Author Archive
Folk speech
Proverbs

“Two shakes of a dead sheep’s tail”

This proverb is used to mean a short amount of time. Saying “I’ll be there in two shakes of a dead sheep’s tail” means that you will be there quickly. The informant first heard this proverb from his mother when he was five years old. His mother is from Georgia, and the informant always believed that this was a Southern proverb. It was memorable because he could never figure out why it had to be a sheep’s tail, let alone a dead’ sheep’s tail. There is nothing about dead sheep’s tails that lend them to being shaken fast, making this proverb somewhat absurd and silly. The saying seems to have gone out of style, so the people who use it are usually older. It is also a very motherly saying, used to reassure impatient children that dinner will be ready soon, or that they will leave soon, etc.

Customs
Folk Beliefs

Calling Fives

This custom is similar to calling “shotgun” on the front seat of a car in that it has to do with seating. When you are in a group of people with limited seating and you have to leave your seat, you can “call fives” on this seat. This means that for the next five minutes, no one can your seat. If you come back within these next five minutes, you can reclaim your seat. Although this rule is observed among many young people today and is made to eliminate debates, it can often lead to disputes as to whether or not five minutes have passed.

Game

“Fives/Fists”–Folk Game

This game is played between four or more people. Everyone stands in a circle  and starts with their fists extended towards to the center. One person takes the first turn and indicates by making a throwing motion with their fist. When this happens, the person whose turn it is tries to guess how many fingers will be extended. During this turn, every other player has the choice of either keeping their fist closed or extending five fingers. This makes the number of fingers in the circle somewhat random. If the person whose turn took the turn is right, they are out of the game. So, the last one in the game loses. An extra rule that is occasionally instated involves celebrating after getting out. If you high five someone else or obviously celebrate in any other way, you are back in the game. This can lead to loud, intense games where people go from very happy about getting out to very upset about getting put back in.

Folk speech

F.I.D.L.A.R.

This acronym stands for “Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk”. The informant first heard this when she was around 12. It was a popular phrase among the skater kids in Malibu, where the informant grew up. In fact, it was so popular that a local punk band from the area used it as their name. This band has since become popular on a national scale, giving prominence to the saying. The informant maintains, however, that the saying existed before the band and that the band merely adopted it.

This saying seems to be popular mostly amongst teenagers in the los Angeles area, which makes sense given the sentiment of the phrase. Teenagers are known to go through a rebellious period and a saying like this, which is essentially justification for making a rash decision, is perfect for this demographic. The informant says she has never heard it used it outside of Los Angeles and there is a certain pride attached to it being local to that area.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Kissing The Mezuzah

The informant is from Malibu, California and grew up in a Jewish household. She was the president of “Malijew”, her high school’s Jewish club.

This tradition was taught to the informant by her mother when she was very young. The informant grew up in a Jewish household and her mother was of particularly strong faith. Before explaining the tradition as a whole, the informant first described what a mezuzah is. It is a metal tube with Hebrew prayers inscribed on it and it also usually contains a scroll of Holy prayers. These prayers are inscribed by designated scribes and are not considered holy or authentic if they are written by anyone else. The literal Hebrew translation of mezuzah is “doorpost”. This is because they are hung on top of or on the side of a door frame. The informant was always told that this was to protect the house from evil and also to be reminded to obey the instructions of the holy verses contained in the mezuzah.

Beyond hanging the mezuzah, the informant also always makes sure to touch the mezuzah and then kiss her fingers whenever she enters or exits a room with one hung on the door. When asked why she does this, the informant said “because it says so in the Torah”. While it is true that the Torah commands, the act of kissing the mezuzah seems to be a calming act. Though it may be a small, simple thing, it is a way of acknowledging one’s faith throughout the day and keeping God in one’s thoughts. The use was obviously first disseminated through the institution of the Jewish religion, but it is spread today mostly through familial lines.

Notation:

To some extent, mezuzahs have been a point of contention. This is because they are often left nailed to the doorway after the Jewish owner moves out. When a new owner moves in, they often keep the mezuzah, regardless of their faith. Some owners reportedly kiss it even though they are not Jewish, which has caused some controversy with the Jewish community. The informant recalls going to  a friend’s new apartment in New York City and kissing his mezuzah before entering. Her friend was not Jewish and asked her why she did that, having never seen the tradition take place. As far as the informant knows, he has not taken it down. Kissing the mezuzah is not just a cultural or regional tradition; it is seen as a sacred, religious act. People hold these acts dearly and can take it personally if they feel they are being robbed of them.

Farmer, Ann. “In Mezuzas, a Custom Inherited by Gentiles.” New York Times. September (2010): n. page. Print. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/18/nyregion/18mezuzahs.html?_r=1&>.

Legends
Narrative

Airborne Regiment Nicknames

The informant is a military veteran who served for thirty seven years. He retired a two star major general, a veteran of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal with oak leaf cluster, the Silver Star Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Legion of Merit with three oak leaf clusters, the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart Medal with oak leaf cluster. He is a Master Parachutist and served in the 503rd Parachute Infantry and the 187th Regimental Combat Team.

Both of these regiments have nicknames which have stories to explain them. The stories behind the nicknames became folklore as they were repeated and embellished by future members of the regiment.

“Informant: And then of course, most units have a, uh, motto or a battle cry. For example, the regimenty I was with during te Korean War.

Interviewer: Which regiment is that?

Informant: That’s the 187th parachute infantry regiment. And, uh, they were known as the “Rakasans”. That’s R-A-K-K-A-S-A-N-S. Rakkasans…they got that, uh, when they were in Japan, in the occupation of Japan and the Rakkasan is the Japanese word for “paratrooper”. And the Japanese had Rakkasan Bouta, which are Rakkasan troops. The literal translation of Rakkasan in Japanese is “falling down umbrella”. But, uh, the meaning of the word is paratrooper in Japanese.

Interviewer: Did you guys have a motto or battlecry?

Informant: Uhh…Rakkasan!

Interviewer: Oh, you just yell that?

Informant: Right. And, uh, the, uh…regiment I was with in WWII was the 503rd parachute infantry regiment. Ou rnickname and battle cry was “The Rock”. R-O-C-K. Because we jumped on Corregidor. That’s C-O-R-R-E-G-I-D-O-R-. Corregidor stood at the entrance to Manila Bay. And, uh, when General MacArthur left the phillipines in 1942, he left in a PT boat from the island of Corregidor and that was the…sure and certain sign that United States of America had lost the phillipine islands to the Japanese. Um, now yo flash forward to 1945, and uh, in March or, excuse me, February, excuse me, February of 1945, the 503rd parachiute infantry rgeiment jumped on Corregidor. There were supposed to be… G2, the intelligence people, estimated there 600 Japanese soldiers. Turned out there were 5,000 Imperial Marines on Corregidor and the 503rd parachute infantry regiment had 2,000 troops. They jumped on Corregidor, captured the island, and killed 4,500 Japs…uh…lost… had about 1,000 casualties. And Corregidor was known as “The Rock”, so that became the motto or the nickname of the rgeiment, was the rock regiment.”

 

Humor
Riddle

Plane Crash Joke

The informant grew up in Southern California and spent a lot of time in and around planes. His father is a pilot and he is also the first person who told him the joke. Although the inclusion of a plane is more of a device to produce humor, the joke could be considered a piece of pilot’s lore.

Informant: “Uhm…let’s see…alright. So, a plane crashes right on the border of the  U.S.-Canadian border. Right in the middle, no closer to one side than the other. Where do you bury the survivors?”

Interviewer: “Uh…wherever they’re from?”

Informant: “No”

Interviewer:”Um…I don’t know”

Informant: “You don’t bury them because they survived”

The informant was told this joke by his father when he was a young child. He calls it a “gotcha” joke because it is actually a very simple, straightforward question disguised as a clever riddle. When it is asked, one does not initially think that there is anything humorous about the riddle; the answer seems to be a logistical question about the burying the dead. When the answer is revealed  the person being told the joke is supposed to be embarrassed that he or she was unable to answer this easy question. The informant remembers being fooled by it the first time his father told it to him, and that feeling of being “had” stayed with him, imprinting the joke in his memory. Although it does deal with death, the riddle’s impact does not come entirely from the incongruity of morbidity and humor, but rather the incongruity of being stumped by a question anyone should be able to answer. Everyone knows that survivors are not buried; the way it is phrased leads one to overlook this fact in favor of a more complicated answer.

Game
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Dropped Your Pocket

The informant is a college student from Malibu, California. She went to a large high school and was on the cheerleading team. It was during these long, somewhat boring practices that this tradition would take place. It was mostly to pass the time.

“Dropped Your Pocket” is a game played by the informant in middle school and the beginning of high school. The game involves only two people; the instigator and the victim. The goal for the instigator is to make a circle with their thumb and forefinger and get the victim to look at this circle. If the victim looks at it, the instigator can punch the victim in the arm. The only condition is that the circle must be held below the waist of the instigator.

Because of this condition, much of the game is centered around trying to get the victim to look below the waist of the instigator. This is where the phrase “you dropped your pocket” comes from. The instigator acts as if they have picked up what they dropped and has it in his or her hand in hopes that the victim will look. The informant  that it is more humiliating for the victim if they are fooled into looking by a statement that inherently does not make sense, such as dropping your pocket. Another popular one is “Your sock is untied”. However, the instigator does not need to say anything in particular in order for them to have punching rights. As long as the victim looks and it is under the waist, it is valid. Once this process is done once, the game becomes very contagious. Everyone is on high alert not to look down, as the attempts to get people to do so become more desperate. Most players of this game do not state outright why it is bad to look below people’s waists. However, it is true that children that age are often told of the dangers of sex. Although they may not know everything about it, they know that it has to do with parts below the waist. This may be part of the reason for the appearance of this game and its popularity among this age group.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The En-En’s Mile

The informant is a college student from the Whittier neighborhood of Los Angeles. He marched drum line all four years and was drum captain his senior year.

The En-En’s Mile was a tradition performed by every freshman in the informant’s high school drum line since before the informant was a member. The second week of school, after weeks of practicing in the summer, the band has its first competition. Before this competition is when this tradition happens. En-En’s is a Chinese/Japanese/Continental all-you-can-eat buffet in the informant’s hometown. There are many legends and rumors surrounding this establishment, most of them making claims questioning its ingredients, cooking methods, and health standards. This is why En-En’s is picked. The entire drum line goes the morning before the competition and the upperclassmen bring plates of food to the freshmen. They typically pick the least appetizing food and always make sure to include plenty of Jell-O. The freshmen are to finish whatever is put in front of them (within reason). Then, the drum line goes to rehearsal early and all of the freshman must run a mile before it starts. Although there is no time limit, the rest of the band is usually watching and telling them to hurry up. Once they have finished the mile, they are allowed to compete as a member of the marching band.

This tradition is definitely hazing, which has to do with liminal points. The freshmen, in this case, are going from being inexperienced newbies to competing members. Completing the unpleasant task of eating bad food and then running a mile is symbolic of this transition. It shows that they are committed enough to put themselves through the pain and become a member.

Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Freshman Friday

The informant went to high school in New York. It was a large public school that was not necessarily rampant with rebellion, but the large number of students often made it hard for the faculty to control them. Controversial, student-organized gatherings and events were somewhat common.

Freshman Friday is usually the first Friday of the school year at the informant’s high school. It was supposed to be the day when the upperclassmen would bully the freshmen by putting them in trashcans, hitting them with newspapers, pouring condiments on them, etc. However, during the informant’s time in high school, it was more of a legend than a tradition. This is because there never was any real organized harassment on that Friday, either because the teachers were on high alert or because the upperclassmen never planned on following through. Even so, every year during the days leading up to that Friday, the students fervently discuss what will happen. The informant recalls believing wholeheartedly in these rumors when he first entered high school.

This is another liminal or transition tradition. It is intriguing because it is really a faux-tradition. It is never actually practiced; any bullying or hazing on that day while the informant was in school were  isolated incidents. Yet the day is acknowledged and widely discussed annually without fail. Once the freshmen get through the day and realize that nothing bad really happens, they are now let in on the joke. They can now look forward to scaring all the freshmen next year with stories of how horrible the day is.

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