Folk speech
Proverbs
Riddle

Lana sube, lana baja, el senor que la trabaja

“Lana sube, lana baja, el senor que la trabaja”

Translated: “Money rises, money falls, for the person who deals with money”

My friend heard this riddle from his grandmother on his mother’s side.  It is a riddle that is typically posed as a question, so the performer would add “Que es?”  at the end.

The riddle is usually said fairly quickly, as it functions primarily as a catch riddle.  The answer to the riddle is “lana baja.”  The riddle operates on the phrase “lana baja” because it sounds similar to “la navaja,” which is “the blade” in Spanish.  It is up to the listener to hear the riddle correctly and point out the misleading phrase.  If the listener can’t identify the catch in the riddle, the asker usually pokes fun at the listener.

My friend said that this riddle is part of a large group of riddles in Mexico that revolve around puns and catching the listener off guard.  He says that as far as he knows, this is one of the more popular riddles in that group.

The riddle can also act as a proverb, given as advice by the asker to the listener.

“Lana” in Spanish means “wool,” but it also can mean “money.”  My friend’s grandmother told him this riddle not only to try to catch him, but to pass down the lesson in the riddle as well.   The lesson is that whoever deals with money must also deal with its instability, its ability to go up and go down without much warning.  When the riddle refers to “el senor que la trabaja,” or the person who deals with money, it doesn’t refer to a specific profession that handles money.  Thus the lesson in the riddle carries pretty universally.

The informant said that this riddle has a shorter version that is purely a catch riddle.  He feels that this version is more popular with adults because it also offers advice to the listener.  The shorter version of the riddle does away with the proverb on money and uses the more literal meaning of “lana,” wool.

I heard this riddle shortly after the informant told me the shorter version.  I was very interested in how “lana” takes on a different meaning in this version and gives the riddle a second function.  It seems to me that in order for the catch riddles to be properly used and understood, the performer and listener have to be fluent in Spanish and understand intricacies of the language as well (such as informal meanings of words).

I’ve made an entry on the shorter version of this riddle, which can be found here:

http://folklore.usc.edu/?p=19262

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