USC Digital Folklore Archives / Riddle

Feminist Riddle

I am a big fan of riddles, and I decided to search online for some specifically geared towards exercising the brain. Below, I recorded one I had never heard before, and most stood out to me


Question: Three doctors said that Robert was their brother. Robert said he had no brothers. Who is lying?

Answer: Neither, the doctors were his sisters.


I enjoy this riddle because clearly it is clever, but beyond that, I like that it is a slight take on feminism and misogynistic undertones. It merely suggests our mind is trained to associate siblings with firstly brotherhood, and also careers such as doctors. Usually, a classic feminist motivation is to clear up sexism in the work force, specifically in demand-driven jobs such doctors, surgeons, lawyers, etc. To me, this is an interesting example of folklore because I think it offers historical, political, and social context of feminism. It reflects, depending on when this riddle actually emerged, on a certain social climate of the time. It would be even more interesting to learn of the origination of this riddle.


Website Citation: For more references of other similar riddles, visit the following URL:




Riddle of the Days

I am a big fan of riddles, and I decided to ask my friend, marked KB, if she knew of any. She shared with me one.


Question: Can you name three consecutive days without using the words Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday?

Answer: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow.


Phone conversation in which I recorded KB’s recounts of folk similes as well as a riddle she grew up learning.


KB is a freshman at the University of Southern California and grew up in Austin, Texas.


I enjoy this riddle because it is clever and something I never would have thought of. It would be interesting to further research this riddles origins and possibly link it to specific heritages or cultures.


Riddle about the Future

What is something that is always coming, but we will never get to? Tomorrow!!

This riddle is kind of tricky but one of those sayings that it is so obvious. Essentially, this riddle makes you think about what could potentially happen but you would never be able to get to, and there are so many possibilities for this. It could be about crossing an ocean, and never being able to get to the other side, but that’s actually possible. It could also be about going into space or and never getting to Mars, however it’s as simple as thinking about how we are always living in today and there’s a past present and future. Tomorrow is always going to be tomorrow, but we will never be up tomorrow because tomorrow will always be the day that you’re in, today.


Folk speech

Knight, King, Queen

The informant of this one asked me the riddle. At first I couldn’t make it out, so she told me it again. Upon hearing it the second time, it became evident. The riddle goes as so: One knight, a king, and a queen go out on a boat. On the water, the king falls off. How many people are left on the boat? The answer: two. The answer seems like it should be one, because when phrasing the riddle it sounds like “one night,” not “one knight.” The informant is unsure of where she heard this one and assumes it was probably when she was young. It was not from her family so she assumes that it might be from summer camp. I enjoyed this riddle because most riddles I don’t get. There was a smile on the informant’s face when she told me this and I think she was smiling because she knew I would get it. The informant plans to pass this riddle along to her own family and friends throughout her lifetime.  I think I’ll share this riddle amongst my friends after hearing it.

Folk speech

The Language of Ubbi Dubbi

Informant Info: The informant is an 18-year-old from St. Louis, Missouri. She is currently a freshman studying Public Policy at USC.

Interview Transcript:

Interviewer: From all of our previous interactions, I know you have a habit of a funky little language. Can you tell me more about it?


Interviewee: The language is called ubbi dubbi, and it originated on a show called Zoom, which is a PBS kids show. All you need to do is put ub in front of every vowel when speaking. We started speaking it in middle school and then in high school everyone seemed to be super into it. It got bad enough that at a certain point that teachers had to put “No phones, no calculators, and no ubbi dubbi” on tests because kids would cheat through it. But yeah, I still like to make memes with it or I’ll just randomly speak it for fun to throw people off.



You must love the good old forms of variation and multiplicity. This collection is an example of how popular media can influence folklore, particularly through kids. The language was a silly piece of a kids show, yet the humorous sounds inspired the informant to make a hobby out of speaking it.  I’ll give her credit… it’s harder than it seems to speak it successfully. But, nonetheless, it shows popular media being taken and morphed into an actual language.


Days of the Week Riddle

The informant is my film partner (referred to as MR) who has a Jewish mother  who apparently loves jokes and riddles. The informant grew up hearing this riddle and never being able to solve it and now tells this riddle all the time. His mother learned it when she was younger from her father when they lived in Cherry Hill, NJ.

This is the riddle:

Q: Name three consecutive days without using these words: Monday…….Tuesday…….Wednesday…….Thursday……Friday.

A: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow!

MR: “What makes this riddle successful is the misdirection in the instructions. The trickery comes from the word “days,” because your mind goes to the names of the days of the week. Once you know the trick the riddle is super obvious. I think it is funny we always tell this riddle to dinner party members if they haven’t joined us before or if I meet someone new.”


I think the context of this riddle is particularly interesting. This riddle seems to be a running joke within his family and whenever a new member joins the dinner table or party, the riddle is told. It is almost a rite of passage and way to prove yourself to the rest of the family or members of the party. Like the informant stated, once you know the answer, the riddle is painfully obvious and so people who know the answer are all in on the joke, while they wait for the answer. It is almost an initiation.

Folk speech


Our conversation went as follows:

Matthew: “You walk into a warehouse and see a man hanging 30 feet in the air from a noose. All you see is a puddle of water and a fan that is turned on. What happened?”

Me: “Is this a riddle?”

Matthew: “Yes, what happened?”

Me: “Did he spill the water?”

Matthew: “No.”

Me: “But he is in fact dead?”

Matthew: “Yes, with a noose around his neck.”

Me: “I’m not sure, tell me.”

Matthew: “He stood on the top of a tall block of ice and put the noose around his neck. He had turned the fan on, so it slowly melted block of ice. After time he is left he’s hanging in the air, melted ice is the puddle of water you see.”


Background Information: Matthew is a 19-year old male born and raised in Los Angeles, CA. He is currently a sophomore at USC.

Context: Matthew shared this story with me in a conversation about holiday traditions with our families over coffee.

Analysis: I find riddles very compelling because unlike a joke, they require creative thought to be solved or understood. I never think to use riddles, as I do not know many, so I am always fascinated when someone finds a way to integrate a riddle within their everyday speech. I had heard a very different rendition of the riddle that Matthew said to me before, but it was different enough that I couldn’t initially see the relation to remember the answer. This is another quality of riddles that makes them so interesting: they demonstrate extreme multiplicity, and you will always find different wording to the riddle and answer depending on who is saying the riddle.

folk metaphor
folk simile
Folk speech

Botellita de jerez Todo lo que digas sera al revez

Folk Metaphor

This saying was told by my grandmother  to me which has helped me throughout my life especially when people were being mean to me in school. In English it just means that everything that you say will be backwards so it will go back to you This meaning really helps you fight off those mean words that people tell you in school. You say this and everything that they say is basically going back to them and it really means that what they’re telling you is them telling themselves that.


The significance of this metaphor to the informant was that no matter what people said , with this saying you can turn all the bad things on to them. it was like a magic Karma spell. It has a lot of meaning because it takes way the pain of being called names or being picked on.  The informant like sit because it rhymes and its unique .


This is from Mexico and this saying is very  popularly and  this expression refers to everything you want for someone is going to return, or you’re going to return everything you said; or everything you say will be used against ..With this in mind, it is better not to wish anyone badly, or to say things that can be used against you.


Eenie Meenie Miney Moh

“When I was little I always heard different versions of the riddle ‘Eenie Meenie Miney Moh’. It was a rhyme that was supposed to help you decided between different options. You would say the rhyme and point to a different object or thing for each word in the rhyme and whatever thing you were pointing too on the last word was the object that was chosen. It started to get more complicated though, because I would keep hearing different endings being added from different people.”

“So it started off like ‘eenie meenie miney moh, catch a tiger by the toe, if he hollers let him go’ and that was how I started doing it originally. Then different additions started to be created, I think because people weren’t happy with what it landed on so they just kept going with words that rhymed. The first additional ending was ‘my mother said to pick the very best one and you are it’. So everybody in my lower school started adding this on to the end so it seemed like it was just how the saying went. Then another addition was added and that was ‘red white and blue I choose you’. This seemed a little extra to me, but of course I still did it. After that I cut myself off with the additional endings, but I continuously hear other ones being added or completely different ones. One I heard recently was ‘take me to the movie theaters and I’ll by a chocolate bar for you to take me to the movie theaters right now’. They all followed the original tune of Eenie Meenie Miney Moh, so it was easy to follow along if you just wanted to add another ending.”

“My family was Swiss growing up, and I didn’t learn this from my mom. I just kind of heard it around and in school and picked it up on my own. I spent the majority of my childhood in Texas, so I probably learned most of the different endings there. Currently, I live in Los Angeles, and hear through my children and their friends so many different knew endings that rhyme.”


My interpretation of the story:


Growing up, I also had heard many different renditions of the riddle or rhyme “Eenie Meenie Miney Moh”. In this story, what stood out to me was the tellers recognition of the additional endings being for people that didn’t necessarily want what they got. I agree with this assumption, because I personally remember being a kid and not liking exactly what I got and adding another ending or not adding one because I wanted what I first landed on. Because the riddle or rhyme “Eenie Meenie Miney Moh” does not seem to have one origin and is used over most of the country and most likely the world, it is not surprising that it is altered differently throughout different places. I believe that in geographical terms, there should be similar additional endings for people from or in similar places. On the other hand, people are constantly moving and sharing their cultures and traditions with other people, so it is not alarming to see so many different additional endings in one place. Because of this, I don’t think that you can specifically assign the origin of one ending to a place, and that only the original Eenie Meenie Miney Moh part of the rhyme is perpetually consistent across the world.

Folk speech

St. Ives

“In my third grade class we had a week where each student had to present a riddle to the class and see if the class could figure it out. That was a long time ago, so I don’t remember them all, but one was so absurd that I’ll never forget it. It was this boy in my class who usually didn’t say much. He got to the front with no paper of notes with the riddle on it and just began without any indication.”

“The riddle was.. ‘I was going on a trip to St. Ives when I met this man. This man had seven wives. Each of his wives had seven cats. Each cat had seven homes. Each home had seven balls of yarn. Each yarn had seven different thimbles. Each thimble had seven different boxes. Each box had seven different shelves. How many people or things did I run into on my way to St. Ives?’.”

“So immediately I see all my classmates on scratch pieces of paper writing 7×7 over and over or 7+7×7 or something like that. I remember not even wanting to put in the effort to figure out how many sets of seven there were. People started punching numbers into their calculators and shouting out random answers. They all started off being really high numbers because the riddle made it sound like there were so many things. After a few minutes of chaos, our teacher took back control of the class. She then started to chuckle at us and said that we needed to pay more attention rather than get lost in the numbers.”

“The boy then had the ability to tell us we were all wrong. ‘The answer is 1’ he said. We all looked around at each other like what? How could the answer possibly be 1? He further explained that the most important part of the riddle was the beginning. He met one man on the way to St. Ives, not all of his wives and their kittens and the kittens yarn. I remember feeling played! It was so easy but we all made it so difficult.”


My interpretation of the story:


In the riddles I have seen throughout my life, I can usually find a common theme of the answer was a lot easier than I originally had imagined. I think that there is something in our minds that allow us to make things more complicated, especially when we think the answer is supposed to be complicated. This riddle reminds me of a similar one about a bus. It begins by saying that you are driving a bus with 18 people on it. It continues by saying that there are all these stops and this many people get on and that many people get off at each stop. I remember listening to it and thinking that I have to keep track of all of these numbers to get the riddle right. The end question of the riddle was “What is the color of the bus drivers eyes?” When I finally heard what I was aiming to figure out, I was annoyed because the whole time I had been focusing on the number of people getting on and off the bus at each stop, that I couldn’t even remember who was driving the bus and couldn’t possibly know the color of their eyes. The part to focus on of the riddle was the beginning, that stated I was the one driving the bus, and there for the answer to the riddle was the color of my own eyes, something so simple. Riddles have a way of causing distractions to take the person being questioned’s focus away from the part that will give them the answer. This can be seen a lot through magicians also. The trick to magic is distraction and confusion, which allows the person who is watching to think that things are actually happening when, in fact, they are not.