USC Digital Folklore Archives / folk simile
folk simile
Folk speech

“Cold as a Cucumber” and “Hot as Blue Blazes”

The informant is my grandmother, a Cherokee woman born in 1932. She worked as a nurse for her entire career, though has been retired for sometime.

In this piece, my grandmother talks about two smilies she learned from my grandfather: “cold as a cucumber” and “hot as blue blazes”.

M: Your Aunt said that you can use similes?

Me: Yes, ma’am.

M: I used to say… well, I guess I still say it… I used to say “cold as a cucumber”.

Me: Okay. Do you remember where you first heard it?

M: Your grandpa started saying it, and I then I started saying it ‘cause of him. He probably heard it from one of his brothers when they would work on the farm. He also would say “hot as blue blazes,”

Me: Do you know what that means?

M: No… I don’t think so. I guess I never really thought of what it meant.

Me: I think it means that the blue part of the flame is supposed to be the hottest.

M: Oh… that must be why he said it. Well, he would say both of those things. When you and Alyssa would be coming in out of the rain into our house, daddy would say “These kids are a cold as a cucumber” and give you both big hugs.

Me: I remember that.

M: And when you both would jump out of the shower, or when your mom would have a fever, he’d say “this child is hot as blue blazes!”

Me: So, do you say it because it reminds you of Pa?

M: I say it because he got it stuck in my head, but it does remind me of him.

I directly remember my grandfather using the simile “hot as blue blazes”. When I would get out of the bathtub, my grandfather would tell me that I was “hot as blue blazes”. I think my grandma was honest in the last thing she said: the smilies are stuck in her head, but they’re stuck in her head because of my grandfather. Whether she knows it in the moment or not, she’s reminded of my grandfather when she says “hot as blue blazes”. I directly talk about why the similes make sense: the blue part of the fire is the hottest, so calling something “hot as blue blazes” means whatever you’re about to touch is bound to be really hot.

folk simile
Folk speech

“Life’s a shit sandwich”

Proverb that was said in RG’s family: “Life’s a shit sandwhich, the more bread you have the less shit you have to eat”

Who told you this proverb?

RG: “I think it was my Aunt Arlene. She would say it a lot.”

What does it mean to you?

RG: “The connotation is the more money you have the less shit you have to eat. Basically life is hard except if you have more money it’s less hard. I think it’s supposed to be a motivation to make more money. So people with more money have a better life I guess. My Aunt Arlene was very impressed with money”

This proverb was interesting mainly because it had kind of a negative message. While many proverbs seem to be enlightening, this one kind of promotes greed. I also thought it related nicely to the “New Jersey joke” that was also told by RG. Both contained vulgar language and a vulgar connotation which plays into the stereotypes of people from New Jersey being rude.

folk metaphor
folk simile

Creationist Cat

While conversing with an informant about cyberlore, internet cats, cat videos, and the like, she told me about “Creationist Cat,” so I asked her to elaborate in an interview.

Informant: “There’s this thing on the Internet called ‘creationist cat,’ and it’s sort of a parody of creationist ideals… I watched the videos all the time ‘cus I think they’re entertaining and funny. And… usually he does sort of like, parodies… the cat is actually, like, made to talk, and he does parodies of like the most, sort of, extreme and irrational creationist ideals, but it’s satire. He’s acting like he really believes in it, um and, I don’t know like one example is, he did a TED talk, or a ‘TED’ talk – not obviously a real one – about how Noah’s ark was real and he goes on about how like he can talk to other animals and they all vouched for it and it was actually a real thing that actually happened and, yeah it was really funny.”

Collector: “So why do you think that the creator of the cat videos is doing this, like, what’s the point?”

Informant: “Um, I think mostly for entertainment, but I also think it’s maybe rooted in, like a desire to illegitimize that whole theory of thought, you know, like making it seem silly so that people who are creationist might be like, ‘oh, this is actually silly.’ OR just for the entertainment of people who already reject that entire mass of ideology.”

Collector: “Yeah, and who did you learn about these cat videos from?

Informant: “Um, I think it was on like suggested, like, ‘what to watch’ on YouTube, you know like a suggestion and I saw one video and I started like, looking for more content from this, because I thought that it was just, really funny”

Collector: “What is your personal opinion on the topic?”

Informant: “Um, I don’t know, I just like cats in general, but it sort of makes it even funnier what he’s trying to do, ‘cus if it was just some person doing it, it would seem more hateful, but since it’s a cat, it makes it… I don’t know, it like softens the blow, almost? Yeah, so I mean, um, that’s probably I don’t know, that’s probably why I like it so much”

Collector: “Haven’t cat videos been made before?”

Informant: “I think it’s a play off of that… ‘cus like cat videos and like, cats are so related to the Internet, you know, I don’t know, they’re so big, and now… maybe just cause like cats are awesome, actually, I see it, when like you have someone who’s in the internet all the time, they’re a lot like a cat. Like, you know, like, very secluded, they’re sedentary, you know, they’re maybe not as friendly, so maybe that’s why they relate to cats so well. And that’s why they became such a big thing”

As almost any frequent visitor of meme sites and YouTube will tell you, cats are a big deal on the internet. Some people have gone beyond simple memes and videos, and used their computer skills to create more elaborate content, such as Creationist Cat. As evidenced by the informer’s experience, internet cats can be used for many purposes, including entertainment and political/religious commentary. Creationist Cat is a prime example of the combination of those two.

folk simile
Folk speech

Finishing your bowl of rice

The informant was asked about some sayings, proverbs, and customs in her family.

Informant: “A lot of families, to get us to finish all the rice on our bowl, they [parents] say that if you don’t finish the rice on your bowl, your spouse is going to have a lot of pimples and blemishes on their face, so every time, they always remind us of that story, like ‘you know how so and so has a lot of pimples? Their spouse must not finish their bowl, so you don’t want to do that. Mom and dad… they’ve been telling us this since we’re young so it’s expected that our bowls are clean. Otherwise the stories will be reminded every time there’s something in the bowl… what I’ve heard from my German friend, when you’re growing up, it’s either your spouse is going to have a lot of pimples, or there’s a lot of starving kids in Africa. But then I met a lot of international students while I was in college, and he actually says that his parents tell him because there’s a lot of starving kids in China. So there’s a lot of different countries there involved. ”

Collector: “Are Asians specifically more afraid of pimples than other people are?”

Informant: “I think that in Chinese culture we definitely do care about our appearance so having your spouse having pimples I guess it’s not really… it can be frowned upon in the community and since Asian cultures are very community centered, you want to look good so you don’t want… it’s always community centered so you need to care for your spouse’s pimples. You know, its not just about your pimples, it’s you know, you’re responsible for somebody else in the community”

A lot of people in the US probably recall being told by their parents when they were young to finish the food on their plate because there are starving kids in Africa who would be extremely appreciative of whatever food was on that plate. Thus, it’s quite interesting to observe an alternative version of essentially the same saying parents use to get their kids to finish their plate of food. There are likely many more variations of this well-known guilt strategy around the world.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
folk simile

The no-flip rule for fish

The informant told me about the following custom when I asked her about her family customs regarding food and eating.

“When we’re eating fish in my house, after we finish a big fish, after we finish the top layer, we cannot flip the fish. We have to eat from the side that we placed it on the plate. So my dad tells us the story of back in the day, when the fishermen go out to fish, when they come bring the fish home, they never flip the fish because it would be a symbol of their boat flipping upside down, and he learned that from his dad. So now whenever my mom cooks fish, we are never allowed to flip the fish over; we always have to eat it from the topside, down. So you eat the top, and then you take out the bone, and the long tail, and then you finish the fish like that. Other Chinese families do it [as well] because I think it’s passed down from my grandfather to my dad, and then my dad passes it down to us. So it’s a common thing if you ask a Taiwanese person, do you flip the fish, it would be a commonly known thing that you don’t flip the fish”

In folklore, it is well known that groups of people who interact directly with nature, and things that are out of their control, tend to have superstitions and beliefs regarding their actions. Thus, it’s not uncommon to see a belief or superstition such as the above one in a fishing culture. However, it’s interesting to see that some of these beliefs and superstitions are passed on to the next generations even though it might not even be directly relevant anymore.

folk simile
Folk speech

Midwestern Folk Simile

“You have just as good of a chance of meeting one as finding a kernel in a field of grain.”

The informant grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City before moving to Los Angeles with his wife and having kids. I am friends with his daughter who goes to USC, and we were coming back from dinner and discussing how his daughter couldn’t find a boyfriend here and how at parties there never seemed to be classy enough guys. I chipped in that I knew a few were out there but her dad came back with the folk expression above which made me laugh. I had never heard this expression before and was more used to hearing the “needle in the haystack” analogy.

I figured that he used this expression since he grew up in the Midwest but asked him how he learned it regardless. He told me he picked it up from his father and that lots of the expressions he uses today come from him spending lots of time with his dad. He also explained that in the Midwest, the expression isn’t as rare since farming is a huge part of daily life and industry there. Overall, I found it humorous that her dad used the expression in this manner, referring to how difficult it was to find a good enough guy for his daughter at a typical USC fraternity party.

folk simile

A Handkerchief in Time

Kropp was a secret geek in high school. He thoroughly enjoyed sports, rap, and women but had a soft spot for cartoons. He says he would secretly want to be a superhero if he had the chance – “a dope superhero” at that. He is currently a USC student studying environmental science, is enrolled in the NROTC program and loves to skateboard. He has very close ties with his extended family. He hopes to one day commission into the navy as an officer.

Concerning his family, my friend has a large one. He has family crawling up and down the New England coast. One of our ROTC events requires us to dress up – the Ball. Both men and women put on their best outfits and dance the night away. At the event I saw that he was wearing a very old rustic handkerchief. It was a light blue with a dark silk blue border. But there were small stains and wear on the handkerchief. I asked him why he was wearing such an old dirty handkerchief.

“What…this is frikin dope. My grand-daddy gave this to me. So excuse…you!” he pointed. So I was curious and began digging. There is quite a story to this. His grandfather was in the Italian Army just after World War II came to an end. He met this beautiful Italian woman at a pier on one of his weekends on leave (break from military training). They talked for hours and hours. And of course, fell in love. After dating for a while, she had decided that she needed to move to America, that Europe was no longer somewhere she could withstand being. It was time she went to the free country. As he dropped her off to say good bye at the station, she gave him her handkerchief and said that if he was ever in America, to come find her. After the War ended he joined her in America and they had three-children, one of which is Kropps mother. Kropp heard this story from his grandfather. When he was growing up he would ask him to tell it over and over again. His grandfather would pull out his pipe and his old military uniform and retell the story – changing one small thing everytime.

“I’m giving this to my son one day…yah know, if I have kids or some sh**” Kropp said at the ball.

Analysis: Not only is this a beautiful story, with great depth and character, but it has moved someone two generations out of its relevance. Kropp took the real happenings of a couple and decided that it was something worth looking forward too. And now he values this timeless item. Maybe one day, he’ll have a story to add to the handkerchief.

folk simile
Folk speech

El Que Madruga, Dios Lo Ayuda

El Que Madruga, Dios Lo Ayuda

“El que madruga dios lo ayuda translates into the English saying, early bird catches the worm or something like that. But for us, we don’t use birds or worms, we use god, haha… anyway, this is a saying that just about anyone uses so that people are on time but I think since it used the word ‘God’ it may have be made so that we get up early to go to church I guess. Anyway, I heard this all the time from everyone, especially my mother who wanted me to be up at the crack of dawn doing chores and stuff and now I too catch myself telling my daughters the same thing. I guess since it was so common in my life growing up that I now use it in my own vocabulary.”

My informant is a 41 year old Mexican descendant who was born in Mexico but has lived in the USA for the most part of her life. She maintains most of her ties to her Mexican culture while living in the USA so therefore, most of the things she knows has been passed down by her mother and other relatives. She does not necessarily learn her “cures” for different thing via a specific book or other published material, but rather from relatives in her daily life.

In my opinion, this is a very interesting proverb because it uses a concept that is similar to another culture yet makes it its own to mean the same thing. In other words, the proverb when said in Spanish directly refers to the culture’s religion and in English it refers to its surroundings yet when translated, they essentially mean the same thing. So even though the proverbs use completely different similes, the idea is the same. This is fascinating because one can see how one’s culture can determine how one explains a similar situation.

folk simile

Drag Performance

About the Interviewed: Davey is a student at the George Washington University double-majoring in English and LGBT Studies. His ethnic background hails from Spain. At the time of this interview, he was currently on leave at his home in Southern California. He is biologically male, but he identifies as gender-queer. Nonetheless, he prefers male pronouns. He is 20 years old.

My friend Davey moonlights as a Drag Performer. I asked if he could define what drag is.

Davey: “Well, everything is drag, that’s what RuPaul [drag icon] says. To most people, it’s just dudes dressing up as girls, which is like, kind-of what it is, but not really. It’s a statement on gender, it’s a statement on performing. People come to drag shows dressed as men, people come as women, people come as whatever the hell they want, that’s what drag is. It’s an illusory gender performance. Men and women both dress as things you can’t describe. Men become Queens, Women become Kings, some become things that you can’t describe.”

I asked him if he could describe what a performance is like.

Davey: “That depends on the queen. When I go out there, I lipsync to songs by Rihanna, Beyonce – I like to be fierce. Most queens lipsync, some don’t. Some actually sing live, if their voice is pretty enough. Those are the fishy queens.”

I asked Davey what “Fishy” means.

Davey: (laughs) “Oh lordy! It means vagina. The more fishy you are, the more you look like a real woman in dress and make-up. Some queens try really hard to be fishy. I don’t have the make-up, or the skills. Yet.”

We then talked about Davey’s personal experiences as a drag queen.

Davey: “Well for starters, I’ve never performed at one of the [drag] clubs. You have to be pretty much be top shit to get in these days. I’ve just done it for parties and things. Just for fun.”

I asked him if the pursuit of “fishiness” was about emulating a standard of beauty.

Davey: “Yeah, I mean, everybody wants to be a supermodel, but I just wanna have fun. I think that as a drag performer, we’re attracted to these images of grandeur and beauty, and some respond by mocking it and others try to become it. It all depends on how you interpret it. It’s art. It’s meant to be that way.”


Drag is a performance that plays with the notion of Gender in Western Society. Performances take the form of wild cabaret shows, that showcase vibrant individuals who dress in ways that denounce typical gender norms. Drag can either be a form of Male to Female impersonation, or it can be something crazy and hard to pinpoint. Davey defines drag as a visual art.

As an artist myself, I resonated with Davey’s final statement on gender performance – that art is meant to be multi-faceted. Even within cultures, the meaning of certain performances or pieces of folklore are heavily debated. Ultimately, it’s up to the audience to pick and choose which elements resonate the strongest within themselves.

folk simile
Folk speech

Trees are Pretty Fucking Beautiful


“I think I shall never see a poem as pretty as tree.”


My informant heard this quote from his aunt when he was 10, randomly. He thinks that it means that nature can do amazing things, and people can never make thing as nice. He said that it’s probably a “hippie thing”. He still likes it although he doesn’t think about it all the time because it rhymes and it still makes sense. “Trees are pretty fucking beautiful, and I’m not a huge fan of poetry.”


My informant’s aunt would say this to him randomly while he was growing up.

Personal Thoughts:

It’s hard to analyze this saying without knowing the informant’s aunt, but I think his interpretation seems pretty plausible. I’m not sure if his aunt made this up herself, or heard it from somewhere else.