Tag Archives: #badluck

Never close a knife y’a didn’t open


The informant is my papaw, KB, who is 68 years old and lives in Huntsville, TN, where I grew up. He was raised in the backwoods of an Appalachian region of Kentucky. He had lots of odd sayings and beliefs, but there is one superstition that I vividly remember throughout my childhood.

Main Piece:

When I was young, I would often help my papaw work on stuff around the house or outside, which of course required tools, including the classic pocket knife.

KB-I remember when you couldn’t figure out how to close the knife, but I just couldn’t help you. I had to explain why I couldn’t, so I told you what I had always been taught. It’s bad luck to close a knife you didn’t open.

Interviewer- What would happen if you did?

KB- I don’t know and I don’t wanna find out. I just know it brings bad luck, especially with that knife, some say you end up accidentally stabbing yourself with it.


This superstition is one that my grandpa holds as a concrete rule of life, and for some reason, I do too. I do not necessarily believe I will have bad luck, but it’s a belief that’s been embedded in me. The power of folk belief is so strong that even though there is no evidence to support it, a multitude of people believe it. Though I could not find the origin of this folk belief, I did read about it on Appalachian Folklore pages, suggesting it was most commonly known in that region. There is an overarching theme of importance that Southern men assign to their tools, specifically their pocket knives. In my town, it’s a guarantee that if you look in a man’s pocket, you’ll find one, even in schools is extremely common. Therefore, it makes sense that folk beliefs would arise regarding the sacred tool. There could have been an ownership aspect to the beginning of the superstition. Perhaps the only person allowed to open and close the knife would be its rightful owner, promising if someone borrowed it, they would have to give it back or face a stroke of bad luck.

Silly Grandma, Smart Grandma: Children’s Folklore Impressing Protection in Silly Ways

Folk Practice:

My grandma has a thing where first she’d look at you when you’d be looking away and she would do this [Informant puts one hand under chin and wiggles fingers in my general direction] and if you didn’t do it back then she’d go like this [Informant puts both hands under his chin and wiggles his fingers faster] and you’d have bad luck or something.”

Context of Practice:

“She would do this to all the kids in the family. My siblings and I are the oldest of all my cousins. It was me and my two cousins who are one year younger than me and then like five years younger than me? Six years younger than me? She would do it literally like all the time. It would be like two or three times an evening. It would be when she was walking past you or when you weren’t expecting it. Usually when people were in pissy moods and thats how she’d get you out of it. She was like a scary old lady from Brooklyn… I don’t know. She was very intimidating.”

Informant Background:

My family has a lot of superstitions I think cause they’re catholic. On my dad’s side. I think [my grandma] was already in New York because my great grandpa was a county lord in Ireland. I think my grandma was born in New York. She’s probably in her 80’s or 90’s now. I think she just turned 90? I don’t know.”

The informant himself is 21 and grew up in Los Angeles.

My Analysis:

This practice could be a way to impress the importance of spatial-awareness and attentiveness in children. The informant specified many times that his grandmother would do this when the children were not paying attention or least expecting it. The idea that children would have “bad luck” if they were not cognizant and responsive to their surroundings is another way of impressing upon them that they could be harmed if they are not careful. “Bad Luck” is just a substitute for actual sinister things in our world. This is a common lesson in children’s folklore. For example, Little Red Riding Hood not being as quick-witted to realize that the big bad wolf is her grandmother before it is too late ended up getting her eaten in some iterations.

The reason she did this at times when people were upset could be that it is when we are caught up in our emotions that we pay the least attention to our surroundings. Those are the times we are most vulnerable to harm.