“The Devil Beating his Wife”

Owen Lord studies Anthropology at the University of Southern California. He is originally from Columbia, South Carolina but currently lives in Los Angeles, California while he attends university. Owen’s southern upbringing led him to adopt a number of southern customs. Once he moved to Los Angeles, he was immediately struck by the differences in the way people speak, how they behave, and the traditions they practice. Many of Owen’s favorite folkloric phrases were lost on his new peers in Los Angeles. Below, Owen describes one example of folk speech that is used to describe weather conditions:

Owen: “In the South—the American South, South Carolina to be specific—we had certain terms that I didn’t realize were a little shocking until I used them outside of the South. Like when it’s a sunny day and it’s raining, we’d say that the devil is beating his wife. Which um, non-Southerners have found to be a little inappropriate.”

Isabella: “Why were people offended?”

Owen: “Um, I think the references to domestic abuse. And… people aren’t used to talking about the devil. And, in the South, we attribute everything to either the devil or God. So yeah, it was a little shocking to other people.”

Here, Owen reflects on a folk metaphor that is unique to the American South. Owen acknowledges that this metaphorical statement does not resonate with people who are not from the South, and attributes this to the cultural differences between the two areas. As Owen notes in the transcription, Southerners are more likely to reference the Devil and God in everyday speech than people who live in other parts of the nation.

This folk metaphor is used to describe the weather, which highlights its prominence and popularity amongst Southerners. It also reveals some key distinctions between Southern culture and west coast (i.e. California) culture. References to domestic violence are embedded in the metaphor, which suggests that jokes of this nature are normalized in the South (not necessarily domestic violence itself).  This metaphor speaks to the topic of sensitivity in humor — in places like Southern California, fears of coming across as politically incorrect might dissuade someone from reciting a metaphor like the one described here.  However, in the South, it is perfectly acceptable to joke about certain taboo topics.