Author Archive
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Homeopathic
Magic
Protection

Ach’k (Evil Eye)

Item:

Western Armenian: աչք

Phonetic (IPA): ɑt͡ʃʰkʰ

Transliteration: ach’k

Translation: eye

A blue bead representing an eye can be used to ward off evil. The bead is simply called the “ach’k,” meaning “eye.” For example, the ach’k could be hung from the rear view mirror of a car, worn as a necklace, or kept somewhere in a house. There is a particular color of blue needed for a bead to be an ach’k.

In particular, it is supposed to protect its owner from others’ covetous eyes. There is a particular saying associated with this belief:

Western Armenian: աչք կպնէ

Phonetic (IPA): ɑt͡ʃʰkʰ kpnɛ

Transliteration: ach’k gbné

Translation: the eye touches

The phrase literally translates to “the eye touches,” but the informant translates it as “the eye will touch you,” meaning that other people’s covetous eyes could touch you with some negative magic, unless you have an ach’k protecting you.

Background Information:

The informant learned this folk belief from his mother, who believes in it passionately. She keeps several in her house and gave him one to put in his car. The informant is skeptical of the belief but doesn’t deny it outright. For a while, the informant kept his ach’k hanging from his rear view mirror, until he became embarrassed by its perceived superstitious-ness and took it down. He still keeps it in his car, though—now out of sight in the glove compartment.

The informant believes that the ach’k is a very common belief among Armenians.

Contextual Information:

The ach’k belief is accompanied by the particular saying and object associated with it. These items are usually performed and displayed in public, though the informant has made his more private due to embarrassment.

Analysis:

The ach’k belief is clearly a variant on the very widespread “evil eye” folk belief. Unlike the more common variants, in this version of the belief, the eye is not particularly associated with growth, but rather with envy. It still shares the general spirit that there is a danger in prosperity and wealth—whether it is grown, purchased, or otherwise obtained.

Using a bead representing an eye to protect from others’ eyes is an example of homeopathic magic.

For other versions of the evil eye folk belief, see “The Evil Eye: A Folklore Casebook” (1981) by Alan Dundes.

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

A Mexican Runs Into a Wall…

Item (direct transcription):

A Mexican with an erection runs into a wall. What does he break?

His lawnmower.

Background Information:

The informant read the joke on 9GAG, an online social media site.

Contextual Information:

The informant made it very clear that he would only tell the joke to someone he knew very well and was confident wouldn’t be offended.

Analysis:

This joke is a clear example of blason populaire, playing on the stereotype that all Mexicans are gardeners.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Every Confidant Has a Confidant

Item (direct transcription):

Every confidant has a confidant.

Background Information:

The informant learned the proverb from her father.

To her, the proverb means to be careful who you confide in.

Contextual Information:

The informant says she would use this proverb to warn someone against confiding in someone dubious.

Analysis:

This saying meets three out of the four canonical criteria for a proverb. It is (1) short, (2) fixed-phrase, and (3) rhetorical. However, it is not metaphorical—in fact, it’s meaning is quite literal.

Also, like many proverbs, it’s phrasing is somewhat poetic due to the repetition of the word “confidant” in such a short phrase.

Folk speech

May You Grow Old Sleeping on One Pillow

Item (direct transcription):

May you grow old sleeping on one pillow.

Background Information:

The informant learned this blessing from his grandfather, who told it to him when he got married.

Contextual Information:

This blessing is meant to be given at a wedding. After the informant’s grandfather grew too old to attend weddings and eventually passed away, the informant took it upon himself to perpetuate the blessing by telling it at family members’ weddings.

Analysis:

This blessing has a simple, literal, and obvious meaning. Clearly, its power comes not from its unique insight or wit, but rather from its emotional connection to a beloved and deceased family member.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Every Rock Falls on My Head

Item (direct transcription):

Every rock falls on my head.

Background Information:

The informant learned this saying from his father. It means, “I get blamed for every problem.”

Contextual Information:

The informant says he uses this dite when he feels that he is being undeservedly blamed for something, especially if by his wife. However, he only uses the dite playfully or jokingly, not rhetorically. When he is truly upset or argumentative, he does not use this saying.

Analysis:

This saying meets all four of the canonical criteria for a dite. It is (1) short, (2) fixed-phrase, (3) metaphorical, and (4) not rhetorical.

Folk speech
Proverbs

If You Sleep With Dogs, You Wake Up With Fleas

Item (direct transcription):

If you sleep with dogs, you wake up with fleas.

Background Information:

The informant learned the proverb from her father.

To her, the proverb means that even if you’re “clean,” when you “consort, make friends, do business with, or associate with people who are doing things that you don’t want on you, it will end up on you. Then you could get punished for their acts.”

Contextual Information:

The informant says she would use this proverb to warn someone against associating with someone of questionable character.

Analysis:

This saying meets all four of the canonical criteria for a proverb. It is (1) short, (2) fixed-phrase, (3) rhetorical, and (4) metaphorical.

Another version of this proverb was recorded by Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac as “He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.” This provides a terminus ante quem of 1758 for the proverb.

Folk speech
Proverbs

You Don’t Have to Look for Trouble; Trouble Finds You

Item (direct transcription):

You don’t have to look for trouble; trouble finds you.

Background Information:

The informant learned the proverb from her father.

To her, the proverb means that it’s foolish to take unnecessary risks in life, since even without “looking for trouble,” more than enough trouble is bound to work its way into your life.

Contextual Information:

The informant says she would use this proverb to warn someone against taking an unnecessary risk.

Analysis:

This saying meets at least three out of the four canonical criteria for a proverb. It is (1) short, (2) fixed-phrase, and (3) rhetorical. It is also somewhat metaphorical due to its personification of “trouble.”

Folk speech
Proverbs

You Can’t Put 6-Pounds in a 5-Pound Bag

Item (direct transcription):

You can’t put 6-pounds in a 5-pound bag.

Background Information:

The informant learned the proverb from her architecture mentor whom she worked for during her education. He would tell the proverb to his clients when they were requesting the impossible of him. In the context of architecture, the proverb means that there is only so much that can be fit into a finite amount of space, regardless of the skill or ingenuity of the architect.

The informant continues to use the proverb in the same way when consulting about architecture.

Contextual Information:

The informant says she would use the proverb when someone has unrealistic expectations for what can be fit into their house plans.

Analysis:

This saying meets all four of the canonical criteria for a proverb. It is (1) short, (2) fixed-phrase, (3) rhetorical, and (4) metaphorical.

This proverb is an example of occupational folklore for the occupation of architects.

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Breaking a Plate at a Wedding

Item:

After a wedding ceremony, the groom breaks a plate by stomping it with his heel. The number of pieces that it breaks into is supposed to signify the number of happy years that the married couple will have together.

Background Information:

The informant learned this saying from his wife’s family, who insisted that he perform the tradition at his wedding. He suspects that the tradition is originally Russian-Armenian, but he isn’t sure.

He doesn’t believe that the number of pieces the plate breaks into has any meaning, and he doesn’t seem to hold the tradition in very high regard, probably due to the memory of hurting his foot by stomping too hard when he performed it.

Contextual Information:

The tradition is performed at a wedding, after the ceremony. In the informant’s case, the tradition was performed during the wedding reception.

Analysis:

Wedding traditions and accompanying beliefs are very common in all cultures.

Festival
Legends
Narrative
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Dragon Boat Festival Story

Item (direct transcription):

A long, long time ago, there was a minister that really, really loved his king, very much. But his king wouldn’t listen to him. He’s like, “King, the ministers you just hired are bad people. You really have to listen to me.” And the king’s like, “I will not listen to you. You know why? Because the new ministers I hired think you’re a liar.”

With that, the minister was so heartbroken; he wrote a suicide note. He wrote the suicide note that said: “King, I love you too much. You’re a very good king. You must not listen to them. These two new hire-ees are bad people. If you don’t believe me, then maybe in death you will understand.” With that, he jumped inside a pond, or a lake, or a large body of water, so he could get the job done. And then he drowned—he let himself drown—and he died.

The king saw the letter—the suicide letter—and said, “Oh my god. He would commit suicide just to warn me? Get those two hire-ees out of my palace!” And then, this minister was actually a beloved minister, so a lot of people were like, “Shoot, his body is in the water. He’s probably being eaten by fishes right now.” So, they made some meats and vegetables, wrapped it in rice, and wrapped it in bamboo leaves, and then they threw it into the water so that the fish would eat the bamboos—I mean, rice that are wrapped in bamboo leaves—instead of the body. And to this day, whenever we celebrate Dragon Boat Festival we eat that in remembrance for that man.

Background Information:

The informant was taught this story by his “elders” in the Chinese community. He has heard the story many times from many different people.

The informant thinks that the story might be true, since it seems plausible to him.

Interestingly, the informant does not believe that there is any meaning or moral to the story. When his elders taught him the story, it was presented as important not due to its truthfulness or meaning, but due to its ancientness. For that reason, he believes that the story is told simply for the sake of perpetuating a tradition from generation to generation.

Contextual Information:

This story is only told on the day of the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, ostensibly to honor the minister’s sacrifice. The informant didn’t know why the story was associated with that particular festival.

Analysis:

I find it interesting that the informant does not find any moral in the story. To me, several morals (e.g. you can only know who your real friends are in hindsight) are apparent. It seems that because of the context in which the story was related to the informant, it never occurred to him to search for a moral. He simply took it for granted that the story is told only due to its ancientness.

Perhaps, over-stressing the traditional weight of a story can actually reduce its effectiveness by distracting the recipient from the interesting qualities of the story itself.

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