Tag Archives: palm itch

Folk Belief: On Money and Hands


Informant E is a 21 year old USC student studying American Studies and Ethnicity. She identifies as Chicana and and was born and raised in the greater Los Angeles area. E is a junior at the university and is the interviewer’s roommate.


E: “So if my right hand – the palm of my right hand – is itchy, I put it in my pocket, because it means I’m gonna get money. If the left palm/hand is itchy, that means I owe someone money. So I have to scratch it.”

Interviewer: “Did you learn this from someone?”

E: “My family.”

A friend, also in the room: “If you scratch it does it mean that you don’t owe them money?”

E: “Like I’m not gonna get – it could mean, like, ‘Oh I have to pay rent soon,’ so it’ll start itching. Or I have to go pay someone back because they took me out to go eat. So then that means I have to get them back.” “If I scratch my hand, I don’t have to pay them back. Sometimes.”

Interviewer: “So who taught you this?”

E: “My grandma and then my grandma taught my mom and then me.”


E’s folk belief is a kind of self-soothing ritual and, though a bit more complicated, I would compare it easily to knocking on wood or throwing salt over one’s shoulder. It’s clearly been passed down to her as familial knowledge. I did search for more information online and found that the superstition originates in the Caribbean which, although not part of Latin America, is close to it, and the belief itself seems to have spread easily throughout the world. I find it interesting that this belief has to do with hands, as I feel there’s a through-line in history. Bartering relied heavily on hands, and handshakes or palms are often symbols of such agreements. Trade and bartering then became money or payment, which is still then associated with hands, and is what I would argue led to this superstition. In general, money obviously is a good thing to have and a bad thing to lose, so this self-soothing ritual can be comforting and seems so common because of that universal truth about the value of money. The scratching part of this belief makes it a ritual or a form of jinx (re: like knocking on wood) in my opinion, as the participant is doing something tangible, as if to put the belief into effect.