Tag Archives: saying

Saying Told to Children

“If Ifs and buts were candy and nuts oh what a Christmas we’d have!”

The informant says she heard the saying from her parents when she grew up in the 70’s-80’s. The informant grew up in Virginia outside of Washington D.C. It was primarily said to her and her siblings when she was in elementary school after she did something wrong and tried to make an excuse or justify it. It was a common saying according to her that was regularly said by teachers and other parents too

“If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, oh what a Christmas we’d have!” is a quaint retort to a child’s excuse-making but it can tell us a lot about the goals and culture of parents in America at this time. It is a blend of personal accountability, practical wisdom, and the use of humor in teaching, that parents use while trying to instill important values in their children. This saying is meant to teach kids not to be someone who makes excuses and to instead just act the right way. It is said in a fun and memorable way that a kid would remember. This highlights the American spirit of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” or not making excuses and just working hard to be successful. This way of thinking was especially prevalent during the 70’s-80’s and this children’s saying highlights that parents goals at the time were to make sure their kids also thought this way too.

ETA Superstition

Nationality: Burmese

Primary Language: Burmese

Other Language(s): English, Chinese

Age: 19

Occupation: Student

Residence: Los Angeles, CA

Performance Date: 02/17/2024

A.N is 19 years old, and is currently a USC student who’s originally from Yangon, Myanmar. She is my current suite mate and has been a friend since middle school, since we are from the same hometown and school. I asked her if she has heard of or is familiar with any tabooistic vocabulary within our culture. 

“One superstition that I remember my mom saying is that we aren’t allowed to say the specific estimated time of arrival, or else we won’t get there on the time mentioned. I first heard that when I was a pre-teen and my family was on a road trip to Ngwe Saung. I asked my mom when we were arriving and she said that she wasn’t allowed to say. She did end up telling me that we can say a more vague description of the ETA, like “evening” but not something as specific as 5 p.m. I remember it clearly because as a kid, I believed it too. Eventually it became a superstition that I try to keep in mind whenever I am answering the same question if someone else were to ask me that.”

As a Burmese person, I can’t say I’ve heard of this tabooistic vocabulary or superstition but I don’t deny its possibility since we have a lot of other superstitions that are just as trivial and non-sensical. A.N states that she is not clear with what the reasoning behind this superstition is but I personally think that it might just be her mom not wanting to give an answer to her child who could start to complain or become impatient. On the other hand, it could be related to our culture of avoiding stating something important, in the chance we might ‘jinx’ ourself. It is our way of holding on to the hope that the outcome, in this situation the ETA, is something that we want it to be.

“You’re a dreamer”

Nationality: American

Primary Language: English

Other Language(s): N/A

Age: 21

Occupation: Student

Residence: Los Angeles, CA

Performance Date: 02/17/2024

N.N is 21 years old and is from Burbank, CA. I am close friends with N.N and asked him to tell me about any common phrases, sayings, or proverbs that his family uses. N.N tells me about a phrase that his grandma likes to say often to him. M, his grandma is someone that played a large part in raising him, and they have a great, humorous relationship. 

“I first heard “You’re a dreamer” when I was younger (13) from M. I had told her I wanted to start a club in school, which might’ve seemed unlikely to her at the time. She said this, with a funny shake of her hand, because she thought I wouldn’t follow through with this plan. This was at M’s house, when we were eating dinner together as usual. To this day, she says it whenever I bring up an idea or plan that I have in mind. I think she says this because I have a tendency to not always follow through with my plans but it doesn’t feel like a negative thing to me even if it seems like mockery. I think she says it also because she thinks my ideas are great, and would like me to pursue them. 

I found this story pretty hilarious because I have also met M personally and think of her as a funny and kind adult figure. I think M means well when she says this, but I think this phrase demonstrates the culture of academic value and parental discipline in Asian culture. It is nothing strict but it reflects her desire for her grandson’s academic and financial success. This is because he mentions she usually says this whenever his ideas are related to improving those aspects of his life.

Sedibala pele ga se ikangwe

Text: “Sedibala pele ga se ikangwe”

Translation: “The well down the road [or in the next village, or down the path] cannot be relied on”


This phrase is a favorite of my informant, B, because of its many nuances. B is a middle aged man who lives and was raised in Gaborone, Botswana. This is a common phrase in Setswana —the national language of Botswana— used as a metaphor to relay that the future is unpredictable. B first learned this phrase from his parents in his childhood (1970s/80s). 

The phrase is often used to remind others of the unpredictability of the future. For example, if B’s and his wife were to set off on a road trip B has the option to fill up the gas tank before they leave but instead chooses to fill up in the next town over. Unfortunately the gas station in the next town is busy, and the next town is shut down and they are unable to find a working one before the car runs out of gas, the wife could say “Sedibala pele”. The phrase is so common, people often don’t finish the entire sentence, and the other party will still understand what is trying to be portrayed. 

B cites this phrase as a personal philosophy that has stuck with him since he was a young child, reminding him to focus on things in the present that he can control, and to not rely on the future because it is never guaranteed.


From what I know, the sentiment of this phrase is a common one throughout most cultures. It reminds me of the saying “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” which has origins in western agricultural communities, however it gives a similar message; not to rely on the future because it is not guaranteed. The phrase serves as a reminder of the inescapable uncontrollable nature of luck and chance in life. It speaks to the nature of humans to predict the future, see patterns in the past and assume they know what will happen next, as we know, that is not always accurate.

A Saying on the Nature of Life

Informant Info:

  • Nationality: Mexican
  • Age: 50
  • Occupation: N/A
  • Residence: Los Angeles 
  • Primary language: Spanish 
  • Relationship: mother 


EP provided me with the following folk speech in Spanish, “La vida está llena de lágrimas y ricas.” The literal english translation is, “Life is full of tears and laughs.”


EP immigrated from Mexico to the united states about 23 years ago. She brought with her all the sayings, folkspeech, and proverbs from her culture. The informant first heard this saying from her mother. She emphasizes that her mother always repeated this to her because she recalls that her mother “sufre mucho.” Sufria mucho means that she suffered a lot. Growing up in her household, EP remembers her mother saying the proverb when there was family problems or when someone would die. EP said, “Ahora te estas riendo con esa persona, y mañana ya esta muerta.” This means that today you can be laughing with a person, and tomorrow that person could be dead. 


I, myself have grown up hearing this saying as well, and I was first introduced to it by my mom. When she first told me it, I remember being in a crisis and it was her way of telling me it was okay. I interpreted this proverb as meaning life is full of ups and downs. There will be moments of suffering, but also joy. It is a way of accepting that life comes with difficulties, but we must also remember all the good moments. I know that this folk speech is typically said amongst Latin-x communities. The phrase is usually told during moments of hardship, mourning, or sadness.