Date: Wed, 21 Jan 1998 23:49:21 -0500 From: Alan Baragona Subject: Re: folk tale, "1, 2, 3" Gregory {Greg} Downing wrote: > > At 07:00 PM 1/21/98 -0500, you (baragonasa[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] wrote: > >I was told this story as a joke, not a traditional folktale, but the > >setting was the medieval Rome during the Plague, and the disputants were > >the Pope and the head Rabbi. The punchline, however, is decidedly modern > >and, as told to me, very unfolklorish. Now I actually use the joke in > >my Intro to Linguistics class when we discuss semiotics. > > > > I'm not sure of the sense in which Beth Simon used "folklore" in her > original post, but I meant it in the sense of modern/urban folklore, without > necessarily making any claims about antiquity. Where's the US dialect facet, > though? > > Greg Downing/NYU, at greg.downing[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] or downingg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] I heard this joke before the Internet existed (I think), back in 1984 or 85, and it tells even better than it reads because the gestures and intonation, especially as it was told to me by a Jewish law student, who knew something about comic timing as well as disputation, are part of the humor. In "my" version, the Rabbi suggests a sign language debate, not to make it more interesting, but to "level the playing field"--the Pope is used to disputation in Latin and the Chief Rabbi is used to disputation in Hebrew, so neither has a linguistic advantage with signing. The progression of signs is different in this version. First comes the Pope making a rainbow motion and the Rabbi pointing to the ground. Then the three fingers answered by one. Finally, of course, the chalice and Host answered with the apple. The "US dialect facet" comes in the Rabbi's speech and intonations (as he and the joke teller repeat the all the gestures): "Well, first he said [rainbow motion] 'All you Jews, get outta town.' And I said [pointing downward] 'Ve're staying right here.' Then he said [three fingers] 'You got three days,' and I said [one finger pointed upward] 'Ve're not moving one inch,' and then ve broke for lunch." It's the final phrase that is urban US and funny, partly because it's incongruous in the medieval setting and makes the medieval Chief Rabbi sound like Myron Cohen or Jackie Mason. Also, it must be said with shrugging of shoulders. There are still some things that e-mail isn't good for. Alan