Category Archives: folk metaphor


Main piece:

Original text: 夏が終わった

Translated text: The summer ends.

The informant told me that in Japanese, words sometimes have more meanings than they seem to have. For example, “summer” is not only a season. It represented the best time of love. “Summer” is when you are fervently love someone but haven’t decided to tell him/her. It’s like the beautiful relationship between highschoolers: they are in love, but too young to say it out bravely. When “the summer ends”, it means someone decided to give up on a relationship, or a fruitless love.

More generally, 夏が終わった also means the best period of one’s time has ends. It’s like the end of teenage.

Background information:

The informant is a student from China studying abroad in Japan. She saw the hashtag 夏が終わった on twitter. People do not only post about season under it, but also use it to descrive something more emotional. She shared this with me through social media chat box.


I collected this piece through a casual interview with my informant in social media chat box.


It’s a really beautiful to say something inside someone ends. I like how Eastern Asian culture tends to have more connotation in their language.


Main Piece: 月が綺麗ですね /The moon is very pretty (tonight).

The informant told me that it is too direct for Japanese people to say “I love you”. Japanese as a language is very obscure. In daily conversation, people are being extremely polite to each other. Therefore. directly saying “I love you” seems to be rude and abrupt. Instead of saying that out, they would say “the moon is very pretty tonight”. This is because there is a story about a Japanese famour writer, Soseki Natsume, translated “I love you” into 月が綺麗ですね. When people thinking about 月が綺麗ですね , they would think of “I love you”. It’s a connonative way of expressing love to someone.

Background information:

The informant is a student from China studying abroad in Japan. She heard this term and the story of Soseki Natsume before she went to Japan. In this coversation, she told me that the story might not be true. Because the story gets popular after Natsume’s death, no one know if he really translated “I love you” into something with the moon.


I collected this piece through a casual interview with my informant in social media chat box.


This piece is well-known because of anime. Lots of Japanses anime and manga adapted this term into their story. I knew it from somewhere else before this interview as well. But still, it is a very romantic way to tell someone your love.

Watch Proverb

Main Piece:

Here is a transcription of my (CB) interview with my informant (PB).

CB: “So what was the proverb?”

PB: “Well my grandfather used to always say that a man with one watch always knows what time it is, but a man with two watches is never sure”

CB: “What does that mean to you?”

PB: “To me, it means to me that if you have too much information it’s too confusing. Like just stick to what you know. If you have two watches and one says 2 and the other says 2:05 you won’t know which one is true. Well I guess now you do with cell phones, but back then you didn’t. So it was just about picking something and sticking with it rather than second-guessing yourself” 

CB: “What context would he say it in?”

PB: “He would say it in the context of when you were trying to decide something. And he would say, you know, you know too much about everything and why don’t you just pick the one that you want, and that you instinctually trust the most. You know? Even a man with two watches has a favorite one, one that he trusts more than the other watch.”

CB: “Why do you think it’s important? Why do you think he said it?”

PB: “It reminds you to just narrow your focus and to not listen to everything that’s around you, and all the noise around you can be confusing. You just need to make up your mind and go with it. You can’t get too focused on and distracted by the other things in life.”

My informant’s mother and grandparents grew up in Tennessee, and were known to have some sort of proverb for every situation. Many of them sounded ridiculous and haven’t really continued in the family since their passing, but there are several that even I will catch myself repeating. 

I interviewed my informant in person. We were in my bedroom on my bed, and the conversation was very comfortable and casual. I had heard the proverb many times beforehand.


The proverb talks about how conflicting pieces of information will never allow you to be totally certain in the truth. I thought that it was really interesting that my informant interpreted this to be an encouragement to narrow your focus and ignore the noise. I’ve heard the proverb used to describe how a foolish man is completely confident in the information that only one watch provides. I think the fact that proverbs can be interpreted to have opposing morals really shows the irony of them. The meaning is entirely contextual, which is what allows them to be passed throughout so many situations.

“Slow water runs deep”

The Virgin Islands are a nest for proverbial sayings. Each one bears a specific lesson that is passed down from generation to generation. A very common saying in the nature island of Dominica is “Slow water runs deep”. This is usually a phrase spoken by elders in a Caribbean community.

H: My mother used to say “slow water runs deep”

The original language and script is in Latin: altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi.

The transliterated proverb (word by word translation): depth each rivers minimum sound

The fully translated proverb: the deepest rivers flow with the least sound

The informant learned it from her grandmother when she was very young in Dominica. She remembers it because it taught her a lot about how to choose her friends wisely when she was in her formative years. From the informant’s perspective, she feels this is very telling of how our environment can deceive us. Her interpretation is to “never expect good from something that is stagnant” (H). It is normally thought that quiet people are less interesting but on the contrary, they are the ones who listen and observe. While some people may be quick to say what they’re thinking or reveal information about their life, others may feel more inclined to stay reserved. These tend to be individuals with the deepest stories to tell. When breaking down the mechanics of the proverb, we can begin to understand the analogy. Water that runs quickly would be like rivers and streams. Still or “slow” water is like lakes. The slower the current, the more shallow the waters. When we’re in streams or rivers, we can see what’s below the water (rocks, fish, etc…) but when we’re in a lake there’s no telling what we might find. There’s far more mystery in still waters.

Chopsticks and Rice

Text: So you’re never supposed to stick chopsticks upright in rice. In other words, you can’t just stab the rice because the rice symbolizes the grave.

Context: KT was born in Okinawa, Japan and lived there with his Japanese mother and British father for the first nine years of his life. Though memories of his time in Japan are fading as KT ages, he still remembers specific things about life in Japan that were ingrained on his young mind during his early years. The folklore above was shared over lunch one afternoon during which I asked KT if he thought he had any folklore he could share with me from Japan. Most of the material he remembers is because he either got in trouble for going against the superstition or his involvement in the practice scared him.

Interpretation: It is interesting how KT remembers folklore from his childhood that was either restrictionary (such as this one), a belief/practice that scared him, or both. The act of sticking chopsticks in upright in rice is a taboo found in other Asian countries such as China. The reason it is disrespectful is because it reminds people of funerals and is supposed to bring bad luck. this is because at Japanese funerals, a bowl of rice is displayed with two chopsticks standing vertically in the center. When chopsticks are straight upright in a bowl, it’s unlucky. If done in public, you would garner dirty looks as it is bad manners, not necessarily a horrible, unforgivable offense.

Looking for Water: Marathi Proverb about Appreciation


AB: “There’s this proverb that my mom says –”

“Kakhet kalsa gavala valsa”

AB: “– which basically means that you have um a pitcher of water in your hand but you’re looking for water in other places, which I mean happens literally too like how many times do you have glasses on your head and you keep for them in other places? But I think the more like metaphorical meaning is supposed to be that people tend to not realize what they have because they too busy like searching for things outside. So like not appreciating what you already have I guess.”

AB: “Yeah people usually say it to me when I’m complaining about all the problems in my life – they’re like “kakhet kalsa gavala valsa” like you’re not being grateful for all the good stuff that you have.”



The informant is an Indian-American college student from Los Altos, California. This conversation took place in my apartment while the informant and I, among a group of other people, were discussing our very diverse childhoods growing up in different parts of the world. Marathi is the language spoken in a specific region of India. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.



The informant does a pretty good job of explaining what the proverb means. An English equivalent would be “the grass is always greener on the other side”. It is interesting how the informant relates it to literal situations like looking for glasses which were on your head all along – this to me highlights the relevance of proverbs and emphasizes their staying power. Because their literal meaning is so easily understood intuitively, their figurative meaning holds more power.

Awkward Silences are Called Tumbleweeds

Z is the informant, L is interviewer

Main Piece

Z: So in Texas, when there’s an akward silence or an awkward moment, we call it a tumbleweed.


L: So when a tumbleweed happens, what do you do?


Z: We don’t really call it a tumbleweed until after it’s happened. Like if we’re referencing a different awkward moment we’ll be like “oh that was a tumbleweed.” Now that I think about it, that’s so southern, oh my god. But yeah, it would be very weird if an awkward silence was happening and someone was just like, “oh this is a tumbleweed.” Like, it’s never a thing that’s mentioned at the time, it’s always in reference to it.


L: Do you know why?


Z: I think it had something to do with the fact that before the cowboys did their gun-dueling thing, like when they paused and waited to like, do the thing, there would be like, a tumbleweed that went by in the movies. I think that’s where it came from. It’s very Texan.



The informant is from Dallas, Texas.


Nationality: American


Location: Los Angeles, CA



I asked if she had any very Texan folklore



This story reminded me a lot of “awkward turtle” from back in grade school. I think there’s folklore surrounding awkwardness in social interactions because we evolved as social beings. Without social interactions, we would quite literally die, so anything that implies poor social standing or interactions, such as an awkward silence, feels intimidating. Being able to break the tension with shared folklore is a great way to counteract the negative social effects.


Puerto Rican Witches Getting Married


“In Puerto Rico, they say a witch is getting married.”


I was sitting with a few informants as we all discussed our cultures and our different belief systems. After one informant randomly offered their thoughts on what the Persians believe about rain when the sun shines, this informant gave me this tidbit of information. She went on further to explain that the origins of the belief are unclear, but that whenever it rained while the sun was shining, she had clear memories of her mother pointing at the sky and saying it.


I found it interesting that I had two different people from two different cultures reflecting on this belief that there had to be something happening because it was raining and sunny at the same time. The closest thing I remember believing is that after a rain, or if there was a rainbow while it was still raining, there was a little leprechaun and a pot of gold at the end of it. My friends would make jokes about God peeing onto Earth, of course, but that was the most of it. I love that different cultures have different explanations, but I cannot begin to think what witches and rain and sun have to do with each other.


Watermelon House Riddle

“There was a green house, and inside the green house there was a white house. And inside the white house, there was a red house. And inside the red house, there were a bunch of little children. What is it?

Answer: a watermelon.”

Context: The informant and I were exchanging random jokes while waiting outside of our folklore class. Having just come from another class, we were very tired and hoping to lighten the mood before going in to class. This joke is memorable because her mother told her this joke at her tenth birthday party while her family was eating watermelon.

Analysis: This riddle follows the general application and structure of riddles. Many riddles are seen as a component of children’s folklore, though not exclusive to it, and are meant to sort of be a bit of a brain teaser and led them to think more complexly and critically. These riddles are supposed to be challenging but are capable of being answered. In this case, the riddle involves an object that most people (especially children) have access to, so the answer is easily understood. Most children are initially stumped, but upon realizing what the answer to the riddle, have an “aha” moment. In my experience, and in the experience of the informant, the more you get confused by the riddle, the more you want to share that riddle and stump your peers and those around you to see if they are “smart enough” to answer this difficult and tricky question.

Along with this, the answer to this riddle has an especially child-friendly aspect to it. Food–and fruit specifically–is something that all children and adults can understand and relate to. Due to this, the riddle is especially effective. The answer is on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but only those who are clever enough to crack the metaphor will be able to come up with the answer. In this way, those who fail to answer the question will carry this riddle forward as a way to stump the people around them in the way that they were tricked.

Mexican Euphemism


Informant: Now this is a grosero one. This is like a bad one, like, um, I will say it to you because someone might come up with this one.

“Mucho jamón para dos juevitos.”

(Translation: “Too much ham for two small eggs”)

Both the informant and interviewer laugh 

Interviewer: I understood that one.

Informant: That is like, famous. People will say… like if they see a skinny guy with a big girl, they say “hm, mucho jamón para dos juevitos.” That’s referring to… you know what.


Context– The informant is a middle-aged Mexican immigrant who grew up in Mexico City and then immigrated to Los Angeles in her teenage years. She has many family members still in Mexico City, so she learned many popular phrases from those family members both while growing up and during her frequent visits and phone conversations.


Analysis– This metaphor is a very playful and informal one about dating and sex. Euphamisms are often amusing for people so it is not surprising that the imagery of ham and eggs is metaphor for sex. The phrase is probably a funny and more polite way a spreading gossip from one person to another. Instead of making an actual critical comment about a persons weight, they use a metaphor and present it as a joke so that the criticism would be more accepted.