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

“Well, then it must have been a lie.”

Informant is grandmother, currently living in Florida having lived most of her life in New Jersey. I have never heard this saying before nor has anybody I’ve asked.

This saying always comes after somebody has just forgotten what they were going to say— lost train of thought. Reenacted by her and her granddaughter, this is how it goes:


Granddaughter: “Hey Bubbe, guess what?”

Bubbe: “What?”

Granddaughter: “Actually, I forget.”

Bubbe: “Well then it must have been a lie!”


You’re supposed to say that anytime somebody forgets their train of thought. It’s a pretty cute thought and people in the room laughed when they heard it. I think it also highlights one of my grandmother’s core values which is honesty. The joke is funny because it discounts whatever one was trying to say, but forgot.

“Doesn’t matter, it must have been a lie! You’d remember it if it were true” Bubbe tells me.

Folk speech

Difficult Difficult Lemon Difficult

Context: My roommate discovered this meme one day, and it prompted a discussion about the various levels of depth it reached.

Background: My roommate is a self-described “conveyor of fine memes” and has a hobby of collecting, creating, and sharing Internet memes.

The Meme: The meme (attached to this post) is a play on the phrase “easy peasy lemon squeezy.” The phrased is reworked in a text explanation that laments the fact that things are not “easy peasy lemon squeezy” as once believed, but are in fact “difficult difficult lemon difficult.” This explanation is accompanied by the image of a middle-aged woman furiously gripping a laptop in both hands and biting into it.

Analysis: This became a folklore discussion as a surprise, as the further my roommate and I discussed it, the more it seemed to work as a piece of folk speech. “Difficult difficult lemon difficult” is definitely an evolution of the saying “easy peasy lemon squeezy,” which itself has an origin that feels meaningless in the context the phrase has since gained. The specific discovery of the newly-changed saying also has the context of being in meme form, memes being one of the more common areas of unauthored expression in the 21st century.

Folk speech

Fatherly Advice

Context: I collected this from a friend on a trip over Spring Break, after he’d heard me talking about folklore with another friend I was collecting from.

Background: A piece of advice in the form of a proverb my friend’s dad taught him to live by.

Phrase: The most important thing is to think. The second most important thing is let other people think.

Analysis: The piece is simple, really just some advice that’s important for parents to give to their kids. My friend specified this was something his father told him every time he “did something stupid,” but I appreciate that the proverb refers to the world beyond yourself and stresses the importance of respecting other peoples’ minds.

Folk speech

“When you know a thing, allow that you know it, and when you do not know a thing, allow that you do not know it. This is knowledge.”


“So in other words, knowledge– know it alls are kind of… stupid and the fact that they think they know it all.  Really knowledgeable and smart people are those that are open– they open their mind to learning… all the time.  And so if you don’t know something then you say, “Oh, tell me about that!” you know?  You don’t just act like you know it already.”




This was told to me by my Dad’s friend, Evan.  He says his mother used to tell him little sayings like this all the time.  He says that this one stuck with him more because he’s found it to be the most applicable in the different stages of his life.  He explains that the jist of this saying is that you have to accept your lack of knowledge on a subject before you can really start learning about it.


Folk speech

“Lift your feet up when you drive over a bridge.”

This little saying was told to me by one of my buddy’s older brothers, Emilio.  Their family grew up in Irvine, CA and to get to school everyday, they had to drive over a bridge.  Everyday, throughout elementary and middle school, their mother would tell them to lift their feet up when they drove over the bridge.  He recalls his mom telling him pick up his feet and look out the window because they were ‘flying’.  Unfortunately, Emilio’s mother passed away a few years ago.  He says when he drives over a bridge now and lifts up his feet, it gives him a fond memory of his mother.



Driving rule in Jamaica

TK is my dad. Before moving to the United States his previous job required him to travel a lot. Luckily he enjoys traveling.


This past winter break the whole family gathered in New York and for New Years went on a family vacation to Jamaica. On the flight my dad and uncle shared their stories of their previous visits to Jamaica. On TK’s last visit to Jamaica he was in Kingston and one of the taxi drivers told his an interesting saying about driving in Jamaica.


“He told me that when it comes to driving in Jamaica there is one major rule you need to know if you plan on driving. “The left side is the right side, and the right side is suicide.””


As in the UK, traffic on Jamaica travels on the left in right hand drive vehicles. So if you drove on the right side, which is the wrong side haha, you will most likely have a car crash; thus being the suicide side. When we landed in Montego Bay the driver to the hotel resort told us the same saying. So obviously it is a popular saying there and how wouldn’t it be it rhymes, it’s catchy, funny and true.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

“Il n’a pas la lumière à tous les étages.”

JN is a 19 year old student at USC studying neuroscience and French.  Most of her family lives in Chicago, but they’re from various European countries. She has travelled the world extensively, and she lived in France during the second semester of her sophomore year of high school. Here is a humorous example of French folk speech that she learned that year:

This is a French proverb that I learned when I was living in France.

It goes “il n’a pas de lumière sur toutes les étages.”
And that basically translates to the English version of “He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer” or “He’s missing his marbles” or something like that. So it literally means “He doesn’t have light on all of his floors” so it means, oh he’s kind of missing something, or he’s kind of “dim”.

Where did you learn this from?
I heard my host mom and dad say it a lot especially over the phone when they were talking to their friends. I understood the words and it kind of made sense to me that it was that French translation of our English expression. I overheard it from them and then asked what it meant and then I made the connection.

Why do you like it?
Because I learned it from my host parents and it’s definitely a colloquial French saying- it makes me feel more fluent in French to know those things that you can’t just learn the classroom. Plus I think it’s kind of funny!


My thoughts: I agree with JN when she says that when it comes to learning a new language, it is the colloquial expressions-the folk speech-that makes the leaner feel that they are truly a part of that culture. It was interesting to see that this French proverb had parallels in English with “the light’s on but no one is home” or even “not the brightest bulb in the box”- different languages and cultures have similar ways of expressing the same idea figuratively.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Las Perlas de la Virgen

Title: - Las Perlas de la Virgen

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- “Las perlas de la Virgen”

Interviewer- “What is that?”

Interviewee- “Well it directly translates to the pearls of the Virgin. As in the Virgin Mary.”

Interviewer- “What does that mean to you?”

Interviewee- “Same thing it means to all Mexicans. It something that you use when you want to make fun of someone for valuing something too highly or when they expect too much. Something like, “You want me to pay you how much for that? What do you think that is, the pearls of the Virgin?” Things like that. It’s really common among all Mexicans.”

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

Interviewee- “Oh everywhere in Mexico growing up. I remember that my mom specifically said it a lot, and soon when I was around 16 it found a way into the words that I use. I kind of starting using the words my mom used.”

Interviewer- “Why do you use it so much?”

Interviewee- “I don’t know really. I mean it’s just so easy to use and it’s really good for what it does. On one hand I guess that it does fill a need word-wise. But on the other hand using it reminds me of my mother, and my family that I have since lost. It makes me feel like a real Mexican when I use the phrase. I like it.”


This saying is common throughout Mexico, and one can see that it connects the Interviewee with his culture, even when he is living in the United States. It means more to the Interviewee than other people, but that it just this once case. This phrase is derived from the Catholic faith, and it makes sense that Mexicans would use such a phrase. Mexico is after all the most Catholic country in the world, total percentage of the population wise. It only makes sense for their faith to become a part of their daily lives, including the way they speak.

Tags: Mexico, Saying, Catholicism

folk metaphor
Folk speech


Original Script: “Meglio tardi che mai”

Literal Translation: “Better Late than that never”

Meaning: “It’s better to do a thing later than not to do it at all”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: “When I came to America, I realized how different it is…Like the driving part. Americans are so angry when they are driving! They can be so impatient. Especially during, busy time, what is it called? Oh! The rush hour. I mean you cannot go anywhere, so just chill out and listen to music in the car. This is where I thought of the saying. Because you will get there, but you might be a little late.! People need to understand that! I have seen more accidents here than all my life in Italy!”

Silvia recently came to America about three weeks ago as an intern for an Event planning company. She grew up in Parma, Italy—which is a small town in Italy. She has adjusted greatly to the American culture but there are still some things that she is questionable about. The roads there are usually only one lane and even though it can get busy, people generally remain calm according to Silvia. She also said that compared to Italy, people are very reckless drivers in America.

Context of the Performance: Keeping Patience in the Italian Culture

Thoughts about the piece: When I first heard this saying, in the original Italian, and having learned Italian this semester, I knew the literal translation of the saying but not what it actually meant. In fact, I heard Silvia, murmur it when we were driving during rush hour, and that is when I conducted the interview with her.

Firstly, I believe this saying speaks volumes about the attitude Italians have. As the quote above suggests, not to stress about being on time, or to worry about things you cannot have control over. It is interesting how the translation is literally “that never” which means that there is only on never, and that it is singular. Thus, this also shows that Italians persevere in their everyday life and challenges that may come up during the day.

This saying, and the way it captures the Italian people’s attitudes, was encompassed my Silvia, again, during an event for the company we work for. During the event, Silvia kept repeating, “Meglio tardi che mai, Meglio tardi che mai, Meglio tardi che mai,” and while everyone was stressed out, Silvia kept calm and collected throughout the whole ordeal. Hence, this quote while encompassing Italian’s people way of life, it also perfectly encompasses Silvia’s personality. I can also vouch that many Italian people—specifically on the countryside, and where Silvia is coincidently from—are very much personified as being relaxed people because I had visited Italy in the past, and compared to the busy chaos of the big cities, like Verona and Venice, the countryside was very peaceful and seemingly stress-free. Perhaps, this would be a good saying for American’s to adapt to, particularly while driving. While it is not a proverb, but a saying, I believe the American people can benefit to making it a proverb, because as Silvia had mentioned, we do have a lot of car accidents precedent here.

Folk Beliefs
folk metaphor
Folk speech

Stress Free Life

Original Script: “Ma cosa vuoi che sia”

Literal Translation: “But what you want it would be”

Meaning: “Don’t worry about a thing that is not important”

Background Information about the Piece by the informant: “How do you say, I noticed, Americans can get very…stressed out…crazy…easily. Like the rush hour traffic I was telling you about! Pessimo! [very bad] And little things they cannot control. I mean your life is more important than wherever you are trying to go! If you are stressed in California, go to the beach! It’s very relaxful! But the food, come si dice [how do you say], I understand when they get mad about the food, when the order is wrong, or when it is gross tasting, because food is important in the Italian culture.”

Silvia recently came to America about three weeks ago as an intern for an Event planning company. She grew up in Parma, Italy—which is a small town in Italy. She has adjusted greatly to the American culture but there are still some things that she is questionable about. Like the amount of stress Americans carry to that in Italy.

Context of the Performance: Stressing in the Italian Culture

Thoughts about the piece: In accordance with another interview I conducted with Silvia, (please see the article titled Italian…Proverb?), this Italian saying furthers the implication of the stress free environment of the Italian people. Do not worry about things that are not important, or the little things, implies that to worry about such, is a waste of energy, and not only that, but time as well.

It is also important to look at the literal translation, “but you want, it would be” suggesting that one does have control over their life, and to make the best out of it, if you look at the meaning to Italians, it would be to not stress over the small things; the things that are not important in the big picture.

Please take note of the background information Silvia had provided that was in accordance to the Italian quote. She uses stress and anger interchangeably, which makes me wonder, if in Italian they mean the same thing. So, I asked Silvia in a follow up interview and she said, “yes, they do, even though we have different words for them, they do mean about the same thing.” Which is interesting since the Italians have many different words for calm and happy (positive attitudes such as allegro, calmo, simpatico), thus this furthers the notion that Italians try their best to keep “stress” out of their lives, even by doing something simple, as Silvia had noted, like going to the beach. Additionally, she states something specifically that both Americans and Italians have in common, and which they both “stress” about—food. Food is a very prominent cultural item in both the Italian and American culture in which it not only creates a social environment but also holds roots in the past. (For example American’s Turkey on Thanksgiving and Wine or Pasta—which different regions are known for different Pastas—for the Italians).