Folk Speech/Protection Evil Eye – Persian
Some Persians believe if you use a word like scissors, knife, or needle, its as if you are putting that sharp object in the evil eye of the person youre saying it to, insinuating that person is evil eyeing you. So instead of saying, pass the salt or pass the knife, you would say, pass that which cannot be named or pass that which is far from your soul. This can be viewed as a sign of respect when speaking to people you dont know well, and it also avoids offending somebody if youre not sure if they believe this tradition. Lots of people have gotten in fights over this and even families have been broken apart. Its really ridiculous.
The informant described a couple of instances in which this affected her. One was when a woman was asking her to pass some salt at the dinner table, and the woman refused to say the word salt because it is corrosive and was afraid the informant would be offended. She also gave the example of, when suspicious of a persons intentions when addressing you, you can make statements like, I have a toothache, today I had to get an injection, or my bones ache. All of these statements are believed to ward of the negative energy associated with the evil eye, because they are sharp and can pierce the evil eye. Another instance that this affected the informant was through her friend. When this friend visited her sister-in-laws house in Beverly Hills for the first time, the sister-in-law immediately brought her to the tapestries hanging on the wall and stated something like, look at the delicate needle-work on this tapestry. The friend of the informant was extremely offended and stormed out of the house, thinking her sister-in-law was accusing her of jealousy. This confrontation resulted in cutting off relations with her sister-in-law. This example exemplifies how strong evil eye superstitions continue to be, even in a modern city like Los Angeles.
According the informant, the evil eye superstition, along with this method of protection, began when potential theft was an issue in Iran. People often worried about theft of their cattle or other belongings that were crucial to their survival, so this was a method of protecting themselves. Furthermore, the evil eye superstition exists all over the world, especially in the Middle East, in both Islam and Judaism. Therefore, it only makes sense that such a widespread superstition would endure.
I agree with the informants analysis, but I think there is another level to its relevance in modern usage. The informants community is predominantly Persian and Jewish, and mostly upper class residents of Beverly Hills. Therefore, it would make sense that these perceived notion of envy would endure in this community, both internally and externally, and they would continue to try to protect themselves from it.