Halloween is about to knock on our doors and to start spicing up the environment, what better way to do this than with a spooky list of odd British superstitions?
A superstition is the belief in supernatural casualty, that one event causes another without any natural process linking them. There are plenty of countries that share the same superstitions, so you might know some of some of the most common ones. However, today I am bringing some of the weirdest British superstitions that I know you might find interesting. Some may be related to good or bad luck, others to food or maybe animals. But, are these kinds of events a real fact? Or are they just simply myths? Even if you don’t believe in ‘good luck’ and ‘bad luck’, it’s quite fun to find out about these stories that also form part of British culture. Read on to discover 10 of the weirdest UK superstitions!
In some areas black rabbits are thought to host the souls of human beings. White rabbits are said to be really witches and this superstition states that a person should say or repeat “White rabbit, white rabbit, white rabbit” out loud upon waking on the first day of the month, because doing so will ensure good luck for the duration of that month. It must be said first thing in the morning, before any other words are spoken. There is some debate about whether it should be said once, twice or thrice. Some also say it should be said at the top of the stairs.
Of all birds it is probably the magpie that is most associated with superstitions. Throughout Britain it is thought to be unlucky to see a lone magpie and there are a number of beliefs about what you should do to prevent the bad luck that one might bring. In most parts of the UK people will salute a single magpie and say “Good morning Mr Magpie. How is your lady wife today?” By acknowledging the magpie in this way you are showing him proper respect in the hope that he will not pass bad fortune onto you. By referring to the magpie’s wife you are also implying that there are two magpies, which bring joy rather than sorrow according to the popular rhyme. The rhyme says: “One for sorrow, Two for joy, Three for a girl, Four for a boy, Five for silver, Six for gold, Seven for a secret never to be told.”
In Yorkshire, housewives used to believe that bread would not rise if there was a corpse (dead body) in the vicinity, and to cut off both ends of the loaf would make the devil fly over the house! Once at the table, there were numerous other things to watch out for. The best known of course is not to have 13 people at the table, and should someone spill the salt, a pinch had to be thrown over the left shoulder into the eyes of the Devil. Crossed knives at the table signify a quarrel, while a white tablecloth left on a table overnight means the household will need a shroud in the near future.
- Catching leaves in autumn
If you wish to have good luck for the rest of the upcoming months, you are lucky, because you might only need to get into the woods and collect as many leaves as lucky months you wish! Easy right? There are lots of superstitions about catching leaves some people believe it’s good luck to catch a falling leaf, others that you should make a wish if you catch a falling leaf. There’s another that says if you catch a falling leaf on the first day of autumn you will not catch a cold all winter! Every leaf means a lucky month next year. So what are you waiting for? Go and collect leaves!!!
- Boiled egg
There are many food superstitions surrounding eggs. There’s the idea that when you finish eating a boiled egg or you break an egg you have to crush the ends of the egg too, or a witch will collect the shell, build a boat, and start a crazy storm out at sea. It’s also thought that if you get an egg with two yolks, it means you’ll have twins. Some farmers also used to put eggshells in their soil to bring good luck to the next harvest.
- Bear´s back
According to some, one ancient British superstition holds that if a child rides on a bear´s back it will be protected from whooping-cough. While in ancient times bears used to roam Britain, now they are only kept in zoos.
Another animal that has a superstitious colour is ravens. One very English superstition says that if the ravens leave the tower then the crown of England will be lost, and the Empire will be fallen. So that tradition is still kept till this day at the Tower of London which has ravens that are taken good care of but their wings slightly cut off. Also, meeting two or three Ravens together is considered really bad.
- Stay forever young by carrying an acorn
Forget anti-ageing creams!!! Because in Ancient Britain, women carried acorns in their pockets to stay looking young. According to Richard Webster in The Encyclopedia of Superstitions the oak tree was believed to provide longevity and to ward off illnesses due to its long life.
- Don’t eat lettuce if you want to have children
In the 19th century, English men avoided salads if they wanted to start a family. I was curious when I heard about this superstition as I couldn´t find the origin of it. However, I did a little research and a book on ‘Plant Lore’ suggests that lettuce was detrimental to child-bearing because it was a ‘sterile’ plant, and “as plants exhibited peculiarities in their actions, so were they supposed to operate on man”.
- Pass a newborn baby through a ring of cheese
In Medieval England, expectant mothers made a ‘Groaning Cheese’ a large wheel of cheese that matured for nine months as the baby grew. When the ‘groaning time’ or birth came, the cheese would be shared out amongst the family – and when nothing but the outer rind was left, the baby would be passed through the wheel of cheese on Christening day to be blessed with a long and prosperous life.
I was reading around the web for some material for this week’s blog post when I came across a popular article regarding the most misused words in the English language even by native English speakers. The article was right on point and its accuracy actually made it very amusing to read so I thought that I should share my version of its contents with you to keep you in the loop*.
The following words that will be mentioned in this blog will act as encouraging news to English language learners because it’s proof that even native speakers don’t speak English correctly so don’t feel bad when you make mistakes because many English speakers make mistakes too and most of them don’t even realise they’re making those mistakes.
- LITERALLY adv. (Brit. /ˈlɪt(ə)rəli/)
- In a literal manner or sense.
- In a literal, exact, or actual sense; not figuratively, allegorically, etc.
This word is misused on a daily basis by native English speakers because it is usually used in place of its opposite meaning, “figuratively.” You might catch people saying things such as “I was literally freezing to death” when it’s getting a bit chilly outside or describe a rainy day as “it was literally raining cats and dogs.” In both cases, the speaker doesn’t mean that he/she was so cold that they were on the verge of death and even if they were then I’m sure they wouldn’t have time to utter the statement. It’s also obvious that there weren’t any actual dogs and cats falling from the sky. Both statements are an exaggeration of the actual situation so the statements are metaphorical, therefore the correct word would be “figuratively”.
- IRONIC (ī-rŏn′ĭk)
- using words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning; containing or exemplifying irony :
- of, relating to, or tending to use irony or mockery; ironical.
- coincidental; unexpected:
There are quite a few meanings behind the word ‘irony’ and ‘ironic’, which have led to the confusion behind the use of this word. You just have to remember that the general meaning of the word is that something is contrary to what you expect. For example, it would be ironic if a doctor dies of drug overdose since he/she is the one prescribing drugs every day as well. If we use a real life situation as an example, you could say that it was ironic when the GP* Harold Shipman deliberately killed 250 of his patients in 2004, because saving lives is a doctor’s duty.
However, something is not ironic if it’s purely a coincidence or unfortunate. The example that the article used that demonstrated this point clearly was: that it is not ironic that Paul Walker from Fast and Furious died in a car that crashed at high speed BUT it is merely unfortunate.
- ULTIMATE adj. (ŭl′tə-mĭt)
This is one of the most common words that has been misused for the longest time possible that over time its meaning has changed to fit the new way it is being used. Truthfully speaking, I didn’t realise that this was a commonly misused word until I read the article because a new meaning has arisen from the misuse of this word, so technically it is not incorrect to use it in the way we have been doing. But before this word’s alternative meaning was approved it was commonly used in advertising. The article used the example of the ‘Ultimate cheeseburger’, according to the original meaning ‘ultimate’ meant the ‘last’. Do you think the phrase refers to the ‘last’ cheeseburger ever? No, of course it doesn’t but it does refer to the ‘best’ cheeseburger ever. You will notice that modern dictionaries will have this new meaning, such as:
- Of the greatest possible size or significance; maximum
- Representing or exhibiting the greatest possible development or sophistication
- Utmost; extreme
- ENORMITY n. (ĭ-nôr′mĭ-tē)
- the great or extreme scale, seriousness, or extent of something perceived as bad or morally wrong.
- a grave crime or sin.
I left this word until last because this isn’t a word that is commonly misused by normal people but it is a word that is infamously misused by American politicians. When George Bush was elected president of the United States he described the occasion as an ‘enormity’. He obviously got confused with the similarity between ‘enormity’ and ‘enormousness’, in fact there are grammar forums dedicated to the distinction between the two. Unfortunately, the meaning of ‘enormity’ has not changed even when a powerful political figure used in the wrong sense and I’m sure Bush certainly didn’t want to say his election was an enormity (a sin/ crime) but it was an enormousness (i.e. a huge deal).
So, really don’t worry when you make mistakes because you’re a learner and you’re allowed to! But we, native speakers are the ones who should be ashamed of ourselves for making such silly mistakes. Now, that you know the most common misused words, you can listen to your native friends carefully and correct them when they misuse a word.