Tag Archives: colloquialism

“Two in the air, four on the ground…” – Farsi Riddle

Description of Informant

MV (79) is a retired engineer, chess master, and violinist from Tehran, Iran. At 19, he came to America to study at Ohio Northern and remained in the states for his adult life (Missouri and California). While in Iran, he lived a very traditional life under religious parents; this continues to influence his values and attitudes.



Original Text: ! دو در هوا، چهار در زمين، اِه خربزه

Phonetic: Dōh dar havah, chahar dar zameen, eh kharbōzeh!

Transliteration: Two in the air, four on the ground, hey melon!

Free Translation: [See Collector’s Reflection for Explanation]

Collector’s Reflection

At first, the riddle seems to make no sense, until you understand the pun hidden within. The Farsi word for melon (خربزه, kharbōzeh) also contains the words for donkey/ass (خر, khar-) and goat (بز, -bōz). Thus, the riddle really says: “Two in the air, four on the ground, hey ass/idiot— it’s a goat!” The “two in the air” refers to the goat’s horns and the “four on the ground” to its feet.

The phrase functions as an insult riddle, wherein the individual playing the joke intends to trick or demean the intelligence of their victim. The individual receiving the riddle is confused by melon at first. Then, the riddler will repeat the last line “eh kharbōzeh!”, but with added emphasis and spacing to make the double entendre clear (e.g. “eh khar! …bōzeh!”) The victim(s) quickly realize that they have been insulted. If you’re in good company, you’ll get a few laughs. But be wary— calling someone “khar” in Iran is a major insult.

Context of Use

The riddle is used among peers, often in a group setting, where one individual is unaware of the double entendre and made out as a fool; comedy at one’s expense. You would generally use the phrase among close friends with positive rapport, where no offense will be taken.


Context of Interview

The informant, MV, sits on a love seat, feet planted on a brightly colored Persian rug. He is opposite the collector, BK, his grandson. Text spoken in Farsi is translated and italicized. Instances of the riddle have been replaced by [the riddle].


MV: For instance, wasn’t a joke, but for instance riddles, like [the riddle]. Something like this, for instance, they were goat, trying to identify the goat that had to horns. So they say “two up” and “four down.” And then, do you know what kharbōzeh is? Something melon. It’s some type of melon. And it also means “hey khar”— or donkey, it is a goat! *laughing* Something like this: [the riddle]. If someone hears you, they think you are just saying melon! Until you separate it.

BK: Can you describe a context where you would’ve told this joke?

MV: Children among [themselves]. One child, who wanted to mess with another child, would say [the riddle]. The guy would think you are just saying melon so they get confused, but say “eh khar— bōzeh! This is a goat that I’m talking about, with two horns.

Going Out the Road

  • Context: The informant (A) is a 19 year old college student who lives at the Jersey Shore in South New Jersey in the summer. He explains to me the colloquial term used in his town when a person is driving from the island on which they live to stores inland. The conversation came up during a family discussion whether or not everyone in the town of Sea Isle City, NJ knows the term “out the road” means going inland or if it is specific to the informant’s family (this was never resolved). 
  • Text:

A: “Out the road is when you’re down at the shore in New Jersey… which is the southern part of Jersey in between Atlantic City and Wildwood.

And… uh… when you’re going out the road you drive inland and south towards where the shopping centers are in middle New Jersey… uh… and there’s a TJMaxx and there’s a couple other stores…

And you go out the road when you uh… when you want things… anyway that’s what out the road is.”

  • Analysis: “Out the road” is a term used to describe going from the islands to the inlands because you physically must go out the road. There is only one road leading in and out of the island in New Jersey where the informant spends his summers, so it makes sense that there is a term for this action. It creates a group of those who know the local terms and those who do not. It also creates a group of inlanders and islanders and the two are physically separated by a road as well as a specific term/speech.

Animal Nicknaming and Jokes

I collected this piece of folklore from my dad while he was visiting. We ended up just sitting in the car in a parking lot while he shared some more Chilean folklore with me.

In Chile, people often give each other animal names as nicknames. The animal is supposed to somehow resemble or represent the person, so that they can be identifiable by that name. For example, the tallest kid in the class may be called the giraffe, and the annoying one could be call the mosquito. My dad’s nickname back in grade school was “el mono” or “the monkey,” because he was always seen climbing a tree of some sort.

Jokes can also be made using these animal nicknames and creating a pun with the sound that the animal makes.

Ex) -¿Por qué se llamas el gato? (Why do they call you the cat?)

Mee-oowbuela me dice [Mi abuela me dice.] (My grandma calls me that.)

Many years ago in Chile, people used to live in the country side more than in the city, so there are many jokes about roosters, and chickens, and ducks, etc.

To foreigners or outsiders, this type of joking might not always make sense, especially if the definition of joking might be completely different. What was particularly difficult for me to get, was the pun-making using animal sounds. Not only do the puns have to match words in spanish, but the onomatopoeia sounds that animals make vary from country to country.