“At all of our sports games we would do “fours up.” You would hold up four fingers.”
MM is a 24-year-old American Missionary from a town in the middle of California. She attended UCLA for college, and I asked her if there were any specific UCLA sports traditions that she remembered. She wasn’t sure what this tradition meant – she said she just walked into it and that originally, she thought it was for fourth down in football but then they did it at basketball games too. She ended up looking it up and telling me it was for the four letters in UCLA.
This example of a tradition that you take part in but don’t know what it means is probably pretty common in places like a college. When you get to college, you are thrown in to a bunch of traditions that everyone else seems to know, and you are often on your own to figure them out. When everyone else seems to understand a tradition, it seems silly to ask about it, so it’s better to just pretend. This can show us how important it is in our society to fit in and avoid doing things that could put you in the outgroup. It also shows us how traditions and their meanings could evolve – if my informant told someone else their theory of the meaning behind “fours up” being for fourth downs in football, that meaning could spread as well if other people didn’t know what it meant. And certain traditions can take on different meanings for different people, even if born out of the same context. Even if looking up what “fours up” means would be an easy solution, our tendency is to try to figure it out ourselves because we want to take part in the tradition naturally so we can really feel like a part of the group.