USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘rural’
folk metaphor
Folk speech

Goin’ Cattin’

This was told to me after I asked about the informant’s shirt. The shirt had some slang that I was unfamiliar with. The informant is from rural Eastern Oregon.

“Um, so basically, my slang is “Cattin’” like “Cat-ting” like cats and felines because we have a lot of cats around the house, they’re all outside, and we and my sister are bored, we’ll be like “hey, wanna go cattin’?” which means we go outside and find all the cats and pet them and have fun with them. And then, that’s cattin’. My sister made me a t-shirt for Christmas one year”

Analysis:

Although a very niche reference, the whole family and the informant’s wide range of friends have taken on this piece of slang and are able to reference it when relating to the informant. This shows how slang can move very easily between groups – now he uses it in college as well which means it has reach an even larger audience than just in rural Oregon – all the way in southern California.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“We’ll do it. Me, myself, and I.”

“We’ll do it. Me, myself, and I.”

The informant (my grandmother) was born in Missouri and has lived in Berkeley, CA for close to sixty years. She has always been a remarkably hard worker; she was raised by her uncle on his farm, where she more than carried her own weight, and, after completing four years at Penn State (where she was the only female Chemistry major at the time), she insisted on paying her uncle back every dime of her tuition. The informant moved out to California, went to graduate school at Mills College, and became a nutritionist working with nursing homes and other care facilities to develop standards for feeding different types of patients. After having two sons, the informant became the President of the Parents Association for the Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA and remained an active member of the Claremont Book Club.

This specific line, which the informant uses sparingly, was something she picked up from her mother (my great-grandmother, who lived to the age of 102 and played piano avidly until about a month before her death). The informant’s mother was born in Blue Mountain, Missouri (“And she’s still there! Buried on the family farm,” the informant notes). She used this line in two very different contexts: 1. whenever she felt she wasn’t being offered enough help from her children—especially in tasks like setting the table—and 2. when she her ability to complete a task was called into question.

The informant claims that this line was a fairly common saying in Missouri during her childhood.

Folk speech

More in the Cellar in the Teacup

Informant: In the country, when we were just joking around, usually offering food, with guests—people we liked—we’d tell them, “Take a lot of them; take two!” And sometimes we’d add, “There’s plenty more down in the cellar in the teacup.”

The informant (my grandmother) was born in Missouri and has lived in Berkeley, CA for close to sixty years. She has always been a remarkably hard worker; she was raised by her uncle on his farm, where she more than carried her own weight, and, after completing four years at Penn State (where she was the only female Chemistry major at the time), she insisted on paying her uncle back every dime of her tuition. The informant moved out to California, went to graduate school at Mills College, and became a nutritionist working with nursing homes and other care facilities to develop standards for feeding different types of patients. After having two sons, the informant became the President of the Parents Association for the Head-Royce School in Oakland, CA and remained an active member of the Claremont Book Club.

This pair of sayings seems to play on the idea that rural Missouri families were not always living bountifully, but that what they did have, they were willing to share with friends. The notion that “a lot” means “two” is indicative of a lack of resources, as is the idea that the speaker’s reserves are meager enough to be fit into a teacup.

The second part of the item—the comment about the teacup in the cellar—is a somewhat well-documented saying, though the documents date in the early 1900s. Specifically, I tracked down a Good Housekeeping magazine from July 1916. A stamp on the inside cover reads “The Pennsylvania State University Library.”

Citation 1: Lane, Rose Wilder. Free Land. New York: Longmans, Green, 1938. Print.

Citation 2: Wood, Eugene. “The Feast of the Home-Coming.” Good Housekeeping July 1916: 56. Print.

Folk speech

“He’s a Hoosier”

The informant describes a phrase that is specific to St. Louis, Missouri.  The informant believes he learned this word from one of his friends first, but sees the term as a way of describing a certain group of people in a derogatory way.  He also thinks of being at Six Flags in St. Louis because this is where he sees many hoosiers.  The informant found it weird that no one knew what a hoosier was when he came to California.

The informant explains that the state emblem of Indiana is the Hoosiers and the University of Indiana is called Hoosiers as well and for some reason in St. Louis a hoosier indicates hick.  When you see someone who is like a hick – people who are overweight, not very smart and farmers – you say, “Oh, they’re a hoosier.”  The word hoosier is effectively synonymous with “white trash.”

The term hoosier used in St. Louis is interesting as it shows how a term in one region is specific to the group who uses it, but different terms with the same meaning exist outside of St. Louis.  Hoosier effectively meaning “white trash” indicates that groups around the U.S. come up with different ways of categorizing this type of person – described as overweight, unintelligent, and a farmer.

Customs
Game
Humor

Cow Tipping

“Basically, you run up to the cow and tip it over” -informant

Cow tipping is a hobby usually found in rural areas where cows are common. The idea is to surprise the cow and push it over, because it looks funny.

The informant tried to go cow tipping with her friends on a weekend up in rural California. However, she found that it is harder than it sounds, because cows are easily frightened and will run away if you run up to them. Furthermore, cows sleep lying down, so you can’t surprise them when they’re asleep. The informant, although disappointed that she could not successfully cow-tip, still had fun with her friends in the adventure. She learned about cow-tipping from back home in Washington, because she lives near rural areas where the custom is more popular.

I have heard of cow-tipping before, because my father grew up on a farm and told me about the custom. However, he also warned me that it is very dangerous, because cows are heavy and might try to kick you. I believe that I’ve seen cow-tipping in literature before as well. I feel a little bad for the cows who are tipped, because it sounds painful and annoying to get stuck on your side like that. I don’t think I would ever actually attempt to go cow-tipping, although it is kind of funny when you talk about it. I think it reflects the need of rural youth to find creative ways to entertain themselves, because they don’t have access to many of the distractions that are available in a city or even a suburb. It would be exciting to get in a little trouble and do something mischievous like cow-tipping, which probably would annoy the dairy farmers. I doubt that adult would partake in this custom, as it seems more suited to the humor of children and older youth.

general
Legends
Narrative

Georgetown Chupacabra

There was a guy in Georgetown who heard noises outside of his trailer. He grabbed a gun that for some reason he kept in his run-down trailer, he ran outside to find a chupacabra. A chupacabra is like a goat-eater, is what it’s also called. I don’t really know what it looks like. But in this case I hear that what he shot at might have actually been a sick, hairless, bear cub, which is pretty sad. Anyway, the guy shoots at it and misses, then shoots again and kills the thing. He said when he shot it, it was screaming “like a four year old girl.” Which is a really disturbing analogy, because, how, precisely, would he know? Anyway, that’s what I heard. It happened in the town just over from ours. The guy was a big hick, and he went to high school, I think, with our high school economics teacher.

This is a FOAF story that happened in the performer’s hometown. It definitely gives a feel for the town identity. As the performer of this story lives nearby the town where the chupacabra was allegedly found, she knows the area and is familiar with what bear cubs look like. She is fond of the story, because it is quickly becoming a town legend, and has apparently made the town infamous, where before the town was too small to be of any note. The story has become part of the town identity.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Protection

A homemade cocklebur tea will cure a horse or cow of constipation

This informant spent his youth on a farm in Madison County, Nebraska.  His parents farmed many acres and they raised several kinds of livestock.  He first learned this folk remedy from one of his friends in high school.  He is not sure how it came up, but it’s never difficult for immature minds to reach constipation and other digestion problems as their source of conversation.  My informant has only heard of this remedy and doesn’t know anyone who has ever tried it.

The cocklebur is a plant with spines at its leaf bases.  As far as other properties, it is poisonous to livestock, and animals will avoid it while foraging.  Less picky animals, such as pigs, will commonly eat the plant, get sick, and die.

To make the tea, one just has to mash up cocklebur leaves, add water, and mix the combination.  The plant is sickening, so when it enters the animal’s system, the animal will do what it can to reject the poison. In the process of cleansing the animal’s body, all of the other stomach contents are emptied, curing the livestock’s constipation.  In fact, it gives the animal a case of diarrhea.

The consequences of using the tea may not seem beneficial at first, but without treatment, constipation could be fatal or cause serious health problems for the animals.  This folk remedy and others are commonly shared among farmers to prevent the death of livestock when a specific medicine cannot be procured.  Oftentimes, the wellbeing of a farmer is dependent on the health of his livestock, and this sort of information could really be helpful.

Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine
Protection

If a cow is bloated and sick, you have it chew on a rope

My informant was raised on a farm in northeast Nebraska and, in his youth, he was active in maintaining the farm with his parents.  One day, about 50 years ago, one of the family’s cows became sick.  The cow became bloated and my informant’s father had to explain that cows are too stupid to know when to stop eating.  This particular cow had eaten too much alfalfa.  This situation can be especially problematic if the alfalfa is really fresh because, according to other farmers, it expands as it is digested.  If nothing is done, there is a significant chance the cow will die.

It seemed likely to my informant that this remedy may have originated when someone gave their cow something to chew on to help it cope with the pain of the bloating, and the cow recovered.  My informant believes that chewing on the rope might ease the stomach and allow the cow to burp and let out some of the air that has it bloating.  Also, this method has proven effective, because if the cow is dumb enough to binge on alfalfa to a point where it endangers its own life, it can surely chew on a rope for hours on end.

At the time my informant first heard of this remedy, he did not know of a medicinal cure for the bloating.  Considering the cows had to be fed, housed, and cleaned, uncommon problems like bloating went without a definite cure and farmers had to ask each other what to do in these situations, and in this way, folk remedies spread from farm to farm.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

When a dog eats grass, it’s going to rain

My source grew up on a farm in northeast Nebraska and recalls learning this indicator when he was 7 or 8 years old.  His grandmother owned three dogs during his childhood, and one day he saw them all eating grass at the same time.  He found this odd, so he asked his grandmother if she forgot to feed the dogs.  She hadn’t, and explained to him that when dogs eat grass, it’s an indication that it will rain soon.  Sure enough, it rained later that day. Afterwards, most of the time he saw the dogs eating grass, rain quickly followed.

It is not out of the ordinary for a dog to eat grass, and it is actually typical if a dog has an upset stomach.  But then again, a coming rain is not likely to make a dog sick.  My informant suggested that there might be an atmospheric change that occurs before a rainstorm that might make dogs believe they have a symptom of an upset stomach, so then they would decide to eat grass.  There is no proof to support this explanation, but it makes sense to my informant considering the likelihood of rain after he saw his dogs eating grass.

However, there were several times that he would see the dogs eating grass and it wouldn’t rain.  In these cases, either the dogs were sick or it was a dry season.  This supports another folk superstition that his grandmother once told my informant.  She would say, “In a dry spell, all signs fail.” My informant’s grandmother knew many folk superstitions, and she would tell them to the family when appropriate.  No one else in the family desired to memorize them all as she had done, but they would remember the ones that she had told them over and over, and they shared those between each other.  These superstitions were likely shared in the same way by many other families.  This particular superstition is likely to be shared mostly by farmers because their occupation and livelihood is dependent on weather patterns, so if there is any way farmers can make use of a weather indicator, they certainly will.

 

Annotation: This particular folk superstition can be found in John Frederick Doering’s article: “Some Western Ontario Folk Beliefs and Practices” in The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 51, No. 199 (Jan. – Mar., 1938), pp. 61

folk simile
Folk speech

It’s raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock

My informant first heard this folk simile as a child growing up on a farm in Nebraska.  One day when he was out with his father, it began to rain.  While rain was not out of the ordinary at that time of year, the rain was coming down with unusual ferocity.  My informant recalled that the wind was blowing the rain in every which direction and when the rain hit the ground, it splattered everywhere.   Another farmer turned to my informant’s father and rattled off this folk simile.

Growing up on a farm, my informant knew from experience exactly what happens when a cow pisses on a flat rock.  “It’s splatters everywhere and makes a huge mess,” he explained.  This is not a secret, and anyone can understand how this directly compares with a heavy rainstorm.  But for one to fully appreciate the humor in this simile, they would have to have a first-hand experience to relate to.  For this reason, this folk simile is mostly shared among farmers and others residing in rural communities.

There’s no underlying message that can be found within this simile.  It’s used because it takes something that’s funny to think about, to the folk group, and applies it to an unfavorable situation.  It turns an unfavorable rain storm into something to laugh about.

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