Author Archives: Ashley Avery

College Exam- Legend

“A university class that was taught in a lecture hall was taking a final. And all of the students handed in their test except for this one guy. When he finally finished his test he brought it up to the professor, but his professor told him he had taken too long on the exam and that he couldn’t turn his test in. The student was really mad at first and argued with the professor to try and get him to accept his test. But the professor still wouldn’t let him turn in the test, saying that it wasn’t fair to other students who had finished their tests within the time limit. So the student asked the professor, “Do you even know my name?” and the professor replied, “No”. So the student stuffed his test in the middle of the stack of the other students’ exams and left. He passed the class.”

My informant told this story in his Musicianship class that is full of students who were high school seniors. I was unable to ask him his personal thoughts on the legend. However I believe that it reflects how impersonal the experience at a large university can be. Professors often have class sizes that have over 200 students enrolled, especially in lower division general education or introductory level courses. For most students their professors in these large classes will not know them personally and won’t be able to match their face with their name.  The tone of this story also seems to be a bit negative. It basically says that in a large impersonal environment, like college can be, you can get away with a lot more because no one knows who you are anyway.


“It is better to live a coward than to be dead as a hero”

My informant said that this proverb is best explained by another proverb that he heard growing up which is “Cowards live to fight another day”.  In the environment that my informant grew up in, these proverbs were said a lot by the adults in the community. There was a heavy gang population in the area where the informant was raised. A lot of racial tension between black people who were poor and those living in middle class neighborhoods and also a lot of tension between the black gangs and the Mexican gangs across town. There were deaths often and many times young kids between the ages of 11 and 14 would get caught in the middle of gang fights and end up dead as well. When my informant was a teenager these proverbs annoyed him as he felt that there was nothing worse than cowardice, but now he can understand why the adults in the neighborhood tried to paint cowardice in a semi-positive light.  These proverbs say that sometimes your pride isn’t worth being killed over.  As long as you don’t die you can live to fight for that pride some other time. Of course my informant admits that’s much easier said than done. I found my informant’s explanation very informative and have nothing to add to it.


“All that glitters is not gold”

My informant first heard this proverb when he was in elementary school. He grew up in New Mexico. His mother said it to him when he wanted to spend all of his allowance money on a toy he had seen an advertisement for. The proverb means that just because something seems nice or valuable on first glance, doesn’t mean that it actually is valuable.  I agree with my informant on the meaning of the proverb. I have heard it several times before, as it is a very common proverb in America. However I was slightly curious as to what it might be referring to.

Some possible origins for this proverb or meta-folklore about it is that when one is looking for gold everything in the sand is shiny and glittery. While you may get excited seeing something shining in the dirt, it often times is not gold, but pyrite or fool’s gold.  Miners were often fooled into getting excited over pyrite when it later turned out to be nothing of any value to them.

Elderly Person-Joke

There was an elderly married couple. The husband had been having trouble with his memory lately so his wife took him to the doctor. The doctor told him that maybe he should start writing stuff down so that he could remember things. Then the couple went home. While at home the wife asked her husband, “Dear would you get me some strawberry ice cream with whip cream from the kitchen?” So her husband gets up to go get it, but before he can leave his wife asks, ” Are you sure you don’t need me to write it down so that you can remember everything?” And he says, “I don’t need you to write anything down, I can remember something small like this”. So goes into the kitchen and he is gone for a really long time. When he comes back he brings a plate with bacon, eggs, and toast on it. His wife stares at the plate and says, “See?! I told you write it down. I knew you would forget. I said that I wanted sausage not bacon”

My informant first heard this joke from a friend at school. He thought it was funny because not only did the old man forget what he was doing, his wife also forgot what she had said. He thinks people tell it because it’s a stereotype associated with the elderly that they often forget things.

I agree with my informant. Forgetfulness is a stereotype associated with the elderly in American culture, as well being frail, tired, and that they are always complaining, as well as being stubborn and stuck in their ways. The punchline of this joke makes use of the forgetfulness aspect of the stereotype. But why do Americans like to tell and listen to old people jokes? American culture seems to have grown some disdain toward the elderly. Older people are often seen as a drain and a burden to their children and grandchildren who take care of them. They are often characterized as chronically ill and useless as family members. Which might have something to do with America being a future oriented culture according to Alan Dundes (Dundes, 1969). The elderly aren’t considered to have a future. So it has become socially acceptable to make jokes about the elderly and their stereotypical shortcomings.

Blanket Party Ritual

A blanket party is when a group of soldiers kidnap one of their peers while he’s sleeping. They cover him with a blanket and beat him up, then put him back in bed.

My informant spent a few years in the Marine corps in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Blanket parties were done whenever the entire platoon was punished for something that was the fault of one soldier. For example if one guy was running extremely slowly and the DI (drill instrustor) made everyone an extra 5 miles because of it. My informant said that Blanket parties are brutal, but they proved to be very effective in making the platoon move and behave as a team. Even the most ornery soldiers became easier to work with.

This ritual is similar to a rite of passage on the Marine base that my informant was stationed, because almost everyone has caused problems for the rest of their group by messing up or making an obvious mistake.  A balnket party is a punishment to remind the person being punished that they are not in charge and not to do anything that would purposely cause the rest of his platoon anguish. After more time has passed and the soldiers get to know each other, a mistake made by a soldier probably won’t result in them “getting a Blanket Party”.  This practice is not only a rite of passage ritual, but it also unites the soldiers under the same identity.