Tag Archives: proverb

Not Everything Is About You

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian
Age: 26
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angels
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: Hindi (urdu)
Other Language(s):

Context: AH is a 26 year old from Karnataka, India. He is a graduate, international student studying environmental engineering. He is also a really good friend of mine. I asked him to tell me some folklore while we had lunch one day. 

AH: Back home we say “kumbalakai kalla andre, hegalu mutti nodikonda”

Translation: “When we said the pumpkin is stolen, he checked his shoulder”

YM: what do you mean ? 

AH: Well there’s the saying “When somebody shouted Pumpkin Thief, the person who heard it, touched his shoulders to check if that person was referring to him!’

AH: This idiom is used for “People who are usually in the habit of assuming that everything said or done is referring to HIM/HER only!!”.. These people just assume everything is pointing towards them even though the person did not mean or refer anything to them. These kinds of people make a ‘Hue and Cry’ over nothing, build a mountain out of ant-hill and thus make fools of themselves 

AH: it’s a common proverb used

YM: that is interesting, and why a pumpkin ? 

AH: It’s just a story.. They wanted something heavy a person would carry.. So a pumpkin was used. The story is from simpler times, ruled by kings. When these petty thefts were common.. If it was something lighter, he wouldn’t have to carry it on the shoulder

AH: So, the proverb to make sense they just added pumpkin as a logical assumption

YM: that makes sense, what are your thoughts on it ? 

AH: I think it’s a good proverb to point out those people that need to get their act together… I also think it’s used to point out the guilty conscience in a person. As in, he touched his shoulder because he stole it…

AH: In our generation generally will use it to mock someone, it’s like saying “GOTCHA”, when you find your friend is guilty of something, and is not disclosing it

Background info: AH heard this from his parents growing up and would use it with family and friends. 

Analysis:  I agree with the interpretations AH gave about the proverb. I don’t think the proverb is necessarily about giving advice but rather about pointing something out or calling someone out. It is more of an indirect way to expose someone for something they have done. In this case it seems to be a metaphorical phrase.  Personally, I haven’t heard of any proverbs that are similar to this one in the common everyday language. However, there is a quote by Plato that similarly touches the concept, “Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.” 

Korean Proverb

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 20
Occupation: student
Residence: Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

Main Piece:

There is a proverb in Korea that is “소잃고 외양간 고친다”

Original script: 소잃고 외양간 고친다

Phonetic (Roman) script: So illko waeyanggan gochinda.

Transliteration: After losing cow, fix cowshed

Full translation: No point mending the cowshed after the losing the cow

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that you don’t look ahead to your problems and wait until the very last minute or sometimes after the problem has occurred to fix your problems. In other words, in times of crisis you don’t have plan and you only start preparing after the crisis has begun.

Y saw this proverb in a collection of Korean proverbs and it stood out to her because she thought it was very applicable to everyday life. She relates it to her own personal life by saying that when she studies or does something, she likes looking ahead to her problems to prevent that problem coming back to bite her later. She said that instead of regretting that she should have studied more on the day of an exam, she wants to compliment herself for working hard and that’s why she thinks of this proverb.

Thoughts:

I think this proverb is very relatable to myself as well. I have a habit of regretting my actions after I do them and I often go back and think about what I should have done. I constantly think about “what-ifs” and my dad always tells me to not dwell on the past and think about the future. As this proverb says, there’s no point fixing the cowshed after the cow has fled. In real life, there’s no point thinking about what should have been after what already happened.

Korean Proverb

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 20
Occupation: student
Residence: Korean
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

There is a proverb in Korea that is “바늘도둑이 소도둑 된다”

Original script: 바늘도둑이 소도둑 된다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Baneul-dodook ee so-dodook dwaenda.

Transliteration: Needle thief cow thief becomes.

Full translation: Someone who steals small things will eventually steal bigger things.

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that someone who starts stealing small things will eventually steal bigger things. So, if someone starts off shoplifting a pen, they will grow up to commit bigger crimes like robbing a bank. Y says she heard about this proverb a few years ago and remembers it because when she looks at crimes committed in Korea, she hopes that bigger crimes like murder can be prevented and fixed, by basing it on smaller crimes committed.

Thoughts:

I agree with this proverb and it reminded me of a criminal psychology class I took at USC a few years ago. In the class, we learned that someone who hurts animals will have a higher chance of committing murder and becoming a psychopath. I agree with Y’s thoughts about this piece because it is small crimes that we have to punish to prevent the criminal from committing bigger crimes in the future.

Korean Proverb

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 20
Occupation: student
Residence: korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 23
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

There is a proverb in Korea that is “티끌모아태산”

Original script: 티끌모아태산

Phonetic (Roman) script: Tikkeul moa tae-san

Transliteration: Dust collection becomes a mountain

Full translation: A penny saved is a penny earned (Though not a direct translation, it has a similar meaning of this English proverbial phrase)

Background:

My informant is a 20-year-old friend from Korea, identified as Y. She says it means that if you don’t give up and continue to work towards your goal, you will become successful and achieve your goals. She remembers this proverb because she thinks it’s applicable to her own life since she tends to give up very easily.

Thoughts:

I agree with Y about this proverb. I also tend to give up very easily when something doesn’t go the way that I planned. This proverb reminds us that we shouldn’t give up because every small effort will eventually accumulate to something bigger and through hardwork and effort, we will succeed. This applies to my own life because when I was a high school senior and applying to colleges, I didn’t get into a lot of schools that I wanted to. I had gone to a school that I didn’t really want to go to but found that it wasn’t for me. But I didn’t want to go through the college application process again and didn’t want to transfer. It was my mom who reminded me that I should at least put it the effort because it doesn’t hurt to try. The application process was a hard one, with many nights spent crying due to an existential crisis. I felt like giving up, but I pushed myself to write the best application I could and successfully transferred to USC.

Korean Proverb

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Korean
Age: 23
Occupation: student
Residence: Korea
Date of Performance/Collection: April 20
Primary Language: Korean
Other Language(s): English

There is a proverb in Korea that is “서당개 삼년이면 풍월을 읊는다”

Original script: 서당개 삼년이면 풍월을 읊는다

Phonetic (Roman) script: Seodang-gae samnyeon-imyeon pungwol-eul eulpneunda.

Transliteration: A dog at school will know words three years later

Full translation: Practice makes perfect

Background: My informant is a 23-year-old friend from Korea, identified as H. She interprets it to anyone with the guidance of an expert or in an environment of study, they will be able to learn something and become successful. She remembers this proverb because it relates to her own life. H says after she became a college student, she has realized the importance of self-directed teaching to fully understand concepts and has often felt jealousy of those who are able to understand concepts faster. Her experience in college has reminded her of this proverb.

Thoughts:

I agree with this proverb because I think it applies to any life situation. If you keep on practicing, you will succeed. Whether it is solving a math equation, learning an instrument or driving a car, you will succeed if you keep practicing. You will eventually be able to solve that very complicated math problem, play a difficult classic piece and get your driver’s license. It applies to every part of life and it reminds me that you shouldn’t give up.

“No fool like an old fool”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Sanderson
Age: 95
Occupation: Unemployed
Residence: Aberdeen, Scotland
Date of Performance/Collection: April 11, 2020
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

MAIN PIECE

“No fool like an old fool”

“We say this kinda thing when people get a bit ruckus and they’ve always been that way.  The way me and my friends used it was when somebody was  doing wrong and we’d talk about how they would get their [karma] one day.”

BACKGROUND

This informant, MS, comes from Aberdeen, Scotland and has lived there for all of her life, except for a few years she spent in London.   She’s from the silent generation and has grown up with many Scottish sayings that she’s heard and seen gone out of style.  Although she says this one isn’t as popular anymore, it is still said among the older communities.

CONTEXT

I invited MS, my great grandmother, to talk with me after a family reunion zoom call.  A few days later, we got together and we live streamed a rerun of Strictly Come Dancing over zoom and during the commercial breaks, we talked over some  folklore from her life in Scotland, specifically from her childhood in Aberdeen.

THOUGHTS

It’s great to hear such a prominent saying about old fools, because in the United States, I believe we tend to hear about young fools more.  I believe that this statement is definitely an insult of sorts, as well as a great proverb that is meant to teach  people that the biggest kind of fool there is is one who does not learn from their mistakes.

Help Your Fellow Neighbor

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Spanish
Age: 58
Occupation: Entrepreneur
Residence: Spain
Date of Performance/Collection:
Primary Language: Spanish
Other Language(s):

Context: TC is a 58 year old man from Barcelona, Spain. He is a close friend of my father. He came to visit my dad and I took the opportunity to ask him about any folklore he knew. He remembers a story he was told as a child regarding a proverb about helping your fellow neighbor. We sat on the poarch while we all drank beer and listened. 

TC: In a barn there was once a mouse who was looking for help. The poor mouse had realized that the farmer had brought in traps to catch him. He was scared and uhh he went to the chicken and told her, “ chicken the farmer has brought a mouse trap, I’m scared I’ll get trapped”, and the chicken replied “ so ? What do I have to do in this ? go away.” The mouse left saddened at the fact the chicken wouldn’t do anything to help. He then went to the lamb and said, “lamb can you help get rid of this mouse trap the farmer has brought?” and the lamb replied, “ I don’t have time for this, leave now.” The mouse left and went to the cow and said, “ hey cow uhh I’m scared the farmer bought a trap and I don’t know what to do,” the cow replied “ I could care less.” So the mouse left to his little home… sad that no one would help. Later that night, while the farmer and his wife were sleeping, they heard the mouse trap go off. The farmer told his wife, “you hear that woman something has landed in the trap, go on and see what it is.” The farmer’s wife got up and went to see. When she gets close to see….. it was a snake that had landed the trap. As the snake moved like crazy trying to free itself it somehow reached the lady and bit her. So then the farmer realizes his wife isn’t back and gets up to look for her…. And finds her on the floor and says, “ oh my god, it was a snake and it has biting my wife… What will I do ?! I don’t have much money to take her to the doctor” He then thinks and remembers he has heard that chicken soup is good to counter venom snakes…. He then rushes  to the barn and gets the chicken and makes soup out of her. 

YM: Wooow and bye bye chicken hahahah

TC: Yeah ! hahaha anyways he gave his wife the soup but she didn’t get better… so then he thinks, “ I have to take her to the doctor but I have no money.. Alright I will take the lamb and sell it on the way so I have money to pay the doctor.” However, his wife didn’t make it, it was too late, and the venom had done its job. Now that his wife was dead he didn’t have any money for the funeral. He goes on to say, “ I will sell my cow to a slaughter house to give my wife a proper tomb.” The cow dies and he buries his wife.

YM: oh my god!

TC: YUP! And the mouse who was asking everyone for help remained alive. That is why you should  help your fellow neighbor when in need…. Because if you don’t, everyone could end up losing… if there’s one, two, four, six people here, and something goes bad for one, something goes bad for everyone. That’s why the proverb goes “ Cuando ayudas a los demás, te ayudas a ti mismo.” 

Main piece:  “Cuando ayudas a los demás, te ayudas a ti mismo” 

Translation:  When you help others, you help yourself

Background info: TC heard this story from his uncle growing up. He thinks the story is a great representation of what happens when you don’t help your fellow neighbor or those in need. The story stuck with him throughout the years and now tells it to his children. 

Analysis: This was a great story to explain this proverb. I agree with TC and this proverb when it comes to helping your fellow neighbor. I do believe that helping others can create good karma that will later come back and help you in some form. Or that when you care for someone and you help them you also help yourself. For example, parents who help their kids go to college and get a degree to have brighter futures so that maybe one day their kids can look after them when they’re old. Not only that but when you help others, it makes you a better person, opening your heart to be more empathetic and compassionate. There’s even a study that was done, when you help someone you get the “helper’s high.” This happens because when you help others your brain secretes and releases “feel good” chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. This proverb definitely shaped TC’s life and it taught him to have good morals. Proverbs are meant to give us advice on what is right and what is wrong and how we should behave or do things. 

Meaning Behind The Proverb “I Don’t Have to Outrun The Bear”

--Informant Info--
Nationality: American
Age: 67
Occupation: Retired Physician
Residence:
Date of Performance/Collection: 4/22/20
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Yiddish

Main Piece: 

Original Proverb: “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.” 

Meaning as told by my informant:

“So, the story goes like this. Two men are hiking in the woods, and they see a bear. The bear is really mad, so they start running to get away. The first man says ‘how are we going to outrun this bear?’ and the other guy goes ‘I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you.’ (laughs) Because think about it. If the bear gets one guy, he’s not going to keep running to get the other. In life, it means that you don’t need to be the best, you just need to be better. I used to like telling you that when you were taking tests that were graded on a curve. If you got a question wrong, but everyone else got two wrong, you didn’t have a perfect score, but you got a hundred percent. You didn’t outrun the bear, but you did outrun the other people.” 

Background: 

My informant is my father, who grew up on a chicken farm in South New Jersey. His parents were holocaust survivors who immigrated from Poland, so growing up, he generally spoke Yiddish at home and English at school. Everyone always calls him the “walking joke book,” and he speaks more in proverbs (in both languages) than he does in normal sentences. While he doesn’t remember where he learned this proverb, he assumes it was at school, since he learned it in English. He says he likes this proverb, and all proverbs, because they’re an easy way to evoke a whole story and moral from just a few words. In addition, he just thinks they’re funny and that the world would be a better place if everyone laughed more. 

Context: 

While I’m not in quarantine with my informant/father, I do call him every day, and this piece was collected during a routine call. 

Thoughts: 

This was likely the first proverb I ever learned (I don’t technically remember learning it), and it evokes a very fond sense of nostalgia for me. I think the beauty of this proverb is its fairly dark sense of humor. The saying itself implies that someone is going to die, but an audience’s response is always laughter. It’s this weird sense of optimism because although you know someone is going to get mauled by a bear, your takeaway is that you’re going to be okay. My analysis is that depending on how you look at life, someone’s success almost always means someone else’s failure. For example, if I got into USC, that inherently means someone else didn’t. This can be even more awkward when you take into account how Americans value being humble and putting others before yourself. Oftentimes, Americans remedy discomfort with humor, which I believe is what makes this proverb transcendent. This proverb is not a joke, yet it masks as one because we choose to hide our self serving agendas under funny sayings. Referencing what my father said about curved tests, he never told me ‘wreck the curve so everyone else does worse than you,’ he just said ‘you don’t have to outrun the bear.’ Much like running from a bear, American humor is a self defense mechanism. 

Pretty Is as Pretty Does

--Informant Info--
Nationality: White
Age: 55
Occupation: Social Worker
Residence: South Florida
Date of Performance/Collection: March 14, 2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s):

Context:

The informant – AS – is my mother, and is a 55-year-old woman, born and raised in New Britain Connecticut, currently living in South Florida. I asked her if she had any folklore to share, and she told me about a proverb that her blind mother used to say to her.

 

Piece:

 

AS: One of the things my mother always used to say to me: “Pretty is as pretty does.” Pretty is as pretty does. And basically what it means is, you can be as good looking as you want, but if you don’t act right, then you’re not pretty. So it’s about looking as good on the inside as you look on the outside. But, she used to say it in a mean way. Like if I did anything that she didn’t like or something, then she would pull that out.

 

Analysis:

This seems to be classic variation on “as beautiful on the inside as on the outside,” but reworked into a more scolding fashion. It is also somewhat amusing, since the informant’s mother was blind, the proverb/saying might have some more significance, since it involves physical appearance versus behavior.

Looking for Water: Marathi Proverb about Appreciation

--Informant Info--
Nationality: Indian-American
Age: 21
Occupation: Student
Residence: Los Angeles
Date of Performance/Collection: 17th April 2019
Primary Language: English
Other Language(s): Marathi

Text:

AB: “There’s this proverb that my mom says –”

“Kakhet kalsa gavala valsa”

AB: “– which basically means that you have um a pitcher of water in your hand but you’re looking for water in other places, which I mean happens literally too like how many times do you have glasses on your head and you keep for them in other places? But I think the more like metaphorical meaning is supposed to be that people tend to not realize what they have because they too busy like searching for things outside. So like not appreciating what you already have I guess.”

AB: “Yeah people usually say it to me when I’m complaining about all the problems in my life – they’re like “kakhet kalsa gavala valsa” like you’re not being grateful for all the good stuff that you have.”

 

Context:

The informant is an Indian-American college student from Los Altos, California. This conversation took place in my apartment while the informant and I, among a group of other people, were discussing our very diverse childhoods growing up in different parts of the world. Marathi is the language spoken in a specific region of India. The content has been lightly edited, and the removed content is indicated by ellipses.

 

Interpretation:

The informant does a pretty good job of explaining what the proverb means. An English equivalent would be “the grass is always greener on the other side”. It is interesting how the informant relates it to literal situations like looking for glasses which were on your head all along – this to me highlights the relevance of proverbs and emphasizes their staying power. Because their literal meaning is so easily understood intuitively, their figurative meaning holds more power.