Main Ideas

Do you remember standardized tests, especially in grade school and middle school, where they’d have you read a passage of text and you’d have to identify the “main idea” of the writing? Most of the choices were things that were in the passage, but only one of them was plausibly the main idea, whereas the rest were trivial details.

My takeaway from this WaPo* article? Phthalates is a really funny word, but virtually impossible to pronounce. You can make the “Ffff” sound, and the “Thhhh” sound, but there needs to be a vowel in between. The two sounds can’t be put together. It’d be like starting a word with “qb”—a bunch of valid letters strung together to form something nonsensical. (Realistically, I imagine it’s pronounced “Fih-thal-ates,” but note that the pronunciation adds in a vowel sound that’s not actually there.) If you attempt to pronounce the word, be careful that you don’t spit on anyone.

So what is the main idea of the article?

(a) Congress is considering banning phthalates, a toxic chemical in children’s toys.
(b) The move is seen as evidence of a shifting tide, swinging to the side of consumers and away from manufacturers.
(c) Phthalates is a really funny word.
(d) President Bush has said he opposes the bill banning poisonous children’s toys.

Hint: remember the old “When in doubt, guess C” adage about multiple-choice questions? They say that for a very good reason.

* I spent 5 whole days in Washington. I’m allowed to use the “WaPo” abbreviation, because I’m an insider now.

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