Tag Archives: curses

Jesus, Mary and Joseph!

Main piece: When in times of great stress or excitement, one will exclaim, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

Context: The informant is half Irish and half American. Her mother’s side of the family is originally from and still resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her paternal extended family live in Sligo, Ireland. She grew up culturally Catholic, but she does not consider herself religious. Our conversation took place in February on my couch at home in Atlanta after she began recounting her recent trip to visit family in Ireland. The informant first heard this exclamation-prayer from her Catholic family in Ireland, specifically her great-aunt, as they constantly use it all day everyday. Because the informant is not religious, she sometimes grows uncomfortable with overuse of it in casual conversation as it is a constant reminder of how she’s quite different from the rest of her family in terms of spiritual and moral beliefs. The prayer has stuck with her because of how different it is from American exclamations; when one of her visiting extended family members comes to the U.S., “JMJ” highlights their “otherness.”

Personal thoughts: Upon first read, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” may not seem like a prayer at all, but rather an explanation. However, whenever someone is exclaiming these words, they are either a) asking for help in a time of stress, or b) giving thanks for something unexpected/exciting happening, which are really the two key functions of prayers. What’s nice about the JMJ prayer is that it’s more modern in the sense that its text is shorter in length, and therefore more palatable and digestible to the average, on-the-go American. Out with traditional words and rituals, and in with quick, trendy expressions that double as prayers! JMJ is also interesting because it offers a sly alternative to taking the Lord’s name directly in vain, which devout Christians tend to avoid on the basis of their faith. By exclaiming, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”, you’re invoking powerful names in the bible, but you’re not directly saying “Oh, my God.” It’s a barely-there distinction, since Jesus is considered synonymous with the Lord in many ways, but the inclusion of Joseph and Mary somewhat soften the bite of taking Jesus’s name in vain. And by the time you reach the end of the phrase and have named all three, your local Catholic mother might’ve forgotten you even mentioned Jesus in the first place.

Glacier National Park Curse

My mother worked several summers in Glacier National Park at the Many Glacier Hotel. This is the curse of the National Park:

Mom: “Every summer an employee dies. The Blackfoot tradition considers the mountain peaks and valleys that make up Glacier Park to be a sacred space, and not in a good way. Supposedly one only ventures into Swiftcurrent or Two Medicine Valleys if they are brave enough to tempt fate – the deities in charge of these dramatic geographic formations do not welcome humans. Only a Blackfoot Chief or holy man dared venture in. This was the land of Grizzly Bears, Eagles, dramatic weather and ancient glaciers.”

Me: So what happened when you worked there?

Mom: “So, the story goes that every summer the powerful forces of the area would take the life of a seasonal Glacier Park employee as the price to be paid for the encroachment of tourism. In 1967 there was the famous “Night of the Grizzly” where multiple young women were mauled to death by bears in more than one campground in the park. That was before I worked there. Later, in the summers of 1973, 1974, 1975 and 1976 there were employees who met their deaths respectively, as follows: 22 year old bellman had a heart attack and died while attending a Thursday night bonfire kegger, 21 year old hotel groundskeeper fell off a cliff and died while hiking, 86 year old gift shop clerk drove off a cliff and died; and a 19 year old kitchen worker slipped while taking photographs of a waterfall and fell only 10 feet but hit his head and died.

Me: But it didn’t get you.

Mom: “I was careful every time I hiked in the park. I’d wear a bear-bell and always go with other people, and thankfully, the curse passed over me.”


This curse is interesting. It makes sense that people would die in a place like Glacier National Park, simply because the great outdoors are a force not to be reckoned with. The consistency of the curse is a little unnerving– that every summer one employee would lose his or her life– not simply a reckless hiker. I do wonder if having a certain reverance for the curse, like the interviewee suggested, meant that she was less at-risk of dying. This could be correlation, in that people who are afraid of the curse take more precaution to stay safe, or it could be causation, in that the curse “sees” that you are afraid and therefore avoids you.

“Suck eggs on them”

My informant is my mother, who has heard my father spout says and folk speech all their married life. I’ve grown up hearing them myself. My father is prone to using such phrases in everyday conversations. Here is an example.

“Well your father says suck eggs all the time. I don’t know what it means or where he got it from. It means buzz off in a not so nice way. Or “suck eggs on them” like they don’t matter or screw them. If you are complaining about something someone did, he’ll say “well suck eggs on them”.


This is an example of a folk speech, a folk saying with a connotative meaning. It comes from the idea that one looks very silly sucking on an egg and therefore saying one should “suck eggs” is a kind of a curse, like screw them. It means that the person who is complaining is the “good” party while the person being told to suck eggs is the “bad”. It was originally an English saying, meaning something similar. It is used as a derogatory term, a curse, but usually not in the presence of the person the curse is directed towards. It is usually between a person telling another of something another did and that second person agreeing with the first on the irritating qualities or action of that person.


Black Cats in Moldova

“So, when I was in Greece, one of the people that I stayed with that worked at the hostel was from Moldova, which is apparently the coolest place in the world because it has the highest partying—alcohol consumption rate, per person, or something. So anyway, that’s beside the point. So anyways, we were walking around Athens, at, like six in the morning and he saw, like, a black cat cross his path, and he literally hissed at the black cat, spit over his left shoulder, and yelled out a sort of curse thing. And I asked ‘Why… why did you do that? It’s just a black cat.’ And he’s like, ‘It’s incredibly bad luck that it crossed our path,’ you know, ‘we’re going to have so much bad luck, but it’s okay. I took care of it. I did the curse.’ And I didn’t know what he said because it was in Moldovan.”


The informant learned of this version of the black cat superstition in 2012. The informant does not know why the specific elements of the hiss, spitting (over the left shoulder specifically), and the curse come into play, but she said that she learned it was all part of breaking the demonic curse put on you by the black cat running in front of you. The informant emphasized that she learned the order of the ritual is very important or “bad luck descend upon you.” She also found it interesting that people were still so into the ritual even in 2012, because she is skeptical of this type of belief.

The counter-curse to the demonic curse is surprisingly similar to a reaction that the cat supposedly doing the cursing may have. The hiss and curse mimic a cat’s hissing and meowing—they both come off as aggressive, animalistic behaviors. I’ve encountered spitting superstitions, but I have never encountered a reason for it (it might refer again to the cat’s hissing/spitting). It seems like in this case of contagious magic, you can reverse the process by repeating the curse (made by the cat) yourself.

The Curse of the Secret Flan Recipe

“Oh yeah so my mom has this secret recipe for flan… that… as I understand it you can make the flan in a third of the time as it usually takes, and it’s… considered the best flan anyone’s ever had… according to people who eat it, but I don’t like flan so I don’t actually know… um… and, yeah, she’s got this secret recipe and everyone she’s ever told this recipe to has like, vanished from our lives, and…”
[“Do you know the recipe yourself?”]
“Myself?  No.  I’ve glimpsed it but I don’t… I didn’t commit it to memory.  Yeah… everyone who’s… who’s read the memory, has been like friends who then move away suddenly, and we never talk to them again…  or like yeah, I don’t know, the worst was when she like… gave my girlfriend the recipe… and… and then yeah… and then she broke up with me.  Eheheheh.”
[“Does everyone in your family now, like, believe the recipe…”]
“I mean, we knew the curse before she told, but she’s like… ‘okay, it’s alright, this will break the curse, and it didn’t…”

My friend is an Interactive Media and Games major at the University of Southern California.  His father is from Colombia and his mother is from Spain.  He was born in Texas.

This story is about one of his mother’s recipes, and for him, the flan is significant not so much because of its taste or recipe, but for its effect on his family’s friends.  Thus, this is more about the folk belief than the particular foodway.

The curse of the flan does affect his family’s willingness to share the recipe.  Apparently, the times his mother has been willing to give out the recipe have significantly lessened.  But she does believe that there’s a possibility to break the curse.  As the attempt to give it to my friend’s ex-girlfriend demonstrated, however, the curse has not yet been broken.

While the giving of the recipe and the departure of friends might not be correlated, the fact that my friend and his family correlate them indicate that there’s some belief that divulging this secret can actually lead to broken friendships.  Since they believe in the curse, my friend’s family might not share as much as they could with their friends in order to maintain relationships.
One thought that I had while listening to the story is that it reflects a belief in distance for maintaining healthy friendships (not completely, but to some extent).

It’s interesting how my friend, who’s neither tasted nor made the flan, accepts that the curse exists through experience.  There’s no need to explain it with any other factor outside of the giving of the recipe.  Overall, it’s a humorous story and I wonder if the curse will ever be broken.

Hungarian Expressions: How to Curse with Style

Interview Extraction:

Informant: “The problem with the Hungarian language is that you cannot learn it. It is something you are born with. I can never figure out, I speak it, but I can never figure out how it is put together. Like, for instance- oh this is going to sound bad. You are saying, ‘the wind is blowing’. Now you say, ‘blow the wind’, ok? The word blow is ‘fúj’. So it is ‘fúj a víz. The water is flowing.’ My mother used to say to me ‘fújd ki az orrod.’ Which means, ‘blow out your nose!’

My father used to say some other things that weren’t too nice. He would get a delivery- he was a handbag maker, he would get a delivery or material or something and he would open the package and say, ‘this is not what I ordered’. But he would get mad; he would say ‘akkor kapsz csapott az arcába!’ which means, ‘may you get slapped in the face!’ And the other one is when he really got mad he would say, ‘May hell eat it, or eat you! Pokol lehel megenni, vagy megenni!‘ Now there are others, but they really are not translatable.”


In my research I was not able to confirm if the two expressions are commonly used.  My informant’s father was known to have a bad temper, therefore it was of no surprise to me to hear that his father used to use profanity against the delivery man.  My informant teased that  the Hungarian language contains many swearing expressions, and a common joke is that in Hungarian you can swear for 5 minutes and not use the same word twice.  However, I do not think that the use of profanity in the Hungarian language is any different than the use of profanity in other languages in that there is a time and place for it’s usage.  I found that the expressions in my research were much more vulgar than the ones my informant told me, but as my informant later expressed to me he was not comfortable saying such vulgar things to a young lady.  Prior to this interview, I had never heard my informant use either phrase or speak Hungarian unless I asked him to.

My informant was born to Hungarian immigrants in 1928 Paris, France.  He later immigrated to California in 1947, having spent much of War World II in hiding due to his Jewish heritage.  He holds multiple citizenships in both the United States and France.  He now lives in Manhattan Beach, California with his wife and has three children and five grandchildren.