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COLEGIUL NAIONAL AL. I.

CUZA
ALEXANDRIA

LUCRARE PENTRU OBINEREA


ATESTATULUI DE COMPETEN
LINGVISTIC
LIMBA ENGLEZ-BILINGV

Coordonator tiinific: Prof. Titiric Alina-Marilena

Elev: Anghel Ctlin-Daniel

-MAI 2017-

COLEGIUL NAIONAL AL. I. CUZA


ALEXANDRIA
Nr. . din

LUCRARE PENTRU OBINEREA


ATESTATULUI DE COMPETEN
LINGVISTIC
LIMBA ENGLEZ-BILINGV

Coordonator tiinific: Prof. Titiric Alina-Marilena

Elev: Anghel Ctlin-Daniel

-MAI 2017-
SUPERSTITIONS
IN THE UK
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ARGUMENT.2

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION TO SUPERSTITIONS3


1.1: ETYMOLOGY..3

1.2: SUPERSTITION AND FOLKLORE....4

1.3: SUPERSTITON AND PSYCHOLOGY...4

CHAPTER 2: UK SUPERSTITIONS AND THEIR ORIGINS.6

CHAPTER 3: RATIONALITY AND SUPERSTITION8


3.1: SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS AND RELIGION...8

3.2: LUCK.9

CONCLUSION.10

REFERENCES..11

1
ARGUMENT

Every day in our human lives we stumble at least once upon the word superstition, either in a
warning or in an explanation for a certain action. But how is a superstition defined? What exactly is
it based on? And how was it passed on for generations?

In this research paper entitled Superstitions in the UK I will try to answer these questions as
accurately as possible and delve into the origin of infamous superstitions such as finding a four
clover plant with four leaves brings good luck and walking underneath a ladder causes bad luck.

The paper is structured into 4 chapters. Chapter 1 introduces the reader to the basic notions
regarding the superstition sphere of things and revolves mostly around general topics from around
the world. Once the reader is accustomed to the topic Chapter 2 follows. Despite the fact that there
are countless omens, some will be skipped and left out of this paper as Chapter 2 will mostly be
dealing with showing some of the more common superstitions in the United Kingdom and some
uncommon ones, alongside with explanations regarding their origin and attached behavior (where
applicable).

I have chosen to only include some superstitions because making a complete list of them would
be a very tedious task, and it will bore the reader as the purpose is to discuss the superstitions, not to
simply enumerate them. In Chapter 3, the issue whether believing in such phenomena is rational or
not, making use of information that shows the way people viewed superstitions across time and
space. Chapter 4 will serve as a conclusion, wrapping the whole idea of the paper into a few
paragraphs. From there, the arguments having been presented by then, the reader will be able to
develop an opinion regarding the topic.

In the UK, it is considered good luck to meet a black cat. That is why they are featured on many
greeting and birthday cards.

CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION TO SUPERSTITIONS


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What exactly is a superstition? Superstition is the belief in supernatural causalitythat one event
causes another without any natural process linking the two events-such as astrology and religions,
like omens, witchcraft, and prophecies, that contradict natural science. The word superstition is
generally used to refer to the religion not practiced by the majority of a given society regardless of
whether the prevailing religion contains superstitions. It is also commonly applied to beliefs and
practices surrounding luck, prophecy, and certain spiritual beings, particularly the belief that future
events can be foretold by specific (apparently) unrelated prior events.

1.1: ETYMOLOGY

The word superstition is first used in English in the 15th century, modelled after an earlier French
superstition. The earliest known use as an English noun occurs in Friar Daw's Reply (ca. 1420),
where the foure general synnes are enumerated as Cediciouns, supersticions, e glotouns, & e
proude. The French word, together with its Romance cognates (Italian superstizione, Spanish
supersticin, Portuguese superstio, Catalan superstici) continues Latin superstitio.

While the formation of the Latin word is clear, from the verb super-stare, "to stand over, stand upon;
survive", its original intended sense is less clear. It can be interpreted as "standing over a thing in
amazement or awe", but other possibilities have been suggested, e.g. the sense of excess, i.e. over
scrupulousness or over-ceremoniousness in the performing of religious rites, or else the survival of
old, irrational religious habits.

The earliest known use as a Latin noun occurs in Plautus, Ennius and later by Pliny, with the
meaning of art of divination. From its use in the Classical Latin of Livy and Ovid (1st century BC),
the term is used in the pejorative sense it still holds today, of an excessive fear of the gods or
unreasonable religious belief, as opposed to religio, the proper, reasonable awe of the gods. Cicero
derived the term from superstitiosi, lit. those who are "left over", i.e. "survivors", "descendants",
connecting it with excessive anxiety of parents in hoping that their children would survive them to

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perform their necessary funerary rites. While Cicero distinguishes between religio and superstitio,
Lucretius uses only the term religio (only with pejorative meaning). Throughout all of his work, he
only distinguished between ratio and religio.

The Latin verb superstare itself is comparatively young, being "perhaps not ante-Augustan", first
found in Livy, and the meaning "to survive" is even younger, found in late or ecclesiastical Latin, for
the first time in Ennodius. The use of the noun by Cicero and Horace thus predates the first
attestation of the verb. It does not exclude that the verb might have been created and used after the
name.

1.2: SUPERSTITON AND FOLKLORE

There is little distinction between superstition and religion. What is fully accepted as genuine
religious statement may be seen as poor superstition by those who do not share the same faith. Since
there are no generally agreed proper or accepted religious standards among people of different
cultural backgrounds, the very notion of what is a superstitious behavior is relative to local culture.
In this sense, Christian theology will interpret African cults as pure superstition while an evangelical
Christian will see as meaningless the Catholic ritual of crossing oneself when going by a church.
With the development of folklore studies in the late 18th century, use of the derogatory term
superstition was sometimes replaced by the neutral term "folk belief", an attempt to go over local
cultural biases. Both terms remain in use; thus, describing a practice such as the crossing fingers to
nullify a promise as "folk belief" implies a neutral description from the perspective of ethnology or
folklore studies, while calling the same thing a "superstition" implies its rejection as irrational.

1.3: SUPERSTITION AND PSYCHOLOGY

Behaviorism Perspective
In 1948, behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner published an article in the Journal of Experimental
Psychology, in which he described his pigeons exhibiting what appeared to be superstitious
behavior. One pigeon was making turns in its cage, another would swing its head in a pendulum

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motion, while others also displayed a variety of other behaviors. Because these behaviors were all
done ritualistically in an attempt to receive food from a dispenser, even though the dispenser had
already been programmed to release food at set time intervals regardless of the pigeons' actions,
Skinner believed that the pigeons were trying to influence their feeding schedule by performing
these actions. He then extended this as a proposition regarding the nature of superstitious behavior
in humans.

Skinner's theory regarding superstition being the nature of the pigeons' behavior has been challenged
by other psychologists such as Staddon and Simmelhag, who theorized an alternative explanation
for the pigeons' behavior.
Despite challenges to Skinner's interpretation of the root of his pigeons' superstitious behavior, his
conception of the reinforcement schedule has been used to explain superstitious behavior in humans.
Originally, in Skinner's animal research, "some pigeons responded up to 10,000 times without
reinforcement when they had originally been conditioned on an intermittent reinforcement basis."
Compared to the other reinforcement schedules (e.g., fixed ratio, fixed interval), these behaviors
were also the most resistant to extinction. This is called the partial reinforcement effect, and this has
been used to explain superstitious behavior in humans. To be more precise, this effect means that,
whenever an individual performs an action expecting a reinforcement, and none seems forthcoming,
it actually creates a sense of persistence within the individual. This strongly parallels superstitious
behavior in humans because the individual feels that, by continuing this action, reinforcement will
happen; or that reinforcement has come at certain times in the past as a result of this action, although
not all the time, but this may be one of those times.

Occurrence

People tend to attribute events to supernatural causes (in psychological jargon, "external causes")
most often under two circumstances.

1. People are more likely to attribute an event to a superstitious cause if it is unlikely than if it
is likely. In other words, the more surprising the event, the more likely it is to evoke a
supernatural explanation. This is believed to stem from a motivation - a basic desire to exert
control over one's environment. When no natural cause can explain a situation, attributing an

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event to a superstitious cause may give people some sense of control and ability to predict
what will happen in their environment.

2. People are more likely to attribute an event to a superstitious cause if it is negative than
positive. This is called negative agency bias. Boston Red Sox fans, for instance, attributed
the failure of their team to win the world series for 86 years to the curse of the bambino: a
curse placed on the team for trading Babe Ruth to the New York Yankees so that the team
owner could fund a Broadway musical. When the Red Sox finally won the world series in
2004, however, the team's success was attributed to skill of the team and the rebuilding effort
of the new owner and general manager. More commonly, people are more likely to perceive
their computer to act according to its own intentions when it malfunctions than functions
properly.

CHAPTER 2: UK SUPERSTITIONS AND THEIR ORIGINS

Despite being nowadays things that are known and followed in the majority of the world, most
superstitions have been inherited from the United Kingdom, one of the biggest colonial powers of
the past. Because the UK is responsible for so many colonies, it is only expected that the remnants
of those colonies will share the same beliefs as their founders. But, most superstitions are not
originary from the UK, most have their grounds set up way back in ancient times.

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1. Dont walk under a ladder

This is one of the most common superstitions in Britain. If you see a ladder propped up against a
wall in the UK, it is very unlikely that you will see someone walking underneath it for fear of
getting bad luck.

It is thought that this superstition originates in Egypt thousands of years ago. The Egyptians strongly
believed in the power of the pyramids. So much so that even a ladder leaning against a wall formed
a triangle which symbolised a pyramid. They believed that walking under a ladder would break the
power of the pyramid and bring bad luck.

2. Dont spill salt

Have you ever seen someone spill salt and then throw some over their shoulder? It is a common
belief that spilling salt is bad luck but throwing some over your shoulder afterwards will counter the
bad luck (although, not for the person standing behind you who is likely to get salt in their eyes!).

It might be hard to believe, but many years ago salt was very expensive and spilling it was
considered wasteful behaviour which could bring unlucky omens. An alternative theory is that
spilling salt is an invitation to let the devil in and throwing salt over your shoulder will keep the
devil (and bad luck) away.

3. Dont put new shoes on the table

According to superstition in the UK, you should never put new shoes on a table as it is symbolises
death of a family member. Many years ago, when a miner passed away, his shoes would be placed
on a table and this is often how his family would find out about his death. Due to this, people started

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to believe that putting shoes on a table was tempting fate (doing something risky or dangerous and
relying on luck).

It is not clear why people specifically dont put new shoes on a table, but one reason could be that
when people used to buy new shoes, there were nails holding the shoes together. If they were put on
a table, the nails would scratch it.

4. The number 13 is unlucky.


Fear of the number 13, known as "triskaidekaphobia," has its origins in Norse mythology. In a well-
known tale, 12 gods were invited to dine at Valhalla, a magnificent banquet hall in Asgard, the city
of the gods. Loki, the god of strife and evil, crashed the party, raising the number of attendees to 13.
The other gods tried to kick Loki out, and in the struggle that ensued, Balder, the favorite among
them, was killed.
Scandinavian avoidance of 13-member dinner parties, and dislike of the number 13 itself, spread
south to the rest of Europe. It was reinforced in the Christian era by the story of the Last Supper, at
which Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus, was the thirteenth guest at the table.

5. Knocking on wood

To knock on wood or to touch wood is done to ward off unlucky consequences, get rid of evil
spirits, to undo something that is said that could possibly tempt fate or bring good luck. One can also
knock on wood three times after talking about something lucky or serendipitous, in order to ward off
the evil spirits who might purposely ruin it. It is believed by some that the superstitition dates back
to ancient pagan times and the belief that spirits or deities lived in trees, and knocking on the tree or
touching it would aknowledge them and call upon them protection from misfortune. It was also seen
as a thank-you gesture to the spirits or gods for brringing good luck and blessings. Irish folklore
states that the act of touching wood sends a thank you to leprechauns for some good luck.

CHAPTER 3: RATIONALITY AND SUPERSTITION

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After all the modernization and enlightenment that has taken place, superstitious beliefs still persists
in our societies. Everyone of us to some extent do believe in such absurd superstitious beliefs. From
the dawn of human existence people have held superstitious beliefs. These are the irrational beliefs
that an object, action or circumstance not logically related to a course of events influences its
outcome. Now, you might be thinking that if these beliefs are false than why do people believe in
such superstitions? Superstitions have come a long way in history and have been evolved in this
process. Every known civilization that ever existed on the planet had something common in them;
these were the myths and superstitions that were a crucial part of their cultures. The word
superstition is designated to those beliefs that result from ignorance and fear of the unknown. Many
superstitious practices are due to the false interpretations of the natural events. Curiosity also with
regard to things that are hidden or are still in the future plays a considerable part, example, in the
various kinds of divination. With this qualification in mind, superstitions may be classified roughly
as religious, cultural and personal.

All religious beliefs and practices may seem superstitious to the person without religion.
Superstitions that belong to the cultural tradition are enormous in their variety. Nearly all persons, in
nearly times, have held, seriously, irrational beliefs concerning methods of warding off ill or
bringing good, foretelling the future, and healing and preventing sickness and accidents. Even
people who claim they have no superstitions are likely to do a few things they cannot explain. A
superstition is a behavior that has no rational basis or history or a history that is long-lost. A few
specific folk traditions, such as beliefs in the evil eye or in the efficacy of amulets, have been found
in most periods of history and in most parts of the world. Others may be limited to one country,
region or village, to one family, or to one social group.

Finally, people develop personal superstitions: a student writes a good form of literary piece with a
certain pen, and from that moment the pen is lucky; a horse player may be convinced that black
horses run well for him.

3.1: SUPERSTITIOUS BELIEFS AND RELIGION

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The borderline between these two words is very thin and often it has been observed that they tend to
overlap each other. Religious believers have often seen other religions as superstitions. Likewise,
atheists and agnostics may regard religious beliefs as superstitious. Religious practices are more
likely to be labelled superstitions by outsiders when they believe in extraordinary events
(miracles), an afterlife, supernatural intervention, value of prayer, charms, incantations, the
meaningfulness of omens, and prognostications.

Do you know why people tend to become superstitious?

If we study the advent of the superstitions we can find an answer to this question.

Believe it or not, stress makes people more superstitious.

People feel very desperate to find reasons for all the misfortunes they come across. Being
superstitious helps them to hide their mistakes by blaming luck, which according to them no one can
control except God. New studies have revealed that stress makes people not only believe in rituals
but also in conspiracy theories and as a result, they are more likely to see things that actually do
not exist.

A feeling of lack of control over their life fuels many peoples desire to impose order and structure
on the world.

The less control people have over their lives, the more likely they are to try to regain control
through mental gymnastics.

Feelings of control are so essential to people that a lack of control is menacing. While some
misperceptions can be bad or lead one astray, they are awfully common and most likely satisfy a
deep and enduring psychological need.

Some more reasons which make people superstitious are as follows:

.... worrying about life

.... having a strong need of control

.... dont like ambiguity in their life

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3.2: LUCK

What is Luck?

Luck refers to that which happens to a person beyond that person's control. This view incorporates
phenomena that are chance happenings, a person's place of birth for example, but where there is no
uncertainty involved, or where the uncertainty is irrelevant. Within this framework one can
differentiate between three different types of luck:

1. Constitutional luck, that is, luck with factors that cannot be changed. Place of birth and
genetic constitution are typical examples.

2. Circumstantial luck - with factors that are haphazardly brought on. Accidents and epidemics
are typical examples.

3. Ignorance luck, that is, luck with factors one does not know about. Examples can be
identified only in hindsight.

What causes Good Luck?

From centuries people have believed in good fortune and widely agree that luck can be influenced
through spiritual means by performing certain rituals or by avoiding certain circumstances.

One such activity is prayer, a religious practice in which this belief is particularly strong. Many
cultures and religions worldwide place a strong emphasis on a person's ability to influence their
fortune by ritualistic means, sometimes involving sacrifice, omens or spells. Others associate luck
with a strong sense of superstition, that is, a belief that certain taboo or blessed actions will influence
how fortune favors them for the future.

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What causes Bad Luck?

To begin with, we have to admit that sometimes events are just random, or at least with causes
beyond our ability to understand at the moment.

Blaming and making excuses are ways to avoid taking responsibility for one's own life. It is a
common trait among majority of the people. Many people point out the activities and the
circumstances for their bad luck, but they cannot see what their own contribution to their situation
is. Blaming and excuse makes a terrible approach to life. It eventually makes looking for causes
outside the control of oneself automatic. It is difficult for such a person to ever recognize the
personal changes they need to make.

But the habit of concentrating on who or what is to blame doesn't motivate a person to do what is
necessary.

CONCLUSION
Now that the arguments have been presented and the notions explained, it is time to present the
conclusion. Supposing that tomorrow no superstition would exist anymore, the balance of this world
would greatly be shifted. People are not used with being the sole ones who respond for their actions.

Superstitions have played the role of scape goats across time, and they have had the blame put
on them for so long that nowadays people simply avoid/or do something intentionally because it is
known since ancient times to bring bad/good luck to them. Whether this works or not cannot be

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proven at the current moment in time, but, looking the way things progress it is safe to say that it
does not work.

People who claim that I have done X and Y happened merely fool themselves by inducing
the Placebo effect onto themselves and so they can pretend that a certain action is responsible for
their success/downfall. From my personal view, superstitions are nothing more than aberrations
created by humans to put forward instead of showing their incompetence. Such simple beliefs have
no place in our future because they are things that hinder our progress. But, their existence is a
necessary evil due to the fact that their disappearance would throw the world into sure chaos.

That is just my opinion, and should not be taken for granted because some people owe the
progress of our world to superstitions. So, what we must do is learn to coexist and try to understand
our own weaknesses, not link them to some household broken object, and to know when everything
is pure luck.

REFERENCES
Cicero, De Natura Deorum II, 28 (32), quoted in Wagenvoort, Hendrik (1980). Pietas: selected studies in Roman
religion. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill. p. 236 - 25.03.2017

http://list25.com/25-common-superstitions-and-their-origins/ 03.04.2017

http://psychiclibrary.com/beyondBooks/superstition-room/ 03.04.2017

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http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2230328/Britons-superstitions-Walking-ladders-breaking-
mirrors-opening-umbrellas-indoors.html 03.04.2017

http://www.livescience.com/33507-origins-of-superstitions.html 10.04.2017

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superstition 24.03.2017

https://exemplore.com/misc/What-are-Superstitions 12.04.2017

https://www.bloomsbury-international.com/blog/2014/02/07/origin-of-common-british-
superstitions/ 12.04.2017

https://www.learning-mind.com/13-most-common-superstitions-and-their-origins/ 12.04.2017

Vyse, Stuart A (2000). Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition. Oxford, England: Oxford University
Press. pp. 5, 52 - 24.03.2017

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