Afternoon Inquisition

AI: Old Wives’ Tales

I know, I’m not who you were expecting. This is generally Maria’s AI day, but she’s got super important business to take care of today and needed someone to fill in.

Let me begin by saying I’m not a superstitious/woo-y person. However…

When I get sick, the first thing I crave is chicken noodle soup. It can’t be helped. I know there’s actually nothing behind it besides fluid intake, but in my mind it makes me feel better. A glass of water doesn’t make me feel better, even though it’s accomplishing the same thing. Why? Because when I was little, every time I got sick people told me “eat chicken noodle soup – it’ll make you feel better.”

I avoid cracks in sidewalks. Not because I think anything is going to happen to my mother’s back, or that it causes a change in luck (good or bad), but the old superstition stuck with me for some reason. Silly childhood superstitions, especially the ones that come in rhyme-form, get so embedded in one’s mind that they have the potential to carry on. In this instance, it’s more of an OCD for me.

It bothers me sometimes that, as a rational person, I am still capable of irrational thinking. I don’t actually think chicken noodle soup makes anyone less sick, and I don’t suggest it to anyone when they feel sick, but I know it makes me feel better for the few minutes after I’ve finished the bowl. I don’t believe in luck of any sort, but a childhood game relating to superstition stuck with me. I know I’m not the only one plagued by bits of nonsense sticking to memories.

What do you think of old wives’ tales? Do you have any silly practices that you’ve carried with you since childhood? By bringing them forth from our own childhoods, no matter how unknowingly, are we likely to pass them on to our children? In doing so are we doing harm to future generations of rational people?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

Chelsea

Chelsea is the proud mama of an amazing toddler-aged girl. She works in the retail industry while vehemently disliking mankind and, every once in a while, her bottled-up emotions explode into WordPress as a lengthy, ranty, almost violent blog. These will be your favorite Chelsea moments. Follow Chelsea on Twitter: chelseaepp.

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53 Comments

  1. It has always struck me that some superstitions evolved out of common sense protections. Walking under a ladder *is* bad luck if you define “bad luck” in this case as being more likely to knock over a ladder or have paint or tools dropped on your head. Opening an umbrella indoors *is* bad luck if you define back luck as being more likely to knock something over.

    In our family, therefore, we have attempted to create our own superstitions to reinforce common sense. For example, we “believe” that when you turn on the oven, a little luck gets sucked out of you. When you turn it off again, you get that oven luck back. We delight in stealing each other’s “oven luck.” And as a consequence, we have not forgotten to turn off the oven in a very long time.

    Because I invented this superstition as an adult, it doesn’t have the same visceral feeling that other superstitions have, like “touching wood,” which I still do in spite of myself. But maybe my daughter will have a life-long habit of remembering to turn off the oven, for irrational fear of losing out on oven luck!

  2. I couldn’t say objectively, so I asked my wife, and she doesn’t see any. I couldn’t think of any, either. There must be something…

    I’d say it would be nearly a certainty that our kids would pick up on our behaviors and they would emulate them. It’s one of the things they do.

    Harmful? Maybe in some small way. I suppose it is good if people examine what they do against the backdrop of rationality, and these funny little woo habits would fly in the face of that. Metaphorically speaking.

  3. First off, you’re too young to be an “old wife.”

    And yeah– I have my “superstitions” that make me feel better. Chicken soup is one (must be home made with lots of good vegetables and a stewing chicken).

    I also resort, on occasion, to accupuncture and other forms of Chinese medicine (if I am away from home and do not have access to real medicine). That’s a leftover from my years in China and Chinese martial arts.

    And, when discussing particularly stupid or hateful things (usually people), I often make signs against the Evil Eye and utter Yiddische imprecations under my breath. It’s a release of tension.

  4. I think CDs need to be put in the case right side up (that is, with the lettering facing the correct way). Otherwise, the next time you open the case, the CD may not be facing the right way.

    I also think it’s necessary to make the ‘devil horns’/’rock on’ hand sign whenever Sabbath comes on the radio, and I require the kids to do it also (this often applies to artists other than Sabbath, but it’s an absolute must for Sabbath or you will forever be haunted by the love child of Ozzy and Ronnie James Dio). I fear that as teenagers they will rebel against my authority by refusing to make the ‘rock on’ sign.

    I am a Hedge

  5. I don’t think these things are necessarily harmful, unless you really hammer them home and end up turning your kid into a superstitious mess. If one’s attitude is similar to your own, dearest FooFoo, then it’s unlikely they’ll do any harm at all.

    I mean, the kid might pick up the behaviour, but being a kid it is more than likely to ask about that behaviour too, at which point an explanation can be offered.

    Personally, I can’t think of any superstitions of that sort that I continue to perform, and in fact I often go out of my way to do the opposite. Just today, in fact, I opened an umbrella in my office at work. I’m so devil-may-care, they should lock me up.

  6. @jenea: That’s an excellent idea! The idea of “oven luck” made me giggle, and also made me think that perhaps it could help me remember when I’ve left things on the stove. You’re right, and I don’t know how I never thought of it – superstitions are common sense with a sense of grandeur.

    @Im a Hedge: I do that with CDs as well. It drives me batshit insane when CDs or DVDs aren’t put back in their case at all. I have a pile of DVDs that are missing their cases. It makes me cringe.

    @JHGRedekop: Ha! I hadn’t thought of the “certain-color blocks are lava” game in many many years.

  7. I take vitamin C, and I do enjoy a good chicken noodle soup. I know they don’t do any medicinal good, but the warmth and fluids of the soup and the idea of the vitamin C make me think I feel better, and I’ll take it. It’s a (very) small price to pay for relief -and it tastes better than the demon Zicam!!

    I still lift up my feet when I drive over train tracks (or, where train tracks used to be, for that matter). I still make wishes when I drive under moving trains. I knock on wood -but I also regularly knock on the dashboard of my car because two cars ago the area around the tape deck was made of that awful fake wood stuff and it was the closest I could get to knocking on wood whilst driving.

    I no longer kiss my hand and hit the ceiling when I drive under a yellow or red light, or bump the ceiling when I see a car with a headlight out -mostly because I now have a nice new car that I don’t want to punch. I no longer hold my breath when passing cemeteries, and I no longer avoid water after eating. I do avoid cracks in the sidewalk sometimes, but that’s mostly because I’m a wee bit OCD, not out of any fear for my mother’s well being.

    I NEVER believed anyone should get their medical advice from celebrities, however…

    @Im a Hedge: I agree with you on both counts. It is also necessary to look over one’s shoulder just after Don Henley says “don’t look back, you can never look back.” (I know that mentioning Don Henley in response to a post about Dio and Sabbath is akin to shelving Michael, George after Metallica, but you can flog me later…)

  8. @jblumenfeld: With schmaltz.

    I still talk about parking karma (as if that was going to help in this town). As for other Jewy superstitions, my mother had a red thread in my baby blanket to keep Lilith away. That is some serious oogedy boogedy.

  9. I don’t know where this comes from, but as a young child in India, I was told that the way to cure hiccups was not just to drink water (that generally works for me) but to have an odd number of sips, commonly five or seven.

    It’s become second nature now to drink five or seven sips of water when I have hiccups. Once in a while, I try to override my irrationality and drink a random number of sips (and that works too) but when I’m not thinking about it consciously, I always end up having five or seven.

  10. @SidBB: I’ve had the hiccups every day for 10 years [seriously]. The stuff I’ve heard for getting rid of them verges on absolutely wacky. One of my favorites was to take a glass of water and drink it upside down – put your mouth on the far side of the glass and bend forward so the bottom of the glass aims at your stomach.

    Speaking of numbers, though… I have a thing against odd numbers. I count things while I’m doing whatever to them, and if there’s an odd number I have to do it one extra time. I have for as long as I can remember and I can’t control it.

  11. @faith: Well, speaking of Jewy superstition – I have 3 kids, and none of them are named after anyone who could possibly be construed as a living relative. That’s the Ashkenazi superstition; oddly, Sephardic jews usually name children after living relatives. It all goes back to trying to fool the Angel of Death or something, but my wife and I never once considered ignoring the superstition.

  12. I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of about eating chicken soup to feel better. Sure, it isn’t doing anything medical to you besides giving you more fluid, but I don’t think it’s being w0o-woo to say that feeling happier after eating something you like to eat probably has an effect on your physical health too.

  13. @jblumenfeld: My grandfather’s name was changed when he was a year old because he was sick so the angel of death wouldn’t know who he was…

    I have no kids but when husband and I talked about it we considered naming them after his dead uncle. You’d have to know him and how utterly severed his ties to Judaism are to know how ridiculous that is.

  14. While there’s nothing actually medicinal about it, chicken soup has always struck me as a really sensible thing to eat when you’re sick: fluids, the warm salty liquid feels soothing on sore throats, and it gets calories and nutrition into you when other foods look like too much effort.

    I have the stepping on cracks thing too, but I think that’s just part of my mild OCD, along with feeling compelled to sort M&Ms or Skittles by color then rank them by preferred flavor. Skittles, that is. M&Ms don’t really vary flavor-wise by color, although I always find the blue ones helpful when I’m feeling a bit paralyzed. M&Ms I have to arrange in pretty snowflake patterns on my desk before I can eat them.

    Chelsea: Hiccups every day? Oh, that sounds awful! I find them incredibly distracting. Funny you mentioning the drink a glass of water upside down trick–that’s actually the one I use when I get them (thankfully, not every day!) I always figured it worked because I was compressing the diaphragm by bending over and swallowing and that relieved the spasming, but it could just be some manifestation of the placebo effect for me, or a trick of my anatomy.

  15. I will never name a pet after a another pet. We have no Fido II or Felix III, every pet has to have a different name. My mom started this, and it sticks with me to this day.

    We also have a weird superstitions in my family regarding weddings. The bride can’t walk down the aisle during the rehearsal or you’re marriage won’t last. Also, you can’t get married on another family member’s wedding anniversary. This apparently will also lead to divorce.

  16. I still sometimes do the ‘these tiles are lava’ thing when I’m somewhere that has tiles, because habit that old is hard to break – did it all the time as a kid! And sometimes I’ll avoid cracks ou of habit, though there aren’t many sidewalks neat me in the first place. I will admit to knocking on wood to avoid jinxing something (I actually have a pocketknife with wood instead of plastic facings that’s handy while out :P).

    Oh, and I have ALL KINDS of shit about being safe from monsters in the dark. I have an overactive imagination and I’ve never gotten over being afraid of the dark. Lighted places are of course safe, blankets are safe, crossed fingers make you more safe, carrying my cat makes me safe as long as I keep myself from accidentally believing that she’s a monster disguised as my cat. This is probably the reason that I HAVE to sleep under a blanket year-round, no matter how hot it gets (I live in the desert, guys.) The ceiling fan in my room is always running to help prevent me dying of hot under my blanket. Because I cannot give up the blanket without feeling profoundly uncomfortable.

    I also mentally give thanks in french to a goddess I invented in sixth grade when I’m stuck at a table while someone’s saying grace. I know perfectly well she doesn’t exist, I INVENTED her, but it helps me ignore my grandmother going on about stuff that infuriates me, and thinking of things I’m grateful for is probably good practice.

    Oh, and I hold my breath when I’m in a car going under tunnels or underpasses. All my classmates always did this too – no idea where we got it, but it was absolutely murder in some particularly LONG tunnels on a class trip to DC. Especially when you’re not paying attention and don’t have time to suck in a breath before you’re in the dark. You can’t take one while you’re under, don’tchaknow.

    I think I’ve stopped doing slug bug no slug backs, though. It was very popular in the backseats of classmates’ parents’ cars on school trips in elementary school!

  17. Everyday on my way to work I cross a one-way street and I still look both ways for some inexplicable reason.

    @jblumenfeld: Surely the Ashkenazi tradition of greeting one’s children and grandchildren with “Have you eaten?” has to rank alongside circumscion as pointless woo that just wont die.

  18. I’ve been a vegetarian since I was twelve and to this day whenever I inadvertently kill a critter, even a bug, or accidentally consume one, I apologize to it with a genuine pang of guilt as if it’s little critter ghost could hear me.

  19. @BubbaRich:
    “Have you eaten, bubbeleh?”
    “Yes oma, before we left the house”
    “OK, I’ll make you a sandwich”
    “No, I’m fine, I’m not hungry”
    “What? Look at you [pinches cheek] you skin and bone, I’ll make you a salt beef sandwich”

    It’s eating for no reason other than you should be stuffing your offspring with food at any given opportunity, as if 21st century Britain the same as a 19th century shtetl, and a deeply unhealthy way to think about food and expressing effection

  20. @jblumenfeld:

    Oh and Chelsea – the odd number thing – that’s doesn’t sound like a superstition, it sounds like OCD. Though the two do seem to have an interesting intertwining history…

    Yup! That’s why I included it. My number “thing” started because of a fear of the number 3 for unlucky reasons when I was a small child. It spread beyond that to numbers divisible by 3 and then to all odd numbers.

    @StephanieB: You may be correct about the diaphragm compression. I’m going to look into that one a little more. It just always sounded the silliest. :)

    @Jane Grey: I will never re-use pet names either. Each pet has their own name because they are each a special family member. They just don’t last as long as people-family-members.

    @Shiyiya:

    Lighted places are of course safe, blankets are safe, crossed fingers make you more safe, carrying my cat makes me safe as long as I keep myself from accidentally believing that she’s a monster disguised as my cat.

    OMFSM! While I’m not afraid of the dark, I have a fear of closets. I cannot sleep knowing that the closet door is open or even cracked. When I was a wee one I had horrible recurring nightmares about a werewolf-type monster living in our attic. The attic door, of course, was in my bedroom closet. *shudder* I still get the creeps thinking about it. I also used to check the shower/bathtub whenever entering the bathroom to make sure no one was hiding in it. I don’t know why.

    @cemeterygates: I’ve turned to vegetarianism a few times. Once was when I was particularly crunchy as a teenager. The combination of vegginess and crunchiness lead to me having to thank everything I ate for giving itself up to prolong my life. Hah! I’d forgotten about that one.

  21. @Chelsea: Now see, my closet door has to stay OPEN, because if it’s all the way open there can’t be anything hiding in it. (We don’t have an attic, though.)

    Also if I go into the bathroom and someone has closed the curtain I become convinced that there’s a rapist or something hiding behind it. And then I terrify myself pulling it back open because leaving it shut and being in the bathroom is worse. I need a shower curtain I can see through or something. I don’t even know who keeps closing the damn thing, I NEVER do and my parents have their own bathroom.

    Oh, and there’s a three foot tall space under my bed. There’s a bunch of stuff stored in it, but still WAY enough space for monsters. And cockroaches. I found one down there once when I was five and screamed my head off.

    (I scream my head off at cockroaches now, too. They’re the only insect I really have issues with. I nearly had a panic attack when my mother killed one and left it on top of the trash in my bathroom, and I screamed bloody murder and woke both my parents when one ran over my hand!)

  22. Actually, there is a bit of medical science behind chicken soup and sore throat/mouth pain relief. One old remedy/form of relief for this was gargling with water. Chicken soup is usually loaded with salt and has a similar effect, not to mention a much better flavor. The additional fluid, vitamins, protein, etc. are helpful, too. I got this factoid from my wife, the RN/BSN.

    So yeah, it’s sorta science based. And matzoh balls do taste good…

    I agree with Jane Grey, et al. We never reuse pet names. Each cat/dog is an individual and we want to remember them that way. There’s no “woo” involved, more of keeping memories intact.

    I don’t intentionally harm insects, animals, etc. if I can avoid it, unless they are a direct threat to someone (I include pets under “someone” here.) I’ve even been known to help lost moths back outside when they are fluttering around indoor lights.

    Walking under a ladder is just a safety violation in my world. You NEVER do that around aircraft – a dropped wrench (not to mention the whole danmed toolbox) can kill you, especially if the guy that dropped it is changing the navigation light bulbs on the top of an airliner’s vertical stabilizer.

    And Hedge…Every time I hear Jimmy Buffett’s “Fins,” I just have to put my fin up on top of my head and go “fins to the left” and “fins to the right.” But that’s because I’m a silly parrothead, not a superstitious person. ;-)

  23. @russellsugden:

    Everyday on my way to work I cross a one-way street and I still look both ways for some inexplicable reason.

    I do too, but that’s because I lived in Boston for a year. Every since I was nearly run down by a taxi going the wrong way on a small one-way street, I look both ways crossing every street.

  24. @JHGRedekop: I do the same when crossing both sides of a divided roadway. Also, I watch cars stopping for red lights when crossing traffic. To me it’s the same, traffic control does not actually stop a vehicle from hitting you, just makes it less likely.

    I have one semi-superstition and several obsessive behaviors. The semi-superstition is that, if there is any reasonable chance of rain and I leave the house without an umbrella, it will rain on me. If I bring an umbrella it won’t. Clearly this is binning or confirmation bias.

    One compulsive behavior is that pens with removable caps or pocket clips that can be spun around *must* have the pocket clip in line with the writing on the pen.

  25. I still anthromorphize my cars. When I was a kid we always named a new car. We had the Opal GT Shatzi Opalvagen, the brown two door coupe, Bonnie and the big blue station wagon. Clyde and those were just a few. My current car, a 93 Honda del Sol is named Maz because he thinks he’s a Maserati. Yes, I know it’s just a machine but even at my age it’s still fun to pretend.

    I also have a bit of OCD. All light switches must be flipped in the same direction. Nothing bad will happen if they’re not. It’s just this thing I have to do.

  26. I don’t think that all old wives tales and similar woo are harmful. What’s harmful is not the engaging in a bit of irrationality now and then but bypassing rational behavior because of woo. I think of my in-laws in this context. They’re in the Church of Religious Science which seems to be like Christian Science except that doctors are OK. So they get prayed over by a Religious Science practitioner and then go to the doctor for treatment that actually works.

  27. It’s fair to point out that I differentiate between compulsions and superstitions. I have TONS of quite specific ways I place or organize things around my house. And there’s not a one of them I don’t have a valid reason for doing.

    My wife’s favorite is the coffee spoons in their slot in the drawer. We have two types: 7 copies of one standard stype, and a half dozen random coffee spoons. The standard type face one direction, the non-standard spoons face the other direction. From what would otherwise be a random mess of spoons, I can select three identical spoons in a moment if I have a coffee serving social emergency at home, see!

  28. After many years of avoiding those lids on the drainage pipes in the street (this is extremely common in Norway for kids, but I never heard about it while I lived in the states!), I finally decided that I thought the whole deal was bunk, and I stopped avoiding them altogether.
    My friends thought I was weird, but I felt so empowered! Finally, my life and luck were up to ME and not some crazy weird force beyond my control and understanding. It was the first skeptically minded thing I did on my own, and I still enjoy stepping on them. And walking under ladders, as long as there is noone on it.

  29. I agree on looking both ways on one-way streets for the same reasons given above. That’s not woo, that’s just safe practice these days.

    I even look in all directions getting onto and off freeways. You’d be surprised how some idiots (don’t) drive their vehicles. ;-)

  30. @BoobCast:
    If we allow gays to marry next thing you know someone will want to marry their car. Do you promise to love, honor and routine oil change til clunkers for cash do you part?

    (note:this is meant as sarcasm; I am not against gay marriage)

  31. @russellsugden: Everyday on my way to work I cross a one-way street and I still look both ways for some inexplicable reason.

    Besides the points about idiots driving the wrong way, this highlights the difference between a superstition, and a functional habit! Habits let us put useful behaviors on “autopilot”, so we don’t need to spend mental effort or attention in doing them. That’s a useful thing! It makes much more sense to reflexively look both ways when crossing a street, than to consider every time “well, is this a one way street? which way should I be checking?”

  32. *hangs head* Oh, I had many, many, many older superstitious relatives and they passed a handful of their tics onto me. Some I never bought, some will be with me until the day I die. I don’t think my husband even realizes how many I have since I try to keep them on the QT.

    I refuse to open an umbrella inside. The best I can do is let an open one dry in the garage.

    I don’t walk under ladders either. While some of that is pure general safety – I used to work in an ER and I saw lots of nasty, jostled ladder accidents – I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was based in superstitious belief.

    If I spill salt, I always throw a pinch over my left shoulder with my right hand. (Right is the “good” hand, the devil is on the left.) I can’t even remember when I started doing this (it’s not something my Mom does, so I must have learned it from one of my grandmothers or great-aunts), I just can’t remember a time when I haven’t done it.

    I’m from the DC area, and there is a spot you rub for good luck on the East Wing of the National Gallery (you can see it here – http://lh5.ggpht.com/_RsEUxpbCsMs/R0-cP3y2neI/AAAAAAAAAEY/_EKi5rEJbE4/CSC_0097.JPG – interestingly, most arty stock photography of this part of the building is cropped so you can’t see the rub mark).

    It’s a really local thing – I’ve never seen anything about it on the internet. If you search on it, you find another blog where I commented on it, that’s about it. But considering the size of the rub mark, there are lots of people who do it.

    And this one’s directly from my mother, a very smart woman who learned it from her grandmother and gets agitated if we don’t do it while in the car with her.

    If you drive under a train-trestle while the train is on it (and as my home from young-adulthood is near an underpass for a train trestle, this happens frequently), you have to pick one foot up off the floor put your thumb up and spit (that dry little ptui, not a hocker ;) ). Do not ask me why, because even SHE doesn’t know. I like to torture her and say if we’re on a bridge and a train passes below us, do we have to point our thumb down, push our foot into the floor and swallow?

    I don’t tend to do it when I’m not in the car with her…but since I live in the flat Midwest these days, almost the only time I drive under a train trestle is when I’m visiting with them, so I do it.

  33. I don’t really have any of these superstitions. I come from a long line of skeptics, so I’ve been lucky in that way.

    My husband, on the other hand, can be terribly superstitions, as many Russians tend to be. If a birthday falls on a weekday, we have to celebrate it on the weekend after, not before, otherwise the person will die before the actual birthday comes. If we are outside waiting for the bus, we cannot sit on stone otherwise we (us women-folk) will become barren. If we are sick, we have to drink tea mixed with cherry jam. We cannot leave the windows open ever because a breeze will make your bones break and make you retarded (apparently, this happened to a friend of a friend of a friend, or some such thing – she left the window open and, when she woke up in the morning, was retarded). They also practice cupping and a number of other “medical treatments.” Since moving to Canada, they’ve jumped on the homeopathy band wagon too.

    There are a few things of theirs that I’ve adopted. For example, if someone is starting to feel a bit sicky, I’ll crush garlic, pour boiling water over it, and leave it on the nightstand. Drawing deep breaths of the garlic vapours and chewing on garlic are also good. I have no idea if it works or not, but I know that garlic has some anti-bacterial properties and it makes me feel like I am pro-actively doing something to prevent full-blown illness, so… meh.

  34. Saying touch wood or knock on wood when I am hoping something will go well.

    Thinking that eating foods that have a lot of sugar or fat and drinking sugary drinks and chocolate will cause acne or make your acne worse.

    Liquor before beer have no fear. Beer before liquor never sicker.

    The whole circumscision thing. Are there any real scientific studies that show you are harmed by being circumcised or that you receive a benefit by being circumscised? Not anectodotes, not personal feelings but actual science one way or the other.

  35. What do you think of old wives’ tales?

    There’s a bit of a mishmash of concepts in this thread, in the sense that most of the things being talked about are not old wive’s tales really, but are just plain superstitions.

    As I understand it, old wive’s tales tend to more often come from cultural mores and social mechanisms mixed with a frisson of woo (and are often indirectly sourced from fairy tales, which, you might be interested to know, are almost always based on real-life deeply serious issues retailored to be heavily metaphorical — for instance, Little Red Ridinghood is sourced from a time in the dark ages when cannabilism was a serious worry amongst people living off the land, as it were — but I digress), whereas plain superstitions come mostly from wooish belief systems that are only rarely, if ever, directly associated with socio-cultural things, but tend more towards spirity and ghosty wooey spiritual things.

    Do you have any silly practices that you’ve carried with you since childhood?

    Yes. I too do the chicken soup thing (but no noodles please). I also do ginger ale. But for more than just the carry over from chilhodd issue. Many years ago, I read an article stating that chicken soup and ginger ale actually contain some kinds of enzyme or something or other that is in fact good for you when you have a cold. Restores some kind of body chemical or something lost through the process of dehydration etc., that is not restored by plain water.

    I’m glad to see there is some support for that: @BubbaRich, and @gwenny, and @QuestionAuthority.

    As far as I can tell I’ve given up on all the other common supertstitions, like ladders and cracks, et al.

    Hypothesis:

    The way I see it is that much of human behaviour is based on not only pattern recognition, but pattern repetition in behaviour, hence ritual. And there is, in my opinion a fine line between ritual and what people call, in the short form, OCD, and many superstitions carry a pretty strong flavour of ritual about them. Lots of supertstitions are, I suspect, based on methodology to reinforce pattern repetition behaviours, which in turn lead to so-called proper behaviour — whether it’s proper from a socicio-cultural mores light, or that of simply being good for you, as in the misused phrase “common sense”. (I say misused because in reality there is no such thing as common sense. The very term “common sense” is a logical fallacy. One person’s common sense is another persons disaster behaviour, but again, I digress.)

  36. @Gabrielbrawley: The whole circumscision thing. Are there any real scientific studies that show you are harmed by being circumcised or that you receive a benefit by being circumscised? Not anectodotes, not personal feelings but actual science one way or the other.

    Data: I’m pretty sure the Guttmacher Institute has compiled reports regarding the benefits of it in AIDS- and disease-ravaged countries (2001 article and 2002 article but 2008 article), especially in Africa, but I don’t think anything other than wounded presumptions (how DARE you take my manhood away!) actually causes any harm.
    Anecdote: We have a friend who is ridiculously insulted by his circumcision, but even he doesn’t insist that he remembers any trauma.
    My conclusion from my memory of the data: I think that these days, in healthy Western counties, it’s really just a matter of personal preference, but in some countries it seems to have a proven benefit -especially when the pope keeps insisting that condoms only make matters worse…

  37. @Chelsea: Numbers divisible by three? How odd.

    You’re probably aware of the little math trick; that you can instantly tell if any number is divisible by three by adding the individual digits. (i.e. 4731 or 4 + 7 + 3 +1 = 15 which is divisible by three.)

    That was such a cool little grade school discovery. The first inkling of the power of math. It made such an impression on me that even today, I’ll check for it. Numbers divisible by three aren’t exactly lucky, it’s more like they’re friendlier.

  38. @Gabrielbrawley: The whole circumscision thing. Are there any real scientific studies that show you are harmed by being circumcised or that you receive a benefit by being circumscised? Not anectodotes, not personal feelings but actual science one way or the other.

    No, in both directions. As someone else pointed out, there seems to be a teeny-tiny lower chance of infections (both auto and from others, such as STDs) in circumcised males. But the benefit is so small that it really isn’t a good argument to do it. It’s been talked about in an Africa context, but even there I think that our energies are better spent distributing condoms and trying to get people to use them.

    The down sides are equally meh. There’s the obvious biggy what-if that the circumcision could be botched. It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen. I’ve heard of quite a few people who’ve had the entire head of the penis cut off and other horror stories. Of course, these are again so few that it doesn’t really count as an argument against.

    I think that the only real argument on either side of the debate is one of respect. When we’re talking about infant circumcision, this is one person making an aesthetic or religious choice for another person – and unlike baptism, this one isn’t purely ideological. It’s a permanent scar that the individual will be forced to wear for the rest of his life. If we were talking about infant plastic surgery (assuming it was unnecessary and not because the kid was both without a face or something horrible like that), we would never even try to excuse it by saying “oh well, s/he won’t even remember the procedure.”

    It’s a matter of respect that parents let their children make such decisions for themselves as adults. How WE like men’s genitals should not factor in to what we do to our children.

  39. Chicken soup is great, but like @QuestionAuthority: , I grew up with gargling hot salt water instead. I guess its a cheaper version.
    I count every stair step, and still find myself missing cracks subconsciously.
    Pet names get recycled, have had 3 albino ferrets named “Lily” so far.

    @Im a Hedge:

    I now have a reason to procreate. We must promulgate the devil horns, incorporating a minimum listing of bands to which we shall”rock out”, or else….
    hmmm…
    The love child thing is ok, just need to find he/she/it to obtain photographic proof for backup.

    Oh, and to sign he/she/it to a recording contract, of course…

    @Vengeful Harridan (Elexina):
    re: Don Henley-
    flogging for later noted

  40. @Bookitty:

    Numbers divisible by three? How odd.

    You’re probably aware of the little math trick; that you can instantly tell if any number is divisible by three by adding the individual digits. (i.e. 4731 or 4 + 7 + 3 +1 = 15 which is divisible by three.)

    That’s not how I define instantly. (Hell, I know people who would consider it impossible.) Fun though.

    I have very few silly practice from childhood, and I think I’ve stopped almost all of them, so I don’t think I’ll be passing them on. With the possible exception of “wishing” someone bad fishing (“skitt fiske”) when they’re leaving for a fishing trip.

  41. Gabrielbrawley: Liquor before beer have no fear. Beer before liquor never sicker.

    Nope, that ones pragmatic — indeed, I learned it the hard way. Remember, when you’re drunk, judgment goes away — including portion control!

    If you’re already smashed when you pick up the whiskey/rum/tequila/whatever, you’re liable to drink a lot more of it, and faster (especially if you’ve been gulping beer for a while, setting up a mini-habit). That can get a lot more alcohol into your body than is safe — sometimes more than is survivable! In contrast, if you’re chugging beer, you’ll pass out before you hit a fatal dose.

  42. Yea, i can relate. That is very interesting. I think the mind is funny like that. If we just think that something works then it seems to be helping (at least temporarily). I have to agree with the chicken noodle soup thing. It is comforting to me when i’m sick. I think it’s soothing cuz it’s hot and also it mostly consists of liquids. Another one is chocolate. When i feel really down, chocolate seems to make me feel a bit better.

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