USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘purse’
Folk Beliefs

Purses do NOT belong on the ground! – A superstition

Main Text:

“It is never appropriate to put your purse on the ground because this will bring bad luck.”

 Context: 

DC told me this belief because when I asked her if she had any interesting folk beliefs that she has heard  she said that her mom passed this one along to her and it just stuck with her because she had hear it in other places before too (but she did not name said places). When I asked DC what she believes this folk belief means and why she thinks it has been passed along in her family and culture she responded, “I’ve never really questioned why I shouldn’t put it on the ground, maybe it is just so it doesn’t get dirty or so someone doesn’t steal it”. I also asked DC if she would tell this folk belief to someone else and why, and she responded that she probably would if she knew them well enough and felt comfortable doing so because she would not want to risk someone getting bad luck when it was onto a simple sentence that she had to say to them in order for them not to.

Analysis:

The idea behind the purse on the floor is that it means bad luck but I believe that more specifically this “bad luck” that is references has to do with financial encounters. I think that putting one’s purse down symbolically represents just leaving money laying around and having disregard towards wealth and because of this bad financial luck will be brought upon any person who leaves their purse on the ground. Another reasonable explanation for the “bad luck” part of this folk belief is that leaving your purse one the ground literally makes it available as easy access to thieves who can steal it in an instant, which is the bad luck.

Another saying that is very similar to this one that I have heard is ” A purse on the floor is money out the door” and I think that this saying segue into another reason that someone would say putting a purse on the floor is bad luck. This reason is that purses have fairly high re-sale values and according to what I have heard from my own family and read online it is possible to resell a purse back for more than half of their original value. This however is only true if it is kept in good condition, meaning not places in places that would cause turmoil to the bag or places that carry a lot of diseases, such as the floor itself. So looking at this folk belief from a financial perspective it makes sense that this would be passed along because it helps to save money for individuals who may need it later on and selling a purse back would be one way to get it.

In addition to the three other reasons I have provided for what I think this saying means and why I believe it continues to be passed down, another fair reason would be the pride found within cultures for the items that they have bought, earned, value and/or were gifted. To put this into context, DC is a Mexican woman who came to the United States at a very young age with her parents meaning they had to start in a new country from scratch. Whatever money they had to spend on basic necessities and luxury items such as purses themselves, they earned and this is the case for many immigrant families. It would make sense for this folk belief to be passed along as a way to teach people to take care of the nice things that they have and that they have earned, because if you don’t and the purse gets ruined it is basically like money out of your own pocket.

Folk Beliefs
general
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Irish Purse Superstition

My informant’s Irish ancestry has a belief about women’s purses. It is seen as bad luck for a woman to leave her purse on the ground, even for a second. Many believe that setting one’s purse on the ground will cause all the money in that purse to “run away”, leaving the owner with nothing. According to my informant, taking care of one’s money is very important to the Irish people, and to set it down, leaving it out of one’s attention and control, is seen as practically throwing money away for the very reason that without a hold on one’s purse, it could easily get lost, or worse be stolen by someone taking advantage of one’s neglectfulness. It seems like putting one’s purse down is about as much bad luck as being ignorant is.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Proverb – American

The informant learned the following proverb from his father:

“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

The informant interprets it to mean that “you can’t, you know, you can’t produce greatness out of nothing. No, you have to have the basic ingredients to create what you are attempting to make.” The informant recalls that his father often said the proverb to his mother when she complained about his cutting corners: “Since he was a very handy person, he—y—he, um, he jury-rigged whenever he could, but he understood that there were limitations to doing so. And when it was brought up that there were limitations—which it generally was, because my mother was a very nitpicky person—uh, his response was invariably, ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.’” The informant himself occasionally uses the proverb when it seems relevant, but only when he feels that the person he’s speaking to will understand him: “Most people don’no [sic] what a sow is any more.”

When asked what he thinks of the proverb, the informant says, “I feel that it’s, uh, it’s terminology is pretty out of date, but t’lesson is soun’.”

A sow is, of course, a female pig, and the proverb most likely is a remnant of times when farming was the major occupation in America. The comparison between the silk purse and the sow’s ear seems likely to stem from the delicacy of the ear and the way the light shines through it as through silk. A full-grown sow is very large and its ear could conceivably be large enough to use as a purse. The fact that the informant’s father addressed it to his mother is telling and could even be considered sexist; of course, it would be a woman who would want a silk purse and be foolish enough to think that it was possible to make one out of the ear of a pig.

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