Tag Archives: sayings



D.S. is my father, who immigrated here from Albania when he was 18 years old. I always remember him telling me a lot when I was growing up, “an Albanian can die, but his oath will not be violated. I called him up and asked him more about where this phrase comes from.

Me: So is there an Albanian phrase that you got this from?

D.S.: Yes, I never really spoke it to you in the Albanian version since you don’t speak the language hahaha, but in Albanian it is Shqiptarët vdesin dhe Besën nuk e shkelin

Me: So where does it come from?

D.S.: The basic premise of the phrase comes from the concept of a Besa which is like a pledge of honor. In Albania, it is essentially an oath or to keep a promise.

Me: So what is a Besa all about? Is it just a word?

D.S.: The basic premise of the concept is to keep your word, as it is the most valuable thing you can offer. If you don’t have your word, then what do you have?

Me: That sounds familiar hahahaha

D.S.: Exactly hahaha, but a besa can come in all sorts of forms, whether it be a promise, your faith, or protecting someone. It is of the utmost importance in Albania, in all aspects of your life. When you give someone your besa, you cannot go back on it. This is how it has always been, and Albanians really pride themselves on it.

It is really important to keep your word. Breaking a besa is one of the worst things you can do that is not a crime. When you make a promise you need to ensure you give all your effort towards that until it’s fulfilled. Otherwise you are untrustworthy and your self-worth is lowered. Being an Albanian, it is important for me to always remember this in my life.

Nobody for me but me

Main Piece: 

“There is nobody but me who is for me”

Background Information:

This is about how everybody is mainly for themselves. My mother grew up with this saying. 

Context of the Performance:

This piece essentially means that you have to think about yourself and stand up for yourself when necessary because nobody else will.

My Thoughts:

This reminds me of the saying “This is a dog eat dog world” meaning that everybody is only looking out for themselves. There is definitely truth to this saying, especially considering the individualist society and culture that is ripe with competition in the United States today. People generally do not do something good for others unless it benefits themselves.

Time Was

Main Piece: Time Was

“Time was, a dog could lie down and take a nap in the middle of the road.”

Background Information:

Back in the old days time seemed to move slowly because activities were less time regimented than it is today. There is more competition and more people in the world today and everyone is traveling more often and further than people used to even only a few decades ago.

Context of the Performance:

This alludes to how time has essentially stopped or that time is no longer. So much so that a dog could lay down in the middle of the street and take a long nap and would not be hit by a car because there would not be a car that came by at that time to hit it. 

My Thoughts:

I find this very telling about a certain time period because of the imagery that it evokes. Today, if a dog laid down in the middle of a road, no matter the road, it would more than likely be hit very quickly because there are many more cars on the road today and therefore much more congestion and traffic on roads where there used to not be.

Chin Pum Pan Tortillas Papas

Text: “chin pum pan tortillas papas”


Informant: A magic thing that, if you want something to work, but it doesn’t work, let’s take the TV. You like do a few things and then you’re like chin pum pan tortillas papas and you turn on the TV and it’s like ay it works. It’s like abra kadabra but it’s like *indistinguishable noises* and then it works. You know?

Me: Is this a family tradition?

Informant: Um I think it’s a regional thing. Not everyone in Mexico does it it’s just certain regions.

Me: Do you know the origin?

Informant: No

Me: What do you personally think of it?

Informant: Um it would help make things work magically, but it’s again a placebo effect thing.

Personal Thoughts:

As noted below under additional notes, this phrase may have originated from the 80’s TV Show ‘Chuiquilladas’. Of course, the show could’ve been inspired by another source. In the case that this originated in the TV show, this saying then appears to be a case of a pop culture catchphrase becoming a folk saying. While that may seem like inauthentic folklore (a TV show comes from a institution, presumably with power and money and authority), the use of the phrase seems to have moved away from the TV show to become something independent.

Additional Notes:

The following link claims that this phrase came “from the magician ‘Rody’ in this 80’s TV Show ‘Chiquilladas'”

“Step on a Crack…”

Background information: My brother is currently a sophomore in high school. He recalled some sayings and games he remembers playing when he was younger.

Brother: I think this is a, like, just a folklore saying? Or kinda a game. But we used to say “Step on a crack, break your back, step on a line, break your spine.” Something like that. So you can’t step on any cracks in the sidewalk or step on any of the lines on the sidewalk or on the roads either. Otherwise something bad might happen to you.

Me: How did you hear about this? Do you believe it yourself?

Brother: It’s just a kid thing that I remember hearing with my friends when we would walk around after school or during recess. It’s a saying and a kinda superstitious thing but then it can also become a game if you actually try not to step on anything. I think I probably took it seriously at one point, but not anymore.

This saying was interesting to me because I remember it differently in my own childhood, and many of my friend do too. I remember it as “Step on a crack, break your mama’s back.” However, my brother and I do have a somewhat large age gap between us, and maybe in that time the saying slowly changed, as many playground games do. I think this is something that a lot of children take seriously when they’re young, because of the threat of something bad occurring, and not only something bad, but something very specific. For another version of this saying, see https://journeys.dartmouth.edu/folklorearchive/spring-2020/southern-superstitions/step-on-a-crack-break-your-mommas-back/.