Author Archive
Customs
Folk speech
general
Proverbs

German Proverb — Can’t see the Forest

Text

The following piece was collected from a seventy-three year-old American man over a meal, celebrating an anniversary. The man will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “I have a saying.”

Collector: “What is it?”

Informant: “I used to hear it in German from my grandmother, sometimes. It goes, ‘You can’t see the forest for all the trees.’”

Collector: “What does it mean?”

Informant: “It means you have to see the bigger picture. Hmm…I’ll have to find you the German version.”

Du siehst den Wald vor lauter Bäumen nicht.

            You don’t see the forest for all the trees.

            Can’t see the forest for the trees.

Context

            The Informant heard this from his grandmother, said not directly to him but overheard when she would speak with the Informant’s mother. He remembers it because he says he was always confused by it as a child. The Informant understands it now to mean that sometimes one gets lost in the details when all he or she needed to do was step back and look at the bigger picture.

Interpretation

            I was in agreement with the Informant and his interpretation of the German proverb when he explained what he understood it to mean. However, I also believe that the proverb could be referring to a broader scale, when looking at how people themselves function. It makes sense to me to also consider the trees as representing humans and the forest as a larger goal, or greater good. People get so caught up in themselves that they might be unable to properly understand something that is larger than they are.

 

For another version of this proverb, please see p. 187 of Eliot Oring’s (1986) edition of Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction in F. A. de Caro’s chapter on “Riddles and Proverbs”.

Bronner, Simon J., et al. Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction. Edited by Elliott Oring, University Press of Colorado, 1986.

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Protection
Proverbs

The Whiter the Bread, the Quicker You’re Dead — Health Proverb

Text

The following piece was collected from a young woman from Denver, Colorado. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Before I went vegan, my dad would say to us whenever he thought we were being unhealthy. He would say we weren’t allowed to have white bread, only wheat.”

Collector: “What did he say?”

Informant: “He would say, ‘The whiter the bread, the quicker you’re dead.’”

Collector: “Haha…that’s good. What do you think he meant?”

Informant: “Oh, obviously he was just trying to scare us into believing that if we ate unhealthily, we would die…haha… kind of mean but pretty effective, as far as I can remember.”

Context

            The Informant learned the piece from her father when she was a child. She believes its meaning is pretty clear – if you eat unhealthy food, like white bread, then you are more likely to reap the consequences. The Informant believes that it was simply a saying used to frighten children into eating more healthily. She has always remembered the saying because of its catchiness, but also because when she made the decision to become vegan, she also gave up white bread. She laughs now at the fact that her father can no longer remind her that if she eats white bread, she may die sooner.

Interpretation

            I believe this saying to be very interesting but not uncommon within a parent-child relationship. It is easy to understand the many ways parents try to persuade their children to act correctly and do the right thing. This is just one of the many examples of that form of parenting. “White the bread, the quicker you’re dead” is reminiscent of the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”. In both cases, these sayings serve as a warning to a child – to be healthy and safe. But looking deeper, the saying can serve as a reminder that you reap what you sow – if you do something that will negatively affect you, there is no one to blame but yourself.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Game
general
Humor
Protection

Step on a crack, break you mother’s back!

Text

The following information was collected from a seven-year-old Caucasian girl from South Haven, MI. The girl will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “It’s..umm.. ‘Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”

Collector: “What does it mean?”

Informant: “Um… On the sidewalk. If you step on the lines, your mom’s back is supposed to break.”

Collector: “Have you ever stepped on the line?”

Informant: “Yeah. But she didn’t break her back.”

Context

            The Informant informed me of this saying when we were discussing games she and her friends and siblings played on the way to school. This piece was the first game that she thought of. The informant learned the saying and subsequent game from one of her older siblings. She remembered they yelled at her once when they started playing and the Informant got scared that she had actually hurt her mother. But now she knows that it doesn’t actually hurt them right away, it’s just bad luck and could lead to her mother breaking her back.

Interpretation

            I believe, like my informant, that this little saying/game is just that: a game. But upon looking closer, I believe more meaning can be derived from the intention behind the game. The notion that the simple act of stepping on a crack on the sidewalk could potentially cause your mother to break her back makes me think mostly of implanting the idea of responsibility. I believe the game/saying brings forward the idea that children have to take responsibility for their actions. Meaning, if you step on a crack, you break your mother’s back. The idea behind this is that if you do something that indirectly causes another event, you are responsible for that outcome, whatever it may be.

 

For another version of this game, please see p. 94 of Eliot Oring’s (1986) edition of Folk Group and Folklore Genres: An Introduction in Jay Mechling’s chapter on “Children’s Folklore” ((Utah State University Press)).

 

Bronner, Simon J., et al. Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction. Edited by Elliott Oring, University Press of Colorado, 1986.

Childhood
Game
Humor
Legends
Signs

The Legend of Turtle Rock

Text

The following piece was collected from an eighty-four year old woman who lives in Cascade, Colorado. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “There’s a rock on the drive up the mountain pass called Turtle Rock. Every time you go up that road, we all wait silently in the car looking for the rock. It’s a larger rock with a smaller rock behind it and slightly to the side. What happens is that as you drive by, it looks like a turtle poking his head out of his shell. As soon as you see it, you have to yell and jump around. It’s good luck if you can spot it because it’s really hard to see, especially if you’re driving quickly. All the locals know it’s there. It used to be a game to see if someone could make the steep climb up to the rock. In all my time I only ever saw one person do it.”

 

Context

            The Informant learned of this place and the tradition wrapped around it simply by living in the area and hearing from other people all about “Turtle Rock”. She believes that she has known about the rock that looks like a turtle phenomenon for as long as she can remember. She believes it is just a funny rock formation but it never fails to make her laugh.

Interpretation

            I love the stories that spin meaning from natural occurrences. Like the idea that a certain rock formation can have a meaning that everyone who lives in the area surrounding the rock knows. I believe it’s a way to identify yourself – if you are from Cascade, Colorado, then you must know about Turtle Rock. And if you don’t, then are you really a Cascade native? Furthermore, having an identity that is interwoven with the land around always seems like the most solid identity a person can have.

Customs
Folk medicine
Folk speech
general
Protection
Signs

Rubor, Dolor, and Calor — Signs of Infection

Text

The following piece was collected from a seventy-three year-old woman from Vail, Colorado. She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant” and I the “Collector”.

Informant: My mother had a very specific way of checking her children for infections. She would always say to us: Rubor, dolor, and calor. Signs of inflammation.”

Collector: “What do they mean?”

Informant: “They translate to mean redness, pain, and heat. Basically you would check a cut or some injury to see if it was was, if it was giving off heat, and if it was tender. If it did, you would know it was infected.”

Context

            The Informant learned this phrase from her Irish mother, she claims it is just something her mother always said to the children. The Informant believes it to be a simple procedure of people to check for infection and inflammation for people who are not well equipped to handle any ailments. She remembers it because of the frequency of which her mother would mutter it when looking over the Informant’s injuries when she was young.

Interpretation

I loved this new piece. I had never heard of this before, but I was familiar enough with the signs of infection. I was intrigued so I looked up the origin of the phrase. The original definition of inflammation, set forward by Roman encyclopedist Celus in the 1st century A.D. The original definition also included the fourth sign, tumor, meaning swelling. I found it interesting that even though the signs are taken as canon for inflammation, when they are repeated, they are still said in their original Latin. Keeping the phrase in Latin might preserve its credibility in the eyes of some, everything sounds more official when said in Latin.

Customs
Festival
Folk Dance
Folk speech
Humor
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hail, Hail — Happy Birthday Rendition

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty woman from San Jose, CA. The woman will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “My family has a very specific Happy Birthday song.”

Collector: “How so?

Informant: “We have, like, twelve songs we sing. Well, that’s an exaggeration. We have like five one we sing after the original Happy Birthday.”

Collector: “Will you sing it haha?”

Informant: “Haha..umm… okay. So it’s normal Happy Birthday, yada yada, then it’s ‘Stand up and tell us your age’, then it’s ‘For he’s a jolly good fellow’, then you launch into ‘May the dear Lord bless you’. And then it’s everyone’s favorite one, ‘Hail, hail.’”

Collector: “How does that one go?”

Informant: “So there are hand motions too. Every time you sing ‘hail’, you have to throw your hands in the air. And the rest of the time, you’re swinging you arm back and forth.” (Does a motion similar to a yee-haw – bent elbow, fist near the chin, and swing it to and from.)

“Hail, hail the gang’s all here!

What the heck do we care,

What the heck do we care,

Hail, hail the gang’s all here!

What the heck do we care now!”

Context

            The Informant learned the song from her father, who supposedly claims he came up with it. The Informant, however, tells me that she believes it was a school chant the students would cheer at their school’s sports game. Nonetheless, it has been apart of every Happy Birthday song she has every sung at a family gathering. The Informant loves that her family has their own way of singing Happy Birthday. They treat it as a secret of sorts: if you know the song and the motions, you’re part of the inner circle.

Interpretation

            I was thrilled to hear this new rendition of Happy Birthday. While I was aware there were many versions of Happy Birthday, specifically those when you add “cha cha cha” or the one about how old you are, I had never heard this piece before. The added interpretation of the Informant’s belief that it acts as a method of deciphering who is really a part of the group and who is not is an added benefit. This song celebrates the one whose birthday it is while also celebrating the bond and closeness of a people who all know the same secret.

 

Childhood
Folk speech
Game
general
Humor
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Lead a Snot — Our Father Parody

Text

The following piece was collected from a fifty-two year old Caucasian man from Chicago, Illinois. The man is Irish Catholic. The man will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “When we were in Mass, my siblings and I would say our own version of the Our Father.”

Collector: “How did it go?”

Informant: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead A SNOT into temptation, but deliver US from evil.”

Context

            The Informant learned that funny version of the prayer in a Catholic grade school. At the weekly Friday Masses, the children would come up with all kinds of ways to keep themselves entertained. He remembers this version because he claims it “always made [him] laugh”. While he claims he doesn’t believe only snots should be delivered to evil, he does believe it speaks a little truth about people getting what they deserve.

Interpretation

My first reaction to this piece was to laugh out loud. I am very familiar with the Our Father prayer, as I am Catholic as well. Hearing it told in a child’s way, from a grown man, was very funny. But I also believe he was right in making the point that it goes to show a little that not everyone can be forgiving. The original line is “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”. In the satirical version, the prayer points out to actually deliver the snots – the brats, the people who deserved to be punished – to evil. I thought this showed the flip side of the same coin – people can be forgiving when it suits them, but when they can conversely want people to pay for their sins.

Childhood
Customs
Folk speech
general
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Secret Family Call

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty-two year-old girl who is also a student at USC. . She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “My family does a special call to let each other know where we are.”

Collector: “What does is sound like?”

Informant: “One person would go ‘Who who-oo!’ and then if another person in the family hears it, they have to respond ‘Who-oo-O! Who-oo-O!’”

Collector: “So what is it for?”

Informant: “Basically, it’s a way to keep track of all the younger kids. I have a bunch of siblings, so if we ever lose track of one of them, it’s a way to quickly call out to them and find them. Or have them call out to us.”

Collector: “Does it work?”

Informant: “Always.”

Context

            The Informant learned the call from her older sibling, who learned it from their father who came up with it. She believes in the family call’s ability to help make people’s location’s known, both in a lighthearted way and a method of finding a younger kid if they were to wander off at a grocery store. She remembers it for the frequency of which she and her family uses the secret call.

Interpretation

            I loved hearing about this secret family call. I believe it to be a fun and effective tool. To me, having insider knowledge, in the form of a secret family call, is a perfect way to feel a part of something. Secret calls as a form of familial folklore is reminds people that they are part of a group, a group that cares about safety and awareness of each other enough to have designed an entire secret system as a way to be aware of each members’ whereabouts.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Hold your breath out of respect — Cemetery

Text

The following piece was collected from a twenty woman from San Jose, CA. The woman will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “I used to do something as a kid and..haha…I still do it now. Haha I don’t know, I guess it stuck around.”

Collector: “What do you do?”

Informant: “Well, whenever my family and I drove past a cemetery, everyone in the car would hold their breaths.”

Collector: “Because you didn’t want the bad spirits to enter you or something?”

Informant: “No, actually. We would do it because my dad told me once that it was disrespectful to breathe in front of all the people who couldn’t breathe anymore. So we held our breaths.”

Context

            The Informant learned this from her father when she was a child, then she passed it on to her younger siblings. She remembers it clearly because she had actually heard about holding your breath when you pass a cemetery thing from her friend. She started doing it though because of the reason her dad told her they did it. It made more sense for her to hold her breath out of respect rather than out of fear. While she laughs about it being ridiculous now, she still does it if she remembers in time.

Interpretation

            Just like the Informant, I had also already heard of holding your breath when you pass a cemetery. And also like the informant, I thought the reason was to keep bad spirits from entering your body. I was surprised and also interested in hearing there was another reason why other people did it. The idea that people passing any cemetery feel the need to show respect to the graveyard is one that makes me both happy and sad. Happy because I’m glad to hear that people want to be respectful of the dead, but also sad because that respect shows itself in the sort of dark way of holding your breath in solidarity with the dead. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this tidbit of information.

Childhood
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
general
Protection

Lemon Juice and Salt Water — Healing

Text

The following piece was collected from a thirty-year-old Mexican-American woman. . She will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Mi mama used to tell me us to squeeze lemon juice onto cuts my brothers and I would get.”

Collector: “To clean them?”

Informant: “Si. She said it hurt because it was cleaning. She would make us put salt water in mouth when throat hurt.”

Collector: “Did it work?”

Informant: “No se. We did it because she said.”

Context

            The Informant learned this unique way of healing small ailments from her Mexican mother. The Informant remembers because she would always try to hide some small scratch or sore throat from her mother so she wasn’t forced to pour lemon juice on the cut or gargle salt water. She never liked it, but she believed they worked, mainly because from a young age, her mother would tell her they would.

Interpretation

            When I first learned of this method, I was reminded of another method of helping small hurts. I was once told to rub mud on a bee sting to make it stop hurting. While I believe that the lemon juice and salt water have more legitimate healing properties, I think that the intent behind both practices is similar. I think the purpose of these processes is that within the application and resulting sting of lemon juice and salt water, the hurt is more in that moment of application. But following the short but intense sting, the pain itself has lessened. More than simply helping because healing properties they both may have, they are used as a distraction method, a way to lessen the pain in the long run.

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