Tag Archives: Indiana

Variations of a proverb: hell in a handbag

Text:  “It’s hotter than Hell in a handbag out here”

Context: My informant –  a senior at the University of Southern California from Indiana – explained to me that this was a saying her mother would always say when the weather was very hot. Her mother was born and raised in Indiana, and while she first heard it from her mom, it is something that is typically said in the state and in the broader Midwest. Her mother explained to her that the phrase comes from Hell being an extremely hot place alongside the feeling of being confined and stuffed into something small, like a handbag. So, if Hell itself is already hot and the landscape is confined to a handbag, then it must be an unbearably hot day if you are using that analogy to describe the weather.

Analysis: When searching “It’s hotter than Hell in a handbag out here” on the Internet, there are phrases that come up similar to it, but not exactly the same. “Going to hell in a handbasket,” “going to hell in a handcart,” “going to hell in a handbag,” and “something being like hell in a handbasket” are all variations of an allegorical locution that has unknown origins and describes a situation heading for disaster (Wikipedia). However, my informant’s mother had her own variation – It’s hotter than Hell in a handbag out here – which she used to describe the weather, not a situation heading for disaster. In the chapter “Riddles and Proverbs” by F. A. de Caro, the author writes that proverbs are ready-made statements that convey a culturally agreed~upon idea which can be used to make a point that may only be made less succinctly and perhaps less clearly and effectively in a speaker’s own words” (185-186). Despite the proverb staying virtually the same, my informant’s mother repurposed it to fit an aspect of her culture. This highlights the fluidity of proverbial language and the ways in which individuals personalize and reinterpret commonly used expressions to fit their own experiences and surroundings. So, while “something being like hell in a handbasket” might sound similar to “it’s hotter than hell in a handbag out here,” the two phrases are interpreted differently based on their respective cultural contexts.


De Caro, F. A.. “Riddles and Proverbs.” In Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, edited by Elliot Oring, 175-197. Utah State University Press, 1986.

“To hell in a handbasket,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_hell_in_a_handbasket.

“In like a lion, out like a lamb”

1. Text (folk simile)

“In like a lion, and out like a lamb”

2. Context 

My informant grew up in the midwest in Indiana and frequently heard people say March goes “in like a lion, out like a lamb” in regards to the month of March. He explains how the month of March is usually very cold in the midwest, but by the end of March, there’s sunshine and good weather. He compares the cold to a lion that roars representing the “bad, ugly” weather while at the end of March, the lamb represented the calm, nice weather and the end of the harsh cold. My informant was raised in the midwest, in Indiana, as well as in Texas as his family all reside in Texas. He recalled how he never heard this saying in the south, only when he was living in the midwest. 

3. Analysis/YOUR interpretation

This folk simile was new to me and I originally wasn’t sure how to interpret it. However, given the context, the midwest, where it is known to get cold, is a representative of the lion as I’m reminded of a lion’s mane and the thick hair of a lion which may protect against the cold weather, the mane specifically known to protect the neck of the lion to survive the cold. Also, it should be noted that lions typically huddle together in the winter to stay warm interacting with other lions in their community for protection. Lions enjoy the snow, however, as it allows them to remain active without overheating. As for lambs, “out like a lamb” likely goes hand-in-hand with how lambs are typically born in the winter months and require more energy to retain a stable body temperature. In retaining stable body temperature, lambs usually call for sheltering during these winter months and have trouble withstanding. Also in terms of physicality, a lion’s mane, in comparison to a lamb’s coat, seems to be thicker and likely more protective against harsh conditions. In regarding the month of March to come “in like a lion”, seems representative of the initial feelings of being strong and protected, ready for winter, while regarding how March goes “out like a lamb”, is representative of the lion’s mane no longer being able to protect against the cold and fragility as a lamb is simply a baby (under 1 year) goat. The cold of march overtook the lion and left them as a lamb in need of protection and shelter. This saying is illustrative of midwestern weather as those not from this region may not understand that in the northern hemisphere March classifies as spring and not winter. But being a part of a region where march leans more towards winter weather, the folk simile makes more sense.

The Windmill in Wawasee

Informant is a 19 year old female who was born in Chicago and currently lives in Los Angeles. She is my roommate.

Informant: We have a lake house in Wawasee, Indiana, and, behind our house, there’s this big like green kind of forest and it drops down into a creek. And there’s a property right next to it, where there’s this big wide patch of green with a windmill in the middle of it, and behind it is this creek, and the place where it drops off into a creek is hard to see, and so the area is not safe around the windmill, and nobody wanted their kids playing there. So this windmill, I could only see inside the windows if I was on my tiptoes. So when I was younger, it was very mysterious to me, and my parents didn’t want me and my cousin playing near the creek because they thought we would fall in. So they told us that there was a witch that lived inside of the windmill. The legend that they told us was that during the day, she wouldn’t live in the windmill, and that was why you couldn’t see her during the day, but at night, she would live in there. And if there were children around at night and she saw them, she would take them and she would eat them. So me and my cousins would go up to the windmill and dare each other to go look in it, and we would take our dogs for a walk and when we would like walk past the windmill, we would have to run by it because we were just so scared. And it wasn’t just our parents that told us, but it was like a thing in the neighborhood, like all of the kids knew that there was this witch that lived in this windmill, and still to this day it’s still there, like the property has never been bought. Nobody knows who owns the property or how the windmill got there, but its been there since before my mom lived there, and like her parents told her about the witch too, and it’s been passed down from her since her childhood. And the older kids would tell me that they would see the witch in the windmill, and when I was older I would tell the little kids. And not until I was older did I realize that the whole point was to protect us from going near this creek at night and falling in.

Collector: Does this story have any special significance to you?

Informant: I think the significance is that even today when I walk past it, I always think of the legend, and when I look at the windmill now, I still get scared. It’s just like stuck with me all of this time.

This story isn’t a well-known national story, it’s just a story that people would tell their children in this small like place in Indiana. In a way, I think that that makes this story even more interesting because it’s cool to see how folklore can be created from mystery and warnings. It’s cool to note how the parents would tell their kids this story to keep them from adventuring into the creek at night, and drowning without anyone to help them. The kids, however, never realized this, and until they were older, it just served as a mysterious story for them. In that way, folklore serves two different purposes: to protect and to entertain.

Sugar Creek Smallmouth Bass

“There’s a creek that goes through my hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana called Sugar Creek, and they say it has best smallmouth bass fishing in the country. Apparently in the 80s, some high school kid went down to the Creek after school and caught four 8lb smallmouths, and a massive 12 pounder in an hour. Ever since kids always go down there to try to catch some huge ones, and I’ve caught a couple big ones myself, but nowhere near the 12 pounder he caught.”


This is from my friend who comes from a small town in Indiana with a lot of folklore traditions. He’s lived there all of his life, and apparently there are a lot of these little local stories legends about his town which is awesome. He said that this one particularly resonates with him and gives him a sense of nostalgia because it reminds him of his times fishing during his childhood and looking for legendary bass.


Indiana Grizzlies

“There’ve been a number of sightings of grizzly bears around Crawfordsville [my hometown in Indiana], and my parents always used to warn me about them when I was little. Allegedly a while ago some family in Crawfordsville lost their kid in the woods one night, and the whole town basically blamed it on the bear. The weird thing is, grizzlies aren’t native to Indiana or any of the surrounding areas. It’s essentially like the sasquatch of Crawfordsville, because even though there have been a lot of sightings even recently, no one’s ever gotten a picture. Everyone is still afraid of it though.”


This is from my friend who comes from a small town in Indiana with a lot of folklore traditions. He’s lived there all of his life, and apparently there are a lot of these little local stories legends about his town which is awesome. He said that this one is kind of funny now, because he took it as such a serious threat when he was a kid, but now he doesn’t even believe in it.