LINGUIST List 15.1713

Fri Jun 4 2004

Disc: New: Re: 15.1623, Media: Cosby on AAVE

Editor for this issue: Sarah Murray <>


  1. Denis Donovan, Re: 15.1623, Media: Cosby on AAVE

Message 1: Re: 15.1623, Media: Cosby on AAVE

Date: Mon, 24 May 2004 07:12:11 -0400
From: Denis Donovan <>
Subject: Re: 15.1623, Media: Cosby on AAVE

I'm puzzled that Charley Rowe should be surprised by Bill Cosby's
rantings about anything.

I struggled over whether to include this bizarre example of stunning
adult insensitivity to language and to others in our last book, "What
Did I Just Say!?! (Henry Holt, 1999). In retrospect, I should have
included it.

On Friday, July 9, 1999, at the very end of a television news show I
was watching, I switched quickly to the local CBS station and happened
to catch the very end of "Kids Say the Darndest Things." Having
loved, as a child in 1950s, Art Linkletter's sensitive interviews with
children on his "House Party" television show, I was never a fan of
Bill Cosby's bedroom humor version of the Linkletter classic. Since
Linkletter himself was making a cameo appearance I stopped
channel-surfing to watch the last few minutes, a few brief exchanges
more reminiscent of the old Linkletter style than the complicitous
let's-embarrass-the-parents remarks that seemed to be Cosby's
stock-in-trade. The show's ending, however, took me by complete
surprise. As Cosby exited the set, he looked into the camera and said,
"In the words of my father: 'Just remember, I brought you into this
world and I can take you out'."

Let's momentarily forget our rocket science day job and think a moment
about what Bill Cosby actually - literally - said to his audience:
"Just remember, I brought you into this world and I can take you out."

In other words, I gave you life, I can take it away - or, simply put,
I can kill you. Now why would one of America's favorite real-life and
television daddies say such a thing to millions of viewers? Even more
striking, how could someone - a family man not only famously
interested in childhood issues and education but with a doctorate in
education - be so completely oblivious to what he actually said to
(presumably) millions of viewers? (Perhaps someone at CBS, or maybe
even Cosby himself, realized how grossly insensitive and inappropriate
his parting remark actually was because videos of the broadcast are no
longer available from CBS.)

As developmental psycholinguists Roberta Golnikoff and Kathy 
Hirsh-Pasek point out in How Babies Talk, "Knowing a language is 
knowing what to say and knowing when, where, and to whom to say it." 
(p.201) The expression "I brought you into this world and I can take 
you out" must be common parlance in some context, but which one?

What is the context of Bill Cosby's life that makes his parting
comment contextually relevant? Certainly a very primitive context, not
one of good education and doctorates in education.

Would anyone care to comment on Cosby's sensitivity to people and

- Denis Donovan
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