Tonto and the Lone Ranger

ronbutters at AOL.COM ronbutters at AOL.COM
Fri Feb 15 19:55:37 UTC 2008

In my dialect, "Tonto" and "tanto" have the same pronunciation, and "The Lone Ranger" was a radio show, hence oral/aural.

Thus the trusted companion's name simply meant "too much."

Besides, isn't there a Romance dialect (with rounding before nasals) in which "tonto" meant 'uncle' and then 'trusted nephew'?

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

-----Original Message-----
From: Jonathan Lighter <wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM>

Date:         Fri, 15 Feb 2008 11:25:30
Subject:      Re: [ADS-L] Tonto and the Lone Ranger

In memory still queasy-green is the moment when I first heard that "Tonto means *stupid* in Spanish!"  My informant was a little girl named Joan Blackman and the time was no later than the fall of 1958 - so this is kind of an anniversary year for me.

  Joan was verty vehement when she said it.  My interpretation of the news was that, if true, it could only indicate an utter, twisted contempt by the adult producers of _The Lone Ranger_ for the show's small, trusting fans.  But it seemed to go even beyond that. It was sick!  So naturally I didn't believe it.

  (Postmodern Analysis:
  (My ideology had blinded me to a truth about language.  Now it keeps me in denial as I search desperately for unreliable, culturally-inscribed references to "Tonto" Native Americans, "Tonto" Basins, "Tonto" Rims, and patriarchal Western pulp writers to protect my fragile ego!  Truly, language speaks me!

  (And I am ashamed.)

  J "The Poststructural" L

  RonButters at AOL.COM wrote:
  ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: RonButters at AOL.COM
Subject: Tonto and the Lone Ranger

Right, Dennis, we all try to COOPERATE with the speaker, but when it comes t=
seeing the "point" of the narrative, our assumptions vary between seeing the=
speaker as mirroring our own attitudes and seeing the speaker as having the=20
attitudes that we ascribe to our convictions about the speaker's beliefs. Th=
variability is especially poignant in the case of the "joke" genre, because=20
there the hearer is aware that the inception of the narrative is not simply=20=
teller, but some anonymous creator or series of creators. Moreover, in the c=
of the Lone Ranger/Tonto joke, hearers will be affected variously by their=20
perceptions of and awareness of the whole series of radio, film, and comic-b=
depictions of the two partners in crime fighting in the Old West (and in=20
addition, awareness of what is to be expected from the well-known topos of t=
he two=20
male companions--see below).

Thus a member of an oppressed minority might tend to see the "What you mean=20
me, white man?" story as the creation of an oppresive white majority that vi=
minorities as untrustworthy and invents such a story to reinforce that view=20
and maybe even teach it to the young. Such a person might also see the name=20
"Tonto" as a semi-secret slur based upon the Spanish word meaning "stupid"=20
(despite the fact that Tonto is depicted as a wise Noble Savage throughout t=
entire series).

A member of the white majority who is familiar with the LR/T story would be=20
likely to see the story in some variation of the reading that I have always=20
given it: as a joke about the weakness of the human spirit in the face of da=
and adversity: even the noble Tonto, the "faithful Indian companion," one of=
huge number of faithful companions well-known in stories going back to=20
Chaucer, may turn to betrayal if there is a chance to save his own skin. The=
REVERSAL of the normal expecations is what makes the story funny. =20

And, as boyhood lover of the LR/T radio program, I would have laughed at the=
idea that Tonto's name had anything to do with the Spanish adjective (a word=
that I did not learn until I was in my 30s). to me as a boy, it was just a n=
that sounded appropriately non-white. Tonto was always depicted so nobly tha=
it would just have been absurd to think that anyone chose his name to=20
belittle him.

There are other (more recent) readings, e.g., the reading that focusses on=20
the subserviant role of Tonto and the "broken" English that he speaks as=20
inherently racist; and the reading that sees the story as an instance of the=
topos of=20
the two male companions, one of whom is subserviant (Prince Hal and=20
Fallstaff; Don Quixote and his sidekick; Batman and Robin; Gene Autry and [I=
forget his=20
name]; Red Rider and Little Beaver [!]; Hopalong Cassidy and somebody [I=20
forget HIS name] (these all get a special twist in gay subculture readings a=
Freudian readings); Roy Rogers and Dale Evans (a real innovation, since she=20=
was a=20
GIRL--and his WIFE).

We could probably tease out a Marxist reading as well. Or an anti-gay=20
marriage one ("These same-sex relationships just don't stand up in the face=20=
adversity--it is every man for himself").

In a message dated 2/15/08 7:21:48 AM, preston at MSU.EDU writes:

> I'm saving this exchange as the best example of point-of-view
> difference in textual interpretation I've seen in a long time. For
> Wilson it is a put-down of the minority as untrustworthy but for
> James a justifiable come-uppance for the majority figure.
> Although "readers" rather than "texts" turn out to be the determining
> factor here, ya'll (y'all) need not worry; I ain't going post-Modern
> on you.
> dInIs
> >---------------------- Information from the mail header

> >-----------------------
> >Sender:=A0 =A0 =A0=A0 American Dialect Society
> >Poster:=A0 =A0 =A0=A0 James Harbeck
> >Subject:=A0 =A0 =A0 Re: does anyone need another example of positive ANYM=
> >
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------=
> >
> >>I heard the punchline ca.1944 as "What you mean, 'we,' white man?" And
> >>no mention was made of weapons. Of course, such jokes have many
> >>different versions. I heard it in Saint Louis from a white neighbor
> >>boy and I took its point to be that, when the deal goes down, white
> >>people can not trust the non-white and I didn't find it humorous at
> >>all.
> >
> >Hm. I took no such general point from it. To me it was specifically
> >about the characters in question. I've never idolized the Lone
> >Ranger; to me he's, if anything, more a figure of fun. In the
> >situation in question, the Indians are probably angry with him for
> >shooting a lot of them, which seems justifiable to me. I tend to
> >think of the punch line whenever someone wants to include me by
> >assumption in what I see as perhaps not the right side of the debate.
> >In other words, I'm identifying with Tonto. Enough with this Lone
> >Ranger dude! He can get his own ass out of this mess, I'm not
> >covering for him this time.
> >
> >Thanks for the reminder, though, that not everyone sees these things
> >from the same perspective.
> >
> >James Harbeck.
> >
> >------------------------------------------------------------
> >The American Dialect Society -
> --
> Dennis R. Preston
> University Distinguished Professor
> Department of English
> Morrill Hall 15-C
> Michigan State University
> East Lansing, MI 48864 USA
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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