USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘American’
Folk speech

Chest High Waders

The informant is a second year student at the University of Southern California, studying History. He is from Chicago, IL, and he lived abroad in Rome when he was younger. At USC, he is involved with student affairs and television production.

This piece describes one of his father’s, who was raised in Texas, “Southernisms”: folk sayings that invoke themes from the American South.

“Southernisms are a commonly accepted feature of dialect. So, my dad will occasionally say things like “You can lead a horse to the water but you can’t make him drink.” Or, my favorite and the one which has stuck with me my entire life is, “Well, better get my chest high waders on cause the bullshit is flowing deep in here.” So, and I’m not sure why that started happening, uh in my family, but I do know that it’s something my grandfather used to say. Um, so what’s likely is that it was transmitted through my father to me.

And I remember the, it’s always used whenever I—I make any assertion that my dad wants to challenge. And also, one time when literally when our stump pump stopped working and our drains overflowed during like a really heavy period of flooding, so our basement flooded. So there was my dad in his chest high waders. So I said, “Hey dad!” Because I was like five or six. “You’d better get your chest high waders on because the bullshit’s flowing deep in here!” And he laughed and then told me never to say the word “bullshit” again because it was a bad word.”

So aside from you making an assertion, are there other contexts where you would say this?

“Um, okay. Um, as a—as a, uh expression of almost sorrow or disappointment. For example, the 2016 presidential election, whenever Donald Trump opens his fat cheetoh mouth. That’s immortalized for the archives, that’s good to hear, uh, whenever Donald Trump opens his fat orange mouth and says something, my immediate reaction is, “Better get the chest high waders on cause the bullshit’s flowing deep in here.””

Analysis:

This piece expression definitely relies on an understanding of ranching practices, common to Texas, in order for the expression to be fully appreciated. The audience needs to know what chest high waders are normally used for in order for the expression to achieve maximum effect; while those unfamiliar with waders can infer from context, they miss the full context.

Humor

The Louvre Heist

The informant is a second year student at the University of Southern California, studying History. He is from Chicago, IL, and he lived abroad in Rome when he was younger. At USC, he is involved with student affairs and television production.

This piece is one of the informant’s favorite jokes.

“A bunch of art thieves are escaping from the Louvre, and they’ve stolen millions of dollars worth of art, and they’re in this van. So they’re chasing down Paris, you know the cops are right behind them, and news camera are watching them, the eyes of the world are glued to these art thieves. And then, they pull into a gas station, and suddenly stop. The police cars pull right up to them, and encircle them, and boom! They caught ‘em.

So the reporters descend on them like vultures on a corpse, and they’re like, “Why didn’t you just get away? You were, you were by far like, you were gonna make it home free, you were not going to get caught, et cetera. The lead ringleader just looks at the reporter and he says [the informant adopts a French accent], “Uh, ve didn’t have de monay for de gas to make de van go.””

Analysis:

This joke has a long, narrative build up compared to a relatively short punchline. While the joke could still be told effectively in a question and answer format, it is clear that the informant gets a lot of enjoyment from setting the stage and describing a more elaborate and vivid setup. The punchline plays on the slight alterations in English pronunciation by native French speakers as well as the play on words—“monay” with “Monet,” “de gas” with “Degas,” and “van go” with “Van Gogh.” The setting contextualizes the joke further, providing the foundation for the French and art references in the joke.

 

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech

Stress Free Life

Original Script: “Ma cosa vuoi che sia”

Literal Translation: “But what you want it would be”

Meaning: “Don’t worry about a thing that is not important”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: “How do you say, I noticed, Americans can get very…stressed out…crazy…easily. Like the rush hour traffic I was telling you about! Pessimo! [very bad] And little things they cannot control. I mean your life is more important than wherever you are trying to go! If you are stressed in California, go to the beach! It’s very relaxful! But the food, come si dice [how do you say], I understand when they get mad about the food, when the order is wrong, or when it is gross tasting, because food is important in the Italian culture.”

Silvia recently came to America about three weeks ago as an intern for an Event planning company. She grew up in Parma, Italy—which is a small town in Italy. She has adjusted greatly to the American culture but there are still some things that she is questionable about. Like the amount of stress Americans carry to that in Italy.

Context of the Performance: Stressing in the Italian Culture

Thoughts about the piece: In accordance with another interview I conducted with Silvia, (please see the article titled Italian…Proverb?), this Italian saying furthers the implication of the stress free environment of the Italian people. Do not worry about things that are not important, or the little things, implies that to worry about such, is a waste of energy, and not only that, but time as well.

It is also important to look at the literal translation, “but you want, it would be” suggesting that one does have control over their life, and to make the best out of it, if you look at the meaning to Italians, it would be to not stress over the small things; the things that are not important in the big picture.

Please take note of the background information Silvia had provided that was in accordance to the Italian quote. She uses stress and anger interchangeably, which makes me wonder, if in Italian they mean the same thing. So, I asked Silvia in a follow up interview and she said, “yes, they do, even though we have different words for them, they do mean about the same thing.” Which is interesting since the Italians have many different words for calm and happy (positive attitudes such as allegro, calmo, simpatico), thus this furthers the notion that Italians try their best to keep “stress” out of their lives, even by doing something simple, as Silvia had noted, like going to the beach. Additionally, she states something specifically that both Americans and Italians have in common, and which they both “stress” about—food. Food is a very prominent cultural item in both the Italian and American culture in which it not only creates a social environment but also holds roots in the past. (For example American’s Turkey on Thanksgiving and Wine or Pasta—which different regions are known for different Pastas—for the Italians).

Customs
Game
Humor
Musical

“The Bagel Song” at Camp

The informant is a 20-year old college sophomore at University of Michigan majoring in industrial and systems engineering. She went to sleep-away camp for several years and was excited to share some of her fond memories of it with me. One such memory is “the Bagel Song.”

 

“Bagels, doo doo doo

Bagels, doo doo doo

 

Bagels on Mars, Bagels on Venus

I got bagels in my…..

NOSE!

 

Bagels, doo doo doo

Bagels, doo doo doo

 

Bagels on the pier, bagels on the dock

I got bagels on my….

NOSE!

 

Bagels, doo doo doo

Bagels, doo doo doo

(The next person makes up a stanza similar to the first two, with provocative lyrics that make the listener think of something dirty, but that ends in NOSE

 

Interviewer: “Where did you learn the Bagel Song?”

Informant: “I remember my counselor one year teaching it to me and a few other campers. We thought it was totally hilarious. When I was a counselor a few years ago, I taught it to my campers too.”

Interviewer: “Where would you guys sing the song?”

Informant: “Oh gosh, all the time. Um, we would sing it when camp songs were song. Like at bonfires and before mealtimes when everyone was together waiting to eat. We would tease the cute male counselors with it too…”

Interviewer: “Did your counselor who taught you the song say where she learned it?”

Informant: “No. We never asked. But I do have a friend who went to an all-boys camp in Wisconsin who told me they had a variation of the song they would sing.

Interviewer: “Do you remember how the variation went?”

Informant: “Hmm. I think it was the same general principle. I think what was different was that the boys said “Bacon” instead of “bagel”? I’m not entirely sure though; it was a long time ago that I talked to my friend about it!”

 

Thoughts:

I see the Bagel song as a humorous song dealing with taboos of sex and sexuality. The song is especially funny because it makes the listener the one with the “dirty mind”, not the singer, as it is the listener who thinks the singer is going to make an obscene reference.

Oring talks about Children’s folklore (I would consider “The Bagel Song” fitting into this category) a good deal in Folk Groups and Folklore Genres. Ideas of childhood have been purified for a long time in American society, and the oppressiveness of the controlled environment in which children reside in can partially explain their dealing with the sexuality taboo, along with other taboos.

Game
general

What Are the Odds?

“If someone says, like, if you’re at dinner, say we’re at dinner together, and I go, ‘L, what are the odds that you’ll pretend to trip and fall on the ground on the way to the table?’ and you have to say, um, 1 to 25, you make up a number, like an end number, depending on like, how badly you wouldn’t want to do it, or you would want to do it. So I will count ‘1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . .’ and on the count of three, you say a number between 1 and 25 and I say a number, too. Like a number as well. And if we say the same number, then you have to do it. So like say you said, ’13,’ and I said, ’13,’ at the same time. You have to trip and fall on the floor on the way to the table. But say I say, ’12,’ and you say, ’13,’ then you don’t have to do it. But, um, D gets mad at me because when he does it, he gets mad if I do anything over 10. He’s like, ‘K, what are the odds you’ll eat your dinner with your hands?’ and I’m like, ‘1 in 12,’ and he’s like, ‘No!’ and like he’ll try to get me to go lower, and try to convince me that like the odds are like too big or something like that and there’s no way he’s gonna guess my number. And so he’ll count, ‘1 . . . 2 . . . 3 . . .’ and I have to say a number . . . if he gets it right, then I have to do it. If he gets it wrong, I don’t have to do it and I’m stoked. But he does it to his family . . . everyone! It’s annoying. So annoying.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies communication and minors in dance and is a part of a prominent sorority on campus. She grew up in a relatively small town in southern California and was the captain of a prominent sports organization. She has danced for her entire life and, when she was growing up, would often drive for long stretches of time with her family to dance competitions. This interview took place late one night in my apartment’s living room when I began asking her about different games she knew. When I asked her who she learned it from, she said, “I learned it from [her boyfriend] and he learned it from his [hockey] team. I guess they just . . . I don’t know who on his team came up with it, but they do it all the time. When I went to go visit them, everything was like, ‘What are the odds?’ It’s like, ‘What are the odds you’ll turn the TV off?’ It’s like a stupid thing! It’s like it makes no sense, like I’ll just turn the TV off, there doesn’t need to be a game about it.”
When asked why she thinks people play this game, the informant said, “Just ‘cause they’re frickin’ bored, or if they don’t wanna do something they’ll be like, ‘What are the odds you’ll buy me dinner tonight?’ If they don’t wanna do it, then they’ll play ‘What Are the Odds?’ in hopes that they get it right. ‘Cause they don’t lose anything if they get it wrong, ‘cause everything’s the same as before they even played the game.” She also said, “I shows how much a person is willing to do something based on like a number that they come up with. So like, if you really don’t wanna do it, you’ll say an outrageous number like, ‘Thousand, like 1 in 1,000,’ and it’ll show, obviously, you really don’t wanna do something. If you say like, ‘1 in 3,’ then you’re saying, ‘I don’t really care if I have to do that, like I’ll do it. I’ll do it without even really asking, you know? But it’s just another way to turn life into a game, I guess.”

 

The informant also noted that, to her dismay, “What Are the Odds?” has spread to her family and her boyfriend’s family. It is an interesting game because, in addition to showing how much someone does not want to do something, it shows how well the person guessing knows the person answering the question. It is almost as though the reward for someone knowing the other person well enough is getting to see the other person do something they would prefer not to do. This game also appeals to the gambling spirit in people. In this case, however, there is no consequence for losing and it is exciting and fun when you win. More than anything, “What Are the Odds?” is a fun (for some) way to pass time, build relationships, and pass an unpleasant or hilarious task on to someone else.

Game
general

Road Sign Game

“So like if you’re driving in a car for like a long period of time, and you’re like with a friend or something, you’re not gonna do it by yourself, and you’re not the driver, you look out the window and you have to, in order of the alphabet, find a sign on the side of the road that starts with the, um, the first letter is in the alphabet, so like, say I was looking for an ‘A,’ if I found an Applebee’s I’d yell out ‘Applebee’s’ and then, like, the next sign you saw that started with a ‘B,’ like um, Ben and Jerry’s, or something, somebody would yell it out. So it wasn’t necessarily like a competitive game, it was just like the whole car was trying to get the alphabet, or the signs in order of the alphabet before they arrived at their destination. It was just a way to stay busy . . . It’s more challenging if it’s a shorter distance, obviously. But instead of sleeping in the car, that’s what we would do.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies communication and minors in dance and is a part of a prominent sorority on campus. She grew up in a relatively small town in southern California and was the captain of a prominent sports organization. She has danced for her entire life and, when she was growing up, would often drive for long stretches of time with her family to dance competitions. This interview took place late one night in my apartment’s living room when I began asking her about different games she knew. When I asked the informant where she learned this game, she said, “I think from like traveling to dance competitions a lot and, um, I mean I know we didn’t just make it up, but I think it kind of derived from the license plate game, where it’s like you look at a license place and you try to find the alphabet in each license plate almost. But we made it signs, probably a little easier.” She said it was her mother who would take her to dance competitions and would sometimes participate in the game.

 

When I asked her what she thought this meant, she said, “It was a good way to bond with my other teammates and my brothers and avoid fighting because it’s not competitive.”
This game was interesting because it was one that the informant assumed everyone knew about. It was so entrenched in her childhood experience that she could not imagine anyone else growing up and not playing it. While this game most likely did not originate with the informant’s family, it is probably prevalent in families and groups of people that spend a lot of time on the road. I agree with the informant that the primary purpose behind this game is to distract children (or anyone bored on a drive) and keep them from fighting with one another. It also helps them familiarize themselves with their surroundings, take an interest in the world for a specific purpose, and practice their reading skills. It is also interesting that this game is not competitive in the usual sense, i.e. the participants are not playing against each other. This helps teach the participants to complete a task quickly and work together.

Folk speech
general

“Sick”

“So the saying is, ‘Sick,’ but it’s not like, ‘Oh bro, that was sick,’ or ‘Are you okay? You look sick,’ it’s not like that. It’s kind of similar to ‘toolbag,’ you know, where it’s like you can’t really explain ‘toolbag,’ but if you see a toolbag walking down the street you’re like, ‘Whoa, that guy’s a fucking toolbag.’ So ‘sick’ is kind of like, it can be used in many different contexts, it’s kind of like ‘fuck’ can, where it’s kind of like, ‘Whoa, what the fuck!’ or it’s like, ‘Holy fucking shit, that was awesome.’ Um, so it’s something that [her ex-boyfriend] and his friends like kind of made up and I just like adopted through the years and it just like, it kind of makes you feel like weird inside, or like, ‘Whoa, that person’s getting really gross,’ or like the action that they’re doing is very . . . interesting, I guess, or like something that they said was very interesting, whether in a funny way or a bad way. So an example is, if someone said something really funny—or if someone was doing a really funny dance move, we could like point and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, ha ha ha, that person’s getting really sick right now.’ When it’s like ‘Oh, they’re doing something really interesting, like I’ve never seen that before, but we love it, it’s really funny.’ But then it can also be like, if someone says something wrong, where it’s like if [ex-boyfriend] and I got in a fight and I was like, ‘[Ex-boyfriend], what the fuck? Like you’re a fucking cheater!’ Then if [his] friends that they could be like, ‘Whoa, why are you getting so sick right now?’ . . . So it can be used to like, characterize someone’s statement, if that makes sense, or someone’s action in neither judging way or nonjudgmental way.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who grew up in competitive snowboarding and has dabbled in CrossFit and other workout programs. She has been in a prominent sorority on campus since coming to USC and goes out every night of the weekend, as well as some nights of the week. I live with the informant and the interview took place in my room during one of the lengthy conversations we often have. The informant learned the use of this word from her ex-boyfriend. She uses it because she got in the habit of communicating with him and his friends and this is a common word in their group.

 

I think it’s interesting that this is a word that has already been adopted into colloquial usage, but which has a different meaning. Indeed, the meaning of ‘sick’ in this case is somewhere between the adjective meaning “cool” and the state of being meaning “ill.” It makes me wonder if this word first started being used as a code for people to say something was weird or interesting when everyone else around them thought they were saying it was cool. I also think it’s interesting that the informant thinks this phrase is neither judgmental nor nonjudgmental. It is as if the people using it are making commentary on someone else’s state of being, although I think there is some sort of judgment implied.

Contagious
Folk Beliefs
general
Magic

Wear Your Pajamas Inside Out and Backwards

“So when I was a little girl my grandma, I used to live with my grandma in Hawaii and whenever she told me to get ready for bed, I would get ready for bed and you know how, like, little kids will sometimes, um, like put their clothes on inside out or backwards. Well, my grandma, I would do that occasionally and my grandma ended up convincing me that that . . . like that brought good luck and like if you do that, then it brings good luck. So then I started purposely, purposefully, um, wearing my pajamas backwards and inside out and my mom never understood it, but I always would tell her, obviously, that it brings good luck.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who studies communication and minors in dance and is a part of a prominent sorority on campus. She grew up in a relatively small town in southern California (with short stretches in other areas of the country) and was the captain of a prominent sports organization. She has danced for her entire life and, when she was growing up, would often drive for long stretches of time with her family to dance competitions. This interview took place while the informant, whom I live with, was making lunch and telling me about her grandmother’s superstitions. Of her grandmother, she said, “My grandma’s a very spiritual person. She still believes it, she’ll still tell me.” She went on to say, “It’s like a family joke now. So like if I come down now wearing my pajamas inside out and backwards, my grandma will always be like, ‘Oh! It’s really good luck, right?’ . . . My mom thinks it’s a joke, but my grandma’s like super serious about it, she’s like, ‘It is. It is for good luck.’”

 

When I asked the informant what she thinks it means, she said, “My grandma’s very spiritual and thinks everything happens for a reason and so, like, the average person puts on their clothes the normal way that it’s supposed to be worn, so if you think you’re putting on your clothes a certain way and it turns out it’s actually backwards or inside out, well then it must mean something else. Then it must mean that there’s good luck coming to you.” When I said I had never heard of this folk belief before, the informant noted, “It’s interesting because I brought [the folk belief] up in my practice, and one of the girls said that she was taught that growing up, if she were to wear her pajamas inside out or backwards that it was gonna bring snow. And so during the winter seasons, she did that as a young girl hoping it would bring snow.”

 

At the end of the interview, the informant said, “And the thing is, I still do, a little part of me still believes that it’s gonna bring me good luck.”

 

This folk belief was interesting to me because it’s such a simple action, yet it is thought by some to make something happen, such as bring good luck or make it snow. I think it is partially performed because it is a relatively silly thing to get children to do, and it gives them a sense of control over the world. It could also serve as a way to teach them to embrace the unusual side of their personalities. When they perform this folk belief, they are doing something that goes against social norms. However, they are told this action causes good things to happen, and so the thought process behind it is reinforced.

Game
general

Buns Up Game

“So the Buns Up Game is a game that I played in middle school and they’re still playing it at my school. And so the object of the game is to never get your buns hit with the tennis ball, and so the game is played against a wall and someone throws the tennis ball at the wall and the other person has to catch it with one hand. And it can bounce once or not at all. If you miss it with one hand, then the person who threw it can then grab the ball and you have to run to the wall and touch the wall with your hands before the person grabs the ball and chucks it at your butt. And that’s why it’s called Buns Up.”

 

The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up that she has observed taking place among her students now. She learned this game, “in . . . Lubbock, Texas. I learned to play it outside because we had a lot of cement and a blank wall. Mostly the boys played it, but some of the girls that were more courageous would play it also. At my school right now there’s a blacktop and it’s mostly the first graders that are playing it, instead of like the middle schoolers that used to play it.”

 

When I asked her why thinks people play this game, she said, “Well, because it’s a skill to be able to catch, eye-hand coordination with one hand, the ball that’s about the size of a baseball or a tennis ball. Plus it’s fun to throw the ball at people if they, and it, well it makes people feel bad if they, I mean it makes people feel good if they have more skill than the other player. Plus it’s reflexes and yeah, you get to actually take mean action on people, I guess.” When I asked her what she thinks this game means, it became clear that the informant did not think much of this game. She said, “I think it means that it’s an easy game to play with a ball and a wall. Like, you don’t have . . . I mean, it takes very little equipment and only two people and, with a city, if you don’t have a field or grass it’s a game you can play in the street.”

 

I tend to agree with the informant that the main reason this game is played is that it requires little explanation and little equipment to play. It is easy to start and stop, can be played in many different locations, and is challenging enough to be entertaining. I there’s a little more to the meaning behind the game though, based solely on its name. Because this game is generally played by middle school kids, it seems like there is something to the fact that part of the game is throwing a ball at another person’s butt. At this age, this action might seem particularly taboo. It is also interesting, then, that Buns Up is somewhat gendered, with only a few girls taking part, and that my mother was one of these girls. This game provides an outlet for children to be silly and active, while subtly crossing established social boundaries.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

“Send it!”

“Okay, so in the snowboarding world, when, um, you’re about to, like—‘cause I was a competitive snowboarder, you know, and so we would hit, like, really big jumps or something and then, or like if the pipe was like really big that day, um, so usually it’s used with jumps that are like over like 25 feet, so no like it doesn’t have to be big [laughs of disbelief from other people in room], but usually they’ll be like 90 feet when people use this saying and it’s not like, it’s like a, um, we would be like, ‘Oh, like fucking send it!’ That means like ‘huck yourself,’ like ‘do like what you got’ or yeah, like spin whatever, do flips and so it’s like just like ‘give it your all’ type of deal and so yeah we would just use ‘sending it.’ ‘Cause then it’s like ain’t nothing comin’ back, ‘cause you’re sending it and you’re giving it your all and you’re gonna kill it.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who grew up in competitive snowboarding and has dabbled in CrossFit and other workout programs. She has been in a prominent sorority on campus since coming to USC and goes out every night of the weekend, as well as some nights of the week. I live with the informant and the interview took place in my room during one of the lengthy conversations we often have. The informant has been known to use aspects of her athletic and workout life in social interactions and “Send it!” is no different. She went on to tell me that “So now I’ve started to integrate that into the Greek life culture and so if someone’s in a drinking game I’m like, ‘Dude, fucking send this game!’ and they’re like, ‘I’m gonna send it.’ (Interviewer says: “It’s not coming back!”) And then they drink a lot. Yeah, it’s not coming back. So then they just like drink a lot.”

 

This piece of folk speech was interesting to me because of the meaning behind something like “Send it!” The other people in the room and I got hooked on the idea that you would say it because “it wasn’t coming back.” In addition to this being about “giving it your all,” it seems like it’s about taking opportunities when you have them. It would make sense, then, that the informant would translate this phrase into other areas of her life, like the Greek life culture. It is easier to do wild things at a party when you have someone telling you it is the moment to do them. It is also interesting that it is primarily a way of encouraging someone else to do something. While it could come across as pretty aggressive to the uninitiated, those inside of snowboarding culture would know that it is a way of supporting one another and pushing each other to get better and try new things.

[geolocation]