Are you afraid of black cats? Would you open an umbrella indoors? And how do you feel about the number 13? Whether or not you believe in them, you're probably familiar with a few of these superstitions. So, how did it happen that people all over the world knock on wood or avoid stepping on sidewalk cracks?
你會害怕黑貓嗎？你會在室內開傘嗎？你對 13 這個數字有什麼想法？不管你相不相信，你可能都很熟悉這些迷信。那到底全世界的人是怎麼開始敲敲木頭，或是避免踩到人行道的縫隙的？
Well, although they have no basis in science, many of these weirdly specific beliefs and practices do have equally weird and specific origins. Because they involve supernatural causes, it's no surprise that many superstitions are based in religion. For example, the number 13 was associated with the biblical Last Supper, where Jesus Christ dined with his 12 disciples just before being arrested and crucified. The resulting idea that having 13 people at a table was bad luck eventually expanded into 13 being an unlucky number in general. Now, this fear of the number 13, called triskaidekaphobia, is so common that many buildings around the world skip the thirteenth floor, with the numbers going straight from 12 to 14. Of course, many people consider the story of the Last Supper to be true, but other superstitions come from religious traditions that few people believe in or even remember.
雖然這些迷信都沒有科學根據，許多這些特定得很奇怪的信念跟行為的確是有一樣奇怪又特定的起源。因為它們包含了超自然因素，可想而知許多迷信奠基於宗教。舉例來說，13 這個數字常與聖經裡的「最後的晚餐」聯想在一起，耶穌基督在被捕與釘上十字架之前，就是跟他 12 個門徒吃這頓飯。一桌有 13 個人就代表不幸的這個想法最終演變成 13 通常就是個不幸運的數字。現在，對 13 這個數字的恐懼，這被稱為「13 恐懼症」，已經普遍到世界上許多建築物會跳過第十三層樓，數字直接從 12 跳到 14。當然，許多人認為最後的晚餐這個故事是真的，但其他迷信來自於少數人相信或甚至記得的宗教傳統。
Knocking on wood is thought to come from the folklore of the ancient Indo-Europeans or possibly people who predated them, who believed that trees were home to various spirits. Touching a tree would invoke the protection or blessing of the spirit within. And somehow, this tradition survived long after belief in these spirits had faded away. Many superstitions common today in countries from Russia to Ireland are thought to be remnants of the pagan religions that Christianity replaced.
But not all superstitions are religious; some are just based on unfortunate coincidences and associations. For example, many Italians fear the number 17 because the Roman numeral XVII can be rearranged to form the word "VIXI," meaning "My life had ended." Similarly, the word for the number four sounds almost identical to the word for death in Cantonese as well as languages like Japanese and Korean that have borrowed Chinese numerals. And since the number one also sounds like the word for must, the number 14 sounds like the phrase "must die." That's a lot of numbers for elevators and international hotels to avoid.
但不是所有迷信都與宗教有關；有些就只是立基於不幸的事件跟聯想。舉個例子，許多義大利人很害怕 17 這個數字，因為它的羅馬數字符號 XVII 可以重新排列成 VIXI，意思是「我的生命結束了」。同樣地，數字 4 在廣東話裡聽起來也幾乎跟「死」這個字同音，且在受中文數字影響的日文以及韓文等語言裡，也有這種諧音。而因為數字 1 也聽起來像是「一定」，數字 14 聽起來就像在說「一定死」。電梯跟國際旅舍要避免的數字可真多。
And believe it or not, some superstitions actually make sense. Or, at least they did until we forgot their original purpose. For example, theater scenery used to consist of large painted backdrops, raised and lowered by stagehands, who would whistle to signal each other. Absent-minded whistles from other people could cause an accident. But the taboo against whistling backstage still exists today, long after the stagehands started using radio headsets. Along the same lines, lighting three cigarettes from the same match really could cause bad luck if you were a soldier in a foxhole, where keeping a match lit too long could draw attention from an enemy sniper. Most smokers no longer have to worry about snipers, but the superstition lives on.
So, why do people cling to these bits of forgotten religions, coincidences, and outdated advice? Aren't they being totally irrational? Well, yes. But for many people, superstitions are based more on cultural habit than conscious belief. After all, no one is born knowing to avoid walking under ladders or whistling indoors. But if you grow up being told by your family to avoid these things, chances are they'll make you uncomfortable even after you logically understand that nothing bad will happen. And since doing something like knocking on wood doesn't require much effort, following the superstition is often easier than consciously resisting it.
Besides, superstitions often do seem to work. Maybe you remember hitting a home run while wearing your lucky socks. This is just our psychological bias at work. You're far less likely to remember all the times you struck out while wearing the same socks. But believing that they work could actually make you play better by giving you the illusion of having greater control over events. So, in situations where that confidence can make a difference, like sports, those crazy superstitions might not be so crazy after all.
- 「同樣地、類似於」- Along The Same Lines
Along the same lines, lighting three cigarettes from the same match really could cause bad luck if you were a soldier in a foxhole, where keeping a match lit too long could draw attention from an enemy sniper.
- 「繼續存在」- Live On
Most smokers no longer have to worry about snipers, but the superstition lives on.
- 「堅持、深信（信念等）」- Cling To
So, why do people cling to these bits of forgotten religions, coincidences, and outdated advice?
- 「可能」- Chances Are
But if you grow up being told by your family to avoid these things, chances are they'll make you uncomfortable even after you logically understand that nothing bad will happen.