USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘saying’
Proverbs

“Faith over fear.”

Informant: At my gym, we always say, “Faith over fear.” And that was like something we used to say all the time, and that was the one point that I was even semi religious in my life.

 

My informant is a freshman at the University of Southern California. She is from San Diego, California. We had this conversation in the study room of my sorority house.

 

This is interesting because it somewhat can be related to a ritual before going out to perform. My informant was a cheerleader for a while, so this would work as a ritual and a superstition for some kind of performance she would ever do. It seems that many people have religious rituals they do before a performance, such as one of my informants doing the Catholic cross before going on in every ballet number she did. These manifest even in people who aren’t religious, and my informant is not religious anymore. This is interesting and shows some type of dependency on the idea of some hope for help from some other place, even without the belief that a God or higher power exists. It seems to be a type of mechanism that people just develop.

Customs
folk metaphor
Folk speech
Foodways
general
Material

Ethiopian Food Serving

The informant is a good friend from one of my clubs. We had met up for lunch and she shared many of her Ethiopian traditions and customs with me, as well as some superstitions of her people.


In Ethiopia, everyone at the dinner table eats the food from one dish, and no one has their own individual plate. The communal plate is very large, and an assortment of foods are served on it for everyone to share. Large pots of each type of food are made separately, and small portions are added to the communal plate at a time, since it’s not good to save leftovers that have been on the plate and touched. The saying is “it tastes like hands.” Therefore, leftovers are foods still in the pot that have yet to be touched, while the food on the communal plate is expected to be finished in that sitting.

ethiopian-food-1

The lesson is not overload the plate with food, since it can’t be eaten the next day because it will taste like the hands that touched it. Ethiopians eat their food with their hands instead of utensils, so the saying comes from this custom.

Background & Analysis

The informant is a student here at USC as well, and although her mother is from Ethiopia, she was born and raised here in California. However, she often goes back to Ethiopia with her mom to visit friends and family.

The meal serving tradition in Ethiopia is so different from what I’m used to here in America. We are accustomed to getting our own dish with a serving size of our own choice. Eating without utensils is also often seen as  mannerless behavior, unless the food is something such as chicken or corn on the cob. The Ethiopian dinner style is similar to the traditional Hawaiian way of eating, especially the eating with your hands part. The foods are in their own bowls, and the bowls are passed around to everyone present, who each in turn take one bite and pass the food along to the next person. This will continue until everyone is full or the food is gone. The sharing of food in such intimate ways in both cultures, definitely brings people together.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Tummy Full, Heart Happy

The informant is a student from my folklore class, and we ended up meeting and exchanging stories and superstitions one night.


Original Script

“Barriga llena, corazón contento”

Transliteration

“Belly full, heart happy”

Translation

“If your stomach is full of food, then your heart is content”

Background & Analysis

This is a saying that the informant’s mom says, and that the informant herself will say after a meal. She describes it as a little happy thing you say after eating to give thanks or show appreciation.

The informant’s mother is from a small, secluded town that is surrounded by mountains called Monjas in Guatemala. Although the town has become more modernized over the past few decades, many of the traditions and superstitions still circulate. The informant is from Boston, MA, but attends USC, and she often travels to Guatemala to visit family.

My dad, who is from Chile, has a variation of this saying, “Guatita llena, corazón contento.” This is translated as “Tummy full, heart happy,” and is used the exact same way the informant uses her variation of the saying. My dad most likely learned this from his father, whose vocabulary was full of proverbs and sayings.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Proverbs

A Deal With the Devil

I collected this piece of folklore from my dad while he was visiting. We ended up just sitting in the car in a parking lot while he shared some more Chilean folklore with me.


Original script 

“Un pacto con el Diablo”

Transliteration

” a deal with the devil”

Translation

You use this whenever you see someone in Chile doing very well. Especially someone young and very successful with lots of wealth. They think that people can sell their soul to the devil, and make a trade. If you’re poor and not doing well, you can ask the devil for help, and he will offer you whatever you want , but it will only be temporary, and in the end, the price to pay is often an early death.

My dad was raised in Rancagua, Chile, which is a city outside of Santiago in the 1950s and early 1960s. Back then and still today, religion has a very strong presence in Chile.

This saying can be seen as rooted in jealousy over what you don’t have, and in a way, is kind of like cursing someone for being  successful when you aren’t. This saying is well-known and used a lot in Chile.

Folk speech
Humor
Proverbs

“I’m Staying Another Week” – How Punchlines Pervade Daily Life

The informant is a 54 year old woman, who has lived in the United States all her life. She was raised by her mother and has no siblings. She attended school through college, and lives in downtown Chicago with her husband. The following is what she described as “folkspeech” from her mother-in-law.

 

Informant: “It’s from a joke. So, whenever, if we were having a disagreement, like your uncle and I, about anything, and you’d ask your Grandma’s opinion about it. Like, “What do you think?” She’d say, “The soup’s not hot, the soup’s not cold, and I’m staying another week.” It was a punchline to a joke about a married couple whose mother-in-law is there visiting and won’t leave so they stage a fight to try and make her leave. She realizes what they’re doing so she says, “the soup’s not hot, the soup’s not cold, and I’m staying another week.” So whenever I would try to get her involved, that’s what she would do. She said that all the time.

 

Interviewer: “Do you know where she heard the joke?”

 

Informant: “Oh, from Grandpa, I’m sure. He had so many jokes, you remember.

 

Interviewer: “Of course. Do you know where he got his jokes?”

 

Informant: “He would hear them and I guess kind of mentally collect them to tell.

 

Thoughts: Initially I was unsure as to whether or not this was folklore. The phrase itself doesn’t seem very “folkloric” in nature; neither does the informant’s in-law’s use of the phrase. However, when I thought about the phrase again, I realized that it is a form of folklore. The phrase itself came from the punch line of a joke—something that people learn from other people—and the informant’s mother-in-law took the punch line into a different context, her daily life. This is a perfect example of how folklore can traverse across different mediums and how it can be applied in different ways.

 

folk metaphor
Folk speech
general

“Send it!”

“Okay, so in the snowboarding world, when, um, you’re about to, like—‘cause I was a competitive snowboarder, you know, and so we would hit, like, really big jumps or something and then, or like if the pipe was like really big that day, um, so usually it’s used with jumps that are like over like 25 feet, so no like it doesn’t have to be big [laughs of disbelief from other people in room], but usually they’ll be like 90 feet when people use this saying and it’s not like, it’s like a, um, we would be like, ‘Oh, like fucking send it!’ That means like ‘huck yourself,’ like ‘do like what you got’ or yeah, like spin whatever, do flips and so it’s like just like ‘give it your all’ type of deal and so yeah we would just use ‘sending it.’ ‘Cause then it’s like ain’t nothing comin’ back, ‘cause you’re sending it and you’re giving it your all and you’re gonna kill it.”

 

The informant was a 21-year-old USC student who grew up in competitive snowboarding and has dabbled in CrossFit and other workout programs. She has been in a prominent sorority on campus since coming to USC and goes out every night of the weekend, as well as some nights of the week. I live with the informant and the interview took place in my room during one of the lengthy conversations we often have. The informant has been known to use aspects of her athletic and workout life in social interactions and “Send it!” is no different. She went on to tell me that “So now I’ve started to integrate that into the Greek life culture and so if someone’s in a drinking game I’m like, ‘Dude, fucking send this game!’ and they’re like, ‘I’m gonna send it.’ (Interviewer says: “It’s not coming back!”) And then they drink a lot. Yeah, it’s not coming back. So then they just like drink a lot.”

 

This piece of folk speech was interesting to me because of the meaning behind something like “Send it!” The other people in the room and I got hooked on the idea that you would say it because “it wasn’t coming back.” In addition to this being about “giving it your all,” it seems like it’s about taking opportunities when you have them. It would make sense, then, that the informant would translate this phrase into other areas of her life, like the Greek life culture. It is easier to do wild things at a party when you have someone telling you it is the moment to do them. It is also interesting that it is primarily a way of encouraging someone else to do something. While it could come across as pretty aggressive to the uninitiated, those inside of snowboarding culture would know that it is a way of supporting one another and pushing each other to get better and try new things.

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 Beliefs
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

Don’t Let the Cucuy get you

SC: Whenever me or my siblings would act up, the nearest authority figure would say, “You better calm down or I’ll call the cucuy.” This happened often in the car, and my parents would knock on the windows. (Informant knocks on the table)

“YOU HEAR THAT? THE CUCUY’S COMING!” And I’d be all “…fffff.” Y-yeah. Didn’t spook me at all. Wasn’t like I thought I actually was going to get abducted when no one was looking.

Me: What’s a cucuy?

SC: It’s basically a Mexican boogeyman. Are you asking what I thought it looked like? Probably seven feet tall, ratty moss-green fur, bloodshot yellow eyes. Craggly coffee stained teeth. Like a giant baboon that lived in a sewer all its life.

The cucuy is also sometimes called the coco in Portugal and el cuco in Latin America, and the Coco Man in Hispanic communities in the states. Its appearance is different in each culture, ranging from a pumpkin-headed ghost to an anthropomorphic alligator. This legend is referenced in the last chapter of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes, in which Don Quixote is referred to by this title on his epitaph.

Folk speech
general
Proverbs

Little Willie mean as hell, threw his sister in the well, mother said when drawing water, “Gee it’s hard to raise a daughter.”

Will’s grandparents would watch him and his siblings when his parents went on trips. Whenever Will would act up or do something wrong, his grandpa used to say to him “Little Willie mean as hell, threw his sister in the well, mother said when drawing water, ‘Gee it’s hard to raise a daughter.’” When his grandpa would say this to him, it was a sign of disappointment. It was a way of making Will feel bad about whatever he had done wrong without actually getting angry with him. Will would protest and say that he wasn’t mean, and he would try and disprove his grandpa the first few times his grandpa would say the phrase to him. There were other versions of the saying that Will’s grandpa used to say to him, but he can’t remember exactly what they were.

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