USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘leg’
Customs
Folk Beliefs
Folk speech
Protection

Break a Leg

Content:
Informant – “Break a leg is when you wish to wish an actor good luck in a theater. You can’t say good luck, you instead say break a leg.”

Context:
JK – “When did you first hear it?”

Informant – “I heard it many years ago when I was performing and around stage people. They just told me that’s what you do.”

JK – “Why do you think this practice exists?”

Informant – “I was told that the gods of the theater, if you told someone good luck, the mischievous gods would intercede and that person would screw up. But if you didn’t say that, if you told them the opposite, the gods wouldn’t have anything to respond to and they wouldn’t notice that person. It could also be that the applause would be so great that you would have to take a bow. And the traditional bow, in the Victorian bow, you would have one leg in front of the other and to bow you would break your leg. Well not literally, but it would be like bending your knee in a weird way.”

Analysis:
There is also a humor to the wish. Before it became a cliche, telling someone to break a leg may have been a way to get them to laugh and relax before going on stage.

Folk Beliefs
Gestures
Kinesthetic

Don’t shake your leg

“If you shake your leg when you’re sitting, you shake off all your good luck.”

 

My informant comes from a Korean family. She had no idea why she was taught this as a child, but recalled her mother being adamant about the dangers of shaking one’s leg (she demonstrated – the saying seems to apply to when one is sitting with one leg crossed over the other, jiggling the foot of the leg on top). There could be some sort of superstition involved in this belief; however, I think it’s likely that people simply wanted their children to stop fidgeting and made up a reason for them to refrain.

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