Tag Archives: workplace

Midnight Requisition


HS (informant): So it’s, unofficially lending something. Lending without renting, but with no formal requisition process. The idea is, the boss has gone home, any administrative types have gone home and the people left there just let someone borrow something.
Interviewer: So its like if you’re working at a costume shop and you have like, a friend or someone who wants to use a piece, but you can’t like rent it, or don’t want to rent it, so your friend working in the costume shop might just like, wait until everyone else has left.
HS: Ya. People who, people who are working late at night just let someone they know, borrow something, off the record.
I: Do you know how long that saying has been around?
HS: I would’ve heard it by the early 80s. It may have, I don’t know if it exists in other fields. It might.
I: How long have you been working in costume shops?
HS: Since, Oh, I can’t tell you that! ’73? 1973!
I: So there was like, seven-ish years that you hadn’t heard it.
HS: No.
I: Did you hear the term when you were working late night?
HS: Oh, it was like when I was a grad student. Dealing with ISPs (Independent Student Productions). When something wasn’t going to matter to just let it out, or lend it out. I don’t know how limited it is as a term. One of the other grad students was the one who I remember using it the most. Somehow I don’t think it would apply to tailors, because I think it has to do with if you have access to stock.


The informant and I were speaking generally about sayings around a costume shop, so this term did not occur in a fully natural context. In addition, this particular costume shop does not operate late into the night, so the term does not apply in this particular environment. I recorded our conversation and later transcribed it.
The term midnight requisition is an official-sounding label to discuss under-the-table activities behind the backs of workplace superiors. Costume shops generally have hundreds of items of clothing in storage for use and reuse in theater performances, ranging in time period, culture, and levels of decay (some pieces are decades old and barely holding together). Generally a midnight requisition would be a request by a costume shop worker’s friend to borrow a costume, which they may not want or be able to spend money on. The informant mentioned such requests may be for 1920s flapper dress, a pristine top hat, or something more comical for a halloween party.
The term recognizes the improperness of the lending, but makes it sound more official and therefore less objectionable.

Work Slang: Rate-Limiting Factor

Main Piece: 

“One of my favorite expressions that we use in my industry… It’s a common phrase that’s used in chemistry, in a chemistry classroom. Because I work with a lot of scientists, they use it for our projects, and it’s the expression ‘rate-limiting factor.” So, a rate-limiting factor in chemistry is, you know, whatever causes the reaction to go the slowest, but a rate-limiting factor on a project might be that fact that we don’t know what the budget is or that we haven’t gotten a site up and running.”


My informant is a freelance medical writer for a variety of pharmaceutical companies. She describes the industry as a relatively enclosed one, but one in which you can bounce between companies. She’s heard this slang term only in her industry but all around within it. It was a term she’d only heard in chemistry classes before entering her field. She presents it as a catch-all term for anything slowing a project down.


Occupational folk groups are bonded by the fact that they share the same day-to-day experiences and ostracized from each other by judging each other on merit of skill. Robert McCarl states that new entrants into an occupational folk group are subject to scrutiny from the “in-group.” I believe that this work slang, the understanding of which is based on a certain education background that the majority in the industry share, is a way of creating an in-group. By using a scientific term, this in-group could be able to scrutinize new entrants to see if they have the proper knowledge base.

Urine Sample Joke


My informant learned this joke from his dad, who himself was a doctor. It was passed to my informant when he was a young man. His father claimed he was the originator of the joke and that he really performed it himself, as the doctor in the joke was a colleague and friend. While my informant can’t validate that claim, he says that he tends to believe it because his father was always a prankster during his life.


This occurrence is supposed to have originally happened sometime in the 1950s during a physical exam that was being performed on my informant’s father. While I was an interview for USC’s folklore collection, my friend (and the informant’s grandson) entered the room and said something about how he had a doctor’s appointment the next day. This reminded my informant of the joke, and he proceeded to tell it.

Main Piece:

“My dad went in for a physical. When he went to the bathroom to give a urine sample, he had snuck in a flask of warm, flat beer. So instead of peeing in the cup he poured the warm flat beer in the cup. So when he came back out he put it on the counter… When the doctor stuck the litmus paper into the cup–that’s how they used to test pee samples–he says “wow your alcohol levels are off the charts, we’re gonna have to run the test again.” As my dad knocked the cup of beer back he announced, “let’s just run it through again.”


Personally, I think this joke is hilarious on its own, but I would also consider it to be a stunning example of how workplace folklore is created. Assuming that my informant’s father actually did play this prank on one of his doctor colleagues, it shows that getting to know people in a work setting often opens a door to real friendship. My informant’s father probably chose to get a physical from this doctor because they had spent time in close quarters getting to know each other first. While the man performing the stunt may not have been on duty at the time, the interaction between the two likely became something that was frequently talked about and shared between their fellow medical professionals–my informant made it a point to mention that his father loved telling the joke.

Splitting the Baby

Main Piece

Informant: “So there’s an old Jewish thing where two women go up to King Solomon and both of them claim that a child is theirs. So King Solomon says “let’s split this baby in half and give half to each claiming mother.” The first woman agrees, but the second woman would rather give up the whole child than have it split in half. King Solomon realizes that the second woman is the real mother of the child. The idea is that you use something crazy to bring out the truth. You use this crazy scenario to bring out the truth. So that’s the real story. But attorneys use it as a way to say the judge was not well versed on the topic and came up with a compromise that he believed was fair, but in reality hurts the actual “good person” in the case. Basically we use it as a way to say the judge came up with an unfair compromise. So we actually use that phrase incorrectly, but that’s just how we say it.”


My informant is a General Litigation Lawyer at a major corporate law firm based in Century City, California. He has been working in his field for over five years. My informant uses this phrase often, and only to other lawyers.


This phrase is used in a professional context, but not professionally. One lawyer may say this to another as a way to refer to a court ruling as unfair. The phrase is used in settlement or mediation and it is something either the lawyer tells his client or to another lawyer. This phrase is not used in written official statements, as it is considered unprofessional.

My Thoughts 

I had never heard this saying before, but I found it interesting that lawyers knowingly use this phrase wrong. They are fully aware of how the phrase is supposed to be used, but they still modify it and use it in a way that suits their needs. This is a good example of how the meaning of a piece of folklore can change to accommodate certain groups of people, and in this case, lawyers. Originally, this phrase was used to express an outrageous method that yielded accurate results, but lawyers use it as a way to express an unfair compromise on the part of the judge. Lawyers have adopted this phrase into their occupational folk group and modified it to fit their needs. This suggests that, if someone outside of this folk group were to hear lawyers use this phrase, one would misunderstand what is being communicated with the phrase because it is being used incorrectly. Thus, one would not understand the use of the phrase from the outside looking in.

For further reading about occupational folklore, see Robert McCarl’s chapter in Elliot Oring’s Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction titled “Occupational Folklore.”


McCarl, Robert. “Chapter 4: Occupational Folklore.” Folk Groups And Folklore Genres: An Introduction, edited by Elliott Oring, Utah State UP, 1986, pp. 71-90.

Matching Ties for Jury Selection

The informant, a 66-year-old American woman, has practiced law for over thirty years in the San Francisco Bay Area. I asked the informant if she would be able to hold a video call with me over FaceTime, and during our conversation I asked if she or her partners had any superstitions or rituals that they would engage in before entering court. She responded that while she herself did not have any particular good luck charms or pre-trial rituals,

“both of my partners insist on wearing the same tie on the first day of court. Not for the actual trial, but for jury selection, because that’s most important. I’ve seen other firms with similar traditions on the first day of trial, and while I don’t take part, Peter and Charles swear by it.”

Folklore in the workplace is always extremely interesting to hear about, especially when individuals who have been working together for a long period of time have engaged in the same traditions throughout their careers. Wearing the same tie on the day of jury selection seems to signify that the two partners are both on the same entering the trial for a particular case. This silent agreement between the two could very well help them to perform better during jury selection, by providing a bit of necessary reassurance from a close coworker. It is interesting that while other firms engage in the same superstition, that they do not always do so at the same point in the trial. This speaks to the difference in value that any particular firm places on a specific point in the trial. While some, like the informant’s partners, may view jury selection as most important, others see the first day in trial as the point at which good luck is most necessary. I asked the informant why her partners chose a tie and not any other sort of matching accessory, and she replied, “Matching ties are the least obtrusive. If a group of attorneys were to walk into court all wearing bright blue suits and dresses, nobody would take them seriously.” The professional atmosphere required by the courtroom, then, plays a role in the manifestation of this superstition. Perhaps for a group of soccer players, a similar superstition would result in a team wearing identical cleats instead of ties.