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Language Log

Monday, Jun. 06, 2011 - 12:46 p.m.

In-laws gone, now my mom is here. All is fine, except I have to say that I played for her the LOC recordings of those songs she used to sing-- "Rings on her Fingers" in particular is a real doozy. What pains me about my mother-- one of the things-- is this generation gap thing. A Grand Canyon of a gap. Well, the song was sung in 1910 or so by one of those Irish vaudeville guys-- THE Irish vaudeville guy, Billy Murray. Sort of the Irish version of a minstrel singer. The song is doubly offensive, both to the Irish and to whatever "natives" it was lampooning. Anyway, she thought it was cute. She thought he might be trying to put on an Island accent, which to her made it even cuter. My mother is incapable of being offended by any sort of ethnic stereotyping short of outright violence. She has another song she sings, that her dad used to sing, and while I appreciate it as family history, I don't want to hear it again, but I can't possibly explain to her why. (She inflicted it on me this morning, which is why I mention it now). The fact that it uses the word "jigger" to refer to the main characters in the anecdote it relates...well, I'm not sure she'd even admit that it's a stand-in for a certain other word. And never mind pointing out that one character is depicted as sly and cunning, and the other as lazy. How could that ever be problematic?

*bangs head into wall*

My mother has made a lot of progress over the years, bless her, but in many ways her cultural sensitivity dates to 1912.

Anyhow. Other than that, all is fine.

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