Category Archives: Folk speech

细思极恐

Background: The informant learned this word from the internet. It was prevalent on the internet around 2018. It was the acronym of “仔细想想,非常恐怖。” Variations include alternating the order of the characters.

Context: The phrase is often used to describe a scenario or concept that seems innocuous or even mundane at first glance, but upon closer examination or reflection, it reveals itself to be much more sinister or alarming than people would have initially thought. The informant saw an internet post saying, “the brain is your most important organ—that’s what your brain told you.” People commented on the post with the main piece.

Main Piece:
细思极恐
[something] contemplated carefully and becomes very scary

Analysis
This phrase emerged when the Chinese internet created a lot of acronyms for daily use. The fact that these acronyms are all four characters might be influenced by Chinese Chengyu- an idiomatic expression, most of which consists of four characters and has a story behind it. The Chengyu is from historical or legendary stories and fables. The modern four-character phrases can be applied to a variety of contexts, such as political situations, social issues, or personal experiences, just like what people used to do with Chengyu. The main piece could be a continuation of a long tradition as a result of the habits of the Chinese language.

从前有座山

Background:
This “story” was from my friend; It is commonly told to children, including my informants and myself. Its structure is very simple, And variations were using different sentence structures to tell the same story. People would also connect different stories or sentences after the story to make it surprising. This story is simple, with only a few sentences, but it can be told in a loop.

Context:
When my informant asked her parents and grandparents to tell a story, they sometimes would perfunctorily tell this story and repeat it until my informant was bored. This story is also used between children to bother and tease each other until they are bored.

Main Piece:
从前有座山,山里有座庙,庙里有个老和尚。老和尚在给小和尚讲故事。老和尚说:从前有座山…
Translation: Once upon a time, there was a mountain. Inside the mountain, there was a temple. Inside the temple, there was an old monk. The old monk is telling a story to the little monk. The old monk said: once upon a time, there was a mountain…

Analysis:
This piece of folklore has the interesting nature of being potentially endless. It is interesting that while people consider it to be boring, it is still told by people. One possible explanation of the story is that it imitates the monks praying. When monks prayed, they would read the sacred texts out loud. The texts are obscure, and the monks murmur when speaking, which sounds boring and endless to many listeners. Thus, the old monk in the story is telling a boring story to the old monk.

Hope You Get Rich—恭喜发财

Background:
The informant was from a southern province in China called Guangdong, or Canton. He heard the saying from relatives that came from the same region. This tradition is a four-character word that expresses the best wish, which is the hope people will get rich. It has variations such as adding another four characters that meant “give the red pocket,” which involves the tradition of the Chinese New Year.

Context:
Every Chinese New Year, people would visit relatives and hang out with families. When my informant’s families greet each other, they say, “hope you get rich” instead of “happy new year.”

Main Piece:
恭喜发财
translation: hope you get rich

Analysis:
The Chinese New Year is the most important time of the year, and people express their best wishes to their families. The fact that Cantonese greets each other with “hope you get rich” reflects their values about wealth. Canton has long been a place where trading is happening. Many people have a family business or participate in businesses. Thus, “hope you get rich” is an appropriate wish for businessmen, which is why it is prevalent in Canton.

There’s A Place On Mars—Clapping Game

Background: The informant learned the song in elementary school and middle school. The song was sung while students, mainly girls, clapped their hands with each other. It has very clear rhythms. There are many variations of the lyrics, and this piece is an example of one of the variations.

Context: The informant learned this song while playing with friends in school. When singing this song, two people will face each other, clap their hands, clap each other’s hands, and repeat. It is a common song that was sung among students like her, and she knows other variations of the same song.

Main piece:
There’s a place on mars where the women smoke cigars and the men wear bikinis and the children drink martinis every breath you take is enough to kill a snake with the snake is dead you put roses on its head when the roses die you put diamonds in his eyes when the diamonds crack you put mustard on his back when the mustard fades you call the king of spades and the king of spades calls the queen of hearts and the queen of hearts packs the jack of clubs and the Jack of clubs says this Coca-Cola went to town orange soda knocked him down Dr Pepper fixed him up now we’re drinking 7up 7up got the flu now we’re drinking Mountain Dew. Mountain Dew fell off a mountain now we’re drinking from a fountain fountain broke now we’re drinking plain old C-O-K-E coke.

Analysis:
The lyrics include a lot of content that is considered inappropriate for children, such as smoking, children drinking martinis, etc. The beginning of the lyrics is a bit rebellious, which is probably why children are so interested in speaking and sharing it. The rather complex lyrics and the simple melody are an interesting combination. Compared to the lyric, the song was very simple, consisting of one short melody that keeps repeating. Since the lyrics appeal to children and the melody is easy to sing, the song spread widely among children.

Wish Upon A Star

Context :

W is my 17 year-old brother. He was born and raised in Utah, like me. He wishes on shooting stars because they are so rare. By wishing on such a rare thing, your wish will come true. But you can’t simply make a wish, you must also recite a specific phrase. W believes he first heard the phrase from his mother, who got it from her mother. The phrase has been passed down through generations as a positive superstition for getting wishes granted.

Text :

“Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight;
I wish I may, I wish I might
Have the wish I wish tonight.”

Analysis :

There are many different ways to make wishes, like blowing out birthday candles or loose eyelashes. Wishing upon a star has been around for centuries, and like the other wishing ways, originated because of the rarity of the event. Everyone has wishes, but wishes rarely come true. By wishing your wish on something as equally rare, there is supposedly a higher chance of the wish coming true. The saying itself seems to speak to a higher existence, unlike other wishing spells, which are just spoken internally. Because of that, wishers are not just saying their wish to anyone, but to what they think will grant the wish.