Author Archives: Jaemyeong Lee

“Morning Accordion Song” – Russian folk song

Morning Accordion Song

(The attachment contains the song in Russian, a general translation, an explanation of the accompanying motions, and some additional commentary.)

Transcript of audio file (condensed and edited):

Informant: This one is…my mom always woke me up with it. [the song] She touches both my cheeks and says, “Wall. Wall.” Then she touches my forehead and says, “Ceiling.” And then she makes an electronic doorbell and touches my nose, “Zing.” Then she asks, “Is the owner home?” Then I say, “Yes,” grudgingly. Then she says, “Is the accordion ready?” Then I say, “(sighs) yes.” Then she says, “Can I play it?” Then I say, “Yes.” Then she plays the accordion with my ears (makes motion of tugging at each of the ear lobes). And that’s just like a waking up ritual.

When I asked him when he first learned the ritual, the informant said that his mother had probably doing that since he was baby. When asked whether he knew where she had learned it, he replied that he did not. “I would guess probably from her mother…It never really mattered to me,” he said. “I mean of course now I’m curious and I’ll probably ask her later today, but it had never crossed my mind to ask her. For me it was just a way she showed that she loved me.” And it seems that the ritual even today, when the informant is 20-years-old continues to function as a demonstration of affection. While his mother no longer wakes him up with the chant, she “does it whenever I’m down, and it pretty much works every time.”

In this instance, the folklore functions as a link for the informant to his childhood, his mother, and his heritage. In the sharing of other folk songs and jokes, the informant would preface them by saying, “In my broken Russian…” Nevertheless, despite any uncertainty he may have regarding his language skills, he didn’t stumble with any of the examples of folk speech he shared, having grown up with all of it.

With regards to the piece itself, it’s interesting to me that the face is the facade of a house, in which the occupant must undoubtedly be the mind, more specifically, a conscious one. The informant mentioned nothing about this distinction between the mind and body, but I can imagine that even a little chant could engrain the delineation between the two for any child’s thinking. More research would be required to account for the significance of the accordion in Russian culture.

“Off the Bricks”

The informant learned the phrase “off the bricks” during her time as an intern at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Summer Seminar. A brick pathway led to the theater at which the performances took place, so the interns were taught to keep any talk regarding the performances “off the brick [path]” and away from the theater to prevent influencing any potential audience members’ perspectives before watching the show.

As far as the informant knew, no official punishments were administered for failing to adhere to the motto. Rather the phrase served more as a reminder to members, both old and new. Something to keep in mind, as with all mottos and proverbs, are the implications that follow from these phrases. Advice crafted to ensure that audience perspectives are not altered indicate that audiences may have been impacted by comments they overheard from employees. Teasing this out a bit further, the measures taken to prevent such occurrences illuminate that audience perspective purity is of a high value in the theatrical community. Rather than allowing those involved in the process of creating a piece dictate, whether intentionally or not, the community aims to preserve the audience’s first encounter with the production as purely their own and unique to each person.

“Tuck-ins” at UCSD

The “ceremony”:

When a member of a fraternity or a sorority wants to pick up a “little sibling” of the opposite gender, the little is called a “tuck in.” In order to legitimize the act, the *families of both the member and the prospective “tuck-in” come together on a designated night to properly “tuck him/her in.” The older members select a story-book (the informant used Green, Eggs, and Ham as her example) and a word that is both unique and recurring in the text (i.e. “green” or “ham”). The older sibling would then begin reading the selected story, and every time the selected word within the story comes  up, the prospective tuck-in must take a shot of a predesignated hard alcohol. As the night goes on and the tuck-in gets more and more inebriated, he or she must also play games in demonstrating his or her lack of sobriety. For example, she might be asked to give a nick name to every other member present at the event, and then remember all the nicknames; for each mistake, he or she must take another shot. The objective of the ritual, of course, is to legitimize the union of the siblings through severe drunkenness.

*Each new member of a sorority of a fraternity is assigned to a “heritage” of preceding members. While there are no “parents” there are brothers and sisters, which carry down the line as grand-big-sisters/brothers (shortened to “grandbigs”).


The informant, herself, being a member of Theta at UCSD had gotten tucked in when she was a sophomore, when she was 20 years old.

Collector: Why do you think you guys do it?

Informant: Well…I think it’s just welcome new members into another community, I mean it’s college so yeah…the drinking.

Collector: Why are they called tuck-ins?

Informant: I have no idea. Maybe it has to do with tucking the members in to the group, but I don’t know why anyone would pick the words “tucking in” to describe something that could just as easily be called…like integrating or something. (chuckles)

While the notion of families in the Greek community is not unique to UCSD, what I do find interesting is precisely what the informant was touching on in her last comment. It does seem curious that such a specific phrase would be used, and frankly the first image that comes to mind, particularly because of the play on the family dynamic, relates to the phallus. Perhaps “to tuck in” first surfaced as an innuendo to describe the consummation of a new union. Regardless similar traditions exist in Greek communities at other schools. Here at USC, for example, the process of taking a little sibling of the opposite gender also exists, though they’re simply referred to as “little bros/sisters (according to gender, of course).”

Something else in the process worth noting would be the story-book – again, an example of a play on home life. The prospective older sibling reads the story, analogous to how a parent reads a bed time story as he or she “tucks in” the child. However, this particular ritual only takes place in the event that the older and younger siblings are of opposite genders, so I maintain the hypothesis that the phrase “tuck-in” may very well extend beyond the innocent connotations associations of a parent tucking in a child. After all, this is college. This is NOT, however, to say that any kind of sexual violence takes place; rather it is simply speculation of the phrase etymology.


Initiation into A Cappella

The informant is a member of an on-campus a cappella group called Reverse Osmosis. In the fall semester, new members are initiated in the Christmas season before the Christmas concert. Without the new member knowing, a “mother” and “father” are selected to parent the chosen member. At a rehearsal preceding the concert, the parents reveal whom they’ve selected as their child through a fabricated story; the new member, however, is unaware that the ritual is taking place or that there is even a tradition of “parenthood” in the group. In the informant’s experience, one girl, who was then dating another member of the group began by saying, “[So-and-so] and I are breaking up because I got drunk and had sex with [a different member of the group.] I got pregnant. But the good news is I finally gave birth to the baby and his name is [the informant].” She and the other selected parent then proceeded by revealing a gift basket that they put together, filled with bibs, bottles, diapers, and alcohol, which they then proceeded to consume.


Many groups in college seem to include a conceit of family, most likely because a nuclear family is the most intimate unit of community in our culture. Therefore in order to follow the tradition of creating a home away from home, this group, along with the many others, has woven the custom into their identity. What’s interesting about this particular ritual is that it takes place as a kind of initiation but only after the new member has spent nearly an entire semester in the group. The informant explained that the timing of the event isn’t related to the potential to kick out new members so much as it is to solidify and strengthen the friendships forged naturally between the old members with the new over the course of the semester. What’s also interesting about the informant’s particular experience was that the fabricated story was marked by one member’s infidelity to another and resulted in a separate union brought together by the informant. Though the infidelity (which, to clarify, was falsified) may be unique to that particular story, in another example, the informant explained, “I might say, ‘Me and Jen were hanging out. And we got really drunk and had sex…'” In both examples, the stories illustrate accidental impregnations resulting from drunken escapades. Of course, these are only two examples of a plethora of initiations (the group was founded in 2001).

In short, the main purpose of this tradition is to help transition new members out of the liminal space of their membership. In order to do so, the group has appealed to a kind of parody of the societally based convention of marriage. More digging is recommended to understand if the main intent of the story is to completely deceive the new member until the reveal or to simply entertain.

“Coming from the Kid.”

The informant attended a public high school in New York and first heard the phrase when he was a freshman (age 14).

Informant: I think some guy in the grade above us came up with it. And if he didn’t come up with it he definitely popularized it.

Collector: When would you use the phrase?

Informant: People could use it pretty meanly: If there was a nerdy kid or something. Or it could be used as a response to a “your mom” joke.

Collector: Could you give me another example?

Informant: Yeah. Let’s just say you and I are eating some sandwiches. You finish your sandwich and you go for a second and I say, “You’re having another one? You fatass.” But let’s say I had not only finished my first sandwich, I had already grabbed a second. You could say, “Coming from the kid.” […] Eventually people started shortening the phrase to just CFTK.

Collector: Did people text it to each other, too?

Informant: Oh, yeah. And people at the school still use it. My sister was a freshman when I was a senior in high school, and she still does it.


This example of folk speech illustrates that the need of a group to moderate the individual’s ability to retort to any potential verbal attacks, specifically pertaining to those that demonstrate a hypocrisy from an offender. Something of note is that the offender is diminished to a “kid.” This indicates that at least among the informant’s group of peers, a value is placed on maturity, that in high school, one is expected to grow up and leave behind childish behavior such as hypocrisy.

In this case, I found the speculated origin interesting. It appears that the student, who was a year above the informant at the time, has achieved a very minor legend status for his hand in the pervasion of the phrase. When asked to elaborate on the student, the informant suggested that everyone knew who he was because of his supply of marijuana, which made him the “cool guy.” So anything he said, people immediately adopted into their own vernacular. Whether this student’s status came from the invention/popularization of the folk speech or from his involvement illicit materials, it’s interesting to note that a speech phenomenon should be linked to a person and his social standing among peers.