Tag Archives: folk speech

Hamburg Greeting ‘Moin’ (or ‘Moin Moin’)


RH grew up in small villages around the city of Hamburg and spent parts of his young adulthood living in or commuting to the city for work. Now, he lives in the United States, but some of his colleagues are also either originally from Hamburg or still live there and communicate via video calls.

Main Piece:

RH: 'Moin Moin' sagt man auch also so'n Grüßspruch. 

SH: Weißt du wo 'Moin Moin' herkommt? 

RH: Nein. Ich weiß das nicht wo das herkommt.

SH: Ok.

RH: Das ist, also, ich hatte früher gedacht das das einfach 'ne Hamburger, also eine Plattdeutsche version von 'Morgen,' so von 'Guten Morgen' wäre, aber das ist es glaub ich nicht. Aber das müsste mann bestimmt auch rausfinden können. 

SH: Ja. Also 'Moin,' oder 'Moin Moin' ist, sehr Hamburg-isch?

RH: Ja ist es. Das sagen meine Kollegen morgens auch viel. Ich weiß nicht was die Amerikaner davon halten, aber. 


RH: You also say 'Moin Moin' as a greeting phrase. 

SH: Do you know where 'Moin Moin' comes from?

RH: No. I don't know where it comes from.

SH: Ok.

RH: That is, so, I used to think that it was just a Hamburg, so a Plattdeutsch version of 'Morning' as in 'Good Morning,' but I don't think it is. But you should to be able to figure that out.

SH: Yeah. So 'Moin' or 'Moin Moin' is, very Hamburg-y?

RH: Yes it is. My colleagues say it often in the mornings. I don't know what the Americans make of it, though.


RH is from the area surrounding Hamburg, where the usage of ‘Moin’ as a greeting is very common. He mentions the theory that ‘Moin’ originates from a Plattdeutsch word for ‘morning,’ but says he does not believe that theory anymore. One reason for doubting that theory is that the usage of ‘Moin’ is not restricted to the morning, but can be used any time of day, and even as a goodbye.

RH does not speak Plattdeutsch, which is why he is not sure if ‘Moin’ could track back to the dialect. Plattdeutsch is a dialect of German that was the prevailing language in northern Germany until the formation of the German nation-state and the following standardization of the German language and education system that favored southern German ‘High German’ instead. Plattdeutsch has an association with rural and poorer people and carries a class connotation.

‘Moin’ is the first example of northern German slang that I would think of if asked. It’s overwhelmingly common and has spread far beyond just northern Germany. I have frequently heard it used when in Hamburg, and unlike many other examples of folk speech that have distant historical roots, it seems to be fairly popular with the youth. This is a contrast to ‘Hummel Hummel,’ ‘Mors Mors,’ another northern German greeting that is now generally seen as an old fashioned greeting. In contrast, ‘Moin,’ or ‘Moin Moin’ is a very casual way to greet someone, and is a multi-purpose greeting that does not need to be tailored to specific occasions. For more information on ‘Hummel Hummel,’ ‘Mors Mors’ and the Plattdeutsch dialect, see “Hamburg Greeting Exchange ‘Hummel Hummel’ ‘Mors Mors'” by Stella Horns on the USC Digital Folklore Archives.

The shrimp that falls asleep is taken by the current


M has learned about different proverbs from family members, often elder ones, and learned this particular one from her great aunt when she was a child. She uses this particular one often to her grandchildren.

The context of this piece was collected during a movie when the protagonist was late for an important interview.


M: Precisamente por eso les digo a los niños que la gamba que se duerme, se deja llevar por la corriente.

Yo: ¿Qué significa eso?

M: Tienes que ir un paso por delante del resto. Si no estás atento y aprovechas las oportunidades que se te presentan, otro las aprovechará. En otras palabras, serás como la gamba y te arrastrará la corriente.


M: That’s exactly why I tell the kids that the shrimp that falls asleep, is taken by the current.

Me: What does it mean?

M: You have to stay one step ahead of the rest. If you are not on alert and seize the opportunities ahead of you then someone else will take advantage of them. In other words, you would be just like the shrimp and get taken by the current.


I found this proverb really interesting because I had already heard American variations of this proverb. I had heard of “Early bird gets the worm” which I believe has similar meaning to the proverb said by M. The phrasing reveals a lot about how the meaning or essence of a proverb changes as it transcend among different cultures I also found it interesting how the proverb used simple imagery so that realistically anyone can understand what it means.

Boots & Cats in Beat-Boxing

Main Piece:

Informant: “So, a friend of mine told me the way to start beat-boxing is to go “boots and cats” and speed it up, so: “Boots and cats and boots and cats.” But, uh, I can’t do it, but you get the idea.”


Taken from a voice memo sent in a group chat with two of my classmates in my Forms of Folklore class at USC.


I had heard this piece of folklore before and am always impressed with how surprisingly well it works. It’s perfect for the average passer-by for recreational use, and serves as a really vital gateway for those getting into professional beat-boxing. By simplifying an entire art form into a short saying, it really widens the range of people this folklore can reach. It allows outsiders to be integrated into the ‘inside’ of the industry and helps them be less self-conscious, now that they have an actual strategy. I wish my classmate would have delved into it more; it would surely make for a hilarious transcription. But, go ahead and try it! Mix it up a little, and you’ll see how fun it is!

A Panda Walks Into a Restaurant…

Main Piece:

CD: So a panda walks into a fancy restaurant. He was decked out. He’s got a nice suit, maybe a fedora. He’s got a violin case in one hand. He sits down at a table, and the waiter comes up to him and says “Sir, what would you like for dinner tonight?” The panda says “I’ll have everything on the menu.” To which the waiter says “Are you sure, sir? I mean, that would cost you an arm and a leg, and no one could possibly eat that much food…” The panda says “I want everything on the menu.” The waiter says “Ok. As you wish.”

The waiter goes back into the kitchen and returns maybe two hours later with every other waiter behind him, carrying plate, after plate, after plate of food. And you can imagine the panda sitting at maybe like an eight person table. He’s got it all to himself. And these waiters come out, and they put every single dish that the restaurant serves on the table in a big circle, and the panda just starts chowing down. He just like goes to town on this food, you know, and he manages to eat ALL of it.

And the waiter comes back—maybe an hour or later after the panda has finished his food. And you know maybe he’s wiping his chin off with a little napkin. Very classy guy. And the waiter says “Wow. I stand corrected. I guess you could eat that much food. But are you ready for the check?” The panda is like “Yeah, sure.” The waiter goes back into the kitchen, comes out with a check. It is $1,422 dollars and 36 cents. The panda says “Yup, I don’t know how I’m gonna handle this.”

He reaches into his violin case, pulls out a machine gun, and he starts shooting up the restaurant! You can image like glasses breaking in half, you know, everybody starts crouching under the tables in fear because this panda is just shooting the entire restaurant up! He fires his entire round, and when he’s done, puts the AK-47 back in the violin case, walks out of the restaurant, without saying another word.

A few minutes later, of course the police show up… Because it was a very violent incident… The head detective says “Aha! Panda.” The waiter says “I didn’t tell you it was a panda! How could you have possibly known that?” To which the detective says “Well here, let me show you.” He goes back out to his car. He comes in with a dictionary, and on the dictionary, he opens it up to the letter P:

Panda. herbivorous bear found mostly in China. Eats chutes and leaves.


A lengthy joke my tired suitemate tells to me and my roommate. Performed late night in a bedroom within Cale & Irani Apartments at the USC Village. He is a Jazz Studies (Trumpet) major in the Thornton School of Music. He heard this joke from his dad, and his been memorizing it since the sixth grade.


This joke is especially interesting to me because of the way it was performed. Even though he was tired, the informant still makes an effort to color the story with humor. I specifically remember him changing his inflection and emphasizing hilarious details (as evidenced by the italics). With such specific details like the amount of the check, it made me wonder if the nature of the joke was ever-changing. The amount is not the same each time. But it doesn’t matter: the way he says the story is more important than what he says. It’s meant to pull you in and get you invested, so that the shootout comes as a complete surprise. All of the comedic elements combined with the long build up really spotlighted the ending punchline. I remember hearing it and being stunned in silence for a good ten seconds thinking “I just sat through this long ass story just for this” before my roommate and I bursted out laughing at the absurdity of it all.

“Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other”

Main Piece:

Me: Can you repeat that? (Silence.)

Roommate: *laughs*

Me: Oh no! SP, can you hear me?

SP: *laughs* It cut out for a second, ‘kay? Yeah, I can hear you guys now.

Me: Can you repeat what the phrase was?

SP: “Six of one, half a dozen of the other.” Which just basically means same difference.

Me: What would you use that for in like— like saying that for?

SP: I often contradict myself, all the time, with my thinking. And I’m a bit of an over thinker—and so I think, sometimes, that phrase can get me out of my rabbit hole when I’m like— I don’t know, thinking too deeply about something…

Me: Got it. And where did you learn this phrase from?

SP: Where did I learn that? I… (She thinks.) Learned it… *whispers* Fuck! I don’t know.

Me: That’s okay!

SP: It was a very common phrase back when my grandparents were young.

Me: Okay, uhm, who would you hear say this? Did your grandparents ever say it to you?

SP: Yeah, my grandfather did… My grandfather on my mom’s side when I was young… like six. And visit them, in the summers.

Me: And do you know why? Like, in what context he would say it?

SP: Usually… when we’re fighting about something. Or like the family is bickering. And it’s like…

Me: Ah, got it. Got it.

SP: “Same difference.” You know?

Me: “Same difference.”


Performed over a FaceTime call. One of my roommates friends, a high school senior. She is in her bedroom in Alameda, California.


This was especially interesting to me because I know the components of what is being said, but I didn’t understand them without the context given by the informant. According to her, this is more popular amongst older generations in America. I thought of it as a practical saying, but hearing how her grandfather used it to settle disputes and pacify family arguments really made it special. I can see why she uses it now in her personal life as a way of anchoring herself to reality and practicing mindfulness, and I’m glad she was able to find an emotional attachment to this piece of family folklore.