Author Archive
general
Proverbs

Proverb

The informant is a caucasian male. His father was born in Denmark, but was raised in America. He was raised in Virginia, but attended high school in Pasadena, CA. The informant later lived in Hawaii for 8 years, Northern California for 7 years, and now resides in Southern California again. He is a professor, teaching molecular biology to pharmacy students. He was brought up episcopalian but is no agnostic. The informant is divorced with one child.

The informant first learned this proverb while playing with his tennis partners in his 50s. It connotes that even a player of a certain level of abilities, average or below, will upon occasion hit a fabulous shot, on the level of a professional such as Federer. He has only heard it among his tennis players. The proverb can be shortened to “blind squirrel”, used as an epithet or label. It is usually used jokingly, but he says that there is still an underlying layer of condescension and derision.

Text: Even a blind squirrel finds a nut.

Analysis: Most proverbs offer advice to the recipient. This proverb functions differently. It has no moral for a person to take, but rather seems to function mainly for the benefit of the person who says it. It is used as a stress reliever for the benefit of the speaker. While there is probably a joking aspect to the proverb, but it stems greatly from jealousy. The player who says it feels jealous that one of their partners has made a fabulous shot and expresses, and thus releases, these feelings through the use of this proverb, channeling their frustration into semi-humor. That the more negative aspect of this proverb is of greatest importance is indicated by the shortening, which leaves out the more positive aspect of “finding a nut” and only focuses on the negative “blind squirrel”.

general
Humor

Twelve Joke

The informant is a caucasian male. His father was born in Denmark, but was raised in America. He was raised in Virginia, but attended high school in Pasadena, CA. The informant later lived in Hawaii for 8 years, Northern California for 7 years, and now resides in Southern California again. He is a professor, teaching molecular biology to pharmacy students. He was brought up episcopalian but is no agnostic. The informant is divorced with one child.

The informant heard this joke via the radio show Prairie Home Companion. Every year this show collects the best jokes they have heard from around the country and broadcasts them in a special episode. The informant specifically remembered this joke because of its unusual portrayal of curiosity. The informant is a scientists and hence has been taught that curiosity is a virtue. This darker view appealed to him as a fresh view on the idea of curiosity. The informant was so drawn to this joke that he specifically remembered it and will now retell it whenever asked to supply a joke.

Text: There were two people walking through town in a neighborhood they had never visited before. And they were just chatting and taking a friendly stroll, not knowing the neighborhood. And they come walking by this big old hulking building. Sort of, just, almost like a plaster fortress. It’s got a big bunch of windows, but they’re pretty small and they’re all boarded up, with iron gratings around the outside. They give it a quizzical look as they walk by. Then they hear this very faint, sort of noise coming from the building. It’s like chanting going on inside: “twelve, twelve, twelve, twelve, twelve, twelve.” They get really curious: twelve, what’s going on? So they look through, they’re just passing the front gate and they look through the front gate and there’s like the front door. It, um, is boarded up, but it has one of these holes that you can look through and peer inside. And they kind of look at each other: do we go in there and try to see whats going on inside, see what the chanting’s all about. Maybe its some kind of mystical ritual. Maybe they’re like free masons or a religious sect whose boarded themselves up in this old building. So, one says to the other, “let’s go look, let’s take a look.” So they open the gate very stealthily and they creep up inside. All the time hearing: “ twelve.” It’s growing a little louder: “twelve, twelve.” Because they’re getting closer and they can hear now: “twelve, twelve.” And one of them very carefully puts his head down so they can’t be seen. And he slowly lifts up and looks through the keyhole. And feels a jarring pain as a stick goes right into his eye. And he hears: “thirteen, thirteen, thirteen.

Analysis: The humor in this joke arrises by tapping into the dark side of the human psyche. It is schadenfreude, gaining pleasure, or in this case humor, from the pain, or imagined pain, of others. The portrayal of curiosity in a non-positive scientific light probably did contribute to the informant’s attraction to the joke, but it is very likely that the human propensity to schadenfreude played a significant part in his remembering the joke.

Game
general

Kings Cup Drinking Game

The informant is a 19 year old Filipino female. She lives with her mother in Toledo, Ohio and has one older sister. She was raised Roman Catholic. She is currently a student at a university in Southern California. The informant is the co-president of the club volleyball team at her university.

The informant first learned this game when she started going to parties in sophomore year of high school. She played it for the first time her senior year of high school. Kings Cup is a drinking game played with a deck of cards. The informant would play it at parties, usually towards the middle or end of the night. In her experience, the rules vary from place to place. The rules she learned in Ohio are generally the same everywhere she has played, but certain specifics change. In the game, each card type in the deck has a certain significance, indicating a certain action to be done by the players. The cards are laid out in a circle. Each player draws a card and reveals it to the group and then performs the action indicated by that card. The card is then placed under the tab of a beer can. Eventually the pressure from the cumulating cards causes the beer can to pop open. The person whose card does this has to drink all of the beer. Additionally, if anyone breaks the circle created by the cards, they have to perform a forfeit, designated at the beginning of the game. This is usually something embarrassing, such as streaking. The specific card designations are as follows.

Rules:

Ace: Never have I ever. All players put up three fingers. Each player goes around the circle, saying something they have never done. If one of the other players has done that action they have to put down a finger. This continues until only one person has fingers still up.

2: Red to the head: If the two is red the player who drew the card has to drink two drinks. If the card is black, the player can give out two drinks to any other players to drink, either two to one person or one to two people.

3: The rules are the same as two but with three drinks.

4: Whores: All of the girls playing have to take a drink.

5: To the skies: The last person to put both of their hands in the air has to take a drink.

6: Dicks: All of the guys playing have to take a drink.

7: Social: Every person playing has to take a drink.

8: Abc: The players go around in a circle, each naming something that begins with their letter of the alphabet. The player who drew the card starts with A, the next with B, and one around the circle. The first to mess up has to drink.

9: Rhyme: The person who drew the card says a word or phrase. Each subsequent person in the circle has to say a word that rhymes. The first to mess up has to take a drink.

10: Categories: The person who drew the card picks a category and names something within that category. Each person has to name something in that category, going around the circle. The first to mess up has to take a drink.

Jack: Rule: The person who drew the card makes up a rule, which is in effect for the rest of the game. If anyone breaks this rule they have to take a drink. Examples of rules include no swearing or using names.

Queen: Questions: The person who draws the card looks at someone in the circle and asks them a question. This person should then turn to someone else and ask them a question. It goes around, until someone either answers a question or does not ask a question themselves. That person has to take a drink.

King: Waterfall: Everyone starts drinking at the same time. The person who draws the card chooses when to stop drinking. When they do, the person sitting next to them stops, then the person next to that person, and so on around the circle. In order to determine which direction the waterfall goes, the card drawer asks the two people sitting next to them a generic question. The first one to answer gets to be the second person in the waterfall instead of the last.

Analysis: This game is an excellent example the defining characteristics of folklore: repetition and variation. In the informant’s own experience, she has seen variation in the details of game depending on where and with whom she plays it. Almost every person who plays this game has come into contact with different rules. Perhaps the proximity to alcohol increases the possibility for variation. It is also interesting that this game is an imposition of rules upon an ostensibly disorderly and unruly activity. Perhaps it is the inherent unpredictability of drinking that stimulates the development of a set of rules for action, in the form of a game. While some drink to step outside the bounds of society, the fear that alcohol can push people too far may contribute to the popularity of a game that adds structure to the activity.

Annotation: iPhone Application: King’s Cup. By Bobby Cronkhite Software. 2/25/2011.

general
Proverbs

Proverb

The informant is a caucasian male. His father was born in Denmark, but was raised in America. He was raised in Virginia, but attended high school in Pasadena, CA. The informant later lived in Hawaii for 8 years, Northern California for 7 years, and now resides in Southern California again. He is a professor, teaching molecular biology to pharmacy students. He was brought up episcopalian but is no agnostic. The informant is divorced with one child.

The informant first heard this proverb as a child, used generally in conversation. He does not very commonly use proverbs, but this is the one that he uses most frequently. In conversation, he says he hears it about once a year. The proverb is said to imply that a task is easier to do as soon as it is needed. If a problem is dealt with as soon as it is identified, it will be much easier to solve than if a person waits and procrastinates. The example he gives is about washing the dishes; the dishes are easiest to wash as soon as they are done being used. If a person waits the food was crusted on and it takes much more effort to see them clean. The informant says that the proverb comes from sewing. If a small rip is identified in a garment, it should be stitched up right then, for if it is not, the rip will expand and soon become a major tear, meaning much more work for the sewer.

Text: A Stitch in Time Saves Nine

Analysis: The informant offers both a proverb and an explanation for the proverb. This folk etymology was told hand and hand with the proverb itself. The informant told the proverb and directly followed it with his explanation of its origin. It is very likely that the etymology is correct, but that is not most pertinent. It is interesting that in performing, or at least explaining, the proverb the text itself goes hand in hand with the explanation of origin. This combination of the two could be an example of people’s desire to explain the origins of folklore. Throughout the history of folklore people have tried to pinpoint the origin of certain pieces of lore, through the use of the Historic-Geographic method and other such devices. This desire perhaps comes from the belief that to understand something you must know its origin, where it came from. Anyway, it is interesting that the informant considered the etymology so important to offer it unasked for in interview.

general
Proverbs

Proverb

The informant is a male in his 50s. He was born to two Greek parents in New York. He was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church. He lived in the Bronx for most of his youth before moving to the suburbs in Connecticut. He has worked as a journalist for most of his life, a job in which he spent a good deal of time in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent. He now lives in Southern California as a software developer. He is divorced with three children.

The informant first learned this proverb as a young adult, although the cannot remember exactly where. He uses it occasionally, more than any other proverb. To him it means that a person comes into the world with nothing, no possessions or materials, and that is how he or she will go out. The informant will use the proverb if he sees someone being venal about their possessions, or obsessing about some material object they have lost. He uses this proverb because he believes that it encompasses a self-defining idea, that at its root it encapsulates wisdom and knowledge. The message behind the proverb is meaningful to him and represents what considers to be a good life view.

Text: There are no pockets in a shroud.

Analysis: It is interesting that the informant considers this proverb to represent his ideal life outlook. It seems to be contradictory to the “American dream”, which espouses that people should work hard to move their station in life upward, indicated by material gains. This proverb indicates that it does not matter how hard you work to gain, as in death, nothing material matters. The informant’s preference for this proverb could be his Greek background, which might be from cultural difference. Or it could represent a cognitive dissonance in the American people. This cognitive dissonance would allow people to value the acquisition of material wealth in life, while at the same time believing that objects are not all important in life.

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Protection

Evil Eye Superstitions

The informant is a male in his 50s. He was born to two Greek parents in New York. He was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church. He lived in the Bronx for most of his youth before moving to the suburbs in Connecticut. He has worked as a journalist for most of his life, a job in which he spent a good deal of time in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent. He now lives in Southern California as a software developer. He is divorced with three children.

The informant’s family, his parents, grandparents, etc. believe in the Evil Eye, called Matia in Greek. The evil eye affects mainly children. It causes sickness, accidents, misfortunes, and other such bad occurrences. It is caused by the jealousy of other people towards a child, especially an attractive or beautiful one. His family believed that people, especially those unable to conceive or without children, will see a baby or child and lust after it. This jealousy causes the Evil Eye to be put upon the child. To ward off the jealousy induced evil eye, parents will hang charms on baby carriages and cots, mostly shaped like eyes. The parents also avoid invite jealousy of their children. They do not brag about their children and if any one ever pays their child a complement, they will spit on the kid or ground and say something disparaging to negate the complement. By doing this, the informant says they are not only trying to ward off the jealousy of other people, but also of God.

Analysis: The Matia for Greeks is a peculiar cultural phenomenon, when placed in the context of American culture. Americans place a lot emphasis on physical appearance, especially the beauty of babies and children. This is evidenced by the prevalence of child pageants and other such programs. For the Greeks, however, because of the belief in the evil eye, emphasizing a child’s physical appearance is considered dangerous because it can incite jealousy. This fear is so strong that the parents will even spit on their child. The belief in the Matia is so strong that they will go against the cultural structure of the country they live in to stop their children falling to the evil eye.

general
Legends
Narrative

Kidney Urban Legend

The informant is a male in his 50s. He was born to two Greek parents in New York. He was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church. He lived in the Bronx for most of his youth before moving to the suburbs in Connecticut. He has worked as a journalist for most of his life, a job in which he spent a good deal of time in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent. He now lives in Southern California as a software developer. He is divorced with three children.

The informant heard this story while working a journalist. Other journalists he worked with would tell it to him, all claiming that the story was completely true, that it happened to their own cousin or another person just one step removed from the teller. The first time he heard it, he believed that it might be true. It intrigued him because if it was true, it would make a very good story for a newspaper or magazine. Although he first thought there might be some veracity to the story, in the journalism business the informant has learned to always be very skeptical of any story presented as “happening to a guy I know” or any such construct. He considers the story to be apocryphal, similar to UFO stories, in as much as it is impossible to confirm, especially for the standards needed in journalism. The informant has had this story retold to him many times by journalists he encounters, each time with some variation in the details, but very rarely, if ever, tells the story himself to other people. He has also heard it told where the man in the story wakes up in an ice filled bath or on a beach.

Text: A guy on vacation wakes up on a park bench in a different country. He wakes up and is in tremendous pain. When he gets a chance to look in the mirror, he finds that there is a gigantic scar on his back. He has no memory of what that might be. And he goes to a doctor and it turns out that one of his kidneys has been removed. He has been kidnapped and his organ removed and sold.

Analysis: This urban legend was told to the informant by his fellow journalists on multiple occasions. This legend probably appeals to that profession for two reasons. Firstly, as the informant indicates, such a story is plausible and would make a very good story. His initial interest in the story was to see if it would be possible to prove and be generated into a journalistic investigation. The second reason this legend was probably so popular among journalists, especially international correspondents, is that, for people who constantly travel around the world by themselves this story might resonate the underlying fears that accompany constant movement in strange locations. In the legend a man is abducted while on vacation and removed to a different country. At least in this version, the victim and crime are connected to travel. International correspondents would of course be comfortable with travel, but they would also be aware of the dangers of constantly moving about alone.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
general
Holidays
Magic
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Greek New Years Customs

The informant is a male in his 50s. He was born to two Greek parents in New York. He was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church. He lived in the Bronx for most of his youth before moving to the suburbs in Connecticut. He has worked as a journalist for most of his life, a job in which he spent a good deal of time in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent. He now lives in Southern California as a software developer. He is divorced with three children.

Following are two New Years customs from the Greek community the informant lived in as a child.

Custom #1:

When growing up, there was a tradition in the informant’s family and the Greek community at large that the adults would always gamble on New Years eve. All the families would gather, as New Years is a family occasion, and the adults would bet on cards while the kids played. The believe was the gambling for money would bring luck for the coming year; it was an auspicious practice to handle money at the very threshold of the New Year.

Analysis: The handling of money at the beginning of the year probably owed some of its origin to ideas of sympathetic magic. The act of handling and interacting with a lot of money as the New Year begins is an enactment of the what the people wish to happen for the rest of the year; they hope that for the upcoming year they will have a lot of contact with money, and thus be prosperous. Gambling at New Years is a type of ritual, although most of the people participating probably think of it as a good luck ceremony. That the ritual magic implications of the gambling are more important than the more straightforward attempts to win money are supported by the fact that it is a whole family affair, including children.

Custom #2:

It was tradition in the informant’s family and the Greek community at large to throw a piece of iron into the house on New Years. Iron horseshoes are usually used, as they are the most common piece of iron around the house. The informant does not remember exactly why this was done, but he remembers learning that it should be done through the stories the old Greek women would tell him. They would explain their cultures traditions to the children, telling them stories and legends. They were the main transmitters of tradition in that social network.

Analysis: In the Greek community that the informant grew up in, the stories were transmitted by the female elders. The informant says that it is through the stories of these women that the young in the community learn who they are. These women are the active bearers in the community. It is their place in the social construction of the Greek society, rather than personality or personal preference, that determines who are active bearers of lore and who are passive. The childrens’ roles are as passive bearers. But this position switches with age, although not sex. The position of those who tell stories is regulated in the Greek community.

general
Legends
Narrative

Campfire Story

The informant is a male in his 50s. He was born to two Greek parents in New York. He was brought up in the Greek Orthodox Church. He lived in the Bronx for most of his youth before moving to the suburbs in Connecticut. He has worked as a journalist for most of his life, a job in which he spent a good deal of time in the Middle East as a foreign correspondent. He now lives in Southern California as a software developer. He is divorced with three children.

The informant heard this story when he was young, commonly in a campfire situation. He classifies it himself as a “campfire story”, told among young pre-adolescents in situations where spooky stories are being swapped. He had this story told to him multiple times when he was young when someone was called upon to tell a “ghost” story. He considers it a story relegated to youth.

Text: A person is driving at night and a car behind them constantly honking. And he can’t figure out whats wrong and why its… and he tries to let them pass and slow down and pull over and they just keep honking and honking. And of course its because there’s someone in the back seat, an escaped lunatic, they’ve heard about on the radio. And, um, they can see the person but the driver can’t see them so they’re honking to warn the driver, that’s what the misunderstanding was.

Analysis: This story plays on a universal fear among humans. There is always a fear of what is hiding behind your back. Humans fear what they cannot see and behind the back is a constant blind spot. This fear is used in many horror films, when the monster/killer, etc. is commonly standing right behind their victim. This fear is especially compounded by the dark. The story is suited for campfire situations as it prays on a primal fear. It is also suited to adolescents and youths, as the story becomes less plausible if a person is used to driving cars, as it would be extremely unlikely that a driver would not notice someone sitting in the backseat whenever they looked in their rearview mirror.

Folk speech
general

Holy Toledo Phrase

The informant is a 19 year old Filipino female. She lives with her mother in Toledo, Ohio and has one older sister. She was raised Roman Catholic. She is currently a student at a university in Southern California. The informant is the co-president of the club volleyball team at her university.

In Toledo, there is a folk saying: “Holy Toledo”. The informant heard it all through her youth growing up in Toledo, Ohio, mostly from the older generations. The phrase is used as an exclamation with the connotation of “Oh my god”. It is not generally heard among the younger generations, but it is still generally known. The informant believes its origin is in the fact that Toledo is highly populated by churches, with more per square mile than any other city she has been in. According to her, all but one hospital in the city are associated with the Catholic Church. She also thinks that the fact that the city of Toledo in Spain, which is a very religious city, is Toledo, Ohio’s sister city may have contributed. She has also heard to the phrase as referring to a sexual position, but does not know anything more specific about it.

Analysis: This folk etymology is very straightforward and literal. Many etymologies involve a story that could even be termed as legend. It is interesting that a very literal origin story would be the one that the informant knew about. There are more flamboyant stories circulating, such as that the phrase was originated by gangsters in the 1920s. Perhaps it is not necessarily the most interesting stories that are always the most circulated. Also of interest is how this phrase is limited to the older generation. Even though the informant state that she and other members of her peer group all are very similar with the phrase, none of the them use it. This could be a case of a folk phrase going out of fashion, its use not being passed down to the present generation.

Annotation: Bowersox, Crystal. “Holy Toledo.” Farmer’s Daughter. Jive Records, 2010.

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