Old Wives’ Tales in a New Man’s (and Woman’s) Generation

By Arlyn May Bongay | Last Updated May 19, 2013

In the turn of the century, technology has eclipsed the era of superstitious beliefs. As gadgetry and robotics became man’s ultimate gift and curse in present time, the age-old warnings are shunned aside. Science has proven some to be true, but do the children of the new generation have anything to fear from old wives’ tales?

Few of the popular Old Wives' Tales

There are studies relating “Old Wives’ Tales” to pregnancy 1, health 2, behavior 3, and every aspect covered by these beliefs 4. But there is not one which could conclude the effects of these concepts against a generation. It would have been nice to see the difference between how the children of 1970’s saw superstitions in comparison to those in 2013. Is it treated with more fear or is it all the more ignored? Why this is important is more than just poking fun at kids to drive caution and doubt into their heads as these “tales” were meant to long ago. It is about knowing whether as the time changes, will values, as well as beliefs, evolve with it?

To make this a bit more interesting, we will visit taboos, superstitions, and beliefs around the world. We will pick the outstanding ones and relate to it with the 21st century mind.

It is considered bad luck in Jewish culture to buy anything for the unborn. 5

Come to think of it, it does make practical sense. For a pregnant couple of today, budget comes first before splurging on a baby whose gender is yet to be known. Or say even after you found out if it is a boy or a girl, it’s a bit more realistic to spend for and buy baby stuff when a woman is close to giving birth especially since at  this time, you have an estimate of the child’s size. There are onesies and shoes marked as “infant” size but not all babies are born the same height and weight. 6, 7

Poland and Handbag: “It is considered bad luck for a woman to put her handbag or purse on the floor. Doing that will make render her broke and may never have any money in it from then on. 8 

A woman or a man (of course there are male handbags) who leaves this personal accessory on the floor may have some issues with behavior. Granting that there is a rack, a hook or a table nearby where one can leave the bag, putting it on the floor could be a sign of stress. Stress to most can cause mood swings and irritability. But to some, the lack of motivation is response enough. 9That or a clear giveaway of laziness could be the reason. Take both stress and laziness into account then one is inclined to work less, thus, increasing the chances for purse bankruptcy. In another sense, you can leave it on the floor as a way of saying “I am buying a new handbag so I am never going to put money in this one.”

The Germans warned not to answer a witch’s question for fear that she might take something from you. 10 

If you answer a witch’s question, she is most definitely taking something from you – your answer. Any witch, wizard, man, woman, or child for that matter most likely will take something from you if you answer their query. Apart from your knowledge, you are giving them a piece of you that is your behavior. The way you grimace, act when you answer, compose your words, will give your interviewer an initial assessment of who you are. There is in fact a behavioral interview within a job application. This will help an employer (or that witch) decide whether or not to hire you. 11, 12 Maybe the best way to say this Old Wive’s Tale is “Be careful how you answer a witch’s (or your boss’) question.”

Koreans and “Fan death” 13 

As outrageous as this may sound, it is a very popular and the most appealing Old Wives’ Tale to foreigners. The Koreans believed that anyone who sleeps in a room with the fan on overnight will die. This actually happens to be true. The KCPB (Korea Consumer Protection Board) recorded 20 fan deaths between 2003 and 2005 alone. A 21st century mind will openly consider that from June to August, where the temperature is between 25 to 30 degrees, air circulation in a room could be crucial. 14 There are at least one to two fan deaths in the length of summer. They explain that with the room temperature, the artificial delivery of air by the fan can cause suffocation or hypothermia. 15

Do not show your soles to another person, the Arabians and Asians feel that this is a display of contempt. 16 

Sage Francis, a 21st century hip hop artist has a song that could give light to this belief. 17 Owing to his poetic rap license, “Climb Trees” may look too cryptic and disconnected from this taboo. But for one verse, he explains that the Devil resides under the earth and “…the only perspective he would have of people would be the soles of their shoes.” 18 Whether he shares this belief with those who authored the superstition, his conviction is rather theological but well founded. For practical reasons under etiquette, you wouldn’t want to show other people the unsightly side of your shoes, would you?

If you ask me…

From where I come from, we have more. I bet you have more from your country, too. Be it a superstition, a taboo, Old Wive’s Tales, they’re are all cut from the same cloth. These are concepts that were once meant to scare us,but which were based on some truth. The phrase “Old Wives'” doesn’t make it any different because somehow, as the time moves forward, an “old” “wife” (which means woman by the definition of the phrase) 19 will pass it on to the next generation. This is not to impress fear but if not to be a form of caution, then at least it could be some sort of entertainment for the youth.




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