“Bread and Butter” (Splitting the Pole)

• saying/banisher of bad luck

Many people subscribe to the superstition that “splitting the pole,” or in other words, walking on two different sides of a (usually tall and inanimate) object, i.e. a pole, is bad luck–sometimes promising a split in the pair’s relationship, poor fortune, or even death for one or both parties, according to different beliefs. 

Of course, for various reasons, sometimes it is impossible for two people to avoid splitting the pole, in which case one of them must say “bread and butter” to undo the bad luck. This is presumably tied to the idea that splitting the pole will cause the two to separate in some way, and butter can’t really be separated from bread once spread. 

While there is limited written documentation/proof, because the superstition around splitting the pole seems to have originated among Black Americans, many point to the context of slavery, the life-or-death need for enslaved people to stay together and seek protection in numbers, and the ever-present threat of external parties dividing them from loved ones. 

However, “bread and butter” makes even physical separation powerless, restoring the protective powers of community, especially in travel.