Rationale of the Dirty Joke  

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"Under the mask of humor, our society allows infinite aggressions, by everyone and against everyone." --Rationale of the Dirty Joke (1968) by Gershon Legman

"Sexual humor is a sort of whistling in the dark, like Beaumarchais' Figaro, who 'laughs so that he may not cry.'" --Rationale of the Dirty Joke (1968) by Gershon Legman, p. 18

"One is reminded of the current beatnik or hippie pose, or ‘beat-Zen’ ethos, of dogged and inconvenient impulsiveness and truth-telling—especially when these hurt or destroy everyone involved—on the pretext of a theoretically total but actually quite false revolt against the ‘conventional lies of civilization’ (Nordau), for which other conventional lies, of anti-civilization, have simply been substituted, such as that the roaring of mountain lions or meaningless vocables strung together are poetry, and that the Marquis de Sade was a great philosopher. (Zen-Sadism?)".--Rationale of the Dirty Joke (1968) by Gershon Legman, p. 19

Related e



Rationale of the Dirty Joke: An Analysis of Sexual Humor (1968) is a non fiction book on off-color humour and bawdry by Gershon Legman informed by Freudian theory. The book was first published by Grove Press in 1968; was later reprinted in hardcover by the Indiana University, was years out of print until it resurfaced in prints by Simon & Schuster.



To the Manes of Poggio Bracciolini, Lover of books, folk-humor, and women.


dirty, humor, sex-hatred, bitch-heroine, facetiae



First sentence: "Under the mask of humor, our society allows infinite aggressions, by everyone and against everyone."

References to:


  • The parlor-scene in Lady Chatterley's Lover, which shows Lady Chatterley "being required to sit quietly at her needlework while her impotent husband and his friends talk anti-woman bawdy before her."
  • Legman likens the smutty joke to verbal rape, invoking Freud "The smutty joke is like a denudation of a person of the opposite sex toward whom the joke is directed. Through the utterance of obscene words the person ..."
  • Legman: "The really fearful themes in our society are venereal disease, homosexuality and castration."
  • National styles: "Germans and the Dutch ... are obviously far more susceptible to scatology"
  • Four lettter Word Games by Dutch psychiatrist Dr. Renatus Hartogs and Hans Fantel states: "Gallic off-color stories is the refinement and variation of sexual technique ... the French dirty joke concerns itself with ... cuckolding and ... seduction ... England [has] a high proportion of jokes referring to homosexuality [and an] incestuous component. ... the racial antagonisms [of the U. S. ] find frequent expression in [American] dirty humor."


About rationalization, the transmutation of that which is unendurable in real life into the pleasurable experience of humor.



  • Bawdy jokes have only rarely been recorded in print
  • On the origins of Western literature. (Legman seems to imply that the whole of Western literature is derivative from the East). I paraphrase: Western European literature all follows backward the same itinerary: through France, to Italy or Spain and then to the Levant. The Slavonic and Germanic tales do not even make this Western detour, but pass directly up through Asia Minor, via Turkey and Greece, to eastern Europe. Nothing short but a history of Western literature here, on a par with Patrick J. Kearney's excellent a history of erotic fiction and Colin Wilson's The Misfits.
  • The expurgation of the jestbooks in the Anglo-Saxon culture took place in the 1830s, in an attempt to avert the revolutions of the 1840s.
  • Petrus Alphonsi's Disciplina Clericalis started the Western vogue of fiction.


Recent developments stemming from the "New Freedom" after book censorship trials in the United Sates: first Ulysses , then Lady Chatterley's Lover and Tropic of Cancer and Fanny Hill has seen it become possible to publish unexpurgated editions of bawdy jokes; but the "replacement of the arts of literature and the stage, since First World War, by movies, television, radio, disc- and tape recorders" has made censorship easy and has produced sexless and synthetic art, sadistic entertainment and falsefied information. All in all Legman seems to disapprove of new media as they arose in the sixties. He even devotes a whole page to derisive criticism of Marshall McLuhan, likening his techno-utopianism to Dr. Pangloss.


  • Notes on the transcription system used in this book.
  • Legman points to a lack of a motif-index or tale-type analysis of erotic folktales, jokes and humor generally. He cites Stith Thompson's classification which leaves blank X700 - X799 because " ... Thousands of obscene motifs in which there is no point but the obscenity itself might logically come at this point, but they are entirely beyond the scope of the present work. They form a literature to themselves, with its own periodicals and collections. In view of the possibility that it might become desirable to classify these motifs and place them within the present index, space has been left from X700 to X799 for such motifs (Thompson 1955-8, 5:514)."

Legman would have preferred, one gets the impression, to include the X700 [1] category and to exclude the S [2] category for example which is about unnatural cruelty.

Legman also adds that a collection of dirty jokes needs and ontology and taxonomy in order to give meaning to it.


On duplication and geographical migrations.


Further ontological notes Trivia: Truth-telling member = vagina see, Le Chevalier Qui Fist parler les Cons . To check: La 628-E8 Octave Mirbeau's gruesome dossier concerning the death of Balzac.


Apologies for colloquial and allusive titles, other apologies.


Thank yous and ups and downs in writing the book. Mentions Miss Christine Conrad, former Mrs. Legman. Signed: La Clé des Champs, Valbonne, (Alpes Maritimes), France.

Subjects and motifs

Motif (literature), theme (literature), trope (literature), subject matter.


Mock Ignorance

Penis envy

penis envy

The primal scene

In psychoanalysis, the primal scene is the actual or imagined observation by a child of sexual intercourse, particularly between the parents.




The diaper and the scythe




Permissiveness and ridicule



The Male Approach

The Sadistic Concept


Premarital Sexual Acts



See also:

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