Author Archives: Claire Nickerson

Proverb – Irish

The informant learned the following proverb from his father:

“Most wind happens around the trees.”

According to him, the proverb refers to the tendency of people to gossip when they gather in small groups. It is generally performed when the speaker wants to warn the listener not to talk too much, such as when the listener is about to leave to socialize with friends. The informant seldom uses the proverb because he disagrees with it—he thinks that there is nothing wrong with a little gossip among friends.

Ireland has very few trees now that its residents have cleared so many to make way for farms, but the nation is very windy regardless, so clearly the proverb is not literal. It seems likely to me that the proverb was brought to Ireland from another nation-state where there are more trees.

Collector’s Information:

Name: Claire Nickerson

Age: 20

Address: 920 W 37th Place #1303A, Los Angeles, CA 90089

Onomastic – Massachusetts

The informant presented me with the following account of an onomastic name for a statue at her high school:

“This is about the penis statue at Phillips Academy Andover. Um, I did not name it that—I just wanna say that first of all—I didn’t even start calling it that until I almost left, even though I had been there. Essentially it was this statue that . . . it looks, it looks like . . . yeah, it’s pretty—it looks like a penis! But its, um, its appropriate name is the Bicentennial Statue, and it’s, um, it was actually to c—um, I guess, sculpted to commemorate the combination of, of I guess Phillips Academy with, um, Abbot Academy down the street. Um, Phillips academy was at the time an all male school, and, um, Abbot Academy was an all-female school. Um, and then they combined in 1978, I’m pretty sure.”

She says of the statue’s epithet, “Um, it was kind of just used all the time, like, ‘Oh, I’ll meet you by the penis statue,’ or just—that’s what it’s called, no one called it the Bicentennial statue.”

When asked when she would call the statue by its onomastic name, the informant said, “I wouldn’t, generally? Other people would just—um, in general you try not to, um, tell that to, um, people who are visiting the school and are prospective students, you kinda just . . . you call it that to other students. You might mention it to a teacher, but that’s a little more—what? What’s it called? I, I wouldn’t, personally, but some people are a little more loose with that kinda thing?”

The informant doesn’t entirely approve of the statue’s onomastic name: “At first I just thought it was really stupid and immature, and, um, kind of as the years went on I started realizing—first of all I figured out which statue they were actually talking about. And when I actually saw it, I was like, ‘Okay. I guess I could see that.’ But like, it’s just really curious to me, like, why . . .”

There’s a kind of poetic justice in the marriage of a girls’ school to a boys’ school being celebrated with a statue that looks like an erect penis, and that may be part of why, aside from the statue’s shape, the students gave it that particular onomastic name. If one subscribes to the theory that high school students are immature, then there’s that explanation, too.

Blason Populaire Joke

The informant heard the following joke from one of her classmates in high school.

“Okay, so this one is horrible. I ask someone, ‘Do you know what Ethiopian food tastes like?’ Say, ‘No.’ And then I say, ‘Well, neither do Ethiopians.’ The joke is, because, Ethiopians don’t know what Ethiopian food tastes like because they are starved.”

The informant claims that she herself is not usually an active bearer of the joke: “You never tell it. Except right now [laughter].”

She finds the joke amusing precisely because it is so terrible: “Yeah, I think it’s a pretty bad joke . . . It’s one of those jokes where you think it’s really funny but you also know that it’s just an awful joke.”

Part of the humor value of this blason populaire joke is that it is taboo. You know that it’s awful that people are starving to death in Ethiopia, but at the same time it’s easier to laugh about it than to do anything about it. And it feels better to be amused than to be guilty for not helping.

Dirty Joke – American

The informant says she heard the following joke from a student at the University of Southern California: “I heard this one on, um, a—a hiking trip I went on . . . and it was a nighttime hike and we were looking at the stars, and the guides were telling astronomy stories and stuff, but one of them, uh, he told this dirty physics joke.”

The joke follows: “It’s uh, based on the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which, uh, I guess states something like, ‘If you know something—object’s position, then you can’t know its velocity and vice versa, if you know something’s velocity you can’t know its positions.’ So the joke is, uh, ‘Why was the physics, uh, the physics student, er, um, bad in bed? Because every time he found the right position he didn’t have the right velocity, and every time he had the right velocity he couldn’t find the right position.’”

The informant likes to retell this joke to people she knows are studying math.

She finds the joke funny because it makes light of a serious and unfortunate situation.

The joke is clearly intended for an educated audience; to understand the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, even with an explanation, requires some small knowledge of atomic structure. The Principle refers especially to electrons, which are so small that they’re hard to place. The telling of the joke might even be seen as somewhat of a status symbol—if you get the joke, you’re “in.” The joke of course has a terminus post quem of the proposal of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle.

Folk Medicine: Acne Remedy

The informant heard the following folk medicine remedy for acne from her father.

The concept is that the person with acne is supposed to cut a chunk from an aloe plant and smear it on his or her face: “I used to have really bad acne [laughter] so have a li’l so when he was younger and so my [her father’s] sister—his [her father’s] mother would tell them to put aloe vera, like the plant, all over their faces and stuff, ‘cause it’s s’posed to be like, healing for cuts and stuff like that, g—and inflammation, so’e—sh—my aunt especially would do that, so, that’s . . .”

The informant says she has never tried it “cause [she doesn’t] own an aloe vera plant, but . . . [laughter]”

However, she believes that the remedy would work: “I think it’s a good idea, I mean, it seems like it makes sense—things I’ve seen on TV and stuff, seems like—natural remedy thing would work, so, yeah.”

Acne is caused by the buildup of dirt and oil in the pores, so it seems unlikely that this remedy would work and more likely that it would just further clog the pores with plant gunk. A pimple is not a wound like a cut to be soothed, and although a pimple stinging from having been scratched open might feel better, it probably wouldn’t go away any faster. Acne is associated with puberty, which is a liminal stage and might therefore be irritating to the sufferer as a signal that he or she is not quite one thing and not quite another.