USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘Insult’
Customs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
general
Humor

“Yardsale!” – A Skier’s Term

Context:  I visited the informant’s dorm room at USC at about three o’clock, having already asked him if he was willing to participate in the collection project. He was willing, so we sat down to chat in his bedroom, alone. We began chatting, and I recorded two pieces from him. We sat in silence for a moment as I thought of more questions to ask him, and I remembered that he was an avid skier. I had been skiing since I was a toddler, and knew some folk terms from the practice. I asked him if he knew what a ‘yardsale’ was, and if he could describe it to me. Immediately, he recognized what I meant, and I began recording before he responded.

Transcription:

WD: What’s a yard sale in skiing?

JB: It’s like, when you’re skiing, and you eat shit, and you just lose every piece of gear.

WD: Yeah… but what happens then?

JB: So like, your skis will pop off, you definitely lose your poles, like, goggles, helmet, the whole fuckin’ deal.

WD: And then you’ve gotta figure out how to put all of it back on while on the side of a mountain?

JB: Yeah, your skis are the hard part, since they’ll  sometimes literally slide all the way down the hill, and then you gotta hike to go get it. Or, sometimes, like, fresh powder gets stuck in the bindings of your skis and you’ve gotta kick it out.

WD: And you look like a dumbass in front of other skiers, right?

JB: Exactly, sometimes people will yell “YARDSALE!” at you while they pass. You look like a fuckin’ idiot, for sure.

Informant:  The informant is an 18 year old, German-American student at the University of Southern California. He was born in Aptos, California, a small beach town located to the west of Santa Cruz. He is an avid skier, and has heard the term while skiing with friends in Mammoth, Tahoe and in Bear Valley. He has experienced this type of fall before, and knows how difficult it can be to reset your equipment in the middle of a ski run.

Analysis: This piece of folk language could also be considered as a joke. Experienced skiers tend to exalt themselves, especially when they see inexperienced skiers fall. The term “yardsale” refers to the image of all the skiing equipment scattered across the slope, like items set out for a yardsale. In practice, the phrase can be used as an insult, especially towards strangers on the slope. For example, if an inexperienced skier attempts to ride a hill outside of their skill range and loses their equipment, another more qualified skier may shout the phrase while passing. The inexperienced skier is then left in the middle of the hill, dodging other skiers while searching for their lost poles and skis. Yet, it could also be used as a form of relief in a frightening situation among friends. For example, if a pair of skiers are riding together through difficult terrain and one of them wipes out, their friend may shout the phrase to assuage any fears of injury their friend may have. Especially in a scary fall, the phrase can be used as a form of comedic relief to normalize the drastic nature of the tumble.

Folk speech
Humor

Shoe Polish: A Folk Insult?

You don’t know shit from Shinola.

According to the Informant, he heard this phrase growing up from his father. It was typically said by Person A in situations in which Person B doesn’t know what’s going on or for general naivety. It’s not exactly a proverb, because it ridicules those without wisdom instead of imparting wisdom. It can be said to be a folk insult. He said he heard this insult so many times, but it took until about the millionth time for him to realize that yes, it was true. He hadn’t the slightest clue what Shinola was.

This folk insult reportedly originated as commander-to-soldier vulgarity during WWII. The original form of the phrase involved a second verse. In the 1940’s, when is started popping up in military barracks, the full-length piece stated: “You don’t know shit from Shinola, and that’s why your shoes don’t shine.” This oicotype clearly allows anyone, using context clues, to decipher that Shinola is brown shoe polish. It’s interesting that the actual product named Shinola is long-gone, but it lives on in an insult.

It turns out that many insults without authors come from the military. “He doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground,” is another example of the same category that can be traced back to the military. Once we know the meaning behind the parts, it’s easy to see the meaning of the whole. Shinola would obviously be the choice pick over shit to shine shoes. Only a truly naïve person would use the two interchangeably.

This phrase always gets a smile out of me, regardless of context. This can possibly be regarded as the Informant’s catch phrase. In a way, it’s a passed-down insult, from my father’s father, that the majority of people today would be clueless to understand the meaning of. This fact, for a phrase meant to mock a person’s naivety, is just the icing on the cake.

 

Folk speech
Proverbs

Mexican Proverb

Main Piece: Mexican Proverb

 

Original – “El burro sabe más que tú”

 

Transliteration – “The donkey knows more than you”

 

Translation – “The donkey knows more than you”

 

Background:

 

This proverb is also from my Mexican nanny, Mirna, and this one is more of an insult. My nanny says she likes to use this one especially in America because more often than not people do not understand Spanish and it is easy to offend them without even knowing. Donkeys are a large part of Mexican culture in agriculture and just life in general. They tend to be more of a source of power for hauling goods or farm equipment, and aren’t necessarily thought of as being the brainiest.

My nanny says that this was your generic grade school insult, and it was never really meant for too much harm, sort of an elaborate version of just telling someone their stupid. She and her siblings would use it on each other, and there is no profanity used in it so it was never really frowned upon by elders when they heard it.

 

Context:

 

My nanny has actually been saying this to me for a long time now, as she would talk to me and my siblings in Spanish at a young age to give us an understanding of another language while we were still apprehensive to it. Of course we would get into our usual shenanigans and she would say this to us and we would think it was funny not really knowing what it meant, but now knowing what it means it only really seems fitting as something you would say to a child, as an adult would think you were being childish if you just said “a donkey knows more than you.”

I was just told this in a face to face conversation so the real context of using it is not there, but I can see how it would be more so used between childhood friends on the playground or in instances like that.

 

My thoughts:

 

It is interesting to see how a culture’s lifestyle has an effect on how they insult each other, and even though it may be seen as something not very effective in offending someone, it can be thought of as more playful banter because obviously a donkey is not a smart animal. I doubt there is much of a real world application for this insult but it is interesting to me how it is more of an intellectual insult as opposed to simply telling someone the

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Arabic Proverb

Original Script:

القرد بعين امو غزال

Phonetic (Roman) script: Al gird be ain umo ghazaal.

Transliteration: Al gird be ain umo ghazaal.

Full translation: The monkey in the eye of its mother is a gazelle.

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: “I like this because it just is an example of how the Arabic language can be both poetic and really harsh. Arabic is a language where you can write a whole paragraph based off of one insult. We take our insults very seriously and can’t just say ‘F you!’, you have to do better and this is a good one because it’s saying your ugly but in the most round about way possible.

I can’t remember where I learned it but it must have been around high school.

It’s used around people you know it’s not something you say in polite company. There are a lot of poetic ways to insult people in Arabic.”

Context of the Performance: Insulting a person but politely

Thoughts about the piece: Foremost, I have to say the background on this proverb is hilarious and made me laugh so hard the way Reem had explained it to me. The fact that it is a polite way to tell someone, “you are ugly,” is really interesting. This, of course, is considering that in the English language, there is really no way to tell someone “you’re ugly” politely, except for maybe, “you are not the ugliest.” I also found it interesting how, when Reem said it and noted it in her background of the piece, that it was very poetic, and it did not sound like an insult at all, in fact, I thought, when I first heard it, it was actually a really prominent, as well as polite, saying, but it turned out to be a prominent insult instead. It is interesting that it sounded so nice at first, and that things in Arabic sound “poetic” because that is certainly not the case in English. Furthermore, it is interesting that Reem states: “there are a lot of poetic ways to insult people in Arabic,” which seems that the language in itself is beautiful, and there are no brash insults but rather poetic ones.

When Reem had translated this proverb to me, “The monkey in the eye of its mother is a gazelle,” I actually thought it met that a mother is always proud of her children no matter what they seem like to society. Although, I guess that this is the case with proverbs, in which they do not really make sense to the other culture when they are translated into that culture’s language. For example, they are only relative to that specific culture. Thus, this Arabic “saying” becomes an Arabic Proverb.

Customs
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Hipsters

About the Interviewed: Spencer is a former student of the George Washington University, now graduated and teaching English overseas. He describes his ethnic background as “Potpourri”, with his family having a mixture of Scottish-Polish origins with some Irish thrown in the mix. His family has lived in North America for generations, so he prefers to identify ethnically as just that. He is 22 years of age.

Spencer, my friend from the George Washington University gave me a talk about a sub-culture of individuals known in America as “Hipsters”.

Spencer: “Hipsters are a stereotype. But they’re a funny stereotype. (laughs) They’re like, people who don’t ever want to be mainstream. They do everything outside of the ‘norm because that’s what’s cool.”

I ask him what he means by things that aren’t “mainstream”.

Spencer: “Well, a ‘Hipster’ is probably not somebody who listens to [music] that’s popular or anything upbeat. They like things that are old, things that are vintage. There’s this video of someone taking notes on a typewriter. Stuff like that.  It’s sort of a label. I mean, they’re a kind of subculture. Hipsters don’t identify as hipsters. It’s kind of an insult, really.”

I asked him why he believed that being labeled a Hipster represented an insult.

Spencer: “Well, It’s sort of a joke. (he laughs) Though some people probably take it seriously”, he continues. “It’s like if you have a friend, and you want to watch a movie together, like Star Wars, but he doesn’t want to see it because it’s too mainstream.” He makes a gesture here with his hands in a faux-suave kind of way. “You’d be all like – Man, you’re such a Hipster!”

He stops to laugh again.

Spencer: “People just think that they’re arrogant. That’s kind of what the word means.”

I asked him to describe what he thinks a hipster would look like.

Spencer: (laughs) “Oh man. Well the real hipsters dress funny. I’d picture dudes wearing leggings, loafers with no socks, handlebar mustaches, things like that. Girls would be kind-of the same, just more irregular.”

Spencer: “I mean, I live in [Washington] DC, and you see them all the time, or people who look like them [hipsters], I’m not judging. I mean, they’re sort of cool in a retro kind-of way. I like anyone who can do things without caring too much about what other people think of them. (laughs)”

Summary:

“Hipsters” are a subculture of individuals who live organically and distance themselves from the “mainstream” or “popular” world. As the idea of a Hipster has become something a stereotype, the term is seen by some as derogatory.

Personally, I find the concept of Hipsters to be very interesting. They’re sort of postmodern: rejecting our concept of modernity to substitute their own. Hipsters live an organic lifestyle, though some would argue that it’s mainly reactionary. The word “Hipster” embodies both a label, and a definition. Though many people adjust to the subculture, Spencer and I both agreed that the term has become somewhat patronizing in recent years. 

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Go Salt Yourself!

“Pojdi se solit!”

Translation:

“Go salt yourself!”

Used as an expression of frustration, this phrase can be taken to mean, “screw you!” The informant has been saying this particular phrase to me since I was young, whenever I was sufficiently irritating. For years, I was puzzled by why she would repeat this seemingly nonsensical saying to me. Why would an angry person suggest to someone else to salt themselves? Of course, whenever the informant was angry, I would never beg this question, as I imagined it would only aggrivate the situation further.

However, when confronted about the phrase’s meaning, she immediately offered this response:

“Historically, salt was very valuable, as it was not as commodified as it is today. Food lacking salt, however, lacks in flavor. That’s why the saying suggests that whenever you have said something that lacks flavor or character . . . you’ve said something bland . . . you’re suggested to season your coarse words with a bit of wisdom. Some salt to flavor your speech.”

 

Childhood
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Humor

Urdu childhood rhyme

Context: The informant is a college-age male whose parents are both from Pakistan originally. He was born and raised in the Los Angeles area. He currently lives in Southern California in a joint family and has also visited Pakistan multiple times since he was very young. His extended family in Pakistan includes many young uncles and cousins who are closer to his age than his parents’. The informant recalls his older cousins would say to him, jokingly, when he was in trouble,

“___ ke bacche

daal daal kacche”

which literally means “___’s child, uncooked lentils”. He elaborates that this was meant as a warning, to scare him into an apology for some misbehavior, because it was always said a precursor to someone “tattling” on him to a parent.

Analysis: The informant explains that it is a saying that everyone, including himself now, says to children younger than oneself. He says that he has never thought about the meaning, and only remembered and said it regularly when teasing his younger cousins because it gave him a sense of authority over them (since only people older than you would say it to you, usually) and because it rhymed, so “it was easy to say and easy to remember”. He continues, “It was just, like a fun, teasing thing to say to the little kids, like you would joke with them but you wouldn’t actually get them into trouble.” From his own words, the informant seems to have recast the saying, not as the veiled threat his older relatives would use against him, but as something to relate to younger kids with.

From a more objective perspective, lentils are one of the staples in many Pakistani diets (i would venture to say, in many South Asian diets too). Uncooked lentils, however, are not very useful. So the rhyme could be commenting on the “bad boy”‘s or “bad girl”‘s lack of worth–no one wants you if you’re going to misbehave. Also, it could be a veiled warning that you’re about to be “cooked” or put “in hot water” or “raked over the coals”–that is, punished. The significance of not referring to the child by [his own name], but by “the child of [his own name]“, could be a reference to the fact that South Asian cultures are patriarchal and patrilineal, so knowing who the father is, is very important. Calling a child his/her own father may be a veiled way of saying they have no father and are therefore the object of shame.

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.  

[geolocation]