Old Wives' Tales Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Old Wives' Tales

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Very rarely used by people who are married to ageing mermaids, old wives' tales are superstitions which are untrue and/or totally ridiculous.

Many people maintain that old wives' tales are based on truth, and have merely been distorted by the passage of time. This, however, is probably just an old wives' tale.

The following list of old wives' tales should be taken with a pinch of salt. We accept no responsilibity for the level of luck acquired by following these instructions, the sex of any babies you might be in the process of having, or any ugliness caused by changes in the weather. Life's hard enough already.

Health and diet

  • Rhubarb and pineapple are poisonous when eaten together.
  • If you eat food standing up, it is effectively fat free.
  • Eating carrots helps you see in the dark.
  • People only use 10 per cent of their brains.
  • Chew gum to get rid of a nosebleed.
  • If you keep fiddling with that you will go blind.
  • Raw egg whites are supposed to help nappy rash. However, because of nasty bugs, you ought not to try it: raw eggs are best kept away from young children.
  • Only eat shellfish when there is an 'r' in the month.
  • Eating your greens will make your hair go curly.
  • Don't swallow watermelon seeds, apple cores, apricot stones or insect larvae, or they will grow in your stomach.
  • When swallowed, chewing gum will stay in your stomach for seven years. Or it will wrap around your heart and kill you, depending how over-protective your mother was when she warned you about these things.
  • My mother always said that if you can manage to slurp up those little bubbles in a freshly poured cup of tea, it means good luck. I wasn't so lucky, since I always took a drop of milk in my tea, after which the bubbles were usually gone.

Luck and the lack of it

  • If you spill salt you're supposed to throw it over your left shoulder immediately. This is because when you spill it the devil appears above your left shoulder and you're suppposed to blind him with the salt. If you don't do this then the devil takes you over.
  • In Britain (and possibly in other parts of Northern Europe), black cats are considered lucky. In Mediterranean countries and the USA, black cats are considered unlucky. In both cases it's because of the association with witches. In Britain, a witch (or her familiar) has just crossed your path and ignored you, which is good luck. Elsewhere, any encounter with a witch is bad luck.
  • The Swedish belief is that a black cat crossing your path is bad luck, but that you can neutralize the bad luck by spitting thrice over your left shoulder every time this happens. Should you spit over your right shoulder instead by mistake, you will have bad luck for the next 24 hours.
  • Breaking a mirror results in seven years' bad luck.
  • Walking under a ladder produces immediate bad luck - such as a bucket of water falling on your head.
  • In Morgantown, WV, USA, it is widely regarded that carrying around a yellow cigarette lighter causes bad luck.
  • Never open an umbrella up indoors because it will bring bad luck.
  • If you find a penny and it is heads down, don't pick it up as you will be picking up bad luck. However, if it is heads up, pick it up and good luck will follow you for the rest of the day.

General pearls of wisdom

  • If you sneeze with your eyes open, they will pop out.
  • Killing a spider will make it rain the next day.
  • You will catch your death of cold by walking around with wet hair.
  • If you pick your nose your finger will get stuck up there.
  • A watched pot never boils.
  • If you keep pulling faces, one day the wind will change and you'll get stuck that way.
  • Put on your jumper or you'll catch a cold.
  • Choosing lottery numbers according to your pet's birthday, your wife's name or numerology increases your chance of winning.
  • You should wear gloves to handle floppy disks in case you catch a virus.
  • Posh-sounding recorded ladies mean it when they say, "If you would like to hold, we will connect you in a couple of moments."


  • Sitting on a dirty toilet seat can make you pregnant.
  • If you are carrying the extra weight out front, it's a boy.
  • If the hair on your legs is growing faster during pregnancy, it's a boy.
  • Girls are carried high; boys are carried low.
  • Sleeping in a bed with your pillow to the north indicates that you will be having a boy.
  • If your feet are colder than they were before pregnancy, you are having a boy.
  • If the father-to-be is gaining weight along with the mother-to-be, it means that you'll have a boy.
  • If the maternal grandmother has grey hair, it will be a boy.
  • If the sum of the mother's age at conception and the number of the month of conception is even, it will be a boy.
  • If a needle on a thread held over your belly moves in circles, you will have a boy.
  • If your urine is a bright neon yellow color, you will have a boy.
  • If your nose has been spreading, it indicates a boy.
  • If you have been craving meats or cheeses, it will be a boy.
  • If you refuse to eat the heel of a loaf of bread, you are having a girl.
  • If you had morning sickness early in pregnancy, you are expecting a girl.
  • If you are looking particularly good during pregnancy it must be a boy, because girls steal their mother's looks (a particularly paranoid tale, this one).
  • If your chest development has been quite dramatic during pregnancy, you should expect a girl.
  • If you are craving sweets, it means that it is a girl.
  • If your baby's heart rate is 140 or more beats per minute, it's a girl.

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