USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘black cat’
Folk Beliefs
Magic
Protection
Signs

Black Cat Crossing the Street

Main Piece:

 

The following was recorded from the Participant. They are marked as LG. I am marked as DG.

 

LG: So like, when my mom was driving she was really superstitious so if there was a black cat anywhere around it crossed the road, it didn’t matter if you had to go back two miles, that’s how far you were gonna go around up around it. And to this day I still don’t wanna cross a road that a black cat’s just crossed. And I know it’s dumb, but…just can’t do it. Just can’t.

 

DG: So you learned that from your mom?

 

LG: I learned it from my mom. Every single time we saw a black cat. And our street had a lot of black cats (laughs). So, yeah.

 

Context:

 

The conversation was recorded while sitting on a patio in Glendora, CA. The sun is setting and a group of us are sitting around all sharing folklore. The black cat superstition itself was used whenever a black cat was seen, especially so when in a car.

 

Background:

 

The interviewee is a 54-year-old mother of two, who is married. She grew up in Los Angeles, before moving around, and finally ending up back in Los Angeles. Her and her parents had a very tight-knit relationship, and she comes from a religious background.

 

Analysis:

 

I find it interesting that there is one specific color of cat that has this superstition surrounding it. I also find it interesting that if there is reason for the black cat, in particular, to be cursed, the interviewee was not aware. This shows that as folklore is passed down, it evolves. The interviewee’s mother may not have known why black cats are cursed, and her mother’s mother may not have known, but there was an original reason for the superstition one day. It’s also interesting to see how strongly the participant avoided black cats-including going so far as miles out of the way to avoid crossing a black cat’s path. This was a superstition so strongly believed that it disrupted the participant’s daily life at times.

Folk speech
Humor

“Ah Ma Schwartz Katter”

“When somebody’s being lame, or kind of a wet blanket, there’s, I mean, okay, I mean, there’s two of them. One of them is “ah ma schwartz katter” which is “oh, my poor little black cat,” and that’s for if they’re being silly. So, just, for instance, if someone is like, ‘oh, poor pathetic me!’ it’s ‘ah, ma Schwartz katter,’ [she mimics patting someone on the head in mock sympathy]. And then sometimes I do a variation on it, which I don’t know if it’s even correct or not, but it’s ‘ah ma brune katter,’ which is ‘ah, my little brown cat.’ But honest to god, it’s probably a huge bastardization of German, I know the actual one when I’m saying it is correct, but I don’t know the actual spelling of it, because my mother did not deem to teach me it.”

 

It’s like saying “oh, poor thing,” but it’s a little bit mocking. The informant uses the brune version because sometimes she likes to “mix it up,” and because her cat is brown. Usually, when she is saying this to someone, it’s her mother (because her father doesn’t “get it”), and she uses the brune version because her mother’s hair is brown.

The informant first learned this when she was about seven from her mother, (who speaks multiple languages, including German). Both she and her mother are of German descent.

This is a good demonstration of how foreign languages are kept partially alive and spread throughout generations who may not be fluent in it. Sayings are easy to remember because of their brevity and they also seem to create strong bonds between those who say them (e.g. the informant here shares this with her mother and brother, but not outside her family or even with her father).

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