Tag Archives: Jinx

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.



Interviewer: Got any Czech traditions or beliefs you could tell me about?

Informant: Sure, yeah there are some cool ones. So, we have one called “Jinxing”. Basically, when somebody predicts something positive about the future, anyone in the room should knock on an object made out of wood, in order for it to come true.

There’s also another variation for it. Same sort of.. Requirements for the tradition, but instead of knocking on something wood, you have to find something hollow and knock on it

Interviewer: Does anything happen if you don’t knock on an object?

Informant: If you don’t knock on an object, then that prediction won’t happen. Like, the exact opposite, worst case scenario would occur.

Context: My informant is a nineteen year old Czech national attending school in the United States. He’s lived in Prague for most of his life, and Czech is his first language. The interview was conducted face-to-face in a college dorm room.

Background: My informant, though he claims himself not to be superstitious, did profess that he did knock, since to do otherwise would be to “jinx” the prediction. He learned of the belief from his friends while living in Prague, and said that though he did not necessarily share this belief entirely, he was still afraid of “Jinxing” a prediction. According to him, if anyone were to not knock on an object, they would be accused if anything went wrong in the future.

Analysis: This belief is reminiscent of a similar belief held in the Northwestern United States that I’ve encountered, though I’m unsure how widespread of a phenomenon it is. In the US, “Jinxing” simply means that if you second-guess someone or say your misgivings about an action or event out loud, whatever you worried about will actually come true. This seems to be tied to some overarching belief in fate, especially as a malicious, or at least unforgiving force. Though this understanding of faith seems to be malleable, it can be constrained – in this case, when one does not voice their concerns, the belief is that fate will turn a blind eye. The fact that this understanding of fate is present in both the US and Czech may suggest a sharing of cultural attributes, perhaps through channels of immigration.

Yiddish Jinx: “Kneina Hura”

Main Piece: “So in the Jewish tradition… it’s really a Yiddish term… so I think more of the older generation identifies with it and it’s been passed down my family from my grandparents and, so, the term is ‘kneina hura’. It’s basically what we would consider a jinx and so it’s when you say something in advance and then if something is going well but then you’re like don’t say it… that’s kneina hura. I’m trying to think of an example. So it might be if you have an event coming up over the weekend and you look at the forecast and you say oh what great weather– my mom would say don’t say that, that’s kneina hura because then it may rain.”

Background: The informant heard this term from her mother and grandmother, who still uses Yiddish. The informant has very little knowledge of Yiddish, while her mother knows only what she’s heard from her own mother. Growing up, the informant intepreted this saying as a way to ward off a jinx. Her mother occassionally uses Yiddish informally, but her grandmother uses Yiddish terminology quite often. The informant notes that jinxes are important to her family because they believe that despite the inevitability of things going wrong, there is some higher authority with control over these events.

Performance Context: The informant sat in a chair while I sat at my desk.

My Thoughts: The informant’s piece of folklore has been passed down orally directly through the grandmother, who is the family’s holder of Yiddish terminology. Yiddish is considered a dying, or even dead, language with little contemporary usage. The informant herself rarely uses Yiddish and can only remember a few phrases from her grandmother, so it seems unlikely that this saying will be passed down generationally. The superstition and value placed on the power of the jinx is interesting, as the evil eye (a source of protection against harm) is quite dominant in navigating chance and fortune in Jewish tradition.