USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘truth’
Folk speech
Proverbs

Av barn og fulle folk får ein høyre sanninga

Av barn og fulle folk får ein høyre sanninga.”

“From children and drunk people we hear the truth.”

Context: The informant’s grandmother was a Norwegian immigrant with many peculiar sayings. This was his favorite, as it gave him a rare sense of power as a child.

Interpretation: Because sober adults often act in their own self-interest and mask their intentions with flattery and deceit, it has been said in more than one language that honesty is reserved for children who have not yet learned to lie and manipulate and drunk people who do not have the mental capacity to mask their feelings and intentions. This can be used, as is the case with my informant, to empower children and encourage them to maintain their honesty and forthrightness. It can also make adults more likely to share their true feelings because it indirectly shames their general dishonesty. Lastly, it makes people more receptive to the thoughts and feelings of children and drunk people, who are both often overlooked because they are seen as foolish and incapable of sharing knowledge.

 

general
Gestures

Gesture: “Occhio”

Main Piece: “When Italians want to point out cleverness, they use a gesture rather than words. They take their finger and they pull down on the bottom of their eye, which opens the eye more, and that indicates that this person is clever in the sense that they are sly. There’s another way…I’m not positive…to pull the cheek down to open the eye.”

Background: The informant would often see this gesture when people would try to speak about another person without using words. According to the informant, instead of verbally communicating, a physical gesture is used because it is universal and non-confrontational. This gesture isn’t always used as a compliment, it can be a mark of dissaproval. This gesture is done to another person, communicating this thought of cleverness about the other.

Performance Context: The informant sat across from me at a table outside.

My Thoughts: Using a physical gesture as a medium of foklore is a noteworthy method of communication. Its physical nature, rather than verbal, can be comprehended universally, as the informant noted. The opening of the eye seems to be a watchful, all-knowing way of letting the receiver know his/her slyness is recognized. Although this gesture may not mean the same things in a variation of contexts, the eye is the watcher, the giver of sight and truth. It is also interesting that this mark of cleverness is not always a compliment. Being sly versus being clever is a mark of acceptable versus unacceptable.

For further reference see: http://en.blog.hotelnights.com/italian-gesture-language/ for alternative explanation of the gesture.

Folk Beliefs
Tales /märchen

Afghan Parable: Blindness and Truth

Main Piece: “So once my mom told me a story about a group of boys playing near a bridge. So they see a blind kid… um… and they ask why God would make this boy blind? And they feel very sorry for him. So in this story they ask God, ‘why did you make this boy blind?’ and then they tell God, ‘you should give him sight.’ So God does. God gives the boy sight. And then the boys are very pleased with themselves… uh… so they go to the top of the bridge because they have a game of jumping off of it…it’s a low bridge. But the blind boy who now can see has set up sharpened sticks underneath the bridge. So that when the boys jump, they all die.”

Background: The informant’s mother recently told her this story after her grandfather died a few months ago. Her mother had been told this story by her father as a cautionary tale about coming to the U.S. The informant says her mother understood this parable as an implication to not always trust what you think you know. The informant understands it’s meaning to be: “don’t question God ever because purpose is not in our hands.”

Performance Context: The informant and I had lunch together and sat at a table across from each other.

My Thoughts: A generational parable has survived through the family’s telling. The story’s dark nature evokes fear in the receiver of the story. I understand the telling of it as partly religious, partly cautionary, and partly moralistic. I find it interesting that the informant’s mother was reminded of the parable after her father’s death. The symbolism of blindness in terms of truth is a consistent metaphor in moralistic tales. Also important to note is the hesitance to trust American culture as an immigrant. I understand this story as told outside the context of religion, implying more about belief and trust than religion and morals.

general
Legends
Narrative
Tales /märchen

The (Rumored) Truth of Movie Popcorn’s Origin

The first informant is a 65-year-old man who grew up in Southside Chicago and Baltimore with his parents and two brothers. He is a father, grandfather, patent attorney, musician, and inventor.

The second informant is a 95-year old man who grew up in Davenport, right near downtown with his parents and two brothers. His father came over from Russia and owned a grocery store in Davenport. He now lives in Skokie, IL with his wife and caretaker. He has three sons and 9 grandchildren.

 

Informant 1: “Your great, great-grandmother on your Grandma’s side was the pioneering movie theater operators.”

Informant 2: She was the one who started popcorn in theaters.”

Informant 1: “Well, it was rumored she was.”

Informant 2: “No, that was a definite.

Informant 1: “Umm,”

Informant 2: “And, what happened was there was a theater chain that was in Davenport. And it was very profitable, and the owner found out that she was doing it, and he started doing it and told the other theater chains. I read something historical somewhere about popcorn and they’re giving that theater chain credit, when they actually copied it from Grandmother.”

 

This particular interview made me think of the film we watched early on in the semester, Whose Song is It Anyway.

 

It’s an origin story—or an attempted, alleged origin story—of popcorn in movie theaters. Informant 2 was insistent that his grandmother had in fact been the pioneer of movie theater popcorn and got somewhat heated when Informant 1 suggested that it might be rumor that she actually did this. Informant 2’s account was closely concerned with credit and business—the idea of the underdog, or the small business, versus the big chain.

 

This interview concerns originality and relates to our discussions about originality and society’s—in particular, American society—obsession with it. Copyright falls into this arena, as well, a legal way of giving credit, and in doing so, giving ownership, to one individual or corporation for something that very well has been the product of several minds and over the span of several years.

Folk speech
Humor
Riddle

Door to Life or Death

Form of Folklore:  Folk Belief (Riddle)

Informant Bio:  The informant was born and raised primarily in Glendale, California; he only left the United States for a two year period (from age fourteen to fifteen) to live in London, England.  Most of his knowledge of folklore is from his mother (of Irish decent), his father (of Persian-Armenian decent), and media such as the internet and television.

Context:  The interview was conducted on the porch of the informant’s house in the presence of two other informants.

Item:    So there’s the riddle of two doors and two guards; one door leads to life, one door leads to death, one guard will always tell the truth and one guard will always lie.  And the two guards are not attached to the doors; the truth teller is not, for example, attached to the door of life, nor is the liar attached to the door of death.  It could be in front of either one.  Your objective is to find out which one… your objective, should you choose to accept it… is to find out which door leads to life, by asking one guard one question.

The answer to the riddle is:  you ask whichever guard you wish, “what will the other guard say is the right door?”  If the guard you ask happens to be the truth teller, he will truthfully tell you that the other guard will point to the wrong door.  And if you ask the liar, “what will the truth teller say?” the liar will lie about what the truth teller will say and will point to the wrong door.  So either way, if you ask “what will the other guard say is the right door?” the guard you’re talking to will point at the wrong door.  And you go through the other one.

Informant Comments:  The informant was introduced to this riddle when he was in the sixth grade.  He believes it is an interesting riddle which helps students develop strong analytic skills starting from a very young age.  Personally, the informant enjoys riddles like this one, mainly because he likes to enhance his own way of thinking.

Analysis:  This riddle is mainly used to challenge those who attempt to solve it.  Having to figure out which question, when addressed to either the liar or the truth tell, would eliminate the importance of which guard you are talking to, forces those who are introduced to this folklore to use logical reasoning and laws of negation in order to identify the door to life.  Though they may not be aware of it, people are strengthening their reasoning skills by hearing this riddle and trying to solve it.  As a pleasant addition to the riddle, the informant added some humor by referencing a famous line from the Mission Impossible films.  By pausing to say, “your mission, should you choose to accept it”, the informant gave the riddle a lightened humorous feel.  This offered a nice balance to the performance of this folklore; the riddle was challenging and yet entertaining at the same time.

Childhood
Folk Beliefs
Magic

The Lollipop Tree

Growing up there were a lot of hills all around our home and neighborhood wherever you looked. You could also see hills way out in the distance on the bus to and from elementary school. There was this one tree on one of the hills that was way, way the farthest away. It came up straight and narrow with no branches until you got to the top of the tree, which was a perfect circle. It was basically a lollipop-looking tree. I don’t know how we knew it was a tree or how we could only see that tree from far away, but it seemed to be the only tree on the hill, and it sat perfectly at the top center of the hill.
Anyway, what some of the kids would say was that it was the “lollipop tree,” and if you somehow got passed all the hills and made your way up close to it, if you said something true you would get a fistful of lollipops. But if you lied near the tree, or touching it, something terrible would happen. Like maybe you or a loved one would die.
Some people said if you lied just while looking at it, even from so far away on the bus, you could get into some serious trouble.
That tree must have been a big deal, because sometimes a bus driver would even yell, “There’s the lollipop tree!” And they’d point at it out the windshield.

The story of the lollipop tree is a cautionary tale meant to teach good behavior to the children of the rural community. While sometimes the legend served as a right of initiation, as adults or older children who no longer believed in the magic would tell younger children to encourage honesty or to frighten them, it also served as a myth for why there was such a strange, distinctive tree on the town skyline. The tree was visible enough that it aroused curiosity, but so far away that not many people seemed to know the truth of why it was there alone, or if it was even a tree.

[geolocation]