General Information About Item:
- Type of Lore: Customary (superstition)
- Language: English
- Country: United States
- Informant: Zoe Marzi
- Date Collected: 5/21/2020
- Zoe Marzi is a Sophomore at Dartmouth College who lives in a suburb of Boston MA with her mother, father, and sister. Zoe is an English major.
- Cultural Context: This is a superstition that I have encountered from several different informants, suggesting a diffuse usage and a nebulous origin.
- Social Context: The informant believes strongly in this particular superstition, indicating during the interview that if she does not carry out the ritualistic act of the superstition to avoid a negative outcome, she “feels like the chances (of a negative event occurring) are astronomically higher than they would’ve been otherwise.”
- When mentioning a future event (particularly a positive expectation for the future) in a way that implies that it is certain, one must declare “knock on wood” and knock on the nearest piece of wood to avert a negative outcome for the future event.
Associated file (a video, audio, or image file): https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/jinx
Note that a “jinx” is a term that roughly means “to bring bad luck to.”
- “If I’m talking about something that might happen – mostly something good that might happen – if I say it in a way that determines that it definitely will happen, I say “knock on wood” and then find the nearest wooden object to knock on. I’m not entirely sure where that stems from but it’s kind of an anti-jinxing mechanism.
- The informant speculates that she learned this particular piece of folklore from her father, who used it as a joke rather than an earnest superstition. She mentions that if her father mentioned the superstition and had to knock on wood, he would knock on her head and pretend that it was wood. However, the informant also mentions that this is not how she practices this superstition, indicating that it is “not a joke” to her.
- It is interesting that the informant clarified the superstition by referencing a supposed “anti-jinxing” effect. What this amounts to is, in a sense, defining a superstition recursively in terms of a more basic superstition. Perhaps, to borrow from Jung’s collective unconscious model of psychoanalysis, the more complex forms of superstition are related to a more basic “superstition framework” shared through the collective unconscious, expressed here with a more basic/primal notion of a “jinx” underlying the more complex “knock on wood” phenomena.
- Additionally, the use of the superstition as a joke implies that the superstition is known by the listener, indicating its ubiquity.
Collector’s Name: Ted McManus
- Jokes, Superstitions, Knock on Wood, Jinx, Luck