The informant – AS – is my mother, and is a 55-year-old woman, born and raised in New Britain Connecticut, currently living in South Florida. I asked her if she had any folklore to share, and she told me about a proverb that her blind mother used to say to her.
AS: One of the things my mother always used to say to me: “Pretty is as pretty does.” Pretty is as pretty does. And basically what it means is, you can be as good looking as you want, but if you don’t act right, then you’re not pretty. So it’s about looking as good on the inside as you look on the outside. But, she used to say it in a mean way. Like if I did anything that she didn’t like or something, then she would pull that out.
This seems to be classic variation on “as beautiful on the inside as on the outside,” but reworked into a more scolding fashion. It is also somewhat amusing, since the informant’s mother was blind, the proverb/saying might have some more significance, since it involves physical appearance versus behavior.
- The main piece: Kathak
“Um… Kathak is a classical North Indian dance form. It’s like… thousands of years old or something like that. And it’s pretty much… it has to do w like storytelling and like… kinda like describing the tales of India and Pakistan and stuff. Um, so, there’s a lot about the sounds that your feet make. Like the sounds your toes, or the soles of your feet make. You kind of stomp a lot. Most of it is like one rhythm, but you change the speeds and you change your hands to portray a story. Like going super fast is like building up tension, like the snakes are about to eat you. Slow is like, you know, nicely walking through a field of flowers, so nice and pleasant. Yeah, that’s literally it.”
- Background information about the performance from the informant: why do they know or like this piece? Where/who did they learn it from? What does it mean to them? Context of the performance?
“When we finally stopped moving around and settled in Porter Ranch, we didn’t really know anyone. My parents didn’t have any Pakistani or Gujarati friends nearby, and, well, I literally knew nothing about my culture. So they signed me up for kathak classes, which really hurt your feet by the way, and that’s where I met a bunch of my really close family friends and my best friend.”
- Finally, your thoughts about the piece
This piece shows the importance that dance has as an artform in folklore. Dance combines the retelling of folk narratives, in this case legends and myths of Hindu gods and Pakistani heroes, with an aesthetically pleasing and dynamic medium of expression. It is different from normal storytelling because it is entirely nonverbal, yet it aims to recapture the emotions and visual aspects of folk narratives, making them more real to all of the community members watching.
- Informant Details
The informant is an 18 year old Indian and Pakistani American female who grew up in the United States, but moved a lot as a child. While she didn’t feel close to her parents, she met her childhood best friends through local Pakistani and Indian cultural lessons such as dance classes and singing lessons, and prizes her memories of those classes.
My informant said he has heard his parents say this expression ever since he was little; however, he did not understand the meaning behind it until he was “probably a teenager.” He says it refers to “being in a tough spot,” or getting caught in a predicament where either of the two outcomes are unfavorable. The expression “between a rock and a hard place” presents a visual to this dilemma. He also mentioned a synonymous expression: “picking the lesser of two evils.”
In 2004, Aron Ralston used this phrase for the title of his autobiography, which retells his experience while “canyoning” in the Utah desert. For Ralston, “between a rock and a hard place” sums up the predicament he found himself in after a boulder trapped his arm. While hiking deep into the Utah desert, away from regularly used trails, Ralston suddenly fell into a ravine and a boulder crushed his arm. He was forced between two options: amputate his arm himself or die from thirst or starvation. After being stuck in the ravine for over five days, he finally decided to cut his arm with a dull knife. Therefore, “between a rock and a hard place” is a play on words and quite literal interpretation of what happened to him. Ralston’s book also influenced the 2010 movie adaptation 127 Hours, starring James Franco. The popularity of the movie brought even more fame to Aron Ralston’s book and continued to circulate the American saying.
127 Hours. Dir. Danny Boyle. Perf. James Franco. Fox Searchlight, 2010.
Ralston, Aron. Between a Rock and a Hard Place. New York: Atria, 2004. Print.
My informant works part-time for a small-sized consulting firm, and takes a lot of readings and data measurements as part of his job. He hears this metaphor frequently when being assigned to do these readings, especially when he wants the data to be as accurate as possible. He also uses this metaphor when critiquing the work of interns. For the success of the consulting firm, it is important that data is read as accurately and precisely as possible. My informant explained that if two consulting firms are competing for a contract, and one company’s readings are taken in tenth of units, and the second company’s readings are taken in hundredths of units, the second company will likely get the contract because of their attention to accuracy.
Although he’s heard and used the metaphor many times, my informant cannot remember where he first heard it. He interprets the metaphor to be used as an indication of something of very small size, and that this logical reasoning is likely what has popularized this metaphor. If a gnat is small and an eyelash is small, then a gnat’s eyelash must be very tiny. He also knows he has heard the phrase used in two ways: 1) with ‘within’ to indicate a small margin of error, and 2) with ‘as small as’ to describe how miniature something appears.
I have also heard this metaphor with respect to taking and recording data, and I believe it’s commonly used as a clever way of saying something commonplace in dull mathematical fields.
My source was raised on a farm in Nebraska, and during the winter, snowstorms can be frequent and it can get very cold. He remembered his father coming inside from running an errand. After removing his outermost coat and hanging up his hat, my source’s father grinned and used this folk metaphor to describe the temperature. My source found the comment amusing. He laughed and then left to find his dad a blanket to warm up with.
Many times, my source has described many hardships of being raised on a farm, mainly the chores. At one point, it was his responsibility to milk, feed, brush, and take care of the cows. A cow’s utter is not protected by hair, and under winter conditions can become very cold. It is important that the utter does not get too cold because the cow’s tits will actually become chapped, and the cow will become sick and stop producing milk. To prevent this, my source would be sent out and would have to rub a protective balm on each cow’s tits. My source distinctly remembers how cold they felt. Now, my source made sure to explain this to me, because if he knew a cow’s tits were freezing, it made him wonder how much colder a witch’s tit would be. And for it to be colder than a witch’s tit, then it must be seriously cold outside.
My source thinks that the metaphor was developed through similar reasoning. Also, he mentioned that this metaphor is mostly shared by people who live in colder climates, because he has rarely heard it since he moved to California over thirty years ago. In my opinion, I believe the metaphor was likely developed by a drunk who stepped out into the cold and decided to exclaim the temperature was colder than two completely unrelated words. Their friends must have found this hilarious and the metaphor would have caught on and spread by word of mouth.
“She’s got her shoes on backwards.”
My informant first heard this saying in her hometown, the urban city of Pusan, Korea. It is duty in Korea for males to devote two years of their lives to army training. The training is not optional but mandatory. As soon as they were called, the boys would have to leave everything they were doing to move into a military base for two years. “She’s got her shoes on backwards” is a common saying when a young man returns from his army training. The saying means that his girlfriend before the army training would have married someone else by the time he returns. She would did not faithfully wait for him. Gwi heard this saying when she was in high school and her two older brothers were leaving for army training, and their mother warned them that by the time they return they should not expect their girlfriends to be patiently waiting because they would most likely “have their shoes on backwards.”
Apparently it happened quite frequently in Korea that a girl would not wait for her man to return from training, especially if she were faced with proposals from other men. I can see how the saying originated. When you have your shoes on backwards, your shoes point to a different direction. Instead of walking to her man, she would walk the other direction to a different man. If she has her shoes on backwards, she would walk away from her man.