USC Digital Folklore Archives / April, 2011

Folk Song

“Maresy-dotes andoesy-dotes an liddleambsy-divie, A kiddleedivydoo, woodnchoo?”
Repeat that, with on “Oh” between, and that’s the first verse. Verse two is:
“Oh, it may seem queer, or funny to your ear, a little bit dappled or
jivey, but sing ‘Mares eat oats, and does eat oats, and little lambs eat ivy.'”

This is a happy song that Gabi learned from her grandmother, whom she described as “born and raised working-class Rhode Island Irish.” Research revealed that this is a novelty song that has been around at least since 1943 when the first recording of it was released. Since then, it’s been recorded by several other artists and found success on the pop charts several times, most recently in 1967. []

Annotation: Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver recorded a version of this song that incorporated some of his own lyrics. It can be heard here: and found on promotional copies of the album “12 Bar Blues.”


Folk Song

“So high, you can’t go over it,
So wide, you can’t go ’round it,
So deep, you can’t go under it,
You gotta go right through the door.”

Gabi learned this song from her father when she was a child and remarked that she had always found it a little disturbing. Upon reading those lyrics alone, it would seem to be unsettling because it invokes feelings of a traditional rite of passage (i.e. the inevitable crossing the threshold into adulthood) or intimations of mortality (i.e. in inevitable crossing of the threshold into the afterlife and the potential of subsequent judgment).

Upon research, I found that this song is derivative from a traditional gospel piece called “Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham.” The full lyrics are:
“Rocka’ my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Rocka’ my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Rocka’ my soul in the bosom of Abraham
Oh, rocka’ my soul.

So high you can’t get over it
So low you can’t get under it
So wide you can’t get ’round it
You gotta’ go in at the door.

Rock, rock, rocka’ my soul
Rocka’ my soul
Rock, rock, rocka’ my soul
Rocka’ my soul.”
Though the song might be referencing “sheol,” in Judaism, the place where the righteous dead await judgment, it seems more likely that it is referring to the “bosom of Abraham” referenced in the Christian Bible in Luke 16:20-23, when the righteous beggar Lazarus is carried there while an unrighteous rich man is sent to Hell. []
In popular culture, the gospel song has been recorded by Elvis Presley, The Temptations, and George Clinton and the Funkadelics.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Occupational Folktale- Origin of the term “MOS”

The informant is a 27-year old grad student. He was born in Los Angeles, California, grew up in Seattle, Washington, was educated at UC Berkeley and now studying film production in Los Angeles. He’s worked as a freelance writer and filmmaker around Los Angeles and is a teaching assistant at the School of Cinematic Arts. He shall be referred to as NW.

In this story, NW explains how the use of the term “M.O.S.” came to be used on film sets, a phrase used to refer to when directors shoot without sound:

And the story goes, I know this one’s hypocryphal, but the story goes is that some German director, like all the early great directors were German, and he’d come out to Hollywood and was trying to say “we’re gonna take this one without sound, W.O.S in that case, but since his accent came through, it sounded like “Mith-out-sound” and it just stuck so it’s M.O.S., but really means, I know it was a nerdy thing to do but I went through a lot of stuff to find out, it actually means, it either means “motor only sound,” or “motor only sync” and it’s just like a technical reference to the fact that they’re only running the camera because really early sound stuff used to run on its own separate motor, so I think that’s what it actually means, but that’s the story, “mith out sound.”

NW explained further that he feels there is no contemporary reason for the use of the phrase “M.O.S.” on film sets because of modern film technology. He believes that the use of the term is mostly in being able to draw a distinction between new filmmakers and more experienced ones. This use of jargon can easily go over the head of a new hire, so it becomes a learning experience.

I feel that there’s also some cross-cultural resentment present in this story. German Expressionism is a highly lauded facet of film aesthetics by some, but seen as incredibly pretentious by others (such as those working in manual labor positions in Hollywood). There was a great divide between Hollywood film crews and this hypothetical German director, a divide they would try to reconcile. Thus, this story features a slight humbling of the image of a German director: Though he is hailed as an auteur, he is slightly mocked for his accent. As NW explained, there is an actual technical origin for the phrase (possibly), but the prevalence of the other story suggests its humorous appeal as well as an address of cultural divides within the film industry.


Jewish Tradition

HM   “Every year my parents, they open the door to, um, let Elijah the spirit into the house. And, it’s part of the Passover, Seder and the whole ceremony. And what’s supposed to happen is, um, Elijah comes in and the spirit drinks, um, a cup of wine that’s laid out for them. And traditionally, the youngest child in the room would open the door for Elijah and while the doors open one of the parents or people there would drink the cup really quickly while the persona distracted opening the door. So, uh, this year I got to be the person to drink the wine cause I was, just happened to, Passover was yesterday, it was very recent. Anyway, its’ fresh in my head because of that, uh. We do do the ceremony every year, um, uh, actually I can’t even remember what he represents exactly, but, I, I just remember every year it’s very important to make sure you fool the youngest person there into thinking that he actually drinks the wine, which I guess is kind of like fooling people almost like in Christianity with Santa Claus, like believing that he really comes and brings the presents, like he really comes and drinks the wine.

AO(interviewer)   “They do it for older, even if you’re the youngest and your 22, and you’re like, “I know””

HM    “I mean, were aware of it of course but, yeah”

AO   “So it’s apart of like, this tradition”

HM    “And that’s very common in a lot of families, it not just mine that does that.”

AO    “So is it more for fun? Or is it taken seriously? Does it depend on the family?”

HM   “Yeah, it’s taken seriously in a lot of families actually. Um, I mean, obviously as soon as you get old enough, you realize what’s going on but, you know, while your younger it’s like a, fun little joke to play on them.”

I agree with HM that this tradition can be taken seriously, yet at the same time be used to pull a prank on young children.  Even if the youngest child is old enough to know it is a ruse, they still go along with it, because the joke is also part of the tradition.  The passover story is full of miraculous events, such as the Moses encounter with God through the burning bush, the ten plagues and Moses parting the Red sea.  This joke helps keep the magical aspects of the story alive.


Persian Mirror Magic Superstition

Roxana told me she heard this Magical Superstition from her Mother when she was quite young. She was playing with compact mirrors at the time, so Roxana estimates she was about seven when she first heard this superstition in her home in Orange County, California.
She says, ”So I was young and sitting in the living room and it was really sunny. I had a compact mirror in my hand, one of those stupid toy princess ones – and I was playing with it in the room, making reflections with the mirror on the walls. And she said, ‘Don’t do that. When I was little I did that and someone told me not to do that, because if you reflect the sun with the mirror, then your father will die a week later. And a week later my Dad died.’ So then I got freaked out because her dad Did die, you know? So I got freaked out and stopped.”
Now, Roxana says if she’s standing by a window with the sun coming through it, she’ll stand facing the sun so the mirror isn’t reflecting the sun’s light. I believe being told this superstition at such a young age makes it hard for her not to believe it now, whereas those of us who have never heard this superstition will likely find it hard to believe in. I also believe the severity of the impact upon Roxana’s family – her grandfather dying a short time after her mother was seen reflecting the sunlight and chastised for doing so – as connected to this piece of folklore makes it difficult for Roxana to simply disregard the action.


Persian Evil Eye Protection Superstition

Roxana can’t even remember the age at which she learned about the Evil Eye and how to combat it, but she is certain she learned this folklore protection superstition from her parents when she was growing up in Orange County, California.  She believes both her parents learned their techniques to rid the Evil Eye from their own Persian parents, and passed the knowledge down to her. The context in which this folklore is performed, Roxana says, is, “If my Mom hears people complimenting me, she’ll burn esfand for me so I don’t get [evil eye]. Like when I broke out freshman year, she said, ‘People have jinxed you. They’ve looked at you with evil eye, with jealousy, so bad fortune has come onto you.’ This is what she’ll do to prevent it. Literally, when bad things happen to me, she says, “it’s the evil eye” Although her parents have been warning her about the Evil Eye since she was a young child, she recalls an incident that occurred in 2007, when she was 18 and had just gotten into college. Roxana remembers, “We went to a family party, and I saw a bunch of people I hadn’t seen in a couple months. They did their usual, ‘Oh Roxana, you look beautiful, you’re such a nice girl, you’re in college, you’re going to be so successful.’ Then we go home, and my mom turns on the oven and puts on esfand – it’s like an herb that smokes a lot – and she says, ‘Come here,’ and started waving all the smoke in my face. And she says, ‘They jinxed you at the party. This will take away all the chemsh (evil eye).’” Roxana says she believes in the power of the Evil Eye, and incorporates it into much of her art. Although this is a tradition that has never been a part of my life, I see why Roxana and so many people believe in the power of this folklore performance to take away bad vibes. I believe that bad mojo and jealously from others can indirectly interfere with one’s own personal goals and good intentions, so I can appreciate the action of using smoke and herbs to force the negativity away. Annotation:  This  Evil Eye Purification Ceremony is also seen documented in Living Tradition of Iran’s Crafts, a book published in 1979 by Jasleen Dhamija.


Dead Baby Jokes

1.             Q. “What’s funnier than a dead baby?”

A. “A dead baby in a clown suit”

2.             Q. “What’s the difference between a Corvette and a pile of dead babies?”

A. “I don’t have a Corvette in my garage”

Jonathan doesn’t remember from whom he learned his Dead Baby jokes, but he believes he was in about 8th grade, in New Jersey, when he first heard the joke genre.  Jonathan says the context in which one might tell a Dead Baby joke is whenever anyone else brings up a dead baby joke, to add to the laughter. When I asked Jonathan what he thinks about the Dead Baby joke genre of folklore, he shrugged, and said, “Well, I picked out the funny ones. I liked ‘em. The ones I liked stuck in my head.”

I, however, do not think these jokes are funny, and believe them to be in horrible taste. As a woman, perhaps I’m pre-wired to blanch at anything referring to a dead baby, even a “joke” about one. Perhaps men (who tend to be the bearer of these jokes) don’t carry that same emotional tie to infants, and therefore can recite these jokes with ease and humorousness.

Folk medicine

Mexican Folk Remedy- Stomachaches

The informant is a 47-year old civil engineer working in California, originally from Michoacán, Mexico. He lived a modest life as a young adult, studying to be an engineer. He then moved to the United States with his wife to raise their family and make his career. He primarily speaks Spanish with English as a second language.  He shall be referred to as JB.

JB states that in his household, spongy bread served medicinal purposes. For a stomachache, the spongy, inner part of a French roll was soaked in rubbing alcohol, then rubbed and place on the child’s stomach.

JB notes that his household, while not wealthy, was better off than some other families. Most of his neighbors could not afford bread. Thus, particularly in comparison to the other folk remedies in this collection, this presents a group of people taking advantage of resources at hand. While this family also did not come from outstanding means, they did indulge in a luxury they could enjoy (bread). This may have been a way of demonstrating their relative wealth, while still taking full advantage of humble resources. I expect that as JB grew up in a Catholic community, there was a willingness to take part in practices that didn’t appear to make any scientific sense (there is no medicinal explanation for the bread or rubbing alcohol that he is aware of). As the community is faith-based, there was no strict intolerance of pseudoscience as there is in the United States. JB also testifies that both solutions served their purposes without fail. Again, the faith-based nature of a Catholic community embraced such simple solutions, as they are far more based on familial traditions than they are on any scientific roots.


Brian Collins – Initiation

My father recalls a ceremony he learned at the Naval Academy. He was about twenty years old when he experienced this in Annapolis, Maryland, during his junior year in college, about 20 years old.

Brian recalls, “At the Naval Academy, they have a ring dance during your junior year. And during the Ring Dance, they have a ceremony – after you finish your junior year you get your class ring – and so the Navy has, uh, different ships provide water from the seven seas, the seven oceans of the world, and they mix them all together in like a, uh, something equivocal to a baptismal fount. Then your date, who’s wearing your ring around her neck, dips it in the water. And that is symbolic of entering your senior year.  I think it’s just symbolic that you will be travelling the ocean as a Naval Officer.”

Brain thinks that, “It’s a very, uh, symbolic, traditional, you know, military ceremony that’s kind of like a rite of passage. It’s like passing through a milestone. “ Most ring ceremonies have this same sentiment, preparing a young adult for their last year of adolescence (especially in high school). The fact that it is the date of the man entering his senior year who wears the ring and dips it stands out to me. I wonder why it would not be the man himself who dips the ring. It’s considered bad luck to have a woman on board a ship, so I wonder why they are allowed to handle the ring the sailor will likely wear out to sea. Perhaps it is a reminder of female companionship while out at sea… I’m not certain. But, either way, my father wears his class ring often, especially when he’s looking to impress others, and I’m sure he remembers the ceremony fondly when he sees his ring.

Annotated: This ceremony can be seen as documented in the United States Naval Academy website.

“The Bonds of Gold.” United States Naval Academy. N.p., 2008. Web. 28 Apr 2011. <>.



This is a game that Greg learned from his peers in middle school. In the game at a random time one person will call the other person’s name while making an ‘o’ shape with their hand anywhere but somewhat discreetly around their body away from their own eyes. If the other person looks at your hand then the person who made the gesture is allowed to (playfully) hit or punch the other person. The object of the game is to get another person to look at your hand so you can hit them. Mostly boys play the game and it is fairly simple but has some variation depending on who is playing it.

It is a school age game that is used for entertainment and an excuse to be somewhat violent. It creates friendly competition that most people enjoy even though there is no prize and the winner and loser can switch at any time. Other than punching the other person the game really has no true purpose, goal or objective. It seems normal in many cultures for young boys to have a game surrounding or relating to violence in someway.