My informant in this case is my grandmother, who learned this rhyme from her mother and believes it was learned from her mother before. From what I know, that side of my family hails from Ireland which is likely where the rhyme originated.
This piece was usually used as a nursery rhyme and as a way for my informant to poke fun at her children in a humorous way. My grandma sings this tune quite often in times of relaxation when joking around is warranted. I specifically remember her performing it to myself and my cousins at family gatherings when we were growing up.
“There was a little girl that had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. And when she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad she was horrid!”
This nursery rhyme is an obvious reflection of the extremes of parenting. While parents often claim that bringing a life into the world is the greatest joy that can ever happen to a person, raising children can, at times, seem like a nightmare. In this rhyme, the two sides of that dichotomy are presented in a couplet in order to show that neither can exist without the other.
Informant Tahereh Behshid is 78 years old and recalled a proverb she was taught as a young child.
I wanted to know if you could possibly talk about some proverbs you might have used when you were a child in Iran, and the context that you would use those proverbs in. So… do you have an example for me?
“Yes, my name is Tahereh Behshid, and the thing we usually heard from parents, it was [speaking in Farsi] ‘shaytan delah baseh fereshte.’ The devil in angel’s clothing. That means you watch out for the people, they come to you, around you. When they act very nice to you, you have to see what their intention is. So… that’s what it was.”
Analysis: Like many proverbs passed from parent to child, this one deals with imparting a valuable life lesson in very few words. Tahereh grew up as a poor woman in a rapidly modernizing urban area of Iran’s capital, and so with the influx of strangers to her hometown, this advice was likely to be especially valuable. She taught the same lessons, albeit in English, to her own children in the United States, who then passed them on to their children.