Author Archives: Patrick Cleland

“Two shakes of a dead sheep’s tail”

This proverb is used to mean a short amount of time. Saying “I’ll be there in two shakes of a dead sheep’s tail” means that you will be there quickly. The informant first heard this proverb from his mother when he was five years old. His mother is from Georgia, and the informant always believed that this was a Southern proverb. It was memorable because he could never figure out why it had to be a sheep’s tail, let alone a dead’ sheep’s tail. There is nothing about dead sheep’s tails that lend them to being shaken fast, making this proverb somewhat absurd and silly. The saying seems to have gone out of style, so the people who use it are usually older. It is also a very motherly saying, used to reassure impatient children that dinner will be ready soon, or that they will leave soon, etc.

Calling Fives

This custom is similar to calling “shotgun” on the front seat of a car in that it has to do with seating. When you are in a group of people with limited seating and you have to leave your seat, you can “call fives” on this seat. This means that for the next five minutes, no one can your seat. If you come back within these next five minutes, you can reclaim your seat. Although this rule is observed among many young people today and is made to eliminate debates, it can often lead to disputes as to whether or not five minutes have passed.

“Fives/Fists”–Folk Game

This game is played between four or more people. Everyone stands in a circle  and starts with their fists extended towards to the center. One person takes the first turn and indicates by making a throwing motion with their fist. When this happens, the person whose turn it is tries to guess how many fingers will be extended. During this turn, every other player has the choice of either keeping their fist closed or extending five fingers. This makes the number of fingers in the circle somewhat random. If the person whose turn took the turn is right, they are out of the game. So, the last one in the game loses. An extra rule that is occasionally instated involves celebrating after getting out. If you high five someone else or obviously celebrate in any other way, you are back in the game. This can lead to loud, intense games where people go from very happy about getting out to very upset about getting put back in.

F.I.D.L.A.R.

This acronym stands for “Fuck It Dog, Life’s A Risk”. The informant first heard this when she was around 12. It was a popular phrase among the skater kids in Malibu, where the informant grew up. In fact, it was so popular that a local punk band from the area used it as their name. This band has since become popular on a national scale, giving prominence to the saying. The informant maintains, however, that the saying existed before the band and that the band merely adopted it.

This saying seems to be popular mostly amongst teenagers in the los Angeles area, which makes sense given the sentiment of the phrase. Teenagers are known to go through a rebellious period and a saying like this, which is essentially justification for making a rash decision, is perfect for this demographic. The informant says she has never heard it used it outside of Los Angeles and there is a certain pride attached to it being local to that area.

Kissing The Mezuzah

The informant is from Malibu, California and grew up in a Jewish household. She was the president of “Malijew”, her high school’s Jewish club.

This tradition was taught to the informant by her mother when she was very young. The informant grew up in a Jewish household and her mother was of particularly strong faith. Before explaining the tradition as a whole, the informant first described what a mezuzah is. It is a metal tube with Hebrew prayers inscribed on it and it also usually contains a scroll of Holy prayers. These prayers are inscribed by designated scribes and are not considered holy or authentic if they are written by anyone else. The literal Hebrew translation of mezuzah is “doorpost”. This is because they are hung on top of or on the side of a door frame. The informant was always told that this was to protect the house from evil and also to be reminded to obey the instructions of the holy verses contained in the mezuzah.

Beyond hanging the mezuzah, the informant also always makes sure to touch the mezuzah and then kiss her fingers whenever she enters or exits a room with one hung on the door. When asked why she does this, the informant said “because it says so in the Torah”. While it is true that the Torah commands, the act of kissing the mezuzah seems to be a calming act. Though it may be a small, simple thing, it is a way of acknowledging one’s faith throughout the day and keeping God in one’s thoughts. The use was obviously first disseminated through the institution of the Jewish religion, but it is spread today mostly through familial lines.

Notation:

To some extent, mezuzahs have been a point of contention. This is because they are often left nailed to the doorway after the Jewish owner moves out. When a new owner moves in, they often keep the mezuzah, regardless of their faith. Some owners reportedly kiss it even though they are not Jewish, which has caused some controversy with the Jewish community. The informant recalls going to  a friend’s new apartment in New York City and kissing his mezuzah before entering. Her friend was not Jewish and asked her why she did that, having never seen the tradition take place. As far as the informant knows, he has not taken it down. Kissing the mezuzah is not just a cultural or regional tradition; it is seen as a sacred, religious act. People hold these acts dearly and can take it personally if they feel they are being robbed of them.

Farmer, Ann. “In Mezuzas, a Custom Inherited by Gentiles.” New York Times. September (2010): n. page. Print. <http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/18/nyregion/18mezuzahs.html?_r=1&>.