USC Digital Folklore Archives / Folk speech
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Proverbs

Urban Sayings in Mexico City

The informant is from Mexico City, currently rotating at UT Medical Center.

The interview occurred at a family barbeque on a Sunday.

 He and I discussed what he thinks about when he thinks of his home, which is originally Mexico City. He said that there is nothing quite like the sights and sounds of the urban squares of the densely populated capital. Here, Jesús discusses the marketplaces and street vendors in further detail.

“Hacerte Maje’ is a way of life, which means to cheat on people, and we sum it up by saying “el que no tranza no avanza”, which translates as “he who doesn’t cut corners doesn’t make progress”. Sadly, there is a tacit knowledge that corruption and lying are widespread; the “gandalla” is a person who breaks the rules in order to come out ahead. Traffic police are called Tamarindos, because they used to wear brown uniforms, the same color as the fruit, tamarinds, and México is known to be the capital of corruption. When an infraction is called, cops get paid to cancel the ticket, that payment is called “mordida,” which literally means bite. Public transport is usually run by organized groups that literally control the routes. People call the short, plump vehicles “peseros”. they used to cost one peso too, and they run the schedules and the routes as they please. The metro is also a place where things are sold illegally, and they pay the police “the mordida”, so that they are not stopped or detained as they carry on their business. On the metro you can be a victim of “bolsear”, which means to have your wallet stolen or “tortear,” to have your buttocks grabbed mercilessly; usually by a Patazo or Tigrazo; a despicable individual with no redeeming qualities. Our national holiday is on September 15th, not 5 de Mayo, as is wrongly assumed in the U.S.; although that commemorates the only victory our army had, the Batalla de Puebla. On Sep. 15th we celebrate “El Grito de Dolores”, which happened in Guanajuato.

This description of some of the folk sayings and forms of informal commerce gives some insight into the secondary economies of Mexico, wherein corruption and off the books dealings often do occur, but are so frequent they’ve become a part of the everyday. “El que no tranza no avanza” is an interesting saying that, although sly in tone, seems to imply that one cannot let others cheat, or to be weary of strangers. He gives the clarification that this saying for the most part applies to trivial happenings for the common person, and is used ironically when large-scale corruption is revealed. The fact of so many sayings surrounding corruption in Mexico gives us insight into the socialized aspect of discussing these exploitive practices. The question remains–is this socialization by folk dictums a form of combatting corruption, or have these sayings merely arisen due to frequency?

Humor
Riddle

The Difference Between God and A Surgeon

The informant is a junior at USC from Chicago, Illinois studying dentistry.

After a discussion of the meaning and purpose of folklore I asked him if he knew of any folk practices or sayings related to his profession. We arrived at this question because he comes from a family of dental practitioners. He has been shadowing various oral surgeons over the past year and described an incident that occurred over the past summer.

He was shadowing a successful oral surgeon in his hometown of Chicago, Illinois. He was observing his first intense oral surgery as it was occurring.

Mid surgery, the surgeon whom he was shadowing looked up and recited the following:

Do you know what the difference between God and a surgeon is?

(After a pause) God doesn’t think he’s a surgeon.

He couldn’t help but break into a fit of laughter as the surgeon returned to his procedure.

 

This is an interesting little joke that is variously ascribed to a variety of high skill professions such as lawyers and pilots as well. There’s an interesting duality here in that a high level of intelligence, skill, and grit is necessary to become a surgeon, and yet of course there are problems in thinking so highly of oneself. Thus, I sense a bit of ambivalence in the joke that is highly contextual. For example, if the surgeon performs a high-risk surgery correctly and says the joke, there’s a bit of pride in the sense of peril and gamble that the surgeon competed against. On the other hand, if the surgery were to fail and the joke be told (rare or strange, of course), the attention would then shift to the absurdity of such risk, of the sense of avoiding the unavoidable failure and the conceit latent in thinking so. Beyond this startling ambiguity, there’s also a sense of science superseding faith. The surgeon steps in and saves a life when there is no hope, thus affirming his or her self as a miracle of science is performed.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

The ‘Godinez’ In Mexican Culture

The informant is from Mexico City, currently rotating at UT Medical Center.

The interview occurred at a family barbeque on a Sunday.

He and I discussed what he thinks about when he thinks of his home, which is originally Mexico City. He said that there is nothing quite like the sights and sounds of the urban squares of the densely populated capital. Jesús was a medical fellow in the city and spent most of his early career in the bustling city center.

“Those who are stuck in office jobs, frequently government employees, are called “godinez”, and they are white collar, lower middle class people who never make progress.”

Is there a connotation?

“Yes, it is not a good thing to be called one, but it comes from a name, so it in not totally a diss. We love to use words that have a double meaning, our humor is a frequent play on words, and that is called ‘albur’.

‘De Pelos’ means fantastic, and if you attend a family meal, usually held on Sundays after church or as the natural offering to watch the two soccer rivals play a ‘clásico'; an important match between the Chivas and América, you might be lucky enough to take an ‘Itacate’ home, leftovers packed for later enjoyment, and you might thank your host by saying ‘Te Rayaste, Guey,’ which means, you really outdid yourself, pal!

Here, the informant delves into some of the vernacular inventions of everyday informal speech. Godinez in particular is quite interesting because it is a not uncommon last name that has been given a bad connotation. The Godinez is a desk mule, a no questions wimpy clerk. The origins of the pejorative are unclear, but some ascribe it to a typified character in the series El Chavo Del Ocho. On one hand, the Godinez exemplifies a hard working individual who is doing his or her best to bring home a respectable salary, even if the job is monotonous. And yet, there is in any case a cultural criticism of those who take such jobs too seriously, as is made clear by this sneer. Albur as a whole are quite similar to our use of puns. Often enough, they involve some form of sexual undertone. Itacate translates to provisions, which is quite a clever use in that, beyond being called simply leftovers, with a future purpose left unclear, Itacate implies a level of endearment. Provisions imply a future use, a looking out for the person whom is gifted the Itacate. It is often the case that the whole day is spent cooking for large neighborhood gatherings, and a huge amount of food is cooked so much is left over. In many Latin American cultures the guest is invited to take home the best left overs, is provisioned for future meals.

 

Digital
general
Proverbs

The Eagle Doesn’t Hunt Flies

I include this piece after an informant with family in Catalan told me that Catalonian proverbs are excellent. This one I found independently, but I quite like it.

L’àliga no caça mosques” 

In English translates to”

“The eagle doesn’t hunt flies”

Analysis: This is a brief but captivating proverb. I see it as a good summary of the wisdom that bickering about trivial things, and the accompanying haughty attitude one often finds in such situations, accomplishes nothing, and actually reflects quite poorly on the individual. A truly noble or wise individual deals with things in a just and calm manner, doesn’t chase after meaningless things and knows their position; thus, an eagle (the ruler of the skies) doesn’t bother with lowliness.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Milking the Cat

Informant:

Davis is from Newport Beach, California and enjoys surfing.

Original Script:

Davis: “Dude, stop milking the cat.”

Context:

When someone feels like they are being led on or lied to.

My Thoughts:

Davis said that this is similar to the saying “Stop yanking my chain.” Coming from southern California myself, I thought that I had heard every type of folk speech here, but I apparently have not. This shows that not only is foreign folklore unfamiliar to me, but I guess that even folklore from my culture can be unfamiliar.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Eggy

Informant:

Davis is from Newport Beach, California and enjoys surfing.

Original Script:

Davis: “The term ‘eggy’ basically means that someone is kind of strange or weird. A lot of people in my area sometimes even call a party ‘eggy.'”

Context:

When referring to something as odd.

My Thoughts:

Growing up in southern California myself, I have heard this term a few times, but it meant something different. I always thought that it meant that something is awesome, similar to the term that is commonly used “sick.” This shows that sometimes one folk term can mean more than one thing.

general
Proverbs

Proverb #1- Haiti

My informant was born and raised in Haiti. She shared with me a few proverbs that she learned from her time growing up there.

When people think of Haiti, they rightly so think of severe poverty, denuded mountains, music, art, and its oral history — including proverbs of its peasants.  These peasants have suffered so much over the centuries.  Because of all that they have suffered, they have gained a treasure full of wisdom. Haitians seem to hold the mentality that a lot of things are up to them and that they can only depend on themselves. This belief that they hold is understandable; how can they trust a world that has been so cruel and unfair to them? A lot of their proverbs reflect skepticism, relentless hardship of life, universal truths about people, and at times a hopelessness or defeated attitude. Below I have laid out the proverb in Creole, the English translation, and then an explanation behind the proverb as provided by my informant:

 

Haitian Proverb (Creole)

Dye Mon, Gen Mon

 

Translation

Behind mountains are more mountains

 

Explanation

“The reason this proverb has a lot of meaning is because Haiti is a very mountainous country. Unlike the Dominican Republic whom it shares the island, Haiti is pretty much all mountains. And the Dominican Republic when you fly over the island is all green. And Haiti unfortunately over the years has diluted because they cut down the trees to make charcoal and things like that—it’s made poverty even worse. Because of the topography, it (the proverb) has kind of a double meaning in that one because it is a very mountain country and then second is that in life…it is a roller coaster. It doesn’t mean that you go through life smoothly. There is always a bump. There is always a hurdle. There is always something. And just when you think you’re done, then something else comes up. So, for them it’s even more accentuated if you will because the poverty is so extreme and they’ve had earthquake where thousands and thousands of people have died. And then after that came a whole string of health problems because of that. And I think perhaps a lot of poor people feel that way and you’re leaving a daily subsistence and it’s just everyday there’s something else for you to have to deal with. There’s no coasting.”

general
Proverbs

Proverb #3 – Haiti

My informant was born and raised in Haiti. She shared with me a few proverbs that she learned from her time growing up there.

When people think of Haiti, they rightly so think of severe poverty, denuded mountains, music, art, and its oral history — including proverbs of its peasants.  These peasants have suffered so much over the centuries.  Because of all that they have suffered, they have gained a treasure full of wisdom. Haitians seem to hold the mentality that a lot of things are up to them and that they can only depend on themselves. This belief that they hold is understandable; how can they trust a world that has been so cruel and unfair to them? A lot of their proverbs reflect skepticism, relentless hardship of life, universal truths about people, and at times a hopelessness or defeated attitude. Below I have laid out the proverb in Creole, the English translation, and then an explanation behind the proverb as provided by my informant:

 

Haitian Proverb (Creole)

Konstitusyon se papye, babyonet se fe

Translation

The constitution is made of paper, but the bayonet is made of steel

Explanation

“This one requires a bit of history about Haiti. It was the first country where slaves gained their freedom and became the first nation to create one after a fight. It happened under the Napoleonic rule. And at the time, it was the richest colony that France had, so a lot of the money that it needed actually came from Haiti. Then when they lost Haiti, the French got their coffer drained so much that they couldn’t’ make ends meet. And it was because of that, that they sold a chunk of the United States called the Louisiana Purchase. So it was because they lost Haiti, they had to find other means to raise money, so they sold Louisiana and that whole area in the United States. The Haitians created the constitution, but it’s gone through so many constitutions to the point where constitutions don’t matter anymore. The way you make a difference is you get your armaments to fight. That’s what drives change. It has nothing to do with constitution. Unlike us in the United States, we can depend on our constitution because theres stability. But in so many countries there is no such thing. Somebody else comes into power, you have a new constitutions, somebody else comes into power, you have a new constitutions—it’s meaningless. But what does matter is who has the guns. It’s like people pay attention to that cause constitutions don’t’ matter.”

general
Proverbs

Proverb #4 – Haiti

My informant was born and raised in Haiti. She shared with me a few proverbs that she learned from her time growing up there.

When people think of Haiti, they rightly so think of severe poverty, denuded mountains, music, art, and its oral history — including proverbs of its peasants.  These peasants have suffered so much over the centuries.  Because of all that they have suffered, they have gained a treasure full of wisdom. Haitians seem to hold the mentality that a lot of things are up to them and that they can only depend on themselves. This belief that they hold is understandable; how can they trust a world that has been so cruel and unfair to them? A lot of their proverbs reflect skepticism, relentless hardship of life, universal truths about people, and at times a hopelessness or defeated attitude. Below I have laid out the proverb in Creole, the English translation, and then an explanation behind the proverb as provided by my informant:

 

Haitian Proverb (Creole)

Nan benyen pa gen kache lonbrit

Translation

A beautiful burial does not guarantee heaven

Explanation

“People put in so much into the external in their lives. So it’s like ok you do all this for yourself—you pamper yourself. But in the end it’s not a passport to heaven. Because who knows what’s on the other side? It’s not ultimately money that matters when you die. It’s not going to take you to heaven. You can lavish on yourself, but in the end it won’t matter.”

Humor
Proverbs

Jokes spotlighting concerns about masculinity

Informant is a 77 year old male, American, grew up working in his father’s bakery in Boyle Heights.

His father, who came of age just before WW2, shared a wealth of proverbs and dites with Informant, mostly disparaging toward women or somehow engaged with how to be a manly, which might have been of great concern during a time when women were flooding workplaces while men were fighting overseas.

Informant: If I missed an opportunity or something, he’d say to me, “Alan, if you fell into a barrel of titties, you’d come out sucking your thumb.”  I know he got that from his boxing buddies but it’s a little late to ask for details.

His favorite joke was, “You know why cavemen dragged their women around by the hair, right?  It’s because if you drag em by the feet, they fill up with dirt.

There’s more, but I can’t tell you, it’s too–it’s too much.

[geolocation]