I was interviewing my informant about superstitions he had at home and this is the transcription of that interview:
“Informant: Well, I’m Glenn and I’m from New Orleans and I’ve been there since I was a toddler. I guess a story that I know of, back home uh, whenever, there are certain things, nerves that go off and if they do, you’re supposed to know what that means something like if your ear itches, that means that someone has been talking about you and if your hand itches that means that you are going to get money soon and uh, it’s just a bunch of things…if you, uh, bite your lip or your tongue, it means you’ve been lying a lot lately. It’s not true, but it’s what you’re suppose to believe
Collector: Where did you hear this?
Informant: You hear this all over the place, it changes from time to time, like sometimes you hear that if your eye twitches, someone you know had died and you’ll be like–no, that’s not true, no, if your eye itches, no, I don’t quite remember.
Collector: But who did you learn this from? Your parents?
Informant: No, I didn’t–Well, I guess, yes, uh, my stepmother would say if your hand itches that means you’ve got money coming your way.
Collector: So, why do you think these are important?
Informant: It’s definitely something you tell kids, it’s something like if you’re not sure what’s the real medical reason is, you could always just use one of these, and I’m not sure exactly why your hand itches sometimes to this day…I believe money’s just coming your way [smile].”
This interview reveals many of the superstitions concerning body parts from New Orleans. I believe my informant has elaborated enough about many of these beliefs, but it’s easy to see where these beliefs come from. For example, “your ear itches because someone has been talking about you” clearly comes from the fact that talking and ears go together. Similarly, hand passes through money and the itching must have to do with that fact. Moreover, you use your mouth to lie, so of course, lying must be related to the mouth–you bite your tongue when you lie. These are just many of the superstitions that parents pass down to their children in different cultures and like my informant said, most likely originated before there was a medical explanation for everything. With a lack of medical or scientific information, people turned to superstition for explanation.
Just a few variations from different cultures I’ve heard. Before that, here’s a bit of my background for reference: I’m a third generation Chinese Taiwanese male student who was born in Taipei, Taiwan. I speak English and Chinese. I lived in Taipei for two years before moving to New Jersey, where I lived for seven years. After that, I returned to Taipei where I finished high school.
Returning to the subject, in Chinese culture, if your ear is hot, then that means someone misses you. If your hand is stubby and thick, then that means you will be good at making money. In Japanese culture, you sneeze suddenly when someone is talking behind your back. While I don’t know why some of the same reasons are attributed to different body parts, it is quite interesting to note that each culture places the same sort of significance on things like coming into money and people talking behind your back.