Word of the day for Tuesday, January 9th

I don’t know where you are, but where I am we had a lovely

sunshower today, after quite a bit of normal dark and stormy-type rain. It was quite nice. “But I know the word ‘sunshower’,” you might be saying. “Everyone knows that a sunshower is a rain shower that occurs while the sun is shining.” Well, smarty, you might know, but apparently not everyone does.

In some parts of the United States, a sunshower is known as a pineapple shower… and even more frequently, it is known as “the devil is beating his wife” or “the wolf is giving birth.”  Apparently the devil is beating is his wife because he’s mad that God made such a beautiful day and he has to take it out on someone. I don’t know why the wolf is giving birth.

Turns out, most of the world has pretty interesting names and meanings for the phenomenon of rain falling while the sun is shining. To wit:

  • it’s the wolf’s wedding in Algeria, France and Morocco
  • it’s the fox’s wedding in Bangladesh, Galicia, Japan, Nepal, Sri Lanka and parts of India
  • it’s the jackal’s wedding in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan
  • it’s the monkey’s wedding in parts of South Africa, Trinidad and Tobago, Zimbabwe, parts of India and the Sudan
  • species are intermarrying in other parts of South Africa (jackal and wolf), Korea (tiger and fox), Sudan (monkey and donkey), parts of India (crow and fox)
  • gypsies are getting married in Croatia, Macedonia and Albania
  • witches are either getting married (Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic), combing their hair (Catalonia) or making butter (Poland)
  • ghosts are either getting married (parts of India) or just making the rain (Hawaii)
  • a zombie is trying to get his wife to give him some salty food in Haiti
  • Hell is having a carnival according to the people in Netherlands and Belgium
  • It’s a glitter waterfall in Canada
  • It’s a vitterväder in Sweden (if anyone who knows Swedish can explain what “vitterväder” means, I will update this post. I have to say I am intrigued, as Wikipedia sends me to a post about Vittra/Vittror, which are apparently trolls with cows? Please tell me more)

Wow. I grew up in a boring place. We just knew it as a sunshower. I guess that’s what I get for growing up in Sunnyvale.

Etiquette & superstition: grass

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I can dig it, he can dig it, she can dig it, we can dig it, they can dig it, you can dig it; oh, let’s dig it. Can you dig it, baby?

ETIQUETTE: Once upon a time, marijuana was popularly known as grass. And once upon a time, PJ O’Rourke was actually kind of an amusing writer, rather than that token libertarian crank on NPR that we know today, the one that can’t figure out how websites work. During that time, PJ O’Rourke wrote an etiquette book that included proper behavior in regards to drug taking. According to PJ, the proper venues for smoking grass are rock concerts, horror movie screenings and one’s bedroom, alone, whilst being a teenager. Mallomars are the recommended pairing choice. There isn’t a whole lot more on grass in PJ O’Rourke’s etiquette book; he clearly felt more comfortable discussing cocaine. Oh well. Perhaps we’ll revisit this topic again using a more reliable reference source. Stoners love to talk and talk and talk about that sort of thing.

SUPERSTITION: If you take a piece of turf and lay it across your forehead on St. John’s Eve (June 23 – plan ahead!), you will be able to see witches and they will not be able to see you. Lemongrass is a good dragon and serpent repellant, and will also help you to have honesty in your relationships.

Photo by Brian Clark via Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: May Day

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Did you know that the distress call “mayday” comes from the French phrase “venez m’aider,” or “come to my aid”? I didn’t know that until today. My high school French teacher Madame Goff always told us we were supposed to say, “Au secours!” if we needed help in an emergency. That’s about all I remember her teaching us besides, “Taissez-vous!” I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t pay a lot of attention to Madame Goff.

ETIQUETTE: The first of May is known in Gaelic and Pagan cultures as the Cross-Quarter Day of Beltane; it’s a celebration of the greening of the earth. In honor of the greening of the earth, you should light a big bonfire. If you’re in an area where a big bonfire will only create a blackening of the earth rather than a greening of the earth, maybe you should forget about Beltane and think about the first of May as May Day instead.

One of the most enduring traditions of May Day is the practice of dancing around the maypole. Folklorists argue about whether the maypole is a phallic potency symbol or merely a symbol of more general life and growth, but we’re not going to discuss that now. Let’s just get into the proper behavior around that symbol.

The dancers should arrange themselves boy-girl-boy-girl in a circle around the maypole, with each dancer holding a ribbon that is attached on the other end to the top of the maypole. One gender positions itself to revolve around the maypole clockwise, and the other gender faces counter-clockwise. For my purposes here, I’m going to say the boys are clockwise and the girls are counter-clockwise, but I cannot find any information indicating that it matters either way. The boys and girls then circle around, weaving in and out of each other in a regular pattern. In-out-in-out-in-out. There is going to have to be a bit of cooperation to get this rhythm, as you don’t want the dancers both going out at the same time and bonking each other in the head or getting all tangled up. Maybe it’s a good idea to agree that the boys start on the outside and the girls start on the inside. Again, if you want to start the girls on the outside and the boys on the inside, I can find no evidence that this is improper. You just have to choose one way or another to get this damned thing done in a halfway decent manner.

If all this weaving business is just too complicated for the dancers at hand, just announce that it is time for traditional Swedish maypole dancing; at that point, all the dancers need to do is pretend they’re frogs or that they’re doing the laundry.

SUPERSTITION: It’s May Day at the dairy farm, people. What are you doing dancing around that maypole like a bunch of damned fools? We have work to do.

Harris, did you singe the cattle with the straw last night to keep away the evil spirits? Good job, Harris.

Eburscon, go out to the singed cattle and kill any rabbits that you might see. As we all know, those rabbits are really witches trying to get at the milk. Put some pieces of rowan on the door of the barn as well. Those darn witches.

Lavinia, let’s hurry it up with getting those cow’s tail hairs into the boiling herbs you gathered this morning. All this rabbit-killing is for naught if we don’t have good butter at the end. Remember Betty Botter and all her problems, Lavinia. And you know what? Get some of that rowan and put it around the handle of the butter churn to keep the witches from stealing all our good butter once you’re done.

What’s that, Myfanwy? You have some hawthorn blossoms for us? Well, aren’t you a dear? I know I’m not supposed to give away milk on May Day, but you deserve a bit of cream for that hawthorn there.

Okay, everybody’s done? Well then, I guess you can go dance around that old maypole then. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.

Original photographer unknown; image uploaded to Flickr by Paul Townsend

Beware of witches carrying squirtguns

I may be remembering this wrong, but I seem to recall one Halloween long ago when my brother’s best friend got ambushed by some older kids who sprayed him with a squirtgun that had been filled with Nair. This can’t be right, can it? I mean, that’s way beyond “trick” territory. Wouldn’t the police have been called in on something like that? I wonder what really happened.

Published in: on October 29, 2011 at 11:33 am  Comments (1)  
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Etiquette & superstition: rabbits

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Not having a traditional churchgoing background, I’m confused as to why the day that commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion is called Good Friday. As I understand it, if you’re a Christian you’re supposed to spend Good Friday fasting and feeling terrible about the insults and suffering Jesus was subject to on his way to the Cross. He was killed on Friday, and he didn’t come back from the dead until Easter. Easter is the day for rejoicing if you’re Christian, right? Unless, of course, you’re afraid of zombies. Is it anti-Christian to be afraid of zombies? Maybe I should not try to understand religion at this stage of my life. Let’s talk about bunnies instead.

ETIQUETTE: According to Routledge’s Manual of Etiquette, the main difference between serving rabbit and serving hare at the dinner table is that when you’re carving the rabbit, you can serve the head whole to the honored guest instead of chopping it in two. With a hare, “Half the head is given to any one who requires it, the crisp ears being first cut off, a delicacy some prefer.” Well, then. If you wish to steer clear of this delicacy, take the safe road and just don’t order lapin. You never know when somebody is going to consider you their honored guest.

SUPERSTITION: Rabbits should not be eaten, because they are often witches in disguise. Even real rabbits shouldn’t be eaten, however, because rabbits are possessed with the souls of dead grandparents.

Photo by Jasmic on Flickr

Etiquette & superstition: eating eggs

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I’ve been interested in prescribed methods of behavior for as long as I can remember. On my first day of preschool I was really disappointed with my teacher for not telling me that I was expected to wait in line before going out to the playground; I didn’t know that’s what I was supposed to do, so I didn’t do it and then she scolded me for it. It didn’t seem fair that she did that, and I was really embarrassed. Give me the rules first; I’ll decide whether I’m going to break them or not.

In order to get a better handle on the rules, I read a lot of books about etiquette and also a lot of books about superstitions. It seems a little funny to me that etiquette is given more credence in modern society than superstition, because the latter has always seemed more practical to me. It’s true that modern etiquette is simply a code of polite behavior to make others feel more at ease, but it started out merely as the upper class equivalent of a gang sign. “Yo, Homeschool’s not eating his Hochepot Normande with a knife and fork and spoon. Let’s beat this sucker DOWN.”

Etiquette tells you what you’re supposed to do in a particular situation, but superstition actually explains why you’re supposed to do it. Cover your mouth when you yawn, or else a little devil will come and snatch your soul out of your mouth. Don’t let a cat near a sleeping baby for the same reason. This is helpful information that people probably couldn’t figure out on their own. This goes far beyond common sense. I often choose to ignore the arbitrary rules of etiquette, but I think twice before laughing in the face of superstition.

In honor of the recent holiday, I present to you two rules of behavior regarding the eating of eggs:

ETIQUETTE: If you are eating a soft boiled egg in a cup (or in pants, as pictured above), the cup (or pants) must remain flat on the plate. Eat the egg with a teaspoon, and steady the cup (or pants) with your left hand.

SUPERSTITION: If you are eating a soft boiled egg, be sure to crush both halves of the shell after you have finished eating. Otherwise, a witch may use one of the halves as a boat and crash into ships at sea. Since it’s a witch, the ships will sink but the witch can keep sailing around in her egg boat looking for more ships to sink.

Published in: on March 24, 2008 at 8:30 pm  Comments (2)  
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