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Western superstitions and their origins

Popularity 16Viewed 6688 times 2014-4-25 10:58 |Personal category:foreign perspective|System category:Others

For those of you learning English out there, you may learn a lot about some of our superstitions, today I just want to explain where some of our superstitions come from as they often have interesting historical roots. Mostly are stories I remember and may not be 100 percent accurate and many of these have multiple theories as to why they exist. 

Carrots help you see in the dark.
This was part of the world war 2 propaganda. The British had invented radar and we began bombing the Germans at night. the Germans, confused as to how we bombed them at night, started researching how we were doing it. The British government began to spread the rumour that it was the carrots in our ration packs that helped us see in the dark in order to put the Germans off our trail. They figured it out eventually, but by that time, the rumour had already stuck. 

Never take the third light from a match, it's bad luck. 
In world war one, Snipers sometimes operated at night time. Their technique involved waiting for someone to light up a match and light their cigarette, they then would spot the light and train his scope on them. On the second light, the sniper would focus his shot, zooming in ready for the kill, on the third light, he would fire killing the third person. 

Friday the 13th is a bad day
The reason that Friday 13th in particular is unlucky is due to the massacre of the knights templar by Phillip iv of France on Friday the 13th.

Atchoo (bless you)
This comes from a plague that was spreading in 6 A.D. Italy where most people who sneezed would die. the pope urged others to bless such people and pray for them that they might become better, 

cross your fingers for good luck
One theory of this is during the hundred years war between France and England, Archers would cross their fingers before pulling the bow string in order to grant them good luck. Before that, it was also a secret sign between members of Christianity (when it was illegal)

Bird pooing on you is good luck
One theory of this is the sort of karma logic that assumes, if something bad happens to you, then something good must happen in order to balance out the karma. 

If you know of the origins of any other superstitions, please add in the comments section

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report 财神 2014-4-25 21:25
All over the world there are so many superstitions . so different superstitions make the world more interesting.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-4-25 21:37
财神: All over the world there are so many superstitions . so different superstitions make the world more interesting.
Are you a believer personally in superstitions?
Reply Report voice_cd 2014-4-26 16:04
Thank you Sean, we have highlighted it on the homepage.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-4-26 19:47
voice_cd: Thank you Sean, we have highlighted it on the homepage.
thanks again
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-26 21:14
About seeing at night, I think people had many problems because of malnourishment during that period of time, and nightblindness must've been one of them. And vitamin A (carrots are a good source) deficiency contributes to it. Eating lots of carrots or taking vitamin A supplements wouldn't cure it in adulthood but carrots are good for eyesight and everything, except for diabetics I guess because it has very high glisemic index.

So, seeing at night must have been a wrong interpretation of a correct information... I'm surprised to see it as a superstition. I'd count opening an umbrella indoors, writing someone's name in red ink, seeing a black cat or walking under a ladder instead.
Reply Report desperado123 2014-4-26 22:07
very funny topic and we have lot of superstitional sayings here in China.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2014-4-26 22:38
I used to think that walking under a ladder was bad luck, till I heard of this guy that walked out into the edge of the road to avoid a ladder and was hit by a passing car.  Is 13 unlucky? This guy fell out of a 13th floor window and thought.. So far, so good!  
Reply Report cecilia颖 2014-4-27 10:12
a bird once pooed on my shoes when i visited a temple.haha. it might be true about it.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2014-4-27 11:14
'Walking under a ladder' came about in England, a few centuries ago when people drank more ale at lunch than ate food. Drunken sign painters were likely to dump a bucket of paint if you walked by or under their ladder and handymen would drop tools.
Breaking a mirror is bad luck because, at one time mirrors were very expensive. If a palace maid broke a mirror she was sentence to 7 years in prison.
A black cat crossing your path is bad luck because, in the old, superstitious days, witches could transform themselves into black cats. If one crossed your path, it meant a witch was watching you.
Spilling salt is bad luck because in Roman times, salt was so valuable that soldiers were paid in salt rather than money. Spilling it was equal to burning money. I'm not sure where throwing a pinch of salt over your left shoulder negates the action of spilling, but I can tell you that that is where the word 'salary' came from.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-4-27 18:26
teamkrejados: 'Walking under a ladder' came about in England, a few centuries ago when people drank more ale at lunch than ate food. Drunken sign painters were like ...
I never even realised the salary one yet that makes so much sense looking at latin french and spanish for salt
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-4-27 18:34
Maierwei: About seeing at night, I think people had many problems because of malnourishment during that period of time, and nightblindness must've been one of t ...
I dont disagree carrots may help you see better, I think it's more that mothers tell you this like, if you eat carrots you can walk in zero light and see everything, similar to a cat which I dont think is going to actually happen

at least my mother did :p
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-4-27 19:10
desperado123: very funny topic and we have lot of superstitional sayings here in China.
You should share them with us, I have never really heard much about the chinese superstitions, minus the numbers.
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-27 19:38
seanboyce88: I dont disagree carrots may help you see better, I think it's more that mothers tell you this like, if you eat carrots you can walk in zero light and  ...
Haha I see, too bad that we live in a world where noone ate enough carrots! :)
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-4-27 19:59
Maierwei: Haha I see, too bad that we live in a world where noone ate enough carrots! :)
Heehee, I still detest carrots...

It's ok, I have green eyes, I read somewhere we naturally see better in the dark ;)
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-27 20:04
seanboyce88: Heehee, I still detest carrots...

It's ok, I have green eyes, I read somewhere we naturally see better in the dark ;)
I loved carrots as a kid and always snacked on them. But now I can't see who's right in front of me if I take off my glasses.... Hehe.

Oh wait, so it's not that all foreigners see better in the dark, but only those with green eyes do? NO... (Btw I met many Japanese people in Japan who seriously thought things almost as ridiculous as this one)
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-4-27 20:09
Maierwei: I loved carrots as a kid and always snacked on them. But now I can't see who's right in front of me if I take off my glasses.... Hehe.

Oh wait, so it ...
Hahaha, the rubbish we can read online. I would like to note I put the wink at the end to note that I am not entirely serious and I realise it's not at all true. (I'm honestly not that dense :p)

What did the Japanese think? It would be interesting to hear of their crazy beliefs
Reply Report Maierwei 2014-4-27 20:38
Hehe internet wisdom :)

In Japan, my experience was that if you scratch your head they tell you it's because of your nationality, if you cross your legs it's because of your race and if you drink water it's because of your religion. People around me (undergrad students) thought they were clever enough (!) to see such links and teach you about your culture.

I'm vegetarian and many times I was told it's because I'm a foreigner, and that Japanese see food as food only (what a unique perspective isn't it) and that I like baking because bread is the stable food in my country. (How many people bake their own bread?!) There's also the epic one from Japanese anime Yakitate Japan that foreigners don't like Japanese pastry because "they salivate more" which indirectly means the pure Japanese race=more advanced in the Darwinian stairway to Heaven. Just add an unimaginable naivety to interprete any action you might carry out. I know people from more well known countries might have it less, but I saw people who taught every single citizen of USA carries guns.
Reply Report PatrickInBeijin 2014-4-28 06:11
Interesting post.  I was taught (growing up) that people used to believe that when you sneezed, a demon might enter your body (demons being the cause of sickness) and the blessing was to protect you against the demon.  Thanks for your helpful information.
Reply Report LanaLiao 2014-4-28 20:22
“if something bad happens to you, then something good must happen in order to balance out the karma.”  seems people are quite optimistic, a good way of life!  Here below I share with you two old Chinese superstitions.
Since I was still a kid, I was told that if I stand indoors under an umbrella, I would not be able to grow tall. Nowaways, most children are still not allowed to do it by their parents or grandparents.
It has long been said that eating   "Chinese sauerkraut"(酸菜), cabbage, or Chinese cabbage, which is cut into small pieces, boiled and then preserved in an earthen jar, can help our hair grow faster.
I am not  a  firm superstition believer, but I have to count on it for an explanation when science fails to give me one.
Reply Report seanboyce88 2014-4-28 23:20
LanaLiao: “if something bad happens to you, then something good must happen in order to balance out the karma.”  seems people are quite optimistic, a good way ...
hahaha I am hairy enough as it is, I should maybe lay off the cabbage

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