Author Archives: pmnazari@usc.edu

Ach’k (Evil Eye)

Item:

Western Armenian: աչք

Phonetic (IPA): ɑt͡ʃʰkʰ

Transliteration: ach’k

Translation: eye

A blue bead representing an eye can be used to ward off evil. The bead is simply called the “ach’k,” meaning “eye.” For example, the ach’k could be hung from the rear view mirror of a car, worn as a necklace, or kept somewhere in a house. There is a particular color of blue needed for a bead to be an ach’k.

In particular, it is supposed to protect its owner from others’ covetous eyes. There is a particular saying associated with this belief:

Western Armenian: աչք կպնէ

Phonetic (IPA): ɑt͡ʃʰkʰ kpnɛ

Transliteration: ach’k gbné

Translation: the eye touches

The phrase literally translates to “the eye touches,” but the informant translates it as “the eye will touch you,” meaning that other people’s covetous eyes could touch you with some negative magic, unless you have an ach’k protecting you.

Background Information:

The informant learned this folk belief from his mother, who believes in it passionately. She keeps several in her house and gave him one to put in his car. The informant is skeptical of the belief but doesn’t deny it outright. For a while, the informant kept his ach’k hanging from his rear view mirror, until he became embarrassed by its perceived superstitious-ness and took it down. He still keeps it in his car, though—now out of sight in the glove compartment.

The informant believes that the ach’k is a very common belief among Armenians.

Contextual Information:

The ach’k belief is accompanied by the particular saying and object associated with it. These items are usually performed and displayed in public, though the informant has made his more private due to embarrassment.

Analysis:

The ach’k belief is clearly a variant on the very widespread “evil eye” folk belief. Unlike the more common variants, in this version of the belief, the eye is not particularly associated with growth, but rather with envy. It still shares the general spirit that there is a danger in prosperity and wealth—whether it is grown, purchased, or otherwise obtained.

Using a bead representing an eye to protect from others’ eyes is an example of homeopathic magic.

For other versions of the evil eye folk belief, see “The Evil Eye: A Folklore Casebook” (1981) by Alan Dundes.

A Mexican Runs Into a Wall…

Item (direct transcription):

A Mexican with an erection runs into a wall. What does he break?

His lawnmower.

Background Information:

The informant read the joke on 9GAG, an online social media site.

Contextual Information:

The informant made it very clear that he would only tell the joke to someone he knew very well and was confident wouldn’t be offended.

Analysis:

This joke is a clear example of blason populaire, playing on the stereotype that all Mexicans are gardeners.

Every Confidant Has a Confidant

Item (direct transcription):

Every confidant has a confidant.

Background Information:

The informant learned the proverb from her father.

To her, the proverb means to be careful who you confide in.

Contextual Information:

The informant says she would use this proverb to warn someone against confiding in someone dubious.

Analysis:

This saying meets three out of the four canonical criteria for a proverb. It is (1) short, (2) fixed-phrase, and (3) rhetorical. However, it is not metaphorical—in fact, it’s meaning is quite literal.

Also, like many proverbs, it’s phrasing is somewhat poetic due to the repetition of the word “confidant” in such a short phrase.

May You Grow Old Sleeping on One Pillow

Item (direct transcription):

May you grow old sleeping on one pillow.

Background Information:

The informant learned this blessing from his grandfather, who told it to him when he got married.

Contextual Information:

This blessing is meant to be given at a wedding. After the informant’s grandfather grew too old to attend weddings and eventually passed away, the informant took it upon himself to perpetuate the blessing by telling it at family members’ weddings.

Analysis:

This blessing has a simple, literal, and obvious meaning. Clearly, its power comes not from its unique insight or wit, but rather from its emotional connection to a beloved and deceased family member.

Every Rock Falls on My Head

Item (direct transcription):

Every rock falls on my head.

Background Information:

The informant learned this saying from his father. It means, “I get blamed for every problem.”

Contextual Information:

The informant says he uses this dite when he feels that he is being undeservedly blamed for something, especially if by his wife. However, he only uses the dite playfully or jokingly, not rhetorically. When he is truly upset or argumentative, he does not use this saying.

Analysis:

This saying meets all four of the canonical criteria for a dite. It is (1) short, (2) fixed-phrase, (3) metaphorical, and (4) not rhetorical.