Tag Archives: midwest

A Proverb From the South/Midwest

“Better than a stick in the eye”

This is a proverb that the informants mother used to repeat to describe something that happened that is only marginally good, usually to put life in perspective. That circumstances aren’t ideal, but that they could be worse. It’s similar to the phrase “better than nothing”. Her mother grew up near St. Louis, Georgia, and rural Illinois in the 40s-50s.

“Better than a stick in the eye”  is a reflection of resilience, perspective, and a pragmatic approach to life’s challenges valued by the community from which it came. It highlights values of endurance, gratitude, and humor as essential tools for navigating life’s ups and downs, deeply rooted in the personal, cultural, and historical context of the time and place from which it originates. Considering the historical context of the 1940s-50s in areas near St. Louis, Georgia, and rural Illinois, this proverb reflects the economic and social challenges of the time. Post-World War II America was a period of significant adjustment, with rural communities often facing economic hardships and societal shifts. It could also predate this time and originate further back to times like the great depression with even worse economic devastation. The saying may sum up the ethos of a generation accustomed to hard work, modest living, and finding contentment in stability rather than excess.

The Queen’s Feast


The informant is a freshman at USC from Barrington, Illinois. During a call, I recorded an interview with them about rituals, superstitions, and festivals. When asked if they perform at any festivals, this is what they performed. Important context to know is that they would be part of the “Bristol Busking Frolic” performance troop that would perform at the Bristol Renaissance Faire in Kenosha, Wisconsin over multiple years.


PL: I’m going to tell you about Queen’s Feast at the Bristol Renaissance Fair in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Okay, so every day at the Renaissance Fair, which is in the summer, and stuff. So the whole–one of the–one of the big concepts from the Renaissance Fair is that it’s a day in 1574 in Bristol, England. And Queen Elizabeth the first is visiting, you know, like you do. Yeah. And so there’s the whole thing is like, “Whoa, we’re going to see the queen.” So I’m part of a cast called the Bristol Busking Frolic. BBF, for sure.

PL: And every day at, I believe, like, two–I think it’s two, I think it’s two, I’m gonna go with two. I don’t remember somewhere in like the early afternoon, or noonish.

PL: We, as a cast will all meet beforehand and plan a couple of things for the Queen’s Feast. And the Queen’s Feast is a thing that is primarily the court cast does–the cast–to please the Court.

PL: And so queen will sit at a table. And she will have like the mayor and like her ladies next to her. And then they will be presented with food. And that’s literally their lunch. Like they eat as a performance. And there’s chairs and there’s benches set up around to like watch and like hang out. And then there’s a little carpeted area where you–during the day, like, the Court will do like court dances and stuff like that.

PL: And the Queen, so she’s eating lunch or whatever. And we the Bristol Busking Frolic will show up, and we will each day usually sing two songs and do one mum, which is a story or skit sort of thing. And sometimes that’ll be shaken up because like sometimes someone might want to like share, like, something they’re learning or like a thing or like a solo on the flute that they learned. But usually, we will do two songs and a mum and there’s a set, there’s set songs we do. They’re like folk songs and stuff. There is a lot about boats. One about drinking, you know, classic folk song stuff. And then we’ll tell mums which are often based on or feature a folktale.

Interviewer: What is the structure of a mum? How is it different from a folktale?

PL: It’s–okay, so it’s usually one person will tell the story and there’ll be like the narrator. And then a couple of other people will play the characters in the story. And we’ll have brief lines, but mostly it’ll be like, “And then the sausage said, I’m a sausage!” and it’s like, hahaha. They’re usually funny. They’re funny stories. They’re short.

PL: And any one person narrates it, and they know the story. And they and everyone else either sits to the side or they’re players in the story and they’ll have honestly, there aren’t really costumes but a lot of times there’s small props.

PL: Like a donkey’s mask–we have we have a mask with a donkey on it. Anyways, yeah. And, and they’ll act out the scene, and the story and they’re funny and it’s like, whoa, ha, ha, ha. And then we all bow. And at the end, at the end of our performance, after we’ve seen–we’ve sung one song, and then we do them and then we sing another song, The Queen will be like, thank you so much. And we will all like skittishly gather around and like bow. Actually, we don’t bow. That’s the big thing. Bowing isn’t a thing, you révérence, which is where you take one foot behind the other and lean back on that back foot and keep your forward leg straight. Actually, that’s the male reference. The female reference is basically just a curtsy.

PL: Whole thing with like, maintaining eye contact or something. I don’t know. Anyway, different thing. But we’ll we’ll we’ll révérence and she’ll be like, thank you so much. And then here’s this tradition. She gives us grapes. Oh, it’s weird. I don’t know why. But traditionally, she throws grapes to us and we try to catch them and we’re like, “Oh, the grapes from the queen!”


This performance is a key part of the Renaissance faire; as the informant describes, it is the main part of the each day. The “queen” is supposed to be Queen Elizabeth the First of England, but her performance is less of a historically accurate depiction of the historical queen, but rather a representation of a homogenized ideal of the time period in question. The performance harkens to “tradition,” but it demonstrates that “tradition” itself is more of a contemporary performance referencing the past rather than an accurate depiction of it. It is not certain whether the act of throwing grapes was ever something that Queen Elizabeth I did, but it is part of this performance because of its mix of entertainment value and “Renaissance” aesthetic.

Certain aspects of the historical time period hold over in this performance: of course, the clothes are meant to represent this time period regardless of whether they are perfectly accurate, but gestures such as the révérence seem to have actually been practiced in that period. The révérance might be the easiest part of emulating the Renaissance time period as performance, as it is simply a specific movement of the body. However, it is not certain whether this act was performed in the same context as the performers sought to emulate. It is instead meant to signal historical performance to the paying audience.

Christmas Tradition on the Family Ranch


The informant is a freshman at USC from Barrington, Illinois. During a call, I recorded an interview with them about rituals, superstitions, and festivals. When asked if they perform any holiday rituals, this is what they performed. Important context to know is that their childhood home is a small ranch that has horses and other animals. They have a tight, upper-middle class family structure.


PL: Okay, Christmas, Christmas with the horses. So Christmas, our family, we have stockings and stuff, which are separate from the gifts. It honestly–it’s a separate thing on its own. That we have aside from giving gifts to each other. We have stockings from “Santa,” quote unquote.

PL: But Santa will supposedly come in the night via either a parents or honestly, recently, Fiona did it once–my sister–and she was like, “Damn, that took the magic out of it” when mom was like, helping me put the stockings up.

PL: But we’ll do that. And we’ll also we also have stockings for all of our cats on the–on the fireplace, their red stockings, fuzzy polyester with like white around the brim. And we have stockings that say each of our names and each of our cat’s names.

PL: And we’ll have stockings for when a family is visiting. We’ll have stockings for all of them. And we’ll get little toys, candies, stupid things like socks, small little stocking stuffers. And the cats will get treats and toys. And it’ll always be very equal distributed–distribution of like who gets what, and also in the barn. Have little stockings for the horses but we don’t have actual stockings with their names printed out on them that we put up. Instead, every Christmas morning, we’ll wake up and we’ll go outside and there will be little plastic stocking containers full of horse treats. Which is it’s a bought thing. It’s a bought thing like you buy it. But it’s cute, and it’s Christmassy and it’s a little stocking with full of horse treats that are little brown pellets of grain and dried fruit or something.

PL: And they’re red around the edges and they’re clear plastic and they’re hanging on the horses’ stalls.

[After a pause]

PL: Um, I believe I think we did have a chicken stocking. Duck and Shakira are my chickens. Yeah, well, were. Shakira died in a heatwave. No, Duck still lives, and we have more chickens out. Anyway. Um, but we did have. We did have a stocking and it had a it had a fresh container of blueberries, because their favorite is blueberries.


The Christmas traditions of stocking stuffing and hiding presents under the tree in the middle of the night under the guise of it being Santa are quite common in the United States. This informant being from the Midwest, it’s no surprise that these traditions are at the front of their mind when they think of their Christmas traditions.

What is most interesting to me, however, is how their traditions loop in the animals on their ranch. Their cats have their own stockings with their individual names sewn to them, and their horses and chickens get to join in the celebration regardless of their knowledge of the intricacies of the human tradition. This points towards how the notion of “family” is not simply confined blood relatives even in traditional Western family structures. Thus, the animals are afforded their own place in the folk tradition, as they are part of the family.

“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.



J, 80 was born and grew up in Spearfish, S.D. He is the grandson of Norwegian immigrants that moved to North Dakota so they could homestead and farm in the early 20th century.


“’Uffda’ in Norwegian is an exclamation, it represents surprise, annoyance, etc. My mom and grandmother both used that word generously.” said my informant.


The term ‘uffda’ seems to be a very common stereotypical expression in areas such as Minnesota and the Upper Midwest. These regions in the US, are populated by the descendants of Scandinavian immigrants, including many Norwegians. The phrase is used to express surprise, annoyance, relief, exhaustion, disappointment, astonishment, exasperation, and dismay; and it can be used positively or negatively. It is basically the equivalent of an exclamation mark in a regular conversation; it probably has the same functionality as when we say “OMG!”. The following links and articles verify the existence of this folk speech term: https://fillmorecountyjournal.com/what-part-of-uffda-dont-you-understand/