USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘worms’
Folk Beliefs
Folk medicine

“Worms in Your Stomach”

Context & Analysis

The subject used to swim competitively in high school and often had to deal with having wet hair. Her mother used to tell her the belief below to frighten her into keeping her hair down. Even though she recognizes that it is a folk belief, the thought of getting worms in her stomach was a deterrent to tying up her hair (and potentially damaging it). The subject stated that her mother most likely learned the saying from her grandmother, and she is uncertain if it is a belief that is shared by anyone outside of her family. I find it interesting that she continues to heed her mother’s warning despite not believing it herself.

Main Piece

“So my mom tells us that we’re going to get worms in our stomach if we tie our wet hair—not joking. Not joking. Yea. So when I was younger and started swimming I used to see all of the older girls in the locker room tie up their hair in really tight buns after swimming because obviously you don’t like the feeling of wet dripping hair on your back cuz it’s really gross. So I started doing it and my mom was like ‘[Subject’s Name] not only is this going to damage your hair, ‘cuz you’re going to rip it out—’cuz wet hair is weak hair or whatever— but you’re also going to get worms in your stomach’ and I didn’t believe her. But when my grandma was in town she started saying the same thing, and I thought ‘If this old lady is saying something, chances are she knows even more than my mom, so I probably shouldn’t tie it up anymore’ and I’ve never tied it up when it was wet since.

Folk Beliefs

Nail Worms

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“When I was little, my parents used to tell me that if I bit my nails, I’d get worms in my stomach. But, I never did, so it’s okay. But it’s one of those things parents tell you to discourage you from doing bad things.”

Sometimes parents seem pretty desperate to discourage bad habits. As a child, I think this would have information deterred me from biting my nails. When I was young, I really enjoyed eating raw tomatoes. For some reason, this really bothered my mother who told me in graphic detail how parasites living on an uncooked tomato could bore their way through my intestinal tract and come out of my bottom. I am still hesitant to eat uncooked tomatoes to this day.

The idea that she would get worms from chewing her nails may be influenced by the fact that nails are known to carry many different species of bacteria. Since kids are constantly putting their hands into their mouths, parents would find it necessary to scare them into stopping, or teaching them to clean their hands often to prevent them from becoming ill.

When we hear about horrible things like this as a child, they really stick in your mind even after you’ve grown up even if you’ve learned otherwise. Parents hope to discourage bad habits from forming by slightly scaring their children. It makes sense why many of the folktales that the Brothers Grimm collected were so grim: so the cautionary tales children heard would stick with them.

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