Monday, July 25, 2005

The origin of ethnic jokes in America

Every generation, it seems like a new ethnicity would come to America to try to seek their fortune. And of course, with every new ethnicity comes ethnic jokes. For example, the Italians often would not have immigration papers with them. So they got stamped WOP for without papers. Thus, "wop" became the derogatory name for Italians.

The Irish supposedly had problems with alcohol consumption. The stereotype with the Irish is that they drank too much. Thus, Irish jokes tend to revolve around being drunk.

Mexican folks were accused mainly of two things - not having car insurance and having cars that plain out don't work. Being poor immigrants when they came over, of course they couldn't afford a brand new Mercedes Benz so they'd end up with a beat up car and the stereotype stuck.

Jewish jokes tended to revolve around money, since Jews when it was their turn to come over here often ended up in professions dealing with money, like banking.

The Chinese were known for eating dogs. Thus, many of the Chinese jokes involved missing dogs later ending up on the dinner plates of a Chinese family.

The funniest in my opinion were the Polish jokes. These were downright mean though because in many cases, they were not deserved. They were more victims of practical jokes. For example, a guy would hand a new Polish immigrant a banana and would say it's a delicious American food. The guy's friends would stand around and wait for the Polish guy to eat it. Having never seen a banana, of course the Polish guy wouldn't know what to do with it so more often than not, he'd take a bite out of it without peeling off the skin. To the Americans, that proved the Polish guy was "stupid."

There are many more. I've heard jokes made about every ethnicity that has more than a million people in America. I've heard religious jokes, gender jokes, sexual orientation jokes, I've heard them all. But somewhere along the lines, people got offended and the joking stopped.

In my book, it's a shame. Back then, it was like a rite of passage for new ethnicities to get accepted into the mainstream. But political correctness is trying to destroy these jokes, which really are a part of American history. If people are too thin-skinned to accept history, how do you think they'll survive the upcoming zombie plague?


Blogger digitalcowgirl said...

First off- thanks for the WOP lesson--I never knew what that meant! I grew up in Chicago where Polish jokes were told all the time, especially by my dad. I loved them. Unfortunately I can't remember any and he 'claims' he cannot either so they're going to be lost (or they've turned into dumb blonde jokes??) because, as you say, no one will tell them anymore! Too bad, it's an interesting (and funny) way to learn about the differences and culture of people... as long as you don't take them too seriously.

7/25/2005 7:03 PM  
Blogger Dawner said...

I'm in total agreeance. Life is to short and everyone needs to laugh. Yet society somewhere along the way took too sharp of a turn and now is a society of norms and values that are too personal to be shared by so many people that are so wide open to there own thoughts and ideas. Society is diverse and humor is diverse. It is not personal or persuasive it is just humor.

7/25/2005 7:25 PM  
Blogger Shawn said...

Some of the funniest Polish jokes (back then they were Pollack we even have to be politically correct about how we define our political correctness)I used to hear came from a Polish guy. I don't think that hearing them made me think any less of Polish people as I grew up.

What I wouldn't give to hear a joke about an Albanian, a Tibetan monk and Pakistani in a bar...

7/26/2005 1:29 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I always wondered where WOP came from.

Funny story related to your Chinese section: Our old house had next door, an area belonging to our neighbors we called the "jungle" cuz it was kind of overgrown with ferns and stuff. One day, dad's out in the yard and our dog (a 90lb mutt who NEVER barked) is going nuts. The hair standing up on his neck, tail in agressive pose - totally not like him. Dad goes over to find an gentleman of Asian descent, on all fours, crawling through the gangway between our house and the Jungle - STALKING OUR DOG! He got up and left when dad threatened to let Duster loose (not that he'd do anything, but the guy didn't know that)

I'm all for freedom of humor. I'm a big fan of Feminist jokes myself - I'm a feminist, I'm Italian and Irish - I can take it. It just depends on the intent. Sometimes there are people who say things with the purposeful intent to hurt someone else. I'm not saying that they're not covered by free-speech, but I tend to make sure I don't deliberately hurt someone's feelings.

7/26/2005 4:49 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you haven't already, you should check out Carlos Mencia. He's a stand up comic who now has his own show on Comedy Central. His whole routine is based on ethnic political incorrectness. I love the joke I've heard him say many times:

On Sept. 11, when those planes crashed into the World Trade Center and we all saw the pictures of terrorists who did it, Laquita, Maria, Tyrone, and Julio tapped Achmed on the shoulder and said, "Tag, you're it."

7/26/2005 5:17 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

That's FUNNY.

7/26/2005 6:03 AM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Kitkat - Mencia's a riot. If I'm not mistaken, I've heard him as a guest a few times on various radio shows.

Laura - yes, it's all about intent. You could usually figure that out from the tone of their voice and attitude about it. Plus, between me and my wife, we have just about every ethnicity covered. By the way, funny story.

Shawn - An Albanian, a Tibetian monk, and a Pakistani walk into a bar...
See, that alone is funny. Now if someone else could come up with a punchline, it would be double funny.

Dawner - yes, life is short. Statistically, I'm already on the second half of my life. So if I could live out my remaining years laughing or getting offended by everything, I'd chose the former.

Digitalcowgirl - Cicero in the early 70s. So, you could guess at least part of my lineage (I got plenty of 'em).

7/26/2005 8:29 AM  
Blogger Levi Nunnink said...

I'm of Mexican descent and I love Mexican jokes. There's a big difference between finding humor in our ethnic quirks and racism.

7/26/2005 9:14 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I know my personal favorite Italian/Catholic joke is:

Do you know what the Pope is really saying when he's making the sign of the cross outside St. Peter's?

All of you Degos get off'a my lawn...

It's more of a visual joke, but still...

7/26/2005 10:10 AM  
Blogger Kris said...

How many hits did you get w/o replies to this post? Just wondering ZS. I love your writing.

7/26/2005 6:23 PM  
Blogger Bridget Jones said...

Hey ZS! I like ethinic jokes too, but if they seem vicious at the time, I substitute the word 'ethnic' for the ethic group and it works well, usually.

Used to work with automotive engineers (for about 10 years or so). When the Truly Tasteless JoKes series came out, I'd heard ALL of the first 2 volumes at work.


What an office that was....Bridg

7/26/2005 6:59 PM  
Anonymous ann said...

the husband and i totally joke with each other's ethnicity. he's irish, and i'm italian. in his family, we're considered a mixed marriage!

anyway, every day after work he asks me how did my day go. i always respond "hey, don't call me a dego." corney, but after 12 years of marriage, we still laugh!

7/26/2005 7:10 PM  
Blogger Laurie said...

Don't you hate it that when you want to tell a joke, but you have to look around first to see who's listening? I think it's ridiculous. You're right...Political correctness is destroying this nation's sense of humor! :)

7/26/2005 7:58 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Laurie - Political correctness is destroying this nation's sense of humor!
Quote of the day right there.

Ann - That's awesome. I love Italians, and their food is one of my fav cuisines. I'm thinking of starting an ethnic joke series, doing one at a time. Of course it will have a disclaimer on the top of each one that says something like "if I have not hit your ethnicity yet, don't worry, you're ethnicity will be coming up soon, so don't feel left out."

Bridget - Those books ruled! I'm so glad someone else found those funny besides my whole family. We'd get those books for Christmas, and I'm surprised we never had to perform the Heimlich maneuver during Christmas dinner.

Kris - Thanks. I don't have this site counted. I should really put a counter on this site or something. I'll mark that a to do.

Laura - I've heard so many Pope jokes. My family on both sides are Catholics, some very staunch, yet they all laugh at Pope jokes. Naughty naughty...

Levi - Best Mexican jokes I've ever heard were from non-Mexican Latinos. Now that whole concept is funny to me. Of course they're said with love though. ;)

7/26/2005 9:24 PM  
Blogger Vest said...

laurie, always look around first before you crack a joke, it prevents getting a busted nose.

English persons are referred to as Poms here in OZ, there are numerous explanations why, but each contradicting the others.
The nearest I can provide is that, the first fleet of convicts sailed from Portsmouth(nicknamed 'Pompey')Eng 1788, and subsequently these people from Pompey acquired titles derived from Pompey; such as poms pommies etc. Most bigoted Aussies include the word bastard for better effect, mind you, us Poms, meaning me, use the retaliatory word 'BLUDGER' also to good efect.

7/27/2005 7:19 AM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Vest - You know, there's a joke but you have to visualize it because it's more a visual joke.
Do you know how someone's about to tell an ethnic joke?
Then you look around at everyone in the bar, then go on to say something. It's pretty funny.

As for the word bludger, wonder if JK Rowling (Harry Potter author) uses that word as an inside joke that us Americans don't get. It's part of her imaginary game where people fly around with broomsticks.

7/27/2005 7:33 AM  
Blogger Vest said...

ZS,the expression Bludger, meaning 'A good for nothing bone idle freeloader'.

The reason I am still awake at 1-30 am. I am on the fith day of a fifteen day detoxification thingy, and the last tablet I took containing misc herbal ingredients at 7-30 pm; designed to make one dash to the dunny has either misfired or has a delayed action fuze.
I have been instructed by er indoors not to enter the boudoir until after the bomb goes off.

7/27/2005 8:42 AM  
Blogger Vest said...

An agitated Pakistani arrived at the airport ticket office and was told to shove off as he was one euro short of the price of the ticket. looking around he saw Enoch Powel a racist ex British polititian, "Please sir" he asked "Can you give me one Euro to get me back to Pakistan"?
Enoch Powel replied,"Here you are sport, 20 Euro's, and take nineteen more back with you"

7/27/2005 6:50 PM  
Blogger Vest said...

An up market toffee nosed English ex army Colonel was visited by his new next door neighbor; A wealthy Abdul-Mustavafag (A chain smoker?).
The colonel told him to shove off as he did not like Paki's and also he was better than him although his house was similar he also had a Rolls Royce and four servants.
The next day Abdul turns up with a new Rolls Royce and six servants.
"Now I am better than You sahib Colonel" say's Abdul. "How's that" asked the Colonel.
Abdul replied "I dont have a Pakistani family living next door to me".

7/27/2005 7:20 PM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Vest - Awesome jokes. One thing I'd like to clarify for those Americans unaware of this: in English English, fag means cigarettes. In American English, it's a derogatory word for homosexual.

As for wacky Pakis, got a few of them for friends. They tell Turkish jokes (Turks as stupid and inbred) and Indian jokes (Indian as in dots, not feathers). I'll need to interview them to write those jokes down.

Thanks Vest.

7/28/2005 8:41 AM  
Blogger savage said...

I'm BACK, Baby!
Blogger seems to be working so I can read and comment now.
So I'll go do that...

7/30/2005 3:06 AM  
Blogger savage said...

The thin-skinned-ness is alarming as well as confusing.

For instance, my step-mother and I were discussing racial relations in urban America.

She's American because she took the citizenship test. But she was born in Hong Kong and came to the U.S. with her family when she was 13.

I say that, so you'll be as perplexed and annoyed as I was when I tell you that when I mentioned about the issues between white and black people ...

She, suddenly interrupting, said:
"I think they prefer to be called 'African-American'"

If you know me, you know the next part, a) I told her that the national or f--- it all, CONTINENTAL origin of the person isn't in question, what is, is what can be seen FROM ACROSS THE STREET. b) Black people are not African. Or, anyway, not necessarily. Calling someone who is black 'African-American' is as appropriate as calling me European-American. The weird thing to me, is putting the OTHER continent FIRST in the hypenation.
It is interesting to note that one time I was having a discussion and my step-mom was involved and I mentioned how I really loved the food at this Etheopian restaurant in Santa Monica (sorry, folks, it's not there anymore, they had to make space for, I guess, another Disney Store on the Promenade) ... anyway ...

She said, and I quote: "They have food?" Referencing all those '80s starving in Africa Etheopian jokes. Funny, huh? I mean, considering I'm supposed to call dark skinned people 'African-American' so I don't offend the Chink?

7/30/2005 3:25 AM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Ethiopians were one of two African countries never "imperealized" by a European country. They actually were going quite strong until their civil war devastated them (1970s?).

As for all the hyphonated crap, why not just call everyone "Americans." Geez, if you put all my ethnicities before American, it would take days to call me it. I just prefer American.

7/30/2005 10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Italian's also have the nickname Dego, where did that name come from?

1/07/2006 9:09 AM  
Blogger The Zombieslayer said...

Anon - From the name Diego. It's kind of like calling a Jewish person "Goldstein" or a Mexican guy "Paco" without knowing their name.

2/12/2007 11:45 PM  

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