Who's the Putzhead Now, Schmuck?

New York politicos, especially Democratic New York politicos got a good laugh out of this one. You see, in 1992, Senator Alfonse Damato won a very close race with Bob Abrams after Abrams called Damato a "fascist". Abrams meant it as a standard liberal political insult, but Damato spun it into an anti-Italian epithet. Tis the sport to hoist the miner (or the senator) by his own petard, and this time Damato was on the receiving end of misusing an epithet. Like most New Yorkers, Damato probably just thought putz meant a dorky incompetent. However, putz is actually old Yiddish slang for the male sexual organ. Colloquially translated, Damato called Schumer a dickhead. Schumer succeeded in spinning this into an anti-Semitic slur, and Damato's margin of victory evaporated like semen on Monica Lewinsky's dress.

All of this was quite amusing. None of it, however, is particularly relevant to who's the better person for the job. Abrams certainly did not intend his use of the word fascist as an ethnic slur, and I very much doubt Damato even knew the exact meaning of putz. Until this election I suspect a lot of New Yorkers didn't know the exact denotation of putz. I suspect a lot still don't. The word's used much like second graders running around a school yard calling each other fags. Not a one of them actually knows what a "fag" is. It's just a generic insult.

We New Yorkers live in possibly the most multi-cultural, multi-lingual environment in the world today. I can walk out my front door in Brooklyn and within a few blocks hear people conversing in English, Hebrew, Arabic, Creole, French, Spanish, Chinese, and occasionally Russian. In an environment like this, it shouldn't surprise anyone that curses and insults are among the first words to cross the language barrier. Nonetheless, the exact denotation of the words often gets lost in the translation.

I'd like to propose that in the future politicians, especially New York politicians, agree not to get worked up over insults like bastard, bischero, bitch, cazzo, culo, cunt, curve, dong, fascist, fesso, ficasecca, fica, messhuggah, mother fucker, pashkudnik, porca, puta, putz, schlemiel, scumbag, schlong, schmekel, schmuck, shvantz, S.O.B, wack, yuld, and so forth. In New York these are just part of the give and take of the political process. Calling somebody a putzhead or a fascist is a personal attack, just like calling them an idiot or an incompetent, but it's not an attack on their entire ethnic group. Let's not treat it like one. We New Yorkers have chosen to live in one of the most diverse environments in the world today because that's what we like. Most of us live here because we tried other, more homogeneous environments and got bored. Sometimes that means we have to make an extra effort both to tolerate others. This includes tolerating occasional, acts of stupidity like misusing the word putz.

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Copyright 1998, 2000 Elliotte Rusty Harold
Last Modified June 21, 2000