Tag Archives: sayings

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/.

South African Slang and Sayings (Voetsek, Sweet Like a Lemon, Yoh, Aiyoh, Shame)

Informant Context:

Otis’ parents immigrated separately to America from South Africa in the 1980’s, during apartheid. Otis’ extended family now lives in the Bay Area, California and near Johannesburg, South Africa. Otis often visits his family in South Africa.


OTIS: I can think of like, some slang that my family uses a lot. Um…


OTIS: A lot of it is like… [laughs] a lot of it will be like, toned-down South African swear words. 


OTIS: I don’t really know how most of them are spelled, but you could probably find… I don’t really know, but uh, one I thought of is… is “Voetsek!” [both laugh]. And that… it—it means “get away” in Afrikaans. And it… like, it’s mainly like, a thing that you say to dogs, ’cause there’s a lot of stray dogs in like, the kind of poorer areas where my family grew up. So they would be like, if a dog is coming near them, and if the dog looks dangerous, they’d like—yell “Voetsek!” And all the dogs *know* it by now, so the dogs—

INTERVIEWER: Oh, Wow! [laughs]

OTIS: —Scatter. 

INTERVIEWER: They all—they all scatter?

OTIS: But… so when you say it to a person, [laughs] it’s kind of rude. You’re like, calling him like, a dog.


OTIS: Yeah. And… like, my family will like, jokingly say it to each other. When like, one of my aunts is teasing one of the other aunts, they’ll be like, “Eh, voetsek” 


INTERVIEWER: Like, joking. Um… [both laugh] There’s this thing my dad like, taught me to say whenever I was visiting family in South Africa. But I’ve never heard anyone else say it, but my dad’s like, “Oh yeah, me and all my friends always say this”. It—It just means “cool”, but it’s “sweet like a lemon”.

INTERVIEWER: [laughs] Oh! 


INTERVIEWER: [voice broken by laughter] I haven’t heard that… either. Lemon’s aren’t really sweet!

OTIS: It makes zero sense! But, uh… my dad might be just like, messing with me.

INTERVIEWER: Yeah [both laugh]Do people respond when you… ’cause he—he told you to say this in front of other family. Did they understand it? 

OTIS: They’ll just be like, “Oh yeah OK” [laughs].

INTERVIEWER: Oh. [joins]


OTIS: And then like, there’s a lot of like, exclma—exclamations um [laughs]… there’s like, “yoh”! Which means [laughs]—and I-I don’t know how you gonna spell all this stuff so… 

INTERVIEWER: I try to spell it out phonetically, but [laughs].

OTIS: Y-y-yeah. It’s like “yoh”!—which means, uh… like “Whoa”! And then there’s “Aiyoh!” which is like, “that’s crazy!” And I’ll hear my dad say that stuff a lot when he’s watching his soccer games [both laugh]. And… um… Oh! OK, a lot of South Africans will say [elongated] “Shame!” But it like…! It means—it kind of means the same thing as like “it’s a shame,” like how Americans will say. But it’s kind of different. Like, they’ll mean it in like, a… they’ll say it when like, a kid does something cute. Or like, someone’s being naïve, almost? 


OTIS: Like, if they say like—if they say like, “Oh this… kid like my, my son like didn’t make the soccer team. He was too short.” 


OTIS: Or something. I guess that’s like “it’s a shame”. 


OTIS: But like, if they say something like, “Oh! The… the little kid made like, a… made like a fort, and told everyone that’s his new house.” They’d all be like “Uh! A shame, man!” They’s say that. [both laugh] 

INTERVIEWER: Oh interesting. So it’s around kids or something cute.

OTIS: Mhm.

INTERVIEWER: But also kind of something unfortunate. 

OTIS: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: So like… so like if I told somebody that I backed into a car in the parking lot, would they say “Shame” to that? Probably not? 


INTERVIEWER: Yeah [laughs]. Whereas— 

OTIS: If you said something like… like, “Oh, I need to go get gas right now”. They’d probably said like “Oh, shame”.  


Informant Commentary:

The informant recalls two levels of folk sayings: one that appears cultural (or at least, regional to Pretoria), and one that appears familial. On a large scale, interjections with origins in Afrikaans or  Asian languages (in the case of “aiyoh”) are easily recognizable among those in the South African Indian culture. They might even be understandable to those outside this culture, given the right context. To use Otis’ example, the meaning term “aiyoh” might be decipherable by someone watching the same soccer game as Otis’ father. The term “shame” might be decipherable to someone watching a child build a fort in front of the family. Other sayings, such as “sweet like a lemon” are idiosyncratic to Otis’ family, in his experience.


A small detail Otis mentioned about the dogs in South Africa give the term “voetsek” a deeper significance. Otis stated that “all the dogs know it by now,” implying that over time, the dog population came to gather the same meaning from the word “voetsek” as humans. In this way, the dogs seems to be part of the in-group who understand this term. If the term was said to a group of dogs from the region and a group of humans from outside the region, in “scatter[ing]”, the dogs would demonstrate a better understanding of this folk term than the humans would. This is a post-humanist analysis of this one, particular saying: folklore shared among non-humans. As for the collection of sayings as a whole—there is a significant amount of evidence online to suggest that these are widely used terms, not only among South African Indians, but South Africans of other ethnicities as well. “Aiyoh” appears more idiosyncratic to Asian (particularly Indian and Chinese) cultures, and “sweet like a lemon” might have a wider usage than Otis suggests, but is obscure compared to the rest. 

Superstition: If Someone Vacuums or Sweeps Under Your Feet, Then You Won’t Have Any Children

Main Piece: 

“If someone vacuums or sweeps under your feet, then you won’t have any children. So for example, if I was sitting on the sofa, and, you know, my mother or someone else was doing the housework and cleaning, and they came by and I lifted my feet like this, I wouldn’t have children.”


My informant heard this as a kid from his parents in Virginia. This was something that he said was meant to inure him to the right ideas about housework:

Collector: “How would you avoid? Like would you go into a another room so that they could sweep there?”

Informant: “I think the idea is ‘someone’s doing housework- you should at least be polite enough to get off the sofa and yield to them to do the work.’ That what they’re doing is more important. I think it’s more of a disciplinary like house regulation type of thing. Don’t be lazy and just lift your feet up.”


I agree with my informant’s assessment of this piece. My informant described the culture and family he grew up in as one that valued work and practical matters and wanted cleaning done right. There was disapproval, he said, for doing practical things the wrong way. This superstition, which I expect is said non-seriously but still has its underlying message obeyed, is emblematic of the values of its miniature culture. This is a superstition born out of a dislike for laziness. There is an inherent morality system here. You will be punished with infertility or bad luck for not acquiescing to the cleaner.

“Bhaghnikt Anush Lini” – Armenian Saying

Informant’s Background:

My informant, AD, is an undergraduate student at USC who grew up in Glendale, California. Her family immigrated to the United States from the capital of Armenia, Yerevan, after the collapse of the Soviet Union.


The informant is my girlfriend and we share an apartment together. I asked her if she could share some Armenian folklore with me, and this is one of the pieces that she provided.


  • Original Script: Բաղնիքտ անուշ լինի:
  • Transliteration: “Bhaghnikt Anush Lini”
  • Translation: “Have a fresh shower” or “Have a sweet shower”


AD: “So there’s thing that’s like pretty common in like Armenian families that like my parents don’t really do that often but sometimes it happens. So there’s this thing in Armenian culture where after a shower you-or before a shower they will say like “Bhaghnikt Anush Lini” which means like… Uhm, it’s like a blessing for the shower, like they’re blessing the water from, like, the bathroom so that you have a nice fresh shower.”

M: “Where do you think it originated from?”

AD: “Uhm, probably like pagan beliefs that have just like carried over, over the years in like y’know the sanctity of water and stuff in Armenian culture, and in most cultures. It’s probably just a carry-over from those years.”

Informant’s Thoughts:

AD: ” It’s, uhm, a very common saying, and I don’t think I’ve heard any other saying that’s quite like it, so that’s interesting. It’s a way of giving thanks, and like, asking for good fortune, right? I think that’s very nice.”


I don’t really feel I have much to say about this one. It seems to fit in well with some of the other traditions I’ve collected from this informant, as it seems that based on my collection many Armenian traditions are based around giving thanks for “small” things, such as bread in a previous article of mine, so this fits very nicely in with that category of traditions.