Author Archives: MelanieFrakes

Planetary Fun

“Your mom is so fat, she plays pool with the planets.”

The informant heard this joke during recess. Boys his age were trading jokes on the playground. Their juvenile jokes were not meant to be taken seriously as personal insults to each other’s mothers; rather, they were meant as non-unique, verbal teasing following the popular format of the “your mom” type of joke. The boys did not have specific targets for their teasing in mind. Instead, they shared humorous remarks that utilize blanket insults that could be applied to any target, regardless of personal qualities of the intended recipient. This type of joke telling with the “your mom” format seems limited to only children. They seemed to have performed these jests in a lighthearted spirit of fun. Moreover, this activity of swapping jokes allows for their social bonding through laughter.

El Cucuy

This JEP informant told an urban legend about a nighttime monster named El Cucuy. According to the informant, El Cucuy walks around everywhere after the sun sets. The monster’s distinguishing physical feature is his one big ear that can hear every sound. It does not matter if the sound comes from nearby or far away. The creature can even hear people who stay silent.

The informant learned about El Cucuy from his teacher in second grade. This legend was also reinforced by his mother who told him not to go out at night because El Cucuy lurked outside. The informant is unsure if he believes in the urban legend of the monster.

This legend seems to have been transformed into a means that the storyteller uses to achieve an end: the informant’s mother used it to scare her young son so that he would not leave the house at night. Perhaps worried parents have encouraged the spreading of this urban legend. This legend is probably aimed at younger children who are more gullible and become scared into obeying more easily. The informant, who is almost a teenager, seems skeptical of this mysterious monster that possesses magical hearing capabilities.

This legend is annotated. It can also be found at the following source:

La Llorona

“One time there was a lady named Maria, but people later called her ‘La Llorona’ ’cuz one night she used to go out with her sons. She drowned them in the lake and haunts people.”

This JEP informant heard this urban legend when he was five years old. His mother told him this as a bedtime story so that he would go to sleep. His mother learned about this legend from her mother. The informant believes that La Llorona exists even though he has never heard her haunting, because people have told him that she only screams in Mexico. (The informant has never been to Mexico and cannot confirm if the story about the woman’s screaming is true.) His mother, who is from Mexico, does not believe in the legend, though. As an aside, the informant told this story to his little brother to scare him.

“La Llorona” translates to “the weeping or moaning woman” in English. This legend tells the story of a woman driven by madness who drowns her sons in a nearby lake. She then haunts the locals as a ghost woman. This story could have possibly originated and spread greatly to explain the natural phenomena of noises caused by the wind. Also, the story serves as an entertaining, scary story that creates social ties among the listeners.

This legend is annotated. It can also be found at the following source:

Haunted Civil War House

“Okay, so when I was a kid growing up in Fairfax, Virginia, there was a house about a half-mile away from the house I grew up in and, uh, it’s a very old house – very well maintained, people do live there – but, uh, legend has it that it served as a hospital during the Civil War and, uh, obviously, injured soldiers would go there and, of course, some of the soldiers died. The legend is that, um, the house is haunted with the ghosts of the dead soldiers from the Civil War and this was well-known throughout my neighborhood among the children, and whenever we passed by the house, we’d always get a little nervous or scared or excited, and, um, we would also play in the front yard. The front yard was quite large – a few acres – and it had beautiful boxwood plants, all around the front yard and we would, uh, play hide-and-seek in the front yard, and it had a creek that ran through the front yard along with trees, and it was a lot of fun to play in the front yard. We also played in the backyard, which consisted of grass and, uh, thick woods. We played in the woods. We didn’t play in the grass area of the backyard, and there were times when I had met other adults my age who had grown up in the same city and, uh, for whatever reason, once in a while we would, uh, talk about that haunted house and the other people would remember that as well – that they had grown up believing it was a haunted house as well.”

The informant describes a childhood folk belief about a haunted neighborhood house. He heard about this folk belief from his peers. They would play in the yards of the haunted house. Though they believed in the spooky legend, it seems as though they played in the surrounding areas to taunt the “ghosts” residing in the house. The neighborhood children freely played outside in nature and allowed their imaginations to consider the possibility of the existence of Civil War soldiers’ ghosts. However, context is important. The children played near the well-maintained house presumably during the daytime. So, the idea of ghosts probably seemed less scary. In addition, the house was not considered taboo or forbidden. In bright daylight they were able to entertain the thought of ghosts and treat it as a subject that was not so serious. Had they met up at the woods around a dilapidated house at nighttime, maybe their attitudes toward the legend would have changed.

Through this pastime of playing in the woods, the children were able to share the story of a neighborhood house. The legend of the house and their playing near it affected the young children so much so that later, they were able to recall this story in their adulthood. This memorable pastime seems to be a defining, shared characteristic of their respective childhoods. Thus, the story holds significance in intertwining personal, regional, and national histories.

“Ah, another day in paradise!”

This idiom reveals an element of the informant’s workplace culture. The informant divulged that this phrase is commonly said by exasperated co-workers and often accompanied by a sigh. This particular idiom is a sarcastic remark that serves as a reaction to the workplace pressure and the daily grind of listening to bosses’ demands, going to meetings, making presentations, ensuring that assignments are completed before they are due, and placating customers. This idiom is usually expressed by the employees as they walk past each other in the hallways or when one passes by another sitting at his or her cubicle. By sharing this sentiment in an open forum, those who say the idiom create a collective consciousness of the common pressures facing all who work in that environment in a showing of solidarity.