Author Archives: ilivings

White Rabbit

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 2
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

White Rabbit is the first thing said on the first day of every month. It is meant to bring good luck and prosperity for those who participate. If words have already been spoken on the first, White Rabbit is not said.

The informant learned it from her family, specifically her dad, when she was younger. Her whole family participates. She follows this because she believes that if anything could possibly bring her good luck, it is worth doing. It is meaningful because she knows her family does it and it is something that she can share easily with her friends.

There are other additional forms of this same piece of folklore performed in different manners. Some other words are said instead of White Rabbit. My own family says Rabbit Rabbit on the first of every month. I learned it from my father, who learned it from an old colleague at work.  Possible origins of this tradition could be the concept of the lucky rabbit’s foot, traditionally from a white rabbit. It could be a manifestation of this but in a less brutal manner.

White Rabbit, White Rabbit, White Rabbit

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 7
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

“White Rabbit, White Rabbit, White Rabbit” is an expression used when people are sitting around a campfire. It is used to get the smoke out of one’s face and by repeating these words, the smoke will change direction. The concept is that the smoke is made up of hundreds of minuscule white rabbits. They only go in your face because they don’t feel appreciated and want attention. By saying white rabbit three times, you acknowledge their presence and therefore, will leave you alone.

The informant learned this folk expression through Boy Scouts. It is exactly the type of silly thing that would be made up by kids. The informant heard it from an older scout while away at camp. They still practice it to this day because it shows a fun, non-serious side.

It seems to me that it is a childish solution presented for a childish problem. Many kids enjoy camping or at least are forced to participate in it. Kids are very focused on the moment, so something like smoke in their face would upset them greatly. This “solution” turns this problem into a fun game that holds, in theory, real-world significance.

Corners

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 25
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Corners is a folk game that is played with cups, ping pong balls, and beer. It is similar to beer pong in the general principle, with slightly different rules. There are two teams, with teammates on opposing diagonal corners across a table. Each corner has four cups arranged in a diamond, all touching and there is one cup in the middle. There is a beer split between each corner and a full bear in the cup in the middle. The concept of the game is that you and your partner share one ping pong ball and must take turns throwing into your teammate’s cups, across the table. If your teammate makes it in one of your cups, you take the ball out and pass the cup to your side for the opposing team to drink. While your team is drinking, neither you nor your teammate can throw the ball. Once all eight cups between the two teammates have been sunk, you must bounce the ping pong ball twice into the center cup to win. The informant plays this game with his fraternity brothers.

The informant learned this through other people in his fraternity house. These types of games differ from school to school and place to place. The informant is still in college, so regularly practices this game, except during the current pandemic. They find it a way to have fun with drinking in a way that is not associated directly with the alcohol content.

This game follows the basic formula for drinking games in college. I believe that it is as much to play the game as it is to drink. Although no one I have talked to plays this with anything other than beer and sometimes hard seltzer, it is preferred over just drinking. The game makes drinking have an interactive element in what otherwise could be considered a solo action. It also normalizes binge drinking by turning it into a harmless game, something that can be dangerous.

Coronavirus Warnings

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 7
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

“Please be advised, within 48 to 72 Hours the president will evoke what is called the Stafford Act. Just got off the phone with some of my military friends down in DC who just got out of a two hour briefing. The president will order a two week mandatory quarantine for the nation. Stock up on whatever you guys need to make sure you have a two week supply of everything. Please forward to your families”

There is a current phenomenon happening that is based on fear around the coronavirus. The informant has received multiple messages such as the one stated above. Of course, there is no real two-week mandatory quarantine invoked by the Stafford Act, which is not what that is. The informant received this from friends and was unsure of where it originated from. They were not sure how to respond to it and it ended up just being a hoax. The purpose of this was unstated because the person that wrote this clearly knew this wasn’t going to happen. It was quite memorable because it obviously wants to stir up drama and fear in the American public.

This exact verbiage was found all over the country. All sorts of messages like these contain a reference to a third party, “a friend of a friend”, that claims to have inside information on the situation at hand. They could be considered rumors, which is a type of folk information, possibly a legend.

Lacrosse Prayer

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 28
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

“Dear lord. The battles we go through life, we ask for a chance that’s fair. A chance to equal our stride, a chance to do or dare. If we should win, let it be by the code, with faith and honor held high. If we should lose, we’ll stand by the road, and cheer as the winners go by. Day by day. We get better and better. Until we can’t be beat. Won’t be beat. Ruthless”

This is a prayer the informant would say before every home lacrosse game with his team. He did not attend a religious school, but it was a tradition passed down from the upperclassman to perform this prayer. One player would say each line and the team would then repeat the line after them. The final portion, “Until we can’t be beat. Won’t be beat. Ruthless,” is screamed at full volume. The point of the prayer is to focus the players’ minds and get them hyped up for the upcoming game. It was only performed in home games and done so in the locker room, removed from any fans or the opposing team.

I did further research into the origins of this prayer. It was initially a prayer used by the University of Nebraska football team, dubbed the Husker prayer after their mascot, the cornhusker. It is unclear when this change originated but it has spread across high schools around the country.

Breaking Bottles

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 54
Occupation: Lawyer
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 29
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This folk practice is breaking a bottle on the neck of a ship. This practice is a tradition performed whenever a ship was leaving on a voyage and sometimes was the first voyage that boat had made. Sailors and seamen are typically very superstitious because of the randomness of the ocean conditions. Therefore, many created small rituals such as this in order to create good luck and good weather for the upcoming trip. It was always performed before the ship launched and a bottle, typically champagne, was smashed across the foremost part of the boat.

The informant grew up on the East Coast in a sailing/nautical community. Because of this, he was constantly surrounded by much of the lore and traditions that accompany this culture. He did not learn it from any one person but was merely part of the set of customs. It was not done that frequently because it is typically done for a large trip but is still certainly part of the lore. They remember it because of their interest in sailing from an early age, meaning that the subject spent every day for parts of the year within that community.

I believe that this practice was probably old when technology wasn’t as sophisticated as today. Because of this, bad weather could spell disaster and there was sometimes little way to predict it. The conditions at sea were likely harsh and it was important to keep morale up, explaining the use of traditions and superstitions such as this.

Shellback, Golden Dragon, Golden Shellback

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 54
Occupation: Lawyer
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 29
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This is folk speech that is found in the maritime world. They are names that are given under various circumstances when sailing around the world. A shellback is a name given to someone who crosses the Equator for the first time while aboard a ship. A golden dragon is someone who crosses the dateline. The dateline is the imaginary line that runs North-South through the Pacific Ocean, on the other side of the globe as the prime meridian. Finally, a golden shellback is someone who crosses where the international date line meets the equator for the first time. These names are given to sailors to recognize their global travels. Sometimes, this is accompanied by hazing if it is the first time the sailors have received this name, such as treading water in the ocean. The informant has not crossed any of these lines by ship but was involved in the sailing community growing up and associated with people that had done this.

The informant learned about this folk speech from his uncle when he was growing up. They remember it because they had always been interested in making these achievements and traveling the world by ship. The informant always looked up to people that had done this because he thought they were hardy and real seamen/adventurers. There are other terms used for some of these accomplishments, such as a son of Neptune. There are names for people who have done none of these, like tadpoles, as well.

It is certainly an achievement to have accomplished this, but the navy and other similar organizations are notorious for hazing and rites of passage, being secluded on a boat with just other sailors. It is interesting to think about in comparison to other rites of passage within different branches of the military. Although this is a general sea term overall, it is often used frequently in navies across the globe.

Burn’s Night

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 55
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 22
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

This folklore is a holiday celebrated by the Scottish. It takes on January 25 and is used to celebrate the poet Robert Burns. Typically, families host a supper that begins with mingling. Poems by Robert Burns are recited. He is a very important figure in Scottish lore because many refer to him as a hero of Scotland, being their national poet. It is also referred to as Rabbie Burns Day. A traditional Scottish supper is then hosted, with a principle dish being Haggis. Haggis is the national food of Scotland and is meat mixed with oatmeal and seasoning that is then cooked in an animal’s stomach. There is a poem recited about Haggis because of how important it is to Scottish culture. Of course, whiskey is then drunk after this.

The informant spent four years living in Scotland when she was a young girl. She attended what would be the equivalent of an American middle school. She remembers this night well because it takes one day before her birthday. In addition, it represents a very Scottish dinner and was quite a culture shock coming from California. They learned it from their Scottish family friends who helped introduce them to Scottish culture. It is always a fun event that emphasizes heritage, pride in one’s country, as well as a close friends and family gathering.

 I like the idea of celebrating culture as a national holiday. In America, there are few holidays that are geared towards the arts and Robert Burns Day helps young children stay connected to their traditional Scottish roots.

Playoff Haircuts

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation: Student
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 28
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

In high school sports, playoffs are consistently a big deal and represent a payoff for hard work and a good record during the sports season. This form folklore is both a folk practice and afterward, a folk object. The practice is giving certain haircuts during the time after the regular season but before playoffs begin. These are not normal haircuts but wild ones with different patterns and styles. Some of them include mohawks, bald heads, bowl cuts, words shaved into heads, monk haircuts, old man haircuts, and a plethora of others. They are not set haircuts but rather up to the imagination. This practice is similarly performed in other high schools across the United States, sometimes with other variations.

This folk practice is traditionally done by the upperclassmen within a team. The lowerclassmen get worse haircuts while the upperclassmen get better ones. In this way, it is a form of hazing. The informant said that the haircuts are typically shaved off or bettered once the playoff streak end because they are only to remain during the postseason. They learned it from the upperclassmen when they were younger and then performed this practice as an upperclassman. This is only typically done on varsity sports. The sports observed to do this include baseball, football, lacrosse, and some others. They remember it wholly fondly, even as a lower classman. It is not meant to be malicious but more a harmless rite of passage because it makes the kids feel like more of a coherent group. Another instance of this at different schools include bleaching the team’s hair during playoff time.

It seems to me that this sometimes is about a dynamic of power. Younger kids may be intimidated into doing this, but other kids may enjoy it because they are a part of a larger group and help self-identify with that. It is a physical way of making teammates more similar and improves as the kids get older, causing interest to do it for the first time.

Leaves of Three

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 20
Occupation:
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: April 7
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

“Leaves of three, let it be. If it’s shiny, watch your heiny. If it’s hairy, it’s a berry”

This piece of folklore is a saying to talk about how to identify poison oak. If it has three leaves or is shiny with oil, watch your heiny, meaning that it is likely poison oak. If the plant is hairy, it is a berry bush. This piece of folklore is performed typically outdoors and used for a very practical sense. It is a teaching tool to enable people to identify poison oak, whose oil will cause rashes on anyone who touches it with bare skin.

            The subject learned this piece of folklore from Boy Scouts. It embodies the type of preparedness and learning the boy scouts emphasizes and is a very practical way of remembering the qualities of a poison oak plant. The subject learned it from their Scoutmaster during a camping trip. The subject, of course, made use of it as a practical saying which is its intended purpose. They remember it because of their interest in the outdoors when they were younger, which was the reason they joined Boy Scouts in the first place.

            This saying is not just a warning for kids. It represents technical education through oral folklore. Typically, something like this would just be told by another person or read in a book. Instead, this saying was created in order to help people remember their qualities. Because of this, it takes on a different form and really represents the importance of passing down knowledge to the younger generations.