Category Archives: Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

Falling Rock

DC is a 53-year-old white woman who currently lives in Texas but was born in rural Montana. 

DC- You know when you’re driving down the road and you see the yellow caution signs that say ‘loose gravel’ or ‘falling rock’. When I was young, my parents used to tell us that Falling Rock was an angry Native American because we lived with a lot of Indigenous people. They would say that he would jump out and throw boulders at passing cars. I believe that I was in like late elementary school and I used to tell my friends about the legendary Falling Rock.

Me- Do you have any other details you can think about the story? Did your parents ever have a reason as to why he was angry and throwing rocks?

DC- He was angry because the land was taken. That’s all I can remember. My parents would tell us to be quiet and make us look for him when we saw signs. They always told us that as long as we don’t bother him he won’t bother us. His wife’s name was Loose Gravel. I think he also had kids named like boulders on the road or something.


The Falling Rock story has many different interesting aspects to examine. Firstly, this tale perpetrates many negative stereotypes towards Native Americans. While I don’t think it was DC’s parent’s goal to be hateful towards Indigenous people, equating important tribal names to the likes of signs found on the sides of roads is disrespectful and harmful, as well as spreading the idea that Native people are angry and violent.  DC and her family were not doing this on purpose, they considered themselves to be good allies and friends with many Indigenous people in their town. This goes to show that unconscious biases exist in everyone, and we need to make an active effort to be aware of the ways we may perpetuate harm without realizing it. An important part of being a good ally is being able to see where you have done wrong and improve from it. While DC heard this story as a young child and would tell others the tale then, as she has grown and become aware of the negative connotations of the story, she no longer spreads it, not even to her own children. 

While DC’s family may unconsciously have been spreading harmful stereotypes, this story also served to educate their children in some ways. Through the story, we can see that DC’s parents had at least a basic understanding of the ways that Native Americans had been unfairly treated, and were trying to teach their children. While it’s not as thorough as the education one may get in class, it still teaches the audience that Natives are valid in their anger because of the cruel way Americans have treated them in the past. They were taught to respect their anger and boundaries and understand their pain, at least slightly. While the story still holds many harmful beliefs, it is important to think through all the ways this story may have impacted its young, White audience. While it may have unfortunately further engrained a few stereotypes, it also helped them better understand the Native’s pain and history. 

Looking past the race dynamics, this story exemplifies many of the ways that similar stories begin and spread. It takes something as simple as a road sign to begin such an oral tradition. Every family has thought of ways to entertain, or quiet, their children on long car rides. Legends are much easier to create than one might imagine, they are being made all around you at every moment. 

“The Virgin Vault”

Text: “The Virgin Vault” or “The Vault” at Vanderbilt University

Minor Genre: Folk Speech – Crude Stereotype


L explained that “The Virgin Vault,” or “The Vault,” was the unofficial name for an all-girls hall at Vanderbilt in which boys were not allowed. It was the fourth floor of the Dyer Observatory, and its reputation as “the living space for virgins” was well-known among the student body. L lived in “The Virgin Vault” in her freshman year of college, 1993. She explained that she was aware of the hall’s reputation before she moved in – and that the title was “not considered a compliment, but it did not bother me.” It was simply where she could get a room; she wanted to get out of a bad roommate situation, and the only room available was in “The Vault.”


“The Virgin Vault” as a community nickname for an all-girls floor makes for an interesting social analysis in two main ways: it makes gendered assumptions about sexual engagements and implies that it is a negative trait for a girl to be a virgin. While it is reasonable to consider that 1993 did not have the same level of LGBTQ inclusivity that is common today, this phrase and its context implies that sex can only happen between people of the opposite sex. It also raises the question: would an all-boys floor also have the potential to be called a Virgin Vault? The answer is no, at least for Vanderbilt. This is another aspect that creates gendered assumptions about sex and traditional roles: that it is the boy who would be visiting the girl, and not vice versa.

The second interesting implication of “The Virgin Vault” is the implied negative connotation of virginity. Socially, being a virgin is considered “bad” – but so is having “too much” experience. Another aspect to consider is that some girls, including my mother (L), did not consider being labelled as a resident of “The Virgin Vault” to be a bad thing. This indicates that such a charged phrase only achieves power when it is used by/on people who care about its negative (or positive) social implications.

Country as Cowshit

Text: (Folk Simile/Colloquialism)

“Country as Cowshit”


T is my mother who lives T heard this from neighbor/friend who lived and grew up deep in the Appalachian Mountains. She lives in Salem, Virginia, but grew up all around the country traveling with her family as her father’s job took them to new locations often. She has lots of folklore experiences from her own family to ones she has heard while traveling and those from the friends she surrounds herself with. She decided to share this simile/colloquialism when I asked for a piece of folklore she has heard a lot.

T- “When someone is describing someone they can’t understand because they talk so country they’ll saw they’re Country as Cow Shit.”

Interviewer- Which means they are from so far out in the country that you can hardly understand what they are saying, like they have a really deep accent?

T- “That’s what country as cow shit means, it means they talk like a hick, yeah, just really hard to understand them, they’re just very country.”

T told a story she was told by her friend who she heard it from. T said that he would talk to his wife and call her name and his wife would call his name back, and no one else knew what their names were because they couldn’t understand what they were saying. He would call her and people thought her name was “Janey” and people thought that his name was “Mack” (neither names are their actual names).


In my interpretation this can be seen as something that is silly and said lightheartedly back and forth to one another, or it could come off as an insult to a group of people. I have heard this expression myself before, and in most cases it is other people who are country (but not as country) have said this either about someone or right in front of them. When looking it up, it seems to actually be the title of a country song, on Spotify and Apple Music. The word “cowshit” is similar, but not as popular in my experience as “horseshit” or “bullshit”, both of which are usually used when calling someone’s bluff. The word is described in Green’s Dictionary of Slang as an unpopular person, or nonsense/rubbish. I think the second definition fits best, at least in this saying, as it is saying that the way speak is as country as nonsense.

St. Patrick’s Day – holiday practices


KT: “So St. Patrick’s Day is definitely a holiday. It’s a pretty popular holiday in the US and think in Ireland now too, but we celebrate it more traditionally American maybe. We [her family] usually try to go to mass. Sometimes it’s hard for you guys [her kids] because of school, but I always try to go if I can. It’s a Holy Day of Obligation, so technically you are required to go to mass. We also always wear green of some kind. I still jokingly pinch people if they aren’t in green, especially if they come to my house for dinner, they know better. St. Patrick’s Day is always during Lent, so when it falls on a Friday in Lent, it’s nice because there is no fasting on St. Patrick’s Day. We usually have dinner with the whole family. As you know, me, your grandmother, and your aunt always make corned beef, cabbage, and boiled potatoes. There’s also usually lots of good drinking going on too.”

Me: “Why do you make those dishes specifically?”

KT: “It’s what my family has always had. I mean even growing up that what’s we had. I know it’s a pretty cheap dish, which my family was pretty poor growing up, so it was kind a cheap meal, but still special. I mean it’s pretty famously what you eat on St. Patrick’s Day, but I think it had something to do with when all the poor Irish immigrants fled to America, it was what they could afford to celebrate with. Your dad and his family never celebrated much when he was little, so it’s pretty much the meal now. I like to keep the traditions the same.”

Me: “Did you ever go to bars to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?”

KT: “Probably when I was younger. When I lived in New York I could barely afford to fly home for Christmas and such, so me and your dad usually celebrated with friends in the city. I’m sure we went out to bars and stuff, as young people do, but it was always more of a religious and family centered holiday when I was growing up. We also watched the parade when we [KT and her husband] lived in the city, but we don’t really do that so much now. I didn’t really do it when I was younger either. As you know, now we obviously celebrate at home with a big family [aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc.] dinner.”


KT is a 59 year old from California. She is from Irish descent, as well as Catholic. Therefore, for her St. Patrick’s Day is both a cultural holiday practice and a religious holiday practice. I gathered this information in an interview that I recorded and then transcribed.


St. Patrick is an interesting holiday because its many different practices hold many different origins. Most of the practices were popularized by Irish immigrants in the United States, rather than in Ireland. For example, corned beef and cabbage is a distinctly American custom that was started by Irish immigrants, which now serves a traditional St. Patrick’s Day meal. However, some aspects of the holiday practice, especially when religious in nature, stem from Ireland, such as going to mass to celebrate the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick, on his feast day. Feast days celebrates and venerates saints, usually on the day the died. The practice of St. Patrick’s in the United States developed to celebrate Irish culture. It is an interesting case of acculturation, as many traditional ways of celebration have been forgone and the more commercial aspects, such as parades, dyeing the river green, and bar crawls have overtaken to become what the holiday is popularly known for. In many ways, the holiday has become a sort of tourist attraction to Irish culture, one that is usually incorrect, a parody of, or an over exaggeration. Even so, for people from Irish or Catholic cultures, this day is often celebrated differently from the masses in order to give proper fidelity or honor to the cultural/religious holiday. While it is still a day of celebration, it is centered around family and worship, rather than parades or drinking. Therefore, the holiday practice varies widely based on the person who is celebrating because the cultural/religious holiday has become widely popularized and commercialized.

Don’t Pass a Penny on the Street


ME: that sort of thing might incur bad luck? That you believe genuinely

L: so to be honest I’m not a very like superstitious person, however I definitely have some like things that have been passed down in my family. Umm that like I still kinda like, even though I don’t like “believe it” believe it, I always will like follow it because its just kinda part of our family and my heritage. Especially like umm, for example, I have a really big one– and I know it’s such a stereotype, but like my great grandfather uhh, was jewish and he like loved through the great depression, had a very very poor family. And I’ve heard this is a Jewish stereotype, but I’ve like learned from him, our family has like learned down through the generations, that if you like, for example, see a penny on the street you always no matter what pick it up. Because wasting money is like is such horrible luck. And like if if you know, if the universe gives you the gift of like finding a like a penny on the street you take it and then you like think about your family. So that’s a big one that I learned from my mom 

ME: so passing it would incur bad luck upon you?

L: uhh yes…

ME: or is..?

L: – no that’s part of it, but like yeah it’s bad luck because, it’s about like appreciation for money and appreciation for like being given things.

ME: clarifying: you learned that from…?

L: I learned that from my mother who learned that from her grandfather who is Jewish, yeah. And I think that is like a wider Jewish thing. I’ve heard that

ME: thank you


This superstition was shared with me by a friend after going grocery shopping together when we sat in my bedroom to do schoolwork together.

L is a Jewish-American USC student studying sociology who grew up in Colorado.


L attributes this superstition to a respect for money and for good fortune. I think this makes sense, especially with the origin of the practice L describes: her great-grandfather growing up poor during the great depression.