Tag Archives: metaphor

Sedibala pele ga se ikangwe

Text: “Sedibala pele ga se ikangwe”

Translation: “The well down the road [or in the next village, or down the path] cannot be relied on”


This phrase is a favorite of my informant, B, because of its many nuances. B is a middle aged man who lives and was raised in Gaborone, Botswana. This is a common phrase in Setswana —the national language of Botswana— used as a metaphor to relay that the future is unpredictable. B first learned this phrase from his parents in his childhood (1970s/80s). 

The phrase is often used to remind others of the unpredictability of the future. For example, if B’s and his wife were to set off on a road trip B has the option to fill up the gas tank before they leave but instead chooses to fill up in the next town over. Unfortunately the gas station in the next town is busy, and the next town is shut down and they are unable to find a working one before the car runs out of gas, the wife could say “Sedibala pele”. The phrase is so common, people often don’t finish the entire sentence, and the other party will still understand what is trying to be portrayed. 

B cites this phrase as a personal philosophy that has stuck with him since he was a young child, reminding him to focus on things in the present that he can control, and to not rely on the future because it is never guaranteed.


From what I know, the sentiment of this phrase is a common one throughout most cultures. It reminds me of the saying “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” which has origins in western agricultural communities, however it gives a similar message; not to rely on the future because it is not guaranteed. The phrase serves as a reminder of the inescapable uncontrollable nature of luck and chance in life. It speaks to the nature of humans to predict the future, see patterns in the past and assume they know what will happen next, as we know, that is not always accurate.

Proverb about Wasting Time

Text: “Don’t watch the mule go blind, load the wagon.”

Context: K is a 21 year old junior at USC. He is from Palmdale, CA and is majoring in Computer Science.

He says he’s never really used this proverb, but that it came to mind when asked if he knew any. He also noted that he remembered it because he found it funny.

This is one his grandpa used to say, and he warned me before telling me that it “wasn’t very cultural” – he seemed to expect that it should be because it came from his grandpa.

Interpretation: When asked what he thought the proverb meant, K simply said “stop wasting time doing stupid things,” to “just do the work.” The implication of the proverb is that you would rather sit and watch a mule go blind rather than do necessary work. Upon further thought, the proverb seems to also mean that you shouldn’t worry about things you cannot control when preparing for something, to just do what you can. It’s also relevant that this proverb was told to him by his grandfather, as it falls into the apparent trend that proverbs are for older people. This one in particular seems like a kind of warning from someone further in life to someone who still has a lot of time – to not waste that time on things that are either meaningless or out of our control and to instead focus on the task at hand.

Country as Cowshit

Text: (Folk Simile/Colloquialism)

“Country as Cowshit”


T is my mother who lives T heard this from neighbor/friend who lived and grew up deep in the Appalachian Mountains. She lives in Salem, Virginia, but grew up all around the country traveling with her family as her father’s job took them to new locations often. She has lots of folklore experiences from her own family to ones she has heard while traveling and those from the friends she surrounds herself with. She decided to share this simile/colloquialism when I asked for a piece of folklore she has heard a lot.

T- “When someone is describing someone they can’t understand because they talk so country they’ll saw they’re Country as Cow Shit.”

Interviewer- Which means they are from so far out in the country that you can hardly understand what they are saying, like they have a really deep accent?

T- “That’s what country as cow shit means, it means they talk like a hick, yeah, just really hard to understand them, they’re just very country.”

T told a story she was told by her friend who she heard it from. T said that he would talk to his wife and call her name and his wife would call his name back, and no one else knew what their names were because they couldn’t understand what they were saying. He would call her and people thought her name was “Janey” and people thought that his name was “Mack” (neither names are their actual names).


In my interpretation this can be seen as something that is silly and said lightheartedly back and forth to one another, or it could come off as an insult to a group of people. I have heard this expression myself before, and in most cases it is other people who are country (but not as country) have said this either about someone or right in front of them. When looking it up, it seems to actually be the title of a country song, on Spotify and Apple Music. The word “cowshit” is similar, but not as popular in my experience as “horseshit” or “bullshit”, both of which are usually used when calling someone’s bluff. The word is described in Green’s Dictionary of Slang as an unpopular person, or nonsense/rubbish. I think the second definition fits best, at least in this saying, as it is saying that the way speak is as country as nonsense.

Que Fresa!


PC is my roommate at USC. Her mother is Spanish and her father is Mexican. They both immigrated to the United States when they were young adults and work to incorporate both cultures in addition to American culture. She grew up in the suburbs of Miami and now lives in Dallas, Texas. 


PC: Growing up in the suburbs my whole life I feel like I always walked the line between being Latina and being white washed. And since my mom is Spanish I was different than my cousins in Mexico too. So I would always go visit my family in Mexico and they would always say “Que fresa!” whenever I did something they considered more American or stuck up.

DO (Interviewer): I know that in English that translates to “what strawberry”, could you explain that a little bit more?

PC: Yeah so basically it’s like a term used to describe kids who were like richer Hispanic kids who have a certain personality. My family uses it as a joke but sometimes it’s used as an insult that basically means spoiled rich girls. 

DO: Interesting. I know that your parents are both Mexican and Spanish, is it more prevalent to use in one culture over another or is it used pretty commonly in both?

PC: I think I’ve heard it more used by my dad’s family. It might be just a common term for Hispanic people but I think it’s more of Mexican slang. It’s sort of like the equivalent to people’s ideas of a valley girl. So saying “like” a lot, mixing spanish and english, when things are said more like a question than a statement. Things like that. 


This metaphor is commonly used in Mexican culture and serves as a separator of social status. This phrase is used by lower to middle-class individuals to poke fun at the wealthier class. Oftentimes in society, it is those of the wealthier class that may be making fun of those who don’t have the same social status, so through this term, we see the reversal of that. The direct translation may not make sense to someone, not in this culture so this phrase shows the complexity of lore not in our native languages and cultures. To outsiders looking in it may make no sense, but to those in this culture, it is a common term.  

Theater Saying


HB is an American woman who has had 30 years of experience working in the theater industry, specifically in tech, props and production management.


When an actor in a stage play is “really overacting and they’re playing to the back of the house”, one would say that they’re “chewing the scenery”. This could be a good thing or a bad thing. If the role calls for that amount of energy, then it’d be a positive thing, but “generally it’s kind of negative”.

Some examples/variants:

“That scene was exhausting to watch, it was a scenery-chewing performance.”

“He’ll be picking scenery out of his teeth for days”


The actual meaning of this saying is a criticism of actors that don’t take realism into account during their performances and just focus on expressing as much emotion as possible. Especially in theater performances, it’s common for actors to need more energy in their acting since they have to portray to audience members that are seated far away from them, but this saying seems to acknowledge some threshold for the accepted amount of exaggeration in acting. This showcases the need and appreciation for realism, or at least a balance between realism and emoting within a performance.

The imagery of the saying also suggests a dynamic between actors and stage hands. If a performer’s acting “chews up the scenery” or, in other words, destroys the stage, and is seen as a negative thing, then it’s possible that there is a need for respect between actors and those who work backstage. If an actor’s performance is overwhelming in action, it’s possible that the audience would overlook the hard work of the stage hands in making the image on stage come to life, which would make the stage hands upset.