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

“On blood”: Los Angeles Inner-City Gang Saying

Informant:

Due to some self-incrimination, the informant wishes to remain anonymous, and thus I will only use his first initial. A is a 22-year-old, African American male who grew up in Southern California. He dropped out of high-school and did not attend college. He now lives in Southern California and works as a mechanic.

Background info:

A and I grew up in a similar environment. We met when we were both around 12 and 13 in the Los Angeles foster care system. Because foster-parents rarely kept track of the children and usually did not keep them fed or clothed, A has been heavily involved in gang-related activities since I met him. His home environment was abusive, and he was subjected to drugs early in life, as well.

Context:

Because A and I lived in a few foster-homes together, we have a shared tragedy, and thus a bond where he felt comfortable to talk to me. I invited him over to discuss how he had been since I last saw him, and we eventually began discussing the state of current Hip-Hop music. This piece is a phrase popular in his vocabulary, and, for context, the following is a transcript of the conversation we had that led to the phrase being said. (I will be represented with a J.)

Main piece:

J: “Have you heard the diss tracks between Joyner Lucas and Tory Lanez?”

A: “Yeah, I heard ‘em. I can’t believe this fool Tory think he can just come into the rap game and claim to be the best. Joyner clowned on this fool on his own track.”

J: “Yeah, his song was fire. He’s actually pretty lyrical, as well. I’m glad he and Eminem did a track together. I thought for sure they’d get an Emmy for it.”

A: “Man, you know Eminem is done. That man ain’t getting any more awards – his whole career was built on being the only white boy who could spit. The hype has been over for years. Ain’t nobody out there listening to him, only the white people who want to think they apart of it.”

J: “Do you think Eminem should get praise for his lyricism, though?”

A: “On blood, if Eminem tried to blow today, he wouldn’t sell a single track. Half the stuff he be saying goes over everybody’s head, man.”

Thoughts:

Growing up in the poor areas of Los Angeles, without help from home, a lot of children and young teens end up joining gangs. The gangs become their new families, and people would die for that. A was one of these kids and ended up joining a subset of the Bloods gang. I was familiar with this when I met him. Because he was so young, the gang influence became a major part of his life. “On blood”, or “On the blood”, is a common street phrase among Blood gang members. It is typically used as a promise or swear, meaning “I swear to the Blood gang”, like when people say, “I swear to God” or “I swear on my mother’s grave”. Swearing to something important represents a promise that you would never break without breaking faith with the thing you swear to. This phrase is common because the culture of gang life is to value the gang over everything else, even religion or one’s own life.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
general
Proverbs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Turkish Tree Branch Proverb

Informant:

D, a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until D was 16.

Background info:

D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household.

Context:

This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say around the house when he was younger. He would also repeat this to his younger siblings when they would act up to try to show them that they are misbehaving. The following is the context for which it was said.

Me: “Are there any other phrases or sayings that your parents would say to you? Or Turkish phrases you would hear them say to themselves?”

D: “Um… Well, my brother, sister, and I were always misbehaving. When we would act out, my mother would not punish us with the traditional spanking… Instead, she would try to show us what we were doing wrong and ask us whether or not we would want to be doing this when we were old and gray. One of the phrases in Turkish that she would use was ‘Ağaç yaş iken eğilir’, which means that people should learn the best way to behave as soon as possible because older people tend to be stuck in their ways.

Main piece:

Turkish: “Ağaç yaş iken eğilir”

English Translation: “The tree branch should be bent when it is young”

Thoughts:

I asked him if he could relate this phrase to any other Turkish phrases, as this is a fairly common saying. He could not think of any. Though not exactly this phrase, there are variants in all cultures. For example, in English, we say “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” which essentially has the same meaning. Things should be taught young, otherwise people will struggle to learn it. This is a common theme in a lot of proverbs and folk stories. This phrase can be applied in American culture, but it is also important to D’s family dynamic. The Turkish culture stresses teaching manners and polite etiquette early in life, and despite growing up in the United States, it’s interesting that the values carried over from his mother. Manners are something that was lacking in the American culture I saw growing up. Families focused more on punishing bad behavior to prevent it rather than show the children what is right.

 

 

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Turkish Proverb about Hurtful Sayings

Informant:

The informant (D), a 23-year-old, Turkish male who grew up in Turkey until he turned 8 before moving to the United States. He now lives in Boise, Idaho, but spent a lot of time with his mother, who only spoke Turkish until D was 16.

Background info:

D’s first language was Turkish. He and his mother would converse this way, despite him being fluent in English. His mother would tell him stories and folklore from Turkey, as she was very proud of her heritage. This is one of the Turkish proverbs in their household.

Context:

This is a Turkish phrase that D’s parents would say around the house when he was younger. He would also repeat this to his younger siblings when they would act up to try to show them that they are misbehaving. The following is the context for which it was said.

Me: “Are there any other phrases or sayings that your parents would say to you? Or Turkish phrases you would hear them say to themselves?”

D: “Because we were young and fought a lot, my mom would often repeat wisdom to us… One of the phrases in Turkish that she would use was ‘Bıçak yarası geçer, dil yarası geçmez’, which means that people could hurt you like… physically, but you will heal from those. But when people try to hurt one another with like words or insults, it will stick with them. People will feel the pain for a very long time, and they will think a lot about it. My mom would tell us she would rather pick us up from school for fighting than to hear that we were calling someone names or trying to insult someone like… personally.”

Main piece:

Turkish: “Bıçak yarası geçer, dil yarası geçmez”

English Translation: “A knife wound will heal, but a tongue wound festers”

Thoughts:

As D explained what this Turkish saying was, I kept thinking back to an English phrase that I heard a lot as a child. I would always be told that “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will/should never hurt you.” I find the difference in cultures very interesting, as his parents would almost encourage physical violence over emotional or verbal insults – almost saying that an attack on one’s character is one of the worst things. It makes sense that this would be taught young, as children are the most impressionable both in terms of learning right from wrong and being negatively affected by insults. Growing up in American schools, I witnessed teachers trying to prevent physical fighting more aggressively than verbal or emotional insults, but D’s family would rather let the kids fight physically (reasonably, of course) than have them call each other names or insult them. The Turkish culture stresses teaching manners and polite etiquette early in life, and despite growing up in the United States, it’s interesting that these values carried over from his mother.

 

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Eso Si Que Es

Um, a saying… I don’t think it counts as a proverb, but um… my mom would always say “eso si que es” (I know that! That’s such a proverb!) Oh yeah? I thought it was too silly to be a proverb. (No, that doesn’t matter. I like the silly things. Anyway, keep going.) It, it just means “it is what it is,” which, I guess, yeah. But, there’s also like the joke to it as well, where it’s like, you’d ask, “how do you say- how do you spell socks in english?  So, ¿cómo se deletrea calcetines en inglés?” And the joke is, it’s “it is what it is, S O C K S (NB: ess oh see kay ess, eso si que es)” And that’s like the “ba-dum PSHH,” but my mom would always say it in important moments.

 

Context & Analysis: D is a 21 year old Mexican trans woman. She was born and currently lives in Texas. I asked her if she had any traditions or celebrated any holidays in a particular way, and she told me about a few. This informant learned this piece from her mother. This conversation was recorded and transcribed. I think it’s very telling that D learned this gesture from her mother as women have performed folklore since its inception (Mills 1993). I love the double meaning; I think that is the reason this saying is especially popular among American hispanic folks as many of us know both Spanish and English. I like that D’s mother would use it during serious moments to lighten the tension. While folklore is often used as an educational or parenting tool, with a moral and everything, proverbs such as this are often humorous enough to remember and abide by.

Customs
Game
Humor
Musical

Long Island High School Band Customs

A – “There are a couple things we always did, every day we had class, once we got to class back in high school.  There’s this thing at Schreiber [our High School] where, every musician with their instrument ready would blow out some really poor-sounding tone, and then there would be a response from the other side of the room.  It didn’t really matter who responded, so sometimes there was more than one, but, you know, as long as there was a response.  And yeah, just a really poor tone coming from any instrument.  So this would happen every class, so twice a week, before our teacher/conductor got there, we were all getting ready.  This is kinda just our way of maintaining our individuality from the other students at school, I think we were all rather proud of being in the band.”

How were you Introduced to this tradition?

A – “So the first time I got into the band my sophomore year, I noticed people doing it, but no one actually said anything about it.  It took me a couple weeks before I realized that it was, like, an actual thing that we always did.  Taking part in that was kinda like a rite of passage, once you did it, you were a real member of the band.”

A – “I definitely won’t forget that we did that, I think just because it brings me back to my time in the band, where I had a lot of fun and spent time with people I liked.”

 

I was actually in the band with A, and I got there a year before he did.  So it was fun for me, who had gone through the same sort of vetting process with this one tone call and response, to watch him as he learned of it’s existence, and soon became proficient in it.  I definitely agree with his idea that this was a sort of rite-of-passage situation; I’d also add that it was almost a weird way of hazing new members, getting them to think that we sound awful, getting them to wonder why they’re even there if that’s the case.  Then we start playing.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

Why do you have to taste soy paste and shit to tell them apart?

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out.

 

Piece:

Subject: It’s said in a way, like, “You don’t have to taste the soy paste and shit to tell them apart.” I think I’ve told you this already.

Interviewer: Yup I remember this.

Subject: Like soy paste kinda looks like shit, but most people are aware enough, like, we know from afar. But people who are so stupid, or like, people who go the extra mile to be safe. We say, “why do you have to taste shit and soy paste to tell them apart, why can’t you just — why aren’t you smarter?”

Interviewer: So that’s basically what you say to someone when they’re being dumb?

Subject: Yeah, if you’re being stupid, you’re tasting soy paste and shit to tell them apart.

 

Analysis:

I tried looking up the phrase, however I was unable to find any substantive background to the saying. The subject went on to tell me additional proverbs from Korea that also have to do with food, leading me to believe that the culture may have a great appreciation for it.

While the United States pride themselves on fast meals, a staple of Asian culture is the dining experience. It’s communal and meant to be shared.

 

Folk speech
general
Gestures
Humor
Kinesthetic

Em-chang

Context:

The subject is a college freshman, born in South Korea before moving to the United States when they were 12 years old. I wanted to get to know more about any folklore they might have experienced growing up, so I conducted an interview with them to find out.

Piece:

Subject: Okay, so kids, you know how kids like swear on their mother, right?

Interviewer: Right.

Subject: So like, in Korea we do this one our forehead [It's basically the Shaka sign but with the end of the thumb on the forehead] and stick our tongue out and say em-chang.

Interviewer: Em-chang?

Subject: Yeah it basically means, if I’m lying my mother’s a prostitute. And it varies between places in Korea, sometimes you put the hand vertical on your face, or you don’t stick out the tongue, sometimes the thumb goes on the tongue.

Interviewer: Wow, and this is common?

Subject: Yeah it’s the equivalent for swearing on your mom’s life. Arguably harsher.

 

Analysis:

Upon further research, it seems that a lot of different cultures have their own forms of swearing on their mother. The common link is always the mother figure. It begs the question as to why, however I think it’s a simple answer. The mother figures in our lives are extremely important to us, especially when we’re very dependent children. The importance of the mother role is very clear across the globe.

Folk speech

Hebrew Slang: סַבַּבָּח (Sababa)

Genre: Slang, Folk Speech

 

Nationality: Israeli and American

Location: Israel

Language: Hebrew

 

Hebrew: סַבַּבָּח (read right to left)

English: Sababa (suh-bɒ-bɒ)

 

Abstract: סַבַּבָּח (sababa) is a Hebrew word meaning “cool” or “got it.” It is a way for someone to acknowledge what someone said in one slang word. In Israel, it is considered hip and marketed to the population as such.

Background: KP is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, but spent his entire life growing up in Israel. Both of his parents are American. He grew up in a Jewish household and learned both Hebrew and English at the same time. He served his mandatory three years of service in the Israeli Defense Force from the age of 18 until the age of 21 as a combat soldier. This particular piece of folklore was heard and seen all over the streets of Israel. KP can not trace its origin, but describes it as a word that is very common and that is often one of the first words taught to non Hebrew speaking visitors.

 

KP: It means okay, cool, yeah. Or if you want to hurry someone up so they stop talking you say “okay sababa yeah yeah” like stop it I get it.

S: Do older people use it too?

KP: No, not really, just like my age and below.

 

Examples:

 

Person 1: Want to go eat?

Person 2: Sababa.

 

Person 1: Do you understand? Do you get it? Can you get it done? You sure? Okay, you really sure?

Person 2: Sababa sababa.

 

Interpretation: When first hearing this word and definition, I almost immediately compared to the word “bet” which has become popularized to mean “alright” or “you got it.” Once again, there is an understanding in millennials of America that, even though not the traditional meaning of the word, “bet” is a word used for multiple things, in almost the same exact way, like sababa. One thing that KP showed me was a pair of boxers that had the word “sababa” written on them, as well as, marijuana leaves imprinted around the word. Israeli shops are taking advantage of/utilizing the younger culture and generation with the word sababa to make money. The appeal of the younger Israelis and tourists to be cool and in the know is making vendors money. The reason young people tend more to this word than older people is because of the pressure to appear cool. Sababa has a vibe attached to it that means “I’m cool, I don’t really worry about anything. Everything is okay with me.” It has the type of connotation that brings a certain swagger and cool factor to a person’s vocabulary.

 

Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

“Stone On Your Heart”

Context:

The subject is from Israel, and is a freshman at USC. Throughout my time of knowing him he has shared many jokes and proverbs that are specific to his home country. For this reason, I decided to interview him for the database.

 

Piece:

Interviewer: So you’ve told us about this saying you have in Israel that basically corresponds with the American saying, “to have a weight on your shoulders.”

Subject: Yeah in Israel we say “you have a stone on your heart,” basically meaning the same thing, as you said, of having a weight on your shoulders or back or whatever. But in this case, it’s having a stone on your heart that is weighing it down, to say keeping your spirits down throughout the time you’re worrying about whatever it is holding you down.

Interviewer: Have you used the proverb in English and had people misunderstand?

Subject: Yeah it happens often with you guys. [Laughs]

 

Analysis:

It’s basically the same proverb as we use so often in America. When I went to look it up I had to scour through so many rock songs that had to do with having a Stone IN Your Heart. I couldn’t find anything about having a stone ON your heart, but I found many Bible verses talking about turning your heart into stone.

I know in the past certain countries used Stone as their metric of weight, while Israel might not be an example of one of those countries, it may point to a possible origin of the proverb.

The subject also told me of the Jewish tradition of placing rocks and gravestones, pointing to a possible importance of rocks in this culture.

 

Folk speech
Humor

Tweet Tweet!

Context:

The subject is a child in elementary school. I asked him if they had any inside jokes that they could share with me and this is what they said.  

 

Piece:

Subject: At school we had a rainy day one time and  at lunch the teacher wasn’t in our room so the visor lady would check on us sometimes. And, but we wanted to go on our iPods cause we can’t do that with the teacher there. So we had someone stay watch at the window and every time the visor lady would come they would yell “Tweet tweet” and then we’d put all our stuff away for when she’d come in and check. And we’d switch off sometimes on who would watch the window.

Interviewer: That’s really smart. So do you only do it on rainy days?

Subject: We started doing it at lunch and stuff when it’s not raining so that we can go onto our iPods on the playground and stuff.

Interviewer: Have you gotten caught?

Subject: No, not yet. I don’t think we will cuz it’s a pretty good plan, we always know when there’s a teacher or a visor lady around.

 

Analysis:

I think this is a common experience in childhood. Despite the addition of the technological advancement in the iPod, someone’s always delegated to be the lookout for adults on the playground. It’s comforting to know that certain things just don’t change.

 

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