USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘saying’
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.

Customs
general
Humor
Proverbs

A Cookie A Day

This is a joke passed on in the family of my informant, and dates back to his grandfather. It plays on the saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. His father would have a cookie for breakfast every day, saying that he didn’t need a doctor or an apple and that he would rather have a cookie. He died in his fifties from heart complications.

This has now become a joke in their family; every time someone feels ill, a family member would recommend that the person start eating cookies for breakfast, and gave rise to the adapted saying in their family that “a cookie a day keeps the doctor away”.

Folk speech
Humor

Drink Your Windex

This saying was said by my informant’s father to her whenever she stood in front of the television. He would say “you didn’t drink your Windex this morning”, and my informant now says this whenever she finds herself in a similar situation.

Windex is a window and mirror cleaner, and so presumably this saying means that you are not clear enough to see through (and you would be if you had ingested Windex). It could only have come into existence after 1933, when Windex was first produced. It also indicates the commonality of the product and the issue, as there is a saying incorporating a brand name product in a situation that became more and more prevalent as televisions began to enter homes.

Folk speech
Proverbs

Drunken Words Are Sober Thoughts

The saying is “drunken words are sober thoughts”, and was provided by an informant at university. This saying warns that alcohol has a truth telling effect, or an effect that would lower the inhibitions of whomever may be speaking and thus they will speak their true thoughts, rather than dissembling. It warns people not only to believe in drunken confessions, but also would warn those who would drink in a precarious situation that they may say things that they would normally not be driven to say. My informant didn’t know where she heard it but believed in its validity, and given that overconsumption of alcohol has a very long history, it would be fairly impossible to determine the length of time this proverb has existed. Alcohol alters the normal state of consciousness, thus allowing for people to do or say things that they might not normally, and this proverb indicates that one could gain insight into someone else’s character in this manner.

Folk Beliefs
Folk speech

Instant Karma

Contextual Data: Over Spring Break, I was at dinner with my family, and my dad accidentally bit his cheek. He cried out and my mother, who was sitting next to him chirped out, “Instant Karma!” I had heard her do that once before, and so I asked her what she meant by it and where she had heard it. The following is an exact transcript of what she said.

“It’s the saying that if you bit your tongue or your cheek that means you were either having bad thoughts about somebody or thinking bad about somebody…or cursing somebody. That’s why in… uh, karma you got bitten — because of bad thoughts about bad [Laughs]… As soon as you get bitten, you — first thing comes out of your mouth is ‘Ouch!’ and then person across from you knows that ‘Oh, you did something wrong. That’s why.’ So they assume you were having bad thoughts about somebody that’s why you got…”

- End Transcript – 

Karma (the general idea of what goes around comes around) is a big part of Hindu culture and that can certainly be seen in this little saying. For the most part though, it doesn’t seem as though this saying is meant to be taken seriously — partially because it’s not a wholly accurate representation of Hindu ideas of Karma. Beyond this, most of the times that it happens, the person “accused” usually isn’t actually cursing someone else. When it happened in this particular situation, my dad just kind of laughed it off. It therefore seems as though this saying is meant to be passed on as more of a joke. It’s teasing and can make people very defensive, particularly messing with them if they were thinking bad thoughts about someone else. My informant enjoys sharing it just to poke fun.

folk metaphor
Folk speech
Proverbs

Chinese Saying: We Found You in a Trashcan

Contextual Data: After talking to me about another Chinese folk belief, a friend of mine quickly continued into this account of another folk saying that her parents had been saying to her ever since she was little. The following is a transcript of her description.

“I don’t know why, but in every Asian society, like every child is supposed to be found in a trashcan. You’re not conceived, we found you in a trashcan, and it’s kind of like a, like a ‘diamond in the rough’ kind of thing…where, um, ‘We’re really happy that you’re here, and like, you have life and we love you and everything.’ But, um… but, it’s—I dunno. It’s kind of like, it’s like: ‘You’re a jewel and we, like, we found you. We picked it up. And we were like graced by God that you gave — that you’re here with us today.’”

- End Transcript – 

My informant did a fairly thorough job of explaining the significance of this saying — that it is essentially a way of saying “you’re special” and “we’re luck to have you with us.” I think idea of a parent letting their child know that they do value them and that they are special is a big part of the reason why people might continue to use this saying — it’s essentially an expression of love and affection. I did ask a couple of other Chinese friends about this, however, and they mentioned that they had no recollection of ever being told this, which suggests it may not be a saying that is as widely known and/or confined to the Guangzhou region in China, where my friend is from.

Folk speech
Proverbs

“The goat doesn’t get to keep the grass when he dies.”

My informant is from Washington, D.C. Her parents immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia. This her explanation of a saying she has heard her father use:

“So since my dad is from like, the rural area of Ethiopia, he knows a lot of Ethiopian sayings. Some of them are based on like, stories. Um, I don’t know most of those. But my dad will just kind of throw them in random situations and they don’t really make sense to me. So one time was when this guy was like, doing something that my dad thought was selfish. We were at Costco and this guy didn’t put his shopping cart away after he used it. He just left it in the middle of the parking lot. So my dad looked off into the distance and said, ‘Well, you know what they say.’ Then he recited a saying in Amharic and then he translated it for us. And basically the meaning was, um, ‘The goat doesn’t get to keep the grass when he dies.’ It didn’t make any sense to me, but apparently it means, “Don’t be selfish about things just because you’re not using them anymore.” Sort of. At least, that was my understanding of it. It’s not a phrase I’m going to be using, but my dad thought it was important to share.”

My informant is someone who has somewhat of a language barrier between her and her parents. Her mother and father are fluent in Amharic, the language most commonly spoken in Ethiopia, but my informant does not speak or understand this language. Therefore, some things get lost in translation. This particular saying is one example of those miscommunications. My informant’s father is trying to relate to her, but she has a hard time understanding exactly what reference she is making. She’s had an urban American upbringing, whereas her father grew up on a farm on Ethiopia. She is not used to interacting with goats or observing goats’ interactions with grass. Sometimes, the places she and her father grew up seem worlds away. Despite the many cultural differences, my informant is ultimately able to understand the gist of what her father is trying to tell her. The literal meaning of her father’s saying may be confusing to her without the context that her father learned it in, but the important part—the message he is trying to convey—remains. In this way, this folk saying helps my informant’s father communicate with her, even if it is in a somewhat indirect way.

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