What does Pui Pui mean?
“It’s like ‘get the words off your lips,’ kind of a purification thing, but it’s also about spitting. It’s like when you don’t’ want to jinx something, like ‘I hope I start feeling better soon, pui pui pui.’ It’s so the evil eye… to get rid of the evil eye, and it’s an Ashkenazi Jewish thing. Plus there’s hand motion associated with it! You kinda flick your hands like you’re getting rid of something, though all of the old people point their hands instead. I guess it can be spelled ‘ptui ptui’ like spitting, but the real question is how is it spelled in the original Yiddish (laughs)?”
The informant is my mother. She is was raised Conservative Jewish and has an Ashkenazi (Easter European) Jewish background. This information was collected during a family zoom call where we were checking in with each other.
Analysis: When explaining Pui Pui to people who have never heard of it before, I often call it the Jewish “Knock on wood.” My entire family uses it as a replacement to knocking on wood whenever we don’t want to jinx something. Most Jews I’ve met have never heard of this saying, and those who have heard of it have strong ties to Eastern Europe. The combination of the spitting sound and the flicking hand motion are reflective of sympathetic magic practices, and it’s as if miming spitting the words off of your lips will actually prevent them from having been spoken.