FW: handtrucks vs. dollies and ethnic joke

Frank Abate abatefr at EARTHLINK.NET
Tue Jul 3 14:19:18 UTC 2001

This is marginally (if not more) off-topic, though it does have to do with
the use and the effects of language.  Anyway, here goes, in reply to Prof.
Rosa (cc'd below):

What I meant by my remark was that I am more resentful of the criticism of
supposed ethnic and racial slurs than I am about the supposed slurs
themselves, as long as the supposed slurs (I would call them jokes) are
delivered in a spirit of true humor, not intended to be taken seriously.
There's a vast difference between a joke and a slur.  One need consider the
intention and attitude of the teller.  I just saw a funny one today, sent by
a friend of strong Jewish heritage, that had a Jewish person as the butt of
the joke.  Please tell me what's wrong with that.  btw, the same person
sends jokes that poke fun at all types of people and things.  No one is left
out.  Again, I see no problem, given the intent.

I mention being half Italian merely to show that those of a particular
background are not necessarily offended by jokes that poke fun at their own
background.  There are blonde jokes, Irish jokes, Polish jokes, Jewish
jokes, Italian jokes, Greek jokes, Catholic jokes, cripple jokes, Nazi
jokes -- the list goes on and on.  Some are in bad taste.  Some are just not
funny (as can happen with any type of joke).  But some are funny, dammit,
and I honestly see no harm in them, if the intention of the teller is
clearly to be funny, not demeaning.  Sure they pick on stereotypes that most
people dismiss as silly or ignorance-borne.  But the stereotypes are out
there, and widely known (if not accepted), and are used as the butt of
humor, as are other characteristics or supposed characteristics of people,
animals, etc.  Of course, it is not a good idea to tell certain jokes in
front of each and every audience, or on radio or TV, but that is another
matter.  Dictionaries offer guidance on all this by way of register
labels -- from "informal" to "coarse slang" to "vulgar" to "taboo" to
"disparaging and offensive".  Users of the language need to be aware of the
possibly negative connotations of words, and to use or avoid them to fit the
audience and the medium.  That is a matter of wise use of language.

I am not only proudly anti-PC, but am a fervent supporter of those who
skewer PC-ness.  I equate much of what passes today as "sensitivity" to
being hounded by thought police.  I find restrictions borne of "PC thinking"
very troubling in a free society, and lacking in a far more important kind
of sensitivity.  And I think such anti-speech sensitivity expressed on a
forum (ADS list) that explores the ins and outs of language (all language, I
hope) to be more troubling, esp. given the knowledge and training of the
list users.  I recall the Reinhold Aman journal Maledicta, which recorded
all manner of offensive and taboo speech and writing.  It was a serious
approach taken to a real issue of language.  The sensitivity of modern times
takes nothing away from the fact that all language is fit for study, and
that some jokes are based on stereotypes that spring out of the society
itself.  Attempts to control, engineer, or outlaw language or its jokes are
futile, and I hope will always remain so.

Let me make clear that I am among the first to brand those who wield genuine
slurs as hateful and destructive.  The whole lot of bigots, xenophobes, and
others who spout heartfelt (or peer-pressure, or show-off) hatreds should be
ridiculed and ignored, though we can't ever shut them up -- at least in the

My suggestion to those who are still offended by such things as the
"Italian" punchline is to lighten up, hit delete, and move on.  I found it
funny, and I suspect I was not alone, even on the ADS list.  In closing, let
me say that I consider myself to be well educated.  The above says what I
honestly believe.  Feel free to disagree, of course.

Frank Abate
(also half Polish; Polish jokes OK, too)

-----Original Message-----
From: Alfred Rosa [mailto:arosa at zoo.uvm.edu]
Sent: Tuesday, July 03, 2001 9:36 AM
To: abatefr at earthlink.net; ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
Subject: Re: handtrucks vs. dollies and ethnic joke

Here we go again.  Mr. Abate writes that he's half Italian and not offended
by the joke.  What does that mean?  All four of my grandparents came from
Italy, so I am more than half Italian.  I have not lost my sense of humor
(especially when I see it!), and I am not ready to have someone tell me to
"move on."   I am not prepared to have someone tell ethnic jokes at not only
at my expense but also at anyone else's.

Who and where is the moderator of this list? One can't expect intelligence
and sensitivity from every one who subscribes, but one can expect that the
moderator will carry out his/her duties in keeping the mal educati from
affronting the rest of us.  The simple test for this sort of thing is to
substitute any other ethnicity for the reference to Italians and see how far
that joke flies.

I have not spent my professional life trying to educate people to a more
enlightened regard for others' ethnicity, race, religion, gender, and sexual
orientation to have this sort of slur pop up on one of the professional
listervs to which I subscribe, especially one devoted to language use, and
not say anything about it.  It would be nice to think that all members of
the list would also decry such a posting.  It might say a lot about who we
are and what we believe in.

Al Rosa
Professor Alfred Rosa
304 Old Mill
Department of English
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405-1140
Phone: 802-656-4139
Fax:      802-656-3055
Email:   arosa at zoo.uvm.edu
Web Site: www.uvm.edu/~arosa
----- Original Message -----
From: "Frank Abate" <abatefr at earthlink.net>
Sent: Tuesday, July 03, 2001 8:38 AM
Subject: FW: hand trucks vs dollies

> Please, get a sense of humor, or just hit delete and move on.
> Frank Abate
> (half Italian, and not offended)
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU]On Behalf
> Of Ittaob at AOL.COM
> Sent: Monday, July 02, 2001 10:04 PM
> Subject: Re: hand trucks vs dollies
> In a message dated 6/19/01 9:07:48 AM, dcamp911 at JUNO.COM writes:
> << On Mon, 18 Jun 2001 21:09:31 -0400 "Bethany K. Dumas"
> <dumasb at UTKUX.UTCC.UTK.EDU> writes:
> > What do you call those vertical entities (some are very heavy-duty -
> > for
> > moving refrigeraors and such) that allow you to move heavy loads
> > easily?
> Italians.
> D >>
> Am I the only one on this list who thinks this person's gratuitous swipe
> Italians as nothing better than furniture movers has no place on the list?
> Or
> were the rest of you just ignoring him in the hope he would go away?
> Steve Boatti
> (a skinny Italian lawyer who has a real hard time moving heavy objects)

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