My informant is a senior member of the USC track and field team. He is of African American descent and is entirely dedicated to his sport.
“Track is life. To eat healthy—these are words I learned from J.P—to eat healthy, to practice hard, to watch videos and film and study other people and how they run and how to help yourself run. So you just eat, breathe, sleep track. Its all you think about, its all you do. It’s a thing, it’s a thing actually, but it can also be applied to other sports. Like, ball is life. Like when n****s eat, drink, and sleep basketball. So like even if you *motions twisting his ankle* you just keep goin cause its life.”
Analysis: This proverb exemplifies the lifestyle of the person or people who use it. The statement is simple but powerful “track is life” meaning that everything that that individual does, is for track. I thought that this piece was particularly interesting because the noun in the beginning of the proverb can be changed depending on the sport and the groups of athletes that use it. Track is life for someone who runs, but “ball is life” for another individual who plays basketball or football. The universality of the proverb is part of what makes it so powerful, it can be applied to almost anyone and anything with simple changes to the word choice. It is also something that can be universally understood, because anyone who is in love with their sport will understand what the speaker is saying when they state that “Track is life” or “Ball is life” etc.
“So the saying is, ‘Sick,’ but it’s not like, ‘Oh bro, that was sick,’ or ‘Are you okay? You look sick,’ it’s not like that. It’s kind of similar to ‘toolbag,’ you know, where it’s like you can’t really explain ‘toolbag,’ but if you see a toolbag walking down the street you’re like, ‘Whoa, that guy’s a fucking toolbag.’ So ‘sick’ is kind of like, it can be used in many different contexts, it’s kind of like ‘fuck’ can, where it’s kind of like, ‘Whoa, what the fuck!’ or it’s like, ‘Holy fucking shit, that was awesome.’ Um, so it’s something that [her ex-boyfriend] and his friends like kind of made up and I just like adopted through the years and it just like, it kind of makes you feel like weird inside, or like, ‘Whoa, that person’s getting really gross,’ or like the action that they’re doing is very . . . interesting, I guess, or like something that they said was very interesting, whether in a funny way or a bad way. So an example is, if someone said something really funny—or if someone was doing a really funny dance move, we could like point and be like, ‘Oh my gosh, ha ha ha, that person’s getting really sick right now.’ When it’s like ‘Oh, they’re doing something really interesting, like I’ve never seen that before, but we love it, it’s really funny.’ But then it can also be like, if someone says something wrong, where it’s like if [ex-boyfriend] and I got in a fight and I was like, ‘[Ex-boyfriend], what the fuck? Like you’re a fucking cheater!’ Then if [his] friends that they could be like, ‘Whoa, why are you getting so sick right now?’ . . . So it can be used to like, characterize someone’s statement, if that makes sense, or someone’s action in neither judging way or nonjudgmental way.”
The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who grew up in competitive snowboarding and has dabbled in CrossFit and other workout programs. She has been in a prominent sorority on campus since coming to USC and goes out every night of the weekend, as well as some nights of the week. I live with the informant and the interview took place in my room during one of the lengthy conversations we often have. The informant learned the use of this word from her ex-boyfriend. She uses it because she got in the habit of communicating with him and his friends and this is a common word in their group.
I think it’s interesting that this is a word that has already been adopted into colloquial usage, but which has a different meaning. Indeed, the meaning of ‘sick’ in this case is somewhere between the adjective meaning “cool” and the state of being meaning “ill.” It makes me wonder if this word first started being used as a code for people to say something was weird or interesting when everyone else around them thought they were saying it was cool. I also think it’s interesting that the informant thinks this phrase is neither judgmental nor nonjudgmental. It is as if the people using it are making commentary on someone else’s state of being, although I think there is some sort of judgment implied.
“Do you even lift?”
“I would use it if . . . if someone was like walking down the street and they looked like they were really jacked and they were wearing like, one of those like douche-y frat bro tanks, I’d be like, ‘Dude, D-Y-E-L?’ But, like, if he didn’t lift then he’d probably be like, ‘What?’ but if he did he’d be like, ‘Oh, dude totally.’ And then it’s like that connection.”
The informant thinks she learned it from a hashtag on an Instagram account for CrossFit. “It means a lot, actually, like to me personally . . . If someone knows what DYEL means then it’s like, oh like, you’ve done your research type of thing, or it’s like you follow those CrossFit Instagrams, you follow those like bodybuilding Instagrams, like you’re into the fitness which means you’re like into the community and like . . . ‘cause a lot of people do say like, ‘Oh yeah I work out,’ and it’s like I could sit on a treadmill and watch TV too. Like I don’t consider that a workout. Like if you can watch TV that’s not a workout to me. If you can, like, have thoughts that’s not a workout to me it’s like you should be pushing yourself to be, like, where your body is failing . . . where it’s like you can’t do another sit-up, you can’t do another squat, you can’t do another push-up . . . ‘cause then it means like you’re actually, like, making your body better. And that’s what lifting is about. It’s like pushing yourself, ‘cause it’s not only like, like you’re not only pushing yourself physically, but you have to be mentally strong because it’s like, it’s painful to be like, ‘Fuck, I have to do this again?’”
“Like I can instantly look at someone, even if they’re in a full suit, and be like, ‘Yes or no.’ Like, from the way, like, they look or like I see all these guys in the gym and their upper bodies look strong, but I can lift more than them . . . It’s interesting, the culture, because they do it for looks rather than functionality and like, I don’t have a six-pack by any means, like I have, like, more fat on my body, but like, I’m in better shape than them . . . they’re way off, which is, like really sad, because like, they don’t know what they’re doing and then like you’re destroying your body and you’re gonna hurt yourself later in life, which is a really sad thought . . . They’re doing it wrong, and they don’t even lift. So that is my DYEL.”
The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who grew up in competitive snowboarding and has dabbled in CrossFit and other workout programs. She sees herself as a part of “lifting culture” and values physical strength and hard work in other people. It was interesting to me that she had such a long explanation of what “DYEL” means, as I had only previously heard about it in a joking context. From what I understand about “DYEL,” it is frequently used as a sarcastic turn of phrase online and in the world at large. I agree with the gist of what the informant said, though, as it seems like this acronym is a way of quickly establishing who belongs in the lifting community, and who does not. It seems like the community is very aware of how it is perceived and that people frequently try to pass for being a part of it, so things like “DYEL” easily separate out those that are “in the know.” Of course, it is also noteworthy that the informant learned of this acronym/hashtag from an Instagram account. It speaks to the spaces in which the lifting community is meeting and the way they feel they need to express themselves in a larger social sphere.
“Well, so my mom used to complain about how big my feet were for someone so small, and my grandmother would tell me that, ‘The good Lord put a strong foundation on precious things.’ . . . So that was the saying that made me feel better.”
The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up. The informant learned this proverb from her grandmother (known in the family as Me-Ma) and the informant thinks she learned it from her own mother (the informant’s great grandmother).
The informant says that her grandmother used this saying “in that moment because I was feeling bad about how big my feet were and it made me feel special.” She thinks it means “that you should be happy with what you have and things will change and you will be fine. At least someone’s looking out for you ahead of time and you don’t even know.”
This proverb sounds right in line with the things that would be said among that side of the family. What I mean by this is that my mother learned a lot of similar sayings that sound like they might come from the Bible, but actually do not. The reason for this might be that religion was a really important authority in this group of people, and making something sound like it is entrenched in that way of thinking gives it legitimacy, even if it’s something silly. Additionally, it is interesting that such a strong proverb was used to make a little girl feel better about her big feet. This might be because a child would be more likely to believe something, even if that something was as substantial that she should accept her herself, if it came more formally phrased.
“The other thing I remember is my grandmother on my dad’s side, when we would go eat dinner with them, well first of all it was called ‘supper.’ ‘Dinner’ is lunch and ‘supper’ is supper and there would always be at least three meat dishes on the table. So you’d always have, like, venison, there was always fried fish, and there was usually like ham or a roast as the third meat. And then for dessert there were always at least three choices for dessert. And the saying was, ‘You have to clean your plate.’ So . . . yeah, I never felt that great after eating there. So full. But ‘you have to clean your plate.’ If you put it on your plate, you have to eat it. So then you just learn to put less on your plate, unless you’re just gonna make yourself eat it. You can’t throw anything away.”
The informant was a 50-year-old woman who works as a middle school teacher teaching English, dance, and history to 7th and 8th graders. Although she has spent the last 19 years living in the San Francisco Bay Area, she grew up in Lubbock, Texas and Austin, Texas. She is also my mother, and this interview took place over Skype one afternoon when we were talking about things she did when she was growing up. She learned it from both of her grandmothers who “both grew up in the Great Depression and during the war when there wasn’t a lot of, when they used coupons to get their food.” She thinks this proverb is “about not wasting any food. And they didn’t have iceboxes, or well they had iceboxes which didn’t keep the food as well.”
I included the details about central Texas supper because it struck me as interesting and unusual that there always had to be three different kinds of meat on the table. I have no idea why this might have been, but it seems like it was a pretty hard and fast rule. I also thought it was interesting that different people refer to different meals differently, even if they reside in the same country. I agree with the informant that “Clean your plate” is probably related to the time period in which the two women grew up. In addition to there being the Great Depression and WWII, food was generally less abundant in all times before this one. I have often heard this saying in American households and I think it reflects the negative attitude most people have towards wasting food.
Health is Wealth
Meaning: Being healthy is much more important than material wealth in one’s life and must never be neglected.
I had met the informant though my dental honor society on campus, and after getting to know her I asked if she was familiar with any Indian proverbs or legends to help me out with her folklore project. Her parents were both born in Bombay and when they moved to the United States in the 1980’s, her grandparents moved along with them. Several years ago, her grandfather unfortunately died of cancer and she always remembered her grandmother saying the proverb above, explaining that without your health you really have nothing in your life because none of the other material objects matter.
I asked the informant if she knew the Sandskrit translation of the proverb, but her parents never taught her how to write in it. She asked her dad if he could send a Sandskrit translation of the proverb, which is listed above. I asked her more about the proverb, and she explained that its a very common one used in India and that most are familiar with it, having learned it from relatives or from others in the community. I liked hearing this proverb because my mom has always told me whenever I’m down that “at least I have my health.” Being healthy really is one of the most important blessings in life, and its reassuring to know that other people across the world value family and health over material objects.
“Whenever I was going out for the night or spending time with friends, my mother would always warn me that ‘the trolls would come out and get [me]‘ if I got into trouble. She was definitely influenced by Swedish folklore because of growing up in Sweden.”
The informant, my best friend’s father, was born in Oklahoma to Swedish parents. He remembers Swedish folklore influencing much of his parents’ speech. His parents were responsible for him learning of Swedish culture and much of the folk speech inspired by Swedish tradition. Though he and his family never believed in trolls per say, trolls were a big part of the culture, representing a significant danger for those traveling alone in the forest or mountains. I had asked the informant about the influence of Swedish folklore on his life at lunch when he visited my friend over Spring Break and it was funny to hear that how when he was little, he was deathly afraid that a troll would actually come and take him if he was misbehaving.
I always find stories from other cultures amusing that entail parents telling their kids to behave or something bad will happen. Many children take their parents threats literally and shape up over the fear of some monster coming to get them. The story my friend’s dad told me reminds me of what I’ve learned in our folklore class thus far regarding La Llorona, as many Latino parents tell their kids that she will come and take them if they continue to misbehave.
“He/she has taken a cotton onto you.”
My grandma grew up in a small town outside of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Her parents were strawberry farmers and she helped take care of their farm before meeting my grandfather and moving to Long Beach, California. Whenever speaking about someone who seemed to be attracted to another person, she always uses the phrase “took a cotton to” to describe the situation, as cotton has a tendency to stick to clothing upon touching it. Since she grew up in the South, it’s not a surprise to see this expression become part of her vernacular, as cotton was one of the South’s main industries since its colonization. In speaking to my grandma, she learned the phrase by hearing her parents use it along with her friends parents when she was in elementary school, all of whom were involved in some sort of agricultural production.
I enjoy hearing my grandma say the phrase because it makes me feel more connected with my family roots in the South, despite many of the negative connotations that associate cotton growing with slavery. I’ve used the phrase a couple times here and though people understand the analogy, they tend to think of it as a random and bizarre expression since cotton farming is completely unfamiliar here in Los Angeles.