Tag Archives: lying

The Ax Farmer – Tale

Context: R is a Korean American who was raised in Hawaii. She moved to Los Angeles to attend USC and is currently a freshman studying Computer Science. Her mom told her this story, and R herself has heard from multiple Koreans each with their own variation on what the tale sounds like. According to R, it’s a very popular folktale.


The story of the ax farmer begins with an axman who had a very poor quality ax. It was wooden and broken. He dropped in this lake one day, and there was a god living in the lake and the god appears with two axes in his hands, one gold and one wooden. The god asks the axman “Which one is your ax, the golden one or the wooden one?” The axman answers honestly with “the wooden one.” The god, impresses by the man’s honesty, gives him the golden ax.

However, there was another man listening to the ax man and god’s conversation. He then purposefully threw an ax into the lake and the god appeared. The god asks the man which ax is his and the man chooses the golden ax. The god knew he was lying, so he punished him. The punishment R never specifies, but she implies that the god severely punished the other man for lying.


Like any tale, the god and man interaction and the golden ax is clearly not real. There is no real lake that this story was at nor would there be a god living it who can give golden axes to passersby. But, due to the context in which these motifs are placed, the audience is able to learn a very real and applicable lesson about honesty and punishment. From Oring’s definition of a tale, the inherent falsehood of the narrative makes it easier to digest; the linear path the plot takes and the extreme contrast of the characters allow the logical and real-world solution to the story, the man’s punishment, to be impactful and relatable. From there, the two-dimensional and predictable story can be adapted into metaphor, and then motif and then life lesson. A god living in a lake and the existence of a golden ax are metaphors for a high power or authority in life and rewards. By pleasing the authority figures with honesty and good morals, rewards will be given. Lie to power or manipulate selfishly, the punishment will be severe and no such rewards will be yielded. Tales like these are usually told during childhood, so this tale gives a young and innocent audience a hard truth about living in society without it being overwhelming or stressful. The tale is blaring entertainment, yet perfectly subtle in the delivery of morality and ethics.

Pretend to Play the Yu


Title: 滥竽充数

Literal translation: Pretend to Play the Yu

Dynamic translation: Pretending to be something that you are not

XX: This story is about a musician. The musician- he couldn’t really play any instruments. Anyway, one day, he heard that there is an audition going on, and he went for it anyway. When he got to the place, he found that he’s going to be playing among a group, a group of instruments, in an orchestra in front of the emperor. So anyway, he got into the audition, and he passed it as a group, and the whole orchestra got employed by the emperor, and he got famous after that. So, he got famous, and after decades and decades, he played in the group for the emperor, to entertain him. So after the emperor passed away, his son succeeded his crown, and his son is someone who prefers to hear solo music, so one day, he gathered this whole orchestra and had every musician play to him one by one. And when it was the musician’s turn–the emperor finally found out that the man couldn’t play any instrument, so then the emperor executed him. That’s the story–that’s how we tell people that you cannot lie about your skill if you don’t know how.

Me: Oh wow–I was expecting this to be some sort of wholesome children’s story–so your grandpa would tell you this before you slept?

XX: Yup, but I’m not really bothered by the execution part, because I feel like he deserved it, right? Because he’s a liar.


XX mentioned that they heard this story almost every day as a young child. Their grandfather would tell this to them during the “little time we had before we all went to bed.” It was “just a little educational lesson my grandpa wanted to give me.” Their grandfather was never one to “say something really obvious–” he liked to “inspire you to know something.” While XX said that the story was mainly just a typical part of their daily nighttime routine, they also learned something from it: don’t lie about having a skillset you lack. It has been a while since XX last told this story, and this was the first time they told it in English.


When people first started to think of folklore, the bedtime stories told by nannies and babysitters came to mind. Bedtime stories and lullabies are meant to put children to sleep, but the text and lyrics themselves can be ambiguous. Perhaps introducing kids to these valuable lessons–don’t pretend to be something you’re not–in a relaxed, tranquil setting will resonate with them more vividly as they grow up and become acclimated to the world around them. This idea of “double vision” that parents/grandparents hold rings true: while they want to comfort their children, they also want to warn them and give them lessons and pieces of advice that they will carry on with them through adulthood. These stories balance the weight of consequences with lighthearted fun. However, it is questionable whether we associate these stories with their actual lessons or more with the fonder memories of childhood and bedtime.

Nonetheless, being set in a distant past and intertwining fictive elements with real world morals, these tales open up children to important pieces of knowledge to function in society, rather than shielding them in a romanticized image of the world. While execution is an exaggerated consequence of lying, the tale’s ending provides a vivid warning on what happens if you’re caught for fabricating your identity. These stories are effective because they are memorable–they spread messages creatively and even with a negative, violent ending, children want to hear them over and over because it is ingrained into their night routine. They’re comforting because they’re consistent–they’re told by the same, reliable person at the same time. The last words children hear before falling asleep often get at the heart of the bedtime story, so it lingers in their memory. These tales can contain universal values: its message is clear across language barriers, which reveals the foundational similarities amongst different variations.

The Origin of the Echo

Context: S is a Peruvian man in his early 60s. S spent around the first 13 years living inside of Peru before moving to Germany where he lived until his late 20s when he moved to California. Although having lived in California for most of his life now, he still has a close connection to Peru and Germany through his family. 

S: “While I can’t think of much Peruvian folklore, there is one story that comes to mind about the story of the echo.” 

Intv: “Okay, I don’t think I know this story.” 

S: “Okay, well it goes something like this, There was this Prince, who was always lying. He was always getting in trouble, and lying to everyone until one day the King died. So this Prince becomes the new King. As he became King his behavior just got worse, he would send people away on jobs and when they would come back he would act confused and say he never sent them to do such a thing. But what could the people do? He was the King. Until one day, the King calls upon the high priest. This high priest knew he was going to be set up by the King, so before speaking with him, the priest went to pray to the gods, and the god of the jungle came and asked him about his problem. The jungle god then directs the high priest to a very specific tree deep in the heart of the jungle, and the high priest will cut the tree down and use the wood to make a very special box. After the priest made the box the jungle god told him ‘when you speak to the King, make sure you hold the box open the whole time. And make sure when the order is given to you and when you return it is a huge event in which everyone will be there. So the priest goes to the King, and holds open the box while he receives his mission. Then he was off. When he returned, the high priest gathered the whole town before alerting the King of his return. When the King came to see the commotion he asked ‘what’s going on?’ The high priest responded by telling him about the job that the King sent him on. The King replied saying ‘I never said any such thing, I never told you to go and do such a thing.’ Then the high priest opens the box and the King’s order comes back in the exact same words and in his exact voice. In a fit of rage the King grabbed the box and ran out to the mountains where he threw the box out. When the box landed it splintered in hundreds of directions all across the world and wherever you hear an echo, supposedly that’s where a piece of the box resides.”

Intv: “Oh wow! That’s a great story! Was this told somewhere specifically? Or all across Peru?”

S: “This is a tale from the Amazonians, so it’s probably from Colombia.”

Analysis: A wonderful legend that perhaps originated as an explanation for something that at the time we couldn’t originally understand or fathom. In these moments it’s fascinating to see how for hundreds potentially thousands of years people used folklore as a pseudoscience of sorts. Legends being used to explain earthly phenomena can be seen across different cultures around the world. Another example of one of these that I particularly enjoy is the Origin of the Earthquake from Norse mythology. See All the Mountains Shake: Seismic and Volcanic Imagery in the Old Norse Literature of Þórr. Scripta Islandica, Pg 102-110. For more information on the origin of the earthquake in Norse mythology. Taggart, Declan. “All the mountains shake: Seismic and volcanic imagery in the Old Norse literature of Þórr.” Scripta Islandica: Isländska Sällskapets Årsbok 68 (2017): 102-110.

Polish Proverbs: Lying and the Vertically Challenged

Main Performance:

  • “Kłamstwa mają krótkie nogi”
    • Transliterated Proverb
      • Kłamstwa = Lies
      • Mają = Have
      • Krótkie = Short
      • Nogi = Legs
    • Full Translation: Lies have short legs
      • Explanation: Lies travel upon weak and flimsy foundations that are will undoubtedly be discovered and be caught up to by a regular pair of legs.


The informant is one of my close friends from my Catholic high school who I maintain contact with after graduation. He hails from a devoutly Catholic Polish family. Among most of the families that I knew of while attending, most of my classmates did not speak their family lineage’s mother tongue except for most of the my Polish and Hispanic classmates. No German and definitely not any Irish being spoken there.


My informant is currently attending medical school in Poland and I reached out to him through social media to ask if he had any traditional/folk-things he could share with me given his actively apparent and practiced Polish heritage, doubly so now that he is back in Poland.

My Thoughts:

The act of lying is universally considered a negative and this would definitely would be a virtue that is practiced in a Catholic home. This would especially be effective as a warning to children to discourage them for lying as they would easily be found out. When I first heard it I thought it was referring to the legs of a table instead of legs on a human being. By being such a small table, I thought the proverb detailed that lies made for flimsy foundations instead of being short legs that cannot run very far. I’m not sure if a variation exists for the phrase about how lies eventually becomes truths if one repeats it enough and how that correlates to the quote.

How To Play The Game Bull Shark

Informant: This game rewards players who can lie convincingly. The object of the game is kind of the opposite of Slapjack, cuz you have to get rid of your hand as quickly as you can. The game is played comfortably with 6 players but I think it’s better with less. You don’t want more players cuz then it becomes too easy for people to lie their whole hand away. Someone splits a standard 52 deck equally for the number of players present. The players look at their hand and the person with the ace of spades plays first, the ace card face up.
All cards are played face down after the ace. The play then goes clockwise as each player has to play the next number up, so after the ace the next player plays a 2, the next a 3, and on and on and on. This is where the lying element of the game comes in, if a player doesn’t have the next card up for their turn they can lie and play an entirely different card and just say it’s the right one. After every play people can decide whether or not they believe the player, if someone does not believe them they can call ‘BS’ and flip over the played card. If the card is what the player said it was, the caller has to take the deck of used cards, making it harder for them to lose all their cards first. If no one calls the player and they WERE lying they say ‘popcorn’ to say that they were lying. If no one calls the player and they were NOT lying the game continues with no incident.
The game becomes more complex when multiple cards are played at once, if a person has more than one of a kind in their hand they can play up to how many they have OR play up to as many they are willing to lie about. The game ends when a person gets rid of all the cards in their hand.

Background: My informant used to bring to school a standard deck of cards and teach us how to play in our downtime between classes or over lunch. They learned these different games from their uncle who lived nearby.

Context: I remembered this game back from middle school and searched out for this informant specifically to get the rules as they tell it. I brought up the game with the informant over Discord, telling them about the collection project and my interest in documenting the games that we used to play with friends over lunch. They responded with a written record of the rules as they remember it.

Thoughts: While definitely a fun game I remember a mutual friend started abusing the lying rules to stack more cards than they said they played. There was a great deal of dispute as to whether lying was allowed when talking about the number of cards one played or only what number the card was. Everyone agreed that lying only applied to the number the card was but we were not always able to stop the kid when he continued to play more than he said for we never knew when he did it. We eventually stopped playing with him because he wouldn’t stop cheating.
The game also goes by:
‘Bullshit’ or ‘BS’