Tag Archives: call and response

Hamburg Greeting Exchange ‘Hummel Hummel’ ‘Mors Mors’

Context:

Informant RH grew up in Jesteburg, a village in the area surrounding Hamburg, Germany. He spent parts of his young adulthood living in or near the city of Hamburg.

Main piece:

RH: Es gibt so ein anderes das so ein 'call answer pattern' ist, das is "Hummel Hummel, Mors Mors." 

SH: Sag das noch mal?

RH: Hummel Hummel, also H-U-M-M-E-L, zwei mal, und die Antwort ist dann Mors Mors, M-O-R-S. 

SH: Ah, okay. Was bedeutet das?

RH: Also ich glaube da war früher in Hamburg jemand der, so irgendwie so'n Wasserträger oder so was, oder der so recht, so ein bisschen geistig behindert war, und ich glaub der hieß Hummel. Und den haben die Kinder immer geärgert und haben ihm dann hinterhergerufen 'Hummel Hummel,' und er hat zurück gerufen 'Mors Mors,' denn Mors is das Plattdeutsche Wort für Hintern, für Arsch.

SH: Also das war dann am Anfang benutzt als, so nur für den Typ, aber wie war das dann danach benutzt geworden?

RH: Ja so als, als, Grüßwort oder als, einfach wenn du jemanden triffst so 'Hummel Hummel,' 'Mors Mors.'

SH: Das ist interessant, dass hab ich noch nie eigentlich gehört in Hamburg. 

RH: Ja das, also ich weiß nicht ob's noch gemacht wird.

SH: Ist ein bisschen Altmodisch jetzt oder?

RH: Ist ein bisschen Altmodisch, ja. 

Translation:

RH: There's another one that's one of those 'call answer patterns,' which is "Hummel Hummel, Mors Mors."

SH: Say that again?

RH: Hummel Hummel, so H-U-M-M-E-L, two times, and then the answer is Mors Mors, M-O-R-S. 

SH: Ah, okay. What does that mean?

RH: So I think there used to be someone in Hamburg that was, so, some kind of like, a water carrier or something like that, or who was quite, like somewhat mentally disabled, and I think he was called Hummel. And the kids would always go and bother him and yelled after him 'Hummel Hummel,' and he would yell back 'Mors Mors,' because Mors is the Plattdeutsch word for behind, for ass. 

SH: So at the beginning that was used for, like just this guy, but how was it used after that?

RH: Yeah so as, as greeting phrase or like, simply when you meet someone like 'Hummel Hummel,' 'Mors Mors.'

SH: That's interesting, I've never actually heard that in Hamburg.

RH: Yeah it's, like I don't know if it's still done.

SH: Is it a little bit old fashioned now or?

RH: It's a little old fashioned, yes.

Analysis:

‘Hummel Hummel,’ ‘Mors Mors’ exists as a greeting form and as an identificatory symbol of those originating from or living in Hamburg. Before the advent of a running water plumbing system, the profession of water carrier was a pretty normal occupation and part of life in Hamburg The city of Hamburg even has an article on their website explaining the origins of the saying and pointing tourists in the direction of the multiple water carrier statues that still remain in the city. Hummel has taken on a sort of legendary status within the city of Hamburg, which led to the integration of his name (which may not even have been his true name) into popular speech.

One thing to point out here is the integration of a Plattdeutsch phrase that turned into the ‘Mors Mors’ portion of the greeting pattern. Plattdeutsch is a German dialect that is common to northern Germany, but has long been not taught in schools in favor of the standard ‘Hochdeutsch’ or High German. The dialect is associated with poorer, rural populations, and has a class connotation. The ‘Mors Mors’ is likely a shortening of a longer Plattdeutsch phrase, though I do not conclusively know what the full phrase is since I’ve found multiple versions and neither I nor RH speak Plattdeutsch.

The phrase recalls a part of Hamburg’s history, of the water carriers and of the Plattdeutsch dialect, that unites the people using it as a specifically northern German group. The dialect was the predominant language in northern Germany and was pushed out largely by the uniting of Germany and standardization of the German language under the Grimm Brothers’ dictionary which centered southern German ‘High German.’ The dialect survives mostly in rural communities (one set of my grandparents speaks Plattdeutsch, but did not pass it on to their children), but is largely not institutionally accepted. Preserving a part of the dialect in folk speech is a way for northern Germany to retain some of its linguistic identity in spite of attempted institutional erasure.

For more information on ‘Hummel Hummel,’ ‘Mors Mors,’ refer to the article “Wasserträger Statue,” by Hamburg.com (accessible at https://www.hamburg.com/sights/memorials/11747510/wassertraeger/).

“I stopped sleeping on your lap”… “You saved me from your farts.” – Arabic Saying and Comeback

Context:

She learned it from her grandma in Jordan, when she was around 7 or 8. The first time she heard it was when her grandma asked her if she wanted to sleep over, to which she said that she had to go home. Her grandma then said “Rayahtni min fsak” (“You saved me from your farts”).

Text:

Original Script: بطلت انام بحضنك… ريحتني من فساك

Transliteration: Battalt anam bi hodnak… Rayahtni min fsak

Translation: I stopped sleeping on your lap… You saved me from your farts

Thoughts:

I found this saying-response pair really funny, since not many people think of how often children fart while sitting on an adult’s lap. The first part (“Battalt anam bi hodnak”) sounds like it could be swapped out with any declaration of independence that would make the other person upset. The second part (“Rayahtni min fsak”) is a witty response to the declaration that essentially means “You were a burden to me.” The humor of the response makes it easier for the message to get across without sounding rude, since independence can be a touchy subject in a culture where families are tight-knit.

The Elmer Call

Background:

Every summer during my informant’s childhood she went camping in Yosemite. Among the many other camping traditions that people may hold, it always seemed to her that everyone who regularly attended Yosemite was in on this piece of lore. While she didn’t understand why people did it at first, she eventually learned the story from her parents. Now, she enjoys the idea of the tradition because it reminds her of her childhood.

Context:

While this call-and-response is usually only performed and passed between campers in Yosemite Valley, I was lucky enough to have my informant share it with me during an interview that was being conducted to collect folklore.

Main Piece:

“Some years ago a kid named Elmer was lost in the woods. Every summer from then on someone would shout “ELLLLLMEERRRRR” and every camp through the whole valley would echo the name back.”

Analysis:

Whether or not Elmer ever really existed, I was able to find out by looking further that people have reported hearing his name throughout the valley since the 1930s! Moreover, there was even a children’s book published that describes the phenomenon. This shows that although the tradition remains folklore in Yosemite, its influence has been expanded to the realm of authored literature as well. While some tradition-bearers prefer to act as gatekeepers of their knowledge, I personally believe that the publication of this piece of folklore has been positive. Allowing it to be shared with children who may never get to camp in that region is a very kind thing to do, and it may eventually lead to the tradition being spread and practiced in other areas as well.

For another account of this phenomenon, see:

Yosemite Ranger Notes. “Yosemite Valley: A Land of Beauty, Peace, Sanctity, and ‘ELMER!’ – Yosemite National Park (U.S. National Park Service).” National Park Service, 29 Sept. 2014, www.nps.gov/yose/blogs/yosemite-valley-a-land-of-beauty-peace-sanctity-and-elmer.htm.

Nebraska Football Greeting

Background:

            The informant is a 20 year-old white male from San francisco. Our coversation was recorded in the Leavey Library while taking a study break. We begun talking about his background and that of his family. After a while, we made it to the subject of Nebraska and his relationship with his Grandfather. Even though he is not the biggest football fan, he spends a lot of time with his Grandfather discussion Nebraska Football. I asked if the did any special surrounding Nebraska Football and shared with me this folk-greeting.

Main Piece:

“Yeah so we’ll do this thing, it’s pretty funny actually. I have no idea why we do it but whenever I do my grandpa gets super hyped up it’s so funny. The first time I’ll see him, like at the airport or some shit. He’ll see me and yell “Husker”. Like, really really loud. I have to respond with the word “Power” as loud as he does”.

Context:

When I asked the informant where this came from he wasn’t sure. He said it was related to Nebraska Football but could go into further detail. The informant said this folk-greeting started when he was a much younger age. However, the greeting has transcended into the informant’s adult years and has now become common use. The informant stated how Nebraska Football had been the main source of commonality in his relationship with his grandfather.

Analysis:

            I did some background research on this greeting, and it turns out it’s a pre-game chant done by the crowd at Nebraska Football right before the game starts. I find it interesting that the informant had no knowledge of this, despite partaking in the greeting for the better part of 15 years. Chants like this are typical of American Football culture but seeing it translated into a greeting is a development. The informant seemed to equate this greeting with his relationship to his grandfather, and not to Nebraska Football, where the call and response chant originated. In this piece, we see an example of how folk-behavior can evolve to take on a completely different meaning to a different group of people.