Can you wear a bow tie to work? Ask McArdle

Bow ties, bears and the dos and don’ts of mile-high tipping.

Illustration by Peter Arkle

Can I wear a bow tie to work without looking like a git?

As the beloved Mrs. McArdle often reminds me, I may think myself dapper in a deerstalker cap, but my self-assurance does not make me look any less ridiculous. Fashion trends are set by mob rule, and the masses have turned against my beloved hat. The bow tie faces a similar quandary. Yes, bow ties have appeared on Glee, that popular Gilbert and Sullivan knock-off, and they’ve recently been endorsed as “cool” by none other than Doctor Who. But if humanity took its clues from the good doctor, we’d sport interminable scarves and use phone booths for travel. Please understand—I prefer the bow tie’s practicality. Unlike the necktie, it never dangles in my soup, becomes caught in subway doors or encumbers my ability to pilot a riverboat. Further, correctly manipulating a bow tie into its proper shape connotes a degree of manual dexterity that women find enticing. But none of these facts matter. If you wear one, you risk being labelled as “that fellow who wears novelty ties,” a sort of office oddity akin to “that lady with the Chihuahua pictures” or “the gentleman with the Tardis on his desk.” Consider whether you’re as comfortable with that identity as I am. If so, wear the tie with quiet confidence and without a hint of self-awareness. Or wait for a workplace event where preening is accepted, such as a gala dinner, and let your freak neckwear fly.

How much should I tip a flight attendant?

Opinions vary, but the most correct answer is this: do not tip, regardless of how quickly your attendant refills the Scotch glass or empties the airsickness bag. First, it violates the policy of most airlines. As Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for Air Canada advises me, “Our flight attendants do not expect nor are they permitted to accept gratuities.” Further, after years of first aid and other emergency training, it’s an insult to treat an attendant as an airborne waitress. There is a small loophole to the “No Tips” rule, says Sara Keagle, a 20-year flight veteran and the proprietor of the Flying Pinto blog. “If the customer insists, it is OK to accept the tip rather than embarrass them,” she relays. But this caveat exists largely to forgive the effusive generosity of travelling grandmothers. If this describes you, the answer is: whatever change you can shake from your purse is fine.

Who invented the idea of bear and bull markets?

Myriad explanations exist for why we describe optimistic investors as “bulls” and market pessimists as “bears.” Most are entertaining—and false. To wit, the story of two English families with distinct investing styles, the short-selling Barings and the speculative Bulteels, is preposterous. As is the suggestion the terms derived from the beasts’ fighting styles. A bull’s horns thrust upwards like a surging market? A bear swipes downward? These are fantasies authored by men who have never tangoed with El Toro. (Victory was mine—but then he pulled the shiv.) Finer etymologists believe the terms derive from an 18th-century proverb: “To sell the bear’s skin before one has caught the bear.” An individual who sold pelts in this fashion, a so-called bearskin jobber, would benefit if the market bottomed before the hides were delivered. That explains “bear,” which first appeared in 1709. The bull, which arrived in 1714, has a murkier origin. The most reasonable explanation is the word suggested aggression and sounded mellifluous alongside “bear.” Thankfully, despite nearly 300 years of co-dependency, the two have never spawned. A bul-ear market would ruin us all.

McArdle is our resident expert in many things. He believes himself expert in all things