THE INTERNATIONAL SOCIETY FOR CONTEMPORARY LEGEND RESEARCH
No. 46 May 2000
IN THIS ISSUE
This issue of FoafTale News is somewhat shorter than usual. I am hoping someone will step forward to take over responsibilities for the newsletter. Until then, it will continue to be short and erratically produced.
continue sending news, queries, research notes, clippings, calls for papers, or
notes about local rumour and legend cycles to me for inclusion in FTN. The postal address is FoafTale
News, Department of Folklore, Memorial University of Newfoundland,
Thanks to Brian Chapman who has sent many hundreds of newspaper and Internet clippings to FoafTale News, only the tiniest proportion of which I have found time to insert in the newsletter.
Contributors, take note: style & form
In an effort to speed up future issues of FoafTale News, I pass along to readers some guidelines for contributions. Contributions to FoafTale News should be in a format that will easily be slotted into the newsletter. Queries, acknowledgements, observations, "sightings" and bibliographic references are all welcome. They should be written as textual notes in a form that will need little editing for publication. Contributions should include the writer's name and address; an email address can be included if one is available.
The editor reserves the right to cut or change for brevity, clarity and the newsletter's style, but published text will remain as close as possible to the author's text.
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* * *
Department of Folklore
was helping Merrick negotiate the modest goal of the first step, a half foot
from the ground, when I met Roxanne, an eight-year-old girl playing in the park
with a friend of the same age. I say
“met,” but anyone familiar with children's paralinguistic codes will recognize
that children have their own age-specific modes of introduction. Roxanne's first act was to grab
Roxanne was secure on the ladder, she asked if
some more discussion of family, friends, and why I moved to
This note has two purposes. First, I would like to place an appeal for other researchers in this area to contact me regarding specific narratives of this type. Second, I would like to sketch some thoughts about the nature of children's contemporary legends.
What initially struck me about Roxanne's brief narrative was the way it mimicked many of the key aspects of adolescent and adult contemporary transmission: the way the tale is embedded in appropriate linguistic and extra-textual context; its reference to distant but not dissimilar socio-cultural events, persons and places; and finally its function as a heuristic and cautionary parable.
While one can identify Roxanne’s narrative as a contemporary legend, moving beyond motif-spotting is difficult in children's culture.
Transmission of material, poorly understood even in adult situations, has been complicated by the unfounded assumption that children are either smaller and simpler adults or they represent a classic redfieldian folk society (for example, Opie 1967: 3-7). Individual adults have rather more complex roles in society than children, and contemporary adults’ culture is shaped by their network of social relations. Add to this the constant flow of media (both form and content) and we have a massive movement of cultural texts whose transmission is likely more predictable than earlier folklorists thought (for example, Dégh and Vázsonyi 1975).
Understanding children’s culture requires moving beyond a paradigm in which adults are normative and kid-culture is measured as more or less complex, more or less adult. Children's culture is both more and less complicated than adult’s culture. It is perhaps more fruitful to see preschoolers’ participation with individuals and cultural texts as mostly mediated by their parents. This situation is going through a massive upheaval thanks to television programmes aimed at the very young (for example, Barney and Teletubbies) and the inclusion of very young children (six months) into daycare; indeed Sylvia Grider has noted that daycare and early childhood developments have changed the culture of children by lowering the age at which children take part in cultural milieux separate from the family (Grider 124-5). Nonetheless, the general situation is that children do not form complex social relations and exchange context-specific cultural texts which act to re/produce social bonds until they move from the family into other institutions like school or, historically, work.
While collecting the unique products of children's culture folklorists’ past efforts were spared many of the troubling questions of transmission, culture, social relations, etc. By concentrating on skipping rhymes, games, jokes and confining these investigations to an institution like the school, early folklorists like the Opies (1967) were able to limit the complexities that crowd around the door when issues of contemporary legends arise. By introducing these preliminary thoughts on the subject, I hope to begin broader dialogue, collection and investigation into the use, function and troubling implications of contemporary legends in children's culture.
Now if you will excuse me, I'm off to the playground for some sliding, some hide-and-seek and some fieldwork.
Linda and Andrew Vázsonyi. 1975. "The Hypothesis of Multi-Conduit Transmission
in Folklore." Folklore: Performance and Communication. Ed. Dan Ben-Amos and Kenneth S. Goldstein.
Grider, Sylvia. 1997.
"Children's Folklore." Folklore: An Encyclopedia of Beliefs,
Customs, Tales, Music, and Art,
Iona Archibald and Peter Opie. 1967. The Lore and Language of Schoolchildren.
* * *
Department of Folklore
Several issues back, FoafTale News carried a series of stories about raptors snatching pets and children. In early 2000, the Guardian Weekly newspaper carried a news story suggesting that such legends reflect an earlier, more aggressive strain of raptors.
“Nature Watch: Legend of the child‑snatching eagle may have an eyrie ring
of truth,” (GW: 20 January 2000, p. 24), Mark Cocker notes legends of
child-snatching by the white-tailed sea eagle are told throughout the bird’s
range in northwestern
quoting Derek Goodwin (“one of
Racked up some 60 kms of x/c
skiing over the last two days. Our trip today took us into
Kevin Butler also passed along to me directly a story he heard in 1999,
about a lady (somewhere here in Newfoundland) who was feeding a Great Horned Owl on a daily basis but when she skipped a single day's feeding, the bird made off with her pet cat! Not even a thank you!
poster to the Snopes Urban Legends mailing list
(urban‑email@example.com -- see www.snopes.com) reported
was a very popular Chinese restaurant in downtown
of FoafTale News will remember
discussion of the legend of a police force using a photocopier (and sometimes a
colander)to extract a confession from a suspected
criminal. Despite being usually reported
as having happened in
The excerpt reads:
Lykken, emeritus professor of psychology at the
More important, polygraphs are an immensely effective interrogation tool; they need not detect lies. Lykken tells an anecdote of two cops nterrogating a suspect at a time when copy machines were not familiar objects. Lacking a lie detector, the cops put a piece of paper in the copier that said "He's lying!" They made the suspect place his hand on the strange machine while they asked him questions. When they didn't like his answers, they'd hit a button on the machine. It would groan, whir, stink and shoot out a piece of paper that read "He's lying!"
Realizing that denial was useless, he confessed.
[PH: Lydken’s book was reissued in its second edition in 1998: ISBN: 0306457822. It’s not clear from the Salon article whether the photocopier story is in the first or second edition, or indeed if Lydken told it orally to Susan McCarthy.]
Here are some
excerpts from a 1949 compendium of jokes, the Encyclopedia of Wit, Humor,
and Wisdom (Leewin B. Williams, compiler and
An electric specialty company had had a peculiar damage suit filed against it. The plaintiff's petition contains these words:
alleges that this defen
Regarding this item, this post from the Urban Legends list may be of interest:
From: "Gabriel D. Wollenburg" <GabeW@weber.com>
Subject: [UL] Looking for Urban Legends Regarding Illegal Patents.
So anyways, I was talking to my sister, and she said that she knows this guy who told her this story, which goes like this:
There was a
young girl, who, back in the days when people used wood burning stoves to cook
dinner, foolishly sat down on the stove plate (or whatever it was called) when the
stove was hot. Needless to say she was severely burned. The young girl's
parents sought legal advice, wondering if they should sue the stove's
manufacturer for not protecting her from being burned. After inspecting the
girl's wound, the lawyer told the parents that they could sue the stove's
manufacturer, but he would advise against it. "What do you mean, advise
against it?" the girl's mother demanded, to which the lawyer did not
immediately reply, but instead lifted the young girl's dress, revealing the
scar, which had taken the shape of the stove plate that she sat on. The scar
read: "Patent 1858." "Because you have illegally patented your
daughter," said the lawyer, "You have two options,
you can forget about the accident and go on with your life." The lawyer
lowered his voice, "or you can opt to have the patent legitimized, in
which case your daughter becomes own‑able property, and loses her
individual rights as a human being." My
sister says that it's a true story, because it was told to her by the same guy
who knew about "
In the traffic court of a large Middle Western city a young woman was brought before the judge to answer a ticket given her for driving through a red light. She explained to His Honor that she was a schoolteacher, and requested an immediate disposal of her case in order that she might hasten away to her classes.
A wild gleam came into the judge's eye. "You're a schoolteacher, eh?" said her. "Madam, I shall realize my lifelong ambition. I've waited years to have a schoolteacher in this court. Sit down at that table and write 'I went through a red light' five hundred times!" [#3902, P. 535]
Compare the following:
In court because of a ticket for driving through red light, I told the judge that I was a schoolteacher and my case needed to be heard immediately so I could get back to classes.
A wild gleam came into the judge's eye. "Madam, I've waited years to have a teacher in this court," he said. "Now sit down at that table and write 'I went through a red light' 500 times." [Contributed by Audrey A. Seurer to Reader's Digest (Canadian edition), March 1999, p. 120.]
A man who was tormented by bedbugs in a sleeping car wrote an indignant letter about the matter to the general passenger agent of the railroad.
He was cautioned by his friends that he would probably not receive so much as a reply, and his satisfaction was great when, in due course, he received an apologetic letter assuring him that such a thing would never happen again. His elation was quashed a moment later, however, by the discovery of the inter‑office memo which had inadvertently been inserted with the letter and which said tersely, "Send this lobster the bug letter." [pp. 93‑4, #649]
A customer of a
In early Colonial times, it is said, a "dark day" occurred. For some unexplainable reason the sun at seemed to have been blotted out. The people were greatly alarmed, some were crying, some praying, thinking that the world had come to and end.
At this time the legislature of one of the colonies was in session. It became very dark and the assembly was in much confusion. Some wanted to adjourn. One member got the ears of the other and said, "I make a motion that we secure some candles and proceed with the business, if the end of the world is about to come I want to be found doing my duty." [p. 149, # 1028]
excerpt from Sky and Telescope is taken from William R. Corliss, Handbook of Unusual Natural Phenomena (New
York: Arlington House, 1986), p. 186. The anomalous
dark day, experienced by much of
Years ago a
"No killee dawg," answered Chang, "him al'eady dead when I picked him up." [p. 151, #1044]
A necklace a woman was wearing at a party was much admired. She took it off to show it better and it was passed from hand to hand. Later it was not forthcoming.
"The joke has gone far enough," said the host. "I'll put this silver dish on the table, turn out the electric light, count one hundred, and expect to find the necklace on the dish when I turn on the light again."
When he turned up the light the dish also had vanished! [p. 253, #1784]
A man motoring across the country offered a stranger a lift. Shortly after the stranger got into the car the owner noticed that his watch was missing. Whipping out a revolver he dug it into the stranger's ribs and exclaimed: "Hand over that watch!"
The stranger meekly complied before being kicked out of the car. When the driver of the car returned home he was greeted by his wife who asked him: "How did you get on without your watch? I suppose you know that you left it on your bureau." [pp. 347‑8, #2490]
The metal strips attached to the birds by the Washington Biological Survey have the inscription abbreviated to read "Wash. Biol. Surv." A farmer shot a crow having one of these bands attached and then disgustingly wrote the department, as follows:
"Dear Sirs: I shot one of your pet crows and followed the instructions attached to it. I washed it and biled it and surved it. It was terribul. You should stop trying to fool the people with things like that." [p. 351, #2520]
had a stock question that he always asked his theological students ‑‑
Name the kings of
You have got to go some to beat the other fellow, but when a certain war plant produced a piece of 120‑gauge wire, which is almost invisible, the boys felt that they had reached the ultimate of skill. They were so proud of it that they sent a section of it to a rival plant with the message, "This is just to show you what can be done."
No word came back for some weeks. Then a package arrived. Inside was a steel block on which were mounted two steel standards between which was a piece of the same hairlike wire. A small microscope was delicately focused on a certain spot. When the engineers looked at it they found their rivals had bored a little hole in the wire. [p. 478, #3469]
could, from personal experience, tell of strange names bestowed upon infants at
their baptism, but few could equal the following story told by the bishop of Sodor and
A mother who was on the lookout for a good name for her child saw on the door of a building the word "Nosmo." It attracted her, and she decided that she would adopt it. Some time later, passing the same building, she saw the name "King" on another door. She thought the two would sound well together, and so the boy was baptized "Nosmo King Smith." On her way home from the church, where the baptism had taken place she passed the building again. The two doors on which she had seen the names were now closed together, and what she had read was not "Nosmo King" but "No Smoking." [p. 532, #3881]
following anecdote from a
Every morning the driver picked up an elderly woman at the same stop. Today he was driving a new bus. Unfortunately for the old lady, the step on the new bus was a little higher than what she was accustomed to and made boarding much more difficult for her.
"Driver, I can't make it up the step. Could you lower the step a little for me, please?" she requested.
"Well certainly, love," the driver responded.
He walked over to the side destination sign and advanced it to the end, pretending that the motion was having an effect on the height of the step.
"Is that any better?" he asked the lady.
"Just a little more," she said.
The driver cranked the sign back to where it was before.
"How is that, love?" the driver inquired.
"This is much better. Thank you so much," she said.
The woman was so pleased with the driver's performance that she asked him for his name so she could write a thank‑you note to the company. The driver feared he would be reprimanded for fooling his passenger. He was trying to come up with a plan to get himself off the hook, when he looked up over his head and eyed the No Smoking sign.
"My name is ... King ‑‑ yes, Mr. King; first name Nosmo," he said, breaking up the words on the sign to form a convenient pseudonym.
A few days later BC Transit received a glowing letter of commendation for NOSMO KING.
[Heinz Hammer, Routes:
The Lighter Side of Public Transit.
Two jokes with minor similarities to certain ULs:
The absent‑minded professor was having a physical examination. "Stick out your tongue," commanded the doctor, "and say 'Ah.'"
"Ah," obeyed the professor.
"It looks all right," nodded the M.D., "but why the postage stamp?"
"Oh‑ho," said the professor. "So that's where I left it." [p. 7, # 9]
It was late when Pat reached home. Not wishing to disturb his wife he crept in on his hands and knees, but fate intervened. He struck the bedpost. His wife, sleepily, putting out her hand, touched his head, and thinking it was the dog, began patting it. Pat said: "And the saints be praised! I had the presence of mind to lick her hand." [p. 259, #1833]
I don't know if either of the following jokes has ever been told as true, but in my opinion they both have that potential.
He was a
stranger in the neighborhood, and had been brought to a
earth can I ask a deaf and dumb girl to
"Just smile and bow to her," replied the doctor, who had done it many a time.
So the young man
picked out a pretty girl and bowed and smiled, and she bowed and smiled, and
"I know, dear," answered the girl tenderly, "but I don't know how to get away from this deaf and dumb idiot." [pp. 116‑7, # 805]
One of the pair was inclined to be worrisome when traveling, and she couldn't rest until she had made a tour of the corridors to hunt out exits in case of fire. The first door she opened, unfortunately, turned out to be that of the public bath, occupied by an elderly man taking a shower.
"Oh, excuse me!" she stammered, flustered. "I'm looking for the fire escape." Then she ran for it.
To her dismay she hadn't got far along the corridor when she heard a shout behind her and, looking around, saw a man, wearing only a towel, running after her. "Where's the fire?" he hollered. [p. 211, # 1491]
The following legend-related texts are taken from the book Reader's Digest Fun & Laughter (Pleasantville, NY: Reader's Digest Association, 1967). The page number in Fun & Laughter is given in square brackets while the source given by Fun & Laughter is noted immediately before the page number.
Merman was having lunch in an open‑air cafe in
A space‑agency psychologist asked one of the astronauts what he was thinking about as he strapped himself into his craft atop the rocket which was to hurl him into space.
"All I keep thinking," he replied, "is that everything that makes this thing go was supplied to the lowest bidder!" Roger H. Taylor. [p. 240]
engineers feared that they would have to replan the
Dungeness nuclear station in
My friend R. B. Jones doesn't have a first or middle name -- only the initials R. B. This unusual arrangement was never a problem until he went to work for a government agency. The government is not accustomed to initialed employees; so R. B. had a lot of explaining to do. On the official forms for the payroll and personnel departments, his name was carefully entered as R (Only) B (Only) Jones.
Sure enough, when R. B. received his first paycheck, the name he saw on it was Ronly Bonly Jones. Stephen A. Bomer in True. [pp. 340‑1]
http://www.snopes.com/spoons/fracture/names.htm, this same version previously
appeared in Reader's Digest Treasury of Wit and Humor.
A young married couple who had just settled down in their new home got a pleasant surprise in their mail one morning ‑‑ a couple of tickets to one of the best shows in town. But the donor had omitted to send his name, and for the rest of the day the couple kept asking, "Wonder who it was?"
They enjoyed the show; but when they reached home, they found that all their wedding presents had been taken. There was a note from the burglar, saying: "Now you know." The Policy. [p. 361]
http://www.snopes.com/spoons/legends/tickets.htm, this same version previously
appeared in Fun Fare: A Treasury of Reader's Digest
Wit and Humor (
The most embarrassing moment in the life of Jane Wyman happened when she was entertaining very special guests. After looking over all the appointments carefully, she put a note on the guest towels, "If you use these I will murder you." It was meant for her husband. In the excitement she forgot to remove the note. After the guests had departed, the towels were discovered still in perfect order, as well as the note itself. Woman's Home Companion. [pp. 449‑50]
The metal strips
used to band birds are inscribed: "Notify Fish and Wildlife Service,
http://www.snopes.com/critters/edibles/washbiol.htm, this same version
previously appeared in Fun Fare: A Treasury of
Reader's Digest Wit and Humor (
Please send my money at once as I need it badly. I have fallen into errors with my landlady.
I am very annoyed that you have branded my oldest boy illiterate. Oh, it is a dirty lie, as I married his father a week before he was born.
Sir, I am forwarding my marriage certificate and my two children, one of which is a mistake as you will see.
Mrs._____ has had no clothes for a year and has been regularly visited by the clergy.
I have no children as yet, my husband is a bus driver and works day and night.
serving with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the
* * *
Department of Folklore,
following was emailed to me in early April 2000 by a relative in
I was on my way to the post office to pick up my case of free M&M's (sent to me because I forwarded an e‑mail to five other people, celebrating the fact that the year 2000 is "MM" in Roman numerals), when I ran into a friend whose neighbor, a young man, was home recovering from having been served a rat in his bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken (which i predictable, since as everyone knows, there's no actual chicken in Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is why the government made them change their name to KFC).
Anyway, one day this guy went to sleep and when he awoke he was in his bathtub and it was full of ice and he was sore all over and when he got out of the tub he realized that HIS KIDNEY HAD BEEN STOLEN. He saw a note on his mirror that said "Call 911!" but he was afraid to use his phone because it was connected to his computer, and there was a virus on his computer that would destroy his hard drive if he opened an e‑mail entitled "Join the crew!" He knew it wasn't a hoax because he himself was a computer programmer who was working on software to prevent a global disaster in which all the computers get together and distribute the $250.00 Neiman‑Marcus cookie recipe under the leadership of Bill Gates. (It's true ‑ I read it all last week in a mass email from BILL GATES HIMSELF, who was also promising me a free Disney World vacation and $5,000 if I would forward the e‑mail to everyone I know.)
The poor man then tried to call 911 from a pay phone to report his missing kidneys, but a voice on the line first asked him to press #90, which unwittingly gave the bandit full access to the phone line at the guy's expense. Then reaching into the coin‑return slot he got jabbed with an HIV‑infected needle around which was wrapped a note that said,"Welcome to the world of AIDS." Luckily he was only a few blocks from the hospital ‑ the one where that little boy who is dying of cancer is, the one whose last wish is for everyone in the world to send him an email and the American Cancer Society has agreed to pay him a nickel for every email he receives. I sent him two emails, and one of them was a bunch of x's and o's in the shape of an angel (if you get it and forward it to more than 10 people, you will have good luck but for 10 people only you will only have OK luck and if you send it to fewer than 10 people you will have BAD LUCK FOR SEVEN YEARS).
So anyway, the poor guy tried to drive himself to the hospital, but on the way he noticed another car driving without its lights on. To be helpful, he flashed his lights at him and was promptly shot as part of a gang initiation. Send THIS to all the friends who send you their junk mail and you will receive 4 green M&Ms ‑‑ if you don't, the owner of Proctor and Gamble will report you to his Satanist friends and you will have more bad luck: you will get sick from the Sodium Laureth Sulfate in your shampoo, your spouse/mate will develop a skin rash from using the antiperspirant which clogs the pores under your arms, and the U.S. government will put a tax on your emails forever.
I know this is all true 'cuz I read it on the Internet!!!!!
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Bess Lomax Hawes archive available at CSUN
A news story in the Los Angeles Times (27 February 2000) tells of the 1996 acquisition by California State University at Northridge (CSUN) of 24 boxes of student folklore collections made in courses taught by Bess Lomax Hawes in the 1960s and ‘70s. The article (“Just Plain Folklore: Archive Preserves Studies of Local Tales” by Patricia Ward Biederman) highlights contemporary legends collected by the students. The article is available in the archives of the LA Times at www.latimes.com. [Thanks to Brian Chapman.]
Registration. The conference fee is £47.00 for members of ISCLR and £62.00 for non-members.
To register for the conference, send the appropriate fee to Sandy Hobbs, at the address below.
Payment may be made by cheque in GB pounds or in US dollar equivalent. Make the cheque payable to "ISCLR."
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Proposals for Papers. This is the
latest in a series of conferences which started in
Proposals for papers should be around 400 words and double-spaced. Send your proposal as soon as possible to Sandy Hobbs at the address below.
If you are uncertain as to the suitability of any idea you may have, Sandy Hobbs is happy to discuss it with you by telephone or email. See address and numbers below.
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Suite is at
All of the rooms have en-suite bathrooms and television. We have provisionally reserved mainly single rooms but double rooms are also available. The prices quotes below are inclusive of VAT. Full Scottish Breakfast is included in the cost of the room.
Since the provisional conference programme starts in the morning of 12 July, and concludes in the afternoon of 15 July, it is envisaged that most participants will wish to book for five nights, that is, arriving 11 July and leaving 16 July.
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As is the case with the conference fee, payment may be made in British pounds or US dollars only. We cannot accept payment by credit card. Cheques should be made payable to "ISCLR." You may include both registration and accomodation payments in a single cheque.
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Address: All correspondence and contacts may be made through:
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Phone: 0141 848 3772 (office)
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General Meeting of the ISCLR membership is to be held on
1. Council Reports
A. President's report
B. Treasurer's report
C. Publications' reports
- Contemporary Legend
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2. Election of members of the Council
3. Setting of the annual subscription rate
4. Future conference dates and locations
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