USC Digital Folklore Archives / Musical
Customs
Folk speech
Humor
Musical

Airforce Ranger

An off-the-books traditional AZA (Jewish teen youth group) call and response chant, with one person shouting each line before the entire group repeats it back. Sometimes different leaders will switch off and alternate rhymes, especially the more taboo stuff towards the end.

Lyrics: I want to be an airforce ranger

I want to live a life of danger

I want to drive an ocean liner

I want to pull a sixty-niner

And here’s to the woman that I love best

The many times I sucked her breast

F***** her standing, f***** her lying

If she had wings I’d f*** her flying

Now she’s gone but not forgotten

I’ll dig her up and f*** her rotten

Though she’s gone, I’ll surely miss her

I’ll call her up and f*** her sister

 

This song is an exercise in playing with taboo concepts and language in a childlike way that’s reminiscent of what Jay Mechling called obscene play. It’s usually performed in a relatively isolated setting, either inside the meeting room (usually some side room in a synagogue) or elsewhere separated from the adult advisors that represent the org legally. (That’s what separates the group from just loitering teens I guess.) It’s performed in this isolated, just teens setting alongside other similarly sexual vulgar songs in a kind of group catharsis act. The lyrics employ lots of shock humor that comes from all this extremely explicit material being unabashedly used in a public group in a public setting, especially one that is ostensibly a religious group. It basically signals to new members “We’re not prudes.”

Childhood
Musical

Duck Girl Song

[The subject is CB. Her words are bolded, mine are not.]

Context: CB is one of my friends, and a sophomore student in college. Both of her parents are lawyers in the military, so she was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, but has also lived in Germany, Kansas, and Oregon. The following is a song that she learned when she was nine or ten years old from an American Girl Scout camp in Germany called Camp Lachenwald, which translates to “laughing woods.”

CB:
I’m an old duck rover from out in Montana
Round up them duckies and drive ‘em along
To a flooded corral where we bulldog and brand ‘em
Mosey on home just a-singin’ this song

Singin’ quack quack yippee-yay
Quack quack yippee-yo
Get along, little duckies
Get along real slow
It’s dirty and smelly and really don’t pay
But I’ll be a duck girl ‘til the end of my days.

On Saturday nights, I ride into town
On my short-legged pony with my hat pulled way down
But the boys don’t like duck girls and I can’t figure out why
No cowgirl could be more romantic than I

Singin’ quack quack yippee-yay
And quack quack yippee-yo
Get along, little duckies
Get along real slow
It’s dirty and smelly and really don’t pay
But I’ll be a duck girl ‘til the end of my days.

Thoughts: This song was sung entirely in an exaggerated Southern accent, which I thought was interesting especially because CB learned it while she was in Germany, albeit from other Americans. One thing I noticed was that the song was specific to a gender, but it led me to realize that most of the children’s folk songs I knew growing up were generally sung by girls more often than boys, even when the songs didn’t specify whether the singer was supposed to be a boy or a girl. I also feel that ducks are a common motif in children’s songs and games, like duck-duck-goose and the Five Little Ducks song. Ducks seem to be a symbol that adults associate with children because pictures of them commonly appear on baby clothes, but I suppose children also associate ducks with themselves because the songs they sing and the games they play often involve them.

Customs
Foodways
Gestation, birth, and infancy
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic
Life cycle
Material
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

South American Birthday Ritual

Background

Informant: A.G.  22 years old current senior in undergrad at USC, third generation from Honduras/Mexico

Location: Los Angeles, CA

Context

A.G. grew up in an Mexican and Honduran household, and has participated in and experienced this birthday tradition since he was a child. This tradition represents an important, but often unspoken facet of his culture, one that can be viewed and participated in as both heritage and tradition. I have transcribed his explanation below:

Main Piece

“So every time it’s somebody’s birthday, you have to sing ‘Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to Anthony, Happy Birthday to you. Ya queremos pastel!’ which means, ‘we want cake now!’ Then, right after you blow out the candles, everyone chants, ‘que lo muerda, que lo muerda,‘ which means, ‘bite the cake’ and when they go in for a bite, you grab the back of the person’s head and slam their face into the cake. After that, we start to cut pieces off the cake where the face did not touch and give a slice to everyone. In Honduras, it’s pretty much the same tradition but instead we say ‘feliz cumplanos’ which is just happy birthday in Spanish.

Thoughts

A.G. remarked after describing the tradition that it often makes him smile because it’s always done at a time of celebration, The celebration of one’s birthday and of coming of age is an important part of his culture and therefore this small tradition has a bigger importance in his cultural identity. He recalled learning the song as a child, celebrating his aunt Reina’s birthday, and how there were differences between the song when he was celebrating a birthday on the Honduran side of his family, or on the Mexican side. He specified that this tradition is not specific to children in the family, even though it can be more fun, but that the tradition is practiced with adults as well because it has such a cultural significance. He himself has experienced this tradition first hand for many of his birthdays, and sometimes the most fun part was picking out the cake, knowing that it would be used in this tradition later. It seems he views this tradition and the memories that stem from it with great fondness.

 

I found it particular interesting the small variations between the Mexican and Honduran version of the song. Linguistically, while much of South America speaks Spanish, there are small but significant variations in the words used or the common expressions. It reminded me of how certain regions in America will infuse different elements into their versions of Happy Birthday, that help differentiate it from other places. This brings to mind the idea of different folk groups and the multiplicity that they may express when performing tradition. There is no one way to perform this birthday ritual, but each has it’s own cultural value to the groups that claim specific heritages.

 

Musical

“Smile, Shake It, We Love You, Woot Woot!”: A Figure Skating Chant

The following is MA’s recollection and interpretation of a common Figure Skating chant.

 

MA details how this popular chant is performed before a figure skater begins their performance at a show or competition. “Smile, Shake It, We Love You, Woot Woot!” is a figure skating chant that younger skaters chant as a group before their friend takes the ice. It is used to give the skater confidence, luck, and support before they perform and to encourage them to put some spunk in their program. The group of skaters who chant this are usually all from the same figure skating club, so it shows a sense of camaraderie and association between the skaters in the club as they support their friend from their club. Likewise, it differentiates them from other figure skating clubs, especially if others say a parody of the chant or use a different tone.

 

MA is used to saying the chant with a brief pause between each part of the chant (there are four parts) and will only say it when she’s with friends. She adds that she would not be confident enough, nor project her voice enough, to yell out the chant by herself. MA says that “even if I go out and do a bad program, at least I know I gave it my all and my friends will always have my back.”

 

My Interpretation:

As a figure skater, I know the isolating feeling of competing or performing under pressure and not having a teammate to rely on. Figure skating is a very independent, individual sport, but with this chant, a skater can still get team-like support. It seems like this chant is pretty mainstream among younger skaters, most likely between the ages of seven and sixteen. It would definitely be surprising to hear it at a bigger event, such as a grand prix competition or at the Olympics, mostly because it is considered slightly immature for older skaters to say. Overall, the chant builds passion for the sport, camaraderie in the group and, in general, lasting friendships between the skaters in the same club through showing/performing their support for a fellow club member.

Childhood
Folk speech
Game
general
Musical

Childhood Hand Clapping Games (Down by the Banks)

Context:

My informant is a 20 year old student from the University of Southern California, and serves as a Residential Assistant at USC McCarthy Honors College. In this account, she describes a childhood rhyme/game that she commonly played with her friends when she was younger. The way this game is played is for children to sit in a circle with their hands lying open on each others, open palm with the next person’s right hand on top of your left. When the rhyme begins, the first child takes their right hands and crosses it across their body to hit the right hand of the next kid, and the child’s hand who is hit last by the time the rhyme ends is “out.” This conversation took place at McCarthy Honors College one evening, and is actually a continuation of a conversation that we had a few days prior to this one. The initial conversation involved a three more people, in which we all shared our various versions of the rhyme with each other, surprised at how there are different versions. However, for this specific conversation, the one where I focus on only my informant’s version of the rhyme, she and I were alone in a private space. This is a transcription of our conversation, where she is identified as E and I am identified as K.

 

Text:

E: Ok, so,  I was talking with some friends recently and we all remembered like a certain, like, childhood rhyme or game that we used to play, like in elementary school or whatever. And it involved some hand clapping, I will say that, but something we realized is that, like, regionally, the rhyme seems to vary. So like, my friends from the midwest had like a different rendition of it, but like it was only changed by like maybe a few words. So here it as, as I know it:

 

Down by the river by the hanky panky,

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to banky.

A E I O U bamboo,

Sugar is sweet and so are you,

So bing bing bong you are out.

 

K: In what context would you sing this song?

 

E: Um, I mean it’s definitely of more of like a play time, recess time thing. Like I don’t think it’d be, uh, how shall I say, acceptable to do this in class.

 

K: How did you learn or hear about this little rhyme?

 

E: Oh, probably like kids who are cooler than me on the playground. I mean, I’m just being honest.

 

K: So definitely not formally taught.

 

E: Oh, certainly not. Like my teachers never like taught me.

 

Thoughts:

I thought that this folklore was especially interesting because it ties to my personal experience with this childhood rhyme. I personally did not consider this childhood rhyme folklore until this conversation because I remember being a kid and doing this in music class, where I was formally taught by an institution of how to play this game. I was surprised when I learned that this is normally something that is passed down or performed by other children rather than something that is taught by a music teacher. Furthermore, I was excited by the fact that my version of the rhyme was different:

 

Down by the banks of the hankity pankies,

Where the bullfrogs jump from bank to bankies.

With an Eeps, Ips, Ohps, Ops,

He’s got the lily with the big ‘ker-plop’!

 

For another example of  “Down by the Banks,” please refer to this source:

“Down by the Banks of the Hanky Panky.” King County Library System, The Kingsgate Library, kcls.org/content/down-by-the-banks-of-the-hanky-panky/.

For more examples of children’s hand clapping games, please refer to this source:

Sutton-Smith, Brian, et al., editors. Children’s Folklore: A Source Book. University Press of Colorado, 1999. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46nskz.

Folk Dance
Game
Musical

Little Sally Walker

Text

Informant: So, “Little Sally Walker” is a game where there’s a bunch of people and you run in a circle… or, somebody runs out and they run in a circle. They go in a circle and they sing

 

Little Sally Walker

Walking down the street

She said “I didn’t know what to do”

So she stopped in front of me and said

 

(Now they stop in front of a person and the person copies their dance)

 

“hey girl do your thing

do your thing

hey girl do your thing do your thing”

Now stop!

 

And after that they do the same dance move and the person who did the dance move goes on and goes in the same circle and it continues to go along for a while.

 

Context- The informant is my twelve-year old sister. She learned these songs while going to various summer camps over the years and has often taught them to her friends so that they could sing them together for fun.

 

Analysis- This song has two aspects to it: the vocal and the physical. The singing alone would amuse children, but its combination with a dancing game would probably make it a great source of entertainment for younger children. It is also a great way for camp counselors to distract children when they are waiting for activity or event. The game only requires the knowledge of the song and, therefore, could basically be played anywhere. This fact probably helps the counselors when they need more time for preparation for activities, using the song to entertain the children while they wait.

Childhood
Musical

Happy Llama

Text

Interviewer: So, what’s the song called?

Informant: Happy Llama.

Interviewer: Okay. Go.

Informant:
Happy llama, sad llama

Totally rad llama

Super llama, drama llama

Big fat mama llama

Baby llama, crazy llama

Don’t forget Barack O’llama

Fish, fish, more fish

Turtle! Unicorn! Peacock!

 

Context- The informant is my twelve-year old sister. She learned these songs while going to various summer camps over the years and has often taught them to her friends so that they could sing them together for fun.

 

Analysis- This song was primarily created to amuse children and it does so by relying on randomness and silly sounding words. Llamas are often amusing to children so basing a song after them makes sense. Words like rad, crazy, and big fat mama are often humorous to children because of their silliness. The songs appeal then comes from the silliness of the words and the combination of those silly words with the funny animal, the llama.

Musical

There Was A Great Big Moose

Text

Informant: This is called “There was a Great Big Moose.”

There was a great big moose

(There was a great big moose)

Who liked to drink a lot of juice

(Who liked to drink a lot of juice)

There was a great big moose!

(There was a great big moose!)

Who liked to drink a lot of juice

He went “woah-oh”

(he went “woah-oh”)

“Way-oh, way-oh, way-oh, way-oh”

(Way-oh, way-oh, way-oh, way-oh)

“Way-oh, Way-oh”

(Way-oh, way-oh)

“Way-oh, way-oh, way-oh, way-oh”

(Way-oh, way-oh, way-oh, way-oh)

 

Context- The informant is my twelve-year old sister. She learned these songs while going to various summer camps over the years and has often taught them to her friends so that they could sing them together for fun.

 

Analysis- This song is amusing mainly because of the absurd rhymes. The lyrics of the song make no logical sense and instead focus on making lines rhyme. This focus on rhyming is probably what makes the song amusing to young children, as young children like to rhyme. The song also as the added element of having a leader sing the lyrics initially and followers repeating those lyrics, which makes the song sort of a game that can be played by the children singing.

general
Humor
Musical

Napoleon Rhyme

INFORMANT: The informant is my fifteen-year-old sister, who lives in Washington, D.C. We both attended a french-language school until 2014, and this is one of the songs we used to sing as children.

CONTEXT: The informant heard this rhyme from one of her friends in the fourth grade when they started covering Napoleon in their class curriculum. According to her, this is a common rhyme taught to kids by other kids.

——————–

MAIN PIECE:

Original: “Napoléon est mort à Sainte-Hélène/Son fils Léon lui a crevé l’bidon/On l’a retrouvé assis sur une baleine/En train d’sucer des arêtes de poisson”

Translation: “Napoleon died at Sainte-Helene/His son Leon gutted his belly [informal]/They found him sitting on a whale/Sucking on fish bones”

——————–

I think this rhyme is a really interesting example of children’s lore. In general, kids seem to have the instinct to rebel against authority, and this often takes the form of mocking authority figures. In French classrooms, Napoleon is presented to children as somewhat of a legendary figure, so it would make sense that kids would create rhymes about Napoleon, given how venerated he is in French history. As someone who is seen as kind of a silly historical figure outside of France, Napoleon is also a fairly easy target for mockery (he inspired the term “Napoleon Complex,” used to describe people who try to compensate for their short height with overconfidence and ego). I think it also is interesting to observe the difference between what kids’ games and rhymes they learn from adults and what they teach each other; nursery rhymes and tales told and taught to children by adults tend to be more tame, while the things children pass down to other children usually to contain counter-hegemonic themes and seem to be more risqué or vulgar. This is somewhat reflected in the grammar of the rhyme as well. Grammar is an extremely important part of the French curriculum, and is constantly emphasized throughout both primary and secondary school. The use of contractions in the rhyme is another way that it is rebellious.

For another version of this rhyme, see “Napoleon” from Momes.net (http://www.momes.net/Comptines/Comptines-pour-rire/Napoleon)

Game
Gestures
Humor
Musical

Happy Llama

Text

Happy llama

Sad llama

Mentally disturbed llama

Super llama

Drama llama

Big fat mama llama

Llama llama llama llama

Duck

Coyote

Giraffe

Elephant

 

Background

The informant learned this song while attending an elementary school in the orange county area. She said that she and her friends would sing the song to a handshake similar to patty cake followed by hand gestures that represented the animals they chanted at the end. They would also occasionally sing it while playing jump rope.

 

Context

The informant goes to college in Southern California and grew up in Orange County. She attended a reputable public school in the orange county area.

 

Thoughts

The song itself is not particularly significant and was most likely just used as a form of entertainment on the playground. However, as the informant was sharing the song with me, several of her friends who were in the room chimed in, saying that they also knew the song but knew different versions of it. All of the girls grew up in very different areas across the country, so it is interesting that this song was able to be passed along such vast distances. Additionally, the version of the song that a  person knows might be a way of indicating what school he or she went to or where he or she grew up. In this way, the version song is a representation of the specific culture it is performed at. Upon doing further research, I found a version that replaced “mentally disturbed llama” with “totally rad llama.” The concept of being “mentally disturbed” is a little dark for a children’s rhyme and it could have been edited out of other cultures’ versions for this reason. If this is true, it would say something about what that culture deems acceptable and unacceptable for children.

 

For another version of the song, please go to: https://campsongs.wordpress.com/2012/05/04/llama-song-the-one-with-actions/

Other version:

Happy llama / upright llama

Sad llama / point llama down

Totally rad llama / turn llamas on their side towards each other and shake up and down

Super llama / scoop llamas upward

Drama llama / make llamas kiss

Big fat momma llama / join llamas together by by putting two pointer fingers down

Baby llama / place llamas on dimples

Crazy llama / circle llamas around your ears

Don’t forget Barack Ollama / scoop llamas upward

Fish, fish, more fish / place right hand out, palm down, then left hand on top, roll hands around each other on “more” and return them to original position on last “fish”

Turtle / Hands together, palms down

UH! / pull turtle into stomach

Unicorn / make horn on head

Peacock! / put arms out to side with fingers spread like feathers

 

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