USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘occupational folklore’
Adulthood
Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Legends
Life cycle
Narrative

Toots The Gaseous Ghost

Informant (L.P.) is an 18 year old student. I had heard her enthusiasm for telling ghost stories the week before, and this one stood out. L.P. works at a local novelty shop. This interview is conducted at my house one Saturday evening.

I ask about the ghost in her workplace, which she had mentioned during our previous encounter.

L.P.: “There’s a ghost called Toots because it farts a lot and people smell it all the time. It’s not mean, it just likes to fuck with people. They have a video of it knocking a whole stack of books off the shelf.”

I ask her to elaborate on Toots’ antics

L.P.: “I saw it knock a book on my coworker. The book hit her on the side of the head and she spilled her tea… Today it knocked over a bucket in an aisle when some guy was reading a book.”

I ask her if the ghost has any legend attached to it

L.P.: “It used to be a post office, so maybe somebody died in there I’m not sure.

I ask her if she’s has the video, but she says no, as she doesn’t have access to the work computer. As the youngest employee at Wacko, I’m assuming L.P. is going through a right of passage in learning the store’s occupational legend of Toots the gaseous ghost.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Initiations
Legends
Life cycle
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The OJ Simpson Metaphor

The informant (A.H.) comes from a Black Christian family. A.H. does not identify with Christianity.

Now well retired from the game at 54 years old, A.H. played football in the NFL from 1983 to 1987; first drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, then transferred to the Seattle Seahawks, and finally the San Francisco 49ers. Since then he has coached youth football teams, and works now as a financial analyst. A.H. was over house for dinner one Monday evening, and after our meal I interviewed him for football specific occupational folklore. I asked about the superstitions, traditions, and legends A.H. had come across during his career as a professional player.

A.H.: “I remember growing up I was a huge OJ Simpson fan. I think every kid my age that grew up in my area that wanted to be a running back wanted to be OJ. And I remember reading in an article somewhere that he never ate before games. He had said somewhere that he wanted to know what it was like to be hungry, and he thought that it would transfer over into games. I think I might have been in high-school when I read that. It affected the way that I ate, like I would never eat the night before the game or morning before the game. The interesting thing is when I coached, I passed that on to the players that I used to coach. He said something like, if you didn’t eat it would make you like a hungry dog. You would play better. Every guy has his superstition before the game… So I saw one of the kids on Facebook that I used to coach… A lot of those kids are coaches, and they’re passing that stuff on now.”

I found A.H.’s story compelling, because what began as Simpson’s individual superstition was perpetuated by his success, and eventually A.H.’s success. As seen with the OJ Simpson metaphor, a young generation of football players dons the occupational superstitions of their predecessors as a rite of passage in the hopes to achieve similar success on the field. A.H. was well spoken, and seemed to enjoy revisiting memories of his time in the game. He was equally, if not more enthusiastic about the legacy he left behind as a coach.
Not only does A.H.’s story provide an occupational superstition, but also a new interpretation of a popular metaphor. Specifically, in English speech, ‘hunger’ serves as a metaphor for desire or motivation. In this particular superstition, the hunger metaphor is associated with the desire to win the game. For a popular example of the hunger used as a metaphor for motivation, see Suzanne Collins’ novel The Hunger Games.

Folk speech

“Hook Up”

Original Script: “Hook up is the term…weird right? So when I joined drill team, which is like a specific dance team focus on visual and sharp arm movements…it is more focused on visual affects. The most well known move is called the kick line. It is when we get in a straight line, like perfectly straight line, and it is not for balance because if you try to balance on someone it is just going to ruin the whole line…think of kind of like the rockets…one perfect straight line with lots of high kicks….Anyways, one of the terms you say is “hook up” to get in a straight line…even though it has a sexual connotation in popular culture it means something completely different on drill team.”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: Jessica grew up in a catholic Irish home. She is nineteen years old and has always been on a dance team. She grew up on one and in high school was on the most competitive dance team in high school, which happens to be on the drill team. Though growing up on dance Jessica has never heard of the term “hook up,” until she was on the team.

Context of the Performance: Drill Dance Team Practice

Thoughts about the piece: When Jessica first said the term was “hook up,” I was thoroughly confused. For the term “hook up,” in popular culture, like Jessica had mentioned, does mean a sexual connotation. Although, it can also mean to meet up with someone, so I thought: how many connotations can this term actually have? However, when Jessica had explained it to me that it is part of the drill team movement, I was completely surprised.

This fits perfectly in the section of “occupational folklore” or even “folk speech” because of the term belonging to a specific group of people who understand it. While it is not an inside joke, it is an inside saying to the group of the drill team. Take me for example, when I heard her say “hook up” I never thought of it being a line up like the Rockets at New York’s Radio City. I instantly thought, “oh a meet up,” or something that had a sexual connotation to it.

Interestingly, I even brought up this story with my sister, and she had the same exact thought I did. However, when I brought it up with my mom, she thought I was talking about hooking up a computer or a picture frame. (Notably considering she is a computer engineer.) Therefore, it is remarkable that the saying “hook up” has not only different meanings in different occupational groups (a drill dance team to a computer engineer who works in security) but also in different generations (from my generation meaning to meet up or a sexual innuendo, so my mother’s generation meaning to literally “hang” something up). Thus, because of the different definitions “hook up” has to different groups, it is considered “occupational folklore” or “folk speech.”

Humor
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Lawyers in the Ocean

Informant: What do you call a group of a hundred lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

Informant: A good start.

The informant (my dad) is a particularly self-deprecating lawyer. While he does take pride in his work, he often admits that he only went to law school because his father had been a lawyer, and the informant had “no idea what to do with [his] life” after he graduated from college. The informant currently works at a law firm in San Francisco, CA (he recently changed firms, after his former firm became too large and very corrupt. I suspect the series of lawyer jokes he told me were told with some of his old colleagues in mind.) This joke was told to my family over the dinner table, and was very much enjoyed by my mom (also an attorney).

The informant told me that this joke was relayed to him “a couple weeks ago” by a close friend and colleague. Given how often the informant complains about other lawyers being “assholes” and the stereotype of the conniving and greedy attorney being true, I suspect that this joke was aimed mainly at those in the profession who reflect this kind of negative image. It’s probably very important to note that the informant and the friend who told him this joke both left the firm they worked together at a handful of months before this joke was passed on to my family.

Humor
Legends
Narrative

Weekend Liberties Admonition for the Coast Guard

“At the end of the sixth week of training… no at the uh… after the fourth week of training in the, in the Coast Guard, you get on-base liberty, which means you get an entire day to yourself where you can do whatever you want. You can go to the duty free shop, you can exercise, you can read a book, you can go to the computer lab… whatever. Then, um… during the sixth week of basic training, assuming you haven’t done anything to disrupt, you get off-base liberty, which means you get dressed up in your military dress uniform and you go off base—into the town, and you do whatever you want from eight to eight. Me personally, I went out and, uh, saw two movies. I, uh, I pigged out at a fast food place. Other people get hotels to, you know, sleep with other people on the base. Or uh, they go to the bars to get wasted—even though that’s not allowed, what they do is they get a hotel and they get roaring drunk before they have to get back to base—or at least, hide it enough so no one knows that they’re piss-drunk…

“There were six guys—they called them six pack—and they got so black-out-drunk that when they got back—they almost got away with it—they took a taxi up to the front gate, they managed to uh walk past the gate, and when they got to, to uh, their barracks, to their, to their private little room, they had to walk past their company commander office… and as soon as they walked past: bluuehhhh! [makes vomiting noise]. Their company commander was right there, they just, they almost made it, they just passed his office, and then [vomiting noise] everywhere. Guy came out, they all got busted for, like two weeks.”

 

The informant’s company commander told him this legend. The commander said that they tell this story to everyone when they are allowed to go out on weekend liberty. The commanding officers admonish the recruits: “don’t be like the Six Pack. This was a warning to training Coast Guard recruits that their position is tenuous as well as determined by themselves.

This is a good illustration of how the Coast Guard functions: part hierarchy, part brotherhood. The way in which the commanding officers disseminate rules and expectations to those under their command (done through folklore) is friendly enough to make it easy to accept as someone under the command of another.

Legends
Narrative

Restarting Basic Training

“‘Don’t think just because you went though a ceremony and got your little certificate and your, uh, your pins—denoting your rank and everything—that, that you’re all done. That we’re equals. Your character reflects on us up until you leave sight of everyone at this base. It reflects upon you until you get, uh, your new billet. It reflects on, it reflects upon us—you and us—up until the end of your career. In other words, if you fuck up in such a way as to make people think ‘How’s this person, how could this person ever be in the military?’ they will send you back to bootcamp.’

“Their example—they don’t have any special nickname for him—but what happened was as soon as he graduated, he shook hands with all of his company commanders, and he got up on the bus, and the bus was leaving the gate. You know, it was just passing the gate, and the company commanders were watching the bus go by, and this guy, opened the window, stuck his hand out: [makes middle finger gesture] and did this to everyone on the base as he was leaving. They stopped the bus, and he had to repeat the entire eight weeks of basic training.”

 

The informant learned it from company commander on the day of his graduation (the beginning is the commander’s speech)  from the Coast Guard basic training. At the time, the informant was so elated that he made it though everything that he didn’t take it personally. He said he had seen other people in his group screw up (often badly), but he and his fellows and company commanders had gotten close so he held no malice toward his superiors.

When he was told this story, he recalled thinking to himself, “wow” saying they should kick him out permanently because “he’s the kind of guy that’s just going to grit his teeth and wait patiently until he no longer has to be put through this ordeal that is basic training, and then be like, ‘fuck you all!’”

Whether this legend is true or not, it allows the commanding officers in the Coast Guard to get their point across without unnecessary disciplining of misbehaving troops. By using a singular party (who may even be fictional) as a harsh example from which the recruits need to learn from, commanding officers can maintain the good behavior of a larger mass that identifies—at least partially—with the offending character. The commanding officers, thus, essentially make an example of one of the recruits’ own peers.

Folk speech
Initiations

“Soldier’s Creed”

            An ROTC student, the informant recited the “Soldier’s Creed,” a pledge memorized by every member in the U.S. Army. At the University of Southern California, all ROTC students are taught the creed during their first enrolled semester and are required to have the creed memorized by graduation, though the informant stated that typically, those enlisted in the army learn the creed during basic training. Its purpose is to transition the individual from a civilian to a soldier―a representative of the complete psychological and emotional change in identity. The informant explained that the purpose of basic training, and its attachments like the Soldier’s Creed, is to psychologically break down the individual and rebuild him or her into the type of person the army desires.
            More personally, the informant views the creed as a life philosophy outside of purely the military setting, although he acknowledged that people can interpret it differently. He identifies particularly with a stanza referred to as the “Warrior Ethos” (which begins, “I will always place the mission first”) because it underlines the idea of identifying a goal and sticking to it. The informant also shared that, after officially signing his contract with the army in the fall, the creed took on additional significance―as he stated, it became “very real” to him.

 

I am an American Soldier.
I am a warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.

 

            The Soldier’s Creed is highly evocative of folklorist Arnold van Gennep’s ideas surrounding rites of passage, which are typically used to mark the transition from one identity into another. The informant’s description of the “rebuilding” process is particularly relevant to this idea, and the Soldier’s Creed is a clear mechanism for that. It exhibits a pronounced use of the active present tense “am,” as well as the future tense “will,” while making no reference to the past. This shows how the soldier has transformed irrevocably into his new character.

            When examining the language of the Soldier’s Creed, the stress on collectivity is also noticeable: “[I am] a member of a team. . .I will never leave a fallen comrade.” This is quite interesting paired with structure of each sentence beginning with the highly individualistic “I.” The dualist presence of individualism as well as collective action suggests that both are valued in the right situations. Unsurprisingly, nationalism also plays a large role in the Soldier’s Creed, reinforcing the idea of the “other” as the enemy and the idea of the American as in need of protection.

Folk speech

“Hooah!”

             An ROTC student at the University of Southern California, the informant explained the significance behind the army recognition cry, “Hooah!” He called the army cry both an acknowledgement of another serving member as well as “a different way of saying ‘yes’ with motivation and enthusiasm.” The cry is limited to soldiers only, but he has always liked that there are no rank or level associations with the cry―anyone who has been enlisted or who has served in the U.S. army has access to the “Hooah!” cry.

 

            When a soldier in the army responds to an acknowledgement from another member in the army, he or she usually says, “Hooah!” Marines usually say, “Hoorah!”

 

            This traditional response from soldier to soldier is similar in theory and practice to the “Fight On!” chant that USC students exchange with one another. For one, it identifies an “inside” group; an exclusive community can use it as well as understand it because there is a particular university history and tradition attached to the chant.
Additionally, the chant transcends boundaries of seniority and rank, just as the “Hooah!” cry does. Prospective students, alumni, and faculty alike are all welcome to use and exchange the “Fight On!” In the case of “Hooah!,” it marks a solidarity and collectivity between soldiers―a symbol of respect for one another’s service to the country.
            Lastly, the unique sound and zeal behind the “Hooah!” cry boosts soldier morale in the same way a drummer boy behind the ranks or a welcoming parade does. The wildness and loudness of the cry emblemizes an abandon of inhibition that has zero representation in the regulated, disciplined setting of the military.

Folk Beliefs
general
Signs

Spider Cooked Egg

Informant Background: The informant was born in rural parts of China called Hainan. She lived there with her grandparents where she attended elementary school. She moved to the United States when she was thirteen. She speaks both Chinese and English. She lives in Los Angeles with her mother but travels back to visit her relatives in Beijing and Hainan every year. She and her mother still practice a lot of Chinese traditions and celebrate Chinese holidays through special meals

 

in the days my grandparents told me that to get a governmental position you need to pass certain exams. The exams happened in one day and it is really hard. You can’t get a job unless you pass this test. So to get good luck for that exam day the night before your mother would have to catch a spider in your house, put the spider in the egg, and cook it. You can put the spider in by cracking open the top a little bit and then put the spider in. Then you can still boil the egg. Then you have to eat it before you take the test. This will help you pass the test.  

This is a folk-belief about how to create good luck.  The story was told to the informant by her grandparents who live in an area called Hainan. According to her this was what her great-grandmother did for her grandfather before he went to take his test.

 

I think this folk-belief is very strange. The informant herself also stated how she finds this method very strange as well. Regardless of peculiarity, this shows the family’s involvement in one individual event; that different members of the family are linked together through different objects and methods. In this case it is the mother who has to cook the egg because it is common in a Chinese household that the mother is the cook in the family. This reflects how the mother has to support her child and bring him luck even though the method seems strange. The spider also has to be found in the house. This also shows a different living arrangement situation depending on culture. In Western Culture after the child reaches a certain age he/she would leave the family house and live separately. In this case it is evident that Chinese family tends to maintain as one household.

This belief is a method of how to deal with one of life transitional period. People associate themselves through different identity, one of them is occupation. In this case, the exam is important as an official way to achieve that particular job identity and how the family helps the individual.

It also shows how the egg is eaten to enhance the individual’s belief in his own luck. This shows it is important to believe in good luck is whether or not the spider-egg has magical power or not. Similar to the placebo effect, believing is a big part into feeling lucky.

Customs
general

Fishy and Trout

“If a drag queen is really pretty, and they look like a real female, instead of a man dressed in drag, then they call them ‘fishy’. And if they’re not ‘fishy’, then they’re trout. It’s like a diss, to call someone a trout.”

The informant introduced me to these drag-queen slang-terms during the middle of our interview. She used to work in a costume shop for drag queens, and she learned these terms from hanging out with several drag queens. She said that she enjoyed working in the costume shop because she met many people she wouldn’t have normally had the chance to. She seemed proud that she knew these slang words, because it gave her some authority in the world of drag queens. It made her connections with drag queens more real, because she could partake in their unique culture. Most occupational folklore works on this level. The more folklore one learns about a culture, the more accepted that person is as “one of them”. Even though the informant does not partake in dressing in drag herself, she still likes having ties to the culture.

I thought this piece of folklore was very interesting. It’s always cool to learn new words and their meanings, especially if they’re slang words from another culture.  I also thought it was interesting that both words, “fishy” and “trout”, connect to fish. I wonder what the connection between drag queens and fish is, if there is one. Maybe it’s because fish seem like a more gender-neutral animal, and drag queens like to walk the line between genders. Or it could be that fish terms are just more unique than the classic “pretty” and “ugly”, and drag queens like to be unique. Whatever the case, I feel that the words appropriately fit their meanings. “Trout” is more of a blunt, ugly word, while “fishy” sounds more delicate and similar to “pretty”. When a drag queen looks successfully like a real female, he is considered very pretty. I have seen many drag queens in the Mardi Gras festival in Provincetown, Rhode Island. There is a huge range in their female resemblance. I think it’s a very interesting culture, and I’m glad I know a little more about it now.

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