Tag Archives: metaphor

German Folk Metaphor

Context: The 51-year-old informant from Memphis, TN, and I were discussing the role of folklore in parenting. The topic originally came up when I asked him if he was ever repeatedly taught any proverbs by his parents when he was young. He told me that while his parents never told him many proverbs, there was one sentence that his father would say sometimes; it was something that the informant’s grandfather, a German Jewish Canter and Holocaust survivor, told to the informant’s father when he was a young child. While the folk metaphor may seem like a harsh threat for a father to say to his son, the informant explained that “it was normal for a German parent discipline in a rather stern manner while including this essence of subtle humor.”

Piece: 

German: “Ich schlach dich das deine zahne in arsch klavier spielt”

English: “I will hit you so hard that your teeth will play piano in your ass”

Analysis: It must be pointed out that the informant’s father and grandfather performed this German folk metaphor in two completely different contexts and with entirely different intentions. The Grandfather, having come from a more traditional time with a harsher upbringing, clearly did intend to instill some fear in his son with this sentence, but only enough fear to get him to stop misbehaving when he was doing so. The fact that the metaphor begins with a harsh threat and ends with the hilariously ridiculous image of a pair of teeth jumping around piano keys in someone’s rear end sends a message from father to son. While the father may be mad at his son, he is acknowledging to both himself and the boy that humor can be found in the situation and that no great offense was committed. On the other hand, the informant’s father recited this folk metaphor to son in order to remind himself about his childhood while also sharing the information with his son.

Caught the Sun

“Looks like you’ve caught the sun.”


 

Analysis:

While the meaning of this saying seems quite obvious—to have caught the sun is to be sunburnt, but I had never heard of this phrase before. The informant has not lived in America for longer than two years, so I thought this saying originated from the UK, however, I cannot find any evidence to its origins.

Doors and Windows Saying

The interviewer’s initials are denoted through the initials BD, while the informant’s responses are marked as PH.

PH: Every time that I’m blocking something, specifically when I’m like walking by the television and my mom is watching TV and then I get distracted, and I start watching, and I’m standing in front of the television, and she says “you’re a better door than window!” Like, “please move, you’re blocking my way.” But it’s like a cute thing that she says.

BD: Did she get it from anywhere?

PH: I don’t know! I think it is a normal saying, and I think her mom used to say it to her, but I’m not sure.


Analysis:
This piece of folklore is a very lighthearted metaphor. I have never heard it before, but it does make an awful lot of sense. It is interesting how the informant’s mother had likely heard it from her own mother, and I speculate this saying may be relegated to only their family. The use of doors and windows draws the mind to think of houses and buildings, which may be an effect the metaphor is going for.

Juha’s Nail

Juha had a house he liked very much. But, he needed some money so he had to sell it. For him, to keep a connection to his house, he put in the contract that he is selling all of the house, except a nail on one of the walls. After a week, Juha knocked the door, and when the new owners opened, he told him “Excuse me, I am here to check on my nail.” And he kept doing this almost every day and especially during lunch or dinner time, to be able to share the owner’s meals. After a while, the owner was so tired of Juha’s visits, he left the keys with him and departed. The phrase “Juha’s Nail” stayed as a expression for when you use an excuse to keep coming back for something you are attached to.

Background information: This is a piece of folklore read about in school in the Middle East. The informant found the story for the phrase, “Juha’s Nail,” particularly funny. Juha is a recurring character in many Middle Eastern stories.

Context: The informant told me about this story in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: I think it’s so cool and interesting to have a metaphor used in language that started as a story/joke. I have not learned about Arabic metaphors, so it’s fascinating to learn about the origins of one of them.

Arabic Expression

طلعله من الجمل اذنه

Transliteration: Telaalu min al jamal ednu.

Translation: “He got only the camel’s ear.”

When someone works hard to get big share of a deal but the outcome turns out to be very small because many other people shared it with him.

Background information: An expression known in Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. This is a common figure of speech in the Arabic language.

Context: The informant told me about this expression in a conversation about folklore.

Thoughts: This is a very interesting way to describe this situation, one that appears to be quite common all throughout history to today. I find the use of metaphors in other languages to be fascinating and a colorful way to carry out the language. I don’t think I use nearly the amount of metaphors as other languages (such as Arabic) when I speak English.