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

“A penny saved is a penny earned”

Informant AB is a 23-year-old male who is from the East Bay in Northern California. He is a student at the University of Southern California in his third year as a civil engineer major. Here, he discuses a proverb that he learned from his father while growing up:

AB: “My dad would always say, ‘A penny saved is a penny earned.’”

Where did your dad learn this proverb?

AB: “My dad learned it from his father who also learned it from his father.”

Does this proverb have any significance to you?

AB: “Absolutely. I believe that it is always best to save money when you have it and just because you do have money doesn’t mean you should be spending it. It is smarter to save it for a rainy day.”

How do you use this proverb in your everyday life?

AB: “I try to save as much money as I can and I generally don’t spend more than I take in. I’m always trying to save a little bit no matter what. And when the day comes when I have my own kids, I will pass this on to them to help them understand and learn the value of a dollar and to not spend frivolously because this was the way I was taught by my parents.”


This proverb that the informant shared with me I found to be very relatable in that I was raised in a similar way in regards to valuing money. This proverb was originally stated by one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin in the 1700’s. This proverb provides a positive connotation in that it is important to save money in the moment because it will benefit you in the long run. It teaches you to the importance and value of money and what you have.

Folk speech

“Taj ko čeka, taj dočeka”

Informant MV is my mother who is both Croatian and Italian. She was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents immigrated from Croatia to the United States in 1958. MV speaks Croatian fluently and has two daughters who she raised within the Croatian and Italian traditions and culture. This is a Croatian proverb that MV grew up with that she has passed down to her two daughters:

“Taj ko čeka, taj dočeka.”

“A person who waits is a person who receives.”

In the Croatian language, the letter “j” is pronounced as a “y” sound and the “č” is pronounced as a “ch” sound like in English.

How do you know about this Croatian proverb?

MV: “Growing up in a Croatian and Italian family, it is a Croatian proverb that my parents used in our everyday lives.”

 How did your parents learn about this proverb?

MV: “Well my father learned this proverb from his parents while he was a very young boy growing up in Split, Croatia. It was a popular phrase used among our family members dating back generations ago. When he got older, he continued to pass this proverb onto his family.”

Does this Croatian proverb have any significant meaning to you?

MV: “It has great meaning to me because it is something that holds true to what I believe in and it is very much relevant to any generation and language today. I feel as though this proverb is relatable to most, if not everyone. This Croatian proverb is very similar to the one that says, ‘Good things come to those who wait,’ in that patience is rewarded to those who take the time to let things come that are truly meant to be. Not forcing the end result or expected outcome, but letting nature take its course in delivering what is really meant to be. You will meet your goal when you let patience and acceptance into your life.”

How can you or others relate to this proverb?

MV: “I think this proverb is fitting for me or anyone. When you think things are not going your way or something is not happening fast enough or not happening in the time frame that you would want it to happen in, it kind of makes you get your perspective and to move forward and to keep doing what you’re doing.”

In what context or situation would this be performed?

MV: “I use this Croatian proverb when I try to give advice to my kids, well, they’re not really kids anymore, but I say this when they are in times of frustration to remind them that everything happens in its own timing and that when you wait, what is meant for you will come along naturally.


This Croatian proverb is a great example of how folklore is spread orally over generations. Growing up in a traditional Croatian and Italian household, my mother learned the Croatian language before she learned Italian or English. As a child of immigrant parents, it was important to her and her family that they did not lose sight of their traditions. Once my mother had my older sister and I, we were taught Croatian before English, that way we were able to uphold our heritage and understand our family roots. Still knowing the language today, I find it comforting when my mom tells me this proverb in times of stress or frustration. It helps me to see past the obstacles that I am faced with in that particular moment. Now as an adult, this proverb especially resonates with me and I have continued to pass this proverb along to my friends.


Folk speech

“Idimi dođimi”

Informant MV is my mother who is both Croatian and Italian. She was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents immigrated from Croatia to the United States in 1958. MV speaks Croatian fluently and has two daughters who she raised within the Croatian and Italian traditions and culture. This is a Croatian proverb that MV grew up with that she has passed down to her two daughters:

“Idimi dođimi” “Coming and going” 

In the Croatian language, the “đ” in the word “dođimi” has a “j” sound like in English.

 Where or who did you learn this Croatian proverb from?

MV: “I learned it from my parents and heard it from other family members in Split, Croatia growing up. It is a very descriptive, common proverb that is used to describe a person who is not reliable or consistent in their work or character.

Do you like this proverb?

MV: “I do very much and it is very short, sweet, and to the point.”

Does it have any significant meaning to you?

MV: “I just have heard a lot of people in my family say it and it has stuck to me over the years. It’s meant to be used in a light manner; it’s not a serious critique of a person or situation. It is usually said in a light, joking way and it usually involves a little laughing so that’s why I like it and use it because it really isn’t a negative thing. It is just a light way to describe something and everybody who is from Split knows what it means.

What kind of context would you use this proverb?

MV: “This proverb is generally used to describe a personality type, someone who is not that driven or career oriented. It can also be used loosely to describe someone who does not have a clear goal in sight. It can be said in situations that are frustrating to help relief the tension in a light way.”


In Croatia, there are many different types of proverbs that are used throughout the different regions of the country. However, each region has its own vernacular. “Idimi dođimi” is a classic Split proverb that is used casually to describe a person’s disposition or demeanor. It is meant to be used in a light-hearted and joking manner. Growing up listening to my mom say, “Idimi dođimi” was also a type of way my mother reminded me that there are going to be people ‘coming and going’ out of your life and not everyone is meant to stay. She would say that those who ‘come and go’ are the people who are temporary placed within my life.


Folk speech

“Mene musika nosi”

Informant MV is my mother who is both Croatian and Italian. She was born in the United States and grew up in Los Angeles, CA. Her parents immigrated from Croatia to the United States in 1958. MV speaks Croatian fluently and has two daughters who she raised within the Croatian and Italian traditions and culture. This is a Croatian proverb that MV grew up with that she has passed down to her two daughters:

 “Mene musika nosi”

 “Music carries me”

Can you expand on the meaning of this proverb?

MV: “This is generally used for describing yourself or another person who is fairly upbeat most of the time, not much gets them down. They don’t let the burdens of everyday life get in the way of their happiness. Music also tends to make people happy so this proverb has a positive, happy connotation.”

Where or who did you learn this Croatian proverb from?

MV: “I learned it through growing up in a Croatian and Italian household with parents who immigrated from Europe. It’s part of my cultural heritage. We spoke Croatian in our household fluently as it was the primary language in our family and friends.

What kind of context would you use this proverb?

MV: “This proverb is mainly used to describe a person disposition. To this day, it is pretty common to use, not so much with the younger generation, but mostly with the middle age generation and the elderly. It is a quintessential proverb from Split, which is on the Dalmatian Coast where the Adriatic Sea is. That region is where a proverb like is originated.”

So this Croatian proverb is mostly regional more so than a generalized proverb that is know throughout Croatia?

MV: “Exactly because there was an influx of different people in different areas of Croatia who don’t know the history of Split and don’t know the old dialect and the old proverbs. It’s a melting pot like many places in Europe and in the world today. A lot of that gets filtered away, so it really is quite a gift to be able to move this forward generationally to my children. Knowing that my daughters know the Croatian language, they will uphold these proverbs and other traditional aspects of our heritage and that they will continue to pass them on to their own children and even their friends as well.”

Do you think Croatians from other parts of the country would be able to relate or understand this proverb in particular since it is a proverb from Split?

MV: “I think they would understand it, but they would look at you like you are from another generation or era because of the Split dialect used in this proverb and also because throughout Croatia, there are different dialects depending on the region, so that can influence the ability to fully understand the meaning behind it. There are people of course that would understand it who are not from Split, but it is not used as readily as it was when I was a child, so that is why I made sure and still make sure that my kids understand it and carry it along with them.”

Does this Croatian proverb have any significant meaning to you?

MV: “I use it quite frequently actually. It was kind of a joke in our family for a while because there was a good family member who would always be happy really no matter the circumstance and we would always say about him, ‘Mene musika nosi.’ It is certainly a positive, optimistic proverb used to describe how you feel or a person’s disposition.

What kind of context would you use this proverb?

MV: “It could be something like if someone said, ‘Gosh, you are never down. Do you ever get upset?’ and the person would say, ‘Mene musika nosi,’which means that their general path in life is one of happiness as opposed to looking at life as the glass is half empty instead of half full. It is very comparable to that. It is a framework in which they view their life, but it’s not something that they think about, but more so how they live their everyday life.”


Music is a large part of our Croatian culture, which embodies positivity and self-expression. Croatia has maintained a vital musical culture since its independence in 1991 from the former Yugoslavia. “Mene musika nosi” is a classic proverb from the city of Split that my mother always uses. It is used as a reminder to never let the negative aspects of live interfere with the positive. It is a way at looking at life in the most optimistic way. Those who are content about how they live their life commonly use this proverb. It is a reminder to themselves and to others to not take life so seriously. I found it interesting how based on the regions and the different dialects that not everyone in Croatia will fully understand the meaning behind the proverb. Since the people of Split strictly use this proverb, people from other regions may not fully be able to relate to it.


Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pasadena New Year’s and New Year’s Eve

JH is a senior at an all-boys Catholic high school in La Canada Flintridge, CA. He lives with his parents in Pasadena, CA.

JH talked to me about some of the traditions and rituals that surround New Year’s and New Year’s Eve in his hometown:

“New Years is probably the biggest event in Pasadena…first of all there’s the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game…for the Rose Parade you always know it’s coming because in like, late November they start putting up the grandstands down Orange Grove [a major boulevard], and I live right above the Rose Bowl so they start setting up for events around then too in the neighborhood. They put up these giant white tents down there where they start building some of the floats, and you can go down and help decorate them with flowers – I’ve never gone, but I know some people or their families go every year. The floats are really cool.

There’s also the Rose Court and they’re a big part of the Rose Parade. My sister tried out a few years ago. I think in like September, or really early in the school year, all the girls who are seniors can try out, and they go to this really big mansion called the Tournament House and have a bunch of rounds of interviews. Obviously like, not all the girls are really interested in being on the Court, but it’s just a tradition they all do together. Everyone who participates I know also gets two tickets to this ‘Royal Ball,’ which is basically just a huge dance they have. That’s why a lot of girls do it I guess, just to get the tickets. But I don’t know, maybe it’s also just fun for them to participate. And then they eventually pick like six or seven girls, and one of them is the Queen, and they spend the rest of the year doing charity work and being like, the representatives of Pasadena, and then on New Years they have their own float and they kind of “preside” over the Rose Bowl game later that day.

A lot of my friends don’t really go to the actual parade though…it’s the kind of thing you go to a few times when you’re little and your parents want to take you and it’s exciting – they have free donuts under the grandstands, and hot chocolate – but once you’re like, 10 everyone’s pretty over it. And then when you’re older, the best part about New Years is New Years Eve. The night before, everyone usually gets dressed up, not fancy or anything but girls wear dresses and heels sometimes, and even though it’s freezing outside, like less than 50 degrees at night, everyone goes to parties near the Parade Route. They bring some of the floats onto the street the night before and block it off to cars, to everyone’s just walking up and down Orange Grove looking at floats and hanging out with their friends, there’s some people camped out for the parade on the side, and kids are going back and forth between other people’s parties. It’s really funny because everyone is drinking too. Besides the kids, you see a lot of cops and a lot of people’s parents just really really drunk on the street, and everyone’s just having a good time…if you lived off of Orange Grove you would feel kind of obligated to have a party or open your house up. And then everyone would obviously like count down to midnight together and all that, and then you’d usually crash at someone’s house and wake up the next morning and watch the parade on TV, if you wanted to, or just walk up to the parade route and see it from there. But after awhile no one really got tickets to see the parade. But if you were really lucky, you got tickets to the Rose Bowl game, which was always a big deal. My friends and I really like football, and usually someone’s dad knows someone who can get us tickets, so we try to go whenever we can.”

I asked JH if he thought his experience with this festival was unique, as someone who lived in the community and had people coming from all over to vacation in his hometown:

“Yeah, it was definitely different. Growing up with this happening every year, a lot of it just got kind of annoying, especially living right next to the Rose Bowl and having streets blocked off and so much traffic that entire week before New Years. There’d be a lot of football fans from the Midwest of whatever Big-10 school that was playing, or Stanford people coming down from the Bay for the week, and there’d be just a bunch of people and a bunch of cars all over Pasadena during the end of winter break, a lot of people who didn’t know where they were going. I guess Pasadena isn’t usually a tourist destination until New Years, so it’s weird all of a sudden having a bunch of strangers in your hometown…like Pasadena isn’t small, it doesn’t feel like a small town where everyone knows each other, but you can clearly tell if someone is visiting or someone lives here. And yeah, the Rose Parade gets old after awhile, but I think everyone who lives here would still say it’s one of their favorite holidays.”

My analysis:

Its very different to visit a festival annually and to live in a community where an annual festival takes place – after awhile, the nostalgia and excitement is buffered by some of the logistical nightmares and fatigue that JH describes above. Pasadena New Year’s and New Year’s Eve definitely has similar traditions as other places, like counting down to midnight and getting together with friends and family. The Rose Parade also has elements of other festivals, like floats and a “court” of young women. JH gets to see community involvement a tourist doesn’t, like the selection of Rose Princesses or the decoration of floats that requires residents’ participation and support. This ritual is a great example of welcoming the new year by bringing a community together, while continuing customs that now have come to define Pasadena.

For more information about this festival, see:

“About the Rose Parade.” Tournament of Roses. Tournament of Roses, 18 Feb. 2016. Retrieved from
Folk speech

“Siempre ay un ‘yo lo vi’”

EM is a 45 year old statistician from San Salvador. He immigrated to the US in the early 90s to attend Kansas University, but he grew up in El Salvador where he and his two brothers were raised by a single mother. Here is a proverb he recalls from his childhood:

“This is a proverb, or a saying- something people tell you. This one is more like a warning, but it also tells you a lot about the community.

It goes something like this, “there is always someone that saw you.”

“Siempre ay un ‘yo lo vi’

So, literally it says “there will always be someone who will say “I saw him do it”!”

If you are doing something, you are not supposed to do, someone will catch you and know you were doing something bad. It’s a warning not to misbehave. My mother used to repeat that often, and early on it is proved to be true. Suddenly you are doing something you are not supposed to and the neighbor from the corner tells your mom! So you learn early that, “oh my god, this is true! If I do the wrong thing there will always be someone who will tell on you!”

I think it comes with the idea that in El Salvador, in particular, that we believe in the English saying- “it takes a village to raise a child”. Even other adults are always aware of where every kid is, and they can correct you if they find you out on the street doing something, because you are part of that community and they care a lot about you and your parents. So proverbs like this one encourage you to behave in a way that the adults in the community find acceptable.”


My thoughts: Proverbs that are passed down from adults to children often serve the purpose of socializing them to follow the cultural norms of their community. This particular proverb is meant to keep kids from doing things their parents don’t want them to. It also reflects the nature of these communities were, as the informant noted, the raising of a child is a collective endeavor- Salvadorans consider their relationships with their neighbors to be amongst the most important because you never know when you may need their help. Neighborhoods in El Salvador tend to be closely interconnected, and an important part of coming of age is figuring out how you fit into that community.

Folk speech

Crea fama y Echate a Dormir

Title: Crea fama y echate a dormir

Interviewee: Armando Vildosola

Ethnicity: Mexican-American

Age: 21

Situation (Location, ambience, gathering of people?): Just me and my older brother Armando, as I asked him to share his most important pieces of wisdom that our family has shared throughout the generations. We do this every so often as some way to strengthen the bonds that we have as brothers, something of a brother meeting or a brotherly bonding session. We are sitting in our home in San Diego around our dinner table, having just finished dinner. Out house is full of family walking about visiting from Mexico. We are both on spring break from school at USC.

Piece of Folklore:

Interviewee- Crea fama y echate a dormer”

Interviewer- “What is the English translation of that?”

Interviewee- “I guess it would be make fame and go to sleep.”

Interviewer- “I assume there is more to it than just the words? They don’t make much sense.”

Interviewee- “It means that people should make their fame, and in that sense, well… hold on.”

(A minute or so goes by)

Interviewee- “Ok so it means that when someone goes out and meets people, you should make the kind of impression that you want them to remember you by. And in that sense, you should become famous and have people remember you the way you want to remember. Because when you become famous because of something, people remember you for it. And as the saying goes, in reality, once you are famous for something and people will remember you for it, you can, basically, take a nap. And I guess what that means is that you can relax. You have made your fame and people will remember you for something, and you can relax and take it easy. You did your job, and now you can sleep! I love sleeping.”

Interviewer- “Where did you first hear this saying? Do you remember?”

Interviewee- “Of course. I first heard it from our dad, some time ago. It just made sense to me since I always dreamed of being famous, and he always wanted me to work hard. He uses it to motivate me.”

Interviewer- “Why do you still use it?”

Interviewee- “Well its meaning hasn’t left me, and I guess it helps me remember my dad and that I should do great things with my life. It helps me remember home and remember who I am as a person.”


This is a proverb that makes sense, but at the same time, it is very Mexican in the sense that when it is translated into English, some of the meaning is lost in the words. The true meaning is only understood within the Mexican culture, but some of it transfers. This is all about first impressions, and those impressions are important in Mexican culture as well as American culture. We always hear of getting off on the right foot, and things of that nature.

Tags: Proverb, Mexican, Fame

Folk speech

This too shall pass

18) This too shall pass

Once upon a time there was a really wealthy King. His son was used to the lavish lifestyle and the King thought that he need to go through some hardship to appreciate all possessions more. Thus, the King told his son that he wants him to find an item that can make the poor happy and the rich sad.

The prince then set on his journey and eventually he returned with a ring.

On this ring, it has a writing carved on it. The writing was: This too, shall pass.

Upon looking at this ring, the King started crying nonstop.

The idea behind this story is that when a rich man sees the ring he/she will think of his own future in that everything he owns right now are meaningless because in the long run they are all going to disappear. As he dies, these riches will grow useless.

When a poor man looks at this however, he/she will be reminded of no matter how hard it might be right now, anything will pass, and that there is always a new tomorrow.

Max, very familiar of jewish culture as a jewish kid, told me this proverbial story. He performed this to me with great enthusiasm after I asked him to tell me some jewish tradition stories. I really like this story actually because it is so right and truthful, and like everything about is very accurate and wise.

Folk speech

French Proverb

The informant is a 21-year-old college student who was born in France, and continued to live there until moving to the United States at age 15. His native language is French, and he did not learn English until after moving to the US.

I asked the informant to grab a cup of coffee on campus, and asked if he could share any French proverbs with me.

The proverb, in French, that he chose to share is: “Qui recherche la lune ne voit pas les étoiles.”

The English translation he provided is: “Someone who looks for the moon misses the stars.”

He said that the proverb is used as a small piece of advice used to let someone know that “if you try to accomplish something that’s near impossible to do, you will miss the things that are possible and that you can do.”

I thought that this proverb was a nice reminder to keep realistic expectations and not worry about factors in life that are outside of our control. It sounds very beautiful when spoken in French, and so I can see how this proverb’s aesthetic quality coupled to its meaning would make it popular among those who speak the language. Following my conversation with the informant, I would love to expand upon my knowledge of the French language and continue to learn more of the proverbs used by those who speak it.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech


Informant (J.H.), my mother, is a 50 year old Buddhist meditation teacher from Los Angeles. J.H. identifies as biracial, with both African and Southern European heritage. I interviewed her after stopping by for dinner one Monday evening. J.H. had a traditional roman Catholic upbringing, and has been studying meditation for 15 years. J.H. shared one of her favorite Pali phrases, which she uses in her teachings. J.H. was hesitant by my classifying it as a ‘proverb’ due to the word’s Christian connotation in American culture, so I explained the folkloristic definition of ‘proverb’ for clarification.

J.H.: “What Ehipasiko is is basically a phrase that says ‘see for yourself’ would be the most basic translation. For me, why I chose Buddhism is because the Buddha doesn’t require people to follow a faith based narrative. It’s more about seeing how our own behaviors lead us down a path towards more confusion and pain and suffering, or down a path of peace and calm and joy and equanimity. As Buddhists, we are asked to pay attention to how we respond to situations, we’re not asked to have a being that we can’t see help us or save us from life’s truths…. Pali was the formal oral language during the Buddha’s time, but it wasn’t the written language. There wasn’t a written language until 500 years later, it was Sanskrit. Ehipasiko was the oral language, and then there was Sanskrit. Honestly, a big part of my attraction to who the Buddha… has a lot to do with who Jesus is. I think they’re very similar. Not that the religions are similar, but the men Siddartha Gautama, and whatever you want to call him, Jesus, lead very similar rebellious traditions to what was being practiced at the time. Judaism was what Jesus was rebelling against, and Brahmanism is what Siddartha was not necessarily rebelling against, but saying it wasn’t enlightenment.”

J.H.’s Buddhist Sangha is especially targeted toward people who have had struggles with society and are seeking alternative guidance or recovery through spirituality. J.H. seems to appreciate the proverb for its open endedness and universal truth. Ehipasiko makes for a good introduction to how personal of a practice Buddhism is. As a teacher, J.H. speaks fluently and openly about the history and philosophies of Buddhism in general as well as her particular Sangha, or group.