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

Juha’s Nail

Juha had a house he liked very much. But, he needed some money so he had to sell it. For him, to keep a connection to his house, he put in the contract that he is selling all of the house, except a nail on one of the walls. After a week, Juha knocked the door, and when the new owners opened, he told him “Excuse me, I am here to check on my nail.” And he kept doing this almost every day and especially during lunch or dinner time, to be able to share the owner’s meals. After a while, the owner was so tired of Juha’s visits, he left the keys with him and departed. The phrase “Juha’s Nail” stayed as a expression for when you use an excuse to keep coming back for something you are attached to.

Background information: This is a piece of folklore read about in school in the Middle East. The informant found the story for the phrase, “Juha’s Nail,” particularly funny. Juha is a recurring character in many Middle Eastern stories.

Context: The informant told me about this story in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: I think it’s so cool and interesting to have a metaphor used in language that started as a story/joke. I have not learned about Arabic metaphors, so it’s fascinating to learn about the origins of one of them.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

Arabic Expression

طلعله من الجمل اذنه

Transliteration: Telaalu min al jamal ednu.

Translation: “He got only the camel’s ear.”

When someone works hard to get big share of a deal but the outcome turns out to be very small because many other people shared it with him.

Background information: An expression known in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. This is a common figure of speech in the Arabic language.

Context: The informant told me about this expression in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: This is a very interesting way to describe this situation, one that appears to be quite common all throughout history to today. I find the use of metaphors in other languages to be fascinating and a colorful way to carry out the language. I don’t think I use nearly the amount of metaphors as other languages (such as Arabic) when I speak English.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Want and Communism

“Al que quiere azul celeste, que le cueste.”

English:

To the one who wants sky blue, let it cost them- If you want something specific in life, its going to cost you.

This metaphor has deep ties to the communist idea of not wanting more than everybody else. The idea in communist culture that someone may want more or something special or different is, of course, not uncommon, but this saying is a sort of caution about the price of desiring better than what others settle for. My informant, having grown up in a family full of cuban refugees, heard this metaphor from two of her elder cousins regarding higher education. In this context, it was more or less a warning as to the amount of time, money, and effort it takes for one to get a higher education, though it was not neccessarily a dissaproval.

This metaphor seems to stem from the dying of clothing in Cuba, and how certain shades had to be mixed carefully and took considerable time,money, and effort to create instead of simple, naturally occuring shades that most citizens wear.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
general
Narrative
Proverbs

Aim High

“Tu no vas a cojer mangos bajito”

English:

You will not grab the mangos when you’re down low.

This metaphor is basically telling the listener that they must aim high in order to reap the benefits of labor. As my informant was a cuban immigrant who was raised by other cuban immigrants from whom she heard this saying from, this metaphor is appropriate in that not only does it make an agricultural reference when the majority of her family were once field workers, but also refers to the ideal that hard work leads to wonderful rewards. According to my informant, this ideal is one of the main reasons they risked life and limb to come to America in the first place.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

There’s Always Two Sides

This saying is one that my informant said she uses on a regular basis:

“No matter how thin the pancake, there are always two sides”.

My informant said that she learned this proverb or saying from a friend that was born and raised in Japan. Her name was Kozuko, and my informant met her in the 1980’s when her husband was stationed in Japan for the army. My informant believes that it was a proverb that was common within Kozuko’s family. Kozuko had translated the phrase from Japanese and told them how to say it in English. My informant thinks that it originally may have been a different word than ‘pancake’, because those are not a Japanese food. My informant uses this saying, she says, to express that there are always two sides to a story. She told her kids this when they would make decisions without considering the consequences or the people that they could hurt in the process. She says that she always thinks of her friend Kozuko when she uses the phrase, and is happy that she was able to bring it back to California.

I, for the most part, agree with my informant’s analysis of this piece of folklore. I believe it was likely developed as a more clever way to say that there are two sides to every story. I believe that this metaphorical way of saying that is a good way to get the message across. I had never heard this saying before, and after researching it more, could not find many sources and sites of it. This leads me to believe it is a rather rare saying, and potentially rarely translated from Japanese, or wherever its true origins lie.

folk metaphor

Folk Metaphor-Korean

“?? ??~” or “????”

“gui-shin ga-chi~” “gui-shin-ee-yah”

“ghost like~” “ghost is”

“~like a ghost” “Is a ghost”

Gisuk has always heard this being said in Korea. It is a very common phrase used when someone is uncannily good at something. I was teaching her some dance technique, and noticed out of the corner of my eye that she was not turning her foot out properly. “Turn out!” I said, and she said “?? ?? ?? ??…!” Which is literally, “You know, like a ghost!” Basically, what she meant was “You can tell so well, like a ghost!”

I have always heard this myself, but when she said this I noticed for the first time how odd it is that we would equate being very good or very skilled at something to being a ghost. That is when I decided this was a valuable piece of Korean folklore.

When I asked her what she thought this meant, she said simply that she thinks we compare a very skilled person to a ghost because it can be mysterious when someone is unusually good at something.

However, most cultures would not associate anything good to a ghost. Yet in Korean, when we say “good like a ghost,” it is generally a compliment and does not even necessarily connote mysteriousness or eeriness of a person’s talent. People might say enthusiastically of a good singer “at singing, she’s a ghost!” of a math prodigy, they might say “he’s a math ghost”—without the slightest hint of negativity or uneasiness. I do not think the term ghost here is at all associated with the scary unknown. I would compare this to the American use of the word ‘wizard’ in the phrases “math wizard” or “computer wizard.” In this context, it ‘wizard’ simply means someone very skilled, with a trace of apprehension of sorcery. It is also an uncommon idea that ghosts are particularly skilled or talented. In western portrayals, anyway, ghosts are rather stiff and unable to think or do much.

I think this may be a vestigial of Korea’s historical shamanistic religions, and traditions of ancestor worship. Actually, many of our most important holidays still retain a great deal of ancestor worship. Because most of the ghosts that historical Koreans would have dealt with in their lives were those of ancestors, it is now no longer so surprising to me that Koreans still have an unusually positive view of ghosts. Historically, we worshiped them, and they were our guardians. No wonder, then, when we see someone who excels, we say “Why you’re like a ghost!” Putting it into historical context, we are basically saying “you are like an ancestor-god!”

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