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Anthony Weiner, Jews, and Jamaican Accents

From Paul Rudd to Matisyahu, the good, the bad, and the ugly

Adam Chandler
September 03, 2013
Anthony Weiner at the West Indies Day Parade in Brooklyn on Monday.(NYDN)
Anthony Weiner at the West Indies Day Parade in Brooklyn on Monday.(NYDN)

Yesterday at the annual West Indies Day Parade in Brooklyn, New York City’s mayoral candidates gave it their all with the primaries looming next week. Bill de Blasio, currently leading the polls on the Democratic side, had a signature dance called “The Smackdown,” while Anthony Weiner, well, swung for the fences with an objectively terrible Jamaican accent. He shouts:

“Anybody here from Jamaica? Anybody here from Barbados? Anybody here from Guyana?”

As some have pointed out (h/t Elspeth Reeve), in the video below, Weiner seems to realize he has taken it too far and then immediately dials it down.

Meanwhile, ever since Jews were prohibited from becoming residents of Jamaica in the late 14th century (although they returned and lived a clandestine life), there has been an (at times hilarious) inability among Members of the Tribe to properly channel the Caribbean brogue. Consider Paul Rudd’s attempt in the 2009 bromance comedy I Love You, Man:

Of course, the news isn’t all bad. As we reported earlier this year, Bob Marley did have a Jewish father after all. To boot, last year we ran a tribute by Ross Kenneth Urken, a Jewish boy from New Jersey, who grew up with the skill to throw down a rasclot at the appropriate time after being raised a Jamaican nanny. He wrote:

In my youth, I spent many weekends and school vacations working in my father’s hardware store in Princeton where I helped hoity-toity Nobel laureates in literature find the correct screw, and counted out incorrect change to tenured Princeton math professors who had proven Fermat’s Last Theorem. As such, I was exposed to the most pretentious and academic of speech patterns: R’s that became H’s, throaty schwa E’s, nasal and diminutive A’s. Added to that, I had a Jewish merchant’s inflection, a gimmicky shtick to deflect hagglers. (At 7 years old, I could not be talked down in price on a Weber grill.) These influences, to be sure, laid the foundation of my accent, but the decorations of its baroque tendencies, the savvy of its enunciation, come from my extended time with Dezna.

My consonants are clear, if over-pronounced, with T and D ticking in tandem and spitting like the greasy hands of a grandfather clock. Flat vowels, like deep plunks of rocks in Caribbean coves, irrigate my voice.

Last, of course, there’s former Hasidic, former reggae star Matisyahu about whom David Meir Grossman wrote last week. It’s a stellar read.

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.