Category Archives: Folk speech

Engineer’s Rounding Joke

Piece
“pi=10, it also equals 3 and e=3 so pi=e!”
Context
When talking about safety factors, the informant, an engineering student, shared the joke. Because engineers are always concerned about the safety of the users of their products (because getting sued is no fun) and like to account for the things more difficult to account for, one way to introduce a safety factor is to make pi equal to 10 in all calculations. This massive rounding then prompted the follow up of simply rounding e (~2.718) and pi (~3.14) could simply be rounded to 3 for simpler calculations and that error would be accounted for with the safety factor.
My Thoughts
This joke has some practicality to it by reminding engineers to have large safety factors to ensure the safety of their designs, it is also a joke on the rather flippant view of numbers that engineers have as it doesn’t always need to be precise but simply overkill enough for the application. I also relate this to the idea that engineers are lazy and so create processes and machines to ensure they can be lazy at the desired times. Multiplying or dividing by 10 is about as lazy as it gets in math.

Christ is Risen

Piece
R: “Christ is Risen!”
O: “He is Risen Indeed!”
Context
On Easter, one would greet another those they meet with “Christ is Risen!” and that person is supposed to respond with “He is Risen Indeed!”
The informant makes this exchange with people at their church and family members when waking them in the morning. They learned it from members of their childhood church.
My Thoughts
This exchange of ritualistic words is to celebrate and proclaim what Christians believe to be the most important part of Easter, the miracle of Christ’s resurrection. It is in response to Jesus’s benediction (after his resurrection) in Matthew 28:18-20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age”. It could also be a method of distinguishing who is a Christian and who isn’t throughout the day.

Fail Faster

Piece
On my robotics team, we follow the saying “fail faster”. Starting from our first meeting, to our last match at champs, our design mentor always tells us to fail faster. By failing faster, we innovate faster. Failing faster encourages us, regardless of subteam, to think outside the box; to think big. When we know that something doesn’t work, we reflect off of it. What went well, what didn’t go well. This reflection helps us find a design or a plan of attack that works best for our team needs. We pass down the motto of fail faster both through mentors and students. Mentors always encourage us to fail faster, but so do the students. Like mentioned before, we encourage students regardless of subteam to think about side the box. Have a crazy design for a climber, or a new idea for an outreach event, let the team hear it.
Context
The informant shared this via an electronic platform of individuals who participate in the international robotics program in a conversation about team mottos. The informant is a student on their robotics team where the motto has been passed down from student to student and shared by older students and the team mentors. The motto “fail faster” is not the official motto of the team, but is the one that students are familiar with and feel the team works by. It has also become a motto for the students as they become engineering students and adults.
My Thoughts
This is an unofficial motto of my own robotics team, though less so than the informant. I have heard it in other teams as well as in some start-up level engineering companies and SpaceX. The idea is that if you just get something out and see it fail, you’ll move faster towards the right solution than trying to iterate in theoretical space until the design is perfect. This motto encourages members of those teams and companies to see failure as a learning opportunity more than anything. It tries to build a collaborative culture that pushes for innovation because they are okay if the mechanism doesn’t work. This motto can then overflow out of the workplace as individuals become more willing to take chances in life and try something new. They are taught to look at failure as an opportunity to learn and to make the most of it is coming up with a new solution or way forward. Furthermore, encouraging failure promotes inclusiveness. New members don’t have to be afraid of giving an idea because failure is something everyone does and experiences and the faster they get around to doing it, the more they will learn.

Order of Operations Mnemonic Device

Piece
PEMDAS- Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally
Context
The informant was introduced to this mnemonic device in late elementary school and middle school as a method to learn the order of operation: parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. When solving a mathematical equation, the order that one performs the operations is important to reach the final answer. The students were taught “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally”; however, the informant and many other students in the class would change to simply say “Pemdas”, a made-up word, but one they could still remember. The phrase was less appealing to the informant and their peers as it was long and required them to break down the phrase into the first letters of each word to get the actual desired content.
My Thoughts
The students were taught the phrase “Please excuse my dear Aunt Sally” by their teachers, but instead made their own mnemonic device to better match their preferences. The shorter device may point to a desire for efficiency in those who use it as they prefer a more straight-forward learning method than one that might be seen as ‘creative’.

Engineering vs. Arts Degree Joke

The graduate with a Science degree asks, “Why does it work?” The graduate with an Engineering degree asks, “How does it work?” The graduate with an Accounting degree asks, “How much will it cost?” The graduate with an Arts degree asks, “Do you want fries with that?”
Context
In a group discussion including college freshmen and high school seniors over what major the students were studying or thinking about studying, one high school senior said they were trying to decide between being an engineering major versus an art major. One of the college freshmen then shared the joke. The group was comprised of students and alumni of the robotics program, so all were at least thinking about pursuing STEM majors.
My Thoughts
This is a commentary on the massive pay difference between the average engineering (most STEM) majors and arts majors. It is a way for the rivalry in high school between those who are more STEM minded versus the arts-minded to poke fun at one another. The joke can mean a couple of different things. One, it can be a reminder to students who have interests in both fields that a job in the arts is less stable and guaranteed paycheck wise than a career in engineering. The second is to feed the ego and feelings of superiority that many want-to-be-engineers have in the pre and early college years (and beyond for some).

The Folk Slang of Gamers

The following is a transcribed interview conducted over a video chat between me and interviewee, hereby further referred to as SM.

Me: I just burnt my toast. 

SM: GG, my man. 

Me: What does that mean?

SM: It means “good game.” It’s, like, sarcastic and it’s HUGE for gamers like everyone uses this slang on games and in youtube videos. 

Me: So, what does it actually mean then?

SM: Like when someone just lost a game, especially if they lost it pretty royally, to rub salt in the wound you say sarcastically “GG” like “good game, hahaha.” It’s like you didn’t actually play a good game cause you messed up but here’s me being an asshole to remind you of that. It’s probably the equivalent of saying “good job” sarcastically. 

Me: So you just made me feel worse about ruining my toast?

SM: Yes, I just made fun of you and anyone else would’ve understood it because it is very popular slang. And if I wanted to be extra mean, I would say “GG No Re.” That means good game, no replays meaning you can’t redeem yourself. 

Background: 

Interviewee is a gamer, so they know quite a bit about popular slang and lingo and use it in everyday life. 

Context:

Interviewee and I were speaking just after I had made an error. I had burnt some toast, so he was making fun of me for it by using this folk slang. Interviewee and I are romantically involved, so the conversation was very casual. 

Thoughts:

It’s interesting to me how many versions of this slang there are, especially in the gaming community. Many of them typically are snide or sarcastic remarks that tend to get a rise out of other players and make the game more interesting or perk it up. When this translates to daily life, as most have, they are quick wits that rub salt in wounds. They all are typically very short and quick because the gaming world is so fast paced. I learn quite a bit from being around gamers, whenever I can keep up!

Food Worker Slang

The following is a transcribed interview between interviewee and I. Interviewee is further referred to as MH.

MH: Better watch out, Miss. ‘Rona is coming for us!

Me: What does that mean? 

MH: It means that Coronavirus is coming for us all like an angry woman. That’s what we all call it at work so it isn’t so heavy. 

Me: So you call COVID-19 Miss ‘Rona?

MH: hahaha, yeah.  

Background:

Interviewee works for Trader Joe’s, a supermarket chain that has been providing food services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Workers have developed lots of folk slang during this time, some of which I picked up and was able to ask about. 

Context: 

This piece of folklore was collected from a quick phone call when interviewee had just gotten off of work. The setting was very casual, as we were just talking to catch up and share some folklore.

Thoughts:

Lots of slang has been cropping up about coronavirus, especially in communities that are on the front lines, like in food or medical services. It is interesting seeing that some of the people who are most exposed to coronavirus are trying to make a joke of it, even in just the name, so that they can lighten the tone of the overarching fear and hostility they may be facing in the workplace.

Meaning Behind The Proverb “In The Land of The Blind, The One Eyed Man is King.”

Main Piece:

Original Text (Latin): “In regione caecorum rex est luscus.”

Translation: “In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king.” 

Meaning as told by my informant:

“It means that if everything is bad, and one thing is less bad, then it’s automatically the best. It plays on the idea of ‘best’ being a relative term. So literally speaking, someone who has sight in one eye can see more than someone who is blind. Therefore, he’s the best. He rules. In life, if you’re better than people at something, even if you’re not even good at it, you’ll be the best. It’s winning by default. If you were playing a game and the other team forfeited, your team won just because it didn’t quit. You didn’t do anything, but you still did more than the other kids.” 

Background: 

My informant is my mother, who grew up hearing this phrase and doesn’t remember learning it. When I asked her if she knew the saying’s origin, she said “it must’ve come somewhere with a king, so it’s probably European.” She likes the saying because it puts things in perspective: “Once you enter the real world, nothing is perfect. A lot of life is just getting things done the best you can. It’s not like in school where there are grades. Many times, the things that are best aren’t even very good. That can be very comforting or very concerning, depending on your belief system. I think it’s kind of beautiful.” 

Context: 

I am currently in quarantine at my informant/mother’s house, and this piece was collected while we were eating dinner at the kitchen table. 

Thoughts: 

I had always heard this saying in the context of someone getting something by default; they didn’t work hard for it, but they worked harder than others. However, after some research, I learned this specific phrasing is taken from an Erasmus quote in Latin that dates back to 1500, which is likely based off of a Hebrew excerpt from Genesis in the Old Testament “בשוק סמייא צווחין לעווירא סגי נהור”, which translates to “In the street of the blind, the one eyed man is called the Guiding Light.” Once I saw that this proverb is Biblical, it gave me a new perspective on my mother’s idea that it’s “kind of beautiful.” In the Bible, Jesus always says people are perfectly imperfect. While the English proverb in particular is competitive, it also shows that sometimes, even the best people aren’t perfect. I think this saying is a good example of how a proverb can change over time. Biblically, it means that we are all human, and we shouldn’t be so hard on each other. But today, it generally means someone wasn’t good, they were just better. While I don’t imagine myself using this proverb in its original context, it does give me a new appreciation for the saying itself. 

For more information on the proverb’s origin:

Wiktionary. “In-the-Land-of-the-Blind-the-One-Eyed-Man-Is-King.” 

Meaning Behind The Proverb “Hope For The Best, Prepare For The Worst”

Main Piece: 

Original Proverb: “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” 

Meaning as told by my informant: 

“It’s honestly pretty self explanatory. It’s good to be an optimist… you should always root for what you want and have faith. However, you can’t be naive about it. You should always have some kind of plan B or safety net if things don’t go as planned. The idea of this line is that you have to balance those two things. Offence and defense. Feet on the ground, head in the clouds… dream big, but be okay if things don’t work out.” 

Background:

My informant is my father, who is a retired doctor. Although he was a surgeon, his work mainly consisted of him doing expert witness work in legal cases. He first heard this proverb while preparing for a case, and he still primarily associates the saying with attorneys. However, he believes it applies to all contexts of life. While he’s a big fan of proverbs and jokes in general, this one is likely his favorite. As his child, I can vouch that he says this all the time. 

Context: 

While I’m not in quarantine with my informant/father, I do call him every day, and this piece was collected during a routine call. 

Thoughts: 

To me, this proverb will always be my father’s best advice. Having been involved in the performing arts since a young age, I have countless distinct memories of my father reciting this proverb to me as he picked me up from auditions. He said it before I opened every college admission letter. No matter what I was doing, I could always count on him telling me to “hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” I don’t think of it as being optimistic or skeptical, it’s just real. One of the things I love about this proverb is that it can apply to not just any situation, but any culture. I briefly Googled this proverb after my interview, and found that there really is no origin to it. There are countless articles with countless nationalities. I think this saying speaks to the human experience in general: we’re all just trying to live life the best we can. We want to see the beauty in the world, but not be hurt by life’s struggles. It’s theater’s drama and comedy, or Chinese mythology’s Yin and Yang. We are all trying to find a balance. 

Irish-American Hygiene Advice

Background: The informant is a woman in her late fifties who grew up in downstate New York in Queens and on Long Island before moving to upstate New York for college. In her mid 20s, she moved out to Southern California and she had lived there ever since. She comes from a large family of Catholic Irish-Americans.

Main Text:

“If you don’t clean out your ears or bellybutton, you’ll grow potatoes there.”

Context: Typically, this warning is told to children as a way to incentivize them into proper hygiene. As the informant explained it, there was an association between the dirt that gathered when someone didn’t clean their body and the dirt that potatoes grow in. The saying came directly from her grandmother, who emigrated from Ireland to New York as a young adult. However, the saying seemed to backfire for the informant—she admits that she never wanted to clean her ears or bellybutton after being told this hyperbole, just so she could see if potatoes actually grew.

Thoughts: The informant happens to be my mother, so I also grew up with this saying. Similar to her, I found the lie to be more interesting than scary, and as a young child I also avoided cleaning my bellybutton just to see what would happen. It’s interesting how these types of rumors can actually backfire on gullible children, instead encouraging them to do the opposite of what they’re told. I wonder if my great-grandmother knew that when she used the phrase, and only repeated it to her children and her children’s children because she found it amusing. This phrase also reminds me of another popular schoolyard rumor, where supposedly if you swallow a watermelon seed it will grow inside of you. The Irish Potato warning seems to be somewhat less widespread in the United States. None of my friends can recall a similar warning, and the only other place I’ve encountered it being used it in Frank McCourt’s book Angela’s Ashes, a memoir about Irish-American immigrants.

Further Citations:

McCourt, Frank. Angela’s Ashes. Scribner, 1996.