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

The Show Must Go On

Saying: “The show must go on”

Meaning: Regardless of what happens on or off stage, the show must continue.

Analysis: This saying in showbiz is a testament to the commitment it takes to put on a full performance. It also says a lot about the performer’s commitment to the audience. No matter what may befall the performers, within reason, the people who came to watch must be honored.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Devil in Angel’s Clothing

Informant Tahereh Behshid is 78 years old and recalled a proverb she was taught as a young child.

I wanted to know if you could possibly talk about some proverbs you might have used when you were a child in Iran, and the context that you would use those proverbs in. So… do you have an example for me?

“Yes, my name is Tahereh Behshid, and the thing we usually heard from parents, it was [speaking in Farsi] ‘shaytan delah baseh fereshte.’ The devil in angel’s clothing. That means you watch out for the people, they come to you, around you. When they act very nice to you, you have to see what their intention is. So… that’s what it was.”

Analysis: Like many proverbs passed from parent to child, this one deals with imparting a valuable life lesson in very few words. Tahereh grew up as a poor woman in a rapidly modernizing urban area of Iran’s capital, and so with the influx of strangers to her hometown, this advice was likely to be especially valuable. She taught the same lessons, albeit in English, to her own children in the United States, who then passed them on to their children.

Earth cycle
Folk Beliefs
general
Protection
Rituals, festivals, holidays

Guatemalan Eclipse Ritual

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:

The informant was born and raised in Guatemala, but immigrated here to America when he was about seventeen. He has not and will probably never go back to Guatemala as he fears he will be killed.

Piece: 

When I saw my first eclipse… lunar, you know a moon eclipse? I heard… well first we moved to the country because my grandma was dying. I grew up in the city and when I moved into the farm, everything was new to me. So I remember when the moon eclipsed, everybody was there banging things- they were banging the ceiling of the house, they were banging drums, making noise, you know? Because they thought that it would be the end of the world. *laughs* I got so scared! *laughs* That night I couldn’t sleep. It was, it was kind of disturbing for me.

Were they trying to scare you?

I don’t know, maybe they were kind of, kind of ignorant you know? They thought that the moon was fighting with the sun. You know what I mean? And the sun was… it was like that. This is something that they’d think for years. They thought that the moon was fighting with the sun. So they were rooting for the moon and that is why they were making so much noise.

So they were cheering on the moon?

Yeah… it was weird. I don’t know if they still do that. They probably still do, or maybe not because you know… traditions sometimes die. It was in the 60s you know? The beginning of the 60s. I was very young.

Did they tell you to bang on things too?

They want me to. They want me to but I was like… scared. I was surprised you know cause I never saw one of those things. I mean I didn’t know that there was so much superstition in that… in that people’s heads. You know, I don’t know… there was dancing, they were looking at the moon. I was like… I don’t know. The only thing I remember I told my dad, “what happened?” And my dad just laughed. You know because my dad didn’t believe in all this stuff.

Piece Background Information:

Informant already expanded that he thinks that the people he witnessed partaking in this tradition were ignorant, and that he did not quite understand what was happening at the time.

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Context of Performance:

In person, during the day at informant’s house in Calabasas, California.

Thoughts on Piece: 

I could tell while collecting that the informant (who is my boyfriend’s father) was and still is very disturbed by this experience, which reflects in the fact that he is disconnected from Guatemala. He was very young when he witnessed this and it adds to why to this day, when we go out to lunch, he is always saying that Guatemalans are very superstitious- it scared him to death because he literally thought the world was going to end. Upon further research, I found further expansions on this belief that one must cheer on the moon during an eclipse so that it does not die. Apparently, without the moon, it is thought that there will be lots of deaths within the community and the age range of the persons involved in these deaths (children to elders) depends on the size of the moon being eclipsed.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“Locks don’t keep robbers from stealing. Locks keep honest men from making mistakes”

Title: “Locks don’t keep robbers from stealing. Locks keep honest men from making mistakes.”

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- “Our Grandpa used to say, “Locks don’t keep robbers from stealing. Locks keep honest men from making mistakes.””

Interviewer- “Do you really like that proverb?”

Interviewee- “Of course! That is why I told you it! That’s why I always tell you that. I think it’s really important to us and to our family. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt for other people to hear this too.”

Interviewer- “Do you remember when you first heard that proverb?”

Interviewee- “Not exactly the first time no. I kind-of just learned it cause grandpa said it so much.”

Analyzation: Everything about this made sense to me personally because I had heard this being said in our family many times. This proverb that was perhaps started by my Grandfather embodies my family’s views on people in the world. There are people that do evil things, and there is little that one can do to stop them from being evil. What one can do however, is make sure that an honest man stays honest. This saying is extremely important to my family, and that is mostly due to the hardships that my family has faced. That can be said for a lot of proverbs floating around. They are usually born from experience, and usually a painful one. They are born in the hopes that future generations will not have to feel the pain that past generations felt. In this case, do what you can to make sure people stay honest, but don’t expect a simple lock to keep robbers away. You need more, you need to expect them to be clever. One must always see ahead and ensure that bad things don’t happen to their family. My older brother obviously values this, and wants to make sure that I take it to heart and use it throughout my life. Because at the end of the day, the Vildosola family is the only real family we have.

Tags: Locks, Proverbs, Wisdom, Honesty

Proverbs

Chinese Proverbs

Piece:

When I was a small, my parents made me memorize some classic proverbs:

Men, at their birth, are naturally good

Their Natures are the same; their habits become widely different

“What do they mean to you?”

hmmm. I think there was a very high value on education and being conscious of my surroundings. I put family as a very high value, or I was socialized to be.

Informant & Context:

My Informant is a Chinese-American student at the University of Southern California, who speaks Mandarin at home with his family members. These traditional Chinese proverbs were translated by him.

Thoughts:

These proverbs really stress ideas of optimism. The first proverb, blatantly so, the second one does so by emphasizing the impact of ones surroundings on an individual. My informant definitely takes this as a positive thing—a call to be conscious and observant rather than morose that difference has arisen.

general
Proverbs

Norwegian Proverb

“So, literally translated, what we say is, ‘It’s not only only, but but.’ It’s literally a sentence that means, ‘You’ll be fine.’ Which, it means that, okay so what you are up to is not easy, but it only is what is. So you shouldn’t care too much.”

 

This Norwegian phrase sounds much like our own, “It is what it is.” Their term, however, seems to go a little further by saying that, while you can’t change what’s happened, it’s going to be fine. The term “It is what it is” has more of a defeatist connotation to it. Like nothing good is coming out of it. But this Norwegian version puts a positive outlook. Like, “Yeah, this suck now and you can’t do anything about it, but you’ll still come out all right.”

The source recalls hearing this from his friends in high school. In fact, the example he gave me of when he’d use it had to do with school. Someone got a D on a test once, and he remembered telling them this phrase in response. I know when I hear, “It is what it is,” it makes me angry because it’s like the person is telling me there’s no hope and there’s nothing I can do. But I feel like this phrase is far more reassuring. It sounds like more of a kind remark.

I wonder if that says something about Norwegian culture. Perhaps are they more optimistic as a society than we are? I’d probably have to hear more of their proverbs and sayings to really know, but it already sounds like they’re more hopeful than Americans.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Proverbs

Personal Proverb

Be good to the earth,

respect all mankind,

with these simple words

all else falls in line.

 

Is this something you made up yourself?

My dad.

 

And did he get it from someone else?

Nope.

 

What does this mean to you?

It’s tattooed on my arm. It’s about treating people with respect and its about acceptance. It’s the only two things I try to judge people on – if people are nice to the earth and nice to others they’re probably good people.

 

Background: I conducted this interview live, so this story was given to me in person. This is a proverb that was invented by the informant’s dad, and he lives by it, which is interesting. He just said it is a short mantra which he lives by, and I think this is something I will continue to think about after he told me this. This is something that is so important to the informant that he has it tattooed on his arm, which says something about how highly he regards this statement. I like how it is a brief statement from which he can make many decisions and judgements in his life.

Folk speech
Proverbs

A Penny Saved is a Penny Earned

Informant: “One thing that I remember my grandfather [S] saying to me multiple times, it was ‘[Informant's name], a penny saved is a penny earned!’ And, so he grew up in the great depression, and that was some really tough times in America, and he saw all the hard things his parents had to do, and he as a kid had to do, and that caused people in his generation to feel like, if you find a way to save money, you know, not spend money you don’t need to spend, then that’s as good as earning extra money because that meant that you had that much money still available to you. I remember when I was little, we would go to California to visit him, and everyday they would be looking in the newspaper, cutting out coupons, looking for what the deal was, looking at the ads… basically figuring out everything for everything they were going to buy, where they were going to buy it from. If they were going to go out to dinner, they would make their dinner decision based off of who had a special, who had a coupon, who had a discount, those sorts of things, with the mindset of if they were going to spend money, but there’s a way to figure out how to spend less, then that’s just as good as making more money at your jobs. I find that I tend to think in the same way, where if I can figure out a way to spend less money, then it’s just like I just made more money from my job.”

Informant is a middle aged banker who frequently travels internationally on business, and is a father of three. He identifies as ‘American’, although his mother is of Czech heritage. He grew up in Oregon and Washington and currently lives in the Midwestern United States.

Collector Analysis: This particular proverb serves to provide financial advice, in this case the importance of spending money wisely. It is interesting how nowadays this particular proverb has almost a different meaning to it based on the fact that a penny today is considered to be nearly valueless, whereas in the time period where my informant first heard this proverb, pennies were not an insignificant amount of money. In this regard, the proverb may not have aged particularly well, but it is still a valuable piece of advice regardless.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Proverbs

You Don’t Start Catching Fish Until You Start Bleeding

Informant: “I know I’ve said this multiple times when I’m out fishing with someone, especially if we haven’t caught many fish yet, is ‘Welp, The reason we’re not catching any fish is because I’m not bleeding yet.’ Well, either ‘not bleeding’ or ‘haven’t hurt myself yet’. And if while I’m trudging along hiking to go somewhere fishing and I slip and fall and get all scuffed up or bruised or hurt or whatever, I think to myself, ‘ok, well now I’m going to catch fish because I’ve hurt myself’. And so these are things I’ve said many times over the years fishing, and I’d say that this is actually a true thing…most of the time. And part of the reason why this has ended up being a true thing is that you have a better chance of catching fish if you’re fishing in a part of the river that’s way harder to get to. Because, the average person is probably a little bit lazy, and they’re also not going to take risks. And so if you drive up to some spot and you get out of your car and you walk right down to the river and fish there, that’s probably where like a million people have fished. But if you’re like walking up the narrow steep river canyon, or trying to go down some spot where there’s not a path, and just try to go cross country to get to the river, if it’s really hard to get there, then hardly anyone or perhaps no one has fished there before. When you get to those spots, and I’ve been to a number of those spots in my life, the fishing can be just absolutely fantastic.

Informant is a middle aged banker who frequently travels internationally on business, and is a father of three. He identifies as ‘American’, although his mother is of Czech heritage. He grew up in Washington and Oregon (where he hopes to someday retire so he can “go fly fishing every single day for the rest of [his] life”) and currently lives in the Midwestern United States.

Collector Analysis: In much the same way as there is folklore associated with different professions, there is also folklore associated with different hobbies; in this case, fly fishing. This particular proverb is interesting in that it implies a sort of balance in nature, and that everything has a cost. Specifically, if you want to catch fish, you have to prove that you really want them by bleeding a little. Of course, the informant’s explanation as to why this particular piece of wisdom is more correct than not is spot on. Also, humans tend to have an interesting relationship with pain. This collector has experienced independent times in which, when receiving a mild injury while performing a task, will think ‘well, I knew I was going to injure myself while performing this task, and now that I’ve injured myself, I don’t have to worry about it anymore. This particular piece of folklore is very probably just an extension of a similar chain of thought.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Long Handled Spoon

The informant was born and raised in Colorado. She all her life has used proverbs that her grandmother taught her to develop relationships. Her grandmother helped in assisting her by giving her proverbs to live by that apply to any situation and any human.

“feed them with a long handled spoon”

Informant…

“My grandma use to tell me Feed them with a Long Handled Spoon when she said this it was usually in regards to when I would have a fight with someone, if one of my friends really hurt my feelings, or even now while I am in my profession she will use it if I don’t necessarily like someone I am working with. It means, if someone does you wrong, you deal with them, you are still nice to them, but you don’t have to trust them anymore or let them get close to you. My grandma really was big on how people interact with each other and she thought that if someone was going to violate you and your trust, you keep them in front of you so they can’t stab you in the back again, you are still nice to them, and you deal with them when you have to, but you donut rust them enough to let them get close to you.”

Analysis…

When the informant was telling me her proverb, I could tell that she was excited to tell me about it and share with me what her grandmother had previously shared with her. This information the informant uses whenever she feels like she needs guidelines on how to act of how to feel she remembers the proverbs that her grandmother taught her and tries to apply them.

This proverb I connect with the proverbs keep your enemies in front of you and keep your enemies closer. I think that I associate the three because the al have something to do with people who have done you wrong or you don’t like for whatever reason. Differences that I can point our is the informants proverb says if anyone wrongs you to keep them at a distance and don’t allow them to have a chance to be close to you. Whereas the keep your enemies closer that I mention says to keep the people who have wronged you closer than anyone else. They are different because one thinks you should let them no where near you because they will wrong you again and the other believes you should keep them close so the won’t wrong you again. The point of both of these is trying to generate a way to prevent enabling harm to yourself from others but from two different perspectives. The informant’s proverb is similar to keep your enemies in front of you because then they can’t stab you in the back again, so it is protecting yourself without being close to someone who has wronged you. I was glad that I was able to make sense of this proverb and have my own thought process behind it.

 

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