as gambling" to some friends who, unbeknownst to her, had recently returned from a week in Vegas.

But she has good intentions. In fact, I've often said my mother should open a road paving company. She has good intentions and is friendly to a fault. When I was growing up, we sometimes had random dinner guests because my mom had met them that afternoon and decided to invite them to dinner. When my parents were in town to visit me just last weekend, she approached a gang of motorcyclists to get a picture with them, explaining "I ride my bicycle regularly with friends, so we both have bike groups."

If she caused any distress there, it was mainly to me; the bikers thought it was hilarious. So maybe you can get pretty far on friendliness and good intentions. It's certainly my intention that she enjoys this column. If not, I'll try to have something nicer to say when I talk to her again.

On her birthday.

Seth Brown is an award-winning humor writer, author of the forthcoming "The Little Book of Mahjong," and advises you not to call people foreign words unless you know what they mean. His website is


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