Tag Archives: multiple interpretations

Proverb: Blood and Water

Text: “Blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb.”

Context: G is a 20 years old Animation and Digital Arts major from Birmingham, UK. He is a junior at USC and has been living in the area for 3 years.

G said he initially heard the more popular version of this saying – “Blood is thicker than water” – at some point when he was younger. He says that he believes it was one of his teachers that later told him the actual proverb, the one listed above in text.

Interpretation: What’s interesting is that G chose to tell me the longer version of this proverb, but acknowledged the shorter version. This more popular version is used as an argument for familial bonds being stronger than others, while the version in text argues that relationships we form are stronger. While this may or may not be actually true, G believes the version he told me is the original, and that people are misquoting it in the shorter, ‘newer’ version. The key words “covenant” and “womb” are left out. This proverb which I’ve quoted from G is pretty straightforward, although metaphorical, saying that the bonds we choose to form and strengthen (covenant meaning agreement or trust) are stronger than those we cannot chose (those created solely by the womb). It’s definitely a type of advice, seemingly coming from someone experienced in life. What’s more, familial bonds being questioned is taboo in a number of cultures and societies, which seems to be why there are two different versions of this proverb circulating. It also speaks to the fact that my informant, who is a student at a college on an entirely different continent from his hometown (and his family), knows and references the version of the proverb that values formed relationships over inherited ones.

Joke: A Man Believes his Wife is Going Deaf

Text: “There’s a man that thinks that his wife is going deaf, so he comes up with a plan so that every day, when he comes back from work, he’s gonna stand at the door and ask ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?’ And every time [the wife] doesn’t answer, he’s gonna take a step toward the kitchen, where she’s making dinner. So the man gets home from work and he goes ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?’ and he gets no answer, so he takes a step forward. And then he asks again, he goes ‘Honey what’s for dinner?’ and still no answer, so he takes another step forward. And he continues this until he’s right behind her and he asks again ‘Honey, what’s for dinner?’ and then she says ‘For the last time, I told you we’re having spaghetti!’”

Conext: This informant, A, is a 20 year old artist and a USC junior majoring in Interactive Media and Game Design. They moved around as a child, but have family in Los Angeles and attended high school in the area.

A believes they heard this joke from one of their grandparents, most likely their grandpa, and says that they know it’s funny because, “the first time [they] told [this joke] to [their mom], she was driving and started swerving because she was laughing so hard.”

A usually uses this joke when someone asks if they have any good jokes. They mentioned that “it’s pretty long,” so they’ll “always add it.”

Interpretation: There are a couple of ways this joke’s punchline could be interpreted, actually. The punchline seems to be most easily interpreted as the husband, rather than the wife, being the one who is going deaf. This is a joke which might land differently according to the person hearing it, because one might also interpret the punchline as a gendered/heteronormative stereotype of a wife who is always saying something along the lines of “I told you so!” to her husband. Both interpretations track with what we know about jokes in folklore. I would associate the first version with the idea of humor as a relief; of letting go of something the person telling it may have been repressing. In this case – nervousness about growing older. People are often anxious about growing older and potentially losing things like hearing, so they tell jokes about it instead. I find it particularly interesting that the informant was told this joke by someone older (a grandparent). The second interpretation of the joke is also pretty typical of popular humor, a gendered stereotype which places the wife in the kitchen, the husband at work, and the wife being somewhat snappy/bossy with the husband.