Tag Archives: folk speech

“Wipe it on my beard” – Arabic Saying


He heard it a few times when he was a teenager in Jordan. According to him, someone trying to “break up the fight or reconcile the parties” would use this saying to calm the people down.


Original Script: امسحها بلحيتي

Transliteration: Imsa-ha bi lihiti

Translation: Wipe it on my beard


This saying intrigues me because it does not sound like anything meaningful at first, but it starts making some sense when given some thought. The mediator, by telling the two people/groups to “wipe it on [his] beard,” is saying to leave their grievance there with him. When you wipe dirt from your hand onto another surface, the dirt is no longer on your hand, and it stays on the wall. The fact that there is saying for this shows that Arabs, like many people, commonly act as mediators.

“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.

“A Kappa carried away by a river” (河童の川流れ)

Original Script : 河童の川流れ

Phonetic (Roman) Script : Kappa no kawanagare

Transliteration : A Kappa carried away by a river

Full Translation : Even experts make mistakes and no one is perfect

Context : 

My informant is a high school student who was born in Osaka, Japan. She graduated elementary school in Japan but soon moved to the United States for English education. She still uses Japanese in her home and uses and knows a lot of Japanese proverbs and idioms that are still widely used in Japan. Here, she is describing a well-known Japanese proverb. She is identified as Y, and this piece was collected over a phone call. 

Y : Kappa is a Japanese traditional mythical creature that lives in the water. Even though they still can survive outside water, they need to keep themselves moist enough to live. Like this, they are very water-friendly creatures. This proverb talks about how a Kappa is being carried away in the river while they are experts in swimming. It indicates how they have made a mistake and are being carried away. It doesn’t mean that they are dead through! It just means that even an expert makes a mistake sometimes. 

Analysis :

I liked this proverb because it adds humor and makes the audience think about a water-based mythical creature floating around in the river water because of their mistake. Other than the humor, this piece also tells the audience that not everyone is perfect and even experts would make mistakes in certain situations. The origin of this proverb is unknown, but a Korean version of this proverb is called “even a monkey falls off a tree sometimes (원숭이도 나무에서 떨어질때가 있다)”. This Korean version is a possible oikotype of this proverb because Kappas are not believed in Korean societies. Thus, they took out the Japanese mythical creature out of it and replaced it with a monkey, who is an expert in climbing trees and vines.