USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘proverb’
Folk speech

Dance Proverb

My informant SS is a 20-year-old girl of Jewish descent. She is very passionate about dance and participated on a dance team all throughout high school. In this piece, she describes a common saying to me (AK) that her dance coach attempted to instill in the minds of each girl on the team.

SS: From dance team we had the saying of: “Early is on time and on time is late.”

AK: So does this just mean you always had to be early?

SS: Kind of. At first it was annoying, but I got used to it pretty quickly.

AK: Does it have any significance to you or does it still apply to your life today?

SS: Definitely. It really sticks with me now. It’s a good life skill and saying I guess.

I found this proverb to be quite applicable to pretty much every facet of life. For me, this proverb is most applicable to things from my everyday life. For important events like interviews and tests, it is very easy to find the motivation to be on time because a lot is dependent on the event itself. However, for things like class and other day to day tasks, it is way harder to have the motivation to always be on time. For this reason, I try to abide by this proverb. It is certainly very difficult, but just the mindset of needing to be early allows me to show up on time. In a way, I still am “late”, but just this shift in mindset allows me to be traditionally “on time”.


Proverb #4 – Haiti

My informant was born and raised in Haiti. She shared with me a few proverbs that she learned from her time growing up there.

When people think of Haiti, they rightly so think of severe poverty, denuded mountains, music, art, and its oral history — including proverbs of its peasants.  These peasants have suffered so much over the centuries.  Because of all that they have suffered, they have gained a treasure full of wisdom. Haitians seem to hold the mentality that a lot of things are up to them and that they can only depend on themselves. This belief that they hold is understandable; how can they trust a world that has been so cruel and unfair to them? A lot of their proverbs reflect skepticism, relentless hardship of life, universal truths about people, and at times a hopelessness or defeated attitude. Below I have laid out the proverb in Creole, the English translation, and then an explanation behind the proverb as provided by my informant:


Haitian Proverb (Creole)

Nan benyen pa gen kache lonbrit


A beautiful burial does not guarantee heaven


“People put in so much into the external in their lives. So it’s like ok you do all this for yourself—you pamper yourself. But in the end it’s not a passport to heaven. Because who knows what’s on the other side? It’s not ultimately money that matters when you die. It’s not going to take you to heaven. You can lavish on yourself, but in the end it won’t matter.”


Salvadoran Proverb for Women

“Las muchachas anda tan caliente, que cuando se orinen haste el sacate agarra fuego.”

Translation: Young girls are so hot (horny), then when they pee even the grass catches fire

This proverb was told to my informant by his wife. It represents the stigma that comes with women having free sexuality. it is usually told to daughters as a warning.


My informant is a building engineer. He migrated to the United States form El Salvador when he was 16 years old. He grew up in a city in El Salvador. Lots of the folklore he has heard has come from his family.

What is interesting is that this proverb really attack female sexuality. There is this idea in Salvadoran and most Hispanic culture that there are only two women; saints (women that are pure and do not have sexual urges) and whores (women that give into their sexual urges).

Folk speech

Albanian Proverb

Informant: The informant is Mrika. She has lived in the Bronx, New York for her whole life. She is eighteen years old and is a freshman at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York. She is of Albanian descent.

Context:We sat across from each other at a table at a diner in Yonkers, New York during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: There’s a proverb that Albanians say. It goes, “When you have given nothing, ask for nothing.” So, it has a lot to say about respect in Albanian culture. We believe in returning favors and that, basically, you only get what you give. If you don’t give anything, you don’t get anything. It’s kind of like karma. I learned this from my dad. He was trying to teach me valuable lessons about appreciation and hard work .He taught me this when I was in middle school and I asked him for money. Like always, he had to turn this into a life lesson.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s important because it taught me about not being greedy. You only get what you give. I feel like it’s so opposite of American culture. It reminds me not to be selfish. Honestly, so much Albanian folklore has that message.

Personal Thoughts: I think that it is fascinating to learn about the central messages of folklore of different cultures. I found it very interesting that Mrika said that much of her folklore is about not being selfish and making sure to return favors. The fact that their proverbs revolve around other people aside from themselves is admirable.

Folk speech

Difficult Difficult Lemon Difficult

Context: My roommate discovered this meme one day, and it prompted a discussion about the various levels of depth it reached.

Background: My roommate is a self-described “conveyor of fine memes” and has a hobby of collecting, creating, and sharing Internet memes.

The Meme: The meme (attached to this post) is a play on the phrase “easy peasy lemon squeezy.” The phrased is reworked in a text explanation that laments the fact that things are not “easy peasy lemon squeezy” as once believed, but are in fact “difficult difficult lemon difficult.” This explanation is accompanied by the image of a middle-aged woman furiously gripping a laptop in both hands and biting into it.

Analysis: This became a folklore discussion as a surprise, as the further my roommate and I discussed it, the more it seemed to work as a piece of folk speech. “Difficult difficult lemon difficult” is definitely an evolution of the saying “easy peasy lemon squeezy,” which itself has an origin that feels meaningless in the context the phrase has since gained. The specific discovery of the newly-changed saying also has the context of being in meme form, memes being one of the more common areas of unauthored expression in the 21st century.

Folk speech

Fatherly Advice

Context: I collected this from a friend on a trip over Spring Break, after he’d heard me talking about folklore with another friend I was collecting from.

Background: A piece of advice in the form of a proverb my friend’s dad taught him to live by.

Phrase: The most important thing is to think. The second most important thing is let other people think.

Analysis: The piece is simple, really just some advice that’s important for parents to give to their kids. My friend specified this was something his father told him every time he “did something stupid,” but I appreciate that the proverb refers to the world beyond yourself and stresses the importance of respecting other peoples’ minds.

Folk speech

“Be good to your teeth, or they will be false to you.”

So what’s the meaning behind that?


Uh, I mean I think it’s just clever and funny.  If you aren’t good to your teeth, you’re gonna end up with false teeth.”


Ohh ok, now I get it


Oh my gosh!!  You didn’t get that!?  I think that one is so funny, so cute.





This little saying is a short, clever play on words.  My Uncle Steve told me that his Aunt used to say this to him and his cousins all the time.  Apparently, she had taken poor care of her teeth as a child and young adult.  She started having to wear false teeth in her late 50s.  With this precautionary tale in mind, it comes as no surprise that my Uncle Steve has a nice, pearly white smile.  “I didn’t wanna end up with chompers like hers,” he jokingly says of his Aunt.



Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:


Mexican Proverb – “Mucho hablar y poco decir juntos suelen ir”


Transliteration – “Much talk and little say often go together”


Translation – “The empty vessel makes the most noise”




This is a proverb taught in schools and just as a general life lesson. It was told to me by my Mexican nanny, Mirna, who has been with my family for nearly 19 years, and she likes it because of its meaning as a way to determine someone’s ignorance. My nanny was told this saying at a young age by her mother, as a way to teach her proper etiquette when speaking and how to carry herself to stay on people’s good side, as well as how to tell when someone might just be talking out of their rear end.

My nanny has always been sort of quiet, and only really joining into a conversation when she had something to add. My sister was always just a talkative one and oftentimes just spoke to make noise, and my nanny would oftentimes just sit there and listen so as to please my sister. She would actually tell us this in Spanish when we were young, because being exposed to her speaking Spanish we could understand it a little bit, but I did not pick up on the deeper meaning of it.




I just asked for a proverb from home and this is what was told. It doesn’t seem to make much sense at first, but when it is looked deeper into the meaning of the two words – one being talk, and one to say – it is meant to say that just because someone talks a lot, doesn’t mean they really have much to say. The translation serves to say that those who have the least in their mind tend to talk and talk when they don’t really say anything.

When you hear someone talking and they just keep babbling on and on, a lot of what they say isn’t necessarily intelligent, and they are generally just talking to get attention and keep it. Because the literal translation (as given from my nanny) is “the empty vessel makes the most noise” this means that people who are empty minded tend to have a lot of nonsense to talk about.


My thoughts:


It is interesting to hear proverbs from other languages because the literal translation seems to just be nonsense but talking to someone who has grown up with it as a part of their culture and getting the explained meaning from them is much more interesting to me.  I was confused originally because with my knowledge of Spanish I thought hablar and decir meant the same thing so the saying made no sense to me but once it was explained this has become one of my favorite proverbs.

Folk speech

Hawaiian Proverb

Note: The form of this submission includes the dialogue between the informant and I before the cutoff (as you’ll see if you scroll down), as well as my own thoughts and other notes on the piece after the cutoff. The italics within the dialogue between the informant and I (before the cutoff) is where and what kind of direction I offered the informant whilst collecting. 

Informant’s Background:

My mother’s mother’s mother and even from before her are from Hawaii but some England roots are interjected into the bloodline as well. My mother’s father’s father’s father hails half from Hawaii and the other half from China and Portugal. But what is funny about most Hawaiians, is that they are not only Hawaiian. They are also Caucasian, Portuguese, Chinese, Filipino, Samoan, Japanese, Korean, e.t.c…….Plantation workers were brought in to work the sugar and pineapple fields and they brought their culture with them.

Piece and Full Translation Scheme of Folk Speech:

Original Script: I maika’i ke kalo i ka ‘oha 

Transliteration:  I maika’i ke kalo i ka ‘oha 

Translation: The goodness of the taro is judged by the young plant it produces.

Piece Background Information:

 I maika’i ke kalo i ka ‘oha ” basically means that “parents are often judged by the behavior of their children”.


Context of Performance:

Via email.

Thoughts on Piece: 
The informant is my half-sister and we have over a 20 year age gap. I met her when our father was dying and I immediately noticed her mother-like qualities as she was very caring and would look after me and my sisters in light of the difficult time. She is a mother of seven and has home-schooled all of her children (including some who are older than me) and also loves to cook for, and support her children at their sports meets. That being said, when I asked her if she had any Hawaiian folklore to share, it came to no surprise that she shared this proverb on parenting. Her believing that the actions of her kids reflect on her own parenting, like a responsible parent should, clearly demonstrates to me why she is such a good parent.
Folk speech

“Every day is for the thief, one day is for the owner.”

Subject: Yoruba (Nigerian Proverb

Phonetic Script: “Kwa ụbọchị bụ maka ohi, otu ụbọchị dị ka onye nwe.”

Translation:” Every day is for the thief, one day is for the owner.”

Interpretation: You can lie, cheat, and steal, but one day, you will be caught.

Analysis: This proverb shows the values of the Igbo people. Virtue is better that self-interest.