Author Archive
general
Legends
Narrative

College Exam- Legend

“A university class that was taught in a lecture hall was taking a final. And all of the students handed in their test except for this one guy. When he finally finished his test he brought it up to the professor, but his professor told him he had taken too long on the exam and that he couldn’t turn his test in. The student was really mad at first and argued with the professor to try and get him to accept his test. But the professor still wouldn’t let him turn in the test, saying that it wasn’t fair to other students who had finished their tests within the time limit. So the student asked the professor, “Do you even know my name?” and the professor replied, “No”. So the student stuffed his test in the middle of the stack of the other students’ exams and left. He passed the class.”

My informant told this story in his Musicianship class that is full of students who were high school seniors. I was unable to ask him his personal thoughts on the legend. However I believe that it reflects how impersonal the experience at a large university can be. Professors often have class sizes that have over 200 students enrolled, especially in lower division general education or introductory level courses. For most students their professors in these large classes will not know them personally and won’t be able to match their face with their name.  The tone of this story also seems to be a bit negative. It basically says that in a large impersonal environment, like college can be, you can get away with a lot more because no one knows who you are anyway.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Proverb

“It is better to live a coward than to be dead as a hero”

My informant said that this proverb is best explained by another proverb that he heard growing up which is “Cowards live to fight another day”.  In the environment that my informant grew up in, these proverbs were said a lot by the adults in the community. There was a heavy gang population in the area where the informant was raised. A lot of racial tension between black people who were poor and those living in middle class neighborhoods and also a lot of tension between the black gangs and the Mexican gangs across town. There were deaths often and many times young kids between the ages of 11 and 14 would get caught in the middle of gang fights and end up dead as well. When my informant was a teenager these proverbs annoyed him as he felt that there was nothing worse than cowardice, but now he can understand why the adults in the neighborhood tried to paint cowardice in a semi-positive light.  These proverbs say that sometimes your pride isn’t worth being killed over.  As long as you don’t die you can live to fight for that pride some other time. Of course my informant admits that’s much easier said than done. I found my informant’s explanation very informative and have nothing to add to it.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Proverb

“All that glitters is not gold”

My informant first heard this proverb when he was in elementary school. He grew up in New Mexico. His mother said it to him when he wanted to spend all of his allowance money on a toy he had seen an advertisement for. The proverb means that just because something seems nice or valuable on first glance, doesn’t mean that it actually is valuable.  I agree with my informant on the meaning of the proverb. I have heard it several times before, as it is a very common proverb in America. However I was slightly curious as to what it might be referring to.

Some possible origins for this proverb or meta-folklore about it is that when one is looking for gold everything in the sand is shiny and glittery. While you may get excited seeing something shining in the dirt, it often times is not gold, but pyrite or fool’s gold.  Miners were often fooled into getting excited over pyrite when it later turned out to be nothing of any value to them.

Folk Beliefs
general
Humor
Old age
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Elderly Person-Joke

There was an elderly married couple. The husband had been having trouble with his memory lately so his wife took him to the doctor. The doctor told him that maybe he should start writing stuff down so that he could remember things. Then the couple went home. While at home the wife asked her husband, “Dear would you get me some strawberry ice cream with whip cream from the kitchen?” So her husband gets up to go get it, but before he can leave his wife asks, ” Are you sure you don’t need me to write it down so that you can remember everything?” And he says, “I don’t need you to write anything down, I can remember something small like this”. So goes into the kitchen and he is gone for a really long time. When he comes back he brings a plate with bacon, eggs, and toast on it. His wife stares at the plate and says, “See?! I told you write it down. I knew you would forget. I said that I wanted sausage not bacon”

My informant first heard this joke from a friend at school. He thought it was funny because not only did the old man forget what he was doing, his wife also forgot what she had said. He thinks people tell it because it’s a stereotype associated with the elderly that they often forget things.

I agree with my informant. Forgetfulness is a stereotype associated with the elderly in American culture, as well being frail, tired, and that they are always complaining, as well as being stubborn and stuck in their ways. The punchline of this joke makes use of the forgetfulness aspect of the stereotype. But why do Americans like to tell and listen to old people jokes? American culture seems to have grown some disdain toward the elderly. Older people are often seen as a drain and a burden to their children and grandchildren who take care of them. They are often characterized as chronically ill and useless as family members. Which might have something to do with America being a future oriented culture according to Alan Dundes (Dundes, 1969). The elderly aren’t considered to have a future. So it has become socially acceptable to make jokes about the elderly and their stereotypical shortcomings.

general
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Blanket Party Ritual

A blanket party is when a group of soldiers kidnap one of their peers while he’s sleeping. They cover him with a blanket and beat him up, then put him back in bed.

My informant spent a few years in the Marine corps in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Blanket parties were done whenever the entire platoon was punished for something that was the fault of one soldier. For example if one guy was running extremely slowly and the DI (drill instrustor) made everyone an extra 5 miles because of it. My informant said that Blanket parties are brutal, but they proved to be very effective in making the platoon move and behave as a team. Even the most ornery soldiers became easier to work with.

This ritual is similar to a rite of passage on the Marine base that my informant was stationed, because almost everyone has caused problems for the rest of their group by messing up or making an obvious mistake.  A balnket party is a punishment to remind the person being punished that they are not in charge and not to do anything that would purposely cause the rest of his platoon anguish. After more time has passed and the soldiers get to know each other, a mistake made by a soldier probably won’t result in them “getting a Blanket Party”.  This practice is not only a rite of passage ritual, but it also unites the soldiers under the same identity.

Folk Beliefs
general
Signs

Korean- Folk Belief

” Whenever your ear itches, it means that someone is gossiping about you behind your back”

My informant has no idea where or when she first heard this folk belief. She thinks its just something people who are raised in Korea have all heard at some point similar to how people raised in America know that finding a penny is good luck. She doesn’t know how it originated or why people say it. She said, “If your ear itches a lot then it means people are always talking about you or at least one person is always talking about you” Recently my informant’s mother always jokes with her about her ear itching, meaning that some boy is talking about her.

I had never heard this folk belief before, but I found examples of it in Korean illustrated novels or comics known as manhwa. In several different stories a character who is being talked about in a particular scene will be shown scratching their ear or mentioning that their ear itches in the following scene.

Annotation: In the story Hot Blooded Woman by Hwang Mi Ri, the main character’s simple mindedness and violent tendencies are often discussed behind her back. So she is often seen scratching her ear.

Hwang, M.R. (2000). Hot blooded woman.

general
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic

Folk Gesture

“That deserves a neck”

My informant told me that this is a popular gesture that the male students at his high school often engage in. Whenever a boy says something that is glaringly obvious or has a “dumb moment” their friends will say “that deserves a neck” and then hit the back of the boy’s neck. My informant doesn’t know why the guys do it or how it started. But he does know that it is considered funny and that everyone laughs whenever someone says “that deserves a neck and then slaps the back of their friends neck”. My informant doesn’t think that someone would do the “neck hitting thing” to someone who isn’t a friend. He’s also not sure if this gesture is common at other high schools or if it is just localized to his high school in the Fresno Unified School District.

I had never seen this gesture performed before, but from my informant’s description it seems like a form of bonding. It is something that only males have been observed doing and they only do it with other males that they are close to. My informant likened the behavior as being similar to “one’s mother smacking the back of their head for being stupid”, he thinks that it might be a related gesture. If that is true then it might mean that the boys who engage in this behavior with their friends find it comforting because it is associated with something their parents might have done.

general
Humor
Legends
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Funny Name Legend

“There was a woman that wanted to name her twin daughters, Vagina and Erotica.  And apparently there are two people in America named ESPN after the sports channel.”

The informant said that he heard this story from a classmate at his high school a few months ago in December. He found the story shocking at first, then incredible and funny. He isn’t sure if he believes if it is actually true. The topic came up amongst his classmates because they heard that in some other countries parents aren’t allowed to name their infants whatever they want and have to select a name off of a list. The informant and his friends found this strange in comparison to the American culture they grew up in and so someone told this story. He thinks it shows that maybe people can’t be trusted to name their children whatever they want with practically no restrictions.

This legend is probably a variation of the popular “Funny Name” legend that has been circulating in the US at least since the early 1900s. The earlier variations of this legend usually describe the woman in the story as a black woman. It was probably repeated to show that black people weren’t even smart enough to give their children “sensible names” and just named them whatever sounded good. This legend reflected the racial prejudice that was socially acceptable in the culture of America in the early 1900. While there are still a fair amount of stories circulating about the strange names that African American parents give their children, in this version that my informant heard, the race of the woman was either left out (because the informant is African American and might have taken offense) or the race of the woman is no longer relevant in today’s culture.

There have been many accounts in the media about the unusual names that people give their children and these people are from many different racial backgrounds. People find these “unusual name” stories quite entertaining. A few years ago there was a news story about a Chinese couple that wanted to name their son @ after the @ symbol (CNN.com) and currently there is a lot of talk over a young man who named his child, Facebook after the social networking website (NPR radio broadcast).   Perhaps now people’s opinion has moved from one race not being intelligent enough to do something as simple as naming a child to what my informant said, which is that maybe some people either can’t be trusted with or that they purposely abuse the freedom they have.

Annotation: This legend does have some truth to it though according to this article written on ESPN’s official website. There at least three people with the name ESPN.

Texas toddler at least the third named espn. (2004, June 26). ESPN, Retrieved from http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/news/story?id=1829996
Childhood
general
Humor

Children’s Joke

There was a little kid who took a shower together with his parents. When they were in the shower the little kid looks up and see his mothers chest. So he asks, “Mommy what are those?” and she says “Oh those are my flashlights” and then the little kid looks down a sees his mother’s…uh… you know down there and asks her “Mommy what is that?” and she says “Oh that’s my barn”. Then the little kid turns to his father and sees his…you know and asks him “Daddy what is that?” and his Dad says “Oh that’s my horse”. So after their shower the little kid wants to sleep in bed with his parents for the night and they say “Okay”. So the little kid is in bed with them and he goes to sleep, but he hears some noise so he wakes up and shouts ” Hey Mommy, turn your flashlights on! The horse just went in the barn!”

My informant said that she first heard this joke when she was in 1st or 2nd grade. All of the kids at her school knew this joke and they would all tell it over and over again.  She remembers thinking it was so funny back when she first heard it, now it only makes her giggle a little. She says that she didn’t really get what the joke was referring to until recently, but thought it was funny before because the little kid in the story didn’t know what certain body parts were called and referred to them as those actual objects. “Like when he tells his mother to ‘turn her flashlights on’, you obviously can’t turn your boobies on like flashlights”. My informant also noted that because the joke involved a persons’ “private parts” it could not be repeated in front of adults. “Because adults usually get mad, when you tell jokes like that. So we would only tell it to other kids”

I believe that this joke, like many other obscene children’s jokes, are funny for different reasons to different subgroups within the folk group of children. Younger children find the joke funny because of the little kid’s ignorance and his use of the words to describe what he sees. Older children find this joke funny because they get what the joke is implying, which is sexual intercourse.  The older children also find it funny that when they repeat this joke to younger children the younger children don’t really get it and are laughing for the wrong reason.

Folk Beliefs
general
Legends
Narrative

Unconventional Pregnancy- Folk Belief

A girl can get pregnant from swimming in water that has been ejaculated into.

 A woman can become pregnant from sitting on a toilet seat with ejaculate on it.

You can get an STD from a public restroom’s toilet.

My informant heard all of these unconventional pregnancy/sexs methods when she was in high school. She recalls being a bit skeptical about them back then when she was a 14 year old high school freshmen, but now she finds them absurd and laughable. She thinks that people continue to tell these folk beliefs is because the world is seen as a dirty place. As girls grow from children into young women they feel particularly vulernable to the world they can no longer be shielded from by their parents. Even in places that should be harmless, like a hotel swimming pool or your neighbor’s toilet can be dangerous because you never know who using it before you and what they were doing there. A thought like that can be scary and yet there is little that can be done about it, besides making sure to cover the toilet seat and to never go swimming.

I agree with what my informant said, but I also think there might another reason that these folk beliefs are spread, especially among young teenagers. I think these beliefs can act as a scapegoat for people’s sexual exploits. If a young woman who is believed to be a virgin by her family and friends becomes pregnant, the story goes from being condemning to tragic if she was impregnated by some force outside of her control. If she was engaging in a harmless and innocent activity, such as using the bathroom or going for a swim, when she became pregnant she can’t really be blamed for what has happened. Similarly to those who contract STDs from public restrooms again it alleviates blame of any frowned upon sexual activity.

Annotation: The folk belief that swimming in a pool of water that has been ejaculated into was used as a basis for a lawsuit in 2009. A woman sued a hotel in Egypt after claiming that her 13 year old daughter become pregnant from swimming in their swimming pool.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Doyle, H. (2009, July 09). Teen pregnant after ‘swimming in pool’. The Sun, Retrieved from http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2525921/Teen-pregnant-after-swimming-in-pool.html

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