USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘girls’

Carving Initials into Tree Trunks

My informant is a childhood friend, and during a visit home she brought up a grade-school memory of carving initials into tree trunks. I remember doing this with her when we were very young and so I asked her to elaborate on the memory from her point of view.

Me: ” What was it that you carved into the tree trunks and when did you do this?”

KC: “Well, when I was in grade school so like third, fourth or fifth grade I suppose, at recess sometimes the girls, in a group, would get together no more than like three girls I guess, and get either a sharp stick or pen or pencil and pick a tree on the playground. On the tree they would carve their initials and under that, carve a plus sign and under that, they would carve the initials of their crush, so a boy they liked. Sometimes if the girl was really crafty they would carve a heart around those initials. It would supposed to be like, you had a crush on them and you were proving that you liked them or something, or maybe it would make them like you back or maybe like in the future you would date or something. It was all very innocent like super girlie and cute.”

Me: “Who did you learn this from and when?”

KC: “You know, I have absolutely no idea. I just remember doing it, because all the other girls did it and you did it as a group. I don’t remember being taught by like older girls or anything, just doing it and then maybe teaching it to other girls my age and getting a group together. It was kinda like a game I guess, something to do at recess. But, I do remember you could get in trouble for it, like not in trouble for the liking boys thing, but for vandalizing the tree or something like that.”


This is a sort of childhood game or maybe even a version of contagious magic as the little girls wanted their crushes to be reciprocated in the future. This is perhaps an example of gender roles being explored at a young age, as this is young girls in a group exploring naively the future of dating.  Girls are defining themselves as feminine as they perform this ritual of carving initials as they known they are expected to “like” boys in a romantic way some time in the future. They are naive and unaware of what that truly means, but at this age is when they are introduced to the idea of romantic relationships. Thus, this is playing at “liking” boys in the way they encounter in real life. Boys are no longer “icky” at this age and they mix a lot more and as they encounter the world around them and view dating and romantic relationships this is their way of understand it. It may also be a childlike version of contagious magic as usually the girl wants the person whose initials she has just carved to reciprocate the crush.

Rituals, festivals, holidays

“Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board”

This folklore was collected from my mother, who told me about a slumber party ritual she would do with her friends when she was younger. So, this would have taken place in the late 1970s, early 1980s.

“At slumber parties with pre-adolescent girls, there were a couple of stories, rituals that were passed on from generation to generation. One was a story that the group of 5-8 girls could lift one of the girls up over their heads by using only their fingertips. In order for this to work, all the girls in the group had to concentrate solely on the task at hand and chant ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ over and over. The girl who was subject to the lifting started off lying flat on her back on the floor. The other girls encircled the subject and puts their hands underneath her, touching only with their fingertips. As the chanting beings, the group attempts to lift the subject up off the floor until she is suspended above the heads of the others. If this was unsuccessful (as it always was), it was due to one or more members of the group lacking proper concentration or belief…. There was always the accompanying story that someone had succeeded before… or someone’s older sister had told the tale of a successful lift”

I had never heard of this sleepover game/ritual before, so it might be specific to the area/time period my mother grew up in. Or, perhaps it became less popular because it never worked. Another slumber party ritual my mother mentioned to me was the “Bloody Mary” chant, which is well-known (I heard about it from other kids when I was younger) so it was interesting that this wasn’t a familiar piece of folklore within my generation.



“This is Buggy”

Context: The informant is an 11-year-old resident of Southern California, of Indo-Pakistani descent. She lives with two older siblings, parents, and grandparents and attends a public middle school in the South Bay area. She has close friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds, and the following narrative sequence is one she learned from one of these friends while she was still in elementary school.

Transcript of video:

“This is Buggy!

Buggy says hi!

Buggy can fly!

Yay for Buggy!

Oops, Buggy died.”

Analysis: The informant says she learned it only a couple years ago and remembered it because she “thought it was cool” and “kind of funny”. The informant relates that she enjoys many types of art, including drawing and painting, and often is in charge of making signs for events among her friend group, like yard sales and party invitations. So the personal appeal to a young artist or craftsperson is obvious.

I think the general appeal here is similar: the fact that with a few simple drawings and letters, an entire story can be told with little effort. The idea that there are just enough fingers on a person’s hand to write “T-H-I-S” on the knuckles, and then fold different fingers to show different words, must be appealing to kids who are just starting to appreciate the difficulties of both language and tactile crafts such as beading, painting, or cursive handwriting. The simple story is also humorous and a common enough occurrence: trying to save a little bug only to find that you unfortunately don’t know your own strength; or simply the humor of seeing something that causes many small children, especially girls, some anxiety–“creepy crawlies”–being put out in such a messy and unceremonious manner helps them cope with those anxieties indirectly while not being called out as a “scaredy cat” or a “sissy”.


Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is a Pakistani-American 11-year-old girl and a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.


“I went to a Chinese restaurant

To buy a loaf of bread, bread, bread

She asked me what my name was

And this is what i said, said, said

My name is

L-I-L-I, Pickle-eye pickle-eye

pom-pom beauty, sleeping beauty

Then she told me to freeze freeze freeze

And whoever moves, loses.”

The word “freeze” may be said either once or three times, and at that moment the players must both freeze. The informant also showed me the two kinds of clapping sequence that are used for the two parts of the game, one for the first four lines, and the other for lines 6-8.

Analysis: At first glance, the rhyme seems like complete nonsense; but upon further examination, the rhyme could conceal casual racism. “Li” could be an East Asian name. Rhyming it with “pickle-eye” (which itself could be referring to culturally unfamiliar food which is automatically dismissed as unnatural or revolting–for instance recall the urban legend where neighborhood cats/dogs were disappearing after immigrants from [insert Asian country here] moved in), which is essentially a nonsense word, could be meant to show disrespect towards all people with similarly “Asian” names. Then referring to oneself as a “pom-pom beauty” (perhaps referring to a cheerleader’s pom-poms) and “sleeping beauty” (the classic western fairy tale) as a contrast to the “Li” lady is like proclaiming, I am an all-American girl, like a cheerleader or Sleeping Beauty, and you are not.


Clapping game rhyme/song

Context: The informant is an 11 year old girl of Pakistani descent. She is a 6th grader at a public school in Torrance, CA.  Her social groups include friends of many different religious and ethnic backgrounds. The following clapping rhyme is a two-person game she learned in first grade.



iced tea



Lemonade, iced tea, Coca-cola, Pepsi,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

Another version from the same informant begins with the same line:


crunchy ice

Beat it once,

beat it twice,

Lemonade, crunchy ice, beat it once, beat it twice,

turn around, touch the ground, kick your boyfriend out of town, freeze

In the last line of both versions, the players may perform the actions sung: they turn in a circle, drop to a crouch to touch the ground, and may even stand up and make a kicking motion. At the word “freeze,” both players must stop moving, and the first to move loses.

Analysis: I learned a version of this game, similar to the second version recorded, from cousins who went to the same school district as the informant. Instead of the words “beat it,” however, the words “pour it” were used, and the last line was completely omitted. The rhyme ended with the players crying “Statue!” and the first person to move, lost. Somehow, however, a player was allowed to tickle the other person to get them to move, even though tickling would seemingly count as moving. 

The incorporation of Coca-cola and Pepsi, both globally-recognizable drink names, into the rhyme is evidence of how popular the drink is worldwide and how it has been incorporated into “American” or “Southern California” culture, that children are mentioning it in their songs along with the ever-popular summer drink of lemonade.

The last line “Turn around, touch the ground” seems to be echoing some long-dead magic ritual, especially when followed by a mention of the singer’s boyfriend (keeping in mind that 11 years old, the majority of children likely have nothing close to a romantic partner yet). Also, the pouring of the drink–once, then twice–would seem to recall the adult practice of pouring drinks for oneself and one’s partner after a long day or at a party. This shows this age-group’s (perhaps unconscious) desire to  mimic the adult relationships they see with their own peers.


Alley Murderer


Informant: “Mhmm the murderer would come back and  jump out and kill the girl if she walked down the alleyway.”

Me: “Wait didn’t the murder occur, like, several decades earlier?”

There is an alleyway that school kids, including the informant, passed by every day coming home from school. The alley was a very convenient shortcut to get home. However, it was told among the kids that years before, a girl walked down the alley and was then murdered. The murderer got away. Now, only boys walk down the alleyway, and all the girls avoid it. They say that if a girl walks down the alleyway, the murderer will jump out and kill her too. So, instead of taking the shortcut, girls would walk about an extra 5 minutes around the large block and meet up on the other side.



The informant recalls this being an occurrence common in early middle school. The murder apparently took place several decades beforehand and the criminal got away. The boys didn’t pay much attention to the story because it was assumed that only girls would be targeted. He said that as they got older, it was talked about less, but the girls still avoided the alley.



The concept of a specific place, especially a route, being associated with death or murder is really interesting in this context. Kids at any point in elementary through middle school are beginning to deal with the realities of both death and violent crime. By creating a story (or perhaps propagating a fact) around the alley, they’ve drawn a connection between murder and a specific location and scenario: the alley, a girl, an un-captured murderer. To a certain extent, it’s an example of boys and girls segregating at the early stages of puberty. Perhaps it’s a rare opportunity to have just the boys talking in one place and the girls talking in another for 5 minutes after a day of school. Even more so, it’s almost an empowering way for kids to deal with death. By the girls avoiding the alley, they are effectively cheating what they associate with being killed. And for the boys, it’s almost a courageous act because they are confident they won’t be the victims, so they take the convenient route. It’s also worth noting that for something that happens on a daily basis, 5 minutes extra on a walk is sort of inconvenient. The story was obviously taken seriously enough to convince girls they should take the long way home.


Bloody Mary, Bloody Mary

When my informant was little, she had heard about the legend of Bloody Mary. At her elementary school, one of the girl’s bathrooms was supposedly haunted by the ghost of Bloody Mary and those who were brave enough could go in, turn the lights off and then spin around three times yelling out her name. If they did this correctly they would see Bloody Mary dressed in white in front of them in the mirror.

Bloody Mary is a classic folklore figure amongst youths. I know that I had heard about Bloody Mary when I was in grade school as well and my friends and I would all go into the bathroom together to try to see her. Although the true origins of Bloody Mary are unknown, the story my informant had heard was where a woman named Mary had committed suicide because one of her children was stolen from her. All of the stories involving Mary, however, seem to be associated with children and childbirth, which is possibly why she is “Bloody” Mary. Like we discussed in class, mostly girls knew about this myth, especially since Bloody Mary resided in the girls’ bathroom.


Your Boob is Showing aka Somebody’s Thinking of You

An oicotype of the folk belief that “Somebody’s thinking of you” when the clasp and pendant of your necklace touch, the phrase which is usually said/signified by a person who isn’t wearing the necklace.

As told verbatim by informant:

“Yeah, people have that thing where the clasp of your necklace and the pendant touch each other and they say ‘Somebody’s thinking of you.’ ‘Your boob is showing, someone’s thinking of you’—my mom always tells me that. I always think I have a nip-slip or something. (laughing) She says it in front of people too. It’s more like now when I see it I think ‘Who’s thinking of me?’ It’s like ‘Who would’ve done that?’ She def brings it up. She says it to get my attention more I guess. Like when I tell my friends ‘Hey, your boob is showing’ they don’t know what I’m talking about, but I think I tend to say that so that they’ll look down themselves to find out someone’s thinking of them.”

This little dite is a legitimate folk belief to my informant. The forwardness of her mother’s version is humorous to say the least. Of course this belief/dite is something my informant knows to be subjective to girls and from the reference to “boobs” probably has its origin among pubescent girls. Naturally, this is a time when having someone think of you, especially romantically, comes into the forefront of young girl’s minds. In this case though, the sheer fact that my informant’s mother has her special signifying dite always reminds my informant of her. Since she’s picked up saying this dite, she consciously allows the person who’s “being thought of” the simple pleasure of finding out that someone’s thinking of them for themselves. To my informant, it’s a real thing, and even at age 20 she enjoys thinking about who might have her on their mind.

Life cycle


When I was in camp many years ago, all of the girls would sing “Miss Suzy had a steamboat”, and do the hand motions along with it.  However, this clapping gave was not just done at camps, it was everywhere.  Girls would do it while standing in line, or in the car on the way to school.

Miss Suzy had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell (ding ding)
Miss Suzy went to heaven, the steamboat went to
Hello operator, please give me number nine
If you disconnect me, I’ll cut off your
Behind the ‘frigerator, there was a piece of glass
Miss Suzy fell upon it and it cut her in the
Ask me no more questions and tell me no more lies
The boys are in the bathroom zipping up their
Flies are in the meadow, bees are in the park
Miss Suzy and her boyfriend were kissing in the
D. A. R. K. D. A. R. K. Dark. Dark
Darker than the ocean,
Darker than the sea,
Darker than the underwear
My mommy puts on me!
I know you know my mommy,
I know you know my pa,
I know you know my sister
With the 42 inch bra!

Upon first hearing the song and watching the young girls play the game; the song does not seem bad at all.  However, when you listen closer, there are many “bad” words that young girls should not be using.  However, the girls are not actually using the bad words because the words are cleverly disguised in the phrasing of the song.  For instance, in “the steamboat went to Hello operator”, the word hell is disguised.  However, the word hell is the obvious word that was meant to be placed there.  Other phrases about boys zipping up their flies, or 42inch bras, are all taboo for these young children.  The children are not allowed to use these words in their everyday speech so they have found a clever release through the song.

Freud would say that this song is representative of the young children’s repressed sexuality.  Their sexuality is not allowed to show through in everyday society, but this song allows them a safe outlet to express and experiment with it. Another interesting point is that girls are the main singers of this song.  This could be for many reasons.  First, in our society boys are not “suppose” to sing.  Singing is a female gendered activity according to the gender roles of today’s society.  Also Boys are often allowed to be “bad”, it is expected of them to break the rules and go against the grain.  However, girls are supposed to be refined and appropriate at all times.  This song allows the girls to release their developing sexual energy without being inappropriate.

Life cycle

Children’s Rhyme

Miss Susie had a tugboat

The tugboat had a bell—ding ding

Miss Susie went to heaven

And the tugboat went to—

HELL-o operator lease give me #9

And if you disconnect me I will

Chop off your behind

Behind the‘frigerator there was

A piece of glass

Miss Susie sat upon it

And it went right up her—

ASS-k me no more questions and I’ll

Tell you no more lies

The boys are in the bathroom

Zipping up their—

Flies are in the meadows

The bees are in the park

Miss Susie and her boyfriend are

Kissing in the

D-A-R-K, D-A-R-K, Dark, dark, dark

–is like a movie, a movie’s

like a show,

A show is like a TV set and that

Is all I—

Know I know my Ma, I know I know my Pa,

I know I know my sister with her

40 meter bra, bra, bra

My mother is Godzilla

My father is King Kong

My brother is the stupid one

Who made up this whole song

Miss Susie had a baby

She named him Tiny Tim

She put him in the bathtub to

See if he could swim

He drank up all the water

He ate up all the soap

He tried to eat the bathtub

But it wont fit down his throat

Miss Susie called the doctor

The doctor called the burse

The nurse called the lady

With the alligator purse

Miss Susie punched the doctor

The doctor punched the nurse

The nurse punched the lady

With the alligator purse


The subject told me that she used to recite the rhyme with all of the other girls at recess in third grade (which is about 10 years ago). She said that the Miss Susie rhyme was one of the most popular rhymes used often in conjunction with hand clapping of various patterns (see above picture for example). When I asked her why this one was so popular, she suggested that it may be because of the length and the melody, which makes it easier to make up intricate clapping routines.

When I first heard the subject recite this rhyme I was immediately taken back to my elementary school. I also did the various clapping routines during this rhyme with my little sister, however mine was a little different, instead of a tug boat mine was a steam boat, as well as several other word choice changes throughout the rhyme. I mentioned this to her, and she nodded saying that within her own school district there were many different versions. I took note of this and looked up the rhyme online and found many different websites citing the rhyme, each one a little different. Some of the rhymes, like the one below, is shorter than the one she and I knew. Also a few of the rhymes had Miss Lucy as the subject rather than Susie. I was surprised as to how many variants there were of this one children’s rhyme. Then I read the website, and it was dedicated to children rhymes of the eighties, and although there was no proof of its birth in the eighties, I think that since its been around for over 20 years, there are many different variants. However each variant still stays true to the melody and the disguised cuss words.

I think that this rhyme was and is still so popular among young girls and boys is because of the cuss words, hell turns into hello, ass into ask, and flies (referring to pants) turns into flies (referring to bugs). I know that little kids are normally not allowed to cuss so this is a way to get around it, without getting into trouble. I also agree with the subject, in the fact that the length and speed of the rhyme was ideal to a good clapping routine.

When I looked up this rhyme I found a wikipedia article on it, in which it gave a list of allusions that use a line or refer to the rhyme in their contents, I have included the list at the bottom of the page. I was surprised at the array of sources that used the rhyme from cartoons like Rocko’s Modern Life and The Simpsons to bands such as The White Stripes as well as comedian Bob Saget. 4/20/07

Miss Susie had a tug boat,

her tug boat had a bell (ding ding),

miss Susie went to heaven her tug boat went to HELL…o operator

please give me number nine,

and if you disconnect me I’ll cut off your behind the refrigerator

there lay a piece of glass

miss Susie sat upon it and cut her little ASS…k me no more questions,

I’ll tell you now more lies

the boys are in the bathroom zipping up their flies..are in the meadow,

the bees are in the park,

miss Susie and her boyfriend are kissing in the d-a-r-k, d-a-r-k, dark dark dark.

The dark is like the movies,

the movies’ like the show,

the show is like tv

and that is all I know know know, I know I know my ma

I know I know my pa,

I know I know my sister with the 49’rs bra. The bra is for the boobies,

the boobies for the milk,

the milk is for the babies with diapers made of silk.


  • Bob Saget sings a similar song at the end of his live comedy act.
  • In the White Stripes song “Hello Operator” (on the album De Stijl): “Hello operator / Can you give me number nine?”
  • In the Self song “Pattycake” (a reminiscence of the narrator’s 1970s childhood, on the album Gizmodgery, which was performed using only children’s toy instruments): Verses 2 through 4 and a modified version of verse 5 as a bridge.
  • In The Simpsons episode Bart Sells His Soul, Sherri and Terri sing, “Bart sold his soul, and that’s just swell / Now he’s going straight to / Hello operator / give me number nine” in Bart‘s nightmare.
  • In The Simpsons episode Fat Man and Little Boy, Lisa and her friend Janey recite this rhyme. An eavesdropping Homer gasps whenever he expects profanity and lets out sighs of relief when they turn out to be innocuous.
  • In South Park, Wendy Testaburger has a similar song (“Miss Landers was a health nut…”).
  • On Rocko’s Modern Life, Rocko and Heffer sing the first few bars of the song on a car trip.