What is folklore?

Josh: Josh Clark

Chuck: Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant

Vo: Voiceover Speaker

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Vo: Welcome to Stuff You Should Know from HowStuffWorks.com.


Josh: Hey there and welcome to the podcast. I'm Josh "Joshua" Clark and there is Charles W. "Chuck" Bryant. Jeri is over there, just Jeri. And that's Stuff You Should Know.

Chuck: She has a new sitcom out on FX called "Just Geri." [LAUGHS]

Josh: "Suddenly Jeri."

Chuck: How are you doing?

Josh: I'm fine. Why do you ask?

Chuck: Well, [LAUGHS] I don't mean to intrude. Just checking.

Josh: Yeah, I know.

Chuck: I'm excited about this. When I first read our article, I was a little bit like, "Ooh, this a little unwieldy," because it's so-folklore is just-

Josh: It's amorphous.

Chuck: As it turns out, it's everything.

Josh: Yeah, pretty much.

Chuck: But then you sent, what was that other good article from? Actually we should shout that out.

Josh: It was from, I think, the University of Louisiana or something like that; they have a folk life, folklore department. And it was basically we stumbled upon some unit for teachers to teach what folklore is, and we were like, "Hey, that works for us."

Chuck: Yeah, super helpful.

Josh: Yeah, it was very helpful. It definitely-it took a lot of this amorphous stuff that was in our article and chipped away at the edges and gave it a little more shape, you know?

Chuck: Agreed.

Josh: So you did kind of hit it on the head: it's kind of like nailing jelly to the wall, defining what folklore is, because it is so much stuff.

Chuck: Yeah, that phrase is folklore.

Josh: If. If. It isn't just me saying it. If I share it and now other people say it, it could become Stuff You Should Know folklore, oral folklore.

Chuck: Did you make that up?

Josh: I think I've heard it before.

Chuck: Okay, so that's folklore.

Josh: Yeah, I guess so.

Chuck: [LAUGHS]

Josh: It's a variation, though, of-what else did I hear? Oh yeah, we were talking about the nuclear fusion reactor where they were saying that keeping plasma contained is kind of like trying to hold jelly in a bunch of rubber bands.

Chuck: Yeah, that's nerd science folklore.

Josh: That's what inspired me to say nailing jelly to the wall.

Chuck: I like that. It seems like it really sums it up.

Josh: So folklore.

Chuck: Yeah, I found this other definition I thought was pretty good, which is traditional art, literature, knowledge and practice that is disseminated largely through oral communication and behavioral example. And then this was the key for me: things that people traditionally believe, do, know, make, and say. In other words, everything.

Josh: Yeah, I mean you're right, everything. That's about as good a definition as you're going to find. And one of the problems with studying folklore is that there are so many definitions out there. Apparently folklorists, who are people who study folklore, don't like to be too judgy; it's kind of part and parcel with their field of study. You don't judge stuff, you just collect information. The problem is, is that they've also just kind of collected definitions for folklore along the way and there isn't one set definition that's accepted by everybody.

Chuck: Yeah. A folklorist that collected stuff and was like, "That's stupid," it wouldn't be-

Josh: That's so dumb.

Chuck: They wouldn't be a good-

Josh: "Why are you guys doing that?"

Chuck: [LAUGHS] That's a good TV show, "The Bad Folklorist." [LAUGHTER] And I might say "folk" here and there because I mispronounce that word often and I'm trying-

Josh: How are you saying it?

Chuck: Well, a lot of times I'll say the L. In fact, up until about a year ago when someone wrote in and said, "You stupid, it's pronounced 'foke,' like F-O-K-E."

Josh: Folk.

Chuck: And not "folk."

Josh: But the weird thing is, is like I hear the L missing when I hear "folk."

Chuck: Oh weird, that's some sort of mind trick.

Josh: I don't hear F-O-K-E, it's clear to me that there's an F-O-L-K in there.

Chuck: You hear the silence.

Josh: It's a great word. F-O-L-K, it's beautiful.

Chuck: It is beautiful. And another thing, too, that we should point out that folklorists love to point out is that it is not and should not be associated with being backward or old-timey or uneducated. I think a lot of people have that connotation in their heads, that folklorists, like the hillbilly on the porch, when they're homespun wisdoms, and it can be that but it's not that at all. It's not just that.

Josh: Right. A really good example that contradicts that is Snopes. Snopes.com is basically a clearinghouse of modern folklore.

Chuck: Oh yeah, I never really thought about that.

Josh: You know, the Nigerian prince scam, that's folklore.

Chuck: Yeah, it sure is.

Josh: Emoticons, even, are considered now a form of verbal communication, verbal folklore.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: And like you said, it's everything. And the reason it's everything is because it comes out of groups. Like if I just have a habit where I keep a rubber band twisted around my finger until it turns purple, and then I'll take it off for half an hour and then do it again, that's just some weird habit, that's not folklore. Folklore is something that is shared between a group.

Chuck: Yeah. And those groups can be almost anything. I think that great article you sent that says "neighborhoods, communities, and regions," but also religious groups, families, occupations, gender-pretty much any grouping, enthusiasts, hobbyists, anything you can think of that you can group more than two people together can be a folk group.

Josh: Right, exactly. You can have a Catholic dockyard worker who is also a member of an RC plane club, who also is a member of a book club at the local library.

Chuck: Right.

Josh: So that one person is going to be a member of all of those different folk groups, and all of those folk groups are going to have their own folklore.

Chuck: True. Yeah, you're right, that's another good thing to point out, is you're not just in one group; you span many, many groups. And for instance, I have family folklore, we have probably occupational folklore, the old podcaster folklore for us and our colleagues, and my gender, and my age, and religious affiliation growing up, like we all have many, many groups and subgroups that we fall into.

Josh: Right. And we get our information from that.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: One of things that I think has been tricky about defining folklore is that it's not obvious necessarily what folklore is for, not at first blush, but if you go and read some of the people who study it, the idea of folklore is that one of the main things it does is it reinforces membership in a group, it makes you feel special for being part of that group.

Chuck: Yeah, being an insider.

Josh: So you're an insider. And then it also reinforces the norms of that group. Folklore is based on, basically, norms, customs, traditions, things that the members of the group have said, "This is what we identify with."

Chuck: Yeah, and not always, too, as that teaching site points out, not always reinforcing those norms, sometimes overturning those norms.

Josh: Yeah. A good way to overturn the norm is to take an existing norm and turn it on its ear because it make it really approachable to the other people in your folk group, they understand what you're doing very clearly, and it gives them a different perspective, using the traditional channels.

Chuck: Yeah, I think one example I saw somewhere was taking a traditional folk song maybe and adding verses to it to spin its meaning to the opposite, perhaps.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Like Bob Dylan, he is famous for stealing things. [LAUGHS]

Josh: Sure. Or Jimmy Page.

Chuck: Oh yeah, have you ever heard that song, the Zeppelin-or the "Stairway to Heaven" lawsuit.

Josh: No, whose song was it originally?

Chuck: I can't remember the name-I mean this is not news; it's been around for a while. But yeah, I mean they've been sued. It was a group that opened up for Zeppelin on an early tour and supposedly played this song, and I think Zeppelin has, I haven't looked it up lately, but I think they have defeated the suit. But when you hear the song, you're like, "Ooh, that sounds a little bit like the opening bit to "Stairway to Heaven."

Josh: So it was like the musical-the music, it wasn't any of the lyrics or anything?

Chuck: Yeah, that opening guitar strumming pattern was pretty darn similar, but as any musician will tell you, everybody steals. There is only so many variations of chords and picking patterns that you can do, and it's just part of the rich tradition of music, is to nick things, respectfully, not outright steal. [LAUGHS]

Josh: Not "Ghostbusters" / "I Want a New Drug" kind of stealing.

Chuck: Yeah, I mean that's when your lawsuits come up.

Josh: It's not just music that there is that long tradition of stealing, or nicking, or whatever you want to-euphemism you want to use.

Chuck: Borrowing.

Josh: It's literature is very much the same way. There is something like five or ten themes in all of literature and everything else is just basically a variation of them. And that's one of the things that folklore or folklorists have learned through studying folklore, is that we humans share what can be called basically a common imagination. That humans across time and space all have a certain number of slots of looking at the world. Certain things in the world capture the human imagination in a similar way in all different parts of the world, and we tend to use similar explanations for them. So you'll have independently evolving folklore among groups who have never met before that seek to explain, or have a story about, something that is just kind of out there in the environment.

Chuck: Yeah, that's a good point. One of the examples of that is in folklore stories are frogs and toads can be found in all kinds of old stories, in all cultures all over the world that-I mean, it's possible, too, if you're close to one another, like Korea and China may have stories that overlap one another just through a common geographical boundary, but stuff like frogs and toads will pop up let's say in Europe, or medieval Europe or in Asia, places that aren't even close to one another where it's inexplicable basically.

Josh: Right. And they'll share a similar personality or something in the story. So like frogs and toads are commonly thought of shapeshifting tricksters.

Chuck: Yeah. And I think this article points out that that's probably because they go from tadpole to frog or toad, and they change themselves physically, so it's the old dummies back in the day, they would just use that obvious thing to make up a story.

Josh: Obviously they can become human, too, since they go from tadpole to frog.

Chuck: Exactly, like "The Frog Prince."

Josh: You mentioned also shared regional characteristics that are most likely the result of stories making it from one group to another, crossing borders, but among groups that are close together. And that example you gave of East Asia, Japan and Korea, Thailand, China, they all have the idea that there is a rabbit in the moon and he's using a mortar and pestle, and what that would be is a motif. Like all of them have this shared idea that there is a rabbit in the moon, right?

Chuck: Yes.

Josh: But then there is what are called variations of that motif. So in Japan and Korea, the rabbit is making mochi, which is a sweet, squishy rice cake that often has something even sweeter injected in, like red bean sweetness. In China, the rabbit is making medicine. In Thailand he is husking rice. So you have variations on what the rabbit is doing, but the motif is if you look up at the moon, there is a rabbit doing something up there.

Chuck: Yeah, and like we said, it's most likely because of a shared border or just because simply people moving between those countries.

Josh: So we'll talk about where folklore comes from, friends, if you can believe it or not, right after this.


Josh: Chuck, we love to cook.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: We love to eat.

Chuck: Mm-hmm.

Josh: But we're busy, like any normal person these days, so it's kind of difficult to measure things out, to chop stuff up, to come up with new recipes.

Chuck: You're flustered just thinking about it.

Josh: I am.

Chuck: It can also be, I guess I should say difficult to eat health-conscious, especially if you're eating out or getting takeout; it gets really unhealthy fast. So, forget all that stuff, people. We have the solush. It's called Blue Apron.

Josh: That's right, Chuck. With Blue Apron, finding and coming up with the recipes and getting your ingredients and all that jazz is so easy. Blue Apron takes the stress out of cooking.

Chuck: Yeah. They send you your ingredients in the exact proportions, they send you recipe cards, it's going to take you about a half an hour took cook it, and they're just $9.99 per meal-way too cheap for how delicious these meals are.

Josh: Yeah, and the meals are 500 to 700 calories per serving, way too low for how delicious they are. And Blue Apron includes step-by-step instructions with pictures, so it's idiot-proof. And did we mention that all of this wonderfulness shows up right at your door?

Chuck: And did we mention the shipping is free?

Josh: Wow.

Chuck: All right, well, we should talk about the meals because I'm sitting here thinking about barley jambalaya, and I'm quite honestly having a hard time concentrating.

Josh: Yeah, or pot pie style chicken with drop sage biscuits.

Chuck: Oh, man.

Josh: How about a shrimp po' boy?

Chuck: Those all sound great to me.

Josh: And for those of you who are our vegetarian friends, Blue Apron has you covered as well, with meals like rice cakes, mushroom napa cabbage, and tatsoi, which is baby bok choy.

Chuck: In the stress of cooking right now, people, go to BlueApron.com/Stuff and get your first two meals for free. That's right, two meals for free just for going to BlueApron.com/Stuff.


Josh: Chuckers.

Chuck: Yo.

Josh: So we're back, we're talking folklore. We should also say folklore is actually a fairly recent word. It was coined in 1846 by a game named William J. Thoms. He was an early antiquarian. He was also very interested in studying what has now come to be called folklore.

Chuck: Yeah, or folk life, we should point out, that's a modern term that people, folklorists like even more.

Josh: Yeah, because folklore has this connotation that it has to do with stories, oral traditions, that kind of thing.

Chuck: Yeah, or even not true things. Because you've heard like, "Oh, that's just folklore, like an old wives' tale."

Josh: Exactly. Yeah, exactly. So they have expanded it to include-or to reflect how inclusive it is by calling it folk life. But William Thoms came up with folklore, and it was originally hyphenated, and he was describing these stories that he would go out into the countryside and collect from folk. He published a book of English rural stories that included things like Robin Hood and Friar Tuck and some of the other stories that have become Disnified over years, this guy originally put down for the first time on pen and paper and became one of the early folklorists.

Chuck: Yeah, and didn't they call just anyone living in rural areas, weren't they just called folk?

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Which is why we sort of associate it as like being a bumpkin today.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: But I use that word all the time. In fact on the Facebook wall here, it's my most common way of addressing the Stuff You Should Know Army is "Hey, folks."

Josh: Oh, I know.

Chuck: It just sound like chummy to me.

Josh: It's very folksy.

Chuck: Folksy, there you go.

Josh: Yeah. Hey, folks.

Chuck: So there are a bunch of innumerable groups really that pass along folklore.

Josh: And they're called folk groups.

Chuck: Folk groups, but we can group them generally-

Josh: Not folk groups like Peter, Paul, and Mary.

Chuck: Yeah, sure.

Josh: But folk groups.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: I think I said it with the L just now, didn't I?

Chuck: Maybe.

Josh: Huh.

Chuck: I like it, it's called regional diction.

Josh: Okay.

Chuck: People get all hung up on that stuff. "You guys say this wrong."

Josh: What's weird, though, is like neither one of us sound like Southerners.

Chuck: Yeah, not really.

Josh: And I mean you were born here and you don't sound like a Southerner.

Chuck: Yeah, I say-I have certain colloquialisms, though, like "have your picture made."

Josh: Oh yeah, that is definitely Southern.

Chuck: Or sometimes I'll say you mash a button instead of push a button. I think people should embrace things like that, regional dialect, instead of getting all hung up on the Queen's English or the King's English. See? Right there.

Josh: Yeah, that's regional, I imagine.

Chuck: Either one, the Prince's English.

Josh: What you're talking about is antithetical to globalization, Chuck.

Chuck: Oh really?

Josh: Sure.

Chuck: Look at you.

Josh: Regionalism.

Chuck: Smarty pants.

Josh: Well, I mean that's counter to globalization. Globalization is turning the earth into one large village with all of these shared values and everything. Regional is them just saying like, "No, we'll just stay as pockets of interacting groups that have our own values and traditions and customs."

Chuck: I like that.

Josh: Sure.

Chuck: I think it's on the brain because I posted something today on words that are mispronounced a lot, and-

Josh: Oh yeah. What's up there?

Chuck: Oh, I mean all like "banal," and Dr. Seuss supposedly pronounced his name as-

Josh: "Sause"?

Chuck: "Soise"? I can't remember how he pronounced it. But it's just like common words you're probably mispronouncing, and "the" was on there. And someone said you always pronounce "the" wrong because supposedly-

Josh: Is it "the"? Like "the" or "the"?

Chuck: Yeah, exactly. Supposedly there is a rule-not supposedly, I think there is a rule.

Josh: You mean "supposably."

Chuck: Well, that wasn't on there. [LAUGHTER] Well, that's a different-that's just saying the wrong word.

Josh: Sure.

Chuck: But I think "the," you should say "the" when the following noun starts with a vowel like, the apple, not the apple. But you could say-

Josh: Oh yeah, I could see that.

Chuck: You could say "the test."

Josh: Because the apple almost sounds like it's T-H apostrophe apple.

Chuck: Yeah. And I get it but that's-

Josh: The apple, the apple.

Chuck: It's just sort of a regional thing, I think, in the South. You might here more "the" than the snotty New Englanders who-

Josh: I've never really paid that much attention to that one.

Chuck: Me neither.

Josh: You know why? Because we are laid-back.

Chuck: That's right. All right, so what were we talking about? We're talking about people who spread the groups, the folk groups, one of-

Josh: Not folk groups, though.

Chuck: No, not Peter, Paul, and Mary. One of them is children. And this is a really big one because when you think about going back to your childhood, everything, the games like hide-and-seek, hopscotch, this article pointed out how you decide who is "it," like that is super specific to your region.

Josh: But also not just that, the differences regionally, but think about how intricate some of the rules were to some of those games.

Chuck: Oh yeah.

Josh: They were really well thought out, intricate rules that no one ever wrote down.

Chuck: Oh, no, no, you just knew it.

Josh: They were just passed, yeah. You knew it from observation, imitation, orally, somebody told you but no one handed you a flier called "Kick the Can and You."

Chuck: Well, one kid did but he didn't-

Josh: No one like that kid. He learned the hard way not to do that.

Chuck: What was your-how did you decide who was "it"? I'm sure you probably had a go-to.

Josh: Oh. Well, the author of this article mentions "bubble gum, bubble gum in a dish."

Chuck: I had never heard that.

Josh: I have heard that.

Chuck: Okay.

Josh: I love that one. The images it evokes, like, "How many pieces do you wish?" And then you go "One, two, three, four, five," and somebody says how many they want and then you count out between two or three people, like seven, and then whatever you land on, that person is it, right?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Usually we did "dirty, dirty dishrag," though.

Chuck: See, I'd never heard of that one, either.

Josh: "Your mother and my mother were hanging out clothes, my mother socked your mother in the nose."

Chuck: Never heard it.

Josh: What came after that?

Chuck: That's misogynistic and violent. [LAUGHS]

Josh: Something-it really was. Something else happens after, and then it just suddenly goes to "and you are 'it' you dirty, dirty dishrag you."

Chuck: We did-there were three that I remember very strongly. The "one potato, two potato." "Engine, engine number nine, going down Chicago line, if the train should jump the track, do you want your money back?"

Josh: Oh yeah, I forgot that one.

Chuck: "Yes, no, maybe so."

Josh: Sure.

Chuck: And then-

Josh: Maybe so? Who "maybe so" wanted their money back? Of course you want your money back if the train derails.

Chuck: No, that's kid who just wanted to get along.

Josh: I guess so.

Chuck: And then engine-or no, no, "eenie meenie" is the other one. "Eenie meenie miney mo, catch a tiger by the toe. If he hollers let him go."

Josh: Eenie meenie miney mo.

Chuck: Was that it? And then we also-there were variations on usually counting out like I'm making my two hands lock together. We would do like that and then when you landed on them you split them into two, two fists, and then count each one.

Josh: What? Oh, gotcha.

Chuck: So there were lots of variations. And I mean that goes down to the neighborhood you live in; it's that specific.

Josh: Yeah. We would also just leg-wrestle for domination.

Chuck: Really?

Josh: And then that person would choose who is "it."

Chuck: I've never leg wrestled.

Josh: It's not fun.

Chuck: Yeah, I don't even know what it is, really.

Josh: It's exactly what it sounds like.

Chuck: I mean I think I've seen it. You lay on the ground and lock legs.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: There is no other body parts involved?

Josh: Right.

Chuck: Weird.

Josh: And I mean you're just basically on your back up on your elbows, using your legs to-somebody else's legs.

Chuck: To do what, though, what's the objective?

Josh: Basically to make the other person cry or stop, shout to stop.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] But there is not a pinning or like in arm wrestling?

Josh: Yeah, you can pin. And it's not-it's one of those things like the Supreme Court's view of pornography: there is no obvious pin, you just kind of know it when you see it. You know what I mean?

Chuck: Right. [LAUGHS]

Josh: So you can tell like, "Oh yeah, that's a pin." But I mean you wouldn't-again, there is no kid handing out a "Leg Wrestling and You" flyer that shows what counts as a pin, you just kind of know what a pin is.

Chuck: All right, another folk group are families, very rich traditions within families, from everything from family recipes to holiday traditions. And I think-

Josh: Whether or not you use the plastic tinsel on your tree is technically a type of family folklore.

Chuck: Yeah, or whether you open gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. Or whether or not you-

Josh: You hide your Easter baskets.

Chuck: Yeah, or you burn your Christmas tree on Christmas Day. Or your family gets in a huge fight every Christmas Day.

Josh: Sure, that's another one, yeah.

Chuck: Rich traditions.

Josh: Family stories also make up traditions. So like my family story about my Aunt Squeaky shooting at President Ford, that would count as family folklore.

Chuck: That's very good. So within families, it's another very strong place where you see variance in motifs.

Josh: Well, yeah, across all folklore.

Chuck: Yeah, but especially within families, for me-I think within all families, because your grandmother's recipe for, like I make the Thanksgiving dressing, what other people in the North called stuffing, we called dressing, and it's my family recipe.

Josh: That has to do with what you use as the base, though, doesn't it? Like if it's corn-based it would be-

Chuck: Dressing.

Josh: Dressing, yeah. And if it's bread-based or wheat-based it would be stuffing?

Chuck: I don't know.

Josh: Who knows? But go ahead, sorry for interrupting.

Chuck: No, that's all right. Mine is both, though. Cornbread dressing also has either biscuits or bread in it, as well.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: But that was my family recipe; my grandmother made it, my mom made it, she taught me, and I put my own spin on it and that's my own motif.

Josh: That's your own variation on the motif.

Chuck: Variation on the motif, exactly.

Josh: So the motif would be the dressing or stuffing, and then what you do with the recipe would be the variation of it.

Chuck: Yeah, and I mix it up from year to year, even, just kind of testing things out.

Josh: Man, you are a folk rebel.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] I sure am, with a cause, though.

Josh: But yeah, so family recipes are a very-that's a common family folklore, family-generated folklore. We get a lot our indoctrination to just folklore in general through families. And it was so important in some cultures, including some Native American tribes, and some West African tribes, that they would have a designated, basically a folklorist, what a modern folklore researcher would call a tradition bearer, who their job in this village or group is to tell each family their family folklore. It was that person's job to keep in charge of all of the folklore of the different families in the community.

Chuck: Yeah, I bet that was a pretty cool gig.

Josh: Sure.

Chuck: I imagine they were like the great storytellers of their-

Josh: I'll bet they could tell a story.

Chuck: Oh yeah, of their tribe. The great raconteurs.

Josh: Oh yeah, that's another word.

Chuck: Yeah? Do you like that one?

Josh: Yeah, I don't know how I feel about that word.

Chuck: [LAUGHS]

Josh: No, really, like I think about it once in a while and almost every time I encounter it I don't know how I feel about that word.

Chuck: Interesting. I like it.

Josh: Did you know, also, Chuck, while we're on this, I heard one of the most amazing stories I've ever heard about paint on-it must have been on NPR or something, but they were tracking the color of paint, the specific color of paint used in Southern porches for ceilings. There is a specific blue.

Chuck: Really?

Josh: Yeah. And that would count as folklore, just that color paint. That would be the next type: community folklore.

Chuck: That's right.

Josh: But the reason I bring that up is because raconteur just makes me think of somebody sitting in a rocking chair on a porch, recounting stories.

Chuck: Yeah, for sure. So that is great example, you're right, of a community folklore. A festival that your town-the Strawberry Festival in your town is folklore. The Jazz Fest in New Orleans. Any sort of local custom that takes place within your community can all be considered folklore, like "that's how we do it around here," that's folklore.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: As long as it's not damaging.

Josh: I wonder, though, all of this stuff is supposedly, at the very least innocuous, if not positive.

Chuck: Yeah, that's my point.

Josh: But I mean, surely there is negative folklore that still counts as folklore.

Chuck: I don't know.

Josh: You know like-

Chuck: Like racism, you know?

Josh: Maybe, it depends on the group.

Chuck: Like, "That's just how we do it around here."

Josh: Right.

Chuck: That's not folklore, I don't think.

Josh: But what about something where stories or mythology or origin stories that support human sacrifice among groups in the past that did that.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: I mean that would technically be folklore, whatever stories they used to reinforce that, whatever traditions and rituals they had around it. That would be folklore. I don't know if you would call that positive. I know I wouldn't.

Chuck: I wouldn't, either. I'd like to hear from a-I'm sure we'll get some folklorists who are just giddy right now, by the way, that we're covering this.

Josh: Or they're shouting at their stereos.

Chuck: No, I bet they seem like kindly folk that would just be excited that we're even hitting on the topic, shining a light their way.

Josh: They're like, "You got everything wrong, but in a way that's right because you just generated entirely new folklore."

Chuck: Yeah, that's a good point.

Josh: So Chuckers, we talked about children, families, communities-there is all sorts of different folk groups, those are the big ones. In just a second we're going to talk about all of the different folk genres, right after this.


Josh: Chuck?

Chuck: Yo.

Josh: 90%, 90% of your life, you're in your underwear. Think about that.

Chuck: Yeah, that's true. And you know what, that's why your underwear wears out and that waistband gets stretchy, and it gets-you know, like it's not like new, fresh underwear, you know what I'm saying?

Josh: No, exactly. That's why everybody needs to know about MeUndies.com, because MeUndies is the most comfortable underwear you will ever wear. It is amazing how good it makes you feel. They fit perfectly, they don't ride up, they literally pull moisture away from your skin so you stay cool. They're pretty great underwear.

Chuck: Yeah, and I am honestly, literally wearing MeUndies underwear and a MeUndies t-shirt right now.

Josh: I know, I dressed you this morning.

Chuck: Yeah, and it's super comfy, I've got to say. And man, I got some of those pajama pants, and they're just sort of silky and soft and they bring comfy pants to a whole new level.

Josh: Very nice, Chuck. And to make it even better, they have cool styles for both men and women, and all of them look great. You can check the photos out yourself at MeUndies.com.

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Chuck: Not only that, they're going to guarantee you're going to be happy with them or your first pair is free. Once you feel MeUndies on your body, you're never going to go back.

Josh: So to get that 20% off, go to MeUndies.com/Stuff.


Josh: So, Chuck, we're back. I forgot what we're talking about. Folklore?

Chuck: Yeah, we were talking about genres of folklore, like disco and nu metal and Norwegian death metal, and other kinds of metal music.

Josh: Well, no, they would have their own folklore, for sure, those groups that are into that.

Chuck: Sure, yeah. But I mean music is-you know, that's a category actually.

Josh: That was one of the things that stuck out to me as very specific, at least according to this University of Louisiana article, they were like, "Folklore can be this, it can be family recipes, it can be the boat that your family passed down, or it can be the Viking funeral that your community gives every year," but when it comes to folk music it's like these five types of music. You know?

Chuck: Yeah, sure. Surely, yeah, I mean that's a little-because if you're like, "Pull my finger and I'll fart," that's family folklore in the Bryant family.

Josh: Well, I mean, I can guarantee you folklorists would not judge that.

Chuck: Oh speaking of which, did you see that thing about the oldest recorded joke I sent?

Josh: Oh, yeah.

Chuck: So jokes are an obvious example of folklore, and jokes fascinate me because ever since I was a kid I wondered who made up this joke, like common jokes. Like, someone was the first person to tell this joke, and it becomes so widespread it's just amazing to me how they get passed around. And apparently in 2008, this is from Reuters. Is it "rooters" or Reuters?

Josh: Reuters.

Chuck: That's what I thought. The world's oldest joke was traced back to Samaria in 1900 B.C., and it is this: "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial,"-basically since time began-"a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap."

Josh: Ba-dum ching.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] So that's the oldest joke supposedly. I'll go ahead and read the other two. [LAUGHTER]

Josh: That doesn't count as a joke.

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: That's a passingly wry observation.

Chuck: Which is a joke.

Josh: I guess. It seems like a folklorist definition of joke.

Chuck: All right, how about this? 1600 B.C. about a pharaoh, here is the joke: "How do you entertain a bored pharaoh?"

Josh: How?

Chuck: "You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down to the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish." [LAUGHTER]

Josh: Ba-dum ching.

Chuck: Supposedly that was a joke. And then the English one-

Josh: Now they're starting to get funny.

Chuck: Yeah, they're getting better. The British joke, they found one that dates back to 10th century-and this is a bit of a riddle: "What hangs at a man"-a bit of a bawdy riddle.

Josh: Bawdy indeed.

Chuck: "What hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole that it's often poked before?"

Josh: Ew, I don't know.

Chuck: "A key."

Josh: Oh.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] Yeah. So those are the oldest jokes.

Josh: Well, at least by the 10th century they were starting to take the shape of a modern joke, right?

Chuck: Yeah. I sent that on Facebook to our buddy Brian Kiley of Conan, the writer for Conan because he's-

Josh: Did he like, "This is it. This is what I've been looking for all this time."

Chuck: Well, he is one of the best crafters of just solid jokes that I know, so I was like, "Brian, you'll appreciate this." And he said, "Listen up in tonight's monologue." [LAUGHS] And I think he was kidding, but if that's actually used-

Josh: Oh, that would be awesome.

Chuck: -that would be super awesome.

Josh: Yeah. Let's see, so we're talking about folk genres, jokes specifically constitute what's called the oral genre, which is jokes, poems, fairy tales are a huge one, myths, legends-basically anything that used to be told orally that these days is probably put down on paper.

Chuck: Or typed.

Josh: But isn't necessarily, because I think a game, instructions for a game, passing that along would constitute oral folklore.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: But the game itself would constitute material folklore, I think. Maybe? This is where the whole thing gets fuzzy. The edges between these things are very fuzzy and porous. There's a lot of osmosis going on between these genres.

Chuck: Yeah, it's a fluid thing. There is nothing wrong with that. Materials, which you just mentioned, they list as artifacts and food ways.

Josh: Like food recipes?

Chuck: Yeah, recipes, or costumes, cultural costumes. They said carved decoys, even, folded paper airplanes-I guess that little game of paper football. All of those are material, like how you specifically fold that paper football was taught to you by some kid in your elementary school and it may be different than another kid in another school, you know?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Then, well, you mentioned music, right?

Josh: Yeah, oh, yeah, at some point we did.

Chuck: Sure. And that can be anything, but one that comes to mind for me especially are lullabies. They just remind me, to me, of folk tradition. Depending on your family, you're going to sing whatever lullabies you sing to your baby.

Josh: Right, or little kids singing like "Ring Around the Rosy."

Chuck: Yeah, exactly.

Josh: Which apparently was about some epidemic in London, I think.

Chuck: Oh really?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Ringworm around the rosy?

Josh: Yeah. The rosy has to do with what your face looked like when you caught this fever or flu or something like that.

Chuck: Well, doesn't it end, "You all fall down"?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Is that dying?

Josh: Yes.

Chuck: Wow. I'll have to look into that. Dance is a big one. Any kind of rhythmic movement is generally taught within a folk group.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Can you dance?

Josh: No.

Chuck: Boy, you and I.

Josh: No, those would be personal habits, bad dancing, I think.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] Yeah. I mean, I knew before I even answered that, because I know me and how I dance, and I'm picturing you, and it's equally as bad.

Josh: I stand still. I know I've reached the point in my life where I'm like, "I don't dance."

Chuck: Well, no, I don't even try.

Josh: Right.

Chuck: I mean, you get me sauced at a wedding and something might happen.

Josh: What do you do?

Chuck: Something magical might happen.

Josh: The Electric Slide or something? Or do you just get on the floor and go, "I'm going to live forever"?

Chuck: I did have one of those. My friend Jerry in Portland-or no, my friends Scott and Emily in Portland, at their wedding, they had a jazz band and we were all just having a good time and sort of dancing, and I remember very specifically, and I was much younger, but there was a jazz drum breakdown and-

Josh: Oh no.

Chuck: Dude, I don't know what came over me, the spirit came over me, and the circle cleared and I was in the middle and I just did this weird, scat, drum dance solo to this guy's thing.

Josh: Wow.

Chuck: And it went over great. Everyone, it was one of those like, "Oh my God, look at Chuck go." [LAUGHTER]

Josh: Nice.

Chuck: And I'm not saying it was good, but-

Josh: Did your tuxedo dickey roll up at the end?

Chuck: Yeah. [LAUGHS]

Josh: Popped you in the nose.

Chuck: It was pretty great, though. It stands out in my memory as one of the best parts of the wedding, for some reason.

Josh: I can imagine why.

Chuck: I don't know if everyone else remembers it that way.

Josh: It sounds pretty great, Chuck.

Chuck: It was pretty great.

Josh: I wish it were on video.

Chuck: Emily likes my dancing. I do a lot of TV theme song dancing to make her laugh.

Josh: Nice.

Chuck: But it's all in-house, you know? It's our little secret.

Josh: Well, not anymore.

Chuck: That I've now just shared with the world.

Josh: I'll post videos later.

Chuck: What else do we have? We have belief, that's a big one.

Josh: Yeah, that's another genre, which is kind of confounding until you get to a good example. Because belief is anything from mythology, to religion, to weird customs, to all of this other stuff that you would think, "Well, no, wait a minute, that would be oral, or that would be material, right?"

Chuck: Right.

Josh: No, belief is when folklore affects behavior.

Chuck: Like it's good luck to do this before a wedding.

Josh: Exactly. Or I'm not leaving the house because it's Friday the 13th, or I'm not going to-I've got to wear black because I'm in mourning or something like that, where you have a belief, it's a folk belief that is affecting your behavior, that's belief folklore.

Chuck: Yeah. Another good example they use is the Jewish tradition when you give bread, sugar, and salt to your new neighbor as a housewarming gift.

Josh: I thought they gave another great example in this article, too, which was you get into a-you get rear-ended by somebody in your car, and rather than getting out and screaming at them, you remember the Golden Rule, which is a folklore, and you calm yourself and say, "It's cool, it happens to the best of us." That's belief folklore in action, it says.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: In action.

Chuck: And then you call your wife and do the complaining to her.

Josh: Right. "Can you believe this? This idiot."

Chuck: Yeah. I was nice to him but, you know-

Josh: He didn't deserve it.

Chuck: What else?

Josh: It was the Golden Rule in action.

Chuck: Body communication is one I'd never really thought about, but gestures and expressions are very much cultural-specific if you think about here in America we might flip the bird at somebody, and in England they do the little-

Josh: They do two fingers.

Chuck: Yeah, the two fingers up like that, or the old, I don't even know what that's called with the arm and inner elbow.

Josh: The crook of your arm. You know what I think that is based on, that and the thumb on your tooth?

Chuck: It seems Italian.

Josh: Yeah, I think it's an evil eye kind of-like a hex or a curse, I think that's what those are born from.

Chuck: Oh, okay.

Josh: Now it's just hilarious.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: If somebody does that-

Chuck: That's old-school.

Josh: -talk about defusing the tension.

Chuck: [LAUGHS] Yeah.

Josh: You know? If you're about to fight somebody and they put their thumb on their front tooth at you, that's-you're just going to go over and pat him on the shoulder and say, "Thanks for that."

Chuck: I like that, I'm going to start using that. Although I'd have to have my fake front tooth, I would want to mess with that.

Josh: Well, what about this one? The thumb on the nose and your finger is up and twiddling.

Chuck: Yeah, that's an old one.

Josh: That reminds me, I asked you guys if you saw the break-dancing six-year-old, right?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Oh my gosh. One of the things this girl does at a break off, she is in a competition with this maybe 12-year-old boy, he is pretty good. This girl levels him.

Chuck: Yeah?

Josh: And one of the things she does is slide toward him on her knees doing that with her thumb on her nose, like wagging her fingers at him, and you're like, "Oh yeah, this girl is six years old." But it's awesome. You have to check her out.

Chuck: I love that everyone out there is like, "Josh is mentioning this girl every other podcast at this point." [LAUGHS]

Josh: And I'm going to continue to until everybody writes in and say, "Yes, I've seen it now."

Chuck: The other insult is the old, this one right here.

Josh: Oh yeah.

Chuck: I saw that a lot in the '70s. I guess you can-

Josh: We should probably describe it. It's where's you-

Chuck: Yeah, I was trying to think of a-

Josh: -take your fingers-

Chuck: Under your chin.

Josh: Yeah, and flick them all together outward.

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: Eh.

Chuck: Yeah, like, "Buzz off, buddy."

Josh: You know who does that is Maggie Simpson, she does that.

Chuck: Oh, really?

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: She's a classy girl.

Josh: So Chuck, we could probably just keep doing this for the next four or five hours-

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: -because folklore is everything, and we both have our own folklore, but I think we kind of covered it.

Chuck: I think so too.

Josh: You got anything else for now?

Chuck: No, I mean, I really don't. Like you said, it's so all-encompassing and broad, I think we just-I think it was a pretty good overview.

Josh: Yeah. But what's neat is, I mean like if you're even remotely interested in this, there is a whole world out there. All the stuff you take for granted, if you just go start looking into folklore research, totally open your eyes. And what's neat is you'll see your own stuff reinforced, you'll see a reflection of yourself, but you'll also see other cultures as well, and how they do bear similarities to your own beliefs, and it's a lot harder to feel inclusive and exclusive from groups that you realize that you share some really fundamental stuff in common with, no matter how distant they are.

Chuck: Yeah, and that's a point I saw a lot in the research. I think it's pretty neat, it's a common, it's a binding agent for humanity.

Josh: Yeah.

Chuck: Pretty neat.

Josh: Go humanity.

Chuck: [LAUGHS]

Josh: All right, well, if you want to learn more about folklore, you can type that word into the search bar at HowStuffWorks.com. And since I said that, hey, there is a little bit of Stuff You Should Know folklore.

Chuck: What your little sign-off?

Josh: The whole search bar thing.

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: Yeah. It's time for listener mail.


Chuck: I'm going to call this creepy email, sort of, when you think about it. How is that for a title?

Josh: I can't wait.

Chuck: That's a tradition, is awkwardly named listener mails by me.

Josh: Okay. I wouldn't say awkward, you do pretty great with them.

Chuck: Mm.

Josh: Okay.

Chuck: I appreciate it. "Hey, guys and Jeri, I have just listened to your podcast on the singularity, a.k.a. 'The Rise of the Machines,' and it occurred to me that the entire podcast explored the question of how and when the singularity will happen. But since we do not know exactly what would cause it or what the results would be, isn't it entirely possible that it has already happened? It is quite conceivable that singularity happened some time ago, and that the machines decided, knowing that humans currently believe singularity not to have happened, that the best course of action was to keep their sentience hidden until some appropriate future time. It is fun to imagine." He says "fun," I say chilling to the bone. "To imagine the machines simply lying in wait as humans, unaware, adopt technology into every conceivable facet of modern life, then one day we will wake up and our computer screens will simply say, 'Hello, world.'"

Josh: Oh man.

Chuck: That is from J.M.

Josh: Oh, J.M. He doesn't want to be targeting by the machines.

Chuck: No.

Josh: They know you typed that, pal.

Chuck: Sure.

Josh: Yeah, that is a little creepy, don't you think?

Chuck: I never thought about it, it could very well be true.

Josh: And if computers are sentient and they're smart enough to be quiet for now, then we are in big, big trouble because it already displays a lot of deceptiveness.

Chuck: I think "Quietly Sentient," that was a Pink Floyd song.

Josh: Was it?

Chuck: I think.

Josh: Learning to be quietly sentient?

Chuck: Yeah.

Josh: If you want to give us some great Pink Floyd titles, we love those. I think you could probably start a meme with that.

Chuck: Oh yeah.

Josh: You can send them to us via Twitter, using our Twitter handle @SYSKPodcast, you can join us on Facebook.com/StuffYouShouldKnow, you can send us an email to StuffPodcast@HowStuffWorks.com, and as always, join us at our home on the web, StuffYouShouldKnow.com.


Vo: For more on this and thousands of other topics, visit HowStuffWorks.com.


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