USC Digital Folklore Archives / April, 2016
Folk Beliefs
Magic

Socks and Softball

The informant is Catholic, and of Irish descent. They agreed to meet up with me, and share pieces of folklore for this project.

 

So what folklore do you have about softball?

 

“Um, so I play… well I play a lot of sports, but I play softball. And we, whenever we were on a winning streak, like if we like… won a game, you would not wash your socks. Like you had long softball socks, and you wouldn’t wash them if- until you lost again. So like, it was suppose to be lucky. You couldn’t wash them; it would like, wash out the good juju or whatever.”

 

Although the informant was in a school sport, one can still consider this as occupational folklore. As another field where people rely on chance a lot for success, those involved tend to follow superstition as there are usually not harm in doing so.


That said, the idea of not altering the state of something for fear of washing away the good luck can also be found in Chinese culture. For Chinese Lunar New Year, families do not sweep during the first few days, nor are they suppose to cut their hair. Like how a win in a game may have upgraded the socks to a charm for good luck, a new year brings in good luck to a household.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Homeopathic

Flipping the Fish

The informant is of Chinese descent and shared this piece at my request. It was an informal environment.

 

Why is it improper to flip over a fish as you eat from it?

 

“Oh okay so, back in the, um olden days in China when fishermen were on their ships, they wouldn’t flip over the fish when they eat- ate it because it would give a bad omen and possibly flip their own ship over. So when you eat the fish, you don’t, um flip it over; you have to pull off the spine and just continue eating it.”


This is an example of homeopathic magic, where like produces like. As we discussed in class, professions where chance plays a large role tend to have a lot of superstitions. This particular case is interesting because the informant and their family are not fishermen, and neither are most of the people that does it. Whether their boat would flip over is of little actual concern to them. Having said that, I think it became more of a habit for people than anything.

Folk Beliefs

Heading Home After a Funeral

The informant is of Chinese descent and shared this piece at my request. It was an informal environment.

 

So why shouldn’t you go home immediately after a funeral?

 

“It’s cause spirits might follow you home, so you gotta just drop the spirits off like at a 99 cents store or something and then you can go home.”


The informant later clarified that you are tricking any lingering spirits that are following you into thinking that you have arrived home, leaving them at wherever you chose to stop. I found this quite interesting because it is in a bit of a conflict with what I know about how ghosts and spirits are viewed in Chinese culture, especially those of your family. Generally, people do not hold the same fear or aversion to the dead and spirits as white Americans do. I would assume that that people do this because too many spirits in one’s home may be a bother, or there might be malicious spirits. If this is the case, then 

Folk speech
Humor

Anthropomorphic Beans Having Small Talk

The informant sent me this piece folklore at my request. They said their friend formed the joke.

 

The joke is as followed:

So there’s two beans laying next to each other on a plate.

The first bean says to the other, “Hey, how you bean?”

The second says, “I’ve bean great thanks, just lima here.


Now, this joke follows the “classic” format of a simple pun. Because it’s initial pun is common, it is more likely to elicit amusement than a pure laugh. What particularly got to me was that it included a second, unexpected pun. Despite how it is still a simple one, the audience might have believed that the first was all there was, so they are surprised by the end of the conversation. Whether the addition of the second pun pulled a significantly greater response is indeterminate.

Humor

Why Was the Student’s Report Card Wet?

I met this informant at a social aimed at helping and welcoming prospective transfer students. The atmosphere was very informal, and I simply brought up this folklore project when it was relevant.

 

What jokes do you have for me?

 

“It’s really silly… Why was the student’s report card wet?… Because his grades were below C-level.”

 

The informant laughed after they told the joke, both at the joke and my reaction: a flatline of facial expression and a stony-faced stare over their shoulder. They told me that they tell it to nearly everyone they meet, and that they react to it the same way every time. Apparently, this is a nigh universal response to a joke you might not really want to laugh at. It is also interesting how sometimes, a person laughs at a joke because it is bad. This is not necessarily done so maliciously, because all parties involved often share the same ideas of the joke, even the performer. This leads me to wonder if there ever was a time when people thought these classic jokes were funny. However, I also do think that jokes like this still accomplish a part of what jokes are meant to do: break the ice, lower tension.

 

The informant also mentioned that they read it on the back of a Laffy Taffy candy.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Blue Frog

The informant is of Korean descent, and shared this piece of folklore at my request.

 

There is a Korean proverb that goes “청개구리 (Chung-kgeh-kgu-ry),” which translate to “blue frog.” It is used to describe someone who is behaving oddly for attention, stemming from the idea that it is like a blue frog trying to go against to standard of green frogs.


The informant sees that it follows a certain pattern found in Korean folk speech. That is, references to animals and normalcy. Following that second line of thought, there is a Chinese saying that roughly translates to “no one else is like you.” This is suppose to be a negative thing, a phrase also used to describe those who stand out from the rest.

Folk Beliefs
general

A Gaydar with Slightly Homophobic Undertones

I requested the informant to recount some pieces of folklore, some being ones that they have told me before.

 

The informant recalled hearing in middle school that if someone’s ring finger was longer than their index finger, it meant that they were gay.

 

They admit that they feel it was ignorant of them, both in believing it, and using it to avoid a stranger on one occasion. As kids, it seems that people have not yet developed a healthy sense of skepticism, but have easily picked up antagonistic thoughts and ideas. As the informant talked about it, I thought the homophobia within the piece took on an odd form, how it was created to mark something that has a faceless identity. Unlike how race and gender still has a formal set of arbitrary and subjective characteristics, there is no “official” identifier for one’s sexuality besides stereotypes. To almost supplement this lack it seems, this speculation was formed.


This also reminds of how children are immediately born into a social fabric, one that they’ll have to learn how to navigate. If one is to speculate on this specific case, it seems that the informant was born into a society that has since changed to be a more understanding towards the LGBTQ community.

Folk Beliefs
Protection

Praying to Keep the Devil Away

The informant shared this information at my request. They told me about an exchange they had with their Catholic neighbour.

 

They said that their neighbour told them that if they didn’t pray each night, the devil would come for them. Although their neighbour was four years younger than them, the informant says they were still “young and gullible,” so they prayed for a while and signed crosses over themselves. The informant said they only stopped when they realized they were not religious.

 

I thought it was interesting how they easily accepted their neighbour’s words, even if they were both children.

 

This also connects to vernacular religion; the informant also said they made cross signs before doing arbitrary things for luck.

 

Legends
Narrative

Ten Brothers

The informant gave out the following piece of folklore at my request. They are of Chinese descent, and the setting was casual.

 

They told me about a Chinese legend, called “Ten Brothers.” This, as the title suggests, is about ten brothers who each developed supernatural powers. They say they do not not remember all of the brothers and their associated ability, but the ones that they did recall are as listed:

  • A brother that can tunnel through ground
  • A brother that can blow large gusts of wind
  • A brother that can hear things from far away
  • A brother that can see things far away
  • A brother that can cry enough tears to drown people

The powers of the other brothers are as followed:

  • A brother that has great strength
  • A brother that has the ability to stretch, as well as invincibility
  • A brother that can grow incredibly tall
  • A brother that can fly
  • A brother that has an iron head


What attracted me to this legend was how the brothers’ powers looked like modern day superpowers. While strength enhancement and such is something quite common— Heracles from Greek mythology easily comes to mind— I am not aware of other Chinese legends where the protagonists have powers.

Folk Beliefs
Foodways
Homeopathic

Breaking Noodles

The informant shared this piece when I told them about this project and asked if they knew any folklore. The setting was casual, and the informant is of Taiwanese and African descent.

 

Can you explain the superstition behind breaking noodles?

 

“Um… when you’re cooking noodles, it’s bad luck to break them. Because, um in like Asian cultures… noodles represent longevity or long life so… if you break them, you’re cutting your life short so to speak.“

 

Variations of this superstition can be found across multiple cultures. For example, an old Chinese food superstition is that cutting, or biting off noodles as you eat them during the New years is bad luck for the same reasons as noted above. One can also draw connections to the Fates of Greek Mythology, where life is represented by a string; the third sister cuts the string to mark when the person will die.

 

An argument can also be made that this is representative of homeopathic magic, as the noodles represent life.

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