USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘clapping’
Game

Mailman

Main piece:

The mail man one, “Mailman mailman do your duty here comes a lady with an african booty she can do the pom pom she can do the twist most of all she can kiss kiss with her red hot lips k i s s i n g”

Background information (Why does the informant know or like this piece? Where or who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them?):

It was one of the rhymes the kids knew. It wasn’t a favorite but it sticks because it’s the most ridiculous one out of them all. Learned it in 1st grade from some female peer in her class. Informant thinks this one is ridiculous and doesn’t know why little kids sing it because it’s a little inappropriate.

Context (When or where would this be performed? Under what circumstance?):

It’s a hand clapping game for little kids to sing together.

Personal Analysis:

The “african booty part” is kind of racist. Even the informant said that it’s a weird song to think about. As a kid, she just went along with what the others were doing. I think it has a lot of strange connotations that kids don’t know about. I don’t think this has anything to do with Africa, but I wonder why American kids sing it. Why is it the mail man’s duty to kiss the lady? It’s actually really uncomfortable to think about. “do the pom pom” isn’t even proper grammar. I wonder who was the first person to start this song.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.

Game
Kinesthetic
Musical

Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.

Content:

Lemonade,

iced tea

Coca-cola,

Pepsi

Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:

Lemonade,

crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.

Game
Gestures
Kinesthetic
Musical

“I Went to a Chinese Restaurant”

Contextual data: When asked about childhood games or rhymes she knew, my informant immediately thought of this game. My informant was born and grew up in Hawaii. She says she first learned this in first grade at school through a friend. She says at the time everyone used to play it. The lines are said simultaneously by two partners, to a simple tune, clapping hands in different patterns every other syllable. At the end of the game, both players freeze, and whoever moves first loses. This can be decided by the spectators surrounding the players, or by one of the players themselves. The following is a transcription of the song’s lyrics (line breaks my addition):

I went to a Chinese restaurant / to buy a loaf of bread. / The lady asked my name, / and this is what I said: / my name is L-i-l-i pickle-eye pickle-eye pom-pom beauty x-y cutie Indiana Jones don’t move!

My informant and I both had difficulty thinking about the significance behind the song or game–in her own words, the game “sounds nice” and “it doesn’t matter when you’re in first grade”–but I’m sure there is some. Perhaps “pickle-eye pickle-eye” is some kind of racial slur against Asian facial features (perhaps the owner of the Chinese restaurant?), and “pom-pom beauty x-y cutie” could reference any number of things, from cheerleading to large breasts. The lyrics are so abstract and seemingly disparate that it’s hard to string them together. Perhaps by this point they’ve changed so much from their earliest forms that it’s actually impossible to pinpoint any original, intended meaning (if there ever was one), and now people find significance in the simple pleasures of playing the game.

Humor
Initiations
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Town Meeting Never-Ending Applause

Endless Applause

Initiation tradition/Practical Joke

 

In my informant’s  school (grades 7-12), there are weekly school gatherings called Town Meetings.  In these meetings, any student may make an announcement. It is tradition that when the first 7th grader gets up to make an announcement every year, the students break out in applause, but do not stop applauding. The noise of clapping too overwhelming, the student awkwardly stands on stage and cannot finish the announcement. My informant thought this was funny, and enjoyed the tradition.

 

Although embarrassing to the victim, it allowed everybody else to laugh together, reinforcing the community. This is also a liminal activity that introduces the new students to the school, a form of initiation. Knowledge is key here; those that know the joke can partake. The seventh graders, who do not know the joke is coming, are the “other”. Once they know, though, the 7th graders become part of the community. A year later, those 7th graders (now 8th graders) can be part of the joke and laugh at the new 7th graders too.

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