Author Archives: Harrison Hunter

Birthday ear pulling in Italy

My informant grew up in Italy, where there was a tradition that on someone’s birthday, his friends would pull on his ears once for each year he was old. He speculated that this could be because of a belief that the ears are associated with memory and so pulling them might make one better remember life as it passed them by. The other possible explanation he offered was that because earlobes grow as a person grows, this ritual of pulling them might be to wish a person a longer life.

It was never actually a tradition he particularly liked because he found it physically uncomfortable, but it reminds him of the time he spent in Italy growing up before coming to America. It also makes him remember the friends he had there as a kid and the birthday parties he used to have with them.

Personally, I would readily accept either of his suggestions for the meaning of this ritual. Otherwise, it could just be a thing children made up to annoy each other; it reminds me of the punch for each year birthday tradition in America. Maybe it’s used then as a painful/bothersome initiation into the next year of your life. Once you get past it, you come out better for having gone through the experience. I like his explanations better, though.

Dead baby joke- porch

It’s a joke my informant heard in middle school from his brother.

“What’s the worst part about having sex with a dead baby on your porch?”

“Getting blood on your clown suit.”

My informant said dead baby jokes are interesting to him because they’re the epitome of macabre humor. They show how humor has evolved up to where it is now that these are the kinds of things people find funny. He says the jokes are primarily funny because of the shock value because the answers are so unexpected. He also commented that he thinks it’s interesting that the teller often seems to get more out of the joke in these cases because they will get to enjoy shocking someone, whereas with most jokes the audience gets more out of it.

I agree with his analysis. The last part is an especially novel point, and I think it’s true. The audience probably wants to be shocked, but the teller might find it more satisfying to be shocking, since society so often doesn’t want us to be. But in the context of a joke that we heard from someone else, and therefore which we aren’t responsible for, we can be as shocking as we want without guilt or shame.

Dead baby jokes show how we use humor to deal with the things we find most frightening or gruesome in life. These jokes take that to the most extreme point possible by taking the most vulnerable thing in society and subjecting it to the most horrible sexual and violent acts we can think of. Often people will be offended by the question of the joke, but the punchline usually takes it so much further (meaning, is even more offensive) that people can’t help but laugh, because that’s the only way they can deal with something that is so socially unacceptable and sounds so terrible. There are many dead baby jokes and they all seem to function in this way, pushing the limits of what is inappropriate so far and with such a level of self-awareness that they become funny.

Knock knock boo who joke

“Knock knock.”
“Who’s there?”
“Boo.” “Boo who?”
“Don’t cry; it’s only a knock knock joke.”

A friend taught my informant this joke in elementary school. Like many knock knock jokes, it relies on using words with multiple meanings to give an unexpected punchline. And like some knock knock jokes, its annoying to the one hearing the joke, here because its suggested that they cry very easily (which could mean they are weak or oversensitive). My informant remembers disliking the joke for this reason, which is that it seems to trick the listener by taking their words to mean something they did not intend. My informant thinks it’s interesting because of this, though: because it shows that for some reason, there’s something people like about annoying others. They like pushing their buttons just to see what the reaction will be.

This is especially true in children I think, who want to see how people will react when they do something they suspect will annoy the person. Such a joke is also a form of teasing, which can make you feel above a person in a way. A child might want to feel that if they are insecure or just testing out social boundaries. Teasing, or jokes like this, can also be friendly, though, and used as a bonding event between people. Even though it’s at someone’s expense, it shows that the people involved are comfortable with each other and don’t mind making fun of one another.

Four leaf clovers are good luck

The classic belief about four leaf clovers is that they bring good luck. My informant doesn’t remember where he heard it except that it seemed to be common knowledge from an early age. He never believed it, but when he was fifteen, he found three in one day, later framing them to remember it. The next day, though, he won a martial arts tournament, beating a few people he consider to be more skilled than he was. After that, he told me he always kind of believed that four leaf clovers could bring good luck, even if there was no physical reason they should.

I’ve heard that Eve was said to have taken a four leaf clover with her after she was exiled from the Garden of Eden. That’s said to be a reason they bring luck. I’ve also heard that the four leaves represent faith, hope, and love, and luck. The best reason I can think of for why people associate them with luck is simply their rarity. I’ve been told they’re only supposed to occur once for every ten thousand clovers. Humans often attribute some kind of larger significant to events just because they’re rarer, so it makes sense that we think four leaf clovers are lucky. It is a way of trying to find order in a chaotic world basically. There are billions of people in the world and most of those people will travel to many different places over the course of their lives, lives which last many years. So it makes sense that some people will run into four leaf clovers at some point, but humans still think it’s a very special thing to find one. Therefore, we say they bring good luck.

Kids’ game- fingers

My informant remembers this game from being a kid, primarily in elementary school. The game begins with both players holding out their hands, each hand with only one finger extended, the rest curled into the hand. The players take turns choosing one of the opposing person’s hand to tap with one of their hands. When a hand is tapped, that player must extend an additional numbers of fingers on the hand equal to the number of the hand it was tapped with. So if a player has two fingers extended on his hand and taps the opponent’s hand, which has one finger extended, the opponent must extend two more fingers, leaving his hand with three extended. When a hand reaches exactly five fingers, it’s put away. If it goes over five (ex. it has three fingers and is tapped by a hand with three), the difference between the number it should have and five is how many it ends up with (from the example, it would now have one finger). The objective of the game is get both of your opponent’s hands to be put away. Also, when one of your hands has been put put away, if you have an even number of fingers on the other hand, you can “split.” That means you use your turn to tap your fists together and redistribute the number of fingers on one of your hands between the two evenly.

The reason my informant likes this game and remembers it fondly is because its making fun out of nothing; it doesn’t require any materials besides your hands. And it’s strategic and logical; by thinking it through, you can decide the best move and win by being smarter or more skilled than your opponent. My informant likes games of strategy like that and remembers that after being taught the fingers game at a very young game by peers, he realized his interest in strategy as well as his competitive urge. He eventually moved on to chess, which is still a big part of his life.

The game, to me, is interesting because it represents kids experimenting with things like logic and strategy at an early age. It makes problem solving fun; you have to think a lot to know how to win but then you’re rewarded with respect from your peers if you do.