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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

November 3, 2005

finito con “scalito” — it’s a silly sobriquet

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 4:02 am

This grandson of Italy is firmly in the camp of those who would prefer

an early burial of the nickname “Scalito” for Judge Samual Alito, at least

for purposes of public discourse — not, however, because it is a grave

insult to Italian-Americans.  I think it is sufficiently immature, misleading

and insulting (to both ends of the portmanteauScalia and Alito), to be

inappropriate in a serious public debate.  


scalitoXg   For an extensive and excellent discussion of the debate over the

word “Scalito,” complete with linguisitic and political analysis, see Benjamin

Zimmer’s Language Log, which featured A perilous portmanteau?” (Nov. 1,

2005) and Squabbles over ‘Scalito’” (Nov. 2, 2005).  Nick at musementpark 

also has a few prime comments, suggesting that those who love wordplay

had little choice but to dream up the nickname for Judge Sam.

empty bottle

a few words

I would like to take back

             John Stevenson from Quiet Enough


The immediate charges of anti-Italian bias by the National Italian American

Foundation (NIAL) and racism by unnamed Republican operatives, followed

by defensive speculations on the left about the intentions of the complainants, 

suggest that raising the American Emotional Quotient (and especially that

of the media, the Web, and “defamation professionals”) should be an important

national priority.  



on the face

that last night called me names

morning sunbeam



now my heart is

too loud


(Brooks Books, 2000) 


Whether hired, self-annoited or otherwise chosen, those who see their jobs

as protecting and defending the “reputation” of any group, far too often adopt

a lowest-common-threshold of offense, and an ultra-sensitive ear for insult. 

Thus, NIAF complained in its press release (on Oct. 31, 2005):



“The NIAF is distressed by the attempts of some senators and

the media (CNN,CBS) to marginalize Judge Samuel Alito’s out-

standing record, by frequent reference to his Italian heritage

and by the use of the nickname, ‘Scalito’.”

Oddly, NIAF mentioned Alito’s Italian heritage two times in the three-

sentence press release that same day, in which it applauded Pres.

Bush’s appointment of Judge Alito.  More telling, the Foundation’s own

Mission Statement boasts that it is “raising the prominence of all things

Italian in American culture and society, and making ‘Italian American’

part of the national conversation.”  People who group together to broad-

cast their pride in their ancestry, should not be insulted when their

ancestry is pointed out.  On the personal, group and ethnic level, looking

for reasons to be insulted makes you look pathologically insecure. 

tiny check  When the press or the pols say “He’s Italian, he’s Italian,

and so is Justice Scalia,” the response from NIAF should be,

“Yes, and ain’t that grand!” 

Until Sam Alito lets us know that he considers “Scalito” to be a fine

sobriquet, and Antonin Scalia concurs in adopting the portmanteau,

let’s shelve it and get to the merits of this nomination.  Crybabies and

namecallers shouldn’t be directing this show.


p.s.  I disagree with NIAF and with BMG‘s David Kravitz that

it would be anti-semitic to use similar wordplay linking the

names of Jewish judges who are seen as ideologically-close.

The fact that some observers might call it anti-semitic is not

persuasive, without more evidence of malicious intent.  Pointing

out that two smart and successful judges happen to be both

Jewish — or Italian, or Catholic — is not ethnic prejudice.


[For example: If the hypothetical Judges Greenberg and

Goldberger were perceived as judicial soul-mates, referring

to the pair as “Greenberger” (or even “Cheeseberger” ) might

be silly or insulting, but it isn’t on its face anti-semitic.]




first snow

what a racket

from the geese





I know the rules–

the wind blows

the leaves move






still ahead of us

the storm

we’ve been driving toward





their laughter

is not about me

but would sound

just like that

if it was



except: “empty bottle” – Upstate Dim Sum  (2002/I)





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