Tag Archives: frog

North Dakotan German-Russian Proverb

Text

“You can’t pull hair from a frog”

Context

The country of Germany as we now know it is of course a relatively modern sovereign state. Prior to the unification of the German states in the late 19th century, Germany existed as a myriad of different “mini-states” all with their own governing bodies and economic models. Unfortunately, this led to many Germans becoming demoralized due to religious, economic, and political hardships, and many emigrated to Russia in the 18th and 19th century. To make try and make the historical background as succinct as possible, many of these Germans living in Russia were eventually forced to leave Russia, with many settling in the northern plains of the United States.

This was the case for my ancestors on my mom’s side of the family, with my great-great grandparents settling in North Dakota. In North Dakota, there’s a heavy concentration of German-Russians living within the state, who through a combination of their prior ethnic and national heritage, as well as an amalgamation of their new American life created a unique culture and folklore.

According to my informant, she first heard this proverb uttered by her siblings, but also occasionally heard it from other family members including her mother and aunt. This particular proverb is one my informant says she rarely uses personally, but still hears every once in a while when with friends or family members. Her analysis of the proverb is basically that one shouldn’t waste time bothering themselves with fruitless tasks. Like the proverb implies, there’s no hair on an amphibian creature like a frog, and thus one’s only wasting their time trying to “pull hair” from one. My informant said she often heard this proverb being by family members in regards to other persons. If a person was being difficult or steadfast in a particular view or belief, it was often said that “well, there’s no use pulling hair from a frog” or “you can’t pull hair from a frog.”

My Analysis

My analysis of this proverb mirrors my informant’s. There are times when it’s simply impossible to get through to another person. While it would be nice for everybody to see things through one’s own personal perspective, that’s not always possible, and thus as the proverb goes “you can’t pull hair from a frog.” The wording of this proverb is similar to other German-Russian North Dakotan proverbs in its relative uniqueness and bizarreness, both in terms of the subjects of the proverb (frogs and hair) as well as the sentence structuring of the proverb itself.

井底之蛙 – The frog at the bottom of the well

“In Chinese, we have 成语 which are four word idioms that can refer to stories or just general lessons, or any bit of common wisdom”

Original script:  井底之蛙

Phonetic (Roman) script: Jǐngdǐzhīwā

Transliteration: frog at the bottom of the well

Full translation: 

The following is from a conversation with the informant, talking about the story behind the cheng yu:

EW: There’s this classic cheng yu, 井底之蛙 (jing di zhi wa), which is just this frog who lives at the bottom of the well, and it thinks that the world is the size of the well. And whenever birds come and tell it that the world is much bigger, it refuses to believe it.

MW: And what do you think of this?

EW: Well, I just think it’s kinda cool because it’s a lot deeper than just the Princess and the Frog story. Yeah. Chinese people have good sayings. 

MW: And what does it mean?

EW: Well basically it means that some people have a very narrow way of viewing the world, I guess. Like, you think that you know everything but really you’re letting your perspective and biases hold you back from understanding the truth of things.

Context:

My informant, EW, was born in America but her parents are from China, and she herself lived in China for a year. She learned it from her mom, who she still speaks Chinese at home with. This piece was collected over a phone call, when talking about Chinese traditions.

Thoughts

I like this cheng yu because it’s reminiscent of the Platonian cave theory, and in general I believe a lot of other cultures have similar ideas about the world not being what it seems and that we are only viewing a small portion of what the reality of our universe is. I think it’s interesting to see how other cultures all come up with similar ideas, and how they express them differently.

“A frog walks into a bank” Joke

Context: I asked the 20-year-old informant from New Jersey if there were any jokes, pranks, or games that hold a certain significance in his family. He told me that there was one joke that his grandfather always tells at family gatherings. The joke is especially told if there is a guest at the gathering who has never heard it before. The informant also mentioned that in recent years, he and his father have started to recite the joke more and more.

Piece: “So, one Tuesday afternoon, a frog walks into the local bank to take out a loan. He walks up to the bank teller, her name is Mrs. Patty Whack. Frog sees her nametag and says, ‘Hi Mrs. Whack. I would like to take out a loan today.’ And Mrs. Whack is thrown off because, you know, usually humans are the ones who take out loans, not frogs. So Mrs. Whack says, ‘Umm…This is peculiar, but, you know what, you’re talking, so let’s just get this over with. If you want a loan, you must really be something. So, tell me about yourself. What’s your name? What’s your background?’ The frog responded, ‘Well, my name is Jerry and actually, you wouldn’t believe this, but my father is Mick Jagger.’ And Mrs. Whack says, “Oh! Well I guess he’s kind of got a froggy face, so it makes sense that he would, like, carry over to you. Maybe he’s a frog himself.’ And Jerry says, “Oh no. Don’t say that about my dad. That’s not a nice thing to say about him.’ And then Mrs. Whack says, ‘I’m so sorry. Well, let’s see. Can I have some form of collateral for this loan?’ And Jerry takes out a little pink elephant, a special elephant, and he says, “Hey, you know, this is kind of ironic. Elephants are usually larger than frogs, but here I am with like a really tiny elephant in my hand.’ Mrs. Whack chuckles and says, ‘Ok, haha! Let me take this. It’s not the greatest collateral, but I’ll take it. And let me speak to my manager in the back.’ So she goes to the back of the room, and she says to the manager, ‘You know, I’ve got this frog who wants to take out a loan. And for collateral, all he has given me is this like little pink porcelain elephant. Do you know anything about this little pink elephant? Is it valuable or whatever?’

And the manager says to her, ‘It’s a knick-knack, Patty Whack. Give the frog a loan. His old man is a Rolling Stone.’

Analysis: Upon hearing this joke, I immediately recognized a connection to another subgenre of jokes: “A blank walks in a bar…” jokes. These types of jokes also often have an anthropomorphized animal as the main subject. It’s often a horse or a duck, and, in certain examples, I have also seen people use a frog as a subject of the joke. Those jokes often usually begin with a confused bartender asking the animal how they are able to walk and talk or why they have even come to the bar. The punchline of this particular joke is a play on a well-known line from a popular British nursery rhyme, “The Old Man.” In this nursery rhyme, the most famous line is, “With a knick knack paddy whack, give a dog a bone. This old man is a rolling stone.”

 

 

Sana Sana Colita de Rana – Spanish saying

“Sana sana, colita de rana. Si no te alivias hoy, te alivias mañana”

Translation: Heal, heal, little tail of a frog. If you do not heal today, you will heal tomorrow.


 

This saying has been promulgated throughout almost all Spanish speaking households, and the interlocutor asserts that it is an essential aspect of growing up and learning the capacity of one’s body and mind. The last part of the saying usually goes “si no sanas hoy, sanarás mañana,” which is more directly translated to heal, while the verb aliviar, as used in my interlocutor’s version, translates more directly to alleviate. She mentioned that her personal version is one she learned from her own mother despite the other version being much more popular. She taught this version to her own children, saying it when they came to her with scrapes and bruises, seeking comfort amidst their tears.

This saying is most commonly used to comfort an ill or hurt child. Arguably a universal notion, children have quite an immense amount of energy that requires some sort of exertion. Through this, many children play throughout their youth, and in doing so, they are exposed to myriad dangers and possibilities of getting injured. Therefore, this saying allows and even encourages the exploration that children experience through play, asserting that an injury by way of play is one that is trivial and easily cured. This saying also illustrates the compassion and care that Latino parents give to their children, reassuring them that tomorrow promises healing and opportunity for further exploration.

Heal, Heal, Butt of a Frog

“Sana Sana Culo de rana. Si no sana hoy sanara manana.”

(Heal, heal, butt of a frog, if it doesn’t heal today, it’ll heal tomorrow.)

 

Interviewer: What is being performed?

 

Informant: Ritual Song by Steph Elmir (Genre: Childhood)

 

Interviewer: What is the background information about the performance? Why do you know or like this piece? Where or who did you learn it from?

 

Informant: It’s a nursery rhyme in Spanish, I love it because it is used after someone is hurt. My mom taught me this in Miami. It’s silly and makes children laugh.

 

Interviewer: What country and what region of that country are you from?

 

Informant: USA- Miami

 

Interviewer: Do you belong to a specific religious or social sub group that tells this story?

 

Informant: Catholic/ Hinduran/Lebanese Descent

 

Interviewer: Where did you first hear the story?

 

Informant: My mom. My home.

 

Interviewer: What do you think the origins of this story might be?

 

Informant: Frogs have magical qualities in Latino Culture and are considered good luck.

 

Interviewer: What does it mean to you?

 

Informant: It makes me feel safe. It reminds me of home and a good relationship with my mom.

 

Context of the performance– Conversation with classmate before class

 

Thoughts about the piece–  Relating childhood folkways is an emotional experience for most students living far from home. Mothers in many cultures use song to comfort their children. Here is a video of the song in Spanish, featuring Kermit the frog. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kw14B0sclFw

Is it culito (ass) or colita (butt)? That seems to depend on which country you are from: http://remezcla.com/lists/culture/colita-vs-culito/