USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘childhood game’
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Game
general
Humor
Protection

Step on a crack, break you mother’s back!

Text

The following information was collected from a seven-year-old Caucasian girl from South Haven, MI. The girl will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “It’s..umm.. ‘Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”

Collector: “What does it mean?”

Informant: “Um… On the sidewalk. If you step on the lines, your mom’s back is supposed to break.”

Collector: “Have you ever stepped on the line?”

Informant: “Yeah. But she didn’t break her back.”

Context

            The Informant informed me of this saying when we were discussing games she and her friends and siblings played on the way to school. This piece was the first game that she thought of. The informant learned the saying and subsequent game from one of her older siblings. She remembered they yelled at her once when they started playing and the Informant got scared that she had actually hurt her mother. But now she knows that it doesn’t actually hurt them right away, it’s just bad luck and could lead to her mother breaking her back.

Interpretation

            I believe, like my informant, that this little saying/game is just that: a game. But upon looking closer, I believe more meaning can be derived from the intention behind the game. The notion that the simple act of stepping on a crack on the sidewalk could potentially cause your mother to break her back makes me think mostly of implanting the idea of responsibility. I believe the game/saying brings forward the idea that children have to take responsibility for their actions. Meaning, if you step on a crack, you break your mother’s back. The idea behind this is that if you do something that indirectly causes another event, you are responsible for that outcome, whatever it may be.

 

For another version of this game, please see p. 94 of Eliot Oring’s (1986) edition of Folk Group and Folklore Genres: An Introduction in Jay Mechling’s chapter on “Children’s Folklore” ((Utah State University Press)).

 

Bronner, Simon J., et al. Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction. Edited by Elliott Oring, University Press of Colorado, 1986.

Childhood
Customs
Game
general
Humor
Magic
Protection
Signs

Drawing Game — Pig Protector

Text

The following information was collected from a seven-year-old Caucasian girl from South Haven, MI. The girl will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “Daddy sometimes will draw pigs on our hands when we are sleeping.”

Collector: “What does it mean?”

Informant: “Um…haha…I don’t know. It’s funny because we don’t know who did it.”

Collector: “Does he do it to you and your sisters?”

Informant: “Yeah haha…He will draw it on my hand and then on my sister’s hand. And we wake up and he pretends he didn’t do it…Umm haha… But we know he drawed it.”

Context:

            The Informant picked this up from her father. He would draw pigs on the Informant and the Informant’s sisters’ hands when they were sleeping. Then they would wake up with a drawing on their hand he would pretend he hadn’t done it. It became a game of who could find him and get him to admit he drew it first. The pig looks like a smaller circle inside a larger one, with two ears, four legs and a tail. It is the same drawing every time. The Informant remembers because she finds it funny and enjoys playing.

Interpretation:

            I found this piece to be very intriguing. I understood it to be a sweet little game played between a father and his young daughters. But while searching for a deeper meaning, I’ve come to another conclusion, one that is hardly obvious to a seven-year-old. I believe this game to be a way a parent can make a child feel like he or she is always watched over and cared for, even in sleep. It reminds me of the childhood comfort of falling asleep on the couch, only to awake in your own bed, tucked in and warm. I imagine that waking up with this drawing on your hand, a sign that someone who loves you is with you even when you are unaware of it, would be a huge comfort and affirmation of the love that you feel from that parent.

Childhood
Gestures
Humor
Musical
Riddle
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Children Hand Sign Language about Sexuality

Collector’s Note: This child’s hand sign song has a particular hand motion that comes at the end of the first two sentences. It is followed by two more gestures within the second sentence after the word “this”. It is best to first read the song straight through and later refer to each sentence’s number and timing of hand motion while viewing the corresponding pictures in order.

“Good girls sit like this. (1)

Catholic girls sit like this. (2)

Girls who sit like this, (3)

get this, (4)

like this. (5) *snap* ”

Screen Shot 2019-04-24 at 3.13.11 PM

Context: This piece was collected at the childhood home of a friend of the collector from both elementary and middle school after speaking about their friendship as children.

Informant Analysis: While in elementary school around the age of 10, she remembers that girls would sing this song with the corresponding hand gestures to each other during recess. She said that it is “weird” to look back on that hand game since it seems to represent the sexual activity of women through stereotypes and body position. She recited the meaning as, “if you are a good girl, you keep your legs closed. If you are a Catholic girl, you really keep your legs closed by crossing them. If you are a bad girl, you sit with your legs apart, which for some reason means you will get d**k quicker? I mean, that is essentially what it says, but it says it politely.”

At the young age of when they preformed the hand game, she said that it was not necessarily considered to be sexual in nature, but more of a fun sign language you could teach other girls. She recalls that she never had seen a boy make the hand gesture and song while in elementary school, as it seemed to be like a secret code/handshake between girls. The informant was uncertain as to who taught her the game, but guessed that it was a friend. She also could not remember if this hand game was ever shared with adults, but believed it was probably not. Even though at the time they did not view the hand game as sexual, they did understand that if adults saw it, they would be punished, and they  “did not want to get in trouble.”

Collector Analysis: Being a participant in this folk gesture/song/game, there were a few key aspects that I had not noticed until interviewing the informant. It is easy to assume that this hand game is a way to teach young girls to suppress their sexuality with, what could be considered, the goal of having fewer teen pregnancies. This would imply that adults with knowledge of the effects of teen pregnancy would have to be the root of this piece. Another viewpoint is that the hand game is a way young girls teach each other about the image one presents to the world and it’s importance in not becoming promiscuous (perhaps an antecedent form of slut-shaming). However, I do not believe these interpretations to be the most nuanced if we take into account that the actual piece never mentions girls sitting with their legs open as being “bad” as the informant said.

We can also note that the hand game was played only between young girls. The explicit nature of the content may have something to do with why this piece is gender segregated. It could be that there may be a level of shame that perhaps young boys do not encounter as harshly with regard to their own sexual activity. However, there must be more to the gender segregated sharing of this piece since the young girls did not fully understand the meaning of the hand game at the time. Therefore, I argue that the gender segregated sharing could not only be the sexual shame that often occurs for women as they hit puberty. What the informant referred to as a secret code or handshake seems more probable a source to create the gender segregation. The hand game gives young girls, upon the sudden awareness of gender in elementary school, a way to form a group or friendship around gender commonality. Thus, the performance of the hand game would be an expression of being in the group by having intimate knowledge of their particular gestures.

Lastly, the game itself explicitly refers to girls while never mentioning the male gender except through a crude phallic symbol. To this extent, it is very much a childish thought to represent men only as their sexual organ while also only referring to it as “this” (perhaps taboo word). The game’s proliferation among girls occur by virtue of the excitement in referring to a taboo subject or word among children.

Game
Humor

Oreo Practical Joke

As a practical joke on friends and family Grant as a child would lick the inside of an Oreo out and refill it with white-colored toothpaste. He would then put them back inside the Oreo container and offer them to people.

 

Background: Grant is a twenty-two year old raised in Los Angeles, CA with one younger sister.

Context: Grant told me this joke over lunch talking about funny things we would do as kids.

Analysis: In my opinion, practical jokes are so heavily connected to youth and a lighthearted motive that usually they are just funny and not something to ever get upset over. Especially with the practical joke Grant would play, it is ridiculous to be genuinely mad; more so than getting angry, you just want to get them back with another practical joke. Practical jokes have always been something I find intriguing because I could never think of one off the top of my head or ever have the courage to play a practical joke on another person. I think practical jokes are a compelling element of folklore because the willingness to play a practical joke and which practical joke you choose is a revealing element of someone’s character

Folk Dance
Kinesthetic

Risque Hokey Pokey

“There’s this song called the hokey pokey, and you kind of do it with your friends in a circle, usually at a party. You basically go along in the lyrics and they go (she pauses for a few seconds to recall the lyrics), ‘You put your right hand in. You put your right put your right hand in, and you shake it all about,’ and you keep doing that with each arm, leg, and after that you can start, like, doing different things, like you could do your butt, or you could do your nose (she pauses to think of other examples). There is a specific order you’re supposed to go in, and you’re supposed to go right hand, left hand, right foot left foot, head, butt, and then whole self, but usually if you’re with friends you’ll start shouting out really stupid things, like your elbow, etcetera, and there are risqué versions where people shout out stupid stuff.

Background Information and Context:

“[You play while] gathering with friends, and it’s a really big cultural thing. It’s like one of those [games] that everyone knows. Everyone did the hokey pokey, and it’s really easy to join in because you learn it when you are really young. The first time I did the hokey pokey was in elementary school, like first or second grade, but last year I was walking with my friend, and I said, ‘put your left hand in and shake it,’ but then she started doing it, and then I joined in and another friend joined in. We were just standing outside New North doing the hokey pokey, but we did the risqué version because, you know, college students are stupid.”

Collector’s Notes:

I was surprised to hear about the hokey pokey not once, but twice while collecting items for the folklore archive. I hadn’t heard of anyone doing the dance since I was in elementary school and did the dance, myself. I was even more surprised to hear of a risqué version of the dance given the childish connotations I had with it. Thinking about it now, this parody is not too different from those one will find of childhood shows on YouTube, adapting original material for a more sexual connotation. The purpose is usually humor, and the act of doing a risqué version of any childhood activity could be considered a coming of age of sorts. It is significant that, here, at college, one can engage in content that was once taboo, and there is no parental or teacher supervision that can stop that.

Game

Red Rover

The informant is my mother, who was born and raised in North Vancouver, Canada. She has two older brothers, and both of her parents immigrated from the United Kingdom when they were adults. She worked in accounting until she retired at the age of 50. She is widowed and has two children: myself and my brother, who has Cerebral Palsy.

This is a popular children’s playground game that she played when she was younger.

“Well, Red Rover. You stand in a line, holding your arms together, and then you call someone over and they try to break through the line. “Red Rover Red Rover we call…Jennifer over.” And then Jennifer will come running through and try to choose the weakest spot between the arms that she thinks she can break through, and… if she breaks through, I don’t what, I don’t remember what happens if you break through. I think you get to go back. If you don’t break through, you have to join the line. You’re part of the row—you’re part of the line.”

What’s the goal of the game?

“To be the last man standing, to be the person who breaks through all the time. To be the strongest [laughs].”

Analysis:

This common children’s game may seem fairly innocuous, but I think that it sheds a lot of light on social hierarchies in North American societies. The goal of the game is to keep breaking through the wall of people standing before the player. Not only does this mean that the social currency gained from winning the game is given to the “strongest” player, but it also establishes that one should be looking to break through barriers; those who don’t become part of the conglomerate. This may reflect some of the social values found in capitalist societies.

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