Tag Archives: folk metaphor

Want and Communism

“Al que quiere azul celeste, que le cueste.”


To the one who wants sky blue, let it cost them- If you want something specific in life, its going to cost you.

This metaphor has deep ties to the communist idea of not wanting more than everybody else. The idea in communist culture that someone may want more or something special or different is, of course, not uncommon, but this saying is a sort of caution about the price of desiring better than what others settle for. My informant, having grown up in a family full of cuban refugees, heard this metaphor from two of her elder cousins regarding higher education. In this context, it was more or less a warning as to the amount of time, money, and effort it takes for one to get a higher education, though it was not neccessarily a dissaproval.

This metaphor seems to stem from the dying of clothing in Cuba, and how certain shades had to be mixed carefully and took considerable time,money, and effort to create instead of simple, naturally occuring shades that most citizens wear.

Aim High

“Tu no vas a cojer mangos bajito”


You will not grab the mangos when you’re down low.

This metaphor is basically telling the listener that they must aim high in order to reap the benefits of labor. As my informant was a cuban immigrant who was raised by other cuban immigrants from whom she heard this saying from, this metaphor is appropriate in that not only does it make an agricultural reference when the majority of her family were once field workers, but also refers to the ideal that hard work leads to wonderful rewards. According to my informant, this ideal is one of the main reasons they risked life and limb to come to America in the first place.

“Solamente son pajitas que le caen in la leche.”

The folk metaphor described verbatim by informant:

“When there’s something I’m bothered by, my Puerto Rican mother says to me ‘Solamente son pajitas que le caen en la leche’: they’re just little flecks that fly in the milk. You can see them but they’re just not important.

I agree with that philosophy to try and not allow the small things to bother you, you should save your pain and suffering for the big things that are going to come no matter what.”

My informant says that her mother has being telling her this proverb her whole life and that she has since said it to her own children in its original Spanish form. Her mother is from Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico where as the oldest of 13 children she worked, cooked, and took care of her family on a farm for many years. She since has jumped from the United States, San Juan, Puerto Rico (where my informant grew up), the Dominican Republic, and back to the United States again. In the words of my informant, her mother was a strong woman who had a hard life. She says the proverb because it’s true and important to her and because it reminds her of her mother. It’s a metaphor that is applicable to anyone, as stress over little things is a not uncommon. The philosophy of not letting “flecks” ruin your “milk” is great, and is nowadays seemingly lost within the unnecessarily high-stress life of post-modernity. Everyone has little problems or “flecks” that fly in their “milk.” It’s a part of life. Save your pain for something bigger.

French Idioms: It’s All About Food (Or Is It?)

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “So French sayings… there are some sayings that I’ve told you before, one of them would be, ‘Ok the deal is done. You say, the carrots are cooked.’ The original version is “Les carrottes sont cuites.”

Interviewer: “And where did you first hear that?”

Informant: “Well, I was growing up.  Ok, now I am drinking out of a bottle. And this is the last drop, and I would say normally, ‘hey, the bottle is empty.’ But now I can say, ‘La fin des haricots’. ‘It’s the end of the beans!'”

Interviewer: “So ‘the end of the beans’ is a drinking saying?”

Informant: “No, it’s just something that you say. There is no more beans.  It’s kind of interchangeable with the other one that says the carrots are cooked. It’s done, it’s finished. It’s ready to eat in one case, and in the other case you have to go and get more.”


An important aspect of French culture is French cuisine, and this love for food can even be seen in French expressions.  The first expression, “Les carrottes sont cuites” or in English “the carrots are cooked” is an idiom expressing that the event is over, or as my informant put it “the deal is done.”  This expression came from the idea that you would cook your carrots with your meat.  For this reason, the cooked carrots were associated with death. Therefore, “les carrottes sont cuites”  is a colloquial expression used ironically in a serious situation.  It means that something has gone disastrous, or that “it is all over”.  This expression can be used when the situation is very serious, but the person using the expression is trying to make light of the situation.  Such as a business deal that has gone bad.  I have also heard my informant use this expression humorously after we opened Christmas presents together.  He looked at all the discarded wrapping paper on the ground and exclaimed, “Les carrottes sont cuites!” 

The other expression mentioned, “la fin des haricots”, is interchangeable with the previous expression because both are referring to something that is over in a tragic way. This expression is fairly new in French language, as opposed to the pervious expression.  It refers to the idea that if you are eating the beans you are eating the last of your stored food. Thus, it’s all over!  I had never heard my informant use this expression perviously to the interview.

My informant was born to Hungarian immigrants in 1928 Paris, France.  He later immigrated to California in 1947, having spent much of War World II in hiding due to his Jewish heritage.  He holds multiple citizenships in both the United States and France.  He now lives in Manhattan Beach, California with his wife and has three children and five grandchildren.

“A woman is a cob of maize for any mouth that has its teeth”

The first time my informant head this metaphor was in the first few months of his residency in Congo.  He had just started his missionary work, his reason for moving from the United States, and when he’d be walking from place to place, he would hear groups of men laughing together and they would often recite this folk metaphor.

My informant explained that the women in Congo were not respected, and this metaphor speaks to that sentiment.  He said the proverb means that a woman has no rights, and that any man can claim a woman, for marriage or sex (mostly), as long as they desire to do so.

In areas of Congo, maize is grown by farmers and is common in their diets.  To eat maize, one must simply make use of their teeth.  As accessible maize is to one’s diet, a woman is just as available to satisfy a male’s desires.  It is upon this comparison that the metaphor is established.

As my informant continued his work in Africa, he tried to quell this popular opinion towards women.  However, while he was able to share the benefits of valuing women and giving them rights, only a few actually put these ideas into practice.  Other than these individuals, this folk metaphor remains popular to the majority of males in the country and women continue to be shown little to no esteem.

Annotation: The African proverb can also be found in Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy, Heinemann; Reissue edition, 1991