Author Archive
Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Flourishing despite circumstance – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“El que es perico donde quiera es verde.”

Transliteration:

The one that is a parrot wherever he wants is green.

Translation:

Someone that is bright will flourish despite any circumstance he might find himself in.

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

 Context and Analysis:

I asked my Informant, a 74-year-old female if she knew of any sayings that have stuck with her throughout her life. At first, she answered she didn’t know any and after I told her one of the proverbs I knew she said she remembered this one. I asked what the proverb meant to her, and she responded that it means, someone smart would thrive in any situation he is placed in. She says her husband has many friends that came from very little and with their merit were able to become very successful people in their lives. These people were not handed anything, everything they have they earned. 

I agree with my informant’s interpretation of the proverb. Parrots have a very vibrant green color that stands out wherever they are.  I believe the proverb uses this identification to compare it to the stand out character of a person who is intelligent and full of personality. Someone that has charismatic and unique qualities will stand out wherever he is. Just like the parrot’s color will not change despite his environment this bright person will stand out despite his background. I also see this proverb as having implications to status and wealth. The proverb in english, “born with a silver spoon in your mouth” is often used to refer to those that were given everything and therefore naturally thrive. On the contrary, the proverb “El que es perico donde quiera es verde” speaks to being able to flourish despite the environment someone is in and what is given to them. 

 

Folk Beliefs
general
Magic
Signs

Black Cats Superstition

Main Piece:

“Black cats are bad luck.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 19-year-old female. I asked my informant if she knew of any superstitions people live by.  To this, she responded,  “black cats are bad luck.” My informant does not remember when she first heard this superstition, but she thinks it was around the time of Halloween. She claims she also saw it in a tv show she watched as a child called, Sabrina the Teenage Witch. In the show, the black cat was friends with the witch. The informant states that a black cat is a sign that something bad is going to happen. For example, if you are going somewhere and you see a black cat it means something bad will happen in the near future. The informant recalls,

“One time I was driving in the car with a friend and her dad, can’t remember who it was, but we saw a black cat crossing the road and my friend’s dad turned around and drove the other way. My friend says that every time her dad is driving, and he sees a black cat he has to turn around and take an alternate route.”

The informant says she does not believe this is true and feels bad for black cats because everyone thinks they are evil.

I too have heard this superstition that black cats are bad luck. It is interesting to note the association with color. The color black is often used when referencing fear, mystery, evil and death. All of these themes are common around the time of Halloween, so it makes sense the informant believes to have heard this superstition around that time. One also wears black to a funeral to represent the mourning of a loved one. Therefore, seeing a black cat by the color alone can imply death. Death is a mysterious subject terrifying for many people. The black cats’ color can be enough to make people fear the superstition. Cats are also animals that hold a lot of mystery. Often it is said cats have nine lives. This makes the superstition that black cats are bad luck even more fascinating because if the color black is associated with death, and cats have nine lives, could this have some sort of implication that cats can take lives? An intriguing relationship to note.  When looking into this superstition I also found a reference to it in the book Fearful, Spirits, reasoned follies the boundaries of superstition in the late medieval Europe by Michael David Bailey. He also speaks of the association cats have with demonic beings and magical connections.

Bailey, Michael David. Fearful Spirits, Reasoned Follies the Boundaries of Superstition in Late Medieval Europe. Cornell University Press, 2013.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Foodways
general
Rituals, festivals, holidays
Signs

Pass the Salt Superstition

Main Piece:

“It is bad luck to hand someone the salt without setting it down on the table first to break the connection.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 47-year-old female. She says she first heard this superstition when she was having dinner with a couple of friends.  They were enjoying dinner when one of the ladies asked for the salt.  The person closest to the salt picked up the salt shaker and handed it to the person who had asked for the salt. The lady who had asked for the salt was reluctant to take the salt from the other person’s hand.  She then asked if it could be set down at the table because she did not want to take the salt shaker from the other person’s hand. The lady who had passed the salt asked why she had to set it down. The other lady responded that it was bad luck to pass the salt from one hand to another without setting it down first. My informant says she has since adopted the superstition claiming there is no harm in following the tradition and likes to think she is avoiding bad luck. I asked my informant where she thinks this superstition began, to this she responded she is unsure, but she thought it had something to do with the Jewish faith because the people she has encountered that strictly follow this superstition are Jewish.

I had heard this superstition before but was curious to know where it originates from and why this is the case. In looking into this superstition I found countless of other superstitions, beliefs, and traditions about salt. Such as the bad luck implied with spilling the slat on the table, and if one does so then they must immediately pick up a pinch of the salt and throw it over their left shoulder. It is also believed salt is a protector and would keep away evil spirits. To keep an unwanted visitors away some believed that if one sprinkles salt at the door right after they leave then sweep it up and burn it they will not return. I also discovered a belief in Buddhist tradition making it common to throw salt over your shoulder when returning home or after a funeral to keep the evil spirits away.

After finding so many beliefs about salt I looked into those related particularly just to the Jewish faith following my informant’s intuition this was a Jewish belief. To my surprise, there were also other Jewish superstitions related to salt. These included placing pockets of salt in the corners of a room or the pockets of clothing to drive evils away(myjewishlearning.com), and throwing salt over your shoulder if you spilled the salt. The likely reason for so many salt superstitions and beliefs is likely due to the value of salt in the Middle Ages. Salt was extremely rare and expensive therefore the thought of spilling it would be unspeakable; similarly to spilling a bag of miniature diamonds in current day standards(something of very high value). In Judaism salt seems to have positive connotations. It is customary to sprinkle it over the challah(ceremonial Jewish bread) and is used as a preserver making what it touches last forever, elevating its status (jtsa.edu).

I found it very difficult to find any information about the passing of the salt specifically. The most common salt superstition I found was about spilling the salt. I can’t seem to recall where I heard this but remember someone mentioning passing the salt being a taboo due to the high value of salt. Therefore setting the salt down before the other person picks it back up acts as breaking the connection between the holder of the salt and the person who is about to hold it. Therefore, if anyone spills the salt it will be clear whose fault it was. Whoever picks the salt back up is now responsible for the salt. This eliminates any debate or misplacing of fault if the salt is spilled.

“SPILLING SALT.” Frank Leslie’s Popular Monthly (1876-1904), vol. XI, no. 4, 04, 1881, pp. 413. ProQuest, http://libproxy.usc.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.libproxy1.usc.edu/docview/136551260?accountid=14749.

https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/popular-superstitions/

http://www.jtsa.edu/sprinkling-salt-on-the-challah

Folk Beliefs
general
Proverbs

I am no gold coin to be liked by all – Mexican proverb

Main Piece:

“No soy monedita de oro para caerle bien a todos.”

Transliteration:

No am small coin of gold to fall good to all

Translation:

I am no gold coin to be liked by all

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 49-year-old male. He claims the first time he heard this saying was many years ago. He says his grandmother on his mother’s side, who has passed away now, used to often repeat this saying during her life. He claims his grandmother was a strong decision maker and always had very good relationships with everyone, especially politicians and governors. In those circles, it is easy for one to be criticized, but his grandmother would not fall victim to these criticisms because she believed in what she thought was right and was not there to please others.  She fought for what she believed in despite what others might have thought of her. My informant claims the saying is self-explanatory. He says it is impossible to make everyone happy there are always social classes and people who are jealous of others and that can cause dislike. He emphasizes, “not everyone has to like you.”

I believe what my informant means by this saying being self-explanatory is that the proverb implies everyone likes gold coins. Therefore, if someone is a ‘gold coin’ it would come to mean everyone would like them. However, people are not gold coins, they come with opinions, qualities, personalities, and ideas. All of these characteristics can make them favored by some and disliked by others. The proverb therefore states that there is no way one can be liked by all for they are not gold coins.

 

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Liquor before beer and you’re in the clear – American Drinking Proverb

Main Piece:

“Liquor before beer and you’re in the clear, beer before liquor never been sicker.”

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 19-year-old male. The informant claims he first heard this proverb when he was in ninth grade. It was one of the first times he was consuming alcohol and was not paying attention to the type of alcohol he was consuming. He was alternating between drinking beer and simultaneously taking shots of vodka. When one of his friends said to him the proverb. He disregarded the advice as it was too late, and continued to drink. The informant says he did not end the night feeling very well; however, he does not live by the proverb for in other situations when he has followed the proverb’s advice the night has still ended badly.

I have also heard this proverb before and know many people that do live by it. On many occasions, I have even heard it is bad to mix any type of alcohol. Often I do not hear this while I’m in a setting where alcohol is being consumed, but after. Most often it is during the day or after a night of alcohol consumption when someone will make a reference to the proverb, and claim the person who had a bad night was at fault because they did not follow the proverb’s advice. After looking further into this proverb, I found many sources claiming it was a myth. One of the most reputable sources I found was by CBS News, they claim “hangovers are more dependent on the total amount of alcohol consumed, rather than the order of drinking.” The rhyme of the proverb makes it catchy and easy to remember. I believe this is a significant factor in what makes this proverb so popular. Keeping in mind my informant’s age I also believe it is a proverb most often found in younger circles where there is less exposure to alcohol. Most teens are still in the experimental phase of alcohol consumption in their lives, and therefore are more susceptible to catchy phrases such as these that are not true.

https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/14-facts-about-drinking-are-you-misinformed/8/

general
Proverbs

Elders know best – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“A un novillo joven hay que enjuntarlo a un buey viejo para que surco salga derecho.”

Transliteration:

To a young bull, you have to bind it to an old bull so that furrows go straight.

Translation:

Elders know more, so in order for new generations to learn, they must learn from their elders.

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

 

Context and Analysis:

When I asked my informant, a 78-year-old male, to recount to me any proverbs he might know he mentioned this one. I asked him where he had heard it and what it meant. He said he heard it in his home town Autlan, Mexico when he would go to the countryside. Before he told me the meaning of the proverb he made me attempt to guess for myself. After a couple of failed guessed he revealed to me the meaning he interprets from this proverb. He said, “Hay jóvenes que se tragan el mundo y creen que la computadora te dice todo pero para aprender bien necesitas la experiencia de alguien que ya haya vivido. A mi me invitan a muchas conferencias donde les platico de mis fracasos.” Loosely translated to: ‘there are many young men that think they know everything and believe everything the computers tell them, but in order to learn you need the experience of someone who has lived. I get invited to lots of conferences where I tell them about my mistakes.’ My informant explained to me that he believes the best way to learn is through the experience of others. He says he loves going to conferences and teaching others about the mistakes he has made in his life because this will prevent them from being made again. My informant wants me to emphasize how much more useful life knowledge is than theories and techniques you can learn in a book. He says the most valuable people are the ones that can learn from both books and absorb what they can from other’s experiences. 

I agree with my informant on the importance of not just taking knowledge from books and published sources, but also taking advantage of older generations that are happy to share what they have lived through. My informant is a civil engineer and has done many public works and constructions people utilize every day. The stories he has to tell would teach anyone many qualities but especially other civil engineers considerably about, work ethic, problem-solving, and techniques. I also asked my informant if he would ever consider publishing a book to which he responded he enjoys sharing his experience one on one because it is too much to fit in a book and this makes it more personal. I believe there are many people like my informant that love sharing their experiences personally and there is a lot to learn from them.

It is apparent this proverb originates from the countryside for its reference to cattle and the technique of how to teach a young bull how to plow. These are agricultural references, so I would argue the proverb originates from an agricultural background.

 

 

 

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Getting too caught up with yourself can cause confusion – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“No te subas al ladrillo que te mareas”

Transliteration:

Don’t get on the brick because you will get dizzy 

Translation:

Getting too caught up with yourself can cause confusion

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

Context and Analysis:

I asked my informant, a 17-year-old female when she first heard this saying. She said it used to be a phrase her dad would say to her to make sure she did not let her privilege make her feel superior to others. She said her father would tell her this saying when she was acting bratty or snobby. She says she comes from a privileged family and her father sometimes worries that she is not working hard enough for the things she has. My informant says it is easy to fall victim to the rewards of things and to act like she deserves everything she has when in reality she did not earn it herself. She says she also believes this saying is meant to prevent people from thinking they know everything and from showcasing knowledge they are feigning. The informant says her father has tried to instill in her the value of admitting not knowing something and learning it as opposed to making it up and falling out of people’s trust and favor. 

I agree with the informant about the meaning of this proverb. Getting on a brick signifies elevating yourself from others. By getting on a brick the person becomes taller and people have to look up to them. This can be interpreted as representative of status. Having more and being of higher status can make it easy for people to overindulge and think they can have everything or deserve everything because of what they have or the title they hold. Once a person begins feeling deserving or above others it is easy for them to fall out of favor and lose what they have. As the proverb describes getting dizzy or caught up in everything one has. Getting dizzy and losing balance on an elevated surface can result in falling. This proverb is meant to warn people from the dangers of falling if one gets too caught up with what they have and who they think they are. This proverb can also signify losing sight of oneself by getting too caught up in material things or a reputation.

 

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Game
general
Myths
Protection
Signs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

American Street Crack Superstition

Main Piece:

“Step on a crack and break your mom’s back”

Context and Analysis:

The informant claims the superstition is common knowledge. When asked when she first heard it she insisted not knowing when she picked it up, she just assumed it was common knowledge, “Everyone knows that when you are walking, you are not supposed to step on a crack it’s just what everyone says.” The informant does not know where the superstition originates from. The informant does not believe this superstition is true and therefore she does not apply it to her daily life. The informant states, “I know it is not true because I have stepped on a lot of cracks and nothing has happened.”

Like most superstitions, this one uses the threat of something valuable to encourage people to follow it. If something valuable is at stakes many times even if people do not believe in the superstition they will follow it to avoid any potential curse. This superstition emphasizes the dangers of stepping on a crack which can lead to breaking your mother’s back.

It is interesting to note the informant’s belief that this superstition is known worldwide. Often when someone does not know the origin of where something comes from or if they heard it at an early enough age, they assume everyone is familiar with the same things they are. Due to the understanding my informant has of the superstition I want to infer she heard it when she was in her early childhood years.

I also think it is important to note my informants reasoning as to what makes this superstition relevant. She states ‘everyone’ knows this. By emphasizing the use of a lot of people following a tradition or employing a saying, this gives any work reliability and validation.

There also seems to be a correlation with how difficult the superstition is to follow and how many people follow it. Many people follow superstitions when it does not inconvenience them. Therefore, when you have a superstition like this where it takes a lot of effort to avoid cracks everywhere one goes, it is less likely people will follow it.  Among children, this superstition can act as a game where a child will aim to avoid the cracks on the pavement and if he fails the punishment is the belief that his or her mom’s back will be broken.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Protection
Proverbs
Signs

Don’t look for problems – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“No le busquen chichis a las culebras”

Transliteration:

Don’t look for boobs in the snakes

Translation:

Don’t look for problems where there are none

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 71-year-old female. When I asked her if she knew of any common sayings of phrases of wisdom she giggled a little and responded, “No le busquen chichis a las culebras.” I asked where she recalled this saying from, and she claims to have heard it at a rural town where her family owned a countryside home, El Rancho Platanar. The town is called Plan de Barrancas in Jalisco, Mexico.   She says the proverb stook with her because of the humorous language employed. Her family was accustomed to driving up from the city they lived in, Guadalajara, to the house and spent weeklong holidays there when she was a young girl. When they were staying at the house she would visit the local town with her siblings and that is where she first heard the saying. My informant does not recall the context the proverb was used in, but she explained to me the meaning of the proverb. My informant belives the proverb is used to deter people from looking for problems when they don’t have problems.  The informant claims the phase means this because snakes do not have boobs, so if you look for the boobs in a snake not only will you not find any but you will anger the snake which is a problem. 

The phrase utilizes colloquial and crude language which I believe is the reason my informant has remembered it since such a young age. As a young girl, from a wealthy family, she was not exposed to this type of language making it exciting and new. The phrase employes the use of animals, in particular, a snake. This gives the audience a clue as to where it came from, the countryside, but also the connotations associated with snakes. Snakes have a reputation for being evil, bad, and sneaky. An example of this is the role the snake plays in the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible( the snake is the bad influence that convinced Eve to pick the apple). The snake in this proverb is representative of a problem. I believe the reference to boobs in the proverb is in association to the dangers of messing with a woman, for there is a bias, especially in Mexico, that angry women are fiercer than men. One would not want to mess with a snake, but if it is a female snake, then one would certainly not want to mess with it. The proverb is warning its audience not to look for problems where there are one because snakes do not have boobs, and angering a female snake by searching for its boobs is not only pointless but also dangerous.

 

Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs

Beautiful women have great allure – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“jalan mas un par de bubis que una carreta.”

Transliteration:

Pull more a pair of boobs than a two-wheeled cart

Translation:

Beautiful women have great allure

Background:

Informant

Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish

 

Context and Analysis:

My informant is a 71-year-old female from Guadalajara, Mexico. I asked my informant if she knew any proverbs and she responded the ones she remembered were due to their humorous nature. She then said to me the proverb, “jalan mas un par de bubis que una carreta.” I asked where she recalled this saying from and she claims to have heard it at a rural town where her family owned a countryside home, El Rancho Platanar. The town is called Plan de Barrancas in Jalisco Mexico. Her family was accustomed to driving up from the city they lived in, Guadalajara, to the house and spent weeklong holidays there when she was a young girl. When they were staying at the house, she would visit the local town with her siblings and that is where she first heard the saying. My informant remembers walking down the street with her sisters when she noticed a couple of workers that were doing construction on the road were staring at her and her sisters. She claims one of the men even whistled. Then another worker that had just joined the ‘viewing’ said the phase, loud enough so my informant and her sisters could hear. The informant says the phrase means a beautiful woman is more distracting, and draws attention in a greater quantity, than the amount of weight a wagon can carry.

The language employed in the phrase is slang. The verb ‘jalar’ is not commonly employed to mean a rhetorical pull and in more formal language it literally means ‘to pull’. The phrase is comparing the rhetorical quantity with a literal quantity.  This slang type of language is often heard around rural towns and used by working class people. The context the phrase was used in is very informal and even crude. The phrase can even be considered a form of street harassment, commenting in a sexual manner on the appearance of young women as they walk down the street. The informant shares she did feel a bit uncomfortable in the situation as she did not know how to respond, and her older sister told her to look down and keep walking. I don’t believe this phrase has a specific meaning and its purpose is likely to comment on the allure of beautiful women. In the proverb, women are compared to the weight a two-wheeled cart can carry because the phrase is employed by construction workers, and a cart is an object that is often utilized in their daily lives to transport materials from one place to the other.

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