Tag Archives: folk sayings

Health Superstitions and Practices

“We’re not allowed to walk around barefoot in the house because you’ll supposedly get sick, there’s another thing we do where when you’re on your period your not supposed to drink cold water, after you have something that scares you, you’re not supposed to drink water, your supposed to eat a piece of bread or something, or when a kid gets hurt they’ll like sing “sana, sana, sana, colita de rana” which I think translates to “heal, heal, heal, frogs tail” but I’m not too sure.”

Background: The informant is from a latina household and says that she heard all these things from her mother when she was younger. She says that many of the practices were to prevent her from getting sick and her parents never explained the background of the superstitions, so she doesn’t know why her parents believed in such superstitions. 

Analysis: While the informant comes from a Latina household, some of the superstitions also align with superstitions from other cultures. Walking barefoot in the house is a very common superstition in households, most of the time believing it will result in the person catching a cold or getting sick. Drinking cold water is also believed to not be good for a person’s health by many people. So pinpointing the origins of these superstitions is highly unlikely.

However, the “sana, sana, sana, colita de rana” saying does come from Spanish speaking cultures. Its English translation doesn’t make much sense, but it is used by many Hispanic and Latino families. The purpose of this saying does not have any magical elements to it and is solely used to console children who have been hurt.

Coins for the New Year

M is 54, and grew up in Manila, Philippines, and currently resides in San Gabriel, California.

M always says that during the New Year, “you must always have money in your wallet or carry coins in your pocket”. He said that this would ensure that you “always have money during the New Year.”

A saying commonly passed around Filipino families, this is a tradition that has been practiced in my family for as long as I can remember. Even if we were not carrying money throughout the day, my brother and I were each given a handle of coins to have as the New Year clock counted down. It appears that Filipino people, and other cultures and ethnic groups, regard the New Year as a deeply momentous and symbolic time. This can be seen in copious amounts of traditions practiced around that time. 

In fact, the coins in the pocket tradition are performed in tandem with other New Year’s traditions my parents have passed down, including eating noodles (for a long life), and jumping when the clock strikes midnight (to grow taller in the new year).

Hungarian Folk Speech: “Apád nem volt üveges”

Text: Apád nem volt üveges

Transliteration: Apád → Your father / nem → not / volt → was / üveges → glass

Translation: Your father was not a glassmaker. 

Context: The informant, who is a 20 year-old Hungarian student, described how this is a phrase commonly used in Hungary when an extremely tall person is blocking your view of something. For instance, as my informant explained, “if someone sits in front of you in the movie theater, and you can’t see through them, obviously, because it’s a person, it’s basically poking fun at the fact that your dad didn’t make a glass child. Instead, he made a child.” In other words, you are telling them that they are not made out of glass and that you can’t see through them, so they shouldn’t be blocking your view. This refers to the fact that your father “made” you reproductively, but he did not make you out of glass to see through. Hence, he was not a glassmaker. 

Analysis: The informant explained to me that Hungarians have a very strong and pervasive sense of humor that permeates much of their colloquial discourse. The specific phrase “Your father was not a glassmaker” may be a reference to Hungary’s turbulent economic history. The Hungarian economy was ravaged by inflation after the World Wars and further took a hit after the collapse of communist rule in the country many years later (“Economy of Hungary,” Spaller). This reference to glassmaking may be the result of a cultural tendency to reflect on a long period of poverty in the wake of economic hardship, where handiwork, such as glassmaking, was the most dependable (and accessible) way to make ends meet. Likewise, glassmaking and engraving had a prolific, yet widely unrecognized history in Hungary (“History of Hungarian Glassmaking in 1800-1920”), so this phrase may be an acknowledgement of an esteemed Hungarian profession that was glossed over in the history of European industry and art. 

References for historical research:
“Economy of Hungary.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Feb. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Hungary.

“History of Hungarian Glassmaking in 1800-1920.” Prisma Gallery – Modern Hungarian Glass, 2023, https://prisma-gallery.com/index.php/articles/13-article-02. 

Spaller, Endre. “The Political and Economic Transition in Hungary.” Medi(t)Ations (Re)Conciliations : Conflict Resolution and European Integration: Ecumenical Anthology Iii of the Wscf Central European Subregion, ed. Rebecca Blocksome, 2004, pp. 85-90. BGÖI; WSCF-CESR.

Hungarian Folk Speech: “Ki esett a csöcs a szájából”

Text: Ki esett a csöcs a szájából

Transliteration: ki → off / esett a → fell / csöcs → tit / a szájából → from the mouth

Translation: “The tit fell from the mouth”

Context: My informant, a 20-year old Hungarian student, explained to me that this Hungarian phrase is often used to describe when someone “said something they weren’t supposed to,” whether intentional (in a fit of anger) or not. She also explained that the phrase “is meant to be playful” and is not intended to directly insult or offend. 

Analysis: This phrase has some resemblance to the work of Sigmund Freud, who was born and carried out much of his work in the Austro-Hungary Empire, of which Hungary was then a part (“Sigmund Freud”). His theories, then, which originated geographically very close to present-day Hungary, seem to be a plausible influence for much of the Hungarian folk speech I have collected: the similarities are almost too striking to be coincidental. The text harkens to Freudian developmental theory, specifically the characteristic “oral” stage that takes place during infancy (Lantz). According to Freud, when humans are infants we have a fascination with oral sensation: a desire to constantly taste and put things in our mouths brought about by the need to breastfeed (Lantz). This is the first stage of human psychological development which ends once we are weaned, but these are the behaviors that are expected from us and considered normal during this stage (Lantz). The phrase Ki esett a csöcs a szájából (“The tit fell from the mouth”) indicates a severance from the breast and a brief, accidental deviation from the expected behavior during infancy (latching and breastfeeding). This connection to Freud can be further reinforced by thinking of these verbal faux pas as “Freudian slips,” where our subconscious feelings accidentally seep into our consciousness, and we inadvertently reveal what we were thinking about subconsciously. Placing this in context with Freudian psychosexual theory, Ki esett a csöcs a szájából refers to going against social expectations by saying something lewd, offensive, or otherwise surprising in a moment where it is uncalled for. In terms of Freud, you are accidentally and momentarily stepping outside of your expected social behavior, like an infant in Freud’s “oral stage” that fails to latch. The “slips” can include any display of uncharacteristic aggression that contradicts the “latent aggressive or passive tendencies” of the Freudian oral stage (Lantz). 

References for historical research:
Lantz, Sarah E. “Freud Developmental Theory.” National Library of Medicine. StatPearls Publishing, 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557526/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.

“Sigmund Freud” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Feb. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud.

Hungarian Folk Speech: “Nem mindegy hogy idd ki a bilit vagy vidd ki a bilit”

Text: Nem mindegy hogy idd ki a bilit vagy vidd ki a bilit

Transliteration: nem → not / mindegy → whatever / hogy → to / idd ki → drink up / a bilit → a potty / vagy → or / vidd → take it out / a bilit → a potty

Translation: It’s not the same to drink a bucket of pee than it is to take it out. 

Context: As a 20-year old Hungarian student, my informant explained to me that this Hungarian saying is used to point out that “it’s not the same if you say this thing or that thing,” hence “it’s not the same to drink a bucket of pee than it is to take (pour) it out.” Clearly, these two actions are very different, but the phrase itself plays on the phonetic similarities between the words idd and vidd, which mean “drinking” and “taking out,” respectively, and how they may sound similar (being just one letter off) but have entirely different meanings. This is used in reference to when someone tries to equate two things that may seem similar when spoken, but actually have entirely different meanings.

Analysis: The vulgarity of many Hungarian sayings is particularly striking and something that I actually discussed with the informant: Hungarian jokes and folk speech have a propensity towards profanity or obscene and sexual references as a source of humor. I think it is worthwhile, then, to apply Freud, who was a native to the Austrian Empire and did much of his work near present-day Hungary, in analyzing this particular saying, which seems to reference one of the formative stages of Freudian development: the “toilet training” stage (to be referred in short as “the anal stage”) (“Sigmund Freud,” Lantz). The text itself seems to demarcate the key differences between two formative, yet very distinct, stages of human development according to Freud: the oral and the anal stages. In the oral stage, one is obsessed with the mouth, tasting, chewing, “drinking,” etc (Lantz). Whereas in the anal stage, one overcomes oral fascination and gains control over the ability to expel waste: “taking it out” or going to the bathroom to dispose of it properly (Lantz). In Freudian theory, these are two completely separate stages of psychological development, where one is the natural progression of the other. In other words, one is clearly more developed once they are potty trained than when they were an infant always wanting to chew on things. The “drinking” versus “taking it out” distinction seems to reference both the oral and the anal stages, respectively, and the Freudian undertones of these phrases further underline the differences in meaning between idd and vidd: it is clearly nowhere near the same thing to “drink” versus “dispel” human waste, as one is clearly more developmentally sophisticated and socially appropriate than the other. It is also worth noting that the idd, which means “drink,” is very similar in spelling to Freud’s theory of the id, which refers to the undesirable impulses conceived in our formative years that we must outgrow as we mature (Lantz). The Freudian undertones of Hungarian folk speech are definitely striking and a possible influence worth investigating further, since Austro-Hungary was, quite literally, the birthplace of Freudian psychoanalysis. 

References for historical research:
Lantz, Sarah E. “Freud Developmental Theory.” National Library of Medicine. StatPearls Publishing, 2022, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557526/. Accessed 22 Feb. 2023.

“Sigmund Freud” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Feb. 2023, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sigmund_Freud.