My informant first heard the American expression when she was in elementary school. The saying is pretty popular and is easily recognized by most Americans. She says that she commonly used the expression on the playground at school or while playing with friends. Also, it is not something that you merely say, but “is a rhyme that you kind of sing.” She remembers saying the phrase while hopping over cracks.
When she was younger, my informant explained that it was not something that she necessarily believed. She had stepped on plenty of cracks and nothing bad ever happened to her mom. However, she did say that it was considered bad luck. However, my informant was and is not very superstitious. So although she knew the saying, she personally did not think it was bad luck, “especially since there were so many cracks on the ground at [her] school!” My informant, now an elementary school teacher, also said that she has overheard her students using the expression as well. The American proverb seems to still exist and remains a traditional “playground” proverb.
The famous adage has been used and continually reinforced in film. The 1988 children’s movie The Land Before Time shows a variation of the expression with the character “Ducky” saying: “Don’t step on a crack, or you’ll fall and break your back.” Nevertheless, the scene shows how it is used in child’s play. The characters Ducky, Cera and Littlefoot hop over cracks as they rhythmically say the line. The movie, made almost twenty-five years ago, is still popular among kids today, especially for those who become interested in dinosaurs. The Land Before Time’s popularity helps perpetuate the continuation of the well-known American adage.
The Land Before Time. Dir. Don Bluth. Perf. Pat Hingle, Gabriel Damon and Judith Barsi. Universal, 1988.