Author Archives: Karissa Masciel

Tic-Tac-Toe Children’s Game and Song

My informant showed me this game in the context of our Forms of Folklore JEP class. She claims to have learned it from her friend, a fellow second grader. She calls it “tic-tac-toe” and usually plays it at school, on the playground at recess and lunch and after school. She says it is played with two people. My informant says she likes and does it because it is fun. She especially likes to be tickled, during the “spider” portion. She also says she likes being able to push someone else around, though her teacher disproves. She says she tries not to hurt others, though, because it is not a good thing to do.


Each participant has both hands together, palms touching. Then, they sing “tic” and swipe the back of their hands against each other. They repeat this motion in the opposite direction and sing “tac,” and do so again while saying “toe.” They then clap their hands, and say “hit me.” Then, they move their right hands above their left, and clap their partner’s hand, saying “high.” They clap their own hand again, again saying “hit me.” They then move their right hand below their left to clap their partner’s hand and say “low.” They then interlace their fingers and turn their palms to their partners. They then touch their palms to those of their partners three times, saying “hit me three times in a row.” They then put their left hands in front of them, palms up, with their right hands curled into fists. They bring their right fists down upon their left hands three times (much like rock, paper, scissors) and say “tic,” “tac,” and “toe” for each downward swipe. They then each choose a symbol to represent with their hands (again, like rock, paper scissors), a fist for “rock,” a flat hand for “paper,” and the index and middle fingers pointed with the rest curled in for “scissors.” They do this until one person has accumulated three “wins.” (To win one must trump the other’s symbol with the winning symbol–paper beats rock, scissors beats paper and rock beats scissors). The person who accumulates these wins, has won all around. He or she turns the other person around, make’s a cross on the other person’s back, juts his or her elbow into their spine three times and then interlaces his or her fingers, and shoves the person from behind. There is also an optional “spider” move that would go between the elbow move and the shove, which consists of tickling the back of the other person’s neck. You can see the game here: TIc-Tac-Toe: Game And the winning ceremony here: TIc-Tac-Toe: Winning Ceremony


”Tic-tac-toe” seems pretty typical—it is a variation on rock paper scissors that has an introductory game. However, this introduction mirrors the conclusion, the winning ceremony. In the introduction the players ask one another to “hit me high/hit me low/hit me three times in a row.” This is a precursor to the end of the game. Once one person wins he/she makes a cross on the other’s back and hits the other “three times in a row.” Then, the hand motion of interlacing fingers occurs again, as the winner shoves the loser from behind. These repeated elements bring forth the most important part of the game: the violence.

Considering the neighborhood in which this piece of folklore was collected and in which my informant lives (the USC surrounding area), it is not terribly surprising to note the prevalence of violence. Even at this young age, my informant and those that play this game with her are aware of the violence surrounding them. Simultaneously, this is a school setting and so violence is strongly discouraged. The way my informant negotiates between these aspects of her environment is interesting. She says she likes being able to shove her fellow students, but also tries not to push them too hard because she believes that hurting others is not a good thing to do (reinforced by her teacher’s disapproval of the game). Furthermore, she also enjoys being on the receiving or losing end. She says that she enjoys having the “spider” crawl up her back. Though this is intended to be scary, she finds it enjoyable. This could indicate that she is in some way playing with fear—that she knows that she will be shoved, elbowed in the back and that a pretend spider will crawl up her back, but she will not be afraid. This mindset takes the fear away from the game and from those things that are intended to incite fear. This could indicate some need or desire to control one’s own fear–a need or desire to deal with surrounding violence by asserting one’s own control over it.

Down By the River Game and Song

My informant taught me this game in the context of our Forms of Folklore JEP class. My teaching partner and I brought up the game I know as “Down by the Banks,” when she shared this oicotype. She says that she learned this game from her friend, a fellow second grader. She says that she plays this game when she is bored, outside, or when her teacher gives her class free-time. She says she likes it because it is fun, and that is also why she plays it.


The students sit in a circle (with 3+ people), legs crossed and hands palms up. Each person should have one palm on top of one neighbor’s palm, and one palm beneath the other neighbor’s palm. So, for example, one’s right hand is above one’s right-hand neighbor’s left hand and one’s left hand is below one’s left- neighbor’s right hand. Then, one person is chosen to start. This person moves his/her hand (whichever hand is on top, in this case the right), and makes contact with his/her neighbor’s palm (in this case, the person’s right). This next person then makes contact with his/her neighbor’s right hand, and the pattern continues around the circle.

While this occurs, the students sing a song. The song can vary in speed, and is often primarily led by one student but sung by all. It goes as follows: “Down by the river with the Hanky Panky, with the bullside jump from bank to banky, with the east side, west side, suicide, pop!”

At the last word, “pop,” the person whose hand is last touched has lost and so must sit outside the circle while the other children continue to play on and eliminate others. In the final round, the students take one hand (again, the right) and hold the other student’s hand and pull their hands toward one student, and then toward the other. Whichever student’s hand is extended by the last word (again, “pop”) is eliminated, and the other student wins the game. You can see an example of this here: Down By The River.


This game is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it is intriguing that there is a clear understanding of spatial realms: the “east” and “west side.” Clearly, there is a sense of differentiation and an awareness of neighborhood identity. Also interesting is the phrase “hanky panky.” This phrase usually connotes sexual content, but the rest of the song does not follow up with this theme.

Then, the most interesting part of this piece of folklore is certainly the way it presents violence. The word “suicide” is certainly violent, as is the word “pop” in this situation. The chance mention of suicide points to its existence and prevalence in this neighborhood. Moreover, the use of the word “pop” as a signal of elimination seems especially intriguing, especially directly after the word “suicide.” Clearly, the person who loses is also killed, with a “pop,” a clear reference to the sound of a gun firing.

Considering the neighborhood in which this piece of folklore was collected and in which my informant lives (the USC surrounding area), it is not terribly surprising to note the prevalence of violence. Even at this young age, my informant and those that play this game with her are aware of the violence surrounding them.


Mexican Healing Chant

My informant taught me this chant in the context of our Forms of Folklore JEP class. I asked her if she was familiar with “sana, sana” and she said yes, and then finished the chant. She said that she learned this from her parents, and that they say this to her when she has been hurt. My informant said that this usually occurs at her home, but that it could happen anywhere. When asked if it works, she giggled and said, “well, it makes me laugh.” She repeated this as the reasoning as to why she likes and does it.


“Sana, sana, culito de rana,
y si no se cura ahorita, se cura mañana.”

Her translation:
“I hope you feel better,
if it doesn’t get better today, it gets better tomorrow.”

Word-by-word translation:
“Healthy, healthy, frog ass,
and if not cured now, cured tomorrow.”

While saying these lines her parents usually rub the inflicted area. You can hear her performing this here: Sana, Sana.


One of the most interesting aspects of this piece of folklore is perhaps what was almost left out, “culito de rana.” My informant giggled over it while reciting the chant in Spanish, and when translating it into English she left it out entirely. This piece, which Google Translate translates as “frog ass,” could have been lost entirely. This omission makes one wonder the reason behind it. Did she intentionally do so, for my sake and sensibilities, or did her parents tell her a simplified translation? The first option certainly makes more sense, especially considering her incessant giggles. So, more likely than not she felt uncomfortable sharing such material with me. To me, this emphasizes the early understanding of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behavior and speech. The environment of the school reinforces and could be the source of her understanding of behavioral norms. Her teacher is extremely strict and reprimands the students for every false move—even speaking out of turn. There is no doubt that she would frown upon the use of vulgarity and that my informant would be punished for such speech.

The vulgarity (and my informant’s attempt to cover it) proves very interesting for analysis. It could be a part of the chant in order to allude to (and perhaps make fun of) magical workings that could involve such things as frog butts. With this in mind, the chant could be seen as a parody of a spell, or it could be the remnants of an actual healing spell.

Simultaneously, the laughter involved in the chant does not only point to discomfort but also to a bit of levity. Though her parents transmitted the chant to her, the authority didn’t confer seriousness. Instead, it could be taken lightly—my informant didn’t say that it worked, but that it does make her laugh. And perhaps this was the intended result (especially if the goal was to poke fun at magical workings).

Furthermore, and more particularly, the piece of folklore does something interesting—it offers the hope of recovery but not the promise that the recovery will be immediate. This statement is at least in a different tone than more traditional comforts—“you are okay,” “it isn’t too bad,” etc. Instead of that, it conveys that it may not be okay right now, that it may be bad, but that it will not be soon. This points to a different sense of time, and immediacy.