Author Archive
Folk speech
Protection

Folk Speech/Protection – Evil Eye – Persian

Folk Speech/Protection – Evil Eye – Persian

“Some Persians believe if you use a word like ‘scissors,” ‘knife,’ or ‘needle,’ it’s as if you are putting that sharp object in the evil eye of the person you’re saying it to, insinuating that person is evil eyeing you. So instead of saying, ‘pass the salt’ or ‘pass the knife,’ you would say, ‘pass that which cannot be named’ or ‘pass that which is far from your soul.’ This can be viewed as a sign of respect when speaking to people you don’t know well, and it also avoids offending somebody if you’re not sure if they believe this tradition. Lots of people have gotten in fights over this… and even families have been broken apart. It’s really ridiculous.”

The informant described a couple of instances in which this affected her. One was when a woman was asking her to pass some salt at the dinner table, and the woman refused to say the word “salt” because it is corrosive and was afraid the informant would be offended. She also gave the example of, when suspicious of a person’s intentions when addressing you, you can make statements like, “I have a toothache,” “today I had to get an injection,” or “my bones ache.” All of these statements are believed to ward of the negative energy associated with the evil eye, because they are “sharp” and can pierce the evil eye. Another instance that this affected the informant was through her friend. When this friend visited her sister-in-law’s house in Beverly Hills for the first time, the sister-in-law immediately brought her to the tapestries hanging on the wall and stated something like, “look at the delicate needle-work on this tapestry.” The friend of the informant was extremely offended and stormed out of the house, thinking her sister-in-law was accusing her of jealousy. This confrontation resulted in cutting off relations with her sister-in-law. This example exemplifies how strong evil eye superstitions continue to be, even in a modern city like Los Angeles.
According the informant, the evil eye superstition, along with this method of protection, began when potential theft was an issue in Iran. People often worried about theft of their cattle or other belongings that were crucial to their survival, so this was a method of protecting themselves. Furthermore, the evil eye superstition exists all over the world, especially in the Middle East, in both Islam and Judaism. Therefore, it only makes sense that such a widespread superstition would endure.
I agree with the informant’s analysis, but I think there is another level to its relevance in modern usage. The informant’s community is predominantly Persian and Jewish, and mostly upper class residents of Beverly Hills. Therefore, it would make sense that these perceived notion of envy would endure in this community, both internally and externally, and they would continue to try to protect themselves from it.

Folk speech

Folk Speech/Idiom – Persian

Folk Speech/Idiom – Persian

“’The wall has mice in it, and mice have ears.’ If you’re sitting somewhere and you realize you’re sitting by nosey people, you whisper this to your friend so they know not to say anything important.”

The informant made it very clear that Persian people use idioms in everyday speech almost always, stating that it is not unusual to use five idioms in one conversation. She attributes this to the oppression that existed in Iran, which forced Persians to be extremely careful about what they spoke about in public. Furthermore, this oppression created figures of speech and metaphors that allowed them to communicate without fear of persecution. Idioms such as this one, according to the informant, have been passed down for generations, and are still used today. Even though there is no risk of persecution, they still use these idioms to converse concisely and, as the informant described it, non-confrontationally. They are able to convey an idea very quickly to somebody from within their own culture using these idioms.
I agree with the informant’s interpretation of this idiom. These idioms contribute to a part of their cultural identity as Persian immigrants, while giving them a strong sense of community with other Persians in the community. Furthermore, it serves as a connection and reminder to their past.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Joke – Dumb Blonde on a Plane

Joke – Dumb Blonde on a Plane

“There’s two blonde girls on a plane together… they’re friends. The pilot comes on the intercom and says, ‘we have lost an engine, but don’t worry we have three more. We will just be an hour later to our destination.’ A little while later, the pilot comes on again and says, ‘attention passengers, we have lost another engine, but it’s okay, we have two more, we’ll just be another hour later.’ They sit for a while longer, and once again the pilot comes on and says, ‘we have lost another engine, but don’t worry, we still have one more. We’re just going to be yet another hour later.’ At this, the blonde girl looks at her friend and says, ‘wow, I hope we don’t lose that last engine or we’ll be up here all night!’”

The informant doesn’t really remember where she first heard this joke, but says it was years ago and probably at school. Although blonde jokes seem to stem from a stereotype that is often associated with blonde women from California, the informant is from Texas, and also blonde. She made it very clear that she is not offended by blonde jokes, and knows she is “smarter than most people who tell blonde jokes.” She doesn’t really understand where this stereotype that blonde women are less intelligent came from, but she finds these jokes funny, and knows many of them. The informant did mention that she has noticed that the stereotype does not usually apply to blonde men, which gives the stereotype a sexist aspect. Although these jokes have existed for years, the informant attributes their popularity to the media and “dumb blonde celebrities,” such as Jessica Simpson and Playboy Playmates.
I agree with the informant that recent depictions of blonde women in the media live up to this stereotype, which only strengthens the stereotype and leads to the further dissemination of these jokes. The most vivid example that really went down in “pop culture” history is from MTV’s reality television show, “The Newlyweds,” where Jessica Simpson was depicted as a shallow, dumb blonde, saying things like, “is it chicken or is it fish?” (referring to the Chicken of the Sea tuna fish brand). This one statement still lives on in popular culture’s representations of blonde women, and only helps perpetuate this stereotype and this form of humor.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Joke – Dumb Blonde in a Potato Sack

Joke – Dumb Blonde in a Potato Sack

“There’s three girls running from the police: one is blonde, one is a redhead, and the other is a brunette. They go into this barn to hide, and see a few potato sacks on the floor, so they each crawl inside one to hide. The police catch up and come into the barn, and they see the potato sacks on the floor. One of the cops goes up to the first sack with the brunette in it and nudges it with his foot, and the brunette goes, ‘meow, meow’ really softly. The cop says, ‘oh, it’s just kittens.’ He then nudges the sack with the redhead in it, so she goes, ‘woof woof’ really softly. The cop goes, ‘oh, it’s just puppies.’ Then the cop goes to the last sack with the blonde in it and nudges it, and she goes, ‘POTATOES!’”
The informant doesn’t really remember where she first heard this joke, but says it was years ago and probably at school. Although blonde jokes seem to stem from a stereotype that is often associated with blonde women from California, the informant is from Texas, but also blonde. She made it very clear that she is not offended by blonde jokes, and knows she is “smarter than most people who tell blonde jokes.” She doesn’t really understand where this stereotype that blonde women are less intelligent came from, but she finds these jokes funny, and knows many of them. The informant did mention that she has noticed that the stereotype does not usually apply to blonde men, which gives the stereotype a sexist aspect. Although these jokes have existed for years, the informant attributes their popularity to the media and “dumb blonde celebrities,” such as Jessica Simpson and Playboy Playmates.
I agree with the informant that recent depictions of blonde women in the media live up to this stereotype, which only strengthens the stereotype and leads to the further dissemination of these jokes. The most vivid example that really went down in “pop culture” history is from MTV’s reality television show, “The Newlyweds,” where Jessica Simpson was depicted as a shallow, dumb blonde, saying things like, “is it chicken or is it fish?” (referring to the Chicken of the Sea tuna fish brand). This one statement still lives on in popular culture’s representations of blonde women, and only helps perpetuate this stereotype and this form of humor.

Customs
Foodways
Material

Tradition/Foodways – Thanksgiving Dressing

Thanksgiving Tradition/Foodway – American

“I have a grinder that we use once a year to make the Thanksgiving dressing. I helped my father make it when I was little.. so, um, he left it to me when he died. When I started making it my sons would help me and we use the same grinder, and now my grandson helps his father and I do it. So when I go to the happy hunting grounds, I will leave the grinder to him. The traditional part is, uh, that the boys come to the house and stay over the night before Thanksgiving. We get up very early in the morning, before the sun, and grind the ingredients together. And we always do it outside because it’s messy, and we attach the grinder to a table. We mix the boiled onions and stale bread together with the grinder. And another thing is that the bread has to be really stale.. I start that part two days before we grind. I put the bread out two days before and flip them every once in awhile to get them really stale. The day before Thanksgiving I peel and boil the onions. Then the boys come, we get up early, and grind the bread and onions with seasonings, eggs, and butter.. and then stuff the turkey. There is no recipe.. we just do it by taste. You know when it’s done because of the taste. This has been going on for six generations at least.. it started in Manchester, England, where my father’s ancestors are from. I don’t think there is any real reason behind which child it gets passed to, but it usually alternates genders every generation…with the exception of this one. It’s like ‘the gender switch.’ My dad was the forth child of ten, so there’s no real reason it was him.. I guess he just showed interest.. like I did over my brother. The grinder is still in the same box from when it was bought in the early 1900’s. I think this is just a way to pass down our heritage… a way for the adults to teach their kids about our ancestry.”

I agree with the informant’s analysis for the reason behind this tradition. It teaches children how to cook and uphold ancestral traditions that have been passed down for generations. It contributes to their perceptions of cultural identity, but also teaches them about the turkey tradition that comes with Thanksgiving. The only inconsistency I noticed with this tradition is that it supposedly began in England, yet it is in celebration of a decidedly American holiday: Thanksgiving. I mentioned this to the informant, and she seemed a little confused, as though she had never thought about it. She came off as a little defensive, as though I was questioning the validity of her story. She responded that the dressing recipe has been passed down from her ancestors in England, but that it was adapted to the American Thanksgiving tradition. I’m not sure how valid this is, as I’m not quite sure how much turkey they eat in England. I highly doubt they ate much turkey in England six generations ago, at least not enough to justify a custom such as this one. Nonetheless, this tradition is obviously extremely important to the informant, as is the story that goes along with it. It provides a method of connecting generations of family members, which after all, is the point of traditions such as this.

Folk speech
general
Humor
Narrative

Folk Narrative – Two Dead Boys

Folk Narrative – Two Dead Boys

“One bright morning late at night
Two dead boys got up to fight
Back to back they faced each other
Drew their swords and shot each other
A deaf policeman heard the noise
And came and shot the two dead boys.”

The informant stated that her father used to tell her this story when she was a young girl, but she has “absolutely no idea” what it means. The only purpose she was able to provide is that it is humorous and confusing, and “sounds funny because it doesn’t make sense.”
I agree with the informant in that this story is intended for children as a humorous story that isn’t supposed to make sense. It seems to be an example of a Nonsense Verse, which is defined as:
–noun
a form of light verse, usually for children, depicting imaginative characters in amusing situations of fantasy, whimsical in tone and with a rhythmic appeal, often employing fanciful phrases and meaningless made-up words.
(dictionary.com)

It seems that the whole appeal of this story lies in that it makes absolutely no sense, but it rhymes and is humorous, so it is appealing to young children that are just beginning to make sense of words and language. Furthermore, it seems to be something repeated often between parent and child, perhaps to create a playful atmosphere that is lighthearted and fun. In this respect, the story has a social aspect in that it builds relationships and bonds between people that are often of different generations. The variation provided to me by the informant seems to follow the general pattern of other versions of this story, but it is missing many verses. Variations of this story have been recorded from children on playgrounds since the 1850’s (http://www.folklore.bc.ca/Onefineday.htm).
Here is a variation that includes several more verses:

“One fine day in the middle of the night” (Journal Versions)
1. One fine day in the middle of the night,
2. Two dead boys* got up to fight, [*or men]
3. Back to back they faced each other,
4. Drew their swords and shot each other,
5. One was blind and the other couldn’t, see
6. So they chose a dummy for a referee.
7. A blind man went to see fair play,
8. A dumb man went to shout “hooray!”
9. A paralysed donkey passing by,
10. Kicked the blind man in the eye,
11. Knocked him through a nine inch wall,
12. Into a dry ditch and drowned them all,
13. A deaf policeman heard the noise,
14. And came to arrest the two dead boys,
15. If you don’t believe this story’s true,
16. Ask the blind man he saw it too!
(http://www.folklore.bc.ca/Onefineday.htm)

Annotation: further discussion on this story can be found in Peter Opie’s The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren [1959, Oxford. Oxford University Press, pp. 24-29].

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Joke – Racist – African American/Mexican

Joke – Racist – African American/Mexican

“What kind of baby do you get when a black person and a Mexican person have a baby? A baby that’s too lazy to steal.”

The informant made it very clear that he is “not racist” as he told me this joke, as people often do when telling jokes framed around racial stereotypes and conflict. He also made it very clear, before telling me the joke, that it is “really racist.” The informant is fifty years old and from Texas, and has lived there all of his life. He claims that jokes such as this are still used among close friends, but that “it’s just funny, we’re not racists.” He also claims to have “black friends,” as if that serves as some sort of justification or proof that he is not racist. He claims that jokes such as these stem from the racism that existed in the south during his childhood. The informant told me how he remembers when schools were desegregated in the south, and how “the blacks were brought over in busses” to his school. He stated, “they didn’t want to be there as much as we didn’t want them there.” He claims that much of the conflict was two sided, a kind of mutual racism. Furthermore, he claims that the inclusion of a Mexican individual in this joke probably stems from immigration from Mexico to the United States, often to border states such as California and Texas.
I agree that these jokes stem from a generation that experienced extreme racial conflict, but the fact that they are still used implies that they are still considered humorous. The fact that people still find these jokes humorous hints at the state of racism today, and shows that although it is much less prominent than in previous generations, subtle racism does still exist. The addition of a Mexican individual in this joke exemplifies the discomfort that many people feel toward Mexican immigrants, but the fact that they are portrayed as thieves in this joke conveys the stereotype that many Latinos are criminals. Furthermore, the idea of black people being inherently lazy seems to stem from Affirmative Action. Many people, who are usually white, are against affirmative action and other social programs, and believe it makes people who benefit from these things lazy. On some level, this joke serves as a racist critique of society in the context of immigration and social programs that are intended for minorities.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Joke – Racist – African American – Texas

“Run Nigga” Racist Joke

Joke – Racist – African American – American, Texas

“So Johnny’s in class one mornin’… little black boy Raymond comes walkin’ in and he’s all smiles ear to ear and he tells Johnny, he says, ‘my daddy got a new car yesterday, and Johnny, guess what his horn sounds like?’ And Johnny says, ‘I dunno, what’s his horn sound like?’ Raymond says, ‘well, when daddy pushes that horn, it says ‘haaaawnky.’ [informant laughs]. Now, he thought that was pretty funny. Johnny just kind of looks at him, and Johnny says, ‘Raymond, that ain’t nothin’. My daddy got a chainsaw and when he starts that thing up it says, ‘runnnnnn nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga nigga.’”
(Note: Joke makes much more sense when heard. See audio file).

The informant made it very clear that he is “not racist” as he told me this joke, as people often do when telling jokes framed around racial stereotypes and conflict. He also made it very clear, before telling me the joke, that it is “really racist.” The informant is fifty years old and from Texas, and has lived there all of his life. He claims that jokes such as this are still used among close friends, but that “it’s just funny, we’re not racists.” He also claims to have “black friends,” as if that serves as some sort of justification or proof that he is not racist. He claims that jokes such as these stem from the racism that existed in the south during his childhood. The informant told me how he remembers when schools were desegregated in the south, and how “the blacks were brought over in busses” to his school. He stated, “they didn’t want to be there as much as we didn’t want them there.” He claims that much of the conflict was two sided, a kind of mutual racism.
I agree that these jokes stem from a generation that experienced extreme racial conflict, but the fact that they are still used implies that they are still considered humorous. The fact that people still find these jokes humorous hints at the state of racism today, and shows that although it is much less prominent that in previous generation, subtle racism does still exist. Furthermore, this joke uses pejorative terms for both white people and black people (being “honky” for white people and “nigger” for black people), but the fact that the white person “wins” in the end shows an attempt to assert racial superiority. Simultaneously, the joke implies that white people are not the only perpetrators of racial stereotypes, perhaps in an attempt to justify these racist ideas.

Foodways
Material

Folk Recipe/Foodways – Chocolate Cake

Folk Recipe/Foodways – Little Nonnie’s Chocolate Cake – American

“For every birthday in our family, I make the same cake. It’s a recipe from my great-grandmother… she was born in Chicago, but her parents were from Ireland… and she married a German man. I don’t know if she made it up or not, but it’s been the same cake at every birthday since she was alive. It is a dry cake, and it’s supposed to be, but the icing is amazing. The cake is made like regular cake: flour, eggs, butter, and cocoa powder. But there is one secret ingredient that gives it the unique touch, and that’s sour cream. Then the icing is made with powdered sugar, butter, chocolate, and coffee… so the cake ends up being sort of a mocha chocolate cake. And it only works if you do it an exact way… if you try to double the recipe, it won’t turn out right. But this cake is a family tradition because every family member always gets one on their birthday… and everybody loves it… it’s their favorite. And it’s always the grandmother that makes it. We call it ‘Little Nonnie’s Chocolate Cake,’ that was my great-grandmother.”
The informant believes that this cake is important because it is a family tradition and gives the family something to look forward to, and something they all have in common: they all love this cake.
I agree with the informant in that this cake provides a commonality between family members, and gives them a characteristic that identifies them as members of this family. Furthermore, this cake ties them to their ancestors and their family history. Although this cake isn’t necessarily German or Irish, it makes the family think of these people and where they came from, and their heritage. Additionally, the idea of a “secret ingredient” makes it that much stronger of an identifying characteristic. Only the family is aware of this “secret,” so it binds them together, and makes them feel as though they are unique as a family unit. The fact that the grandmother always bakes the cake allows her to be tied to the younger generations, to teach them, and nurture them. An intergenerational link within a family is extremely important, as it allows for family heritage to be passed down. Additionally, this cake alone serves as an excuse for the family to gather, which gives it a social aspect.

Legends
Narrative

Legend – Hairy Man Road – Texas

Legend – Texas – Hairy Man Road

“There’s this old country road in Round Rock, Texas outside of Austin… it’s not really a country road anymore.. it’s kind of suburban now. But anyway, they say this road has been there since, like, covered wagon times. Apparently there’s a Hairy Man who lived in the area there for years… my uncle used to tell me he saw him when he was a young boy. Apparently this hairy man fell off a wagon back in the day and was raised by animals or just, uh, raised himself in the wilderness… but he would harass people passing through because he was like an animal.. and unusually hairy. They say now his ghost haunts the road and that’s what people will see when they say that they’ve seen him. I’ve driven on the road but I’ve never seen anything unusual.”

The informant seems to believe this legend since his uncle has lived near the road for over thirty years and claims to have seen the ghost. I, being from Austin, have heard that the Hairy Man was actually a homeless man that was killed by a group of high school students in their car on the way to prom. Either way, this legend has become extremely well known in the Austin area, to the extent that this road was officially named “Hairy Man Road.” I find it interesting that this legend mixes different types of legendary creatures. The hairy man seems to be part Sasquatch, part savage man, and now a ghost. It’s interesting how different types of folklore can intermix to create legends such as this one. Furthermore, the high school prom variation that I have personally heard seems to exemplify a liminal time, but also a rite of passage. In this respect, the legend seems to represent the uneasiness that the transition from adolescence into adulthood can create. Perhaps it is even more interesting that this story has made the road itself a legend, as almost everybody in Austin knows what it is. Furthermore, the legend contributes to the identity of Round Rock residents, and they have even started having an annual Hairy Man Festival. In effect, the legend serves as a way for locals to form their own identities as citizens of this town. It gives them something unique to celebrate and discuss.

[geolocation]