"Your reporter, an up-and-coming 'gotcha' star named Laurel J. Sweet, asked me (o-so-sweetly) what I said to those people. . .," Scalia wrote to Executive Editor Kenneth A. Chandler. “I responded, jocularly, with a gesture that consisted of fanning the fingers of my right hand under my chin. Seeing that she did not understand, I said, 'That’s Sicilian,' and explained its meaning."(Do you think Scalia watches "The Sopranos"?)
In his letter, Scalia goes on to cite Luigi Barzini's book, "The Italians": "'The extended fingers of one hand moving slowly back and forth under the raised chin means: "I couldn’t care less. It’s no business of mine. Count me out."'"
"From watching too many episodes of the Sopranos, your staff seems to have acquired the belief that any Sicilian gesture is obscene - especially when made by an 'Italian jurist.' (I am, by the way, an American jurist.)"
Anyway... "I responded, jocularly, with a gesture..." If a reporter asks a question and gets only a hand gesture as a response, what exactly makes it read as "jocular"? Isn't there something inherently brusque if not rude about only gesturing? It's a dismissive gesture too. And he concedes she asked "sweetly" -- though perhaps he's only keen about wordplay and he did not know how to restrain himself. Couldn't she justly have been taken aback at getting a gesture? Is it fair to peg her as playing gotcha?
As to the explanation, "That’s Sicilian" -- that's more complex. If a person hears that as threatening, is she being prejudiced, thinking too quickly of Mafiosi? How did he say it? Was he giving it a tough guy nudge? He chose to say "Sicilian," not "Italian." Are we wrong to pick up a Sopranos vibe?
I'm not saying Sweet didn't have to research the meaning of the gesture, and I'm not saying Scalia shouldn't have written the letter. I love the letter! It's hilarious!
CORRECTION: I originally wrote that the Boston Herald called Scalia an "Italian-American jurist," which I read here. They called him an "Italian jurist," much worse, of course.
UPDATE: Well, now the Herald has a photograph and, though Scalia lookes reasonably "jocular" in the picture, the photographer is saying "'The judge paused for a second, then looked directly into my lens and said, 'To my critics, I say, ‘Vaffanculo.'" Sweet won't confirm that Scalia said that word, which really is an obscenity. Remember when Scalia was saying his kids said he should get out more because it "it makes it harder to demonize you"?