Author Archive
Folk speech
Game

Gamer Terminology

“Yeah, it’s called lagging. When your internet is slow and glitches you can say to the other people online that you are lagging.”

Context: The informant has been playing video games for over 10 years and would consider himself a serious gamer.

Informant Analysis: He noted that he first heard the term lagging when he was in middle school playing Call of Duty. He also said that the term lagging is solely a gaming term that just about every common gamer understands. It is meant to tell the people you are playing with online that you are unable to do something or your screwup in a game was not your fault.

Collector Analysis: Although the informant said that the purpose of the term lagging is to let your friends know your errors are the internet’s fault, I believe it is more than that. Utilizing the term lagging can also be used if you do mess up but can blame something out of your control as the problem. It also is term that signifies to the other gamers that one is part of the group– a regular player. In the gaming world, there is a certain amount of respect for people who are good at particular games. If one is good enough, you can be live streamed for people to watch. At this level, lagging becomes a term that signifies that you are not bad at the game.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Wet Hair Outside Superstition

“Leaving the house with wet hair is bad luck.”

Context: The informant is the grandmother to the collector and this spoken superstition occurred naturally during her visit to Los Angeles from Chicago. When the collector was leaving their house with wet hair after taking a shower, the informant remarked on their appearance poorly, by stating that wet hair outside is bad luck. The collector has heard this superstition on multiple occasions from the informant.

Informant Analysis: The informant said that when you get ready to leave the house after taking a shower, you should dry your hair with a blow dryer so that it is not wet outside. Although she did not say she believed it would cause bad things to happen, this little superstition was told to her from an early age. She noted that, while it may not be an omen of bad luck, having wet hair when you go outside is unmannered and sloppy. Every person, according to her, should learn these simple tasks as a child. By making it a superstition, it was her assumption that children would be more likely to listen.

Collector Analysis: Although I am no longer a child, I have heard her say this to me many times. I believe there are three ways to analyze this superstition: its formation, its content, and the speaker’s identity. To begin with its formation, it is interesting that this superstition is perhaps not meant to be viewed as a superstition at all, but a trick played on children. It is often the case that children choose to not follow the command of their parents or grandparents either out of the urge to rebel or the disapproval in the purpose of the command. In many ways, it may be seen as easier to have a child do something if it is not coming from the mouth of the parental figure. In providing a make-belief statement, that wet hair outside is bad luck, the command becomes an implication to act a certain way. The statement itself then sounds like an self-beneficial objective belief rather than a subjective parental belief on what one should do. Furthermore, if the audience of this command is for children, it is perhaps more likely that a child would believe in a superstition and act upon it than an adult would. If a child has greater tendency to believe in superstition, it would only follow that the utilization of superstition would work well in guiding their actions. While the formation of command into superstition changes the meaning completely, we can also look at the substance of the superstition itself– wet hair and outside.

The informant had grown up in New York and had moved to Chicago as an adult. One commonality between these places is that they both have extremely cold winters. Leaving the house with wet hair could be seen as dangerous and ill-advised if there is a greater likelihood of getting sick from the cold by doing it. If we parallel this idea to the common folk belief of putting on more clothes or,  you are going to catch a cold! , there seems to be some similarity between the two pieces of folk speech; specifically, the danger of being needlessly colder than one has to and cold being the cause of sickness.

Lastly, it is very informative to note the relation of the informant to the superstition. The informant was born in 1946 in a Irish Roman Catholic neighborhood where there were strict rules on how one should dress and style themselves. Her family was not wealthy by any means, so there was some emphasis on trying to not appear poor. Part of the not-poor-look was to always leave the house well-dressed with your hair styled and dry. In this time period, perhaps too generally speaking, there was more emphasis on presenting oneself to the world in a mannered way. In this regard, having wet hair when leaving the house was looked upon poorly because it could be mistaken for not having time, money, or self-respect. Today, the code of manners in the United States is much laxer. Wet hair would currently, at most,  connote that an individual took a shower.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Softball Apparel Signs and Sexuality

Informant: “In high school playing softball there was this secret code to show if you were lesbian. I know how ridiculous that is now, but if you wore ribbons in your hair, it meant you weren’t. Every girl on the team would put ribbons in their hair because they didn’t want people thinking they were lesbian.”

Context: This collection of folklore was done while the informant was home from Boston. We spoke with the intent to collect this piece of folklore when prompted with what are the sorts of folklore found in softball. The informant played softball for 4 years in high school, but does not play in college currently.

Informant Analysis Transcript:

Collector: “Where did you first learn this, or from who?”

Informant: “I think I first heard about the whole ‘lesbians play softball’ in middle school. My mom would always tell me that. The whole ribbons thing I only heard in high school. I think people on the softball team told me and I just assumed that I might as well join in.”

Collector: “Why do you think this folklore is used in high school softball, or like, your analysis of it?

Informant: “Uhm, I don’t know. I guess in high school you care a lot about what other people think of you, especially if you are female. The idea of someone thinking you are lesbian when you are not if you play softball was just a fear that many girls had. The whole ribbon thing kind of gives a little piece of mind, like, ‘ok! I’m ready to play now, put me in coach’ *laughs*

Collector Analysis: I believe that there is a fear in high school in girls of being perceived wrongly by their classmates. The use of ribbons is integral to the analysis of this folk sign. Ribbons seem closely tied with femininity in American culture, where as most people assume lesbian culture to be more masculine. This is a generalization of course, but the stereotype that cisgendered girls would are more likely to wear ribbons in their hair as apposed to their gay counterparts allows for people to assume the sexual orientation of another without having to ask. Especially at a time in life where many people are still figuring out their sexual identity, the whole topic of gender is painted with strict contrast.

Legends
Protection

Clubbing and Needles Urban Legend

Informant: “From what I was told is that at clubs or music events there are some really crappy people who make it their mission to infect people with HIV with syringes that have the blood of an infected person. So, like, you are dancing and someone comes up to you and stabs you with a needle and boom, you are infected. I don’t know if this ever happened, but it seems possible I guess, and because it’s possible I don’t mess around with any sketchy clubs.”

Context: The informant is the brother of the collector and spoke about this legend during a discussion about parties. The informant said that they first heard of this legend from their girlfriend at the time in high school at an LMFAO concert at the Orpheum.

Informant Analysis: When he analyzed what this legend means, he said that it is most likely some warning of “sketchy clubs” and that people shouldn’t take drugs from people they do not know. He noted that even though he does not necessarily believe this legend is true, it is entertaining and scary enough to have made him tell others about it.

Collector Analysis: While I believe this legend may be some sort of protection warning to any person attending music festivals or clubs while also serving as an entertaining horror story, it also may stand for other fears young people may have at party events. In particular, when we are speaking of needles and partying, it is possibly that this legend is in reference to certain hard drugs that can be shared at these events. In any situation where needles are involved or being shared, there is great fear of contracting something from someone. This fear may have inspired the legend. It may also be analyzed from the angle of the danger of being unaware in a party atmosphere where people let their guard down and are preyed upon unexpectedly. We can also analyze why the legend refers to HIV in particular and not some other disease or drug. This legend may serve as a warning to young people having intercourse with people they do not know who may have HIV. We can see that there is an insidious perpetrator who infects a victim while the victim is enjoying themselves, which may closely relate to a warning of having many unknown sexual partners. Lastly, it should be noted that in clubs or music events there is a large grouping of unknown people who are, while at the event, in a sort of forced community and friendship. The fear of being hurt by an unknown person who is supposed to be a friend is a great use of the idea of a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

Childhood
Gestures
Humor
Musical
Riddle
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Children Hand Sign Language about Sexuality

Collector’s Note: This child’s hand sign song has a particular hand motion that comes at the end of the first two sentences. It is followed by two more gestures within the second sentence after the word “this”. It is best to first read the song straight through and later refer to each sentence’s number and timing of hand motion while viewing the corresponding pictures in order.

“Good girls sit like this. (1)

Catholic girls sit like this. (2)

Girls who sit like this, (3)

get this, (4)

like this. (5) *snap* ”

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Context: This piece was collected at the childhood home of a friend of the collector from both elementary and middle school after speaking about their friendship as children.

Informant Analysis: While in elementary school around the age of 10, she remembers that girls would sing this song with the corresponding hand gestures to each other during recess. She said that it is “weird” to look back on that hand game since it seems to represent the sexual activity of women through stereotypes and body position. She recited the meaning as, “if you are a good girl, you keep your legs closed. If you are a Catholic girl, you really keep your legs closed by crossing them. If you are a bad girl, you sit with your legs apart, which for some reason means you will get d**k quicker? I mean, that is essentially what it says, but it says it politely.”

At the young age of when they preformed the hand game, she said that it was not necessarily considered to be sexual in nature, but more of a fun sign language you could teach other girls. She recalls that she never had seen a boy make the hand gesture and song while in elementary school, as it seemed to be like a secret code/handshake between girls. The informant was uncertain as to who taught her the game, but guessed that it was a friend. She also could not remember if this hand game was ever shared with adults, but believed it was probably not. Even though at the time they did not view the hand game as sexual, they did understand that if adults saw it, they would be punished, and they  “did not want to get in trouble.”

Collector Analysis: Being a participant in this folk gesture/song/game, there were a few key aspects that I had not noticed until interviewing the informant. It is easy to assume that this hand game is a way to teach young girls to suppress their sexuality with, what could be considered, the goal of having fewer teen pregnancies. This would imply that adults with knowledge of the effects of teen pregnancy would have to be the root of this piece. Another viewpoint is that the hand game is a way young girls teach each other about the image one presents to the world and it’s importance in not becoming promiscuous (perhaps an antecedent form of slut-shaming). However, I do not believe these interpretations to be the most nuanced if we take into account that the actual piece never mentions girls sitting with their legs open as being “bad” as the informant said.

We can also note that the hand game was played only between young girls. The explicit nature of the content may have something to do with why this piece is gender segregated. It could be that there may be a level of shame that perhaps young boys do not encounter as harshly with regard to their own sexual activity. However, there must be more to the gender segregated sharing of this piece since the young girls did not fully understand the meaning of the hand game at the time. Therefore, I argue that the gender segregated sharing could not only be the sexual shame that often occurs for women as they hit puberty. What the informant referred to as a secret code or handshake seems more probable a source to create the gender segregation. The hand game gives young girls, upon the sudden awareness of gender in elementary school, a way to form a group or friendship around gender commonality. Thus, the performance of the hand game would be an expression of being in the group by having intimate knowledge of their particular gestures.

Lastly, the game itself explicitly refers to girls while never mentioning the male gender except through a crude phallic symbol. To this extent, it is very much a childish thought to represent men only as their sexual organ while also only referring to it as “this” (perhaps taboo word). The game’s proliferation among girls occur by virtue of the excitement in referring to a taboo subject or word among children.

Childhood
Customs
Gestures
Kinesthetic

Hand Gestures for Learning Left and Right

Informant: “To figure out right and left as a kid I was taught by my mom that if I hold up both my hands in the shape of an “L” with your palms faced downward, the hand that makes the actual “L” is the left one and the one that makes the backwards “L” is the right hand.”

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Context: The informant is the partner of the collector and was discussed when they were speaking about how they both know or learned right from left as children.

Informant Analysis: As a child, the informant said that they had difficulty in learning the right from left, so as a measure to help teach them, their mother taught them the trick. The informant noted that the hand gesture did help them learn it and even today, while he doesn’t make the hand signs, they determine right from left through identification with the sides of their body in their head.

Collector Analysis: For people who have mild dyslexia, certain tricks are preformed that sometimes are utilized to help. In particular, this trick is common for people who have difficulties in determining right from left. This piece is intrinsically English oriented since it only works due to the fast that left starts with an “L”. It also shows the necessity of being able to distinguish right from left in everyday life, for example, giving directions being a great example. There is of course arbitrariness to right and left since the actual location is dependent on the perspective of the individual. In this regard, the hand signs mimic the individual perspective of determining right from left.

We can also note that these sorts of gestures are intended to teach children. It has been studied that different people respond to certain learning techniques like visual, auditory, or tactile. Children in particular are sometimes able to memorize things when they are done kinesthetically. Therefore, the motion of making “L’s” with ones hands for children may be the best way to teach children. Another interesting idea that should be explored is the realization that, since many people have difficulty in determining right from left even as adults, the whole concept may be something humans are not innately born with. Or, it could be said that the addition of abstract words to describe a location in respect to the individual is perhaps where the confusion occurs.

Humor
Life cycle
Narrative

The Death of Mom Shaggy Dog Joke

Informant: “So, the joke goes… There was this guy who was on a trip to England for fun. The guy was maybe 40 years-old and this was a huge deal for him. He had never left the United States before and only spoke English so he thought that going to London would be the best option for him. Before he left, he needed to make sure his house was going to be taken care of. He also has a cat, and he is a lonely man so this cat has been a part of his life for many years and he loves it very much. So, before he leaves he asks a close work friend to watch over the house and stop by to feed the cat everyday while he is gone. His friend agrees and so the man leaves on his trip to London.

After being in London for 3 or 4 days he gets a phone call from his friend.

He starts by saying, “Oh hey! How is back home? I have had the most fun so far in my entire life here. Met a girl even. Everything going well over there? How’s my house?”

The friend is like, “Oh well… its been good. The house is fine, but I called you because something happened…”

“Oh god. What happened?”

“Well, I came by this morning to your house to feed your cat and I found him dead on the floor of the kitchen…”

“What? How did he die? Why did you tell me he died?”

“I don’t know how he died. He was fine the day before. I swear I didn’t kill him. I know this cat meant a lot to you and I am so sorry it had to happen while you are away.”

So kind of mumbling over the phone while thinking outlaid the man goes, “Ok.. well… he was getting old. I understand. Now I have to book a new flight and head back home tonight so I can handle this whole cat issue… I guess I can call the woman about our date and maybe she’ll understand and keep in touch..”

And the friend jumps in a says, “No, you don’t need to do that! Just tell me what you would like done with your cat and enjoy the rest of your trip.”

“How can I enjoy it knowing I’ll be coming home my a dead cat? In all seriousness, dude, why did you even tell me. Couldn’t it have waited till, like, the day before I was coming home?”

“I know, man. I’m sorry. I just didn’t know if you would want to know immediately or not. In hindsight I probably should have waited. But what could I have even said if you asked about how your cat was doing over the phone? I suck at lying.”

“I don’t know. I mean, you could had said something like, ‘Oh hey, something happened to your cat. He’s stuck on the roof and wont come down’ or whatever.”

“Alright well, I’m sorry. Had I known, I would’ve said that. I got to go, but call me later during your trip and I’ll let you know how everything else is going.”

So the guy is like, “OK, bye,” and per his friend’s advice decides to stay in London and call back home next week to check in.

The guy goes on a date with the woman he met and thinks he has found his match and, like, he is loving London and has even started to think about possibly extending his trip. The only thing is, the guy periodically keeps thinking about his cat and gets very sad knowing that he has died and wasn’t there to be with him. It doesn’t help that his new girlfriend, Catherine, goes by the nickname Cat. Nevertheless, a week goes by and he calls his friend back home.

“Hey, how’s everything going? Anyone miss me back there yet?”

His friend let’s out a small laugh and goes, “No, only me. Wish you were on your way back home…”

“Well, I was actually thinking of extending my trip… so I might stay in London a little bit longer. I love it here.”

And the friend is like, “Oh, don’t make me say it, dude!”

The guy is a little worried so he asks, “Did something else happen?”

After a short pause, the friend responds, “Well, yes. Your mom is stuck on the roof and wont come down.”

Context: The collector is the niece of the informant, and the original hearing of this joke was told at a dinner party. However, the transcription of the joke itself was collected at a later date from the same person. The story, from my memory, was relatively the same with subtle differences in the exact wording. The only wording that remained the exact same was the final quote from the friend.

Informant Analysis: The informant heard this joke from his best friend from college in Boston many years ago and said that he remembered it because he found it so hysterical. He said that his friend is from England originally so maybe that was the reason for the story always originating in England. He also said that he has told this joke probably more than 100 times to random people or friends if the time is right. Particularly, he noted that it is best told when people have been drinking. When asked why he thought the story was funny and what he thought it meant, he said that it was the relatability of being in a situation where you have to relay bad news to someone. He also said that he thought it is interesting to make a joke about something so serious and intimate as the death of one’s mother, and that if it meant anything, it meant that if there is anything that could possibly go wrong in a handful of situations, the death of one’s mother is perhaps the worst.

Collector Analysis: The easiest way to describe why this joke is told is because it is funny. However, the factor that makes a joke a joke is always because of its humor. So to merely analyze this shaggy-dog joke through its humor is not enough. Therefore, I am going to attempt to analyze it through its specific content.

With regard to content, this joke obviously plays upon the dark humor of death. There is something intrinsically funny to make light of dark situations. It is also very common. It has been studied that humor can work as a way to communicate pain more easily and even relate with the pain of others in an objective way. In this particular joke, despite the main character being at the receiving end of pain, there is also pain in the friend having to tell a son about the death of his cat and mother. I would argue that the humor doesn’t come from the protagonists pain, it actually comes from the pain of the friend being the herald of bad news. This joke also pokes at the natural tendency for people to avoid pain by utilizing euphemism or oblivion. The folk phrase, what you don’t know cant hurt you, seems like a common thread in this story. As we see, the cat’s death brings about the preferred euphemism the man would have like to hear. The phrase of “the cat is stuck on the roof and won’t coming down,” is a way to defer the pain much like the function of a euphemism. However, the joke made about this euphemism is that it can only be said when describing a cat— not an old woman. I believe the story also points to a liminal part in ones life where the identity of son is being ripped away, which is a commonality in many jokes. Furthermore, it points to timing and its occasional irony. This man who had never left the United States was suddenly met, at the exact time of his departure, with two deaths that necessitate him being home. There is entertainment in such horrific coincidence since most people can relate to bad timing of certain situations. There is another interpretation which may or may not have credibility: the relationship of the United States with England. England is considered the mother of the United States by many. It is curious that in this story, it is only upon the death of his mother that he must return home. Metaphorically speaking, it is the death of the motherland (England) that causes the man to return home. However, this may be considered too abstract for this particular joke lore.

Folk Beliefs
Proverbs

Marine Proverbial Saying

“There are no atheists in a foxhole.”

Context: This proverb was first collected in a philosophy of religion class when the class was going over religious belief. The student stated this proverb during class to which I questioned about after class was finished. The student is a 25 year-old male who has been in the United States Marines and has grown up in Los Angeles.

Informant Analysis: “So, when you are in the Marines this is something that you hear pretty commonly. I take it to mean that when you are in a really tough situation and think you might die, you are gonna start to believe in God. There’s like a fear about death, you know, like what happens after you die. It’s a little bit easier to put yourself in situations like that if you think there is a heaven, you know?”

Collector Analysis: Although this proverb may be said among marines and varied in different situations, the most iconic use of this idea came from Dwight D. Eisenhower, although this is not the first time this idea has appeared. The idea is a quick and more figurative way to state that in times of extreme stress or danger, even people who once considered themselves atheists convert to believe in God. This quick conversion to religion is often called a foxhole conversion. It is possible that the use of foxhole within this proverb came from World War I in which there was use of foxholes that have been recorded as being some of the worst conditions for soldiers in war to date. We can also look at how religion plays a role in the United States and in particular, how it is indoctrinated into the soldiers who serve. Around the time when Dwight D. Eisenhower brought the idea of this proverb to the American populace not involved in the military, there was a fear, philosophically speaking, about atheists. It was difficult for people to actively state they were atheists because there was much stigma around people who did not believe in God. The use of this statement of there being “no atheists in foxholes” can almost function as an argument against atheists, the argument being that no person is ever truly an atheist.

Life cycle
Myths

Chinese Buddhism Myth

Informant: “The story is that Buddha is sitting under a tree and this eagle comes to him. The eagle is not normal eagle but is like a monster. Buddha sees that this eagle is evil and hungry, so he starts to cut flesh off his body and feed it to the monster. The monster is still hungry so Buddha cuts more flesh off of him. Eventually he has no more of his body to give to the evil eagle who is now full. He gave his body to stop the evil eagle from eating other people.”

Collector: “What do you take that to mean?”

Informant: “It is basically stating to be compassionate and always give. In Buddha teaching you should give away your body for other people and to always help other people.

Collector: “Why do you think it is an eagle and not a snake or any other animal?”

Informant: “I’m not sure. *laughs* Maybe like birds that eat old flesh? I don’t know.”

Context: This myth was gathered after a lecture at USC on Buddhism and its derivations in western culture. The informant was from China, attended the lecture, and had learned this myth reading many years ago while still living in China. Her English was broken which perhaps may alter the translation of this myth.

Collector Analysis: The mythology around the Buddha is complex and varied. There are many stories that this myth mimics like the story of Buddha throwing his body off to hungry lions for similar reasons as this myth. Although there are many different types of Buddhism, it is common belief that the poisons in humanity revolve around clinging/desire, rage, and ignorance. Each of these poisons are related to animals. The clinging relates to a bird, rage relates to a snake, and ignorance relates to a boar. This story which shows Buddha releasing his body to the evil eagle perhaps parallels to birds representing the poison of clinging. It may show that people should not cling to their bodies vainly, and to give it to the benefit of others.

Folk Beliefs
Magic
Signs

Crows and Witch’s Home Superstition in Mexico

“When somebody’s house has a lot of crows, we say that the woman of the house is a bruja. I know your Mom is not a bruja. *laughs* She has been very kind to me. When I was younger in Mexico, nobody would want crows near their house because they did not want to be a bruja.”

Context: This piece of Mexican superstition was collected in the home of the collector by a woman who has been working for the collectors family for over 12 years. The superstition or warning was brought up due to a crow infestation surrounding the collectors house for a number of weeks. The housekeeper (who will be named RM) speaks English poorly as her second language, and she uses the word “bruja” which is Spanish for witch.

Informant Analysis: She said that she first learned of this superstition growing up in Mexico City, Mexico from her friends and family. She cannot remember when she first learned it or who exactly told it to her, but she says this was a common superstition told around the time she was a teenager. Although she viewed the superstition as not true, she still had some fear of my mother being called a witch.

Collector Analysis: Although I also agree that crows surrounding a person’s home does not signify that the woman of the house is a witch, I do believe that the crux of this folklore is remembered because alienation from neighbors or one’s community is a real fear. This superstition seems to point out the alienation of a woman in particular, which perhaps has something to do with the women tending to take care of the home and family while the men left for work. The crow in itself seems like a common theme for witches in other folklore, and seeing as though the crow can be seen as a predator that eats dead animals, the fact that crows are nearby would signify death of some sort. Put together, my interpretation is that crows announce death, and the location of crows around a home perhaps would signify the woman of the house being evil and closely tied with death.

 

 

 

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