Poseur Alert

“What kind of hand job leaves you cleaner than before? A manicure, of course. Why does this joke work? Because of the tension between the conventional idiomatic sense of ‘hand job’ (a certain type of sex act) and its semantic or compositional meaning (in which it is synonymous with ‘job done by or to the hand’). When you think about it, virtually all jobs are ‘hand jobs’ in the second semantic sense: for all human work is manual work—not just carpentry and brick laying but also cookery and calligraphy. Indeed, without the hand human culture and human economies would not exist. So really ‘hand jobs’ are very respectable and vital to human flourishing. We are a ‘hand job’ species. (Are you now becoming desensitized to the specifically sexual meaning of ‘hand job’? Remember that heart surgeons are giving you a ‘hand job’ when they operate on you; similarly for masseurs and even tax accountants.)

I have in fact written a whole book about the hand, Prehension, in which its ubiquity is noted and celebrated.

I even have a cult centering on the hand, described in this blog. I have given a semester-long seminar discussing the hand and locutions related to it. I now tend to use ‘hand job’ in the capacious sense just outlined, sometimes with humorous intent.

Suppose now a professor P, well conversant in the above points, slyly remarks to his graduate student, who is also thus conversant: ‘I had a hand job yesterday’. The astute student, suitably linguistically primed, responds after a moment by saying: ‘Ah, you had a manicure’. Professor P replies: ‘You are clearly a clever student—I can’t trick you. That is exactly the response I was looking for!’ They then chuckle together in a self-congratulatory academic manner. Academics like riddles and word games,” – Colin McGinn, a philosophy professor who resigned last week from the University of Miami following allegations that he sent sexually explicit emails to a female graduate student. McGinn is a Dish Poseur repeat offender.