USC Digital Folklore Archives / Humor
Folk speech

Bhutan Folktale.


Bandar is an American who was traveling in Bhutan when he heard this folktale. He is an abid traveler and student with a masters in International Relations.


Original script:

Two friends, monkey and hen live together. Monkey is always sent to work everyday hen stays at home and cooks for the monkey. The hen of course lays egg.

One day the monkey is working hard, right? In the field he works, while the hen gets to stay home, you know? So the monkey says, “ Now I’m going to cook for you, YOU go in the field and work”

Before, he watches the hen how hen does cooking and cleans everything up. What monkey sees is hen laying an egg over the pan. Monkey send hen to the field, she cleans everything up. She starts to cook and like the hen she sits over the oven and squeezes. No egg come out but of course other things come out, the poops come out, and it splashes the oil and burns off all his fur. So then we say its not always good to copy”


Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Bandar was traveling in Bhutan when the guide he was traveling with told him this folktale and recorded it for me.


Context of performance:

Told to my informant on a long car ride up in Bhutan.


Thoughts on this piece:

The story like most tales reflects belief system in the Bhutanese culture and provides a moral story on common sense. It is interesting that the narrator switches the sex of the Monkey and Hen. Does this mean that gender roles are not as important in Bhutan?

Tales /märchen

Prince story


Zack was born in Boston Massachusetts and grew up in a house in rural Norwell Massachusetts in a secular family. His father is a musician and his mother a homemaker. Zack is a photographer who works with musicians and has traveled extensively both in his childhood following his father on tour and in his current occupation.

Original script: There is a fable amongst the rock and roll world and its about prince. Prince was known even amongst the inner of inner circles that he was a puzzling guy. Story goes, a new guy gets brought on the road to be Prince’s guitar tech. If you have been hired to be princes guitar tech it mean you’re probably a great guitarist, that said everyone’s first day at work is nerve-racking. Show begins everything is going well, the guitar tech has done all the work he should’ve done, at this point of the night he hands princes his various guitars between songs. Half way through a particularly boisterous and well-lit performance of a song, prince signals off stage towards the tech to approach. The tech sheepishly crosses the stage and leaves in to prince to hear what the problem is; prince says two words, star wars. The tech retreats into the wings of the stage in a panic. He begins consulting his new colleagues about what star wars might be, is it an affect on one of his guitars, is it some sort of pyro technic happening that is coming. The guy starts freaking out. Finally a grizzled roady halts the tech in his track and asks “what’s the problem” the tech says “prince said he wants star wars, I don’t know what he means!” the roady laughs and says “oh man its ok, he just wants star wars playing on his tour bus when he gets off stage”.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: This story is shared by roadies and other members of the crew that work for musicians. The informants work as a rock photographer places him in the situation where he hears stories like this one about the sometimes outrageous demands of rock stars.

Context of the Performance: This story is told in the close-knit circle of crew that work around and for performers.

Thoughts about the piece: The occupational folklore shared here is not focused on the artist but on the nerves experienced by the new member of the team who is a fish out of water. Prince the artist could be replaced with any over the top performer.


Folk speech

Where’s the toilet?

My informant is an American from New York, whose family originally came from Poland 100 years ago. His grandfather was a baker and his grandmother was a peasant girl.

“I learnt the amount of Polish from her, my grandmother, and it’s funny that because she was a peasant girl, when you say something like ‘where’s the toilet?’ to her it meant ‘you go out to as far with the shovel,’ coz there is no toilet, hahahaha, so that was her word for it. So after that once I went to fancy restaurant with my Polish friends, they were just complimenting on my Polish, and then I asked in Polish, my intention was to ask where is restroom, but literally it means ‘where’s the hole?’ as I asked. Then they were like laughing so badly, hahaha.”

I think it’s really an interesting scenario of people from different generations communicating with each other, in which they would bring in the phrases or terms that were generated only during their specific time period. In this case we can see that people tend to use more primitive and simple phrases in old days because of the less advanced progress of human inventions they had, and later on they use more concise words to convey the concept of those more complicated things that had been invented afterwards.


吃土 Eat Dust

吃土 “Eat Dust” is a popular phrase that Chinese people started to use a lot on the Internet since 2015.

There are several different interpretations of this simple phrase:
1. the mostly recognized one is that people use it to make fun of themselves that they are too poor to buy food, so the only thing they could eat is the dust.

2. the word could also be used to attack other people, just like an euphemistic way to ask them to “eat shit.”

3. some video gamers use it because when their characters defeated in game, they will usually fall off and face to the ground, looks just like they’re eating the dust.


If we bring this cyber word to a lager context of real world Chinese society, this could also reflects the very imbalance of money holding right now in China. Even though it’s a decade that plenty of opportunities are coming up for people to make money, there are still a large amount of people in China don’t have a good living condition, whereas Internet becomes a perfect platform for them to release their stress.


folk metaphor

安利 Amway/Brainwash

This word is also a very popular phrase that has been widely used online for these couple years in China.
The word now means strongly recommending somebody to do something.
Usually the person who uses it personally likes the subject so much and therefore wants to share with others so badly.
The interesting thing is, the word itself actually originates from an American marketing company Amway, the sub company of which has a huge reputation for being overly persuasive when they try to sell their products in China. Then people started making fun of that company and using the word “安利” (Amway) as a verb instead of a noun to describe the behavior of strongly recommending others to try something.
Moreover, as the word has been widely spread on the Internet, it tends to mean more like “brainwash” when people use it for fun.
Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

看颜值 Score of Face


“In the year of 2016, READ more if you were ugly, RUN more if you were a fat-ass. For those who are both ugly and fat, stop wasting your time, just GO DIE! In the year of 2016, you have to look good even for telling this kind of joke!”

The popular culture in China nowadays has an unusual spotlight on people’s face, and there is a standard look that pleases the majority people. Ironically, that standard is based on the look of western people. Many people there have spent lots of many to do the surgery in order to look more “beautiful,” which are stereotyped into big eyes, high nose, small face… This almost became a “must” standard for the majority to judge on others, they call it “Score of Face.”

I think this is a funny, ridiculous and creepy phenomenon that people want to fit the arbitrary standard of beauty, and eventually they almost all look the same.





Folk speech

“Whatever you do, don’t step on the cracks”

Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. Informant AB was taught by his grandfather as a child to not walk on the cracks on the sidewalk to avoid bad luck:

AB: “When I was little, I would visit my grandparents on the weekends with my younger brother and we would sit in the family room all together after dinner. My grandfather would tell us all kinds of stories of when he was a kid growing up. He told us that his father would always tell him to never walk on the cracks on the side walk because it will give you bad luck for 7 years.”

How did your grandfather’s father learn about this type of lore?

AB: “Well, I asked him one day about the meaning behind the story and he said that his father learned it from a buddy of his when he was a kid. He said that his friend heard it from the neighborhood kids. My grandfather said it was mostly to be meant as a joke, but some of kids took it seriously, like my grandfather.”

Does this folklore have any significance to you?

AB: “Ya it’s pretty funny how it actually does mean something to me. Ever since my grandfather told me and my brother this story, I have been very conscious to walk a certain way to avoid the cracks in the ground. I know it’s mostly a joke and not meant to be taken too seriously, but just knowing the idea of the potential bad luck that can come from stepping on the cracks makes me more aware to avoid them. It’s pretty funny how seriously I take it sometimes.”

Have you shared your grandfather’s story with anyone else?

AB: “Ya I’ve told my buddy NC and a few other friends growing up about the story and it’s pretty funny now I have them doing the same thing. We know it’s not meant to be taken too serious, but I think it’s funny how much of an impact it made on all of us. Even at our age today we are still very mindful of the bad luck that can happen if we step on any cracks.”

Have your friends carried on this folklore in any way?

AB: “My brother and my friend NC have definitely shared this story with their friends just to mess with their minds in a joking way. They find it entertaining to make people feel that bad luck can happen if you step on cracks. It has become a running joke between all of us and it has managed to freak other people out.”


The informant’s example of oral folklore shows just how a story can cross boundaries between different groups of people and influence their everyday lives. It began with AB’s grandfather’s father who initially carried on the story, but now AB and his brother have continued to pass the story along to their group of friends. I find it interesting how this story has turned into an inside joke between friends, but how it also had such an impact that it managed to make them aware enough to avoid any chances of being struck with bad luck.


Folk speech

Surf vocabulary

DK is a junior at the University of Southern California, but also a transfer from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

At UCSB, DK had many friends who surfed, and while she didn’t participate she was surrounded by the culture:

“My surfer friends had a lot of really weird vocabulary. They used to call people ‘kooks,’ almost always to make fun of them, and eventually I understood that it described kids who don’t really know surfer etiquette or are new to the sport, so in everyday life it’s just someone who’s a spaz or disrespectful, kind of oblivious.

“‘Frothing’ is another one they’d use a lot, which is just a synonym for excited, like you’d say ‘I’m so excited for dinner, I’m absolutely frothing!’ They use it to describe wave sets a lot.

“One I really liked was ‘grom,’ and when I went surfing with them one time they kept calling me that. It’s kind of similar to ‘kook,’ I think, except not so much someone who’s disrespectful. I think it’s mostly for people who are new to surfing or just a really young and excited surfer.”

My analysis:

Groups that bond over a common activity always seem to have their own culture, and DK gave me some great examples of vocabulary that would only be understood by people who surfed. It’s interesting to see how the words are applied both out in the ocean and in everyday life, and surfers are constantly drawing comparisons between the two worlds. DK also said she’s heard surfers at USC use the same language, but sometimes with slightly varied meanings. I’ve also heard of different surfers using different “lingo,” and there seem to be regional differences even in Southern California, depending on where your local spot is. Hawaiian surfers don’t use the above vocabulary, and Manhattan Beach surfers aren’t going around saying “shaka.”


Three Stranded Guys (Joke)

My informant is Granti, a 19-year-old male student at USC. Grant was born and raised in Los Angeles, however his father is from Iran and his mother is from Japan. Both of these cultures influence his life in different ways. This piece of folklore is a tradition performed on a holiday.

Do you know any jokes?

Grant: “Actually now that you mention it I know one. So there are these three guys stranded on an island and umm there’s this guy, I can’t remember he’s like a genie or something. And he says go bring me ten fruit and I will uh let you get off the island or something like that. So they all go out and the first guy grabs apples and comes back. The genie is like if you can fit all ten up your butt I will help you get off the island. The first guy starts putting the apples up his butt, gets to four and can’t help himself from cracking up laughing so the genie says you’re done. The next guy comes through bringing cherries and the genie says the same thing. The second guy is getting there…8…9…then starts dying laughing. The genie exclaims “Why’d you stop you were so close!” and the second guy responds “I was about to do it but then I saw the third guy come back with pineapples”

Do you remember where you first heard this joke?

Grant: “I think my dad told me it honestly”

And where’s he from?

Grant: “He’s from Iran”

Have you told this joke often?

Grant: “I really haven’t told that joke it just came to my mind”

Does it have any meaning to you or is it just a joke?

Grant: “It’s just a joke to me”

I think this joke is really funny, especially because it’s a little raunchy.  It was interesting that Grant admitted to not even telling this joke but once we started talking and trading stories he just remembered it as an old joke that his father used to tell. If we hadn’t started talking about folklore Grant may have completely forgotten this joke but now it is fresh in his mind.



Blonde, Brunette, and Redhead (Joke)

My informant is Jackson, a 19-year-old male student at USC. Jackson is white and of Danish and Irish descent and grew up in a suburb outside of Los Angeles called Palos Verdes.


Jackson: “There’s a blonde, brunette, and a redhead and they are about to get executed by a firing squad. I’m not sure what they did but they messed up big time. They line them up against the wall and talk to each one. They ask the brunette first,

“Do you have any last words before we execute you?”

The Brunette responds, “Tornado!”, and as the firing squad turns around looking for the tornado she runs away and escapes. Next they call up the redhead and ask her if she had any last words. The red head screams “Hurricane!” and again they turn around and the red head escapes. Finally, they bring out the blonde and ask her for her last words. She looks at them all and yells at the top of her lungs “FIRE!”

Where did you first hear this joke?

Jackson: “Ohhh god I don’t even know probably like third grade. Everyone was telling blonde joke that’s just the only one I remember”

Did you pass it along?

Jackson: “Yeah I told people but back then everyone knew them so it was hard finding on no one had heard”


I find jokes are the easiest folklore to get out of people because although it takes time to remember a whole story or even a proverb, almost everyone has a joke they know. It is fitting that it was a blonde joke because these kind of jokes seem to have a format. There is a blonde, brunette, and red head and the blonde always ends up doing something stupid and being the butt of the joke. The variation comes from what the actual dumb thing is and what situation they are in but I grew up hearing many blonde jokes.