USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘lesson’
Folk speech
Proverbs

A Vietnamese Proverb: Dark and Light

This is a Vietnamese proverb that was told to me by my mother when I was very young:

“Gần mực thì đen gần đèn thì sáng.”

 

Literal translation:

“Close to ink then you are dark, close to light then you are bright”

 

This is a proverb often told to children, meaning that you should be careful with who you surround yourself with. People are shaped by others around them, and if one surrounds themselves with bad people (the dark) they will become bad, while if one surround themselves with good people (the light), then they will be a good person. This is a lesson about peer pressure, as well as a warning to young children about how friends, family, and peers can influence them.

 

Collectors Comments:

This is a proverb that has stuck with me for a long time since my mom first told me way back when. It reminds me of sayings such as “hanging with the wrong crowd” or other proverbs that deal with friend groups and peer pressure. This saying was my mom’s way of trying to teach me that I should be selective with my friends, and only hang around people that would make me better. The proverb makes use of the contrasts between black and white and dark and light that are common in so many cultures. While, I have heard similar proverbs in other languages, this is the first one I’ve heard that relates to ink as black and light to white.

 

general
Proverbs

Proverbs

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.

D: Funny thing, it’s hard to remember proverbs out of the blue. They’re so associated with experiences that I usually only think of them in context. On the other hand, I use them all the time to explain things to patients because they get complex ideas across in a familiar and easy way.

Me: What proverbs do you use often?

D: Well, I just used “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” today when talking with a colleague of mine about treating his wife’s normal blood pressure. She gets distressed in some doctor’s offices & her blood pressure rises. In the end we both agreed that “things are normal & should not be messed with.”

Me: Any other proverbs you use?

D: Another classic I use all the time with patients is “if you don’t use it, you lose it” as a universally-recognized motivation to “get off your butt.”  I’ve tried it with my dad too, but with no success.  My mom and I even mapped out their condo on a piece of paper with distances marked and put it on the fridge in hopes of encouraging him to get out and walk.

D: There’s also: “the larger the island of knowledge, the longer the shoreline of wonder.” This is a recent one which is a favorite of mine, by a pastor in New York named Ralph Sockman, who preached in the 1930s-1960s.  My corollary has been “the more the islands of knowledge, the greater the archipelago of understanding.”

Me: What do you mean by that?

D: What I am trying to say is the more stuff you know, the more stuff you understand. I say this to my son a lot. It’s using the things you learn in life like putting the pieces of a puzzle together in order to understand other stuff.

D, while having a bit of trouble at the beginning trying to remember a proverb, ended up talking about three proverbs that he really likes and uses a lot. He uses proverbs in his everyday life, especially with his patients at work, to get across a point that might otherwise be confusing, or maybe even boring. By using proverbs and saying things in a different way, it is more likely to reach someone than by saying the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different reaction every time. So while proverbs didn’t seem to be a prominent part of D’s everyday speech, they are something he uses very frequently.

general
Musical

The Chocolate Ice Cream Cone Song

My (hold note) mommy said if I’d be good she’d send me to the store,

she said she’d bake a chocolate cake if I would sweep the floor,

she said if I would make the bed and help her mind the phone,

she would send me out to get a chocolate ice cream cone.

 

And so I did

the things she said,

I even helped her make the bed.

Then I went out,

just me alone,

to get a chocolate ice cream cone.

 

Now (hold note) on my way a-comin’ home I stumbled on a stone,

and need I tell you that I dropped

my chocolate ice cream cone.

A little doggie came along and took a great big lick (slurping sound),

and then I hit that mean ole doggie with a little stick.

And he bit me

where I sat down

and he chased me all over town.

And now I’m lost,

can’t find my home,

it’s all because of a chocolate, chocolate, chocolate ice cream cone.

 

The informant was my father, a 49-year-old engineer who currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but who grew up in the area surrounding Austin, Texas. The song is one that his mother used to sing to him and his siblings when they were little. The song was primarily sung right before bed, as well as occasionally on long road trips. The informant says his mother would sing it to the children almost every night, sometimes “perfunctorily,” sometimes smiling and adding “extra ‘chocolate, chocolate, chocolate’s’ on the end.” The informant sees it as a mix of a “bizarre lost kid fairy tale” and a “moral lesson for young kids growing up,” the lesson being, “don’t go out on your own or, you know, you might get lost and never find your way home again.”

 

This song was collected while I was home for Spring Break and performed in my living room. It was interesting to me because my father also used to sing it to me and my sister when we were children because, “when you’re a parent, you’re looking for, you know, the things to pass down and it was one of my favorite songs as a child.” The tune of the song makes it seem fun and harmless, but there is a dark undertone about the lyrics that I recognized, even when I was growing up. Looking at it now, I think it is less of a moral lesson, and more of a lesson to children about the random, horrible things that can happen to you when you are not expecting them. None of the events that take place are really the narrator’s fault (other than being chased by a dog after he hits it with a stick), and yet the narrator still ends up lost and alone. It is a dark reflection on everyday life hiding within a song for children, as is often the case with old songs and stories created for children.

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