Tag Archives: Stereotypes/Blason Populaire

A surgeon is strong as an ox and twice [or half] as smart

My informant is an orthopedic surgeon, who was born in Hawaii, lived in Texas, Long Beach California, and Virginia Beach. He is also in the Army Reserves. My informant now works in New Orleans, Louisiana. Over lunch with my informant we were talking about occupational folklore and stereotypes, which led into a conversation about stereotypes of different types of doctors brought up the saying, “strong as an ox and twice as smart.” The conversation is as follows:

I: The stereotype of orthopedic surgeons is that they are strong as an ox and twice as smart.

Person 1: I thought it was half as smart

Person 2: Yeah, I think that’s how it actually is

I: Well at Yale we said twice as smart but we were Yale residents. There was actually a journal article called, “Strong as an Ox and Half as Smart” investigating this. They compared test scores of orthopedic surgeons and anesthesiologists and orthopedic surgeons were higher than everyone else.

This conversation shows two different versions of essentially the same proverb, and how things can be modified and passed down. However, my informant who is a surgeon, passed down the version where surgeons were “twice as smart,” while the other people involved in the conversation had heard the version where they were “half as smart.” I had never heard either of these stereotypes before, but it is interesting that my informant carried the altered version of the saying that displays his profession in a more positive life. I looked up the scientific research paper, entitled “Twice as Strong as an Ox and Half as Smart” by Subramanian et al. and it does conclude that orthopedic surgeons are twice as smart. I have attached a link to the abstract for the scientific paper and also an image displaying the various stereotypes of different types of doctors. My informant first heard this stereotype from a fellow med student who was also a surgeon. My informant says he does not tell people this saying as a way of gloating, but just as a joke when with friends. He tells it as affirmation of how strong and smart he is, but he also just likes to joke around when with other doctors who are not surgeons. My other two informants who heard the opposite version, don’t remember where they heard it and it seemed to be something that they have always known. This occupational lore seems to come up among people in the medical profession. Doctors in different fields know the stereotypes and are able to make fun of each other and joke around while in med school or in the workplace. I have found this stereotype to be surprisingly true, my informant loves doing anything athletic, competes in triathlons, and is always trying to fix things that may be broken such as appliances. This fits the stereotype that surgeons are very strong, but I have not found the half as smart part to be true.

Annotation: the study found that the proverb should actually be that surgeons are twice as smart as an ox, once further research is done into the IQ of an ox. This journal article was published by the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, but may have been somewhat biased.


Subramanian, P., et al. “ORTHOPAEDIC SURGEONS–TWICE AS STRONG AS AN OX AND HALF AS SMART.” Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, British Volume 94.SUPP XXXIV (2012): 5-5.


Stealing Ham Urban Legend

Transcribed Text:

“My friend told me this story. He said his friend was working at this grocery store, and this very large, borderline obese African American woman is walking towards the exit, and her body seems especially lumpy? More so than it would be for a normal obese woman. And all of a sudden, out of her shirt, on to the ground, falls a ham. A big ol’ ham, like you’d have for Christmas dinner. And – and she looks around, and she goes “who threw that at me?” (said in a very sassy voice). And- and it was very obvious that it had just fallen out of her shirt, but she proceeds to play it off like someone just threw a ham at her. And she reacts, and I guess this would supposedly be an appropriate reaction for having a ham thrown at you, by saying “nuh uh. Ya bettta don’t” (said in a very sassy voice with left hand on hip and right hand waving with the index finger. Head bobbing right and left while phrase is said). And, and then she just walks out. And the ham is on the floor and the employees were just standing there, mouth agape”

The informant currently attends the University of Southern California as a student. He says that he heard this story from a friend in high school in New Jersey. It has become a friend of a friend story, and he has told many of his friends the story several times. He normally tells the story after he uses the phrase “nuh uh. Ya betta don’t” in some conversation, and the people who do not know the context of that phrase ask him about it. I first saw him use it when it came up in a conversation on facebook where somebody refused to go look for their wallet to pay for a ticket that was going to be sold out within a few hours. The informant replied to that comment with “Sarah just tried to pull the same shit. Nuh uh. Ya betta don’t” to which he received many questions as to what that meant. Ever since then, he has repeated the story many times, each time receiving laughter regardless of if the audience has heard it before or not.

It is obvious by the way the informant tells the story that he is an active bearer of this now legend. Every time he repeats the story, there are fixed phrases and beats to the narrative. He makes use of the oral formulaic theory also with the final phrase where he imitates the woman. The audience, regardless of if they themselves repeat the story or not, the phrase “nuh uh. Ya betta don’t” has become a phrase that many people have started repeating and using within this group of friends at least. This story is a very amusing narrative, but it is also a bit racist. When the informant was describing how to properly say the phrase, he said that one has to do it with a proper ghetto accent and sass. This plays on the stereotype of African Americans that exists in the USA today, where it is normal and almost expected of the group to talk with a certain accent. This piece of folklore is an urban legend that makes use of the oral formulaic theory in the method that it is performed and Blason Populaire with the content that it contains.





Supplies Joke

There’s a German man, American man and a Chinese man who are all employees at a cement factory. When the employer comes along, he tells the German man to set the cement, he tells the American man to set the bricks, and he tells the Chinese man to get the supplies. When he comes back in an hour, the cement is all set and bricks are all in place, but the Chinese man is nowhere to be found. When he asks where the Chinese man is, the Chinese man jumps out of the bush and yells “supplies!”

The informant says she first heard this joke from a friend in high school when they were both on a trip. She says that although they are both Asian, they both found it extremely funny, because this joke plays upon stereotypes of accents that are often true within the older generation that came to America, not having grown up here. Although it is stereotypical, she believes that it is all in good fun.

It is interesting how this joke plays with the idea of Blason Populaire. The informant and the person whom she heard the joke from are both Asian Americans with parents who have accents that are similar to the one being made fun of in the joke. By laughing over the joke and taking the idea lightly, they are both identifying with a group, which reaffirms their identities as Asian Americans. Furthermore, this joke also uses the rule of 3, which indicates that it originated in Western culture.

Mexican Rock Joke: Blason Populaire

A joke about Mexicans being musically inclined described verbatim by informant:

“My Puerto Rican mother used to say to me, if I were talking about talent or people singing or whatever she’d go, ‘Well, all you have to do is go to Mexico,’ and I’d say, ‘Well what do you mean, Mom?’ She goes, ‘Because in Mexico your turn over a rock, you turn over rock and some man, somebody comes up and they’re singing,’ and I used to be like ‘What do you mean?’ She goes ‘Everybody knows in Mexico everybody sings or plays the guitar or does something musical’ and I was like, ‘Really, Mom?’ and she looked at me like I was crazy she goes, ‘Well, yeah, everybody knows that!’

I think it’s funny because now that my mother has told me that it’s something that always stuck in my head. (laughs) And not for nothing when I turn on Univisión and if it’s like some Mexican thing I’m like ‘She’s right!’ there are 50 gazillion people that are Mexican and they can all, they’re all singing, everybody’s singing!! It’s like (laughs) I dunno, I dunno (laughs) It’s kind of interesting.”

This notion that all Mexicans sing or play an instrument is a piece of blason populaire though humorous, seems complimentary rather than derogatory. Turning over a rock in Mexico and someone coming up singing, from what I gather, is a joke that is likely influenced by stereotypes portrayed on Spanish-speaking television channels, as my informant suggests. Mexico is a big country, with a lot of people, many of whom probably are musical in some respect. Music is important to all cultures and Mexican music, both traditional and contemporary, has a large following. Of course this is encouraged by the country’s huge tourist industry, as well as it’s radio and television stations, which are also big in the United States. So, this “funny” observation of sorts is likely constructed and seems to be just that—an observation.

Jewish Saying About Opinions

“You put three Jews in a room you get four opinions.”


I have heard this phrase, or a variation of the phrase, used many times before. Sometimes the number of Jews in the figurative room varies, and sometimes you can get many more opinions (for example, sometimes it’s two Jews in a room and three opinions; sometimes it’s four Jews in a room and six or seven opinions.)

The joke relies on the stereotype that Jews are very opinionated people and suggests that if you have a certain amount of Jewish people in one room, you will get even more opinions than people that are in the room. I’ve only ever heard this joke told by Jewish people. The telling of this joke seems to be a way for Jews to reclaim a stereotype. There are a lot of less-than-positive stereotypes about Jewish people, some of which Jews spend a lot of time and energy actively refuting. Thus, the telling of this joke seems to be a way for Jews to acknowledge this particular stereotype and make fun of it, as if to say that it is all right to hold this belief because it is somewhat grounded in truth.