The other day, Jim and I were performing a delicate procedure.  When he announced we were done, I said, “Done?  You didn’t even tell me when we’d hit the half-way point!”

Heavy Clouds.  Maybe Rain?

Heavy Clouds. Maybe Rain?

He said, “It was going so well I didn’t want to say anything.  I think I was afraid I’d jinx us.”

I actually understood…  And then I thought how odd it was that I did.  I mean, would the outcome have changed?   Probably not.  In fact, knowing that we were half done would have made me more, not less, determined to see if we could finish the procedure in one go.

Nonetheless, not talking about something about which one hopes for a good outcome is perhaps the most potent modern superstition there is.

I looked up the word “jinx” before writing this.  Interestingly, my elderly (1947) Shorter Oxford English Dictionary doesn’t even include the word.  My Dictionary of American Slang (1960) did, defining it as “Bad luck; a cause of bad luck; a bad luck omen.”  Online dictionaries weren’t much more helpful.  Even talking about a jinx seems to be a jinx…

Sports is one area where fear of the jinx manifests itself most vividly – and not only among players, but among fans as well.  Don’t believe me?  Next time you’re with a bunch of avid fans of any sort of contest, say “Well, that’s a sure win!”

Almost certainly someone will protest, “Don’t say that!  You’ll jinx them!”

Now, this might make some sense if the speakers were active participants.  Overconfidence certainly can lead to carelessness.  For example, Jim might have subconsciously dreaded that if he told me we were half-way done, I might have ceased to be as attentive as I needed to be.

But that observers should feel their words could influence the outcome…  That defies logic!  Yet even fans of a televised contest will react as if their words, actions, even attire, can affect a win/lose situation .

I’m not much of a sports fan, but I see my own fear of “jinxing” something manifest in regards to weather…   Here in New Mexico, we almost always need rain.  However, if Jim mentions that some nice thunderheads are forming, my likely reaction is “Don’t say anything.  You might scare them off!”

Do I really believe this?  Well, intellectually, of course I don’t.  However, human nature is far from wholly intellectual.  On some level, I guess I must believe that.

But there’s another thing with which I associate the word “jinx.”  Oddly enough, it seems to have absolutely nothing to do with the first.

When you were a kid, did you say “Jinx!” when two people said the same thing at the same time?  If so, did you have a reason for doing so?  As I recall, it was mostly for fun, but there was a vague sense that if you said “Jinx!” first, then you were averting some sort of bad luck that, I guess, came from the coincidence.

I wonder if the entire complex of reactions surrounding the concept of the jinx has to do with the fear that drawing attention to something will cause some supernatural force to decide to influence matters so that the desired outcome won’t happen.  That would certainly tie together two otherwise unconnected associations of the word.

Two people saying exactly the same thing at the same moment is an odd occurrence.  This oddity, then, could draw attention of supernatural forces…  Right?

Or not!  Whatever the case, I love these little manifestations that show how superstition still reigns, even in our supposedly modern, intellectually dominated, scientific era.

Now I’m wondering, what other old superstitions still reign supreme.  Black cats crossing your path?  Walking under ladders?  Broken mirrors?

11 Responses to “Jinx!”

  1. James M. Six Says:

    The ones that reign supreme are the ones we don’t even realize we’re doing. It’s easier to point out the ones in other cultures.

    In Japan, as I understand it, some people still answer the phone “Moshi moshi.” One explanation for why that double-phrase is used is to ensure there isn’t a spirit pretending to be the person (they apparently can’t say the same word twice in a row). I wonder how many people in Japan actually realize that.

    I’ve worked in offices where, as it was getting down to the last minutes of the day, the person with the most incentive to get out on time braced themselves to get a call 1 minute before closing, so they’d have to stay late and finish it. There was no greater chance of that person getting a call than anyone else, but some of my coworkers EXPECTED to get that call because they had someplace else to be, and groaned (in a justified manner) when that call came in. It’s a form of Murphy’s Law, I guess. “Of COURSE that bad thing happened to me, because I wanted the good thing.”

    We all believe we have a greater effect on the universe than we actually do (superstition) … and we also all believe that we have LESS of an effect on the universe than we actually do (e.g., “It’s a Wonderful Life”).

  2. Peter Says:

    Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13) is still going strong in North America – when was the last time you pushed the elevator button for the 13th floor?

    For me it was just last week,but I was in China, where Tetraphobia – fear of the number 4 – reigns supreme instead, so while buildings have a 13th floor, many don’t have a 4th. Hong Kong manages to suffer from both phobias – I was in a building in HK that not only omitted the 4th and 13th floors, it also omitted floors 40-49 and all the floors ending in 4, so pushing the button for “60” in the elevator took you up 45 floors.

    • Jane Lindskold Says:

      Number superstitions definitely are good ones to bring up!

      I actually did live in a building with thirteen floors on which #13 was labeled as such. People commented all the time, which says something about how uncommon this is. I wonder if anyone ever changed it?

      If I recall correctly, “4” is considered unlucky because the word “si” meaning 4 sounds like “si” meaning “death.” I am open to correction.

      That building in Hong Kong sounds like an excellent setting for a story…

      • Peter Says:

        You’re quite correct (there are a bunch of other number superstitions also based around homophony – six/luck and eight/wealth, for example).

  3. Louis Robinson Says:

    You put me into look-up mode, so: it’s not surprising that your SOED doen’t have ‘jinx’, since they probably found it too infrequent in common use. Online, the OED still shows it as not frequent, but I’m not sure what their measurement base is. It also says that the entry was added in 1933 and that the word is of US origin; the etymology refers to jynx, which has _1_ citation as a spell or charm. Apparently the wryneck, Jynx torquilla, was used in witchcraft and the word passed into Latin writing on magic.

    I’ll hear kids nowadays say ‘jinx’, but we said Coke!, apparently in the belief that if you said it first the other person owed you one.

    Oh, and finally, no it doesn’t look like Rain. Maybe Sheep or Horse, I’d say.

  4. Heteromeles Says:

    The funny thing is that there have been a couple of instances where I said “jinx” as someone was (annoyingly) trying to take a picture of me at a night party, and the flash failed. Presumably that was coincidence, but it was a fun coincidence for me, especially since it got them to stop pestering me to get a picture. Probably such occurrences are where the idea of jinxes came from in the first place.

  5. Paul Says:

    I find myself reluctant to talk about a writing project before it’s out, lest I jinx it.

  6. sundale2 Says:

    Ever time my family goes to Arizona, 90% of the time, rain falls. Be it at home, on the trip, or in Arizona, rain will fall once of the three general locations, regardless of wither or not we’re at that locations.

    Another rain thing here in the Coachella Valley, many buy into the idea that washing your car brings rain. Mind you that one only applies to the rarely washed cars, which means it’s mostly us rural residents that are “responsible”.

  7. henrietta abeyta Says:

    Well even when someone’s jealous I’m not easy to stop and I have efficiency skills despite my disabilities. Courage Patience Loyalty and Flexibility are 4 of my firmest equal matches with my wolf friends Jane. Another thing that helps me go on and reach the finish line is my true pain tolerance, I’m able to just hold a stuffed animal toy and not take the pain tablets even in surgery, this includes brain surgery. Plus how extra facts from my Grandma’s social worker lessons of life and behavior help me feel more sure about what’s going on that increases my strength quick.

    This was the month I recently learned that jealousy and aggression are more common then most people realize. Thanks to a fiction series of Bats, New born bats were the heroes in this series, and in this series the bats have their very own Heaven and underground god.

    Jasmine Olson sharing what helps her not lose hope or only lose it slowly. And her recent lesson too.

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