Tag Archives: practical joke

Birthday Bite (Mordida)


So in like Latin American culture in general, I’m personally Mexican, but we have this thing and you basically sing a person happy birthday on their birthday into a cake. And, it’s called mordida which means bite. So you basically like yeah its mordida, which is bite in Spanish, its m-o-r-d-i-d-a and the whole thing it’s like kinda supposed to be good luck. Yeah, you just kind of shove their face into the cake, and they’re supposed to take a bite of the cake before everyone else, but like with their face. And, the whole point should be like a little bite, but people go a little crazy sometimes. 


Both of A’s parents are Mexican, and she grew up in Texas near the Mexican-American border in a strong Latin American community. She is currently 21 years old and attends USC.

Analysis: The word mordida, which A describes to mean a bite, is also more widely used to refer to a bribe when not in the context of the birthday tradition. It’s also traditional in Mexico to sing the song Las Mañanitas rather than happy birthday during the mordida. Luck associated with the start of a year or new beginnings at a birthday is also a theme in many cultures. Celebrating the year or new age of the birthday boy or girl sets a tone for the next 365 days. In Van Genup’s book Rites of Passage, he explains how rituals are often practical jokes and that in order to change identity (to move from one age to the next), there must be a ritual. Here it is interesting that after attending different birthday parties and their own every year the victim of the practical joke knows what is going to happen, but still allows it anyway. Participating in good humor or being able to “take the joke” is perhaps a sign of maturity. This is also an example of ritual inversion in which the ritual is the opposite of the normal rules of social engagement. Normally, shoving someone’s face into a cake would be rude, but in the Mordida it would almost be rude not to. 

Dumb Joke Turned Rivalry

J is a freshman studying Journalism at University of Southern California but grew up in Maryland.

J: “‘I could prove you’re dumb.’
And I was like ‘How?’
And he was like ‘Do you wanna play a game?’
And I’m like ‘Sure.’
And he says ‘Sure. Just remember everything I said. So what’s the color of the sky?’
I was like ‘blue.’
‘What’s the color of the grass?’
‘What’s one plus one?’
‘What’s the first question I asked?’
And I would say ‘What’s the color of the sky?’ ’cause I thought that was the first question he asked. But, he was like ‘No.’ It’s ‘Did you wanna play a game?'”

“So I play this with my cousin during childhood. He’s like a boy, so we always had this gendered rivalry almost…and so, that was his way to prove that I was dumber than him because I fell for his trick. But basically, it just became a lighthearted thing where even after I knew the joke, we would still repeat it to each other just for fun. And I started doing this to a bunch of people, like my friends, and I would feel this satisfaction when they also fell for it ’cause it’s just like a little joke and it’s so easy to fool people with it.”

This joke is a practical joke, where it is played on the unassuming and clueless audience. It also serves as an initiation into the know, wherein after the audience hears it once, they can then play it on other people and the cycle repeats itself, inadvertently spreading the joke as folklore. This joke is lighthearted and there is no inherent deeper meaning behind the so-called “testing of intelligence” rather than just finding humor in a harmless mistake. However, in certain situations, this joke can easily become volatile. It uses logic and the lack of attention span as reasoning for intelligence, making the listener easily frustrated. As J talks about this in context, she says how this joke helped spur on a gender battle between her and her cousin. Practical jokes create temporary rivalries or tensions between groups. These tensions are relieved in the punchline, but require that initial stupidity to let the humor hit, which can easily offend. What’s important about these jokes is the atmosphere and context in which they are told to avoid anger or offense.


My informant (18), from Lebanon, describes a joke he would play on his peers as a child. “Me and my cousins used to play it. It’s not a game, well it is a game, but it’s also a joke, where you would whisper something incomprehensive at like, let’s say around a group of people, and if [someone says] “What?” I go “Akal!” […] It means “You ate it!” And then it’s like a progressive game. And whoever can get it the most gets treated to dinner, or gets to do something, or gets a favor. Usually it’s the person who falls for it the most has to do something for whoever won it the most.”

“It’s a game that’s mostly played by the younger generation of course, it’s mostly played around families. It’s kind of a tradition, to mock somebody, make a joke of them.”

In this joke,  the teller proves their wisdom and the responder proves their foolishness. This suggests that intelligence is valued in these social group. Especially interesting is the gamification element of the joke: The fact that it is an extended game leads me to believe that this game could establish a sort of social hierarchy among the children in a family. This hierarchy between children in an extended family suggests that the connection of extended family is important in the culture, and that families gather often enough for this game to be maintained.

The Board Stretcher


Board Stretcher


MI – A board stretcher is a thing you tell to new inexperienced workers in a wood shop or whatever. If they cut something too short you go “Oh! You cut that too short! Go get the board stretcher!” to go stretch the board back out to the right length. And they go looking for it but it doesn’t exist. It’s like a snipe hunt. Everybody gets a good laugh while the new guy makes a fool of himself.


This is an example of a snipe hunt, as mentioned by the informant. It is not possible to stretch a board back out to the right length when it is cut too short. But a new employee, probably worried about making mistakes and cognizant that they know much less than everyone else in the shop, will eagerly listen to the more experience workers even at the expense of their own logic. The practical joke played on the new employee will possibly show them, through humor, that the older employees are not upset at them for making a mistake. As snipe hunts can only be played once per person, the new employee will then become more experienced in the wood shop culture, and therefore takes another step into the in-group—or folk group—of the wood shop.



Informant: They chained a bowling ball to my leg… With a––with a, like chain. And I just kept telling them they had to remember not to push me in the pool that night… And they put me in a 12-year-old’s Superman costume. Like literally stuffed me into it, and everything was so far up my freaking crotch. So I was walking around the streets of Vegas in this Superman costume with a bowling ball chained to my leg. Like a ten- or twelve-pounder… Wasn’t like a kid’s ball.


Informant: It’s what’s expected, you know…? Especially with my friends, there’s always that… I think it boils down to just playfulness? Like close through playfulness, you know. Giving each other a hard time, teasing each other, playing a prank on each other. Um… ‘Cause we know that we can. We’re so close that we can do it to each other without it, you know, offending anybody or, you know, somebody taking it the wrong way, or, you know… I think it symbolizes… At least in my group of friends, like you know… You know that when…  You’re stuffed into a Superman costume that you’re part of the crew. You know? And everybody’s having a good time at your expense, and everyone––and you’re okay with that. Cause it’s… It’s going to be somebody else’s turn at some point. 


Bachelor parties are a transitional period where a man is neither married nor single. He is on the threshold of becoming a husband. Bachelor parties often involve pranks at the groom’s expense, as practical jokes mark initiations into new identities. In International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore, Géza Róheim writes that there is a “tendency to punish the main actor of the drama,” with the groomsmen and bridesmaids “abreacting their Oedipal revolt in humorous, permissible form, against the new ‘father’-to-be” (273). Across cultures, the groom is clowned at the hands of the young people involved in the wedding party; he is being teased before entering his new, serious role as a man (which in some societies or families may entail becoming a patriarch, father, breadwinner, and head of the household).

In this specific case, pranks also showcase a closeness amongst the friends involved. The informant is part of a playful group of people who reveal their trust in one another through pranks. Being involved in the pranks demonstrates that you are part of the “in-group”––that you have earned their trust, and that you trust them––that they know you will respond to the prank in a certain manner (by finding it amusing and not upsetting). By pranking the informant, the men are not only marking the groom’s transition from bachelor to husband, but celebrating him as one of their own––he is still considered a part of the group, despite transitioning into a new identity. 


Source cited above:

Róheim, Géza. “Wedding Ceremonies in European Folklore.” International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore, by Alan Dundes, Rowman & Littlefield, 1999, pp. 243–274.