USC Digital Folklore Archives / folk metaphor
folk metaphor
folk simile

오비이락 烏飛梨落

My informant is a student who originally came from Korea, but moved with her family to Los Angeles since her middle school.

 

烏飛梨落

오비이락

Bird flies away, Pear drops off.

 

My informant told me Korean also use this kind of  four-word phrases to convey some philosophy as Chinese people do; many of them are written in Chinese characters but pronounced in Korean.

For this specific one, she said, “You didn’t do anything, but something happens coincidentally, then people think you did it.”

It is quite interesting to me that there are many metaphors like this in asian cultures, which I think more or less relates to their hieroglyphic language (especially traditional Chinese) that allows them to randomly connect two things that share similar features together.

 

Digital
folk metaphor
Humor

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 metaphor
Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs

Stubborn as a mule

The informant, J, is 18 years old born and raised in Coachella, California. His mom is from Delano, California, while his dad is from Indio, California. He is majoring in Print and Digital Journalism with a Media, Economics, and Entrepreneurship minor. He also considers himself Mexican.

J-“In the Mexican folklore there is a saying, ‘mas terco que una mula’. It means more stubborn than a mule in English”

What does the saying mean to you?

J-“It literally means what it translates to. It means that someone is being very stubborn or hard-headed and doesn’t want to change how they are thinking”

When would you use this?

J-“You would tell someone they are more stubborn than a mule, again if they are being really stubborn and don’t want to listen to reason. If they keep insisting about something and they want to be right all the time. I always yell this at my brother since he’s always thinking that he is always right”

Analysis- It can be seen that the proverb originated in a specific area of Mexico at a specific time. Mules were used to help with farming and pulling the ploughs. They are also known to be very stubborn and do not like to listen or do what the owner wants them to. Farming is also more common in northern Mexico. Therefore, the proverb must have originated somewhere in northern Mexico during the farming period before the industrialism changed agriculture and machines, instead of mules or donkeys, were used to turn the fields and harvest the crops.

folk metaphor
general
Legends
Myths
Narrative

The Two Wolves Inside

Folklore Piece

 “Ok so, there’s this young uh kid who’s talking to his Grandpa. This is a Native American proverb. So he’s talking to his Grandpa and he’s having a really hard time kind of, uh, with life and making certain decisions and his Grandpa says ‘Well listen there are two wolves inside of you. When you face hard times, when you’re facing hard decisions, I see it as there are these two wolves constantly battling inside of you. You have one wolf that represents, kind of, the evil and represents anger and has all the negativity that’s bottled up the way that you could react to things by looking at it cynically. But there’s also this other wolf that’s fighting for happiness and its fighting to work as hard as you can to enjoy life and for positivity and for love and compassion.’

So you have these two wolves that are constantly battling. So the kid says to his grandfather, ‘Well Grandpa, but which one wins?’ and he responds ‘The one that you feed.'”

 

Background information

The informant said that he really liked this piece because it helped him get through some tough decisions. He thinks about it often when he’s faced with a lot of stress or negativity in his life. He first heard it at his camp in northern wisconsin. He has no Native American heritage.

 

Context

 The informant often tells this to people when they’re going through a tough time, and to all of his campers during the summer that he is a camp counselor. He really identifies with it, and so shares it with many people that he is close to.

 

Analysis

This was a very hard piece of folklore to categorize because it’s a piece of meta-folklore. The whole story is in narrative form, and would best be described as a legend. However, the essence of this folklore is embedded within the story, regarding the two wolves constantly battling and the fight between good and evil.

Native American tribes often use animals to describe the natural world and humanistic nature. I believe that this story about the two wolves is originally in a mythical format, describing the origin of conflicting ethical dilemmas. It is both outside this world, in that it features spiritual wolves, and helps explain the origin of one facet of human nature.

Another thing I found interesting was that the informant learned this story at a summer camp in the woods of northern Wisconsin. While he is from the suburbs, he would spend every summer out in this area. The woods, and natural American landscape is associated with Native Americans. Therefore, it is interesting that he would learn this story in that context; he is still removed from the Native American heritage, but experiencing their sacred truths in an environment that they would inhabit.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Deep Throat

After the Watergate scandal of the 1970’s, journalists in newsrooms across America began to use the term “Deep Throat” to describe a source, or informant, with a lot of previously undisclosed information.

A common way to use the term was “I’m looking for a Deep Throat,” meaning that the reporter was looking for an informant with valuable information that would help to break a story.

The term derives from the nickname given to William Mark Felt, Sr., deputy director of the FBI during the 1970’s, and the secret informant who helped to expose the Watergate Scandal. He was nicknamed Deep Throat by Howard Simmons, managing editor of the Washington Post, in order to keep his identity anonymous. The name comes from Deep Throat, a popular and controversial film in the 1970’s. Because of the popularity of the film, “Deep Throat” became a term used commonly enough so as not to draw any attention to the informant himself.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein are the two reporters most famous for exposing the Watergate Scandal. With their reporting alone, they helped to topple an entire administration. More than almost any other event in the latter half of the twentieth century, the Watergate Scandal proved investigative journalism’s immense power to change society. Thus, for my informant, “Deep Throat” carries with it connotations of prestigious and powerful journalism. It reinforces her belief in the profession.

My informant is my mother, a 60-year old woman who spent 20 years working as a journalist for a variety of different newspapers. She remembers first hearing the term from other reporters in the mid-1970’s, after the Watergate Scandal had worked its way into American popular culture and terminology.

I believe my mother enjoys this term so much because it speaks to the hard-working, competitive environment that she experienced within American newsrooms. Those wishing to find their “Deep Throat” weren’t only hoping to break a story. They were hoping to break a big story. She recalls the thrill of finding previously undiscovered sources and beating her co-workers to an important story. According to her, it was a highly rewarding rush, and I believe the term brings her back to that feeling.

It’s particularly interesting and touching to learn the term because it speaks to the fast-paced, ambitious nature of print journalism work, work which was such a huge part of my mother’s life and is now rapidly disappearing due to the emergence of online news outlets. I wonder if the thrill and drive to break big stories is as strong in the absence of a physical newsroom full of journalists looking for their “Deep Throat”.

For more information, see:

Woodward, Bob. The Secret Man: The Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“Con el nopal en la frente”

Araceli Del Rio

“Con el nopal en la frente”

Translation: “with a cactus on the forehead”

There is a phrase,”con el nopal en la frente,” used when a person who looks very “Mexican” and by Mexican I mean native looking, and they don’t speak Spanish. And people will say, ‘she says she doesn’t speak Spanish, “con la nopal en frente.”’ This is like saying, “she says she doesn’t speak Spanish and she practically has a cactus growing out of her forehead.” Cactus being one of the utmost symbols of Mexican culture. It’s on the flag. It’s tied heavily into stories. Into meals. It’s everywhere in Mexico.”

 

“I think the meaning of this is pretty clear- there is a huge current of judgement and people basically despise people who leave behind their culture, as they try to assimilate. Especially when children and adults stop speaking Spanish. You are heavily judged and shunned. I have heard and used this phrase when I grew up as a Mexican in Los Angeles, referring to other kids and people who wanted to assimilate too much.”

 

Analysis: This is a folk metaphor, pertaining specifically to Mexican immigrants in the US who attempt to assimilate by casting aside their native culture. It is also a way of stereotyping by Mexicans based both on physical characteristics and a common perception of loyalty to the country of origin. While sometimes these stereotypes might judge too harshly- for example, a person might be of Mexican descent generations back but doesn’t identify with the culture anymore, or looks ‘Mexican’ but is actually Middle Eastern, etc., they also are a response to betrayal Mexicans and Mexican-Americans feel when members of their own culture deny that culture.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs

“Comen frijoles y erutan pollo”

Flor Speakman

 

“Comen frijoles y eructan pollo”

Translation: some people eat beans but burp chicken

“In El Salvador, this is used to describe people who are very pretentious or fake. They try to show off stuff they don’t really have, or pretend to be higher than their actual social class. This expression is pretty disdainful and is meant to put them down, deflate their egos.”

Background: This is told amongst the people of El Salvador, whether in the country or abroad. As humility is very valued in the country, as there are not too many material resources and it is considered somewhat poor, this is one way to mock those who become prideful.

 

Analysis: This is a form of folk speech that mocks people who try to put on airs and pretend to be above their station. As humility is valued in El Salvador, this is one way of enforcing this mentality. However, it is also mocking those who lie about their station and pretend to be more than they are rather than the actual rich and influential. This signifies that striving to succeed is not as looked down upon as pretending to be there already and being falsely proud.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
general
Humor
Initiations
Proverbs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Physicists are the salt

Ksenia Chumakova

 

“Только физики – соль, остальные все- ноль”

Phonetic- “Tolko fiziki- sol’, ostalnie vse-nol'”

Transliteration- “Only physicists are the salt. Everyone else is a zero”

Translation: Only physicists are worth anything, and everyone else is nothing.

 

Background: “This is a saying my grandparents, both physicists, would say often in a joking manner. It was something they had picked up in their spheres of work. It was a catchy saying that rhymed, and jokingly put them a cut above all the other professions.”

Analysis: To compare something to salt goes back to cooking: salt is often the only spice that Russians will use in our dishes, and we always put it on the table in case guests want more. It is always seen as a vital addition to any meal, and separates those meals from others without it. Salt used to be rather expensive, too. Russian culture a lot of catchy folk metaphors and proverbs that rhyme in silly ways. This is also a form of distinguishing a career group from others, even if jokingly. Other professions have also used this rhyme, but the physicist version is the most popular and is considered to be the original. This is also a way to encourage children to follow in the path of their role models, in this case- physicists. That the grandparents told it to their children and grandchildren means that they took the identity of being physicists deeply and had hopes that others in their family would pursue it as the only ‘right’ path (if all others are zeros).

 

Customs
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs
Riddle
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

“And the Volga empties into the Caspian Sea”

Alexey Sinyagin

 

Proverb:  “Волга впадает в Каспийское море”

Phonetic: “Volga vpadayet v Kaspiyskoye morye”

“Yeah, and the Volga empties out into the Caspian Sea”

 

Meaning: This proverb is used in a sarcastic way, as a way to signify that you are stating the obvious.

 

Background: This is used between any people in Russia, and references their formal geographic education, which is very strong in Russia and is sometimes mocked because it often lacks practical uses. In addition, Russian formal education often focuses on rote memorization of facts, and knowledge like this would be an example of pointless information that nonetheless everybody knew.

 

Analysis: This mockery of the redundant brings attention to the Russian value of brevity and modesty: at least in respect to not showing off useless facts. Russian humour is often wry and employs irony, so overstated or over-important people will often find themselves mocked. At the same time, the fact that everybody knows a fact like this is a reference to the fact that Russia is such a huge land that learning all of its geography is something many students resent. Comparing such unwanted knowledge, which is also commonly known, is more likely to make the person stating a different obvious fact feel ashamed, and likely feel like a teacher or authority figure. These figures are not usually seen favorably in Russian society on the part of those who they teach or are supposed to control.

Customs
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Game
general
Magic
Protection
Signs

The Sandman

LaRose Washington

 

The Sandman

Origin: Puerto Rico

Story: When you go to sleep, the sandman comes into your dreams. He makes sure that you fall fast asleep.

Meaning: he is the one who helps you stay asleep.

Usage: Usually parents say it to their child when they want her to go to sleep. They’ll say, “If you don’t go to bed soon, the Sandman will miss you.” Also adults say it when they are ready to go to sleep. “I’m going to go see the Sandman”.

Analysis: This is an almost folktale creature in its conception, yet mentioning the Sandman usually seems to just be folk speech. While children might conceptualize him as an actual being, it seems that adults use it primarily as a form of expression or euphemism. His usage creates a calm and non-frightening incentive for children to go to sleep, which is probably the only effective way to make them sleep: it would be rather hard to frighten them into obedience with the boogeyman in this case, as they would never go to sleep. Presenting him as someone you would meet in your dreams, therefore, someone benevolent, is probably the best approach parents can make.

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