Old wives tales are a type of folklore that has been passed down through generations and often contain advice or superstitions about various subjects. Many of these tales are based on superstition and have no scientific basis, yet some people still believe in them and pass them on as if they were facts. In this article, we will explore some of the weirdest old wives tales that people still believe, despite the lack of evidence to support them.

If a woman resists the urge to eat fish whilst pregnant, her baby will be born with a fish’s head

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It’s no secret that pregnancy can conjure up some some pretty bizarre cravings, and in French Canada people place a lot of significance on them. According to one wives’ tale, if a pregnant woman resists the urge to gorge on seafood whilst pregnant then she will give birth to an abomination with the body of a human and the head of the fish. Exactly how this tale started is anybody’s guess, as there is a notable absence of documented fish-babies either in French Canada or anywhere else.

Putting two spoons in a saucer results in ginger twins

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Freudian symbolism aside, this one is pretty out there. Originating in the UK, this wives’ tales stipulates that if a woman puts two spoons in her saucer she will have ginger twins. Whether or not this is meant to be interpreted as a good thing is left ambiguous, but it’s far from the nation’s only wives’ tale involving tea and pregnancy, which might suggest something about the complex role that tea plays in the British psyche.

Place pennies on the eyes of the deceased or get dragged to hell

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The British used to be a superstitious bunch, and they believed that if a person died with their eyes still open they were looking for an unfortunate soul to take with them. If a corpse was discovered in a state of rigor mortis that prevented their eyelids being closed, it was traditional to place a penny over each eye. This ritual is similar to a practice carried out by the ancient Greeks, who placed a coin in the mouths of the recently deceased, so that their spirit could pay the ferryman who transported their soul across the river Styx.

Toasting someone with water places a fatal curse on them

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This cheerful Greek wives’ tale warns not to toast anyone with water, unless you’re secretly wishing for their death. According to Greek mythology, the spirits of the dead drink from the river Lethe to erase the memories of their previous lives before they enter Hades, the Greek underworld. Thus, toasting someone with water marks them for death, with the Greek gods – homicidal bunch that they are – often happily fulfilling the curse.

Writing letters to Juliet will lead to a long happy life

This one is particularly strange considering that no one is under any illusions about Juliet being anything other than a fictional character. However, this minor inconvenience hasn’t stopped countless Italians from making the pilgrimage to Verona, Juliet’s birth-place, to write a letter to the ill-fated lover. According to this wives’ tale, penning a letter to Juliet will result in a long life blessed with good fortune and happiness. Exactly why Juliet, who is notable for living a short life marked by inarguably terrible fortune, is able to hand out these blessings is completely mysterious.

Sweeping gets rid of evil spirits that cause infertility

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This wives’ tale has its origins in voodoo superstitions and is still prevalent in areas like New Orleans where the religion maintains a presence. According to voodoo mythology, brooms not only sweep out dirt but also dispel evil spirits that lurk in houses and cause infertility. How seriously you take this claim probably depends on whether or not you’re a practitioner of voodoo, but it definitely seems like an effective – if somewhat dark – way to get young women to do housework.

Wearing high heels whilst pregnant results in a cross-eyed baby

According to this wives’ tale from Guyana, wearing high-heels during pregnancy will result in the baby being born cross-eyes. Most wives’ tales serve to discourage what is perceived as undesirable behaviour, and this one probably isn’t an exception. One of the most common side effects of pregnancy is increased clumsiness, which isn’t an ideal combination for precarious footwear, especially at a time when taking a tumble can have catastrophic consequences.

Throwing salt over your shoulder eases labour

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Another wives’ tale from Britain, this one stipulates that a woman should throw three handfuls of salt over her shoulder shortly before labour. The rationale behind this is that the Devil frequently lurks behind pregnant women, waiting to possess their newborn children, and salt thrown over the shoulder blinds him and causes him to flee. The Devil is apparently a slow learner, and has yet to invest in eye protection, making preemptive salt flinging an effective means of demonic defence.

Breaking a mirror leads to bad luck

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This one crops up in a surprisingly diverse array of cultures, and its origins remain mysterious. The consistent theme is that anyone who breaks a mirror will be subjected to a set number of years of ill fortune, although the exact duration varies. Many cultures believe that reflections contain a small fragment of the reflected’s soul, which probably explains how this wives’ tale came into existence.

Touching wood prevents bad luck

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The prevalence of people abruptly exclaiming “touch wood” and rapping their knuckles on the nearest wooden surface after discussing an unpleasant outcome is pretty wild, considering how utterly bizarre the behaviour is. Touching wood to ward off bad luck originated as a practice in medieval Europe, where people believed that touching the wood of a crucifix would earn God’s favour. Eventually, the habit spread to include anything wooden, and an extremely weird and long-lived compulsion was born.

If you pull out a grey hair two more will grow in its place

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There’s definitely something to be said for ageing gracefully, and this wives’ tale seems to suggest that you will be punished for trying to stave off the ravages of time. Much like the adage that shaving will cause the hairs to grow back thicker (it won’t), this tale warns that plucking a grey hair will cause two more to spring out in its place (they won’t). This wives’ tale has been firmly debunked by cosmetic scientists, but it stubbornly persists regardless.

The swing of your wedding ring can predict the gender of your unborn baby

According to this wives’ tale, the gender of an unborn baby can be divined by attaching the pregnant woman’s wedding ring to a string and dangling it above her belly, where it apparently works like some kind of arcane ultrasound. If the ring swings back and forth, the child will be a boy, and if it swings in a circular motion it will be a girl. This wives’ tale is so widely believed that people are willing to pay strangers to perform the ritual.

Sitting too close to the TV will make you blind

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There’s a kernel of truth in this one, or at least there was. During the 1960s, General Electric produced a colour TV that was subsequently discovered to emit levels of radiation 100,000 times higher than the safe limit. The TVs were hastily pulled from the market, but evidently some unfortunate kids ended up developing health problems after sitting too close to the screen. The result is a wives tale that has endured to this day, despite the fact sitting too close to the TV is now perfectly safe.

Sucking your thumb results in unexpected amputation

The Germans are known for the general horror of their wives’ tales, and this one is no exception. German parents are fond of telling their children that, if they suck their thumb, a stranger will suddenly appear and remove the sucked-on digit with a pair of scissors. Whether or not it’s ethical to traumatise your children out of bad habits is still up for debate.

Black crows bring bad luck

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This one is pretty international, and the commonly accepted reason for its origin is pretty morbid. It is believed that crows, which are amongst the smartest of birds, learned that the sight of marching armies meant there would soon be a battle and a bounty of carrion. As a result, crows began accompanying men to battle, leading to their longstanding association with death.

Whistling inside lead to bad fortune

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According to this wives’ tale from Russia, whistling inside is a surefire way to invite financial ruin. Whistling outside, on the other hand, is perfectly fine and carries no consequences. Norwegians have their own version of this wives’ tale, which states that whistling inside will bring on a torrential downpour of rain.

Sitting at the corner of a table equals a bad love life

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According to this wives’ tale, which originated in Hungary but can also be heard in Russia, anyone sitting at the corner of a table during a meal is doomed to be forever alone. Exactly what led to the spreading of this wives’ tale is unknown, but it remains popular to this day. Some versions are more forgiving, stipulating that the punishment for corner sitting is only seven years of bad dating luck.

Leaving your purse on the ground leads to bad luck

This wives’ tale enjoys universal popularity, and it’s not hard to guess how it started. Leaving your purse or wallet on the ground genuinely is likely to lead to bad luck, financially speaking anyway. In South and Central America, even allowing your purse to briefly touch the floor is enough to guarantee a lifetime of destitution.

Amulets protect the wearer from the evil eye

Evil eye amulets have slowly wormed their way into fashion, but they have held an important place in Turkish and Greek culture for hundreds – if not thousands – of years. The evil eye is a malevolent force that can bring bad luck and tragedy to those it gets fixated on. Wearing one of the blue and white amulets is said to ward off the Eye and prevent its nefarious effects.

Trimming your nails at night is bad luck

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Another wives’ tale that can be heard all around the world, this one warns that trimming one’s nails at night time will bring bad luck. It’s not too difficult to work out the origins behind this. Before electricity became a widespread luxury and allowed for the illumination 14 hours a day, using sharp implements after dark was a pretty great way of accidentally injuring yourself.

Cracking your knuckles will give you arthritis

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When Dr Donald Unger was a child, his mother told him if the oft-repeated wives’ tale that cracking his knuckles would lead to arthritis. Unger decided to run a lifelong experiment, cracking the knuckles on his left hand at least twice a day whilst never cracking the knuckles on his right hand. 50 years later, with both hands arthritis-free, he concluded that his mother had been telling him tall tales. Other scientists have similarly found no evidence that cracking knuckles can cause medical issues.

Eating carrots will allow you to see in the dark

The story behind this wives’ tale is fascinating. In WWII, the British developed radar, essentially allowing them to ‘see’ enemy aircraft in the dark. The British explained their newfound abilities by claiming they were feeding their fighter pilots a diet high in carrots, leading to a myth that persists to this day. Whilst carrots do contain vitamin A, which is beneficial for eye health, there sadly is no evidence that chowing down on the crunchy orange vegetables will improve night vision.

Spilling salt leads to bad luck

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Salt pops up in a lot of wives’ tales, including this one that warns that you can count on some bad fortune if you spill the stuff. It is believed that this myth dates back to the 15th century, when Leonardo da Vinci painted ‘The Last Supper.’ In the painting, there is a pile of spilled salt on the table, which appears to have been knocked over by Judas. Anything associated with Judas is considered an ill omen by Christians, leading to this persistent wives’ tale.

If your ears are burning, then someone is talking about you

You hear with your ears, so if they’re burning it must be because someone’s talking about you. Right? As with most wives’ tales, the logic doesn’t withstand much scrutiny, but this hasn’t stopped this myth from enjoying a lot of popularity. Some versions of the tale specify that if your right ear is burning, nice things are being said about you in your absence, whereas if your left ear rings it’s because someone is spreading rumours about you.

Carrying an acorn will keep you young

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The mighty oak is known for being one of the longest living trees, which presumably explains the wives’ tale that carrying an acorn at all times will unnaturally extend your youth. Just don’t try to be clever and hack the system by eating an acorn, as they contain tannins that are mildly toxic to humans and give acorns an extremely unpleasant, bitter taste. Consuming acorns can also be fatal for cattle, horses, and dogs, so maybe they aren’t the secret to eternal youth after all.

Finding a penny brings you good luck

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It’s hard not to feel lucky when you find money lying around for the taking, and according to this wives’ tale the luck doesn’t end there. Apparently, people used to believe that finding a coin on the floor meant that God had specifically singled you out for good fortune, meaning that more good things were just around the corner. Whilst people these days generally don’t assume that finding a penny is a sign of God’s favour, it’s still considered a lucky omen.

The Hagia Sophia will cure you if you stick your thumb in it

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Located in Istanbul, the Hagia Sophia is one of the oldest mosques in Turkey, dating back to the Byzantine Empire. As well as being a site of great cultural and religious importance, the Hagia Sofia is also believed to possess miraculous healing properties. A hole in one of the mosque’s columns allegedly cured the headache of Byzantine emperor Justinian I, and to this day people still queue up to stick their thumb into a hole in the column in pursuit of its purported curative powers.

Your seventh son will become a werewolf

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According to this colourful wives’ tale from Argentina, if you’ve already popped out six sons, it’s probably time to call it a day. The reason? Your seventh son is sure to become a werewolf. If you do have a seventh son, there’s only one way to prevent his budding lycanthropy, and it’s to have the Argentinian president adopt him before he sprouts fur and fangs and begins devouring the neighbours.

Saying “rabbit” on the first day of the month is lucky

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The word “rabbit” has been associated with good fortune in England for at least 2,000 years, although no one has any idea why. Equally mysterious is the origin of this wives’ tale, which claims that saying “rabbit” twice on the first day of the month will bring good luck. If you forget to say the magic word in the morning, you can still reap the rewards by saying “tibbar” – which is “rabbit” backwards – before you go to sleep.

If you cross your eyes they can get stuck

A favourite amongst parents, this wives’ tale warns that crossing your eyes can cause them to become permanently – and inconveniently – stuck in that position. However, as any ophthalmologist will tell you, that’s just not how eyes work. Crossing your eyes will cause temporary double vision, but it wont lead to any lasting negative effects.

We eat spiders in our sleep

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According to this wives’ tale, most people unwittingly consume an average of eight spiders a year whilst asleep. This myth is so widespread that the National Sleep Foundation bothered to issue a statement firmly refuting it, no doubt to the great relief of arachnophobes everywhere. Fortunately (for them and us), spiders have the sense not to wonder into gaping mouths, whether the owner of said mouth is asleep or not.

Cats steal babies’ breath

This wives’ tale is believed to originate from a 300-year-old case in which a cat supposedly strangled a baby to death. Despite the fact that the true cause of death was almost certainly Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, many people are still reluctant to let felines around their babies in case the cat steals the child’s breath. Whilst this myth has no basis in reality, it’s probably not a bad idea to keep a close eye on your cat when it’s around your baby, but only in case it decides to take a swipe.

The number four is evil

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In China, the number four is often associated with evil spirits and bad luck. This is generally attributed to the fact that the Chinese word for “four” sounds strikingly similar to the Chinese word for “death.” It’s not uncommon for businesses in China to deliberate omit the number from their marketing, as plenty of people avoid it on principle, in much the same way as how the number 13 is often avoided in Western cultures.

Sleeping next to a fan can be fatal

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It’s common knowledge that sleeping next to a fan can dry out your nose and throat, leaving you raspy and desperate for a drink in the morning. However, according to this wives’ tale from South Korea, the consequences can be much more severe. Despite the fact that there is literally no scientific evidence to support this myth, many South Koreans believe that falling asleep next to a fan can cause serious dehydration or hypothermia, with potentially fatal results.

Stepping on a manhole cover can change your fortunes

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Some people actively avoid stepping on manhole covers, presumably out of a fear of plummeting into the sewers below, but a Swedish wives’ tale claims that stepping on one can turn your luck. Stepping on a cover marked with a ‘K’ is supposed to bring good luck, because the Swedish word for love begins with a K. Conversely, covers marked with an ‘A’ will lead to bad fortune, due to the Swedish word for heartbreak.

Bulls hate the colour red

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According to this widely believed wives’ tale, the sight of the colour red is enough to rile bulls up into a murderous rage. The origin of the myth lies in the fact that Spanish Matadors wave red flags during bull fights. However, bulls are actually colour blind, and they charge at the flag due to the flapping motion of the fabric, not because of its crimson hue.

‘Hair of the dog’ cures a hangover

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‘Hair of the dog,’ the idea that the best way to cure a hangover is to start drinking again, was first recommended in a publication in 1546. The name comes from the ancient belief that “the hair of the dog that bit you” is the best cure for a rabid dog bite. Unfortunately for fans of Bloody Maries, drinking won’t cure your hangover, it’ll only delay it. Even worse, evidence shows that it greatly increases your odds for developing alcohol dependence.

Opening scissors without using them is bad luck

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According to this wives’ tale from Egypt, not using scissors after you have opened them is a surefire way to invite bad fortune. It is also considered bad luck to leave scissors lying around open, which makes more sense, since leaving sharp things laying around is definitely risky. No one knows what started these wives’ tales, but they are still prevalent throughout Egypt.

Yellow flowers represent separation

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In Russia, yellow flowers represent separation and are often seen as a bad omen, with many Russians actively leaving the colour out of flower arrangements. The type of separation that yellow flowers symbolise isn’t specified, but it’s often assumed to relate to infidelity, heartbreak, or death. If you’re trying to court a Russian, it’s probably best to go for another colour when wooing them with flowers.

You should tuck your thumb when visiting a cemetery

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Japanese culture is steeped in superstition, with many rituals revolving around death. The Japanese word for ‘thumb’ literally translates to ‘parent finger,’ which has led to the belief that it’s important to tuck your thumbs in when visiting a cemetery. If you don’t, the spirit of death – who lurks in cemeteries – might take it as a sign to come after your parents.

Spilling water behind someone brings them luck


Whilst this sounds like quite the slip hazard, according to this wives’ tale from Serbia spilling water behind someone will bring them good luck. Serbians often splash some water behind a family member before they go on a long journey, as it is supposed to ensure they safely reach their destination. Apparently, Serbians started the ritual because they were inspired by water’s ability to always get where it’s going.

Chewing gum at night leads to bad luck

Another wives’ tale that was probably thought up as a way to curtail bad habits, in Turkey parents tell their children that chewing gum after dark leads to bad luck. As if that isn’t bad enough, it is said that gum chewed at night will turn into the flesh of the dead in the chewer’s mouth. This morbid tale has led a lot of Turkish people having a genuine – and understandable – aversion to chewing gum after dark.

Birds flying into your home is an ill omen

Long before Hitchcock made western audiences afraid of birds, a Mexican wives’ tale warned that the winged creatures would bring bad luck with them if they flew into your home. A bird flying into your abode and landing on the back of your chair is a particularly grave omen, as it means your name is near the top of the reaper’s list.

Women shouldn’t eat goat

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Goat is a popular food in many parts of the world, including many African countries, but according to this Rwandan wives’ tale it should be off limits to women. Apparently, women who eat goat will take on the animal’s qualities, such as facial hair and an intolerably stubborn disposition. Chances are this wives’ tale was invented by men who wanted to avoid having to share their meat.

Swimming after eating is bad for you

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The wives’ tale that swimming after eating will lead to negative health effects has become so widespread that is often assumed to be a recommendation based on science. However, there is absolutely no evidence that you need to wait a certain amount of time after eating to jump in the pool. That said, heavy exercise of any kind probably isn’t advisable after eating a big meal, but going for a paddle after a light lunch won’t do you any harm.

Chewing gum stays in your stomach for seven years

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The wives’ tale that swallowed chewing gum takes seven years to pass through the digestive tract is often treated as scientific orthodoxy, despite the fact that it makes absolutely no sense at all. Gum, like everything else, passes through the stomach in around 24 hours, although this isn’t to say that you should make a habit of regularly swallowing the stuff.

Spicy food causes stomach ulcers

Despite the fact that doctors disproved this wives’ tale way back in 80s, the myth that spicy food causes stomach ulcers has stubbornly persisted. It’s probably explained by the fact that, whilst spice can’t cause stomach ulcers, it can exacerbate them. Therefore, people often first seek medical attention for their ulcers after eating a particularly spicy meal, leading to the association and misguided belief that it was the spice that caused them in the first place.

Urine relieves the pain from a jellyfish sting

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According to this wives’ tale, the ammonia in human urine is capable of neutralising the venom of a jellyfish sting, easing the pain in the process. Unfortunately, this myth has been thoroughly disproved by science. If you find yourself on the receiving end of a jellyfish sting, rinse the area with warm water, or – if you have it to hand – vinegar, which can prevent some of the still-embedded stingers from firing their venomous payload.

Putting empty bottles on the floor is good luck

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This wives’ tale can be traced back to 19th century Paris. Russian soldiers stationed in the French capital soon figured out that they could avoid being charged at drinking establishments by hiding their empty bottles under the table throughout the night, bamboozling the proprietors into thinking they’d drunk less than they really had. At some point this act of larceny became associated with good luck, and the habit ended up becoming a widely practised way of inviting good fortune throughout Russia.

Coffee stunts your growth

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The wives’ tale that coffee stunts growth probably traces back to a now-disproved theory that coffee is linked with osteoporosis. Not only does coffee not stunt growth, but research has shown that it offers a veritable treasure trove of health benefits, including reduced risk of multiple types of cancer, degenerative brain diseases, and diabetes. It also offers benefits for mental health, with coffee ingestion correlated with lower risk of suicide.