Author Archives: Colin Horgan

Bad Luck Whisker Pluck

“If you have a mole located around your mouth area or chin, jaw, et cetera, and if there’s a whisker growing on it, it’s bad luck to pull the whisker out.”

My informant learned this folk belief when he was young, “in elementary school at least”. He had a great aunt who had a long hair growing out of a mole on her chin, and he asked why she didn’t just pluck the hair, and she responded by telling him about this belief. My informant believes this belief comes from Chinese culture due to learning it from his Chinese great aunt. Though he never learned exactly why it was bad luck to pluck the hair, he was satisfied enough with his aunt’s answer to stop asking about pulling her whisker out.

 

Analysis:

Thinking of similar beliefs, this folk belief reminds me of superstitions regarding grey hairs, which are not supposed to be pulled out or more will grow in their place. The belief straddles this strange liminal stage between admiration for old age and fear of aging. For admiration, one is supposed to respect the developments on their body with their beliefs, and not tamper with signs of old age, like the grey hair or the long mole hair. The fear shows through in the protective aspects of these beliefs, that tampering with these aspects of aging will bring on bad luck or unwanted consequences. In addition, one must think about why these kinds of beliefs come about – surely people have wanted to remove these signs of aging, which can often be thought of as ugly or undesirable. This belief could have come about as a reaction to these people, those who point out these “flaws” like my informant in his childhood, in order to make those showing their age proud instead of shamed. Belief in the significance of the mole hair subverts societal expectations, making it a mark of dignity that should not be removed, which would perhaps stymy one’s apprehension to their age.

“Money is like Manure…”

“Money is like manure: it’s no good unless you spread it around.”

My informant learned this proverb from his uncle, who would often repeat this phrase to his family. My informant explains, “it was used as a means to communicate the family value and religious value of altruism, and of spreading money and karma. In giving to others, you will in turn receive good fortune, both in a literal and figurative sense”. My informant remembers hearing this proverb being spoken since he was very young, “probably since [he] was six years old, maybe even younger”.

 

Analysis:

There’s an interesting contrast found here between the diction of the proverb and my informant’s explanation behind where his family found value in the saying: my informant discusses heavy religious ideals such as karma, and specifically ties the value of altruism to his own religious values, but then the proverb itself sounds almost dirty comparing money to manure. The proverb even goes as far to plant the image of one spreading manure too, which can inspire many sensory memories in the listener – the sight, the sounds, the unpleasant smells of spread manure. It seems dirty and perhaps a bit humorous, which makes the saying stand out in one’s memory. Often proverbs of such religious and moral value carry a gravity to them, even in their diction, but this proverb subverts that with its choice of language. I can understand how my informant would have remembered this proverb even though he learned it many years ago; as a child, can one resist the opportunity to talk with adults about “manure”? It acts as a break from social stigma while also carrying a message of high ethical significance, a unique combination for a proverb.

Godwin’s Law

“Godwin’s Law is one of the so-called laws of the internet.  It states that the longer a forum thread goes, the more likely a comparison to Nazis or Hitler will appear.  On most forums, mentioning Nazis in such a way means that the poster’s side is invalid, because they cannot come up with relevant arguments and must instead turn to name calling and hyperbole.
This is a “law” you will hear about just from existing on the internet long enough.  Almost any forum or message board mentioned it in their “code of conduct” or similar document, especially around 5-10 years ago.  At this point, it is just considered as a given of the internet.
As for where it came from, I have no real solid idea (though i’m sure a glance at Wikipedia could give me several leads…).  My guess is that before it was called codified, it was more an informal rule on forums.  No Idea who Godwin was, though i suppose it could be the administrator or moderator of one of the first forums to officially post the rule.”
Analysis:
This is the second item I came across in my folklore collection that related to an idea of “rules” for the internet (the first being my entry on the Wadsworth Constant). For a medium so vast with a user base so multifaceted, the medium is quickly developing a standardized set of rules and characteristics of user behavior. In a slightly less significant connection, this is also my second entry that just happens to deal with the internet and Hitler (The Hitler/Jesus Game), which could be a sign of a problematic leaning towards troubling figures, though I think that is something that would have to be researched further, to prevent bringing attention to a problem that does not actually exist.
As the internet becomes further integrated into everyday life, I predict more folklore will deal with the workings of the internet, as these entries are beginning to show. The world will become more connected online, making the digital just as important as the physical. My informant joked that his knowledge of folklore dealt with the digital so much because he was “a white nerd growing up in a family of white nerds”, but the elements of his upbringing will become more widespread as technology becomes cheaper and more accessible, bringing us into an age of digital folklore.
Concerning the Law itself, the observation it makes speaks to the nature of argument that often emerges as a debate continues and continues without any real end. As logical arguments lose their effectiveness, we often resort to personal attacks to win favor with those we try to impress (see: attack ads), and a comparison to Hitler or the Nazis is probably the worst parallel one can make to another. It’s a sign of desperation that many people will resort to, and as this Law shows, the Hitler insult is probably the easiest and most effective one to resort to.

The Shot Cure

During the course of my folklore collection, I began to run a bit of a fever. When my informant noticed this, he told me, “Drink some warm soup and chase it with shots. Always cures my illnesses”. Intrigued by the odd nature of this remedy, I asked him to share his knowledge on “The Shot Cure”.

“While having a fever that lasts over three days and no other remedies have caused it to subdue, it is time to pull out the Tequila bottle, take shots. The liquor works like natural selection. It kills all the weak cells and only the unaffected non-fever cells remain.”

My informant learned this remedy a year ago “from a respectable peer who has survived many prolonged fevers”. Though my informant himself was unsure of the legitimacy of the science behind the remedy, he claims it has worked like a charm for him before.

 

Analysis:

Like other folk cures that I am aware of, this cure has a psuedo-scientific explanation as to how it works. The explanation has elements that remind one of scientific truths or other folk beliefs they might have heard about, like alcohol killing cells and the biological concept of natural selection. If a person still has doubts as to how this cure might work, it has an element of familiarity in the inclusion of warm soup, which is often associated with recovery from illness. While the potentially reckless consumption of alcohol that is suggested by this cure might still arouse suspicion in some, there are enough practical elements to it to make the cure believable to those who do not think about it too much.

What makes this folk remedy so interesting, however, is the inclusion of alcohol. Considering that my informant is a college student and learned it from another college student, the inclusion of alcohol in the cure definitely holds a mark of American college party culture. Alcohol plays a large part in parties and gatherings that college-aged kids partake in in America, and any excuse to imbibe in drinking is seen as socially positive, a way to take part in the larger popular culture. With this cure, the mentality for believing in it might also come from ideas of what is socially “cool” or popular, and gives even a person a chance to take part in the social majority even while sick in bed. It acts as a small reassurance of one’s identity, which could boost one’s mood and, in the end, play a big part in one’s recovery.

Chinese New Year Superstitions

“On Chinese New Year, you’re not supposed to use scissors or knives cause you’re cutting away your good luck on Chinese New Years. Also, on Chinese New Year, little kids are supposed to wear new clothes because, supposedly, there’s a monster that takes the little kids away, so if you wear the new clothes it’s like the monster can’t recognize you.”

My informant learned these beliefs from her parents when she was little, when once she got curious and asked why there were special rules that her and her sisters had to follow on Chinese New Year. Her family continues to practice these rules today, even though her siblings are all grown. When asked why the clothes rule is practiced, in particular because the belief states it only applies to children, my informant replies, “I dunno…Really, it’s an excuse to wear new clothes”.

 

Analysis:

My frame of reference for New Years’ folk beliefs is limited to American ideas of the New Year celebration, including champaign, and kissing a loved one. Both of these beliefs act as forms of homeopathic magic, drinking champaign representing wealth that will be found in the New Year, and kissing a loved one representing a romance that will continue or grow in the New Year. The scissor prohibition found in my informant’s Chinese New Year beliefs is similar, though has an opposite mindset: instead of doing something that will inspire good luck in the New Year, one must avoid doing something that will bring misfortune in the New Year. Both sets of beliefs rely on actions of symbolic significance, for these actions do not enact their effects in a literal sense (one cannot literally cut luck away, for example, for even luck is an abstraction that cannot be recognized in the physical world). Nevertheless, traditions such as these stick with people because they provide hope and stability for the future, and there is comfort in knowing that tangible actions one can take in the present will have some effect (even imaginary) on the future.

As for the monster that steals little kids away, the belief intrigues me because often belief in monsters is instilled in children in order to enforce some kind of discipline (scaring children into behaving). This monster, however, seems to have no obvious ties to discipline, only a justification for wearing new clothes on this specific day. Perhaps this could be a way for parents to get their children they did not necessarily want to wear, in which case the monster does become a disciplining threat, though my informant’s approving tone did not suggest that happened with her family. Maybe it is just an excuse to wear new clothes in the new year, like my informant suggested.