Author Archives: Julia Zucker

Yiddish Grandpa Jokes/Pranks

*My mother told me these stories about her father, my grandfather, specifically, but also mentioned that most of them were common among older Jewish men in general, specifically Jews who identified with the Yiddish aspect of Jewish culture.

INFORMANT: “One of [the jokes] was he would make a bet with you about almost anything, and he would say, ‘I bet you…’ Oh shoot, what was it called? … It was called a ‘brass figliggy with an oak leaf cluster,’ and he would always bet us, ‘I’ll bet you can’t… I’ll bet you a brass figliggy with an oak leaf cluster,’ and we were like ‘OH OK THAT SOUNDS COOL,’ and we would do whatever he wanted, and I guess it wasn’t until we got older that one of us said, you know, ‘Well, where’s my figliggy with an oak leaf cluster?’ And then, as soon as you say it out loud you’re like… a figliggy? What even is that? He just made the whole thing up! But it sounded all official because of the, you know, the oak leaf clusters on military medals. But he played us for years!”

“Also, he used to do this thing with us that his mother used to do with him when he was a baby. And it was a little Yiddish folk song with a… he would put you on his knees, and I’m sure he did this to you, he would bounce you up and down, and he would sing [note: these are Yiddish words I have absolutely no idea how to spell, so I’m just going to write them as phonetically as possible. Yiddish isn’t really a written language, so this is the best I can do, my apologies!] ‘Ya shelipta guy yinkus voren raftsa lata tigala, tigala y yazala na yashava, HOOT MAHN!’ What it means in Yiddish is, basically, Yoshala, who’s this little guy, rode to the market on his sheep or on his goat, and then on the way back, the goat rode on Yoshala. I know, so stupid. But then he would… oh wait, but then the ‘hoot mahn,’ we have no idea where that came from because that’s Scottish. His parents just threw that in. But the very last thing they would say was ‘Coo coo la fligala’ and they would point somewhere else. In Yiddish it means ‘Look, look! A little bird!’ And then when you looked, they would tickle you under the chin. Stupid little games like that.”

“He also used to make this thing he called a ‘hibbity-gibbits.’ He would take an apple and he would make… like a zigzag like Charlie Brown’s shirt around, and he would open it up and take the core out of the apple, and then he would put it back together so you could barely see that it had been cut at all. And then he’d give it back to you like it was a regular apple, and you would bite into it and it would fall apart and there was no core.”


My grandpa was a notorious prankster, and apparently these pranks and pranks like them were pretty common among Jewish grandfathers. They’re all along the lines of the classic grandpa joke “Pull my finger,” but with distinctively Yiddish twists. I can remember my grandpa sitting me on his lap and singing that strange Yiddish song about Yoshala and the goat, so these pranks have a lot of personal significance.

Rutgers Jokes

*Note: The informant, Harriet, is my grandma. She attended college at Rutgers University in New Jersey!


INFORMANT: “Well, there were a lot of jokes about the football team, the Scarlet Knights. They weren’t very good. West Virginia had a lot of jokes about us. And then there were the usual jokes about Rutgers kids being stupid, Rutgers kids being idiots. It was all pretty generic, most of the jokes could really be applied to anyone or anything. But one of my favorites was the one about the cemetery. It was … there was … a little boy and his mother were walking through a cemetery and they passed a tombstone that said ‘Here Lies a Rutgers Graduate and a Great Man.’ And the kid looks confused and he says to his mom, ‘I don’t get it,’ and she asks ‘Why not?’ And he asks, ‘Why are there two people buried here?'”

While the cemetery joke was pretty general, Rutgers jokes are a good example of the wider category of sports or college rivalry-related jokes. Almost every college has a direct rivalry with other colleges, whether it’s based on sports, academics, or something else entirely. With this competition always comes a slew of jokes, often very basic and general, that demean the other team, emphasize their shortcomings and failures, and downplay their triumphs. These jokes build on the lore of each particular school, strengthening bonds between its students and alumni, and enriching campus culture.

Generic jokes, I suppose, are also a form of folklore all their own, because they are blank slates to which any number of things can be applied. They aren’t specific enough to be blason populaire, but rather they’re so general that they can be used as a quick put-down for virtually anything.


*Note: The informant, Kate, grew up in Canada.

INFORMANT: “Now, I didn’t grow up in this part so they didn’t really do this in Alberta or anything, but one year in high school my friends and I took a trip to New Brunswick for National Acadian Day. That’s on August 15, and it’s mostly celebrated in Acadia, which was a colony of France, so Acadians consider themselves descendants of the French colonists who lived in Acadia. Anyhow, we traveled to New Brunswick and while we were there I learned about one of National Acadian Day’s traditions, which is called tintamarre. Essentially, what that is is on Acadian Day people go through the streets making as much noise as possible with noisemakers and instruments or whatever they can find. It’s supposed to symbolize the solidarity of Acadia and basically to just remind people that Acadians are there.”

I looked up tinamarre after Kate told me about it, and it looks like it was inspired by the French folk custom “Charivari,” also known as chivaree, where people made a ruckus outside the homes of newlyweds. Because Acadia was a French colony, it could be argued that tintamarre is the Acadians’ way of holding onto their French roots and feeling connected to their heritage. In this way, the lore custom when the French settlers colonized Acadia, and it’s grown into a custom that’s uniquely its own but is also inspired by its French background. The word itself means “din” or “clangour” in Acadian French. I thought it was interesting that Kate considered the custom significant even though it didn’t directly apply to her. While it’s considered a Canadian custom, it doesn’t apply to all Canadians, or even all French Canadians, but rather is only totally relevant to Acadians. However, it seems that Kate still counts tintamarre as a Canadian custom worth mentioning.

The Ogo Pogo

*Note: The informant, Kate, is my mother’s girlfriend. She grew up in Canada but is of Scottish heritage. She now lives in the Bay Area. Here, she describes a legendary creature said to live in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia.

INFORMANT: “Ogopogo is a creature that I learned about when we moved from Saskatchewan to Alberta in 1971. He resides in the neighboring province, British Columbia. People always talked about him in the same kind of conversation as the Loch Ness Monster – he was like our Loch Ness Monster. He lives in Okanagan Lake. There were sightings and newspaper stories and he was all over the lore of Western Canada. He was actually a creature of the Salish nation, a figure of western Canada’s aboriginal peoples. There was a sighting of him sometime in the late 60s, early 70s, and he was in the news a lot then. As kids we always talked about wanting to go and camp at the lake and see him.”

COLLECTOR (myself): “What’s he supposed to look like? Do you remember who first told you about him?”

INFORMANT: “He’s a greenish serpent. I think it was my Edmonton friends who first told me about him. I was 10 when we moved to Alberta and when he came into my consciousness, and by then all my friends already had a deeper relationship with him. People would go to British Columbia for holidays and talk about hoping to see him. He was this kind of mythical creature in my mind because my family didn’t go on vacation there so he became bigger in my mind. He was an aspiration for me from the time I was about 10 until I was in my teens. I wanted to see him and know what they were talking about.”

COLLECTOR (myself): “So would you say you believe in him? Like, personally?”

INFORMANT: “I don’t know if I believed in him or didn’t believe in him, same as the Sasquatch or any other mythical land creatures that appear from time to time. The Sasquatch was also a big idea in our minds. Even more awesome in some ways, because you might actually come across him in the woods! Now, naturally I’m skeptical of Ogopogo and Sasquatch and all that. But back then? It was definitely a possibility.”


The Ogopogo, as Kate points out, is essentially a variant of the Loch Ness Monster legend, the Canadian oicotype. People are fascinated by the idea of creatures they’ve never seen before, especially creatures hiding right in your own backyard. Bodies of water are also great sources of mystery because you can’t just swim down to the bottom and see what’s down there. The Ogopogo story is so ingrained in Canadian culture that just becoming acquainted with the story made Kate feel more at home in her community after she moved. People bond over shared beliefs, so a childlike excitement over the possibility of there being a great beast right beneath our very noses is a great way to bring people together and enrich the lore and culture of a certain place or people.


ANNOTATION: The Ogopogo is one of Canada’s most popular and enduring legends, so it has spawned a number of books and reports, including Arlene Gaal’s 2001 book In Search of Ogopogo: Sacred Creature of the Okanagan Waters.

Canadian Pancake Breakfasts

*Note: the informant, Kate, grew up in Canada, Alberta specifically.

INFORMANT: “Well, in Canada we do a lot of pancake breakfasts, I’m not sure if this qualifies as folklore per se, but every time there’s a festival in the summertime, people cook up a ton of pancakes, and I mean a lot of pancakes, and they give them away for free! Or sometimes they charge a small fee to raise money for something. In Edmonton specifically, where I grew up, pancake breakfasts were huge, especially on K-days, which is a giant exhibition for 10 days in the end of July. Also in Edmonton we had the Calgary Stampede, Canada’s biggest rodeo, and pancakes were a huge thing there. Because in like the 20s or something, when the rodeo first began, some rancher started cooking up free pancakes on his camp stove and giving them away to whoever came by the festivities. Pancake breakfasts are even tied to politics, a lot of Canadian politicians will hold pancake breakfasts or make appearances or even be the volunteers making the pancakes. Also football. Lots of pancake breakfasts for football events.”

This is a food-related tradition that seems pretty specific to Canada, even though America has started doing similar pancake breakfasts as fundraisers. The concept of free pancakes is great, as everyone knows free food is extremely bonding. I think it’s interesting that politicians are capitalizing on this tradition and making it political, using pancake breakfasts as public events at which to make appearances or make themselves seem approachable or folksy by cooking pancakes.