Tag Archives: occupational



The informant is a sophomore studying Film Production at USC.

Main Piece:

“Yeah, we usually call things by like, their names, but I guess it’s not technically their names either… like how those fresnels are ‘tweenies’ or ‘baby baby’ or something. Oh, you know what’s the stupidest one? C-47s. Like, I just want to know who came up with that one, it’s so dumb.”


I asked my informant about any specific terms they’ve heard on film sets. The “C-47s” that the informant mentions is jargon for clothespins on film sets. Fresnels are a specific type of light.


This is an example of occupational folklore. To an outsider, using these terms may be confusing, but within film sets, this jargon is generally standard knowledge, though there are variations depending on regions. In usage, one would generally hear jargon in a conversational setting (eg. “Can you hand me a C-47?” “Can you set up a tweenie?”) There are a variety of stories and reasons why the word “C-47” is used for clothespins, probably the biggest one is that it’s much shorter and more informal to use. Personally, I think the word itself is a bit pretentious (and the informant also mentions that), but people will generally still throw around the term because it’s more in use.

Psychiatrist Light Bulb Joke


Informant: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

Collector: I don’t know, how many?

Informant: One, but the light has to want to change. 

Context: The informant was sitting next to me while I was doing homework in his living room. He turned over to me and posed the joke. The collection occurred in the piece’s natural performance setting.

Background: The informant is Canadian born, but has lived the majority of his life in the United States. He is the son of a psychologist and has frequently interacted with psychiatrists. To the informant, the joke is incredibly humorous based on the common principle in therapy and mental health treatment that a patient has to want to change for the treatment to be effective. He is unsure of where he learned the joke, but guessed that he may have heard it in a television show. 

Analysis: The joke is a variation on “How many ___ does it take to change a lightbulb?” jokes that often build upon existing stereotypes. This particular joke  relies on the common principle of mental health treatment that a patient has to want to change for the treatment to be effective. It also plays on two interpretations of the word change. On one hand, it relies on change as literal replacement as in the case of the lightbulb. On the other, it relies on change being understood as a mental transformation. Ultimately, the joke plays upon an understanding of Western psychiatry and the idea that a psychiatrist would approach everyday tasks the same way as he/she/they would approach his/her/their work. 

For another version of this joke, see:

Wikipedia. 2001. “Light-Bulb Joke.” Last Modified May 3, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lightbulb_joke&dir=prev&action=history

You Can’t Put 6-Pounds in a 5-Pound Bag

Item (direct transcription):

You can’t put 6-pounds in a 5-pound bag.

Background Information:

The informant learned the proverb from her architecture mentor whom she worked for during her education. He would tell the proverb to his clients when they were requesting the impossible of him. In the context of architecture, the proverb means that there is only so much that can be fit into a finite amount of space, regardless of the skill or ingenuity of the architect.

The informant continues to use the proverb in the same way when consulting about architecture.

Contextual Information:

The informant says she would use the proverb when someone has unrealistic expectations for what can be fit into their house plans.


This saying meets all four of the canonical criteria for a proverb. It is (1) short, (2) fixed-phrase, (3) rhetorical, and (4) metaphorical.

This proverb is an example of occupational folklore for the occupation of architects.

Film Company Hazing

SS interned at a production company, and experienced occupational folklore in the form of hazing. When someone at her company messed up as bad as she did, they would be forced to coil cables indefinitely.

SS: Once upon a time when I was a wee lassie, young, naive, full of enthusiasm for the art of filmmakimg, I in my ignorance accepted an internship at a local prod. company in Tucson, Arizona. The production company was supposed to train me in grip and electric work on film sets in addition to giving me a better understanding of how film industry worked. one evening, the most useful work they could put their intern to do was to go through the email of the previous owner of the company. This owner never ever understood how technology worked. This man is a modern dinosaur. It was astounding he could even turn on the computer. So when I was given the task to clean out this guys email (had had it for 10+ years), tidy it up, and find contacts I knew it would be daunting, but never knew it would be impossible. As I ventured to the abyss of this inbox, I realized there were over 15,000 unopened emails in which I have to find any important filmmaking connections. So I’m going through and trying to set up a system. I learn this guy’s entire life, lots of personal details just by going through his email. My boss comes in and says ‘Hey if you find any pics, download those as well.” So sure enough I find a few emails with pictures and try to download. It doesn’t work. I keep clicking download, download download. The I realize the computer is frozen. Completely overloaded and overworked. Ok, just gonna take a step back and give it some time to breathe. An hour goes by. The little rainbow wheel of death is still spinning. The boss comes in and asks “Are you done yet?”

“Fuck no, also the computer’s frozen.”

“Turn it off and back on.”

I leave work at 5 o’ clock usually. Clock hits 5, gotta go, man. I think it might just need to figure itself out overnight. Later, I realized what I had done was download 6,000 copies of this picture to the desktop. The next Thursday, I get back to my internship. No one is speaking to me. This guy goes “Hey do you know what you did to the computer? Well, you completely destroyed that computer.” Whoa danger zone, unprotected. Long story short, they had to take computer into apple store, because it wouldn’t respond for 3 days. Took some cray diagnostic.

“We aren’t going to let you do anything on the computer today, instead we have a different assignment for you.” They’re obviously pissed.

Keep in mind, it’s a casual 100 degree day in Tucson, Arizona. My new job: go outside and recoil a bunch of massive cables that were coiled counterclockwise. I had to recoil them all over, in clockwise direction.

They told me that “we know you’re not really good at coiling cables, so we thought this would be good practice.”

It was ACTUALLY ABUSIVE I went home and listened to music people picked cotton to I felt like I could relate for the first time in my life to slaves. I couldn’t move for 2 days. It’s the heaviest cable that exists. Also, I still can’t coil cord.

Paper Stretcher

The informant worked as a professional printer for over twenty years at several different shops in the Los Angeles area.

The Story:

Well, used to be, when I was printing, they, ya know, we’d get the new guys, and obviously, you know, we’d need to, to go get something or, ya know, we’d send them on errands here and there. And, uh, every once and a while, we’d we’d tell a guy to go get a paper stretcher. Ya know, and uh we’d tell ’em “Oh, ya know, go check the sheet-fed department for a paper stretcher.” And they’d take off and twenty minutes later, they come back. “Ah I can’t find it. I’m looking for it ya know, all over the place.” And ya know, sometimes the other department would send them to another department to go get it and, usually we’d see how long they would go with it. But uh, obviously, ya know, he got the clue after a while, after he, ya know, couldn’t find it that uh, there was no such thing. [chuckles] And uh, paper does a lot of stuff but it doesn’t stretch.

The prank was fairly common at all of the shops the informant worked at.
They pulled the prank on new workers because “The older guys, they knew what was up.”

This is a perfect example of occupational folklore, and a liminal phase prank. It is assumed that once you can’t be fooled by the prank, you know what paper is capable of, therefore making you an experienced printer.