Anecdotal evidence

Anecdotes are charming, but unfortunately they don’t always pan out.

Take the Sarah Lawrence stitch-and-bitch group story, for example (it’s reproduced in the comments here). The story goes that somebody’s grandmother was in a “Stitch & Bitch club” at “Sarah Lawrence University” in 1938, and that this somebody has the 1940 yearbook that includes a pictures of 14 women captioned with “stitchery and bitchery – the ladies of the stitch and bitch club” at McConley Hall.

Some people (exactly who, we don’t know, but we could speculate about the interested parties) have tried to follow up this story by contacting Sarah Lawrence College, and discovered a dead end. Their library archivist has reported that not only could she not find a stitch and bitch club in the 1940 yearbook, but there’s no McConley Hall at SLC. (She has suggested that their might be some confusion about the school, but that Saint Lawrence University, a school with a slightly similar name, doesn’t have a McConley Hall either.)

Please don’t contact the SLC library, unless you’re extremely determined to verify this for yourself. I suspect that their archivist might be getting a little tired of all the inquiries. But you can try searching for “McConley Hall” yourself, and see what happens. I can’t find the source of this anecdote anymore; it was on the old SFSE board, and I don’t know who posted it. But if they see this, I bet a lot of people would love to see that yearbook.

But if you want to pin your hopes on another second-hand source of information, remember that Anne Macdonald wrote about social gatherings during the second World War in No Idle Hands: A Social History of American Knitting (New York: Ballantine, 1990):

In Akron, Ohio, twelve young women, who moved in with parents or in-laws when husbands went overseas, gave their elders a free night once a week (so to speak, since they parked their children there!) to attend “Stitch and Bitch Club” meetings. Loaded with sewing and knitting, stuffed on supposedly “light refreshments” provided by the evening’s hostess, voicing opinions on everything from parenting to politics and exchanging news from each war zone represented, they met until each member’s husband returned home — all but one. The sensitivity of the others to that member’s sorrow has bound them for life, but none could face continuing the club after the war.

That’s on page 302 of my softcover edition. Regrettably, Macdonald’s endnotes do not include a specific reference for this story; it might have come from one of her numerous secondary sources.

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53 Responses to Anecdotal evidence

  1. Yvonne says:

    Kristin, where are you seeing this? When I went to look, the status still says pending; they’re supposed to be in discovery until July.

  2. Norah says:

    If it’s in Anne Macdonald’s book, which was published in the early 90s, wouldn’t that prove it was in use before SFSE registered it, even if the club mentioned in the book can’t be verified? (I’m really, really unknowledgeable about laws, so I hope this isn’t too stupid a question…)

  3. Kristin says:

    I checked out the link to the cancellation proceedings in the previous entry and it looks like they’ve completely thrown out the cancellation request. I don’t know how much of a difference it makes to SFSE’s issue with Yahoo and CafePress, but it still sucks.

  4. Brenda says:

    For anyone whose YahooGroups list has been deleted, set up a new one (avoiding the words “stitch ‘n/and/etc. bitch” in the name and description and any images you post — “SnB-yourcity” is a good alternative) and send your new URL to me at the address above. I’ll post it quickly so your mailing list can get up and running again and your group members can find you.

  5. Amy says:

    Well, the Yahoo group deletions have begun. The Twin Cities group that I was a member of is no more [http://groups.yahoo.com/group/TCSnB/] and I read that the Harlem group is also gone. [http://kimberlinewyork.blogspot.com/2006/01/sew-fastsew-nasty-cant-we-all-just-get.html]

  6. miranda says:

    Libraries will have copies. I don’t know about you, but my library, recently ranked #1 in the US, has an online reserve system that makes it about as valuable to me as Amazon. The difference is that I have to go pick up the books, rather than having them delivered. And I believe they would deliver them if I were a shut-in.

    The problem with this whole “sending a trademark or copyright nastygram to Yahoo/CafePress/Ebay” thing is that, to my knowledge, the people who make the claims rarely have to back them up with much. Most large sites are litigation-shy, so writing to them with a claim, however spurious (as SFSE’s seems to be) is often enough to get them to yank the groups or items in question for TOS violation. I’m not sure how this works with regard to specific sites – one site’s policies may vary slightly from another’s – but generally, it seems to be what happens. You can have a great case as to why your site or item or whatever can be kept, but the site owners probably won’t give it very much weight against the nastygram, whether the nastygram has much truth in it or not.

  7. Zabet says:

    That could probably get someone into slander and/or libel if they couldn’t restrain themselves to commenting on the book… plus the need to you know, HAVE a copy of the book to review it…

  8. Jenn says:

    DoryO, I think you are right…imagine if we all got on Amazon and wrote scathing reviews of her new book. The ill will may cost her…

  9. j. says:

    Oh. But I think the you-know-who referred to by Bex is SFSE, as opposed to the other one.

  10. j. says:

    “TM” is a universal symbol denoting a trademark that’s either registered or unregistered. The R-in-a-circle (®) can only be used with registered trademarks. So I could label my patterns, for example, as the girl from auntie™ patterns, although I am still kicking myself with “did I really want to be known with that name?” (oh well). Using the TM signifies to others, “I claim exclusive rights in this name for commercial use.” Whether those rights are defensible is another question.

    There aren’t rights to rearrange your trademark and treat it as the same thing for the purposes of the registration. For example, if you registered a trademark that included words and a design, and then later you decided to change the design to something different, you’re not using (in the legal sense) your registered trademark anymore. But even so, you still might be able to use your common law rights to stop other people from using something similar to your “new” mark, which you could mark with a TM. You might even be able to use your registered trademark from using something similar to your “new” mark, because infringement of a registered trademark can include use of a mark that’s likely to cause confusion with it. It all depends on the specific facts of each case.

    Missed an earlier question: in cancellation proceedings, the registration can be cancelled outright, restricted (say, removing one of the services), or it can stand as is. So it’s conceivable that one result could be that they get to keep their trademark, but “stitch & bitch” has to be disclaimed, too.

    But try telling that to Yahoo.

  11. Yvonne says:

    I believe that the TM is used for marks that have been applied for but not yet registered. Registered trademarks get the circled R.

  12. Kristin says:

    Waaaiiit a minute…..

    J, if that’s true, then SFSE’s trademark for “Stitch and Bitch” hasn’t been approved yet either, and yet they’re clearly using the term with a TM symbol on sewing and knitting products on thier website.
    Because their claim for “Stitch and Bitch Cafe” is approved, does that mean they actually have the rights to rearrange the words in thier trademark? That’s sort of rediculous.
    (sorry for the many comments)

  13. Kristin says:

    Ooohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Ok. That makes sense, thanks ^__^

  14. Kristin says:

    Oh, and I think I may have found the source of the 1940′s stitch and bitch:
    Found on the You Knit What blog comments:

    “According to No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting, by Anne L. Macdonald (ISBN 0-345-33906-1), “In Akron, OH, twelve young women (…) attend(ed) “Stitch and Bitch Club” meetings.” (op cit, p. 302)”
    http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/0345362535/ref=sib_vae_pg_302/002-2957956-1986442?%5Fencoding=UTF8&keywords=stitch%20and%20bitch&p=S095&twc=1&checkSum=2x%2FiZ%2FpeP69EgLOuetwnHUQ54T%2BBe2BI9FpzBa0qQPM%3D#reader-page

    If it’s been in use since the 1940′s, then surely it can be contested that it’s common usage and the trademark shouldn’t have been approved at all (whether or not they were the first to use it), right?

  15. j. says:

    Kristin, right on the first point (as far as we can surmise, although it’d be nice if there was an altruistic, “stop harrassing SnB groups” motivation, too).

    However, “live” in the USPTO database does not mean “registered”. When you search for the trademarks, you’ll see two columns of numbers. One is an application number. All trademarks in the database have an application number. The other column is for a registration number. It’s assigned when the trademark is registered. At present, that column is blank for Deb Stoller’s applications, meaning those marks are not registered.

    The one-paragraph, breathless description of what happens to trademark applications: here.

    Stephanie, it probably depends on how it’s carried out. A boycott against the company SFSE isn’t the same as helping SFSE prove that they have a valuable CAFE trademark (although they do have a registered trademark for their business name, too). The risk is, rather, that a public boycott would draw attention to the company as a whole, and that people who hear the story might forget (or choose to ignore, because they don’t care) the bit about shutting down/renaming online groups, and give SFSE new business.

    You-Know-Who is She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. The so-called Litigious Scottish Designer, although it seems that she has not actually embarked on honest-to-goodness litigation herself; it has been activity through Yahoo and eBay, a US attorney, someone with a name that’s almost a homonym for hers, and according to some sources, someone who is apparently her husband and possibly a lawyer too (and if that’s true, it’s kinda pot-calling-the-kettle-black-ish to mock someone else for employing a lawyer who’s in the family, so to speak).

  16. Kristin says:

    I very confused. The whole reason Debbie is challenging SFSE’s trademark is so she can register hers, right?
    I went to the gov website where you get info on registering trademarks, and you can search for existing ones. And, according to the website Stoller has 4 live registered trademarks to “Stitch ‘N Bitch”, all filed in 2004. If he application was denied, it wouldn’t show up as being live.

  17. Shannon says:

    Some women from my local SnB (Cleveland) are selling stuff on CafePress here & have asked Stoller if we can contribute proceeds to the legal defense. I haven’t seen the link on Craftster yet…

  18. There’s talk on Craftster of starting a petition protesting SFSE’s… bullying, I guess? But from what I read following some of your links, Jenna, wouldn’t that just accrue more value to the mark? Make it more obvious it needs protecting?

    Anyways, my real question is, who is You-Know-Who? I’m dying out here. I’ve Googled and combed the archives for links, and while I have my suspicions, I’m not sure.

  19. j. says:

    Zabet, it’s not a problem. Lawyers already have huge heads in order to accommodate their egos.

  20. nod says:

    Well, the link didn’t show in my last comment, but you can use the same search terms that were used in the google groups link above at books.google.com and find the references in Kingsolver’s book.

  21. nod says:

    Folkat,
    Your usage is documented in the archives of rec.org.sca to 1991 as far as I looked. In fact, you can specify a cutoff date, and there are 38 references before 1997 on the usenet archive, mostly in the rec.crafts. groups, but some others too.

    The Barbara Kingsolver reference is from 1991 too:

  22. Zabet says:

    I think my head is going to explode. How do lawyers keep their heads from exploding? Jenna, you have my admiration.

  23. Yvonne says:

    Are there possible rulings other than “the mark is cancelled” and “the status quo is good”? For example, could the mark stand, but SFSE be forced to disclaim rights “Stitch and Bitch” without “Cafe”? So that they would be free to go after someone who started up a group titled “Stitch & Bitch Cafe”, but have to leave all the Yahoo SnB groups alone?

    Thanks for answering my question from before; all your posts are really informative and interesting.

  24. DoryO says:

    The smartest thing SFSE could do is to accept a pot of cash from Stoller to give up the “Stitch & Bitch Cafe” trademark.

    Given the pathetic ghost town of a forum they host, it’s worth about $50 to them now. And wastes a lot of their energy. Why do they bother protecting this? Does it really pay off in any way? When SFSE’s “Rip It!” book comes out in a few weeks don’t they realize sales will be hurt by their anti-SnB behavior?

    It’s like watching toddlers fighting over a toy. It’s not that they REALLY want the toy. They just don’t want anyone else to have it.

    I worked at a company in the 80s that was threatened by a large software company for using their trademark in our software name. The software titles were slightly different but could confuse. So we did the research and found that we were the first to use it. The big company gave us $30,000, apologized for the trouble and backed away quickly. Ha!

  25. Folkcat says:

    As a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a medieval re-enactment group, in the 80′s, I attended weekly needlework gatherings that were called “Stitch & Bitch” sessions. And as far as I know, they had been called that ever since the SCA was created in Southern California in the 60′s.

    I wish I still had my newsletters from my local SCA group of the time, because these sessions were always printed in the events calendar as exactly that – “Stitch & Bitch, Elissa’s house, Thursday night, 6 p.m.,” for instance.

    Perhaps there are other SCA members out there who have local group newsletters with a similar listing from earlier days? That could provide some documentary evidence that the term has been in common use for some time.

  26. Bex says:

    I like how Deb’s petition points out the disclaimer included in the SFSE trademark that they make no claim to the words “Stitch and Bitch” without the word “Cafe.”

  27. Zabet says:

    So then, if “Stitch ‘n Bitch” is considered generic, “Debbie Stoller’s Stitch ‘n Bitch” would probably be a better alternative, with the “stitch ‘n bitch” part disclaimed, huh?

    I think I’m finally getting it! (Do tell me if I’m wrong.)

  28. j. says:

    Well, it depends on your perspective on what the best-case scenario is (whether Deb is able to get a trademark registration for anything or not, or that absolutely no one can register “stitch and bitch” or a variant in association with anything crafty). A cancellation of SFSE’s trademark will not automatically mean that Deb is likewise unable to register her marks–Deb at present is not attempting to register a trademark to cover real or virtual gatherings. Depending on the evidence she uses to attempt to cancel SFSE’s mark, she could create further hurdles for herself in getting her trademark applications approved, I suppose.

    But to further muddle “genericization” of a mark, the fact that a word or term is generic doesn’t mean it can’t find its way into a registered trademark. It just probably wouldn’t be the only content of the trademark — there’d be other words, or a specific arrangement of words, or a design, too.

    And a descriptive term can be the subject of a trademark registration, if it can be shown that the term has acquired secondary meaning (i.e. it “means” a particular source).

    And in all this discussion, we’ve been focusing on registered trademarks. One can acquire rights to an unregistered mark; the rights are narrower and enforcement is more difficult (i.e. often costlier to prove).

  29. Zabet says:

    Hrm. I’m still trying to wrap my brain around all this legal stuff. So a best-case scenario would be that SFSE’s trademark is cancelled but Deb still can’t register Stitch ‘n Bitch because it’s “genericized”? Then we all can use it (SFSE, Deb, the SNB’ers) and go about our merry way?

  30. j. says:

    Stoller’s applications are for goods and services other than online chat rooms, so the arguments she’s using against SFSE’s trademark wouldn’t apply to her.

    Stoller’s argument goes something like this: “Your trademark registration is for STITCH & BITCH CAFE. Your goods and services are for providing online chat services on a global network and for sewing instructions and manuals. CAFE is a generic, descriptive term for Internet chat rooms, and you pretty much admitted this when you disclaimed that word in your trademark. But STITCH & BITCH is generic, too, because it’s a phrase used to describe gatherings of sewers or knitters, and the locations of those gatherings, and it’s been used like that before you ever decided to start using STITCH & BITCH CAFE. So you shouldn’t be allowed to keep your trademark registration, because it’s too descriptive of your services.” (The argument is silent regarding the goods and services of sewing instruction and manuals distributed therewith.)

    Her argument’s based on the fact that people say, “where’s the stitch and bitch next week?” and “are you going to the stitch and bitch?” instead of “where are all the knitters gathering next week?” and “are you going to the sewing meeting?”

    That same argument couldn’t be used against Stoller’s intended registrations, because at present the phrase STITCH ‘N BITCH isn’t interchangeable with “books” or “bags and cases for knitting materials and supplies” or “knitting kits” or “television shows”. We don’t say, “Let me pay for that coffee. Oh, I put my wallet with my knitting stuff. Now where did I put my stitch and bitch [referring to a knitting bag]?”

    … I say at present, because who knows what the future will bring. Other trademarks have been genericized to the point where they are no longer registrable. Like the otherwise well-known brand name for acetylsalicylic acid in the United States. In Canada and may other countries, that’s Aspirin® brand pain reliever. In the US, it’s just aspirin.

  31. miranda says:

    … Sarah Lawrence also has a “MacCracken”.

  32. miranda says:

    Several schools do appear to have a “McCauley Hall”, though, one that could be orally corrupted into “McConley.” That doesn’t explain how the story is tied to Sarah Lawrence, though. Some places with “McCauley Hall”: Lincoln U. in Pennsylvania, The College of New Jersey, Salve Regina U. (RI), Johns Hopkins U., U. of Vermont – Burlington, Mercyhurst College (PA). Somewhere in Western Michigan, a “Mercy Hospital” also appears to have a McCauley Hall. (The prevalence of “McCauley Hall”s may have something to do with a past “Bishop McCauley”. The Salve Regina U McCauley was once an estate called Vinland and is shown here – http://hometown.aol.com/cdarnold01/indexarnold0.html)

    I bet if this story ever pans out, it’ll be somewhere other than Sarah Lawrence, and the name of the hall will turn out to have been corrupted from McCauley or something else similar to “McConley”. It doesn’t help that the claim is very specific about a Sarah Lawrence 1940 yearbook, though – as though the claimant actually had the yearbook in hand when the claim was made, rather than “I heard about” or “I once saw.”

    I think that the SFSE people are being really scummy. I could kind of understand the position of She Who Cannot Be Named, even though I think she was horribly clumsy about the way she went about enforcing it, and it would have been better for her reputation if she hadn’t done it. But the SFSE position is just indefensible. Perhaps it will wind up coming down to something like Apple Records, Apple Computers, etc – someone will wind up owning the trademark with respect to sewing, someone else where it refers to knitting, though it could be argued that they’re too close together w/r/t what type of activity they are (I don’t know that much about trademark law, obviously).

  33. Bex says:

    Re: Fundraiser for Legal Costs

    A few months back, I set up a CafePress site ( http://www.cafepress
    com/saynotosfse ) to raise money to hire a lawyer to help us out with the who You-Know-Who debacle. I knew it wouldn’t raise much, and it would take awhile to earn enough to actually pay for any sort of informative consultation. And I didn’t really advertise it much of anywhere. One forum somewhere, but I forget.

    Since the inception of the shop, I promised that the proceeds would go
    towards fighting this legal battle. As of today, the shop has earned $110.87. $78.47 of which just came in TODAY. Two minutes ago, I fired Deb an e-mail to see if she would accept the money earned as a donation from us towards her legal fees.

    If she chooses not to accept the money, I’ll use the earnings to cover a boycott website (that may or may not happen, it’s still being debated). That’s about $20 to $30 bucks for a domain name, PO Box to register it under, and a lil’ web space. Everything else to the National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc: http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/

  34. Zabet says:

    I checked the Oxford English Dictionary online for references to “stitch and bitch” but came up empty. :( They’re usually really good about recording at the least the first written use of a word, especially in more modern times.

  35. Yvonne says:

    Of course, that doesn’t mean that she’ll be able to register her own mark, right? Especially if her case for cancellation is based on the fact that “stitch and bitch” is a generic term?

  36. j. says:

    The cancellation petition means she’s challenging it, yes. Her trademark application was rejected because the examiner considered it would have been confusing with a previously registered mark (one of the tests that is applied). Cancel the previously registered trademark, remove that objection.

  37. joe c says:

    just my 2c. A Quick Search of the Washington Post archives, shows the first use of “Stitch and Bitch” club in 1976

  38. jen says:

    Zabet, yes, that is true. They deleted all of the dissenting views, even the polite ones.

    I’m not keen on litigous language, so does the cancellation petition mean that stoller is still challenging it?

    i would like to see someone (not myself, as I know I could not organize something so vast) organize a fundraiser for legal costs. i’d be happy to donate.

  39. Jenn says:

    Not sure how you positively prove the date, but 1996 — “Aunt Janie’s Stitch and Bitch”

    http://www.burningman.com/art_of_burningman/theme_camp_gallery.html

    Wonder if anyone has contacted stumpers-l, a reference librarian listserv to ask if they can find early references. I couldn’t get into the archives to see if it has been asked.

  40. Rhiannon says:

    Even if it is a second hand source of information or even entirely made up, it is a documented account of the use of the term Stitch and Bitch in relation to knitting and sewing prior to 11/01/97.

  41. deety says:

    I’m reading that book right now and just posted that bit earlier today in response to the whole “no one used Stich & Bitch before our first meeting” claim on their message board. I’m glad that there’s something in print somewhere, even if the source of it is apparently “Random quotations from interviews with 1940s knitters.” The copyright date in my Macdonald book is 1988. I’m not sure how long SFSE has been having their meetings or when these “random interviews” were conducted, but the fact that it shows up in a book that came out long before the current drama seems like a positive thing.

  42. Jenn says:

    I’m sure you’ve seen this, but I just did

    From the SFSE board info under “recent changes to S&B Cafe”
    Stitch & Bitch started before 1997 when students of Sew Fast Sew Easy, Inc. gathered together for Friday Evenings of sewing, knitting and crochet fun. It was an idea of Elissa Meyrich the creative director of Sew Fast Sew Easy, Inc. In 1998, it became the Stitch & Bitch Café forum and linked to the website Sew Fast Sew Easy, Inc.

    Stitch & Bitch Café is a brand name under Sew Fast Sew Easy, Inc and has been trademarked since 2001. No other usage of Stitch & Bitch ever occurred before the first Friday evening gatherings at Sew Fast Sew Easy in it’s first location 147 West 57th Street and Stitch and Bitch Café was one of the first online forums of its kind. We at Sew Fast Sew Easy decided it was time to convert our original trademarked online board into a forum. We also continue to hold our Stitch & Bitch nights at our current address 237 West 35th Street . Those nights are announced to our students and customers.

    So NO ONE ever used the term S&B before they did? Right. Go ahead, give them a trademark. They have such great proof.

  43. Zabet says:

    FYI – The SFSE boards have undergone yet another change. I can no longer view anything under the Stitch and Bitch thread without a registered account, and I’ve been hearing reports that everyone’s posts have been wiped except for the seed posts put there by the Sys Admin. Can anyone verify this?

  44. j. says:

    Oh, and just to muddle things up a bit more, consider this US trademark registration:

    Reg. No. 2918393, for KNIT CAFE, for retail services in the field of knitting, owned by Knit Cafe (duh). In this trademark file, the applicant was not required to disclaim CAFE. Because yarn shops usually aren’t trattorias? Or online chat rooms? (The specimen of use that was filed in that case included the word “cappuccino”.)

    (The word KNIT was disclaimed, though.)

  45. j. says:

    Maybe none of this was before the trademark examiner who first examined SFSE’s trademark application in 2000. I’m not certain, because I’m not about to pay someone to get me the missing paper documents . (The online records for SFSE’s trademark application are incomplete.)

    We can infer from the rest of the online records that the examiner made SFSE disclaim the word CAFE. Disclaimers are often made when a word is considered to be too generic a term to be removed from the relevant commercial language. For example, in this case the examiner might have been concerned about preventing other online forums from using the word CAFE while providing their online forum services as well. But SFSE wasn’t required to disclaim STITCH and/or BITCH.

    On a related note, if SFSE shouldn’t be allowed to have a trademark registeration for STITCH & BITCH CAFE on the basis that the phrase belongs to the people carrying out the activities described in the trademark’s services (online chat groups), why is it considered acceptable for Deb Stoller to attempt to register STITCH ‘N BITCH? I suppose it’s because she isn’t specifically trying to register it in association with online chat groups, and is focused instead on books, knitting equipment, and television shows.

    But if we assume that after the dust settles, Stoller will have a trademark registration for STITCH ‘N BITCH, how will she react when individual stitch and bitch groups decide to fundraise or advertise with their own tote bags or merch, with [place name] STITCH AND BITCH printed on them? (I know how a lawyer would react.) Will they have to seek her permission first?

  46. I’m curious about generic use, in this case. I mean, if thousands of knitters and sewers use this phrase to describe an activity would it not be considered to ALREADY be generic and ineligible for trademark? Whether it got started in 1940 at Sarah Lawrence or not, it’s out there now. Even non-crafters know what it means. I think these TM applications should have been rejected on those grounds – and that those are the grounds on which to revoke it.

    Not that I have ANY expertise in this.

  47. Steph says:

    I did a quick search on the U of T website and can’t find anything written about the term, much less something that would give the first uses of stitch and bitch.

    Though I did find a dissertation about Women knitters in Newfoundland.

  48. Juno says:

    In the Barbara Kingsolver book Animal Dreams – published in the late 80s, perhaps the early 90s, the main character refers often to the ‘stitch and bitch’ club attended by the matriarchs of her home town. It is used in such a fashion that it it clear that this is a common term for such gatherings, rather than a proprietary name. That’s the first place I remember seeing it, but it always seemed like such a natural nickname that no one person could own it.

  49. DoryO says:

    Thanks for posting this. It would be nice to have some proof that “Stitch and Bitch” is not a recently “discovered” term. The librarian did suggest that someone messed up the name of the college or hall. Could be the anecdote has been mangled.

    Meanwhile, the SnB revolutionaries are up in arms:
    http://www.cafepress.com/saynotosfse/