Tag Archives: proverbs

Chinoisms: Canning

Context & Analysis

The subject often mentions her mother’s “Chinoisms”, or unique sayings that her mother learned when growing up in Chino, CA. Below is the subject’s direct quote on the origin of her mother’s proverbs:

            “So my mom comes from Chino [California], and so she has a plethora of sayings that I didn’t even know what they meant earlier, I just said them until I got older and I was like “Oh! That actually makes sense!”

This proverb seems to suggest that the subject’s mother came from a background that was very conscious of food waste. The reference to the process of canning also implies that this saying could have originated before the refrigerator was the primary method of preserving food.

Main Piece

When you—when we’re eating food and we can’t finish it we say “Eat what you can, can what you can’t” so like you can’t eat what you can’t eat, so like you put it in a can if you can’t eat it, so like you’re saving it.”

“The Best Construction”

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 reflects the down-to-earth and positive nature of the subject’s father. I haven’t encountered the exact version of this proverb anywhere else, but similar sayings exist sharing the theme of ‘seeing the best in other people’.

Main Piece

“My dad would always say, like, if we would complain about another person and say they were really mean he would say “Put the best construction on everything” so you don’t know, maybe they had good intentions, so think the best of other people.”


Biblical 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: “My mom always told me a biblical proverb. It was ‘to he who much is given, much is expected.”

CS: “Can you explain to me what this proverb means?”

HL: “Well I was raised in a Christian home, and it reflects the environment I was surrounded by the way I was brought up. This proverb has religious context, obviously, and I think it’s from a specific passage from the Bible but I can’t remember. The proverb basically means that because God has given me so many gifts and talents, like I shouldn’t waste them, you know what I mean? Someone shouldn’t waste their talents that were gifted to them.”

CS: “Makes sense. So does all of your family agree with and follow this proverb?”

HL: “Yeah my mom told it to my brother and all almost throughout like our entire childhood.”



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.


An in person conversation at a local coffee shop.



I enjoy this proverb, namely because it is so relevant to many other kids my age and sounds similar to some of the sayings my mom also told me growing up. I think it’s important for these proverbs to reflect one’s heritage or culture in that these are the values one’s parents are instilling into them. They are words to live by and hopefully pass down again one day.

Dark Bright: Proverb

If close to ink, dark. If close to light, bright.

The Informant provided this Vietnamese proverb to me at around 2:30am on 4/22 while she did homework. She is an Economics and Mathematics student at UCLA. The Informant, my girlfriend, said this proverb was burned into her brain by her Vietnamese parents while she was growing up in Garden Grove, a city in Orange County.

Her interpretation of the meaning is that if you surround yourself with bad influences, bad people, or a bad environment, you’ll turn out bad as well. And if you surround yourself with the opposite, successful people, you will be the same. Essentially, you are a product of your environment.

This is similar to a proverb from the Bible. In Proverbs 13:20, “He who walks with wise men will be wise, But the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Although this proverb does not have a poetic aspect like the Vietnamese oicotype, I would assume most cultures have a similar proverb. A main function of proverbs is to impart wisdom and parents generally want the best for their children. I would be surprised if a society that uses proverbs did not have one to warn children about the type of company they keep.

I love the linguistics of this proverb. It has clear poetic aspects even though the entire proverb doesn’t rhyme. The actual words used confuse me a bit, because I see ink as a problem in an analogy puzzle. If I were given this analogy puzzle, “ink” would not be one of my guesses:

____ : Dark :: Light : Bright

Ink sticks out like a sore thumb, but that aside I enjoy the poetry of the proverb and the underlying meaning.

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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

“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

Chinese Proverbs


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.


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.

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.