Tag Archives: folk speech

“Whoever eats alone chokes” – Arabic Proverb


She learned this from her brothers in Jordan when they were young. They were trying to convince her to share her treats (she was the youngest and was spoiled), so they would tell her this proverb, hoping that she would give them some out of fear of choking.


Original Script: اللي بياكل لحاله بزور

Transliteration: Elly biakol lahalo bizwar

Translation: Whoever eats alone chokes


I’ve heard this proverb a couple of times, after I choked while eating alone. The proverb is meant to discourage people from not sharing their food, or eating by themselves, likely because Arabs usually eat as a family. This proverb focuses not on giving advice, but on protecting that family tradition.

“The key to the stomach is a bite” – Arabic Proverb


She learned it from her grandma when she was a kid in Jordan. When her grandma offered her food, and she said that she has no appetite, her grandma would say “Muftah el button lo’meh” as a way to get her to eat a bite to increase her appetite.


Original Script: مفتاح البطن لقمة

Transliteration: Muftah el button lo’meh

Literal Translation: Key to the stomach is a bite

Smooth Translation: The key to the stomach is a bite


I found it strange that there would be a proverb used to convince someone to eat–usually, the problem is getting someone to stop eating. My family has told me this proverb a few times too when I said I was not hungry, and usually a bite did make me hungry. It wasn’t until this week that I realized that this proverb, from the times I have heard it used, is used when the rest of the family is eating. This proverb is not said to give advice, but to protect the Arabic tradition of eating together as a family.

Gamer Folk Speech


My informant, AW, is my 15-year-old brother. He is heavily involved in multiple online gaming communities that exist on Discord and other social platforms and revolve around multiplayer online games such as Valorant and Overwatch. This piece was collected during an informal interview at home when I asked him to share something unique to the gaming community. I refer to myself at SW in the text.


Main Text:

AW: “Whenever someone is doing really or someone just made a crazy play or an insane play or something like that, um, people would say like you’re popping off or you’re cracked or… um I mean this ones fairly normal but you’re insane or something like that. And people have taken that super far… instead of saying you’re insane people will literally say like ‘you’re absolutely bonkers. You’re mentally unstable.’ Meaning that you did something insane and stuff like that. So yea there’s a lot of terminology like that, that every gamer will understand.”

SW: “Where do you learn it?”

AW: “Um… literally just from talking to people a lot of social cues, a lot of – how I guess you would learn language. It’s just… you don’t ever ask you just kinda know eventually.”

SW: “Why is it important?”

AW: “Cuz every gamer knows it and every gamer says it. It’s… a lot more acceptable to say ‘you’re insane’ or ‘you’re cracked’ than it is to say ‘wow that was a really good play, good rally. That was… that was a good effort. You, you played that very smart.’ Like no one ever says that you say ‘dude you’re insane you’re cracked.’ Or, or you simply just say ‘sheeeeesh.’”

SW: “Which means what?”

AW: “It can mean a lot of things. But in the gaming culture specifically, it’s just a surprised reaction or a… an admiration of something. Like if someone just did something insane you’d go ‘sheeeeeeesh bro.’ Or like… or if someone does something like, super sus, if you know what that means, that’s another word that – yea if someone does that you’d just go ‘sheeeeeesh bro. Sheeeesh.’ It really can be used for anything, it has so many meanings it’s just like, an exclamation. 



One of my favorite parts of the internet is how quickly folk speech spreads and how some sayings are universal while others only exist within a very specific group. I think the main purpose is to distinguish members of the group from outsiders. As AW mentioned, these phrases are picked up naturally as you spend more time in the community, so it becomes a way to tell how long someone has been in the community. In the gaming community, it’s probably especially important to form a group identity since most people have ever met each other face to face. Gaming folk speech seems to be largely focused on making things more hyperbolic, which might reflect the group culture of being more energetic and dramatic in both your manner of speech and your actions. This probably happens because you can’t rely on body language in these conversations, so you must come up with standardized ways to verbally express emotions of excitement or congratulations that might otherwise be expressed simply through a cheer or a high five.

Slurs and Insults in a Coastal City

Background and context: The interviewer and the informant are both residents of Qingdao, a Northeastern coastal city in China. The city is known for its beaches, ports, and seafood. A big portion of the city’s economy relies on tourism. 

The informant talks in Mandarin, but with the Qingdao dialect. The interviewer and the informant talk about unique slurs and insults that only Qingdao people use.

1. 潮巴

pinyin: cháo ba

Transliteration: moist [“ba” doesn’t have meaning]

Translation: Idiot

2. 你脑子进水了

pinyin: ni nao zi jin shui le

Transliteration: You’ve got water in your head.

Translation: You’re so stupid.

Analysis: Because Qingdao is a coastal city and the sea has a very important role in Qingdao people’s life, language used by Qingdao people is heavily influenced by imageries and characters associated with the sea. In both insults, water or “moist” is directly linked with the geographical character of the city. “Moist” or having water in one’s head both signify a loss of control, a form of imbalance between humans and the ocean. This shows that Qingdao’s connection with the ocean is more complicated than people’s dependence on the sea. There might be an implicit fear as well in not being able to control the ocean and maintain a balance between human life and natural forces.

“3 Cobblers are better than Zhuge Liang” (三臭皮匠葛亮)

Original Script : 三臭皮匠葛亮

Phonetic (Roman) Script : Sān chòu píjiàng gé liàng

Transliteration : 3 Cobblers Are Better Than Zhuge Liang

Full Translation : Two heads are better than one 

Context : 

My informant is a high school student who was born in Denver, Colorado. His family moved to the United States before he was born from mainland China. Even though his first language was technically English, as his family used Chinese at home, he grew as a bilingual student. Here, he is describing a proverb that his grandparents and parents taught him when he was young. He told me that since he couldn’t remember in detail and had to ask his parents again, a lot of the dialogue is summarized. This piece was collected over a phone call. 

The informant started off with who Zhuge Liang is; Zhuge Liang is a very well known Chinese politician and a military strategist that is known for its excellent strategic skills that have led past China to victory in multiple battles. The informant implied how he is the symbol of intelligence and often admired and looked up by people. However, cobblers are jobs that are not always favored and are less significant when compared to a nationally-known military strategist. However, this quote is meant to show how 3 less-significant people can beat Zhuge Liang, who is an individual. 

Analysis :

Zhuge Liang is an admired figure in Chinese society for its intelligence and military strategy. On the other hand, cobblers are considered as an ignorant people when compared to Zhuge Liang. In this proverb, it is implied that no matter how ignorant cobblers are in comparison to Zhuge Liang, when three cobbers come together and think as a whole, Zhuge Liang, he himself as an individual cannot win the cobblers. This shows that more than one person is always better than an individual regardless of their intelligence and educational levels. The comparison to Zhuge Liang also shows how Chinese people admire Zhuge Liang as a smart intelligent person. 

I wanted to add the Korean version of this proverb: “It is better to hold a single piece of white paper together with someone rather than yourself (백지장도 맞들면 낫다)”. While a piece of paper is very light and everyone can simply carry it without any hardships, it is always better to hold it with someone. This can be translated into no matter whether an issue might be easy to handle, it is always better to do it with someone.