Author Archive
Folk speech
Proverbs

Tree Among the Leaves

“Look for the tree among the leaves.”

The informant takes this expression from her father, for whom she has the utmost respect.

“It’s probably the most meaningful piece of wisdom my dad has ever given me. I’m not sure where he got it, and frankly, I don’t care. For me, it shows me how well my dad knows me. He always gives me this advice because I tend to over-analyze things whenever I reach a hiccup in my life. I often lose sight of where I am in all of the chaos. Whenever I get too wrapped up in my own thoughts . . . too . . . inside my own head, I think of his saying, and I think to myself, ‘Where is the tree? What is the source of my problem?’ I find that once I look at things that way, the solution is generally a lot clearer.”

The informant further explained that she generally thinks of the expression when she is very emotional. Thus, recalling to mind something that such a dear mentor has said to her brings her as much comfort inherently as does the semantic meaning of the saying itself.

Customs
Foodways

How to Sugar Potica

Potica is a traditional Slovenian nut roll made from walnuts, coffee, rum, lemon, and caramel served around Christmas and Easter, as a celebration of Christ. After it is baked, it must be chilled, then flipped rising-side down, sliced, and dusted with sugar on the flat side of the loaf. My grandmother always said that if you dusted the loaf on the wrong side, you offened God’s tastebuds.

My grandmother is a very religious woman, as are most member of my extended family. In fact, much of that side of my mother’s family is populated with clergy members. She was also a chef when she was younger, so she developed a devout sensibility for food. She taught my mother this sugar technique, who in turn taught me the same practice. Now potica tastes worse if it is sugared on the wrong side.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Go Salt Yourself!

“Pojdi se solit!”

Translation:

“Go salt yourself!”

Used as an expression of frustration, this phrase can be taken to mean, “screw you!” The informant has been saying this particular phrase to me since I was young, whenever I was sufficiently irritating. For years, I was puzzled by why she would repeat this seemingly nonsensical saying to me. Why would an angry person suggest to someone else to salt themselves? Of course, whenever the informant was angry, I would never beg this question, as I imagined it would only aggrivate the situation further.

However, when confronted about the phrase’s meaning, she immediately offered this response:

“Historically, salt was very valuable, as it was not as commodified as it is today. Food lacking salt, however, lacks in flavor. That’s why the saying suggests that whenever you have said something that lacks flavor or character . . . you’ve said something bland . . . you’re suggested to season your coarse words with a bit of wisdom. Some salt to flavor your speech.”

 

Folk speech
Riddle

The Impossible Men and the Rabbit

“Nekoč so šle trije počaci.

Eden je bil slep,

Drugi je bil nag,

Treti je bil hrom.

Slepi je zajca videl,

Hromi ga je ujel,

Nagi ga je pod srajso del.”

Translation:

“There once went three together slowly –

One was blind,

The second was naked,

The third was lame.

The Blind one saw a rabbit,

the Lame one caught it,

and the Naked one put it under his shirt.”

Born and raised in former Yugoslavia, what is now known as Slovenia, the informant was continuously exposed to folk traditions that originated and permeated this region. The informant knows very little about the origins of this joke, but he compares them to many of popular self-contradictory English limericks, such as “One bright day in the middle of the night . . . ” The translation into English really tarnishes its humor, as the cadence of the joke is broken. The rhyme scheme is also distroyed as the punchline of the original joke cleverly rhymes with the line before it. Slovenian also has this incredible quality of succinctness, whereby a speaker can use an adjective, such as “lame” or “blind,” and turn it into a noun, generating much of humor from this reductive address (i.e. a man who is naked becomes simply “the Naked”).

Childhood
Gestures
Musical

“Rare Bog, Rattlin’ Bog,” A Camp Song

“Rare Bog, Rattlin’ Bog,” A Camp Song

Chorus (clapping)

Rare bog, rattlin’ bog, way down in the valley-o

Rare bog, rattlin’ bog, way down in the valley-o

And in this bog

There was a tree [arms in front of you in a circle]

A rare tree! [swing arms to left and right]

A rattlin’ tree [shake arms down and right]

[clapping]: And the tree was in the bog, and the bog’s down in the valley-o!

Chorus

And on this tree

There was a branch [stick one arm out]

A rare branch [swing arm back and forth]

A rattlin’ branch [shake arm down]

And the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog, and the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And on this branch

There was a twig [stick one finger out]

A rare twig [swing arm back and forth]

A rattlin’ twig [shake arm down]

And the twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog, and

the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And on this twig

There was a nest [make hand into a fist]

A rare nest [swing back and forth]

A rattlin’ nest [shake arm down]

And the nest was on the twig, and the twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree and

the tree was in the bog and the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And in this nest

There was a bird [repeat nest gesture]

A rare bird [repeat]

A rattlin’ bird [repeat]

And the bird was in the nest and the nest was on the twig, and the twig was on the branch, and

the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog and the bog’s down in the valley-o

Chorus

And on that bird

There was a feather [stick finger out]

A rare feather [swing arm]

A rattlin’ feather [shake arm down]

And the feather was on the bird and the bird was in the nest and the nest was on the twig, and the

twig was on the branch, and the branch was on the tree, and the tree was in the bog and the bog’s

down in the valley-o

Chorus

 

The informant is a young woman who attended many years of camp, being immersed in American campfire traditions. Thus, this piece was learned from others of her camp. She admits that very few of her friends and family remember this specific song, and when asked to recall it, she had to take many moments to write it out herself to solidify the tune in her mind.

So many characteristics of the piece indicate that it is suited for children: it’s rhythmic, repetitious, and physical, allowing children to learn quickly and engage with others in a performative way.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection

Petting a wet dog = death by car accident

“I don’t understand this one at all: my grandmother always used to say that if you pet a wet dog, you’d get hit by a car. I genuinely do not understand where she got an idea that stupid. But she told it to my dad and all of her children.”

The informant’s grandmother, who received no formal education, was born, lived, and died in Irapuarto, Mexico. The informant is generally mistrusting of all things he has learned from his grandmother, as he refers to most folk belief as “batshit.” Such beliefs hold no weight to him and serve only to be laughed at.

Folk Beliefs
Magic

Don’t Comb Wet Hair

The informant learned from his father, who learned from his mother, not to comb your hair when wet, as doing so would make you more susceptible to being struck and killed by lightning.

This belief is likely rooted in the observation of static electricity, a phenomenon which immediately evokes images of lightning.

The informant’s grandmother, who received no formal education, was born, lived, and died in Irapuarto, Mexico. The informant is generally mistrusting of all things he has learned from his grandmother, as he refers to most folk belief as “batshit.” Such beliefs hold no weight to him and serve only to be laughed at.

Customs
Folk speech
Musical

The Little Piccolo Player

“Prišel je tsiganček

sajast kako vranček;

Igral je na piščalko

Milo in pelo

Kakor malo kdo.”

Translation:

“There came a little gypsy boy

Black with soot/dirtlike a crow; [Dark as a crow]

He played on the piccolo

gently and beautifully

like very few could.”

This  is a traditional Slovenian nursery rhyme, one that I was raised listening to as my mother sang it to me as a child. She said that it was a song generally sung with many children who held hands and danced in circles. The rhyme itself imbibes a deeply racist sentiment towards the Romani people, who are widely refered to across Europe as “tsiganci” or “gypsies. ” The second line, “sajast kako vranček,” works two fold: 1) “sajast” means sooty or dirty, implying that the boy is unclean or uninterested in being washed. 2) the line likens the boy’s skin color to that of a dark crow, calling special attention to his non-aryan complexion.

However, the informant and I both have affectionate relationships with this rhyme, as it is sung with a gleeful, youthful tone, thereby removing much of the willful malice of its inherent bigotry. In fact, it was only when the informant and I revisited the rhyme did she and I truly grasp how deeply the racial sentiment was pronounced. The informant is unclear as to where in particular it originated, though when she was growing up in the late 60s, it was a very popular children’s rhyme in the Slovenske Konjice, a region of northeastern Slovenia.

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