BACKGROUND: My informant, MB, was born in the US but has dual citizenship in Macedonia as well. The following proverb is something MB’s father always says to MB and her sister in anticipation of them saying something he deems as stupid.
CONTEXT: This piece is from a conversation with my friend where I asked her about Macedonian proverbs.
MACEDONIAN: Размислете двапати, кажете еднаш (Razmislete dvapati, kažete ednaš)
LITERAL TRANSLATION: Think twice, say once.
MB: It’s essentially like, “think before you speak.” My dad’s the type of guy who doesn’t like being asked questions so he’ll always stop me and say this before I ask him for something to make sure it’s worth bothering him over.
THOUGHTS: MB compared this proverb to the common American proverb “think before you speak.” However, I think it’s interesting to note the difference in the direct translation from the American version. “Think before you speak” gives the connotation that someone should do a quick survey of their thoughts before speaking but to me, “think twice, say once” feels more intentioned. As if to say, think it over… now think it over again.
My informant is a twenty-one year old USC student; she’s studying human biology and is currently applying to medical school. She was born in Macedonia, and immigrated to the Long Beach, CA with her mother and stepfather at the age of five. Her father still lives and works as a doctor in Macedonia, and my informant visits each summer. She speaks the language fluently.
“My grandparents always had a bunch of stories, that were like, supposed to make me do their bidding (laughs) but my grandmother had this story about a little house elf called a Domovoi. It’s spelled — (she struggles to spell it, and I tell her I’ll look it up later) Okay, but yeah, these little house elves would like, live in your house and protects it and neatens up at night. But if you were bad — like, made a mess, broke stuff, tracked dirt in — he’d get angry and start making scary noises all over the house. I remember once I broke a vase or something and that night while I was trying to sleep there was this thumping on my door and I remember being so fucking scared because I’d pissed off this elf and I thought he was going to like, murder me or something. I was a lot more careful around the house after that.”
This seems to be a classic example of adults using folklore to control and discipline children. This household beast shares a lot in common with characters from other cultural traditions, like brownies, hobgoblins, and even the Roman concept of a household god. The adults use the creature as an incentive for children to respect their home and keep things neat — in other words, to prevent them from adding to their parent’s workload.