It's long and I'm having to fix some of the format, but I'll post what I have for now... even this much is worth the read.
Great day everyone!
It's one of those funny-sounding, completely inelegant Yiddish words that is
totally without charm but manages
to make its point.
For the uninitiated, putz, loosely translated, means jerk -as in "I went to
this fabulously trendy East Side restaurant and ordered the pesto pasta with
sun-dried tomatoes and the waiter brought me spaghetti and meatballs. What a
For some reason this word is used a lot in Manhattan but almost never in Jackson
Hole, Wyoming. As for the literal translation of putz -don't ask. (Hint:
rhymes with Venus.)
The "wounding power of slurs" is something the New York Times and sensitive
network news types are always on the lookout for. Except when the slur is aimed
at the one group they consider fair game.
This brings us to Harry Smith, the former coanchor of CBS This Morning, as affable a feminist as you'll ever meet -and even in a business populated by so
many liberals, Harry is out there, way off in left field. It was the summer of
There was Harry interviewing the actor Dennis Quaid about a movie he had just
done, Something to Talk About. In the movie Quaid plays a sleazeball, a married
man who can't keep his hands off half the women in town.
To Harry this is how men act in real life too. Which prompted him to say to
Quaid, "I'm under the assumption that most men are putzes."
In Harry's mind this was a perfectly reasonable observation. Because to Harry
Smith, most men are putzes. I know this because I called him a few days later
and asked just what he had in mind.
"Men are the cheaters," Harry told me. "Men are the philanderers. We're the ones
who don't take care of our families."
The word putz was creeping into my mind... but it wasn't most men I was
"And white guys are running around the country complaining that they're
victims," he added, just to make sure I was getting his point.
I understand all that hut what I can't figure out is how you can spell "Harry
Smith" without using the letters pc.
But what if affable Harry Smith (who in 1999 left CBS News to host A&E's
Biography) in some other context had said, "I'm under the assumption that most
black people are putzes”? Or "most Irish are putzes"? Or "most Jews are putzes"?
Let's put it this way: if he had said any of those things, good ol' Harry would
have been out on his affable liberal ass in about the time it would have taken
his bosses to say, "Pack your stuff and get out, you putz!" Even then, Harry
would have been lucky to get a job doing the overnight news at a radio station
in Kodiak, Alaska, which is one of those places where they don't use the word
putz all that much.
"What if you said on the air," I asked Harry, "you know, I think most women are
putzes. Do you think management would have tolerated that?"
He couldn't stop laughing. What Harry meant is, "You've got to be kidding,
putzhead -they would have tossed me out the freakin' window"
Nobody at CBS News thought this putz episode was any big deal. Eric Ober, the
president of the news division, said it was a joke. No harm, no foul.
I'm sure he was right. And I'm sure he would have felt the same way if I had
gone on television and said, "You know, Ms. Steinem, I don't understand what you
and all your feminist friends are always com-plaining about. You women are such
And it was a joke, too, when Katie Couric, on NBC, asked a bride who had been
jilted at the altar about a proper remedy: "Have you considered castration as
Warren Farrell, a California psychologist and former board member of the New
York chapter of NOW, was exercising at his home near San Diego, watching the
Today show, the morning Katie made her castration joke. In his book, Women Can't
Hear What Men Don't Say, he wondered what would happen if Katie's cohost, Matt
Lauer, asked a jilted groom, "Have you considered the option of cutting off her breasts?"
Well, Farrell didn't really wonder what would happen. Like everybody else, he
knew. "NBC would be considering the option of cutting off his contract."
The difference between the two is obvious, isn't it? Castration is funny.
Cutting off breasts is not funny.
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