Bourbon Cowboy

The adventures of an urbane bar-hopping transplant to New York.

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Location: New York, New York, United States

I'm a storyteller in the New York area who is a regular on NPR's "This American Life" and at shows around the city. Moved to New York in 2006 and am working on selling a memoir of my years as a greeting card writer, and (as a personal, noncommercial obsession) a nonfiction book called "How to Love God Without Being a Jerk." My agent is Adam Chromy at Artists and Artisans. If you came here after hearing about my book on "This American Life" and Googling my name, the "How to Love God" book itself isn't in print yet, and may not even see print in its current form (I'm focusing on humorous memoir), but here's a sample I've posted in case you're curious anyway: Sample How To Love God Introduction, Pt. 1 of 3. Or just look through the archives for September 18, 2007.) The book you should be expecting is the greeting card book, about which more information is pending. Keep checking back!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

What The Hell An Irish Marathon Apparently Is

Was looking over some really old crosswords today and discovered the entry IRISH MARATHON. The clue was "Relay race." And I thought, "Uh-oh. That sounds like it might be an ethnic slur." Sort of like giving the name DUTCH TREAT to a set-up where no one is actually treated, or WELSH RABBIT to a dish that contains no rabbit. Or, for that matter, DUTCH COURAGE, MEXICAN STANDOFF, CHINESE FIRE DRILL, INDIAN GIVER, or any number of other terms that are jokes on nationalities, and which we really want to avoid if we don't want people sending angry offended letters. Surely the reference to "Irish marathon" is a way of saying, "The Irish are so lazy or stupid that they need four people to finish a single race."

Of course, it could also be a legitimate cultural entity, like Australian football or German chocolate cake. Or even "Shaker gun," which is a dummy gun that makes fun of the fact that Shakers are pacifists, but in such a way that I doubt the Shakers mind. So I looked into it. And I couldn't find another damn reference anywhere. Wikipedia had nothing. My vast NI2 dictionary had no such entry. And even Googling "Irish marathon" left me with no actual information. You get references to "Irish marathons" (which are inevitably marathons held around St. Patrick's Day), and even a reference to THE Irish Marathon (it's in Belfast). But no information on how it's held, what the procedure is, and if there's any relaying involved. And certainly nothing to suggest that an "Irish marathon" was anything specific or peculiar to Ireland. So at this point, I was not only afraid that the term was offensive; I wasn't even sure it was a real thing.

So I asked a colleague, who turned to a single volume on his shelf---some ancient thing called "A Dictionary of American Slang", and found it instantly under "slang terms for racing events." Clearly, according to at least one compiler, Irish marathon = relay race. But there was no indication about whether or not it was considered offensive. And, since the book was not only old, but contained the entry "midnight express---A Negro runner", also with no note about offensiveness, I was left not knowing what to think.

I eventually went with, "No one seems to know this phrase at all, so who the hell cares if it's mildly offensive," and let it stand. That's the professional angle. But personally, I'm still really curious. Does anyone have any references that might help me out here?

P.S. This post has also inspired me to try to invent a few new slur phrases that haven't been invented yet---preferably to insult groups that don't normally get insulted. So far, mostly I've come up with terms that actually offend me. But I do like the phrase "Hit the Italian brakes!" for blowing one's car horn. If it doesn't already exist, I hereby claim patent.

P.P.S. Come to think of it, after reflecting on it further, I'm inclined to think that AMERICAN CHEESE is a slur as well. Excuse me while I write an aggrieved e-mail.



Blogger Tristram Shandy said...

Well, if you google ‘“Irish marathon’ slang” on Irish Google, you get a link to a defunct website that defines:

“Irish Marathon: [English] (n) ~ An extended session of sexual intercourse.”

Faith and begorrah!

10/05/2006 1:03 PM  

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