SMALL FORMS OF VERBAL FOLKLORE
Between the two monolithic layers of sung and told folklore, there is a rich layer of various small-form verbal folk arts. It consists of a multitude of diverse forms, such as proverbs, sayings, riddles, conundrums, sound imitations, puzzles, curses, patters, nicknames, salutations, greetings, congratulations, compliments, expressions of gratitude and other humorous forms of folk etiquette, and various jokes. Most of them still constitute an integral part of speech, as people wish to make their speech suggestive and expressive, to address not only the hearers mind but also his imagination and feelings. Rather often those pieces of small-form verbal folklore are summaries of bigger folklore forms, such as tales, fables, and legends. To people developed within the same cultural surroundings (that is to people who know the same folklore plots) certain phrases may become a kind of a password, or a key to the space of mutual understanding. A proverb echoing the moral of a fable, a riddle extracted from the text of a tale, parodies of prayers, sermons, songs or etiquette forms are definite references to more profound primary texts. In this way small forms of folklore circulating in everyday speech keep up the encoded memory of ancient traditions. This also secures the vital capacity of above-mentioned manifestations of folklore forms, as well as the need to use them constantly in everyday conversations. This especially applies to proverbs and sayings.
Proverbs and sayings
In many languages the difference between a proverb and a saying is not distinguished. In such a case one term is used to denote the above-mentioned forms of folklore (Lat. proverbia; Eng. proverbs). Proverbs mean invariable sayings of a general character, passed down from the past to the present. Lithuanian and other researchers who recognise that such forms of folklore may be expressed in two ways (Rus. poslovicy and pogovorki; Lat. sakamvardi and parūnas; Ger. Sprichworter and sprichwortliche Redensarten) deem that sayings are relatively less independent as the speaker usually gears them to definite circumstances without any attempt to generalise. For instance, the phrase Vagie, kepurė dega (Thief, your cap is burning) indicates a direct quick reaction when somebody who has done something bad gives himself away, or by means of some subtle deception is forced to recognise his fault. The proverb commenting an analogous situation would sound as follows: Ant vagies kepurė dega ( A thiefs cap burns). Such references lead us to an anecdote. Its plot is as follows: Once there was a village thief. The villagers were not able to bring him to light. A clever man suggested that elders should invite people to a village assembly to discuss current affairs. In the heat of the discussion, the above-mentioned clever man exclaimed suddenly: Vagie, kepurė dega! (Thief, your cap is burning!). One of the assembled (surely, he was the thief) touched his head on impulse.
Many proverbs date back to very old times. Sometimes proverbs reflect simple life experience heaved onto the philosophical plane. For example, Lazda turi du galus (A stick has two ends), Kaip pasiklosi, taip išsimiegosi (As you make your bed, so you will sleep), Iš didelio debesio mažas lietus (Little rain from a big cloud).
An especially big number of proverbs originated through the generalisation of experience of agricultural activities: Senas jautis vagos negadina (An old ox does not spoil the furrow), Pjovėjas be rasos nepjauna: arba rasa ant dalgio, arba ant kaktos (A mower does not mow without any dew: it is either on his scythe or on his forehead). Nesėjęs nepjausi (If you do not sow, you will not reap), Geram arkliui nereikia botago (A good horse does not need a whip), Juodos rankos - balta duona, baltos rankos - juoda duona (Black hands - white bread, white hands - black bread).
Peasants dependence on the calendar of nature or on whether gave rise to a multitude of meteorological observations that subsequently turned into proverbs: Visi šventi su ledu - šventas Jurgis su lapu (All Saints with ice - St. George with a leaf), Kalėdos baltos - Velykos žalios, Kalėdos juodos - Velykos baltos (White Christmas - green Easter, black Christmas - white Easter) (that is, if there is a lot of snow on Christmas, spring will come early, and vice versa).
In Lithuania, many calendar generalisations are related with the Catholic calendar and the names of saints. For example, Nuo šv. Jurgio (23 04) Dievas daržinę atidaro (On St. Georges Day (April 23) God opens the door of the barn) (that is, at the end of April grass starts to grow, so there is no need to save fodder), Lig šv. Jono (24 06) visi lietaus neišprašo, po šv. Jono viena boba šūkteli, ir še! (Until St. Johns Day (June 24) it is impossible to get rain even if all people assembled demand it, after St Johns Day one woman demands rain - and here it is!) (that is, in Lithuania the beginning of June is usually not rainy, but when hayharvesting begins rains start), Šv. Jonas - pieno ponas (St. John is the lord of milk) (that is, about that time grass is mown to feed cattle), Šv. Ona (26 07) - gera žmona: su duona, ragaišiu, su medaus uzbonu (St. Ann (July 26) is a good housewife: she can produce bread, pastry and a jarful of honey (that is, at that time rye and wheat are harvested, fresh honey is available), Po šv. Mataušo (21 09) ir vanduo užaušo (After St. Matthews Day (September 21) water is cool (that is the water in lakes and rivers is too cold to bathe in it).
Under the influence of Catholicism quite a number of quotations from Holy Script and Decalogue was adopted to be later established as Lithuanian proverbs: Be Dievo valios ir plaukas nuo galvos nenukris (Not a hair will fall down from the head, unless God wills), Kas su Dievu pradeda, tam ir Dievas padeda (He who starts with God will be helped by God), Kaip tu Dievui šventą dieną, taip tau Dievas smerčio dieną (As you feel about God on a holiday, so God will feel about you on the day of your death) (that is, if you remember to pray, then He will also remember you).
However besides the above-mentioned proverbs there are other proverbs evidencing scepticism that managed to survive the change of religious systems: Žuvis neišganys, kiaulė nepragaišins (A fish will not save, a pig will not ruin) (in this way people doubted the value of fasting), Iš tų pačių šventieji, iš tų pačių ir prakeiktieji (Both the saints and the accursed have the same origin).
In some proverbs certain strata of the ancient Baltic beliefs can be traced: Nevyk Dievo į medį, paskui ir su pyragu neišprašysi (Do not drive God up a tree, later you will not be able to coax him to get down, even if you offer him a piece of pastry for it). (Here an allusion is made to sacred groves where feasts were held to honour gods), Vieniems Dievas duoda nueidamas, kitiems - pareidamas (God gives gifts to some when He leaves, God gives gifts to some when He returns). (An allusion is made to God disguised as an old man visiting people and teaching them how to live), Neik su velniu obuoliauti - paliksi ir be obuolių, ir be maišelio (Do not go for apples with Devil because you will lose both your apples and your bag), Ko velnias neįveikia, ten bobą pasiunčia (If there is something that Devil cannot overcome, he sends a woman to do it instead of him) (An allusion is made to tales about various humans co-operating with devils). Ancient legends supplied proverbs with the names of certain local deities and images: Ir aitvaras ne visados pinigus neša (Even aitvaras does not always bring money), Aitvaras neneštų, kad pautienės (kiaušinienės) nemėgtų (Aitvaras would not bring anything if scrambled eggs were not to his taste), Aitvaru skrido, kai mergas išvydo (When he saw girls, he put on speed like an aitvaras) (Aitvaras means a fast-moving fiery being. If tamed by a human, aitvaras supplies him or her with all sorts of property. Aitvaras likes scrambled eggs very much), Nuo Giltinės po puodu nepasivoši (nepasislėpsi) (You cannot hide yourself from Giltinė under a pot), Giltinė į dantis nežiūri (nesirenka) (Giltinė does not look anybody in the mouth) (Giltinė is the Goddess of Death). Gražus kaip Laumės vaikas (As cute as Laumės child), Gudri kaip Laumės auginta (As clever as if raised by Laumė) (Laumė is a female deity able to steel human children or leave her own degenerates instead of the stolen ones), Kas save giria, tą Perkūnas spiria (He who praises himself will be kicked by Perkūnas). (Perkūnas is the God of Thunder. He punishes humans and gods for misbehaviour. According to A.J.Greimas, Perkūnas is a celestial policeman). Kvailiui nė Saulės duktė neįtiks (A fool will not be satisfied even with the Suns daughter) (Daughters of the Sun are celestial beings, that is girls of perfect beauty and ingenuity).
Some proverbs are very strictly localised in terms of place and time. They still are valuable in Lithuania as evidences of certain geographical facts or historical events:
Palanga - svieto pabaiga (Palanga is the end of the world) (Palanga is a small seaside town in Lithuania. In ancient times when there were no big ships Palanga marked the farthest western point that could be reached by Lithuanians).
Čekiškės balose nepragaišęs, kitur neprapulsi (If you have not perished in the marshes of Čekiškės, you will succeed anywhere). (A very dangerous place here is a symbol of the greatest obstacle overcome).
Varnių purvo nebraidžiojęs, kunigu nebūsi (You will not become a priest if you have not waded through the mud of Varniai). (A Catholic Priests Seminary functioned in Varniai until the beginning of the 19th c.).
Krapštosi kaip švedas ties Ryga (He or she is dawdling like a Swede at Riga Town). (This proverb reminds us about the long siege of Riga during the war with Sweden).
However the greater part of proverbs known to us discuss the general problems of ethic and practice. Such proverbs have always been and still are topical. For this reason many analogous or similar variants of proverbs are known to all European and other nations:
Dovanotam arkliui į dantis nežiūri (Engl. Look not a gift horse in the mouth Oxf 301).
Analogous sayings can be found in Latvian, Byelorussian, Russian, Polish, German and French collections of proverbs:
Ne viskas auksas, kas auksu žiba (Engl. All is not gold that glitters Oxf 316, or All is not gold that shines Whit 240).
The same equivalents can be found in Spanish, French, German, Latin, Latvian, Polish, and Russian.
Besides, separate nations can provide original variants of the above-mentioned common proverbs. Let us juxtapose the Lithuanian proverb Geriau žvirblis rankoje negu briedis miške (Better a sparrow in the hand than an elk in the forest).
In the English variant, we have the following opposition:
The German proverb:
or Tausend Kraniche in der Luft sind nicht so viel werth als ein Sperling in der Hand Ward II 1575.
The Spanish proverb:
The French proverb:
The Polish proverb:
The Latin proverb:
Id recommend the following book to those interested in such analogies:
Kazys Grigas. Patarlių paralelės. Lietuvių patarlės su latvių, baltarusių, rusų, lenkų, vokiečių, anglų, lotynų, prancūzų, ispanų atitikmenimis. - Vilnius, Vaga, 1987.
The book offers 611 proverb types with additional variants, indices in all languages and a list of sources and auxiliary literature. Introduction (10 pages) is given in Lithuanian, Russian and German.
The following articles by Prof. Habil. Dr. K. Grigas have appeared in English:
The Motif of the Mote in Someones Eye and the Comparative Study of a proverb//ARV: Nordic Yearbook of Folklore. Upsala, 1995, vol. 51, p. 155-159.
Problems of the Type in the Comparative Study of Proverbs. - Journal of the Baltic Institute of Folklore. - 1996, vol. 1, No 1, p. 106-127.
Currently in the Institute of Lithuanian Literature and Folklore a group under the guidance of Prof. K. Grigas is preparing a full collection of Lithuanian proverbs and sayings.
In this overview it is simply impossible to give a more or less exhaustive analysis of cases in which the philosophy of life is revealed through proverbs. The knowledge of life provides practical directions on what to do and how to behave in certain circumstances. The educational significance of proverbs is an important characteristic of many of them. Only in certain cases the didactic thought is presented directly: Viskas gerai, kas gerai baigiasi (All is well that ends well), while in other cases it is implied indirectly: Neperšokęs per upelį (griovį), nesakyk op! (Do not say hop! until you have jumped across the brook (ditch).
Practically, there is not a single area of human life - be it physical or spiritual characteristics of a human, his/her negative or positive qualities, family or community relations, norms of interaction, understanding of life, laws, assessment of activities or work - that has not been reflected in a number of proverbs of various form: the ones stressing direct or indirect meaning, the ones constructed of rhymed words, or the ones representing a simple sentence. The building material is supplied from every area that has ever interested a human or stirred his imagination and feelings.
Surely, in the course of time circumstances changed. This produced changes in human well-being. Under changed situation, people often assessed the same phenomena differently. This lack of agreement is reflected in proverbs.
Contradictory assessment of courage and bravery is evidenced by the
following pair of proverbs:
Industry and laziness:
Some proverbs condemn theft very strictly:
Some encourage to take a risk:
The following opinion is impartial. It summarises the above dialogue:
Algirdas Julius Greimas, a Lithuanian semiologist, stated that the argumentation used in ancient community customary law procedures was possibly reflected in proverbs. He or she who provides more impressive arguments is the winner. It is true that any number of pros can be outnumbered by contras.
Proverbs occupy a significant place in the creation of Lithuanian
writers. They make their language very suggestive. A proverb in hexameter commenting
futile efforts in the Year by Kristijonas Donelaitis is one of the first such
In modern Lithuanian literature as well as in everyday speech, proverbs constitute a significant image-building and emotional element.
Riddles represent short works of literature indirectly describing objects. In each case a person posing a riddle creates a corresponding image the secret meaning of which is to be guessed by another person. Riddles, like many other folklore genres, originated long ago. Possibly, ancient tribesmen scattered over vast territories by some calamity, could identify each other by giving a right answer to a riddle suggesting the image of their totem. This could secure a persons recognition if any other material signs of his or her identity were absent. Heroes of many tales have to undergo similar tests: those who wished to win a beauty, to get some valuable thing or post, besides other tasks, had to solve riddles more than once.
A right answer to the riddle means a disclosure of secret meaning of some object or phenomenon. It demonstrates the power of thinking of a tested person.
Let us consider a tale about the Black Aunt: A girl went to see the Black Aunt and saw on her way a wheat field (May hair, - Aunt explained to the girl later), two clear lakes (eyes), a hill (a nose), a strawberry field (lips), a vast meadow full of flowers (an apron). The girl met on her way four riders: a black one, a white one and two red ones. They were Night, Day, Morning and Evening. They also belonged to Aunt. Surely, Aunt was the Earth.
Lithuanians enjoyed riddles about nature and its phenomena: the sun,
the moon, clouds, wind, dew, rainbow, sky, etc. The more chances a human has to observe an
object, the more riddles he or she can create about it; and the more various and
resourceful is the way of posing riddles. Here is a riddle about the sun at dawn:
The sun is likened to an apple:
In the latter case both celestial bodies are presented not only on the real but also on the mythological plane. The riddles implication leads us to the ancient collection of songs where we can find hints about the wedding of the Sun and the Moon, and their celestial family; or reminds us of orphans songs in which the Mother Sun fills a dowry chest, the Father Moon gives the orphan his/her share of family property.
The Moon keeping the Suns company is described in one way; however
if the Moon appears alone, he is described in another way.
The inhabitants of Lithuanian villages located in the territory of Byelorussia preserved the latter riddle longer. This circumstance made us draw a parallel between the colt christening rite mentioned by Bishop Antanas Baranauskas (born in the Anykščiai Region). The said rite was ascribed by him to the Candlemass Day. In reality, it represented an adoration of a crescent Moon in its first quarter, which roughly coincided with the New Year celebration according to the Eastern Calendar resting heavily of the phases of the moon.
The image of steed is also used to represent Perkūnas (the
In the following instance, Perkūnas is personified like
other chief characters of the Celestial sphere:
In certain riddles, the images are put into such
ingeniously-constructed words that they can be hardly found in the Dictionary of modern
Here the person who has to solve the riddle is to rely on his/her knowledge of the laws of word building and of the structure of things. We often say that the sun smiles, so the sun is called smily; in our tales and fables crows are often stupid, they just sit gaping, so the crow is called gapy; when there is not enough air we gasp. Fishes in water have to do without air, so the fish is called gaspy.
Surely the latter text is by no means the most complicated one within
the wide array of Lithuanian riddles. Here is another riddle used by A. J. Greimas more
than once as an object of his semiotic investigation:
Today this riddle can be solved only a person who knows the definite answer, as not only the facts mentioned in the text are distant but also the way of naming things (except, maybe, the first one) is even more secretive.
It is easier to solve riddles related with the counting of time. To represent a year, Lithuanians often use the image of a tree:
Ąžuolas su 12 šakų, ant kiekvienos iš jų - po 4 lizdus, kiekviename lizdelyje - po 6 vaikelius, o septinta motina (An oak with 12 branches, 4 nests on each branch, 6 young birds in each nest, and their mother - the seventh bird).
The image of birds is also popular:
More or less precise calculations lead to a right answer.
A brook is represented in riddles in an interesting way. In some riddles it is called Insomnia (as it runs day and night, never falling asleep). As the sounds of streaming water resemble human speech, in some riddles the image of a brook is revealed through resourceful dialogues. For example, the brook speaks with the grass growing on its banks: the grass asks: Where are you running to? The brook retorts: None of your business! The dialogue is a standard one, however the wide range of variants is created by means of a number of names given to the brook and the neighbouring meadow. For example, the brooks name may be Krivė, Kumpuringė, or Kreivarangis (because it meanders), or it may be called Vingurgurklė (because it not only flows with many turns but also gurgles), or it may be given the name of Patekolė (because it runs rapidly). The meadow, if its grass has been cut, may be called Skustė, Kirpšė, Plikė, or Susė.
Similar texts can be found both in the collections of sayings and
riddles. For example, the riddle:
The saying, however, implies a derogatory shade:
Thus, the separation of social and natural, that is mythologised reality could have induced the above-mentioned transference.
Besides, the greater part of riddles represent real facts from the life of peasants and their everyday environment. Even the images of many natural phenomena, plants or animals are created on the grounds of their similarity to things and works well known to peasants.
Day and night are likened to a white and a black cow:
The way of depicting plants and animals witnesses the priority given to usual or well-known objects in the practice of creating riddles. The following plants are usually mentioned in riddles: rye, pea, flax, onion, cabbage, hop, hemp, and fruit-trees. Surely, potatoes, should be also mentioned among them, though they appeared in Lithuania relatively late, that is only in the 19th c. However forest plants, with the exception of a nut-tree and some other trees, are almost absent in riddles. Similarly, domestic fowls and animals have also contributed more to riddles than forest birds and animals. There are many riddles about a human, especially about human face, ears, eyes, teeth and tongue. The following riddles about eyes and sight show how ingeniously separate parts of human body can be implied:
Dviem pupom visą lauką apsėja (Two beans are enough to seed up the whole field).
Dvi sesutės per kalnelį nesueina (Two sisters cannot come together because of a hill).
Dešimt tūkstančių apkabina ir nesuspaudžia (Able to embrace ten thousands without hugging them).
Riddles about ancient works and work instruments and other household
appliances constitute a large distinctive group of texts. However they become obsolete
because things mentioned in them are no longer in use. For example, a riddle about milling
by hand-operated grindstones says:
The text does create the image of both the murmur of grindstones and of the dust of flour, however it does not imply any information to a person who is not familiar either with the process of milling or with the grindstones.
However other facts from everyday life occupy the place of obsolete
things. Fore example, a railway train:
or an aircraft:
or a motorcar:
Certain Lithuanian riddles have introductory formulae:
Mįslė mįslelė -
In Lithuanian readings by August Schleicher every riddle is ended with a separate question Whats that? Riddles recorded in our days around Dieveniškės, Southeast Lithuania, have the same question repeated at the beginning, for example: Solve my riddle, Whats that, whats that?
Some riddles have the form of a simple question:
Other riddles are presented in the form of rhymed two- or even
four-line stanzas. A lot of attention is paid to euphonic means, such as alliteration and
assonance. Such riddles can be hardly translated into other languages. A 90-year of old
Jurgis Dovydaitis, the oldest collector of Lithuanian verbal folklore, recorded the
so-called sung riddles. They usually represent rhymed texts full of interjections
performed in the style of recitative or scanning, for example:
In our days riddles, contrary to sayings naturally intertwining with everyday speech, have become special entertainment means designed to enrich parties and other events.
Compared to classic riddles, this special form of verbal folklore is less poetic and less figurative. However the tradition of posing minklės in Lithuania dates back to relatively old times.
Minklės are just questions without any elaboration. The impression
produced by minklės rests on wittiness and delusion:
Po kokiu medžiu kiškis lyjant slepiasi?
Kas netelpa į puodą?
Ethnographic recordings witness that minklės were used wherever it was necessary to find out the abilities of a rival in terms of his/her resourcefulness, knowledge or the speed of his reaction. They were (and still are) used when the bridegroom and his team arrived at the brides gate or at her door, or when the young couple returned home after the ceremony in the church when it was necessary to deliver the table occupied by fake wedding participants.
Dialogues made of minklės have been recorded. For example:
It seems that almost everything that can acquire the form of a question can be made into minklės.
Puzzles or riddle-like tasks
This type of verbal folklore could be regarded as riddles. However, in order to give a right answer one has to make certain calculations.
The texts of puzzles or riddle-like tasks are longer. Actually, they represent a short narrative with a simple plot. For example:
When I came on a visit to my friends, I found two fathers, two sons, a grandfather, and a grandson at home. Unfortunately, I brought with me only three apples to give them. What was I to do?
(Everything was OK. Only three persons, that is the grandfather, the father, and the grandson were at home).
A girl was walking from a town to a village. On her way she met a woman with a dog, a man on horseback, and three children carrying a kitten. How many living beings were going to the village?
(Only the girl. Those whom she met on her way headed towards the town).
Some puzzles published in books and magazines and translated into other
languages are widely known. For example, the famous story about a traveller, a goat, a
wolf and a cabbage:
(First of all the traveller carried the goat across the river, then he carried the cabbage, on his way back he took with him the goat, then he carried the wolf across the river, then he returned and finally carried the goat across the river).
Next to traditional puzzles, newer sometimes even more deceptive ones
appear. For example:
The story goes on and on. Finally, the question: How many times did the bus stop? is asked to confuse the hearers who usually count the passengers.
Sometimes, the hearer is confused by supposedly very simple questions:
There were 5 candles burning. One of them went out. How many candles
There are puzzles that have to be represented as drawings or charts on a sheet of paper.
Some puzzles require intricate calculation. It often involves domestic
animals. For example:
Calculations may also involve various household situations. In autumn or spring people observed migrant birds and counted them. Many famous Lithuanian mathematicians such as bishop Antanas Baranauskas have finished such a school of folk mathematics.
Imitation of sounds
Surrounded by natural sounds, a human decided to translate them into
his own language. In this way imitations, one of most playful genres of folklore,
appeared. The sounds of live and non-live nature are reproduced in human speech with the
retention of audible consonance. Elementary, sometimes one-word texts are given some
semantic motif. For example, a pewit greets a passer-bye in this way:
A rooster asks:
Swallows get restless when they notice a prowling cat:
A skylark sings with joy all day long:
The intonation of words and the elements of rhythm and rhyme are harmonised with the natural twitter of the bird.
Sound imitations and animal tales in which domestic or forest animals and birds are represented as separate characters have a common tendency to give animals or natural phenomena characteristics of beings able to think or even speak. Rhymed insertions and interjections not only give sense to certain sounds produced by animals but also make them imtonationally similar to those produced by a human.
In a widely-known tale about animals who settle in a hut in the middle
of a forest, then fight back intruders, the characters speak or encourage one another by
means of human speech. The character of a rooster sitting high and encouraging others to
fight is exceptionally vivid:
In another tale, a cat, the foxs bridegroom, murmurs when eating an
ox brought as a gift by a wolf and a bear:
In ethiological legends explaining various episodes of world
creation procedure, the reasons that caused certain types of animals utter sensible words
are dealt with rather exhaustively. For example, the oriole was punished by God for
refusing to lend its hand in digging lakes and river beds. It is allowed to drink only
rain water. So, the oriole shouts wherever it is thirsty:
A hoopoe borrowed from a corn-crake three grains but failed to give
back the debt in full. So they have not stopped arguing till this day:
Through the imitation of sounds animals participate in the process of education.
For example, wherever a swallow sees a dirty child it starts shouting
A cat also mocks at a dirty child:
A dog drives away an uninvited guest from the gate by barking the
An old rooster wakes a child by singing:
While a young rooster feels for the child:
Even church bells ring to explain the truths of faith:
Surely, such sound characteristics of the environment were used by the people extensively and creatively. On the other hand, because of their specific characteristics they can hardly be translated to other languages: it is almost impossible to find equivalents of sound and intonation. So, every nation - or even dialect - has its own variants.
The list of Lithuanian sound imitations is very rich. It shows that a human surrounded by nature was able not only to lend an attentive ear to natural sounds, to recognise and understand the way animals lived or to grasp the essence of such phenomena. The creative nature of a human helped him to create dialogues or even small pieces of verse.
For example, a rooster enumerates the works done by family members:
A frightened roster curses:
A couple of doves vow fidelity to one another:
Not only animals, birds and beasts can speak. Household appliances and
instruments speak, too. Even food in a pot speaks. For example, porridge or potatoes
cooked on fire say:
Wheels of a cart carrying a heavy load turn more slowly:
Unloaded cart speak differently:
Dance music refrains, that is spontaneous developments of thought attached to the rhythm performed by a musician represent another kind of verbal folklore. If such developments are successful, they are adopted by others and used universally. On the other hand, the above-mentioned refrains may constitute the object of investigation of musicologists.
Here is an example of polka refrains willingly used by
A great number of extracts form popular romances are keenly adjusted to waltz melodies.
The following refrain has been adjusted to the melody of
Here is the initial part of Krakowiak refrain:
Whistling or making sounds with ones tongue, lips, etc. as well as other sound-imitation practices were widely known. Some gifted whistlers or sound imitators managed to delude animals into following them, etc.
The Lithuanian language has preserved a big number of instances of
verbal communication. They reveal peculiar Lithuanian characteristics of politeness,
aesthetic, imagination and wit. Traditional formulae used to express politeness are
various and numerous. Some of them are very stable and known throughout the country. Some
are characteristic only of separate regions. However in the usage of all of them there are
individual details resorted to in definite cases. Part of such formulae, especially those
enjoyed by children, are created according to a certain framework and rhythm:
However sometimes shades of meaning are also revealed:
Besides standard greeting formulae there are numerous ways of stressing almost every situation.
A person on seeing somebody eating would say:
A passer-by on seeing people working would greet them in this way:
A passer-by on seeing children driving the cattle to grass would
greet them this way:
If somebody passed the children without a word, he or she would be
mocked at in this way:
(In this case a proverb Ir kiaulė eidama pro šalį kriukteli (Even a swine gives a grunt when it passes by) is meant. So, a human simply has to utter at least one word in a similar situation).
The requirement to notice, hear and show respect to somebody who is near was obligatory. We have texts witnessing peoples belief that non-compliance with the requirement could bring about a misfortune.
For example, a musician going to a wedding meets a devil. The devil is given a right to take the brides life if not a single guest replies: Your health! when she sneezes.
On seeing women washing clothes, a passer-bye is obliged to say:
On seeing women baking bread:
On seeing women making butter:
On seeing grass-mowers:
Poetical ways of expressing are used on various occasions.
For example, wedding participants wish the young couple to coo like a couple of doves or to have three rows of small children around the stove. etc.
Adults would stroke a small child on the head and express the following
If a person is old, everybody wish him or her to live one hundred years more.
If assembled at the table, people would never drink alcohol without
saying a toast. On such occasions guests would compete in the area of eloquence:
Sveiks, Joniuk! - Dėkui, uzboniuk! - Cinkt uzbonėlį! - Sudiev, razumėli! (Your health, Joniuk! - Thanks, jar! - Tinkle the jar! - Good-bye, my reason!).
Cingu lingu! - Strazdu brazdu!
After the party guests would thank the hostess:
(Thank you for the preparation of food and for the salvation of our bellies).
The hostess would reply:
Quite often the guest would deliver an oration:
If a person would say only thanks, others would reproach him
or her jokingly:
As can be seen, formulae of politeness, both serious and jocular, were used in various situations. Often they were created on the spot. In order to say a witty thing, one must have a rich stock of words and understand the situation well. The silly ones who cannot do it are mocked at in a popular tale about a fool who knows several formulae by heart but cannot use them properly.
Oaths and curses
From the point of view of ethic, expletives as negative wishes are appraised negatively. From the point of view of behaviour standards, they are improper. However, oaths and curses still exist. They are resorted wherever a person needs a discharge of negative feelings. Prof. K. Grigas thinks that even the most cultured and honest persons will use oaths and curses in certain moments.
Lithuanian expletives - both single words and phrases - are interesting due to another circumstance: they contain mythological and other facts determined by corresponding outlook and original understanding of fate.
Oaths and curses can be distinguished from other phraseologisms by characteristic derogatory content usually appealing to demonic forces. The most intensive expletives start with the words kad tave ... kad tau ... kad tu (Oh, that you would be ...).
Kad tave Perkūnas be žaibo trenktų! (Oh, that you would be struck by Perkūnas without a lightning!)
Kad tave siera žemė prarytų! (Oh, that you would be devoured by bitter earth!)
Kad tave šimts velnių griebtų! (Oh, that you would be seized by one hundred devils!)
Kad tave giltinė! (Oh, that you would be taken by giltinė (death)!)
Kad tave šimtas ligų susuktų! (Oh, that you would be attacked by one hundred diseases!)
Kad tau subinė užsimūrytų! (Oh, that your asshole would be walled up!)
Kad tau žarnos mazgais susimegztų! (Oh, that your guts would be knotted!)
Kad tau liežuvis kuolu atsistotų! (Oh, that your tongue would be upright like a staff!)
Kad tu skradžiai žemę prasmegtum! (Oh, that you would go through the earth!)
Kad tu raudona ugnim sudegtum! (Oh, that you would be burnt by red fire!)
Kad tu marškiniuose neišsitektum! (Oh, that you would get stuck in your shirt!)
A bit easier form of curse sounds like this: Eik tu ... (Go to ...). The addressee may not accept it. In this case he or she enters the situation as a separate character having an option to take another route, not necessarily the one indicated by the cursing person.
Eik tu į peklą molio minti! (Go to hell to make clay!)
Eik šunų lodyti! (Go to tease the dogs!)
Eik tu po perkūnų! (Go to be struck by Perkūnas!)
The derogatory meaning of curses usually rests upon the images of desacralised mythological beings, personifications of evil or images of laughing-stock. This meaning is pressed into the so-called appellatives:
Po šimts gegučių! (One hundred cuckoos!)
Tu laume prakeikta! (You cursed laumė!)
Velnio močia! (Devils mom !)
Sena ragana! (Old witch!)
Rupkė milinė! (Toad under grinding stones!)
Tu gyvate raudonoji! (You red snake!)
More tender forms of curses also exist. They are based on the following
mechanism: an angry person checks his or her anger and tries to substitute his or her wish
with a less negative one in case he or she does not want to harm a related person. People
believed that a wish pronounced on certain occasions could not be reverted. So, the
phrases oriented to a negative wish could be modified, that is changed to a more neutral
Rupūžė! - Rupūs miltai! (Toad! - Coarse flour!)
In each case the curse, of its own accord, witnesses mental characteristics of the cursing person. Oaths and curses, pooled together, can make certain aspects of cultural situation more vivid.
Jokes (funny stories, parodies)
There is a multitude of forms of traditional jokes. It is hardly possible to say that they exist autonomously. They rather adjoin naturally the so-called serious genres. New parodies of popular songs are still created. To a certain degree, the so-called lie stories or endless tales can be considered to be parodies of serious tales.
As has been mentioned before, the ideas implied by certain proverbs, riddles, puzzles or etiquette formulae can be turned into jokes.
Even religious texts are parodied. For example, the crossing:
Pasimelsim už dūšeles,
(How many gods are there? Nine. Where do they live? In a spruce wood. What do they do? They make hats. For whom? For priests.).
(O my dear God, the skies are so high. How shall I climb into the sky if there is no means of support).
O Jėzau, Marija -
Sermons are parodied too. The parodies start with the Evangelistic words, later various merry or even absurd things are told. Such texts are not rhymed, they lack rhythm, however, it is customary to make them more lively by adding harmonious combinations of words.
To a certain degree, the parodies of Latin prayers could be counted
among sound imitations. Here Latin words are substituted with meaningful Lithuanian words:
Words taken from foreign languages used by neighbours, or by people who do not know foreign languages well are also parodied.
Here is an example of a mixed Russian-Lithuanian text:
A mixed Polish-Lithuanian text:
A mixed Polish-Russian-Lithuanian-Latvian text:
The above-mentioned texts witness ancient historical neighbourhood of languages. The greater part of such texts has been recorded in bordering territories. Youth, especially higher school students, parody foreign languages (usually those studied by them). So far such texts have not take root in everyday usage. However, they witness the continuity of national creative force.
Tonguetwisters mean relatively short sayings, usually expressed in one sentence, in which several difficult sounds or sound combinations repeat. Kind of competitions are organised to reveal the individuals able to repeat the difficult sentence many times without any fault. Tonguetwisters as a means of education are used to master articulation:
Geri vyrai geroj girioj gerą girą gerai gėrė, gerdami gyrė: Gera gerti gerą girą geroj girioj geroj girioj geriems vyrams.
Šešios dešimtys šešios žąsys su šešiais žąsyčiais, etc.
Some tonguetwisters are used for amusement purposes, for example to produce the effect of ambiguity. For example, if the word lėkiau, lėkiau, lėkiau... (I flew) is repeated quickly, the syllables merge to produce the word kiaulė, kiaulė, kiaulė... (pig) , etc.
The genre of tonguetwisters is known to many nations. It is quite popular in England, and the United States. However, because of different specific characteristics of separate languages, the international spreading of the same texts is impossible.
Market calls (information, advertisement)
An original folklore genre was created in fair and market places. It highly depended on individual characteristics of advertised objects and advertisers. So, this genre did not produce many variants. The number of recorded calls is not big.
In the following texts praising and encouraging to buy prevails:
Kam žuvelių? Kam šimtą, kam pusę? Iš marelių pagautos, neseniai
vendzytos. Kam duot, kam suvyniot?
Humorous effect is achieved by means of supposed discount:
Similar improvisation is used when announcing necessary information. To
attract peoples attention, the following spectacular introduction is used:
Perhaps it is possible to use some of the aspects (or even texts) of this genre in modern advertisements. However, the basic role in them is played by intonational stress and the advertisers oratory gift. Possibly, radio, television or mass event hosts could make use of them.
Bits of traditional wit
They have not been discussed in great detail. Such pieces of verbal folklore include nicknames, the so-called reverse language in which original syllables are mixed or some senseless syllable is inserted, or sounds are pronounced in reversed order, cheating, and slang. They are usually used by children and adolescents.
Adults also have certain fixed verbal reactions to various situations:
Savo prarijai ir mano nori? (You have devoured yours, and now you want to devour mine?). (When somebody yawns).
Dievulis barasi (The God is quarrelling). (When thunder is heard during storm).
Subata pro pėdnyčią matos (Saturday can be seen through Friday). (When an undergarment shows).
If a person does not want to give a direct and serious answer, he may
Ką veiki (dirbi)? - Pradėtą baigiu/Padirbtus dailinu (What are you doing (making)? - I am finishing something that has been started/ I am elaborating something that has been finished).
If family members demand meat for dinner, the housewife may joke:
Certain parenthetic words (e.g. you know, true, I say, etc.) that spoil the speakers style are ridiculed.
Such and similar jokes, remarks, or rhymed phrases constitute an original branch of Lithuanian phraseology. They indicate that Lithuanians have always been witty both in everyday situations and on festive occasions. They also show how they managed to make use of the sonority and expressiveness of their native tongue, how they revealed the flexibility and receptivity of thought.
Translated by FRAZĖ