Author Archives: Charlene Clee


“C’est la vie.”

Translated into English, this French proverb means, “That’s life” or “Such is life.” Carolina, who also goes by Coca, says this proverb often. She says it “whenever it needs to be said, whenever someone needs their problem to be put into context. People need to be reminded that it’s not the end of the world, extraordinarily often.”

Her interpretation of the proverb is that it is a “reminder to let go of the little things—it’s only life! Why sweat the small stuff when there’s so much good to focus on?”

The first time she ever heard it- and therefore learned it- was in the 1990s when the B*Witched song “C’est La Vie” played on the radio all the time.

The reason behind Coca telling it and her interpretation of the proverb shows us what her philosophical outlook on life is. She tries to remember the bigger picture when she starts to worry too much about the small things, such as missing a homework assignment, being late for volleyball practice, or getting in a little tiff with her younger brother. She tries to remember that life is precious and one should not waste time worrying too much about small things in life. One should concentrate on life being a journey and life being something much larger than a bad grade on a test.

I agree with Coca’s interpretation of the proverb. Because she says it all the time, I have begun to say it all the time. Whenever a friend tells me about how they are upset because they got a low grade on a homework assignment, I say “C’est la vie,” and remind them that it is not the end of the world and it will not negatively affect success or progress later in life.

I was surprised to hear Coca’s reasoning behind why she says it, and the circumstances in which she says it. I had no idea that she had put that much thought into why she says it. I had no idea that the proverb was a philosophical outlook. Upon further reflection though, I think it is a good one to have.

Proverbs are imbedded in a particular language and culture. This proverb is imbedded in French language and French culture, and has now become part of American culture. Americans now try to use this phrase to remind themselves about the bigger picture in life. It can be hard sometimes in the fast pace, hardball society we live in. Oftentimes, it seems like one failed test is going to affect one in the long-term. It can really feel that way sometimes and can really ruin one’s day. Americans are trying to adopt this proverb to reduce stress and become a slightly more relaxed, easygoing culture.

Annotation: B*Witched (Musical group). B*Witched. [New York]: Epic, 1998.


“Better late than never.”

This English proverb correctly describes Laura’s outlook on life. “I think ‘better late than never’ every time I go to class late…which is always.” She learned it from her mom at a young age. This proverb “means it is better to show up even if you’re late than to not show up at all.”

This proverb is embedded in American culture. In America, things oftentimes run late. Everyone is rushing to get somewhere, and usually people are late and things start late. To excuse this, people just tend to say “better late than never.” This proverb is a kind of rationalization; it is a way to make people feel better for being late.

I agree with Laura about the proverb’s meaning and I do think it is better to show up late than to not show up at all. This proverb kind of goes with the proverb “c’est la vie,” or “such is life.” It is a way of saying that we should all relax and not panic all the time about keeping up with schedules and strict time schedules. Similar to “such is life,” this proverb is telling us all to keep in mind the bigger picture. Being five minutes late to something is not that big of a deal. It is kind of like saying things could be worse.

I was not at all surprised when Laura tells me this is a proverb she lives by. She is always late to class, lunch, meetings, pretty much any time commitment. She lives a pretty relaxed life and does not get upset over small things. I respect that she does not get sucked into an overly rushed life.

However, other cultures might think this proverb is stupid. In some societies, it is of vital importance that one is on time at all times; there is no leeway. They would say a proverb like “better late than never” should not even exist because there should never even be a possibility one is late. This proverb helps us see distinctions between cultures, their values, and their outlooks on life.

Annotation: Titelman, Gregory. Random House Dictionary of America’s Popular Proverbs & Sayings. New York: Random House, 2000.


“Speak of the devil.”

Marie and I were having a conversation on iChat, which is an instant messaging program. We were talking about a friend of ours and how we had not talked to them in a very, very long time. Suddenly, the friend we were discussing signed online. We both noticed right away and Marie said, “Well, speak of the devil….”

“Speak of the devil” is an abbreviation for “speak of the devil and he shall appear.” Marie learned this English proverb from her parents at a young age. She explained that it is just a reference to someone who appears unexpectedly while being talked about. She uses it when she is talking about someone, and then they just show up out of nowhere. She thinks its meaning is equivalent to “oh, what a coincidence.” She does not think the person who appears unexpectedly while being talked about is a devil at all. She does not think of them in a negative way, she says, “That is just the way the expression goes.” She does not associate a negative connotation with the proverb. She uses it without thinking, and frequently.

In current-day published works, authors use this proverb exactly like Marie does. They use it as a reference to someone appearing unexpectedly while being talked about. In a lot of cases, they do not mean to call the unexpected person an evil devil. They are just remarking that someone has appeared. Page 14 of Married to the Mop illustrates these kinds of cases. In other cases, they are making a joke because the person who appears is someone they do not like, so they do mean it negatively. However, they do not actually think that person is THE devil. Page 109 of Children of the Night exemplifies these other cases.

I agree with Marie about the meaning of the proverb. It is a way of remarking on the coincidence that someone one is talking about suddenly appears. It is an expression of surprise. Marie uses it mostly as an expression of pleasant surprise, but sometimes people do use it as a way to express their unhappiness with the sudden appearance of someone they dislike.

Because I was curious about the origins of the proverb, I looked online. Apparently, before the 20th century, the proverb was not meant lightheartedly at all. The devil’s name was not supposed to be spoken. It was a superstitious belief that it would cause bad luck. People may or may not have believed that if one mentioned the devil’s name he would actually appear ( It is really interesting that the proverb had a more sinister meaning before. One could guess that the proverb did not originally have a playful meaning because it does use the word “devil.”  It is even more interesting that the proverb’s meaning eventually changed. As the times changed, the proverb took on a humorous, playful meaning. I do not think most people think about this when they use the phrase, they just say the phrase because they learned to say it in certain situations.

Annotation: Colley, Barbara. Married to the Mop: A Charlotte LaRue Mystery. New York: Kensington Books, 2006.

Annotation: Lackey, Mercedes. Children of the Night. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 1990.


“Grandma. Two grandkids. They are twins—a pair of boys. They’re totally identical except one always tells the truth and one always lies, always. So, she’s at a “T” in the road—one way is right, the other is wrong. The boys know the answer. She has one question to ask to find out which way to turn. What does she ask?”

“She asks, ‘What would your brother say?’”

This riddle is a true riddle—it has all the information necessary to figure out the answer. However, despite it being a true riddle, I was initially confused when Laura told me this riddle. She explained answer to me as follows: “One lies and says left. The other says what his brother would say and says left. So, she knows to turn right on the road.”

Her friend Richie told her the riddle during a ski trip. One night, the electricity went out in the ski cabin. Because they could not watch television, they decided to entertain themselves by trading jokes, riddles, and stories. I think it is unfortunate that the only reason they started telling jokes, riddles, and stories is because they could not watch television. If they had a choice in the matter, they would have picked watching television over trading riddles.

Laura tells this riddle in situations where she needs to kill time. If she is bored, she might ask someone to tell her a riddle, or she may tell someone the riddle. Once again, it is unfortunate that telling riddles has become a way to kill time instead of being a form of preferred entertainment.

She does not really like the riddle because of the riddle itself; she likes the riddle because it has sentimental value. It reminds her of her friend Richie and the moment she heard it. She said it was fun when they began telling each other riddles and stories. In my opinion, she probably enjoyed the riddle and story telling more than she would have enjoyed just watching television. However, when the choice comes down to it even now, after her fun experience in the ski cabin, she would choose watching television over hearing a riddle.

I found this riddle very intellectually stimulating. Unlike most people, Laura actually had me guess for a really long time; she did not tell me the answer right away. Even when she told me the answer, I still was not completely clear on why it made sense. I agree with her reasoning behind why both boys would answer, “left.”

The context in which the item was performed indicates a lot about the society we live in. The majority of the population in the United States has a television set. We choose watching television, perhaps watching folklore on television, over choosing to perform or watch folklore live. We have this choice because we have televisions. In other, economically poorer countries, only a few people have television sets. These poorer people who cannot afford televisions do not have the choice, and thus when they see folklore, they are seeing it performed live. Trading jokes, riddles, and stories is entertainment to people who cannot watch television. Having a choice in the matter deeply affects the medium through which we experience folklore.


“The man who invented it doesn’t want it, the man who bought it doesn’t need it, the man who needs it doesn’t know it. What is it?”

“A coffin.”

This riddle is what is known as a true riddle—it has all the information necessary to figure out the answer. Even so, Laura thoroughly explained why the riddle makes sense. The man who invented the coffin, or made the coffin, does not want it. He did not make it for himself because he is not dead, so he is looking to sell it to someone else. The man who bought it does not need it because he bought it for someone else who has died, probably a family member or friend. This particular man will not need one until he himself has died. The man who needs it does not know it because he is dead, and is therefore unaware.

Laura learned this riddle from her dad. She uses this riddle at summer camp to entertain the children. She enjoys telling riddles, and particularly this riddle, because when people spend a lot of time guessing, she feels clever. This riddle holds sentimental value for Laura because whenever she thinks about this riddle, it brings back fond memories of summer camp, her father, and just spending time with people she cares about.

I agree with Laura about the riddle’s meaning and why it makes sense. It is a cleverly constructed riddle. I myself spent a lot of time guessing the answer, and Laura says most people do spend a lot of time guessing unless they have already heard the riddle before.

Laura’s riddle shows a lot about how she identifies herself. She enjoys riddles such as this one because she values tough, intellectually stimulating challenges. She sees herself as someone intelligent, and knowing clever riddles reinforces this idea of her as someone intelligent. She sees herself as a courageous knowledge-gatherer, unafraid of challenges. So, because riddles present a challenge, Laura is very willing to take them on. She is someone who just likes to learn new things and hoard information. Riddles allow her to gather knowledge and pass it on. She was an audience member when her father told her the riddle, but now she is very much so an active bearer. She is always willing to volunteer this riddle in conversation with anyone. She passes it on to children at summer camps. When Laura passes on this riddle, she is also making a statement about her identity.