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

Botellita de jerez Todo lo que digas sera al revez

Folk Metaphor

This saying was told by my grandmother  to me which has helped me throughout my life especially when people were being mean to me in school. In English it just means that everything that you say will be backwards so it will go back to you This meaning really helps you fight off those mean words that people tell you in school. You say this and everything that they say is basically going back to them and it really means that what they’re telling you is them telling themselves that.


The significance of this metaphor to the informant was that no matter what people said , with this saying you can turn all the bad things on to them. it was like a magic Karma spell. It has a lot of meaning because it takes way the pain of being called names or being picked on.  The informant like sit because it rhymes and its unique .


This is from Mexico and this saying is very  popularly and  this expression refers to everything you want for someone is going to return, or you’re going to return everything you said; or everything you say will be used against ..With this in mind, it is better not to wish anyone badly, or to say things that can be used against you.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Respecting the Penny

Title: Respecting the Penny

Category: Proverbial Phrase

Informant: Julianna K. Keller

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: 20

Occupation: Student

Residence: 325 West Adams Blvd./ Los Angeles, CA 90007

Date of Collection: 4/09/18


“ The man that does not respect the Penny, does not deserve the dollar.”


The phrase comes from Julianna’s great Uncle and is thought to be an originally German proverb. According to the source, the proverb means: A person should value the little things so that they can appreciate when larger things happen. The phrase implies that a person should be appreciative of all things that happen to them and take nothing for granted.

Personal Thoughts:

This proverbial phrase is something that can be heard when talking about small occurrences in an insignificant way. It can be used as a retort when someone acts inappreciative of something nice that happens to them.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Weather Log

Title: Weather Log

Category: Folk Object

Informant: Tony Walker

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: Upper 60s

Occupation: Construction Foreman— Blue Collar, etc.

Residence: Columbus, MS

Date of Collection: 4/21/18


A weather log is a short, truncated stick about the size of 3” attached to a piece of twine with a laminated card attached. The card reads similar to the following:






The list can continue. The weather log is meant to inform the owner what the weather is outside in a comical sense. This object is usually given/received as a joke or gag-gift.

Personal Thoughts:

My crazy Uncle makes weather logs to give to family members as a joke gift. He seems to find them extremely hilarious. These logs are hung from a tree outside close to the owner’s window. If nothing else, they’re a reminder of him and his humor.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

“The Devil Beating his Wife”

Owen Lord studies Anthropology at the University of Southern California. He is originally from Columbia, South Carolina but currently lives in Los Angeles, California while he attends university. Owen’s southern upbringing led him to adopt a number of southern customs. Once he moved to Los Angeles, he was immediately struck by the differences in the way people speak, how they behave, and the traditions they practice. Many of Owen’s favorite folkloric phrases were lost on his new peers in Los Angeles. Below, Owen describes one example of folk speech that is used to describe weather conditions:

Owen: “In the South—the American South, South Carolina to be specific—we had certain terms that I didn’t realize were a little shocking until I used them outside of the South. Like when it’s a sunny day and it’s raining, we’d say that the devil is beating his wife. Which um, non-Southerners have found to be a little inappropriate.”

Isabella: “Why were people offended?”

Owen: “Um, I think the references to domestic abuse. And… people aren’t used to talking about the devil. And, in the South, we attribute everything to either the devil or God. So yeah, it was a little shocking to other people.”

Here, Owen reflects on a folk metaphor that is unique to the American South. Owen acknowledges that this metaphorical statement does not resonate with people who are not from the South, and attributes this to the cultural differences between the two areas. As Owen notes in the transcription, Southerners are more likely to reference the Devil and God in everyday speech than people who live in other parts of the nation.

This folk metaphor is used to describe the weather, which highlights its prominence and popularity amongst Southerners. It also reveals some key distinctions between Southern culture and west coast (i.e. California) culture. References to domestic violence are embedded in the metaphor, which suggests that jokes of this nature are normalized in the South (not necessarily domestic violence itself).  This metaphor speaks to the topic of sensitivity in humor — in places like Southern California, fears of coming across as politically incorrect might dissuade someone from reciting a metaphor like the one described here.  However, in the South, it is perfectly acceptable to joke about certain taboo topics.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Tales /märchen

“How the Tortoise’s Shell Cracked”

Stanley Kalu studies screenwriting at the University of Southern California. He is originally from Nigeria, but has moved several times throughout his life. He spent a significant portion of his life in Nairobi, Kenya and now lives in Los Angeles, California. He recalls hearing a number of stories as he grew up; many of these stories conveyed moral lessons and were told to younger audiences. In the excerpt below, Stanley recounts a folk tale he heard as a child:

Stanley: “So back when I was young, my mom would tell me a story of how the tortoise got his shell cracked. And the story went like this: the tortoise, being the most intelligent animal in the animal kingdom, during a drought said ‘hey birds, let’s go to heaven. You can fly me up there and I’ll talk to God, and everything will be fine, we’ll all get food, it will be fine. But in heaven, we’ll all have different names. So my name will be all of you, right? My name will be all of you.’ And the birds agreed, so they flew him up to heaven. And then, they were talking to God, who brought a huge feast with him. And then God said, ‘this food is for all of you,’ and the tortoise said, ‘oh, that’s me!’ so he ate all of the food, and all the other animals got upset. So, they left him in heaven and he had no way of getting back down to Earth. So he had his wife place a soft pile of feathers on the ground to break his fall, but he missed. Then he cracked his shell and he had to piece it back together. And that is how the tortoise got his cracks.”

Isabella: “Does that communicate any sort of moral lesson?”

Stanley: “Yes—don’t be sneaky.”

The transcript above details a Nigerian folk tale. Stanley recounted the story as we sat at a café after class one day, and he appeared to have the story committed to memory entirely; this suggests that he heard the story frequently as he grew up. The tortoise story warns against deception and “sneakiness” by illustrating the consequences of such behavior. It serves as a template for other tales—the message is universal in a sense and the motifs are interchangeable.

folk metaphor

Caught the Sun

“Looks like you’ve caught the sun.”



While the meaning of this saying seems quite obvious—to have caught the sun is to be sunburnt, but I had never heard of this phrase before. The informant has not lived in America for longer than two years, so I thought this saying originated from the UK, however, I cannot find any evidence to its origins.

folk metaphor

Doors and Windows Saying

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as PH.

PH: Every time that I’m blocking something, specifically when I’m like walking by the television and my mom is watching TV and then I get distracted, and I start watching, and I’m standing in front of the television, and she says “you’re a better door than window!” Like, “please move, you’re blocking my way.” But it’s like a cute thing that she says.

BD: Did she get it from anywhere?

PH: I don’t know! I think it is a normal saying, and I think her mom used to say it to her, but I’m not sure.

This piece of folklore is a very lighthearted metaphor. I have never heard it before, but it does make an awful lot of sense. It is interesting how the informant’s mother had likely heard it from her own mother, and I speculate this saying may be relegated to only their family. The use of doors and windows draws the mind to think of houses and buildings, which may be an effect the metaphor is going for.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

“Get your hair on straight.”

My friend and classmate Pauline shared the following explanation of a piece of folk speech that, as far as she knows, exists only within her extended family.

“…According to my parents, like, my uncle was the first one who started saying it, but I know my parents say it too. But when we’re like, trying to leave the house–and my mom is like, famous for being terrible at leaving the house like, when we need to leave the house she’s like, ‘oh but let’s do the dishes right now’ or whatever like, always makes a big fuss about not being ready to leave–so whenever we’re about to leave the house like, my dad usually says ‘alright, get your hair on straight!’ And like that’s the, it’s not a–it’s like an idiomatic phrase. So like, it’s not like a proverb ’cause it has no greater meaning. But apparently it’s like, my uncle started saying it, and I don’t know why my uncle started saying it–he’s not like a funny guy or anything–but um, my dad says it to like make fun of the fact that like, any reason we’re not leaving the house is like, pointless. Like you don’t need to get your hair on straight ’cause that’s impossible. So it’s like, there’s literally nothing left to do, like let’s please leave the house right now.”

This piece of folk speech, although minor in size and in greater significance, is significant to Pauline because it is unique to her family and evocative of the humor she shares with her parents.

I find this phrase funny, and I think its meaning could be divined by people outside of Pauline’s family, so I wonder whether a variant of it has emerged and been used in any other contexts.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Proverb: Love is like a Tomato

Main Piece: Proverb


Прошла любовь, завяли помидоры.


Proshla lyubov’, zavyali pomidory.

Literal translation:

Love has passed, tomatoes have withered.

Actual translation:

The love was a crush and it passed quickly.

Background Information:

  • Why does informant know this piece?

This was told to her by her friends.

  • Where did they learn this piece?

The Soviet Union.

  • What does it mean to them?

If she hears it, it means she had a silly crush and has quickly moved on.


This proverb is told to young people, usually young girls but can be boys, when they have a crush and quickly move on either from liking the person to hating them, or to another person.

Personal Thoughts:

I find this proverb to be very amusing, comparing a person’s feelings to a tomato that has withered, especially since tomatoes are not a food that is commonly associated with anything romantic. Usually when young people hear this proverb, they are insulted at first, because it seems to diminish the value of their feelings, but they find it funnier as they get older and realize those feelings were not nearly as important or significant as they seemed.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

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?