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

“The Value of Hard Work”

Context & Analysis

The subject and I were eating lunch together and I asked him to tell me about any traditions or sayings he remembers from his family. The subject told me he doesn’t have a strong connection with his parents, but that in particular, his parents have always emphasized the value of hard work. The subject stated that the proverb is a traditional Chinese proverb, but provided me with a rough summary as he remembered his parents telling him. After doing some research, the story comes from a Chinese idiom, “Shòu zhū dài tù”, or “Watching a tree stump, waiting for rabbits” (visiontimes.com). Additionally, the original idiom does not mention the farmer himself dying, so this could possibly be an alternative ending that the subject’s parents told him for extra emphasis. This seems like a rather graphic story to tell to a young child, but the proverb and the idiom it originates from highlights the reliability of hard work instead of luck. (Source url: http://www.visiontimes.com/2013/11/18/the-chinese-idiom-watching-a-tree-stump-waiting-for-rabbits.html)

Main Piece

“The jist of the proverb is about a farmer who one day luckily manages to catch a rabbit that runs head first into a tree. So instead of farming or working hard, he decides to sit by the tree every day and wait for more rabbits to run into the tree. Of course that never happens because that’s only a really lucky occurrence, so he starves and dies.”   

Folk speech
Proverbs

“It’s Worth Doing Well”

Context & Analysis

The subject, my mother, and I were getting coffee for breakfast and I asked her if she could tell me some stories about her childhood. The subject’s father (who has recently passed away) was a history professor in the Midwest. The family moved frequently because of this, which made it difficult for them to settle in a single area for too long. The subject’s mother was a stay-at-home mother; she also has four other siblings. The subject’s parents were both the children of Norwegian immigrants and emphasized the value of hard work and wise spending habits. I think that this proverb especially reflects the down-to-earth and hard-working nature of the subject’s parents. I’ve heard similar renditions of this proverb (i.e. “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right”) from other sources throughout my life.

Main Piece

“My mom would always say “if it’s worth doing it’s worth doing well” so, like that means don’t do a sloppy job or half-heartedly do something.


 

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Nature Organizes Best”

Context & Analysis

The subject is a good friend of mine who has been going through some difficult times recently; I believe this is a very grounding (and likely comforting phrase) for her to remember. It has a similar tone to ‘Whatever’s meant to be will be’. I also think it is interesting that the phrase is not necessarily religious—and the subject is not religious herself—yet she still mentions spiritual ideas like God in her description of the proverb.

Main Piece

“My parents say this thing in which, it’s like,  “Nature organizes best”, which just means that a god—not necessarily god, I don’t know, in which, like, the way of the universe is working out that everything is supposed to be the way it’s meant to be—kind of like karma almost, but a little more to it than that. Like whatever’s happening in your life in the moment is supposed to happen because nature is organizing for you to learn and to grow and to become the best version of yourself which is something that my parents have always said to me when bad things are happening or when good things are happening. That things aren’t necessarily in your control and that, like, there’s something else out there and it’s not just you and that the world is working in your favor.”

Proverbs

Cincinnati Proverb

The following was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked HL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a proverb she was told growing up from her Grandmother.

 

HL: “If you get on the bus to Cincinnati, don’t be surprised when you get to Cincinnati.”

CS: “And how would you translate this proverb?”

HL: “Basically, if you have sex outside of marriage and you’re not on the pill, don’t be surprised when you have a kid.”

CS: “Was this proverb said often in your house?”

HL: “So like my grandma used to say that to my mom when she was a teenager, and now that I’m getting older she says it to me. And of course my mom always says it to make fun of her.”

CS: “Do you think she really believes in that proverb?”

HL: “Yeah. 100%.”

CS: “Do you think you’ll tell your kids that saying?”

HL: “No. Only to give them more information about their great grandma. I’ve also never been to Cincinnati and don’t plan on it.”

 

Background:

HL is currently a freshman at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Mission Viejo, California in a family with a strong Catholic background.

Context:

An in person conversation at a local coffee shop.

 

Analysis:

What I found so fascinating about this proverb was merely that I completely misinterpreted it until HL further explained its meaning. Initially, I would have translated the proverb to simply being if you make a choice, or have a wish, don’t be surprised when that decision has consequences or the wish comes true. However, I was clearly way off from its actual meaning, or at least the meaning has for her family. I also found this proverb to be unique in the sense that I haven’t heard of a saying quite like that before that seems to have such a true-to-life and almost blunt, candid undertone.

Proverbs

Old Age Proverb

The following proverb was recorded from a conversation I had with a friend marked HL. I am marked CS. She shared with me a proverb she was told growing up from her Grandmother.

 

HL: “Experience is a comb that nature gives us when we’re bald.”

CS: “Can you explain to me a brief translation?”

HL: “Sure. In other words, I think it’s meant to be along the lines of how as we age we are gifted more experience and knowledge over time. I like it. We said it all of the time in my house.”

 

Background:

HL is currently a freshman at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Mission Viejo, California in a family with a strong Catholic background.

Context:

An in person conversation at a local coffee shop.

 

Analysis:

I enjoyed this proverb because it feels very frank, honest, and has an air of optimism. Instead of making age and growing up a dreadful future, it appreciates the growing because one gains much more knowledge and experience than they previously had. I think this saying is really important and something that could very well be spoken across many different kinds of cultures. I also enjoy its lighthearted and almost humorous tone, making the words less serious and indefinite and instead suggestive and admiring.

 

Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

What Happened to Dorothea

Over the past few years, I’ve heard snippets of this friend’s crazy grandpa. Many nights, we’d eat together and share stories of our nutty families, as we both share lineage with what many would call ‘eccentrics’. Self purportedly from a family comprised of 50% white trash and 50% religious explorers, he grew up around a variety of funny saying and stories.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“You’d go, ‘Oh grandpa, blablablablabla’. And then he would kind of like – you know when you were a kid and you’d kind of like ramble a lot? So he would like loose track and then be like, ‘Well you know what happened to Dorothea don’t ya?’. And then you’d be like, ‘what?’. ‘She went to shit and the hogs ate her’. It wasn’t connected at all. It was basically like, ‘Oh, fuck off. I’m not listening.’”

I love this little proverb or parable or whatever it is, because it’s just so frickin’ unique and strange. At first, you think it’s going to be related to ‘the Wizard of Oz’ or at least somebody named Dorothea, but that’s just thrown out the window with a tragic image of graphic violence. And, to top it all off, it’s hilarious. The shear absurdity of it all perfectly captures the care-free nature of an older generation.

Customs
folk metaphor
folk simile
Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Good Old Grandpa

Over the past few years, I’ve heard snippets of this friend’s crazy grandpa. Many nights, we’d eat together and share stories of our nutty families, as we both share lineage with what many would call ‘eccentrics’. Self purportedly from a family comprised of 50% white trash and 50% religious explorers, he grew up around a variety of funny saying and stories.

The following was recorded during a group interview with 4 other of our friends in the common area of a 6-person USC Village apartment.

“He had a lot of sayings for like the weather. ‘It’s colder than a witch’s tit’. Or, ‘it’s darker than a snake’s asshole.’ There were a lot of asshole things too. ‘Colder than a well-digger’s ass’. ‘I’d rather have acid poured down the crack of my ass than…’ ‘I’m so hungry I could eat the ass out of a dead gorilla’. ‘You talk like you have a paper hat’. ‘You talk like your ass is made of paper’. ‘Wish in one hand, shit in the other. See which one fills up first’. ‘Tough titties said the kitty’. He said that one a lot. ‘As useless as tits on a hoe-handle’. ‘Nervous as a whore in church’. ‘Nervous as a pregnant nun’. If something doesn’t go over well, he’d be like, ‘oh, that went over like a turd in a punch bowl’. He also had a lot of superstitions or tics I guess. He’d always get wine with ice in it – my mom’s family is 100% pure white trash. And so, he would order wine with ice in it, and then he would get it, stir it with his pinky, then suck on his finger, and wipe it on the left side of his shirt. Every single time. He’d like dry it off with the corner of his shirt. So all of his shirts had little things sticking off from him pulling on it to dry off his fingers. He’d stir his wine like it was a mixed drink or something.”

These weird little sayings always crack me up. They range from somewhat clever and somewhat useful to totally nonsensical and just plain silly. I especially love the strange ritual my friend’s grandpa performs every time he drinks a glass of wine. He seemed to do things just for the hell of it. What a way to live.

Proverbs

Agua Que No Vas a Beber Déjala Correr

Cuban culture in general is incredibly vibrant and colorful. With recent tourism to Cuba rising, foreigners often underestimate how vibrant the buildings, cars, and clothes are in Cuba. And this powerful expression also transfers over into language and proverbs. Although the Cuban diaspora is widespread, our vernacular holds us together. When visiting home recently, my aunt and grandmother came over to share proverbs and common Cuban vernacular with me.

One such proverb is: “Agua Que No Vas a Beber Déjala Correr”. Phonetically, it’s easy to pronounce since it utilizes the same Latin alphabet.

This is Cuban proverb was told to me by my aunt, who’s heard it all her life whether in public or at home. As a native speaker, I’ve heard this proverb a lot while growing up but did not know what it really meant until my aunt explained it. When literally translated, it reads “Water you don’t drink, you should let run.” My aunt explained that the original context means that if an issue does not concern you, you let it be; like water flowing down a stream it is not important to you at all. Sometimes it’s worse, the proverb posits, to become muddled in someone else’s problems. If one tries to solve the problems of another, the one with the problem won’t grow as a result and the situation can become much worse as a result of the intervening. So everyone for themselves, y’all.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Proverbs

Proverb

A mentor spoke a proverb to me that goes:

“The more you know the less you need”

 

Background: The speaker is a 52 year old father who grew up in Century City, CA and currently lives with his wife and three kids in Calabasas, CA. He is an entrepreneur and currently owns and manages multiple of his own companies.

Context: After dinner, he told me this proverb reflecting on his professional career.

Analysis: He shared with me that he originally heard this proverb from his father and it stuck with him, and therefore grew up with it always at the forefront of his mind.  Proverbs are really interesting to me because, by nature, they are vague enough that each individual can apply it to whatever area in their life that the words apply to them personally. For him, these words always were always important in terms of his professional career. To me, however, when I first heard this, I did not think of my future career at all, but rather in relationship to the family and friends in my life. Learning from people in my environment and truly knowing people who I care about makes me less and less inclined to need more. I love the way that proverbs manifest in each individual’s life and can stick with you through whatever circumstance is thrown at you.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Proverbs
Signs

Respecting the Penny

Title: Respecting the Penny

Category: Proverbial Phrase

Informant: Julianna K. Keller

Nationality: American, caucasian

Age: 20

Occupation: Student

Residence: 325 West Adams Blvd./ Los Angeles, CA 90007

Date of Collection: 4/09/18

Description:

“ The man that does not respect the Penny, does not deserve the dollar.”

Context/Significance:

The phrase comes from Julianna’s great Uncle and is thought to be an originally German proverb. According to the source, the proverb means: A person should value the little things so that they can appreciate when larger things happen. The phrase implies that a person should be appreciative of all things that happen to them and take nothing for granted.

Personal Thoughts:

This proverbial phrase is something that can be heard when talking about small occurrences in an insignificant way. It can be used as a retort when someone acts inappreciative of something nice that happens to them.

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