USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘cow’
Folk speech
general
Humor

Heard of a Cow Herd Joke

Text

The following piece was collected from a fifty-two year old Caucasian man from Chicago, Illinois. The man will hereafter be referred to as the “Informant”, and I the “Collector”.

Informant: “I’ve got a joke.”

Collector: “Let’s hear it.”

Informant: “So two guys are driving by a pasture. And one guy says, ‘Hey, look! A bunch of cows!’

The other guy says, ‘Not bunch, herd.’

‘Heard of what?’

‘Herd of cows!’

‘Of course I’ve heard of cows.’

‘No, no, no. A cow herd.’

‘What do I care what a cow heard? I don’t have any secrets from a cow.’

Context

The Informant told me that a lawyer friend of his from Chicago told him that joke once when they had to travel to Springfield, IL together. The Informant relayed the “good laugh” they had about it on the dreary drive down. He remembers the joke almost every time he sees a herd of cows in a pasture. He believes it be at first just a funny joke about a miscommunication. But upon a second look, one that got a greater laugh between the two lawyers who shared the joke, they found more humor in it because of their profession where words mean everything.

Interpretation

            At first glance, this joke is one to get a quick laugh, something to chuckle about when passing fields full of cows. But I agree with the Informant that one’s profession, his being a lawyer, can make the joke seem funnier. I believe that the Informant and his friend found the joke to be funnier when looked at through the lens of the law. When doing so, because of their profession, the joke reaffirmed for them the belief that words carry a lot of weight and they have their own power. Even when told in a corny joke, the punch line is a misunderstanding of words, something that happens on a larger and more impactful scale everyday.

Folk Beliefs

Becoming A Cow

Main Text

Subject: When I was little my mom told me that if you—this is like the whole story. My mom was like, oh, if you lie down after you eat, you turn into a cow.

Background

The subject is a 20-year-old Korean-American student at USC. She remembers her mother telling her this folk belief from the very beginning of her memory, and estimates she was probably four when she first heard it.

Context

The subject’s mother told this folk belief to the subject, once when she was lying down on the couch after eating lunch or dinner. Her initial reaction was not wanting to be a cow. For several months, she was also convinced that the folk belief was true. She worked very hard to avoid the fate, while also attempting to convince her younger brother to test the folk belief out, before she eventually tried to test the folk belief out herself, after convincing herself that it was “not bad to be a cow.” Upon testing the folk belief out, she “was so scammed.”

The subject confronted her mother after discovering the falsity of the folk belief, recalling that she was “very accusatory.” The confrontation devolved into her mother questioning her why she would want to be a cow. The four-year-old subject argued that being a cow meant an easy lifestyle, because cows just had to sit in the backyard and eat grass all day. Her mother asked her if she knew that their family ate the meat of cows. The subject then countered that she would have lived a good life for a worthy cause. Her mother accepted this and ceased the debate.

Despite having discovered that the folk belief false, the subject still felt uneasy about lying down after eating, and still took folk beliefs from her mother seriously. She felt that even if the folk beliefs were not factually true, they were still “a little more true” since they were supposedly passed down from her grandmother to her mother.

Interviewer’s Analysis

Bizarrely enough, this is a case where the subject transformed a folk belief that had been “proven” untrue, into a “true” superstition. The subject derived her superstitious beliefs, seemingly from the folkloric origin of the belief itself. She seemed to believe that there was a mystical power inherent in the act of passing information down through generations. One could argue that this is a highly abstract form of contact magic, where information “touched” by what was considered truth in past generations, will transfer as the information continues to be passed down the family line. One could also argue that the subject probably derived her superstitious beliefs from romanticized visions of the folk as a “primitive” people with “primal” knowledge.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

Cow Lick Tea

What is being performed?
DA: I don’t do a lot of folk things when I’m sick but my grandmother used to make this thing
called “cow lick tea.”
AA: What is “cow lick tea?”
DA: It’s absolutely disgusting but basically it’s tea with cow droppings in it
AA: Why cow droppings?
DA: I think it’s because cows eat grass so their droppings are really good for you
AA: Have you ever had it?
DA: God no, but my grandmother would always insist and I think she drank it herself

Why do they know or like this piece? where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to
them?
AA: Why do you know about “cow lick tea?”
DA: My grandmother but I haven’t really heard it from other people
AA: Where is your grandmother from?
DA: She’s from Marshall Texas but she also has Native American Cherokee roots.
AA: What does it mean to you?
DA: It’s gross and I’ll never make it, but I guess it’s interesting.
Context of the performance- where do you perform it? History?
“Cow lick tea” is used to alleviate the symptoms of sore throats, headaches, and other head
colds. It is known for clearing nasal passages and is made from cow droppings. It is given to
anyone of any age looking to relieve themselves from the common cold.

Reflection
This is something I have never heard of before but think could be gross. I accept, however, that
I’ve grown up in the city my whole life and have no knowledge about how cows can be
beneficial to humans. I think this is interesting but don’t think I’ll be partaking.

Legends
Magic
Protection

Rolling Calf

Panteha’s mom is from Jamaica, and taught her many legends and folk beliefs from Jamaican folklore. The following is a description Panteha shared with me of one such legend:

“There’s like this legend [in Jamaica] that you’ll be like driving on the road and you’ll hit like, a baby cow and then you like, die the next week…It’s called the rolling calf. It’s like, so hard to explain ’cause the way people talk about it, it’s like it’s a normal thing. But like…If you encounter this animal you’re like, doomed to die. But then a way to get rid of the curse is you’re supposed to like, find a crossroads and stick a knife in it, which doesnt work now cause like, the roads are paved…

I have this distinct memory, I was like five, and we were driving- it was like, pitch black, late as fuck at night and like, literally people in Jamaica plan so they like, don’t have to be driving on these roads after it gets dark, ’cause it’s like, there’s so many folkloric tales and also like, actual crime. But like, we were driving and there’s this place that’s like, right in between Ocho Rios, which is kind of a beach location, and Sav-la-Mar, which is the rural place where my mom grew up. Um and it’s like, right nestled in the middle of nowhere and it’s like this rest stop kind of place, but they have the best Jamaican patty. So we’re like, okay, we’ll stop there, it’ll be great. And it was like, there was like no one there, we were the only people there, and it’s crazy ’cause it’s like, you’re in the middle of the jungle driving on this tiny dirt road, and then all of a sudden it’s like, this neon bright light, so it’s kinda crazy. So we stopped there and my uncle, um, Uncle Paul, was freaking out. He was like, ‘we should not be stopping! We should not be getting out of the fucking car!’ He was like, talking about the rolling calf and he was like, throwing handfuls of coins behind him as we walked and I was like, really amused by it but like, my mom and her sisters were like, really clearly stressed out.”

This piece of folklore incorporates elements of both the contemporary legend and traditional magical practices, such as using coins to ward off evil spirits. It has likely persisted as a commonly believed legend because of other dangers posed by driving in rural areas late at night, and may serve as a stylized means of discouraging people from going out in unsafe environments.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Homeopathic

Cow Manure as a Medicine

Background: C.M. is a 58-year-old woman living in Franklin Park, IL. She was born in Chicago, and has lived in the Chicagoland area for all of her life. She works as a nurse practitioner at Nye Partners in Women’s Health, and has been working there for 7 years. Before that, she worked at Loyola University Medical Center as a labor and delivery nurse. She is married and has two grown children.

 

Main piece:

C.M.: I heard this story from my dad. He told me that before he was born, and he was born in 1932, that his mother’s brother, his name was Georgie, but his name was actually just George. His last name was Wilming, W-I-L-M-I… I think? N-G.

 

Anyway, they lived out in Iowa on a farm, I think in Elizabeth, and they were using dynamite sticks to blow out the tree stumps out of the ground, ya know, to clear the land. One of them blew up and – he was there, he was too close – Georgie, and he got injured. He had wounds, terrible open wounds from the explosion. And in order to heal these wounds, they smeared cow manure on him, and they healed! They used home remedies because there were no doctors at that time, and this one worked.

 

Q: And how did your dad learn this story?

 

C.M.: My grandma told my dad, my dad told me, and now I’m telling you!

 

Q: Did the wounds heal completely?

 

C.M.: Yup! There apparently was no scarring or anything.

 

Performance Context: I interviewed the informant over the phone, as I am in California and she lives in Chicago. This remedy would be used out on the farm, especially in the early 1900’s, when someone got terrible wounds and there were no doctors around to prescribe any Western medical treatments.

 

My Thoughts: I think that it is interesting how, without access to a doctor, people were able to come up with easy home remedies, coming from easily accessible material, to take care of the problem. However, I am curious how someone figured out that cow manure could be used as a healing salve in the first place! Folk medicines are not always superstitions, they can also be founded in fact. Many folk remedies eventually end up being validated in the scientific community, so it is possible that this one might, as well!

Customs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Kappa Cow

“So I’ve heard from other people in my sorority that in USC’s Kappa Kappa Gamma, every week at Monday night dinners, every girl in the chapter is weighed. And at the end of the weighing, the heaviest girl is named ‘the Kappa Cow’ for the week. Apparently they give her a little plastic cow figurine. It’s messed up.”

This account depends entirely on hearsay, making it all the more interesting. As the informant is a member of a rivaling sorority, it is possible that the story was invented slanderously. However, this particular hazing practice corroborates that image of Kappa Kappa Gamma, as an aggressively looks-oriented sorority, that seems to pervade USC. As with most hazing practices, this ritual promotes unhealthy body image, but reaffirms the dominance of older member of the sorority over the new members. Such practices are allegedly “team-building” and “character building,” at which I roll my eyes.

Childhood
Customs
Holidays
Legends
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Great Han

Every year at hanukah my mother tells the story of hanukah and afterward, when the historical story is done, she tells this story which was told to her by my grandfather:

Item:  So everyone knows about Santa Claus coming down and bringing presents to the Christian children but Santa has a best friend too.  His best friend is named the Great Han.  Every year at hanukah the Great Han sets out in his giant flying menorah with each candlestick filled with presents for the little children.  The Great Han flies around delivering all the presents to the good jewish children.  And you know, when Christian children are bad they get coal, well, the when the Jewish children are bad they get a cow dropped on them.  So every year at Hanukah tim all the little Jewish children go outside and hold hands and dance in a circle around the fire hydrants singing this song.  The lyrics go:

Han Han Han We’re waiting for you now

Han Han Han Please don’t drop a cow

At this point my mom would have me and the friends my brother and I had invited preform the dance.  We’d all hold hands and dance around in a circle singing the song.

This tradition was passed down from my mom from her father.  I believe he made it up.  I have no memory of her preforming it before he died, however.  It only began to show up as a tradition when I was around 11 but we do it every year.  For my mother it symbolizes her connection to her father and for us it was a symbol of community between our family and friends.  The tradition is so silly and lighthearted that it serves as a celebration of happiness more than a tradition of religious significance.  There is an acceptance that the Great Han does not exist and will not drop a cow on you, so there is no reason to be scared.

This tradition was so important to my family that when I went to college my mom insisted that I be skyped in for the telling of the Great Han story.

There is religious significance in it, however, in what it takes from christian folklore of Santa Claus.  Both are male figures who ride on flying objects and bestow gifts to the good children and punishment to the bad children.  It shows an insecurity among the jewish community to equalize their holiday with the much more popular christian holiday by creating folklore around Hanukah.

 

Folk Beliefs

Dung Dreams

Dung Dreams

똥싸는거는, 옛잘에 소가 똥을싸잖아, 소가 길에있는것들 다 막 먹고 똥을싸. 사람들은 지나가다가 길에 많이 이것저것 잃어버리잖아. 그래서 그것들을 소가 먹고 똥을싸. 소 똥에 엽전 (coin)이 나오는거야. 소 똥을 뒤집으면 밑에 엽전있을수있는거지. 똥이 좋다는 얘기는 소 똥이야 사람 똥이 아니고. 오직 소 똥.

 Long time ago, everyone had cows, everyone who farmed. The cows would walk along side the road, the same road as humans did. When humans traveled, they naturally dropped things here and there. The cows would eat this up, whatever it was. And so when it pooped, there was a chance that yeobjeon, coins (the form of money back then) could turn up. That’s why dreams with cow dung are a sign of good luck – not human poop but only cow dung.

Humor

Interruptor Cow Knock Knock Joke

Information about the Informant

My informant is a college student at a community college in San Jose. He’s an avid amateur photographer, and we know each other through going to the same online high school. His family’s very closely-knit, with his parents very involved in the lives of their children. I collected this family in-joke from him while we were visiting the same high school friend outside of Las Vegas.

Analysis

“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Interruptor cow.”
“Interrupt–”
“MOOOO.”

Analysis

When asked why this joke was important to the informant, he replied that, “It is or was for a long time the only joke my mom remembered. So when you said, ‘joke,’ that’s immediately what I thought of.” He and his mother do have a tendency to enjoy humor that involves subversions such as the one in this joke. In this case, that the punchline of the joke is the interruption and the derailment of the usual structure of a knock knock joke. Its subversion of the usual knock knock joke structure may be precisely the reason why the informant’s reason remembers it when she cannot remember any other joke, making this joke one that is precious both to her and my informant as the one family joke that they both remember and can share.

Customs
Game
Humor

Cow Tipping

“Basically, you run up to the cow and tip it over” -informant

Cow tipping is a hobby usually found in rural areas where cows are common. The idea is to surprise the cow and push it over, because it looks funny.

The informant tried to go cow tipping with her friends on a weekend up in rural California. However, she found that it is harder than it sounds, because cows are easily frightened and will run away if you run up to them. Furthermore, cows sleep lying down, so you can’t surprise them when they’re asleep. The informant, although disappointed that she could not successfully cow-tip, still had fun with her friends in the adventure. She learned about cow-tipping from back home in Washington, because she lives near rural areas where the custom is more popular.

I have heard of cow-tipping before, because my father grew up on a farm and told me about the custom. However, he also warned me that it is very dangerous, because cows are heavy and might try to kick you. I believe that I’ve seen cow-tipping in literature before as well. I feel a little bad for the cows who are tipped, because it sounds painful and annoying to get stuck on your side like that. I don’t think I would ever actually attempt to go cow-tipping, although it is kind of funny when you talk about it. I think it reflects the need of rural youth to find creative ways to entertain themselves, because they don’t have access to many of the distractions that are available in a city or even a suburb. It would be exciting to get in a little trouble and do something mischievous like cow-tipping, which probably would annoy the dairy farmers. I doubt that adult would partake in this custom, as it seems more suited to the humor of children and older youth.

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