What are Old Wives' Tales?

by KathyMcGraw

Fun with Old Wives' Tales

Have a laugh and share some of these Superstitions
Old Wives' TalesThere are so many Old Wives' Tales that we grew up with.  An Old Wives' Tale is by definition, "an oral superstition, belief, or story that has been passed down through generations". They were supposed to be traditional wisdom, but in reality were more like folklore.

Depending on your culture, your parents or grandparents imparted their wisdom, and you internalized it, and often grew up repeating the same superstitions to your children, and grandchildren.  Some of these are a lot of fun today, after technology and improved medical care has shown that most of the Old Wives' Tales we learned as kids have no factual basis of truth.


Eastern European Old Wives' Tales

Superstitions or Wives' Tales?

Living in an Eastern European country, Romania, I was fascinated and frustrated with some of the Old Wives' Tales, or superstitions, that were so prominent in everyday living. I quickly learned that there was an Old Wives' Tale for just about everything, or superstitions that were ingrained in their culture. 

I started a list of these Old Wives' Tales and superstitions, and no matter how many I had, there just seemed to be more.  Sometimes I thought I was living like the Wilders in the old Little House on the Prairie TV series, before medicine and technology played a big role in dispelling these tales.

The most frustrating one to me was the one about the curant (draft).  Both young and old believed that you would get sick if you were in a draft. I traveled a lot by train, and all except for the most expensive Intercity trains were without any type of air-conditioning.  It would get sweltering hot in the summer with about 8 people stuffed in a small compartment, and no air.  It was unforeseeable to open the window or you would hear," the curant, the curant"!  I swear I learned to really dislike that word!

Here are a few of the Old Wives' Tales (superstitions)

1)  Sitting on concrete will make you sterile (gives you a cold in your ovaries)

2)  If you leave food on your plate then you will get a bad husband

3) If you sit at the corner of the table you will never get married.

4) If a spider falls on your face or clothes, you will receive money.

5) A Pregnant woman should not touch animals and should not steal or her child will have a birthmark.

6)  If you hand someone a knife you will sever the friendship (you have to set the knife on the table for them to pick-up)

7)  If you see a priest while walking its bad luck (unless your grab a button).

8) You shouldn't  knit, sew, or wash laundry between Christmas or New Year or you'll have bad luck

9) Giving an even number of flowers will cause bad luck


Many of the Romania Old Wives' Tales center around their religious beliefs, and in the country they are even more superstitious than some of the people in the cities.  It was quite an experience trying not to laugh at some of the things I heard, but also frustrating with others.

American Old Wives' Tales

As a child growing up in America, a couple of the Old Wives' Tales were ones we were taught, while others I have no idea where I heard them.  One of the most popular ones I remember was, "If you step on a crack, you'll break your mothers back!"  This one made a good game while walking as we tried to avoid all the cracks in the sidewalks.

Here are a few more Old Wives' Tales I remember, although at the time I believed them.


1) If you break a mirror, you will have 7 years of bad luck.

2) If a black cat crosses your path you will have bad luck.

3) A variation of the Eastern European Baba (witch) was our Boogy Man...."If you're not good, the Boogy Man will get you!"

4) If you find a four leaf clover, you will have good luck (I tried this for years with no luck)

5) If you see a shooting star it will bring good luck.

6) Feed a cold, starve a fever

7) Don't go swimming for an hour after you eat or you will get cramps and can drown






More American Old Wives' Tales

Our Grandmothers Have Some of the Best Stories and Superstitions

Thinking of these Old Wives' Tales was a lot of fun, but so much more fun when another friend, Sylvestermouse started telling me the ones she remembered hearing.  While we were doing them online, her husband and mother joined in the fun.  These are the ones they were remembering, mostly from their Southern Grandmothers.  So, thank you Sylvestermouse and family for a fun evening. I left the editorials exactly as she wrote them.


1.  garlic will get rid of vampires

2.  dropping sissors, your spouse is having an affair. 

3.  too many hands spoil the soup

4.   If you bury a personal item, like a handkerchief or a ribbon, it will get rid of a wart

5.  Walking under a ladder will cause bad luck.

6. If a black cat crosses your path you will have bad luck. (Personally, I hug black cats and walk under ladders just to challenge that myth).

7.  You'll break your mother's back by stepping on a crack

8. If your ears are burning, someone is talking about you

9.  Nose itches, someone is coming to visit.  (Of course, with that one, I bar the door)

10. If a picture falls off of a wall, someone in the family is going to die

11. A cricket in the house is good luck.  (Now that I remember that one, I am going cricket hunting)

12. Lifting your feet when you cross railroad tracks, yikes!  I think we did that to get a boyfriend :)

Oh yeah, throwing salt over your shoulder for good luck.  (Ok, I admit, I do that!)

One I am very familiar with right now, pulling out one gray hair will cause ten to grow in its place :)

Holy cow!  What about not breaking the ribbons on a gift at a bridal shower or you will get pregnant.  (the bride of course :)


Yes, as you can see remembering these Old Wive's Tales can be a lot of fun.  Thank you Sylvestermouse, and family for a wonderfully fun evening!

Learn more about Old Wives' Tales

Black Cats & Four Leaf Clovers
Black Cats & Four-Leaf Clovers: The O...
Perigee Trade
Updated: 08/05/2011, KathyMcGraw
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How many of these Old Wives Tales did you remember? Any you want share?

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theraggededge on 08/07/2011

I remember a lady showing me a birthmark on her arm and explaining it had been a 'mouse'. Apparently her mother had been startled by a mouse during her pregnancy.

happynutritionist on 08/05/2011

I listened to my grandmother share old wives tales, and they have been repeated down through the generations, many of the ones you've shared, but we knew they were just that, tales:-) I was looking for "step on a crack and break your mother's back", used to jumprope to that when a girl:)

mandeesears on 08/05/2011

I remember most of the wive's tales from the US. Another my grandmother swore by was left palm itches: money going out -- right palm itches: you will get money. I can see how you were entertained in Romania with some of their superstitions!

nightowl on 08/05/2011

Oh yes, I remember some of those. My grandma also taught me that if you cross your eyes, and the church bells ring, they will get stuck that way. And then, of course, there's the perennial favorite about something that would make you go blind... ;)

Sylvestermouse on 08/05/2011

LOL, Kathy! We all had so much fun with these. I am so glad we just happened upon you that night. We had a lot of fun remembering those old sayings and thinking about the wonderful women who shared them with us originally.
Reading them again makes me giggle even now. I didn't hear the ones you already had compiled. I find it most interesting now to read the one about the spider being a sign of receiving money, because, you may recall, that was the very night I had just started planning my pom pom spider article. Now that is rich!
Isn't wonderful to have these old wives tales to entertain us!

WordCustard on 08/05/2011

These are entertaining, and yes I welcome black cats crossing my path too. I think here on the other side of the pond we share several of these and maybe sent them your way to begin with or adopted others from you, but another one I can think of is shoes on the table being bad luck. And don't put an umbrella up indoors. We also have the money spider thing here too, and a bird pooping on you is supposed to bring good luck though somehow I fail to see how!

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