Author Archive
Gestures

The Shaka Sign

Informant: To make the shaka sign, you put down your three middle fingers, kind of like a fist, and keep your pinky and thumb stuck straight out. People, for example, when they’re driving, and they want to yield to someone else, they’ll do it. You know, “you go ahead.” Or if you want to cut in front of someone. It’s polite, kinda of like a “hey, I’m gonna pass. Hope you don’t mind. Okay, thanks. Thanks!” It’s a friendly gesture. I forget exactly what it means…

Me: Do you remember learning it?

Informant: I never learned it. Everyone in Hawaii knows it. This is the shaka sign.

Me: Do you use it?

Informant: Not really, I mean, I don’t drive, but I see my parents use it a lot.

Me: Is it only for driving?

Informant: No, no. I mean, I really only see people use it when they’re driving, but it’s not originally meant for driving-purposes. It’s just a friendly “aloha” gesture.

Me: So, is it similar to a wave?

Informant: I mean, we’re not going to do this (demonstrating the shaka) at each other. We’re going to just wave. But it has a similar connotation.

 

Although my informant was not sure of the exact meaning of the shaka sign, it seems to be generally a gesture of pleasant acknowledgement. It was likely adopted for use in driving situations because of that connotation. As certain driving situations can get tense, particularly when asking a favor of another driver, using a hand gesture associated with a friendly welcome may serve to diffuse possible aggression. It is also a reminder of the shared culture between the drivers. The shaka sign identifies the performer as a native of Hawaii. If the other driver recognizes the shaka, it indicates that he is also a native. This helps to form a bond between the two, which in turn encourages them to treat each other respectfully and may make them more likely to grant driving favors to each other.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Dorm Raid

“Dorm raid happened once a year at Idyllwild Arts Academy. The dorms are all locked at 10 pm every night. If you’re caught outside, you could be expelled. But there’s one night a year where we do dorm raid. The prefects (essentially the resident advisors for each hallway of dorm rooms at Idyllwild) determine the day and covertly spread it around. All the students come together at 10 pm. When the dorm parent (professor who lives in residence) locks the door, the prefects alert us and we just run out of the dorms and call people at the exact same minute. Sirens go off all over campus. You head into the fields and the woods, wherever. The professors chase after the students and have fun with it. If you get tracked down by a dorm parent, you technically have to go back to the dorm, but you don’t really have to. You just have to be back by 1:30 am. That happened around the end of the year, fourth quarter. Just when everyone is getting ready to tear out their hair. It was such a great way to unite us. You bond a lot. Fix friendships that might have gotten strained by all the stress. Having that night to do what you want to do when you’re studying and stressed out is such a release. It really helps you get your focus back the next day to do the work you need to do.”

 

Dorm Raid is a way of giving the students a break in a stressful time of the year. For one night, the normal rules about curfew and student-teacher interactions are ignored. The students are permitted to break the rules without fear of punishment. Not only does this help to bond the students together, as they avoid a common “enemy” while they run around the campus, but it also bonds them with the teachers. At that point of the year, when the teachers are assigning a lot of work, students most likely do not feel very happy toward them. Having a night where the teachers allow them to break the rules and even engage with them playfully by pretending to chase the students down, gives the students a more positive experience with the teachers. This lets them bond with and forgive the teachers, and later approach work assigned by those teachers more favorably.

Folk speech

“Ach, du liebe Zeit!”

Original German: Ach, du liebe Zeit!

Transliterate: Oh, you dear time!

Translation: Oh my gosh!

(Translation provided by informant)

 

“It was a phrase I learned from my mother, who was born in Stuttgart. It is a Schwebian phrase, often a reaction to a surprise or frustration, loosely translating to ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

 

My informant, though she has lived in America for over thirty years, was born in Germany and spent her childhood in a German immigrant neighborhood in Canada. She now speaks primarily in English unless talking on the phone with her German family, but she still uses this phrase rather than an American equivalent. Part of the reason could be that she spoke German as a child more than she spoke English and so uses German phrases by instinct in the spur of the moment. However, she also feels greatly separated from German traditions because of the distance between herself and her family. The use of a German expression in a moment of stress may provide some comfort by creating that link to her “Germanness” and reminding her of her heritage through the use of a German phrase that was commonly spoken by her mother.

Musical

Viel Glück–German Birthday Song

Viel Glück–German Birthday Song

Original German: Viel Glück und viel Segen, auf all’ Deinen Wegen, Gesundheit und Wohlstand, sei auch mit dabei.

Transliterate: Much good fortune and many blessings on all your pathways, good health and prosperity included as well.

Translation: Good fortune and blessings, on all your life’s travels, good heath and prosperity, shall also accompany you.

(Translation provided by informant)

 

“I don’t remember ever learning the song. We’ve just always sung it for birthdays in our family. My parents sang it with us when I was growing up and, obviously, I do it now with you. When there are English speakers around, family and friends, then we sing the English version too. But we don’t not sing the German version. I’ve never been to a German birthday where this wasn’t sung. It’s done as a round, and we just keep singing until someone decides to stop. You let everyone the others know that the line they are singing will be the last line by singing it slower until everyone matches your speed. You finish by holding out the last note.”

 

My informant was born in Germany, but moved to Canada when she was two months old. I believe this change in location is a large reason the song has remained part of their birthday tradition. Her father and mother, separated from their native Germany, wanted to hold onto and pass on German traditions and language to their kids. By teaching them German birthday songs, my informant’s parents taught them German traditions even before they were old enough to understand them. Because it is a short song and, as a round, designed to be repeated until the participants decide they no longer want to sing it, it is very easy to teach. This makes it ideal to pass on to children. In general, it helps to form a bond among German immigrants. My informant grew up in a neighborhood of German immigrants and, even if they did not know each other very well, having the ability to wish someone with a similar cultural background a happy birthday by referencing that shared culture (in this case, through song) helped to bond them together. It is also interesting that, in the case of a non-German speaker being present, the family will still sing the German songs, but add in the American birthday song. While the non-German guest may feel alienated by not knowing the German songs, the family makes a special effort to make them feel included again with the American happy birthday song.

Legends
Narrative

The Husch Path Ghost(s)

“The electricity at Idyllwild Arts Aacademy is infamously bad. So whenever you walk under this one light on the Husch path, the light goes out for ten seconds. If you keep walking, the light will flicker back on. But if you stay under it, the legend is that a headless Native American with a tomahac will kill you as revenge for having taken his land. We were really close to a burial ground, so I think that was why people were freaked out about that. Some people, instead of the Native American, say it is the spirit of a girl who hung herself along the path. There were a lot of attempted suicides around campus, which is probably what gave the inspiration for that. There were a lot of variations of those two.”

 

What I find particularly interesting about this is that there are two equally prevalent versions of the legend which every student at Idyllwild Arts Academy knows. It is not that two different versions exist and are told among two different groups of students. Rather, the students can pick which version they believe based on which is more exciting or scary to them personally. My informant, who is part Native American, finds the headless Native American version of the tale more personal and therefore scarier; that is the version of the tale that she believes. That version speaks to an existing guilt over America having taken Native American land. Being so close to the burial ground likely reminds the students frequently of this fact. The legend does not seem to make a judgement on the Native American being in the wrong for killing students who stay in the dark. Though students most likely do not feel like they deserve to be murdered for standing under a broken light, there is no part of the legend that actually attempts to fault the Native American or make him out to be a villain. Therefore, the legend, in some way, lets the students release their guilt for being on his land by allowing him to murder them without complaint. The other version of the tale speaks to the frequency of suicide attempts on the campus. This is likely a way for students to come to terms with those attempts. Believing that the girl comes back has the dual purpose of moralizing (as the girl comes back with violent intents, she is clearly not pleased with her choice of suicide, so students should not kill themselves) and comforting (though dead, she is not gone and can still visit).

Musical

Vati hat Geburtstag–German Birthday Song

Vati Hat Geburtstag

Original German: Vati hat Geburtstag, freuet euch und singet mit, wünscht Gesundheit und viel Glück.

Transliterate: Dad has Birthday, make merry and sing along, wish good health and lots of good fortune.

Translation: It’s Dad’s birthday, celebrate and sing along, wishing good health and good fortune.

(Translation provided by informant)

 

“I don’t remember ever learning the song. We’ve just always sung it for birthdays in our family. My parents sang it with us when I was growing up and, obviously, I do it now with you. When there are English speakers around, family and friends, then we sing the English version too. But we don’t not sing the German version. I’ve never been to a German birthday where this wasn’t sung. It’s done as a round, and we just keep singing until someone decides to stop. You let everyone the others know that the line they are singing will be the last line by singing it slower until everyone matches your speed. You finish by holding out the last note.”

 

My informant was born in Germany, but moved to Canada when she was two months old. I believe this change in location is a large reason the song has remained part of their birthday tradition. Her father and mother, separated from their native Germany, wanted to hold onto and pass on German traditions and language to their kids. By teaching them German birthday songs, my informant’s parents taught them German traditions even before they were old enough to understand them. Because it is a short song and, as a round, designed to be repeated until the participants decide they no longer want to sing it, it is very easy to teach. This makes it ideal to pass on to children. In general, it helps to form a bond among German immigrants. My informant grew up in a neighborhood of German immigrants and, even if they did not know each other very well, having the ability to wish someone with a similar cultural background a happy birthday by referencing that shared culture (in this case, through song) helped to bond them together. It is also interesting that, in the case of a non-German speaker being present, the family will still sing the German songs, but add in the American birthday song. While the non-German guest may feel alienated by not knowing the German songs, the family makes a special effort to make them feel included again with the American happy birthday song.

Musical

Herr Bleibe–German Evening Song

Herr Bleibe

Original German: Herr bleibe bei uns, denn es will Abend werden, und der Tag hat sich geneiget.

Transliterate: Lord, stay with us, for it wants to become evening, and the day has bowed down.

Translation: Oh Lord, abide with us, for it is almost evening, and the day is near its end.

(Translation provided by informant)

 

“It was an evening round song that we sang as long as I can remember. My mother was from Stüttgart. I assume the song is Schweibish (a German dialect from the south of the country). We would sing it home with as a family. My Mutti, my mother, also taught it to a local children’s choir at a Saturday morning German school. They couldn’t read music, but they could memorize it quickly when she sang it to them enough. She taught it to pass on the language and keep the culture going. Because it was a round, it was easy to teach the children the music and keep the language alive. When you first learned it, you called it… I don’t remember, but you obviously didn’t know what the words meant. You had just learned it by rote. You always thought of it as a lullaby, because that’s when I could sing it to you. It’s based on the gospel, I’m not sure which one, on the story of the disciples on the way to Emmaus. They invite a stranger to spend an evening with them. When they break bread with him that evening, they realize that it’s Jesus.”

 

My informant was born in Germany, but moved to Canada when she was two months old. Her mother taught her this song when she was very young, and she in turn taught me. I believe the location is a large reason this song has been passed on. My grandmother, who has never spoken very good English and still identifies herself as German, was out of place in Canada when they first moved there. Just like her reasoning for teaching the children in the Saturday morning choir, I believe she taught this song to my mother, aunt and uncles to keep them aware of their culture and language, even though they were no longer in Germany My mother, though not a citizen of the United States, has now lived in America for over thirty years. She taught me this song for the same reason her mother taught it to her. Separated from the connection she had to her family and her German heritage, she wanted to preserve that culture and pass it on to her children. She mentions teaching it to me before I even spoke German, causing me to memorize the words without knowing what they were. Because it is a short song and, as a round, designed to be repeated until the participants decide they no longer want to sing it, it is very quickly and easily learned. This makes it ideal to teach children, because they can memorize it without much difficulty.

general
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Freshmen-in-a-Line

“On Saturday morning band practice [for the University of Southern California’s Trojan Marching Band], you do this thing called Freshmen-in-a-Line. And basically, you get the whole freshmen class up there and they’ll ask you to play a song that you should have learned in the past couple of weeks. And this one actually kind of makes sense, because you should know these songs. But if you do poorly, you have to do more laps. You already have to run a lap regardless, but if you do poorly, you have to run one where you hold an instrument over your head, or pretend to be an airplane. Silly stuff like that. If the band leader catches them doing Freshmen-in-a-Line, he tells them to stop, but it’s not actually enforced. The sophomores have to do it too, but once you’re a junior, you don’t have to do it anymore.”

 

Freshmen-in-a-Line establishes the hierarchical structure of the band by number of years in band. (The term freshmen is based on number of years in band, not class standing at the university. A senior at the university would, if it was his first year in band, be considered a freshmen.) Despite disapproval from the band leader, Freshmen-in-a-Line is one method of the upperclassmen mocking and hazing those band freshmen who do not perform up to standard. It continues for the next year with Sophomores-in-a-Line, though that is treated more casually. Once a band member has reached junior status, he no longer needs to participate. Once he is a senior, he decides how they will mock the freshmen and sophomores by coming up with ideas for what embarrassing or uncomfortable way they should run their laps. This speaks to the increased respect and power a band member gets each year he rises in band. The first year, he is mocked publicly. The second year, he is still picked on, but mildly. The third year, he is protected from that mockery, but forced to be a spectator, not able to participate in mocking the freshmen and sophomores. The fourth year, he is expected to mock. He rises over the four years from victim to bully as he climbs the band hierarchy.

Folk speech

“Breaking the story”–Occupational Folk Speech for Writers

“It’s a writing term in general. I know it from screenwriting, more specifically, but it applies to all kinds of creative writing. Breaking, in this context, means to expand upon a simple idea. You know, you can get a story idea from anywhere. Taking an observation you make, or a random news article you read, or even words that just pop in your head… it’s about expanding those concepts into a larger, more complicated plot. But it’s basically the whole process of fleshing out the germ of an idea to the next step to the next step until it’s a fully developed story with an intricate plot and complicated characters. It’s about expanding on simple ideas to create something larger. And figuring out how that story is best told, whether it should be a short film or a novel or a feature length script. The name is misleading; it makes it sound like you’re destroying the idea when it’s entirely about the process of creating it into something larger and more intricate. I don’t remember the first time I heard the term. I learned it from other writers when I first started really working in collaboration with other writers and, well, breaking stories with them.”

 

Occupational folk speech for writers is particularly interesting because writers do not necessarily need to meet and work with other writers. So the fact that there are specific terms associated with writing that almost all writers know and use, without attending classes on or reading books about “writing terminology,” is surprising. I would posit that part of the development of this terminology was most likely influenced by the creation of television and the medium of television writing. As television writing requires anywhere from three to ten writers per show to work together to write a season of television, a language had to develop so that writers could communicate the same concepts and steps in the writing process to each other without confusion. Because of the highly collaborative nature of television, unified communication became necessary to streamline different writers with different writing processes and methods discussing their writing and working as a cohesive whole. So when the task for that day of writing is to come up with and flesh out a story idea, rather than having to give a long explanation, the writers can simply say “we need to break the story now.” Knowledge of this terminology indicates that a writer has most likely had the opportunity to work in some sort of collaborative environment with other writers. It legitimizes his writing. Rather than simply claiming that he is a writer, the fact that he is aware of the terminology implies that he had already worked as one. It establishes a hierarchy of experience.

 

This term is also used and defined in the book Crafty TV Writing: Thinking Outside the Box by Alex Epstein.

Customs
Gestures

Helmet Up, Logo Out–Football Gesture at Loyola Academy

“I was on the Loyola Academy—that was my high school—football team, the Ramblers. At the end of the national anthem, we would always raise our helmets with the Loyola Academy logo out. We would turn our helmets so they were pointing at the American flag. We would also do it at the end of the game. Even when we weren’t in the group, before the game, we would raise our helmets on the sidelines. That was our mantra. That was a tradition that was passed down from previous players. I think it came down originally from one of the original head coaches. He was there for thirty or so years, and after he passed away of a heart attack, it was something that the kids kept going. The coaches go along with it and do it, but it’s really more something the kids keep up.”

 

As my informant said, this started as a gesture created by the coach for use at the end of the national anthem. After his death, the players adopted it and kept it going as a tribute to him. It has since evolved to become player-driven. Rather than being taught by a coach, it is the players who have already been on the team for a while and are familiar with the team’s customs to pass this gesture on to the new players. Its use has expanded–rather than only being used at the end of the national anthem, it is now also performed at the end of the game and even at various spontaneous, unplanned points during the game. Rather than being a tribute to the former coach, it is now a way for the team to bond. It fosters a unity between them, as they are the only people at a game performing the gesture. When one player uses it, all the others follow suit. It also allows the players to demonstrate their unity to both their fans and the other team, suggesting that they will be more successful on the field because they are working together.

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