Tag Archives: occupational lore

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.

Occupational Folklore: “Merde”

Main Piece: “So I did ballet for many years and usually when someone has a performance, at least where I grew up, you would say ‘break a leg!’ to wish them luck. It’s a weird thing. I don’t know where it came from. But…um… in dance we were never allowed to say ‘break a leg’ because that was an actual concern when dancing. So instead we said ‘merde’ which literally means ‘shit’ in French. So…um…before every show we would always whisper ‘merde’ to each other to wish everyone luck”

Background: The informant did ballet for many years in her hometown, Chicago. Whether the expression is specific to Chicago or to the lore of ballet is unclear. The informant is fluent in French but most of her friends in ballet did not speak any French. However, the majority of ballet terminology (i.e. different positions and movements) is French.

Performance Context: The informant sat across from me at a table.

My Thoughts: I understand the expression as occupational folklore. Knowing and using ‘merde’ is a rite of passage within the context of ballet and performance. Perhaps “merde” is ballet’s adaptation of “break a leg” used in theatre. I also grew up taking lessons in ballet and performing, but have not heard this term, which leads me to believe it is a term specific to the informant’s studio. Because most of the language in ballet is French, it is fitting that the dancer’s lore would be French as well. Even though “merde” has little relevance to ballet, it is consistent with the linguistics of the ballet studio. According to the informant, “merde” was whispered before each performance, so not only is this folklore occupational, it is ritualistic as well.

Snipe Hunt

My informant shared a story about a “snipe hunt” he went on when he was in boy scouts at age 10 or 11. The setting is having lunch at an Italian restaurant. This was also not the first time I have heard a story about snip hunting, my friends have told me that they used to dress up and go on snipe hunts as children. My informant grew up in Texas and California and my friends that have told me stories in the past grew up in Minnesota, which shows the universality of the practice. This informant is the same as my entries on the surgeon occupational lore and the cattle myth.

Informant: “So when I was a boy scout in Southern California, when we went out to summer camp, at night before we went to bed, the senior boy scouts took all the younger ones outside and said we were going to be going on a “snipe hunt.”  And that the snipe was kind of like a bird and an animal so it could fly and run around on the ground and it was brown and had sharp teeth and we were supposed to go try to find one and catch it. And so everybody was outside and the older guys ran off and all the younger guys were kind of scared and looking around and walking around and looking under the bushes looking for a snipe or something that looked like a snipe, no one really knew exactly what a snipe looked like. But you know in your imagination its kind of like a creepy, creepy squirrel with wings and sharp teeth and stuff. So you run around and the older guys were out in the woods and they were like throwing sticks and making noises and hitting sticks on trees, and rustlings the bushes so then you get kind of scared. Then you are all kind of walking along kind of quiet and then they all start screaming and yelling and running and everybody rubs back to the camp and then you find out that there’s no such thing as a snipe.”

Me: How old were you?

Informant: 10 or 12? It was a long time ago

Me: Did you do it to other people?

I: Oh yes! I had lots of little brothers to do it too. Yeah, definitely did it to my little brothers. They were in the boy scouts too. You guys did it to Moira

Me: we did? I don’t think so

I: Maybe I did it to Moira

The snipe hunt is a type of practical joke that was used as an initiation process for my informant in Boy Scouts. Once the young boy scouts learned the snipe hunt practical joke, they could then play it on other new Boy Scouts. The snipe is a real bird species, but few live in the US, which is how the snipe hunt ritual began being played on inexperienced campers. My informant tells this story because of tradition: he was told it as a child so he told it to his children. My informant also finds playing jokes on people quite entertaining. He also has an interest in animals, and he said if given the chance to find a real life snipe, he would. A snipe hunt is also a general term for any practical joke that sends someone on a “wild good hunt” or an impossible task. The snipe hunt is also commonly found among children across the country, in many states. I had friends from the midwest that have told me that they have gone on “snipe hunts” with their friends in the past. There are many examples of such snipe hunts, such as the bacon stretcher in restaurants or the double headed monkey wrench as in my technical theater entry, it is commonly used to play a joke on the “new kid.”

A surgeon is strong as an ox and twice [or half] as smart

My informant is an orthopedic surgeon, who was born in Hawaii, lived in Texas, Long Beach California, and Virginia Beach. He is also in the Army Reserves. My informant now works in New Orleans, Louisiana. Over lunch with my informant we were talking about occupational folklore and stereotypes, which led into a conversation about stereotypes of different types of doctors brought up the saying, “strong as an ox and twice as smart.” The conversation is as follows:

I: The stereotype of orthopedic surgeons is that they are strong as an ox and twice as smart.

Person 1: I thought it was half as smart

Person 2: Yeah, I think that’s how it actually is

I: Well at Yale we said twice as smart but we were Yale residents. There was actually a journal article called, “Strong as an Ox and Half as Smart” investigating this. They compared test scores of orthopedic surgeons and anesthesiologists and orthopedic surgeons were higher than everyone else.

This conversation shows two different versions of essentially the same proverb, and how things can be modified and passed down. However, my informant who is a surgeon, passed down the version where surgeons were “twice as smart,” while the other people involved in the conversation had heard the version where they were “half as smart.” I had never heard either of these stereotypes before, but it is interesting that my informant carried the altered version of the saying that displays his profession in a more positive life. I looked up the scientific research paper, entitled “Twice as Strong as an Ox and Half as Smart” by Subramanian et al. and it does conclude that orthopedic surgeons are twice as smart. I have attached a link to the abstract for the scientific paper and also an image displaying the various stereotypes of different types of doctors. My informant first heard this stereotype from a fellow med student who was also a surgeon. My informant says he does not tell people this saying as a way of gloating, but just as a joke when with friends. He tells it as affirmation of how strong and smart he is, but he also just likes to joke around when with other doctors who are not surgeons. My other two informants who heard the opposite version, don’t remember where they heard it and it seemed to be something that they have always known. This occupational lore seems to come up among people in the medical profession. Doctors in different fields know the stereotypes and are able to make fun of each other and joke around while in med school or in the workplace. I have found this stereotype to be surprisingly true, my informant loves doing anything athletic, competes in triathlons, and is always trying to fix things that may be broken such as appliances. This fits the stereotype that surgeons are very strong, but I have not found the half as smart part to be true.

Annotation: the study found that the proverb should actually be that surgeons are twice as smart as an ox, once further research is done into the IQ of an ox. This journal article was published by the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, but may have been somewhat biased.


Subramanian, P., et al. “ORTHOPAEDIC SURGEONS–TWICE AS STRONG AS AN OX AND HALF AS SMART.” Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, British Volume 94.SUPP XXXIV (2012): 5-5.