USC Digital Folklore Archives / folk simile
folk simile
Kinesthetic

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.”

Summary:

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

Text:

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

Background:

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.”

Context:

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.

folk simile
Folk speech

It’s like carrying wood to a forest

Although she is from Vietnam, my informant attends college in Finland. When I interviewed her, she was at USC for a semester abroad. Even though she has been living in Finland for the past few years, the folklore she is familiar with is very strongly influenced by her Vietnamese upbringing.

 

Below is one of the folk similes that she says her family regularly uses. (picture of text in Vietnamese attached)

 

Translated, it means “It’s like carrying wood to the forest.”

 

This simile’s message is one of redundancy. A forest is already filled with wood. It would be pointless to bring more.

 

My informant also gave me a hypothetical situation in which this simile would be used. “My mom has a seafood store. If I was to go to the beach, and bring food from the ocean, she’d use this expression, because we already have plenty of sea food, and I don’t need to bring more.”

 

I asked her why this particular folk simile centers on wood as being abundant, and if Vietnam is particularly forested. She said it wasn’t.

 

This simile is similar to the English simile of, “It’s like carrying coals to Newcastle.”

 

folk simile
Folk speech

Hang Loose

Hang loose like the balls of a moose

My informant learned this expression at Carroll College in Wisconsin. People said the phrase when they were going to go out to party. Sometimes hang loose can mean to relax, but in this context is was to let down your barriers and party hard. This was a common expression among the students especially on weekends. My informant has not used the phrase very often since college as my informant said it was more of a youthful expression.

This expression could have come into existence as a result of two cultures combing. The vulgarity of it and the sentiment came from a college environment where people were encouraged to party and drink, especially as the drinking at was 18 in Wisconsin at the time. The “ball of a moose” part came from being in Wisconsin where moose sightings would have been much more common than in other states like California or even Illinois where my informant was from. The balls moose are evidently very loose and it fit well in the area combined with the demographic the saying appealed to.

folk simile
Folk speech

“Mad as a cut snake”

Originally something he heard from his dad, this is a folk simile my informant sometimes uses. He told me his dad spent a lot of time in Australia, which is where he picked it up. It’s used to talk about someone who is angry or annoyed, comparing them to a snake that has been cut. I’d never heard the simile before, but it makes sense, since people always say to be careful around snakes and that disturbing them all could make them angry enough to attack you. Cutting them would provoke an even larger response then. It’s also clear why this came from Australia rather than America, for example; Australia is a place where dangerous snakes are more common.

My informant said he liked the saying because it’s different; he hasn’t heard other people use it really. It also reminds him of his father, a man he loves and respects. I heard him use it once when describing a bar fight which erupted after one man slapped another in the face. The man who had been slapped was embarrassed, since he took it as a shameful thing to be slapped, and he became very angry. My informant said he got as “mad as a cut snake.”

folk simile

“Hotter Than a Box in a Forest Fire”

My informant first heard this phrase when he was a young boy, originally as “Hotter than a fox in a box in a forest fire” but over time, began saying the phrase without the fox included. He says it is just quicker to say.

He is from Sacramento, California and grew up hunting and fishing outside the city and in the mountains near Lake Tahoe. He is not quite sure if he heard the phrase from his father, grandfather, or uncle, but thinks he may have learned it while on a hunting trip with them.

The phrase refers to a person feeling very hot temperature-wise, to the point often of sweating or feeling uncomfortable. My informant says he uses the phrase most when in a hot car, or in a crowded, stuffy room.

A forest fire is known for being dangerous due to the fast pace with which the fire spreads. With loads of trees to burn as fuel, and abundant oxygen, the fire is very hard to contain. Forest fires most often occur when it has been very hot and very dry, usually during the summer. The heat of the fire, plus the heat of the summer air, makes an intensely hot combination.

Now a fox, is a forest dweller, known for its red colored fur, and red is the color of heat. People once hunted fox for their fur, which was used for warmth, so we know a fox is already well insulated from cold. In a box, surrounded by fire, that is basically raging uncontrollably, in an already hot temperature, we can safely assume the fox would be burning alive. So the simile maintains that a person is extremely hot, if they are hotter than a fox in a box in a forest fire!

folk simile
Folk speech
general

As All Get Out!

The following Southern expression was explained by someone who has mostly lived in the South (U.S.). He first, and most frequently encountered it in the state of Alabama:

“It’s really an emphatic expression. Basically you can say something [any noun] is as something [any adjective] as all get out!

For example, ‘That’s as cool as all get out!’ “

The informant has no background knowledge on the source or meaning of the phrase, and recognizes that it is definitely a rare one even in the context of the South.

Despite it’s apparent rareness this phrase showcases some of the most important characteristics of Southern speech. The phrase makes an active effort to avoid cursing, while still suggesting that the enactor was tempted to. That makes the phrase an expression of extreme feeling whether excitement or disapproval. You would be alerted to the severity of whatever prompted the phrase by the employing of Southern speech to express it properly. The phrase is also composed so that it may be reusable, any number of words could be inserted and although the meaning would change, it would remain a distinctly southern phrase.

folk simile
Folk speech

To Get Within a Gnat’s Eyelash [of something]

My informant works part-time for a small-sized consulting firm, and takes a lot of readings and data measurements as part of his job.  He hears this metaphor frequently when being assigned to do these readings, especially when he wants the data to be as accurate as possible.  He also uses this metaphor when critiquing the work of interns.  For the success of the consulting firm, it is important that data is read as accurately and precisely as possible.  My informant explained that if two consulting firms are competing for a contract, and one company’s readings are taken in tenth of units, and the second company’s readings are taken in hundredths of units, the second company will likely get the contract because of their attention to accuracy.

Although he’s heard and used the metaphor many times, my informant cannot remember where he first heard it.  He interprets the metaphor to be used as an indication of something of very small size, and that this logical reasoning is likely what has popularized this metaphor.  If a gnat is small and an eyelash is small, then a gnat’s eyelash must be very tiny.  He also knows he has heard the phrase used in two ways: 1) with ‘within’ to indicate a small margin of error, and 2) with ‘as small as’ to describe how miniature something appears.

I have also heard this metaphor with respect to taking and recording data, and I believe it’s commonly used as a clever way of saying something commonplace in dull mathematical fields.

folk simile
Folk speech

It’s raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock

My informant first heard this folk simile as a child growing up on a farm in Nebraska.  One day when he was out with his father, it began to rain.  While rain was not out of the ordinary at that time of year, the rain was coming down with unusual ferocity.  My informant recalled that the wind was blowing the rain in every which direction and when the rain hit the ground, it splattered everywhere.   Another farmer turned to my informant’s father and rattled off this folk simile.

Growing up on a farm, my informant knew from experience exactly what happens when a cow pisses on a flat rock.  “It’s splatters everywhere and makes a huge mess,” he explained.  This is not a secret, and anyone can understand how this directly compares with a heavy rainstorm.  But for one to fully appreciate the humor in this simile, they would have to have a first-hand experience to relate to.  For this reason, this folk simile is mostly shared among farmers and others residing in rural communities.

There’s no underlying message that can be found within this simile.  It’s used because it takes something that’s funny to think about, to the folk group, and applies it to an unfavorable situation.  It turns an unfavorable rain storm into something to laugh about.

folk simile
Folk speech
Proverbs

“Eat garlic and see it rise, Eat onions and forget what happened.”

My informant heard this proverb in Lebanon, his home country.  He did not recall the first time he heard it or who he heard it from.  He said it is simply an Arabic folk saying that he picked up from friends and family.
This is not the first proverb I have heard that speaks of onions and garlic as aphrodisiacs.  Unfortunately, my informant was uncertain of the exact meaning of the second line of the saying.  It could mean that eating onions causes one to lose his erection, or that onions cause poor memory.  My reaction was to interpret “forget it” as something like “it won’t be going away for days.”  In effect, “garlic works, but onions work better,” was my immediate interpretation.  On the other hand, it could be a mnemonic (much like our “yellow on black, venom lack; black on yellow, kill a fellow”) for remembering which of the two related herbs is the one that does the trick.  As it rhymes in Arabic (Toum, bikoum, Basal, hasal), the proverb incorporates an element of appropriateness, one of the features of most any joke; and obviously, the proverb is for humor and entertainment rather than any kind of edification or instruction.

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