FAST-US-7 Folklore and Folk Humor Reference
Selections from Legman's Rationale of the Dirty Joke
FAST-US-7 United States Popular Culture (Hopkins)
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere


The following is from Gershon Legman's classic Rationale of the Dirty Joke (An Analysis of Sexual Humor), Secaucus, NJ, Castle Books (in cooperation with Grove Press), 1968. As noted in the introduction, "...this analytic study of erotic humor is based on 30 years of collecting in America and abroad ... over 2000 jokes and folktales are ... authentically transcribed in all their innocent and sometimes violent unexpurgaiety ... [with a] socio-analytic discussion of what these jokes mean to the people who tell them, and to the people who listen and laugh." These excerpts are from section VI. Foreigners, p. 163 —>.
(p. 164. Swedes and Chinamen)...One of the most ancient human prejudices is that against the foreigner ... Sexual vilification of the foreigner is the natural accompaniment of the desire for his women when in his country, and the desire to prevent him for competing for one's own women when he is here. Thus it is humorously believed in America ... that practically all Englishmen are homosexuals, and that all Frenchmen prefer oral sexual relations with their women. The birth rate in both countries is presumably kept up by visiting Americans, who are all gloriously normal.

...The standard guise for the xenophobic urge is to displace the hostility upon ... the foreigner's foreign-ness: his clothes, his accent, his misunderstandings of national customs and speech ... The English have the Welsh and Irish ... and the Americans have the English — and others... The typical butts of anti-national humor in America have almost entirely ceased to be 'inferiors,' and in fool jokes ... the concentration is all on the deposed authority-figure of the Englishman. In the Mid-west, from Minnesota on out, the Swede or Polack is the local butt, and a few relics of the anti-Chinese era of the 19th century are still to be found.

A couple are applying for a marriage license. "Your name?" "Ole Oleson." "And yours?" "Lena Oleson." "Any connection?" The bride blushes. "Only vunce. He yumped me." (Memorabilia, 1910).

Abie wants to marry his Irish Rose, and the rabbi agrees to officiate only if he can be assured that Rose has "a little Jew in her." "Oh, I do," she says. "Abie couldn't wait." (1943).

Butler, to the new chauffeur: "Yes, these Jewish people have very quaint customs. For instance, on Rosh Hashanah they blow the shofar." "What a wonderful way to treat the help!" (N.Y. 1952).

Mrs. Johnson's Swedish maid refuses to be vaccinated on the grounds that she has been already. "How many times?" asks her mistress. "Tvice. Vunce in the kitchen and vunce in the voodshed." "What doctor?" "No doctor! Vas Mr. Yohnson." (Idaho, 1918, obviously stemming from the World War I epidemics).

...In the period following the mass importation and exploitation of the Chinese in building the railroads of the American west, a good deal of anti-Chinese feeling was carefully generated. The comedy 'Chinaman,' as the foolish foreigner, appears in only a few jokes nowadays, and there only in the capacity of laundryman or other body servant.

A woman who keeps a Chinese servant is embarrassed by his walking into her bedroom while she is undressed, and insists that he knock before entering. He never again embarrasses her, but he also never knocks. She asks how. "Velly simple. Beflore come in, me look thlough keyhole. If you no dlessed, me no come in." — An army officer's wife has come to visit him in the Orient where he has been for several years. In the morning his Chinese valet wakes her by slapping her on the buttocks, and says, "All light, missy, time fo' bleakfast, then you go home." (N.Y. 1948). Cf. Tough movie-actress, phoning the laundry: "I don't want any more of your nonsense. Get that laundry up here, and licketysplit." "Bling laundly o.k. lady. No licketysplit." (N.Y. 1942).

(p. 167, Bloody Englishmen)...While national butts are usually chosen from among groups of inferior strength and subjected status — Negroes, women, Jews, the Irish and the immigrant Swedish and Chinese come immediately to mind ... the English are, far and away, considered a superior group and of commanding authority in America on every other level but that of jokes.... It is the Englishman's authority position, as arbiter of elegance, speech, literature, etc., that makes him so awesome to certain Americans and so infuriating to others.

(p. 169)...Most silly-ass Englishmen jokes concern the haughty English character as the American sees it... [though some jokes also] turn on English pronunciation ... or phraseology, e.g. The champion speller of London loses the match. "Now 'ow was I supposed to know 'ow to spell 'auspices'?" (N.Y. 1953) — An English man is confused by the American prostitute. "We went upstairs," he says, "and had a bit of old narsty, and she looked up at me and said, 'Are you through?' not meaning was I through to the other side, but simply had I finished. Haw!" (Minnesota, 1946) The humor here may be obscure to most Americans, being based on British telephone etiquette, in which 'Some quick-witted hello girls ... go so far now as to tell a Yank "Here's your party," rather than "You're through, sir."' (Quoted from Yank, October 7, 1942)

The marrow of the anti-British joke is in its view of the British character, particularly in its objection to British reserve and understatement. The American immediately senses in these habits the notion of superiority, though he is seldom able to see, in his own opposite habits of flamboyance and overstatement, an anxious uncertainty as to whether he might not actually be inferior. The interplay of the caricatured British and American characters is the real point of all these jokes.

A young English nobleman is being fellated by a male prostitute in his parlor, when a friend is ushered in. They engage in animated conversation as to who has been invited to Lady Windemere's party and who has been snubbed. The male prostitute interrupts. "I beg pardon, your Ludship [sic], but you've come." "Why so I have, so I have. Here's a shilling for you, my good man." (N.Y. 1940). [Related to this is the] Englishman, to a prostitute who has just given him a moist tongue-kiss: "Now, I say, don't get personal, Miss, or I jolly well shan't fawk you!"

A drunk on an English train scandalizes the compartment passengers by picking his nose, scraping the fur off his tongue and putting it under the seat, reaching into his fly and elaborately adjusting his genitals, etc. (All gestures being acted out [in telling the joke]). An Englishman has been watching him coldly from the seat facing, and finally says, "Do you suppose, old chap, that you could conclude the entertainment with a rousing good fart?" (N.Y. 1953).

An Englishman in a locked compartment on a train without a toilet asks his American seat-companion's permission to relieve himself on a spread newspaper, which he then folds up and flings out the window. The American, who cannot avoid watching the entire procedure, lights up a long black cigar to cover some of the fecal odor. "I say!" says the Englishman, "you know, this isn't a smoking compartment!"


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Last Updated 09 February 2010