USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘humor’
Folk speech
Humor
Narrative

“Whatever you do, don’t step on the cracks”

Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. Informant AB was taught by his grandfather as a child to not walk on the cracks on the sidewalk to avoid bad luck:

AB: “When I was little, I would visit my grandparents on the weekends with my younger brother and we would sit in the family room all together after dinner. My grandfather would tell us all kinds of stories of when he was a kid growing up. He told us that his father would always tell him to never walk on the cracks on the side walk because it will give you bad luck for 7 years.”

How did your grandfather’s father learn about this type of lore?

AB: “Well, I asked him one day about the meaning behind the story and he said that his father learned it from a buddy of his when he was a kid. He said that his friend heard it from the neighborhood kids. My grandfather said it was mostly to be meant as a joke, but some of kids took it seriously, like my grandfather.”

Does this folklore have any significance to you?

AB: “Ya it’s pretty funny how it actually does mean something to me. Ever since my grandfather told me and my brother this story, I have been very conscious to walk a certain way to avoid the cracks in the ground. I know it’s mostly a joke and not meant to be taken too seriously, but just knowing the idea of the potential bad luck that can come from stepping on the cracks makes me more aware to avoid them. It’s pretty funny how seriously I take it sometimes.”

Have you shared your grandfather’s story with anyone else?

AB: “Ya I’ve told my buddy NC and a few other friends growing up about the story and it’s pretty funny now I have them doing the same thing. We know it’s not meant to be taken too serious, but I think it’s funny how much of an impact it made on all of us. Even at our age today we are still very mindful of the bad luck that can happen if we step on any cracks.”

Have your friends carried on this folklore in any way?

AB: “My brother and my friend NC have definitely shared this story with their friends just to mess with their minds in a joking way. They find it entertaining to make people feel that bad luck can happen if you step on cracks. It has become a running joke between all of us and it has managed to freak other people out.”

Analysis:

The informant’s example of oral folklore shows just how a story can cross boundaries between different groups of people and influence their everyday lives. It began with AB’s grandfather’s father who initially carried on the story, but now AB and his brother have continued to pass the story along to their group of friends. I find it interesting how this story has turned into an inside joke between friends, but how it also had such an impact that it managed to make them aware enough to avoid any chances of being struck with bad luck.

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor

“Il n’a pas la lumière à tous les étages.”

JN is a 19 year old student at USC studying neuroscience and French.  Most of her family lives in Chicago, but they’re from various European countries. She has travelled the world extensively, and she lived in France during the second semester of her sophomore year of high school. Here is a humorous example of French folk speech that she learned that year:

This is a French proverb that I learned when I was living in France.

It goes “il n’a pas de lumière sur toutes les étages.”
And that basically translates to the English version of “He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer” or “He’s missing his marbles” or something like that. So it literally means “He doesn’t have light on all of his floors” so it means, oh he’s kind of missing something, or he’s kind of “dim”.

Where did you learn this from?
I heard my host mom and dad say it a lot especially over the phone when they were talking to their friends. I understood the words and it kind of made sense to me that it was that French translation of our English expression. I overheard it from them and then asked what it meant and then I made the connection.

Why do you like it?
Because I learned it from my host parents and it’s definitely a colloquial French saying- it makes me feel more fluent in French to know those things that you can’t just learn the classroom. Plus I think it’s kind of funny!

 

My thoughts: I agree with JN when she says that when it comes to learning a new language, it is the colloquial expressions-the folk speech-that makes the leaner feel that they are truly a part of that culture. It was interesting to see that this French proverb had parallels in English with “the light’s on but no one is home” or even “not the brightest bulb in the box”- different languages and cultures have similar ways of expressing the same idea figuratively.

general
Humor
Riddle

Big Book of Riddles

D is a 57 year old man. He is a practicing cardiologist at a hospital in the northern suburbs of Illinois. He identifies as American as he grew up in Boston, but he strongly associates with his Scottish heritage as well. D completed his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth University and he attended Cornell University for his degree in medicine. During his studies, both undergraduate and med school, D studied abroad in France two times. While in medical school, D studied at the Faculté de Médecine et de Maïeutique de Lille in Lille, France. English is his primary language, yet he is also fluent in French.

Me: Do you have any riddles?

D: Well there was this riddle book that I used to love. “Big Book of Riddles” by Bennett Cerf. The book is probably 40 to 60 years old, and my parents still have it. I loved reading it with my kids when we visited them. The riddles were for children, but everyone always had a good laugh. My kids and my wife and I go though the book every time we visit. It has gotten to a point where we know every riddle in the book from memory.

Me: Can you tell me some of the riddles?

D: Sure. Why do firemen wear red suspenders?

Me: Why?

D: To keep their pants up!

Me: Ok.

D: What did the pig say when the farmer caught him by the tail?

Me: I don’t know?

D: This is the end of me.

Me: That’s a good one.

D: What do you call something that’s big, red, and  eat rocks?

Me: Umm.

D: A big, red, rock eater!

Me: They really gave these a lot of thought didn’t they.

D: Well the thing is, if you make it simple and put a small twist in it, it makes it a lot funnier.

Me: Hmm.

D: What makes more noise than a cat stuck in a tree?

Me: Uh…I have no idea.

D: Two cats!

Me: Wow.

D: What time is it when there is an elephant sitting on your fence?

Me: …

D: Time to build a new fence!

Me: Oh my god.

D talks about the book fondly and still gets a good laugh out of them. The are just stupid, dumb fun and he enjoy’s the feeling of being a kid again when reading them. The book still remains in his family after 40 to 60 years! His children will likely pass the book down to their kids as well, and if not the book then at least their favorite riddles. It’s funny how something so simple and childish and seemingly dumb can bring someone so much joy. It’s funny to think that reading a book of riddles can be a family tradition, but it is.

Here’s the link to the book: http://www.amazon.com/Book-riddles-Beginner-books-Bennett/dp/B0007DL5JU/ref=pd_sim_14_2?ie=UTF8&dpID=415%2BjVvyVCL&dpSrc=sims&preST=_AC_UL160_SR115%2C160_&refRID=05WW8ZMV8F9E8CX6H72H

 

Adulthood
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Humor
Initiations
Life cycle
Narrative
Riddle
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire
Tales /märchen

Testudo the Turtle and the Virgin Graduate

Then there’s the folklore of Testudo. It’s the statue at the University of Maryland, of a land turtle, a terrapin, it’s this big turtle it sits on a big granite, uh…pedestal, in front of the library. And his nose is really shiny, because people rub his nose for good luck. Whenever you pass by him. And the legend is that when a virgin graduates from the University of Maryland, the turtle will do a backflip. And no one’s ever seen the turtle move. Put that in there!

 

Do you remember when you first heard it?

 

Orientation! Freshmen orientation.

 

Who told it to you?

 

The Orientation leader.

 

ANALYSIS:

This turtle statue is clearly a point of pride and identification for the University and its students. Located in the middle of campus, and symbolic of their school pride (it being their mascot), it is in the public eye and everyone seems to participate in the traditions surrounding it. First, there’s the belief that if you rub its nose you will have good luck – which is a unifying ritual that all students can share, and enforces their school culture. Second, the joke that implies that no virgin has every graduated from the University of Maryland is also clearly a point of pride and culture. And third, the fact that orientation leaders distribute this tale to new students as a kind of intitiatory introduction to what the school culture is all about, shows that the students pride themselves (and make fun of themselves) for “getting around” and having fun in college. This is saying to the new students, welcome, you will have fun here and I promise you will get laid in college – with a subtle warning that if you don’t, everyone will know you’re a virgin because the statue will do a backflip! You don’t want that humiliation or want to kill the tradition.

Adulthood
Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

The Dean of Men’s Daughter

“She was only the Dean of Men’s Daughter,

With an IQ of twenty-three,

But the things that we college boys taught her

Could’ve earned her some sort of degree.”

 

Where’d you get that song?

 

University of Maryland!

 

So you learned that in college.

 

Yeah. 1965.

 

Who’d you learn it from?

 

I don’t know, some college boys. Some graduate student. In engineering.

 

ANALYSIS:

This is a folksong that most kids at the University of Maryland presumably learn, from other, older students. It suggests school pride in being raunchy and sexually active, and there’s also a clear dynamic of gender roles embedded in the joke. The girl is either naive or provocative, but it’s the boys that show her the ropes and supposedly “corrupt” her. She is also obviously dumb, if she has such a low IQ. The fact that she’s the Dean’s daughter makes her a catch, because she’s highly unattainable and in a sense, off-limits, as well as perhaps easily corruptible because of her ‘stupidity’. Or maybe she’s dumb but attractive, so the boys don’t care. The fact that she’s the dean’s daughter makes her low intelligence funny. So this suggests the boys at U of Maryland can get away with things, and can persuade or manipulate even the most unattainable girls. They can have their fun and still stay out of trouble with the administration.

Contagious
Digital
Game
Humor
Magic

Love By Chainmail

Chainmail is a fairly well-known form of folklore, and has been around for a long time. Chain mail letters can be anything from handwritten letters to emails to texts and are typically sent to a group with some sort of either beneficial or warning message attached, as incentive for the person on the receiving end to pass the message along to more people.

An example of such a message is one my roommate shared with me that had passed around our sorority. The message read:

“You have been visited by the ghost of Helen M. Dodge! Pass this on to ten sisters in the next five minutes and she will give you good luck for the rest of the week!”

 

Thoughts:

Chain mails seem to fit into the category of contagious magic and involve belief a great deal. They are contagious in that in order for the receiver to either alleviate any harm that may come, or to ensure any benefit, from having read the letter, he or she must pass it along to X amount of people. The magic of the letter passes along with it and integrates into the daily lives of those who receive it, or it at least claims to do so.

 

Chain mail letters are really interesting in their relation to belief because I would bet that if you asked a large group of people if they believe in the power of chain mail letters to affect their lives in either positive or negative ways, the majority would say no. However, these letters are constantly passed around. They can be fit into the category of superstitious as well as contagious magic—perhaps it is the fear that chain mail letters may in fact have some power, some magic, that drives people to continue passing them along.

This particular chain mail letter doesn’t run the risk of being harmful to the person receiving it in any way, but perhaps the receiving individual may feel that they are to be at a loss if they don’t pass it along.

Or, perhaps chain mail letters get passed around as a way of continuing community. They are a means of reaching out to 5, 10, 15 friends who you haven’t talked to in a while. Or the particular chain mail letter you have received is funny so you want to share it with three of your friends you think would find it hilarious. Chain mail gets a pretty bad rap, yet its continued existence makes me think there is some part of its communicative, outreaching nature that people like.

For another example of chain mail letters, see Dan Squier. The Truth About Chain Letters, 1990, Premier Publishers.

Digital
Game
Humor

Deez Nuts

The “Deez Nuts” cyber-lore is an internet sensation found in video and meme formats throughout the internet and social media. People began mashing up videos using a segment of an Instagram video in which a black man in the video prank calls someone and answers “Deez Nuts!” when the person on the other line asks who is calling.

 

“I saw it from Instagram, everybody made like, different memes and videos about it. My friend sent me a survey about it and said it was for class and when I opened it…it was just talkin about, bout deez nuts. *giggles*”

 

My informant encountered the mash-up in a different format than usual, having been introduced to it through a survey and not an Instagram video. One of her friends sent her a link to https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/9NDGKP6 after he had told her to take a survey for class, which she proceeded to open only to find out that it wasn’t actually a class survey, but a meme with the text “Deez Nuts”.

 

Analysis: When looking at this piece of cyberlore, I found that it is used primarily as a means of playing a practical joke. Though the video itself may not be particularly funny on its own, when used in a context that “pranks” other people, the pranksters and the pranked find the scenario funny because they “got someone” by getting them to open something seemingly important, only to find out that the only message is that they’ve found “Deez Nuts”. I also thought it was interesting the way that thus particular cyberlore spread and evolved. The “Deez Nuts” reference can be found in a variety of different formats, from video, to memes, to quizzes, which hints at how quickly and easily things can become varied and spread on the internet.

Folk speech
Humor
Protection
Proverbs

Jesus Be A Fence!

“Whenever I’m tired or have a hard practice I be like, “Jesus be a fence” like be my strength…or before a hard test…or just when I have a lot to do and I need Jesus to be a fence, that’s like when I say it so…pretty much every day! Or like, “Oh Lord stop me from doing somthin wrong…” like if I’m feelin temptation…it goes from simple to extreme.”

 

Analysis: As a Christian, my informant looks to Jesus as a source of inspiration and fortitude in all aspects of her life. The proverb is laid out in a metaphor in which the speaker literally asks Jesus to hold them up or provide support like a fence. The proverb can be used in many different situations as a means of conveying momentary weakness and a desire for divine intervention on behalf of the speaker.

 

Although it is mostly used in serious scenarios or during times of legitimate distress, the phrase can also be used in a more humorous setting depending on the scenario. For example if someone was on a diet and saw a donut in a shop window they might use the proverb as a means of conveying their desire to restrain from eating the donut and their need for divine intervention to help them do so.

Game
Humor

Sausage Song!

My informants are group of hungry members of the USC Track and Field Team. As a very tight knit group they often spend time in the morning eating breakfast together before class. In this particular instance while waiting for their food to be ready, this group broke out into the ‘Sausage Song”.

 

Members of the group had heard of the song through different outlets, some by listening to other groups perform it and others encountered recorded videos of groups performing the song on the internet, however the members of the group knew to begin participating after hearing the distinct beat and opening line of the song which begins like this…

 

One person begins beating on a nearby surface to create a beat. That same individual begins the rap/song by saying “Eggs, bacon, grits…”

 

The rest of the members in the group reply after grits by saying “…Sausage!”

 

Following the group declaration of sausage, the members each go around making their own rhymes to the beat, all ending in the word sausage, until most or all members have said a rhyme. For example, in the case of the track and field members, one of the girls in the group’s line was “I be at the parties twerkin’ on that sausage!”

 

Typically the rhymes that are made are crude or sexual in nature, as the word sausage is utilized as a euphemism for male genitals. The use of the word sausage as a euphemism is part of what contributes to the humor of the song. In this particular instance it served as a means to pass time, and was performed at a moment that had relation to the context of the scenario, the members performed the “Sausage Song” while waiting for breakfast. The performing of the song also serves a purpose in letting participants identify who has the best rhyming skills out of the group, because generally each person tries to outdo and increase the humor of the rhyme of the person who had gone before them. The game easily demonstrates the variability and widespread nature of folklore. Though the introduction to the “Sausage Song” remains the same, people adapt the performance to their particular liking and in relation to their environment and personal experiences. Though it is a relatively crude game and song that should probably not be performed in public, it serves a purpose of bringing together groups of people and providing entertainment value to those who perform it and to the listeners.Sausage Song

Humor

Why did they name Canada, Canada?

My informant is a USC student of Armenian and Caucasian origin, born and raised in California and regularly exercises through distance running. She is also a human biology major with an emphasis in human performance.

 

“One of my Canadian friends who plays sand volleyball here told me this great joke, and its about how Canada got its name. And so basically people were pulling letters out of a hat and so whe they pulled the first letter they said “C—eh!”, second letter “N—eh!” third letter “D—eh!” spells CANADA!”

 

Analysis: This joke is one that the informant learned from someone else, who acquired the joke from people in her own country and culture. The spread of the joke to an American population shows how humor can be used to bridge cultural gaps. Even though the friend she heard the joke from was Canadian, the use of wordplay and the playing off of Canadian stereotypes (saying eh!) was humorous to both the teller of the joke as well as the listener, and provided a foundation for further conversation and friendship later on.

 

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