USC Digital Folklore Archives / folk metaphor
folk metaphor
Folk speech

Bengali Insult

My informant is the daughter of immigrants from Bangladesh, and a close friend of mine. She has often told me of the unique Bengali insults and phrases that her family would use with each other. Here is a notable example:

আপনি একটি গাভী ডিম ডাল মাথা হয়

Āpani ēkaṭi gābhī ḍima ḍāla māthā haẏa

Literal translation: “You are a cow’s egg vegetable head”

My informant expressed to me that she was unsure if it was a widely used Bengali phrase, and it would be difficult to find out with a simple google search, but she assured me that most everyone in her extended family uses this phrase. It simply means to refer to someone who is insignificant or idiotic.

I might classify this phrase as a “surrealist insult”, as it seems to be a string of words tied together with little meaning outside of simple degradation.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Narrative
Proverbs
Tales /märchen

Camel and the Arab

One very cold winter night, this Arab was riding camel and he was feeling very cold, so he pitched a tent, lit a fire inside the tent, and he tied the camel outside the tent. And he was warming himself up inside the tent. And the camel peeked in and said, “Please can I just put my nose in the tent, because my nose is feeling very cold and it will warm up the air I’m breathing.” So Arab said, “Okay, just the nose.” And then the camel said, “You know my ears are buzzing because of the cold breeze, could I just put my ears in?” So Arab thought, “Yeah, why not, there’s plenty of space in the tent, you can put your ears in.” And then the camel said, “You know my neck is cramping because of the cold breeze, can I just put my neck in?” Arab said, “Yes, there’s space for your neck.” And slowly like that, camel kept requesting one leg, other leg, and slowly he threw the Arab out and sat in the tent warming himself. The moral of the story is that kindness is good but don’t be so kind that you are left in a lurch helping somebody.

My grandmother’s mother told her this story. She used to tell all eight of her children bedtime stories, and this was one of the stories she told my grandma specifically. My grandma says, “She had always told me to be kind to people, but that you first must look after yourself before you can look after other people.” I asked my grandma to recount this story, or any fable with a moral she’d heard growing up, and she shared this one that her mother told her. I asked her if she thought of the fable often, and she said yes. She was close with her mother, who passed away not long after I was born, long after my grandmother had brought her mother to California from Mumbai.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Goin’ Cattin’

This was told to me after I asked about the informant’s shirt. The shirt had some slang that I was unfamiliar with. The informant is from rural Eastern Oregon.

“Um, so basically, my slang is “Cattin’” like “Cat-ting” like cats and felines because we have a lot of cats around the house, they’re all outside, and we and my sister are bored, we’ll be like “hey, wanna go cattin’?” which means we go outside and find all the cats and pet them and have fun with them. And then, that’s cattin’. My sister made me a t-shirt for Christmas one year”

Analysis:

Although a very niche reference, the whole family and the informant’s wide range of friends have taken on this piece of slang and are able to reference it when relating to the informant. This shows how slang can move very easily between groups – now he uses it in college as well which means it has reach an even larger audience than just in rural Oregon – all the way in southern California.

folk metaphor
folk simile
Folk speech
Legends

Mascotgate

This was told to a group of friends while talking about funny or weird high school experiences.

“So at my high school, at the end of junior year, you pick a mascot, and the mascot is a mix of a pop culture figure and an animals, so like “Swanye West” or Swan F Kennedy, and i don’t know why those are both swans but those are easy, but um, uh, one time they did a movie, “Fight Cub”; “Moose Lee”, “mean squirrels”, um, and so you then you use them for your senior mascot and you get shirts based on that, and you also your yearbook will be entered on that, so when they did “moose lee” they made it look like an action movie, so like first people submit things and then we all vote on them, and the largest vote was “Genghis Kangaroo” like Genghis Khan and a kangaroo, um, and this had been submitted, and voted for number one, and it works like you vote for one and whatever gets the most votes wins, um, but then, oh yeah, so I was on term council which is like student council for each grade, and people were really mad, like I don’t want this, it can’t be Genghis kangaroo because I hate it but he’s also a mass-murderer, and like a pillager and a rapist, and we don’t want Genghis Khan representing us, and like all of those are obviously fair arguments, but like you could have said this at any point, like Genghis kangaroo could have been taken out at any point and we didn’t have to wait until it won, for then everyone to say why it’s fucked up? and then, we had a bunch of meetings at term council for what to do, what won the democratic vote, and there have always been rumours that it is a “termocracy” meaning that term council did shit without consulting the students and that we didn’t care about them, which was crazy because the meetings were open, so like anyone could come, so then you chose not come, and then we make decisions, and then you get mad about those decisions? so then we had a forum. and the forum on whether to like, like a forum to vote on whether we should re-vote and like take Genghis kangaroo out or go to the other high vote, and then on the high school meme page, there was a shit ton of memes, like conspiracy theory memes that were like, like “we’re going to have a forum to vote on whether to have re-vote a second forum for the first forum to vote on the third forum” and just like wrecking term, and like wrecking all the things that we were doing, because like what else do you want, because if we had just chosen ourselves and didn’t have a forum then they would have said “termocracy” but like when we had the vote on the revote they said this is nonsense and i think what ended up happening is that we had a forum and we just ended up going with the one which was the number two, which was TroutKast, which was a combination between Outcast the band and trout the animal, which was really good and everyone loved and  mascots were trout with the outkast costumes and then the yearbook got to be like a road trip, album tour type thing, like a cross-country tour. So it worked out.”

Analysis:

To me, what is most interesting about this story is the folklore that spread through the students through their “Meme page” as way of communication. The dubbing of the student council as a “termocracy” also shows the different levels of students and their awareness of the world, as if high school is like a much smaller country and the leaders are turning it into a dictatorship.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

I’ll Hug Your Neck

Informant:

Reid is originally from Memphis, Tennessee, but moved to Los Angeles right before he started high school.

Original Script:

Reid: “In the South, one thing that people would say there but I have never heard anyone say here is the phrase ‘I just hugged her/his neck.'”

Context:

To “hug someone’s neck” means to either say bye to someone or to say hello to someone.

My Thoughts:

When he said the phrase, I initially thought it had some sort of sexual connotation, for hugging or kissing a neck usually has some sort of sensual anterior meaning. It always blows my mind when I hear something that comes from a different part of the United States that I do not understand, for I often forget that there are so many different cultures within the umbrella of the American culture.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Sparrow’s gift

A friend of mine, who’s an international exchange student from Japan now currently studying in China, contributes this story. She read this story from a Japanese traditional story book, but she says this story is actually quite well-known. We interviewed in Chinese so the following is only rough translation of what she shared.

Story:

There were two poor old women living as neighbors in the village. One day, one of the old lady found an injured sparrow in her yard, so she took in the sparrow and took good care of it. Everyone in her family as well as the neighbors laughed at her for “seeking for troubles”, but she ignored them. She fed the sparrow rice and water every day, and tended its wound with great care. Days after, the sparrow was fully healed and the old lady let it flew away. However, the sparrow came back a while later with some seeds in its mouth. The sparrow left the seeds to the old lady and took off again. The old lady took the seeds and planted it in her yard. The next morning, where she planted the seeds now there has fully grown trees of countless gourds. Each gourd was as huge as a human head. The old lady took a gourd and opened it — the gourd was full of rice! The overjoyed lady then shared the rice and her amazing story with the neighbors and friends.

The other old woman of course learned the story. Since her family blamed her for not able to do anything for them while the lady next door get herself and her family trees of rice, she decided to do the same thing — tend for the sparrows and get the seeds. For the next few days, she threw stones at the sparrows stopped by in her yard and successfully hit one. However, to make sure she would get the magical seeds, she continued to do so till she got three injured sparrows in total. She then tends for the wounded sparrows just as her neighbor did, and let them go once they were healed. The three sparrows did come back with seeds, and the old woman planted them in her yard as well. The next day, just as she expected, there grew trees of huge gourds. She took gourds inside with her family and cut them open, excited to store all those rice for themselves. However, it was not rice in it but poisonous snacks and bugs. The woman and her family were all bite and died.

Thoughts:

Animal tales seems to be popular i Japan. In fact, this informant shared several animal tales with me, and every each of these tales were seemed to aim at teaching people a moral lesson through animals — this story would be a lesson of not to be jealous and greedy but to be kind. The ending of the story seemed to be a bit extreme but I think only through exaggeration the folklore could send out the message and warn people. A funny thing is, there is a similar Chinese folklore that every thing is the same except the old women were brothers in the Chinese version.

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.

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