Last week we received a coffee mug from some friends in California. Their image was embossed on the mug, along with their names. In the image the man was slightly behind his wife, with his hands on her shoulders. It was a lovely gesture.

However, I messed it up: as I was drinking my coffee, somewhat carelessly, drops of it fell on the hands of my friend. They were still on his wife’s shoulder, but I was afraid that the coffee juice was now going to get on her dress as well.

It was a dilemma. I wanted to drink the coffee but I didn’t want to get the man’s sticky hands messing up his the wife’s dress messed up with coffee stains. I was truly thankful for the mug and the picture of my friends. I was truly distraught at the thought of coffee drops dripping on my friends. I knew that they were much too pleasant to cover with coffee essence, so I have had to put them on the shelf—along with our 123 other mugs. On special occasions I will remove their mug, wrap a napkin around their picture and sip coffee while absorbing its runaway java on the napkin. They will remain clean and beautiful.

We have other mugs that I need to be careful about as well, especially this time of the year (Christmas). Take Santa there: impeccably dressed in his jolly red outfit and resplendent with his white beard—can you imagine coffee sopping on his beard? Of course not.

Another of our mugs shouts “Season’s [not Christmas, of course] Greetings” inside of a wreath with a red bow at the bottom. Envisage coffee stains over the word “Greetings” and you will be sufficiently woozy to forget about the season. Next to that mug is another one that says “B is for Bells brightly ringing; C is for Candy for every girl & boy; D is for Dove bringing peace & joy; E is for Evergreen covered in light; F is for Frost glistening at night” and then we run out of space on the mug for the rest of the alphabet. But it gives me an idea for a new coffee mug: “A is for Agony as coffee runs Absently; B is for Buttery as the cup slips Utterly; C is for Caffeine, for my lovely Queen”… and so forth. Hallmark might be happy for my efforts and make suitable accompanying cards for only $6.95 each.

But mugs aren’t just for Christmas. Every corporation and organization known to man (and some women) have mugs with their logo on them. I have one from Papua New Guine with the names of all the Provinces engraved and the message “em pinis” (all done) on the inside bottom of the mug, just in case you didn’t know you were done. You can buy a logo mug for as low as 62¢ on the Internet. They are guaranteed to not crack on weekends if the temperature goes below 45 degrees.

I have another mug that says “Occam’s Razor”: Frustra fit per plura quod potest fieri pet pauciora,” which, if you don’t know Latin, could mean something like “Try Occam instead of Gillette and get a really close shave.”

Occam or Ockham refers to a village in the English county of Surrey where the bishop was born. He is said to have invented a “principle” in the 14th century— he was actually Franciscan friar William of Ockham. I like to give that mug to any academic visitors we have and see how deep their knowledge of Latin goes. If they say “That is not what Occam said; it was ‘Pluralitas non es ponenda sine necessitate.’” I can then be sure that our guest really knows Latin and can translate it accurately as, “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances,” instead of, “when you have two competing theories that make exactly the same predictions, the simpler one is better.” Of course either translation would do for those not familiar with the Italic language spoke in ancient Rome in the 2nd or 1st century.

The Bishop’s idea was to use a razor to shave away awkward conceptions. A lot of men now use electric razors, so I suppose they would shear off any unfortunate ideas surrounding two thoughts of a similar but competing nature.

But I digress: back to my mugs. I have another that says “Some days, the best thing about my job is that the chair spins” and has an picture of an office chair below the philosophical tidbit. The mug is by “Hallmark” and made in Thailand. It is dishwasher and microwave safe—something every mug should be.

We lived in Papua New Guinea for many years so when someone gave us a mug of “Papua New Guinea Wildlife” we were delighted—that is until we found kangaroos and koala bears pictured on the mug that belong in Australia.

My wife likes birds, so she has been given a number of bird-mugs. One has a blue bird feeding three of its babies in its nest. I am worried about that one. What if some scalding coffee found its way into their mouths? We could be sued by the Society for the Protection of Little Birds on Coffee Mugs. Worse still, the coffee might be too hot and crack the mug right where the mother bird is sitting. The American Union for the Safety of Mother Birds would come after us. Those bird mugs will have to be put on the top shelf in a cage.

I could go on but I don’t want to degrade mugs. Without them we would have to use a cup and saucer. How could you get a message like Bishop Occam’s on a teacup? It would spill over on the saucer and that would be awkward. I have never heard of messages on teacups—they only show up on mugs.