Ask the Witch-Answer Guy: II – the Perjury Trap

Questions, so many questions for the Witch-Answer Guy!

And so, the Witch Hunt Chronicles continue. Oddly, the civil servants querying us lately seem to be pretty insistent on remaining anonymous. Not sure why they’re so persnickety, but we honor all such requests. That’s just how we roll when we’re wearin’ the hat.


Most recently:

“My lawyers have advised me, a successful businessman, very successful, so successful, trust me, with nothing to hide, that I should be careful to avoid a ‘perjury trap.'”

Q: So, how can I avoid a perjury trap?

A: Avoid lying.

A perjury trap is when prosecutors subpoena a person to the grand jury not for truly investigative reasons, but simply to try to get the person to commit perjury.”
or, expressed more benignly…
“An anxiety that prosecutors will turn good-faith mistakes in testimony, or honest failures to remember, into perjury charges.
and if you want to get all legal-wonky about it:
Perjury trap doctrine refers to a principle that a perjury indictment against a person must be dismissed if the prosecution secures it by calling that person as a grand-jury witness in an effort to obtain evidence for a perjury charge especially when the person’s testimony does not relate to issues material to the ongoing grand-jury investigation. The perjury trap is a form of entrapment defense, and so must be affirmatively proven by the defendant.”



Trump “Tells” All

(updated 17 Apr. 2018)

A “tell” in poker lingo is a revealing, unconscious characteristic, predicting what a player might do based on a brief sample of observation.

After careful analytic study into the nature of micro expressions and body communication, worthy of academic giants Ray Birdwhistell and Paul Ekman, we have positively identified 11, er, 12 verbal red flags, or “tells” to know when Donald Trump is lying.

  1. “Believe me…” (a red flag when anyone uses this phrase unless they’re trying to persuade you not to jump into a wild animal’s cage)
  2. “Trust me…”
  3. “Sad!”
  4. “!”
  5. “winning”
  6. “I heard…” (which seems to be 45’s main source of information, after Fox & Friends). DJT used this for the 9/11 Arab tailgate partying he thought he saw, the inauguration crowd, the margin of victory in electoral college votes, among others.
  7. David Dennison*
  8. Anything involving counting things
  9. “That, I can tell you…” (as in “You don’t learn that much from tax returns.” 26 Sept. 2016)
  10. “Just found out…” (e.g., that Obama had Trump’s “wires tapped.”
  11. “If you want to know the truth.” (a lame phrase under any circumstances, in this case, refers to Trump believing what Putin says about not interfering U.S. election results: “I think he is very insulted by it.” 11 Nov. 2017)
  12. “People don’t know this…” I just heard this one in an interview with linguistics professor John McWhorter, who points out that it really means “I just learned this thing myself.” In other words, if Trump just learned something, he believes that people in general never knew it.** Eg., “Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.” (27 Feb. 2017)

* Pseudonym for Trump in a 2016 non-disclosure agreement with Stormy Daniels
** MSNBC, 11th Hour: Brian Williams interview with John McWhorter, Columbia University linguistics professor and host of  Slate‘s Lexicon Valley podcast. You can listen to the full 7½-minute discussion here. I don’t entirely agree with some of McWhorter’s theories about Sapir-Whorf but this interview is a fascinating look at Trump’s “oddly adolescent” language style.
In poker, possible tells include leaning forward or back, placing chips with more or less force, fidgeting, doing chip tricks, displaying nervous tics or making any changes in one’s breathing, tone of voice, facial expressions, direction of gaze or in one’s actions with the cards, chips, cigarettes or drinks.
See also Herzenstein, Matthew. The Tell. Basic Books, 2013.

Ask the Witch-Answer Guy

 A civil servant who wishes to remain anonymous has submitted the following question:


Q: How can I avoid a witch hunt?

A: Don’t have witches around.



Though a witchety bush might be OK

…or a rare Canadian blue witch

Witchety bush photo taken at Boyce Thompson Arboretum near the historic copper mining town of Superior, Ariz., 55 miles east of Phoenix.
Blue witch photo taken in Hamilton, Ontario.

Safeway vs Customers

My neighborhood Safeway recently did some remodeling.

Unfortunately, they apparently didn’t bother doing any customer consultations and, assuming they used a professional design firm for their new layout, the designers apparently didn’t do any customer focus groups either.

So what they did was re-do the entire store product layout which not only meant several weeks of construction nuisance for shoppers, but more importantly: none of us could find anything.

Yes, I’m sure we mostly eventually found our usual items but I’m guessing my own shopping expedition time increased by 25 percent…and that’s not for buying more things; that’s time wasted wandering up and down aisles to see where they’ve now got my frozen pretzels, hash browns—even orange juice (which took me literally 5 minutes to find and only because I interrupted a stockperson who was yakking on the phone.)

Frankly, I spent several weeks avoiding the Safeway in favor of my other venues: Trader Joe’s, Fry’s and the neighborhood WalMart food store (save your snarky comments for someone who cares).

Because: not only could I not find things, the Safeway design geniuses decided to hang aisle signs that can only be read from a very narrow angle. Thus, if you’re coming out of the coffee products aisle and turning your cart into the next aisle, it’s really really difficult to read the list on the board.

Other grocery venues have solved this by either having a triangular sign, readable from either side as you approach the aisle, or by having a straightforward outward-facing sign.

Now, I think I know what happened. They wanted to add some aisles (two, I’m told) and this caused them to have to narrow-down existing aisles. Maybe they figured the new narrow aisles required a narrower signage configuration. But they never field-tested this with customers.

The remodeling also involved massive relocation of nearly all the products. Bread, for example, moved completely across the store and OJ was moved from a back wall to an interior aisle. And god-only-knows where my hash browns are.

But Monopoly game adherents will be glad to know they can still waste their time endlessly pasting in those pointless tiles.

“Trump-ese”: New Terminology of the Trump Era

Attention: word hounds, logophiles and grammaristas. If you want to keep up with the cool kids, you  need to be totes aware of some of the most current, hip terms that are being used by pundits.

These include: “to Huckabize,” “Mooch out,” “‘Stormy’ weather,” “MAGAfy” and our old favorite, “covfefe” (that we didn’t make up).

  • “Huckabize” (v): To lamely attempt to explain someone’s outrageously untruthful or misleading remark, usually accomplished with a totally dour, self-satisfied expression.

Example 1: Trump on the Parkland, Fla. shooting: “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon” (Feb 26, 2018).

Huckabized: “Trump’s remarks signaled a desire to ‘play a role’ in protecting students at the school…“He was just stating that as a leader he would have stepped in and hopefully been able to help,” Sanders said.

Example 2: Artfully dodging Trump’s inappropriate characterization of Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” in a Nov. 27, 2017 speech:*

Huckabized: “I think what most people find offensive is Senator Warren lying about her heritage to advance her career,” Sanders said.

Example 3:  Trump targeted Democratic lawmakers who didn’t applaud during his State of the Union speech, calling their reaction “un-American.” “Can we call that treason? Why not?”

Huckabized: Trump was being “tongue-in-cheek,” Huckabee Sanders told reporters, “clearly joking.”

  • “Mooch out” (v): a parting expression used when one needs to leave a party or event early, like saying “peace out.” (named after Anthony Scaramucci, smooth-talking former hedge fund executive who lasted 10 days as White House Communications Director in July 2017).

Usage:Sorry but I have to mooch out in order to meet my mistress…er…wife…at the airport.” Or “He was here earlier but mooched out about 11pm.”

  • “Stormy” weather (n): catch phrase used to warn about a dire consequence of taking some action, such as a lawsuit or media storm of bad publicity. The term ‘Stormy’ is typically set in quotes in print to indicate the wry or droll use of the term; in spoken contexts, air quotes or dramatic eye-rolls are used. (Named after porn star “Stormy” Daniels in connection with the fallout of alleged relations with Donald Trump).

Usage: “Get ready for some ‘Stormy’ weather if you go ahead with that.” Or, “There’ll be ‘Stormy’ weather for sure if the Board proceeds with that half-baked plan.” Or “You can try that method but watch out for ‘Stormy’ weather if the stockholders get wind of what’s going on.”

  • MAGAfy (v): to over-promise something beyond any reasonable hope of accomplishment, especially in vague, un-documentable terms while suggesting that this is how to make America great again.

Example: referring to poverty, rusted out factories, “young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge,” and “crime and gangs and drugs,” Trump said in his Jan. 20, 2017 inaugural address: “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”

Usage: “Trump totally MAGAfied what he was going to do about crime…like he thought he could simply declare a moratorium on poverty, gangs and drugs and it would  somehow take effect immediately upon being sworn in.”

  • “covfefe” (n,v): a multi-purpose term, like ‘widget’ that can be used under any circumstance to mean anything.

Usage: Despite the constant negative press covfefe”, Donald Trump posted on Twitter at midnight (12:06 a.m.) May 31, 2017. But nobody really knows what it means. Some think he meant “coverage”; others think “coffee.” Still others point out if you type “covfefe” into Google Translate and specify that it’s Russian, it translates as “Soviet.” (Sometimes spelled cofveve.)

However, my theory is that he actually meant kayfabe — a professional wrestling world “code” term meaning: “the portrayal of staged events within the industry as real or true.” Thus, “a wrestler breaking kayfabe during a show would be likened to an actor breaking character on-camera.” Recall that in July 2017 Trump re-tweeted his July 2011 appearance on “Battle of the Billionaires” at WrestleMania 23. “Kayfabe covers both the fact that matches are scripted and that wrestlers portray characters for their shows. Unlike actors who only portray their characters when on set or on stage professional wrestlers often stay ‘in character’ outside the shows.”**





Some non-wrasslin’ world examples in current use:

Example 1, from a recipe instruction: “At this point, the cof’veve should be sprinkled lightly on top, either using fingers or a small ornate spoon…However, a little cof’veve goes a long way so do not be tempted to overdo this fascinating ingredient.” (see pic at right)

Example 2: That’s strictly covfeve; the rest of the team really doesn’t care.

Example 3: “Listen, don’t bring up all that covfeve stuff during the trial.”



* as well as during the 2016 campaign.
** thanks go out to The World in Words (“The Secretive Language of Professional Wrestling”) March 9, 2018. for alerting me to this peculiar term.
Note that “Huckabize” overrides the short-lived earlier expressions “to Kellyanne” which was just gaining traction when Kellyanne Conway short-circuited the media with “alternative facts.”

It is believed…CVS

I was browsing through my neighborhood CVS a few months ago waiting for a prescription and ran across this peculiar device. Interestingly, the display was situated directly across from the pharmacy windows.

Several aspects of this quackery can be unpacked.

1. The packaging clearly indicates something about “magnetic” and “magnets” but it’s only in the smaller print that you actually learn what’s in the package. Maybe that’s obvious, but rather than label the package “Magnetic,” why not just say “Magic Magnets” or “The Power of Magnets” or “Here Be Magnets”?

2. The ad copy in the center says “Magnets” but only refers to them; that is, it only implies that that’s what’s in the package.

3. You have to actually look pretty close to see the contents: “4 magnets”

Of course that’s just quibbling about packaging.

4. So now, the coup de grâce: the ad copy only says that “it is believed” that magnets have certain healthful (but very vague) medical/physiological benefits.

Talk about your wishy-washy, FDA-skirting mumbo jumbo!

I was back in the CVS a couple days ago and tried hunting down the product display, but, to CVS’s credit, it was nowhere to be found. I actually asked the pharmacy folks about it but they just rolled their eyes and said they were unfamiliar with the product.

Kudos to CVS, not only for removing this ridiculous device but also for…drum roll...removing this celebrity quack from the magazine stand. (At least, I couldn’t find his mag, which is usually prominently placed on the stand.)

Or maybe he’s just between issues. Or getting ready for his next summoning before a Senate subcommittee.




800 vs 1-800

I recently needed to file an insurance claim for my vehicle and went to dial the company’s toll-free number: 1-800-692-6326. However, thinking that the “1” prefix was not necessary I dialed 800-692-6326. (See the P.S. for the reason I’m leaving the number intact.)

Instead of connecting directly to American Family Insurance, I connected to some kind of survey promising me a chance to win a fabulous vacation package.  Of course I didn’t know that at the time.

Here’s how it went down.

The recording didn’t offer the usual options; instead, it asked if I’d be willing to take a simple 3-question survey. Well, OK, the claims department is probably busy so I can humor them for a minute until a claims agent is available.

Recording: “Are you over 50 years old? Press or touch ‘one’ to answer ‘yes.”

Me: (touching the ‘1’ on my keypad)

Recording: “Congratulations, you have won a chance to…<blah blah blah, something about fabulous vacation trip>

Me: (frantically pressing ###)

Recording: (hangs up)

Frankly, I don’t recall the details of the fabulous offer but I was particularly annoyed that: (a) my insurance company would answer with a survey, and (b) that they hung up on me.

I immediately called my local agent who informed me that their claims office in Wisconsin answers with a set of options and they don’t have such a survey. The agency owner also said they’ve never received a complaint like this. He offered to submit my claim himself on the spot.

Out of curiosity, I dialed the claims number again, this time using the “1” prefix. Bingo. I got a recording identify the company by name and offering a series of appropriate options.

Holy crap! I thought that it didn’t really matter whether you actually typed in the “1” and thought I’d save myself a teensy amount of trouble with the shortcut number.

Boy was I wrong. I tried doing some Google research on whether there’s a difference between 1-800 and just plain 800 but all I got were tutorials about the nature of different toll-free numbers. I then filed an FCC complaint, mostly just to see if the government could explain this apparent phone number hijacking scam.

So, dear readers…if you’re still dear with me: I would like to know if there’s an actual difference between the two kinds of numbers…and, if so, is that even legal? I’d love to hear you comments on this.

P.S. I just dialed the plain-jane 800 number so I could report the exact wording of their survey.

Recording: “You have reached a number that is not available from your calling area.”

I figure there’s no harm in posting it — in case anyone thinks they can score a fabulous vacation.