Holiday essay question: what’s a doggy-woggy?

Dogtagsthanks_to_theawristocrat_dot Philosophy is famous for lively exam questions.  My favorite is:  "Does this count as a question?"  (One student answered, "Yes, if this counts as an answer.")

I don’t know that anthropology has a tradition of good exam questions.  We’re too earnest, too dutiful. 

But that can change.  In the present issue of New York Magazine, Jacob Rubin tells us about a wonderful experiment he did recently in Union Square.  He went up to strangers and asked a favor.  The object of the exercise: to see how forthcoming New Yorkers would be. 

One of the questions Rubin asked is:

"Would you watch my dog while I run into the health food store and buy yogurt?"

One New Yorker fell to bended knee, and exclaimed,

"Look at you, Mr. Doggy!  Aren’t you a doggy-woggy?"

So that’s my exam question. 

A man approaches a woman in Union Square and asks, "Would you watch my dog while I run into the health food store and buy yogurt?"   

She falls to her knees and says to the dog in question, "Look at you, Mr. Doggy!  Aren’t you a doggy-woggy?" 

Please unpack.

For non-anthropologists, "unpack" means supply the cultural assumptions that are (probably) at work here.  We would expect students to supply underlying cultural notions that would help a visitor from Indonesia (or Mars, for that matter) to grasp what happened in Union Square. 

I am hoping this wouldn’t be necessary but we could add questions like the following: 

Who is the speaker addressing?  Why the "Mr."?  What’s a "doggy-woggy"?  What’s with the honorific (Mr.) and the diminutive (doggy-woggy)? Conversations carry assumptions, and assumptions construct the people conversing.  How does this speech construct these speakers? 

Ok, here’s the deal.  In the spirit of Russell Davies’ I hereby post this question.  Submit your answer to me at grant27 [at] mit [dot] edu.  You answer should be less than 800 words.  The due date for answer is January 5, 2008.  (Thanks, Juri.)  I will prize answers that find a sweet spot between power and precision.  The winning answer will be posted at this website.    The prize will be a gift token from Amazon.com for $100.00 and something commemorative.  I might ask John Deighton to help judge the answers.  He’s especially good at this sort of thing.   Russell, too, if he’s willing.  Actually, come to think of it, I might post the best three answers and let This Blog Sits readers decide.  We shall see. 

You may pick up your pencils…wait for it…now! 

A man approaches a woman in Union Square and asks, "Would you watch my dog while I run into the health food store and buy yogurt?"

She falls to her knees and says to the dog in question, "Look at you, Mr. Doggy!  Aren’t you a doggy-woggy?" 

Please unpack.

Reference

Rubin, Jakob.  2007.  Because we’re not actually that rude.  New York Magazine.  December 24-31, 2007, p. 66.

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