Category Archives: folk metaphor

Armenian Love


Romanization of Armenian: Dzhigyart utem

Direct Translation: “I’ll eat your liver.”


KT: It’s an expression of strong love, usually said to a child. I think it’s kind of similar to the English phrase “I could eat you right up.” 

KT has only heard the phrase said between family members, though he has no idea where it could have originated from.


Cuteness aggression is an odd but well-documented phenomenon. Common examples are loving a pet so much you want to squeeze it even though you would never hurt it. It is interesting that similar phrases have developed in many languages around the world. In Turkish, the translated phrase is the same and used in the same context. In Tagalog, the phrase “gigil” which means something is cute but refers specifically to the action of gritting your teeth because a baby is so cute.

Snake in the Henhouse


RW: In the American South, the expression “there’s a snake in the henhouse” mean someone in your group is toxic or not a good person.


RW heard the expression from her grandmother who was born and raised in rural Georgia. She doesn’t know where the expression came from, but assumes it was from farmers who lost chickens to snakes and other predators.


The American South is rich with phrases and expressions that mean something completely different than their literal definition. A common example of this is “bless your heart” which can be a genuine endearment in some parts of the south and an insult in others (in RW’s case, it was viewed as an insult). This is especially interesting because the language and region that makes up what is now known as the American South is fairly young. Despite this, it seems folk expressions are a common and necessary part of language and communication in the South.

“Pride feels no pain”

Text: “Pride feels no pain.”

Minor Genre: Proverb


L explained, “This proverb came down from my great-grandmother on my mother’s side. It was a saying among Southern women, maybe just ladies in general. The context was that you had to put up with pain for beauty; your looks were associated with how proud you were and how you presented yourself.

“Every time my mother brushed my hair when I was little, there were always tangles, and she would say, ‘Be quiet. Pride feels no pain.’”


The proverb “pride feels no pain” has a fairly straightforward meaning regardless of context: it implies that behaving in a manner that fills you with pride is enough to overcome any discomfort you may feel as a result of such actions. It reminds me of the phrase “beauty is pain,” which more directly relates to the idea that discomfort is an inherent part of beauty –– and that pain is a worthy price to pay to feel beautiful. In comparing the two phrases, considering “beauty is pain” as perhaps the more modern counterpart to “pride feels no pain,” it is interesting to consider the implied difference between the words “pride” and “beauty.” The word “pride” carries a more negative connotation for the person it describes, hinting that it is hubris that really disguises pain, while the word “beauty” seems to be used as more of an attribute for a person, and it is the attainment of the attribute that can be a negative experience.

“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.

Habla Hasta por los Codos

MR is a student at Carleton University but currently lives in  Texas with her family. Her parents are both Mexican immigrants and she was born in Canada, but they have all lived in the United States for over a decade. She is a linguist who speaks multiple languages. 

 ‘habla hasta por los codos’

MR- if someone who can talk and talk and talk forever, or someone who can talk to rocks, you’d say ’habla hasta por los cados’, which means that they could talk even with their elbows. Instead of their mouth they use their elbows would be a more literal translation of it. I don’t know where it came from but I first heard it from my mom, and since she’s from Mexico City I’ve always assumed it was a more popular phrase there.  

ANALYSIS: In every culture, some people never seem to know when to stop talking. This specific phrase reminds me of English terms like ‘chatterbox’ or ‘gabber’, which are used to describe a similar type of person. It’s a universally understood metaphor to describe a person who exists throughout every culture. The saying highlights the cultural value of knowing oneself and being able to read social scenarios. People who talk too much or talk over others are looked down upon, and often seen as brazen and self-centered. Metaphors like this one emphasize the resentment that is fostered toward self-serving individuals. Typically, people who can talk and talk and talk are not very good listeners, and many don’t enjoy it when a person only wants to talk about themself and never listens to what others have to say. The commonality of metaphors about these types of people showcases the importance humankind puts on being able to listen and communicate with others properly. Having playfully negative remarks to make about these people allows them to be made aware of their brazen talkativeness while also spreading a message about what is socially correct. While it is unclear how long this metaphor has been around, it has been popular within Mexican culture for many years and continues to be used, being spread to new generations.