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Recently in the news there's been some kerfuffle about a verbal exchange between CNN anchorman, Chris Cuomo, and a person who called him “Fredo”. In the cell-phone video, the man claims

I thought that was who you were

Cuomo responds that his name is Chris and he works for CNN. He then explains why he is offended by the term “Fredo" and why it is insulting for Italian-Americans.

Only punk-ass bitches from the right call me Fredo.
Fredo is from The Godfather. He was a weak brother. And they're using it as an Italian aspersion. […]
[“Fredo“] is like the n-word for us.

During the argument, Cuomo's anger escalates and in the ensuing expletive-ridden tirade, he threatens to use physical violence. The man repeatedly but calmly (probably seeking to bait Cuomo) interjects

I thought that was your name

Many reports clarify that "Fredo" does not carry the same cultural baggage or level of hostility as the n-word. Italians were neither enslaved nor victims of a systematic genocide in the US or in Europe. I am unaware if this term is considered a slur in the UK, I suspect it isn't, it seems to be exclusively American English. Hannah Gold for The Cut writes

…the term “Fredo” has become a cultural short-hand for “incompetent, cowardly, large adult son.”

In fact, online it has been suggested that Chris Cuomo may have an inferiority complex. His elder brother, Andrew Cuomo, has been governor of New York since 2011. And their father, Mario Cuomo, served eleven years as governor of New York.

Unfortunately, the President of the USA decided to stoke things further by tweeting the following

enter image description here

  I thought Chris was Fredo also.
  The Truth hurts.
  Totally lost it! Low ratings at CNN

In another Tweet, he added

Would Chris Cuomo be given a Red Flag for his recent rant? Filthy language and a total loss of control. He shouldn't be allowed to have any weapon. He's nuts!

  • What did the POTUS mean by saying he thought Chris was Fredo also?

Did he think the CNN news anchor was called Fredo? Was he insinuating that Cuomo was weak and less intelligent than his elder brother? Was the President indirectly insulting Italian Americans? Was he insinuating that the family Cuomo had Mafia connections?

  • When did calling someone “Fredo” become an insult? Is it considered racist in the US?
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – tchrist Aug 17 at 6:15
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In my estimation, it all amounts to nothing more than an emotionally-driven burst of anger and frustration. Nothing worth parsing word-for-word.

[“Fredo“] is like the n-word for us.

That's a gross exaggeration. The n-word is used to dehumanize, ridicule and oppress black people. "Fredo" just means the dumb brother.

Cuomo is also being a bit hypocritical having previously, in jest, applied the term to himself.

Chris Cuomo once referred to himself as ‘Fredo’ in radio interview:

HOST: “There is a group of people — politicos — who always hint they might run, but not necessarily plunge all the way, and they are members of la Cuomo.”

CUOMO: “Who am I, then, Fredo?” Cuomo asked in response.

HOST: “Yes, exactly,” Sliwa said. “So you better be careful that your brother Andrew doesn’t kiss you on both cheeks and then all of a sudden they take you out on the middle of the lake and where’s Chris?”

CUOMO: “He kisses me plenty because he’s a great big brother,” Cuomo said.

Who knows what motivated his outburst, but one thing's for sure: "Fredo" can be insulting (having the impact of the words "fool" or "weak"), but it's not nearly as bad as it gets (like using the n-word).

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    +1 for the radio link. It seems that "Fredo" was uttered in good humor. – Mari-Lou A Aug 14 at 16:03
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    They approached him while he was with him family, called him Fredo, and the claim is that they did so because that's what Rush Limbaugh calls him on his radio show. Presumably we're to believe they didn't know the guy, but recognized his face by listening to a radio show. Also the filmers' video appeared on a right wing Youtube channel first. To me it's pretty clear it was an intentional provocation, and must have been even more obvious to Chris, who gets this stuff all the time, or so he claims. – Zebrafish Aug 15 at 1:45
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    Also I don't agree it's hypocrisy, because an insulting term can either be insulting and malicious, or be a term of affection or solidarity or one showing friendship. There are two completely different ways the 'N' word can be used: From a black person to a close black person, or for example from a white supremacist or KKK member. Context is everything, and I don't see hypocrisy in his behavior for taking the term one way in one context, and getting offended in another context. – Zebrafish Aug 15 at 1:49
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    "[“Fredo“] is like the n-word for us." - to quote John Mulaney, "If you’re comparing the badness of two words, and you won’t even say one of them…that’s the worse word." – BruceWayne Aug 15 at 16:11
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    "Cuomo is also being a bit hypocritical having previously, in jest, applied the term to himself." No, he asked the host whether he (the host) was calling him "Fredo". – Acccumulation Aug 16 at 0:13
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I don't think it's "Fredo" specifically that's the insult. Calling someone by a name that's stereotypically associated with their ethnicity is likely to be viewed as racism. So he would have a similar problem if he called him "Luigi" ("Mario" might work for others, but not him, because that's his father's and son's actual names), called an Arab "Muhammed", or called a Mexican "Juan". This type of name-calling conflates all members of the ethnicity, which is practically the definition of racism, although I don't think it's considered as bad as using terms related to stereotyped activities (e.g. "spear-chucker" for black men).

However, Fredo may be insulting in multiple ways. Not only is it a stereotypical name, but it's also a weak character in a movie that emphasizes another stereotype, that Italian-Americans are gangsters.

However, I don't think it's an established, idiomatic insult like the N-word. I think Cuomo was exaggerating when he said that this was like the N-word to Italian-Americans. From Vox.com:

But Cuomo is being disingenuous at best when he says that Fredo is an insult that’s equivalent to the n-word. (In a statement of support for Cuomo, CNN also characterized the name as an “ethnic slur.”) The latter term has a lengthy and well-trod history as a racist insult, an unambiguous pejorative against black people when used by non-black people. The former is a reference to a pop cultural character from books published in the 1960s and movie adaptations produced the following decade. One is a degrading slur meant to dehumanize the target; the other is a metaphor with unflattering connotations: that the target bears a similarity to a character infamous for his lack of integrity.

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    I don't see why "Mario" would be any less offensive. None of these names is intrinsically offensive as a name; the offense is from using a stereotype rather than the person's actual name. If you call him Mario, he's not going to think, "Well, Mario is a perfectly nice name. It's my father's name and I gave it to my son. But, man, I'd really flip out if he'd called me Luigi." – David Richerby Aug 15 at 16:13
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    I just assumed he wouldn't take offense to a family name, maybe someone is just confusing him with his father. – Barmar Aug 15 at 16:21
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    But for anyone else, it conjures up Super Mario, who talks with a stereotypical Italian accent. – Barmar Aug 15 at 16:22
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Trump was re-tweeting a late-night comic who is allowed to be funny.

In The Godfather (1972) John Cazale plays the brother Fredo. He eventually takes issue with the way he is treated as the less intelligent gopher, worker bee, by everyone in the organization. The name has taken on this role in popular culture.

The man using "Fredo" as the name professed that he really thought that was Mr. Cuomo's name. I imagine this is what infuriated Mr. Cuomo even more.

There are currently several montages of people in public forums using this term all over the news from some years ago up until recently. It has become the latest offense for which to take umbrage, first or second hand, when there is nothing else worth reporting.

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    And who is this late night comic? Fallon? Corden? Colbert? Kimmel? Trevor Noah? – Mari-Lou A Aug 14 at 15:36
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    Your answer seems to suggest that "Fredo" as as an insult is a recent phenomenon. Could you say when it started? late 80s, early noughties? – Mari-Lou A Aug 14 at 15:38
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    You said "There are currently several montages of people in public forums" could you please provide any links that showed this usage before August 13th. – Mari-Lou A Aug 14 at 15:43
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    Here is a reference to one who made such a montage and then they play it: 560theanswer.com/content/all/morninganswerpodcasts You can begin listening at minute 34:00 or a bit before. – Elliot Aug 14 at 16:05
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    I've edited the original title, you might want to edit your answer considering. Please add the audio link in the comments to your answer, as comments can be deleted by mods or transferred to chat. – Mari-Lou A Aug 17 at 10:53
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To answer the specific questions asked in the post body.

When did calling someone “Fredo” become an insult? Is it considered racist in the US?

The origin of the insult is apparently Fredo Corleone, the weaker and less-intelligent of two sons in the Italian mob family from The Godfather. It's not a very commonly known insult, but seems to be more-commonly known in New York City.

What did the POTUS mean by saying he thought Chris was Fredo also? Did he think the CNN news anchor was called Fredo?

As Chris mentioned, he was probably perpetuating the insults the right-wing as been throwing against him.

Cuomo said conservatives have used the Fredo label against him, and they have. In March, Breitbart, former organizational base of early Trump adviser Steve Bannon, described Cuomo as "a rabid Trump-hater lacking in the intelligence and knowledge to do his job with anything close to competence."

"This has earned him the nickname ‘Fredo,’" Breitbart said.

In May, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh spoke of "Fredo Cuomo" and "the abject ignorance of media people."

-- Politico

He has a long history of repeating the stuff these organization put out.

Was he insinuating that Cuomo was weak and less intelligent than his elder brother?

This is the explanation Breitbart gave for this name calling.

Was the President indirectly insulting Italian Americans?

Potentially. It's notable that this particularly uncommon insult was selected for an individual of Italian descent, suggesting some level of stereotyping.

Was he insinuating that the family Cuomo had Mafia connections?

Tough to discern motives, but it's possible this is part of why this insult was chosen. The far-right likes to accuse "the media" of various mafia-like things all the time.

  • +1 I just love it when a really useful answer like this is ignored and the not-so-useful one gets tons of upvotes. I am often told in these parts that "everyone is against me" so they must be right and I am mistaken. What a hoot. – Lambie Aug 18 at 13:46
  • @Lambie the answer was posted two days later, and this question has since dropped off the Hot Network Questions list, it's the law of the fastest gun in the west. If you think this is such a good answer, you can always offer it a bounty :) – Mari-Lou A Aug 18 at 16:37

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