“Vote for me, I’m jes’ folks…”

Enlace para español/Link here for Spanish

Dear reader,

In this election season that already seems too long by half, we’ d be lucky to have a nickel for each time we’ve heard that word so dear to politicians’  hearts: the (near-untranslatable) “folks.”

Harrison log cabin

Claiming humble origins has been a favorite gesture of politicians in the US, almost since the birth of the Republic. An example: William Henry Harrison’s 1840 campaign, which made much use of log-cabin imagery.

The main sense of this colloquial word is “people.” But unlike the latter, “folks” connotes familiarity, warmth, even intimacy. “What can I bring you folks to drink?” is what a waiter might say trying to be friendly and casual instead of formal.

Politicians adore saying “folks” as it makes them sound humble and approachable—at least they think it does. “I want to thank the good folks of this state for sending me to Congress…”

Not only do they like to call the people, voters, and taxpayers “folks”—they love to apply it to themselves. “I’m just folks” (the deep-fried Southernism is: “jes’ folks”) is a verbal version of bluejeans and  lumberjack shirt. Could be the richer the candidate, the more they like saying “folks”—or feel they need to!

It can also be an informal term for “parents”: “I really miss my folks back home.” Not quite as common is the broader sense of “relatives” (old-fashioned “relations” or colloquial “kin” or “kinfolk”).

As “ordinary people,” “folks” can be translated by Spanish el pueblo. As a form of address, two possibilities are mi gente or amigos; a particularly Mexican variant would be mi raza or mi racita.

It’s not to be confused with the singular “folk,” meaning “the (ordinary) people” or “a people,” as with an ethnic group. (This is where the term “folklore” came from.)

The friendly aura of “folks” can also be weirdly out of place, as when Pres. G.W. Bush spoke of “the folks responsible for 9-11” or when Pres. Obama said, “We’ve tortured some folks.”

For a brilliant dissection of the way so many of our politicans try to be “just folks,” give a listen to the late, great country singer Cal Smith performing Sonny Throckmorton’s song, “I’m Just A Farmer”.

¡Buenas palabras! Good words!

Pablo

About Pablo Julián Davis
Pablo Julián Davis, PhD, ATA Certified Translator (Engl>Span) and Supreme Court of Tennessee Certified Interpreter (EnglSpan), offers world-class Spanish/English language services including translation, interpreting, copywriting, and editing in both languages. His specialties are legal, business, medical, and humanities/education; he has wide experience in other fields as well. Also offered: interactive and transformative cultural-awareness training for companies, non-profits, communities, government agencies, institutions of faith, and other audiences. (See just a small sampling of testimonials from happy and satisfied clients: interfluency.com/testimonials.html) The ability to move effectively from language to language - which necessarily also means moving between cultures - has likely never been at a greater premium than it is in today's world. That ability is what we mean by Interfluency TM.

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