Tag Archives: occupational folklore


KS is a 56 year old father of five who grew up in and resides in Southern Maryland. He has worked in the credit industry for almost 15 years and is in high standing at his current credit union.

Context: This term is used the office when two or more employees are talking about a client and was collected over dinner. KS does not believe in the use of this word but hears it often.


Collector: So you have worked in the credit industry for a very long time. Is there any slang or jargon that you guys use at work?

KS: Some people might call someone who is behind on their loans a “deadbeat”. It is not a nice term to use but it gets the point across when discussing a client.

Collector: Can you explain more of your thoughts about the term?

KS. Of course. I, uh, have found that folks in higher economic standing use the term more often. I feel, think that those who have been there before take the term more offensively because they understand how it is. Folks tend to put people down without knowing their situation. You never know why someone is past due on their loans… Although our job is to hand out the loans and not do personal background checks, I still don’t find it right to talk about folks like that.

Thoughts/Analysis: This is significant because all occupations have their own jargon and the credit industry is a smaller industry that one might not find a lot of research on. Although “deadbeat” has one connotation, it also has different meanings across different folk groups, thus variation being especially prevalent. This word can be interpreted as a reflection of classism because those who have been in the position where they are late on paying their loans understand how it is to be at that point.

For variations of occupational folklore, see: Elliot Oring, 1986, Folk Groups and Folklore Genres: An Introduction, Page 75

Ambulance Chasers

Main Piece

Informant: “We [corporate lawyers] call personal injury attorneys “ambulance chasers.” We mean this as a joke, obviously, but sometimes we … don’t. There’s this stereotype that personal injury attorneys chase around ambulances in order to add the injured persons to their clientele. It’s… it’s a real thing that people do. I know it’s unbelievable but people do it out of desperation. But this is actually illegal and it goes against Rule 7.3 of the ABA (American Bar Association), because you’re basically seeking out people who are in a time of severe distress and are unable to properly think about what they’re doing and who they’re hiring.”


My informant is a General Litigation Lawyer at a major corporate law firm based in Century City, California. He has been working in his field for over five years. My informant admits to using this term a few times when describing unethical practices by personal injury lawyers.


This phrase is used often in a professional environment, but not professionally and in private from one lawyer to another. This phrase can be used in the office, courtrooms, and depositions, but it would not be told in front of others. One lawyer might use this term when speaking to another fellow lawyer, but it would not be said “on record.” This kind of language would be considered unprofessional, so it is told in private. This term is almost always used as a degrading term pertaining to all personal injury lawyers.

My Thoughts

Since I am planning to pursue a career in law, I was familiar with this phrase. The first time I heard this phrase was from one of my political science professors. I believe, like all other stereotypes, that this phrase is not an accurate representation of all those that it pertains to. But, like some stereotypes, it may hold some truths to it. Since ambulance-chasing goes against American Bar Association ethics codes, using this phrase helps to discourage unethical behavior on behalf of the personal injury lawyers. Therefore, the use of this stereotype may be a helpful one as it shames unethical behavior. 

This is a term that neither I nor my informant have ever heard used outside of legal occupations. Therefore, this phrase is a good example of occupational folklore, or folklore that is better understood or widely used within a particular folk group. This is not to say that those outside of the lawyer folk group are not allowed to use it; they will just not be able to extract the full meaning of the word without working in that occupation.

The use of this phrase suggests that there is an unwritten hierarchy in the field of law. Corporate lawers, like my informant, tend to see themselves as higher-ranking and better lawyers than personal injury lawyers. This can give us insight into lawyer culture because we can see that higher-paid lawyers will look down upon lower-paid lawyers and fail to realize that both positions in the field of law are honorable.

For further reading about occupational folklore, see Robert McCarl’s chapter in Elliot Oring’s Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction titled “Occupational Folklore.”

Splitting the Baby

Main Piece

Informant: “So there’s an old Jewish thing where two women go up to King Solomon and both of them claim that a child is theirs. So King Solomon says “let’s split this baby in half and give half to each claiming mother.” The first woman agrees, but the second woman would rather give up the whole child than have it split in half. King Solomon realizes that the second woman is the real mother of the child. The idea is that you use something crazy to bring out the truth. You use this crazy scenario to bring out the truth. So that’s the real story. But attorneys use it as a way to say the judge was not well versed on the topic and came up with a compromise that he believed was fair, but in reality hurts the actual “good person” in the case. Basically we use it as a way to say the judge came up with an unfair compromise. So we actually use that phrase incorrectly, but that’s just how we say it.”


My informant is a General Litigation Lawyer at a major corporate law firm based in Century City, California. He has been working in his field for over five years. My informant uses this phrase often, and only to other lawyers.


This phrase is used in a professional context, but not professionally. One lawyer may say this to another as a way to refer to a court ruling as unfair. The phrase is used in settlement or mediation and it is something either the lawyer tells his client or to another lawyer. This phrase is not used in written official statements, as it is considered unprofessional.

My Thoughts 

I had never heard this saying before, but I found it interesting that lawyers knowingly use this phrase wrong. They are fully aware of how the phrase is supposed to be used, but they still modify it and use it in a way that suits their needs. This is a good example of how the meaning of a piece of folklore can change to accommodate certain groups of people, and in this case, lawyers. Originally, this phrase was used to express an outrageous method that yielded accurate results, but lawyers use it as a way to express an unfair compromise on the part of the judge. Lawyers have adopted this phrase into their occupational folk group and modified it to fit their needs. This suggests that, if someone outside of this folk group were to hear lawyers use this phrase, one would misunderstand what is being communicated with the phrase because it is being used incorrectly. Thus, one would not understand the use of the phrase from the outside looking in.

For further reading about occupational folklore, see Robert McCarl’s chapter in Elliot Oring’s Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction titled “Occupational Folklore.”


McCarl, Robert. “Chapter 4: Occupational Folklore.” Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction, edited by Elliott Oring, Utah State UP, 1986, pp. 71-90.

Lawyer joke

My friend and classmate Pauline told me the following joke, which she learned from her dad, who is a lawyer:

“It was so cold outside today that earlier, I saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets.”

This joke relies upon the stereotype that lawyers are greedy and corrupt, and the metonymic use of the phrase “having one’s hands in someone’s pockets” to refer to squeezing money out of someone, like a legal client. The humor of the joke may be based in a genuine belief in this stereotype for people resentful of lawyers, but in this case its humor comes from a self-aware and ironic acknowledgement of the stereotype by a lawyer who presumably does not believe in it.

Pauline says that her dad has a number of lawyer jokes in his repertoire, which he tells “any time we’re with, like, any other lawyers, or if someone’s giving him a hard time about being a lawyer.” Such jokes are pieces of occupational folklore, which may serve to bond lawyers over their common identity, or may function as self-deprecating humor performed for the entertainment of non-lawyers. Lawyer jokes are a common staple of mainstream American humor, indicating a distrust of or misanthropic feeling toward lawyers from the general public outside of the profession. Their embrace by lawyers themselves is somewhat surprising, but is representative of the ways folklore may shift meaning depending on context.

Toots The Gaseous Ghost

Informant (L.P.) is an 18 year old student. I had heard her enthusiasm for telling ghost stories the week before, and this one stood out. L.P. works at a local novelty shop. This interview is conducted at my house one Saturday evening.

I ask about the ghost in her workplace, which she had mentioned during our previous encounter.

L.P.: “There’s a ghost called Toots because it farts a lot and people smell it all the time. It’s not mean, it just likes to fuck with people. They have a video of it knocking a whole stack of books off the shelf.”

I ask her to elaborate on Toots’ antics

L.P.: “I saw it knock a book on my coworker. The book hit her on the side of the head and she spilled her tea… Today it knocked over a bucket in an aisle when some guy was reading a book.”

I ask her if the ghost has any legend attached to it

L.P.: “It used to be a post office, so maybe somebody died in there I’m not sure.

I ask her if she’s has the video, but she says no, as she doesn’t have access to the work computer. As the youngest employee at Wacko, I’m assuming L.P. is going through a right of passage in learning the store’s occupational legend of Toots the gaseous ghost.