Author Archives: Jeremy Katz

Proverb – USA


“If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”

I first heard this proverb from my father (Philip Katz) when I was 17 years old.  I recall a time period in my life that was extremely chaotic and stressful; SAT’s, college applications, schoolwork, and Ice Hockey.  While ice hockey has always been one of my greatest passions in life, our mediocre record didn’t seem rewarding for the amount of time that I had sacrificed to play.  The first time I remember hearing the saying came after we lost a close game. I was sitting in my room staring at my computer when I heard my dad tell me, “if it doesn’t kill you Jeremy, it makes you stronger.”  From then on out he said it to me a number of times, when I was frustrated with work or upset over a grade.  He first learned the proverb from his father (my grandfather) when he was in high school as well.  He remembers his dad using the proverb after he broke his leg trying to do a back flip off of a enormous boulder at a park in his hometown of Great Neck, New York.

He informed me that the proverb can be used in a number of situations, but all deal with something bad or negative that happens or could potentially happen to someone.  “It’s similar to looking at the silver lining of something,” as he puts it.  The proverb is trying to say that unless “it,” this problem or potentially harmful item is so powerful that it actually “kills,” it will make you a stronger and more advance person who will be able to contest future problems and will have a deeper understanding of himself.  Take for example my father giving me this proverb after I lost an crucial hockey game.  Losing the game wasn’t enough to “kill” me or even otherwise destroy my passion for the game or ability to play, but it was able to teach me not only the ways in which I individually could improve as a player, but also how our team could compete together and increase our chances of being successful.

The saying fits the traditional definition of folklore because it has no known author and is characterized by multiplicity and variation.  The proverb certainly expresses a philosophical outlook or world-view of (some) Americans.  I would classify it as free phrase as the saying could certainly change, and likely has evolved over time while still possessing the same meaning.  Furthermore it is undoubtedly trying to convince somebody of something and thus an example of rhetoric.  Just as folklorists have called proverbs the “wisdom of the ages,” (Lecture 2/5/08) I can see how one might use this proverb as beneficial insight into coping with problems and understanding how one might react to negative consequences.

Superstition – Korea


“Whistling at night attracts evil spirits.”

Paul learned this superstition from his father when he was 9 years old.  He remembers the instance when he picked it up and to this day, he follows it religiously. He recalls a night when he was trying to sleep.  His dad came in to his room to say goodnight, and heard Paul whistling from his bed.  His dad, with a serious expression on his face, ordered him to stop.  He told him that his father passed this superstition onto him when he was little, but he wanted to be tough and he didn’t listen.  He said he was home alone one night when he was in his early teens and he started to whistle.  That night he had a traumatic experience. He wouldn’t give Paul any further details but begged him not to whistle at night.  In talking to me, Paul has no idea why this superstition exists, or where it originally comes from (his father was born in Korea, he was born here in L.A.).  He also has no idea if his father was just pulling his leg, or if he really had “an experience” with an evil spirit because he refuses to tell him.  Paul suggested a potential background on the superstition, “Koreans are really afraid of the dark.  Someone one day decided that making as little noise at night was the best way to keep evil forces away.”

Whatever the significance of the superstition, Paul swears by it.  He loves to whistle, but when the sun comes down, he refuses to, especially when he is alone.  I interviewed him on campus at Leavey Library at about 8PM, and he told me that in his short bike ride back to his fraternity house on 28th street, he wouldn’t even think of whistling, not even for a second.  In interviewing him, I was not at all surprised that he abides by the superstition to the extent that he does.  Personally, I am a big believer in superstition; when I lose an eyelash I always make a wish, and I refuse to walk under a ladder.  Paul similarly has lived his life never whistling at night after learning about the superstition.  I find it funny how nobody knows why any of these superstitions exist, but because we were raised believing that they are true, we always abide by them.

Joke – USA


“Why are there no Mexicans in the Olympics?”
“Because all of the ones that can run, jump, and swim have already come across the border!”

Chris told me that he first heard this joke when he was a sophomore at Westview High School in San Diego.  One of his friends told it to him when they were walking home from school one afternoon.  Because San Diego is so close to the Mexican border it seems natural that the region would have a lot of racist Mexican jokes like this one.  Fortunately, Chris informed me that despite the racist and undeniably offensive humor of this joke, he had many Mexican and Mexican-American friends in high school who were not offended.  As Chris puts it, “Mexican jokes and stereotypes were prominent amongst the kids at his high school because of the diverse demographic of both his community and the city as a whole.”  While this joke is outlandish and ridiculous, one might see how it exploits the notion that Mexicans continue to immigrate into the country.  Furthermore, the joke underscores the fictional, yet someone comical depiction of Mexican immigrants scrambling across the desert border as Americans yell at them and gun shots wiz by.

This joke ties in nicely to the idea of the bluson populaire or popular conceptions or stereotypes that we studied in this class.  Frequently, individuals will make ethnic jokes to highlight stereotypes of different ethnic groups and reaffirm the belief that this world is a battle between “us” and “them” (Lecture 2/12/08).  This joke certainly makes fun of Mexicans and attempts to address the stereotype that all athletic Mexicans would have no reason to stay in their country and would therefore use their abilities to come here.  This is of course completely untrue and largely racist, but does enforce the idea that it is us (America) versus them (Mexico), and to combat this ethnic struggle we must take advantage of them by joking about their country and culture.

Game – USA


“Beer Hockey”

Adam Schall learned how to play this game as a freshman here at USC.  While the rules of the game are not set in stone, they [as reported by him] are as follows:  Players (while 2 are needed to play—3 or more is ideal) all sit around a table (round or oval shape is preferred but not necessary) with a bottle or glass of beer.  It is important that there be a plentiful stash of quarters in someone’s possession or near the table.  To start the game, one player spins a quarter to the center of the table and calls out another players name.  The player whose name was called must try to whack the quarter (however he desires) at one of the other player’s bottles.  Each player may try to block the quarter with his/her index and pinky fingers only.  In the event the quarter makes contact with the bottle (the sound is usually loud and recognizable and thus the game can be played in a loud environment—hence why bottles are used), the individual who got hit enters a “drinking round.”  During this round, the player must drink his beer for as log as all the other players can keep a quarter spinning.  In the event that someone tries and succeeds in stopping the quarter upright, the player in the “drinking round” must finish his entire beer.  However if someone tries to stop the quarter upright and ends up killing the spin, then that individual must chug his beer.  The players usually get very into the game, setting each other up to make different people drink and reacting emotionally when someone’s bottle gets hit.

This game fits the criteria of one of those “useless drinking games” that college students play and use to get drunk.  While neither Adam nor myself had heard of the game before coming to USC, we had both been exposed to our own fair shares of drinking games, some similar, some different.  Drinking games are an interesting example of folklore because kids are always arguing over specified rules, which change from place to place depending on the types of kids, how heavily they drink, and how they learned to play the game.  Speaking as someone who came across the country to go to college, drinking games in New York and L.A. may have the same name, but almost always, the rules are vastly different.  Those who play the games feel very passionate about the rules that they were taught and thus different regulations can be a heated topic of discussion.

Recipe – USA


“Matzah Brie”
Philip informed me that he first learned the recipe for Matzah Brie during Passover, a Jewish holiday that takes place on the 15th day of Nisan (from the Hebrew Calendar), and celebrates the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt.  As the story goes, the Jews were in such a hurry to leave that they had no time to wait for their bread to rise and were forced to eat unleavened bread.  As a result, Jews are not allowed to consume leavened bread, yeast, flour, or grain for one week.  Matzah, the cracker like unleavened bread that Jews eat during this week is dry and has virtually no taste.  As a result, Jews have been coming up with different recipes and ways to mix and experiment with it for several years.  One such creation consisting of matzah is known as “Matzah Brie,” or the “kosher for Passover” French toast to some (something that is “Kosher for Passover” is ok to eat during the holiday).  The creation has no definite recipe, but generally is made with matzah soaked in eggs, just like French toast.  Philip however, has added his own ingredients to the already folk recipe to create his own “Matzah Brie.”  He begins by mashing the matzah up into small pieces.  He then soaks the matzah in beaten eggs (the number of eggs depends on the amount of matzah used, which depends on the number of people he is cooking for).  Then he adds 3 different types of cheese; American, Swiss, and Cheddar, as well as chopped tomato, onion, garlic, and mushrooms.  After he lets this stand for 5 minutes, he puts it all into a frying pan and slowly adds butter as everything cooks.  He cooks the food for about 10 minutes, until everything is hot, and then serves.  Fortunately for those who don’t like vegetables and cheese, he has devised different ways of altering the recipe  One such way is to follow the more traditional, “French toast” type, in which he doesn’t add cheese or vegetables, but instead substitutes sugar, a bit of honey, and then after cooked, some powdered sugar.  This obviously has a much sweeter taste and can be served with either jam or syrup.  Then there’s another way that he makes it, “with an Asian twist to it” as he states.  This way, he doesn’t add cheese, but does add the vegetables of his choosing.  Instead of adding butter, he adds soy sauce, and scallions as he lets the dish cook in the pan.

Philip first learned this recipe on Passover when he was in his early twenties.  His mother was a terrific cook, and had all sorts of recipes for special dishes on Jewish holidays.  She showed him “Matzah Brie” when he was hungry and looking for something to eat one Passover.  She also described, in detail, the different ways that the dish could be cooked and prepared, and as a result, he was able to devise the three different ways of making it.  This dish is a great example of folklore because while there are published recipes for “Matzah Brie,” on the website “My Jewish Learning” for example, no one knows where the original recipe came from.  Furthermore, it has certainly evolved as it has been passed down from generation to generation, Philip recalls that his mother learned it from her mother, and this pattern likely continued as mothers and fathers passed down the recipe to their children on Passover.  As years have gone by, the recipe has certainly evolved and improved in different ways to the liking of those who cook and eat it.

Mason, Lee.  “Matzah Brie” My Jewish 2005