By Hannah Berman

These days, everyone uses abbreviations. They are all the rage. People don’t have time for full words. Jennifer Lopez is referred to as J-Lo and, years ago, when she was in an intense but brief relationship with Ben Affleck, the two were known as “Bennifer.” In the early days of the romance between Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, the term “Tomcat” was used. POTUS is the abbreviation for president of the United States, SCOTUS refers to the Supreme Court of the United States, and the first lady is known as FLOTUS. That one is a particular pity since Melania is such a lovely name. But all of this continues.

When I was a kid growing up in the great state of Rhode Island, the abbreviation “URI” always referred to the University of Rhode Island. For me, it remained just that until I entered nursing school and learned otherwise. Along with my classmates at the school, I was taught that a URI referred to an upper respiratory infection. Apparently, that was preferable to using the word “cold.” It was also more accurate, so URI it was! In time I got used to it.

But I have recently learned that there are situations when there is not only no such thing as a URI, but there is also no such animal as the common cold. Apparently, the condition no longer exists. This is true during intense mah-jongg games. Some people “play mah-jongg,” but others are “mah-jongg players.” I am a card-carrying member of the latter group. And to those not in the know, that would be a mah-jongg card!

We are females who, unless we feel like we’re about to pass out, or, heaven forbid, slip into a coma, will do and say anything in order to be at our regular game. This is true despite the fact that there isn’t one of us who wants to sit at a table with and handle the same tiles as a person with a cold! But this pertains only to the other players, never to ourselves. Apparently, one must do what one must do, and, for this reason, nobody ever admits to having a cold. Make that never ever!

If another player at the table has the temerity to question the individual so obviously suffering and exhibiting cold symptoms, she can expect any of the following responses by way of an explanation: I don’t have a cold; my allergies are acting up; this cough is from my asthma that’s been giving me some trouble; I sound this “stuffy” because I have an awful sinus problem; my eyes are watery because I have a condition known as dry eye. Yada, yada, yada!

The list of bogus explanations is a long one. And they are bogus. But it ends with the question, as not a single player ever challenges the cold-sufferer’s explanation. In addition, never does another player stand up and say that she doesn’t want to get sick so she’s leaving the game. Serious mah-jongg players don’t quit mid-game—in spite of knowing the truth. This doesn’t mean that, after the evening ends, we don’t kvetch privately to one another in the following fashion: Who is she kidding? For sure she’s sick; this is not allergy season; she doesn’t really have asthma…

But the games go on. No player wants to miss out on her weekly game (or games). It is odd, but that’s the way it is.

Hannah Berman lives in Woodmere and gives private small-group lessons in mah-jongg and canasta. She can be reached at or 516-295-4435. Read more of Hannah Berman’s articles.


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