USC Digital Folklore Archives / folk simile
folk simile
Folk speech

“Hacer Conejo”-To Rabbit

“Hacer Conejo” – an expression meaning to bail out on the check at a restaurant incorporates folk simile, folk gesture and humor. Holding up two fingers (index and middle fingers in a spread out V) behind your head means you are thinking about doing “conejo” and lets the others in your group to get ready to run without paying the bill. It is also a way to freak out a friend who is still eating and scare them in to thinking you are about to bail out. When I asked my grand Aunt Marlly, who had married my Grandfather’s brother, she said she had never hear of the story and the expression that it sounded rather sordid. I realized that the story was attached to what social economic level you grew up in. My grand aunt came from an upper class family, while my Grandfather and all of his brothers came from a poorer lower class family where being able paying the bill was not always possible. My Grandmother came from an impoverish class that would never even think about eating in a restaurant in the first place, but she was aware of the expression and knew people who had gotten away with it. The trick was to be a very fast runner and not to have eaten too much.

Analysis: This folk simile, to my maternal grandfather, is more of a humorous gag expression, meant to scare or outrage the other diners you were with. Making the gesture is a way to get a point across without tipping your hand. I personal think is kind of funny, especially when I explain it to other people. In the U.S. the folk gesture of the rabbit ears made with the fingers has a different meaning and when I explain what it means in Colombia, I usually get a laugh or extreme fascination.

folk simile
Folk speech

Like dogs in church- “Como perros en misa”

“Como perros en misa”- Like dogs in church. This saying is used when one is having the worst day possible where you feel attacked from all sides with no warning. Back in the day in Colombia, churches used to have their door always open and on hot days, stray dogs would sometimes seek refuge inside a cool tile church only to be physically kick out by a variety of feet, leaving what should have been a sanctuary, bruised and confused. So when you ask someone how was their day and they answer “Como perros en misa” you now know that they have had a surprisingly terrible day. The correct response is “I am so sorry, that sounds horrible” as you would expect to react to a puppy being kicked without reason.

Analysis: There have been times this semester when everyday for a whole week I felt like a “perro en misa” because everything would go wrong and an undesirable event would happen like surprise reading quiz. The American version would be something like “ when it rains, it pours” but that along with “Mercury is in retrograde” seem more impersonal and generalized, while “perros en misa” is more specific and means that you are personally are being brutalized, not the whole world.

folk simile
Folk speech

Aum Namh Shivai

“Aum Namh Shivai”

This is Sanskrit phrase/mantra. Aum means Shiva, another word for God. It means God is infinite, God is love. Aum has several meanings, including love, infinite, life, peace, etc. Aum can also interchange with “Om,” which is the more commonly recognized version of the word, but because it has so many meanings, the phrase, “Aum Namh Shivai” can mean different things as well, including “God is life, God is peace,” etc. My father would keep repeating that as a mantra, especially if he was doing something especially meditative; he told me it’s a phrase we say to be grateful and to also center oneself.

My dad and grandfather say this when they’re meditating, especially during breathing exercises in yoga. So when my dad was teaching me yoga breathing, he was telling me to find a mantra to repeat and focus on.

folk simile
Folk speech

Dhoop Chaun

“Dhoop Chaun.”

Dhoop Chaun is a phrase that literally translates to “sun shade.” My father said, “My grandfather used to say, ‘Dhoop chaun’ and it means ‘sun shade’ and represents light and dark and ups and downs in your life. It’s like sometimes it’s up ands sometimes it’s down, there are challenges, opportunities, there’s joyfulness, sadness, life is a mixed bag. My Nana Gi told me that.”

Nana Gi in Punjabi is your maternal grandfather, so my father’s mother’s father used to tell my dad this phrase when he was very young. He was trying to instill in my dad from a young age that life is not all happiness and sadness, it’s not just black and white. I think it’s a really great phrase that definitely has other translations or meanings in different countries, because I’ve heard variations of this phrase, like “No mud, no lotus.” It represents the same thing, that life is both the sadness and joy, but the good and the bad, and that the two must exist in harmony together.

folk metaphor
folk simile
Folk speech


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.”


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 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.




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.


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 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.