Author Archives: Steven Douglass

Notch: Your Word vs Your Eyebrow

 Abstract: Notch is a game played amongst college students. If someone says they are going to do something and another person responds by saying “Notch,” the person must complete that task or shave a section off of his/her eyebrow.


Background: JW is a college senior in California. He grew up in California his whole life, and learned this game from one of his friend in high school. Instead of saying “bet” when someone said they would do something, his friend wanted to take it to the next level by adding an actual punishment of shaving part of an eyebrow. It might not have been his friend’s original idea as it is being played and known across campus, but nonetheless, it takes the saying “bet” to a whole new level. We got into our discussion after one of his roommates said he would take out the trash in five minutes to which JW replied, “notch.” The questioning began.


The game:


JW: So, yeah, one person says they’re gonna do something and I say “notch.” Then if they don’t do it, bye bye eyebrow.




Person 1: It’s so hot in this room I’m gonna pour a bunch of ice water on myself.

Person 2: Notch!


Person 1 must now dump ice water on himself or shave off a small portion of his eyebrow as a sacrifice.


Interpretation: This game is a ploy to get people to stick to their word or face the ultimate consequence: humiliation. If people do not want to start losing eyebrows left and right, they will begin to be more careful about what they say they are going to do. This can bring loyalty and trust to friend groups because after a while, each member will inherently understand that they could always lose an eyebrow if they don’t follow through.


Fraternity Pinning


*In order to anonymize the fraternity and keep its secrets, it will be referred to as Zeta.


Abstract: Fraternity brothers in Zeta are given two separate pins at different times. The first they receive while pledging and wear for the whole semester until they ceremoniously throw it off of a cliff. The second they receive as initiated brothers and wear at their leisure.


Background: ZB is a collegiate student and brother in the Zeta fraternity. He grew up in Chicago, but goes to school in California. He joined his fraternity his freshman fall semester and is currently finishing up his sophomore year. He does not know when pinning started, but knows the tradition of wearing it and its significance. The topic came up after fraternal folklore was discussed in class, and I was curious about it, so I asked one of my friends in a fraternity if he could give me any insight.


ZB: At one point early on in pledging, we were given this pin that we had to wear. Like all the time. We could not be seen without it on. It had like three little stars and signified we were pledges of Zeta. Not only to other brothers, but also the campus. So like we wear it all semester then um, I don’t know if I should go into detail. We get driven to this cliff where we basically learn a lot of the lore of the house and things we were wondering all semester, then we throw all of our pins off the cliff into the ocean. It is a tradition for this ceremony. Houses across the nation bury their pins, but since we are in California, we used the ocean. It was really cool because the pin brings the national fraternity together, but we had our own little way of getting rid of it at the same cliff since our chapter started. But after initiation we got this new pin with a diamond and three stars on it. And our names on it. So it was pretty cool. Like an upgrade.


Interpretation: The pin was a method of identification. It was, for the entire semester, identifying the pledges of Zeta. They were not brothers, but pledges. The pin itself makes those who wear it proud to do so because they really have no other choice. If they want to be in the fraternity, they must demonstrate that they will wear this pin proudly. It seems like a test of loyalty early on to ensure that those who want to enter the house are willing to identify with and stick with it through thick and thin.

The ceremony holds a lot of meaning. Due to the location of the university, the fraternity was able to put their own spin on the nationwide tradition. This personalization gives brothers something to differentiate themselves with the national fraternities. While being part of a nationwide brotherhood can bond people across borders together, having individuality gives reason for the brothers in that specific chapter to bond to each other.

The symbolism of burying the pin, or in this case, throwing it into the ocean, signifies that the pledges are now done with pledge process and ready to move on. However, they must always remember that the pin never disappears, nor should the values or lessons they learn throughout pledging.

Hebrew Slang: סַבַּבָּח (Sababa)

Genre: Slang, Folk Speech


Nationality: Israeli and American

Location: Israel

Language: Hebrew


Hebrew: סַבַּבָּח (read right to left)

English: Sababa (suh-bɒ-bɒ)


Abstract: סַבַּבָּח (sababa) is a Hebrew word meaning “cool” or “got it.” It is a way for someone to acknowledge what someone said in one slang word. In Israel, it is considered hip and marketed to the population as such.

Background: KP is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, but spent his entire life growing up in Israel. Both of his parents are American. He grew up in a Jewish household and learned both Hebrew and English at the same time. He served his mandatory three years of service in the Israeli Defense Force from the age of 18 until the age of 21 as a combat soldier. This particular piece of folklore was heard and seen all over the streets of Israel. KP can not trace its origin, but describes it as a word that is very common and that is often one of the first words taught to non Hebrew speaking visitors.


KP: It means okay, cool, yeah. Or if you want to hurry someone up so they stop talking you say “okay sababa yeah yeah” like stop it I get it.

S: Do older people use it too?

KP: No, not really, just like my age and below.




Person 1: Want to go eat?

Person 2: Sababa.


Person 1: Do you understand? Do you get it? Can you get it done? You sure? Okay, you really sure?

Person 2: Sababa sababa.


Interpretation: When first hearing this word and definition, I almost immediately compared to the word “bet” which has become popularized to mean “alright” or “you got it.” Once again, there is an understanding in millennials of America that, even though not the traditional meaning of the word, “bet” is a word used for multiple things, in almost the same exact way, like sababa. One thing that KP showed me was a pair of boxers that had the word “sababa” written on them, as well as, marijuana leaves imprinted around the word. Israeli shops are taking advantage of/utilizing the younger culture and generation with the word sababa to make money. The appeal of the younger Israelis and tourists to be cool and in the know is making vendors money. The reason young people tend more to this word than older people is because of the pressure to appear cool. Sababa has a vibe attached to it that means “I’m cool, I don’t really worry about anything. Everything is okay with me.” It has the type of connotation that brings a certain swagger and cool factor to a person’s vocabulary.


Israeli Hand Symbol to Wait

try 3Genre: Folk Kinesthetic/Gesture


Nationality: Israeli and American

Location: Israel

Language: Hand gesture, transcends language


Abstract: The hand symbol/gesture in discussion is telling someone to hold on/wait a second in a semi-aggressive manner.


Background: KP is a dual citizen of the United States and Israel, but spent his entire life growing up in Israel. Both of his parents are American. He grew up in a Jewish household and learned both Hebrew and English at the same time. He served his mandatory three years of service in the Israeli Defense Force from the age of 18 until the age of 21 as a combat soldier. This particular piece of folklore was brought up on a visit to Israel. When trying to get someone’s attention they gave me the symbol with their hand. I was very confused and asked KP about what it meant. He gave me a short version there, but when he came to visit America, I questioned him about it further. He can not trace it to a certain origin, but grew up using it and understanding what it meant.


The gesture:


The hand gesture is made by a person, when they are busy, towards someone else that is trying to talk them or get their attention.


S: Is it made it in a nice way or is it aggressive?

KP: It’s slightly aggressive. If, um, I am annoyed at someone, I will do this as a way to get them to shut up and stop bothering me. But, for the most part, people understand it means wait and they don’t really get too mad.


Interpretation: When someone first made this signal to me, I thought it was a way of saying “screw you” or to kind to, ya know, “[expletive] off.” So, naturally, I just did it back in a joking manner, and all of the Israelis on the trip laughed at me because they knew I obviously did not know what it meant. I had been accustomed to someone holding up a single index finger when they wanted me to wait a second. In addition, I had always seen my mother give “the hand” aggressively out of pure anger to someone while she was driving which looked exactly like this gesture. In my mind, I had been told to very aggressively screw off. In Israel, it is not as aggressive as much as it is a way to let someone know that you will be with them in a second. The reason for having this hand gesture is to be able to tell someone to give you a second without stopping the conversation and losing track of what is being discussed.



Halloween on Military Bases: Trunk or Treat

Genre: Folk tradition/ritual, holiday


Nationality: American but takes place in other countries

Location: Germany

Language: English


Abstract: CB describes how Halloween is celebrated in American military families overseas by going trunk to trunk of cars instead of door to door in houses.


Background: CB is from a military family, and she spent a portion of her life in Germany while her dad was stationed there. She experienced this tradition every Halloween while she was overseas. The topic of conversation was brought up, at first, during a class section, then further discussed after.


The tradition:


Every Halloween (October 31st), CB would go to her father’s military base and join all of the other families in a Halloween celebration. Instead of walking around neighborhoods and ringing doorbells like Halloween in America, families on the base would bring their cars, decorate them, and walk around getting candy from the trunks of vehicles. Everything, including costumes, was the same. The only real difference was the smaller scale of who was celebrating and the place where the candy was located (in cars).


S: So, have you ever done this in the United States or in bases back in America?

CB: Not really, actually, I would say that it is more popular like outside of the US. Probably because, ya know, no one else really celebrates Halloween even though they might have similar versions.


Interpretation: While CB attributes the Halloween tradition of Trunk or Treat to the fact that surrounding areas do not celebrate the holiday, there is also another reason for the international twist. For soldiers overseas serving their contracts, Trunk or Treat provides them with a little taste of home. Living another life in a different country cause for America’s warriors to become nostalgic and miss the small things from back home. Celebrating halloween in their own way brings them back to recognize what they are fighting for and give them motivation to finish their service to get back home. The reason for the cars having to be used is because there is not the neighborhood/house atmosphere on a military base. The cars provide opportunities for decorations where one might see the typical orange and black colors with spiders, witches, blood, and pumpkins. Transporting this holiday across seas also means that young children of soldiers are able to still experience the childhood of typical Americans which will make the eventual transition back to America easier. On American bases, Trunk or Treat is not as popular because the soldiers stationed usually have houses outside the bounds of the military fences which allows for the typical house to house Halloween.