Irish Alzheimer ’s

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Mon Jul 8 22:34:33 UTC 2013

The term "Irish Alzheimer’s" appeared in a NYTimes report on the trial now
going on of Whitey Bulger.  I thought that someone else here would notice
it and post it, but no.

            Michael D. Kendall, a former federal prosecutor who
investigated some aspects of Mr. Bulger’s activities, said he expected him
to use what he called the “Irish Alzheimer’s defense.”

            “That’s where you forget everything but the names of your
enemies,” Mr. Kendall said. “The point of the trial is not to defeat the
charges and emerge a free man, but to get back at as many people as he can.”

            The Times website notes “A version of this article appeared in
print on June 12, 2013, on page A13 of the New York edition with the
headline: Unofficial Defendant, the F.B.I., Is Also on Trial With Bulger.”
 I first saw it in the print paper.

Checking the Proquest Historical Newspapers, or most of them, at least -- I
believe that there a several that I don't have access to -- I find that
this joke goes back to 1988, but is unattributed.

            The House decided to spill out more money while the chamber was
awash in Zodiac jokes and [Donald T.] Regan's revenge on Nancy Reagan for
getting him fired was discussed with huge relish among the Democrats.
Sample quip: “Regan has Irish Alzheimer's-forgets everything but the

            “The Stars Spoke on Capitol Hill”, MARY
Post, May 5, 1988: section A, p. 2.

 Another example:

            So here’s the joke I recently heard at a party: “Hey, you know
what the definition is of Irish Alzheimer’s? They only remember grudges.”

            “New York Celtics.” By BUZZ BISSINGER.  A review of Pete
Hamill’s novel “North River”.  NY Times, July 8, 2007

I surmised that there might have been an earlier version with "Irish
Amnesia", but it does not seem so.   Proquest finds "Irish Amnesia" from
Irish Times, 2006, and elsewhere, but not before, or even very close to,

George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much since then.

The American Dialect Society -

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