Category Archives: folk simile

Bringing home a wolf (humorous proverb)

Main Piece:

JK (50s, american-polish, father): “It’s like buying a wolf and then freaking out when it attacks your kids!”


The informant is my dad remarking over the phone in response to me explaining how I was upset about not being able to finish working on a multitude of projects outside of school. When asked about where he heard the phrase, he pointed to Catholic school and the sort of lamb/wolf proverbs that he was exposed to there. He also claimed it to have similarity to the saying “bringing a knife to a gunfight.”


The phrase was said in an effort to make me laugh and bring light to the worry I’d been expressing (and it did get me to do so). It’s as if to say “well, what were you expecting to happen?”


The proverb itself is innately very dark in nature, and yet hits that sort of shock humor coupled with a simple realization. The idea of having your children eaten is a terrible concept, but the ignorance/gullibility of the person who would do such is. An added factor to the proverb is the in the word choice of “buying” said wolf. There is a certain action in paying for the beast that ends up screwing you over, which bolsters and reveals the main lesson of the saying. It asks the recipient of said advice to be more pragmatically present in the day to day; to not hyperextend their own capabilities.

Pombinha Branca

S. is a 55-year-old female Brazilian immigrant from Sao Paolo and the rural vineyard areas of Brazil. She has lived in the U.S. for about seven years. She says this song was popular around the rural areas and her mother sang it around the house as she cleaned.

This was near an area in San Antonio with a large Brazilian population around all the Brazilian steakhouses. We were picking her and her family up from their work.

Pombinha branca, que está fazendo?
Lavando roupa pro casamento
Vou me lavar, vou me trocar
Vou na janela pra namorar
Passou um moço, de terno branco
Chapéu de lado, meu namorado
Mandei entrar
Mandei sentar
Cuspiu no chão
Limpa aí seu porcalhão!


Little White dove, what are you doing?

Washing laundry for the wedding.

I’m going to wash up, I’m going to get changed,

I’m going to the window to flirt.

 A young man in a white suit,

 Hat tilted to the side, my sweetheart,

 I had him come in,

 I had him sit down He spat on the floor.

 Clean up your filth there,

Have better manners.

Pombinha Blanca is a folk song or traditional lullaby sung in a playful key that quickly turns furious both in tempo and key after the “spitting on the floor.” S. mentioned the lullaby reinforced some funny gender norms, encouraging harmony, but presenting the consequences of masculinity spilling over into sloppiness. In this entry, the folk song intended for children indirectly teaches gender norms just as Oring cites in his chapter, Children’s folklore in Folk Groups and Folk Genres. After establishing the social norms of feminine presentations and its rituals.

We’re All Off like a Herd of Turtles

Main piece: When we’re all leaving but we’re kind of late, someone will say “we’re all off like a herd of turtles”. But my family intentionally mispronounces it, so they say “we’re off like nerd of nerdles” or “we’re off like a turd of hurdles”.

Background: My informant is a twenty-year old woman from Richardson, Texas. Her father is from Malmesbury, a town Wiltshire, England, and her mother is from Dallas, Texas.

Explanation: Turtles are famously slow, so “we’re all off like a herd of turtles” means that “we are moving incredibly slowly and are definitely going to be late.”

Analysis: This folk simile exists to make light out of an unfortunate situation, that of being late. Being late can create anxiety, but having a funny saying allows the family to laugh it off, and also serves as a gentle reprimand that they should be moving faster. Additionally, intentionally misstating the phrase is another way to make light of the fact that they’ve made a mistake and don’t have enough time to get wherever they are going punctually, essentially saying that “we’re late, so we can’t do anything right, not even saying the phrase about being late”.

As Smart As Bait


The informant is 50 years old and from Riverside, California. She describes a saying popular in her fishing-obsessed family: “as smart as bait”. 


As stated, the informant grew up with a father who took her fishing frequently. He was the main perpetrator of this saying, jokingly using it during fishing trips. However, it was also used in regular life, it became adopted by all of her siblings and her mother, and they used it whenever they wanted to call something stupid. According to the informant, “Fishing bait is the least desirable thing to be in the world. Not only does it smell bad, get pierced by a hook, and eaten by a fish, it looks like absolute mush. There is nothing impressive or intellectual about bait, so equating another person’s intellect to that of bait is a major insult. That said, the tone of voice that this phrase is said in is usually very lighthearted and joking, so it doesn’t come across like a major insult, but instead like a light tease.”


I’ve heard a lot of folk sayings that use the form of a simile to insult. “As smart as bait” reminds me of other sayings like “smart like a tractor”, “dumb as a doornail”, etc. What’s interesting to me is that both “as smart as bait” and “dumb as a doornail” mean the same thing, despite one using the word smart and one using the word dumb. Irony goes a long way here, but it’s interesting that an insult is assumed of both.

Miss Mary


The informant, Chase, is the brother of the interviewer. She grew up in Chicago, Illinois where he currently resides. 


Chase tells the interviewer about a childhood rhyme they would sing on the playground.


“So this rhyme you would sing to your friends on the playground. It was always funny as kids because the words sound like they are about to be swear words, but then they are not. So no adults could get you in trouble for saying them because you didn’t actually say them. I learned it from you [interviewer] who learned it from our older cousin, Jordan.

The rhyme goes like this: ‘Miss Mary had a steamboat, Her steamboat had a bell. Miss Mary went to heaven, Her steamboat went to… Hell-o operator, give me number nine. If you disconnect me, I’ll kick you in the… Behind the refrigerator, there was a piece of glass.

Miss Mary sat upon it, and broke her little… Ask me no more questions, tell me no more lies.

The cows are in the pasture, eating chocolate pies, pies, pies. Miss Mary went to London, Miss Mary went to France. A french man pulled down Miss Mary’s underpants, pants, pants.’

I told all of my friends who thought it was the funniest thing. We would sing it all the time on the playground.


This is a very funny rhyme for kids. It is interesting how vast children’s folklore is and how quickly it can travel. My cousin who taught this to me is from Kentucky. All it took was one visit for Thanksgiving, and suddenly a rhyme kids in Kentucky sing made it all the way to a playground in Chicago.