USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk speech
Folk speech
Proverbs

Italian–American Proverb about Age

Main Piece

“I was where you are, and you’ll be where I am.”

For a similarly worded proverb with a different usage, see Frederick Hartt. Italian Renaissance Art, Third Edition, 1987, published by Harry N. Abrams, pp 203-4.

Background

Informant

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island, New York

Language: English, Italian

The informant learned the above proverb from her grandmother. The informant’s grandmother will first state the proverb in Italian, but the informant does not speak Italian, and so the informant’s grandmother will follow up by saying the proverb in English. Hence, the informant only understands the proverb as it is told in English, which is why I have chosen not to include a translation.

Context

The informant’s grandmother says the proverb when any of her children or grandchildren make fun of her for being old or says something along the lines of “Grandma, you don’t understand,” in regards to the grandmother’s technological prowess.

Notes

I have seen this proverb before, but I have only ever seen it as an epithet on gravestones, which is the usage of the example I cited above. In either instance, the informants example or the gravestone, the proverb speaks to the inescapability of time. Most people tend to shy away from such topics, and the proverb helps state the truism in a pithy, approachable way.

 

Folk speech

EmPHAsis on the wrong syLAble

Context:

The subject is a white man from Dallas, Texas. We were talking about his family when he told me this proverb. I’ve heard this dite a lot and wanted to collect it. It’s not too interesting.s

 

Piece:

“My dad would always say “put the EmPHAsis on the wrong syLAble” whenever he messed up saying something or I messed up saying something, so that just ran into me.

 

Proverbs

KISS: Keep It Simple Stupid

Context:

The subject is a white man from Dallas, Texas. We were talking about his family when he told me this proverb. I like this idea of the proverb being an engineering saying, an occupational proverb.

 

Piece:

“When my dad was teaching me, um, woodworking and we were getting into making. And that was the start of me getting into engineering there was an axiom that’s like everywhere in engineer but he specifically drilled it into me so I always think about him that is KISS which is Keep It Simple Stupid”

 

Proverbs

Win Some, Lose Most

Context:

The subject is a white male and a lifelong New Yorker from Manhattan and Queens. He is my twin brother and we attended the boarding school Choate Rosemary Hall in Connecticut. Before this we were discussing boarding school and teen culture and how low levels of depression was a large part of that. We made a lot of jokes about it which led to this proverb. This proverb interests me because it is a youth proverb and those are very rare as we associate proverbs with age and wiseness. And it is a proverb that was created by youth and only used by youth in a sort of rebellion against that proverbial wisdom.

 

Piece:

“What we’d used to say, you know after something pretty shitty happened. Like you got a bad grade on a test or like you, it became really stupid after a while like you’d stub your toe and say “win some, lose most” and everyone would just agree with you. You know, it’s like “win some, lose some” but like true. It was sorta a joke”

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

Shrimp Proverb

Main Piece: Proverb

“El camaron que se duerma se la lleva la corriente”

Translation:

A sleeping shrimp will be swept by the current.

Background Information:

  • Why does informant know this piece?

He was constantly told that as a kid because he would procrastinate on his assignments

  • Where did they learn this piece?

From his Cuban relatives

  • What does it mean to them?

It means to be constantly aware of what you have control over/required to do. If there’s any change, you don’t want to be controlled by its consequences.

Context:

It’s based on the observation of shrimp, when sleeping being taken away from their original location. This can thus be inferred that one must always be on top of whatever they are tasked with, because if not suddenly you lose control and arrive somewhere different and unknown.

Personal Thoughts:

I find this proverb to be very interesting, because a shrimp is normally an insignificant animal that no one really thinks about, but in this case the shrimp is meant to represent a person, and people generally consider themselves to be important.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor

Family Storytelling Tradition

Main Piece

“If you’re in the middle of telling a story and someone drops something, someone sneezes, anything like that, then you say “the truth” because the universe was conspiring to have that thing happen in order to tell you that that thing that was about to be said is the truth.”

Background

Informant Details

Nationality: Italian–American

Location: Staten Island

Language: English

The informant enjoys this tradition because it reminds her of her family and fun family gatherings. To them, it is a reminder of the influence of chance on everyday experiences, like telling a story. The informant learned the piece from their family, and only engages in the tradition when around her family.

Context

The piece is only performed during family gatherings. All members of the informant’s family are from Staten Island, New York.

Notes

I have never heard of a family tradition like this before, and I find it to be very interesting. It seems to me that it has potential to create rather comedic situations if the thing being said is intended to be a joke or is sarcastic, such as “You know me, I am the dumb sibling.”

 

Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

Movie Quote Passes Into Normal Speech

Main Piece

The following is often quoted in the informant’s family: “You fall behind, you get left behind.”

For the origin and correct wording of this proverb–like quote, see Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Directed by Gore Verbinski, Walt Disney Pictures, 2003.

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Connecticut

Language: English

The informant’s immediate family say this to each other “all the time” whenever someone is moving too slow. The informant’s family first learned the quote together while watching Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl, but the quote is no longer a reference to the film, as it has become a regular part of their speech pattern. It functions like a proverb.

Context

The informant and their family misquoted the line. The actual line is “Any man who falls behind is left behind.”

Notes

The interchange between media and folklore is exhibited here and is very interesting. The quote is not really a proverb, but it is not really fakelore either, because the film did not do anything intentional to pass it off as fakelore. It is interesting how misquoted lines are themselves something of a folklore genre; one of the most famous movie quotes of all time, from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back is “No, I am your father,” but it is usually misquoted as “Luke, I am your father.”

 

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Musical

Prayers (Grace) at a Catholic Retreat Center

Main Piece

“We do a lot of singing because it’s like…centered a lot around kids, preteens, mostly that and younger. When we do graces before meals, we have them to the tune of things, like spongebob and we will rock you and stuff. The Edelweiss one is traditionally the for first meal of the retreat and the last meal of the retreat and they’ve been doing it for so long, little kids know it but also much much older people [know it].”

The following is the grace, which is sung to the tune of Edelweiss from the film The Sound of Music:

“Bless our homes, bless our friends, come o lord and sit with us, make our hearts, grow in peace, bring your love to surround us, friendship and peace may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever, bless our homes, bless our friends, bless our families together”

Background

Informant

Nationality: American

Location: Long Island, New York

Language: English

The following is a quote from the informant, which I believe demonstrates her feelings about the grace and the general experience at the camp.

“[When you hear the grace] You know you’re there, and you’re around people who are so loving and so warm…no responsibilities except to care about yourself and your family, but you know it’s sad because you’re about to leave.”

The informant, upon singing the grace to me, began reminiscing about her time at the retreat center. She certainly looked upon it fondly. On the importance of the grace to the retreat center:

“It’s on one of the walls in the dining hall, one copy written in sharpie and another really old cross stitch…hand stitched on a thing. The other graces are on signs but that one’s [the Edelweiss grace] obviously a permanent installment.”

Context

The grace is sung at a Catholic family retreat center in Kate May, New Jersey, which the informant attended once per year. However, someone else in the room during my interview with the informant actually knew the song, despite not having attended the same retreat center.

Notes

The influence of secular media on religious life is not really something I had previously considered, but such an influence is clearly possible and relevant. Some of the young children who learn the grace might not ever have seen The Sound of Music and yet they will learn a song from it, albeit with different lyrics. For comparison, I know there is a grace called “The Superman Grace,” which is also an example of of secular media influencing religious life.

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

“The Value of Hard Work”

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions or sayings he remembers from his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, but that in particular, his parents have always emphasized the value of hard work. The subject stated that the proverb is a traditional Chinese proverb, but provided me with a rough summary as he remembered his parents telling him. After doing some research, the story comes from a Chinese idiom, “Shòu zhū dài tù”, or “Watching a tree stump, waiting for rabbits” (visiontimes.com). Additionally, the original idiom does not mention the farmer himself dying, so this could possibly be an alternative ending that the subject’s parents told him for extra emphasis. This seems like a rather graphic story to tell to a young child, but the proverb and the idiom it originates from highlights the reliability of hard work instead of luck. (Source url: http://www.visiontimes.com/2013/11/18/the-chinese-idiom-watching-a-tree-stump-waiting-for-rabbits.html)

Main Piece

“The jist of the proverb is about a farmer who one day luckily manages to catch a rabbit that runs head first into a tree. So instead of farming or working hard, he decides to sit by the tree every day and wait for more rabbits to run into the tree. Of course that never happens because that’s only a really lucky occurrence, so he starves and dies.”   

Folk speech
Proverbs

“The Best Construction”

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. I think that this proverb reflects the down-to-earth and positive nature of the subject’s father. I haven’t encountered the exact version of this proverb anywhere else, but similar sayings exist sharing the theme of ‘seeing the best in other people’.

Main Piece

“My dad would always say, like, if we would complain about another person and say they were really mean he would say “Put the best construction on everything” so you don’t know, maybe they had good intentions, so think the best of other people.”

 

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