Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do ya?

My mother was a dear old stick, who had more sayings, aphorisms, and well-aged bits of folk knowledge than an entire shelf of Christmas gift books. So instead of buying your dearly beloved “Ye old Celtic folklore” for Xmas, just re-package these. These were all considered bad luck, for example:

  • A bat flying into your home. I just think Mum was scared shitless of bats.
  • An owl hooting three times in a row, or hooting nearby. Owls occur in many ancient superstitions, as they were regarded as mysterious and knowledgeable beasts.
  • Seeing three butterflies flying together. Abandon hope now.

    Oh. My. God.

  • Spilling salt – this one can be redeemed by grabbing some of the salt and throwing it over your left shoulder, believed to be the spot where the Devil sits, lying in wait for you to stray.To this day, I cannot scatter salt on my plate without also putting some in the palm of my hand and chucking it over my left shoulder. I’m serious, I mean, I just can’t. Ask Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink or Fruit of My Loins. And now she’s catching it, too. These ideas aren’t just ridiculous, they’re inter-generationally infectious!The tradition stems, by the way, from when in medieval days salt was so rare (prized for its preserving qualities as well as its taste) that it was actually worth more than gold, and spilling it would have been bad luck indeed!
  • Staring at the new moon over your left shoulder. Two things at play here – the moon was widely regarded to be the agent for all sorts of human wierdnesses – Shakespeare’s sub-lunary lovers, remember? – and left is just, well, bad. Evil. Wicked.
  • Placing a hat on your bed.
  • Never get out of bed with your left foot first or you will have bad luck all day. Ditto that leftness thing again.
  • Breaking a mirror will bring on 7 years of bad luck.
  • Singing before breakfast. Strictly verboten.

    Now that’s just asking for trouble.


  • Opening an umbrella inside the house is sure to bring bad luck to the entire household. Lord if anyone did this there was hell to pay, if you’ll forgive the pun. To this day I would freak if anyone did it at my place.
  • Never give a wedding present away or it will bring bad luck to the marriage. Which explains a lot, really.
  • Giving a knife to someone as a present brings bad luck to the friendship.
  • If the groom happens to drop the wedding ring during the ceremony, the marriage will not last. In the case of Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and me it was the Bishop that dropped the ring, which I duly decided to ascribe good luck to. Worked so far, fingers crossed.
  • When you leave the house and forget something and must return indoors, then you should count to 10 before leaving again or you will have a dreadful day.
  • Never display lilies in the home; they are widely considered bad luck as they were commonly used in funeral wreaths. (Mrs Wellthisiswehatithink shares this belief.)
  • Walking under ladders is bad luck. It’s because the triangle made by the ladder leaning against the wall symbolises the Christian Trinity, and walking “between” the Trinity is the act of the Devil. I cannot walk under ladders. Really.

That was the just the start, though. We also had:

See you all at the hanging, then.

  • Shoes on a table are a sign that a hanging is near. Great way to put you off your meal. Plain insanitary I could have agreed with.
  • Walking without shoes on will give you worms. (It doesn’t. They don’t enter through the soles of the feet. But opinions differ – see comments.)
  • Never sleep with your feet facing the front door. Why? Well, dur. Corpses are always taken out of the front door feet first. Don’t believe me? Watch the crime scene clearer-uppers in every movie for the next week or so. Well, every movie with corpses in it, anyway.
  • Feed a cold and starve a fever. You know what? It’s a friggin’ miracle I survived childhood at all.This is a common old wives tale during cold and flu season that makes recovering much more difficult for some people. The old wives tale says that one should feed a cold and starve a fever, except depending who you listen to it’s also said that you should starve a cold and feed a fever. Where this came from is really anyone’s guess, but it’s cobblers.The fact is that fluids are often lost when a person is ill with a cold or a fever, so increasing fluids is always a good idea. When sick, a person should always eat to make sure that their body has the nutrients it needs to get well, as well as the energy that the body needs to recover. So, when you are sick it’s best to increase fluids and eat when you have an appetite!
  • If you pull a funny face, and the wind changes, you’ll be stuck with the face forever. The wind changed a lot growing up on the English Channel. From West, to South West, to West, to South West. Always gale force. I obviously pulled a face at the wrong moment. Well, that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it.
  • If you go outside with wet hair, you’ll catch a cold. Er, nope. Viruses, not bad weather, cause colds. It’s more common to get sick during winter months because these viruses thrive better indoors due to the warmer conditions and also because the air may be more dry indoors.
  • Eating crusts on your bread makes your hair curly. Which was important to my Mum, as she constantly complained her hair was “straight as pokers”. My hair looks as though I ate nothing but crusts for the first ten years of my life. I am inclined to blame Dad, however.
  • You should put butter on a burn. Er, no you shouldn’t. You should run it under a cool tap or put something cool on it. A packet of frozen peas is commonly called into the ranks in the Wellthisiswhatithink household. Putting a greasy substance on the burn holds the heat in, exacerbating any tissue damage.
  • Not that Mum ever told me this, but I am also reminded of the common myth that cranberry juice cures urinary tract infections. Actually, it doesn’t, no many how many people tell you it does. It’s just less of an irritant than other juices. It’s unlikely to do you any harm, as it helps to flush the system. Persistent infections are likely to require antibiotics.
  • While we’re about it, chewing gum doesn’t stick to your ribs (and it would be a rather strange digestive tract if it did, right?)
  • Last but by no means least: eating before swimming does not give you cramp so you drown – fair dinkum, I used to have to sit on the blistering beach for an hour after a single sandwich.
  • Black cats crossing your path do not bring you luck. Then again, I have been known to stop the car, get out, and shoo one across the road in front of us before now.

So. What’s your favourite old wives tale or superstition, and do you still obey it? Touch wood, I’ll get a lot of replies.

  1. Richard Ember says:

    Did she also tell you that you were ‘slim and handsome’?

    Fortunately, none of the above (including slim and handsome) applies to me as I am covered in the Blood of Jesus.

    So there.


  2. Ruth says:

    If someone has to lift their feet so you can sweep where their feet were – they’re going to jail soon.


  3. mlshatto says:

    If you go visiting, you must leave the house by the same door that you entered. Otherwise you will take all the luck of the home away with you.

    If you and a friend are walking together and walk on opposite sides of an object, like a telephone pole or fire hydrant, you’ll have a fight. This can be prevented by saying “Bread and Butter” as you walk past the object. I still find myself doing this, but usually not out loud anymore.

    As for the cranberry juice thing, it doesn’t cure infections that have already started, but a meta-analysis published recently in The Archives of Internal Medicine indicates that drinking cranberry juice regularly can help to prevent infections from starting in the first place. See here:


  4. James Mahoney says:

    Stephen Wright says he broke a mirror and got seven years bad luck, but his lawyer thinks he can get him off with five.

    James says he didn’t know that feet had souls.

    Black cats crossing your path are bad luck in the US, but good luck in the UK.


  5. jvdix says:

    Was your Mum from the southern United States, or somewhere else more or less tropical with plenty of rainfall? There are worms which can be contracted by walking barefoot, such as Ancylostoma duodenale, a hookworm. The larvae enter a new host through the skin. Of course they can also climb some plants and get through higher skin than that of the foot, and, also of course, you would need to do that barefoot walking over some very unpleasant ground (it takes them 5-10 days to become infective after which they can survive for 3-4 weeks); you’d be walking on feces less than 38 days old. Necator americanus is a similar species with similar transmission habits, although it lives longer. Both depend on warm wet soil for the larvae to develop, hence they show up in areas with warm temperatures and plenty of rain. I believe Australia, or most of it, has the warmth but not the rain? Except the far north gets rain? I doubt that either worm would be in your neighbourhood.


    • Is there anything you DON’T know?! Mum was from the UK – thanks for correcting my factual error lol


      • jvdix says:

        Oh, there’s lots that I don’t know, but don’t ask me what, because I don’t know. In this case there is an honest reason: I was a Girl Scout, and thus warned of every possible outdoor hazard in what is now “the lower 48.” All I actually remembered was “barefoot – hookworm – the South”; I looked up the rest.

        I suspect knowing a lot of useless stuff is, like having a clean desk, a sign of a misspent life (I don’t have the desk though, so maybe there’s hope). Must run now; need to check out that Dalek relaxation tape.


  6. Oonagh G says:

    I was taught tha feed a cold and starve a fever is more of a “diagnostic” aid than a remedy. If you stuff yor face then you are likely to have a cold but if you are off your food flu is more likely.


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