Tag Archives: parental threat

German Folk Metaphor

Context: The 51-year-old informant from Memphis, TN, and I were discussing the role of folklore in parenting. The topic originally came up when I asked him if he was ever repeatedly taught any proverbs by his parents when he was young. He told me that while his parents never told him many proverbs, there was one sentence that his father would say sometimes; it was something that the informant’s grandfather, a German Jewish Canter and Holocaust survivor, told to the informant’s father when he was a young child. While the folk metaphor may seem like a harsh threat for a father to say to his son, the informant explained that “it was normal for a German parent discipline in a rather stern manner while including this essence of subtle humor.”


German: “Ich schlach dich das deine zahne in arsch klavier spielt”

English: “I will hit you so hard that your teeth will play piano in your ass”

Analysis: It must be pointed out that the informant’s father and grandfather performed this German folk metaphor in two completely different contexts and with entirely different intentions. The Grandfather, having come from a more traditional time with a harsher upbringing, clearly did intend to instill some fear in his son with this sentence, but only enough fear to get him to stop misbehaving when he was doing so. The fact that the metaphor begins with a harsh threat and ends with the hilariously ridiculous image of a pair of teeth jumping around piano keys in someone’s rear end sends a message from father to son. While the father may be mad at his son, he is acknowledging to both himself and the boy that humor can be found in the situation and that no great offense was committed. On the other hand, the informant’s father recited this folk metaphor to son in order to remind himself about his childhood while also sharing the information with his son.

“La Llorona”

Who was La Llorona? She drowned her kids. Her husband cheated on her, and then she drowned her kids to get back at him. And then he was mad at her, but that didn’t affect her so much as the overwhelming sadness that hit her. Over time she got so sad…

Because she was so sad and realized it was because she couldn’t live without her children, she killed herself too… but her spirit is unhappy so now she comes back and steals other people’s children to make up for losing her own.


How did you come across this folklore: “All of my elders told me; parents, grandparents, uncles used to tell this to all the kids.”

Other information: “This is used as a threat from your elders; IF you’re a bad kid, La Llorona will come and get you… like if you’re misbehaving in the supermarket or make a scene/throw a tantrum outside… or if you don’t listen to your parents, she’ll just come and take you in the middle of the night… We all believed the story… you just innately believe your parents, and don’t think they’re gonna lie to you, you know? And you definitely don’t think your grandma’s gonna lie to you… But just the thought of being taken away from your parents induced the right amount of fear to make it a very real threat.”

Even though it’s not always so believable, particularly outside of childhood or in these specific contexts of being threatened, La Llorona is still real. And the analogous stories (possibly oikotypes) elsewhere in the world show that this kind of theme is important to other groups of people, too, whether it’s used as a threat to make children behave, or to scare newcomers, etc.