Form of Folklore: Folk Belief (Protection)
Informant Bio: The informant was born in Yerevan, Armenia, where she attended a Russian school. At the age of fourteen she and her family moved to America, where she was formally introduce to the English language and had to continue going to a school where the primary language was English. She has had exposure to both Armenian (from her youth and family) and American folklore (by living and studying in America).
Context: The interview was conducted in the living room of informant’s house.
Item: Armenian Transliteration – “Yerp vor vat bani masin es khosum yerekhayi mot, yerekhu akanju petka kashel”
English Translation – “When you speak about bad things in front of a child, you need to pull the child’s ear”
Informant Comments: The informant does not really believe that pulling a child’s ear when speaking of bad things will prevent the bad things from happening; not does she believe that not pulling a child’s ear will guarantee that the bad things they are talking about will happen. She does not actually use this folk protection in her life. She thinks it is simply something older women (i.e. grandmothers) do so they do not feel bad about saying bad things in front of children.
Analysis: This folk belief (protection) seems to be based on the idea that twisting a child’s ear is equivalent to taking away what they heard or preventing them from hearing all the bad things that will be said. It does seem as though this protection is more for the people saying bad things than for the children who may hear the bad things. It somehow offers a loophole for them to say all of the bad things they want without being condemned for saying them in front of children (offering protection to the speakers instead of the children). Regardless of why they have this folk belief or who it is intended to protect, people can choose to believe it and do it if they please (under the assumption that the pulling of the ear is not painful).
My informant grew up in Italy, where there was a tradition that on someone’s birthday, his friends would pull on his ears once for each year he was old. He speculated that this could be because of a belief that the ears are associated with memory and so pulling them might make one better remember life as it passed them by. The other possible explanation he offered was that because earlobes grow as a person grows, this ritual of pulling them might be to wish a person a longer life.
It was never actually a tradition he particularly liked because he found it physically uncomfortable, but it reminds him of the time he spent in Italy growing up before coming to America. It also makes him remember the friends he had there as a kid and the birthday parties he used to have with them.
Personally, I would readily accept either of his suggestions for the meaning of this ritual. Otherwise, it could just be a thing children made up to annoy each other; it reminds me of the punch for each year birthday tradition in America. Maybe it’s used then as a painful/bothersome initiation into the next year of your life. Once you get past it, you come out better for having gone through the experience. I like his explanations better, though.
Whenever your ear itches, it mean’s someone is either saying good things about your or bad things about you, depending on which side of your ear itches. Specifically when your left ear itches, bad things are being said; when your right ear itches, good things are being said.
My informant’s mother told her this proverb when she was 10 years old. She stated that one day while my informant and her mother were walking home from school, her mother said “My ear itches, someone must be talking about me.” My informant then asked what that meant and she explained this superstition to her. She then always answered with that statement when someone she knew said that their ear itched.
She said that this proverb was passed down from her grandmother to her mother. She believes it was a simple superstition due to the fact that Korean women are known to gossip frequently. Thus every time someone’s ear itches either good things or bad things are being said about them. She believed as a child if her ear itched a lot a certain day either people liked her a lot or despised her. My informants analysis makes a lot of sense as it provides quite the answer for a simple body reaction.
The informant learned the following proverb from his father:
You cant make a silk purse out of a sows ear.
The informant interprets it to mean that you cant, you know, you cant produce greatness out of nothing. No, you have to have the basic ingredients to create what you are attempting to make. The informant recalls that his father often said the proverb to his mother when she complained about his cutting corners: Since he was a very handy person, heyhe, um, he jury-rigged whenever he could, but he understood that there were limitations to doing so. And when it was brought up that there were limitationswhich it generally was, because my mother was a very nitpicky personuh, his response was invariably, You cant make a silk purse out of a sows ear. The informant himself occasionally uses the proverb when it seems relevant, but only when he feels that the person hes speaking to will understand him: Most people donno [sic] what a sow is any more.
When asked what he thinks of the proverb, the informant says, I feel that its, uh, its terminology is pretty out of date, but tlesson is soun.
A sow is, of course, a female pig, and the proverb most likely is a remnant of times when farming was the major occupation in America. The comparison between the silk purse and the sows ear seems likely to stem from the delicacy of the ear and the way the light shines through it as through silk. A full-grown sow is very large and its ear could conceivably be large enough to use as a purse. The fact that the informants father addressed it to his mother is telling and could even be considered sexist; of course, it would be a woman who would want a silk purse and be foolish enough to think that it was possible to make one out of the ear of a pig.