Toenails and the Rats that Steal Your Soul

Jean is an international student attending USC. She grew up in Korea and moved to the United States when she was 12.



“Hmmm…….the first one that comes to mind is that my parents used to say don’t cut your toenails at night or else rats will come eat them and turn human.. Apparently the mice/rats will take your form and even steal your soul. It’s a pretty common Korean superstition that my parents told me since I was young. I don’t even know what the point of it was. Probably just to scare kids away from them – there’s tons of rats all over Korea. I mean obviously I knew it wasn’t true but I remember being terrified of rats because of it.”



I found this superstition to be particularly strange and interesting. Maintaining good hygiene leads to rats stealing your soul? It seemed very counter-intuitive to me. From what Jean described, it seemed like a useful fear tactic used to keep little kids away from rats – instilling a deep fear that they would take over your body, it ensured that curious little kids wouldn’t be playing with gutter rats and picking up germs – but I didn’t understand the connection to the toenail cutting in the dark. So I did a little background research.

Apparently this superstition goes back to before Korea had electricity, so at night it would be hard to see something like nail clippings in the dark. It was ill-advised to trim your nails at night because, with the prevalence of rats, while trying to collect the clippings in the dark you might run into one and pick up diseases.