USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Catch riddles’
Folk speech

Lana sube, lana baja

My friend is a film student at the University of Southern California.  His mother’s side of the family is Mexican, and his father’s side of the family is Serbian.

My friend heard this riddle from a cousin 6 years ago during a New Year’s celebration.  The riddle is usually delievered as:
“Lana sube, lana baja.  Que es?”

Which translates to:

“Wool rises, wool falls.  What is it?”

He says that this riddle is supposed to be  asked very quickly in order to confuse the listener.  My friend remembers that his cousin asked the riddle very quickly and he wasn’t sure what she was asking for.

The central catch to the riddle is the pun on “lana baja.”  “Lana baja” sounds similar to “la navaja,” which means “the blade” in Spanish.  Because the riddle is delivered so quickly, the riddle could possibly sound like “Lana sube, la navaja.”

The proper answer to “Lana sube, lana baja.  Que es?”  is “Lana baja,” because that is where the potential confusion lies.  My friend says that there is a level of expectation for the recipient to answer correctly if the recipient is fluent in Spanish.  When the he was unable to provide an answer for the riddle the first time, his cousin laughed at him.
The riddle itself doesn’t have any inherent meaning – it functions primarily as a catch riddle that plays on the language.  However, my friend said that this is a shortened version of another rhyme.  He speculates that this version of the riddle is popular among children because it’s easy to remember and is catchy.

I agree with my friend’s interpretation of this riddle.  However, I think this version is more popular with children because it’s easier to remember and has a pretty straightforward function and meaning.  The other version of this riddle that the informant told me is used by older people, and can also be understood as a proverb.  This is why I think the longer version is more popular among adults, and the shorter version presented above is popular with children.  I also think that it might be perceived as more proper to use the proverbial version if you’re older than the person who you’re giving the riddle to.
The other version can be found on a separate post here:

Folk speech

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: