Category Archives: Folk speech

Evil Eye Jewelry

Main Piece

Informant told a story about the Evil Eye within Arabic communities, involving a ritualistic wearing of an object (and phrase, within some communities).

“So the concept of the Evil Eye is that you have to wear it somewhere on your body, otherwise when people think bad thoughts about you it’ll come true, and then, like, the Evil Eye absorbs them all. And then, once it’s absorbed too much, it breaks…this is only in some Arabic cultures, but when someone goes ‘Oh my god, I really love your purse,’ they have to go ‘مَا شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ’ (informant then translated phrase as “praise be to God”) after it, otherwise you have to give it to them – like, cause then the Evil Eye will get you. It’s kinda like a “oh my God, I love your earrings!” and now they’re jealous, so if you don’t give them the earrings or they say ‘مَا شَاءَ ٱللَّٰهُ,’ their jealously will start ruining your life – like seep into you.”


Informant Interpretation: Informant heard about it from his Mom, who told him to wear it all the time for protection. “It wasn’t something I learned, it was just something I knew.” He still frequently wears Evil Eye jewelry as a method of protection for himself, and knows many others who do. He sees it as something more inherent to his family and society, and directly associated with paying attentions to others’ emotional states.

Personal Interpretation: This is an example of a folk belief or superstition involving a ritualistic object and many ritualistic tendencies, primarily practiced as a method of protection for oneself. I personally found its interaction with ‘magic’ to be the most interesting–the idea that someone else’s negative thought of you could seep into you feels like contagious magic to me, which wearing the folk object (Evil Eye) or repeating a ritualistic phrase can protect you from.


Informant is a 20 year old college student primarily raised in Birmingham, UK. He is male-presenting, Black, and of Sudanese descent, and speaks English and Arabic fluently.

Rice For The After-Life

Nationality: Chinese/Vietnamese
Primary Language: English
Other language(s): Mandarin, Cheo Chow (Chinese Dialect)
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: LA, California
Performance Date: 3/24/2024


My informant, AC, is a friend of mine from my freshman year at USC from Los Angeles, California. I talked with her about her parents one day whilst we took a break from working on a project together. I recalled a moment where she got mad about not finishing a plate full of just rice, and she told me a story about her mother’s rants about rice in her past. She mentioned that her mom would scold her for not finishing her rice at home and she said that her mother gave a rather spiritual reason than the reason I originally thought. So I questioned her about it further and this is what she told me:


“My mom used to tell me that for every grain of rice I didn’t finish, it would come back to haunt me in the afterlife. She explained to me as a child that the grains of rice I didn’t finish would turn into worms I would be forced to eat once I died and went into the afterlife. She used to tell me this: ‘Carry your weight of grain or be crushed by the burden of consumed destiny.’ I didn’t really know what to think of it, I mean even now it alarms me yeah, but it’s not something I would personally just blindly believe. Spooky though.”


In my research of this topic, I at first didn’t really find anything. I had to really dig, as AC didn’t give much more information about the topic she described because she claims she couldn’t really remember much else. So, because of her ethnic background and cultural history, I decided to ask around to other friends with similar backgrounds and cultures and with the help of them and the internet once I knew what I was searching for, I found this: Apparently, there is a cultural belief related to rice in some Southeast Asian and East Asian cultures, particularly in the Philippines, Indonesia, and parts of China and Japan, known as “Bangaan” or “Bunao.” This belief revolves around the idea that rice grains should not be wasted, as doing so can result in punishment in the afterlife. According to this belief, when rice grains are wasted or thrown away, they turn into worms or insects that represent the spirit of the rice. These worms are believed to haunt the person who wasted the rice, and in the afterlife, the person may have to eat these worms as a form of punishment or purification. The concept itself reflects the cultural value placed on rice as a staple food and the importance of not wasting resources. It is also tied to traditional agricultural practices, where rice was seen as a sacred crop and wasting it was considered disrespectful to the deities or spirits associated with rice cultivation. I am amazed by this concept and especially that metaphor, I mean wow, it has such meaning behind its spookiness. I personally have never heard of this and when doing further research on this I ended up learning that this concept and belief has been native to South-East Asian communities for centuries. This belief even ties into the idea of polytheism, that being that gods of rice existed and were worshiped in certain cultures like in the Philippines and certain areas of China. I found this information to be very intriguing, especially how these types of stories and cultural and religious beliefs continue to spread to this day.

Why Did The Ice Cream Cross The Road?

Nationality: Korean
Primary Language: English
Other language(s): Korean
Age: 19
Occupation: Student
Residence: LA, California
Performance Date: 3/3/2024


My informant, DH, is a friend of mine from my freshman year at USC from Los Angeles, California. I talked with DH one night in second semester freshman year about food, as DH loves food. We were going to get some ice cream and he just started spastically laughing whilst getting some ice cream because I said a tame joke about how much he loves sugary foods. I asked him why in the world he was laughing so much and he told me this:


“My mom and I would have this dumb joke between the three of us, me, my brother, and her. It was this super funny joke about how fat we were because, well, we were, and I mean who could blame us, we love food! Especially ice cream, so she said this to us one day: ‘Why did the ice cream cross the road? 너에게서 멀어지려고!’ Which translates to: ‘To get away from you!’ That was so funny, it stuck forever.”


Now I did look this up and didn’t find anything specific, I mean I did find a Korean dad joke about ice cream crossing the road but the answer was a Korean word which was a play on words but has nothing to do with a specific person or their history as this one did. I find it interesting how they have their own joke about their own history together but it’s still somewhat tied to their Korean language and heritage. It’s a wholesome funny joke that I’ve personally never heard of before but it seems super funny and self aware too, love it.

A Long Neck Means Good Fortune

My informant told me about how her grandmother said that if you have a very long neck, it is a sign that you will be successful. Her grandmother would tell this to her sister, who had a long neck. My informant does not believe in it however. Her grandmother had a lot of random proverbs, so even though she Is open to it, she doesn’t think of it as a law. My informant also told me that she did not have a long neck, and thus she was more inclined not to believe in the fortune her grandmother gave her sister.

It seems as if this proverb is the conclusion of a ritual of fortune telling her grandmother does. Whether it is believed or not seems irrelevant as the simple words boost the confidence of the individual with a long neck.

“Bread and Butter” (Splitting the Pole)

• saying/banisher of bad luck

Many people subscribe to the superstition that “splitting the pole,” or in other words, walking on two different sides of a (usually tall and inanimate) object, i.e. a pole, is bad luck–sometimes promising a split in the pair’s relationship, poor fortune, or even death for one or both parties, according to different beliefs. 

Of course, for various reasons, sometimes it is impossible for two people to avoid splitting the pole, in which case one of them must say “bread and butter” to undo the bad luck. This is presumably tied to the idea that splitting the pole will cause the two to separate in some way, and butter can’t really be separated from bread once spread. 

While there is limited written documentation/proof, because the superstition around splitting the pole seems to have originated among Black Americans, many point to the context of slavery, the life-or-death need for enslaved people to stay together and seek protection in numbers, and the ever-present threat of external parties dividing them from loved ones. 

However, “bread and butter” makes even physical separation powerless, restoring the protective powers of community, especially in travel.