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Lying and the ability to detect lies are related skills. Knowing when someone is lying comes in very handy in poker games when an opponent is trying to steal the pot by bluffing. Did you know good bluffers are better than lousy bluffers at detecting when someone is pretending to have a winning hand?

In Scientific American, Travis Riddle said the ability to lie convincingly is an important factor in whether politicians, attorneys, and poker players win or lose. The outcomes of elections, court cases, and card games all rely on people’s ability to tell lies and to detect others’ lies. Michael Hurd wrote an article called It Takes One to Know One – Or Does It? He told how in his work as a therapist he repeatedly saw cheating husbands rationalizing their own adulterous behavior and reducing their guilt by accusing their wives of infidelity.

Insulting the insulter

“It takes one to know one” is a familiar disapproving playground retort that is a way of saying the accuser is equally guilty of the insult. As an idiom, it is a close relative of “the pot calling the kettle black.” Psychology Today says “it takes one to know one” is at least a half-truth.

Leon Seltzer says the phrase is really a counter-accusation

Individuals who launch the first verbal attack are very often guilty of the very same shortcomings they are ascribing to others. Calling it the most cynical of all proverbs, Seltzer says it is an everyday example of the psychoanalytic concept of projection, the term that explains how people deny their own negative qualities by pointing them out in others. Our unacceptable attitudes and behaviors remain in the unconscious parts of our minds where they don’t bother us with feelings of shame that we can gladly heap on others.

In psychology, projection is the process of attributing ones unacceptable shortcomings to another

The concept emerged from Sigmund Freud’s work on defense mechanisms. It allows the difficult trait to be addressed without individuals recognizing it as descriptive of themselves. Karen Koenig says “Projection does what all defense mechanisms are meant to do: keep discomfort about ourselves at bay and outside our awareness.” She adds that the people who are most prone to projecting are those who don’t know themselves very well, even if they think they do. Freud said projecting makes it easier for insecure people to live with themselves by transferring feelings of guilt to others.

Doing the dozens

There is a verbal game called doing the dozens. Also called playing the dozens, it is a rapid-fire exchange of insults that target family members, usually women. The insults are performances delivered in front of a group. Although it can be played by anyone, it is typically associated with young male African-American inner city street culture.

What some people say about “the dozens”
  • Sixties militant H. Rap Brown said “We play the dozens for recreation, like white folks play scrabble.”
  • Journalist Gregory Lewis said it is a game of verbal combat that tests emotional strength and teaches players to keep cool under stress.
  • Music historian Elijah Wald says “It’s about saying something nasty enough the other guy can’t think what to say, but funny enough the audience thinks you’ve just done something smart.”
  • Some sociologists say the dozens is an adolescent ritual whereby boys cut themselves off from their mothers and become part of the gang.
  • Ice-T said “Your mother’s arms are so hairy, when she walks down the street it looks like she’s got Buckwheat in a headlock.”
Insults about each other’s mother are the most common
  • Your mother is so fat she broke your family tree.
  • Your mother is so fat I took a picture of her last Christmas and it’s still printing.
Some people get angry about how insulting mothers like this is offensive to fat people, mothers, and women

Kayla Kibbee said it’s clear the insults aren’t meant to offend because they are so stupid that they can’t possibly be true. Humorist Mark Peters called the jokes, “the verbal equivalent of a noogie, a whoopie cushion or a tap on someone’s shoulder to make them look. They’re harmless verbal pranks that demonstrate friendship.”

Eddie Murphy played Buckwheat on Saturday Night Live

The Buckwheat Eddie knew was played by child actor William Thomas in 1936 in the Our Gang film series. Thomas had a speech impairment that was used as a comic device. He pronounced the word “okay” as “O-tay,” as in his famed “O-tay, Panky.”

It is easy to look through today’s lenses at the characterizations of Buckwheat as perpetuating stereotypes

What many revisionists lose sight of is that back in the Jim Crow era, the Our Gang comedies had the courage to feature an integrated cast – and girls, too!

Click here to see Teresa James and The Rhythm Tramps perform It Takes One to Know One. 

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