Author Archives: Will Hagle

Folk Speech

Pam demonstrated a game/demonstration that she used to perform as a child.  She said “Chinese, Japanese, Americanese.”  After saying “Chinese,” she used her hands to pull her eyes upwards and sideways.  After saying “Japanese,” she pulled her eyes downwards and sideways.  Then, after saying “Americanese,” she touched her own knees.  This is a play on words, insinuating that “Americanese” sounds like “American knees.”

Pam said that she learned this game from one of her neighborhood friends growing up in Elgin, IL.  She said that the neighborhood was mostly white and Hispanic children, and that there weren’t many Asian children at her school or in her town.  She said that kids would show this to each other just for laughs.  Once you saw someone else perform this for the first time, it lost much of its humor because the punch line was already learned.

Pam says that, looking back on the game, she thinks it is awful because it’s obviously racist.  She acknowledged that she almost felt bad about performing it at her age because of its use of stereotypes.  However, she said that it was probably just a way for kids to deal with differences in race that they were just starting to realize.

I agree with Pam’s observation that children preform this game at a time in their lives when they are just beginning to notice differences in race.  Eye appearance is a commonly highlighted difference between Western and Eastern people, and it makes sense that children would find a humorous and innocent (although occasionally offensive from a retrospective view) way to understand this phenomenon.

In addition, the game is likely a way for children to show off their new understanding and mastery of words.  Many children games and riddles include wordplay, because young children are just beginning to understand how words work.  That “Americanese” sounds like “American knees” is a humorous example of wordplay.

I also remember preforming this activity as a child, but with slight variation.  After saying “Americanese,” I would simply drop my hands so that my eyes returned to their normal state (rather than touching my own knees).  This still demonstrates the same concept of differences in race.

It’s interesting to note that this activity is usually performed by children, who have less of a concept of societal race relations.  While an adult might appear racist when preforming this game, children have the innocence of just beginning to understand differences in appearance.

Legend— Illinois

Jordan told me that, in the fall of 2010, a handful of stories began circulating around his hometown of Champaign, IL.  The stories were different each time, but the main theme was the same:  a group of young African-American males attacked an overweight white person in public.  Because the victims of these attacks were all supposedly overweight, the act was dubbed “Polar Bear Hunting.”  It was said that the attack was part of a local gang initiation ritual.

A few incidents of attacks on overweight white people did actually occur, but they were never confirmed to be a part of a specific gang initiation.  Still, the story became somewhat of a media sensation throughout October-December 2010.  There were several newspaper articles about the topic, and the thought that these attacks could occur definitely scared people from walking around town alone late at night.  Different legends about the attacks spread rapidly throughout the town.

Jordan said that he learned of this legend from his friend, who happened to be an overweight white male.  His friend said that he felt slightly threatened walking around the University of Illinois campus late at night because of the threat of Polar Bear Hunting.  Jordan informed me that, as an African-American male, he did not feel threatened… but he thought the legend was somewhat racist and could have caused people to look at him differently.

Jordan also said that he thinks polar bear hunting is little more than a sensational news story.  Even though most people are not aware of a particular occurrence, most inhabitants of the town know about the attacks and/or believe that they exist.   Also, despite the serious nature of the supposed attacks, the title “polar bear hunting” is somewhat humorous.

For the most part, I agree with Jordan.  Because Champaign, IL is a fairly small town, it’s easy for a story like this to spread quickly throughout its citizens.  Also, the story is not as popular as it was a few months ago, demonstrating that it was likely a product of the media.  Even if these attacks  are still occurring, people aren’t hearing or talking about them as much.

Furthermore, I think the concept of “polar bear hunting” has something to do with white citizens’ general fear of black citizens in the town.  Champaign, IL has a large white population and a large black population and problems (usually minor) surrounding this topic occasionally arise.  Although racism is no longer outwardly present in the community, legends like this prove that at least some form of racism or fear of “the other” (even if unconscious and/or perpetuated by the media) still exists.

More information on the Polar Bear Hunting stories can be found in the following news articles:

Protection Ritual— India

The practice as described by Anish:  “So when I was younger and I used to have nightmares and stuff, there’s a concept in India that you have a ‘bad eye,’ or like a negative energy looking down on you.  So what you do is you put a black dot underneath your left ear, and that’s supposed to keep away bad thoughts and bad energy from you.”

Anish told me that he learned this practice from his parents, who would draw a black dot behind his left ear from the time when he was a baby until he was around ten years old.  He said that he did not think this practice had religious origins, as his father is Hindi and his mother is Christian.  Instead, he always considered it a secular practice, more like an Indian/geographical superstition rather than a religious one.

Anish said that he had to walk around in public with a large black dot under his left ear very often when he was growing up, but that he never thought it was unusual even though he didn’t understand the exact reasoning behind the practice.  He said that he sometimes felt strange if other children pointed the black dot out, but for the most part it was a common practice in the part of India in which he grew up.  Others would also have the black dot occasionally, and it didn’t seem unusual.  The fear of the “bad eye” or “negative energy” was common, and there were several other practices to get rid of it.

Although Anish did not specifically use the term “evil eye,” opting instead for “bad eye,” the concept sounds very similar.  This practice is likely just another way for people to ward off evil spirits and feel more comfortable after performing a superstitious act.  The black dot probably acts like another eye staring back, keeping the “bad spirits” from entering into your brain.

This is likely a way for children to feel better about their nightmares and more protected by their parents.  Anish said that only children have the black dot drawn behind their ear, which is likely due to the fact that children have a hard time understanding and dealing with things like nightmares.  Children feel comforted knowing that their children are protected from the “bad eye,” and parents feel comforted knowing that their children feel protected.

Tradition— Iran

The practice as described by Tara:  “In my family, it’s kind of like Northwestern Iranian tradition.  If someone gets sick, you grab a pencil and an uncooked egg.  You start circling names of people that the sick person has been around in the past week, during the time that they might’ve gotten sick.  Then you put the egg between two coins and put it above the person’s head.  Then you exert pressure on the egg and start saying those people’s names.  When the egg breaks, whoever’s name was said last is who got that person sick.  So what you do is you burn this weed called esfand, and by burning that weed you get rid of the evil eye by clearing the air and getting that person better.”

Tara told me that she learned this technique from her mother when she was growing up in Iran.  Every time that Tara became ill, she would have to go through this process.  She explained that she very much believes in the “evil eye,” and that there are many other examples of traditions that help ward the evil eye off.  Tara also explained that even though it was annoying to have an egg cracked over her head, it was worth it because she believed it would make her feel better.  Tara said that her family continued this practice after they moved to the United States when she was ten years old.

Tara said that she thinks people do this because it gives them a sense of comfort.  Even though most people know that it doesn’t logically work, the practice makes people feel better by doing it.  It’s more of a superstition than a serious belief, as people know it’s irrational but still feel better after doing it.

I think that this practice represents a more modern mix between science and traditional belief.  Because the ill person has to write out the names of people with which they’ve been in contact, the practice recognizes the scientific nature of the spread of contagious diseases (before science people knew that diseases spread from contact, but the act of staying away from people with colds and getting rid of germs is extremely prominent in modern popular culture).  However, the rest of the practice is less rooted in science and rationality.  Because this practice is performed in Iran, an area in which more traditional folk medicine practices are more common (according to Tara, who has lived in both Iran and the United States), this practice demonstrates a balance between science and tradition.

Also, Tara’s analysis of the practice is likely accurate.  Even though people might not necessarily think that the process works, they still feel better doing it rather than not doing it.  It’s much like many common, modern superstitions.  Even if people recognize that they are irrational, they still perform them just in case.

“Chigger” Joke

The Joke as performed by Lauren: “So there’s these two workers out in the field out in the Midwest, working in the woods or whatever.  One is like ‘Oh, fuck!  I’m getting bit up by a bunch of chiggers.’  And the other worker goes, ‘Whoa. Whoa.  They prefer chegroes.’”

Lauren told me that she learned this joke from one of her friends at high school in Santa Barbra, CA.  She said that the joke immediately became her favorite, and that she tells it whenever she’s in a group of friends that are sharing jokes.  She says it always makes her laugh because of its unusual quality and surprise ending.

Lauren said that she thinks the joke is obviously a play on words, with “chegroes” meant to sound like “Negroes.”  She thinks that the joke is a way of exposing the ridiculousness surrounding politically correct words, as the well-known “n-word” that rhymes with “chigger” is usually considered extremely racist and offensive, especially in the United States (where the joke takes place).

I agree that this joke is a way of poking fun at the sensitivity and political correctness surrounding words.  “Chigger” obviously sounds like “nigger,” the term most offensive to African-Americans, but the word “chigger” itself is not offensive (it’s a common word for a specific bug).  Still, the joke points out that words are simply words, and it’s context that makes them either offensive or inoffensive.

The joke also represents the common fear of using the “n-word” that exists amongst non-African-Americans.  Because the word is offensive to the particular race, many people outside that race (and within) consciously avoid using it in everyday speech because they don’t want to seem racist.  Hence, the worker that says “Whoa whoa whoa, they prefer chegroes” demonstrates a consciousness carefulness with offensive speech and words.

Lauren told me this joke in a room with one white male, one white female, and one black female.  Every one in the room laughed out loud when she was finished, demonstrating that the joke doesn’t cater to a specific race, but rather exposes the extreme degree to which some people take political correctness.

Folk Speech/Games

The phrase as performed by Pam:  “Eenie Meenie Minie Mo, Catch A Nigger By His Toe.  If He Hollers Let Him Go, Eenie Meenie Minie Mo.”

Pam said that she used this chant as a child to pick sides for games such as tag and kick the can.  Every person that wanted to play the game would put their shoes together in a circle, and one person would be the “counter.”  The counter would touch one person’s shoe for each word of the phrase, moving clockwise around the circle.  When the counter reached the final word, “Mo,” whoever’s shoe he or she was touching would be “out.”  Then, the process would continue until every shoe except for one would be touched and out.  That person would be “it” for the game, the position that nobody wanted to be in.

Pam said she probably learned this phrase from one of the kids in her neighborhood.  They would play games like tag and kick the can after school, and this phrase would almost always be used in order to designate who was “it.”

Pam said that she doesn’t remember using the term in a derogatory way, but she just remembers hearing people say it all the time.  Even though Pam grew up in a northern state (IL), this phrase was used not long after segregation ended.  Because she played these games before the popularization of the Civil Rights movement, she said that children would utter the phrase without second thought.  She now realizes that the phrase is racist, but she did not realize this as a child.

Even though Pam explained that the word “nigger” was not considered derogatory within her friend group, I think it was still likely a racist term.  However, the children that performed this phrase were probably unaware of that fact.  The phrase had likely been passed down for generations in the United States, blatantly representing racist values of white Americans.  The phrase also represents the tendency for children to experiment with their new understanding of words.  Even though most of the words are nonsensical, performance of the phrase demonstrates a child’s ability to rhyme correctly.

It is interesting to note that I also played this game as a child.  However, instead of saying the word “nigger,” we would say “Tiger.”  I had never heard of this earlier version of the phrase.  This difference most likely stems from the fact that people have become more racially conscious, social groups have become more racially mixed and people have become more politically correct.  That the phrase represents an extreme shift in popular culture in regards to racial tension.

Curse— Chicago

The curse as described by Jim:  “The owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago wanted to bring his goat to a Cubs game in 1945.  He wanted to bring the goat in, but the owner of the Cubs prohibited him.  So, he put a curse on the Cubs by saying that they were no longer going to win.  The Cubs have tried to get rid of the curse, but they haven’t been able to break it… because they haven’t been back to a world series since 1945.  There have been other occurrences proving that the curse is true.  For instance, the Cubs were five outs from going to the World Series in 2003.  Then, a foul ball was hit to left field.  A fan, the now infamous Steve Bartman, interfered with the fly ball which made left fielder Moises Alou angry.  Then, the Cubs lost the next two games.  That proves the curse is true.”

Jim told me that he believes wholeheartedly in this curse, as it’s his duty as a Cubs fan to stay loyal.  He explained that there’s no other explanation for why the Cubs haven’t been to the World Series since 1945.  He said that he believes the curse will one day be broken, but he’s not sure how that will be accomplished.

Jim said that he learned about the curse from his father when he was growing up.  His father was a huge Cubs fan, which influenced his team preference.  Jim also said that every Cubs fan should know about the curse.  He mentioned that it’s perpetuated by the media, who reference it after losing Cubs seasons.

At the simplest level, this curse is used as justification/an excuse for why the Cubs have not been to the World Series since 1945.  The team is known for its losing seasons, and this is an easy way for fans to justify their losses and feel better about the team.  For instance, when the aforementioned mishaps involving Steve Bartman occurred in 2003, it was easier to blame the curse than the actual players involved with losing the games leading up to the World Series.

The curse is also a way to shape the identities of Cubs fans.  Jim mentioned that all Cubs fans should know about the curse.  While most non-fans wouldn’t believe in the curse, true Cubs fans do… giving its fans a sense of community and camaraderie.

This curse is similar to other baseball curses like “The Curse of The Bambino,” which was supposedly placed on the Red Sox after the team traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1920.  However, the curse was “broken” in 2004 when the Red Sox finally won the World Series.

This curse is referenced in Issue #250 of the Hellblazer comic book series, in which main character John Constantine is hired to break the curse.


The proverb as performed by Jim:  “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.”

Jim told me that he learned this proverb around fifteen years ago from a lawyer in Tennessee.  The two were working on a case together and discussing settlement terms.  The opposing side didn’t offer as much money as Jim wanted, so the other lawyer told him about this “Tennessee saying.”  The phrase stuck with Jim, because it taught him the lesson that one should never be too greedy.

Jim said that the proverb, very simply, means that a little greed and competition results in gain, but too much is never healthy.  Since originally hearing the proverb, Jim said he uses this phrase as a guiding principle in his law practice.  He references it if clients are unhappy with the amount of money that they’re set to get.  He said that clients need to hear this proverb because they often think that their cases are worth more than they actually are.  Jim said that people need to learn to be reasonable.  Jim also uses this proverb in his daily life, but applies it most often in the workplace.

For the most part, I agree with Jim’s interpretation of the proverb.  A “pig” generally refers to a greedy person, or one who indulges in something.  Therefore, “Pigs get fat” signifies that a little bit of greed results in happiness or success.  When applied to humans, “Hog” has a more negative connotation than “pig,” generally meaning extremely greedy.  “Hogs get slaughtered,” then, signifies that those that are too greedy ultimately end up with nothing.

It’s interesting to note that, for at least a small network of attorneys, this proverb has become a form of occupational folklore.  Most of the attorneys at Jim’s law practice use this proverb as a loose guiding principle, and Jim has thanked the Tennessee lawyer for teaching him the saying.  Because law practices generally deal with taking money from people, this proverb acts as a type of moral compass for the job.

Foodways— Chicago

Jim told me that the Chicago hot dog has to have the right bread— A Mary Ann poppy seed bun.  This is a specific brand, but any other brand of bun immediately disqualifies the hot dog as a Chicago dog.  It also has to have a Vienna brand hot dog, made with all beef rather than pork.  Condiments on the Chicago dog always include mustard, relish, chopped onions (he emphasized that they must be chopped), tomato, two hot peppers (one on each half), and seasoning salt.

At this point, Jim emphasized that you can never put ketchup on a Chicago hot dog.  He jokingly said that you cannot chemically put ketchup on a hot dog, as it would have an adverse reaction.  He said that the only people that put ketchup on hot dogs don’t really know how to eat a hot dog.  He said that that’s just not how it’s supposed to be.  If you put ketchup on a hot dog, you’re not from Chicago.  While discussing the idea of ketchup and hot dogs, Jim became very passionate and animated, raising his voice and making sure that I got the message.  In a seemingly serious tone, he said that he feels shameful and embarrassed when his friends put ketchup on their hot dogs.

Jim said that he learned the Chicago hot dog tradition just by growing up in Chicago.  He said that every few blocks there would be a hot dog stand, and each hot dog would be prepared in the same way.  He said that you’d be asked to leave one of these stands if you ask for ketchup on a hot dog.  Once again, he emphasized that the practice is not acceptable in Chicago.  Jim didn’t have a clear answer for why the Chicago hot dog is prepared this way or insightful analysis on what the Chicago hot dog means, he simply claimed that that’s the only way he knows how to eat a hot dog.  His family and his friend’s families would prepare hot dogs with slight brand variation, but they would never put ketchup on the meat.

This specific hot dog preparation likely exists as a form of identity for Chicago citizens.  As Jim said, “If you put ketchup on a hot dog, you’re not from Chicago.”  Even though Jim had no idea where this tradition came from, he still felt strongly connected with it because it was a part of his culture growing up in the city.  The tradition is likely a way to distinguish locals from outsiders and tourists, ultimately uniting Chicago citizens.

It is also a way for Chicagoans to connect throughout the world, as there are many “Chicago restaurants” located in different cities that usually prepare hot dogs in this manner.  Furthermore, it offers something for tourists to try when they come to Chicago.  It provides a unique experience for tourists that want to experience the local culture.  The companies that make the specific buns and beef likely attempt to keep the “official” hot dog a staple in Chicago society in order to continue to make money.


The game as explained by Luke:  “When someone farts they must say ‘Safety’ before anyone else says ‘Doorknob.’  If they do not say ‘Safety’ first, then others have license to beat the shit out of, tickle, poke, or do whatever they want with that person until they either touch a doorknob.  Or until they spell ‘doorknob’ backwards, but people don’t usually use that rule.”

Luke explained that he learned this game from his family.  He has two older brothers, and they would take joy in beating him up if he forgot to say “Safety.”  His sisters would join in the game as well, but it was primarily played amongst the men of the family.  He said that he would also play this game with his friends, but he mostly played it when he was younger with his other family members.  Luke explained that the game was ongoing, and occurred any time after someone passed gas.  There wasn’t a set time that people played, it just happened.

Luke said that the game means that people have found ways to exploit bodily functions, a kind of universal common ground like talking about the weather, to bond and grow as a social group.  He said that he thinks the game exists because it combines the humor of farting and the joy of punishment.  Also, it has an element of danger and competition.

I agree with Luke’s surprisingly insightful analysis.  I also had a similar experience playing this game growing up, as I mostly played it with my family members and close friends.  This demonstrates that the act of passing gas is natural, and deemed acceptable with people that you are comfortable around.

Also, farting is something that is usually tabboo in modern popular culture, but this game makes it acceptable and fun.  Because those that have to deal with the repercussions of another person’s flatulence are usually uncomfortable or unhappy, this game gives them the chance to return the favor by beating on the one that passed gas in an acceptable manner.