Author Archives: Ankita Mukherji


Background Information: I noticed that there were commonalities between swear-words or phrases in different languages. In particular, vulgarities related to mothers and sex seemed to transcend linguistic barriers. I interviewed Tanuj Gupta about the word, “maaderchod”, which means “motherfucker”, in Hindi. Tanuj grew up in Lucknow, India, and came to USC for his graduate degree, and speaks primarily Hindi and English. He first heard and began using the word at school, in the fifth grade.

Original script: मादरचोद

Phonetic script: Maaderchoad

Transliteration: Mother-fuck

Full translation: Motherfucker

Thoughts: I find it interesting how vulgarities like this one have evolved to become a part of individuals’ everyday speech and vernacular. Tanuj uses the word frequently when he is speaking Hindi with his friends, as an expression of frustration, amazement, or just for general emphasis. As Tanuj said, he learned the word in school as a child, and has continued to use it frequently. I find it interesting that vulgarities like this one are used in specific domains. It is learned and used among friends and equals, rather than with superiors, as it seems to express a level of comfort and familiarity within the group it is used in. It would also be interesting to analyze the seemingly cross-cultural taboo of associating “mothers” with sex.     

King’s Cup

Background Information: I came across the game King’s Cup at a party, and was immediately intrigued by how elaborate it was. I also noticed that different people were talking about different ways they had played it before, in different places or states, and this caught my attention. I interviewed Jack Runburg and Kevin Litman-Navarro, who are two college seniors. Jack learned to play the game during high school in Utah, where he grew up, while Kevin came across it at the beginning of college.

K: The game Kings cup is a game of skill and a game of luck… It requires a deck of cards, a group of people between four and eight, uh, a large… receptacle, in the middle of the table – a chalice, a goblet, whatever you’d like, and a beer for, uh, for each player. The game is played by fanning out the deck of cards around your goblets… your grail, if you’re into that… and they take turns pulling cards, and each card has a different rule assigned to it. So it’s like a bunch of mini-games within the larger game of King’s Cup

A: It has to be a beer?

K: It typically, if you wanna play the game properly, everyone has to be drinking the same thing, because at different points of the game you’re going to be pouring your drink into the large cup in the center, and drinking it all at the end.

A: Is it different playing it in high school and here? Since you’re from Utah, Jack?

J: Yeah generally like the first ten minutes of playing the game is trying to like, rectify, different people’s sets of rules, and choosing which ones to obey for that particular game.

A: Do you have any examples?

K: Jack, what was your typical rule for Queen?

J: Ok so, in high school I played Queen as Question Master, it’s different from the usual Question Master – it’s if, someone doesn’t speak in questions, meaning that if someone asks you a question and you don’t respond with a question, you lose.

K: Conversely in my version of Queen, it’s called Queen Mean, so when you pull Queen, everyone insults you.

A: Do you guys like the game?

J: It’s not really like a big party game, more of like a kickback… You need a small group, fewer than eight people… It’s fun because it’s dynamic, and not really repetitive.

A: Have you ever heard any stories or anything about where the game might have come from or something?

J: I have a sister who is ten years older than me, and I know that… well she grew up in San Diego and I grew up in Utah, and when I became of the age where I started to drink, she asked me, like ‘Oh, do you guys play King’s Cup?’ And I said yeah we do, and she said ‘What are your rules?’ And the only rules we differed on were Jacks and Aces, so it was cool that someone in like a completely different geographical area who was ten years older than me had like the same rules… I think it’s just been around for like really long.

Thoughts: I am very interested in how the game seems to transcend boundaries of both space and time within the US. Drinking games seem to serve an important function at parties, especially at college, where many might be seeing new faces or attempting to meet new friends. In these situations, games serve as a means of breaking the ice. King’s Cup adds another layer of complexity because of the variations, similar to the idea of oikotypes that we learned about in class – a piece of folklore having multiple regional and cultural variations. Playing King’s Cup perhaps adds a stimulus for conversation as well, as players discuss where they are from, and how or why their versions of the game might be different.

Grandmother’s Superstitions

Background Information: Elyse is a Junior at college, and she grew up in San Francisco, CA. Her grandmother is Chinese, and has lived in the United States from her 20s or 30s, according to Elyse. I interviewed Elyse about some of the superstitions her grandmother has.

Elyse: So, my grandma tells me this thing like, every time I go around to see her, what she does is she asks me to put my fingers together, kind of like a paddle, and then, you hold it up to the light, and if you have a lot of light coming through it, like a lot of holes in your fingers, it means that you lose money fast. And if your fingers are really tight-knit, it means you save money. So like, I have some little cracks, so that means that some of my money is going to leave through those.

Ankita: And she does this every time you see her?

Elyse: She’s like, can I see your hands, because she likes to read my palms every time I visit her, so she’ll be like, “oh, good hands”, and then she’ll tell me to put my hands together to check this one.

Ankita: Does she do this for everyone she meets?

Elyse: Sort of, she doesn’t do it for everyone, just like family or whatever. Like, it’s definitely not an actual science, and she’s not a palmist or anything either, but yeah…

Thoughts: It seems, from talking to Elyse, that her grandmother has many such superstitions that guide her everyday life. Many seem to be related to luck, prosperity and wealth, and these seem to be important to hold on to in Chinese culture. It is also interesting that her grandmother chooses to read the palms of her family and ensure that they are living by these superstitions as well, perhaps as a way of showing her care and concern for them.

Coconut oil remedies

Background Information: RJ is a senior at college. He was born and raised in Hawa’ii, but his family is Filipino. I heard him mention the use of coconut oil, and how his grandmother told him to use it for dry skin or to massage into sores, and it struck me how similar this folk remedy was to what I had heard in my own culture. I interviewed him about the practice and what it means to him.

Ankita: Can you tell me about how your family uses coconut oil?

RJ: My grandma uses it…well, she makes it. She takes coconuts and…I’m not sure what the process is, entirely, but I know she cooks it somehow, until the oils…um, are rendered, and then strains that, puts it in a bottle, and labels it ‘coconut oil’. But she only makes it on a specific day, and that day—she only makes it every four years. I’m not sure why. I think it has to do with some type of superstition, where it’s like a good luck type of oil. It’s an all-purpose oil, and you use it on your skin, or on your hair or on your lips. And she also uses it to like, massage into sores or like, when you have aches…body aches. It’s good for skin…Or like, it has healing properties.

Ankita: Do you know where she might have learned it maybe?

RJ: Well she’s from the Philippines, and I guess like, her parents…probably did that.

Ankita: Did she ever try to teach you or your parents or something?

RJ: Not intentionally, but we’d just like be around the house and see her make it, so we’d witness the process…But there’s also like the residue of that, so like the parts that are strained, she uses that in a dessert. So like, all parts of the coconut are used.

Ankita: Do you think you believe it? Like believe in its healing properties?

RJ: Um…I think so. Well, only when she applies it to me. Or the rest of us. But if we do it ourselves…not really.

Thoughts: From the way RJ described it, his grandmother’s process of making this oil is elaborate, time-consuming and specific, and it was a tradition that was passed down to her from her family. I find it interesting how RJ said that when his grandmother applies the oil, he believes in the medicinal properties of it, but not if he were to do it himself. The value that he places on this particular folk remedy, therefore, is tied to his grandmother, and perhaps his relationship with her. He does not believe in it enough to make the oil or go through the process of applying it himself, but his grandmother’s act of applying it for her family members becomes a ritual with heightened symbolic meaning and significance.

Spanish Lullaby

Background Information: Shawn Barnes is a Junior at college, and his family is Mexican on his mother’s side. I interviewed him about a Spanish lullaby that he remembers his mother singing to him at night as a child.

Original (Spanish):

“A la roro niño

A lo roro ya

Duérmete mi niño

Duérmete mi amor.

Este niño lindo

Que nació de mañana,

Quiere que lo lleven

A pasear en carcacha.

Este niño lindo

Que nació de día

Quiere que lo lleven

A la dulcería

Este niño

Que nació de noche

Quiere que lo lleven

A pasear en coche.

Este niño lindo

Se quiere dormir,

Y el pícaro sueño

No quiere venir.

Este niño lindo

Que nació de noche

Quiere que lo lleven

A pasear en coche.”


“Lullaby baby

Lullaby now.

Sleep my baby,

Sleep my love.

This pretty baby

Who was born in the morning,

Wants to be taken

For a jalopy ride.

This sweet baby

Who was born during the day,

Wants to be taken

To the candy shop.

This pretty baby

Who was born at night,

Wants to be taken

For a stroller ride.

This pretty baby

Wants to sleep

But the naughty sleep

Doesn’t want to come.

This pretty baby

Who was born at night,

Wants to be taken

For a stroller ride.

Shawn: “So, it’s a way to like, put a child to sleep and then say all these good things about them. And then oftentimes my mom would like to rush it a little bit, because I’d go like, ‘Mom can you sing “La Roro”, and so she’d just like rush through one verse and say ‘se acabó’, or like “it’s over, go to sleep.” But like, I still remember her tucking me in and it was sort of a cute thing.”

Thoughts: Lullabies are interesting, and I have found that they often stick in people’s memories, even if it is in a vague form, perhaps because they are repetitive and musical. This lullaby seems to be meant for encouraging a child to go to sleep, while also showing the child love and talking about sweet and pleasant things. Perhaps this is an attempt to ensure pleasant dreams for the child as well.