The Legman Report, Part I (Rationale of AFU)

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Lee Rudolph

Mar 22, 1995, 10:04:10 AM3/22/95
This is the first part of a report on {\it Rationale of the Dirty
Joke: An Analysis of Sexual Humor, Second Series}, by G. Legman,
published in 1975 by Breaking Point, Inc., New York, later
reprinted by the University of Indiana, but now--alas--out of
print. This is not intended to be a ``book review''; rather,
I've tried to take note of the various overlaps between Legman's
book and alt.folklore.urban's recurrent themes and obsessions.
As time permits, I will endeavor to complete my report on the
Second Series (my interlibrary loan is overdue, and I haven't
even finished my second pass through ``Castration''), and perhaps
work up a similar report on the First Series (of which I own a
copy). Throughout, I will use pseudoTeX conventions to mark
italics, etc., as above--in particular, I will enclose {topics}
in curly braces to set them off (and facilitate grepping). The
report is organized by the same Subjects as the book.


Getting his introductory essay ``No Laughing Matter'' off to a
good start, Legman (p. 6) summarizes {Milgram's ``Behavioral
Study of Obedience''} but does not mention the same social
psychologist's seminal study of {Six Degrees of Separation}.

On p. 15, he makes a point about joke transmission that seems to
me equally applicable to Urban Legends: ``Since the jokes that
are told are really only being repeated from previous listening,
in the deepest sense {\it teller and listener are indivisible and
identical}. The favorite jokes of one are -- by & large -- the
favorite jokes of the other. Otherwise these jokes would not
survive, through centuries and civilizations hundreds of years
and thousands of miles apart. The favorite jokes, this time of
the large mass of teller-listeners, have therefore been chosen
again and again by an almost always unconscious bent or selection
from the larger float of jokes that any one person may have
heard. Only the special favorites are retained, or are
transmitted very often.''

Again, on p. 30, Legman's comment on joke transmission via
telephone and telegraph uncannily adumbrates {Usenet}. ``I have
known, in New York and Chicago, particularly in advertising, the
theatre and the arts, men who would sit up until late at night,
telephoning at fabulous expense to California all the `new' jokes
they had heard that day, and which would therefore arrive in
California four hours ahead of the sun. I have also been
informed by Mr. Joseph Fliesler, complier of the original
{\it Anecdota American} (1927) and former publicity director in
America for UFA Films, that telegraph operators `in the old days'
-- meaning before the advent of the teletype machines, which
would leave a guilty record in the morning -- would keep the
wires open all night by retailing jokes in this way over enormous
distances. I have heard, too, of Army walkie-talkies being used
in this same way, since World War II, to transmit the latest joke
on the commanding officer and his wife to the front line of the
battle during the silent, nerve-wracking waits of the night and
early morning.''

Still from the Introduction: ``{Humor-as-ordeal} is a subject
that has never been handled.'' He mentions here the supposed use
of body parts in medical-school hazing.


Much of the first 70 pages of this chapter is devoted to Legman's
own neo-Freudian psychological theories. There is a passing
reference to one-time net.kook candidate Fred Cherry, and many
references to Legman's earlier book {\it The Guilt of the
Templars}, which seems like it would be a good read for the
conspiracy theorists among us. Not until p. 111 did I come upon
more traditional AFU fodder, namely, an allusion to fratboy
circlejerks, without, however, an explicit mention of the {soggy
biscuit} motif. On p. 112 we are told that ``the investiture of
the Pope involves a very sober examination -- on a special open-
bottomed chair set upon a dais -- to determine whether or not
`{\it Testiculos habet,}' and his foreskin as well.''

A probable precursor of {the chloroformed roommate} is attributed
(p. 156) to Sir Richard Burton, in his Terminal Essay to his
(plagiarized, according to Legman) translation of the {\it
Arabian Nights} (1888), who ``ascribes it as a true incident''
(but involving champagne, and a bellboy in a hotel rather than a
roommate in college or barracks).

On p. 160, Legman asserts without documentation that ``Arabs
today still castrate or pedicate their captives in war.'' Paging

No mention of the {candiru}, but--perhaps even more
interesting--on p. 162 we find that ``Paranoid fears of
pedication by snakes are transformed by South American Indians
into the superstition of the {\it ca\"inero,} described by Henri
Michaux in {\it Ecuador}, and Jean Hallier in {\it Chagrin
d'Amour} (1974): {\it The ca\"inero is `a small red fish in the
Amazon river . . . that penetrates the imprudent bather through
the fundament, and slowly devours his heart!}' (Motif G328,
`rectum-snake;' and compare Freud's `Rat-man' case.''

On p. 181, there's a bonafide reference to {\it Reader's
Digest}!!! namely, a ``Humor in Uniform'' squib about an
overbearing admiral who is mocked, when in the hospital for a
minor condition, by having a daffodil inserted in lieu of a
rectal thermometer. (April, 1958, p. 134, it says here.)


Legman seems to think (p. 197) that Swiss Army Knives symbolize
winkies. We know better, though, don't we?

No one ever substantiated, to Bill Nelson's satisfaction at
least, the traditional status of {a two dollar bill} as being a
harlot's hire. Bill won't be impressed, I'm sure, by Legman's
bland assertion (p. 210) that the punchline of an 1888 only works
because of ``the then-standard $2 bill''.

There is, maybe, a reference to {snuff films} on p. 256: ``I can
only add that any sick sexual Hollywogs accidentally omitted by
either Ray Russell or Al Goldstein are wrapped up (in spades) in
Terry Southern's black-humor evisceration of the subject, {\it
Blue Movie} (New York, 1970), in which the studio-head has a
special affinity for `paying his last respects' to corpses''.

I have already posted, at length, Legman's account of Marcel
Proust's alleged kink for killing mice ``with needles on the
boys' bodies during homosexual intercourse'' (p. 259) and have
wondered if this precurses the {gerbilling} story. Was Proust as
famous in his day as Richard Gere is in ours?


No Lemonjello, but on p. 308 we have ``{\it The Negro woman in
the maternity hospital who names her baby `Wasserman Positive
Jones} because she has found this written on her hospital card,
and `it sounds so fine!'} (N.Y. 1937)''. By now, you know, if
there were any such {Unfortunately Named Children of Dumb
Clucks}, you'd think some of them could be documented with death
certificates -- much easier to find than birth certificates.

On p. 312, something else I've posted about at greater length:
the (intermittent) popularity of stories (whether true or false)
about notable public figures (President Roosevelt, French
President F\'elix Faure, ex-Vice President Rockefeller,
{Catherine the Great}) who died while engaged in sexual
activities of one sort or another not involving song.

On p. 331: a 1966 citation for the {Overheard Airline Pilot}
story (the date has since been pushed further into the past by
Ms. Barbara Hamel), already given in detail earlier.

As to {broadcast bloopers} more generally, on p. 360 ``A similar
radio `boner' -- probably not authentic -- was reported from
England ... {\it `Wilfrid Pickles interviewing a young lady:
``If you weren't yourself, Miss, who or what would you like to
be?'' She: ``A Christmas Pudding ... I'd like to be done slowly
for six hours''.'}'' (No date, but Christmas Pudding never
goes stale, after all. Who is Wilfrid Pickles? and did his
mother name him for where her waters broke?)

On p. 364, there's a story I've never heard, but I'd like to
spread it. ``No one who has been bouncing around in the literary
and cultural hipster activities of the last few decades in
American can be ignorant of the fact that the late Ernest
Hemingway . . . chose as running gag . . . of . . . {\it For Whom
the Bell Tolls}, in 1940, the Spanish food-dirtying oath, {\it `I
shit in the milk of your mother!'} This appears, however, as `I
{\it obscenity} in the milk of your mother,' the explanation
being circulated -- folklore, of course -- that as he as being
paid $1 a word, each {\it obscenity} netted him one buck, where
he would have been paid nothing for dashes.'' As I myself was
once screwed out of one one-dollar word by an editor of the {\it
New Yorker}, not to mention having my punctuation trifled with,
this has special resonance for me.

{Pissing in coffee}, which has been well-documented in the
present day, is addressed in a 1940 joke on p. 374. Likewise, a
story about {semen} on restaurant food (in this case, tapioca
pudding), showed up in the District of Columbia in 1953--proving
(if any proof were needed) that it's not just pizza chains and Paki
curry houses that add the spice of life to their food.


I think AFU has decided that `everyone knows' that native
informants will pull {anthropologists'} legs whenever they get
the chance. For what it's worth, Legman seems to agree (p. 421),
at least in the case of Malinowski.

{\it Penis captivus} gets a whole subsection to itself, starting
on p. 427. One ``form of this . . . tenacious legend suddenly
appear[ed] as a wildfire rumor among the students at the
University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, in the Winter of 1935/36,
with exact details in the telling as to the very place where the
lovers `were found' in the university Arboretum''.

On the next page, Legman quotes at length, from Vance Randolph's
{\it Pissing in the Snow} (still only in ms. at the time, but now
-- I believe -- in print), an Ozark version of {the girl who gets
a bottle stuck `by suction' in her vagina during masturbation}
(in his version, it's a beer bottle).

On p. 438, Legman repeats a tale of {dental penectomy} caused by an
auto accident during fellation, adding, ``This story has been
consistently collected over the years, and is always told as
authentically true.'' Has anyone here ever heard it on the hoof?

{The exploding toilet}, p. 443, is traced back to the era of
outhouses (sometime before 1940), as I've reported in more detail
in an earlier post. None of Legman's versions is embellished
with dropped stretchers or the like.

On p. 453, there's a story that I suspect of being a precursor to
the {superhero sex game} UL: ``{\it A girl tells her mother about
the marvelous new position for making love that her husband has
taught her: she is to lie on the bed with her legs spread, while
he charges across the room and swan-dives into her embrace. The
next day the girl has a hurry-call from the hospital where her
parents have been taken. `How are they?' she asks fearfully.
`Your mother is all right,' she is told, `but they're still
probing for your father'.}'' He traces this back to 1929 or

There's loads of stuff on {merkins} starting on p. 459, in the
midst of which Legman claims to have been ``the co-inventor in
1938'' of ``the excessively frank vibrating or rotating dildo'',
in cooperation with ``the late Dr. Vladimir Fortunato, the
world's greatest anatomical model-maker. (It is not patented;
our gift to the world. ... )''

On p. 485, Legman quotes Henry Miller ({\it Aller-Retour New
York} (Paris, 1938) interviewing an Englishman who has been to
Australia and learned to castrate sheep with his teeth.

On p. 491, Legman reports some slightly different words to
``Colonel Bogy'' (about {Hitler's supposed cryptorchidism}) than
we are familiar with, and also gives a few lines from the World
War I ``Mademoiselle from Armenti\`eres'' about the Kaiser's
genitals. Some things never change.

On p. 493, we learn that ``{Santa Claus} ... is also castrated.
This is plainly stated in modern Dutch folklore, which also
supplies Santa Claus' last name. In Holland he is {\it Sinter
Class Kapoentje} (Santa Claus the Little Capon)''. No mention
is made of the method. Too many sloppy seconds too soon after
Coca-Cola douches?

On p. 511, we learn that the French got there first, coining the
verb ``ab\'elardiser'' sometime before 1898, long before Lorena
Bobbitt gave her husband's name to the English language. I bring
this up only because there's another version of the {chloroformed
roommate} here, or so it seems to me. Here is Legman's
translation of the beginning of Octave Mirbeau's {\it Torture
Garden}, followed by some of Legman's debunking. Note as well
the {litigious Anglo-Saxons} theme. `` `Several months ago, a young
Anglican vicar was {\it abelardised} by the husband of a lady
whom this reverend gentleman had crowned with his heavenly
favors. The husband, a doctor, made use of the ancient
subterfuge of deceived husbands, which never fails to trap both
wives and lovers. He feigned going off on a trip, and came back
{\it suddenly} at the moment when he was least expected. The
guilty couple were quietly sleeping, and the doctor chloroformed
them both without making any scene. Then he proceeded to operate
on the gentleman, bandaged him properly, and retired. One can
imagine the mutual surprise of the lovers, the next morning, at
the our of leavetaking. The reverend gentleman had to have
himself transported to his lodgings somewhat more crestfallen
than he had arrived. But the characteristic [sc. British] trait
is that after he was healed, he sued the physician, demanding
damages and interest for an injury incapacitating him for work.
[See {\it Deuteronomy, xxiii.1}]' ... I cannot of course prove,
at this date, that the story ... is untrue, but one observes
that ... [t]his is hardly the way two people who have been
chloroformed would wake up!''

****to be continued?****

Lee Rudolph

Bo Bradham

Mar 22, 1995, 1:42:13 PM3/22/95
to writes:
> On p. 438, Legman repeats a tale of {dental penectomy} caused by an
> auto accident during fellation, adding, ``This story has been
> consistently collected over the years, and is always told as
> authentically true.'' Has anyone here ever heard it on the hoof?

Here's a related story I heard a long time ago. I was in high
school and I heard it from a college guy so it probably dates
back to the mid '60's or so.

When I was in high school but not yet old enough to drive it was
considered fun to go to places where the older kids parked to
make out, and hassle them in various ways. A bunch of us were
sitting around talking about this and I heard a FOAF tale about some
guys who had a run of bad luck whilst engaged in this vigilante
form of birth control. It goes something like this:

The hasslers would ease their car, in reverse, (at least one of
them was old enough to drive apparently) up to the hasslee's car as
quietly as possible. Then they would tap their car against the bumper of
the parked car and speed away. But one time they didn't consider the sand
in the parking lot and got stuck as they were trying to get away. The angry
boyfriend got out of the other car. He told them ordinarily he'd think what
they're doing was pretty funny, but they'd made him bite his girlfriend's
nipple off and he wasn't too happy about it. He proceeded to beat them
all up.

I rate this about as voracious as any other FOAF tale I've ever

Bo "your joke about a mouthful here" Bradham

Andy Walton

Mar 23, 1995, 12:36:41 AM3/23/95
In article <3kpe9a$>, (Lee Rudolph) wrote:

(Really great stuff, the posting of which was a truly meritorious public
service, deleted)

> Legman seems to think (p. 197) that Swiss Army Knives symbolize
> winkies. We know better, though, don't we?

It would certainly explain all of the female MacGuyver fans I keep running
into. He knows how to use it in all occasions, and always has duct tape...

(More niftiness deleted, including a Hemingway story.)

This may or may not be an UL. As I recall, I saw it in Wallechinsky &
Wallace's People's Almanac, which I don't have anymore. It may have been
from the Book of Lists. They run together.

Hemingway went out of his way to avoid autograph hounds. Finally, one
enterprising lad, after being several times rebuffed, sent him a letter
with a $10 bill. "Dear Mr. Hemingway," he wrote, "I hear that you are paid
$5 per word. Enclosed is $10. I am only asking for two words."

In the fullness of time, he received, by return post, a note from EH. The
note read "Thank you." It was unsigned.

Related apocrypha (what's the singular?) from a Washington dinner party:

Female partygoer: The hostess bet me that I couldn't get you to say more
than two words."
Calvin "Silent Cal" Coolidge: You lose.

> On p. 438, Legman repeats a tale of {dental penectomy} caused by an
> auto accident during fellation, adding, ``This story has been
> consistently collected over the years, and is always told as
> authentically true.'' Has anyone here ever heard it on the hoof?

Not really, but who can forget John Lithgow's reaction in The World
According to Garp..

Thanks for the post. I'll have to start prowling the used bookstores now...

Andy "I've got the Victorinox Super Tinker, m'self" Walton

|Andy Walton |"An inalienable right IS compulsory." |
| | -Michael John Falkner|

Steven Joseph Marzuola

Mar 23, 1995, 4:11:03 PM3/23/95
In article <> (Andy Walton) writes:
[ wonderful acknowledgements of marvelous posting deleted ]

: Female partygoer: The hostess bet me that I couldn't get you to say more

: than two words."
: Calvin "Silent Cal" Coolidge: You lose.

I used to have a book of "Presidential Anecdotes", that described this
story about Coolidge. Only, instead of a partygoer, it was a cub reporter,
who had a bet with his editor. No proof as to its voracity, only that it
was widely told among the White House press corps.

Another story was that his wife was ill one weekend. When she woke up she
asked, "Calvin, where have you been this morning?"
"Well, what did the preacher talk about?"
"What did he say about it?"
Steve Marzuola " ... and ideally it should excite long and inconclusive debate, defy all logical
explanation, and evoke images that border
on the surreal." -- quoted by Helge Moulding

Graham Slapp

Mar 27, 1995, 2:37:44 PM3/27/95
In article <D5uuM...@murdoch.acc.Virginia.EDU>,

fl...@jm.acs.Virginia.EDU (Bo Bradham) wrote:
> writes:
>> On p. 438, Legman repeats a tale of {dental penectomy} caused by an
>> auto accident during fellation, adding, ``This story has been
>> consistently collected over the years, and is always told as
>> authentically true.'' Has anyone here ever heard it on the hoof?


Was it the 'World According to Garp' that this occurred in?

Graham Slapp.

Opinions are my own and extremely unlikely to be those of my employer

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