Tag Archives: Jinx

Superstitions Among Nurses in the ICU (The “Q-Word”, Full Moons)

Informant Context:

Stella is a traveling ICU (intensive care unit) nurse who currently work in Atlanta, Georgia.


INTERVIEWER: You seemed really excited to talk about [laughs] superstitions.


INTERVIEWER: Do you have any particular ones you had in mind?

STELLA: Yeah like, nurses are really superstitious. Um… especially like, in the ICU. Um… so like, we call it like, “Saying the Q word”. Um, you can’t say like, “Oh, it’s—it’s been like, really *quiet* on the unit today”. ‘Cause then it’s going to suddenly be not quiet. Like, you jinxed us. Um… so like, people will like—freak out. Or if you… you can’t say like, “Oh… like, you know, Mr. Jones is doing like, so great today. I think he’s gonna like, be able to get transferred out.” Like, you can’t—if like… Or, you know, it’s like, “Oh, I feel like we’re really making progress.” [You know(?)], you can’t jinx things, you know? Um… like—you just have to say like, “Oh, like, these things are going well. Like, this is great, we’re making progress…” but you can’t be like, “Oh, I think by… I think like, we—we’re out of the woods.” ‘Cause then the patient’s gonna like, code. It’s just like, a superstitious thing. Or like, um… another thing is like, full moons. Like, people say that like, when it’s a full moon, like—patients like, go crazy. [It’s a (?)] thing that like, everyone believes.

Informant Commentary:

Stella went on to recall the first time she violated one of these superstitions, causing some nurses around her 2 become angry with her. This serves as a kind of “rite of passage”, in which a new member of the folk group becomes rapidly acquainted with a folk belief, such as a superstition. Stella also noted the community that these superstitions offer to nurses working in the ICU. When members of a group are mutually forbidden from doing or saying a particular action or word, deep meaning can be communicated even when the action or word remains undone or unsaid. In this way, silence itself acts as an offshoot of “tabooistic vocabulary”.


Stella jumped at the chance to talk about superstitions, insisting that nurses are “really superstitious”. This could be partially explained by the high intensity nature of the medical workplace. A very small error can have deadly consequences, so it follows naturally that this folk group has developed small, vernacular ways—even unscientific ones, in a highly scientific workplace—to avoid failure. In addition, the folk belief in full moons causing irrational behavior is a well-documented phenomenon in folklore studies, stretching as far back as the ancient Rome and earlier. A few medical journals have even published research challenging the correlation between full moons and hospitalizations.

For more information about the inquiry into full moons and their affect on hospitals, see the following (the first is emergency-room trauma, the second psychiatric):

Zargar, M., Khaji, A., Kaviani, A., Karbakhsh, M., Yunesian, M., & Abdollahi, M. (2004). The full moon and admission to emergency rooms. Indian journal of medical sciences58(5), 191–195.

Gupta, R., Nolan, D. R., Bux, D. A., & Schneeberger, A. R. (2019). Is it the moon? Effects of the lunar cycle on psychiatric admissions, discharges and length of stay. Swiss medical weekly149, w20070. https://doi.org/10.4414/smw.2019.20070

“Cheshm Zadan” (The Evil Eye) – Persian Superstition

Description of Informant

NV (75) is a retired school teacher born in Abadan, Iran. She went to boarding school in England from 1956-1963, moving to American for college afterward. She always remembers her arrival in the states, as it was the day before Kennedy was assassinated. Currently, she lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, California.


Context of Interview

The informant, NV, sits on a loveseat, feet planted on a brightly colored Persian rug. She is opposite the collector, BK, her grandson. Most text spoken in Farsi is rewritten phonetically using Roman characters and italicized. Some Farsi is translated and italicized for efficiency.


BK: Tell me about your superstitions.

NV: Oh! I have a lot of superstitions. You don’t want to hear about all that. Oh, I always say “pinch your butt!” That’s an Iranian one, “pinch your butt.” I say that all the time. For instance, if [my daughter] is saying something nice about [my granddaughter], I’ll tell her “pinch your butt! pinch your butt!” so straight away she pinches her butt. If you compliment someone, but you don’t want something bad to happen to them, you say “pinch your butt.” Or at least I do. And now [my daughter] does it, everybody does it, but it comes from Iran. 

NV: It’s a Persian thing. Cheshm zadan. Do you know cheshm zadan? That’s a very superstitious thing in Iran. Like, they say some people have the “Evil Eye.” You know? Yeah, the evil eye. Like if somebody looks at you and— for instance, we had gone to [visit] my dad’s side of the family in Tehran. And that night, they had complimented [my daughter] a lot. “Oh what a cutie she is!” She was like 3 years old. “How cute!” That very night, she walked in the middle of the night to come from her bed to our bed, and she hit the corner of her forehead and split it open and we had to have three stitches. We had to take her to the emergency room for three stitches! From that day on, everybody said “cheshmesh zadan“. They kept saying that, in that house when they were saying she was so cute, cheshmesh zadan. So someone gave her the evil eye and that’s why that bad thing happened. That’s a very big superstition with Iranians.

BK: How does pinch my butt come into it?

NV: No idea! They just say “pinch your butt!” Like in English you’d say cross your fingers. Pinch your butt, or koonat rah veshnkoon begeer.

BK: And that’s how you “undo” the evil eye?

NV: Yeah. Now, some people, they believe that if you give a compliment you should follow it with mashallah. You know, like, if you say “this child is so beautiful, mashallah” then you’re taking away the evil eye. The thing that, like [my cousin] she really believes in the evil eye. You know the eye, like the blue stone, she’s got it all over her house. That’s a big superstition. They got it hanging over the doors, they got it all over. I don’t have any of those. But this cheshm zadan is really something.

NV: My cousin is known for giving the eye. My mom had bought these fancy stockings from England. I mean really nice, with decorative holes in them, top of the fashion, right? She’s sitting there at a party, and her legs are crossed and looking gorgeous. Nothing out of the ordinary. Then my cousin says “What beautiful socks you have!” And that very minute— everybody laughed their heads off— that very minute, it got a run in it. You know what a run is? It tore. You know the stockings that are nylon? If you cut a little bit it just *tearing noise* starts to run, it messes it up. She’s known for having the evil eye. “Cheshm mezanan!”

Collector’s Reflection

چشم زدن (phonetically cheshm zadan) is one of the greatest of Persian superstitions. The term literally means to glare, but free translates to jinx someone/something. If you compliment someone without protecting the compliment, you risk jinxing it, causing something bad to happen to the referenced trait (e.g. compliment the face = facial injury, compliment the socks = socks are ruined). The jinx concept is often referred to as the Evil Eye, and shares a space with similar Mediterranean traditions (many are familiar with the blue glass evil eyes that decorate many middle eastern and mediterranean homes). An individual known for jinxing or giving the evil eye (such as the informant’s cousin) would be said to have “salty eyes” (چشمش شور, cheshmesh shooreh).

There are many ways to dispel of the evil eye, such as the aforementioned religious (ماشالله) mashallah or the secular pinching of one’s butt (كونت را وشگون بگير, koonat rah veshnkoon begeer). The latter is the equivalent of the American crossing of one’s fingers to block a bad omen/jinx. One may also burn esphand (wild rue seeds), the smoke of which is said to cleanse the air and prevent bad omens, such as the eye.

Another evil eye story comes from my (the collector’s) other grandmother. When my father was born, she began producing an incredible amount of milk. She was the envy of the town for this display of fertility. One day, she was out with a friend when her breasts started to leak. Out of surprise, her friend exclaimed, “Wow! You have so much milk!” And that was the end of it. That evening, she didn’t have enough to feed her son, and they had to run to the market in the middle of the night for powdered milk. From then on, she barely produced a drop. They said her friend gave her the evil eye, and jinxed her.

Jinx Under a Roof


This piece was collected in a casual interview setting in the informant’s back yard. My informant (JP) was born in Lynon, France, and moved to California in 2002 with his wife for their jobs at Caltech. He is a professor of Seismology, enjoys playing tennis and guitar, has two teenage daughters, and loves to sing old French camp songs he learned as a kid. 

Main Piece:

The following is transcribed from a conversation between the informant (JP) and interviewer.

JP: Yeah, yeah, yeah, so, my girls, when they were little did this thing, I think they learned it at school, when they said the same word at the same time, they had to say “jinx” and the first girl, uh, who said “jinx,” um, how do you say, she won? And so the loser couldn’t talk until someone else said her name, like, I don’t, know, five times. And if they were under a roof, they had to say “jinx under a roof” and if they said “jinx” alone, they were the one to get “jinxed” so it was her that wasn’t able to speak until we said her name, and it was the other girl who won. It was a whole fiasco at dinner time because they would start YELLING about who said “jinx” first, they did it all the time, they would scream “JINX, JINX” and my gosh the drama it created.  *laughs, a little bitterly*

Interviewer: Where did they learn this? Did you know about “jinx” before?

JP: Um, they must have learned it at school, I think. They were like, in 1st or 2nd grade. I hadn’t heard of “jinx” before they brought it home, it was new to me.


In elementary school, we would play this game at lunch and JP is right, it would truly cause so much drama! Friendships were broken because of this game, especially when you wouldn’t say your friend’s name until they were released from the “jinx.” We learned it from other classmates, who probably learned it from upperclassmen or friends outside of school, and played it in 2nd grade. 

German Birthday Superstition

Context: The informant was speaking about a birthday of a friend and how this belief was something she practices.



Informant: One of the superstitions that like a lot of, I think it’s just German people, but like maybe in general European people, that you can’t say Happy Birthday to someone before it’s their actual birthday. It just like causes bad luck and is like a bad omen.

Collector: So in terms of this birthday thing, did you learn that from your parents?

Informant: Yeah it was just like I think like as a kid like I would say like “Oh, it’s almost your birthday” and stuff like that and they would be like oh don’t you don’t say it, you just don’t say it you just don’t say happy birthday before someone’s birthday, it almost jinxes it like you’re not gonna make it to the next birthday

Collector: Do you put this into practice?

Informant: I never say happy birthday before it’s their birthday, I usually don’t mention it until it’s their birthday.


Background: The informant is a 20 year old USC student of German descent whose parents raised her with German influence. She also travels to Germany often.

Analysis: This superstition deals with luck and life span. The negative connotation of prematurely wishing someone a happy birthday insinuates that because the yearly cycle has not been completed yet, that there is space for the life to be broken or ended overall. It’s interesting because in American culture, just the act of wishing someone a happy birthday is thought of as a kind gesture. But this piece shows that for German culture it is about the timely nature of when it is said. This probably reflects German ideology on being on time and doing things by the book rather then just for completetion.

Jinx! You Owe Me a… Handstand?


Abstract: The jinx game has multiple different outcomes. In this particular instance, the person who says “jinx” last after saying the exact same thing as someone else must do a handstand no matter the location.


Background: JW is a college senior in California. He grew up in California his whole life. He and his roommates decided to add a twist to the “jinx” game by adding humiliation in the form of a handstand. After being flabbergasted when we said the same thing and he told me to do a handstand, I asked him about it further.


The game:


JW: Yeah, instead of owing me a soda or a pinch, you have to do a handstand if you’re last on jinx.




Person 1: What’s your favorite color?

Person 2 and 3: Green

Person 2: Jinx! You owe me a handstand.


Person 3 must now do a handstand.


Interpretation: Rather than inflicting pain or adding monetary value, the punishment becomes humiliation which is much more enjoyable to most crowds. At this point it does not become an individual reward for the person who said jinx first, but  a group reward in getting to see someone attempt to do a handstand in possible obscure places. Humiliation offers much more than any soda or pinch could offer. This says that our society values laughing at the others more than inflicting damages upon each other or causing financial burden. Laughing and happiness will outweigh a couple bucks and pain for most people in the world today.