Author Archives: Anye Young

“Mountains do not meet but people do”

The original language and script: Munte cu munte nu se-ntâlnește, dar om cu om se-ntâlnește.

The original is represented in Roman form as a Romanian proverb

The transliterated proverb: Mountain with mountain does not meet, but man with man meets

The fully translated proverb: A mountain doesn’t meet a mountain, but a man meets a man.

H: My mum always told me mountains do not meet but people do. I tell that to people till this day.

The informant communicated that this saying is one that always gives them hope of seeing someone again. That their paths will cross again for them to come face to face. It’s a reminder, for most, of how small our worlds really are. We are more connected than we know.

Common New York Slang: Brick

Y: New York is just one of those places where when it’s cold…  it’s COLD cold. But in New York, we don’t say it’s cold outside, we say it’s brick outside.

This is definitely one of those slang terms that is practically branded by the region that uses it. It’s possible that the reason New Yorkers use the word “brick” to refer to the drops in temperature is that it’s extremely telling of what city it’s from. During the development of New York, and up to this day, the vast majority of the buildings were made out of brick. If you’ve ever touched the side of a brick house during the winter months, you’d know that the material absorbs the surrounding temperature. In fact, however cold it is outside, bricks usually feel ten times colder. However, the further you get from the general city area, the more buildings you’ll see made out of brick. That being said, it’s possible that this slang term is generally used by New Yorkers who live in a more suburban area like the Bronx or Queens, for example.

Common DMV Slang: Sice

K: Every time you can tell someone is just straight-up lying or exaggerating over a situation, they’re sicing it. Sice is just slang for excited or exaggerated. It’s almost like lying but not quite. They’re just making a bigger deal out of what’s really going on. So whenever I hear someone just being overly dramatic, I tell them to stop sicing it up.

DMV= DC, Maryland, Virginia

For the DMV area, this is a very popular slang term. According to the context given by K, it’s safe to say that the culture associated with this region definitely has strong feelings towards dramatic actions. This isn’t something that is at all tolerated which says a lot about how important full honesty is for this group. It’s a good thing to speak your truth but save yourself the embarrassment of being called out for any obvious embellishments.

USC Folklore: The Legend of Nikolay

M: There was this running joke at USC about this weird dude named Nikolay. No one knew who he really was and no one had proof that he even existed. But this became the focus of a lot of USC jokes on twitter and on this app called Herd. People would post random pictures from memes and be like “meet Nikolay”. There was this one time when Fluor Tower flooded and people on Herd would say Nikolay is to blame. I can assure you this man does NOT exist but it’s just funny to refer to him during any situation. His entire existence is just a meme.

Above is an example of a student referencing Nikolay on Herd. Herd is an anonymous social media app that was designed specifically for college students to speak their minds on any topic they choose. Many USC memes either emerged from this app or made its way onto the platform via Twitter or Facebook. The existence of Nikolay has not been proven nor disproven by any means which makes it more of a USC legend. Nikolay has been a central focus in USC meme culture. Only those who indulge in USC meme culture would be familiar with him. This is a way for USC students to pull each other’s legs. It also says something about youth culture and their humor. It’s apparent that the funniest jokes are the ones that make no sense at all.

The Curse of the Scottish play

G: You can’t say Macbeth during any rehearsals or theater-related entourage. I think this has something to do with the play being a huge tragedy. When my high school teacher explained this to me he said: “well it’s because by the end of the play everyone is dead.” And you have to run 5 laps around the entire theatre if you or someone else says it to get rid of the bad energy. One time my theatre teacher said it during rehearsal and then he fell through the stage.

According to the informant, saying “Macbeth” puts a curse on the entire production and cast. It seems that so many people believe this because there have been true accounts of accidents or unfortunate events after saying it. Some are even lethal as the informant explained that their teacher fell through the stage and hurt himself almost immediately after saying it. There also seems to be damage control measures put in place to protect theatrical productions against the curse as the informant mentioned taking 5 laps around the theater. It’s possible that the violent nature of the play is what has caused the superstitions and concerns. Macbeth is all about death and destruction so it’s understandable why this play is now seen as a dark symbol. I have personally experienced bad luck during a show after a cast member said the words. As a result, a number of things went wrong on opening night. People forgot their lines, made the wrong entrances, forgot their props, costumes broke, etc… It was disastrous. In conclusion, whether the superstition is true or not, it is best to not refer to the Scottish play. 

For another account of this curse, please Martin Harrison’s (1998). The Language of Theatre. Routledge. p. 239.

The Greek Egg Tradition

G: I can start with Easter since that just happened. One of the main traditions is the boiling of these red eggs. And the red is supposed to represent the blood of Jesus when he was crucified- and you crack them with other people after doing a set of sayings: one person says “Christ is risen” and the other person says “truly he is risen” and then you crack eggs with each other and whoever’s egg doesn’t crack “wins”. It’s supposed to mean something if your egg doesn’t crack but I can’t remember.

In the Orthodox tradition, eggs are a symbol of new life. Eggs were used by early Christians to represent the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This, in turn, symbolizes the rebirth or renewal of all those who believe in Christianity. The Orthodox custom is to dye Easter eggs a dark red color. Red represents the blood of Jesus Christ and victory. These eggs are sometimes decorated with etchings or the holy cross on the face.

For the informant, this tradition is a monumental piece of their Greek heritage which is why it’s so important. The winner of this game is said to have good luck for the rest of the year. I see this tradition as a way for Christians to remember Jesus’ sacrifice. I also see this as a fun way to bring families together. The mere celebration of Easter is sacred and should be experienced with people who love you. Eggs have forever been seen as a symbol of life and, in a way, playing this game symbolizes the renewal of familial bonds.

For another account of this game, please see Venetia Newall’s (1971) An Egg at Easter: A Folklore Studyp. 344

“The race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong”

The original script is found in the Bible but originally written in Hebrew. “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, not the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.” Ecclesia 9:11

Full proverb: The race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong

M: In church we like to say “the race is not for the swift nor the battle for the strong”

My interpretation is that the fastest one doesn’t always win the race. Stuff happens. God (or fate) determines the outcome of the race. This is why we tell our children stories like the tortoise and the hare. It’s about the principles that they teach. The goal is to maintain humility even anticipated victory because the outcome in this world is the one thing we will never have control over. What this proverb teaches people is to drop their sense of entitlement but still hold onto their hope.

Caribbean Wedding Customs

The sacred nature of weddings in the Antilles of the Caribbean is often communicated with indigenous customs that take place before, during, and after the ceremony. “Jumping the Broom” is a right of passage for the newlywed. After vows are said before the church and the bride and groom have been pronounced husband and wife, they take a big fat leap over a wooden broom. Alternatively, this is done using branches or sticks of wood held together.

D: “I had to go out one time because they didn’t have no broom. And I went outside and put together some branches and sticks for them to use.”

Some other customs include throwing a handful of rice on the bride and groom (250)

M: To bring luck you sprinkle grains like rice or beans.

The act of scattering grain or beans ultimately signifies wealth. It’s believed to ensure financial stability for the bride and groom. In addition, sugar is used with water to mop the floors of the church prior to the ceremony. Sugar is used because it ensures there will be no disturbances and everything will be sweet. Salt is sometimes sprinkled at the entrance of the church.

M: Salt is put at the front to keep away negativity. My mom would do that for other people’s weddings.

The informant expressed that these customs are what make them feel far more in tune with their roots. These customs stem from African heritage and are most common in Caribbean weddings because of the lingering history of slavery. Jumping the broom was done amongst slaves centuries ago when marriage, for them, was prohibited so doing this signified union between the couple. If we look at this from another angle, seeing two people jump over a broom is the act of them physically taking a big leap over a big obstacle. They fight through it… together. That is why these wedding customs are so important to the informant’s culture. Every obstacle—whether it be oppression, negativity, or money—can be overcome and Caribbean wedding customs are here to instill hope for those who are making this big change in their lives.

“Slow water runs deep”

The Virgin Islands are a nest for proverbial sayings. Each one bears a specific lesson that is passed down from generation to generation. A very common saying in the nature island of Dominica is “Slow water runs deep”. This is usually a phrase spoken by elders in a Caribbean community.

H: My mother used to say “slow water runs deep”

The original language and script is in Latin: altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi.

The transliterated proverb (word by word translation): depth each rivers minimum sound

The fully translated proverb: the deepest rivers flow with the least sound

The informant learned it from her grandmother when she was very young in Dominica. She remembers it because it taught her a lot about how to choose her friends wisely when she was in her formative years. From the informant’s perspective, she feels this is very telling of how our environment can deceive us. Her interpretation is to “never expect good from something that is stagnant” (H). It is normally thought that quiet people are less interesting but on the contrary, they are the ones who listen and observe. While some people may be quick to say what they’re thinking or reveal information about their life, others may feel more inclined to stay reserved. These tend to be individuals with the deepest stories to tell. When breaking down the mechanics of the proverb, we can begin to understand the analogy. Water that runs quickly would be like rivers and streams. Still or “slow” water is like lakes. The slower the current, the more shallow the waters. When we’re in streams or rivers, we can see what’s below the water (rocks, fish, etc…) but when we’re in a lake there’s no telling what we might find. There’s far more mystery in still waters.

The Soo koo yant

In my grandparents’ native country of Dominica, the tradition is to pass on to the upcoming generation intriguing stories that would transcend generations. In an effort to dissect this legend I’ve been told when I was little, I turned to both my grandparents for clarity.

D: “One particular belief in Dominica is that some older ladies engaged in witchcraft and that they should be avoided.  Those older folks were called “soo kooyans”, pronounced –“Sue koo yan”.  

It is said that the soo koo yants can only engage in witchcraft at night time.  That they have to shed their skins in order to transform themselves into evil spirits.  It is believed that when these beings are transformed they receive superpowers that enable them to fly and travel long distances but that they have to return to their homes before daylight otherwise they won’t be able to return to their human form.  The soo koo yant enters people’s homes through small openings and feeds on human blood leaving bruises on the body.  It is believed they need human blood for their energy and they live in the countryside.”

D: “Others are claimed to have traveled from Dominica all the way to the United Kingdom and returned to Dominica with attire such as a dress that belonged to the Royal Family.”

The informant later explained that nobody could afford this woman’s dress and no one had seen her dress in all of Dominica. The fabric was never found on the island. According to the lore, these people are afraid of certain plants. 

D: “When one wants to know if an older person in the community is a soo koo yant, they would get a special grass, named “Pat Pool” a patwa word that translates to “chicken foot”, and when these people are walking on the sidewalk that if one should send or scatter the grass in their path that they would panic and turn around and not dare walk across or over the grass, this goes on to this day when younger folks hear that someone is a soo koo yan they would engage in this act to verify if they are really witches.” 

H: “When a soo koo yant travels at night, you see a bright ball of light that is coming and it descends on your house and then it tries to open windows to break in. It comes while you’re sleeping. Sucks up your blood. And it has to move before daybreak. When it wants to rest it jumps from tree to tree.”

H: “It takes a ritual or spell to turn itself into a witch. When a soucouyant leaves its home it says certain words to remove their skin and they put it into a wooden box. It has to come back before daybreak to put on their meat suit. And they’re afraid of salt and pepper. Older people would salt the doors and windows because it would burn their skin.”

For the informants, this legend is important to them because it is a story that is passed down through generations to be wary of those around them because everything is not always as it seems. According to lore, Soo koo yant is basically an old hag. While in most communities the elderly are regarded as trustworthy and caring, this legend carries the message that this isn’t always true. My takeaway from this story is that those who are constantly overlooked can sometimes be the devil in disguise.