Tag Archives: advice

Elders know best – Mexican Proverb

Main Piece:

“A un novillo joven hay que enjuntarlo a un buey viejo para que surco salga derecho.”


To a young bull, you have to bind it to an old bull so that furrows go straight.


Elders know more, so in order for new generations to learn, they must learn from their elders.



Nationality: Mexican

Location: Guadalajara, Mexico

Language: Spanish


Context and Analysis:

When I asked my informant, a 78-year-old male, to recount to me any proverbs he might know he mentioned this one. I asked him where he had heard it and what it meant. He said he heard it in his home town Autlan, Mexico when he would go to the countryside. Before he told me the meaning of the proverb he made me attempt to guess for myself. After a couple of failed guessed he revealed to me the meaning he interprets from this proverb. He said, “Hay jóvenes que se tragan el mundo y creen que la computadora te dice todo pero para aprender bien necesitas la experiencia de alguien que ya haya vivido. A mi me invitan a muchas conferencias donde les platico de mis fracasos.” Loosely translated to: ‘there are many young men that think they know everything and believe everything the computers tell them, but in order to learn you need the experience of someone who has lived. I get invited to lots of conferences where I tell them about my mistakes.’ My informant explained to me that he believes the best way to learn is through the experience of others. He says he loves going to conferences and teaching others about the mistakes he has made in his life because this will prevent them from being made again. My informant wants me to emphasize how much more useful life knowledge is than theories and techniques you can learn in a book. He says the most valuable people are the ones that can learn from both books and absorb what they can from other’s experiences. 

I agree with my informant on the importance of not just taking knowledge from books and published sources, but also taking advantage of older generations that are happy to share what they have lived through. My informant is a civil engineer and has done many public works and constructions people utilize every day. The stories he has to tell would teach anyone many qualities but especially other civil engineers considerably about, work ethic, problem-solving, and techniques. I also asked my informant if he would ever consider publishing a book to which he responded he enjoys sharing his experience one on one because it is too much to fit in a book and this makes it more personal. I believe there are many people like my informant that love sharing their experiences personally and there is a lot to learn from them.

It is apparent this proverb originates from the countryside for its reference to cattle and the technique of how to teach a young bull how to plow. These are agricultural references, so I would argue the proverb originates from an agricultural background.





Living Well Is the Best Revenge

Text: Living well is the best revenge.

Context: The informant is the collector’s mother. The collector has often heard this saying from the informant throughout her childhood and has often taken it to heart. It was usually said during times where the collector had been wronged by someone else or had been facing hardships as a result of someone else. This was told a lot to the collector in high school and middle school. The informant learned this saying during her career in Wall Street. She doesn’t remember specifically where she learned it but remembered hearing it often at work. She then passed it on to her daughter and other friends. She likes this saying because she sees truth in it and finds it to be a mature take on conflicts. She also thinks it’s a healthy outlook on life and sees it as “taking the high road.”

Analysis: As the informant’s daughter, I felt that I learned this proverb early on and feel that it has helped me over time. It reminds me to not seek concrete revenge, but instead to ignore negativity and focus on moving on and becoming a better form of myself. In a sense, living well IS the best revenge, because those who have tried to wrong you are forced to watch you succeed and become a better person.

College/Education Proverb


Informant: “I went to college to get a diploma, it would have been just as easy to get an education.”


The informant learned this saying from his grandfather upon graduating from high school in Ohio. He found it highly impactful, not only in the context of college, but as a general life lesson as well, and took care to heed this advice going forwards.


This expression and the conversation leading up to it were recorded during a scheduled meeting that took place at my home in San Diego, CA.


Although on the surface this saying may seem very specific, I think the lessons it implies can be applied to all walks of life. It stresses the importance of finding value in all aspects of an experience, as opposed to seeing something simply as a means to an end. It is certainly an expression I will remember and perhaps help spread in the future.

“Don’t date your dance partner”

“Something we tell our new people is a warning that you shouldn’t date your dance partner. So, here’s the thing: this used to be followed all the time. When I got here, nobody was dating anybody on our team, and this is out of 50 people on the dance team – I don’t know the real number – and about 20 competitors…wait, I take it back. There was one couple: Nick and Claire. Nick and Claire were dating, but nobody else was dating. Nick and Claire came in as a couple already, and so they became dance partners. They didn’t dance together for everything, though they did dance together for some things. What we don’t like is when people meet through the ballroom dance team, dance with each other for a while, and then say, ‘You know what? I’mma date you.’ This happens in the professional world a lot. Professional dancers, they’re usually 16-17 years old – they’re young – when they meet each other. Well, sometimes they’re 23-24 years old when they meet each other, but usually it’s fairly young, and they dance with each other for a while. Whatever the exact age, they’re young, and they’re all kinds of hormonal, and they’re dancing with a very attractive person, these professionals. ‘I’m hormonal. I’m dancing with a hot person, and this hot person knows how to use their body. Yes, I’m going to try to make something out of this,’ and they do, all the time. They get married sometimes, and then they divorce each other. It almost always happens. I mean, there are a few cases where it doesn’t happen – they’ve learned how to make it work – but it’s usually a disaster in the professional world to date your dance partner, because you break up, and then you can’t dance together anymore, and the you gotta go find a new partner, but you’re older, and everybody’s already taken. Then, your career is done. So, finding somebody you click with is important, and then not trying to have sex with that person is equally important once that first part is done. On our team, we recommend the same thing. If you have a dance partner, that’s great. Work really hard to not date them or try to be more than friends with them, because if you do, when you try, it’s an easy way to lose a dance partner. So, it’s a little odd that we had a lot of people over the last two or three years end up dating the people that they dance with. Sometimes, they started to dance with the people that they’re dating. That happened to me. That happened to…actually, I think that happened to most people. They met first, started dating, and then said, ‘hey, we’re going to dance together.’ Usually, we’re still pretty good about being like, ‘We’re going to dance together. Oooh, I like you. Let’s do this thing.’ It’s easier when you go from dating to dance partners than from dance partners to dating, but it still carries risks, so we advise people to treat your dance relationship like your regular relationship: talk about things and seek help from others when you need it.”

Background Information and Context:

What the informant is describing is based on his years of experience on the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team. There is no way to say – at least, not without surveying members of multiple dance teams – whether the phenomenon of having a lot of couples on a dance team is exclusive to the SC Ballroom and Latin Dance team or, if it is not exclusive, if the couples on other dance teams act like those on USC’s team. Although, I have heard similar advice of being wary of the person with whom you start a relationship in other teams and in other contexts, such as work. This part of our conversation was more personal in nature than the topics that preceded, and I was mildly surprised that the informant, for the most part, kept his personal opinions out.

Collector’s Notes:

What was interesting about this topic is that I hadn’t originally intended to ask about it but noted to the informant that I found it odd that both of us are dating our dance partners. I’d heard the general opinion that dating your dance partner leads to unnecessary complications in both the romantic and dance relationship, but still, nobody dissuaded me when my boyfriend first asked me out, months after we’d started talking about becoming competition partners. On our team, there didn’t seem to be any negative examples of such a relationship to make me worry beyond the passing thought. I think it’s interesting that dancing, especially ballroom dancing, is heavily romanticized, and performers are criticized if their dance lacks passion, romance, tenderness, etc., but actual romance, specifically a new romance, is met with wariness. Moreover, it is interesting that popular media so often portrays romance/attraction and drama/angst as inextricable from each other. The connotations of dancing and romance seem at odds with each other.

Dance Proverb

My informant SS is a 20-year-old girl of Jewish descent. She is very passionate about dance and participated on a dance team all throughout high school. In this piece, she describes a common saying to me (AK) that her dance coach attempted to instill in the minds of each girl on the team.

SS: From dance team we had the saying of: “Early is on time and on time is late.”

AK: So does this just mean you always had to be early?

SS: Kind of. At first it was annoying, but I got used to it pretty quickly.

AK: Does it have any significance to you or does it still apply to your life today?

SS: Definitely. It really sticks with me now. It’s a good life skill and saying I guess.

I found this proverb to be quite applicable to pretty much every facet of life. For me, this proverb is most applicable to things from my everyday life. For important events like interviews and tests, it is very easy to find the motivation to be on time because a lot is dependent on the event itself. However, for things like class and other day to day tasks, it is way harder to have the motivation to always be on time. For this reason, I try to abide by this proverb. It is certainly very difficult, but just the mindset of needing to be early allows me to show up on time. In a way, I still am “late”, but just this shift in mindset allows me to be traditionally “on time”.

Cooking with High Emotion

Folklore Piece:

“Well, my grandmother always used to tell me that when you cooked, your emotions would like seep? I don’t know if that’s the right word. Seep into the food and affect the taste. Um, she would say you should never cook, especially for other people, when you are angry or sad or the food will come out wrong or, like, taste bitter. And this goes double for baking, um because baked goods should be made with love so that they’re sweeter. Basically, like, basically you should always cook in a happy environment where you’re relaxed, with music, your favorite show, or, like my grandmother’s favorite, a glass of red wine.”


Background information:

Asked for more information online at a later time, and this was her response

“My grandmother is the cook in our family and we’ve done a lot of baking and cooking together, both for family holidays and for daily meals while she taught me how to cook. Cooking and baking with my grandmother was a great way for us to bond and we made many great memories. She taught me everything I know about cooking. This was a good reminder of not only taking care of myself and my emotional/mental health but also of caring for my loved ones. Food is sustenance in the same way love is; family and friends need both food and love to thrive. It’s a pretty traditional idea as well, grounded in the idea that women are the main caregivers and the source of a family’s happiness and well-being. I’m not sure where my grandmother heard it from, but I take it very seriously and it helps me feel connected to both my ancestors and the loved ones I’m cooking for. “



I knew the informant had liked to cook and bake, so I asked if she had any good advice she had learned from her grandmother, who, based on previous collections I had taken from her, I knew was quite the character. She told me this story, and also said that it would “definitely be something she would teach kids whenever they’re learning how to cook”.



Cooking and its various associated folklores are important identifiers for many ethnic groups and families. Recipes, traditions, and the act of cooking itself are taught traditionally between family members and those belonging to the same cultural group. Particularly interesting in this piece is the dynamic between the food and the cook; tangibly, the ingredients in a recipe are what makes the food taste the way it is. The preparation has an effect, too, but if you prepare food the same way, with the same ingredients, you should get the same result. That the participants grandmother suggested that the cook’s emotions and feelings can be used as an ingredient is a way to personify the food to be an extension of the self.

In the same way that one would not want to make a family member sad, angry, or distressed, the cook would not want to give food that would have that emotion cooked into it. This was perhaps introduced so that the cook – often put in stressful situations – can remember to keep calm. Especially as a child learning recipes and how to cook, it’s important that they not become frustrating and instead are taught that cooking can be the cultural instrument it is often used as.

Never carry a gun

Information about the Informant

My informant is a professor teaching English and American Literature at the University of Southern California. He grew up in Chicago during the 1950s, and fought in the latter half of the Vietnam War. After that, he returned and received his degree in English Literature at UC Irvine. He has worked on many textbooks and movies that deal with the Vietnam War.


“Same man…who was a professional burglar…taught me to never carry a gun. Because, he said, if you carry a gun, you’re gonna have to take it out. And if you take it out, you’re gonna have to use it, because if you don’t use it, the son of a bitch you’re pointing it at is gonna take it away from you and use it on you. So, never carry a gun.”


Practical advice, but also folklore as it has been passed down by word of mouth from person to person such that even I, who grew up in Taiwan and has been nowhere near Chicago, have heard a variant of this piece of advice. I have heard this advice given not just about guns, but about knives and about Mace. An interesting comparison can be made between this piece of folklore that my informant gave me and the similar advice I’ve heard. In my case, the example I’m thinking of was about Mace, and it was told to me as a reason why girls should not carry Mace pepper spray around with them to defend themselves with, because it could so easily be turned around and used on the girl if she was not careful or if she hesitated at all. Which seemed to me at the time a bit sexist and troublesome as its core message seemed to be that I, as a girl, should not carry items that I could use in case of being attacked. But here, it sounds more like practical advice, because it was told to a male, and was told to my informant by a purported criminal who would be more likely to know these things firsthand, and thus the advice has more of accuracy associated with it.

Farrier Lore: If a horse has a glass eye, he will always kick on that side


Informant: “Here’s one for a fact. You know how some horses have a blue eye or a glass eye, if that horse is gonna kick, he’ll kick with the side that has a glass eye. That doesn’t mean the other side won’t kick, but if you’re gonna get kicked it’ll be on the side that has that glass eye”


Collector: “Why is that? Do you think it is because they do not see as well on that side?”


Informant: “I don’t know, I don’t know but if you hit one of em with a whip haha he’s gonna kick. He’ll hit with that one.”


The informant is a sweet, older, “cowboy” who has been working with horses and farm animals for his entire life. He is a Certified Journeyman Farrier (the highest level of certification by the American Farrier’s Association) and is very well respected in the farrier and greater equine community. He was born in Wichita, Kansas to a family that has been farmers for generations. In fact, the informant said that some of his family is still farming in “places like Oklahoma.” He learned of this lore as a child when he was about ten years old from his father and grandfather while working on the family farm, which included horses and mules. He shod his first horse when he was 13, and has been shoeing horses for about 51 years. * To “shoe” or shod a horse is to put horse shoes on the horse’s hooves. Horses need to be shod about once every six weeks, so quality farriers are highly sought after in the equine community. A farrier is a very specialized and difficult profession because if a horse is shod improperly the horse could become crippled.*

Sometimes a horse has an eye that is a clear, light colored, or blue-ish colored eye. The coloring of the eye does not physically mean anything as far as the informant knows; the coloring of the eye is similar to other animals like malamutes who have eyes of different colors. This piece of occupational lore is especially important for farriers because they work with horses’ feet and can get kicked. A horse kick is definitely something to be avoided because it is very painful and can even break bones. In fact, when asked how he felt about the lore, the informant said “I do know that one about the glass eye, that ones true. Let me tell ya.”  “I’ve been kicked.” Therefore, being aware that a horse has a “blue or glass” eye and a propensity to kick on a particular side would be helpful to avoid injury, especially for someone who has previously been kicked by a horse.

It is interesting that the reason the horse will kick on a particular side is unknown. I wonder if it does have to do with the horse’s ability to see out of a particular eye. Personally, my mother owns a horse and I sometimes work around horses, so I will definitely remember this information and probably pass it on if I ever see a horse with a blue or glass eye. Apparently “Pinto horses,” horses with big spots, are more likely to have blue or glass eyes.

“Te Dan La Mano Y Se Cojen Del Codo”


“Te dan la mano y se cojen del codo”

Literal Translation: You give them your hand and they take your elbow.

Translation: When you extend your hand, they grab for your elbow.

My informant explained that her dad used to say this phrase all the time, as a warning about other people.  Her father had told her that with some people, you have to be cautious because they will try to take advantage of you.  The expression basically means that when you offer kindness or generosity, be careful because others may manipulate or abuse your benevolence.

The Spanish phrase echoes the American children’s book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” or the expression “when you give someone an inch, they take a mile.”  Once you start offering, the demands start building.  I asked if she had heard of this book or saying and she replied: “Oh yes, it’s exactly like that.”  So just remember, a small little offering can create a snowball effect and you’ll end up dealing with much more than you bargained for.

Proverb – USA


“If it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”

I first heard this proverb from my father (Philip Katz) when I was 17 years old.  I recall a time period in my life that was extremely chaotic and stressful; SAT’s, college applications, schoolwork, and Ice Hockey.  While ice hockey has always been one of my greatest passions in life, our mediocre record didn’t seem rewarding for the amount of time that I had sacrificed to play.  The first time I remember hearing the saying came after we lost a close game. I was sitting in my room staring at my computer when I heard my dad tell me, “if it doesn’t kill you Jeremy, it makes you stronger.”  From then on out he said it to me a number of times, when I was frustrated with work or upset over a grade.  He first learned the proverb from his father (my grandfather) when he was in high school as well.  He remembers his dad using the proverb after he broke his leg trying to do a back flip off of a enormous boulder at a park in his hometown of Great Neck, New York.

He informed me that the proverb can be used in a number of situations, but all deal with something bad or negative that happens or could potentially happen to someone.  “It’s similar to looking at the silver lining of something,” as he puts it.  The proverb is trying to say that unless “it,” this problem or potentially harmful item is so powerful that it actually “kills,” it will make you a stronger and more advance person who will be able to contest future problems and will have a deeper understanding of himself.  Take for example my father giving me this proverb after I lost an crucial hockey game.  Losing the game wasn’t enough to “kill” me or even otherwise destroy my passion for the game or ability to play, but it was able to teach me not only the ways in which I individually could improve as a player, but also how our team could compete together and increase our chances of being successful.

The saying fits the traditional definition of folklore because it has no known author and is characterized by multiplicity and variation.  The proverb certainly expresses a philosophical outlook or world-view of (some) Americans.  I would classify it as free phrase as the saying could certainly change, and likely has evolved over time while still possessing the same meaning.  Furthermore it is undoubtedly trying to convince somebody of something and thus an example of rhetoric.  Just as folklorists have called proverbs the “wisdom of the ages,” (Lecture 2/5/08) I can see how one might use this proverb as beneficial insight into coping with problems and understanding how one might react to negative consequences.