USC Digital Folklore Archives / folk metaphor
Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
folk simile
Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Hijo de la Chingana- La Malinche

Origin: Mexico

Told by: Araceli Del Rio

“So in Mexican vernacular you have the phrase “hijo de la chingada” and “vete a la chingada” which is the equivalent of saying “son of a bitch” and “go to hell.” But the word chingada is derived from a woman referred to as La Malinche. Who was a Nahuatl woman who became the lover/translator for Hernán Cortez. He led the Spanish the conquer the Aztecs. And she lives in infamy as the ultimate traitor. The woman who told her people to trust the Spanish. And would lead to the slaughter and ruin of the Aztec Empire. So saying hijo the la chingada is worse than “bitch.” It’s like the son of the worst traitor imaginable to your people. Same with “vete a la chingada” which is like, “go to the land of traitors.” People say this to each other when they want to offend them, obviously. It’s a swearword.”

Analysis: This is a form of folk speech that is obviously informal, and designed to inflict the greatest insult possible. That it dates back to ‘traitor’ rather than an animal (in English conceptions of bitch), reflects the values of Mexican culture as valuing loyalty above all. Not only that, but it reflects the scars that the colonization and conquest of Mexico by Cortez and the Spanish left in the cultural consciousness, and how it still affects the people to this day.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

“Il n’a pas la lumière à tous les étages.”

JN is a 19 year old student at USC studying neuroscience and French.  Most of her family lives in Chicago, but they’re from various European countries. She has travelled the world extensively, and she lived in France during the second semester of her sophomore year of high school. Here is a humorous example of French folk speech that she learned that year:

This is a French proverb that I learned when I was living in France.

It goes “il n’a pas de lumière sur toutes les étages.”
And that basically translates to the English version of “He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer” or “He’s missing his marbles” or something like that. So it literally means “He doesn’t have light on all of his floors” so it means, oh he’s kind of missing something, or he’s kind of “dim”.

Where did you learn this from?
I heard my host mom and dad say it a lot especially over the phone when they were talking to their friends. I understood the words and it kind of made sense to me that it was that French translation of our English expression. I overheard it from them and then asked what it meant and then I made the connection.

Why do you like it?
Because I learned it from my host parents and it’s definitely a colloquial French saying- it makes me feel more fluent in French to know those things that you can’t just learn the classroom. Plus I think it’s kind of funny!


My thoughts: I agree with JN when she says that when it comes to learning a new language, it is the colloquial expressions-the folk speech-that makes the leaner feel that they are truly a part of that culture. It was interesting to see that this French proverb had parallels in English with “the light’s on but no one is home” or even “not the brightest bulb in the box”- different languages and cultures have similar ways of expressing the same idea figuratively.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor

When Your Hands Make You Lose Money

The Main Piece
Look at your hand, making it as flat as possible with your fingers firmly touching one another. Do you see any holes or spaces between your fingers? Well, one can only hope not. According to my friend, Demie, any holes between the cracks of your fingers represent a great loss of money and income. For many Chinese people it is believed that money will fall through the slits of your hand, leaving you unable to catch it. She even remembers seeing portraits of men and women trying to catch their money, but it continuously falling back towards the ground. It served as a reminder to keep your hands tight and shut, especially when holding money. “My father always told me when I had cash in my hands to hold onto it tight, or it’ll fall through. But I think he also just didn’t want me to drop any of it on the ground.” This superstition reveals the Chinese belief in having one’s fate semi-predetermined.
Background Information
My informant is Demie Cuo, a current undergraduate student at USC and friend of my close friend, Elizabeth Kim. She has yet to meet someone that has holes between their fingers but has always figured “there has to be some people out there with them… what’s the point of making a belief that affects no one.” Demie recalls having her elementary school friends tell her this belief. “We were really into superstitions and beliefs like that. Especially one’s where we could figure out what our lives would be like in the future.”
As we were studying together and she was procrastinating on her homework in the study lounge, she started staring at her hand and brought up this folk belief that she was told by her friends.
Personal Thoughts
I found this interesting to hear about having one’s wealth predetermined for them. It is easy to state that “the world’s against you,” but it is another thing to believe that it is because of body shapes, birthmarks, etc. that one’s life turned out the way that it did. The story was unique and interesting, I had heard of beliefs having to do with the markings on the palm of one’s hand, but never the cracks of their fingers.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

The Landowner and the Rooster

The Main Piece
Many East Asian cultures instill values in children through the legends they tell. Catherine recalls a story her grandparents would tell her as a child about a greedy landowner, his workers, and a rooster. Although the landowner was rich, he was extremely greedy, trying to make as much money as possible. Every day his workers would wake up when the rooster crowed and begin plowing the fields. “The landowner wanted them to work more so he came up with…with a scheme! To make the farmers work more, he would sneak up into one of the villager’s rooster house and would make a crowing sound. When the rooster heard this it too would make a crowing sound, but a louder one that woke up the other roosters in the village. Then, the workers would wake up, thinking it was time to plow the fields, making them work longer hours. One night a boy went to take a piss outside and saw the landowner. He told all the farmers so they came up with their own plan. The next night, when the landowner crept up into the rooster’s house one of the men yelled ‘THIEF’ and all the villagers came out and beat him up. That’s pretty much the end.”
Background Information
The informant of this story is Catherine Wang, a current undergraduate student at USC and personal friend of mine. She recalls this story being told to her by her mother in an attempt to teach her daughter not to steal from or swindle others. As a child she enjoyed hearing this story because she felt it was funny imagining the landowner getting “beaten to a pulp.” To this day she still enjoys hearing and telling this story, but now it is because of the righteousness the plot line contains which she believes is absent in reality.
Catherine told me this story as we were riding the monorail together and we were talking about each other’s families. The conversation turned into more of a comparison of our two different lifestyles as we saw how our family’s differing beliefs influenced the stories we were told at an early age.
Personal Thoughts
At first I had no idea what to expect when Catherine asked me “Do you know the story that had the rich landowner and the rooster?” It sounded as if it would be a simple children’s book, but as Catherine later explained to me, it represented the abuse of the Chinese government during the time and encouraged workers to take a stand and revolt against the government. While I always understood many children’s stories to have some type of moralistic meaning behind it, I did not consider this legend to also be a metaphor for the governmental system and abuse and the current time.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor

Don’t Write In Red

The Main Piece
In Korea it is commonly known that if you write someone’s name in red, then they will die. It does not have written in any particular way or on any particular object, but simply in red ink. The color represents the blood of the person as if one was smearing it across the canvass. She has heard several stories of incidents happening where a person has died coincidentally after their name was written in red. While the myth can not be proven to be true or not, these rumors ventilate throughout Korea, keeping people on edge and careful of what they write.
Background Information
My informant is Elizabeth Kim, a current first year undergraduate student and personal friend of mine at USC, she is also a full and third generation Korean. She states that it is because of her almost annual trips to Korea that she has heard of these various rumors, stories, and superstitions. She tells me about how she enjoys hearing these stories just as she enjoys hearing a scary story. There is the possibility that it could be real which keeps her excited. She hears it from her friends that live in Korea and sometimes even cousins or aunts members at family gatherings.
I was interviewing Elizabeth towards the second semester of our freshman year outside of Parkside Apartment at USC. The setting was casual and conversation flowed easily as we discussed the folklore she knew of.
Personal Thoughts
Hearing this piece of folklore actually made me a little nervous at first. I can not count the amount of times I have written people’s names in red. In fact, I have written my own name in red hundreds of times. In elementary school teachers make you correct other students’ paperwork and write “Corrected By: ______.” However, this also makes me consider the fact that everyone dies at some point and one’s name is always being written down. So perhaps it only makes sense or perhaps just coincidence that one dies and their name is written in red.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

The Blue Frog

  1. Original Script: 청개구리
    1. Phonetic Script: Chung-kgeh-kgu-ry
    2. Transliteration Blue frog


  • I know this because my mom used to say it to me when someone was acting strangely for attention
  • I learned it from my mother
  • It just means that when you’re behaving oddly you’re like a blue frog trying to fight the normalcy of the usual green frog.
  • The context of the performance was just me and Mom discussing various folk speech in Korea because she always has some sort of phrase to say to me for all sorts of situations.
  • I think it’s a very typical piece of Korean folk speech. I noticed through hanging out with other Korean families and watching historical Korean movies that a lot of their customs and culture is built around animals and consistency (as valued in their primary religions of Confucianism and Buddhism). However, growing up I got the impression that to stand out is discouraged unless it’s because you’re more gifted than others. So it makes sense to me that there’s an entire phrase dedicated to those who fight normalcy.
folk metaphor
Folk speech

Las Perlas de la Virgen

Title: - Las Perlas de la Virgen

Interviewee: Armando Vildosola

Ethnicity: Mexican-American

Age: 21

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): Just me and my older brother Armando, as I asked him to share his most important pieces of wisdom that our family has shared throughout the generations. We do this every so often as some way to strengthen the bonds that we have as brothers, something of a brother meeting or a brotherly bonding session. We are sitting in our home in San Diego around our dinner table, having just finished dinner. Out house is full of family walking about visiting from Mexico. We are both on spring break from school at USC.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- “Las perlas de la Virgen”

Interviewer- “What is that?”

Interviewee- “Well it directly translates to the pearls of the Virgin. As in the Virgin Mary.”

Interviewer- “What does that mean to you?”

Interviewee- “Same thing it means to all Mexicans. It something that you use when you want to make fun of someone for valuing something too highly or when they expect too much. Something like, “You want me to pay you how much for that? What do you think that is, the pearls of the Virgin?” Things like that. It’s really common among all Mexicans.”

Interviewer- “Where did you first hear of this saying?”

Interviewee- “Oh everywhere in Mexico growing up. I remember that my mom specifically said it a lot, and soon when I was around 16 it found a way into the words that I use. I kind of starting using the words my mom used.”

Interviewer- “Why do you use it so much?”

Interviewee- “I don’t know really. I mean it’s just so easy to use and it’s really good for what it does. On one hand I guess that it does fill a need word-wise. But on the other hand using it reminds me of my mother, and my family that I have since lost. It makes me feel like a real Mexican when I use the phrase. I like it.”


This saying is common throughout Mexico, and one can see that it connects the Interviewee with his culture, even when he is living in the United States. It means more to the Interviewee than other people, but that it just this once case. This phrase is derived from the Catholic faith, and it makes sense that Mexicans would use such a phrase. Mexico is after all the most Catholic country in the world, total percentage of the population wise. It only makes sense for their faith to become a part of their daily lives, including the way they speak.

Tags: Mexico, Saying, Catholicism

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Mataron a mi tio!

I work in a kitchen with a large amount of Hispanics. And towards the end of the day when we’re all worn out some of my coworkers will say things to sort of boost spirits amongst the others. There was one I heard a lot: “Mataron a mi tio!” It is said in a tone where the phrase increases in volume. So it kind of goes like this: mataron a MI TIO! The phrase is quick and short, but gets people to smile and keep on working hard.

After asking around one of the workers there told me that it was a play on catchphrase a famous radio show would say on 103.1 FM.

I couldn’t find out what the original phrase was, but literally translated “mataron a mi tio!” means “they killed my uncle!”. I wish I knew more about the inside joke, but now every time I hear it at work I understand through context that the phrase is said to lift spirits and moral. It’s one of those occupational folklore that is only known by people that work there.

folk metaphor

Chinese Dragon Symbol

The informant is a junior at USC. She is of Chinese origin, but was born and raised in America. Kim talks about the metaphor of the Chinese Dragon and what it means to the Chinese culture.

Kim: “At a like festival, or you would go to a temple where they have these New Year celebrations. There are people who do dragon dances, so it’s basically like they wear like a dragon head…it’s like a bunch of people, they have like a long train that everyone- there’s a bunch of people holding it up.”


Me: So is the dragon a metaphor or symbol of something?”


Kim: “…It might just be along the line of like scaring away evil.”


Me: “So is that just a New Year’s…? Does the dragon just come around New Year’s?”


Kim: “I mean I think the dragon is like very stereotypically Chinese. I’m pretty sure we do it at other holidays too.”


Me: “So what is the Chinese dragon symbolic of?”


Kim: “I think it might be related to like the royal family…the dragon’s very regal…you know like very royal.”


Me: “ Is the fire breathing symbolic of something?”


Kim: “I don’t know. I’ve been to like the Forbidden Palace, it’s like a castle in China. So they have like all these dragon sculptures, so I think it’s supposed to represent like the emperor or something like that.”

The informant’s ideas about the Chinese dragon aren’t terribly clear, but I think it can be suggested that the Chinese dragon is a symbol often signifying great strength, power, and dominance. I think it’s a very revered figure, and If it is metaphoric of the emperor, a very powerful and highly esteemed individual, the dragon may symbolize the possess the same qualities for Chinese society. In American culture, dragon’s seem to connote a more dangerous, predator-like stereotype.

This is contradictory to the idea that dragons warn off bad affiliations, as  characterized in chinese culture.


For other developed conceptions of the chinese Dragon along with legends and idioms related to the dragon, see  “The Chinese Dragon: A Symbol of Strength and Power.” ChinaHighlights. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.

 folklore pic

folk metaphor

Rice at the Filipino Wedding


The informant is a freshman at USC. She’s from the Philippines, where she was born and raised. She talks about why it’s tradition to throw rice at Philippine weddings.


Chelsea: “Okay so in my culture, in the Philippines, when people get married, instead of flowers, they throw rice.”


Me:” Like the flower girl ?”


Chelsea: “Yeah, like the flower girl. She throws grains of rice. Like, uncooked grains of rice. All around. And then apparently it’s supposed to give you good luck and it makes you prosperous and it’s to make the couple lucky.”


Me: “Okay, so who told you that?”


Chelsea: “My aunt told me.”


Me: “And what does it mean to you?”


Chelsea: “I love rice (laughs) and I don’t think you should waste it like that.”


Me: “So when your grandma got married and your mom got married, did they throw rice?”


Chelsea: “I don’t know but when my aunt got married, my cousin and I were the flower girls and we had to throw rice.”


Me: “So in your country, it’s good luck and prosperity?”


Chelsea: “Yes.”


It’s interesting that this folklore piece is an integration of symbolism and superstition with wedding rituals. In the Philippines, rice is thrown and symbolic of prosperity, while American culture uses flowers as the element of life and good fortune. I then wonder if American culture has a flower girl, would the technical term for Philippines be a ‘ rice girl’ ?…

For more folklore on Philippine Wedding customs, visit  “Philippine Wedding Customs and Superstitions.” Asian Recipes. Web. 20 Apr. 2016.