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

Arizona Desert Metaphor

Subject: Folk expression.

Collection: “It’s hotter than a snake’s ass in a wagon rut.”

Background Info: K. Cowdery is 21 years old and a junior Narrative Studies major at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Phoenix, Arizona and now resides in Los Angeles where she attends school.

Context: My friend shared this piece of folklore while joking about odd things the generation over than us say. She heard this from her father’s friend (who is in his late 50’s) and is a cattle rancher. Essentially, in the desert after it rains, the cars and wagons make deep ruts in the road that then harden and crack once the weather gets warm again. Since the ruts get hotter than the surrounding area, snakes like to lay down in the rut to get warm. Since a snake’s butt is located on their stomach is, they are absorbing the heat from the rut and surrounding dessert through their butt.

Analysis: This metaphor capitalizes on a knowledge of and interaction with desert weather and the fauna that calls it home. While someone not from the desert can understand that the simile is used to communicate that it is hot outside, only people who have experienced and forced to live in this kind of heat can call upon a sense memory of Arizona summers where temperatures have been recorded about 110 degrees, giving it extra meaning to those from this specific place. It is logical that the expression is used by cattle ranchers because their occupation requires them to spend a lot of time outside in the elements, encountering both heat and snakes. For those most familiar with these elements of the desert landscape, this phrase allows them to relate about the oppressive conditions of their home, strengthening a sense of belonging to the place and defining what it means to be of that place. Lastly, the metaphor includes an element of humor for the teller and the listener, using the amusing nature of the metaphor to help appease the weight of the oppressive heat.

Customs
folk metaphor
folk simile
Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Good Old Grandpa

Over the past few years, I’ve heard snippets of this friend’s crazy grandpa. Many nights, we’d eat together and share stories of our nutty families, as we both share lineage with what many would call ‘eccentrics’. Self purportedly from a family comprised of 50% white trash and 50% religious explorers, he grew up around a variety of funny saying and stories.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“He had a lot of sayings for like the weather. ‘It’s colder than a witch’s tit’. Or, ‘it’s darker than a snake’s asshole.’ There were a lot of asshole things too. ‘Colder than a well-digger’s ass’. ‘I’d rather have acid poured down the crack of my ass than…’ ‘I’m so hungry I could eat the ass out of a dead gorilla’. ‘You talk like you have a paper hat’. ‘You talk like your ass is made of paper’. ‘Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one fills up first’. ‘Tough titties said the kitty’. He said that one a lot. ‘As useless as tits on a hoe-handle’. ‘Nervous as a whore in church’. ‘Nervous as a pregnant nun’. If something doesn’t go over well, he’d be like, ‘oh, that went over like a turd in a punch bowl’. He also had a lot of superstitions or tics I guess. He’d always get wine with ice in it – my mom’s family is 100% pure white trash. And so, he would order wine with ice in it, and then he would get it, stir it with his pinky, then suck on his finger, and wipe it on the left side of his shirt. Every single time. He’d like dry it off with the corner of his shirt. So all of his shirts had little things sticking off from him pulling on it to dry off his fingers. He’d stir his wine like it was a mixed drink or something.”

These weird little sayings always crack me up. They range from somewhat clever and somewhat useful to totally nonsensical and just plain silly. I especially love the strange ritual my friend’s grandpa performs every time he drinks a glass of wine. He seemed to do things just for the hell of it. What a way to live.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Sie Hat Nicht Alle Tassen Im Schrank

Original: Sie hat nicht alle tassen im schrank

Translation: She doesn’t have all the teacups in her pantry

Full translation: This phrase is used when one is trying to say someone else is crazy. When used, one is implying that the person in question is not entirely right in the head.

Note: This piece of folk speech was only provided using the pronoun “she”. However, he/she can be interchanged and the phrase would still work in conversation.

Context: This informant is a nineteen year old college student, attending school in the US. However, he lives abroad in a small town in Germany, where he has access to a wide range of German folklore. He also speaks German fluently, which offers him greater understanding of German culture as well.

Background: My informant heard this piece of folk speech used almost interchangeably with any other permutation of “that person is crazy” both in the city and in the countryside. He does not see it as a piece of folk speech, but rather as another piece of his vocabulary. When someone is acting crazy, this phrase comes as naturally as simply saying “That person is crazy” in German.

Analysis: I was especially excited by this folk speech because it closely resembles a similar phrase used in the United States. In the US, the phrase “the lights are not all on upstairs” shares a similar meaning, to imply that the subject it is referring to is somehow not right in the head. The two phrases most definitely appear to be oikotypes – regional variations of a piece of folklore. Interestingly, however, the German use of “teacups” and “pantry”, more traditional objects may suggest that the German phrase is actually the original, from which the American phrase was derived. Considering there is a sizeable German population in the US, this could most definitely be the case!

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Every Rock Falls on My Head

Item (direct transcription):

Every rock falls on my head.

Background Information:

The informant learned this saying from his father. It means, “I get blamed for every problem.”

Contextual Information:

The informant says he uses this dite when he feels that he is being undeservedly blamed for something, especially if by his wife. However, he only uses the dite playfully or jokingly, not rhetorically. When he is truly upset or argumentative, he does not use this saying.

Analysis:

This saying meets all four of the canonical criteria for a dite. It is (1) short, (2) fixed-phrase, (3) metaphorical, and (4) not rhetorical.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

“Cruzar el Niagara en Bicicleta

Cuban culture in general is incredibly vibrant and colorful. With recent tourism to Cuba rising, foreigners often underestimate how vibrant the buildings, cars, and clothes are in Cuba. And this powerful expression also transfers over into language and proverbs. When visiting home recently, my aunt and grandmother came over to share common Cuban vernacular with me. This one specifically came from my mother.

Her idiom is: “Cruzar el niagara en bicicleta”. Phonetically, it’s easy to pronounce since it utilizes the same Latin alphabet. It’s literal translation is “Cross Niagara Falls on a bicycle.” However, when one says the idiom they really mean that something is incredibly difficult or impossible, like crossing Niagara Falls on a bicycle.

My mom was the oldest of three children, witnessing and remembering the most out of her siblings. Also as the oldest, more emphasis was put on her by her father to be successful. In high school, when she expressed interest in a career that fulfilled her, her father would refuse by using the idiom. She was severely limited, but ultimately found ways to overcome her father’s presence by moving out to seek a college education. She’s such a badass she makes crossing Niagara Falls on a bicycle look easy.

folk metaphor
general

Arroz con Mango

Cuban culture in general is incredibly vibrant and colorful. With recent tourism to Cuba rising, foreigners often underestimate how vibrant the buildings, cars, and clothes are in Cuba. And this powerful expression also transfers over into language and proverbs. When visiting home recently, my aunt and grandmother came over to share common Cuban vernacular with me.

One idiom is: “Arroz con Mango”. Phonetically, it’s easy to pronounce since it utilizes the same Latin alphabet. It’s literal translation is “Rice with Mango”. Although it may sound like a delicious Cuban delicacy, it’s actually shorthand for describing “a terrible mess.” It’s such a specific description that if said in the right way many Cubans could be laughing up a storm. My aunt was cracking up as she remembered the phrase, suddenly taken back to many memories of growing up in the Cuban section of San Juan, Puerto Rico. So if something is chaotic or messy, and it can be tied to metaphorical things too like relationships, then it could be “Arroz con Mango”.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

“Tu No Pintas Nada”

Cuban culture in general is incredibly vibrant and colorful. With recent tourism to Cuba rising, foreigners often underestimate how vibrant the buildings, cars, and clothes are in Cuba. And this powerful expression also transfers over into language and proverbs. When visiting home recently, my aunt and grandmother came over to share common Cuban vernacular with me. But this one came from my mother.

The idiom is: “Tu No Pintas Nada”. Phonetically, it’s easy to pronounce since it utilizes the same Latin alphabet. It’s literal translation is “Do not paint anything.” However, when one says the idiom to someone they really mean that something does not concern them.

My mom was the oldest of three children, witnessing and remembering the most out of her siblings. Also as the oldest, more emphasis was put on her by her father to be successful. As a child if she expressed interest in something else besides school, she would be shut down by her father through this idiom. It was also a common retort amongst my mom and her sisters, as they constantly got into fights when they were children. My mother’s personal interpretation for the idiom is that for one to achieve their objective, they must not get caught up in distractions that could get them off task. There’s a time to paint, “pero ahora (but right now) tu no pintas nada.”

folk metaphor
Folk speech

“Mas Rollo que Una Pelicula”

Cuban culture in general is incredibly vibrant and colorful, with a attentive focus on the arts. With recent tourism to Cuba rising, foreigners often underestimate how vibrant the buildings, cars, and clothes are in Cuba. And this powerful expression also transfers over into language and proverbs. When visiting home recently, my aunt and grandmother came over to share common Cuban vernacular with me. But this one came from my mother.

The idiom is: “Mas Rollo que Una Pelicula”. Phonetically, it’s easy to pronounce since it utilizes the same Latin alphabet. It’s literal translation is “You are more roll than a movie.” However, when one says the idiom to someone they really mean that they act like they’re better than they actually are.

Throughout my mother’s childhood, my grandfather would take her to work with him so that she could slowly learn what it took to run a business. That’s when she would encounter the charismatic nature of salesmen, who knew how to talk the talk but not walk the walk. If my grandfather could see through the ruse–and according to the stories he usually did–he’d say “Mas Rollo que Una Pelicula” to the salesman. For my mom, it means when someone is gloating about their accomplishments, flaunting something they deem valuable, or bragging about opportunities. They just want attention, my mom would say, because their actions don’t deserve the praise they are looking for.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Swedish Proverb

“De är inte alla karlar som bär byxor.”

Swedish: All are not men that wear trousers. 

G’s Scandinavian father used to say this to her and her siblings in Swedish while growing up. He immigrated to the United States from Sweden when he was young, and it was a phrase that he heard growing up. It’s a phrase that G repeated (albeit slightly butchered, as she does not speak Swedish) when she grew older, because it was relevant, reminded of her childhood and her father.

G’s father would say this to his five children to encourage them to break from the mold and be different. He said it to emphasize that his daughters could play sports and listen to rock music, and his son could design clothing and play musical instruments. He didn’t believe his kids had to do strictly things designated by society for their respective genders.

I love this phrase, and I think it is especially applicable in this age, where the previously-designated boundaries of gender are being pushed. Girls do not equal pink and boys do not equal blue. I think a variation of this proverb exists in every language and culture—not every woman has to be girly and not every man, manly.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
folk simile
Proverbs

Indonesian Proverb

The informant was my cousin (referred to as LG) who spent 4 years being a Fulbright scholar in Indonesia. There she was teaching school girls English and art. She told me one of the Indonesian teachers would always say this proverb to the girls:

 

LG: “Bagai pungguk merindukan bulan. Which translates into Like an owl reaching for the moon.”

 

CI: “What does that really mean?”

 

LG: “It’s definitely kind of sad, It is basically saying, ‘you’re wishing for something impossible.’ I feel like the older Indonesian generations definitely tried to be what they thought was realistic with their students or children, but also it definitely could be seen as putting the children down.”

 

I find this particularly interesting because teachers in America are very encouraging and there is a strong sentiment that “The children are the future. But in Indonesia, especially in the village, my cousin lived, which was very poor, it seems that adults think it is important to not encourage the children too much. This proverb isn’t necessarily putting children down, it is just telling them not to dream too big.

 

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