USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘folk saying’
Digital
Folk speech
general
Humor
Proverbs

Difficult Difficult Lemon Difficult

Context: My roommate discovered this meme one day, and it prompted a discussion about the various levels of depth it reached.

Background: My roommate is a self-described “conveyor of fine memes” and has a hobby of collecting, creating, and sharing Internet memes.

The Meme: The meme (attached to this post) is a play on the phrase “easy peasy lemon squeezy.” The phrased is reworked in a text explanation that laments the fact that things are not “easy peasy lemon squeezy” as once believed, but are in fact “difficult difficult lemon difficult.” This explanation is accompanied by the image of a middle-aged woman furiously gripping a laptop in both hands and biting into it.

Analysis: This became a folklore discussion as a surprise, as the further my roommate and I discussed it, the more it seemed to work as a piece of folk speech. “Difficult difficult lemon difficult” is definitely an evolution of the saying “easy peasy lemon squeezy,” which itself has an origin that feels meaningless in the context the phrase has since gained. The specific discovery of the newly-changed saying also has the context of being in meme form, memes being one of the more common areas of unauthored expression in the 21st century.

Proverbs

“Don’t let the left hand know what the right hand’s doing”

The informant is originally from Fullerton, CA and her mother is from New York who would tell her this line.  Both women are Jewish as well.

The informant explains that as a teenager growing up as young woman and beginning to first start dating young men her mother would always tell her: “Don’t let the left hand know what the right hand’s doing.”  The informant explains that her mother would give her this advice with the idea that you should go out with multiple guys at one time as long as you do not let the two different guys find out what is going on.  She explains that she gave this suggestion because the mother didn’t feel as though a girl should have to just date one guy if she was interested in multiple.  The informant explains that this applies more generally to going out with two different groups, but not letting the other group know what you’re doing.  The informant explains that her mother still passes this advice onto her grandchildren.  The informant explains that she first heard this saying from her mother and is not sure whether the mother created the line or heard it from someone else.

This saying gives an interesting outlook on what values or interests the mother who passed this information down to her daughter and grandchildren has.  It is clear that within her view, it is best to not limit oneself when looking for dating opportunities.  It would be interesting to take a survey of a number of people and ask if they approve or disapprove of this saying.

The informant explains that her daughter has heard her grandmother give this advice and that she is slightly annoyed because she doesn’t like her daughter playing with the emotions of multiple guys.

Proverbs

“Put your foot up on the barstool”

Informant explains a line that her mother told her when she was beginning to go out at night to bars and interacting with men.  The informant explains her mother would always ask, “Did you put your foot up on the barstool?”  The informant explains that this was a way of mother asking whether she had tried or met different guys at the bar or whatever places the informant went out that night.  The informant does not know whether the mother created this saying herself or heard it somewhere else.  The informant explains that her mother continues to ask her grandchildren whether they had “put their foot on the barstool” after a night of going out.

This saying collected from the informant is interesting as it relates to young women meeting men when they go out for the night.  The question and saying indicates the older/parent generation’s interest in the younger generation’s interactions with men.  It indicates the great interest parents have in their daughters meeting someone who they may potentially marry.  It also displays young women’s interest in putting themselves out there to meet someone special.

Folk speech

“Malian Folk-Saying: Part Two”

            The informant was born and raised in Bamako, Mali until the age of ten, when she and her family moved to the San Francisco area. Half-French and half-Malian, the informant has lived a diverse life full of unique and varied cultural activities. She visits both Paris and Bamako during vacations and maintains a strong connection with family in both countries. She is fluent in English, French, and Bambara, which is the primary language spoken in Mali and part of the West African Mande language family. Related dialects are spoken in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, similar enough so that the informant felt confident that people living in those countries would understand the saying.

            She learned this Bambara folk-saying from her father, who in turned learned it from his mother. It is used more frequently by older generations than the other folk-saying she shared, “a dgelly mandi.” Her Malian grandmother, who she described as “critical and grumpy, kind of like how you would imagine a village’s token crazy grandma,” uses the saying all the time to describe people she doesn’t approve of, especially in reference to her nephews’ and grandsons’ girlfriends. Within the informant’s family, although the saying is intended for cautionary purposes, her grandmother’s liberal use of it has given it more of a comedic effect; she said most of her family members now groan, laugh, or roll their eyes and say, “Not again!” when her grandmother recites the phrase.

 

            “A ka fanga bê bin kênê djeni” is Bambara, too, which in English means, “She could burn fresh grass,” and, you know, fresh grass doesn’t burn. So, basically, it’s meant to say “She’s too difficult to deal with” or “She’s impossible.”  

 

            Particularly interesting is that both Malian sayings offered by the informant are structured through the feminine pronoun, although it can be used to reference both genders. The most likely hypothesis, then, is that men in the village first used it to describe women, although perhaps the saying was authored by a jealous wife or frustrated mother. Like “A dgelly mandi,” this folk saying, too, could be easily used among town gossips or among close friends and family.

             The emphasis the informant’s father placed on visualizing Malian proverbs is quite interesting in this case; it is nearly impossible to read with translated saying without imagining a woman walking by a plot of green grass and having it immediately burst into flames. This adds a layer of spirituality and mystique because then the saying suggests that this woman, or person, has a sort of (evil) power that others do not possess. Although the saying is not taken literally, it is not difficult to imagine that it may have first arisen from a spiritual or magical belief.

Folk speech

“Malian Folk-Saying”

            The informant was born and raised in Bamako, Mali until the age of ten, when she and her family moved to the San Francisco area. Half-French and half-Malian, the informant has lived a diverse life full of unique and varied cultural activities. She visits both Paris and Bamako during vacations and maintains a strong connection with family in both countries. She is fluent in English, French, and Bambara, which is the primary language spoken in Mali and part of the West African Mande language family. Related dialects are spoken in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast, similar enough so that the informant felt confident that people living in those countries would understand the saying.

            She heard the folk-saying as she was growing up, and she mentioned her father uses it quite often; it is a common saying both in her family and among Malians collectively. However, she did state that older generations often say it to younger folk as a caution or warning. After speaking more with her father, the informant also learned that African, and especially Malian, proverbs and sayings are typically very visual and as she said, “paint a picture about the person.” Indeed, the detail in imagery is evident in both sayings collected from the informant.

 

            “A dgelly mandi” is an expression in Bambara that literally translates to “her blood is not good,”  but basically it means “there’s something I don’t like about him/her” or “that person rubs me the wrong way.” You know how some people just have faces that aren’t nice-people faces? Not that they can’t be good looking, just that they look shady, or that something doesn’t seem right about them. Well that’s what that means. My dad says it as a warning sometimes when talking to his business partners about people that he’s met with, and, oh my god, you should hear my grandma in Mali. She is one of the biggest gossipers in our hometown and this is definitely a phrase that gossipers use. Most of the time they’re women, sometimes older women say it to younger girls, but even, like, high school girls might say it to each other when they’re ragging on a boy or don’t think he’s a good guy.

 

            It is a struggle to find an English equivalent to “a dgelly mandi” because there is no phrase quite as succinct or punchy. The folk-saying is very much spiritual in nature in the sense that there is an intangible quality―and energy, perhaps―that exudes negativity from the individual. Logic and reason don’t find a place in this folk-saying, as it relies more on intuitive feeling. It seems natural, then to think that perhaps Malians place significant importance on first impressions; looking or coming off negatively may be a difficult hurdle to overcome if Malians have even developed a saying for it. It is interesting to consider whether people who are deemed “a dgelly mandi” have a more difficult time creating friendships or relationships, how subjective the use of the phrase is. For instance, are there certain physical characteristics that are more likely to look “a dgelly mandi” (for instance, unusually dark eyes or upturned, sneer-like lips)? Because the informant stated that the phrase is often thrown around gossip circles, it would be curious to examine whether one person’s use of the phrase affects another’s perception of the individual in question, or whether it is brushed off as merely an opinion. In the case that older folk are saying it to younger generations for cautionary purposes, however, it is likely given much more gravity than amongst similarly-aged gossipers.

             The fact that the literal translation is structured in the feminine form could suggest a link between blood and the female through the menstrual cycle. Perhaps the “not good blood” in the translation originally referred to child-birthing difficulties or miscarriages that had negatively branded women in the neighborhood.  

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

Know How To Make God Laugh?

“You know how to make god laugh? Tell him your plans.”

Clip from Interview

Informant: I know a saying, I think its pretty common though:

“You know how to make god laugh? Tell him your plans.”

Interviewer: “Who did you hear that from, was there any background to the occasion you heard this saying?”

Informant: “I don’t know who told me, I think it was my mom, I want to say. I don’t know, I come from the south so it is like bible belt, so I definitely heard it while I was back home in Nashville. I don’t know it is just a very Christian community, I think I was like telling someone about what I wanted er what I what I wanted to do with my life or something and that is what they came back with. I think it was like you never know sort of what lies ahead of you. God has it all planned out and you have no idea what it is.”

Interviewer: “Why did you like this saying, like why did you remember it until now?”

Informant: “I just think that it’s a good way to look at the world. I believe in God and I believe he does have a plan for all of us. Um, and I also just I never thought I would be a screenwriting major um until junior year and its like you know you just…” “and I also believe that… I’ve just been looking back on my life and I go there is no way this is all just circumstance or this is all just random. It was obviously because A has led to B which has led to C which has eventually led me here. I just think it is a good saying and like you know, just trust in God cause he has answers. You never really know what’s in store”

 

The informant is a student at the University of Southern California studying screenwriting. She is a Caucasian female and comes from Nashville. She is Christian herself and comes from a religious background. The informant heard this folklore from another person in her community, possibly her mother, when asked about her college plans.

As stated in the interview, the informant was impacted by the saying. She still remembers it and can recall the saying rather quickly. She does believe in Christianity and so she found the statement to ring true with her beliefs that God is an omniscient figure who “has it all planned out.” The informant interpreted this saying as an instruction to have faith in God because he will take care of it. The informant related her understanding of this saying to the movie Marley and Me stating that although the main character “had all these plans, they didn’t work out, but she was happy in the end.”

In comparison to some of the other folk beliefs I was able to gather, this informant had a very close connection to this saying; a connection which was apparent in her mannerisms and speech during the interview.

 

Folk speech

You’ve Sold the Butter but Lost the Money

It looks like you sold the butter but lost the money. This one is when you’re, like, when you look sad…people can say that cuz they’re like…you’ve done something good and you’ve lost it. You have your butter and you sell it and then you lose the money you make. So you do something well but you don’t keep it.

 

This is a rather tricky saying to unpack. In essence, I believe it attempts to say that one cannot sustain the success one has achieved—it is an ephemeral success. This saying seems akin to the American saying, “you’ve dropped the ball”. This saying implies that you’ve done something great (or have been given the opportunity to do something great) but failed to sustain that greatness—you messed up.

 

I believe that my experience in diving perfectly embodies this saying. I am a springboard and platform diver, and in diving consistency is what makes you successful—consistency in practice and consistency in meets. When my coach gives me corrections he always stresses that we take a few moments to reflect on what we’ve just done after we successfully make the correction he asks of us. It doesn’t matter if I am able to make the correction once; what matters is that I am able to sustain the correction, hold on to the change, otherwise I’ve done something great and then lost it—just like this Swedish saying describes.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

El Boniatal, or Sweet Potato

“Dicen que el boniato es un jugete. Me dio trenta tauretes. tres mesas y un tinajero. Maquina con costureros que no se pueden nombrar, y me dio para forrar el corral de la arboleda. Valla a casa para que vea donde queda el boniatal.”

English:
They say the sweet potato is a toy. It gave me thirty stools, three tables & a water jar holder. a sewing machine with sewers which cannot be named and it gave me enough to fix the corral for my grove. Go to my house so you can see where my sweet potato plantation is located.

This cuban refran, or saying, is basically saying that the speaker is thankful for their vegetable/ crop because it provides for them all of their neccessities. My informant was a field worker in cuba when she was young and picked it up among elder family members. It makes sense that they would hold the sweet potato in such high regard, as they lived an agricultural life-style and would be almost completely dependant on their crop to make a living.

 

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

El Reloj or The Clock

“Tal parece que me vela y me dice el minutero, pongase aprisa el sombrero y salga para la escuela. El tiempo corre veloz, mas un amigo cercano. Por la manana temprano me despierta con su voz. Casi nunca se retrasa y por eso lo bendigo. Sepase usted que es mi amigo, el reloj de mi casa.”

English:

It seems that it watches me and the minute hand tells me, quickly! Put your hat and go to school. The time runs fast, yet it’s a close friend. Early in the morning it wakes me up with its voice. It hardly ever falls back and that’s why I bless it. I will have you know that its my friend, the clock of my house.

This is a cuban refran, or saying, which message is basically thankfulness for the clock in their home. It’s a sort of homage to the clock, which never falls behind and helps them to stay punctual. Time in cuban culture would likely be a precious comodity. My informant, who was a field worker in cuba when she was young, tells me that her family had schedules that they adhered to on most days for work. As part of a group that relied on the changing of the seasons and weather for agricultural, and thus monetary, success, it makes sense that time would be viewed as something worth having a saying about.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

I care three cucumbers

“Me importa tres pepinos”

English:

I care three cucumbers.

This is another saying with agricultural reference in cuban foklore, the meaning of which is that the speaker simply doesn’t care. A similar American saying would be “I don’t give a shit,” or I don’t give a rat’s ass,” only less vulgar. My informant tells me that cucumbers were generally very inexpensive when she was living in cuba when she was growing up there.

 

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